When children are abused in the early formative years of childhood, some of them react by developing pathological narcissism. Pathological narcissism is a clinical condition, of course, clinical diagnostic entity, but it's also a form of private religion, a faith with one Godhead and one worshiper. The Godhead is the false self, and the worshiper is the budding young narcissist.
My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited.
Today, we are going to try to discuss narcissism in completely new terms, as a religion, a new faith.
When the child's boundaries are not recognized, when the child is not seen by the parents or caregivers, as a separate entity with its own limitations or limits with its own unbridgeable, inviolable rights, preferences, wishes, priorities, emotions, inner landscape and inner world, when the child is therefore not allowed to separate from the parents, to separate from the caregiver, and to become an individual, we call these set of conditions abuse.
Abuse can be classical, sexual abuse, physical abuse, verbal abuse, psychological abuse. These are the types of abuse everyone is writing about, everyone is analyzing, and everyone is chastising and castigating.
But there are other forms of abuse, putting the child on a pedestal, treating the child as an extension of the parent, using the child as a tool or an instrument to realize the parent's unfulfilled wishes and dreams to mitigate the parent's frustrations with life itself.
Whenever the child is not seen as a separate entity in its own right, we are talking about a condition of abuse.
When children react to the pain of not being seen by developing a piece of fiction, a concoction, a confabulation called the false self.
The false self is everything the child is not.
The child is helpless and small. The false self is omnipotent, all powerful. The child can never guess, can never predict the parent's future moves, because they are unpredictable, capricious and arbitrary. The false self is omniscient, it knows everything, it's all knowing.
The child is being told by his parents that he is unworthy of their love because he did not perform, or that he is a bad object, or that he deserves punishment. The false self is perfect and brilliant, always.
And so on.
When we write down the attributes, the traits, the features of the false self, it is very clear that the false self is godlike. It's a deity.
Indeed, pathological narcissism can be easily described and summarily comprehended as a form of private religion, a private faith, where the false self is the divinity, is the god.
And the child who has developed the false self, who has offered the false self, becomes the adherent, becomes the worshiper, becomes a member of this religion, the sole member of this religion.
The child worships the false self, because the false self firewalls the child, isolates the child, deflects the pain and the hurt.
The false self serves as a decoy.
Because the false self is godlike, knows everything, is all powerful. The false self is infallible, and never makes mistakes, never errs.
So the child feels safe and confident.
Gradually, the false self becomes a combination of comfort zone, the equivalent of a church, and a godhead.
And then the child offers human sacrifice to this god. Exactly like the ancients, who used to offer their children to the Moloch, to the idols, narcissism is a form of idolatry, where the child is offering the only human sacrifice he can offer, the only human he has access to himself.
The child sacrifices his true self to the Moloch, to the idol, to the godhead of the false self.
The child strikes a Faustian deal with this demonic or devilish concoction.
Child says listen, you will protect me, you will defend me, you will prevent me from feeling pain and hurt, you will always be there for me, you will elevate me, you will aggrandize me, you will make sure that I don't make mistakes, you will push me to accomplishments, you will be the one all and be all. You will be my god and I will sacrifice myself to you, almost as Abraham sacrificed Isaac. I will sacrifice myself to you, I hereby undertake to suppress, repress and to the best of my ability annihilate, eliminate my true self.
My true self is a child, a wounded, bleeding child sitting in a dark corner and crying. I don't need him, I can allow him to atrophy, I can allow him to decay and to die. I will sacrifice this child to you on condition that you never forsake me, never abandon me.
A kind of inverted or reverse Jesus story.
And so narcissism can be easily described as a form of private religion with human sacrifice.
What happens when narcissism becomes a societal phenomenon, a cultural phenomenon? What happens when it exits the realm of the individual? What happens when it emerges from the nuclear family and begins to characterize whole societies, whole civilizations and entire cultures?
And this is the state we are in today. Our civilization, culture and society, which used to be Western civilization and now is global civilization, our civilization is narcissistic.
In this sense, we are witnessing the emergence of a new faith, a new religion, the religion of narcissism. The religion of narcissism comprises erstwhile strands, it comprises consumerism, it comprises materialism, it includes other elements, the spectacle, worship of the image, networking and so on.
All these social trends and technologically empowered practices, all these converged to form a new church, a new faith, a new city on the hill and that is narcissism.
While narcissism as a private religion has one adherent and one Godhead, when it emerges into the public sphere, when it becomes public domain, it remains exactly the same.
