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Narcissist Invades, Replaces Your Comfort Zone, Boundaries (Lecture SF University)

Uploaded 12/1/2020, approx. 45 minute read

Good morning, Southern Federal University, Rostov-on-Don, Russian Federation, dear students, faculty, esteemed colleagues. This is the year of the virus, and we all have to adopt. This year, I'll be providing my lectures via YouTube. I'll be uploading them to YouTube and providing you with a link. All homework assignments will continue through the regular platform, but the lectures themselves will be available online. I'm also working on digitizing and uploading all the lectures from the past three years so that you have a repository and a library that is continuous and one thing leads to another.

It's very regrettable that we have to do it this way, but the virus has taught us two things, how vulnerable we are, how small, and how interconnected.

So, while embracing our vulnerability, let's try our best to remain connected.

It's an only hope for survival.


In a proposed connection, let us discuss the issue of therapy.

The topic of today's lecture is comfort zones. Comfort zones, personal boundaries, and what happens when comfort zones and personal boundaries are pathologized.

This is an emerging field in psychology, not older than 20 years, and there are all kinds of revolutionary thoughts circling and swirling around, which I will try to introduce you to.

But before we go there, many of you are here because you want to become therapists. You should be aware of the transformation of the role of therapists.

People used to be a therapist in order to obtain transformative insights regarding their personality, their choices, their mate selection, their relationships. In general, you know, when people came to Freud, when people came to Jung, they went there in order to be transformed, to be changed.

This is not the case nowadays. You must be aware of this.

Nowadays, such insights, the truth, they are deemed hostile acts, and the professional who provides insights and unvarnished truth is castigated as a brutal sadist or worse. Your patients are going to resent you if you carry on the traditional role of a therapist.

And the reason is that people have never been more alone, more lonely than in our atomized anomic dying and materialistic civilization.

I discussed with you last year the concept of fanatic civilization, a civilization which is essentially a death count centered around material objects.

The majority of people are single or divorced, and they lead secluded, reclusive lives. They are averse to sex, even to intimacy and to socializing. Many people are estranged from their life partners and family, and they have few, if any, friends.

These are the realities. Everyone is becoming defiant. They call it assertive. Everyone is becoming petulant and titled and grandiose. Everyone is becoming more and more narcissistic than numerous studies that have shown this.

I keep referring you to studies by Twenge and Campbell, but there are others.

In such a toxic environment, the therapist is expected to function as the client's best friend. Best friend and to provide unwavering and uncritical validation, as it's called, as well as counterfactual, fallacious and delusional hope.

Many unscrupulous practitioners, especially online, collude with such egregious malpractice. They are laughing all the way to the bank at the brain dead patients who pay them money just to be echoed.

Woe unto the precious few who try to remain faithful to life-altering mission of treatment. They are shunned, they are bad-mouthed, widely, even by their own clients.

And I'm telling you to risk and to sacrifice and to remain true and faithful to this mission, the therapeutic mission.

You have an alliance with your patients. That alliance obliges you morally, ethically, in many jurisdictions legally, to help the patient change, to help the patient avoid the pitfalls and the heartbreak that had characterized the patient's life hitherto.

And so, when we discuss today's subversive, decadent Western concepts such as comfort zones and boundaries, we are actually talking about a variety of settings because comfort zones and boundaries are expressed in intimate relationships, but they are also expressed, for example, in therapy.

Now, we all strive to be egodystonic. You remember the distinction two years ago? Those of you who were here?

So, the distinction between egodystonic and egodysstonic?

Egodystonic effectively means, is a highfalutin, grandiose way of saying, I feel good with myself. I feel comfortable with myself.

And egodystonic is the opposite. I'm not comfortable with what I've done, with who I'm becoming, with who I am.

Egodystonic, ego-dystonic, ego-dystonic.

So, we all strive to default to an ego-syntonic comfort zone.

And when we are outside this comfort zone, we experience dissonances. We experience anxieties.

What is a comfort zone? A comfort zone is a narrative. It's a story. It's a piece of fiction. It's a movie script. These are narratives that fulfill several requirements and they cater to crucial psychological needs.

Number one, the comfort zone comprises a coherent and cohesive library of theories of mind. It's a part of the process of mentalism.

What makes other people tick? We leverage empathy to create the comfort zone via the process of mentalism.

So, we look at other people and we ask ourselves, are they the same like us? In which ways are they different? What makes them tick? What are their motivations? What are they going to do to us? What are they not going to do to us?

Action, inaction.

And so, we create a theory about other people. That's a theory of mind.

And empathy and the theory of mind become gradually incorporated into the comfort zone.

And then there's a theory of the world, umm-veld. Umm-veld is more typical of animals, but people have umm-veld too. It's a theory of how the world operates, what is the world, what is the liquidity and essence of the world.

So, these twin theories, theories of other people, theory of mind and theory of the world, the umm-veld, they coalesce. They become one and they form the main pillar, the pivot of the comfort zone.

The comfort zone allows us to predict the future choices and behaviors of people and to sustain a sense of personal continuity and safety.

Because if we can predict the world, if we can foretell and foresee what other people are going to do, we feel safe. Not only do we feel safe, but we feel continuous.

Our narrative is not disrupted by sudden abrupt behaviors or misbehaviors, by catastrophic developments. Everything is smooth, everything is incremental, everything is gradual, and this is the main function perhaps of a comfort zone, to smooth things over, to grade them, to establish a gradient.

