And your religion is emerging.
We're in the middle of a massive religious revolution.
It's a massive religious revolution, bigger than anything in human history, because it's everywhere.
It's a hyper, super, post-modern religion.
And we are in the middle of the birth of this religion.
We are creating a religion that in the Middle Ages would have been called demonic.
This is a narcissistic society, where the losers are pushed to have less and less, and the winners take more and more.
Without regard for consequences, narcissism is not only a mental health disorder. It's not only a principle according to which we organize society. It's not only a principle which can explain to us many things that are happening around us in our relationships, in our politics and so on. It's not only these things, but it's a new religion, similar to Islam or to Christianity or to Judaism or to Buddhism. It's a new religion.
For some time I've been drawn to want to know more about narcissism.
So, I decided that I would reach out to the world's foremost leading expert on this, the grandfather of narcissistic research, Professor Sam Vaknin. I went into this thinking that I was going to learn more about a mental health issue, but what I soon began to realize was that this is bigger than that. This is so much bigger than that.
This is, to use Sam's word, narcissism is more than just a mental health issue or a personality disorder. It's an organizing principle of our culture and our society. It's a primal drive. It pervades parenting, education, media, social media, politics, governments, all of it.
Hello and welcome back to WA Real. I'm your host, Bryn Eduritz.
Today I have the great pleasure of talking to Professor Sam Vaknin.
Sam, welcome to the show.
Thank you, pleasure to be here.
What is narcissism and what are some of the mechanics and dynamics around it?
I first noticed that in the Greek myth of Narcissus, who was a youth in Greece, who was condemned, he was cursed to fall in love with his own reflection. There was a goddess who cursed him to fall in love with his own reflection.
First of all, it's a curse. It's not a blessing. It's a curse. It's a hindrance. It's a disability. It's a problem. It's an illness. There's no positive word that can be associated with narcissism. It is not, like many narcissists say, an evolutionary advantage, a positive adaptation. It is not like many current scholars suggest a high-functioning adaptation to modern civilization and modern society. It's rather the other way around.
Individual narcissists have created civilization and society in their own image and rendered it equally dysfunctional, not the other way.
So, of course, within a dysfunctional society, dysfunction pays. It paid to be a psychopath in Nazi Germany. It was an adaptive strategy.
The second thing in the Greek myth, the guy falls in love with his own reflection, it's a very important distinction. He does not fall in love with himself.
Narcissism is not self-love. Narcissism is the love of your own reflection via the medium and the agency of other people.
And here's the problem. Because you want your reflection to be perfect and brilliant and omnipotent and omniscient and God-like, etc., you force people, you coerce them, you threaten them, you blackmail them, you manipulate them into providing you with exactly this reflection.
The third element in the myth is the youth. Narcissism, pathological narcissism, is a reaction to early childhood abuse and trauma.
Now, there are many scholars nowadays who dispute this. They would say it's not true. We can find what we did find in clinical settings.
Many people diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder who had not gone through, who had not experienced childhood abuse.
The problem is with the scholars, not with narcissism.
Scholars have a problem because they define abuse too narrowly. They take into account only classical forms of abuse, like physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological and verbal abuse, etc.
Now, these forms of abuse, of course, exist. They're egregious, they're horrible, they should be eradicated, encountered and everything, all the slogans.
But they are actually a tiny minority of the abuse experienced by children.
Children much more often are subjected to the second type of abuse, which had been identified by Karen Horney in the 40s. And that is when the child is put on a pedestal, idolized, spoiled, pampered.
And so the child's boundaries are breached. They're breached and he's not allowed to separate from the parent. He's not allowed to individuate, become an individual.
These are also forms of abuse and many narcissists, most narcissists actually, go through this route as children. They can do no wrong. As children, they are not disciplined. As children, they are not exposed to reality. As children, they are not able to evolve and grow and develop psychologically. And especially they are not allowed to become autonomous, separate from the parent, individuals.
Because the parent is in himself or herself, immature and narcissistic. And she wants to merge and fuse with the child forever. She wants to render the child an extension of herself or an elemental construct within her own psyche.
So it's intergenerational immaturity, propagated via abuse that masquerades as love and caring. That's the most pernicious form.
What's pernicious form?
