Self-Aware Narcissist: Still a Narcissist

Uploaded 11/1/2010, approx. 3 minute read

I am Sam Vakninand I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

I am often asked if the narcissist becomes self-aware if he accepts that he is a narcissist. Isn't this acceptance, the first important step towards recovery and healing?

Well, the answer is that narcissism is all-pervasive. It defines the narcissist's waking moments. It infiltrates and permeates his dreams.

Narcissism is everywhere. Everything the narcissist does, every which way he behaves, is motivated by narcissism. Everything he avoids is the result of narcissism. Every utterance, every decision, is very body language. They are all manifestations of narcissism.

Narcissism is rather like being abducted by an alien and ruthlessly indoctrinated ever since. The alien is the narcissist's false self. It is a defense mechanism constructed by the narcissist in early childhood in order to shield his true self from hurt and inevitable abandonment and disappointment.

A cognitive understanding of the disorder does not constitute a transforming insight. In other words, understanding, knowing that one has narcissistic personality disorder means nothing and has no effect unless it has some emotional correlate.

The narcissist does not internalize what he understands and learns about his disorder. His new gained knowledge about narcissistic personality disorder does not become a motivating part of himself. It does not create what we call psychodynamics. It remains an inert, an indifferent piece of information with minor influence of the narcissist's psyche.

Sometimes when the narcissist first learns about narcissistic personality disorder, he really believes that he could change. This usually follows a period of violent rejection of the charges against him. Once he has assimilated the knowledge, he fervently wants to change.

This is especially true when his whole world is in shambles, when he has hit rock bottom, when he is in the throes of a life crisis. Time in prison, a divorce, a bankruptcy, a death of a major source of narcissistic supply, these are all transforming life prices.

And there are often signs that the narcissist is changing.

And then when things do get better, it all fades. The narcissist reverts to old form. He goes back. He regresses.

The progress he has made evaporates virtually overnight.

Many narcissists report the same process of progression followed by recidivist remission.

Many therapists refuse to treat narcissists precisely because of the Sisyphean frustration involved. The results are never permanent. I never said that narcissists cannot change, only that they cannot heal.

There is a huge difference between behavior modification and a permanent alteration of a psychodynamic landscape. Narcissistic behaviors can and are being modified very frequently using a cocktail of talk therapy and pinpointed medication conditioning.

But I have never met a healed narcissist. A narcissist who is no longer a narcissist.

The emphasis in therapy is thus more on accommodating the needs of those nearest and dearest to the narcissist, his spouse, his children, colleagues and friends, rather than on treating the narcissist.

If the narcissist's abrasiveness, rage, mood swings, reckless and impulsive behaviors are modified, those around him benefit the most. This, as far as I'm concerned, is a form of social engineering, not a proper healing therapy.

Many forms of pathological narcissism are reactive and transient, same as with psychopaths.

It's the best I can offer.

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How Narcissist Is Mortified

Narcissistic behavior can be modified through treatment, but pathological narcissism is unchangeable. Narcissists have empathic aphantasia, meaning they cannot visualize other people in an empathic way. The misinformation effect is a bigger problem for narcissists than for normal people because they have severe problems with their memory and are dissociative. The longer the delay between the presentation of the original event and the post-event information, the more likely it is that individuals will incorporate the misinformation into the new memory.

Can Narcissism be Cured?

Pathological narcissism is difficult to cure, and most narcissists resist psychotherapy. However, some progress has been made in effecting small changes in personality disorders through talk therapy and medication. The earlier the therapeutic intervention, the better the prognosis, and aging tends to moderate or even vanquish some antisocial behaviors associated with pathological narcissism. The existence of empathy is a serious predictor of future psychodynamics, and the prognosis for a classical narcissist with grandiosity, lack of empathy, and all is not good as far as long-term, lasting, and complete healing.