The comfort zone is a set of principles that provide our lives and the world around us with organization and structure. The comfort zone is therefore an endoskeleton, like we human beings, we have a skeleton and on this skeleton there's this suit of flesh, you know, but the skeleton carries our flesh and this is the endoskeleton.

It's the same with the comfort zone. The comfort zone is like an internal skeleton upon which you construct the rest of your lives. It provides structure, cohesion, coherence, organization.

The comfort zone imbues everything we experience or everything we do with meaning. It renders things meaningful. It helps us to make sense of an otherwise very chaotic, arbitrary, capricious, honestly meaningless reality because the universe is.

The universe, the world, reality just is. There's no meaning in reality or the universe, they just are. They are ontos, they represent existence. There is no episteme, there's no epistemological element in any of this.

We impose meaning, we impose sense on things which are essentially and crucially not meaningless and totally senseless because we can't survive in a world without meaning and without sense.

Viktor Frankl, I refer you again, men in search of meaning in his logotherapy.

And so the comfort zone helps us to make sense of things. It's what we call an hermeneutic principle, explanatory, with explanatory power.

Finally, the comfort zone generates directions and goals to pursue. And in this sense, it is an exoskeletal. It's a skeletal oriented at the world.

So it has an endoskeletal function. It provides a structure upon which we subsist and we exist, but it also directs us outward, pushes us into the world.

It's an exoskeletal. By providing safety, it allows us to be healthily narcissistic, healthily grandiose, take on the world, take on challenges, assume risks and conquer and accomplish and overcome.

So the comfort zone seamlessly incorporates our values, our beliefs, our wealth and show worldview.

The comfort zone is therefore axiological. It's normative. And it is typically acquired via the twin processes that we had discussed last year of socialization and acculturation.

Our conscience, superego, inner critic, is an integral part of our comfort zone.

And so the comfort zone is like an imaginary space, a paracosm. Remember the paracosm from one of my other lectures? It's an imaginary kingdom. It's a kingdom of heaven, to use medieval terms. It's a space akin to cyberspace in some respects. It's a space within which we are egosyntonic, within which we feel safe, within which we are empowered.

And this space, the comfort zone is protected, is fended off, is isolated from the world, is defended against intrusion by personal boundaries.

So there is a comfort zone. And the border, the borderline of the count of the borderline, a very unfortunate expression, the border of the comfort zone are the personal boundaries.

And personal boundaries, they're a form of signaling. These personal boundaries signal to other people, signal which behaviors and communication, which messages are permitted and accepted.

You're telling other people by establishing personal boundaries around your comfort zone, you're telling other people up to here. That's where I end and you start. That's where you end and I start.

No entry, no trespassing.

This and this and this behaviors are not acceptable to me. I don't allow them, they're forbidden. I will punish you if you're engaging them.

And equally, you tell people what behaviors are permitted, are welcome, are wanted, are desired.

So personal boundaries are actually two lists, one list of things and things not to be done and things not to be said. And another list of things to be said and things to be done, things which are welcome.

And it's also clear with personal boundaries that any infringement, any breach, any violation of the personal boundaries is actionable. Anything out of bound will trigger reprisals and sanctions.

The comfort zone is such a critically utilitarian piece of psychological equipment that people ferociously resist any attempt to alter it, to modify it, to interfere with it or to challenge it.

Even when you show people, many of you will become therapists, psychotherapist, you will have patients and you will demonstrate to these patients that the comfort zone, their comfort zone is manifestly and patently counterproductive, self-destructive and self-defeating. You will show these people and they will come to accept that as long as they are within the comfort zone, they're hopeless, they're irredeemable and yet they will refuse to exit the comfort zone. They will still defend it tooth and nail. They will fight you back and this is what Freud called resistance. They will fight back because the comfort zone feels like a mother's womb. It's regressive, it's infantile, it's like going back to the period before the biggest trauma in human life being born.

So victims set boundaries around the comfort zone which don't allow you to tinker with the comfort zone and these boundaries are essentially cognitive deficits because they falsify the nature and the functioning of the comfort zone. They aggrandize the comfort zone, they idealize the comfort zone. They convince the patient that without the comfort zone he or she will die or will not function or will be punished or something really, really bad with that will happen and this is of course the mechanism of catastrophizing.

So the comfort zone is protected by cognitive deficits and mechanisms, cognitive mechanisms, cognitive fallacies such as catastrophizing.

Those of you who watch my videos for laymen are acquainted with meaning. This is my neutral, transparent cup, academic cup. And so people set boundaries.

The problem with dysfunctional people, mainly people with cluster B personality disorders, people with dependent personality disorders, victims of complex trauma, CPTSD. The problem with these people is they set boundaries long after the abuser had moved on, had moved out, having plundered and pillaged everything the victims had, having lost all the interest in the victims anyhow, having traumatized his hapless prey for life. So many, many people have a comfort zone, but they did not complete the work of establishing clear cut personal boundaries. And even if they had done so, they suspend these boundaries when they interact with the abuser. There's something in the abuser that neutralizes, disables the personal boundaries and allows the abuser to enter, to intrude upon the comfort zone and to change it, to transmogrify it, to transform it into another comfort zone, into another theme park, which is more amenable to the goals of the abuser. It's the equivalent of perhaps hypnosis where there is a suspension of the will, or maybe it's the equivalent of psychotic disorder where there is massive confusion with regards to external and internal objects. There is a pathological process happening between abuser and victim, even when the victim is totally mentally healthy. And it has to do with the abuser's ability to pierce through, to penetrate the personal boundaries, to somehow using a kind of mental toxin, neurotoxin, to disable these boundaries and then to invade the comfort zone and convert it into a discomfort zone.

