Background

Narcissist’s Hunger Games: Predator and Prey (YOU) (Trophic Cascade)

Uploaded 2/18/2024, approx. 32 minute read

The Narcissist and the Psychopath offer you a fantasy.

The Narcissist fantasy consists of we are going to be each other's mother and we are also going to be each other's child.

The Psychopath's fantasy is "I'm going to make all your dreams come true." But both types of fantasies are predatory and you are the prey.

The fantasies are goal oriented and self-centered.

And today I'm going to discuss the dynamics of predator and prey, borrowing from a variety of disciplines - mathematics, biology, psychology, etc.

Displaying my amazing erudition and unparalleled vocabulary.

Why?

Because babies in bebits.

I am Sam Vaknin.

The author of Malignant Set Flee, Narcissism Revisited, a former visiting professor of psychology and currently on the illustrious faculty of CEAPs, Commonwealth Institute for Advanced Professional Studies, Cambridge, United Kingdom, Toronto, Canada and the inevitable outreach campus in Lagos, Nigeria, which is in Africa, in Upper-Pro-Africa.


Let's talk about predators and prey.

What happens when the predator fails to find prey?

Why is that?

I started my work in the late 1980s and early 1990s when no one has heard of narcissists.

And so I contributed by coming up with the idea of narcissistic abuse, describing it for the first time and so on and so forth.

I launched an essentially global movement of victim awareness.

And today everyone, his dog and his mother-in-law, is either a victim of narcissistic abuse or an expert on narcissistic abuse.

So there's no space left for narcissists and psychopaths.

I'm kidding or not.

They find it increasingly more and more difficult to deceive people, to pull the wool over people's eyes, to drag them, to groom them and to love-bomb them into the shared fantasy.

The more victims are aware of the attributes, the behaviors, the traits, the warning signs, the red alerts, which have to do with narcissists and psychopaths, the more difficult narcissists and psychopaths find it to corral, cajole or convince someone, persuade someone to join them in the shared fantasy.

This is issue number one.

Number two, narcissistic abuse, again, first described by me in the 1990s, narcissistic abuse is now stigmatized.

Elements within the constellation of behaviors that constitute narcissistic abuse, some elements have been actually criminalized in some countries.

So for example, coercive control is now criminal in the United Kingdom and in other countries.

So narcissistic abuse is not only frowned upon, considered socially unacceptable beyond the pale, something to be stigmatized and shunned, but it's also being criminalized.

Now this, put this together, reluctant, totally aware victims who are on the alert, who fend off attempts by narcissists and psychopaths because they identify them, they recognize them on the one hand, and an increasing willingness to criminalize and stigmatize such behaviors and to punish the perpetrators.

Put these two together and you have a field day for victims and a serious emerging problem for predators.

What happens to a predator when the number of prey declines?

What happens to predators when they can no longer find prey?

This is a topic, the delectable topic of today's video.

We start of course with game theory.

Game theory is a branch of mathematics and game theory says that when everyone becomes a predator, there's no prey.

An increase in the number of predators reduces the availability of prey proportionally and in due time, absolutely, and then everyone dies out.

Each member of the predator class just dies out.

The historical origin of the predator-prey issue in game theory can be traced back to Bender, B-E-N-D-A in 1985.

Bender, together with some other scholars, adopted the predator-prey ecology problem into a pursuit environment which focused on the dynamics of cooperative behavior between predator agents.

That is very interesting because what Bender has discovered is that as the number of prey declines because the prey is more alert, the prey is faster, the prey is for whatever reason, or the prey has died out for some reason, or the prey moved on to another niche in the ecosystem, whatever the case may be.

What Bender has discovered is that predators tend to team up, they tend to cooperate and collaborate in the pursuit and hunting of prey.

That's a point to remember because we are beginning to see coalitions of narcissists, groups of psychopaths hunting together.

It's like herds or tribes or hunting expeditions or posses.

So we have, it's no longer an individual thing, but the hunting is done in collectives.

Bender has predicted this outcome.

We see this in politics, we see this in show business, we see this in other arenas of life, increasingly more so.

Another model is the Hawk-Dove model.

