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Skin-deep Narcissist, Skinless Borderline

Uploaded 3/4/2024, approx. 21 minute read

It seems that we have all run out of metaphors to discuss the narcissists or to describe him.

A bag of protoplasm, an emanation, a cloud of nanobots, I've heard even this.

And I've been, of course, as usual, the first to suggest that pathological narcissism can be compared to artificial intelligence.

I suggested this 25 years ago.

Okay, today, another metaphor, another simile.

This is useful to compare the narcissist to a variety of other phenomena in biology, physics and so on and so forth.

Because first of all, narcissists are part of the natural world.

Secondly, narcissism and psychopathy are evolutionary.

They represent adaptations, positive adaptations to the narcissist and the psychopath, negative adaptations to others.

But still evolution had a hand in creating narcissists and psychopaths.

So they are part of nature and biology.

And thirdly, as we dwell on less traumatizing similes and images and scenarios, we gain insight into the narcissist and psychopath without incurring the pain and hurt and fear and terror of actually coming face to face with this alien, largely inhuman phenomenon.

So today's metaphor is the body or more precisely the skin.

And a proposed skin.

My name is Sam Wagner.

I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

I'm a former visiting professor of psychology and currently on the faculty of CEAPs.

And I, as many others, possess skin.

Skin is the largest organ in the body.

Now, the false self of the narcissist is a carapace, a shell, a piece of armor, an exoskeleton.

It structures the narcissist being or actually the narcissist's absence.

It gives it shape.

It's a very misleading shape because there's nothing inside.

So it's an absence pretending to be a presence.

But at the same time, the narcissist's shell, the narcissistic exoskeleton, external skeleton, the narcissist's scaffolding or carapace or armor or whatever you want to call it.

At the same time, it's selective membrane.

It's a selective membrane that keeps reality out and lets fantasy in.

The borderline doesn't possess this kind of protection or firewall.

The borderline doesn't have a shell.

It's not embedded in a rigid carapace.

It's not an entity that manifests only externally through its buttresses and fortresses.

The borderline truly exists and it is utterly defenseless.

It's like a snail out of its home, like a turtle out of its carapace.

So the borderline is skinless.

Everything touches the borderline directly.

Reality, her own imagination, her fantasies, her intimate partner or special friend who regulate her externally.

They all impinge upon the borderline.

They all directly interact with the borderline's inner essence.

It's as if the borderline is transparent and you can see all her vital organs inside.

Whereas the narcissist is an apparition.

The false self is exactly this.

It's false.

It's like a disguise or a camouflage.

And I encourage you to watch my video on mimicry, how the narcissist mimics other people as he passes along.

It's not even a chameleon.

It's a highly sophisticated, a high tech mirror that presents to you what you want to see, idealizes you and makes you fall in love with your own idealization, caters to your needs and so on and so forth.

It's an optimizing goal oriented machinery brought on by millennia, possibly millions of years of evolution.

Today we are going to compare the narcissist and the borderline to the skin.

We're going to, I'm going to read to you a selection, an excerpt from Bill Bryson's amazing book, The Body, the best book about the body that I've ever read.

And whenever I use the word skin, replace it in your mind with the word narcissist.

So skin narcissism, skin narcissist.

The excerpt discusses the role or the functions of the skin in the human body.

And you will immediately see that the skin in the human body is the exact equivalent of the false self with the narcissist.

So the narcissist's skin is the false self.

It's a metaphorical skin.

It's a construct, but it is built to fulfill all the roles, processes, dynamics and functions of our real skin, the real skin in the human body.

For example, if I say our skin is our largest organ and possibly the most versatile, it keeps our insights in and bad things out, you can immediately transform this sentence and say our narcissism, I'm sorry, narcissism keeps our inside, the narcissist's insights in and bad things out.

So you can immediately replace the word skin with the word narcissism.

Narcissism, pathological narcissism keeps the narcissist's insights in and bad things out.


One last comment before you start your interminable nagging.

He equals she, she equals he, the gender pronouns are interchangeable because half of all narcissists and half of all borderlines are of the opposite sex.

