Letters to Sam Vaknin
©Stephen McDonnell and Sam Vaknin 2004
October 14, 2004
1st conversation with Sam, my questions to Sam and his answers
are intermixed as in a conversation; we write each other by email,
and then reply or riposte as we see fit.
I want to thank you for inviting me to have a dialogue
on Narcissism. As I have written you before, thanks to your
web site, I discovered the mental disease called Narcissistic
Personality Disorder. This has helped me understand people in
my own life as well as enabling me to come to terms to my personal
history. As we discussed, I don't think it is appropriate to
talk in specifics about my personal life; I don't think I suffer
from NPD, but I know I have suffered from people who have NPD.
My admiration for you and your
web site is based on the simple fact that you have been very
honest about your narcissism. It is very difficult, based on
my own experiences, for anyone who has NPD to admit he or she
has it, or to even talk about it rationally. You seemed to have
overcome this barrier and have become self aware, even self critical;
there must be some satisfaction for you in that as a narcissist.
My first question for you, or the topic of discussion that
we can bat around first, is this; is there such a thing as a
good narcissist? All that I have seen written on people with
NPD tends to be negative. Yet after reading Dr. Albert Bernstein's
book entitled Emotional Vampires I have come to the conclusion,
as did the author, that narcissism is necessary to succeed in
life. Is this a contradiction in terms? Will altruistic people
necessarily fail and self centered people eventually succeed
Take for example politicians. A shy self-effacing politician
is a rarity. How many actors hide from their public? Now even
working people are vying for attention, and money, in reality
shows. Jerry Springer has tapped a wellspring of people who want
to be famous, even for the most reprehensible behaviors. Where
are the success stories of the honest Joe, or honest Jane? For
every hard working businessman or woman, there is the blow hard
who wants to have a TV show for his or her self-aggrandizement.
Society needs famous people who hog the limelight. The quiet
do-gooder, the brilliant nerd, the successful law abiding citizen
gets short shrift in our popularity driven society.
Thank you for having this dialog with me. I greatly value
your work. It makes the complex topic of narcissism accessible
to many - yet, without compromising the rigor and accuracy of
the information. This is quite a task ....
Is pathological narcissism a blessing or a malediction?
The answer is: it depends. Healthy narcissism is a mature,
balanced love of oneself coupled with a stable sense of self-worth
and self-esteem. Healthy narcissism implies knowledge of one's
boundaries and a proportionate and realistic appraisal of one's
achievements and traits.
Pathological narcissism is wrongly described as too much healthy
narcissism (or too much self-esteem). These are two absolutely
unrelated phenomena which, regrettably, came to bear the same
title. Confusing pathological narcissism with self- esteem betrays
a fundamental ignorance of both.
Pathological narcissism involves an impaired, dysfunctional,
immature (True) Self coupled with a compensatory fiction (the
False Self). The sick narcissist's sense of self-worth and self-esteem
derive entirely from audience feedback. The narcissist has no
self-esteem or self-worth of his own (no such ego functions).
In the absence of observers, the narcissist shrivels to non-existence
and feels dead. Hence the narcissist's preying habits in his
constant pursuit of Narcissistic Supply. Pathological narcissism
is an addictive behavior.
Still, dysfunctions are reactions to abnormal environments
and situations (e.g., abuse, trauma, smothering, etc.).
Paradoxically, his dysfunction allows the narcissist to function.
It compensates for lacks and deficiencies by exaggerating tendencies
and traits. It is like the tactile sense of a blind person. In
short: pathological narcissism is a result of over-sensitivity,
the repression of overwhelming memories and experiences, and
the suppression of inordinately strong negative feelings (e.g.,
hurt, envy, anger, or humiliation).
That the narcissist functions at all - is because of his pathology
and thanks to it. The alternative is complete decompensation
In time, the narcissist learns how to leverage his pathology,
how to use it to his advantage, how to deploy it in order to
maximize benefits and utilities - in other words, how to transform
his curse into a blessing.
Narcissists are obsessed by delusions of fantastic grandeur
and superiority. As a result they are very competitive. They
are strongly compelled - where others are merely motivated. They
are driven, relentless, tireless, and ruthless. They often make
it to the top. But even when they do not - they strive and fight
and learn and climb and create and think and devise and design
and conspire. Faced with a challenge - they are likely to do
better than non-narcissists.
