When the narcissist or the borderline whisper in your ear, I love you, what do they mean? What goes through their minds? What is the internal correlate to this sentence?
Assuming for a minute that it's not a manipulative tactic, it's not a part of love bombing or grooming, assuming for a minute that there is no malicious intent behind this sentence, and assuming for a minute that the narcissist and borderline truly believe themselves to be in love with you.
What is really going on?
If we were to direct an imaginary or proverbial microscope or telescope, perhaps into the narcissist's mind, what would we see there happening? Which cogs and wheels are turning when this sentence is uttered repeatedly very often?
Borderlines protest vehemently that they are capable of true love, true affection, commitment and empathy. They insist that the way they love is even stronger than healthy normal people. They are overwhelmed by love. They are dysregulated by love.
Most narcissists claim that they have been in love several times in their lifetimes.
In my database, which now comprises 1,830 people diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, well over 70% claim to have been in love. And they describe the feeling as profound, moving, mind-altering and life-transforming, transformative experience. They sound suspiciously like normal healthy people, the way normal healthy people describe love.
But is it really love? And why would the narcissist interpret his internal processes as love? Why would he label these processes love? Why wouldn't he call it envy or hatred or rage or fun? Why does he insist on the label love? And why does the borderline do the same?
So today we are going to discuss a process called cognitive mislabeling and misidentification. It's a form of attribution bias or attribution error.
Only the attribution is self-attribution. It's a desperate attempt by narcissists and borderlines to make sense of whatever is happening inside them. Both of them don't have real access to their emotions. The borderline is overwhelmed by her emotions. She drowns in them. And so she's terrified of emotions, which is very defensive. She has well-constructed firewalls, gams attempting to stop the tsunami of emotionality that could sweep her away.
The narcissist on the other hand has access only to negative affectivity, to negative emotions. So he's incapable of experiencing true love.
But before we proceed, of course, there's a philosophical question. What is love? I don't want to enter into these debates, which have been going on for well over 3000 years to the best of my knowledge.
Instead I would like to propose an operational definition. Love is what normal, healthy people call love. People without mental health issues, people without personality disorders, people devoid of mood disorders, people without anxiety disorders, people who are just happy go lucky, normal, healthy folk.
You ask these people, what are you feeling now? They say, I'm in love. That's good enough for me. That's the definition of love. Whatever healthy normal people ascribe to love and intimacy should be the definition of love and intimacy.
Then the question arises, of course, what narcissist experience and what borderline experience? Is it the same? Is it comparable to what healthy normal people experience?
And this raises a philosophical problem known as intersubjectivity. How can we access the mind of the narcissist and how can we access the mind of a healthy person and then how can we compare them rigorously?
There's no way to do this. Each one of us is a sealed, solipsistic universe. No one has access to my mind. The only access you have to my mind is via self-reporting. And the only access I have to your mind is by listening to what you have to tell me about your mind and its inner workings. I have no way to verify this. I can try to use all kinds of imaging technologies, fMRI and whatever, and I can obtain some correlated blood flows in the brain and bio-electrical activity and multiple unit activity and all kinds of neuroscientific hocus pocus, but it's not the same. It's not the essence. These are like markers or symptoms.
No one has access to anyone else's mind. And because we don't have access to anyone's mind, it's very difficult and hubristic to compare what goes on in the narcissist mind with what is going on in a healthy person's mind.
But we will attempt all the same because I'm grandiose.
Okay, Shoshanim. Time to introduce myself. My name is Sanvak Nin and I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited, and I'm also a professor of psychology with a thick, unbearable accent. Turn me off right now. You can't eh? I'm addictive. You're curious what's in store and I can't blame you. I find myself addictive as well. I love the sound of my voice. Enough, enough, enough. Let's go on.
Okay, let's start by saying, by making a sweeping statement, which is grounded even in more conventional texts like the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in the Alternative Model of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, page 767, and in the Alternative Model of Borderline Personality Disorder, it says pretty clearly that borderlines and narcissists, especially narcissists, are incapable of intimacy.
So mislabelling and misidentifying internal dynamics is a common cognitive distortion among Cluster B patients.
I'm going to repeat these sentence for two reasons. First of all, I said it, so it must be important. And second reason is a summary of the whole video and may get you off the hook very early on.
Mislabelling and misidentifying internal dynamics is a common cognitive distortion among Cluster B patients.
Let's deconstruct this sentence.