Half of all narcissists are female and half of all borderlines are male.

I'm using literary conventions and in literature, you know, literature books, something probably alien to most of you in literature, we use he.

Let me read to you from Bill Bryson's amazing book, Our Body or The Body, I'm sorry, The Body.

Our skin, skin equals narcissism.

Remember, yes.

In your mind, substitute the word narcissism for the word skin.

Our skin is our largest organ and possibly the most versatile.

It keeps our insights out and our insights in, and bad things out.

It cushions, blows, it gives us our sense of touch, bringing us pleasure and warmth and pain and nearly everything else that makes us vital.

That's a great, now, end quote, that's a great encapsulation of the aggregate combined role of the false self, protection from outside, public facing defense, and at the same time fostering internally a sense of cohesion and coherence and warmth and pleasure and vitality.

It's fake.

There's nobody there.

It's all a simulacrum, a simulation, if you wish, but a very efficacious one.

I'll continue to read.

The skin produces melanin to shield us from the sun's rays.

It repairs itself when we abuse it.

It accounts for such beauty as we can muster.

It looks after us.

Again, this self-repairing, self-correcting, self-adjusting function of the false self is very important.

The false self is highly resilient.

It reconstructs and reinvents and recreates itself on the fly, having endured narcissistic injuries and in extreme cases, narcissistic modification.

I'm continuing to read.

The formal name for the skin is the cuteness system.

Its size is about two square meters, approximately 20 square feet.

And all told, your skin will weigh somewhere in the region of 10 to 15 pounds, though much depends naturally on how tall you are and how much buttock and belly your skin needs to stretch across.

The skin is thinnest on the eyelids, just one thousandth of an inch thick.

And it is thickest on the heels of our hands and feet.

Unlike a heart or a kidney, skin never fails.

Our seams don't burst.

We don't spontaneously sprout licks, says Nina Jablonsky, professor of anthropology at Penn State University, who is the doyen of all things cuteness.

She says, the skin consists of an inner layer called the dermis and an outer epidermis.

The outermost surface of the epidermis, called the stratum corneum, is made up entirely of dead cells.

It is an arresting thought that all that makes you lovely is deceased, is dead.

Our body meets the air. We are all cadavers.

These outer skin cells are replaced every month.

We shed skin copiously, almost carelessly.

Some 25,000 flakes a minute, over a million pieces every hour.

Run a finger along a dusty shelf and you are in large part clearing a path through fragments of your former self.

Silently and remorselessly, we turn to dust.

It's a beautiful way to perceive or to conceive of the false self.

The false self is death unfolding.

The very process of demise, the very process of transitioning from absence to even greater absence, to death, to annihilation, to self negation, that is the false self.

The false self is hell bent on eliminating what is left of the narcissus, the atrophied remnants of the true self.

The false self gradually replaces the narcissus, substitutes for it.

Because the false self is an emanation and a reification and a manifestation of the death drive, Thanatos, it is Tanatic, which is a form of embodied or mentally embodied, destrudo and motido.

The false self thrives on death and devastation and pain and hurt.

The more excruciatingly tortured the narcissist is, the more the narcissist is in need of the false self.

The false self is more abundant and encourages morbidity in the narcissist himself because it renders the false self much more indispensable.

And so our skin, the outer layer of our skin is dead.

These are dead cells which we keep shedding all the time.

When we look at another person, what we see is this thin layer of death engulfing and enshrouding them.

This is doubly true with the narcissist.

There the false self is this external shroud of demise and decay and decomposition.

The narcissist is turning inexorably into a corpse and a cadaver within the rigid, unforgiving expanses and confines of the false self.

The false self never lets the narcissist out and the narcissist shrivels and withers and degenerates and decomposes within the confines of the false self, which is, as you may recall, the false self is the outer facing, the public facing expression of the narcissist.

Deep inside it is a graveyard, it is a devastation, it is a wasteland, it is the whiff and scent of death.

This black hole consumes its very self.

The narcissist's first victim is the narcissist.

