Narcissist’s Relationship Cycle Decoded and What To Do About It - Part 1 of 3

Uploaded 4/12/2022, approx. 33 minute read

Hello, everyone. Good morning. This is a seminar organized by the inimitable Barbara Jura, the narcissism coach in Budapest, Hungary. Hungary is in Europe, Europe is on Earth, and Earth is part of the solar system. And if this is not enough, today we are going to discuss astrophysics in mental health, because the narcissist is a black hole, and this is a cosmic object, as some of you know.

So, the seminar is a total of six hours. The first part is two hours, then questions and answers, one hour. And there's a break, short break, then a second part of two hours, and then questions and answers for yet another hour.

You can post your questions to my right, to the right of my screen. There's a chat function, and you can type your questions there. I promise to review them and to ignore all the questions I don't want to answer, because that's the kind of guy I am. Who am I, actually?

My name is Sam Vaknin. I'm the author of Malignant Self-Lava, Narcissism Revisited, and I'm a professor of psychology in Southern Federal University in Wustovandon, the Russian Federation of All Places. And I'm also a professor of psychology and a professor of finance in the Outreach Program of the SIAS-CIAPS Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies. Phew! That was long. Now, kids and cadets listen well.

The first part is focused on the narcissist's psychology and the psychodynamics of his relationship with you. So, it's a deep dive into what makes the narcissist stick in your relationship with him, and how does this affect your psychology.

So, the first part is entirely dedicated to the psychology of relationships with narcissists on both ends, the narcissist and its hapless victim, recipient, survivor, whatever you want to call yourself. That's the first part.

The second part of the seminar, about two and a half hours from now, the second part will be a new stream, another stream, and it will be about two and a half hours from now. And the second part, I will deal with coping strategies, coping strategies within the relationship, and even more importantly, in my view, coping strategies after the relationship had ended, coping strategies in the aftermath of the relationship.

So, stay tuned, either for both parts or for the second part. If you are pragmatic people, if you're practically oriented and you don't give a think about what psychology has to say about narcissists and their victims, then switch off and come back in about two and a half hours time, there'll be a new stream dedicated to practicalities, how to, kind of how to stream. If you are curious about what's going on in the narcissist's mind and what his mind does to your mind, then you're in the right place and definitely with the right guide, which happens to be me.

So, without further ado, and by the way, good morning to all of you from all over the universe, the known universe, and without further ado, let's dive right in.

As you all know, relationships with narcissists go through a predictable cycle. It starts usually with love bombing, love bombing, and if the narcissist is psychopathic, there's a stage called grooming. It then evolves into a honeymoon, and I call this whole thing, dual mothering or dual mothership. I will come to it a bit later.

Then there's a process of idealization, actually co-idealization and introjection, snapshotting. Then there is the inevitable devaluation. Then there is discard, and then there is replacement and repetition compulsion. These are the phases of the cycle of the relationship with the narcissist, and I will dwell on each and every one of these phases and explain to you in depth the psychology, the engine behind this inexorable, inevitable, ineluctable cycle.

Why does the narcissist keep doing it? Why does he keep finding new intimate partners, idealize them, and then devalue them, discarding them? Why go through all this? What's the benefit?

And so I will explain to you that the narcissist actually cannot help himself, and this is why it's called a repetition compulsion.

Before we go there, a few things about narcissism.

Narcissism is widely considered to be a personality disorder.

Now, if there are two words in psychology I hate most, it's personality and disorder. I think the personality is a fictitious construct that has no grounding in any studies or anything we know about human beings.

Personality ostensibly is lifelong, it's fixed, it's immutable, but of course it's nonsense. People are not like lakes, they're like rivers. People flow, people evolve, people change, sometimes they change within months. There's no such thing as personality.

Similarly, I disagree with the word disorder, but not to make this too academic, I think that narcissism, narcissistic personality disorder, and even narcissistic style, people who are just narcissists, a-holes, jerks. I think that these people actually had experienced complex trauma in childhood.

They are the said outcomes, the said reactions to CPTSD, complex trauma.

