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Self-hoovering, Narcissism: Trauma or Role Play?

Uploaded 8/22/2023, approx. 28 minute read

Hey, Wachnin, you tell me, it is not true that the narcissist invariably devalues and discards his intimate partner.

My grandfather was a rank prime narcissist and my grandmother drove her wheelchair away and left him after 46 years of marriage.

Yes, I have a video here dedicated to the island of stability.

The narcissist has an island of stability surrounded by an ocean of chaos. The island of stability could be the narcissist's marriage.

He remains married to the same woman for five onerous, ornery, difficult decades.

At the same time, he changes 263 jobs, or he persists, works in the same company for 52 years, becomes the chief executive officer, and at the same time divorces and marries six times.

So, there is an island of stability in the ocean of chaos. This would explain such long-term, stable marriages.


But what about separation and divisio n? What about devalue and discard?

In such extremely long marriages, there is no hint of this, you say, and you would be wrong, of course.

The narcissist always, read my lips, always devalues and discards his intimate partner.

The devalue and discard can occur, and sometimes does occur, does happen, in long-term, stable relationships.

So, in such a 50-year long relationship, we would have 25 incidents or 25 cycles of devaluation and discard.

It is just that the partner, the intimate partner, refuses to walk away. She engages in what I call self-hoovering.

She doesn't leave the narcissist. She doesn't abandon him. She doesn't break up. She doesn't divorce. She stays in the relationship or in the marriage, and she hovers herself.

How is this possible?

Don't forget that the narcissist entrains his victims. He implants in his victim's mind a voice, an introject.

The narcissist creates an internal object in the victim's mind that stands in for the narcissist, represents the narcissist.

Even when the narcissist is long gone physically, the introject, the narcissist's voice, is still there inside the victim's mind, nagging, cajoling, criticizing, humiliating, shaming, manipulating, etc.

When the narcissist devalues and discards an intimate partner who refuses to walk away, who would not dream of breaking up, who is so trauma-bonded that she cannot even conceive of living without the narcissist.

When the devaluation and discard occur in such a relationship, the victim hovers herself.

The narcissist introject, the voice of the narcissist inside the victim's mind hovers her.

She re-idealizes herself through the narcissist's voice in her head.

She has no need for the narcissist out there. The narcissist out there, her long-term husband or long-term partner, is devaluing her, is discarding her, is abusing her, is pushing her away, is shaming and humiliating her, is cheating on her, is doing everything he can to get rid of her and separate an individual and in his mind he is separating an individual if necessary by maintaining parallel relationships with other intimate partners.

But the trauma-bonded, codependent intimate partner in such long-term relationships, she refuses to be discarded.

What she does, she disengages from the actual narcissist and she refers to the internal voice of the narcissist in her mind and that introject, that internal voice, re-idealizes her and hovers her and she is ready to continue in the relationship.

So self-hovering is a trauma-bonding response and it allows the narcissist's long-suffering intimate partner to remain in the relationship despite having been clearly and abundantly discarded and devalued.

It's a habituated, automated, internalized, introjected self-hovering.

The narcissist's voice, the introject that represents the narcissist in the victim's mind is a proxy, the proxy of the narcissist, the long arm of the narcissist, the fifth column of the narcissist.

The narcissist's mole in the victim's mind and it does, it does the hovering, all phases, re-idealization, love-bonding, they all take place inside the victim's mind and they have no complement, no correspondence to anything that's happening in the outside.

In this sense, it's a narcissistic defense.

The devalue and discard create extreme narcissistic injury and sometimes narcissistic mortification, even in victims who are not narcissists.

And then they react with a narcissistic defense.

They snapshot the narcissist and they have an internal dialogue with the introjected narcissist with the voice inside their head.

They continue the relationship with the representation of the narcissist in their mind.

And this relationship goes through the entire cycle, love-boming, idealization, shared fantasy and so on and so forth.

At some point having been devalued and discarded, the trauma bonding is so extreme and the victim is so traumatized that she actually loses touch with reality. She disengages from the world. She withdraws into her mind. She avoids everything the narcissist, including the devaluing, discarding, hurtful, painful narcissist is blocked out.

And then she continues her existence inside her head.

And there is the narcissist.

The narcissist's voice, the narcissist's image is inside her mind.

So she continues to have a relationship with it.

She hovers herself.

Now self-hovering is part and parcel of the narcissist and training, conditioning, all of mirrors and so on and so forth.

The narcissist relies on the victim's self-hovering.

