Narcissist's Romantic Jealousy as Negative Fantasy

Uploaded 4/15/23, approx. 28 minute read

Okay, Chmad Madim, the weather, like my mood, is partly cloudy and partly sunny.

And today's lecture is about positive versus negative, in this case, positive fantasies versus negative fantasies, and how they serve as the engine of romantic jealousy, control freakery and memory lapses.

How do I connect all these topics?

Stay with me and you will learn.

My name is Sam Vaknin, I'm the author of Malignant Sunflower, Narcissism Revisited, and a former visiting professor of psychology.

Start with a disambiguation.

If you listen to self-styled experts online, which is a habit I strongly recommend against, if you listen to these girls and guys, you will of course be exposed only to the concept of a positive fantasy.

It seems that all they can talk about are fantasies as escape from reality.

And of course, you don't escape from harsh, drab, pedestrian, boring, decrepit reality into a fantasy which is even worse than reality. You escape into a fantasy which is the opposite of your reality, a fantasy which is Disneyland.

But this is only one type of fantasy.

They are definitely negative fantasies.

For example, in paranoid personality disorder, we have negative fantasies. Certain delusions are a form of rigid fantasy. Certain delusions are negative.

In psychotic disorders, we have many negative fantasies.

The very attitude of the psychotic to the world, to the universe, to his reality is essentially a fantasy known as hyper-reflexivity.

So fantasy is a language. Fantasy is an organizing principle and a hermeneutic principle, a way to make sense of the world, to imbue it with meaning.

And like everything else in psychology, there is a positive variant and a negative variant.

My name is Sam Vaknin, a proposed negative variant, and I'm the author of Malignant Sunflower, Narcissism Revisited, and a former visiting professor of psychology.

Okay, Shoshanim, let's delve right in.

You remember the need to be seen?

We all need to be seen. We need to be seen, starting very early on in life.

As babies, if you are not seen by mommy, you become a very dead baby.

So the need to be seen is a survival strategy.

Babies attract the attention of mothers with a highly specific repertory of behaviors, including, for example, crime. The need to be seen survives throughout the lifespan into adulthood.

And when you can't be seen by other people, for whatever reason, when you don't want to be seen by other people, then you become your own audience, a process that I dubbed self-supply.

You begin to be seen by yourself.

You cannot be seen by others. You are seen by yourself.

But there is, as I've just said, the mirror image of this need.

The need to be seen is countered by the need to not be seen, the need to avoid the gaze of others, the need to not be noticed, not only by others, but even by yourself, the need to avoid oneself gaze.

And the reason for the need to not be seen is, of course, shame.

Certain people, when they are seen by others or when they self-contemplate or introspect, they experience shame. Shame is a major behavioral inhibitor.

In other words, shame prescribes behaviors. Shame causes us to avoid certain behaviors.

Relationships including, for example, therapy, but definitely intimate relationships. Relationships are about being seen. When you're in a relationship, your partner, your interlocutor, your counterparty, they see you, they notice your vulnerabilities and your strong points. You are seen in relationships.

Actually, one can reduce the very concept of relationship to being regularly and permanently seen by a counterparty, a loving counterparty, a caring counterparty, or an enemy. A relationship with an enemy is as strong as a relationship with a lover.

Because in both cases, you're being seen.

So if you are someone with a reservoir of shame, with a deep-set sense of shame, a hailing back to early childhood and emanating from early childhood abuse and trauma, if your whole existence subsists of shame, you don't want to be seen.

And so in relationships where you are being seen, you would feel uncomfortable.

For someone who doesn't want to be seen, relationships are painful.

They provoke dissonance. They could even be perceived as threats.

Being seen or even seeing oneself through someone else's gaze in a relationship, this could trigger life-threatening shame, shame that overflows, disregulates, and can, for example, lead to suicidal ideation.

So the need to not be seen is secondary. It's derivative. It's the outcome of mistreatment and abuse, usually in early childhood, but could be later in life.

And it is in this sense as strong as the need to be seen.

Shame is a gap in perception. Shame is a gap between your perception of how you should be versus your belief that you are not as you ought to be.

So shame is two components.

The first component is known as ego ideal.

Ego ideal is an image of yourself as you would like to see yourself, as you believe you should be, as you believe you could be if only you were only to apply yourself.

