Okay, Bon Bonin and Bon Bonot. Look it up. I am still clad in my blue shirt, which makes me look like a doctor in scrubs. And I am going to discuss a topic which I think might be of interest to quite a few of you, the narcissist and his peers.
My name is Sam Vaknin. I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited. I'm a former visiting professor of psychology and currently on the faculty of SIAS.
Now in our corner of learn a new word, etiology. Etiology is the causes or sets of causes and causation of diseases and conditions. So when we study the causes or causation of a condition or a disease, we call it etiology.
Now, pathoetiology is the etiology of a pathology. Don't you just love, adore, adulate and admire, not me, these ten-dollar words. Pathoetiology.
So there are many paths that lead to narcissism. The most common one is abuse and trauma inflicted by parental figures, most notably and most importantly, the mother or the mother figure.
Just to be clear, a father could be the mother figure. It's the primary caregiver, primary object, the person who has dealt with the child from the moment of birth to three years old. The person who cared for the child and raised the child and nurtured the child and educated the child and modeled behavior for the child. This person is the mother, regardless of genitalia.
I hope this is clear.
So one path is abuse and trauma by the mother figure, maternal figure, which in the vast majority of cases happens to be the biological model with the appropriate genitalia.
One should hope nowadays.
But there are other paths, other trajectories that result in pathological narcissism in adulthood.
And one of the most important trajectories is via peer groups, peer pressure, peer groups and peer socialization.
Just to make clear, socialization is the process by which we internalize the mores, the edicts, the rules, the scripts of the society that we live in.
Now, society intrudes upon our minds. Society colonizes our minds via socialization agents. Agents of socialization include parents, teachers, role models, including in the media and on YouTube, needless to say, blue role models and peers. These people bring society to the child, allow the child to emulate, imitate their behavior, their beliefs, their values, and so on and so forth, become a useful member of society, socialization and acculturation. It's the process by which we internalize the dominant hegemonic culture.
Okay, peers, the narcissist age group, they are very important socialization agents, especially in adolescence. In adolescence, during puberty, peers are way more important than parents and teachers.
Adolescents imitate each other. They have a herd mentality, not herd immunity, herd mentality. And so they pick up cues, behavioral cues, sexual cues, social cues from their peers. They look around, they observe, they scan, and then they imitate.
Monkey sees, monkey does, adolescence sees, adolescence does. Peers are therefore very crucial.
Now, peers operate on the individual via peer consensus, peer pressure, and so on and so forth, the various mechanisms.
I will not go into the psychology of peer groups, although in itself it's a fascinating topic. And if you're interested, please leave a comment and I will make a video on this topic.
Back to the narcissist and other cheerful subjects.
So we can say that there is a patho-etiology of pathological narcissism via peers, mainly in adolescence.
Now, we are talking about idiosyncratic children.
When a child is special in a bad way, or a way that is judged to be bad, dysfunctional by society. For example, when a child is autistic, when a child is obese, when a child is gender dysphoric, when a child is a nerd and avoids sports and athletics, these kinds of children are idiosyncratic children. And these kind of behaviors, or traits, or body attributes, or gender problems, these kind of issues result in peer rejection. These kind of children are rejected by their peers.
And one of the main compensatory mechanisms, ways to compensate for this rejection is narcissism. It's a fantasy defense.
Rejection by peers hurts like nothing else. Many adolescents commit suicide having been rejected by their peers. Rejection by parents is very painful.
But I could say that rejection by peers is even more painful.
And so when a child is rejected universally by all his or her peers, one of the main defenses is fantasy. Such a child develops a rich fantasy life, a paracosm, replete with imaginary friends and so on and so forth. I have videos dedicated to this dynamic.
And narcissism is a major fantasy defense gone awry. The child imagines himself to be perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, and so on and so forth. Child creates a godlike false self.
In a minute we'll see how this helps the child.
But it's a positive adaptation in the sense that the child can then resist, ignore, fend off, defend against peer rejection. Peer rejection is the same as peer consensus. It has identical power to peer pressure. It's a form of communication. It is signaling, negative signaling. Peers normally accept each other and somehow try to melt, to have a mind melt, to become a hive mind and to emulate and mimic and imitate each other. When they reject someone, it's a form of communication. It's a message. It's a signal that says you are not good enough, you are unworthy of us and our company.
