Relationships With Abusive Narcissists
online conference transcript
Dr. 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.
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:
- Overt Abuse - The open and explicit abuse of another person.
- Covert or Controlling Abuse
- 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?
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)
David: The FAQs (frequently asked questions) Dr. Vaknin is referring to can be found here. Here's the first audience question, Dr. Vaknin.
marymia916: How can you help someone who is with a narcissist and is not strong enough to leave?
Dr. Vaknin: It depends what is the source of the weakness. If it is objective - money matters, for instance - it is relatively easy to solve. But if the dependence is emotional, it is very difficult because the relationship with the narcissist caters to very deep-set, imprinted, emotional needs and landscape of the partner. The partner perceives the relationship as gratifying, colourful, fascinating, unique, promising. It is a combination of adrenaline-rush and Land of Oz fantasy. It is very difficult to beat. Only professional intervention can tackle real co-dependence. Having said that, the most important thing is to provide an emotional alternative by being a real friend: understanding, supportive, insightful, and non-addictive (i.e., do not encourage co-dependence on you instead of on the narcissist). It is a long, arduous process with uncertain outcomes.
David: Your answer then brings us to this question:
kodibear: If the abuser is a narcissist, how do we get away permanently?
Dr. Vaknin: Please clarify the question. Do you mean how do YOU get away or how do you get rid of the narcissist's unwelcome attentions?
Dr. Vaknin: You get away by getting away. Get up, pack, hire a lawyer and go. It is far more difficult to get rid of the narcissist. There are two types: the vindictive narcissist and the unstable narcissist. The vindictive narcissist regards you as an extension of himself. Your express wish to leave is a major narcissistic injury. Such narcissists at first devalue the sources of their pain ("sour grapes" syndrome) - "She is no good, anyhow. I wanted to get rid of her. Now I can do what I really wanted and be who I really am, and so on. But then the vindictive narcissist "flip-flops". If you are such defective merchandise - how do you dare desert him? Your devalued image now reflects on him! So, he sets out to "fix" the situation but trying to "amend" the relationship (often by stalking, harrassing) or by trying to "punish" you for having humiliated him (thus restoring his sense of omnipotence).
The second type, the unstable narcissist, is much more benign. He simply moves on once he is convinced that you will never provide him with narcissistic supply. He "deletes" you and hops on to the next relationship. My advice: be firm, unequivocal, unambiguous. Most of the problems with narcissists arise from a message that is neither here nor there (having sex just one last time, letting him visit and sleep over, keeping his stuff for him, talking and corresponding with him, helping him with his new relationships, remaining his best friend).
David: What you're saying, Dr. Vaknin, is that to get rid of the abusive or vindictive narcissist, a simple "no" or "our relationship is over" is usually not enough.
Dr. Vaknin: No, it is not enough. The vindictive narcissist must eliminate the source of his frustration either by subsuming it (re-establishing the relationship) or by punishing and humilating it and thus establishing an imaginary symmetry and restoring the narcissist's sense of omnipotence. Vindictive narcissists are addicted to power and fear as sources of narcissistic supply. Unstable ("normal") narcissists are addicted to attention and their sources of supply are interchangeable.
David: For those asking, here the link to purchase Dr. Vaknin's book: Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited. And I'm not hawking the book, but if you are interested in the subject of narcissism, it's a great read and almost everything you would want to know about narcissism is in there.
Dr. Vaknin: Why, thank you. I may decide to finally read it myself ..:o). My turn to compliment. It is a must.
David: Thank you, Dr. Vaknin. This Saturday night, we'll be talking about Bipolar Disorder and ECT, electroshock therapy. About 4000 people listen to the show through our site. I hope you'll join us and become a regular listener.
One thing I'd like to touch on and then we'll continue with audience questions -- are there female abusive narcissists?
Dr. Vaknin: Over 75% of all narcissists (i.e., people diagnosed as suffering from the Narcissistic Personality Disorder as a primary Axis II diagnosis) are male. But, of course, there are female narcissists.
David: Are the behaviors exhibited by females the same or similar to those of male narcissists?