Now, this complex trauma must have happened in the formative years. In psychology, the years between six months and six years. This period in human life is when we are essentially formed.

We use metaphors such as core identity or self or ego, superego and id, if you're a Freudian. These are all of course metaphors. No one had captured an ego or a self in a bottle. These are allegories, similes, but something happens in this first six years of life.

If you're exposed during these years to a dead mother, dead not in the physical sense, but dead in the emotional, psychological sense, a mother who is absent, a mother who is selfish, depressed, a mother who is dysfunctional, a mother who parentifies you as a child, forces you to become her parent, a mother who instrumentalizes the child, uses the child to realize her wishes and fantasies and dreams, a frustrated mother, and so on and so forth. A mother who spoils the child and prevents the child from getting in touch with reality. A mother who hinders the child's personal development and growth. A mother who does not allow the child to develop personal firm boundaries. A mother who refuses to let the child go, refuses to allow the child to separate and become an individual in a process known as separation individuation.

All these things are very traumatic because the child cannot become. There's no way the child can feel separate from his mother and so he just dies. He dies mentally and emotionally and both people with borderline personality disorder and people with narcissistic personality disorder are actually victims of childhood abuse.

Now, I know that many of you would scoff or be startled by the idea that narcissists are victims, but of course they are. They are.

Narcissists are children who had chosen a specific solution, trying desperately to cope with an environment which had been toxic and not conducive to growth. Narcissists are abused children who never ever grow up.

There are a few characteristics, characteristics of narcissism, pathological narcissism, because there is also healthy narcissism.

But we, in our seminar today, we're going to limit ourselves to the pathological kind.

And when we observe pathological narcissists in their habitat, which is the relationship with you, we come across certain specific behaviors.

First of all, narcissists self-soothe. They have self-soothing behaviors and this self-soothing behaviors are usually in the form of addictions. So narcissists very commonly are addicted to alcohol or to drugs or to the internet or to pornography or to work, workaholism or to shopping or to traveling, whatever they do, it's addictive. And the reason they need to self-soothe is because of something called prolonged grief syndrome.

Prolonged grief syndrome means that the narcissist mourns and grieves his childhood, his lost childhood. He is constantly sad, dysphoric about what he could have become. He mourns and grieves his lost potential, the fact that he had never become an adult, that he was never allowed to evolve and to develop.

Think of it, it is indeed a sad story. The narcissist's background is sad.

And so he needs to soothe himself all the time.

Another thing common to narcissists is repetition, compulsion. They tend to repeat the same behaviors regardless of outcomes.

Someone said erroneously but nevermind that the hallmark of craziness is repeating the same thing, the same behaviors over and over again, expecting different results.

Well, that's the narcissist for you. The narcissist says repetition, compulsion.

In his relationships, for example, the narcissist would select an intimate partner and then go through the same mistakes he had committed in previous relationships.

The devaluation, the discard, the callousness, the ruthlessness, the cruelty, the sadistic abuse, et cetera. He just can't help it. That's the meaning of the word compulsion. Compulsion means he's compelled to do what he does. It doesn't control his behaviors.

The second thing, the next thing is, by the way, say hello to Minnie. The next thing is dysfunctional attachments. Most narcissists have avoidant or insecure attachment styles, more likely avoidant dismissive. Avoidant dismissive attachment styles are attachment styles which are not conducive to bonding. They're not real attachment.

Actually, I'm proposing another style of attachment. I call it flat attachment.

I think narcissists are incapable of getting really attached to anyone, really bonding with anyone, really committing to anyone and really investing in anyone.

There are many reasons for this, but suffice it to say that they're incapable. They also don't have access to positive emotions.

Early in childhood, the narcissist had learned that positive emotions such as love lead to pain result in hurt. He doesn't want to do this anymore. He doesn't want to love anymore, and he's afraid to tap into his negative emotions, positive emotions, I'm sorry, because his positive emotions are marinated in a reservoir of historical pain and hurt.

If he were to love again, he would feel very threatened. He's incapable of emotions. There are other reasons why he's incapable of bonding and attachment.

I will touch upon this a bit later.

