My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.
The narcissist has a conflicted, ambivalent relationship with his own emotions. He has no access to them, for instance, but he knows that they exist. He invests in things that he feels that he is in full unmitigated control of. That is why he is emotionally invested mostly in himself.
But even the narcissist cannot ignore the fact that there is emotional content and residual affect, even on the most basic activities.
And to protect himself, to shield himself from these remnants of emotions, these remote threats to his stability, the narcissist constructs a false self, grandiose and fantastic.
The narcissist uses his false self in all his interactions, and that way he gets the false self to be tainted by emotions in the process. The false self insulates the narcissist from the risks of emotional contamination, the risk of intimacy.
It is the false self that gets intimate, not the narcissist who stands behind it.
When even this fades, the narcissist has a more powerful weapon in his arsenal, the wunderkind mask, the wonderboy mask.
The narcissist creates two masks, which serve to hide him from the real world, and to force the world to cater to his needs and to his desires.
The first mask we have discussed at length, that is the old worn out false self.
The false self is a special type of ego. It is grandiose, and in a sense, fantastic. It's invulnerable. It's omnipotent. It's omniscient. It's unattached.
This kind of ego prefers adulation or being feared to love. This ego learns the truth about itself and its boundaries by being reflected. Other people's constant feedback, narcissistic supply, their gaze helps the narcissist to modulate and fine tune his false self as time goes by.
But the second mask is as important, and this is the mask of the Wonderboy, the wunderkind.
The narcissist, wearing this second mask, broadcasts to the world that he is both a child, a boy, and therefore vulnerable, susceptible, and subject to adult protection, and a genius, and therefore worthy of special treatment, admiration, and entitlement.
Inwardly, this mask makes the narcissist less emotionally vulnerable.
Because a child does not fully comprehend and grasp events and circumstances. A child does not commit himself emotionally. A child waltzes through life and does not have to deal with emotionally charged problems or situations such as sex or child rearing or divorce.
Being a child, the narcissist is exempt from assuming responsibility and develops a sense of impunity, immunity, and security. No one is likely to hurt a child or to severely punish a child.
The narcissist is a dangerous adventurer because, exactly like a child, he feels that he is immune to the consequences of his actions. He feels that his possibilities are unlimited, that everything is allowed without the risk of getting to pay the price.
The narcissist hates adults and is repelled by adults. In his mind, he is forever innocent and lovable.
Being a child, the narcissist feels no need to acquire adult schemes or adult qualifications, or to do adult chores.
Many narcissists do not complete their academic studies, refuse to get married or to have children, or even to get a driver's license. They feel that people should adore them as they are and supply them with all the needs that they, as children, cannot themselves secure.
It is precisely because of this precociousness, the built-in contradiction between his mental age and his adult knowledge and intelligence, that the narcissist is able to sustain a grandiose self at all.
Only a child with this kind of intelligence and with this kind of biography and with this kind of knowledge is entitled to feel superior and grandiose.
The narcissist must remain a child if he is to feel superior and grandiose, because that's the only way it can work.
The problem is that the narcissist uses these two masks, the false self and the wunderkind mask, indiscriminately. There are situations in life where one or both of these masks prove to be dysfunctional or even detrimental to the narcissist's well-being, self-defeating and self-destructive.
Consider these two examples.
First one, the narcissist dates a woman. At first, he makes use of the false self in order to convert the woman into a source of narcissistic supply, a secondary source. Using the false self, he puts her to the test, will she abandon, humiliate or betray him? Will she discover that his self is confabulated or will she remain with him and will be faithful and loyal.
This phase successfully over, the woman is by now a full-fledged secondary source of narcissistic supply and is committed to sharing her life with the narcissist
But he is unlikely to believe this. His false self gratified by the secondary source of supply, exits. It is not likely to re-enter until there is a problem with the unperturbed flow of narcissistic supply.
Now, the wunderkind mask takes over. The main goal of this mask is to avoid or to mitigate the consequences of a certain assured emotional injury in the future. The narcissist knows with certainty that he will be abandoned, so he puts on the wonderboy mask.
The wonderboy mask permits the development of emotional involvement, but in such a distorted and warped manner that this combination wunderkind mask in front and false self in the background does indeed lead to betrayal and to the abandonment of the narcissist.
The two masks intended to shield the narcissist from emotional hurt bring on the very situation that caused the narcissist emotional devastation and the bridge between these two, the false self and the wunderkind mask is made of their common preference.
They both prefer adulation and attention to love. They both consume prodigious amounts of narcissistic supply.
Let's take another example.
The narcissist gets a job in a new workplace or meets a new group of people in a social circumstance.
At first, he uses his false self with the aim of obtaining primary narcissistic supply by demonstrating his knowledge, superiority, erudition and uniqueness. This he does by putting on display his intellect and his prowess.
But this phase is over and when it is, the narcissist believes that his superiority had been established and that the constant flow of narcissistic supply had thus been secured.
What to do now? His false self is satisfied and exits the scene. It will not reappear unless the supply is threatened.
It is the turn of the wunderkind mask. His goal is to allow the narcissist to establish some emotional involvement with his new colleagues, new friends without suffering the consequences of an assured ultimate narcissistic injury, trauma and abandonment.
And again, this underlying falsity, this infantilism, provoke rejection, the dismantling of the narcissist's social frameworks and groups and the abandonment of the narcissist by friends and colleagues.
The very same result, the very same outcome, shielding the narcissist from emotional hurt.
This very same shield perpetrates and perpetuates the conditions that a narcissist is trying to avoid.