Hawk like bird, dove like bird model.

It illustrates an evolutionary dilemma.

In the Hawk-Dove model, we pit prosocial and selfish behavior in direct competition over a shareable resource, resource U.

So narcissists and psychopaths adopt a variety of strategies to captivate you, to introduce you into the shared fantasy.

Some of these strategies are actually prosocial, communal, moral.

Narcissists and psychopaths pretend to be sheep rather than wolves.

They pretend to be co-dependent.

They pretend to be victims of narcissistic abuse.

They go online and they convince you that they have been harmed and hurt repeatedly by narcissists.

They are helpless.

They are childlike.

They are in need of your love and protection.

They keep whining about having been abused, having been maltreated, having been mistreated and so on and so forth.

They cry on camera and beg for your understanding and love and collaboration.

This is a strategy, a dangerous strategy, very typical of covert narcissists.

Doves, pigeons, they are not the same, have a proclivity to share resources.

And in this sense, covert narcissists are the doves in the Dove-Hawk model.

Doves rather fight and suffer the cause in effort to acquire the resources in its entirety they refuse to share.

But both doves and hawks are predators.

It's very important to understand this and I encourage you to watch my video on mimicry.

Covert narcissists and many psychopaths imitate victims in order to victimize you.

It's a very dangerous environment, especially online.


Now there are, there's a set of equations, mathematical equations, perish the thought and they're known as Lotka-Volterra equations.

They're also known as Lotka-Volterra predator-prey model.

It's a pair of first order non-linear differential equations.

They are used to describe the dynamics of biological systems in which two species interact.

One species is a predator, the other species is prey.

Narcissists and their victims or codependents, narcissists and borderlines, psychopaths and narcissists actually, psychopaths and borderlines, etc.

So one species is predator, one is prey, Lotka-Volterra model.

In the model, predators thrive when prey is plentiful, but ultimately the predator depletes, outstrips the food supply and it is the predator which ends up declining.

I think this is exactly what's happening with narcissists and psychopaths.

They have overplayed their hand, they were overconfident and consequently the number of prey, the number of targets and victims available is decreasing, is shrinking because people have become aware, behaviors have been stigmatized or even criminalized and not so many specimen of prey are available to narcissists and psychopaths.

That's why they form collectives in order to hunt together, increasing the chances of a successful hunt.

As the predator population is low, the prey population increases again and the cycle recommences.

These dynamics continue in a population cycle of growth and decline.

Two other scholars, Leslie and Gower, created a model which is characterized by a logistic type, predator growth equation.

The environmental carrying capacity of predators is a function of the available prey quantity.

So this is the Leslie-Gower model.

It seems that everyone is in agreement that the longevity, the success, the reproducibility in terms of procreation in biology, in terms of mental contagion or psychological contagion in society, all these depend crucially on the number of suckers, on the number of gullible people out there, on the number of potential victims, targets, marks.

So the less aware a population is, the more naive, this is called naive population, exactly like a virus, the less immune the population is to the charms of the narcissist and the manipulations, Machiavellian manipulation of the psychopath, the more successful the narcissist or the psychopath would be in their quest to secure the prey for a variety of reasons.

Shared fantasy in the case of a narcissist, some goal orientation in the case of the psychopath, narcissistic supply in the case of the narcissist, sex, power and money in the case of the psychopath.

They all require raw material.

The raw material is you.

The finished product is the goal in the case of the psychopath and narcissistic supply in the case of a narcissist.

But the raw material that goes into the manufacturing process is absolutely limited to you.

You are the one.

If you were to deny yourself, if you were to prevent access, render yourself inaccessible to the narcissist and psychopath, the incidence and prevalence of narcissism and psychopathy is adaptive strategies according to these models would decline.

And this is known as a cascade.

We are going to discuss it a bit later.

Now there is an open question here.

Is the virus of narcissism self-limiting or not?

Is it a self-limiting organism?

And I encourage you to watch the video I've made comparing narcissism to a virus using epidemiological models.

The links to all these videos are in the description.

So a self-limiting organism or colony of organisms limits its own growth by its actions.