The next thing you need to know about the narcissist is that he is discontinuous. There's no continuity there, no coherence, no cohesion, no core, nothing stable.

The narcissist is shape-shifting, mutable, exactly like a river. He has dissociative self-states. He appears to be different persons. It's like he's shifting or switching between personalities.

He has no memory of the vast majority of his life. He experiences his life as something out there. He is merely the observer, the spectator, the director of a movie or an actor on a stage in a theater play called My Life.

So he doesn't experience his life directly, but only indirectly through the mediation of a narrative that makes it very easy for him to forget things.

So he does all the time. He dissociates in a desperate effort to not appear dissociative, to not appear forgetful, to not appear demented and senile, in a desperate effort to cover up for these memory gaps and identity lapses.

The narcissist lies. He confabulates. He invents stories which are plausible and probable but need not be true. And then he comes to believe his own lies and he defends his lies against any attempt at unraveling them or exposing them for what they are.

And many people perceive this to be gaslighting, but gaslighting actually is a psychopathic behavior. Gaslighting implies premeditation, intention, goal orientation.

The narcissist's only goal, only wish, only purpose in life, and the sole engine of meaning is narcissistic supply. That's all he wants. He doesn't need to gaslight you, but he ends up doing it because he lives in concocted fictitious narratives that have little to do with what had really happened.

You must remember that the narcissist is a case of arrested development. He is an infant. He has infantile defense mechanisms, such as splitting.

The narcissist spends most of his life in regressive infantilism. He is maybe two years old. He is maybe four years old. In the best case, he's nine years old, but he's never, never an adult, not even an adolescent.

So, narcissists avoid, shirk adult chores and adult responsibilities. They are pitter pans, the pitter pan syndrome. They are eternally stuck in an early phase of life, unable to extricate themselves and later unwilling to extricate themselvesand they fully expect you to cater to their needs, as children do, and they throw temper tantrums. If you don't, they'll exploit brats.

Part of the reason for this is cognitive distortions. The narcissist does not perceive reality properly. The narcissist distorts reality cognitively.

The prime example is grandiosity. The narcissist perceives himself as God-like, perfect, brilliant, omniscient, all-knowing, omnipotent, all-powerful.

And of course, it's a wrong self-perception. He is not like that, but he fully believes that he is. So, he distorts reality. He fakes it. He refrains it. He reforms it and reshapes it to cater to his need to perceive himself as God-like. It's a kind of private religion, if you wish.

And this creates cognitive distortions. Gradually, the narcissist drifts away from reality. Clinically, we call it impaired reality testing. He becomes more and more delusional, more and more adrift and detached from what we all healthy people consider to be the real, the essential. He lives more and more inside his head, inside his mind, inhabiting an internal space with representations of people out there, known as internal objects or introjects. He retreats and withdraws into the safety of this boundaries space known as mine. And these are the only boundaries he does have.

So, it's perfectly logical to say that narcissism is a form of mild psychosis. Otto Kahnberg has suggested this in the 70s.

The narcissist also suffers from emotional or effective dysregulation, but not like the borderline. The borderline experiences empathy and she experiences strong emotions. These emotions overwhelm the borderline, take over her, subdue her. She drowns in these emotions. She's unable to function anymore because she's flooded with a tsunami of feelings and affects and memories and so on. That's the borderline.

The narcissist is different. His emotions and his effects are also dysregulated, but in a different way. He has something called inappropriate affect and reduced affect display. In other words, the narcissist experiences only an extremely limited set of emotions known as negative affectivity. He experiences envy. He experiences anger. He experiences all the negative emotions and in an attempt to fit into society, somehow he either demonstrates or shows inappropriate emotions, inappropriate affect.

For example, he may laugh at a funeral or he may find a tragedy very comic. And on the other hand, he may suppress all emotional displays, reduced affect display. So, he would appear to be unflappable with a poker face, untouchable, impermeable, invulnerable, sang fua, etc.

The narcissist doesn't have acting out. He doesn't act out the way the borderline does. He doesn't just fly off the handle and does crazy reckless things like the borderline. He rarely loses control because of the logical narcissism is focused on control. It's a control adaptation. It's a positive adaptation in early childhood in an environment that had been chaotic and hectic and unpredictable and dangerous and ominous and threatening.