So you will come across many examples of shutting firmly the doors of an empty stable long after the horses were stolen. So you will hear someone say, I will never again date this guy. I'll never date him again because he had raped me while I was drunk. That's ridiculous of course. That's all he wanted. All he wanted was to rape the victim while she was drunk. He doesn't want to see the victim again. It's not a self efficacious sentence. It's a meaningless sentence. I will never see him again. He doesn't want to see the victim again.


You come across sentences such as, after 20 years of his abuse, I moved out. You moved out after 20 years of abuse. What's left of you? You're nothing. You're a shell. The damage is long lasting, possibly life long. Why did you wait so long?

For boundaries to be effective, they must meet four conditions, all four at once. And I'm providing you now tools for psychotherapy which you are well advised to use with your future clients.

Many of you graduate this year and will start to work with clients presumably next year. So be aware, personal boundaries are not mere statements. I mean, it's not enough to provide the client with a list. This should be your boundaries. You should not accept these behaviors. You should encourage these behaviors.

That's not enough because for personal boundaries to be effective, they must meet four conditions.

Number one, they should be firm. They should be rigid, never fuzzy, never negotiable.

Number two, they must be clear and unequivocal. And they must be communicated unambiguously to everyone. And when I say everyone, I mean the patient's children, his mother, her father, her spouse, her lover, everyone, her boss, his employees. Everyone should be appraised and acquainted with this list, which should be crystal clear, not open to interpretation.

Personal boundaries must come replete with carrots and sticks and the carrots and sticks must be applied to everyone automatically, equally and justly.

Above all, the carrots and sticks must be applied to oneself.

Rewards for behaviors that conform to the boundaries and punishments for any violation of the boundaries.

The deterrent and inherent in boundaries must be credible, must be just, not knee-jerk, not defiant, not arbitrary, not impulsive, not reckless.

These are the hormones of a psychopath.

And finally, zero tolerance.

Personal boundaries are never ever to be violated or breached or counter-manded or counter-veiled.

First strike, first strike and you're out. First breach and you're gone. First offense, first incident of maltreatment and the offending perpetrator should be history.

Never give a second chance.

And so when people, your clients in the future, when they're confronted with this construct of a comfort zone with personal boundaries, which are impermeable, a little like the brain-blood barrier, impermeable, unchangeable, rigid, when they come across this, they feel very uncomfortable.

And they develop a behavior which was first described by Sigmund Freud, approachavoidance, repetition compulsion, can be reconceptualised as inability to assimilate insightfully a workable model of the world, which incorporates the personal comfort zone protected by self efficacious personal boundaries.

There's a mouthful for you. To put it more simply, the client, your future client approaches and avoids her husband, approaches and avoids his boss.

The client approaches and avoid because they are not clear how far they want to go in protecting the integrity of their comfort zone. And they are not clear about that, because they have identity issues.

They have what we call identity diffusion, or identity disturbance.

This is very typical of borderlines, for example, but also of narcissists. Also of victims of complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

These people have difficulties to establish a permanent continuous, non-dissociative, well integrated, cohesive and coherent identity.

And of course, when you don't have an identity, you don't know who you are. And we don't know what you want. And we don't know what you want. How could you establish a comfort zone and defend it with personal boundaries?

So you approach, then you're hurt, you're abused, you're exploited, you're taken advantage of, and you withdraw.

But once you withdraw, you ask yourself, is it really me? Maybe I'm guilty. Maybe I did something. Where do I end? Where does he begin? Where does he end? Where do I begin? What about the world? Am I misspeaking reality? Etc.

Questions that healthy people never ask.

And so approach avoidance, repetition compulsion, while first described by Freud was initially adopted, applied mostly to mate selection and other life choices.

But it is now considered more widely as any behavior that seeks a goal. And then when it is within reach, when the goal is within reach, undermines the goal by withdrawing and upsetting oneself.

In this sense, approach avoidance is a self-defeating behavior.

In victims and survivors of abuse, avoidance is a post-traumatic reaction triggered by memories of agonizing abuse. Any approach to a potential intimate partner causes panic and rage, some of it self-directed.

So it's internalized and externalized.

Abrupt and incomprehensible withdrawal follows.

So these people approach, then they panic because they anticipate pain, abandonment, rejection, humiliation, hurt, and they withdraw.

And then withdrawal, their avoidance is abrupt, incomprehensible.

It is all intended to avoid egodystonic, negative emotions.

And avoidance has many, many forms. It's multifarious, cheating, adultery, addictions, itinerancy, numbing, dissociation, passive aggression, reactance, defiance, impulsivity, recklessness, lying.

All these are manifestations of avoidance. They all reflect terror of intimacy and the pain that intimacy often brings.

Or when you catastrophize, inevitably brings. When you catastrophize, you don't say to yourself, intimacy may result in pain. You say to yourself, intimacy for sure will result in pain, ineluctably.

Avoidance is closely associated with moodlability and dysregulated emotions, precisely because of these cognitive fallacies among which are dichotomous thinkingblack and white thinking, splitting, and catastrophizing.

These kinds of cognitive fallacies clash with reality. They undermine the reality testing.