When something happens internally, when we have this realization through introspection that some process is occurring, that some change is transpiring, that some furniture is being rearranged inside the mind, we call this psychodynamics. It's internal, totally internal, of course. It happens in your psyche. That's why it's called psychodynamics, shoshanim.
Okay, it happens in your psyche. And then you have to give it a name.
Now, there are numerous studies that have demonstrated that we pick up cues from the environment. We pick up all kinds of cues from the environment. And then we say, well, based on the assemblage or the compendium of these clues and these cues from the environment, probably what I'm feeling right now is this.
So we label our internal psychodynamics in accordance with environmental and social cues, which is why people with autism spectrum disorder find it very difficult to do this, as do narcissists.
People who misinterpret and misread social and environmental cues, signaling, other people's signaling, they have difficulty to label their psychodynamic processes accurately, or at all.
And so the first stage is that something is happening inside. Usually it's reactive, but doesn't have to be. It could be a result of the confluence of several other sub processes in the mind. But something is happening there.
There's some upheaval. There's some upheaval. There's some tumult. There's some hurricane occurring and then you have to give it a name. You have to identify and you have to label it and you have to label it because you would like probably to communicate it, even if only to yourself. Language is a mediator. We mediate our introspection via language. We also, of course, communicate with other people via language. So we have to identify and label.
When Cluster B patients try to do this, they fail.
And what happens is they slap the wrong labels on their own internal dynamics, on their own internal processes. And so they slap the wrong label. And this is called cognitive distortion.
Now there are many types of cognitive distortion. Grandiosity, for example, is a type of cognitive distortion. There are many others.
Cognitive distortions are misinterpretations of reality, which generate cognitions, thoughts, or misinterpretations of reality, which are mediated through thoughts via the outcome of wrong thinking.
For example, negative automatic thoughts, automatic negative thoughts, ends.
So when we have the wrong thoughts, we end up mislabeling and misidentifying our internal processes.
Similarly, when we mislabel and misidentify our internal processes, we generate the wrong thoughts. It's a vicious circle and it's a circle within which cluster B patients are held hostage. They are captured within this vicious circle, vortex, and they are unable to emerge or to exit or to extricate themselves.
Self deceiving mental artifacts and self gaslighting are the hallmarks of several personality disorders, including narcissistic and borderline.
Consider, for example, the interpersonal dimension, love, intimacy, and even sex. The personality disorders are totally incapable of any intimacy and of any emotions whatsoever in sex and more generally with people.
So if you talk to a borderline, if you talk to a narcissist, they're going to deny this vehemently. They're going to say that I should be fired. I should never teach psychology again. I'm getting it all so wrong. Of course they would say this. They would say this because they know no better and they know no different.
They mislabel things. Something is happening inside them and they say that must be love. Another thing is happening. Some counter process and they say, well, that's probably intimacy. And then they have sex and they say, well, I felt some kind of connection in the sex. The sex was very intimate. Even if the sex had occurred with someone they had met five and hour before or two hours before, they would still insist that what had happened in the sex was a profound intimate connection.
Because they have no idea what is intimacy and they have no idea what is a real connection, a true connection. And they've never experienced love or any other form of interaction, which involves resonating empathy.
Now, borderlines do have empathy and borderlines even have emotions, of course, because they are emotionally dysregulated, but the emotions and empathy of the borderline are instrumentalized.
The borderline is very goal oriented and her goal is to avoid abandonment and rejection, to maintain the object constancy in the presence of the intimate partner in her life so that he can provide her with ego boundary functions.
In other words, she needs the intimate partner to regulate her internal environment. She outsources internal processes and lets the intimate partner do the work.
So her moods, for example, depend critically on the intimate partner's behavior and he has to be attuned to her signaling in order to modify his behavior so as to keep her regulated.
So borderlines would call this intimacy and they would call the relationship a loving relationship.
But of course, this is nothing to do with love, or with intimacy. And it involves empathy, but a kind of functional instrumentalizing empathy.
People with personality disorder confuse many internal processes with love and intimacy. And that happens in sex as well. For example, borderlines would tend to have sex and then claim that they had fallen in love during the sex, that the sex had led them to fall in love because they had experienced amazing intimacy with a stranger they had just met whose name they are not quite sure of.
So this confusion, this conflation leads the cluster B personality disorder person to mislabel and misidentify what's happening inside him and consequently to mislead and deceive everyone around him or her, of course.
For example, narcissists and borderlines confuse dependency with love and intimacy. The dependency entails the abolition of boundaries, porous boundaries.