Because as I listen to you there, you know, what are some of the modern features, features of modern parenting, you know, you can be everything, you can do it all, put you on a pedestal, you know, we don't have, you know, medals for just participating and things like that.
Is that all part of this wider definition of abuse that you're talking about?
Not only modern parenting, but the modern education system, especially in some countries in the West, I'm alluding to the United States mainly, have taken this form of abuse and reified it and elevated it and rendered it a principle of action, an organizing principle and a hermeneutic principle, principle that imbues life with meaning.
So today it's not uncommon for a teacher to tell the children your own special and if you only put your mind to it, there's nothing you cannot do. Magical thinking, pathological elements in narcissism and pathological elements generally have become the curriculum, the syllabus and the agenda of the modern family and modern education system.
Now, if you ask me, which you don't, but I'm going to ask anyhow, if you ask me why, I think in the case of parents, modern parents, there's a lot of shame and guilt because modern parents feel guilty and ashamed.
Take, for example, divorce parents. Yeah. There's an intolerable load of shame and guilt there for having disrupted the family unit and family environment. They're trying to overcompensate for this. Even parents who are still together, monogamy nowadays is under enormous stress, enormous stress or stresses in multiple.
And so if there's virtually no functional relationship left, all relationships are subject to friction and dysfunction and so on. So children feel this, parents know that children feel this and they're trying to overcompensate.
The whole thing is overcompensation.
Narcissism starts as a private religion and then every narcissist is a one-man religion, a one-man cult. When we have a society full with narcissists, we have a society full with gods. We have a society full with worshipers. We have multiple cults.
But what is narcissism?
The child creates a separate entity, the false self. The false self is everything the child is not. The false self is omnipotent or powerful. The false self is omniscient, knows everything. The false self is perfect and brilliant.
But when we have an entity that knows everything, has all the power in the world and is perfect, what is the name of this entity? It's a god. This is god. God is omnipotent, god is omniscient, god is perfect.
The child creates a god. The false self is a god. It's a religion. It's a religion with one god, the false self, and one worshipper, one adherent, the child.
So the child forms a religion, creates a private religion where there is a god called the false self. But it's an extremely malicious, toxic, and dangerous religion. Never before has there been anything remotely similar to this religion, because it has a few features that no other religion ever had.
Some non-monetistic religion with as many gods as there are adherents, as there are worshippers. It's not a religion with a central figure, which we all worship, but it's a religion where the worship is distributed, the gods are distributed, everything is distributed. It's a modern religion. It's the first modern religion, because into these worlds, the ruling metaphor, the ruling organizational principle is the principle of the network. And your religion, of course, will be a religion that uses the dominant metaphor. It will be a network religion.
And there's only one type of religion that is distributed, and networked, narcissism. And so it's a new religion.
Now the education system caters to the rising tide of narcissism in society, societal, collective narcissism. Education system simply, especially the education system in the West, where it's utterly commercialized and privatized. Even public education systems in the West are essentially commercialized and privatized.
So they respond to the wishes and the needs of the client, very similar to social media. Everything adapts to the collective mindset.
And there is no question that our civilization, and especially the younger elements in our population, are much more narcissistic than, let's say, in the 1980s, five times more actually.
Narcissism is the defining psychological moment in the individual and in the collective nowadays.
So obviously, the education system adapted to it. So did politics, so did technology, so did socialism. Is narcissism become more prevalent because you created the lexicon and we can now look for it with a lot more clarity? Or is it a function, or is it a symptom of a slightly, well, not slightly, a dysfunctional world unity that we start to live in now?
Unfortunately, I cannot take credit or debit for what's happening today. The studies are unequivocal. There is an inherent, integral innate rise in narcissism, especially among the younger generations.
Today, adolescence is defined 15 to 25. In this age group, there is an explosion of narcissism. There is an equal explosion of narcissism above the age of 65, in the population group above the age of 65, an explosion of narcissism, entitlement, and commensurate behavior, for example, infidelity.
And there is, the baby boomers are an interesting case, because I think with the baby boomers, narcissism was there.
But now the fact that we are more sensitive to it, renders them more visible with narcissism. Narcissism is really rising among the very young and the very old, these two population groups.