Dr. Vaknin: Largely, yes. The behaviours are identical - the targets are different. Women narcissists will tend to abuse "outside the family" (neighbours, friends, colleagues, employees). Male narcissists tend to abuse "inside the family" (mainly their spouse) and at work. But this is a very weak distinction. Narcissism is such an all-pervasive personality disorder that it characterizes the narcissist more than his gender, race, ethnic affilliation, socio-economic stratum, sexual orientation, or any other single determinant does.
David: Here are some audience comments about what's been said so far and then we'll get to the next question:
coping: I never knew that narcissim was a personality disorder until I read your writing and after I dated my last boyfriend. The relationship ended 6 months ago and I still feel hurt.
Dr. Vaknin: The aftermath of a relationship with a narcissist is often characterized by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
garwen2: Hello, Dr. I am 53 and living with my elderly NPD mother...with my saint of a husband also. I have just learned, this last year, of her problem through your website and now reading your book. The main advice I saw for dealing with her is avoidance. And for almost a year, I have been more like a maid-in-waiting with not much social contact. The response I have recieved from this non-action is that she does not even notice. It is like OUtta sight, outta mind. This is really strange to me.
bunnie-41: A narcissist regards the person he is with as a source to accomplish his goals. I know, I was involved with one. They do not know how to feel real love or compassion.
kodibear: I am in intensive therapy for lack of self-worth from the abuse which started when I was a baby and I still am controlled by him, sorry to say. It makes it a little easier to understand what is going on and why he won't leave me alone after listening to you.
Neevis: My husband is totally lacking in empathy. I married a narcissist and the worse he is to me, the more I seem to want to be with him. What does that say about me?
KKQ: I have found that narcissists believe that they are GOD and all must bow to their desires or be punished.
LdyBIu: I have been married to a narcissist for 26 years and we are separated now.
David: Here's the next question:
kchurch: If a narcissist needs his spouse, what has to happen in order for the narcissist to leave a mate?
Dr. Vaknin: Before I respond, I wish to re-iterate what I said before: Living with a narcissist is a total experience. The narcissist takes over the partner, objectifies her (turns her to an object) and uses (and abuses) her. The result is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - a shock mixed with breavement.
To the question: If the spouse is an outstanding source of narcissistic supply (very rich, very beautiful, very admiring very accepting, etc.) - the narcissist will do everything in his power to stick around. The only way to get rid of the narcissist is to make him realize that it is over. That no matter what he does or does not do to receive narcissistic supply, he is unlikely ever again to receive it from this source. But such a message must be incisive (though not hurtful or humilating). It must be clear, unequivocal, unambiguous, and consistent. Once he digests the message and internalizes it - the narcissist vanishes. To the narcissist, all sources of narcissistic supply are the same, interchangeable, and indistinguishable.
Checky: Hi, Dr. Vaknin. You're up late! What is your opinion on this: Can an abusive narcissist ever become a tolerable narcissist while in a marriage and when the abuse has taken place over many years?
David: I'll add to that question. Can the narcissist ever make a "real" change in his abusive behavior or is this ingrained in his personality?
Dr. Vaknin: Whether the narcissist is tolerable or not is up to the spouse or partner to decide. If you are asking whther the narcissist can ameliorate, tone down, be mollified, reduce his intensity, refrain from abuse and modify his behaviour - sure, he can. It depends what is in it for him. Narcissists are the consummate and ultimate actors. They maintain emotional resonance tables. They monitor other people's reactions and behaviour - and they are mimetic (imitators). But it is not a real and profound change. It is merely behaviour modification and it is reversible. I hasten to say that certain schools of psychotherapy claim success in treating pathological narcissism, notably the Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies and psychodynamic therapies - as well as more exotic, Eastern, therapies.
David: A few audience reaction comments here:
garwen2: So you respond by not having reactions? I call it emotional divorce...and it works
dolly: Oh! The ole "I treat you like you treat me" syndrome.
mcbarber: Dr. Vaknin, after being married to and abandoned by my narcissistic husband three times I am so angry, but deep down I somehow still crave him. How do I get over it?