So then there is a process of merger and fusion, the symbiosis where the borderline and the narcissist become one with their intimate partners. The narcissist regards his intimate partner as an extension. The borderline regards her intimate partner as a soulmate or, not forbid, a twin flame.
So in this case, dependency could be easily confused with love. And of course, the intimacy is maximal because there's total identification. The narcissist says, I am you, you are me, so does the borderline.
But that's not love and intimacy because true love and intimacy are grounded and founded upon the separateness of the lovers.
To really love, you need to keep your lover at arm's length. The separateness creates love. You need to love your intimate partner as he or she is.
Otherwise, what you're doing is auto-erotic. What you're doing is loving yourself through your partner. Merger and fusion is a form of self-love, narcissistic self-love, narcissistic mirroring.
Actually, the borderline and the narcissist fall in love with themselves through the agency of the intimate partner and cause the intimate partner to fall in love with herself through their agency.
So it's a mutual admiration society. It's a whole of mirrors.
Dependency is the exact opposite of love because dependency entails the eradication, the elimination, the vanishing of the love object. As you assimilate, just assume the love object, he disappears or she disappears. You can't love someone by digesting them. Love is not a culinary experience.
Similarly, borderlines and narcissists tend to confuse limerence or infatuation, the rush of first acquaintance. They tend to confuse this with love and that's why they offer you marriage on a second meeting and they plan to have children on the third meeting if they are very slow.
So the adrenaline rush, the infatuation, the intrigue of a new body and a new person and a new life, the novelty, the limerence, all these are misinterpreted by narcissists and borderline as love and intimacy.
This again is a totally internalized process. It has very little to do with the other person.
Limerence, infatuation, forms of novelty seeking, which by the way, as an aside, is a psychopathic trait. On the positive side, it denotes and is a form of openness.
So narcissists and borderlines are usually, at least the extroverted ones, are usually open to new experiences, but they seek novelty in a compulsive way, exactly like the psychopath.
And so here comes a stranger. That stranger has one enormous advantage. He or she is unknown, terra incognita, a new continent to explore, full of amazing treasures, unexpected terms of events, adventures and rush, adrenaline rush, dopamine rush, sexual rush, new body, a new body, new smells, new visual cues.
So narcissists and borderlines have a history of promiscuous sexual behavior in most cases and have a history of bed hopping and their relationships, pseudo relationships actually, are very short because they are novelty seekers.
They confuse the process of discovering the other with love and intimacy. And of course it's not. It's a precondition for love and intimacy, which come much, much later.
Once the separateness of the other is recognized, and once the novelty wares off, novelty obscures the view, seeking novelty, limerence, infatuation, they produce massive cognitive distortions.
Love is a pathology often compared to a psychotic state.
And so here's another form of confusion.
Narcissists and borderlines would confuse exhibitionism with love and intimacy and dressing in public or to an audience, an audience of one, an audience of 100. It's all the same.
It creates a feeling of intimacy.
So exhibitionism could be bodily taking off your clothes, but exhibitionism is more often intellectual or psychological or autobiographical. So rendering your private life public, converting yourself into a public spectacle.
These are all forms of exhibitionism.
And the narcissist and borderline experience this denuding, experience this exposure, self exposure is love and they call it intimacy.
Of course, exhibitionism is the exact opposite of intimacy because exhibitionism is that it's apex provides the maximum stimulus when the observer is a stranger, someone you don't know. If it is someone you know, the titillation and the excitement is much lower as anyone, as all of you know, when you're in a relationship that's been going on for a few years and dressing in front of your partner has very little sexual value. It doesn't trigger a sexual response.
So exhibitionism is a stranger interaction. It's a form of stranger sex or stranger exposure.
And so the narcissist and the borderline interpret exhibitionism as instant intimacy, full scale. They experience the whole process as falling in love.
Another example, narcissist and borderline confuse masochism with intimacy and love.
Remember that narcissist and borderline were forged in the furnace of early childhood abuse. They had learned to identify love and intimacy with pain and hurt and breach of boundaries.
And so whenever they re-experience these things, whenever they are in agony, whenever they are abused, whenever they are mistreated, whenever they are humiliated, there is sexual arousal and then psychological arousal, which they interpret as love and intimacy.
The association between love, intimacy, pain, hurt and mistreatment, breach of boundaries. This association is hardwired into the brains, in the post traumatic brains of narcissists and borderlines and they can't let it go. They mislabel and misidentify what's happening as a form of love.
Quite a few borderlines would tell you that, yeah, my husband beats me up, but that's because he loves me, or my husband is insanely jealous because he loves me.
