I am Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.
The study of narcissism is almost a century old, yet the two scholarly debates central to its conception are still undecided and unresolved.
The first one, is there such a thing as healthy narcissism as postulated by Kohut? Or are all the manifestations of narcissism in adulthood pathological, as Freud believed early on, followed by Bleuler?
Moreover, is pathological narcissism the outcome of verbal, sexual, physical or psychological abuses, an overwhelming view? Or on the contrary, is narcissism the sad result of spoiling the child and idolizing it as Milan believes?
The second debate is easier to resolve if one agrees to adopt a more comprehensive, more inclusive definition of abuse.
Overweening, smothering, domineering, spoiling, overvaluing, idolizing the child are all forms of parental abuse.
This is because, as Karen Horney, the famous psychoanalyst, pointed out, the child is dehumanized and instrumentalized when the child is idolized.
His parents love the child conditionally, not for what he really is, but for what they wish and imagine him to be, the fulfillment of their dreams and frustrated wishes.
The child becomes the vessel of his parents' discontented lives, a tool, a magic brush with which they can airbrush and transform their failures into successes, their humiliation to victory, their frustrations rendered unto happiness.
The child is taught to ignore reality and to occupy the parental, fantastic space.
Such an unfortunate child feels omnipotent and omniscient, perfect and brilliant, worthy of adoration and entitled to special treatment.
The faculties that are honed and created and generated by constantly brushing against bruising reality, faculties such as empathy, compassion, a realistic assessment of one's abilities and limitations, realistic expectations of oneself and others, personal boundaries, teamwork, social skills, perseverance and goal orientation, not to mention the ability to postpone gratification and to work hard to achieve it.
All these capacities and abilities are lacking or missing altogether in the narcissistic child turned adult.
He sees no reason to invest in his skills and education.
Such a narcissist is convinced that his inherent genius should suffice if he is entitled for merely being rather than for actually doing.
But such a mental structure is brittle. It is susceptible to criticism and disagreement. It is vulnerable to the incessant encounter with a harsh and intolerant world.
Deep inside, narcissists of both kinds, those created by classic abuse and those wrought and yielded by being idolized, both types of narcissists feel inadequate, phony, fake, inferior and deserveable punishment.
This is where I disagree with Milan. He makes a distinction between several types of narcissists.
He wrongly assumes that the classic narcissist is the outcome of overvaluation, idolization and spoiling and thus is possessed of a supreme unchallenged self-confidence and is devoid of self-doubt.
According to Milan, the second type of narcissist, the compensatory narcissist, is the one who falls prey to nagging self-doubts, feelings of inferiority and a masochistic desire for self-punishment.
Yet the distinction is both wrong and unnecessary.
There is only one type of narcissist.
Admittedly, there are two developmental paths that lead to narcissism.
But all narcissists are besieged by deeply ingrained, though at times not conscious, feelings of inadequacy, fears of failure, masochistic desires to be penalized, fluctuating sense of self-worth, regulated by narcissistic supply.
They both are possessed with an overwhelming sensation of being fake, fraud.
The grandiosity gap between a fantastically grandiose and unlimited self-image and an actual rather limited accomplishments and achievements, this abyss between the ideal and the real is grating.
Its recurrence threatens the precariously balanced house of cards that is the narcissistic personality.
The narcissist finds, to be chagrin, that people out there are much less admiring, accommodating and accepting than his parents were.
As it grows old, the narcissist often becomes the target of constant derision and mockery, sorry sight indeed.
His claims for superiority appear less plausible and less substantial the more and the lower he makes them.
Pathological narcissism originally was a defense mechanism intended to shield the narcissist from an injurious world.
But as a narcissist turns adult, narcissism, his pathology, becomes the main source of hurt, the main generator of injuries. It is counterproductive and dangerous.
Overwhelmed by negative or absent narcissistic supply, some narcissists are forced to let go of this defense mechanism of narcissism and they retreat into a land of delusion and fantasy, even into psychosis.