My name is Sam Vaknin. I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited, and I'm a professor of psychology.
This lecture is about the origins of narcissism, and if you think I have the answer, you're dead wrong. I don't have the answer, because no one does.
The debate is still raging. I will open with a quote authored by Ferenczy and Shandor in the book, Notes and Fragments, published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis volume 30 in 1949. Listen well.
A surprising fact in the process of self-splitting is the sudden change of the object relation that has become intolerable, a change from that object relation into narcissism.
The man, abandoned by all gods, escapes completely from reality and creates for himself another world in which he can achieve everything that he wants.
As being unloved, even tormented, he now splits off from himself, a part which in the form of a helpful, loving, often motherly minder, commiserates with the tormented remainder of the self, nurses it, and decides for it, with the deepest wisdom, with the most penetrating intelligence.
They're describing the false self. That part is a guardian angel that sees the suffering or murdered child from the outside. That part wanders through the whole universe seeking help, invents fantasies for the child that cannot be saved in any other way.
But in the moment of a very strong, repeated trauma, even this guardian angel must confess his own helplessness and well-meaning deceptive swindles.
They're describing mortification.
And then nothing else remains but suicide.
Decades before mortification came on the scene, decades before we had adopted Winnicott's false self or as-if personality, decades before the modern knowledge of narcissism.
These two, Ferenczy and Shandor, had actually described everything we know about narcissism. They had proceeded and anticipated the language in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the latest edition, edition five, published only seven years ago in 2013. The DSM-5 had accepted that there is no such thing as a pure type, pure overt narcissist, pure covert narcissist.
The current thinking is that every narcissist has fragile, shy, vulnerable aspects. Every narcissist is both overt and covert at the same time.
Compensatory mechanisms such as the false self work only that long, only that much, only that, get only that far.
When the narcissist is confronted with trauma, with stress, with mortification, with extreme injury, with frustration, the narcissist sometimes disintegrates, decompensates, and the false self is deactivated and disabled.
And what's left then is a child. What's left then is a fossilized, trophic, dysfunctional, true self.
How come such a structure is created? What is the progress and dynamics that had led to the formation of pathological narcissism in the child?
And above all, pathological narcissism is such a complex multi-faceted, multi-layered phenomenon that we are forced to ask ourselves, can a child of four years old, six years old, even nine years old, can a child come up with such a script, such an elaborate concoction, such intricate piece of fiction? Is this within a child's capabilities? Can children, in other words, become narcissists at all?
The study of narcissism is a century old and the two scholarly debates central to its conception are still undecided. Is there such a thing as healthy narcissism?
Heinz Kohut said, yes, there is.
But others said that all manifestations of narcissism in adulthood are pathological.
Freud did, Kernberg did.
Moreover, is pathological narcissism the outcome of verbal, sexual, physical, or psychological abuse, which is the overwhelming view, the orthodoxy, or on the very contrary, narcissism is the said result, the tragic result of spoiling the child, idolizing the child.
And that is, of course, Millon's view, Theodore Millon's view. That is also the view of the late Freud, as distinct from the early Freud.
So which is it?
This second debate is easier to resolve if one agrees to redefine abuse.
If we adopt a more comprehensive definition of abuse, problem solve, because of a winning, smothering, spoiling, pampering, overvaluing, idolizing the child, placing the child on a pedestal, instrumentalizing the child, placing all your hopes and expectations and wishes upon the child as a burden for life, parentifying the child. All these are forms of parental abuse because they don't recognize the child as a separate entity. They don't allow the child to separate and individuateand set impermeable boundaries.
So the child is very confused. He has no reality testing because he doesn't know where he ends and reality begins. Boundaries are signaling mechanisms. They are signals. The boundary tells you, you are up to here. Your continuity stops here. This is your boundary. Beyond this boundary, there's reality.
But if your parents had prevented you from encountering reality, experiencing harsh, unforgiving, merciless reality, being exposed to criticism, disagreement, if your parents had costed you, ensconced you, cocooned you, prevented you from venturing out into the world bravely and grandiosely, if the parents did not allow you to separate and individuate because they were selfish, they were narcissistic, they were insecure, they had insecure attachment, they were absent, they were drug addicts, they were mentally ill, whatever the reason may be.