So, narcissism is about control where the borderline loses control when she switches into the secondary psychopathy mode. When she anticipates humiliation and rejection and abandonment, she just loses it. The narcissist doesn't. He actually, if anything, tries to reassert control, reassume control, usually by preempting abandonment. He abandons first crawling and so on.

But the narcissist is exactly like the borderline. His episodes of decompensation. Decompensation is when the narcissist defenses crumble, fall apart, when he can no longer lie to himself and tell himself that he is godlike, that he is a divinity or a deity, that he is perfect and brilliant and handsome and amazing and a professor of psychology. So, he cannot tell himself all these things and then he falls apart. He falls apart in two ways.

The mild form is known as narcissistic injury and the extreme form is known as narcissistic mortification.

When the narcissist decompensates, he doesn't act out. He doesn't go crazy. What happens instead, he develops a mood disorder. He becomes depressed and anxious.

This happens also to psychopaths.

We are beginning to discover the stereotype or the fearless psychopath is just that stereotype. It's not true.

Psychopaths actually experience long periods of anxiety disorders. Same with the narcissist. The narcissist's emotional dysregulation in the form of inappropriate and reduced affect has profound implications.

The narcissist is unable to perceive external reality properly for the reasons that I had explained, but he is also unable to perceive internal reality properly. He has impaired internal reality testing and of course, he has empathy deficits. It has only cold empathy, the cognitive reflexive part, but not the emotional part of empathy.

So, the narcissist begins to lose, to get lost. He's simply, he's disoriented. He can't evaluate or appraise reality externally properly and gradually he doesn't understand his internal reality properly. He loses touch with both the external and the internal and this is even more extreme than psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, paranoia.

The narcissist in your life is likely to be not only a small kid, but a very, very terrified and scared small kid because it's a kid who doesn't understand the world out there and doesn't understand what is happening inside him.

It is important to understand, it's important to grasp with the narcissist that his, whatever shreds of identity that he does have, they are negative. He is a negative identity. He defines himself in contradistinction to others. He defines himself by contrast, by comparison with others via relative positioning. If he's envious, I'm as good as or not as good as this or that person.

So, he's constantly comparing himself. He's likely to say, I'm never going to be like my father. He was a loser. I think my boss is deficient. I'm much better than him. He constantly compares himself to other people in his early life, in his late life, in his present, in his past and even in the future. Even people he had never met like political leaders, figures from history and this creates something called negative identity. The negative identity is about rejecting, rejecting other people, rejecting their assets and rejecting the liabilities, rejecting their good traits and characteristics and rejecting their flaws and deficiencies. It's about rejecting.

The narcissist defines himself, acquires a kind of sense of identity, I call it pseudo identity, by rejecting other people.

But rejection becomes an organizing principle. Rejection in the narcissist's life makes sense of his existence, imbues it with meaning and direction, gives it structure. It's a method of operation, an MO, modus operandi.

So, the narcissist begins to reject everything, everyone, especially himself.

Narcissism is an extreme form of self-loathing.

There's been a big debate in the psychology of narcissism, whether narcissists are happy-go-lucky, whether they're egosyntonic, whether they like themselves, they're comfortable with themselves, whether they are proud of their narcissism.

And the answer to all this is yes, in the case of the overt narcissist, but we are beginning to realize that the overt narcissist is actually not a narcissist, he's a psychopath, and that the only real form of pathological narcissism is what used to be called until now covert narcissism or compensatory narcissist.

So, the compensatory narcissist is a narcissist who hates himself, loathes himself, considers himself secretly inferior as an inferiority complex a la Adler.

And so, this kind of narcissist compensates by pretending that he is great, that he is god-like, that he is all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect, brilliant, flawless, infallible. That's his compensatory mechanism.

So, this self-loathing compels the narcissist, forces the narcissist to display, to put on a display of superiority, hotiness, arrogance, and yes, rejection.

But as I said, rejection metastasizes, it spreads, you can't control it.