In short, this is an imputation of a bad object. What peers do when they reject one of them, what peers do, peer rejection does, is it amplifies the bad object.
These children, autistic children, obese children, gender dysphoric children, nerds, these children, anyhow, are coping day in and day out with a bad object.
Peer rejection only cements the power that the bad object has over the rejected child, only confirms to the child that the bad object is real, that its messages are voracious and voracious.
In other words, its messages should be taken as truth.
In fact, the bad object constantly signals and broadcasts, you are inadequate, you are stupid, you are ugly, you are unworthy, you are hated and so on. These messages, peer rejection tends to uphold these messages, buttress them, make them even stronger and endow them with a tint and hue of reality and facthood.
That moment on the rejected child would find it very difficult to get rid of the bad object because there are so many outside sources that confirm to him that he is a bad object, that he is useless and worthless.
So the only way to cope with such an overwhelming certainty of worthlessness is by pretending that the external sources are not external, by internalizing them, introjecting them and then controlling them and assigning to them a different script, a different dialogue.
That's one method.
The other method is to avoid reality altogether and to have a very powerful fantasy defense to reside exclusively within the fantasy.
So as you can see, all these defenses are actually narcissism. They are all attributes of pathological narcissism.
I could generalize and say pretty safely that pathological narcissism is the main and major defense against peer rejection and life-threatening shame that is triggered by peer rejection, enhanced by it and threatens to overwhelm the child, rendering the child in effect a borderline.
Narcissism, as you recall from Goldstein's work, narcissism is a defense against borderline. Borderline is a failed narcissist. It's a child who had tried to become a narcissist and failed. His fantasy defense was not sufficiently evolved and creative to offer him a firewall, a solution.
So this kind of child remains stuck in emotional dysregulation. And these are the emotions brought on by the bad object. The bad object, you recall, is amplified and magnified by peer rejection, which reflects peer pressure and peer consensus.
So this is the etiology. This is the etiology.
When the child is rejected by his peers, he develops cognitive dissonance.
On the one hand, the child wants to be loved, wants to be accepted, wants to be loved by his peers. Remember, peers are the major socialization agents in puberty. So peers are not only peers, they represent the world. They bring society to the child.
There are two such stages, and that's why I have a video dedicated to the three separations in dividuations. Separation and dividuation phases. They are three in life.
In the first phase of separation and dividuation, mother brings the world to the child. In the second phase, peers bring the world to the child. So peers are the world.
Being rejected by one's peers is being rejected by the totality of reality, not having a place in reality. And the only palpable, palatable, reasonable and rational solution, therefore, is to commit suicide.
So I don't have a place in reality. I must negate my reality. I must unrealize myself in a way.
So many, many, many children commit suicide following peer rejection, because there's life threatening shame. And because these children, anyhow, are steeped in shame and self-flagellation and self-loathing and self-hatred because they're fat or because they can't run because they consider themselves stupid or clueless or because they have autism or because they're gender dysphoric or whatever the case may be.
Anyhow, these children are immersed in an environment of shame and to some extent guilt, negative affectivity.
Peer rejection pushes them over the edge because the message is you are so defective and deformed and decaying that you have no place. You have no place with your parents who have rejected you, traumatized you, abused you.
And now this is the second test with your peers. They're doing the same. They're rejecting you.
And in this way, they bring, they dredge up the shame.
They trigger the shame, the original shame.
And so there's a lot at stake.
When the child is peer rejected, there's a lot at stake.
Now, stunted separation and individuation.
Separation and individuation from the maternal figure that has failed was thwarted somehow.
This kind of separation, this kind of lack of separation and individuation leads to peer rejection as well and to life threatening shame.
When the child hasn't separated from mommy appropriately, it is very clear to everyone. Peers, children are cruel. Children are seismographs. They pick up the slightest nuances they have called empathy.