Can Narcissist be Tricked Into Healing? (with Daria Zukowska)

Sam Vaknin explains that while certain behaviors of narcissists can be modified, the disorder itself is very difficult to reverse. The realistic treatment goal for NPD is to make the narcissist more acceptable to others and less problematic. In therapy with narcissists, conditioning and reinforcement are critical. The therapist should provide a constant stream of narcissistic supply and explicit praise when the narcissist modifies their behavior in accordance with treatment goals. Narcissists have emotional distortions because they have cognitive distortions, and they have access only to negative emotions.

Narcissist's Addiction Atypical

There is little empirical research on the correlation between personality traits and addictive behaviors. Narcissism is an addiction to narcissistic supply, which is the narcissist's drug of choice. Narcissists derive pleasure from addictive and reckless behaviors, which sustain and enhance their grandiose fantasies. Narcissism is an adaptive behavior, while addiction is self-destructive and has no adaptive value.

Narcissism as Addiction (ICABS 2019: International Conference on Addiction and Behavioral Science)

Professor Sam Vaknin discusses the idea of recasting narcissistic disorders of the self as addictions. He explains that pathological narcissism is a form of addiction to narcissistic supply, which is the narcissist's drug of choice. The pursuit of narcissistic supply is frenetic and compulsive, and when it is missing, the narcissist resorts to abnormal narcissistic supply by behaving recklessly, succumbing to substance abuse, or living dangerously. Narcissists faced with a chronic state of deficient narcissistic supply become criminals, race drivers, gamblers, soldiers, policemen, investigative journalists, or develop phobias, fear, and anxiety.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder Prevalence and Comorbidity

Pathological narcissism is a lifelong pattern of traits and behaviors that signify infatuation and obsession with oneself to the exclusion of all others. Healthy narcissism is adaptive, flexible, empathic, and causes elation and joy. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is diagnosed in between 2 and 16% of a population in clinical settings or between 0.5% and 1% of the general population. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is often diagnosed with other mental health disorders, and this is known as comorbidity.

Alcohol+Covert Narcissist=Antisocial Grandiose Narcissist

Professor Sam Vaknin discusses the effects of alcohol on covert narcissists. He explains that alcohol can transform a covert narcissist into an overt narcissist, leading to reckless and psychopathic behavior. He argues that alcoholism is a choice, not a brain disorder, and that alcohol affects empathy, disinhibits behavior, and distorts perception of attractiveness. He also delves into the psychological reasons why covert narcissists turn to alcohol and the impact of alcohol on their behavior and self-perception.

Depressive Narcissist

Pathological narcissism is often considered a form of depressive illness, with the life of a typical narcissist punctuated with recurrent bouts of dysphoria, sadness, hopelessness, anhedonia, loss of the ability to feel pleasure, and clinical forms of depression. Narcissists react with depression not only to life crises but to fluctuations in narcissistic supply and to the internal dynamics that these fluctuations generate. There are several types of dysphoria and depression in pathological narcissism, including loss-induced dysphoria, deficiency-induced dysphoria, self-worth dysregulation dysphoria, grandiosity gap dysphoria, and self-punishing dysphoria. Many narcissists end up delusional, schizoid, or paranoid to avoid agonizing and knowing depression.

Narcissism: Genetics or Abuse, Nature or Nurture?

The debate over whether pathological narcissism is caused by genetics or upbringing is a confluence of both nature and nurture. Mental illness cannot be explained without considering our genetic makeup and neurophysiology. Narcissistic personality disorder is probably the interplay between a genetic template and the abuse and trauma heaped upon this inner computer. It is safe to attribute the development of narcissistic personality disorder mostly to the environment, to nurture not to nature.

Addict Narcissists: Substance Abuse and Reckless Behaviors

Pathological narcissism is an addiction to narcissistic supply, which is the narcissist's drug of choice. Other addictive and reckless behaviors such as war-camelism, alcoholism, drug abuse, pathological gambling, compulsory shopping, reckless driving, and even compulsive lying, piggyback on this primary dependence on narcissistic supply. The narcissist's addictive behaviors take his mind off his inherent limitations and bridge the gap between his unrealistic expectations of life and his inflated self-image. There is no point in treating the dependence and recklessness of the narcissist without first treating the underlying personality disorder.

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