I am Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.
We can divide the spouses, mates, and intimate partners of narcissists into two categories.
Those who persist insist, try to maintain the relationship, preserve it, enhance it, and create intimacy, and those who, upon discovering the true face of the narcissist, withdraw, detach, and if they are married to the narcissist, divorce him.
On the face of it, there is no typical partner or mate who binds with the narcissist. They come in all shapes and sizes.
The initial phases of attraction, infatuation, and falling in love are pretty normal.
The narcissist puts his best face on, and the other party is blinded by budding love.
The natural selection process occurs only much later, as the relationship develops and is put to the test, and as the narcissist tires of maintaining the facade, let the mask sleep, discovers, and covers his true face.
Living with a narcissist can be exhilarating, but it is always onerous and often harrowing.
Surviving a relationship with a narcissist, maintaining a relationship, preserving it, insisting on remaining with a narcissist, indicates therefore the parameters of the personality of the victim, of the partner, of the spouse.
The partner, the spouse, and the mate of a narcissist who insists on remaining in the relationship and preserving it is molded by it into the typical narcissistic mate, spouse, or partner.
First and foremost, the narcissist partner or spouse must have a deficient or a distorted grasp of herself and of reality, otherwise she or he is bound to abandon the narcissist's ship early on.
The cognitive distortion is likely to consist of believing and demeaning yourself while aggrandizing and adoring the narcissist.
The partner is thus placing herself in the position of the eternal victim, undeserving, punishable, or scapegoat.
Sometimes it is very important to the partner to appear moral, sacrificial, and victimized. At other times she is not even aware of this predicament.
The narcissist is perceived by her to be a person in position to demand these sacrifices from her because he is superior in many ways, intellectually, emotionally, morally, professionally, or financially.
The status of professional victim sits well with the partner's tendency to punish herself. She feels comfortable in abusive situations.
She has, in other words, a masochistic streak.
The tormented life with the narcissist is just what she is after, and to her mind, just what she deserves.
In this respect, the partner is the mirror image of the narcissist.
By maintaining a symbolic relationship with him, by being totally dependent upon her source of masochistic supply, which the narcissist most reliably constitutes and most amply provides, the partner or spouse enhances certain traits and encourages certain behaviors which are at the very core of abusive narcissism.
The narcissist is never whole, without an adoring, submissive, available, self-denigrating, self-deprecating partner.
His very sense of superiority, omnipotence, omniscience, indeed, his false self depend on it.
His sadistic superego switches its attentions from himself, from the narcissist, in whom it provokes suicidal ideation, to the partner, thus finally obtaining an alternative source of sadistic satisfaction.
So we have a sadist and a masochist in a dyad.
It is through self-denial that the partner survives.
She denies her wishes, hopes, dreams, aspirations, sexual, psychological and material needs, choices, preferences, values, and much else besides.
She perceives her needs as threatening because they might engender the wrath of the narcissist's godlike supreme figure.
The narcissist is rendered in such a spouse's eyes even more superior, through and because of this self-denial.
Self-denial undertaken to facilitate and ease the life of a great man is more palatable and, by the way, more socially acceptable.
The greater the man, in other words, the narcissist, the easier it is for the partner to ignore her own self, to dwindle, to degenerate, to turn into an appendix of the narcissist, an extension of him, and finally to become nothing but an extension, to merge with the narcissist to the point of oblivion and of merely dim memories of herself.
The two, the narcissist and his spouse, collaborate in this dance macabre. The narcissist is formed by his partner inasmuch as he forms her.
Submission breeds superiority, masochism breeds sadism, relationships are characterized by emergentism, roles are allocated almost from the very start, and any deviation from the prescribed goals meets with an aggressive, even violent, reaction.
The predominant state of the partner's mind is utter confusion. Even the most basic relationships with husband, children or parents remain bafflingly obscured by the giant shadow cast by the intensive interaction with the narcissist.
A suspension of judgment is part and parcel of a suspension of individuality, which is both a prerequisite to and a result of living with the narcissist.
The partner no longer knows what is true and right, what is wrong and forbidden, who should she associate with and who should she avoid.
The narcissist recreates for the partner and in the partner the sort of emotional ambience that led to his own formation in the first place.
Capriciousness, fickleness, arbitraryness, emotional and physical or sexual abandonment, and finally abuse and violence. The world becomes hostile and ominous, and the partner has only one thing left to cling to, and that is a stable rock of the narcissist.
In cling she does. If there is anything which can safely be said about those who emotionally team up with narcissists is that they are overtly and overly dependent.
They are known in psychological jargon as co-dependence. The partner doesn't know what to do and this is only too natural in the mania that is a relationship with the narcissist.
But the typical partner also does not know what she wants and to a large extent who she is and what she wants to become.
These unanswered questions hamper the partner's ability to gorge reality.
Her primordial sin is that she fell in love with an image, not with a real person.
It is the voiding of the image that is mourned when the relationship ends.
The break-up of a relationship with a narcissist is therefore very emotionally charged for such victims.
It is the culmination of a long chain of humiliations, subjugation, self-delusion and self-deceit. It is the rebellion of the functioning and healthy parts of the partner's personality against the tyranny of the narcissist and his collaboration with the pathological paths, psychological paths in the victim.
The partner is likely to have totally misread, totally misinterpreted the whole interaction.
I hesitate to call it a relationship so I stick to the word interaction.
This lack of proper interface with reality might be erroneously labeled pathological but it is actually a form of self-denial.
Why is it that the partner seeks to prolong her pain? What is the source and purpose of this narcissistic streak?
Upon the break-up of the relationship, the partner, but not the narcissist who usually refuses to provide closure, engages in torturous and drawn-out post-mortem soul-searching.
We will, I discuss this issue of Danse Macabre, the pathology at the core and underlying the relationship in a video titled Danse Macabre of the narcissist and his partner. Stay tuned and be sure to watch it.