If you are not allowed to venture into the world at a very early age, age two, you're in trouble. You're in trouble because you will have no boundary when you become an adult. And you will never know where you end and reality begins. And so you will begin to confuse internal and external objects. And this will have tremendous impact on all your relationships, sadly.
As Karen Horne and I pointed out, the child, the smothered child, the pampered child, the spoiled child is actually dehumanized, is actually instrumentalized.
His parents love him not for what he is, not for what he really is. They don't love him as he is. They don't love his essence. They love his performance.
Such parents love their children for wish fulfillment, for what they imagine them to be, for parentifying them, for a function. The love of these parents is conditional upon performance. It's not unconditional love. They demand the fulfillment of dreams and frustrated wishes from the child.
The child becomes the vessel of his parents' discontented lives. The winter of discontent is the child. The child becomes a tool, the magic brush with which they can retouch and transform airbrush away their failures into successes, convert their humiliation into victory and their frustrations into happiness. The child is never allowed, is never allowed to become his or her own person.
There is a process of enmeshment, engulfment, there's a process of merger and fusion, which is extremely unhealthy.
Rebellion against this mistreatment, defiance and dissidence is what we call narcissism. Acceptance of this kind of maltreatment is called codependency.
The child is taught to ignore reality and to occupy the parental fantastic space.
This is the narcissist's first shared fantasy. This is the codependent's first experience at allo-regulation, a regulation that comes from outside, imported regulation.
Such an unfortunate child feels omnipotent and omniscient, perfect and brilliant, worthy of adoration and adulation and entitled to special treatment. He doesn't have to do anything, he just has to be. He just has to be. Just being, his mere existence warrants all these unique gifts.
The faculties that are honed by constantly brushing against bruising reality, faculties such as empathy, compassion, realistic assessment of one's abilities and limitations, boundaries, personal boundaries, realistic expectations of oneself and of other people, teamwork, social skills, perseverance, resilience, goal orientation, not to mention the ability to postpone, delay gratification and to work hard to accomplish it, to achieve it. All these are lacking or missing altogether.
This is the toolbox of life.
The narcissist goes out to life naked. The borderline goes to life skinless.
No wonder they fail miserably. The child thus mistreated.
When he turns adult, he sees no reason to invest in his skills and education, for example. He is convinced that his inherent genius should suffice. His genius will shine through.
Why does he need to embellish it with academic degrees when we discuss education? His flights of fancy and creativity should compensate for his indolence, unreliability, lack of responsibility, incompetence at work. That's how he sees it.
And his mere being, his mere existence should be enough for his intimate partner. That's intimacy. That's the intimacy he offers.
He doesn't feel that he needs to invest in the relationship, to work hard, to commit, to plan ahead and then to execute his plans and keep his promises. He doesn't see any of this as a necessity. He feels entitled for merely being. It's not like healthy people. Healthy people do feel entitled, but for actually doing something. He feels entitled for existing.
It's reminiscent of the nobility, aristocracy, in previous centuries. These people felt entitled not by virtue of any merit, acquired skill or something, but they felt entitled as the inevitable for ordained outcome of a birthright. They were born to the right family, so they're entitled. End of story. They're entitled by virtue of carrying the genes forward.
The narcissist, in other words, is not meritocratic, but aristocratic.
And in a largely meritocratic society and even, I would say malignantly egalitarian society, narcissist is hopelessly anachronistic, hopelessly out of date, out of his depth and out of effective tools for management.
So the mental structure of the narcissist, while exuding amazing strength, incredible sang-fua, cold-headedness and resilience and power and whatever, radiating all this, broadcasting all this, virtue signaling in a way, power signaling. In effect, the mental structure of the narcissist is brittle, fractured, fragmented, numerous fault lines are running through it. Endless templars and tsunamis. It's a very disturbed, vertiginous landscape. It's susceptible to criticism and disagreement, susceptible to contrarian countervailing information, subject to biases, such as confirmation biases and cognitive deficits, such as grandiosity.
Primitive defense mechanisms, which are typical of infants younger than age two, operate in the narcissist constantly. Defense mechanisms such as splitting, denial and projection. The narcissist is vulnerable to the incessant, incessant encounter, incessant brushing against a harsh, intolerant world.
No one is going to tolerate the narcissist's misbehavior for long. Sooner or later, he's going to lose the elections.
