If you are a victim of narcissistic abuse, this is one message you should listen to carefully.
My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited, and many other books about personality disorders, and I am a professor of psychology.
And today, I want to have a heart-to-heart with you, a fireside chat, and discuss with you your path as a victim of narcissistic abuse.
Where are you coming from? And where on earth are you going?
Two wrongs never make you right. Allow me to repeat this. Two wrongs never make you right.
If you cheat on your cheating narcissist, you are still a cheater. If you abuse your abuser, you are an abuser yourself. If you behave like a psychopath, then you are a psychopath. Let it be clear. If you mirror evil, you become wicked. If you mirror evil, you become evil. Stare into the abyss, and the abyss will consume you whole.
Being a victim is not a license to join the ranks of your tormentors.
Beware of self-righteousness and moral superiority, because these are the paving stones on the path to your personal unrelenting hell.
You are a victim. No one is invalidating your experiences. No one, least of all I, underestimates what you have gone through.
In 1995, I coined the term narcissistic abuse. I'm the father of the film. I gave you language. I gave you the voice that you are using now.
Many of you have never heard of me. Coaches, experts, communities, millions of people around the world have never heard of me. But they are all using my language. They are all narcissistic abuse victims or experts or coaches.
It all started with me. So don't lecture me on what it means to be a victim. I'm the one who taught the world what is to be the victim of a narcissist or the victim of a psychopath.
It was a horrible, terror-filled experience. Nothing can be worse than this, because the narcissist and psychopath seek to vitiate you. They seek to assimilate you and digest you and leave nothing but your skeleton. I know that. I know how all-consuming this experience is, how all-pervasive, how ubiquitous the abuse is, how reality itself dissolves and becomes a phantasmagoria, a surrealistic landscape within which you move.
I know. The earth moves under your feet for all the wrong reasons.
But beware, beware of becoming that which you are fleeing from. Beware of joining those who had abused you.
Are you a victim?
Maybe you're a narcissist. Maybe you're a covert narcissist. Maybe you have borderline personality disorder.
Take this into account.
Or everyone with a cluster B personality disorder. A narcissist, a psychopath, a borderline, a histrionic, everyone, every person afflicted with a cluster B personality disorder, consider themselves victims.
You ask any narcissist, they will tell you, of course, I'm a victim. I'm the victim. I've been victimized. I'm gullible and naive. I'm good-hearted and can't-hearted. I wanted to help. I've been victimized.
Many narcissists would claim to be the empathic party. All people with cluster B personality disorders have alloplastic defenses. They tend to blame other people for any mishap, misfortune, failure and defeat in their lives. They have an external locus of control. They blame it all on the world. They are never responsible. They're never guilty. They are never blameworthy. The buck never stops with the narcissist and the psychopath. He passes it on. And he passes it on to you because he is the victim in his own eyes.
Soul search. Ask yourself, am I really a victim? Did I contribute to what had happened? Do I have pronounced narcissistic traits? Did I behave or misbehave, psychopathically, as a psychopath would? Was I defined? Was I contumacious? Did I defy authority or resist authority? Did I behave promiscuously? Did I abuse substances? Did I collude and collaborate with others in perpetrating abusive acts?
Soul search. Look at yourself in the mirror.
Now, the vast majority of victims are simply victims.
But there's quite a sizable group who are not, they are actually covert narcissists or borderline.
Judith Herman of Harvard University, she created the diagnosis of complex post-traumatic stress disorder. She is the mother of the field of complex trauma.
And Judith Herman insists that complex trauma is indistinguishable from borderline personality disorder.
What is borderline personality disorder?
People with borderline personality disorder are grandiose. They're entitled and they easily switch to secondary psychopathy. They have no impulse control. They're promiscuous. They're reckless. They're dangerous. And very often they're malicious and malevolent.
People with borderline personality disorder cannot be told apart from people who suffer from complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
That's not me. That's Judith Herman, the world's number one, two and three authority on CPTSD.
Kernberg, Otto Kernberg, who had invented the field of personality disorder, he says that borderline personality disorder is just another form of pathological narcissism, even malignant narcissism.
And all of them are on the verge of psychosis.
Can you argue with Kernberg? I wouldn't if I were you.
Grochstein, yet another prominent scholar in the field of cluster B personality disorders. Grochstein claims that people with borderline personality disorder are simply failed narcissists.
In early childhood, having been subjected to trauma and abuse, dead parenting, parents who were selfish, parents who breached the boundaries, the emerging boundaries of the child, parents who merged with the child and fused with the child and parentified the child, etc.
The child tried to develop narcissistic defenses, tried to become a narcissist and failed. The child becomes a borderline.
So you see it's all intricately, inextricably connected.
You think you have complex post-traumatic stress disorder, maybe likely actually, but maybe actually you have borderline personality disorder with pronounced narcissistic traits.