And so children pick up on the lack of separation, individuation. Mummy's boy, you know, daddy's girl, they pick up on this.
And a child who is not separated from his maternal figure, child who is not individuated will never make it in his peer environment, will always be rejected.
So part of the patho-etiology, part of the causation of pathological narcissism, which is caused by peer rejection, part of it is the stunted separation, individuation, separation, individuation that has never happened.
Okay, methodological break. Let me summarize it for you.
There are some kinds of children with problems. They are autistic, they're obese, they've gender dysphoria, they're nerds, whatever the case may be, they don't fit in. They don't fit into their peer group.
These kind of children also usually experience problems in separation, individuation from their parental figures, especially the mother.
These two issues put together.
Once physiological limitations, mental problems coupled with a lack of separation and individuation lead to total rejection by one's peers and shaming, the process of shaming.
And this peer shaming triggers the original shame, the shame that was instilled in the idiosyncratic child by the parental figures.
Peer shaming is not the same as parental shaming.
Parental shaming involves helplessness. The child is traumatized, is abused, and feels ashamed that there is nothing he can do about it. He internalizes the bad object and identifies with it. He believes that he is worthless, useless, ugly, stupid, etc.
This causes him shame. The child is also ashamed of not having become an individual, of the lost potential.
So this is the parental shame.
Peer shaming is a totally different thing. It's a control mechanism. It's a control strategy.
Peers use shame and shaming to establish hierarchies, social hierarchies, and then to enforce these hierarchies.
Shame is a tool. It's instrumentalized and weaponized among peers.
But still shame is shame. And it triggers the original shame.
Idiocyne, children with problematic separation and individuation, a deep core of shame, these kind of children react with pathological narcissism to peer rejection. And they do it in several ways.
I mentioned that peer rejection creates cognitive dissonance because the child says, "I want to belong to these people. I want to be accepted by them unconditionally. I want to be loved. I want to hang out with them. I want to associate with them. I want to learn from them. I want to imitate them. I want to be as cool as they are, etc.
On the one hand, the message is, "You don't fit in. You can't belong. We don't accept you. You're rejected."
This creates cognitive dissonance. And the child who adopts the pathological narcissistic solution resolves the cognitive dissonance by rejecting his peers, counter rejection.
And the way to do this is to say, "I am superior to my peers. I am much more intelligent, for example. So I'm superior to my peers. I don't need them. They don't know what they're missing. I pity them and I'm going to give up on them."
This is a narcissistic solution that these kind of children typically adopt.
These kind of children say, "I am the sage. I'm wise beyond my ears. I can associate only with people much older than me. I don't need my peers. They're stupid. They're stupid. They have nothing to give me. I don't stand to benefit by associating with them.
Another version is, "I'm a hero. I'm an undeclared, unknown hero. I'm like Superman or Batman or whatever. And I'm a hero. I'm doing heroic things. I'm much more moral than my peers. I'm much more beneficial to society than my peers. I'm helpful and useful much more than my peers."
So that's the hero version. I'm a rescuer. I'm a savior. This is the source of the savior-rescuer-healer complex, messiah complex.
And the third version, I'm a victim. But I'm a victim in a way that makes me special. I'm being victimized by my peers, but this victimization endows me with qualities that they don't have.
For example, I'm much more moral than they are. I've attained the high moral ground. I'm much more of an adult than they are. I'm mature, much faster.
Owing to their victimization, I've become much more mature. I'm grown up. They're stupid children.
So these are the variants of pathological narcissism that allow the child to somehow survive in the face of a wrenching, heart-rending cognitive dissonance.
Peers provide the child with reality testing and with behavioral scripts, including sexual scripts, social scripts, and so on. Peers serve as a modeling reference group. The child watches, observes the peers, and then learns how to behave.
Mutual rejection, because now the child is rejecting the peers. Having been rejected by the peers, the child now responds by rejecting the peers. And this mutual rejection results in cluelessness, pseudo-stupidity, automatism, and compensatory fantasy, including imaginary peers, for example, on social media or virtual reality chats.
So I'm going to repeat this because it's been a bit condensed.
