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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.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like the following:

Giving Narcissist Second Chance

Narcissists do not provide closure in relationships and will stalk, cajole, beg, promise, persuade, and ultimately succeed in doing the impossible to get you back. The narcissist will cast all interactions with you in terms of conflicts or competitions to be won. If you have resumed contact because you are manifestly dependent on the narcissist financially or emotionally, the narcissist will pounce on your frailty and exploit your fragility to the maximum. Ultimately, the narcissist will write the inevitable cycle of idealization and devaluation.


Can Narcissist Truly Love?

Narcissists are incapable of true love, but they do experience some emotion which they insist is love. Narcissists love their significant others as long as they continue to provide them with attention, or narcissistic supply. There are two types of narcissistic love: one type loves others as one would get attached to objects, while the other type abhors monotony and constancy, seeking instability, chaos, upheaval, drama, and change. In the narcissist's world, mature love is nowhere to be seen, and their so-called love is fear of losing control and hatred of the very people on whom their personality depends.


Can You Love the Narcissist and Rescue Him?

Victims of narcissists often resort to fantasies and self-delusions to cope with their pain, believing that they can rescue the narcissist from their misery and misfortune. However, loving a narcissist is difficult, and any attempt to relate to them emotionally is doomed to failure. Narcissists are addicts in pursuit of gratification through the drug known as narcissistic supply, and they hone in on potential suppliers like cruise missiles. Victims of narcissists can become bitter and self-centered, lacking in empathy, and become more like the narcissist over time.


How Narcissist's Victims Deceive Themselves

Narcissists cannot be cured and are a threat to those around them. Victims of narcissists often confuse shame with guilt and attribute remorsefulness to the narcissist when they are actually feeling shame for failing. Narcissists are attracted to vulnerable people who offer them a secure source of narcissistic supply. Healing is dependent on a sense of security in a relationship, but the narcissist is not interested in healing and would rather invest their energy in obtaining narcissistic supply. Narcissists lack empathy and cannot understand others, making them a danger to those around them.


Narcissist's Romantic Jealousy and Possessiveness

Narcissists experience anxiety when they become aware of their possessive and jealous tendencies. Anxiety characterizes all their interactions with the opposite sex, especially in situations where there is a possibility of rejection or abandonment. The narcissist's envy of their female mate is a result of an unconscious conflict, and they exercise their imagination to justify their negative emotions. Narcissists often strike an unhealthy balance by being emotionally and physically absent, which drives their partner to find emotional and physical gratification outside the relationship.


Remain Friends with the Narcissist?

Narcissists are only friendly when they need something from you, such as narcissistic supply, help, support, votes, money, or sex. They also become friendly when they feel threatened and want to smother the threat with pleasantries. Narcissists are also over-friendly when they have just been infused with an overdose of narcissistic supply. Some people prefer to live with narcissists because they have been conditioned to treat narcissistic abuse as background noise and are compensated for the abuse by the thrills provided by living with a narcissist. However, inverted narcissists are typically unhappy and in need of help, which suggests that they are victims who experience the Stockholm Syndrome.


Narcissists Hate Women, Misogynists

Narcissists view women as objects and use them for both primary and secondary narcissistic supply. They fear emotional intimacy and treat women as property, similar to the mindset of European males in the 18th century. Narcissists frustrate women by teasing them and then leaving them, and they hold women in contempt, choosing submissive partners whom they disdain for being below their intellectual level. The narcissist projects his own behavior and traits onto women.


Do Narcissists Truly Hate?

Narcissists are often adult versions of abused children who fear intimacy and seek to provoke hatred in parents, caregivers, and authority figures. They act out antisocially and seek to destroy the source of frustration. The narcissist's hatred is not a stable experiential state, but rather a transformation of resentment and an aggressive reaction to frustration. The narcissist is heavily dependent on other people for the regulation of their sense of self-worth, and they resent this dependence.


Making Sense of Narcissistic Abuse

Narcissists are the result of early childhood abuse and are in a constant state of grief and mourning. They create a shared fantasy with their intimate partners, where they reenact their childhood traumas and use vicarious trauma and narcissistic abuse to weaken their partners. This cycle of abuse and trauma is meant to resolve the narcissist's unresolved conflicts with their mother figure and restore a sense of power and control. The only solution for those involved with a narcissist is to go no contact to protect their mental well-being.


Cope with Narcissists: Abandon or Mirror

The best way to cope with a narcissist is to abandon them or threaten to abandon them. The narcissist is a binary person, and the carrot is also the stick in their case. If they get too close to someone emotionally, they fear abandonment and immediately distance themselves, acting cruelly and bringing about the very abandonment they feared. If one chooses to accept the narcissist, to live with them, to remain in an intimate relationship with them, it is a package deal. All their needs, demands, and requirements are included.

Transcripts Copyright © Sam Vaknin 2010-2023, under license to William DeGraaf
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