And so there's always a tension between reality and inner reality, external and internal. And it creates what can be correctly described as a pseudo-psychotic state, a borderline state.

In a way, avoidance is a form of signaling. It's a cry for help. It's a way of begging people, please let me go. I'm so broken. I'm so weak that I cannot even leave the situation. I cannot extricate myself. Discard me, throw me away. Help me to not be.

We often confuse moodlability and emotional dysregulation with intensity. Some people need intensity because these kind of people, they cannot feel anything else. If it's not intense, it's not. If they want to feel love, it needs to be perfect, brilliant love. If they feel hatred, it's profound and abysmal. If they feel rage, it's destructive and homicidal.

These people, if it's not intense, it doesn't penetrate their anti-emotion defenses. They don't have access to emotions unless these emotions overpower them, overwhelm them.

This is exactly the situation in borderline personality disorder and in victims of complex trauma.

Victims of complex trauma are numbed by the abuse and trauma that preceded the CPTSD. They become essentially zombies in between narcissism and borderline.

A dysfunctional people confuse intensity and they conflate. The intense and the sentimental with the emotional. The mistake, drama for feelings.

But real, true, positive emotions are not dramatic. They're not sentimental. They're not even intense. Positive emotions are just there. They're deep, they're thorough, they're rooted, they're profound, they're all pervasive, they're ubiquitous. They're no more intense than oxygen. They're no more intense than water. They're no more intense than electricity. You can't live without them, but they don't shock you into the realization of your own being, your own existence.

Pain is dramatic. Pain is sentimental. Pain is intense and that's why many of these people seek pain.

Foster pain and gender pain provoke pain via a process that we had discussed two years ago, projective identification and projective interjection. Pain makes them come alive. Pain fulfills two functions. It alerts them to their own existence. They feel alive, as I just said, and it numbs, it drowns out, countervailing other emotions, mostly negative, becomes like the dominant negative emotion.

Pain, anger, envy, hatred, negative emotions. They are all intense. Positive emotions don't require intense dramatics. Positive emotions are cheapened by such theatrics.

And here's the crux of the problem.


Relationships with dysfunctional people, for example, narcissists, they are founded on negative emotions. They're founded on fear, on anxiety, including abandonment, anxiety, on envy, on anger, who control. The pain is caused by withdrawal, rejection and betrayal. Narcissists call it mortification. Both parties experience the pain. The pain is the mediator, the common language, the coin they use to trade within the relationship. The relationship becomes one major marketplace, transactional marketplace of pain.

This is how they communicate. And when the relationship is founded only on negative emotions, it gives rise to anxieties and to insecurities and which leads back full circle to the comfort zone.

The narcissists, for example, or the borderline, when they're in relationship, they need to falsify the comfort zone. And they do this by introducing a shared fantasy.

Here's the sequence. You have a comfort zone. You are comfortable with your comfort zone. That's why it's called a comfort zone. It is protected by personal boundaries, which are supposedly non-negotiable.

Then you meet someone, you meet a narcissist, you come across a psychopath, you meet a borderline, or even a recent victim of complex trauma. And now this person challenges your personal boundaries and breaks through them into your comfort zone. And the comfort zone becomes uncomfortable.

It's like home invasion or rape. The comfort zone is no longer comfortable, becomes a bit estranged, a bit alien. It is transformed by the presence of the intimate partner who is dysfunctional and sick.

And so this intimate partner, he needs to very fast establish an alternative to your comfort zone, or you will leave. He doesn't want you to abandon him. He doesn't want you to leave. He doesn't want you to go away. He doesn't want you to break up.

Yet, your partner realizes that you had just lost your comfort zone and you can't survive without a comfort zone. So he gives you an alternative comfort zone. He says, listen, forget your previous comfort zone. Here's a new comfort zone for you where we can both survive, where we can both subsist, where we can coexist and love each other.

This new comfort zone, it's our shared fantasy. It's defended with boundaries, exactly like the old comfort zone, but these are our boundaries.

They are paranoid boundaries. They are boundaries of negative emotionality. They are boundaries composed of fear, of pain, of hatred, of envy. These are the new boundaries of the new comfort zone, the shared fantasy, the shared psychotic disorder, the shared psychotic space.

And within this psychotic space, of course, there's god-awful confusion between internal and external objects, where your intimate partner becomes internalized, forces you to internalize her. And she in turn internalizes you, yet you are both external to each other.

The shared fantasy is a very hallucinatory, very not only delusional space, but very surrealistic space. And it replaces fully your previous comfort zone.

And when your initial erstwhile pre-relationship comfort zone is discarded, is finished, is thrown to the garbage heap, you feel that a big part of your identity had vanished. Your identity is invested in the comfort zone.

There is a process called cathexis. Your identity invests your emotions in the comfort zone.

The personal boundaries that protect the comfort zone, they reflect your identity, of course.

And when the comfort zone and the previous boundaries are discarded, thrown onto the trash, your identity is thrown away as well.

And now you are left vulnerable, naked, in the truest sense of the word. And flailing about, you will accept anything.


And so here comes your intimate partner, your dysfunctional, unhealthy, pathologized, sick intimate partner.

He says, listen, you have no comfort zone right now. You have identity problems right now. Why don't I give you, why don't I solve your problems? Why don't you simply step into my shared fantasy, acquire a new identity, acquire a new comfort zone where we are both very happy, happy, happy ever after. And you do that.