Yet, we often find that narcissists abandon their efforts
in mid-stream, give up, vanish, lose interest, devalue former
pursuits, fail, or slump. Why is that?
Narcissists are prone to self-defeating and self-destructive
The Self-Punishing, Guilt-Purging Behaviors
These are intended to inflict punishment on the narcissist
and thus instantly relieve him of his overwhelming anxiety.
This is very reminiscent of a compulsive-ritualistic behavior.
The narcissist feels guilty. It could be an "ancient"
guilt, a "sexual" guilt (Freud), or a "social"
guilt. In early life, the narcissist internalized and introjected
the voices of meaningful and authoritative others - parents,
role models, peers - that consistently and convincingly judged
him to be no good, blameworthy, deserving of punishment or retaliation,
The narcissist's life is thus transformed into an on-going
trial. The constancy of this trial, the never adjourning tribunal
is the punishment. It is a Kafkaesque "trial":
meaningless, undecipherable, never-ending, leading to no verdict,
subject to mysterious and fluid laws and presided over by capricious
Such a narcissist masochistically frustrates his deepest desires
and drives, obstructs his own efforts, alienates his friends
and sponsors, provokes figures in authority to punish, demote,
or ignore him, actively seeks and solicits disappointment, failure,
or mistreatment and relishes them, incites anger or rejection,
bypasses or rejects opportunities, or engages in excessive self-sacrifice.
In their book "Personality Disorders in Modern Life",
Theodore Millon and Roger Davis, describe the diagnosis of "Masochistic
or Self-Defeating Personality Disorder", found in the appendix
of the DSM III-R but excluded from the DSM IV. While the narcissist
is rarely a full-fledged masochist, many a narcissist exhibit
some of the traits of this personality disorder.
The Extracting Behaviors
People with Personality Disorders (PDs) are very afraid of
real, mature, intimacy. Intimacy is formed not only within a
couple, but also in a workplace, in a neighborhood, with friends,
while collaborating on a project. Intimacy is another word for
emotional involvement, which is the result of interactions in
constant and predictable (safe) propinquity.
PDs interpret intimacy as counter-dependence, emotional strangulation,
the snuffing of freedom, a kind of death in installments. They
are terrorized by it. To avoid it, their self-destructive and
self-defeating acts are intended to dismantle the very foundation
of a successful relationship, a career, a project, or a friendship.
Narcissists feel elated and relieved after they unshackle these
"chains". They feel they broke a siege, that they are
liberated, free at last.
The Relief of Being Abandoned
The Default Behaviors
We are all, to some degree, inertial, afraid of new situations,
new opportunities, new challenges, new circumstances and new
demands. Being healthy, being successful, getting married, becoming
a mother, or someone's boss ñ often entail abrupt breaks
with the past. Some self-defeating behaviors are intended to
preserve the past, to restore it, to protect it from the winds
of change, to self-deceptively skirt promising opportunities
while seeming to embrace them.
Moreover, to the narcissist, a challenge, or even a guaranteed
eventual triumph, are meaningless in the absence of onlookers.
The narcissist needs an audience to applaud, affirm, recoil,
approve, admire, adore, fear, or even detest him. He craves the
attention and depends on the Narcissistic Supply only others
can provide. The narcissist derives sustenance only from the
outside - his emotional innards are hollow and moribund.
The narcissist's enhanced performance is predicated on the
existence of a challenge (real or imaginary) and of an audience.
Baumeister usefully re-affirmed this linkage, known to theoreticians
Is our culture narcissistic? Does it reward narcissism?
Allow me two quotes:
"The new narcissist is haunted
not by guilt but by anxiety. He seeks not to inflict his own
certainties on others but to find a meaning in life. Liberated
from the superstitions of the past, he doubts even the reality
of his own existence. Superficially relaxed and tolerant, he
finds little use for dogmas of racial and ethnic purity but at
the same time forfeits the security of group loyalties and regards
everyone as a rival for the favours conferred by a paternalistic
state. His sexual attitudes are permissive rather than puritanical,
even though his emancipation from ancient taboos brings him no
sexual peace. Fiercely competitive in his demand for approval
and acclaim, he distrusts competition because he associates it
unconsciously with an unbridled urge to destroy. Hence he repudiates
the competitive ideologies that flourished at an earlier stage
of capitalist development and distrusts even their limited expression
in sports and games. He extols cooperation and teamwork while
harbouring deeply antisocial impulses. He praises respect for
rules and regulations in the secret belief that they do not apply
to himself. Acquisitive in the sense that his cravings have no
limits, he does not accumulate goods and provisions against the
future, in the manner of the acquisitive individualist of nineteenth-century
political economy, but demands immediate gratification and lives
in a state of restless, perpetually unsatisfied desire."