So this is ego ideal, your aspiration, your dream, your hope, the way you want to be one day when you grow old.

And this is one element of shame.

And the second element, the second component of shame is the belief, the entrenched conviction that you are not as you ought to be, that you are very far from your ego ideal, that you are not as you should be or could be, that you have let yourself down, that you are disappointment, that you are failure, that you are a loser.

Now guilt sometimes goes with shame. Shame could lead to guilt.

You do something wrong to someone, you feel guilty, then you feel ashamed of yourself.

But shame can go and often does go without guilt.

And when shame goes without guilt, the guilt is projected.

So for example, if you are very ashamed of the way you look, you would feel ashamed, but you would not feel guilty.

You can't help the way you look to a large extent.

But you would feel that other people are guilty because the gaze of other people defines you in a way that causes you shame.

You're ashamed because other people see you as ugly.

And they shouldn't do this to you. It's cruel. It's inhuman. You're angry at them.

You're projecting this anger and you feel that they should feel guilty or that they actually are guilty, accusing others for causing you shame, accusing others for mistreating you to the point that you feel ashamed of yourself.

That's attributing guilt. That's projecting guilt onto them.

In someone who has a need to be seen, shame and guilt go together. They're internalized. They're owned by the person. The person feels guilty and ashamed.

But in someone who has a need to not be seen because of overwhelming, overpowering shame, in such a person, only the shame will be experienced. The guilt would be projected outwards.

This is a form of alloplastic defense, of course, or at least an alloplastic view of others.

So other people are guilty that I'm feeling ashamed. And because other people are guilty, because they're cruel, because they're inconsiderate and discompassionate and inhuman and sadistic even, that's why I'm avoiding them. It's not a shame. It's their misbehavior. I'm ashamed of who I am, and it's their fault that I'm ashamed of who I am. It's a defense. It's a defense.

Now, you remember the ego ideal.

The ego ideal is the way we think we should be.

The way you think you should be is your ego ideal.

So the ego ideal can be realistic and healthy.

The ego ideal can take into account your special talents, your gifts, your skills, your skills, your endowments.

An ego ideal that is grounded in reality, an ego ideal that is realistic and healthy, motivates you, drives you to act in order to close the gap between who you are and who you should be.

So ambition is an artifact of a realistic, healthy ego ideal, planning, even daydreaming, as Freud had noted.

But an ego ideal can be pathological.

An ego ideal can be entitled.

An ego ideal can be fantastic, unrealistic, delusional. It discretes an unbridgeable gap with reality.

Of course, if you have a view of yourself which is utterly unrealistic and can never, ever be actualized, you're setting yourself up for failure.

You're creating a gap between who you think you should be and who you could ever be.

This gap with reality generates shame.

The shame is concatenated. The shame links to previous shame, incidents of shame. Shame heaped upon shame, a mountain of shame which essentially crushes the individual.

So shame is the outcome of a fantastic, unrealistic ego ideal.

An ego ideal which essentially is sadistic because it sets the individual up for failure.

An ego ideal which collaborates and colludes closely with a harsh inner critic, with a sadistic superego.

And this kind of ego ideal generates shame on the fly, all the time, self-loathing and self-contempt.

And of course, such internalized hatred, an enemy within, a Trojan horse, this creates anxiety. The anxiety is heightened in the wake of failure.

You see, when you need to not be seen, when your need is to not be seen because you have a lot of shame, this is because your ego ideal is unrealistic, is fantastic.

And there's a huge gap with reality.

And then you feel shame. And the shame and the self-loathing push you to either try and fail, so failure sets you up for failure, or push you to avoid reality altogether, avoidant behaviors.

And in the wake of repeated failed attempts on the one hand, or withdrawal and avoidance on the other hand, in the wake of these two behaviors, there's a lot of anxiety because it's perceived as self-negation, self-annihilation, constriction, self-inhibition, becoming less, not becoming more, the opposite of self-actualization.

So here's the chain.

The chain is an unrealistic, fantastic ego ideal, a gap with reality, shame, failure or avoidance, and then anxiety.

Of course, no individual can survive with this constant sense of ego distantly, constant sense of discomfort and anxiety. It's intolerable. It's unbearable.

So there are two solutions.

Bear with me. I'm coming to romantic jealousy and everything, but you need to work this background.

There are two solutions.