Now, the problem with this is that the shared fantasy is not real. It divorces you from reality. It firewalls you from reality. It impairs your reality testing. It renders you less self efficacious.

We cannot be self efficacious. We cannot have agency when we don't have a good grasp of reality.

And the narcissist, for example, the narcissist's shared fantasy is a game. The narcissist is the primordial Homo Lutens. I remember last year, I asked you to read Eric Byrne, Games People Play.

So Homo Lutens, the playing human. Narcissist is a primordial Homo Lutens. He does nothing else but play games, his entire life. All his shared fantasies. They're gigantic. It's a gigantic chessboard. It's a mega screen. It's one video game.

Now the narcissist pretends to be a hypersex lover. Tomorrow is a thespian man of God. Then he's an imposter. Then he's a mock psychologist. Then he's a fake guru. Then he's a public intellectual or a wannabe father. He acts. He play acts. It's one big theater production. It's a game.

And his shared fantasies are games. Very, very similar to video games. They look very real. The pixelation and the resolution are very high. The movement is smooth and fluid. Can deceive you into thinking that this is reality, but it's not. It's fun. It's protean constant self reinvention, but it's not reality.

And within the shared fantasy, other people are either playmates or they are toys. And when the narcissist tires off playing the same game with the same animate and inanimate props, he discards the lot unceremoniously. He moves on to another location. A new vocation replete with a set of new characters. Your history.

Sometimes the narcissist breaks or dismantles his toys, abuses and rejects his playmates. He always switches abruptly and unexpectedly. An ephemeral apparition, where a solid imitation of a human being existed either too.

And finally, of course, like every bully, the narcissist is left with no one to play with, but the grim reaper. He resents this sudden constriction of his playpen, this inexplicable impoverishment of his sandbox. He had done nothing, he says to himself, I've done nothing to deserve this winding down. It was all just a game, he says. It was all just a game, you see, just innocent fun. What did I do wrong?

And when your comfort zone is replaced with the narcissist's shared fantasy and the borderline is shared fantasy as well, the psychopath is shared fantasy. Shared fantasy is a feature of many, many personality disorders, not only cluster B, but also cluster C.

So when your comfort zone is replaced with a shared fantasy, you have drawn further away from reality. Every comfort zone has fantastic elements. Every comfort zone being a narrative doesn't reflect the scientific truth, the objective ontological truth of the world as it is. The world as it is is intolerable.

If we were to confront the world without the protection, protective devices of a shared, of a comfort zone and personal boundaries, we would have disintegrated, we would have died on the spot. The world is unbearable. We need meaning, sense, defenses, narratives, inventions like God and other things to sort of isolate us from the horror, from the absurd that is existence.

The narcissist, I mean, intimate partner who is dysfunctional, comes to you and says, listen, I have the latest version, iPhone 12. I have the latest version of the comfort zone. It's called shared fantasy. Why don't you discard your iPhone 6 and buy my iPhone 12?

Many more features, many more jingles, many more bells and whistles. And you say it's irresistible.

But what you don't realize is the price. The cost is to say goodbye to the world and all the potentialities of the world. The cost is to constrict yourself, to mummify yourself, to become a mummy, Egyptian mummy. The cost is to suspend your ability to change. The cost is to sacrifice autonomy, personal independence, to be no more.

And dysfunctional partners impose this cost on you when they drag you or lure you or seduce you into the shared fantasy. They impose this cost because this is a cost they had paid a long time ago. They are dead. They are the walking dead.

My favorite films involve a protagonist who poignantly fails to realize that he is a ghost. It is a perfect metaphor for the life-threatening but inevitable process of narcissistic modification.

When the narcissist's grandiose defenses crumble under a sustained attack, that's what happens. Stripped of his reified ideal ego, false self, the narcissist is then reduced to an obnoxious but terrified child, rendered a veritable zero from an imagined hero.

The narcissist can no longer sustain his delusional view of himself as irresistible, a winner, a genius.

Instead, the narcissist comes face to face with his own weird creepiness, gaping inadequacies and history of failures. He realizes, the narcissist then realizes, that he's a ghost, a long dead, an unrequited apparition of a howling void, a hole of broken shattered mirrors.

And this is the kind of people, this is the kind of abusers that your patients are likely to have come across and paired with, selected as mates.

Finally faced with reality, people like narcissists, psychopaths, borderlines, they become aware that ultimately they had fooled no one and everyone had seen right through their pathetic facades.

And then abandonment is imminent and it's an overwhelming horror, terror.

Motification occurs most commonly, though not exclusively, when the narcissist's intimate partner, abruptly, or cruelly, bails out of the shared fantasy.

The only illusory space which lets the narcissist maintain his counterfactual sarcasm, imaginary kingdom.

On rare occasions, moved by his evident distress and disintegration, the narcissist's intimate partner is reduced to such profound pity that she may even sacrifice herself and remain by his crippled side.

But coming back to the core topic, the shared, the comfort zone.

Once the comfort zone is replaced by a shared fantasy, once the substitute of a shared fantasy takes hold and the previous comfort zone is discarded and vanishes, fades away, the victim is trapped inside the shared fantasy.

The shared fantasy is a cemetery, it's a mortuary, it's a morn. The shared fantasy is inhabited by a ghost.

It's, ironically, a kind of spiritual realm. It's not real, it's a femoral. And it's very surrealistic, it's the exact equivalent of a horror movie.