[Christopher Lasch - The Culture
of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations,
"A characteristic of our times
is the predominance, even in groups traditionally selective,
of the mass and the vulgar. Thus, in intellectual life, which
of its essence requires and presupposes qualification, one can
note the progressive triumph of the pseudo-intellectual, unqualified,
[Jose Ortega y Gasset - The
Revolt of the Masses, 1932]
In my view, we are surrounded by malignant narcissists. How
come this disorder has hitherto been largely ignored? How come
there is such a dearth of research and literature regarding this
crucial family of pathologies? Even mental health practitioners
are woefully unaware of it and unprepared to assist its victims.
The sad answer is that narcissism meshes well with our culture
It is kind of a "background cosmic radiation", permeating
every social and cultural
interaction. It is hard to distinguish pathological narcissists
from self-assertive, self-confident, self-promoting, eccentric,
or highly individualistic persons. Hard sell, greed, envy, self-centredness,
exploitativeness, diminished empathy - are all socially condoned
features of Western civilization.
Our society is atomized, the outcome of individualism gone
awry. It encourages narcissistic leadership and role models:
Its sub-structures - institutionalized religion, political
parties, civic organizations, the media, corporations - are all
suffused with narcissism and pervaded by its pernicious outcomes:
The very ethos of materialism and capitalism upholds certain
narcissistic traits, such as reduced empathy, exploitation, a
sense of entitlement, or grandiose fantasies ("vision").
More about this here: http://samvak.tripod.com/journal37.html
Narcissists are aided, abetted and facilitated by four types
of people and institutions: the adulators, the blissfully ignorant,
the self-deceiving and those deceived by the narcissist.
The adulators are fully aware of the nefarious and damaging
aspects of the narcissist's behaviour but believe that they are
more than balanced by the benefits - to themselves, to their
collective, or to society at large. They engage in an explicit
trade-off between some of their principles and values - and their
personal profit, or the greater good.
They seek to help the narcissist, promote his agenda, shield
him from harm, connect him with like-minded people, do his chores
for him and, in general, create the conditions and the environment
for his success. This kind of alliance is especially prevalent
in political parties, the government, multinational, religious
organizations and other hierarchical collectives.
The blissfully ignorant are simply unaware of the "bad
sides" of the narcissist- and make sure they remain so.
They look the other way, or pretend that the narcissist's behavior
is normative, or turn a blind eye to his egregious misbehaviour.
They are classic deniers of reality. Some of them maintain a
generally rosy outlook premised on the inbred benevolence of
Mankind. Others simply cannot tolerate dissonance and discord.
They prefer to live in a fantastic world where everything is
harmonious and smooth and evil is banished. They react with rage
to any information to the contrary and block it out instantly.
This type of denial is well evidenced in dysfunctional families.
The self-deceivers are fully aware of the narcissist's transgressions
and malice, his indifference, exploitativeness, lack of empathy,
and rampant grandiosity - but they prefer to displace the causes,
or the effects of such misconduct. They attribute it to externalities
("a rough patch"), or judge it to be temporary. They
even go as far as accusing the victim for the narcissist's lapses,
or for defending themselves ("She provoked him").
In a feat of cognitive dissonance, they deny any connection
between the acts of the narcissist and their consequences ("His
wife abandoned him because she was promiscuous, not because of
anything he did to her"). They are swayed by the narcissist's
undeniable charm, intelligence, or attractiveness. But the narcissist
needs not invest resources in converting them to his cause -
he does not deceive them. They are self-propelled into the abyss
that is narcissism. The inverted
narcissists, for instance, is a self-deceiver.
The deceived are people - or institutions, or collectives
- deliberately taken for a premeditated ride by the narcissist.
He feeds them false information, manipulates their judgement,
proffers plausible scenarios to account for his indiscretions,
soils the opposition, charms them, appeals to their reason, or
to their emotions, and promises the Moon.
