Narcissist: Life as a Film

Uploaded 9/7/2010, approx. 8 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin. I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

The narcissist experiences life as a prolonged, incomprehensible, unpredictable, frequently terrifying and deeply saddening nightmare.

This is the result of the divergent functionality of the false self and the true self. The true self are the fossilized ashes of the original, immature personality, which was suppressed and supplanted by the false self.

Yet it is the true self that does all the feeling and all the experiencing within the narcissist.

The false self is nothing but a concoction. It is a figment of the narcissist disorder. It is a reflection in the narcissist hall of mirrors.

The false self is incapable of feeling or experiencing.

Despite these handicaps, the false self is fully the master of the psychodynamic processes which rage within the narcissist's unsettled psyche.

This inner battle between false self and true self is so fierce that the true self experiences it as a diffuse, though imminent and eminently ominous threat.

Anxiety ensues and the narcissist feels himself constantly ready for the next blow. He does things and he knows not where and where from. He says things. He acts, he behaves in certain ways, which he knows endanger him and put him in line for punishment, yet he cannot control them.

The narcissist hurts people around him or breaks the law or violates accepted morality. He knows that he is in the wrong and he feels ill at ease on the rare moments that he does feel at all.

He wants to stop but knows not how.

Gradually the narcissist is estranged from himself, possessed by some kind of demon, a puppet on invisible mental strings.

And the narcissist resents his feeling. He wants to rebel. He is repelled by this part in him with which he is not acquainted.

In his efforts to exorcize this devil from his soul, the narcissist dissociates, cuts off parts of his life and portions of his experiences.

This dissociation is eerie. This eeriness pervades the entire soul and psyche of the narcissist.

At times of crisis, danger, depression, failure, and of narcissistic injury, the narcissist feels that he is watching himself from the outside.

I'm not talking about an out of body experience. A narcissist does not really exit his body.

It is just that the narcissist assumes, involuntarily, the position of a spectator, a polite observer mildly interested in the whereabouts of one Mr. Narcissist.

The narcissist's experience of his life is akin to watching a movie. When we watch a movie, the illusion is not complete nor is it precise. We know that it's a movie and the narcissist has the same feeling regarding his own life, that it's an imperfect illusion, that it's not really there.

This detachment continues for as long as the narcissist's egodystonic behavior persists, for as long as a crisis goes on, for as long as the narcissist cannot face what he is doing and the consequences of his actions.

But this is the case most of the time. The narcissist usually engages in egodystonic behavior. He is usually enmeshed and in crisis. He usually cannot face who he is and denies his mental disorder. And he usually disregards the consequences of his own actions. He feels immune.

Since this is the case most of the time, gradually, the narcissist gets used to seeing himself in the role of a protagonist, a kind of hero of a motion picture or a novel. And this hero typecasting, this feeling that he is a protagonist in a novel or a motion picture also sits well with the narcissist's grandiosity and fantasies.

Sometimes narcissists talk about themselves in the third person singular. Sometimes a narcissist calls his other narcissistic self by a different name. It is very close to what we popularly perceive as multiple personality.

The narcissist describes his life, his events, ups and downs, his pains, elation and disappointments in the most remote, professional and coldly analytical voice as though he were describing the life of some exotic insect.

Indeed, Franz Kafka wrote a short story called Metamorphosis in which someone with narcissistic traits overnight is transformed into a giant cockroach.

The metaphor of life as a movie gaining control by writing a scenario or by inventing a narrative is not a modern invention. Cavemen narcissists have, I'm sure, done the same.

But this is only the external, superficial facet of the disorder.

The crux of the problem is that the narcissist really feels this way. It's not that he pretends that he feels this way, it's that he really feels it.

He actually experiences his life as belonging to someone else. He treats his body as though it were a dead weight or an instrument in the service of some entity.

His deeds are amoral and not immoral. He cannot be judged for something he did not do, he feels.

So the narcissist is one step removed from himself.

What he does is done by someone else, by some entity that has taken over him. It's as though the narcissist has been body snatched.

As time passes, the narcissist accumulates a mountain of mishaps, conflicts unresolved, pains well-hidden, abrupt separations and bitter disappointments.

He is subjected to a constant barrage of social criticism and condemnation. He is ashamed and fearful. He knows that something is wrong, but there is no correlation between his cognition, his knowledge and his emotions.

The narcissist prefers to run away and hide as he did when he was a child, only this time he hides behind another self, a false self.

People reflect to him this mask of his creation until he even de-believes its very existence and acknowledges his dominance, until he forgets the truth about himself, until he knows no better.

The narcissist is only dimly aware of the decisive battle which rages inside him. He feels threatened, he feels very sad, confronted by an emotional threat or by an existential threat, but it's very vague, it's very much in the background, a fuzzy premonition.

He retreats into this haven, this mode of coping by inventing and then projecting another facet of himself, the false self.

The narcissist relegates responsibility, submissively assuming a passive role.

He who is not responsible, goes the dialogue, cannot be punished. If the false self is to be held responsible for all the misdeeds of the narcissist, then the narcissist is exempt. He should be exonerated. He is innocent.

The narcissist is thus conditioned to annihilate himself, both in order to avoid emotional pain and in order to bask in the glow of his impossibly grandiose fantasies, and most importantly in order to avoid responsibility.

This he does with fanatic zeal and with efficacy.

Prospectively, he assigns his very life to the false self.

All the decisions to be made, all the judgments to be passed, all the agreements to be reached are relegated to the false self.

Retroactively, the narcissist reinterprets his past life in a manner consistent with the current needs of the forced self, his new master.

It is no wonder that there is no connection between the narcissist's did feel in a given period of his life or in relation to a specific event and the way that he sees and remembers these feelings later on.

He may describe certain occurrences or phases in his life as tedious, painful, sad and burdening, even though at the time when he experienced these phases, he was elated and happy.

The same retroactive coloring of his life occurs with regards to people. The narcissist completely distorts the way he regards certain people and the way he had felt about them.

This rewriting of his personal history is aimed to directly and fully accommodate the requirements of his false self.

In sum, the narcissist does not occupy his own soul. He does not inhabit his own body. He is the servant of an apparition, of a reflection, of an ego function known as the false self.

To please and appease his master, the narcissist sacrifices to the false self his very own life.

From that moment onwards, the narcissist lives vicariously through the good offices of the false self.

Throughout this process, the narcissist feels detached, alienated and estranged from his false self.

He constantly harbors the sensation that he is watching a movie with a plot over which he has little control.

It is with a certain interest, even fascination, that he watches the movie.

Still, it is mere passive observation, not a participation and not an ownership of his own life.

Thus, not only does the narcissist relinquish control of his future life by using this metaphor of the movie, he gradually loses ground to the false self in the battle to preserve the integrity and genuineness of his past experiences.

He is losing not only his future, not only his present, but he is losing even his past to the false self.

Eroded by these processes, the narcissist gradually disappears and is replaced by his disorder to the fullest possible extent.

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