Even in classical hoovering, there is an element of self-hovering.

The victim convinces herself that the narcissist loves her.

She recalls the good old times, but forgets or represses the bad times.

These are forms of self-hovering.

There are ways to resolve cognitive dissonance.

I love him, but he is abusive.

How can I reconcile this?

Well, I will falsify reality. I will live inside my head.

And there I will arrange things as they should, should be and should have been. I will continue the shared fantasy. I will feel idealized and loved.

This is a narcissistic defense. It's exactly what narcissists do when they're faced with frustrating, difficult, hurtful external objects.

They ignore the external object. They create a snapshot of the external object and then they continue the interaction with internal object only.

And this is what happens to victims.


So yes, there are multi, multi-decade relationships between narcissists and their spouses or their intimate partners or what is left of the spouse or what is left of the intimate partner.

It's not easy to survive this. It's the equivalent of a concentration camp.

But these very, very, very long relationships again cater to the narcissist's need to have an island of stability on the one hand and are predicated and premised on, they are founded on the victim's self-deception, introjection defense, snapshotting, narcissistic defenses and so on and so forth.

Fortunately, self-hoevering can be unlearned. Can be unlearned.

I repeat this.

Narcissism cannot be unlearned.

And this leads us to the topic of today's video.

Is narcissism trauma, post-traumatic condition or is it role play?

If it's role play, it can be unlearned and there are indications that some behaviors can be unlearned.

If it's a post-traumatic response, we have a bigger problem.


Now one last comment before we go into the video itself.

People tell me you advocate no contact and then in the last video you said that during the hovering phase you should get in touch with the narcissist. You should be in contact.

And people tell me you didn't invent no contact.

My grandma walked out on my grandpa.

No contact is not about walking out on someone. That is not no contact. That is breaking up. No contact is a set of 27 highly nuanced strategies and I encourage you to watch a relevant video on my channel.

And I did come up with these strategies in 1995 and I was for 10 years I suffered for it because most psychologists and therapists said that it's nonsense and it's bad and it's counterproductive and it should never become the mainstream and so on and so forth.

But remember no contact doesn't mean no communication with the narcissist.

You can have no contact with the narcissist even as you are communicating with him via third parties for example lawyers.

So cold contact.

Study what is the real no contact.

It's not a rule. It's 27 strategies.


Now one of the strategies has to do with hovering.

During the hovering phase you should communicate to the narcissist once and once only.

Your boundaries, you should do it firmly but not aggressively and preferably do it through the services good services for third party, a therapist, a lawyer, an accountant if necessary the police.

I hope I made this clear. There's a link to my video on no contact.

If you want to really grasp what is no contact you must watch this video because everything else online is again a caricature of the real thing.

And now let's proceed to today's topic.

What the heck is narcissism.

Is it a response to extreme trauma and abuse in early childhood that has deformed the brain to the point that it can no longer be reversed even with neuroplasticity or is it play acting thespian role play.

Is narcissism a choice or is it a something constitutional.

Well I'm about to answer. Stay tuned.


So what is narcissistic personality disorder.

Is it role play. Is it a choice or is it a post robotic condition, beyond the can enrich of the narcissist, beyond his ability to gain control over it.

Is it a reaction to life's tribulations, abuse and trauma in early childhood, rejection by peers, other circumstances and environments which were not conducive to personal growth and development, which were traumatizing, or is it a series of calculated decisions and choices among alternatives that put together constitute a positive adaptation, an adaptation that is conducive to heightened self efficacy.

Let me translate this to English.

Can the narcissist help who is or is he beyond help. Does he control his behaviors. Does he choose to behave the way he does or he can't help it. He's helpless.

And this is the topic of today's video.


My name is Sam Vaknin. I'm the author of Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited and no I cannot help it. There's nothing I can do about it. I'm a former visiting professor of psychology. Also a fact.

What can I do and currently on the faculty of CIBA.

So let's delve right in.

Is narcissism a post robotic condition or is it a role play.

I've been advocated for well over 28 years to reconceive of narcissistic personality disorder as a post traumatic condition.

Narcissists are created in the throes and in the bowels and in the incubator of abuse and trauma in early childhood.

The narcissism, pathological narcissism, is a response to these unfortunate adverse childhood experiences.

So clearly narcissism, pathological narcissism, narcissistic personality disorder, even narcissistic style. They have deep roots. They are embedded in a traumatic or post traumatic background.

No one can deny this.

Same goes for borderline personality disorder.