Again, the narcissist's incontrovertible powers of persuasion
and his impressive personality play a part in this predatory
ritual. The deceived are especially hard to deprogram. They are
often themselves encumbered with narcissistic traits and find
it impossible to admit a mistake, or to atone.
They are likely to stay on with the narcissist to his - and
their - bitter end.
Regrettably, the narcissist rarely pays the price for his
offenses. His victims pick up the tab. But even here the malignant
optimism of the abused never ceases to amaze (read this: http://samvak.tripod.com/journal27.html).
Getting back to the main topic, the "good" narcissist.
You seem to embody that idea. You are helping people understand
your disease. Is it a negation of narcissism to help others or
is it just another way of getting narcissistic supply? Beware
the do-gooder! Are people with NPD devoid of all feelings, or
do they join the human race ever so often, and can be kind and
loving? Again you can show me tons of emails that say no, the
NPD is always playing a game, even when they are kind and loving.
I know of persons in my own life who I consider partially or
wholly narcissistic who have helped me and given me love. On
the other hand I know of others with NPD who are hypocrites and
act out scenarios of kindness and caring. How can you tell the
difference? At the risk of sounding cynical, should we always
look the gift horse in the mouth?
Beware of narcissists carrying gifts. Admittedly, being self-aware,
I am an unusual and creative narcissist. I found an original
and unique way of extracting narcissistic supply from my sources
- by helping them understand my disorder and its destructive
and dysfunctional aspects.
Still, we must make a distinction - in this dialog and elsewhere
- between people with narcissistic traits and people who suffer
from a full-fledged Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
Only a qualified mental health diagnostician can determine
whether someone suffers from NPD and this, following lengthy
tests and personal interviews.
Moreover, all of us have narcissistic TRAITS.
Some of us even develop a narcissistic PERSONALITY,
or a narcissistic STYLE. Moreover, narcissism
is a SPECTRUM of behaviors
- from the healthy to the utterly pathological (a condition known
as the Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD).
The Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual (DSM) IV-TR uses this language to describe the malignant
pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration
or adulation and lack of empathy, usually beginning by early
adulthood and present in various contexts."
So, what matters is that these
characteristics, often found in healthy people, appear jointly
and not separately or intermittently and that they are all-pervasive
(invade, penetrate, and mould every aspect, nook, and cranny
of the personality):
- That grandiose fantasies are
- That grandiose (often ridiculous)
behaviors are present;
- That there is an over-riding
need for admiration and adulation or attention ("narcissistic
- That the person lacks empathy
(regards other people as two dimensional cartoon figures and
abstractions, unable to "stand in their shoes");
- That these traits and behaviors
begin, at the latest, in early adolescence;
- That the narcissistic behaviors
pervade all the social and emotional interactions of the narcissist.
Some narcissists are ostentatiously generous ñ they
donate to charity, lavish gifts on their closest, abundantly
provide for their nearest and dearest, and, in general, are open-handed
and unstintingly benevolent. How can this be reconciled with
the pronounced lack of empathy and with the pernicious self-preoccupation
that is so typical of narcissists?
The act of giving enhances the narcissist's sense of omnipotence,
his fantastic grandiosity, and the contempt he holds for others.
It is easy to feel superior to the supplicating recipients of
one's largesse. Narcissistic altruism is about exerting control
and maintaining it by fostering dependence in the beneficiaries.
But narcissists give for other reasons as well.
The narcissist flaunts his charitable nature as a bait. He
impresses others with his selflessness and kindness and thus
lures them into his lair, entraps them, and manipulates and brainwashes
them into subservient compliance and obsequious collaboration.
People are attracted to the narcissist's larger than life posture
ñ only to discover his true personality traits when it
is far too late. "Give a little to take a lot" ñ
is the narcissist's creed.
This does not prevent the narcissist from assuming the role
of the exploited victim. Narcissists always complain that life
and people are unfair to them and that they invest far more than
their "share of the profit". The narcissist feels that
he is the sacrificial lamb, the scapegoat, and that his relationships
are asymmetric and imbalanced. "She gets out of our marriage
far more than I do" ñ is a common refrain. Or: "I
do all the work around here ñ and they get all the perks
Faced with such (mis)perceived injustice ñ and once
the relationship is clinched and the victim is "hooked"
ñ the narcissist tries to minimize his contributions.