As you recall, there is a gap between the fantastic ego ideal, which is essentially a fantasy defense and reality.

So the only two solutions are either to change the fantasy or to change reality.

The change in fantasy, I call it fantasy inversion.

The first solution is to change a fantasy.

If you render the fantasy more realistic, if you render the fantasy more like daydreaming or more like planning, the gap with reality would narrow.

And as the gap of reality narrows, your anxiety will be ameliorated and mitigated and reduced.

So this is a solution.

But how to do that?

How do you change the fantasy?

Because the grandiosity gap between the fantasy and reality is intolerable and unbearable.

So the solution is fantasy inversion.

You transition from a positive fantasy of yourself, from a positive ego ideal to a negative fantasy of yourself.

Remember that an unrealized, unactualized, unmaterialized ego ideal creates dissonance, creates anxiety.

And the dissonance is cognitive dissonance. This is the way I should be.

These are two beliefs. They're incompatible, they're contradictory, and they create a cognitive dissonance.

The first solution is change the fantasy.

Don't think of yourself in positive terms anymore. Think of yourself in negative terms.

This is especially prevalent and especially visible and especially dominant in pathological narcissism among narcissists.

The narcissist's self-perception is never real. It's always fantastic.

But as opposed to what self-styled experts would tell you, the self fantasy, the fantasy which refers to the self, to the false self, could be all positive, could be aggrandizing and godlike and perfect.

But the self fantasy, the false self, could be also a totally, unremittingly, unrelentingly bad object.

So the narcissist's inflated self-perception could be all positive and it could be, of course, all negative.

There is a process of internal splitting going on.

A negative fantasy is as grandiose as a positive fantasy.

If you say, "I'm uniquely self-destructive, I'm amazingly self-defeating, no one is bad as I am, no one is unworthy as I am, no one is a screw and a sadistic and a criminalized as I am, no one in short is as evil as I am, I am the next best thing to the devil." That is aggrandizing.

That is also idolizing yourself. That's a form of idealization.

The narcissist's negative self-fantasy, the narcissist's false self, is grandiose.

These grandiose, when the bad object is idealized, when the bad object becomes an organizing principle, explanatory of the narcissist's life and his inner psychodynamics, the bad object is the false self.

And it's a perfect bad object. It's perfectly bad. It's perfectly evil. It's perfectly irredeemable. It's perfectly hopeless. It's perfectly failing. It's perfectly losing. It's a loser, the perfect loser. It's the perfection that counts. It's the uniqueness that matters. It's the unprecedented nature of the narcissist that is at the core of the narcissist's grandiosity.

To say, "I'm the world's greatest winner" is narcissist's grandiosity.

But to say, "I'm the world's greatest loser" is also narcissistic grandiosity. To say, "I'm the best person I know. I'm a good person, the likes of which I've never come across.

That's a narcissistic statement, a grandiose statement.

And to say, "I'm the most evil person I know. I'm horrible. I'm demonic. I'm devilish." That is also a narcissistic grandiose statement.

So the false self would be all negative, not only all positive.

And when there is a fantasy inversion, when there is a transition from positive fantasy to negative fantasy, when there is a transition from positive ego ideal, which is fantastic and cannot be actualized, to a negative ego ideal, it's a solution.

Why is it a solution?

Because it's much easier, much easier to match a negative fantasy with reality. It's much easier to be evil than to be good. It's much easier to be cruel than to be compassionate. It's much easier to be lazy than to work hard. It's much easier to be bad than to be good, unworthy than worthy. A loser than accomplished.

A negative fantasy is a default. It's a default.

So if you can't realize a positive fantasy, try to realize a negative fantasy.

Realizing a negative fantasy is a form of success.

If you have a positive ego ideal, if you have a positive perception of yourself, a perception of yourself that is divorced from reality, that is fantastic, you will never get there. You will never close the gap, the grandiosity gap, the gap between reality and fantasy.

But if your fantasy is that you're a loser, you're lazy, you're good for nothing, you are cruel, you are abusive, you are sadistic, this kind of fantasy is very easy to actualize and to realize.

And once you have realized your negative ego ideal, there is no grandiosity gap. There is no gap left between reality and your ego ideal.

You will have succeeded, mission accomplished.

At that point, your anxiety disappears. You feel calm, you feel safe because your self judgment has proven to be correct. It's proven to be correct. You are negative. You thought of yourself as negative. Your ego ideal was negative.

