Paranoia, Narcissistic Mirroring, and Narcissistic Reflection

Uploaded 12/23/2012, approx. 8 minute read

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

The narcissist's intimate partner wrote to me these heartbreaking words. She said, I have made him sound like a monster, and in many ways he really is.

At the same time, I have always seen a vulnerability, a small, terrifying, hungry child, almost split off from the rest of him. And I suppose this is why I tried so hard with him.

I knew, almost intuitively, that while his false ego was constantly swelling, his heart, his true ego, was starving.

I tried as hard as I could, in as many ways as I could, to feed the real person inside, and I believed there was a fragment of that person still alive, represented by the child.

In a way, I think the violence of his reactions near the end was due to my coming so close in arousing those ordinary needs.

When he realized he has become dependent on me, and that I knew it, I think he just couldn't take it.

He could not finally take the chance of trusting me.

It was an orgy of destruction.

I keep thinking I could have handled it better, could and should have done things differently. Maybe it wouldn't have made any difference, but I still say that there was a real person in there, somewhere, and a quite delightful one.

But as he pointed out, the narcissist would always prefer his invented self to the true one.

I could not make him see that his real self was far more interesting and enchanting than his grotesque, inflated, grandiose, Superman construct.

I think it is a tragic loss of a truly interesting and talented human being.

In coping with the narcissist, there are three types of mirroring.

There is narcissistic reflection, that is when people reflect to the narcissist his false self, when they affirm and applaud and confirm the narcissist's grandiose fantasies.

Then there is narcissistic mirroring. That's when the partner of the narcissist mauled her self, shapes herself in order to conform to the narcissist's values and requirements.

It's a kind of a cult. It's a shared psychosis.

Then there is clean, non-narcissistic mirroring. That's a technique used by abused partners to cope with the narcissist. It consists of imitating the narcissist's behavior, letting him have a taste of his own medicine.

But all these techniques of coping with narcissists provoke paranoia, provoke persecutory delusions.

And this is what I want to discuss today, the narcissist's paranoia.

Do narcissists tend to react with paranoia when they are threatened or when they feel threatened? And how long do these attacks last? Does the narcissist forever decry and fear the subject of his paranoia, his persecutors?

The answer is that specific paranoid reactions tend to fade.

The narcissist frequently homes in on new agents of persecution.

Arguably, the most hurtful thing about the relationship with the narcissist is the ultimate realization of how interchangeable one is as far as the narcissist is concerned.

The narcissist is hungry for narcissistic supply. And so even his paranoia is a grandiose fantasy aimed to regulate his sense of self-worth.

It is through his paranoia that the narcissist proves to himself that he is sufficiently important, interesting, and enough of a threat to be threatened back, to have people conspire and worry over him.

In other words, the narcissist convinces himself that he is the subject of incessant attention, however malicious and malignant.

Yet this untoward mode of attracting narcissistic supply via paranoia and conspiracy theories, this mode wanes easily if it is not fed constantly.

It is true, however, that many narcissists are paranoid by nature.

Narcissism is a deformed emotional reaction to the narcissist's perception of the world as unpredictably hostile, precariously balanced and illusory.

In such a universe, the inclination to see enemies everywhere, to guard against them, and to imagine worse, to be hypervigilant, is almost seductive and functional.

Moreover, the narcissist falls prey to delusions of good. Important men deserve important enemies.

The narcissist attributes to himself influence and power much greater than he really possesses. Such overreaching power would look dubious without a proper set of adversaries, opponents, dissidents and enemies.

The victories that the narcissist scores over his mostly imagined foes serve to emphasize his superiority.

An unfriendly environment and a threat he poses, overcome by superior skills and traits of the narcissist, these are an integral part of the personal myth of the narcissist.

The narcissist's partner, his mate, his spouse, usually craves and encourages his paranoid or threatening attention. Her behavior and reactive patterns tend to reinforce his.

And this is a game of two. As I said, it's a shared psychosis.