She's trapped with someone who has long been dead and doesn't realize he's dead. He thinks everyone around him is dead, he doesn't realize he's the ghost, like in the movies that I've mentioned.

And you can see this manifest very explicitly in social media. Social media presents a contradiction and therefore their engines of dissonance. Social media calls the narcissist, modification by a thousand paper cuts. Social media constitutes perfect sources of narcissistic supply, perfect shared fantasies. I'll come to it in a minute.

It's called pathological narcissistic space.

But they also amount to constant generators of narcissistic injuries, supply injuries, supply injuries, supply injuries, approach avoidance, come go, withdraw, approach. Long exposure to these platforms makes it difficult for the narcissist to idealize his false self and may lead to recurrent mini-motifications.

The narcissist's only way out of narcissistic modification is to forcefully re-establish his grandiosity and revive the false self. And he accomplishes this resurrection by reframing the mortifying events and by fleeing the scene, literally fleeing the scene.

So let's go a bit deeper into the issue of modification, pathological narcissistic space, et cetera, because remember the sequence.

We start with your potential client, your typical client starts with a relatively healthy comfort zone, which is not too divorced, too removed from reality, incorporates big chunks of reality, is reality-based and evidence-based. This comfort zone is protected by non-negotiable, relatively impermeable and rigid personal boundaries.

And now your client comes across someone who is a narcissist or a psychopath or a borderline and everything goes topsy-turvy.

The dysfunctional intimate partner penetrates, ruins, destroys the personal boundaries, invades the comfort zone, demolishes the comfort zone and replaces it with a shared fantasy.

And the mechanism that regulates the shared fantasy is mortification. That's the mechanism.

The shared fantasy has a mental, psychological element, which exists in the minds of the inhabitants of the shared fantasy, but it also has a physical correlate, a physical real world component, which we'll come to in a minute.

We must realize that the narcissist constructs narratives that absorb the narcissist of guilt and shame, remorse and regret. The narcissist attributes anything that happens to him, any downfall, disgrace, defeat, failure, either to the envious malevolence of others or to his own cunning and iron will.

To resolve the cognitive dissonance, the narcissist will say, I actually wanted all this to happen. None of it surprised me. I engineered all this.

And then the narcissist proceeds to discard his shared fantasy.

So here's the sequence, shared fantasy, comfort zone replaced by shared fantasy.

Then there is mortification of some kind. The mortification causes the narcissist to discard the shared fantasy.

Shared fantasy is contaminated by the mortification and he cannot maintain it anymore because the mortification forced him to confront reality.

So he has to discard this particular shared fantasy.

And together with the shared fantasy, he has to discard what we call the pathological narcissistic space.

Now to remind you, the pathological narcissistic space is a location. It could be a physical location, the neighborhood pub, church, workplace, for example, it could be a system, the narcissist family, group of fans. It could be a virtual environment online, a support group, a YouTube channel, social media accounts, an MMORPG multiplayer game or MOOC class.

These are all examples of pathological narcissistic space.

So when the narcissist is modified and forced to discard the shared fantasy, he proceeds to discard also his erstwhile pathological narcissistic space, his physical hunting grounds.

Because the pathological narcissistic space is an element in the shared fantasy. It's shall we call it the ontological element. That's epistemological element and ontological element.

So he discards the shared fantasy and he discards everything connected and everyone connected to the shared fantasy. Everyone in the pathological narcissistic space goes to the garbage beam to the trash can together with the space itself. They're all indelibly imprinted with the unbearable memories of traumatic mortification. They are transmogrified into triggers and the narcissist avoids him and able to subsist and survive for long without narcissistic supply.

The narcissist immediately embarks on love bombing and grooming his way into new sources in a new location and restarts the cycle of the idealization, devaluation, mortification, discard, replace and so on.


So the concept of PNS is very crucial, very critical to the concept of shared fantasy.

And the shared fantasy is actually a dysfunctional or pathologized comfort zone.

Sooner or later the pathological narcissistic space collapses because the narcissist alienates, disappoints and enrages everyone. Sooner or later the narcissist is going to be mortified or severely injured and then he's forced to devalue, discard and replace the hitherto idealized niche his current pathological narcissistic space and he's forced to scout for alternatives.

And so when circumstances like pandemic, war, recession, when they conspire to restrict his mobility, the narcissist's access or ability to conjure up a substitute pathological narcissistic space, it can lead to personal collapse, severe mood lability, total emotional dysregulation and to mortification by itself.


Consider the pandemic. The pandemic has rendered all this maneuvering impossible. Most narcissists are forced into immobility, into a virtual existence and many narcissists are driven to psychoticdecompensation and life threatening, potentially suicidal acting out.

Attempts to compensate via social media or cyber presence only backfire as the narcissist is exposed to multiple repeated narcissistic injuries every minute of every day.

The narcissist proceeds to groom potential sources of sadistic or narcissistic supply. He proceeds to extract sadistic supply and narcissistic supply from these people in a well-demarcated and boundaried ecosystem called pathological narcissistic space.

But what happens when he is unable to establish a new pathological narcissistic space?

Then he's stuck. He's stuck because he cannot discard the previous shared fantasy. He cannot discard it because it goes together with existing pathological narcissistic space.

So again, to make order, narcissists, psychopaths, borderline and other personality disordered people and victims of complex post-traumatic stress disorder, they team up, they mate with potential intimate partners and then what they do, they invade the comfort zone of the intimate partner and they replace it with a shared fantasy.