Narcissism is a critical dimension of both borderline personality disorder and psychopathy.
So maybe you are secondary psychopaths. You have empathy. You have access to your emotions.
But when you're stressed, when you face abandonment and rejection, when you're abused and tormented and tortured, you become psychopaths.
This is what happens to borderline. That's why today in academia, we consider to merge these disorders.
And for example, to reconsider or reconceive a borderline is a form of secondary psychopathy.
Many of you are innocent, but many of you are not. Many of you are victims, but many of you are not.
Many of you have done nothing to deserve what had happened to you.
But many of you have colluded and contributed to and participated in your abuse in a form of dance macabre, the tango of the dead. You were there. You were present. You were not absent. You made choices, thousands of choices, daily, monthly, weekly, by decade.
Ask yourself, what did I do to have found myself in this situation? And what can I avoid doing in the future?
How to prevent this from happening again?
Don't just adhere to the simplistic, nonsensical, self-interested, exploitative messages of coaches and experts online who keep telling you, you're blameless. You're blameless. You've done nothing. You're perfect. You're angelic. You're empathic. You're supportive. You're amazing.
It's all his fault. He did everything. You couldn't have helped it.
You attract such people. You're a magnet.
Don't listen to these people. They just want your money. They want to perpetuate your victimhood status because it pays. It's good for business. I'll come to it in a minute.
Victims of prolonged abuse often interject, internalize their abusers. They convert their abusers into permanent per-secretary objects inside their minds. They give avatars, icons, representations of the abuser in their minds. And this app is working in the background, downloading material, affecting the environment, changing the victim's mind, manipulating it, transmuting it and transforming it. It's an active app. It's like cancer. It metastasizes.
By interjecting the abuser, you're perpetuating the abuse.
Henceforth, you trauma bond with this inner tormenting voice, even when the original bully in your life is long out.
You have divorced your abuser. You have moved away. You broke up. You've gotten no contact.
But the physical abuser is gone. His voice is here. His voice is here. His voice is here. His voice is here. And it keeps tormenting you day in and day out, minute in and minute out on every occasion, every opportunity, every circumstance. And you let it. You let it when you perpetuate, when you preserve, when you maintain, when you worship your victim status.
To be a victim, you need an abuser.
So in order to remain a victim, you enshrine the abuser. You elevate the abuse into an organizing principle of your reality and your life.
It makes sense of your life. Victimhood becomes a cozy comfort zone.
And the victim is emotionally invested, affected in maintaining the victimhood status, pristine and operational.
Victimhood becomes a determinant of the victim's identity. It helps the victim to regulate her emotions, ameliorate her anxiety and mood lability.
The victim can blame everything on her victimhood status, on her past. She remains stuck in the past. She can't move on.
Perpetual victimhood is very addictive. It's a form of reinforcement. It's a dopamine rush. It creates a dopamine puff rush.
You can't get out, I mean, the more you're into it, the lower your chances of extricating yourself.
Perpetual victimhood serves four indispensable psychological needs.
Number one, it restores, victimhood restores a sense of agency. It restores a sense of self-efficacy. It reverts the locus of control from out there, external to internal.
Because by being a victim, you become somebody.
Your victimhood status confers on you uniqueness. It's a grandiose defense.
Many victims garner attention. They become the life of the party, the focus of everyone's ministrations. Many victims make money from their newly found profession of victimhood.
Victimhood pays. Victimhood gratifies. Victimhood is wonderful because now you have an identity. You're a victim. It's a skill, a life skill. You study it. You analyze it. You hone it. You punish it every morning with walks. I mean, this is your idol. It's idolatry.
Number two, victimhood makes sense of your personal history and of the world around you.
When you are in the throes of being abused, when you are inside an abusive relationship, the world looks and appears to be meaningless, senseless, chaotic, disorganized, discombobulated and therefore frightening, hostile and threatening.
Here comes victimhood and everything suddenly makes perfect sense.
I know why these things happen to me. I've been a victim.
And I can predict the future because if I come across another abuser, I know what he's going to do. I know the rules. I know the ropes. I don't want to get out of here. I want to remain a victim because as long as I'm a victim, I'm safe.
Victimhood makes sense of your personal history, makes sense of the world and renders them meaningful.
It suddenly introduces structure, order, purpose, direction and even a sense of karmic justice.
They're all restored. The universe is good again.
Victimhood legitimizes avoidant behaviors. The world out there is challenging and painful.
Victimhood gives you permission to avoid the world, to shun the world.
No more relationships. No more men. No more going out there. No more testing. No more exposing yourself to pain, possible pain. No more revealing your vulnerabilities.
Victimhood is an encasement. It's a coffin. It mummifies you. It renders you a corpse. It removes you from the world in technical terms, in clinical terms.
This is called constriction. It constricts your life.