Similarly, the narcissist would inflict enormous abuse on his intimate partner as a sign of love. He would even call it tough love.
It's a confusion here between masochism and sadism and love and intimacy.
Defiance is often confused with love and intimacy. The borderline believes that one way of showing love and intimacy is by defying conventions, traditions, mores and values, by kind of rendering herself an outcast and a pariah going on a limb for the loved one.
She confuses defiance, which is a secondary psychopathy feature. She confuses defiance with love and then the very act of defiance separates her from the rest of humanity, so to speak.
And then it's she and her intimate partner and so this creates an enormous intense intimacy.
The defiant act creates a cult of two, the borderline or the narcissist and their intimate partners. They defy the world. It's we against the world and this is misinterpreted very often as a form of maximal intimacy and proof of love.
Similarly, many borderlines, especially those who are comorbid with psychopathy, primary psychopathy, a pretty common comorbidity by the way, many borderlines confuse competitiveness and possessiveness with love and intimacy.
So a borderline would compete with other women for her men and she would win her men and she would win the win the battle and she interprets this as love and the winning, the experience of winning, which is euphoric and elating and transcendental. This she experiences, this she interprets or mislabels as intimacy.
Competitiveness is at the heart of narcissism and borderline behaviors. The narcissism and borderline engage constantly in relative positioning. They constantly compare themselves to others. Envy is a diagnostic criterion of narcissistic personality disorder and the borderline is so insecure with her abandonment anxiety and and government and and government anxiety that she competes all the time. She competes all the time to be on top. She competes to win. She competes to take over. She competes to stand out when her grandiosity is in play.
So competitiveness, competition and possession, possessing the love object. These are perceived as true love and as intimacy. But of course they're exactly the opposite because they involve vanquishing, isolating.
By winning, winning means isolating your love object from all others. Possessing is the same. Vanquishing the independent autonomous agentic existence of your love object and possessing him and these are easily confused with love and intimacy.
Similarly neediness, neediness especially clinging neediness. This is often interpreted especially by the borderline as a form of extreme intimacy and the gratification of these needs is perceived as a proof of love as a form of connection, for example, in sex. Even sex with a stranger.
When the stranger gratifies the sexual urges of the borderline she would feel a very powerful connection. The connection has less to do with the sex and more to do with the sensation of power. Even if the power is sublimated, in other words even if the power is not felt directly by the borderline, it's still a power play.
She needs something and by hook and by crook she's going to get it and then she gets it from someone. From a sex partner, from an intimate partner, from a colleague, never mind. She gets it from someone.
She gets, someone caters to her needs coercively sometimes and when her needs are catered to, she experiences this as proof of love and as extreme intimacy.
Many borderlines call it a connection and borderlines usually use the term special friend. Look it up online.
They use the term special friend to describe the kind of people who cater to their needs regardless of what the needs are. They could be sexual, they could be other, but people who cater to their needs and they would misidentify this.
This, against all counterfactually, against all available facts, they would misinterpret and mislabel this neediness and the gratification of the needs as love and intimacy.
Finally of course, people pleasing. People pleasing is the quintessential confusion in the narcissist and borderline's mind.
The borderline tries to please people. She wants people to like her. She wants people to love her and she would do and give anything to be liked and loved and that includes of course sex and she would give sex in any configuration to any number of people to obtain individual or collective acceptance. That way she fends off abandonment and rejection anxiety which reflect on her sense of self-worth.
She regulates her sense of self-worth by importing, importing reactions from people so she needs them to like her and to love her and she would do anything to accomplish this.
The experience of pleasing people she perceives as love and the reciprocity if someone reciprocates it she perceives this as extreme intimacy.
Borderlines and narcissists attribute intimacy to situations where there's no hint or trace of intimacy and cannot be, could not be, any hint or trace of intimacy. Situations which by definition are utterly not intimate, for example, group sex or gang rape or a totally drunk party or taking care of someone who rejects you and abuses you all the time.
So even there the borderline analysis would miss attribute intimacy to the situation because there is an exchange of needs.
As usual they instrumentalize all these interactions. All these things that I've just mentioned I'm going to recap: dependency, limerence, novelty, infatuation, rush, exhibitionism, masochism, defiance, competitiveness, possessiveness, neediness, people pleasing, none of these things is love. None of these things entails or involves intimacy, not even by a long shot.
Many of them are antonyms the opposite of love and intimacy and yet narcissists and borderlines would insist that this is true love, stronger than anyone's, more powerful and mightier and more profound and more intense than anything anyone else is capable of experiencing.