It's a very important thing.

The limitation in growth is a direct outcome of overdoing it.

Overdoing it.

Actions which are exaggerated, which are inconsiderate, which are unwise, lead to self-limitation.

So for example, a virus who would kill all the hosts, a virus who would kill everyone, would cease to survive because this kind of virus will run out of hosts.

So by killing the host, the virus would be self-limiting.

Narcissists are like this kind of dumb, stupid virus. They kill all the hosts.

And sooner or later in old age, they run out of hosts and they remain lonely, pathetic figures.

A single organism may have a maximum size determined by genetics.

A colony of organisms may release waste, which is ultimately toxic to the colony once it exceeds a certain level amount of population.

In some cases, a self-limiting nature of a colony may be advantageous to the continued survival of the colony.

And that is a case of parasites, for example.

So the number of members of a colony, if it becomes too high, kills the host and the colony dies out.

Same thing is happening with narcissism. It's narcissism, pathological narcissism, becomes a positive adaptation in our postmodern civilization as more and more people become narcissists because narcissism pays and narcissism works.

It is the very number of narcissists. It is this increase, this exponential eruption of narcissism that will limit narcissism.

Narcissism is self-limiting by virtue of the fact that more and more people becoming narcissists and fewer and fewer people remain as prey.

It's a very simple, commonsensical thing. You don't need to be a scientist for this.

As numbers become high, the host or the victims or the prey die out or disappear.

And this self-limitation restricts the viability of predators and it ensures the long-term survival of other species or essentially prey.

We have this in medical conditions.

It's a condition that runs its course, is self-limiting without the need of any external influence or medical treatment.

We have many such things, the common cold, for example, or some varieties of the flu.

The fact that a condition is self-limiting doesn't mean that medical treatment wouldn't bring this condition or its symptoms to an end more quickly or that medical attention is not necessary, not needed.

That's not what I'm saying.

But in the vast majority of cases, even when left to its own devices, the condition is self-limiting because predatory organisms have built in mechanisms of equilibrium.

They know when to stop.

They know when not to not kill all the prey, to not destroy all the hosts, to not ruin their environment.

There's only one exception, human beings.

Human beings ruin their environment.

And within human beings, narcissists never know when to stop.

They simply don't know when to stop.

And so they run out of victims or prey.

This is reminiscent of something called trophic cascades.

Narcissists are often compared to vampires, aliens, or robots, and so on and so forth.

One of the most frequent comparisons, at least in my experience, is between narcissists and sharks.

They smell blood in the water.

They use cold empathy to discern your vulnerabilities, your chinks in the armor, your soft spots, your shortcomings and fraities, the buttons to push.

And in this sense, they're little like sharks.

I want to read to you an extended excerpt from a book about sharks.

The book is titled, "Why Sharks Matter," by David Shiffman.

It's an amazing book, by the way.

Even if you're not interested in sharks.

And I'm not.

But it's an amazing book about the dance macabre, the tango between predator and prey, and the ripple effects that come from the removal or diminished size of a predator's population.

So I'm leading here to something very interesting.

The decline in the population of prey, in the decline in the potential number of victims and targets, because they become more self-aware, or because the activity of targeting them and victimizing them is stigmatized or criminalized or whatever.

The decline in the population of prey leads to a decline in the population of the predator.

But what we have observed in sharks raises a fascinating question.

Why are there narcissists?

What did the evolution want to accomplish by creating narcissists and psychopaths?

Maybe these predatory creatures are needed somehow.

Maybe they have a function to drive us forward somehow.

I am not a proponent of this view, which is promoted by the likes of Dutton and Maccoby and others, other scholars.

I don't hold this view.

But I must admit that if we were to compare narcissists to sharks, this raises some very interesting question about the indispensability of predators.

We need predators, actually.

Otherwise, the whole chain of being goes out of whack, falls apart, and everything is destabilized massively.

This is what I'm about to read to you.

I'm going to read an excerpt from the book Why Sharks Matter by David Shiffman.

Listen to what happens when the shark population is over-culled, reduced too dramatically, and throughout my reading, ask yourself, replace the word shark with narcissist.