There is an interesting fact here. These are exactly the two groups where social media prevail. These are the two groups that provide the growth, the engine of growth in social media, up to 25 and over 65.
And in these two, narcissism is absolutely super novel. There's no other way to describe it, like five times higher among college students in the United States.
Social media is the world for digital natives. There is no other world outside it. There is no reality outside it. They live inside social media.
And this reminds me of the question you asked me about simulation. These are simulated people. They live inside the simulation. They are in the matrix already. They don't expect the experiences of real people who are living real lives, but they don't. They are living in a matrix. Social media is their reality. Bits and bites come instead of atoms. Their families are peers. And these peers are not real. They never see them or rarely see them face to face. They interact with digital renditions of other people, of objects, of places, of events. These are all digital. And in this sense, they are denizens of the matrix.
If I look at the likes on my Instagram, most likes I get are on selfies. And if I post something about seeing a band I like or like a scenic view, I get like half the likes. And it encourages you to post more self-obsessed things.
Focus on your personal appearance rather than what you are interested in and part of your personality. So in a way, it can diminish your personality because you are just more focused on what you look like.
I think narcissism is so common nowadays. We are being rewarded. Selfies today constitute 60% of all activity on social network. We don't have statistics from the beginning, but I remember the beginning. And I remember when social network started, it was never about selfies. I don't remember selfies. Selfie became very prominent in 2015-14. And today, it is six out of every 10 posts.
In other words, six out of every 10 times, we interact with ourselves. We watch ourselves, we shoot ourselves. I'm looking at me, you look at me. So we have a situation of making love to ourselves, literally making love to ourselves psychologically, falling in love with ourselves.
If you take photos of yourself all the time, you must be in love. Developing emotional investment in ourselves. This is known as cathect. Cathect is emotional investment. Object relation theory and psychology told us that we start by being emotionally invested in ourselves, and then we learn to externalize this investment and invest in others. And this is called object relations. We invest in objects.
But social media reverses this process, creates regression.
Indeed, social media encourages very, very primitive, infantile, baby-like defense mechanisms, such as splitting. You're either my friend or my enemy. You don't like me. You are my enemy. You like me, you're my friend. It's the like, dislike. It's very binary. Binary state.
I think it's a good point, and it potentially is problematic. If parents are taking a lot of pictures of their kids, putting them up online, and then saying to their kids, look, you're training children from a very early age that this is where validation comes from. This is where admiration comes from. You made me, your father, happy by getting a lot of likes from here.
So we're learning validation by proxy. Validation by proxy is one of the core structural elements in the personality disorder that's called narcissism.
So if you're training a child to seek feelings of validation, not directly from you as a parent, but through this by proxy of an audience, which is always faceless because in psychological terms, we can't really know who a thousand people are. We don't have the capacity to hold that in.
So they're just people. They're just fans. They're just followers. They're blank, faceless followers. They're not humans. So it's dehumanizing everybody in the system. It dehumanizes me as a parent because I'm now not offering what I should be offering. It dehumanizes you as a child because you're not being loved for you in your essence. You're being loved for the reactions you can get, and it dehumanizes the fans, the followers. They're nothing. They're just clap machines to give you likes and make you feel good.
Is there almost a level in these behaviors that is healthy and helps us to function? Or is it just, as you said earlier on, a curse, a curse set of behaviors, curse set of beliefs, curse set of personality?
Do you understand what I'm asking?
Well, narcissism is not like everything else in life. It's a spectrum, of course.
Now, the fathers of psychoanalysis, psychoanalytic psychology, and psychodynamic theories, and object relations theories, this gigantic group of schools of psychology. The fathers of all these suggested that we all have healthy narcissism, that there is a phase of narcissism in infancy. It's called primary narcissism that is indispensable for personal growth and personal development.
I will just mention briefly an example or give a taste of why it is indispensable.
For the baby, for the toddler, to let go of mommy and explore the world, the baby needs to be grandiose. The baby needs to assess risk incorrectly. The baby needs to feel immune to the consequences of his actions. The baby needs to be impulsive, defiant. In other words, the baby needs to be not only a narcissist, but I would say a psychopathic narcissist.
The first act of separation and individuation with the baby when the toddler leaves mommy's leg and ventures out two meters and then runs back in panic. These two meters are the longest two meters in his life.
