Narcissist's Reactions to Abandonment, Separation, and Divorce

Uploaded 3/30/2011, approx. 6 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin. I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

The dissolution of the abuser's marriage or other meaningful relationships constitutes a major life crisis, a scathing narcissistic injury.

To soothe and solve the pain of disillusionment, the narcissist administers to his aching soul a mixture of lies, distortions, half-truths and outlandish interpretations of events.

All abusers present with rigid and infantile or primitive defense mechanisms, splitting, projective identification, denial, intellectualization, and narcissism.

But some abusers go further and they decompensate by resorting to self-delusion.

Unable to face the dismal failures that they are, such narcissists partially withdraw from reality and adopt one of a few possible solutions.

First one is the masochistic avoidance solution.

The abuser directs some of the fury that he feels, the rage, some of it, inwards, punishing himself for his failure.

This masochistic behavior has the added benefit of forcing the abuser's closest to assume the roles of dismayed spectators or of persecutors, and thus either way to pay him the attention that he craves.

Self-administered punishment often manifests as self-handicapping masochism, a cop-out.

By undermining his work, his relationships, and his efforts, the increasingly fragile abuser avoids additional tension, stress, criticism, and sexual negative supply.

Self-reflective failure is the abuser's doing and proves that he is still in control, still the master of his own life. He chooses to fail.

Masochistic abusers keep finding themselves in such defeating circumstances which render success impossible.

And as Millan put it, an objective assessment of their performance improbable. They act carelessly. They withdraw in mid-effort. They are constantly fatigued, bored, or disaffected, and thus passively, aggressively sabotage their lives. Their suffering is defiant, and by declining to abort, they reassert their omnipotence.

The abusers pronounced in public misery and self-hitting are compensatory, and again to quote Millan, reinforce the abuser's self-esteem against overwhelming convictions of worthlessness.

The narcissistic abuser's tribulations and anguish render him in his own eyes unique, saintly, virtuous, righteous, resilient, and significant.

Thus, paradoxically, the worse the narcissist's anguish and unhappiness after a dissolved relationship, the more relieved and elated such an abuser feels. He is liberated and unshackled by his own self-initiated abandonment.

That's the way he presents it. He never really wanted this commitment, he tells any willing or buttonhole listener. And anyhow, the relationship was doomed from the beginning by the egregious excesses and exploits of his meaningful other.

His wife, his partner, his friend, or his boss.

Then there is the delusional narrative.

This kind of abuser constructs a narrative in which he figures as the hero. He is brilliant, perfect, irresistibly handsome, destined for great things, entitled, powerful, wealthy, center of attention, etc.

The bigger the strain on this delusional charade, the greater the gap between fantasy and reality, the more the delusion coalesces and solidifies.

Finally, if it is sufficiently protracted, the delusion replaces reality and the abuser's reality test deteriorates. He withdraws his bridges and may become schizotypal, catatonic, or schizoid.

Another type of reaction to dissolved relationships is the antisocial delusion.

This type of abuser has a natural affinity with the criminal. His lack of empathy and compassion, his deficient social skills, his disregard for social laws and morals now erupt and blossom. He becomes a full-fledged antisocial psychopath.

He ignores the wishes and needs of others. He breaks the law. He violates or rights both natural and legal. He holds people in contempt and disdain. He derides and decries society and its codes. He punishes the ignorant in-grace that, to his mind, drove him to this state. He does it by acting criminally and by jeopardizing their safety, lives, livelihood, and property.

Another solution is the paranoid schizoid solution.

There is a class of abusers who develop persecutory delusions. Such an abuser, an narcissistic abuser, perceives slights where none were intended. He becomes subject to ideas of reference. He believes that people are gossiping about him, mocking him behind his back, prying into his affairs, cracking his email, and so on. He is convinced that he is a center of malign and malintentioned attention, even a conspiracy. People are conspiring to humiliate him, to punish him, to abscond with his property, to delude him, to impoverish him, to confine him physically or intellectually, to censor him, to impose on his time, to force him into action or in action, to frighten him, to coerce him, to surround and beseech him, to change his mind, to part with his values, to victimize, or even in extreme cases, to assassinate him.

Some abusers withdraw completely from a world populated with such minacious and ominous objects.

These are of course projections of internal objects and processes.

These abusers avoid all social contact except the most necessary. They refrain from meeting people, falling in love, having sex, talking to others, or even corresponding with them.

In short, they become schizoids.

Not out of social shyness, but out of what they feel to be, a choice.

This evil, hopeless world does not deserve me, goes the inner dialogue or refrain, and I shall waste none of my time and resources on it any longer.

And finally, there is the paranoid aggressive or explosive solution.

Some abusers who develop persecutory delusions, as we describe, resort to an aggressive stance, a more violent resolution of their internal culture.

They become verbally, psychologically, situationally, and more rarely physically abusive, insult, castigate, chastise, irate, demean and deride, the nearest and dearest, often well-wishers and loved ones.

They explode in the unprovoked displays of indignation, righteousness, condemnation and blame.

Theirs is an exegetic and hermeneutic bedlam. They interpret everything, even the most innocuous, inadvertent and innocent common is designed to provoke and humiliate them. They soar fear, revulsion, hate and malignant envy. They flail against the windmills of reality, tilt against them in a Don Quixote manner. They are apathetic, forlorn sight.

But often they cause real and lasting damage.

Unfortunately, mainly to themselves.

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