And ask yourself, what would happen if all narcissists were to vanish tomorrow, if all psychopaths were to die? Would that not somehow endanger our own existence, imperil the delicate equilibrium and balance that is the chain of being?

David Shiffman.

Sometimes the ecological effects resulting from changes in predator populations ripple through the food chain.

This ripple effect is called a trophic cascade.

The classic example of a trophic cascade comes from the Pacific Northwest.

When orca whales began to consume more and more sea otters in the kelp forests of the North Pacific, it wasn't surprising that sea otter populations declined, but the plot thickened.

One of sea otters' favorite foods is the sea archin, which they consume by adorably crushing them with rocks on their bellies.

The population declines of sea otters then resulted in sea archin predation release.

The increasing sea archin population ate more and more of their preferred food, seaweeds called kelp, resulting in kelp declines.

All of this was caused by a change at the top of the food web.

Even though area whales and otters didn't eat kelp, changes in how orca whales interact with otters significantly affected kelp, and that was bad for everything that lived in the kelp forests.

The most famous example of a trophic cascade in a terrestrial ecosystem occurred in Yellowstone National Park as a result of wolf declines.

Few wolves meant an increase in the wolf prey population, including giant herbivores like elk.

More elk meant more grazing, and perhaps most impactfully grazing in areas where elk were previously afraid to graze, such as riverbanks that restricted their ability to run away from a predator.

This led to major disruptions in a unique Yellowstone ecosystem called an aspen forest.

The Yellowstone case study also remains one of the best examples of predator restoration.

When wolves were eventually restored, they ate more elk, bringing the population back under control and pushing elk back to their normal feeding grounds.

As a result, the aspen forest is growing back.

So what about sharks, which are sometimes called the wolves of the sea?

There are two commonly cited examples of shark-driven trophic cascades.

Both are considered fairly controversial in the marine biology world, but I'll explain them here because you are likely to come across them in the conservation discourse.

The first was documented in a 2007 paper led by Ram Myers.

It took place near North Carolina's outer banks, where seven species of apex predatory sharks have declined significantly since the 1970s.

Sandbar sharks experienced the least decline, 87%, 87% since 1972.

As exceeding 99% since 1972 have been documented among several other species of sharks.

These declines were believed to result in predation release of small sharks and rays, including the cow-nose ray.

The authors claim that this increase in cow-nose rays used to be the prey of sharks.

When the sharks declined, almost disappeared, cow-nose ray populations exploded.

This is called predation release.

So the authors claim that this increase in cow-nose rays was partially responsible for a collapse in populations of base scallops, once a commercially important fish in the region, resulting in a shark, cow-nose ray, scallop, trophic cascade.

To me, the key message of this study was that sharks are important and bad things can happen when we overfish sharks.

So let's not do that.

Others got a different and unfortunate message from this study.

"Oh my god, cow-nose ray populations are exploding.

We need to kill cow-nose rays in order to save our scallop fishery."

This led to the birth of the Save the Bay, Eat a Ray movement.

There were even fishing tournaments for cow-nose rays where anglers used explosive tipped arrows to shoot at the surface-swimming rays, which is hardly sporting, in my opinion.

It is unlikely that ray populations could survive this kind of pressure for any extended time, given their very low reproductive rates.

I'd argue that trying to solve a conservation crisis by causing another conservation crisis is perhaps not ideal.

Remember throughout this text, replace the names of the animals with narcissists and victims.

Okay?

It turns out that the data I'm continuing to read from Shiffman's book, it turns out that the data showing this trophic cascade has major flaws in its underlying assumptions and has been thoroughly rebutted.

If you look closely at the data, it would suggest that cow-nose ray populations supposedly started to increase well after scallop populations began to collapse, almost as if something else caused the scallop populations to decline.

Dean Grubbs who led the rebuttal pointed out that this explanation only makes sense if you think that cow-nose rays can go back in time, like the Terminator.

So cow-nose ray populations aren't increasing as much as these data seem to show.

What's instead happened is that existing cow-nose rays are migrating into new waters.

Furthermore, sharp populations haven't declined as much as these data seem to show.