And here you are in reality, as negative as can be.

Success, success restores a sense of self-efficacy and self-control. And so you feel calm, no anxiety, and you feel safe. You feel that your grasp on reality is accurate. Your reality testing is restored.

When we fail with a positive fantasy, when we can't realize our dreams about ourselves, the ego ideal, we then revert and resort to negative fantasies.

Because in life, we need to match the ego ideal with reality. We need to match the fantasy with reality. And if we can't do it with a positive fantasy, then the hell with it, we're going to do it with a negative fantasy.

When life matches fantasy, it yields comfortable egosyntony. Makes you feel good. Even if the fantasy is negative.

When life matches fantasy, even if the fantasy is about you being a perfect bad object. When life matches this fantasy, it is difficult to change. When there is no daylight between your fantasy and your reality, you have no incentive to change because it's a very comforting state of being. It's a comfort zone.

Negative fantasies are there, a second best solution, but they're still a solution.

Mind you, negative fantasies always create shame because people adopt negative fantasies when they had failed with positive fantasies.

So there's always this nagging doubt or nagging knowledge in the back of your mind.

I am living this negative fantasy because I had failed with a positive fantasy. I'm doing this. I'm being a bad object. I'm becoming an abuser or a criminal or whatever because I failed to be the alternative. I failed to be, I don't know what, a good citizen, a good father, a good husband, a functioning parent, whatever your fantasy may have been.

A rich guy, a famous guy or girl, someone who dates easily and has his way with women or men or whatever the positive fantasy may have been.

You know deep inside that the only reason you're not living your negative fantasy, the only reason is because you have failed with a positive one and that is a generator of shame.

So in the case of the positive fantasy, there is a gap with reality. Positive fantasy creates a grandiosity gap, a gap between the positive fantasy and reality which generates shame.

The negative fantasy also creates a gap but it's a gap between the negative fantasy and the abandoned positive fantasy. And this gap also generates shame.

Whichever way you go, fantasies generate shame and shame generates fantasies.

This is the cycle. This is the cycle in healthy people and it is much exacerbated and emphasized and accentuated.

See how many words I know?

In narcissism.

In narcissism, the initial shame and humiliation of the early childhood abuse translates into the formation of a fantasy known as the false self.

And then when there's a failure or recurrent failures, when there are recurrent collapse states, when there are numerous modifications, narcissistic injuries and what have you in life, some narcissists revert, resort, move on, transition from the positive fantasy to a negative fantasy. They become utterly negative characters.

But the shame of early childhood creates the fantasy and the shame of failing in realizing a positive fantasy creates the negative fantasy and the shame of having to make do with a negative fantasy, having to settle for a negative fantasy. It's shameful, it's disgraceful and it generates shame. Shame is the constant companion of narcissists and to a much lesser extent, luckily for all of us, a constant companion of all of us.

And the reason shame is not as strong in healthy people is because in healthy people, the ego ideal is usually much more realistic. It reflects one's assets and liabilities.

Not so of course, in mental illness where the ego ideal is deformed and becomes malignant and no longer reflects reality, it's divorce from reality.

Now to romantic jealousy.

What's the connection between everything I've just said and romantic jealousy?

Romantic jealousy is a negative fantasy. It's a negative fantasy.

In the foundation of romantic jealousy, there is of course the assumption that you are not good enough for your partner, that there is the potential of losing her, that you're inadequate.

In short, romantic jealousy is an extension of the bad object.

You're telling yourself, however unconsciously, you're telling yourself as a romantically jealous partner, you're saying to yourself, I can't keep my partner around. She's going to find someone much better than me, sexually, intimacy wise, emotionally, what have you.

So there's a lot of fear and shame in romantic jealousy, the shame of one's own deficiencies and shortcomings and the projection of an ineluctable, inevitable loss, which is the direct outcome of these deficiencies and shortcomings.

This is a great definition of a negative fantasy.

Romantic jealousy reflects vulnerability and possessiveness as an attempt to objectify the partner so that she loses her free will, her agency and her ability to run away, to abandon. It's all about abandonment, anxiety, separation, insecurity, with embedded within a negative fantasy.

I'm not good enough. She knows it. She's going to find someone else. I'm going to lose her.