If you relate to the world via rejection, you will end up rejecting yourself.

And this is the irony in narcissism.

Deep inside, the narcissist despises himself, contemptuously relates to himself. Deep inside, the narcissist has auto-plastic defenses, very similar to the neurotics defenses.

He blames himself, he shames himself.

There have been scholars such as Masterson who insisted that pathological narcissism is a form of dysfunctional coping strategy with shame. It is based on shame and the inability to process shame as a child.

And so, this would lead the narcissist to have a neurotic core. The inside of the narcissist is actually neurotic.

And this is the original observation of Otto Kernberg in the 70s. He said that narcissism and borderline, which he thought were one and the same, narcissism and borderline are on the border. That's why he called it border line, are on the border between neurosis and psychosis.

And I couldn't agree with him more. He was a great visionary who is now being vindicated.

The narcissist has auto-plastic defenses internally, but because he rejects people all the time, he has allo-plastic defenses externally. He blames people, his wife, his boss, his neighbor, his colleagues, his friends, you name it, the state, government, secret agencies, if he's a paranoid. So, he blames everyone for everything wrong in his life, for every defeat, for every failure, for every mishap, for every erroneous decision and choice.

And so, he adopts allo-plastic defenses. He attacks other people. He blames other people for everything that's wrong in his life.

But this creates an external locus of control. If you keep blaming other people for everything that's happening to you, it's like admitting that your life is out of control. It's like saying other people are controlling my life. It's like confessing to being a plaything, an object, something that has no agency, no self-efficacy, and no autonomy.

Indeed, this is exactly how the narcissist feels.

He feels that people are envious of him. He feels that people hate him. He feels that people are angry at him.

And he's right on all three counts, by the way. And people in his mind are out to get him. They're out to control his life. They're out to demote him. They're out to hurt him. They're out to destroy his life. Everyone is an enemy. Everyone is a secretary object.

One of the reasons that the narcissist sees only bad around him, only envy and anger, one of the reasons the narcissist is able to experience only negative effects and negative emotions is because of a process called bad object interjection.

Bad object interjection means the narcissist as a child had been told that he is bad, that he's unworthy, that he's a failure, that he's a loser, that he's good for nothing, and had come to expect as a child conditional love.

If he performs, he gets love. If he does not perform according to maternal or paternal expectations, he doesn't get love. He this gradually had convinced a narcissist, even as a child, that he is not lovable. He cannot be loved. So he internalizes this bad object.

As a child, the narcissist in the making has two choices. He can either say, mother keeps telling me that I'm bad, that I'm unworthy, that I'm a failure, that I'm a disappointment, but mother is wrong. That's option number one.

Option number two, mother keeps telling me all these things. And because she's mother, she's always right. No child, no child would choose the first option. No child would think bad things about mommy.

And the reason no child would do that is because the child depends for his life on his mother. He cannot afford to think of mother as a bad, malevolent, evil object. He cannot afford to think of mother or father as defective, deformed, sick, dysfunctional.

So he internalizes the bad object. He says, I'm bad. Mother is right. I'm bad. Father is right. I'm unworthy. They're both right. I'm a disappointment.

And this is called bad object introduction.

But if you feel that you're bad, that you're a loser, that you're a failure, that you're a disappointment, that you cause disillusionment and disenchantment in everyone, that everyone hates you, is angry at you, etc., you don't want to be yourself.

The narcissist does not want to be himself. He wants to be a false self. He wants to be someone else.

And this process is clinically known as estrangement. He gets estranged from himself, the way some couples get estranged from each other.

So estrangement is an attempt to put distance between the narcissist and his internal bad object, because the internal bad object is harsh, sadistic. It's an inner critic. It's a superego that keeps chastising, castigating, tormenting, hackturing, preaching, criticizing the narcissist. It's painful. It's hurtful. It's an annoyance. It's unsustainable.

So the narcissist tends to put distance in this process of estrangement between his, himself and himself.

And the solution to this is the false self. The narcissist cathexes the false self. He invests emotional energy in a piece of fiction, in a narrative, in a story, in a deity, in a divinity known as the false self, and he sacrifices to it its true self.

