Serial idealizers, Anxious People-pleasers, Addicts: NOT Narcissists

Uploaded 6/6/2021, approx. 18 minute read

Oops, you caught me drinking, on the job.

My name is Sam Vaknin, rings a bell.

Can you complete the following sentence?

And I am the author of?

Yes, you got it right this time.

Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited.

I am also a professor of psychology in various universities and I focus on the most amazing personality disorders ever, cluster B, dramatic or erratic personality disorders.

Today I am going to focus on a much neglected topic.

Something that is confused and conflated by self-styled experts online who shall remain unnamed. No, you are not going to drag me that low into the mud to name names. I am not going to tell you who these self-styled experts are, but they know. And also confused and conflated by academics and scholars in the literature.

So we will plunge right in, syndromes, symptoms, behaviors which appear to be forms of pathological narcissism, even narcissistic personality disorder, but actually are not.

Some behaviors, some psychodynamic processes, they look like artifacts of narcissism, gone awry, adult narcissism, but they are not.

And today I will review four of these.

I will start with serial idealizers and anxious people pleasers and I will continue to addicts and people with borderline personality disorders. All together, very pleasant company, the kind you want to spend your life with and around.

Let's start with serial idealizers.

Serial idealizers are people who tend to idealize literally everyone. They go through brief sexual episodes or micro-relationships at a dizzying speed.

These kind of people, the serial idealizer, instantly and counterfactually idealize a date, a random stranger they had just met. They idealize by imputing to and imposing on the stranger or the date or the acquaintance or the colleague or a distant family member, they attribute to them, they project on them a concoction, a cocktail of traits and behaviors, alleged traits and behaviors.

You see, the stranger or the first date or the distant relative or the neighbor, the new neighbor or whoever, they serve as a blank screen and the serial idealizer projects a movie onto this blank screen.

Sometimes the serial idealizer idealizes a group of people, several men altogether, several women altogether and always the serial idealizer converts in his or her mind these perfect strangers into potential mates or future friends.

Sometimes within minutes, from a chance encounter, serial idealizers construct a one-sided fantastic narrative and not only do they construct a narrative in their mind but they act in reality as though this narrative were 100% true and tried.

So it's a very bizarre, very intricate, very intriguing process.

The serial idealizer goes to a bar, goes to a club, goes to a workplace, moves into a new apartment and comes across new people, individuals or groups and then the serial idealizer instantly, the first meeting of the encounter, comes up with a story, a piece of fiction incorporating the serial idealizer and this new acquaintance.

And this piece of fiction, this storyboard, this storyline, this HBO or Netflix serial, in this creative endeavor, the serial idealizer and the new guy or the new girl, their lovers, their intimate partners, their mates, their best friends, their forever and yes, within the first minute or two of the acquaintance.

This is a shocking transition.

Narcissists, for example, also create elaborate fantasies and incorporate in these fantasies other people. I have several videos dedicated to the issue of shared fantasy in narcissism, first described by Sander in 1989.

But it takes the narcissist a few weeks, sometimes a few months to construct the intricate and elaborate storyboard, the intricate and elaborate movie called the shared fantasy while the serial idealizer does it in a few minutes.

Both the narcissist and the serial idealizer behave as though the fantastic narrative is not fantastic and is not a narrative. Both of them behave and act as though the narrative or the fantasy are 100% reality.

And in this sense, of course, both of them have impaired reality testing.

But in the case of the serial idealizer, the fantasy has several functions which are not typical of the narcissist.

First of all, with the serial idealizer, the first goal of the fantasy is to legitimise egodystonic or socially unacceptable sex acts or sexual choices or sex with strangers.

So the serial idealizer doesn't feel comfortable with having sex with total strangers within one hour or two hours. She doesn't feel comfortable having group sex with several total strangers simultaneously. She doesn't feel comfortable being subjected to certain sex acts which are more typically associated with intimate partnership.

And so she feels, all in all, she feels bad. It's a bad experience. She feels egodystonic. She feels discomforted.