Victimhood tells you, you've been a victim once, never be a victim again. A man did this to you.
You've been victimized and abused and bullied at work. Avoid work.
Work from home. Don't go out. Don't date. Don't try. Don't challenge yourself. Don't attempt.
Reject life. Shun life.
Because if you reject life, it guarantees tranquility. It guarantees an inert peace of mind.
And finally, victimhood allows the victim to indulge her grandiosity.
She feels morally superior. She is immaculate, angelic, empathic, supportive, loving, caring, compassionate.
In short, victimhood renders the victim perfect, blemishless and blameless.
You become a narcissist.
Victimhood is a form of grandiosity. It's a form of narcissism. It is a morality play of good versus evil. All good versus all evil.
You are all good. The narcissist is all evil and demonic.
We call this splitting. It's a defense mechanism of black and white, good and evil.
Everything is divided down the middle. There's no compromise. There's no overlap. Splitting is a primitive defense mechanism, and it's typical of, hold your breath, narcissists and borderlines.
When you adopt victimhood as your main identity and later a profession, you're splitting the world.
Because as a victim, you're with the angels and everyone else is the devil, is a demon, is to be eradicated and extricated and abused, manipulated and avoided.
So you're splitting the world. You are becoming a narcissist.
This morality play, this crusade, you are the warrior angel. You're fighting off the demonic narcissist. It's insane. It's a form of sliding incrementally into insanity.
Victimhood affords the victim membership in a tight-knit community of like-minded people.
Victims gravitate to other victims, and victims form communities and forums and support groups.
These are all like-minded people. It's an echo chamber. No one will ever challenge you. No one will ever, and without challenge, without friction, without disagreement, there's no growth.
The main problem in these forums, they don't allow you to move on. They are sticky. You're stuck in the mud. It's a swamp. These sands are going to swallow you.
They don't allow you to move on because when you're there, you increase their power and their own grandiosity.
The leaders of such forums and support groups are usually narcissists, covert or open narcissists.
So they want as many members as possible. They want you to move on. They want to take your money as well as they do.
So victimhood is a confirmation bias. You're going to reject vehemently, aggressively, sometimes violently. You're going to reject any information that challenges your victimhood.
And you're going to embrace and adopt and feel warm and fuzzy with any bit of fake news and false data that support your view of yourself as a perpetual, eternal victim.
There's a sense of belonging, a sense of being finally understood, vindicated and elevated.
It is an intoxicating mix, and victims become aggressive if and when you try to take victimhood away from them, when you try to alert them to their own imperfections, when you try to elucidate the contributions they had made to their said state of affairs, when you try to impute responsibility to them, tell them you've been responsible, it's also your responsibility.
What has happened to you is also your responsibility. You made choices. You're an adult.
They get really, really mad at you and they react aggressively and sometimes violently and very often psychopathically.
With one or two laudable exceptions, unscrupulous, callous, con-artist psychopaths calling themselves coaches and experts online, they seek to perpetuate this state of victimhood.
They are telling their clients what they want to hear and what they are willing to pay for, and it's good for business.
The truth and healing have a negative effect on the bargaining bottom lines of these scammers, gurus.
Sir, I want to read to you the article I had written in 1995 when no one heard of narcissism, no one heard of narcissism, and there was no phrase to describe the type of abuse that narcissists mete out.
This is the article in which I've coined the phrase narcissistic abuse, and I want to read to you excerpts from this article.
1995. Sooner or later, everyone around the narcissist is bound to become his victim.
People are sucked, voluntarily or involuntarily, into the turbulence that constitutes the narcissist's life, into the black hole that is the narcissist's personality, into the whirlwind which makes up the narcissist's interpersonal relationships.
Different people are adversely affected by different aspects of the narcissist's life and his psychological makeup.
Some people trust the narcissist and rely on the narcissist only to be bitterly disappointed.
Other people love the narcissist, and they discover that he cannot reciprocate their love.
And yet other people are forced to live vicariously by proxy through the narcissist.
There are three categories of victims.
First of all, there are victims of the narcissist's instability.
The narcissist leads an unpredictable, vicissitudinal, precarious, often dangerous life.
His ground is ever shifting, geographically as well as mentally.
The narcissist changes addresses, workplaces, vocations, avocations, interests, friends and enemies with a bewildering speed.
The narcissist baits authority and challenges him.
The narcissist is therefore prone to conflict, likely to be a criminal, a rebel, a dissident or a critic.
He gets bored easily, trapped in cycles of idealization and devaluation of people, places, hobbies, jobs and values.
The narcissist is mercurial, unstable and unreliable. His family suffers, his spouse and children have to wander with him in his private desert and endure the via Dolorosa that he incessantly walks.
These people, the narcissist's nearest, dearest, insignificant others, they live in constant fear and trepidation.