Never mind how often he travels later. These two meters are the longest because they are the unknown. They are the terra incognita. They are the monster.
To venture out there, you really need to be grandiose. You need to feel godlike.
So this is an example of our healthy narcissism helps us to explore the world.
So even object relation schools, they clearly say that healthy narcissism is a prerequisite.
Relating to other people is impossible if we didn't first relate to ourselves.
Or as we put it colloquially, you can't love others if you don't love yourself. You first have to love yourself in order to love others. You first have to relate to yourself as an object if you want to relate to others as an object because you are the laboratory. You are conducting all the dangerous experiments on yourself.
What will happen if I love? Will I get hurt? Is it painful? Can I do it? To what extent can I do it? What are my boundaries with myself?
So in the initial stage of personal development, there is a state of mind which is very much equivalent to multiple personality, where you are your own object of desire, your own erotic object to use Freudian palingenesis, your libido, your life force is directed at yourself.
And only then when you feel safe, when you discover that everything is okay, nothing really really bad happened, only then do you dare venture out and direct some of this energy at others.
Of course there are schools that say that narcissism in any shape or form is pathological. I strongly disagree. I think there would be no self-confidence, no self-esteem, no regulation of sense of self-worth, no emotional regulation, and no mood regulation without narcissism.
In general, internal regulation or regulation of the internal space environment critically depends on healthy narcissism.
And then what happens is if your narcissism remains infantile, if it remains that narcissism of the six months old, if it remains that narcissism of the two years old, then you're in trouble, then you're a pathological narcissist.
Healthy narcissism grows and matures with the adult and becomes what Freud called secondary narcissism.
Because adult narcissism has nothing whatsoever to do with infantile narcissism. You might as well call it some other name, self-loving.
It's a totally different phenomenon.
So it's the infantile narcissism that turns into the curse.
Yes, that's the curse.
The longer you live with a narcissist, the longer you collaborate with a narcissist, the longer you love the narcissist, the more narcissistic you become. It's an infectious disease. It's a pathogen. It's body snatching. It's like a body snatching process.
And you feel that one, before you had met the narcissist, you had very clear, strict boundaries. When you have lived with the narcissist for a while, you begin to dissolve. Your boundaries begin to be very fuzzy and you begin to dissolve, like diluting something in a liquid, like you're diluted, like ink in a liquid.
You feel like this ink drop in a liquid. You feel that you are, you know.
And so the contagion of it is a major problem because it not only alters your behavior and your reactance, the way you react, but it alters your identity, who you are. Or at the very least, your self perception, perception of your identity.
It's disorienting and dislocating to the point of depersonalization, derealization and dissociation.
When we no longer know who we are and we feel our identity is threatened, we do three things.
We suddenly feel that we are not we.
We suddenly, it's like astral. We feel that we are disconnect from ourselves.
We derealize. We feel that our reality is a kind of nightmare. It's not real.
We feel like we are in some horror movie.
And the third reaction, which is by far the most common, is dissociation, forgetting, lapses in memory, deleting traumas, deleting things, suppressing.
So the contagion effect also has an effect on memory, continuity, identity. It's a major effect.
It's not like, okay, if I live with the lastest, I start to lie. It's bad enough. It's not an issue. This is a small issue. If I live with the lastest, I start to not be.
Our relationships are relationships that are by definition dysfunctional because we lost the capacity to see each other and to be seen.
It looks pretty hopeless.
And here is the sad irony and the frightening reality.
There is only one way to survive in such a way.
The young intuitively understand that the only way to survive such a toxic concentration camp of an environment is by being a narcissist.
So they become narcissists.
You can't live in an environment of death without dying yourself.
We breathe in death. We eat death. We have sex in a dead way. We are dead. We are a zombified society. We have nothing to live for.
Pain, narcissism. These are the truths that are known.
What is religion? Religion is virtual reality. It's a space. It's a space to which you migrate heaven, hell. You migrate into this space.
Yes. And you live in that space.
You interact with God. Your behavior is dictated and directed by this virtual sphere.
Religion was the precursor of cyberspace and that is exactly the enormous force of cyberspace.
Cyberspace is a new secular religion and it is coupled with yet another religion known as narcissism. Narcissism is a true religion.