Deep inside, narcissists of both kinds, narcissists who were wrought by classic abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, physical abuse, and narcissists who were created via being idolized, narcissists yielded by being put on a pedestal, narcissists who are the outcomes of spoiling and pampering.
Both types of narcissists feel inadequate. They feel the empty core. They feel phony. They feel fake, inferior, and deserving of punishment. They know that the false self is false. They are imposters.
What you see is not what you get. They put up a facade, false advertising, and they capture the innocent. They convert them to the cause within a shared fantasy.
But all the time throughout this process, which can last decades, throughout this process, they know deep inside that everything is founded on the quicksand of deception.
And this is, and this is, this is I think Millen's, Theodore Millen's very essential mistake.
I'm a big admirer of Theodore Millen. He is the greatest classifier of and categorizer of personality disorders. He has introduced order into this very messy field.
But when it comes to narcissists, he had committed a mistake. Millen has made a distinction between several types of narcissists. He wrongly assumed that the classic narcissist is the outcome of overvaluation, idealization, and spoiling.
And so he said that classic narcissist is possessed of supreme, unchallenged self-confidence.
Classic narcissist said Theodore Millon is devoid of any self-doubt.
According to Millon, it is the compensatory narcissist that falls prey to nagging self-doubts, feelings of inferiority and a masochistic desire for self-annihilation, self-defeat, self-bunishment, self-trashing.
That's Millon's distinction between overt, grandiose, classic, and compensatory, which to some extent is coterminous with covert narcissists.
And yet, while the distinction is valid typologically and diagnostically, the etiology is wrong and unnecessary.
There's only one type of etiology. There's only one type of narcissist regardless of the etiology.
There are two developmental paths to this single type.
So the etiology could be different, but the etiologies converge on a single type.
In all types of narcissists, all narcissists are besieged by deeply ingrained, though at times not conscious, feelings of inadequacy.
Where Millon made a distinction between the supremely self-confident, never self-doubting, in your face, defiant, I'm the best, I'm the greatest narcissist, Donald Trump style, and a compensatory, self-doubting, inferior masochistic narcissist, which he called compensatory.
He made this distinction between these two, and he attributed these two subtypes to different etiologies, different developmental paths.
But the distinction is artificial and wrong. There are two etiologies. There are two developmental paths.
That part is true, but they lead, they converge on a single type.
How this type manifests, how it is expressed, how it presents itself, creates the illusion of a difference, but actually there's no difference. All narcissists are grandiose. All narcissists are dysempathic. All narcissists are besieged by conscious or unconscious feelings of inadequacy, by fears of failure, perfectionism, masochistic desires to be penalized, fluctuating sense of self-worth regulated by narcissistic supply, and an overwhelming sensation of fakeness, the imposter syndrome that's common to all narcissists, overt and covert.
Narcissists were the outcome of classic abuse, classic abuse, and narcissists were the result of being spoiled and pampered. All of them end up in the same location, in the same watering hole, in the same place. All of them present a facade, and the facade contradicts inner realities.
Now, the facade is different. The covert narcissist presents a prosocial communal facade. The overt narcissist presents an antisocial, in your face, defiant, contumacious facade.
So the facade is different, the presentation is different, but the underlying psychodynamic realities are identical, and that is not dependent on the developmental path, on the ideology.
An often overlooked fact is that the child is not sure about anything. At the beginning, the child is not sure that he exists. Then he's not sure whether he exists separately. Then he's not sure what is existence and what is separation. He's not sure about the world. He's not sure about reality. He's exploring.
The child-based condition is extremely mitigated, total, infinite uncertainty, and this is bound to yield total infinite anxiety. The child's core, core experience of his life is anxiety.
So what the child does in order to ameliorate, control and reduce the anxiety is exploring. And in order to explore, in order to gather evidence, in order to counter the anxiety with facts, facts that the child gleans from the environment, human environment and natural environment, the child ventures out into terra incognita, unknown territories where monsters lurk, and he ventures out in order to come back from his expeditions with newly found information, gather data and then use this information and data to counter his imagination and the resulting anxiety.
So this is the separation individuation project lot of grandiosity.
For a baby two years old this size to say, I'm taking on the world. I don't need mommy anymore. I'm separating.
It takes a lot of insane courage.
You need to feel omnipotent, omniscient, God-like to do this.