Narcissism is the first distributed religion, distributed faith in human history. It is a faith where all the worshipers are gods. Each and every member, each and every adherent, each and every parishioner, each and every believer and each and every follower of the narcissistic religion is a god. Each and every narcissist is a false self and this false self is godlike.
So we have the first religion or first faith in human history where we have a distributed God, a God of the network. Each node in the network is God himself. God is everywhere finally, God is in all of us finally, God is us finally and we are God finally.
We have reached the inevitable culmination of a logical process that started 2000 years ago when we were told that God is inside us and that we are a part of God.
We took these edicts, we took these maxims and we extrapolated them to their logical conclusion.
The logical conclusion is if God is inside me and if I'm a part of God, I am God.
And it reminds me of a very old science fiction story where a scientist connected thousands of computers together. All the computers in the world connected them in a network and then he asked who are you and the network of computers answered I am God.
Indeed millions and later billions of narcissists put together our God and each and every one of them is an idol or a god or a godhead or a divinity or a deity.
This is an amazing development in both the history of faith and in the history of social organization. It's a new form of interacting with power, with ability. It's a new way of corresponding to the environment, of resonating with it.
As a God, the narcissist subsumes everything, his nearest and dearest, his workplace, society at large, the nation.
The narcissist becomes one with everything because the narcissist is everything and everything is the narcissist and the service of the narcissist, which is where entitlement comes in.
The narcissistic faith is a faith of entitlement. It's a faith of me. It's a faith of you owe me. It's a faith of I should be treated the best. It's a faith of I am the best etc.
But make no mistake about it, it's a church. It's a church of the network.
Every religion in human history used technological metaphors. Every religion in human history leveraged the contemporaneous technologies and ways of thinking about technology that were extant and prevalent at the time of its emergence.
So we find very ancient or primitive religions which worship the woods or the forests because that was the source of technology at the time.
Later on, we find faiths and religions that emerge in cities because cities became the latest in human organization and in civilization.
Religions are embedded in their background, in historical background, in the context.
No religion is out of context.
The current new religion that is emerging, the religion of narcissism, is similarly embedded in the computer metaphor or more precisely in the network metaphor.
It builds upon network effects. It derives its power from the number of worshipers and adherents that team up together sometimes in ad-hoc networks, sometimes in self-assembled networks to achieve goals.
So we have this shape-shifting religion which includes, does not include at any given time the very same people but always maintains the same principles.
And of course, this is a perfect reflection and similarly to the human brain. That's precisely how the human brain works.
The human brain creates neural pathways. Most of them are ad-hoc. Most of them are reactive to the environment. Most of them are contextual. Some of them survive forever. They're called memory. Most of them don't.
And so the human brain, human civilization, narcissism, artificial intelligence, they are all converging finally. And we're going to witness the first technological religion, technological faith, which empowers individuals to become god-like, puts at their fingertips the ability to change the world, to change genetic material, to change the universe, to terraform alien planets, to tamper with and interfere in creation.
We have become gods and the inevitable parallel, inevitable consequence is narcissism. It is the new faith.
And exactly like medieval Christianity reacted to Islam, many of us are reacting to this new religion.
When Islam emerged in the 7th century, medieval authors, religious authors, most of them, reacted to Islam by demonizing it. Islam was described as a religion of the devil.
Similarly, we are today to narcissism, this new faith, this new religion that is emerging.
We are reacting to it by demonizing it.
We are saying that narcissists are demons, that they are evil.
Some people go as far as to say that they are possessed, which is of course a metaphorical way of discussing narcissism.
But the reactions are very religious as well. We are mythologizing narcissists. We treat narcissism as a force of nature.
We no longer deal with narcissism in the strictest sense of a clinical entity buried in page 767 of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. It's no longer a book-like configuration. It's no longer a scholarly pursuit or scholarly interest.
No, we are all heavily into it. We all debate. We are all terrified. We all develop strategies. We all compete with each other. We all try somehow to understand narcissism in our lives because narcissism is everywhere.
Narcissism has penetrated our families. Narcissism has infested our workplaces. Narcissism has infected our politics.
Because it's a new faith, a new organizing principle. It is an explanatory principle. It helps us to imbue life, civilization, culture, the human species and its future, imbue all of this with a meaning.
And what is religion about?
If not about giving us a meaningful life.
We may reject the meaning offered by narcissism, but it is right now a very serious contender among other religions.
I think in 50 years most people will be narcissists clinically and or culturally and socially. And I think most of them will consider themselves god-like.
And I think the irony is the technology will allow them to be god-like, will enable them, will make them god-like.
And then what? Once we are all gods, who will walk the earth?