He regards his input as a contractual maintenance chore and the
unpleasant and inevitable price he has to pay for his Narcissistic
After many years of feeling deprived and wronged, some narcissists
lapse into "sadistic generosity" or "sadistic
altruism". They use their giving as a weapon to taunt and
torment the needy and to humiliate them. In the distorted thinking
of the narcissist, donating money gives him the right and license
to hurt, chastise, criticize, and berate the recipient. His generosity,
feels the narcissist, elevates him to a higher moral ground.
Most narcissists confine their giving to money and material
goods. Their munificence is an abusive defense mechanism, intended
to avoid real intimacy. Their "big-hearted" charity
renders all their relationships ñ even with their spouses
and children ñ "business-like", structured,
limited, minimal, non-emotional, unambiguous, and non-ambivalent.
By doling out bounteously, the narcissist "knows where he
stands" and does not feel threatened by demands for commitment,
emotional investment, empathy, or intimacy.
In the narcissist's wasteland of a life, even his benevolence
is spiteful, sadistic, punitive, and distancing.
If a narcissist is doing something that puts him or her
in the limelight, and benefits others, then how can we fault
them? Narcissists can project images of being the best friend,
lover, worker, boss, parent and we accept it hook line and sinker.
Is there a litmus test for telling if a gift is a poisoned apple?
NPD's are so good at dissimilating their real motives for being
nice. In polite societies, good manners can hide hideous crimes.
A sweet smile can hide a cold heart. Take the case of the serial
killer Ted Bundy. Ted Bundy was a mild mannered "nice boy"
who captured the attention of young women by appealing to their
better natures; he would fake an injury to get them to help him
to his car where he would knock them out with the same crutch
he used to seduce them into believing he was a nice person.
Again, is there such a thing as 'good' narcissism? Is narcissism
in reality nothing but high self esteem gone wrong? When does
it cross the line and become pathological?
Well, if a narcissist is functional, not destructive, benefits
others, and so on - then his narcissism becomes a private problem,
not a social one. Indeed, this is the goal of modern treatments:
to ameliorate or even extinguish the narcissist's multiple dysfunctions.
Is there anything you can do to avoid abusers and narcissists
to start with? Are there any warning signs, any identifying marks,
rules of thumbs to shield you from the harrowing and traumatic
experience of an abusive relationship?
Imagine a first or second date. You can already tell if he
is a would-be abuser. Here's how:
Perhaps the first telltale sign is the abuser's alloplastic
defenses ñ his tendency to blame
every mistake of his, every failure, or mishap on others, or
on the world at large. Be tuned: does he assume personal responsibility?
Does he admit his faults and miscalculations? Or does he keep
blaming you, the cab driver, the waiter, the weather, the government,
or fortune for his predicament?
Is he hypersensitive, picks up fights, feels constantly slighted,
injured, and insulted? Does he rant incessantly? Does he treat
animals and children impatiently or cruelly and does he express
negative and aggressive emotions towards the weak, the poor,
the needy, the sentimental, and the disabled? Does he confess
to having a history of battering or violent offenses or behavior?
Is his language vile and infused with expletives, threats, and
Next thing: is he too eager? Does he push you to marry him
having dated you only twice? Is he planning on having children
on your first date? Does he immediately cast you in the role
of the love of his life? Is he pressing you for exclusivity,
instant intimacy, almost rapes you and acts jealous when you
as much as cast a glance at another male? Does he inform you
that, once you get hitched, you should abandon your studies or
resign your job (forgo your personal autonomy)?
Does he respect your boundaries and privacy? Does he ignore
your wishes (for instance, by choosing from the menu or selecting
a movie without as much as consulting you)? Does he disrespect
your boundaries and treats you as an object or an instrument
of gratification (materializes on your doorstep unexpectedly
or calls you often prior to your date)? Does he go through your
personal belongings while waiting for you to get ready?
Does he control the situation and you compulsively? Does he
insist to ride in his car, holds on to the car keys, the money,
the theater tickets, and even your bag? Does he disapprove if
you are away for too long (for instance when you go to the powder
room)? Does he interrogate you when you return ("have you
seen anyone interesting") ñ
or make lewd "jokes" and remarks? Does he hint that,
in future, you would need his permission to do things ñ
even as innocuous as meeting a friend or visiting with your family?
Does he act in a patronizing and condescending manner and
criticizes you often? Does he emphasize your minutest faults
(devalues you) even as he exaggerates your talents, traits, and
skills (idealizes you)? Is he wildly unrealistic in his expectations
from you, from himself, from the budding relationship, and from
life in general?