You remember, the child is rejected by his peers. He has cognitive dissonance, and there's a narcissistic defense to the rescue.
My peers are rejecting me because they're stupid, because they're inferior to me. And because of that, I'm rejecting them. I'm the one actually doing the rejecting. I'm far superior to them, far smarter, far more moral. So I'm rejecting them. I'm rejecting them, and this creates mutual rejection.
But because the child is rejecting his peers, and when I say his, it applies, of course, equally to females. So her are interchangeable.
When the child rejects his peers, it's mutual rejection. Yes, the peers reject the child, and he rejects the peers.
So this, the child then, loses his modeling reference group. He has no one to emulate and imitate, no one to copy, no one to observe, no one to learn from. There's no reference group. There's no model that he can adopt and make his own.
His behavior is not modeled on anyone. His parents have rejected him. His peers have rejected him. He has rejected his peers. He is an island. He is solipsistic. He is all alone floating, adrift. That's why I say he's clueless. He even appears to be pseudo stupid. He acts in crazy ways, not aware of the consequences of his actions. Half asleep, going through life, half asleep, lethargic in a way, and dissociative and unaware of reality, fully embedded in automatic compensatory fantasy, where he has, as I said, imaginary friends, including his false self, and on social media and VR can pretend to be someone else, an avatar.
But then, of course, it's not real. It's a rejection of reality, which relies heavily on a splitting defense.
My peers are all bad, corrupt, stupid, immoral. I'm perfect. I am ethical. I know, I'm all-knowing. I'm all-powerful and brilliant, etc.
So the, it's like a tower. The lower the foundation is splitting on top of the foundation, there is rejection of peers. On top of the rejection of peers, there is cluelessness being lost. You know, you're at a loss. You have no one to imitate and no one to model yourself after.
So then you resort to compensatory fantasy. And compensatory fantasy drives you even further away from reality and leads to extremely impaired reality testing.
And here I've described this tower. This is pathological narcissism.
The logical narcissism is a reaction to peer rejection because it involves fantasy defense, dissociation. But it also yields displaced passive aggression. The child doesn't dare to confront his peers directly because the rejection is blanket, it's universal, and he may end up badly, big knock, for example.
So he doesn't dare to face his peers as he did not dare, as he hadn't dared to face his parents in the previous phase. Having been rejected by his parents as a two-year-old, the child was not in the position to criticize his parents, to confront them, to be angry at them, or to aggress against them. He has been dependent on his parents for his very survival, food, and shelter.
Similarly, the child is unable to face, to face down the group of his peers that are tormenting and bullying him, or ignoring him, or rejecting him, or mocking him, or ridiculing him, or exposing his secrets, or tormenting or taunting him. He cannot face this group of peers because there are many, and they can become violent and often do. And their arsenal is infinite.
can make his life hell.
So the child becomes passive-aggressive rather than aggressive, and he displaces his aggression, his anger, onto other targets, safer targets, a younger sibling, an animal.
So the passive aggression is displaced onto targets that are not dangerous, not risky, and it is disguised. It is disguised, remember, because the child is trying to compensate for the bad object by pretending to be a good object.
There is splitting.
The child says, "My peers, the world, my parents, everyone is bad. I am all good, so I cannot be aggressive. I cannot be violent. I cannot act immorally or unethically. I am all good. I am not all bad object. I am an all good object. I am an all good object.
So he becomes passive-aggressive. His aggression is camouflaged, disguised. It wears other forms which are not easily identifiable, for example, brutal honesty or biting dark humor.
When you put these reactions together, splitting defense, fantasy defense, dissociation, and displaced passive aggression, what do you get? Yes, covert narcissism.
The typical pathology that results from peer rejection is actually covert narcissism, not overt or grandiose narcissism. Covert narcissism is an admission of collapse, an admission of failure at integrating with society and extracting from it narcissistic supply.
So the child accepts his failure and defeat as an integral part of who he is, as a dimension of the bad object. He is successful only in his daydreaming and fantasies, but he gives up on reality and on attempting anything in reality. He doesn't believe he's capable of accomplishments. He becomes a perfectionist. He is terrified of failure, and he is ultra aware of and hypersensitive when it comes to his performance. It has to be perfection or nothing, so he chooses nothing.