The shared fantasy has two elements. Mental element, delusional illusory, concocted piece of fiction narrative protected by paranoid and other aggressive personal boundaries and a real life correlate, a pathological narcissistic space.

When the narcissist is mortified, when the shared fantasy is not working anymore for some reason, he's been abandoned, he's been cheated on, he feels deceived, he feels disappointed, he's been challenged, he's been criticized, etc.

Shared fantasy is not working anymore. He discards the shared fantasy.

But when he discards the shared fantasy, he has also to discard the pathological narcissistic space.

So the first thing he does, he tries to find an alternative pathological narcissistic space.

When he finds the alternative pathological narcissistic space, he can then discard the old shared fantasy and begin to create a new shared fantasy.

But when he's unable to find the pathological narcissistic space because there is a pandemic and he cannot move around or because he's disabled for some reason, when he is unable to move on, the narcissist remains stuck in the old shared fantasy, which had become a trigger for repeated mortifications and he can lose his mind or become suicidal.

And so narcissists try to resolve this dilemma via process that I call vacillating modifications.

You remember from last year that there are two types of narcissistic modification, internal and external. Both these types are counterfactual. Both of them are narratives, storylines. Both of them are egosyntonic in one way or another. And the narcissist can decide when he's stuck in a shared fantasy that constantly injures him, constantly mortifies him.

And he is unable to transition to another pathological narcissistic space and spawn another shared fantasy with new people when he's stuck.

He vacillates, he oscillates, he pendulates and shifts between internal and external modification, unable to make up his mind what works best for him. And external modification, for example, in the case of intimate relationships, external modification would be women reject me first and only then do I react with abuse and negativity.

So that's external modification. They are guilty. People are guilty for my misbehavior. People are guilty for my aggression and misconduct and rage and negative emotionality. They are to blame me. I'm just reacting. That's external modification coming from the outside.

Internal modification is I abuse people first. I exude negativity. And only then people react with abusive misbehavior. She told me betray me, abandon me. That's internal modification.

The reason is from the inside. I'm the one who is initiating the whole process, but I'm the one who is initiating the process. I'm in control.

So this is external versus internal modification.

Now in a shared fantasy, as I said, as I told you in my lecture last year, there are several types of abuse. It's very wrong to lump all kinds of abuse together.

In a typical shared fantasy, there is narcissistic abuse type one. It revolves around externalized negativity, pessimism, ostentatious disappointment and disapproval of the partner and of everyone in general. Cynicism, criticism, intermittent reinforcement and constant micro rejections. That's how the abuse starts in all shared fantasies without exception.

Narcissistic abuse type one.

The reality is that it is always the narcissist or the borderline or the psychopath. It's always the dysfunctional partner who commences, who starts, who boots the cycle of abuse. It's always the narcissist, for example, who engages in low grade ambient narcissistic abuse type one.

And then women, intimate partners or colleagues or coworkers, everyone in this environment to react with rejection and abuse. So the narcissist starts it. That's a reality.

The truth is that internal modification is much closer to reality than external modification.

External modification is very paranoid. It's a morality play. Everyone is vicious and evil. Everyone is envious of me. I'm a saint. I'm a victim. It's a victim stance.

Reality is closer to the internal modification. The narcissist starts every shared fantasy.

Having gone through a face of grooming and love bombing, he suddenly changes and he begins to externalize negativity. He becomes pessimistic. He's disappointed all the time. He disapproves all the time, criticizes, disagrees, mocks, berates, humiliates, demeans, debases. He intermittent reinforcement. He's hot and cold, love and hate, micro rejections on multiple levels. This is type one.

And then type one suddenly escalates. It escalates. It becomes proactive because the victims of type one abuse react.

The narcissist starts with low grade, low intensity abuse. And people give him a taste of his own medicine. They react. They abuse him back. They abuse him in turn. They reject him as well.

And so he escalates. He escalates and his type one abuse becomes proactive. He varies his maltreatment. He couples mistreatment with externalized and internalized negativity and aggression.

It's still type one, but it had become really, really bad.

And now this type one abuse within the shared fantasy usually leads to abandonment, cheating, betrayal, mutual hostilities, culminating in MAD, mutually assured destruction. If the other party tries to bargain, to negotiate, to establish communication protocols, the narcissist transitions to type two, type two narcissistic abuse.

Type two includes overt, verbal, psychological, sexual, financial, legal abuse, clear rejection. The narcissist pushes away his partner, total withdrawal, total avoidance, and so on and so forth.

So these are the dynamics within the shared fantasy.

I reiterated these dynamics. I repeated them because I described them in previous lectures. I repeated them for you so that you understand that if the narcissist is unable to discard, unable to transition from the current shared dysfunction on shared fantasy, the shared fantasy that is no longer working for him, no longer providing him with what he needs, he wants to move on.

If he's unable to move on, he will escalate his type one behavior, misbehavior. He will escalate type one narcissistic abuse. He will become really, really seriously abusing because he will feel trapped and cornered. He will feel less than omnipotent. He will need to reassert his grandiosity to buttress it, to reestablish it, to revive it by becoming super abuser, like a super spreader in a pandemic. He becomes super abuser. That way he will feel, again, godlike, omnipotent.

And as long as he's stuck in the shared fantasy, he is abused with escalate and can reach the point of homicide, really, really bad things.

And so it's always recommended to break up the shared fantasy at an early phase. That's why personal boundaries must be enforced immediately.