It is subsumed by this black hole, converted into momentum and energy and then dissipated.

The narcissist seeks to do the same to everyone around him because this is his only experience of having existed.

Having been consumed by this black hole, by this unforgiving iron neutron star at the core of his collapsed being, the narcissist seeks to recreate this experience with other people.

Similarly, the narcissist has never experienced separation or individuation.

He doesn't exist in any meaningful sense of the word and he inflicts his own absence and non-existence, his failure at becoming.

He inflicts it on people around him.

The more intimate the narcissist is with someone within a shared fantasy, it's an illusion of intimacy of course, the more the narcissist wishes to merge, fuse and mesh himself in a recreation of a symbiotic state and then vanish together in a puff of smoke or more likely in a supernova.

I continue to quote from this amazing book.

Skin flakes are properly called squame, meaning scales.

We each trail behind us about a pound of dust every year.

If you burn the contents of a vacuum cleaner bag, the predominant odour is that unmistakable scorched smell that we associate with burning hair.

That is because skin and hair are made largely of the same stuff, keratin.

Beneath the epidermis is the more fertile dermis where reside all the skin's active systems, blood and lymph vessels, nerve fibres, the roots of hair follicles, the glandular reservoirs of sweat and sebum.

With that and not technically part of the skin is a subcutaneous layer where fat is stored.

Though it may not be part of the cutaneous system, it's an important part of your body because this fat stores energy, provides insulation and attaches the skin to the body beneath.

The fat in this metaphor or in this similarly, extended similarly in this analogy, the fat is narcissistic supply.

The narcissist accumulates supply the way the human body accumulates fat and he stores the supply under the facade of the false self so that it's easily and immediately accessible to the false self.

It's a kind of self-regulation via external regulation.

External regulation is absorbed, assimilated, stored and then released when there is a deficiency of narcissistic supply.

Again, the book, nobody knows for sure how many holes you have in your skin but you are pretty seriously perforated.

Most estimates suggest you have somewhere in the region of two or five million hair follicles and perhaps twice that number of sweat glands.

The follicles do double duty.

They sprout hairs and secrete sebum from sebaceous glands and the sebum mixes with the sweat to form an oily layer of the surface.

This helps to keep skin supple and make it inhospitable for many foreign organisms.

Sometimes the pores become blocked with little plugs of dead skin and dried sebum in what is known as a blackhead.

If the follicle additionally becomes infected and inflamed, the result is the adolescent dread known as a pimple.

Pimples plague young people simply because their sebaceous glands, like all their glands, are highly active.

When the condition becomes chronic, the result is acne, a word of very uncertain derivation.

It appears to be related to the Greek acne denoting a high and admirable achievement, which a face full of pimples most assuredly is not.

How the two became twinned is not at all clear.

The term acne first appeared in English in 1743 in a British medical dictionary.

These are all the dynamics of narcissism, actually.

The accumulation of narcissistic supply, mixing it with self-supply, using it to keep the flexibility of an otherwise extremely rigid structure, the ability to shape shift, to transition between self-states, to present manipulative facades that garner positive outcomes from the environment of a sadh, that is, self-efficacious.

The skin is a perfect simile when it comes to pathological narcissism.

And finally, and to continue, I'm sorry, with the book, packed into the dermis are a variety of receptors that keep us literally in touch with the world.

That's exactly the role of the false self, by the way.

The false self is a receptive surface, which allows the narcissist to interact with the world in a way which falsifies reality, converts it into fantasy.

So the false self is a catalyst and a chemical laboratory.

It engages in the soul process of converting reality into fantasy.

And then it becomes a selective membrane and allows the fantasy in.

The book says, "If a breeze plays lightly on your cheeks, it is your Meissner corpuscles that let you know.

When you put your hand on a hot plate, your Raffini corpuscles cry out.

Merkel cells respond to constant pressure.

Persinian corpuscles to vibration.


The Meissner cells are everyone's favorites. They detect light touch and are particularly abundant in our erogenous zones and other areas of heightened sensitivity, fingertips, lips, tongue, clitoris, penis, and so on.