What next? Where next? Who is next?
To a lesser extent, this is the case with his friends, bosses, colleagues or even with his country, his nation.
These biographical vacillations and mental oscillations deny the people around the narcissist autonomy, unperturbed development and self-fulfillment, their own path to self-recognition and contentment.
To the narcissist, other people are mere instruments, tools, sources of narcissistic supply.
He sees no reason to consider their needs, their wishes, wants, desires or fears.
The narcissist derails their life with ease and ignorance.
Deep inside, the narcissist knows that he is wrong to do so because they might retaliate and so he develops persecutory delusions.
This is the first type of victims.
Second class of victims, victims of the narcissist's misleading signals.
These are victims of the narcissist deceiving emotional messages.
The narcissist mimics real emotions artfully.
He exudes the air of someone really capable of loving or of being hurt, of one passionate, soft, empathic and caring.
Most people are misled into believing that the narcissist is even more humane than average.
Covert narcissists are very good at this, by the way.
People fall in love with the narcissist mirage, the fleeting image, with the Fatah Mohrara of a lush emotional oasis in the midst of their own emotional desert.
They succumb, they give in to the luring proposition that he is. They give in, they give up and they give everything, only to be discarded ruthlessly when judged by the narcissist to be no longer useful.
Riding high on the crest of the narcissist overvaluation, only to crash into the abysmal depths of his devaluation.
These people lose control over their own emotional life. The narcissist drains people, exhausts their resources, sucks the blood life of narcissistic supply from their dwindling, depleted selves.
This emotional rollercoaster is so harrowing that the experience borders on the truly traumatic.
To remove doubt, this behavior pattern is not confined to matters of the heart.
The narcissist's employer, for instance, his boss, is misled by the narcissist's apparent seriousness, industriousness, ambition, willing to sacrifice intelligence, honesty, thoroughness and a host of other utterly fake qualities.
Shallow. They are a fake and shallow because they are directed at securing narcissistic supply, not at doing a good job.
The narcissist's clients and suppliers suffer from the same illusion.
The narcissist's false emanations are not restricted to messages with emotional content.
His messages may contain wrong or false or partial information. The narcissist does not hesitate to lie, confabulate, deceive or reveal in quote unquote misleading half-truths.
He appears to be intelligent and charming and therefore reliable.
The narcissist is a convincing conjurer of words, signs, behaviors and body language. He is a sleight of hand. He is a magician.
And the above two classes of victims are casually exploited and then discarded by the narcissist.
No more malice is involved in this than in any other interaction with an instrument.
The narcissist doesn't hate you or love you or any thing. He doesn't feel anything generally and about you specifically. He just uses you and then your shelf life is over. Then you're over. There's no more premeditation contemplation on the part of the narcissist than you meditate and contemplate on your breathing.
These are all of you are victims of narcissistic reflexes.
Perhaps this is what makes it also repulsively horrific. The offhanded nature, the absent minded nature of the damage that the narcissist inflicts on his victims.
But there's a third category of victims.
These are the victims upon whom the narcissist designs maliciously and intentionally plans to inflict his wrath, wrath and bad intentions.
The narcissist is both sadistic and masochistic in some respects.
In hurting other people, he always seeks to hurt himself.
There's a self-destructive streak. In punishing them, he wishes to be penalized. Their pains are indirectly his pains.
And so he attacks, the narcissist attacks, figures of authority and social institutions with vicious, uncontrolled, vituperative, almost insane rage only to accept his due punishment.
These institutions, these figures of authority, these intimate partners, these employers, they react to the narcissist's venomous diatribes or antisocial actions. They react and he knows they're going to react.
But he accepts the inevitable punishment with incredible complacency or even relief.
He engages in vitriolic humiliation of his kin and folk, of regime and government, of his firm or the law, only to suffer pleasurably in the role of the outcast, the rebel, the excommunicated, the dissident, the exiled and the imprisoned.
The punishment of the narcissist does little to compensate his randomly rather incomprehensibly selected victims.
The narcissist forces individuals, forces even groups of people around him to pay a heavy toll materially in reputation or emotionally.
The narcissist is ruinous and disruptive.
And in behaving so, the narcissist seeks not only to be punished, but also to maintain emotional detachment.
Later on, I invented the phrase emotional involvement preventive mechanisms.
Threatened by intimacy and by the predatory coziness of routine and mediocrity, the narcissist lashes back at what he perceives to be the sources of this dual threat.
He attacks people whom he thinks take him for granted.
Those people who fail to recognize his superiority, those people who rendered him average, common, normal, is going to punish them.
And they, alas, include just about everyone the narcissist knows.
This text was written in 1995, 25 years ago, long before anyone has heard of narcissists.
I wish you happier, healthier, many more years to come. Stay well. And above all, stay sane. Don't become that which you had feared the most.
Thank you for listening.