Does he tell you constantly that you "make him feel"
good? Don't be impressed. Next thing, he may tell you that you
"make" him feel bad, or that you make him feel violent,
or that you "provoke" him. "Look what you made
me do!" is an abuser's ubiquitous catchphrase.
Does he find sadistic sex exciting? Does he have fantasies
of rape or pedophilia? Is he too forceful with you in and out
of the sexual intercourse? Does he like hurting you physically
or finds it amusing? Does he abuse you verbally ñ
does he curse you, demeans you, calls you ugly or inappropriately
diminutive names, or persistently criticizes you? Does he then
switch to being saccharine and "loving", apologizes
profusely and buys you gifts?
If you have answered "yes" to any
of the above ñ stay away! He
is an abuser.
Then there is the abuser's body language. It comprises an
unequivocal series of subtle ñ
but discernible ñ warning signs.
Pay attention to the way your date comports himself ñ
and save yourself a lot of trouble!
Many abusers have a specific body language. It comprises an
unequivocal series of subtle ñ
but discernible ñ
warning signs. Pay attention to the way your date comports himself
ñ and save yourself
a lot of trouble!
Abusers are an elusive breed,
hard to spot, harder to pinpoint, impossible to capture. Even
an experienced mental health diagnostician with unmitigated access
to the record and to the person examined would find it fiendishly
difficult to determine with any degree of certainty whether someone
is being abusive because he suffers from an impairment, i.e.,
a mental health disorder.
Some abusive behavior patterns
are a result of the patient's cultural-social context. The offender
seeks to conform to cultural and social morals and norms. Additionally,
some people become abusive in reaction to severe life crises.
Still, most abusers master the
art of deception. People often find themselves involved with
a abuser (emotionally, in business, or otherwise) before they
have a chance to discover his real nature. When the abuser reveals
his true colors, it is usually far too late. His victims are
unable to separate from him. They are frustrated by this acquired
helplessness and angry that they failed to see through the abuser
But abusers do emit subtle, almost
subliminal, signals in his body language even in a first or casual
encounter. These are:
The abuser adopts a physical posture which implies and exudes
an air of superiority, seniority, hidden powers, mysteriousness,
amused indifference, etc. Though the abuser usually maintains
sustained and piercing eye contact, he often refrains from physical
proximity (he maintains his personal territory).
The abuser takes part in social
interactions ñ even mere banter ñ condescendingly,
from a position of supremacy and faux "magnanimity and largesse".
But even when he feigns gregariousness, he rarely mingles socially
and prefers to remain the "observer", or the "lone
Entitlement markers ñ The abuser immediately asks
for "special treatment" of some kind. Not to wait his
turn, to have a longer or a shorter therapeutic session, to talk
directly to authority figures (and not to their assistants or
secretaries), to be granted special payment terms, to enjoy custom
tailored arrangements. This tallies well with the abuser's alloplastic
defenses - his tendency to shift responsibility to others, or
to the world at large, for his needs, failures, behavior, choices,
and mishaps ("look what you made me do!").
The abuser is the one who ñ
vocally and demonstratively ñ demands the undivided attention
of the head waiter in a restaurant, or monopolizes the hostess,
or latches on to celebrities in a party. The abuser reacts with
rage and indignantly when denied his wishes and if treated the
same as others whom he deems inferior. Abusers frequently and
embarrassingly "dress down" service providers such
as waiters or cab drivers.
Idealization or devaluation ñ The abuser instantly idealizes
or devalues his interlocutor. He flatters, adores, admires and
applauds the "target" in an embarrassingly exaggerated
and profuse manner ñ or sulks, abuses, and humiliates
Abusers are polite only in the
presence of a potential would-be victim ñ a "mate", or a "collaborator".
But they are unable to sustain even perfunctory civility and
fast deteriorate to barbs and thinly-veiled hostility, to verbal
or other violent displays of abuse, rage attacks, or cold detachment.
The abuser always tries to "belong". Yet, at the very
same time, he maintains his stance as an outsider. The abuser
seeks to be admired for his ability to integrate and ingratiate
himself without investing the efforts commensurate with such
For instance: if the abuser talks
to a psychologist, the abuser first states emphatically that
he never studied psychology. He then proceeds to make seemingly
effortless use of obscure professional terms, thus demonstrating
that he mastered the discipline all the same ñ which is
supposed to prove that he is exceptionally intelligent or introspective.