But of course, if you do this, if you divorce yourself, if you remove yourself from the scene, if you convert yourself from an existence, from a presence, to an absence, if you become a void, if you become an emptiness, this is terrifying. This is perceived as dying, as a process of dying, where healthy people spend their lives becoming the narcissist, spends his life unbecoming, voiding, annihilating himself, self-eliminating.

And this is, of course, a catastrophe.

So the narcissist tends to catastrophize. He tends to expect doom and gloom. He has a negative, pessimistic view. The world is likely to be extremely cynical. And he believes everyone is precisely like him. Everyone is callous and ruthless and merciless and pitiless and cruel and relentless in pursuing goals.

So he catastrophizes. Because he catastrophizes, his anxiety levels rise. The narcissist is a very anxious person. And to cope with his anxiety, the narcissist engages in rituals. He becomes obsessive compulsive. And one of these rituals is addiction.

So most narcissists are addicts. The narcissist is afraid to confront his life, is afraid to experience his life firsthand. He has an imaginary friend, an intermediary, the false self. And he inhabits a fantastic universe known as Paracosm.

The narcissist does not experience life. Instead, he lives in the future. He is afraid to come in touch, to get in touch with his past, with his emotions, with his personal history. So he deletes, he dissociates his past the same way borderlines do. He cannot live in the present because of the process of estrangement. So he inhabits the future, is future oriented, goal oriented.

But this is of course compensatory. When you refuse to inhabit your present, when you refuse, when you decline to contemplate your past, you're actually rejecting yourself. It's a form of self rejection.

Scholars such as Harvey Clark, Jeffrey Seinfeld, others, they kept insisting that the narcissism is about the rejection of life, about an emptiness that is all pervasive, a kind of black hole.

If the psychopath is a neutron star, the narcissist is a black hole, and the borderline is supernova.

Some narcissists are unable to maintain a continuity of life this way. So they're very erratic. They drop everything. They start new projects and then stop. They start new relationships and then bail out. They de-affect, they remove emotional energy, emotional investment.

So we see these narcissists as desensatory, itinerant, unpredictable, unexpected, and so we tend to confuse this kind of narcissism with borderline.

I'm telling you all this about the narcissists because if you have a narcissist as a partner, you need, in my view, to understand what's going on inside this mind. This mind which is demented and deranged and on the verge of psychosis and crosses the border very often. This mind which is tortured and tormented. This mind which is estranged. This absence which pretends to be a presence. This black hole which, if you are not careful enough and you cross the event horizon, will consume you and never let you out.

You need to understand the dangers of living with someone like that. The only way to do that is to gain access to the user's manual which I'm trying to do right now and right here in this confined time and space.

You see, it is impossible to love other people if you do not love yourself.

Narcissism is not about self-love. It's the antonym. It's the exact opposite of self-love. It's the ultimate form of self-rejection.

The narcissist as a child kills itself, commits mental suicide, and invents another guy, another image, the false self.

By the way, of course, everything I say applies to female narcissists as well.

Today, about half of all narcissistic personality disorder diagnoses are female. So, women have caught up with men.

So, you can't love if you don't love yourself. All love, all love is self-love.

When you love another person, you can see yourself through the eyes of your lover. The gaze of the lover defines you, allows you to apprehend yourself as an external object because your lover sees you as an external object. You're able to perceive yourself, to self-perceive as boundaried. The lover's gaze helps you to create boundaries, to delineate them, to become, to regulate your sense of self-worth internally, to take on the world, to become a better version of yourself. All these are precluded in the case of pathological narcissism.

The narcissist doesn't have access to all this because he's incapable of truly loving another person.

We'll talk about it a bit later. He is able of interacting with an intimate partner, but not in the way healthy people do.

Narcissism is not self-love. There's no self to love.

The narcissist has no ego, has impaired reality testing, and so he outsources his ego boundary functions.

The mind of the narcissist is the combination, the collage, the kaleidoscope of all the observers, the people who observe the narcissist. All the sources of narcissistic supply put together, engender, generate, and create the narcissist mind. It's a hive mind. It's a swarm, swarm mind. It's not a single unitary entity, and it shapeshifts all the time.