Psychopathy, antisocial personality disorder has strong elements of genetics. It has a hereditary background, brain abnormalities, physiological abnormalities.

It's not the same with narcissism.

Ignore all the neuroscience nonsense, self aggrandizing nonsense online.

As of this minute, they are not serious, rigorous studies that connect pathological narcissism to any brain abnormality or end physiological abnormality, period.

The studies that exist are reasonable. They are shameful and definitely do not justify the grandiloquent claims of narcissistic neuroscientists, I'm sorry to say, online and offline.

So narcissism is a reaction to childhood abuse and trauma. It's a defensive reaction. It's a way to fend off shame and hurt that are life threatening.

No one can deny this and no one does actually.

I'm not aware of anyone in the literature who does in the serious literature, mind you.

But it's also a role play.

We know that it is a role play because in certain settings, the narcissist behavior or set of behaviors change, changes dramatically. The narcissist is unrecognizable in prison, in the army, in hospital. In these settings known as total institutions, the narcissist is kind, empathic, supportive, helpful, attentive, compassionate and empathic.

Yes, believe it or not, I've seen it with my own eyes. I've been to the army and I've been to prison and I've been to a hospital and I've witnessed firsthand how narcissists are transformed overnight. They shed like a snake shedding its skin. They shed their narcissistic overlay, the set of behaviors and to some extent traits that define them as narcissists in the outside.

In this sense, clinically speaking, narcissists who are in total institutions as inmates, as patients, as soldiers can no longer but be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. It's as if they have lost the diagnosis.


We also know that in therapy, there are several treatment modalities, most notably EMDR, schema therapy to some extent DBT when it applies to comorbid, borderlines and narcissists and even CBT. These therapies are successful at modifying narcissistic behaviors. They reduce sometimes dramatically the frequency and manifestations of antisocial and abrasive behaviors of the narcissist. Narcissists become more pleasant, more sociable, kinder, nicer, more attentive to some extent more empathic.

So therapy does this to narcissists. They shed their behavioral coat.

So can we say therefore that narcissism is a role play, that narcissists make choices when they are not in prison, they are narcissists, when they are in prison, they are not narcissists.

This sounds a lot like a choice.

When they are in the army, they are not narcissists. They leave the army, they are discharged, they become narcissists again. When they are in therapy, they modify their behaviors unrecognizably and then out of therapy for three, four years, they become narcissists again.

What's going on here?

This reversion to narcissism, this remission, this relapse, is narcissism more like alcoholism?

I for one believe that alcoholism and drug abuse are not diseases. They cause diseases of the brain, but they are not diseases. They are choices.

So is narcissism the same? Is it a choice?

Well, here's the surprising answer.

Nastiness is both a post-traumatic condition about which the narcissist can do nothing. The narcissist is helpless in the face of his own post trauma.

So it's both a post-traumatic condition and a choice-based role play, both.

But each of these characteristics applies to a different set of parameters.

For example, the narcissist's grandiosity, the cognitive distortion that divorces the narcissist from reality, shields the narcissist within a delusional bubble, reframes and falsifies information that tries to penetrate the narcissist's defensive firewalls.

Grandiosity, this cognitive distortion, is not something that the narcissist chooses, nor can he modify it. There's nothing he can do about it. It's who the narcissist is. All types of narcissists overt, covert, they're all grandiose.

So by the way, our borderlines are psychopathic. So grandiosity is a fixture. It's there to stay, and there's nothing you can do about it. Cold therapy, the treatment modality that I've developed, to some extent ameliorates grandiosity and gets rid of the need for narcissistic supply.

But that's the extent of it. Otherwise, grandiosity is there to stay.

Take another feature, shared fantasy. Fantasy defense, rate large and gun or eye. That is there to stay. That is an attribute of a narcissist. That is a dimension of the narcissist that is always there and will always be there to the day the narcissist dies and probably in the afterlife as well.

Narcissist relates to other people and to the environment via shared fantasies.

Of fixtures, it's fixed. Nothing can be done about it. Period.

Get it through your head. There's nothing to be done.

Again with the exception of cold therapy and grandiose, nothing can be done.

But on the other hand, the way these fixtures are expressed, the way these attributes manifest, this is acquired.

This is the role play.

The narcissist is grandiose.

Grandiosity defines the narcissist. It's at the core of narcissism. It's a cognitive distortion that collaborates or colludes with the narcissist fantasy defense.

And this is the narcissist.

The narcissist's narcissism is who he is. It's his quiddity. It's his essence.