There's of course a fantasy.

So possessiveness is the solution in security, in the feeling of entitlement towards another person's affection. Jealousy is a very complex or compounded form of negative fantasy.

So remember we said, when there's a gap between positive fantasy or positive ego ideal and reality, when there's an inability to actualize the ego ideal because it is fantastic and divorced from reality. Remember that I said there are two solutions.

One solution is fantasy inversion, transitioning from positive fantasy to negative fantasy.

And the second solution is to change reality.

So the way to change reality, there are two ways to change reality.

One way to change reality is coercion.

And the other way to change reality is avoidance.

Coercion simply means that you force other people, you blackmail them, you threaten them, you brainwash them.

There are numerous techniques. You force, you coerce other people to conform to your positive fantasy.

In other words, you attempt to change reality by exerting force and aggression so that reality conforms to your fantastic ego ideal.

But this is a very good definition of the narcissist shared fantasy. It's exactly what the narcissist does in a shared fantasy.

The aim of the shared fantasy is to distort and contort the intimate partner and not only the intimate partner, everyone around the narcissist, so that they uphold buttress, affirm and confirm the narcissist's positive, fantastic ego ideal, aka false self in the positive version.

Coercion is a strategy of modifying reality and other people's behaviors so as to avoid challenges, and the undermining and subversion of the positive ego ideal.

The second strategy is avoidance.

You simply avoid reality.

It's a simple trick by avoiding reality that you can retain and maintain and preserve a positive ego ideal which has never been tested.

An example of such behavior is perfectionism.

Another example is procrastination.

These are behaviors that are intended to avoid reality and of course self-isolation, self-sufficiency and so on. These are behaviors intended to avoid the grandiosity gap between reality and positive ego ideal.

You can lie to yourself.

If you're not in touch with reality, if you're not in friction with other people, with the world out there, you can lie to yourself that you're still being positive, that you're still perfect, you're still ego.

But if you get in touch with reality, reality is abrasive.

Reality is not accommodating. It's not forgiving and it's very difficult.

So let's summarize.

When there is a gap between the ego ideal, the positive fantastic ego ideal and reality, one solution is to change into a negative fantasy which is easily actualized in reality.

An example of such negative fantasy is romantic jealousy.

But not only.

Many narcissists have negative false self.

Psychopaths definitely have a negative self view.

Many borderlines have a negative false self as well.

They say, "Don't eff with me. I'm dangerous," and so on.

So this is a negative fantasy.

This is one type of solution and the other type of solution modifying or attempting to modify reality by coercing people to behave in specific, specified ways, usually in a shared fantasy, in narcissism, or by avoiding reality altogether.

Now, of course, all these strategies create a major problem when it comes to identity.

Transitioning from a positive ego ideal to a negative ego ideal is a rupture. It's a schism. It's an earthquake. It's a fault line. It's a total breakdown in self-image and self-perception.

And upholding the negative fantasy creates a lot of shame and dissonance owing to the shame, which in turn require escalating the negative fantasy.

Avoiding reality means denying reality, repressing reality.

Coercing people to behave in certain ways requires repressing and denying the knowledge that you are coercing them, pretending that you are not coercing them.

All these lead to dissociation.

You need to not remember things. You need to actively forget. You need to pretend that things did not happen. You need to lie to yourself, to deceive yourself. Memory gaps, amnesia, dissociative defenses. And dissociative defenses are enormous even in healthy people.

There's been a recent study by Maute Otten, Vrijhof, University of Amsterdam in Netherlands.

She and her colleagues tested relationship between prior expectations, a fantasy, and short-term memories.

And here's what she has to say.

We already know that long-term memory is fallible. We just wanted to find out if we could determine the specific ways in which short-term memory is fallible also.

And what she found is this.

You can misremember something just seconds, I repeat, seconds after it happened, reframing events in your mind to better fit with your own preconceptions, aka fantasies.

Our brains probably do this in an effort to make sense of the world in line with our expectations, aka fantasies, even if that isn't helpful all the time.

The price that we pay for cohering with our fantasies, for not enduring dissonance and anxiety, the price that we pay is with our memories. Our memories become discontinuous, broken, fractured, fragmented, and dissociative. And consequently, our identity is disturbed. And this is true to some extent, even in totally so-called healthy, so-called normal, so-called neurotypical people.

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