Many narcissists tell me I don't love often but when I do there's nothing like my love it's pure and strong and faithful.
Borderlines would go even further, they would be more poetic or lyrical when they describe love and intimacy and yet both of them are incapable of experiencing either true love or true intimacy.
So why do they insist, why do they keep saying yes we do indeed experience love, yes we are capable of true or pervasive, ubiquitous warm accepting loving intimacy. Why? Why do they insist?
Because it feels, it feels like emotions and intimacy to these patients.
These patients experience these processes that I mentioned before and when they try to interpret them and to label them they look around and they see similar behaviors with normal and healthy people and they slap the wrong label.
They don't know any better, they don't know any difference, so it's like their vocabulary is limited or they've picked up their own words in the wrong language and then now they're using it some kind of pigeon.
So it feels to them like true emotions and true and real, veritable, genuine, icht intimacy, not ersatz but icht, the real thing, the real McCoy.
And you can't convince them otherwise because they're emotionally invested, they are affected in this interpretation of their internal processes.
Narcissists are binary state devices. I feel bad, I feel good, that's it.
Narcissists have no nuances, no subtleties, no shades of gray, not 50 and not five, nothing.
They ever feel good, I feel bad, it's even worse with psychopaths.
Borderlines are the same but they are often dysregulated by overwhelming emotions.
So they have these dim stirrings, they have this strange subterranean or under the ocean currents which they can't quite put their finger on, they can't quite place, they can't quite capture, it's dim, it's background, it comes and goes, it's fleeting, it's ephemeral and they know something is happening but they can't put a name to it.
And so they resort to a vocabulary, the vocabulary of healthier, normal folk, vocabulary of healthy, normal people.
But this is a linguistic sleight of hand, it doesn't make it so, needless to say, it doesn't make it love, it doesn't make it intimacy, if you call something love or intimacy, it doesn't become love and intimacy just because you say so, that's grandiosity.
Narcissism and borderlines have a low tolerance for uncertainty, they have a tendency to catastrophize and they have, many of them have comorbid generalized anxiety and these result in addictive or obsessive compulsive behaviors intended to suppress a discomfort through addiction or to ritually fend off bad things that are about to happen through obsessive compulsive rituals.
Obsession, compulsion and addiction also involve dissociation, either as a cause or as an effect and this is why, for example, obsessive compulsives check time and again whether they had locked the door or turned on the alarm and this is why addicts have patchy memories with both these conditions involve dissociation and this leads me to the issue of mislabeling, misidentification or in clinical terms self-misattribution.
One major problem is dissociation, perhaps the major problem.
The narcissist and the borderline are dissociated not only from memories but also from their own being in existence, for example, in the twin processes or in the process of depersonalization. They are also dissociated from the world, for example, in the process known as derealization, so they have no access to the world, no continuous access, they have patchy disjointed access, discontinuous access but no continuous access to the world, no continuous access to their own bodies and no continuous access to their own minds via amnesia. They can't remember continuously, they have memory gaps and this creates a very broken existence which is known in clinical terms as identity disturbance.
Trying to label, try to label internal processes, trying to find the correct name for what's happening inside you is an attempt to come up with the glue, the kind of confabulation that will allow you to restore your continuity.
If you could get a handle on what's happening inside you, even if it were only a linguistic handle, you maybe could restore your being and your relationship with the world and ultimately maybe your mind and memory and by extension your identity.
The narcissism borderlines, constant attempt to explain or to describe or to capture or to give a name to what's happening inside them is actually an attempt at self-restoration, an attempt at bridging confabulation.
It's an internal confabulation, it's not autobiographical but it's an attempt to explain to themselves what is happening inside them.
We all have insight to some degree as to what is happening inside us.
We can say I'm sad, I'm happy, you know we all have this kind of insight.
Narcissism borderlines have very very diminished self-insight, inability to introspect.
That's why they are infuriating because they can't see themselves and never mind how many times you put a mirror to them, they still can't see themselves.
When the narcissist looks at the mirror he doesn't see himself, he sees his grandiosity, it's a cognitive distortion, it's a veil through a glass, very very darkly.
And so capturing, labeling, naming your emotions and state of mind and outward experience, love, intimacy, this gives the narcissist and the borderline a fleeting sense of being grounded in the world as separate entities with the mind of their own, with identity, continuity and memory and then of course it fleets away and disappears and goes and they're back to square one desperately struggling against the odds to restore themselves into existence.