Dr. Vaknin: You should talk to yourself. Ask yourself, in this dialog, why are you so atttracted to him? He probably fulfills very deep emotional (or maybe sexual or financial) needs. Prioritize your inner life. What is most important to you and what is the price you are willing to pay for it. Life is a trade off. Living with a narcissist - even with an abusive narcissist - is wrong only if it bothers you, hurts you, and prevents you from functioning properly. If you thrive in his company and take his abuse in stride - I say, why not?
moyadusha: Does the narcissist have a conscience?
Dr. Vaknin: No. Conscience is predicated on empathy. One puts oneself in other people's "shoes" and feels the way they do. Without empathy, there can be no love or conscience. Indeed, the narcissist has neither. To him, people are sillhuettes, penumbral projections on the walls of his inflated sense of self, figments of his fantasies. How can one regret anything if one is a solipsist (i.e., recognizes only his reality and no one else's)?
pkindheart: I was involved with a woman who is a narcissist. Her narcissistic supply was sex. She got a real high from it both during and especially afterwards. This high was intoxicating and addictive to me as well. Is this a common thing to happen with a woman who is a narcissist? I have had a very hard time dealing with the loss of this.
Dr. Vaknin: Pathological narcissism (rather NPD) is a clinical condition. Only a qualified mental health diagnostician can determine whether someone suffers from NPD and this, following lengthy tests and personal interviews. But there is something called addiction to sex. Like every addiction, it is connected to predominant narcissistic traits in the addict's personality.
David: You mentioned earlier that victims of abusive narrcissists "deny reality." Here's a followup question:
Mari438: Please give me an example of being asked to deny reality.
Dr. Vaknin: The partner is asked to accept, unconditionally and uncritically that she is inferior to the narcissist, that he is superior to her and to all others, that he is accomplished (even when he is not), that he is victimized (if he is somewhat paranoid) and so on. The partner replaces her judgement and critical faculties with those of the narcissist. This is suspended individuality. The partner is further destablized by the narcissist's tendency to idealize and, very rapidly, devalue; to change his mind often; to act unpredictably and capriciously; to form and abandon plans and so on. This disorientation leads to an overpowering and surrealistic sense of unreality.
David: Here are some more audience comments on what's being said tonight:
estrella: I was able to dump my narcissist after I began to develop traits within myself that I thought he had and thought I lacked.
bboop13: I can so relate to suspended individuality. I am finally divorced and am back to myself.
kodibear: I know as a victim for many years, as a child, I denied reality because he made me believe it was what I wanted from him.
garwen2: It really helps to understand this "no conscience, no love". It lets you know where you stand and gives you the strength to break away.
Checky: I tried to get my husband to change the abuse but he decided to seduce another supply.
jlc7197: My NPD husband never apologized once in 25 years. Not once!
Mari438: My husband was the most sensitive caring, considerate man I ever met. Actually too sensitive. Almost seemed to be child-like.
bunnie-41: I was married to a narcissist for 4 years and as long as I gave him all my attention, told him everyday how wonderful and handsome he was, gave him every material thing he wanted, did everything he wanted to do, ask him no questions or confronted him about anything, he was happy. When I started saying "no" is when he would sulk and get upset. Then I found out that he was already married when he married me. I could write a book of the abuse I have experienced with him.
Zette: Are narcissits usually big liars?
Dr. Vaknin: Narcissists are pathological liars (except I...:o)) This means that they lie even when they do not have to, when they achieve nothing by lying and when telling the truth would have achieved the same (or better) result. Pathological narcissism is the development of a FALSE self based on fantasies, grandiosity, and deceit. So, the very foundation of the narcissist is falsehood. Narcissists lie for two reasons: Either to obtain narcissistic supply or secure it Or because they prefer fantasy (or eternal love, brilliance, wealth, might) to (drab and disappointing) reality. Their propensity to fantasize often deteriorates to outright lying.
bboop13: They are the biggest liars and sooo good at it.
Neevis: I can answer that they are the biggest and best liars.