The first transgression that crosses the red line of your personal boundary, you need to let go. You need to break up. It's only going to get worse. It's going to escalate because of the dynamics that I've just described.

Now, the thing is coming back full circle to the beginning of this lecture when I discussed your future vocation. You're going to come across an increasing number of narcissists, psychopaths, and borderlines in your practice. And you're going to come across many victims who had assumed the traits and behaviors of narcissists, psychopaths, and borderlines.

Victims of complex trauma. CPT is there, indistinguishable psychodynamically from patients with borderline personality disorder. Many victims assume, adopt, and display, exhibit traits and behaviors which are absolutely typical of primary psychopaths, secondary psychopaths in the case of borderlines, and narcissists, grandiose narcissists.

So there's a major pandemic, real pandemic, of cluster B personality disorder spreading like wildfire throughout the population.


I'm the one who coined the phrase narcissism epidemic that was later borrowed by Campbell and others. The father of modern sociology, Emil Dukheim, coined the term anomie to describe the atomization and normative decoherence of societies owing to unsustainable population growth.

In anomic states, misbehaviors such as suicide and crime proliferate. Dukheim neglected to mention that mentally disordered people thrive in chaos. Their internal upheaval perfectly chimes in with and is optimally adopted to the external mayhem. They resonate. They resonate with a mess, with a chaos, with a confusion, with a conflict.

In eras of apocalypse, one frequently finds psychopaths gleefully contemplating the ruination of institutions and contributing to the demise of their own civilization. In decline and fall, antisocial individuals are defiantly euphoric, eerily content and counterintuitively purposeful. They become self efficacious.

There's no dissonance there, just resonance. Our civilization is anomic, declining, disintegrating, decadent and not only in the west of course, all over the world. It's a global civilization. It's a global village, as McLuhan suggested.

So in this kind of civilization, narcissists and psychopaths rise to the top and not only in politics, in absolutely every profession.

Why?

Because they are better equipped to deal with these systemic dysfunctions.

They know the ropes. They've experienced it starting in early childhood.

Their response times are much faster. Their daring and reckless defiance are more suited to abnormal situations.

They resonate. They love the apocalypse.

Narcissism is machine-like. It's a form of artificial intelligence.

The narcissist's pursuit of narcissistic supply is one-track minded, relentless and compulsive.

And the same goes for the psychopath.

Sadism doesn't pursue narcissistic supply. He wants money, sex, power, but the same. They're both the same. We're all becoming more narcissistic and therefore less human. Androids, humanoids, rigid robots, we all feel a growing discomfort in each other's company. Uncanny Valley. You remember Uncanny Valley from two years ago?

Capitalism, materialism, individualism. They're all mechanical. They're all forms of production lines. They are the reification of the Industrial Revolution. They have coalesced into the prevailing ethos and the organizational principle of our lives and times.

I attribute the rise of narcissism to urban overcrowding, the population bomb of a population and our innate desire to be noticed by others, to be seen at any cost to us and even at the expense of others.

Narcissism is therefore the human equivalent of the behavioral sink in rats and mice.

To remind you, that was three years ago. A few of you will remember, but the ethologist John B. Calhoun conducted experiments in the 1960s and 1970s on rats in what he called rat utopias. These were pens, like cages, with optimal conditions for unfettered reproduction. He reproduced his alarming results with mice later in his career.

As the numbers of rodents, numbers of these animals, rose within the enclosures as they multiplied, Calhoun observed an explosion of social pathologies. The animals became promiscuous. There were miscarriages, cannibalism, maternal dysfunctions, schizoid withdrawal, or the opposite, compulsive and frenetic fraternizing, gregariousness. Animals went wild, went crazy as the numbers multiplied.

There was not enough personal space and so they became totally enmeshed with each other. They created in effect a giant shared fantasy.

The word utopia was unintentionally very fitting. The very fabric of social organization was frayed within the cages.

The rodents developed what today would be called personality disorders, mice and rats with personality disorders, psychopaths, borderlines.

Narcissists and psychopaths are better equipped to deal with modern life. The narcissist is adept at manipulating symbols and narratives, starting with his own confabulated false self and ending with a shared fantasy.

Our technologies encourage poor impulse control and defiance. In a society of spectacle, giddebo, appearances and simulations are the only forms of reality. TV stars become presidents, not only in the United States, Ukraine. Fake it till you make it becomes to fake it is to make it.

Celebrities are famous for being famous, vacuous celebrities. Fawning and media hungry academics, they now talk about productive narcissists, high-functioning psychopaths, recovered narcissists, shy borderlines, empaths. These are all self-aggrandizing, self-justifying labels.

And you know what? There's so much money in these cottage industries that you can always find fake academics and real academics who sacrifice their integrity, who lie, call artists, who make money by telling people what they want to hear.

Narcissists are happy to be lucky. They expound and recommend their own narcissism.

So today you have a whole literature telling parents to teach your children to be more narcissistic.

What used, and of course all the coaches, there's a giant inside you, what used to be an extreme and obnoxious pathology has now become the de rigueur, bonton, a positive adaptation and the organizing principle that infuses everything with meaning, from politics to business to dating to sex.

How do you, as psychotherapists, cope with this?

When the world itself became mentally ill, aren't mentally ill people the norm? Aren't healthy people abnormal in such a civilization?

It's a conundrum, not easy to solve.

Thank you for listening and we'll see each other next month.

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