So the fantasy is there to try to counter the egodystony, to legitimise the socially unacceptable sex acts, sexual choices, to make sex with strangers fine, to make group sex acceptable and to make behaviours which should be reserved for an intimate relationship, sexual behaviours which should be the remit and the realm and the kingdom of intimacy, legitimises using or applying these behaviours to total strangers.

This is the first function, legitimising essentially misconduct, sexual misconduct or extreme sexual behaviours.

The second function of the fantasy of the serial idealizer is to make the serial idealizer feel good, feel loved, feel accepted, feel wanted, feel liked by the stranger, by the acquaintance.

So within the fantasy, the serial idealizer feels that he has some connection with the sexual partner, that he has some connection with the new acquaintance or the stranger or the new friend or the new neighbour, that it's a friendship, that it's a romantic relationship, that it's budding intimacy.

And this of course feels good. So it creates egosyntony.

That's the second function of the fantasy. It is a form of self-deception.

I am sleeping with a stranger because he is actually my intimate partner. I am doing this, I am having group sex because I want to be loved and accepted by the group. I am behaving this way or that way, I am being dysregulated, I am being unboundary without personal boundaries, I am even committing crimes because I want to be wanted, I want to be accepted, I want to be long, I want to be liked.

And the third function of the fantasy of the serial idealizer is to facilitate bonding and attachment, should the fiction be reciprocated and become a shared fantasy.

Once in a blue moon, the serial idealizer comes across a narcissist or comes across another serial idealizer and then they jointly create a fantasy, which is of course a shared fantasy.

The serial idealizer may attempt to compulsively recreate the experiences, hoping for better outcomes with the same partners or with different ones.

And this is of course known as repetition compulsion.

Like the narcissist, the serial idealizer is interacting with an internal object, not with a real sex partner, not with a real interlocutor, not with a real date. The serial idealizer creates an introject, creates an object, an avatar, a representation, a symbolic standing, internalizes it and continues the interaction with this internalized object.

This way she avoids the emotional costs of rejection.

Serial idealizers will tell you, I couldn't care less what a stranger whom I will never see again thinks about me. I couldn't care less if this stranger with whom I'm going to spend only one night rejects me.

So the internalization of the other party serves to create a feeling of control and the control ameliorates pain, rejection, humiliation and the pangs of abandonment and yearning.

It is fantasy, internal object, control, pain aversion or pain avoidance.

This is the chain, inevitably and almost invariably.

Reality painfully diverges from the fantastic yarn and this divergence, this disparity, this abyss between reality and fantasy, this justifies moving on with minimal heartbreak to the next target. It even justifies cheating if the serial idealizer is in a committed relationship.

Let's move on to another group of people who closely imitate some types of narcissists.

People pleasing or people pleasers, people pleasing is sometimes a life strategy intended to ameliorate extreme generalized anxiety.

The world is perceived as hostile or frustrating and the only defense is to be liked, to be loved, to be accepted by other people, potential enemies.

If other people are predators, you want them to like you, you want them to love you, you want to be accepted by them, whether they are individuals or whether they are collectives or groups of people.

So, people pleasing is an attempt to reduce the anxiety of the unknown, to reduce anticipatory anxiety, anxiety pertaining to bad things that people can do to you, the only protection against these bad things is to get people to like you, to please people.

Anxiety driven people pleasers have no personal boundaries, they would do anything, they would agree to everything, just in order to belong, they want to be treated in a way that will ameliorate their underlying anxiety.

So they agree to be treated as an objectified sex slave in one on one or in group settings. They agree to be verbally abused, emotionally abused, physically abused, they let themselves be taken advantage of and exploited financially and otherwise. Anything goes, the anxious people pleaser will accept any mistreatment, will go through any torture, just to ascertain, just to make sure that people around her accept her, love her, like her because otherwise she feels very afraid, she feels very anxious, she anticipates the worst.

In fact, these people pleasers interpret sexual and other forms of abuse as initiation rights. Proof positive of having been inducted into a relationship or into a fraternity or into a sorority or into a club or into a group.

So if you're abused, that's a test, that's a test of belonging, that's a test. If you pass this test, if you pass the exam, you are accepted, you're one of a gang, one of a group, one member of a relationship.