And this is covert narcissism.
While parental abuse and trauma lead mostly to overt grandiose narcissism, peer rejection leads mostly to covert narcissism.
Now, such children who are anyhow disadvantaged, because remember they are autistic, they are possibly intellectually challenged or opposite of them. They are geniuses. They are obese. They are, you know, they are disadvantaged.
They start off life with a bad hand.
These children suffer on multiple fronts. They suffer affronts of multiple fronts.
Peer rejection is only one dimension of their miserable existence.
They have been rejected by their own parents. They have not been allowed to separate and individuate.
So they have to endure the parental rejection all the time. They've internalized the parental rejection in the form of a bad object. Then they were rejected by peers which cemented the bad object. Then they had to defend against the bad object by pretending that they are not who they are, and reality is not what it is.
And then they had to manage their aggression in ways which are sublimated, socially acceptable, or non-detectable. And on top of all this mess, they keep receiving conflicting parental messaging and conflicting parental modeling.
Parents of such children broadcast to them, "We are insecure. We as parents, we are insecure. The world is not safe. We need you. You owe us."
So parents, this kind of parents, demand from the child conformity, obedience, automatic obedience, and constant presence. This is a form of emotional blackmail.
So this is one message. One message is, "My child, don't go out to the world. Only we love you. Only we have sacrifice for you. We need you. You owe us. The world is not safe. It's too risky. Stay with us. Stay here in this mausoleum, in this tomb and shrine to our togetherness.
This is the conformity signal.
But coupled with the conformity signal, there is a second signal which I call the normalcy signal.
So the normalcy signal is, "You're a bad object. You're abnormal. You're deformed. You're defective. What is wrong with you? Start to act your age. You should make friends. You should excel in school. You should. It's a should message.
At the same time, the parents are telling this kind of child, "You're not good enough. You can't take home the world. Stay here. Stay with us where you're safe, where you need it. And you owe us to do this." This is one message.
And then there's a message that is the exact opposite, conflicting with the first message, negating it. And the second message is, "You should go out to the world. You should make friends. You should advance and accomplish. And if you don't, something's wrong with you. You are bad. You're defective. You're deformed.
At the same time, it's a push and pull. At the same time, the parent is saying, "Go there. Come here." It's an approach avoidance, repetition compulsion. The child doesn't know what to do. Should he separate an individual and take on the world? Or should he stay with mommy and daddy who did him so badly? Is the world hostile and dangerous, a jungle out there, best avoided? Or on the very contrary, taking on the world is a sign of normalcy and health, mental health.
Child can't make head or tails of these conflicting signaling.
What do we do when we get mixed signals? What do we do when we get two messages that are mutually exclusive, totally contradictory?
We freeze. We get paralyzed.
And so that's what this kind of child does. He freezes. He freezes, and this leads to recurrent failure and an impaired sense of self-efficacy.
Because the child freezes, owing to this push and pull, parental push and pull, and peer rejection, the child freezes.
And then, of course, he fails. If you don't take on the world, if you don't make an effort, if you don't work hard, you fail. Ask any protestant.
So you fail.
And if you fail repeatedly, you begin to believe that you are doomed to failure. You develop an automatic negative thought. I am a failure. You begin to identify with a failure. Failing becomes your identity and your sense of self-efficacy, your belief that you are capable of extracting beneficial outcomes from the environment, that you're capable of acting on the environment and in the environment in order to accomplish things. This is known as sense of self-efficacy.
Your sense of self-efficacy is shot, is destroyed, because you don't dare anymore to take on the world. You do the minimum. You act minimally. You minimize yourself. You minimize your actions. You minimize your goals. You minimize everything. You do the minimum necessary just to survive, to stay out of the way of those people who can trigger your life-threatening shame, your peers, your parental figures, mother and father, later on your intimate partners.
Narcissists misperceive their intimate partners as maternal figures and at the same time as rejecting and traumatizing peers.
This is where the intimate partner is the world to the narcissists.