In general, the abuser always
prefers show-off to substance. One of the most effective methods
of exposing a abuser is by trying to delve deeper. The abuser
is shallow, a pond pretending to be an ocean. He likes to think
of himself as a Renaissance man, a Jack of all trades, or a genius.
Abusers never admit to ignorance or to failure in any field ñ
yet, typically, they are ignorant and losers. It is surprisingly
easy to penetrate the gloss and the veneer of the abuser's self-proclaimed
omniscience, success, wealth, and omnipotence.
Bragging and false autobiography ñ The
abuser brags incessantly. His speech is peppered with "I",
"my", "myself", and "mine". He
describes himself as intelligent, or rich, or modest, or intuitive,
or creative ñ but always excessively, implausibly, and
The abuser's biography sounds
unusually rich and complex. His achievements ñ incommensurate
with his age, education, or renown. Yet, his actual condition
is evidently and demonstrably incompatible with his claims. Very
often, the abuser's lies or fantasies are easily discernible.
He always name-drops and appropriates other people's experiences
and accomplishments as his own.
Emotion-free language ñ The abuser likes to talk about
himself and only about himself. He is not interested in others
or what they have to say. He is never reciprocal. He acts disdainful,
even angry, if he feels an intrusion on his precious time.
In general, the abuser is very
impatient, easily bored, with strong attention deficits ñ
unless and until he is the topic of discussion. One can dissect
all aspects of the intimate life of a abuser, providing the discourse
is not "emotionally tinted". If asked to relate directly
to his emotions, the abuser intellectualizes, rationalizes, speaks
about himself in the third person and in a detached "scientific"
tone or composes a narrative with a fictitious character in it,
Most abusers get enraged when
required to delve deeper into their motives, fears, hopes, wishes,
and needs. They use violence to cover up their perceived "weakness"
and "sentimentality". They distance themselves from
their own emotions and from their loved ones by alienating and
Seriousness and sense of
intrusion and coercion
ñ The abuser is dead serious about himself. He may possess
a fabulous sense of humor, scathing and cynical, but rarely is
he self-deprecating. The abuser regards himself as being on a
constant mission, whose importance is cosmic and whose consequences
If a scientist ñ he is
always in the throes of revolutionizing science. If a journalist
ñ he is in the middle of the greatest story ever. If an
aspiring businessman - he is on the way to concluding the deal
of the century. Woe betide those who doubt his grandiose fantasies
and impossible schemes.
This self-misperception is not
amenable to light-headedness or self-effacement. The abuser is
easily hurt and insulted (narcissistic injury). Even the most
innocuous remarks or acts are interpreted by him as belittling,
intruding, or coercive slights and demands. His time is more
valuable than others' ñ therefore, it cannot be wasted
on unimportant matters such as social intercourse, family obligations,
or household chores. Inevitably, he feels constantly misunderstood.
Any suggested help, advice, or
concerned inquiry are immediately cast by the abuser as intentional
humiliation, implying that the abuser is in need of help and
counsel and, thus, imperfect. Any attempt to set an agenda is,
to the abuser, an intimidating act of enslavement. In this sense,
the abuser is both schizoid and paranoid and often entertains
ideas of reference.
Finally, abusers are sometimes
affect. In other words, they find the obnoxious, the heinous,
and the shocking ñ funny or even gratifying. They are
sexually sado-masochistic or deviant. They like to taunt, to
torment, and to hurt people's feelings ("humorously"
or with bruising "honesty").
While some abusers are "stable"
and "conventional" ñ others are antisocial and
their impulse control is flawed. These are very reckless
(self-destructive and self-defeating) and just plain destructive:
workaholism, alcoholism, drug abuse, pathological gambling,
compulsory shopping, or reckless driving.
Yet, these ñ the lack
of empathy, the aloofness, the disdain, the sense of entitlement,
the restricted application of humor, the unequal treatment, the
sadism, and the paranoia ñ do not render the abuser a
social misfit. This is because the abuser mistreats only his
closest ñ spouse, children, or (much more rarely) colleagues,
friends, neighbours. To the rest of the world, he appears to
be a composed, rational, and functioning person. Abusers are
very adept at casting a veil of secrecy ñ often with the
active aid of their victims ñ over their dysfunction and