Anxious people pleasers place emphasis on material objects or money precisely because of this reason. Money and material objects can be counted, can be enumerated, they are objective measures of affection, of sharing, of goodwill.

Gifts are understood by people pleasers, anxious people pleasers. They understand gifts as signs of affiliation and they are devastated when they are taken financial advantage of or when they are stolen from.

The very people whose favor they seek to carry, the very people they want to belong to, the very people they want to love them, the very people they want to like them, the very people they want to accept them, if these people abuse them financially, steal from them, take advantage of them one way or another, it devastates the anxious people pleaser because it provokes the anxiety full scale.

Let's move to another group of people, addicts, alcoholics, junkies, gamblers, workaholics, all sorts of addicts.

Addicts are easily confused with narcissists. Many addicts are narcissists and most narcissists are addicts but of course not all addicts are narcissists yet all addicts are confused with narcissists, they are taken to be narcissists even when they are not, there's a reason for that.

All addicts share several important clinical features with both psychopaths and with narcissists.

Number one, grandiosity. All addicts are grandiose.

When you go to Alcoholics Anonymous to a 12 step program, the first step is to get rid of your grandiosity by submitting to what they call a higher power.

So grandiosity and grandiosity in addicts is partly the outcome of this inhibition.

In alcoholics, this is called alcohol myopia, there's a sense of immunity to the consequences of one's actions. The addict feels immune, nothing he does can ever have any impact on him, especially an adverse impact. He feels above the laws and rules and mores of society.

This is grandiosity.

The second feature that is common to addicts and to narcissists and to psychopaths is a low threshold of boredom.

Addicts are bored all the time. There's a reduced tolerance for routines, for the pedestrian, for the mundane and this intolerance of being bored, inability to be bored, leads to novelty seeking. Novelty seeking behaviors, it leads to recklessness.

The third feature common to narcissists, psychopaths and addicts is defiance.

Defiance and contumaciousness, a disdain for social mores, propriety and authority and the defiance of expectations and rules.

Number four, mendaciousness, lying, ubiquitous lying, disloyalty, sexual and romantic cheating attempts to cover up antisocial activities and misconduct or to resolve cognitive dissonances. Addicts lead double or parallel lives.

Number five, deficient impulse control, impaired ability to delay gratification.

We see all these things, all these five features, they're common to addicts and narcissists and psychopaths.

Everyone tends to confuse and conflate them.

Addicts deceive themselves.

Addicts tell themselves that they are in full control of their addictions, that they can pull out of the addiction any time they want, but of course it's nonsense.

Addiction is often a dysfunctional attempt to reassert control over the addict's life by maintaining the illusion of choice or the illusion of free will.

When you talk to addicts, they will tell you, I choose to drink, it's a choice, I wanted the sex, I love to gamble, I adore shopping, work matters to me.

Now they're going to justify the addiction in terms of decisions, choices, free will and general freedom and liberty.

The same psychodynamic characterizes eating disorders, though in eating disorders we have body dysmorphia.

Body dysmorphia is rarely an integral part of addictions, but still it's the same thing. It's taking control over a limited area of life in lieu of, as a substitute for, taking control of your life.

The addict abrogates. Addict gives up any attempt to control her life.

She feels that her life is out of control. She has an external locus of control.

The addict believes that there's nothing he can do with his life anymore.

It's gone too far.

And so because of that, the addict focuses on a tiny, highly specific behavior and controls that behavior and this restores a sense of internal locus of control, fallaciously of course.

And finally let's talk about people with borderline personality disorder.

These people suffer from two core issues.

One, they feel much safer with strangers. Even when these new acquaintances are abusive or unpleasant or contemptuous, they feel much better with these strangers than with their intimate partners.

The more loving the intimate partner, the more adoring, supportive, caring the mate is, the intimate partner is, the worse the borderline reacts.

Borderline feels much more in control, much better, much more egosyntonic with a total stranger.

She would tend to have, or she would prefer to have sex with total strangers, for example.

This is because in narcissists and borderlines, being loved, being the subject of love, someone else's love, provokes a cascade of negative consequences, emotional and cognitive.