To understand why narcissism is the new religion which will overtake by storm Christianity, Islam and Judaism and Buddhism combined. This will be by far the prevalent religion in 50 years.
The religion and it will be a religion.
Cyberspace is a religious space similar to for example the religious space in the minds of people in the middle ages. People in the middle ages believed that their earthly existence, their existence of earth, their corporeal existence, their physical existence is meaningless. They believed the important life starts in the afterlife.
They placed emphasis on the afterlife.
So all people in the middle ages in Christianity and not only in Christianity, all people in the middle ages, they did not inhabit reality. They inhabited virtual reality. They didn't call it Facebook. They called it heaven. They didn't call it soccer bird. They called it God. Both of them were Jewish so it's okay. They I mean they but it was virtual reality. It was cyberspace and they all waited, bided, bided their time on earth to get to the real game and the real game was the afterlife. That's where the action was. You were sentenced to spend 40 years here in this shithole but the real thing started after you died. You had died and that's why they invested in ordinate efforts here on earth to secure their place in the religious cyberspace of heaven and heaven.
Intelligences, the concept of sin, building cathedrals over hundreds of years, over centuries. These were projects intended to secure the foundations, if you wish, the technological foundations of afterlife.
The cyberspace of that time was called afterlife. So cyberspace of today, virtual reality of today, is what afterlife used to be to in the middle ages but narcissism is the equivalent of Christianity. It's a new religion, absolutely.
What is narcissism?
The child invents a private religion, invents God, he discovers God. The false self, this imaginary friend that protects the child is God.
The main function of God was always to protect humanity.
People invented God to protect them because they were small and powerless and ignorant and frightened and abused by the elements and abused by others and they wanted an imaginary friend to protect them and they invented God as does the child.
The child invents the false self as God and then it's a private religion with one worshipper and one God. The God is the false self, the worshipper is the child.
As the narcissist grows, his religion, his private religion, becomes missionary. He is trying to recruit you to his religion. He is trying to force you to tell him that his false self is not false, that it's real.
In other words, he's trying to convert you like the missionaries did in Africa. He's trying to convert you to a believer in his false self. He wants him to tell you, yes, you are a genius. Yes, you are handsome. Yes, you are brilliant. Yes, you are perfect. Your false self is not false. It's a true God. It's a God of life. It gives you accurate information about yourself and about the environment. It's a survival tool and mechanism. We live in it, worship it.
In the initial stage of narcissism, in the initial stage of narcissism, there's also human sacrifice. So already you're seeing the elements of religion. You're seeing a God-like entity. You're seeing missionary activity.
These are all hallmarks of religion.
And now I'll come to the next one, human sacrifice.
At the initial stage, when the child invents the private religion and his new God, he makes a human sacrifice.
But it's a child. He has no access to any other person except himself. So that's the human sacrifice he's offering. He sacrifices himself, the child, this new God. And he sacrifices what we call the true self. That's why the narcissist has no true self. He has no true self because early on he had sacrificed it to the monarch, to this new God, to this new insatiable, voracious God. And he's left empty, non-existence.
Narcissism is not a disease of too much existence. Narcissism is a disease of absence.
On the social level, as more of us become narcissistic via technological means, otherwise education system, dead parenting, as more of us become narcissistic, more of us have private religions. More of us have false gods, false selves. More of us make human sacrifices. More of us try to convert each other.
Narcissism is a post-modern religion because it's distributed. It's a network religion. It's a religion with multiple gods, multiple worshippers, multiple temples, multiple shrines, multiple human sacrifices.
Where every god is someone else's worshipper and every worshiper is someone else's god. It's a network concept because that's the metaphor. That's the metaphor we live in today.
We borrowed the technological metaphor into our religion.
And if you look at other religions, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, they all borrowed the prevailing technological metaphor of the day.
If you read the Bible, I mean the Old Testament, it's full of references to cutting-edge technology of the period. Plowshares, agricultural technology is all over the book.
God compares himself very often to a farmer.
Worshipers of God compare themselves to plants, to seeds, to the prevailing, the dominant metaphor of Judaism is an agricultural metaphor.
The dominant metaphor of Islam is the technology or technologies that facilitated nomad existence in the desert.
Technology is another name for religion.