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The Developmental Psychology of Psychopathology


1st EDITION


Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.


Editing and Design:

Lidija Rangelovska


Lidija Rangelovska

A Narcissus Publications Imprint, Skopje 2003


Not for Sale! Non-commercial edition.


© 2002 Copyright Lidija Rangelovska.

All rights reserved. This book, or any part thereof, may not be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission from:

Lidija Rangelovska – write to:

palma@unet.com.mk or to

vaknin@link.com.mk


Visit the Author Archive of Dr. Sam Vaknin in "Central Europe Review":

http://www.ce-review.org/authorarchives/vaknin_archive/vaknin_main.html


Visit Sam Vaknin's United Press International (UPI) Article ArchiveClick HERE!


Philosophical Musings and Essays

http://samvak.tripod.com/culture.html


Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited

http://samvak.tripod.com/


Created by: LIDIJA RANGELOVSKA

REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA

C O N T E N T S



  1. The Narcissistic Parent

  2. The Narcissist’s Mother

  3. Born Alien

  4. Parenting – The Irrational Vocation

  5. The Development of Narcissists and Schizoids

  6. Serial Killers

  7. Sex, or Gender

  8. The Author

  9. About "After the Rain"

The Narcissistic Parent


By: Dr. Sam Vaknin


Question:

Is there a "typical" relationship between the narcissist and his family?

Answer:

We are all members of a few families in our lifetime: the one that we are born to and the one(s) that we create. We all transfer hurts, attitudes, fears, hopes and desires – a whole emotional baggage – from the former to the latter. The narcissist is no exception.

The narcissist has a dichotomous view of humanity: humans are either Sources of Narcissistic Supply (and, then, idealised and over-valued) or do not fulfil this function (and, therefore, are valueless, devalued). The narcissist gets all the love that he needs from himself. From the outside he needs approval, affirmation, admiration, adoration, attention – in other words, externalised Ego boundary functions. He does not require – nor does he seek – his parents' or his siblings' love, or to be loved by his children. He casts them as the audience in the theatre of his inflated grandiosity.

He wishes to impress them, shock them, threaten them, infuse them with awe, inspire them, attract their attention, subjugate them, or manipulate them. He emulates and simulates an entire range of emotions and employs every means to achieve these effects. He lies (narcissists are pathological liars – their very self is a false one). He plays the pitiful, or, its opposite, the resilient and reliable. He stuns and shines with outstanding intellectual, or physical (or anything else appreciated by the members of the family) capacities and achievements. When confronted with (younger) siblings or with his own children, the narcissist is likely to react in three phases:

At first, he perceives his offspring as a threat to his Narcissistic Supply Sources (his turf, the Pathological Narcissistic Space). He does his best to belittle them, hurt (also physically) and humiliate them and then, when these reactions prove ineffective or counter productive, he retreats into an imaginary world of omnipotence. A period of emotional absence and detachment ensues. The narcissist indulges himself in daydreaming, delusions of grandeur, planning of future coups, nostalgia and hurt (the Lost Paradise Syndrome). The narcissist reacts this way to the birth of his children or to the introduction of new foci of attention to the family cell (even to a new pet!). Whatever the narcissist perceives to be competition for scarce Narcissistic Supply is relegated to the role of the enemy. Where the uninhibited expression of the aggression and hostility aroused by this predicament is considered illegitimate – the narcissist prefers to stay away. He disconnects, detaches himself emotionally, becomes cold and disinterested, directs transformed anger at his mate or at his parents (the more legitimate targets).

Other narcissists see the opportunity in the "mishap". They seek to manipulate their parents (or their mate) by "taking over" the newcomer. Such narcissists monopolise their siblings or their newborn children. This way, indirectly, the narcissist basks in the attention directed at the infants. An example: by being closely identified with his offspring, a narcissistic father secures the grateful admiration of the mother ("What an outstanding father he is"). He also assumes part of or all the credit for baby's/sibling's achievements. This is a process of annexation and assimilation of the other, a strategy that the narcissist makes use of in most of his relationships.

As the baby/sibling grows older, the narcissist begins to see their potential to be edifying, reliable and satisfactory Sources of Narcissistic Supply. His attitude, then, is completely transformed. The former threats have now become promising potentials. He cultivates those whom he trusts to be the most rewarding. He encourages them to idolise him, to adore him, to be awed by him, to admire his deeds and capabilities, to learn to blindly trust and obey him, in short to surrender to his charisma and to become submerged in his folies-de-grandeur. These roles – allocated to them explicitly and demandingly or implicitly and perniciously by the narcissist – are best fulfilled by ones whose mind is not fully formed and independent. The older the siblings or offspring, the more they become critical, even judgemental, of the narcissist. They are better able to put into context and perspective his actions, to question his motives, to anticipate his moves. They refuse to continue to play the mindless pawns in his chess game.

They hold grudges against him for what he has done to them in the past, when they were less capable of resistance. They can gauge his true stature, talents and achievements – which, usually, lag far behind the claims that he makes.

