Personality Disorders Community

Relationships With Abusive Narcissists

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online conference transcript

Dr. Sam VakninDr. Sam Vaknin: is our guest. He is a narcissist and is the author of the book Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited.

Dr. Vaknin defined the abusive narcissist, the criteria of NPD, and explained the behaviour of narcissists. We also discussed the types of abuse narcissists inflict upon their victims, the types of people who are attracted to the narcissist, the life a victim of the narcissist can look forward to, and what it takes to get out of a relationship with a narcissist.

David Roberts is the HealthyPlace.com moderator.

The people in blue are audience members.


David: Welcome to HealthyPlace.com and our chat conference on "Relationships with Abusive Narcissists." For those of you who may be new to the subject, here is the definition of narcissism.

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Our guest is Dr. Sam Vaknin. Dr. Vaknin has Ph.D. in philosophy and is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited. He also hosts a very extensive site on Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) in the HealthyPlace.com Personality Disorders Community. Almost everything you would want to know about Narcissism is included there and in his book. Dr. Vaknin, himself, is an admitted narcissist.

Good evening, Dr. Vaknin and welcome to HealthyPlace.com. I'm wondering, when we speak of "abusive narcissists," is this a special sub-class of narcissists or is being abusive a part of narcissism itself?

Dr. Vaknin: Good evening, David, everyone. The DSM IV-TR, the bible of mental health disorders, does not regard abusive behaviours as one of the criteria of NPD. It does, however, mention the precursors of abuse: exploitativeness, an exaggerated sense of entitlement and, above all, a lack of empathy. So, I think it is safe to say that abuse does characterise the behaviour of narcissists. Narcissists are terrified of intimacy because they are afraid of being exposed as frauds (the False Self) or of being hurt (especially the borderline narcissists). So, they cope either by exerting minute control over their nearest and dearest - or by being emotionally absent. There are numerous abuse strategies and they are detailed here.

David: Many of the visitors to HealthyPlace.com are, unfortunately, very familiar with "abuse." Sexual abuse - rape and incest and physical abuse, including domestic violence. Are these the types of acts you're referring to when you use the term "abusive narcissist?"

Dr. Vaknin: Sexual and psychological abuse are subsumed by narcissistic abuse. The narcissist abuses his spouse, children, friends, colleagues, and just about everyone else in whichever way possible. There are three important categories of abuse:

  1. Overt Abuse - The open and explicit abuse of another person.
  2. Covert or Controlling Abuse
  3. Abuse in response to perceived loss of control

There are many types of abuse: Unpredictability, Disproportional Reactions, Dehumanization and Objectification, Abuse of Information, Impossible Situations, Control by Proxy, Ambient Abuse.

David: What, then, can the other person in this relationship expect from the narcissist?

Dr. Vaknin: The narcissist regards the "significant other" as one would regard an instrument or implement. It is the source of his narcissistic supply, his extension, a mirror, an echo chamber, the symbiont. In short, the narcissist is never complete without his spouse or mate.

David: I'm assuming that there is something the narcissist looks for personality-wise in his/her victims. Can you go into that a bit please?

The abusive narcissist and behaviour of narcissists. Types of abuse narcissists inflict upon their victims and the life a victim of the narcissist lives.Dr. Vaknin: The narcissist is a drug addict. The name of the drug is Narcissistic Supply (NS). The spouse (or mate, or love, or friend, or child, or colleague) of the narcissist is supposed to supply the narcissist with his drug by adoring him, admiring him, paying attention to him, providing him with adulation, or affirmation and so on. This often requires self-denial as well as a denial of reality. It is a dance macabre in which both parties collaborate in a kind of mass psychosis. The narcissist's partner is also expected to accumulate past narcissistic supply by serving as a passive and fawning witness to the narcissist's (often imaginary) achievements.

David: So, if you are the victim of the narcissist, what kind of life can you look forward to?

Dr. Vaknin: You will be required to deny your self: your hopes, your dreams, your fears, your aspirations, your sexual needs, your emotional needs, and sometimes your material needs. You will be asked to deny reality and ignore it. It is very disorientating. Most victims feel that they are going crazy or that they are guilty of something obscure, opaque, and ominous. It is Kafkaesque: an endless, on-going trial without clear laws, known procedures, and identified judges. It is nightmarish.

David: Here's an audience comment on what life is like with an abusive narcissist:

bunnie-41: miserable and very unrewarding.

David: Before we get to some audience questions, what is it in the victim's personality that they find themselves attracted to the narcissist?

Dr. Vaknin: It is a very complicated situation. Generally speaking, there are two broad categories of partners of narcissists. One category consists of healthy people, with a stable sense of self worth, with self-esteem, professional and emotional independence, and a life, even without the narcissist. The second category consists of co-dependendents of a specific type, which I call "Inverted Narcissists" (FAQ 66). These are people who derive their sense of self worth from the narcissist, vicariously, by proxy as it were. They maintain a symbiotic relationship with the narcissist and mirror him by negation - by being submissive, sacrificial, caring, empathic, dependent, available, self-negation (in order to aggrandize him)