Number one, when the borderline is loved by another person, she develops, instantly, pain aversion.

She catastrophizes, she anticipates rejection, humiliation and abandonment. She foresees ultimate heartbreak and so she develops aversion to this anticipated outcome, and this aversion affects her present.

The anticipation of the future ruins, for her, her present and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

She destroys her relationships in order not to experience heartbreak and abandonment, but of course this brings about the very abandonment and heartbreak that she was trying to avoid.

Number two, paranoid ideation.

This is common in narcissists and psychopaths as well.

Paranoid ideation regarding the manipulative hidden agenda of the loving partner.

What is it really that he wants? Why is he so nice to me? What's going to come next? Is he going to become abusive?

Is it part of a pattern of intermittent reinforcement?

Intermittent reinforcement and bullying are the norm in the borderline's life or at least mental life, and so she expects the worst.

The better the treatment, the worst outcome she expects.

So there's a lot of paranoia and this leads of course to avoidant behaviors.

She approaches the intimate partner and then flees, runs away. This kind of flight or fight response.

So there's a lot of avoidant behaviors and there's a lot of passive aggression.

When the borderline is loved, having anticipated the negative outcomes and the bullying, she reacts with passive aggression. She undermines the relationship, sabotages them, procrastinates.

This is all because the borderline has a duality, on the one hand she's terrified of abandonment, on the other hand she fears engulfment.

She's afraid to be consumed by her mate, by her spouse, by her intimate partner. She equates love with leverage.

For her, love means power.

So her partner has power over her and where there is power, there is abuse of power. He's going to abuse this power, he's going to swallow her alive, he's going to digest her whole and she's terrified of this.

So faced with these stressors, when she is loved actually, the borderline acts out violently or recklessly and some borderlines cheat. They cheat in order to preempt intolerable abandonment and undermine the intimacy, and cheating also upholds their view of themselves as bad, corrupt, hopeless, a whore.

Such misbehavior is often coupled with substance abuse. The borderline associates alcohol or drugs with sex. It is a conditioned response.

Sexual desire, sexual arousal lead to the consumption of alcohol or drugs intended to disinhibit the borderline and to allow her to carry on her unsavory, socially unacceptable immoral designs and the above two core issues result in compulsive cheating and extremely dysregulated and unboundaried sex with strangers.

The borderline targets strangers in her decompensated peregrinations.

Ironically, the narcissist's grandiosity defense is a fantasy defense of course, but his grandiosity is less rigid than the grandiosity of either the borderline or the psychopath.

The narcissist is subjected to barrage of narcissistic injuries and narcissistic mortifications and these challenges remold, modify his grandiosity or even sometimes entirely suspend the false self which is the residence, the locus of the grandiosity.

Grandiosity of the narcissist is amenable to environmental factors and to changing circumstances.

Psychopaths and borderlines are different.

They do not experience any undermining of their variants of self-aggrandizement and grandiosity.

Nothing touches the psychopath's grandiosity, nothing can touch the borderline's grandiosity.

And consequently the grandiosity of the borderline and the psychopath is immutable, unchangeable, not amenable to any process of learning or modification or treatment via intrusions from harsh reality or a harsh therapist.

Nothing touches this inner core of the borderline and the psychopath.

The narcissist reconstructs his grandiosity after mortification and injury, but it does fluctuate while the psychopath's and borderline's grandiosity is flatlined, it's stable at a certain level.

And you see many syndromes, many symptoms, many behaviors, many choices masquerade as pathological narcissism, but they're not and we should never confuse grandiosity with narcissism, they're not the same.

Grandiosity is one element of many in pathological narcissism and it's also common in numerous other mental health disorders, psychotic disorders, in bipolar disorder, this phase called mania which is grandiose, in schizophrenia, in antisocial personality disorders including psychopathy, in borderline personality disorder, in other forms of emotional dysregulation.

Grandiosity is a cognitive deficit which is extremely common even in depression, of course in paranoid personality disorder, in schizotypal personality disorder.

Grandiosity is everywhere, not only in narcissism and yet when you go online and when you watch videos by the afore-non-mentioned self-imputed experts, they confuse grandiosity with narcissism and t

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