Narcissism is the healthy foundation of everything we are, not only of self-esteem and self-confidence, but of reality, testing ability to function. Everything relies on healthy narcissism.
Coming from the initial position of I don't know anything about myself, about the world, about my parents, nothing. I don't know anything about anything. I don't even know if I exist.
The child gradually maps out the territory, ventures out into the world, returns with mementos and artifacts that he then composes and combines into a coherent narrative.
If this process is disrupted, the resulting narrative is what we call personality disorder.
When the child tries to answer questions such as, am I present? Am I separate? Am I being seen and noticed?
The child tries to answer these questions. If he gets wrong answers from his parents or caregivers, the primary objects, if they give him the wrong answers, if they're not good enough, if they're dead mothers and he gets the wrong answers, he's going to use this misinformation. He's going to use this bad information to construct a narrative that is false, that is dysfunctional, that is pathological.
This narrative is what we call personality disorder.
These are the questions that compete in the child's mind with his need to merge, to become a part, to fuse with his caregivers, with his parents.
The child is torn.
On the one hand, he doesn't want to separate. He wants to disappear. He wants to go back to the womb. He wants to be unborn.
In other words, he wants to adopt the schizoid position.
On the other hand, the healthy impulses, the healthy impulses of a budding, nascent, emerging mind push the child out to the world.
It's an enormous conflict.
If the parent is not there to push the child away, it's a bad parent. If the parent, instead of encouraging the child, telling the child, yeah, go ahead. I won't be angry at you. I won't punish you for saying goodbye, for waving, for disappearing. If the parent doesn't signal this, the child ultimately will not venture up, will not separate, will merge with the parent, will disappear, will become unborn, will go back to the womb, and for the rest of his life as an adult, this will be the schizoid position.
The infant between the ages zero and two does not verbally formulate these thoughts, of course. Some of these thoughts are cognitive. Some of these thoughts are the ineluctable outcomes of instincts and reflexes and urges and drives.
This nagging uncertainty is more akin to a kind of angst, kind of discomfort.
The child experiences, for example, being wet, being thirsty, being hungry, being in need of a hug. He experiences the states of being, and gradually these states of being, as they are satisfied, allow him to demand more.
It's like a concentric set of circles, like throwing a stone in a pond. You have concentric waves.
The child makes initial demands. If they're satisfied, he makes more demands. If they're satisfied, he makes more demands. And as the waves expand, the child goes out to the world.
But what happens if the initial demands are not met?
The child is wet. No one takes care of him. He's thirsty. No one gives him water. If he's hungry, no one feeds him. He's abused. He's rejected.
Or on the very contrary, his needs are ignored because he's being instrumentalized or objectified. Demands are made of on him, which is incapable of fulfilling or is capable of fulfilling at a huge personal sacrifice.
What happens when the parents are bad and dysfunctional? The process of expanding outward, the process of allaying, mitigating and ameliorating this angst, existentialist or existential anxiety, this over all pervasive discomfort, this process stops. It stops.
And instead of fulfilling these needs, the child learns either to deny them. So he denies the need for intimacy. He denies his own body. He denies everything that is the source of frustration because the frustration remains frustration. No one helps him to overcome the frustration by loving him, holding him, attaching to him, bonding with him, accepting him.
So when he doesn't have this environment, the child kind of freezes and reverses and regresses. And he doesn't necessarily regress to an earlier stage, as Freud had suggested. He may regress to a totally new phase, hitherto unforeseen, hitherto unseen. And this phase is actually a pathology. The shape of the waves is disrupted and becomes sick.
So children develop pathologies.
When these nagging uncertainties are not counted, when these questions are not answered, when the responses are either not forthcoming or they actually tend to amplify the uncertainty, the fear, the terror, the infant is torn between his need to differentiate and distinguish himself and the no less urgent urge to assimilate and integrate by being assimilated and integrated.
When the child fails in the external project, to borrow from Jean-Paul Sartre, when he fails in the fundamental project of constructing his self, then he gives up on the self. He gives up on this failed project of ego formation and ego construction.
And he borrows the ego. He borrows the self of his parents. He outsources his self.
And that is a perfect description of the narcissist. The narcissist outsources his ego and self to other people. He has a hive self. It's a collage. It's a kaleidoscope. It's also never stable. That's why the narcissist and the borderline have identity disturbance because their identity, their core, the self, the ego, whatever you want to call it, this essence, this quiddity is empty and dependent upon myriad people. And these people change all the time. They change because they grow. They change because things happen to them. They change because they walk away and new people come in.