But the narcissist is not a full-fledged paranoia. He maintains his reality test. His paranoid reactions are triggered by reality itself and egged on by the ostensibly innocent, the narcissist's partner, or mate, or spouse or colleague.

Naturally, the narcissist's partner is likely to feel barren and vacuous when these games are over, for instance, after she had divorced him.

Moreover, the paranoid lives in constant fear and tribulation. This largely deficient structure of the narcissist's personality allows the partner to assume a position of superiority, elevated moral ground and sound mental health.

The partner feels justified in redoubting the narcissist in inferior terms, as a child, a monster, an invalid, a misfit. It's good for the partner's ego, of course.

She tends to play the missing parent, or more often a psychologist in their relationship.

In this mind game, which passes for a relationship, the narcissist is assigned the role of the patient in need of care and of being objectively mirrored for his own good by the partner.

This endows the partner with authority and provides her with a way to distance herself from her own emotions and from the narcissist.

This presumption of superiority on behalf of the partner is therefore analgesic. The partner is permanently enmeshed in a battle to prove herself both to the ever-critical and humiliating narcissist and to herself.

It is worthwhile.

To restore her shattered sense of superiority and self-esteem, the partner must resort to narcissistic techniques of self-aggrandizing.

This phenomenon is what I call narcissistic mirroring. It happens because the narcissist succeeds in turning himself into the partner's preferred or even exclusive frame of reference.

The pivot, the axis around which all her judgments revolve, the fountain of common sense, wisdom and prevailing logic, the source of all knowledge and an authority of everything of importance.

The narcissist's paranoid delusions also extend to the therapeutic setting.

One of the most important presenting symptoms of the narcissist in therapy is his or her insistence that he or she is equal to the psychotherapist in knowledge, experience, experience.

The narcissist in the therapeutic session spices his speech with psychiatric lingo in professional terms. The narcissist distances himself from his painful emotions by generalizing and analyzing them, by slicing his wife and her and neatly packaging the results into what he thinks are professional insights.

His message to the psychotherapist is, there is nothing much that you can do or nothing much that you can teach me. And as intelligent as you are, you are not superior to me. Actually, we should both collaborate as equals in this unfortunate state of things in which we inadvertently find ourselves involved.

Finally, the partner gathers enough courage to confront the narcissist with the facts about the narcissist's self, as seen from the partner's vantage point, of course.

The threshold of tolerances crossed, the measure of suffering exceeded. The partner does not expect to induce changes in the narcissist, though if she is asked, she is most likely to insist otherwise.

Her motivation is more basic, to exact revenge for a period of mental slavery, subservience, subjugation, subordination, exploitation, humiliation and objectification.

The aim is to anger the narcissist and thus to make him vulnerable, inferior, even for just a minute.

It is a mini-rebellion which does not last long, sometimes possessed of statistical illness.

Living with the narcissist is a harrowing experience. It can tilt one's mind toward abnormal reactions, actually, normal reactions to abnormal situations.

The capriciousness, volatility, arbitrariness and vesituable character of the narcissist can facilitate the formation of paranoid reactions in both the narcissist and in his closest dearest.

The less predictable the world, the more ominous and precarious it is and the more paranoid the reactions to it are.

Sometimes, through the mechanism of narcissistic mirroring, the partner reacts to a prolonged period of emotional deprivation and stress by emulating the narcissist himself.

The narcissist is then likely to reproach the partner by saying, you became I and I became you, I do not know you anymore.

The narcissist has a way of getting under his partner's skin.

They cannot evade him because he is a part of their lives and part of their selves, as internalized as any pair it is.

Even after of-salt separation, the narcissist's partners typically still care for the narcissist greatly, enough to be mulling over the expired relationship endlessly and obsessively.

The partner discovers to her horror that she may be able to exit the narcissist's life, but he is unlikely to ever exit her life.

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Breaking Through the Narcissist's Indifference by Becoming a Psychop

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