The Grubbs rebuttal also notes that including more datasets complicates the supposedly clear pattern shown by the Meyers paper.

Finally, cow-nose rays don't really eat very many scallops.

So although this is a well-known example of a trophic cascade that is often cited by environmentalists as a reason to protect sharks, it's a fundamentally flawed one.

Another possible sharp-driven trophic cascade might operate on the coral reefs.

Coral animals have a symbiotic relationship with tiny photosynthetic organisms called zooxanthellae.

They live inside the corals, the zooxanthellae, and secrete sugars, which the corals eat.

Presumably, they are not diabetic.

Without exposure to light, zooxanthellae cannot photosynthesize, and the corals will starve their venous sugar.

Happily, herbivorous fish like parrotfish help to graze fast-growing algae off of the corals, ensuring that sunlight can reach the zooxanthellae.

Parrotfish are eaten by larger fish like grouper, which are eaten by, you guessed it, sharks.

The decline of shark populations may cause predation release in grouper, an increase in grouper populations, which then eat more and more parrotfish.

Fewer parrotfish means more algae growing on coral reefs, which means dying corals.

This model seems to be essentially correct, but it's more complicated than that.

It turns out that humans aren't just overfishing the sharks, but also overfishing the grouper, and in some cases even the parrotfish.

Algae also grows on the coral because of warmer waters or nutrient blooms, not simply because parrotfish populations are declining.

Additionally, corals face other threats besides algae overgrowth.

And while it's true that reef sharks often occupy a pretty similar seep on the food chain as groupers, some larger sharks eat small and medium-sized groupers.

So do sharks keep coral reefs healthy?

They certainly play important roles in maintaining coral reef health under many circumstances, but as you can see there are many variables to consider.

A 2013 paper claimed to find true evidence of a trophy cascade on coral reefs. Specifically, the authors argued that Pacific coral reefs, reefs that have been heavily fished, were home to fewer sharks and more medium-sized predators called mesopredators. This created a situation in unprotected reefs that differed from a situation in protected reefs which had more sharks and fewer mesopredators like groupers.

On fished reefs with more mesopredators, the authors find fewer herbivorous fishes.

In this case of a trophy cascade, with declines in sharks indirectly leading to declines in herbivores.

Is this true?

Not so fast.

A 2016 paper claims that the pattern isn't quite so clear.

The rebuttal argues that the difference in shark populations between fished and protected reefs isn't as significant as claimed in the 2013 paper.

Furthermore, the 2016 paper argues that some of the fish species in the 2013 paper authors that authors counted as mesopredators should not have been created as such because sharks don't eat these fishes.

That rebuttal got a rebuttal which got another rebuttal that's a way of science.

As of this writing, there hasn't been any conclusive evidence of trophy cascades driven by the loss of sharks on coral reefs.

In fact, an early 2021 paper found pretty strong evidence of the lack of trophy cascades on the Great Barrier Reef, but the search is ongoing.

Other possible shark trophy cascades include a reef shark, octopus, rock lobster food chain.

Overfishing reef sharks in Australia seems to have led to an explosion in numbers of their octopus prey, which aces all the rock lobsters and damaged one fishery.

Yet another possibility, yet another possibly shark driven trophy cascade, involves seals.

Fewer sharks means more seals, which eat a lot more fish.

Trophy cascades are powerful forces in nature, but they're also really hard to detect because food webs are so large and complicated.

I'd guess that even though some of the most popular examples of shark driven trophy cascades may be flawed, it is very likely that some real cascades caused by sharks are out there.

Some conservation activists have taken things too far, incorrectly asserting that because of trophy cascades, the crash of shark populations could be directly responsible for the extinction of all life on Earth.

According to this argument, which got its highest profile mention in the documentary Shark Water, phytoplankton, the base of the ocean food web, produce about half of all oxygen on Earth.

If we lose sharks, the reasoning goes, this will destabilize the whole ocean, kill all the phytoplankton and result in the loss of half of all oxygen on the planet, killing everything, ourselves included.

Let me note again here that this is not correct, but it's an example of using trophy cascade theory for conservation advocacy.