So it's never stable.
When your needs are outsourced, you can never be sure of their satisfaction. Gratification is never guaranteed, which creates a permanent state of anxiety, decompensation, and very frequently acting out in adults.
So this is a very, very crucial phase. The phase of separation and individuation is very crucial phase.
And if the basic needs are not satisfied, and if child is not allowed to set boundaries and become an individual separate from the parents, it's for life.
And many of you ask me, is it reversible? No, it's not reversible. No amount of therapy and unknown therapy can cope with this, can deal with this.
The child compensates by inventing structures and these structures can be undone. The false self, for example, in cold therapy is undone.
But the core emptiness, the empty core is there for life. It's a damage that's inflicted on the child and cannot be remedied. It's a huge, huge tragedy.
Let me read to you from J.D. Levine and Rona Weiss, The Dynamics and Treatment of Alcoholism, Jason Aronson, 1994. Here's what they write.
Just as we know from the point of view of this physiologist, that a child needs to be given certain foods, that he needs to be protected against extreme temperatures, and that the atmosphere he breathes has to contain sufficient oxygen if his body is to become strong and resilient.
So do we also know, from the point of view of the depth psychologist, that he requires, the child requires an empathic environment, specifically an environment that responds, A, to his need to have his presence confirmed by the glow of parental pleasure, and B, to his need to merge into the reassuring calmness of the powerful adult, if he is to acquire firm and resilient self.
The child's nascent self, this emerging structure that requires a lot of introversion, a lot of narcissism, narcissistic grandiosity, has numerous substructures. It's a complex engineering project. It's an undertaking for life. It's an enormous thing, as miraculous as birth itself, as miraculous as pregnancy. It's psychological pregnancy outside the womb.
The child's emerging self must first overcome this feeling of diffusiveness, this feeling of being all over the place, this omnipresence. The child must overcome the godlike nature of not being. That's a crucial observation.
The child starts life not being. The British Object Relations School dispute this. They say the child is born with an ego, so the child is born into being.
But I think it's a thesis that is difficult to defend. Even if the child has a kind of primordial structure, a rudimentary structure, it's nothing like adult existence.
So largely we could generalize and say that the child is in a state of not being. But it's a not being, not being that is oceanic. It's a not being, it's the point of view of God. No wonder in many religions the child is described in fraternity and conformity with angels. The child is kind of a part of a larger whole, which is essentially divine, when the baby is born. So people call it the soul or whatever.
But actually when the child is born he feels that he's only present, he's all over the place. That's a divine attribute. It's an attribute, a characteristic of God.
The child also feels that he's omniscient. And by age 2 the child feels that he's omnipotent, otherwise he wouldn't dare to go into the world.
So these are elements of God. The child feels God-like.
Freud called it primary narcissism. For primary narcissism to not become secondary narcissism, pathological narcissism, whose primary is healthy, secondary is sick. To not transition from primary to secondary, from healthy to pathological, the child needs to give up, give up the extremely self-soothing and self-comforting illusion and delusion that he is God. He needs to give up these elements. He needs to overcome, for example, the diffusiveness of whatever self or ego he has. He needs to realize that his self is much smaller, much more confined to him, to himself. So he needs to contract.
In the Kabbalah, God, in order to create the universe, contracts. It's called in Kabbalah, Simchah. God becomes smaller to kind of make place for creation. It's the same with the child.
All religions are metaphors of the human condition and of human psychology. The child contracts in order to leave place or to give place to the emergence of a new structure, which is far more realistic and far more limited, which is the self.
The child must overcome the omnipotence by proxy, because by fusing and merging with the parental figures, the child feels omnipotent because mommy and daddy are gods. They're gods. They're all powerful. They're all knowing. They're infallible. They never make mistakes.
So if I merge with them, I'm God. I will have the same qualities.
So there's a huge impetus, a huge incentive, a great reason to remain merged and fused with the parental figures.
Because by implication and vicariously, you acquire their properties, which are the properties of God.
The child doesn't realize that his parents are human. They make mistakes. They have flaws, shortcomings.
To him, as far as the child is concerned, his parents are perfect. So if he becomes one with his parents, he's perfect and he wants to be perfect. Who doesn't?
