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TAMING THE BEAST:
PATHOLOGICAL NARCISSISM AND THE QUALITY OF LIFE

by Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

In the previous article (Part I), we discussed the healing prospects of someone diagnosed with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Yet, how can a False Self be anything but false? How can anyone on a permanent diet of reflections ever see true objects? How can the Narcissist -- whose essence is the devouring of meaningful others and their transformation into meaningless and other -- ever love?

The answer is: discipline, decisiveness, clear targets, conditioning, justice. The Narcissist is the product of unjust, capricious and cruel treatment. He is the finished product of a production line of self recrimination, guilt and fear. He needs to take the antidote to counter the Narcissistic poison. Unfortunately, there is no drug I know of which can ameliorate pathological Narcissism. Confronting one's parents and childhood is a good idea if the Narcissist feels that he is ready for it. Can he take it? Can he cope with new truths, however painful? The Narcissist must be careful. This is playing with fire. But if he feels confident that there is nothing that can be revealed to him in such a confrontation that he cannot withstand -- it is a good and wise move in the right direction.

My advice to the Narcissist would then be: just dedicate a lot of time to rehearsing it and define well what is it exactly that you want to ask. Do not turn this into a monodrama, group dynamics or trial. Ask so that you shall be answered. Don't try to prove anything, to vindicate, to avenge, to take revenge, to win, to exculpate. Talk as you would with yourself. Do not try to sound professional, mature, intelligent, knowledgeable and distanced. There is no "problem to solve" -- just a condition to adjust yourself to. Think about it as diabetes. At the risk of sounding heartless, I will make three concluding comments to someone with this disorder:

 

As a Narcissist, you need to take life in general and yourself, in particular, much less seriously. Being immersed in one's self and in one's condition is never the right recipe to functionality, let alone happiness. The world is a comic, absurd place. It is indeed a theater to be enjoyed. It is full of colors and smells and sounds to be treasured and cherished. It is varied and it accommodates and tolerates everyone and everything, even Narcissists.
Regard your condition as an advantage. I am NPD. So I write about it. My advice to the Narcissist would be: ask yourself what can you do with it? In Chinese the ideogram for "crisis" and "opportunity" is one and the same. Why don't you transform the curse in your life -- into a blessing in other people's lives? Why don't you tell them your story, warn them, teach them how to avoid the same pitfalls, how to cope with the damage? Why don't you do all this in a more institutionalized manner? For instance, you can start a discussion group on the internet. You can establish " Narcissists Anonymous" in some community shelter (despite your temporary incapacity). You can open a correspondence network, a help center for women in your condition ... the possibilities are endless.
 
And it will instill in you a regained sense of self worth, a purpose, self-confidence and reassurance. It is only by helping others that we can help ourselves.
 
This is, of course, a suggestion -- not a prescription. But it demonstrates the ways in which you can derive power from adversity.
It is easy for the Narcissist to think about Pathological Narcissism as the source of all that is evil and wrong in his life. Narcissism is a catchall phrase, a conceptual scapegoat, and an evil seed. It conveniently encapsulates the predicament of the Narcissist. It introduces logic and causal relations into his baffled, tumultuous world. But this is a trap. The human psyche is too complex to be captured by a single, all-encompassing explanation, however convincing. The road to self-help and self-betterment passes through numerous junctions and stations. Narcissism is the first and the foremost. But there are many other participants in the complex dynamics that is the soul of the Narcissist. The Narcissist should take responsibility for his life and not relegate it to some hitherto rather obscure psychodynamic concept. This is the first and most important step to healing.

References:

Freud S. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud Vol. 7 Hogarth Press, 1964

Horowitz M.J. - Sliding Meanings: A defense against threat in narcissistic personalities. International Journal of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy 1975;4:167

Kernberg O. Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism. Jason Aronson, 1975

Kohut M. The Analysis of the Self. International Universities Press, 1971

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Dr. Vaknin has a doctorate in Physics and Philosophy. He has collaborated with Israeli psychologists and criminologists on matters related to personality disorders. During the years 1995-6 he studied the prevalence of personality disorders in the prison population in Israel.

 

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