You can't get rid of the narcissism more than you can get rid of the narcissist.

So but the way the grandiosity is expressed, the way the fantasy manifests, the way the narcissist communicates these to other people, to his human environment, the way he leverages them to manipulate and to accomplish goals, especially in narcissistic supply.

All these are idiosyncratic.

In other words, all these manifestations and expressions and behavioral translation of the fixtures of the narcissist's mind. All these are role play.

They do involve choices and decisions.

The narcissist can express his grandiosity one way and he can express it another way. He can be contemptuous and he can be benevolent, altruistic, pro-social, communal. He can be aversive and he can be abrasive. He can be extroverted and be introverted. All these are choices. All these are role plays. All this is play acting. All this is theater, thespian.

It's not real. It's a veneer. It's a coat of arms.

The narcissist sheds it when it becomes life threatening because I have a surprise for you.

If your grandiose in prison, your life expectancy is somewhat limited. If you're abrasive, if you're antisocial, if you are hateful and contemptuous in the army, similarly, you don't have much longer to live or to go. You don't have where to hide.

So the narcissist gets rid of this.

These are outer layers. These are not essential elements of the narcissist.

They're not who the narcissist is. They are how the narcissist behaves.

And he knows to modify his behaviors in order to survive and later to accomplish goals such as narcissistic supply.

When survival is at stake, the narcissist becomes unrecognizable.

But even then, the core of the narcissist is immutable.

His grandiosity, his shared fantasies, his fantasies.

His basically sense of superiority, his lack of empathy.

These are all there. They are just blocked. They're firewalled. They're not allowed to be expressed or manifested because it's life threatening. The environment modifies the narcissist's behaviors.

The signals the narcissist receives from people around him tell him, "Listen, it's not a good idea to be contemptuous here because if you're contemptuous, you wake up in the morning with a knife in your back."

So well, I'll not be contemptuous, therefore.

Behavior modification in therapy, the army, prison, hospital, in total institutions, behavior modification in narcissism is very common actually.

Nasties are among the best prisoners, for example.

The example prisoners, prisoners to be emulated and so on, because of this inordinate control of their behavior.

So why don't they act the same out there in family settings, in relationships, in the workplace because they couldn't care less, because the consequences are either reversible or meaningless or minor.

So the narcissist is an optimizing machine. It's a calculating machine.

He says to himself, "I have to invest five units of effort in controlling my behavior and the benefits I'm getting amount to three units, so I'm not going to control my behavior. But I have to invest five units of effort in controlling my behavior or else I will die.

Yeah, okay, I will control my behavior.

It's calculation, simple calculation of risk to reward and benefit ratios.


Now we must distinguish between traits, behaviors and roles.

These are three separate issues.

While the narcissist cannot control most of his traits, not all of them, most.

When I say he, it's a she, when I say she, it's a he, gender pronouns are interchangeable, half of all narcissists are women.

The narcissist cannot control these traits or most of his traits.

Actually he can control some of the traits or at least the way that these traits are expressed or manifested.

But the narcissist cannot control his traits. He can control his behaviors and he definitely can control the role he plays, the social role he chooses.

So let's go one by one.

Let's start with traits.

We're going to use the APA dictionary, which is the most authoritative dictionary of psychology in the world.

And let's define trait.

Trait and enduring personality characteristic.

You notice?

Enduring that describes or determines an individual's behavior across a range of situations.

In item response theory, an individual's level of competence on a certain task or aptitude measurement.

So these are traits.

The narcissist cannot modify most of the traits because they define him.

He is his traits.

His personality is comprised of these traits, but he can control behavior.

How does a dictionary define behavior?

Behavior is an organism's activities in response to external or internal stimuli, including objectively observable activities, introspectively observable activities, covert behavior, and non-conscious processes.

Any action or function that can be objectively observed or measured in response to controlled stimuli.

Historically, behavior is contrasted objective behavior with mental activities, which were considered subjective and thus unsuitable for scientific study.

So this is behavior.

Clearly behavior involves some form of self-control, some form of decision making, some choices.

Now not 100%.

Some behaviors are out of control.

For example, impulsive behaviors, compulsive behaviors. They're out of control.

If someone lacks impulse control, he's likely to act impulsively. If someone is a borderline, then he goes or she goes through decompensation, she's likely to act out and there's no control over the acting out. If someone is a narcissist and he's triggered or provoked, narcissistically injured or modified, the behaviors will follow almost automatic.

So there is a realm of automatic behaviors, compulsive behaviors, for example, that cannot be controlled, not really.