But he has to give it up. The process of maturation, the process of the formation of a healthy self, is a process of losses, traumatic losses.
Starting with birth, it's all one major trauma.
The human condition is a post-traumatic condition.
The child must overcome the diffusiveness of his self, the fact that his self is everywhere like God. He must overcome his identification with his parents who are God-like. He must give up his divinity. He must give up his divinity to become human.
Colwood says that parents perform the functions of the self for their child at the beginning.
As I said, the child outsources his self and his ego to his parents. He needs to reclaim his ego, reclaim his self, take it back from his parents.
It's a painful process. It's also a terrifying process.
Just remember, initially, the functions of the self and the function of the ego are performed by the parents.
The child doesn't have a first-hand experience of what it means to have a self, what it means to have an ego. He's not trained. He doesn't know how to do it. He doesn't know how to do self. He doesn't know how to do ego.
So he takes a huge amount of grandiosity and courage to say, mommy and daddy, give me back myself. Give me back my ego. I don't need you to perform these functions anymore. I'm going to do it myself. I'm going to do it by myself. I'm going to become self-sustaining, self-sufficient, self-contained, and separate from you.
This is a cataclysmic post-apocalyptic act. It's an amazing act of bravery which every single human being on earth has had to go through.
When this act is disrupted, we have codependency.
So a battle is joined from the child's first breath as a baby, a battle to gain autonomy, to usurp the power of the parents, to become a distinct entity.
The child refuses to let the parents continue to serve as his self. The child rebels, seeks to depose the parents. It's a coup. Psychological coup seeks to take over the functions of the parents.
The better the parents are at being self-objects in lieu of the child's self, the stronger the child's self becomes and the more vigorously it fights for its independence.
That's the irony in parenting. A good parent is a parent who pushes the child away. The stronger the rebellion of the child, the more defined the child, the more vigorously grandiose the child.
I'm talking about a small child, two, three. It's a sign of good parenting. Good parents create strong, resilient, insistent, defined autonomous children, and the children just want to walk away, and the child should be happy to see their backs, because that's mission accomplished, having created a healthy individual.
The bad parents don't let the child go, don't allow the child to move on, insist to continue to perform functions for the child, including the functions of the ego, the functions of the self.
There's a fight for independence going on, a war of independence, and the parents are the colonial power. A good colonial power fosters and genders and encourages independence in the subjects of the empire. A bad colonial power suppresses rebellions, massacres, commits genocides, and so on.
The parents in this sense are like a benign, benevolent and enlightened colonial power, which performs the tasks of governance on behalf of the uneducated and uninitiated natives.
The more lenient, the colonial regime, the more likely it is to be supplanted by an indigenous, successful government.
Let me read to you from another excerpt from the excellent book, The Dynamics and Treatment of Alcoholism, Jason Arndt in 1994, authored by J. D. Levine and Ronald Weiss.
So here's another segment.
The crucial question, they say, the crucial question then is whether the parents are able to reflect with approval at least some of the child's proudly exhibited attributes and functions, whether they are able to respond with genuine enjoyment to his budding skills, whether they are able to remain in touch with him throughout his trials and errors.
And furthermore, we must determine whether they are able to provide a child with a reliable embodiment of calmness and strength into which the child can merge and with a focus for his need to find a target for his admiration.
Or, stated in the Overleaf, it would be of crucial importance to ascertain the fact that a child could find neither confirmation of his own worth, wildness, nor a target for a merger with the idealized strength of the parent, and that he therefore remained deprived of the opportunity for the gradual transformation of these external sources of narcissistic sustenance into endocytic resources, that is, into sustaining self-esteem and into a sustaining relationship to internal ideals.
In another book, PTSD: Grief and Adjustment Disorders, New York, New York University Press, 1998, it's the third edition. John Martin Horowitz, the book is titled Stress Response Syndrome: PTSD: Grief and Adjustment Disorders. John Horowitz writes the following.
When the habitual narcissistic gratifications that come from being adored, given special treatment, and admiring the self, when these are threatened, the results may be depression, hypochondriasis, anxiety, shame, self-destructiveness, or rage, directed toward any other person who can be blamed for the troubled situation.
The child can learn to avoid these painful emotional states by acquiring a narcissistic mode of information processing. Such learning may be by trial and error methods, or it may be internalized by identification with parental modes of dealing with stressful information.