So if there is no self there, if there is no ego there, you can't, the narcissist cannot self-love because there is no self, and because he cannot self-love, and because he thinks of himself as unlovable, most narcissists would tell you, I prefer to be feared than to be loved.

Narcissists find expressions of empathy, compassion, affection, and love very awkward, very embarrassing, and sometimes repulsive. They reject such expressions.

So the narcissist has an incapacity to love.

In clinical terms, we say that there is a failure to generate self-objects or object representations. The narcissist can invest in you, his energy, his resources, even some emotions. He can affect in professional terms, but he can never love you. You have never been loved. You had been bombed. There was love bombing, but love bombing has nothing to do with love because love bombing treats you as an object and converts you into a symbol, an introject, an internal representation in the narcissist's mind. It's all about killing you, transforming you.

Love bombing is about getting rid of the real you and replacing it with some image. We'll come to it a bit later.

Narcissism is a form of self-loathing. The child rejects his helpless self and his lack of self-efficacy. The child is ashamed of this learned helplessness. The child is terrified all the time because he cannot predict the arbitrary and capricious behaviors of adults around him. He doesn't understand their expectations, and he knows that their love is intermittent. Intermittent comes in bursts.

The child is subjected to intermittent reinforcement early on, and so the child withdraws. He creates the false self, which is everything the child is not. The child is helpless. The false self is all powerful, omnipotent. The child cannot read or predict the adults around him. The false self is omniscient, all-knowing. The child is told that he is bad and unworthy and flawed. The false self is perfect. The child often is castigated as stupid. The false self is brilliant, etc.

Narcissism can be easily described as a form of dysthymia, dysphoria, permanent depression, prolonged grief over an internalized bad object that could have been loved, could have been allowed to develop, develop, to separate, to individually, to become a lovely, charming, amazing, intelligent adult.

It is this denial of self-actualization, this denial of potential that is at the core of pathological narcissism, prolonged grief response to what could have been, to a life unlived.

And so now we move from the narcissist's inner landscape to your relationship with the narcissist.

We know in psychology that when people have unresolved issues, unsettled accounts, open conflicts, they tend to recreate them. They tend to repeat them. This is called repetition compulsion, a phrase coined by, of course, who else? Sigmund the Freud.

We all engage in repetition compulsion, compulsions big and small.

But the narcissist's life, his psychology is one giant repetition compulsion. The entire relationship with the narcissist, your relationship with the narcissist is intended to recreate the dynamics of the conflict with the narcissist's mother during the formative years.

The narcissist unconsciously keeps hoping that this time around with this different mother, which is you, the outcome might be different. The power matrix may turn out differently. He and the mother could be equipotent, could have the same power, could negotiate, could compromise, could coexist.

So the narcissist chooses you because of your potential to become mother, to mother him and to be a good enough mother, a mother who would love him unconditionally. And he tests you. He subjects you to tests. He abuses you.

One of the main reasons for narcissistic abuse is to test whether you're a good enough mother, whether you're going to continue to love the narcissist despite his specadiers, his misbehaviors, his maltreatment of you. Are you going to love him no matter what? And if you do, then you're a good enough mother and you qualify to be his intimate partner.

So again, we revert to this definition, erroneous definition of what is to be crazy. To be crazy is to engage in the same behaviors time and again, expecting different outcomes.

And that's precisely what the narcissist is doing. He's trying to resolve the early conflict with his mother, which had left him wounded and scarred for life. He's trying to solve it, what Freud called the archaic wound and what Joanne Lachkar calls the vulnerability spot or the vulnerable spot, the v-spot. He's trying to heal through you, through your agency. He's trying to convert you into a mother, a maternal figure, and then reenact with you his childhood.

It's a second chance at being a child.

And the narcissist vainly hopes, and I will explain a bit later why vainly hopes this time to be able to separate from you and to become an individual. He hopes to complete the separation-individuation phase.

And here I must explain or revisit the issue of separation-individuation.

Essentially, there are two phases of separation-individuation in human life.

