My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.
The narcissist has no private life, no domain reserved exclusively for his nearest and nearest. The narcissist's life is a spectacle, with free access to all, constantly on display.
To solicit narcissistic supply, attention and admiration from his audience, the narcissist flaunts a false self. He pretends to be all-powerful, omnipotent and all-knowing, omniscient, brilliant, unique and perfect.
Pathological narcissism, as we all know, is a reaction to prolonged abuse and trauma in early childhood or early adolescence of the latest. The source of the abuse of trauma is varied. The perpetrators could be parents, role models, teachers, even peers.
Moreover, pampering, smothering, spoiling the child, or engulfing it, are also forms of abuse.
The narcissist's true self, his inner child, if you wish, is obliterated by this barrage of a variety of forms of mistreatment.
That the narcissist possesses a prominent false self as well as a suppressed and dilapidated true self? We all know. It's common knowledge.
Yet how intertwined and inseparable are these two? Do they interact? How do they influence each other? What behaviors can be attributed squarely to one or the other?
Does the false self assume traits and attributes of the true self in order to deceive the world?
We should not forget that the false self is an adaptive reaction to pathological circumstances, but its dynamics make it predominate.
The false self devours the psyche and preys upon the true self. Thus, it prevents the efficient and flexible functioning of the personality as a whole.
The remnants of the true self are so ossified, so shredded, so repressed, and so cowed into submission that for all practical purposes the true self is dysfunctional and useless and, even to some extent, non-existent.
In a full-fledged narcissist, the false self is the one to imitate the true self, and it does so in two ways.
First one is reinterpretation. The false self causes the narcissist to reinterpret certain negative emotions and reactions in a flattering, socially acceptable light. For instance, if the narcissist is afraid of someone, he is unlikely to admit it. He will reinterpret his discomfort as empathy and compassion.
To be afraid is humiliating and narcissistically injurious. To be compassionate is commendable and earns social approval and respect.
The second mechanism is emulation. The narcissist is possessed of an uncanny ability to psychologically penetrate others, to immediately discern their freaties, their weaknesses, their vulnerabilities.
But he abuses this gift. He puts it as a service of his own control-freakery and even sadism. The narcissist uses this ability to annihilate the natural defenses of his victims by faking empathy, by imitating emotions and their attendant behaviors, their affect.
The narcissist possesses emotional resonance tables. Throughout his life, the narcissist keeps records of every action and reaction that he observes in his human environment, every utterance and his consequence, every datum provided by others regarding their own state of mind and emotional makeup.
From these enormous databases, the narcissist constructs a set of formulas which often result in impeccably accurate renditions of emotional behavior. This can be enormously deceiving.
Once formed and functioning, the false self stifles the growth of the true self, paralyzes it.
Henceforth, the true self is virtually non-existent and plays no role, whether passive or active, in the conscious life of the narcissist.
It is difficult to resuscitate the true self, even in psychotherapy.
Thus, there is no real conflict between the false self and the true self.
First, as I said, the true self is much too weak to do battle with the overbearing false self.
The false self is all pervading. It is adopted. It helps the narcissist to cope with the world. Without the false self, the narcissist would be subjected to so much pain and hurt that he might disintegrate.
This happens to narcissists who go through a life crisis. The false self becomes dysfunctional and inefficient for a while, and the narcissist experiences a harrowing feeling of annulment and disintegration.
The false self has thus many functions, but two of them are critical. It serves as a decoy. It attracts the fire. It is a proxy for the true self. It is tough as nails and can absorb any amount of pain, hurt, and negative emotions.
By inventing it, by inventing conjuring up the false self, the child develops immunity to the indifference, manipulation, sadism, smothering, or exploitation of others. The false self is a cloak, a mantle, a Harry Potter contraption, protecting the narcissist, rendering him invisible and omnipotent at the same time.
Secondly, the false self is misrepresented by the narcissist and presented by him as his true self.
The narcissist says, in effect, I am not who you think I am. I am someone else. I am this false self. Therefore, because I am omnipotent and omniscient, I deserve a better, painless, more considerate treatment.
The false self is, therefore, the foundation of the narcissist's inane and insane sense of accomplishment. It is a contraption intended to alter other people's behavior and attitude towards the narcissist.
These roles are crucial to survival and to the proper psychological functioning of the narcissist.
The false self is far more important to the narcissist than his dilapidated, dysfunctional, shameful true self.