This is a very long way of saying if the parent is narcissistic, the child may choose to emulate the parent.
Narcissism is fundamentally an evolved version of the psychological defense mechanism known as splitting.
The narcissist does not regard people, situations, entities, I don't know, political parties, countries, races, his workplace, anything. He doesn't regard them as a compound of good and bad elements. The narcissist is an all-or-nothing, black and white, good versus evil, morality-ply primitive machine. And machine is a common metaphor among narcissists.
So it's dichotomous thinking. The narcissist either idealizes these objects or he devalues them.
At any given time the objects are either all good or they are all bad, all 100%.
The bad attributes are always projected, displaced or otherwise externalized. The good attributes are internalized in order to support the inflated grandiose self-concepts of the narcissist and his grandiose fantasies and in order to avoid the pain of deflation, disillusionment and mortification.
The narcissist's earnestness and his apparent sincerity make people wonder whether he simply detached from reality, no longer with us, on the ninth cloud, cloud nine, unable to appraise reality properly. Is this the case? Is it simply delusional? Is narcissism a case of delusional disorder? Or is the narcissist willingly and knowingly involved? Does he distort reality on purpose deliberately? Does he reinterpret it, gaslighting? Does he subject it to his self-imposed censorship? Is it all one big ploy or scheme? Is it a conspiracy of sorts?
And of course the truth is somewhere in between. The narcissist is dimly aware of the implausibility or improbability of his own constructions. He's not an idiot. The narcissist hasn't lost touch with reality. His reality testing is impaired, but he's not delusional.
But the narcissist is less scrappulous, is less inhibited in remolding reality, reframing reality, lying a bit, you know, fake it till you make it, this kind of thing.
His relationship with reality and with the truth is tenuous. Reality and truth are instruments to be leveraged, used and abused. He's goal oriented.
And in the pursuit of his goals, narcissistic supply, if he's a narcissist, in the pursuit of these goals, reality and truth are not obstacles. They are raw material, raw materials. They can be more than sculpted.
The narcissist is adept at ignoring uncomfortable angles, countervailing information, challenging data. He has what we call confirmation bias.
And I want to read to you an excerpt from the same book by Horowitz.
The disguises are accomplished by shifting meanings and by using exaggeration and minimization of bits of reality as a nidus for fantasy elaboration.
The narcissistic personality is especially vulnerable to regression to damaged or defective self-concepts or the occasions of loss of those who have functioned as self-objects.
When the individual is faced with such stress events, criticism, withdrawal of praise, humiliation, the information involved may be denied, disavowed, negated or shifted in meaning to prevent a reactive state of rage, depression or shame.
The second psychological defense mechanism which characterizes the narcissist is the active pursuit of narcissistic supply.
The narcissist seeks to secure a reliable, regular and continuous supply of admiration, affirmation, attention, being feared. Attention is the core.
As opposed to common opinion which had infiltrated the YouTube self-imputed expertise, the narcissist is content to have any kind of attention, good attention, bad attention. If fame cannot be had, notoriety would do.
The narcissist is obsessed with his narcissistic supply. He is addicted to it. His behavior in the pursuit of supply is impulsive and compulsive.
And I want to read to you again from Horowitz.
The hazard is not simply guilt because ideals have not been met. Rather, any loss of a good and coherent self-filling is associated with intensely experienced emotions such as shame and depression plus an anguished sense of helplessness and disorientation.
To prevent this state, the narcissistic personality slides the meanings of events in order to place the self in a better light.
What is good is labeled as being of the self internalized. Those qualities that are undesirable are excluded from the self by denial of their existence, disavowal of related attitudes, externalization and negation of recent self-expressions.
Personnel who function as accessories to the self may also be idealized by exaggeration of their attributes. Those who counter the self are depreciated and ambiguous attributions of blame and a tendency to self-righteous rage states these are conspicuous aspects of this pattern.
Such fluid shifts in meanings permit the narcissistic personality to maintain apparent logical consistency while minimizing evil or weakness and exaggerating innocence or control.
As part of these maneuvers, the narcissistic personality may assume attitudes of contemptuous superiority towards others, emotional coldness or even desperately charming approaches to idealized figures.
I couldn't say it better so I will end the lecture. Thank you for listening.