The first one is between the ages of 18 months and 24 months.

During the separation-individuation phase, the child begins to venture out into the world.

The child begins to give up on the idea that he and mother are one and the same, as a single organism with two heads, maybe.

This process, this psychological phase is called symbiosis, used to be called symbiosis.

So then the child exits the symbiotic phase. He begins to realize that mother is a separate entity, that he and mother are not the same.

There's a lot of terror. It's a traumatic realization, because if mother is not the same as the child, she may abandon the child.

And indeed, during this period, the child develops separation-individuation insecurity, also known as abandonment or separation anxiety. He's terrified that because mother is separate from him, she will also go away and never return.

But gradually, he overcomes this terror, this fear, and he begins to initiate separation, actually. He walks a few steps away and runs back to mommy. This is separation.

The good enough mother is a safe base, a secure base. The child knows she's not going to punish him for trying to separate. She's not going to just walk away. She's not going to disappear on him when his back is turned.

As he ventures out into the world, into the world grandiosely, taking on reality, she's going to be there for him if he fails. She's going to be there for him if he wishes to return to the base and recuperate and recharge.

That's the good enough mother. The bad mother, the dead mother, the selfish mother, the insecure mother, the absent mother, she does not let the child separate. She penalizes the child for any display of autonomy and independence and agency and self-efficacy.

Gradually, the child learns to please mommy. He needs to stay tethered to her, attached to her in an invisible umbilical cord as though he had never been born. He needs, in other words, to go back into the womb. He needs to be unborn. He needs to kill himself. Only that way, mother will remain in his life happy and loving.

Her love is conditioned upon his death. Mommy loves him only when he does not exist, only when he ceases to show any signs of independence and autonomy, only when he has no boundaries, only when they are enmeshed, merged, infused.

The bad mother, the dead mother, the phrase dead mother was coined by Andrei Green in 1978, the dead mother won't allow the child to become a live child.

In a way, the dead mother engages in lifelong miscarriage. She aborts her child's attempts to become an individual, someone else, not her, an adult.

And so the narcissism, pathological narcissism, is the outcome of aborted separation individuation.

Separation and individuation phase gun or ride.

The good enough mother pushes away the child, encourages the child to become, to transform into an adult. The bad mother keeps him around her, possesses him, converts him into an object, and he never overcomes this.

So he tries again with you, his intimate partner.

But how does he bring these outcomes about? How does he convince you to become his mother? How does he engage you in what Sander called in 1989 the shared fantasy?

He creates a fantastic space, fantastic space exactly, which reflects the space in his mind. His mind is a fantastic space, so he creates an external fantastic space.

And then he invites you in, enticingly, alluringly, in the love bombing and maybe grooming stages. A honeymoon, permanent honeymoon, never to end. And he invites you in and you can't resist.

But very early on, it becomes clear that he expects you to be much more than an intimate partner. He expects you to be his mother. He expects you to mother him, to fulfill some maternal functions.

And so at this stage, some potential intimate partners walk away, but the majority don't.

And the question is, how come? Why don't people lose their sense of self-preservation and self-defense in the face of the narcissist's shared fantasy? What is he offering to them that he saw irresistible?

And the answer is he offers self-love.

Now that sounds totally counterintuitive. I've just said earlier that the narcissist is incapable of loving himself, mainly because he has no self, but also because he perceives himself as a bad and worthy object.

So how can he offer you self-love?

Well, through the dual mothering or dual mothership mechanism.

And here's the deal that the narcissist offers you as an intimate partner.

He says, you're going to be my mother. You're going to mother me. And this time you're going to allow me to separate and individually. And I'm going to separate from you by devaluing you. I'm going to individually by discarding you. And I'm going to do so from an empowered position, not as a helpless child anymore, but like as a boundaried adult.

So it's a bad deal on the face of it. The narcissist lets you know pretty early that if you don't conform, he's going to dump you. He's going to devalue and discard you.

He needs to do that. There's no other way to reenact, to replay the separationindividuation phase, except by separating from you and by individuating.

So he needs to devalue and discard you. This is a compulsive.

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