The named after a German anatomist, Georg Meissner, who is credited with discovering them in 1852, though his colleague Rudolf Wagner claimed that he, in fact, was a discoverer.

The two men fell out over the matter, proving that there is no detail in science, too small for animosity.

These cells, which are receptor cells, sensitive to vibration, to pressure, to light, these cells have their equivalence in the false self.

The false self is hypervigilant. It is attuned to slights, putdowns, humiliation, shame.

The false self is a defense against the internal reservoir of shame and guilt that the narcissist does everything in his power to avoid because it's life-threatening.

So the false self constantly scans the environment using cold empathy, reflexive and cognitive empathy, constantly scans the environment in order to be prepared for an attack, for humiliation, for public shaming, for private shaming, for disagreement, for criticism.

False shame has these receptors.

And this is what we know as hypervigilance.

When the narcissist is exposed to the equivalent of light, touch or vibration, in other words, when the narcissist is exposed to criticism or disagreement, let alone humiliation, the narcissist reacts the way the skin does.

It informs the false self.

And then the false self counteracts in ways which I've described in my videos dedicated to narcissistic modification and narcissistic injury.

And I encourage you to find these videos and watch them.

Continue with the book.

All are exquisitely fine-tuned to let you feel the world.

I would say here that the receptors in the false self are fine-tuned to let the narcissist experience fantasy and to avoid an experience, to shun and reject an experience of reality of the world.

I continue.

A Pacinian corpus call can detect a movement as slight as 0.00001 millimeter, which is practically no movement at all.

More than this, they don't even require contact with the material that they're interpreting.

As David J. Linden points out in his book, Touch, if you sink a spade into gravel or sand, you can feel the difference between them, even though all you're touching is the spade.

Curiously, we don't have any receptors for wetness.

We have only thermal sensors to guide us, which is why when you sit down on a wet spot, you can't generally tell whether it really is wet or just cold.

So no contact is actually required with reality.

The false self uses its embedded receptors, its hypervigilance, for example, its ability to reframe and reinterpret reality, its assumptions about the world, its internal working model.

The false self uses all these receptors and the models that interpret input from these receptors, input gained from these receptors, the false self uses them in order to create a paracousin, a fantastic space within which the narcissist can survive, thrive, and with which it can interact and use it to impose it on other people via the shared fantasy.

So it wouldn't be strictly true to say that the false self needs to be in touch with reality in order to provide the narcissist with the tools of survival and thriving.

That's not true.

The false self sometimes is in touch with reality via mediators or intermediaries, via by proxy, indirectly, and then interprets reality via the information gained from these conduits and these layers of isolation.


We continue, women are much better than men at tactile sensitivity with fingers, but possibly just because they have smaller hands and thus a more dense network of senses.

An interesting thing about touch is that the brain doesn't just tell you how something feels but how it ought to feel, which is exactly the false self.

The false self doesn't inform the narcissist what's happening.

It informs the narcissist about the way the narcissist should feel about what's happening, the way the narcissist ought to react to what's happening.

The false self is focused on the inside of the narcissist, never on the outside.

And that's why the narcissist, for example, cannot perceive external objects at all.

He doesn't have the tool necessary to interface with reality in any meaningful way, also known as ego or self.

So the book says that's why the caress of a lover feels wonderful, but the same touch by a stranger would feel creepy or horrible.

And it's also why it is so hard to tickle yourself because the brain doesn't inform the body how something feels, but how the body ought to feel about that something.

Similarly, the false self informs the narcissist how the narcissist should interpret the world, how the narcissist should interact with bits and pieces of information by placing them in a highly specific order, which fits into a fantastic model.

The false self does not inform the narcissist about reality, but about the perception of reality.

It's a layer which converts reality into fantasy and then imbues the narcissist with this fantasy and immerses the narcissist in this fantasy.

No wonder when the narcissist tries to interact with other people, the only way he knows how to is to coerce them into a fantasy, impose a fantasy on them, or try to persuade them that their reality is not true.

The fantasy is something which most people misinterpret as gaslighting.

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