This brings the narcissist a full cycle back to the first phase. Again, he perceives his siblings or sons/daughters as threats. He quickly becomes disillusioned and devaluing. He loses all interest, becomes emotionally remote, absent and cold, rejects any effort to communicate with him, citing life pressures and the preciousness and scarceness of his time. He feels burdened, cornered, besieged, suffocated, and claustrophobic. He wants to get away, to abandon his commitments to people who have become totally useless (or even damaging) to him. He does not understand why he has to support them, to suffer their company and he believes himself to have been trapped. He rebels either passively-aggressively (by refusing to act or intentionally sabotaging the relationships) or actively (by being overly critical, aggressive, unpleasant, verbally and psychologically abusive and so on). Slowly – to justify his acts to himself – he gets immersed in conspiracy theories with clear paranoid hues. To his mind, the members of the family conspire against him, seek to belittle or humiliate or subordinate him, do not understand him, stymie his growth. The narcissist usually finally gets what he wants and the family that he has created disintegrates to his great sorrow (due to the loss of the Narcissistic Space) – but also to his great relief and surprise (how could they have let go someone as unique as he?).

This is the cycle: the narcissist feels threatened by arrival of new family members – assimilation of siblings or offspring – obtaining Narcissistic Supply from them – overvaluation of these new sources by the narcissist – as sources grow older and independent, they adopt anti narcissistic behaviours – the narcissist devalues them – the narcissist feels stifled and trapped – the narcissist becomes paranoid – the narcissist rebels and the family disintegrates. This cycle characterises not only the family life of the narcissist. It is to be found in other realms of his life (his career, for instance). At work, the narcissist, initially, feels threatened (no one knows him, he is a nobody). Then, he develops a circle of admirers, cronies and friends which he "nurtures and cultivates" in order to obtain Narcissistic Supply from them. He overvalues them (they are the brightest, the most loyal, with the biggest chances to climb the corporate ladder and other superlatives).

But following some anti-narcissistic behaviours on their part (a critical remark, a disagreement, a refusal, however polite, all constitute such behaviours) – the narcissist devalues all these previously over-valued individuals. Now they are stupid, cowardly, lack ambition, skills and talents, common (the worst expletive in the narcissist's vocabulary), with an unspectacular career ahead of them. The narcissist feels that he is misallocating his resources (for instance, his time). He feels besieged and suffocated. He rebels and erupts in a serious of self-defeating and self-destructive behaviours, which lead to the disintegration of his life.

Doomed to build and ruin, attach and detach, appreciate and depreciate, the narcissist is predictable in his "death wish". What sets him apart from other suicidal types is that his wish is granted to him in small, tormenting doses throughout his anguished life.


The Narcissist's Mother


By: Dr. Sam Vaknin


A. The Loved Enemies - An Introduction

An oft-overlooked fact is that the child is not sure that it exists. It avidly absorbs cues from its human environment. "Am I present?", "Am I separate?", "Can I be noticed?" – these are the questions that compete in his mind with his need to merge, to become a part of his caregivers. Granted, the infant (ages 0 to 2) does not engage in a verbal formulation of these "thoughts" (which are part cognitive, part instinctual). This nagging uncertainty is more akin to a discomfort, like being thirsty or wet. The infant is torn between its need to differentiate and distinguish its SELF – and its no less urgent urge to assimilate and integrate by being assimilated and integrated.

"Just as we know, from the point of view of the 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 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 a firm and resilient self."
(J. D. Levine and Rona H. Weiss. The Dynamics and Treatment of Alcoholism. Jason Aronson, 1994)

The child's nascent self must first overcome its feelings of diffusiveness, of being an extension of its caregivers (to include parents, in this text), or a part of them. Kohut says that parents perform the functions of the self for their child. More likely, a battle is joined from the first breath of the child: a battle to gain autonomy, to usurp the power of the parents, to become a distinct unit. The child refuses to let the parents serve as its self. It rebels and seeks to depose them and take over their functions. The better the parents serve as self-objects (in lieu of the child's self) – the stronger the child's self becomes, the more vigorously it fights for its independence. 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 government.

"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 the child with a reliable embodiment of calmness and strength into which he can merge and with a focus for his need to find a target for his admiration. Or, stated in the obverse, it will be of crucial importance to ascertain the fact that a child could find neither confirmation of his own worth-whileness nor a target for a merger with the idealised 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 endopsychic resources, that is, specifically into sustaining self-esteem and into a sustaining relationship to internal ideals." [Ibid.]


B. The Narcissistic Personality

"When the habitual narcissistic gratifications that come from being adored, given special treatment, and admiring the self 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 internalised by identification with parental modes of dealing with stressful information."

(Jon Mardi Horowitz. Stress Response Syndromes: PTSD, Grief and Adjustment Disorders. Third edition. New York, NY University Press, 1998)

Narcissism is fundamentally an evolved version of the splitting defence mechanism. The narcissist cannot regard humans, situations, entities (political parties, countries, races, his workplace) as a compound of good and bad elements. He is an "all or nothing" primitive "machine" (a common metaphor among narcissists). He either idealises his object – or devalues it. The object is either all good or all bad. The bad attributes are always projected, displaced, or otherwise externalised. The good ones are internalised in order to support the inflated ("grandiose") self-concepts of the narcissist and his grandiose fantasies – and to avoid the pain of deflation and disillusionment.

The narcissist's earnestness and his (apparent) sincerity make people wonder whether he is simply detached from reality, unable to appraise it properly – or willingly and knowingly distorts reality and reinterprets it, subjecting it to his self-imposed censorship. I believe that the narcissist is dimly aware of the implausibility of his own constructions. He has not lost touch with reality. He is just less scrupulous in remoulding it and in ignoring the uncomfortable angles.

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