Well, in therapy you can learn techniques. For example, in dialectical behavioral therapy, you learn techniques to control some of these things, some of the impulses and so on.

But by and large behavior, it's much more controlled than traits.

So overall, the narcissist is able to control most of his behaviors, very few of his traits, most of his behaviors.

In short, the narcissist, the psychopath, the psychopath is less than the narcissist, but the narcissist especially learns to internalize rather than externalize an environment which is life threatening, ominous, total, an environment which is punitive and so on, would encourage a narcissist to internalize his traits rather than externalize them, for example, via aggression.

Externalizing behavior, internalizing behavior.

Narcissist would become, clinically speaking, internalized, kind of covert, in effect, covert.

So this is behavior.

What about role?

How does the APA dictionary defines role?

A coherent set of behaviors expected of an individual in a specific position within a group or social setting.

Since the term is derived from the dramaturgical concept of role, the dialogue and actions assigned to each performer in a play, role theory suggests that individuals actions are regulated by the part they play in the social setting rather than by their personal predilections or inclinations.

Very important.

I'm going to read it again. Listen well.

It explains why narcissists change dramatically in different social settings or institutional settings.

Listen again.

Role theory suggests that individuals actions are regulated by the part they play in the social setting rather than by their personal predilections or inclinations.

When the behaviors associated with a particular role are poorly defined, role ambiguity may occur when group members occupy two or more roles that call for incompatible behaviors.

The result may be role conflict. We'll go into it in another video.

We will discuss role theory, but it explains the narcissist amazing transformation in various settings like a chameleon.

For many of the many of many traits, most behaviors and all roles are acquired.

What does it mean?

Acquired the dictionary again, a response behavior, ID or information that has been learned or developed on the basis of specific forms of experience.

So we have, for example, learned helplessness. You learn to be helpless throughout life. You learn to be dependent. You learn to be narcissist.

Narcissism on the behavioral level and the role level is acquired. It's learned.

The trauma response is there. It's the foundation. The trauma created or generated the defenses, the fantasy defense, the trauma distorted cognition, grandiosity, the trauma divorced the child from reality in order to avoid hurt and shame, impaired reality testing.

These things are never going to go away. They're never going to go away.

But the way they manifest, the way they're expressed, the way they're translated into behaviors and roles, this is acquired. It's an acquired characteristic, structure or functional characteristic or psychological feature trait or behavior of an organism that arises from experience or through interactions with the environment rather than resulting primarily from genetic or historical or psychological factors.

So this is acquired character.

I hope I clarified. There's going to be another video on role theory in which I will delve much deeper to all this.


And now go and act your role in your social setting.

Just remember, behave yourself.

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

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YOU: Trapped in Fantasy Worlds of Narcissist, Borderline

Professor Sam Vaknin discusses the fantasy worlds of narcissists and borderlines, which are post-traumatic conditions resulting from childhood trauma and abuse. Both types of children develop a fantasy with an imaginary friend who soothes and comforts them. As they grow up and interact with real people, reality intrudes and challenges their fantasy. The child is faced with two choices: give up the fantasy or give up reality. Narcissists and borderlines value fantasy more than reality, and anyone who brings reality into their lives is seen as an enemy. Victims of narcissism are not chosen, they are commodified and interchangeable.


Your Role in Narcissist’s Shared Fantasy is Why He Hates You (hint: you make him feel himself – and human)

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Narcissist's Insignificant Other: Typical Spouse or Intimate Partner

Living with a narcissist can be exhilarating, but it is always onerous and often harrowing. Surviving a relationship with a narcissist, maintaining a relationship, preserving it, insisting on remaining with a narcissist, indicates therefore the parameters of the personality of the victim, of the partner, of the spouse. The partner, the spouse, and the mate of a narcissist who insists on remaining in the relationship and preserving it is molded by it into the typical narcissistic mate, spouse, or partner. The two, the narcissist and his spouse, collaborate in this dance macabre.


Social Distancing: Isolation with the Narcissist

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Victim of Narcissist: Move On!

The narcissist lives in a world of ideal beauty, achievements, wealth, and success, denying his reality. The partner is perceived as a source of narcissistic supply, and the narcissist pathologizes and devalues them to rid themselves of guilt and shame. Moving on from a narcissistic relationship involves acknowledging and accepting painful reality, educating oneself, and gaining emotional sustenance, knowledge, support, and confidence. Forgiving is important, but it should not be a universal behavior, and no one should stay with a narcissist.

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