Narcissists often will tell you, you are my world, borderlines too. They'll tell you, you're my world, you're my life and they're not lying about this. You represent simultaneously the narcissist's rejecting mother, dead mother, absent mother, unloving and uncaring mother. You represent her.
And at the same time, you represent all the peers that have ever rejected and traumatized the narcissist. You are the narcissist's peer. You're more or less his age and so on. And at the same time, you are his mother. You're the maternal figure.
And in both roles, you enhance and amplify his bad object. This allows him to devalue you and to separate from you.
The fact that you are perceived by the narcissist as the rejecting dead mother and as the rejecting peer, as a rejected peer, legitimizes in his mind, treating you as an enemy. He perceives you or internalizes you as a persecutory object because as far as he's concerned, as far as he knows, you are.
Your role in the shared fantasy is exactly this.
And so this is a reenactment. It's akin to what is called living history.
The narcissist recreates his childhood with you, recreates his childhood and his childhood has been seriously bad or he would not have become a narcissist.
So there you are, time traveled, time displaced. You find yourself in the narcissist's second childhood, acting as his mother, his bad mother, acting as everyone who has ever rejected him, humiliated him, mocked him, derided him, criticized him, disagreed with him, put him down, shamed him, humiliated him. Now it's all in one body, yours. You are the rejecting world. You are the reality principle.
The narcissist tries to coerce you and convert you into a figment of his fantasy precisely because you bring the world to him. You are reality.
Narcissists hate reality and they end up hating you. You become the enemy, the persecutory object.
This yields ageinappropriate behavior. The narcissist is infantilized. He begins to act as an infant or a toddler throwing temper tantrums, incapable of perceiving abstract concepts, not aware of the consequences of his actions, grandiose to the point of developing a sense of immunity, divorce from reality. All this is age inappropriate. It's perfectly appropriate at age two, but not at age 20 or let alone 60.
So your reification, your embodiment of the rejecting parents and the rejecting peers in one body, this triggers all the narcissist defenses. This regresses him to his early childhood and it helps the narcissist to devalue you and to separate from you, which is the goal, the main and only goal of the shared fantasy that he has created with you. You are everything bad that has ever happened to the narcissist. Nothing good can come out of you. Don't kid yourself. You're being devalued and discarded because you've always been the enemy. You've chosen to be the enemy. You've been chosen to be the enemy. That's your role in the shared fantasy. You are reality. It's a splitting thing.
Reality is all bad. Fantasy is all good. You represent reality. All bad. Narcissist represents fantasy. He's all good.
And his role in this paradise is to expel you from the garden of it, from his shared fantasy. And this act of expulsion from his garden of it, from his paradise, this expulsion reflects your primary, your primordial sin. You're a sinner because you brought reality, the tree of knowledge, into paradise, into the garden of it. You have defied God, the narcissist. God told you to not bring reality into paradise, to not eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge, good or bad, to not do that. And you did that by your very existence and presence.
Having brought reality, having contaminated paradise, having infringed on the fantasy, you have become the enemy and you will be expelled to suffer for the rest of your life outside the paradise that the narcissist has created for you as a God, in his function as God, in his capacity as God.
And so this is the biblical story. It's the biblical story all over again.
Having expelled you from the garden of it, having cleansed the garden of it, having purified it, the narcissist is ready to welcome the next occupant, knowing perfectly well that she will fail as well. She will bring reality into the fantasy. She will divergent, deviate from her snapshot. She will challenge and reject the narcissist. She will act as his hateful parents and detestable peers. And he will be forced, willy-nilly, against his will, one could say, he will be forced to devalue this next occupant and to discard her as he has done before.
This repetition, compassion is not about other people. This repetition, compassion is the inner battle inside the narcissist's soul between his inner demons. He's trying to, he's trying to exercise his very self. He's trying to become someone else through you.
However, that is not possible because ultimately he is not God. He is mortal and he's going to find out in due time.
And then this is the greatest crisis of the narcissist's life when he has to shed his divinity, usually via mortification. It accepts that he is nothing but a feeble and frail and faulty and failing human being, just like the rest of everyone else.