Trophy cascades are generally speaking more likely to occur in simpler ecosystems with more straightforward food chains.

If you have five species that serve similar ecological roles, as top predators, losing one species probably won't disrupt the whole system because the other four species can still keep mid-level predator populations in check.

If you have only one top predator, losing its ecological role is more likely to disrupt the whole system.

The examples described above range from hotly debated to thoroughly debunked, and I share them just to illustrate the general principle, despite their particular imperfections.

Despite their flaws, these high profile examples are still useful to think about, if only because something like this is probably happening somewhere.

What I'm trying to illustrate with this very extended excerpt is that we don't know enough about the predator-prey relationships between narcissists and psychopaths and their victims within the ecosystem known as civilization or modern or postmodern society.

We definitely don't know enough about narcissism and psychopaths interactions with targets or victims in more traditionalist, conservative, under-documented and understudied societies and cultures all over the world, and they constitute the majority of humanity.

So back off a bit, don't make exaggerated claims.

I'm the one who coined the phrase narcissism pandemic and narcissism epidemic.

I coined these phrases at the end of the 1980s, and they were later adopted and recirculated, recycled by scholars and self-styled experts throughout the decades.

But one shouldn't go too far, one shouldn't run too far with this metaphor.

We really don't have enough information.

We also, I'm not quite sure which type of cascade may occur should narcissism and psychopathy become self-limiting.

Imagine tomorrow, the overwhelming vast majority of potential victims, potential targets, are well-informed, well-educated, and well-equipped to fend off the advances of narcissists and psychopaths.

Population of narcissists and psychopaths should decline from an evolutionary point of view and gradually, of course, incrementally, but it should decline.

What would happen then?

Is this a trophy cascade?

Would the population of victims and targets explode?

Would this destabilize human society somehow?

Do narcissists and psychopaths fulfill some role of control over population control, some regulatory evolutionary mechanism?

Tropic cascades are powerful, indirect interactions that can control entire ecosystems, and they occur when the trophic level in a food web is suppressed.

So it's an ecological concept, and it can be applied theoretically to populations such as narcissists and psychopaths and their victims.

Definitely we use this population as cohorts in studies in psychology.

Narcissists and psychopathsuse this population as cohorts in studies in psychology.

Narcissists and psychopaths are apex predators.

They are top predators.

They prey upon others.

They prey upon people with narcissistic style as well.

So this would create some destabilizing effect.

Is it going to be a top-down cascade?

That's a trophy cascade where the top predator controls the primary prey population.

Is this going to be this kind of thing?

It's an open question.

The removal of the top predator in the top-down cascade alters the dynamics.

The primary kind of targets and so on overpopulate, and then they in their turn become predators, actually.

So we have this possibility.

Another possibility is a bottle-up cascade.

The population of victims somehow controls the increase or decrease in the energy of the higher trophic levels, the predators.

I mentioned stigmatization, criminalization, more awareness, and so on.

These are controlled.

These are regulatory mechanisms that somehow inhibit populations of narcissists and psychopaths and definitely inhibit their behaviors.

Or maybe we will come through a phase of subsidic cascade where species populations at one trophic level can be supplemented by some kind of external input or external food, external prey.

So we could see narcissists and psychopaths branching out, migrating, exporting their exploitation to naive populations, the same way a virus does.

We don't know what's going to happen, but I think it's high time to begin to discuss the impact that increasing awareness, stigmatization, and criminalization, the impacts that these trends, which are powerful in exorbit, becoming stronger by the day, the impacts these trends are having on narcissists, psychopaths, their strategies, choices, decisions, and ultimate survival.

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Odd Couples: Codependent-Codependent, Narcissist-Narcissist (1st in Series)

Professor Sam Vaknin discusses various types of hellish relationships, including those involving covert and overt narcissists, codependents, and different types of narcissists. He explains the dynamics and challenges of these relationships, emphasizing that narcissists of the same type cannot maintain stable relationships, while those of opposing types can. Additionally, he delves into the characteristics and behaviors of somatic and cerebral narcissists, as well as inverted narcissists, and their potential couplings.

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