David: Just so everyone knows, you can sign up for our mail list so you can be notified of other events going on at HealthyPlace.com. A few more audience comments:
femfree: May I suggest that some victims wish to be deluded because their reality is just "too hard."
marymia916: I just want to thank you for changing my life Dr. Vaknin.
KKQ: I can sniff out a narcissist a mile away and no longer will put myself in that kind of a sick role.
kodibear: Having PTSD because of this, I can tell you I have no desire to delude myself, just survive.
jlc7197: My children were damaged severely by his abuse.
David: Dr. Vaknin, we have a few similar audience questions of a personal nature referring to you being an admitted narcissist.
Dr. Vaknin: Yes?
Neevis: Dr. Vaknin, you know that you are a narcissist. Do most narcissists have the same self-realization or do they think that something is wrong with everyone else but themselves?
Dr. Vaknin: Exceedingly few narcissists are self-aware. Actually, you might say that self-awareness is the antonym of narcissism. Most narcissists go through life convinced that something is wrong with everyone; that they are victimized, misunderstood, underestimated by intellectual midgets, abused (yes, abused!) by envious others and so on. In essence, the narcissist projects his own emotional barren and vitriolic landscape onto his environment. He sometimes forces people around him to behave in a way that justifies his expectations of them. This is called Projective Identification.
merelybecky: You do not seem to be like any Narcissist I know.
Dr. Vaknin: I am not sure if that's a compliment (laughing).
marymia916: Do you feel satisfied with your life?
Dr. Vaknin: Not at all. I suffer from a "grandiosity gap". It is the abyss between the narcissist's inflated, fantastic and grandiose image of himself - and reality. My self image, my expectations from myself and from people around me (for instance, my sense of entitlement). My unrealistic appraisal of my talents and skills (totally incommensurate with my rather mediocre achievements) - this hurts and transforms life into a frenetic, obsessed, sick, and sickening search of affirmation from the outside. Narcissistic supply is a drug and I am a drug addict.
David: Here's an audience comment:
dolly: If I heard my narcissist husband talk like this, I would pass out.
Zette: Hey, don't you know - the narcissist is ALWAYS right! Given that mindset, their lives must be almost as miserable as those they feed off of.
mldavi5: When I first read your site, you said that you had had no healing. However, you seem mellower and SEEM to show compassion. So has there now been some improvement for you in your condition?
David: Please respond to that.
Dr. Vaknin: I thought this chat was about relationships with abusive narcissists - but I will not evade the question...:o) There has been a marked deterioration in my condition in the last few years. As the narcissist ages, the grandiosity gap expands. He is no longer young, healthy, fit, agile, competitive. The narcissist feels "eroded," without an "edge," rusting away, wasted. The narcissist then reacts in one of three ways. He becomes
- paranoid (suspects a conspiracy of the whole world against him) or;
- schizoid (retreats from the world, mainly in order to avoid nacissistic injury), or;
- psychotic (renounces reality altogether and lives in fantasyland ever after).
Most narcissists - myself included - react with a blend of all three to the painful decline in their prowess, clout, faculties, abilities, skills, and charm. But I am mostly schizoid and paranoid.
David: It is about 4:40 a.m. in Macedonia, where Dr. Vaknin is located. We appreciate you being here tonight, Dr. Vaknin, and for staying up so late and sharing this information with us. And to those in the audience, thank you for coming and participating. I hope you found it helpful. We have a very large and active community here at HealthyPlace.com. You will always find people interacting with various sites. Also, if you found our site beneficial, I hope you'll pass our URL around to your friends, mail list buddies, and others. http://www.healthyplace.com
Dr Vaknin: I want to thank all of you, moderator and audience alike, for being here and for your kind words. Be strong and do the right thing! Sam
David: Here's the link to the HealthyPlace.com Personality Disorders Community. Sign up for the newsletter mail list to keep up on events and happenings here at HealthyPlace.com.
Thanks again, Dr. Vaknin and good night everyone.
Disclaimer: We are not recommending or endorsing any of the suggestions of our guest. In fact, we strongly encourage you to talk over any therapies, remedies or suggestions with your doctor BEFORE you implement them or make any changes in your treatment.
Last Updated: 05 July 2018
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD