It’s Narcissist Friday!
“‘Malignant Self-Love – Narcissism Revisited’ was written under extreme conditions of duress. It was composed in jail as I was trying to understand what had hit me. My nine years old marriage dissolved, my finances were in a chocking condition, my family estranged, my reputation ruined, my personal freedom severely curtailed. Slowly, the realisation that it was all my fault, that I was sick and needed help penetrated the decades old defences that I erected around me.”
Sam Vaknin is a narcissist.
When I found myself engaged in a psychological battle with a narcissist in a counseling relationship, I happened on Vaknin’s book at Barnes & Noble. I opened the book and found a precise description of the strange feelings I saw in the wife of the narcissist I was working with. From that point on, I was hooked. I bought a large cup of coffee and read nearly all of the 400-page book right there. What he said was amazing! It explained so much and opened my eyes to a world of pain and struggle that I had never seen before. At least, I had never understood what it was before.
Lest you think I cheated the author and the bookstore out of a book by reading it there, the contrary is true. In fact, I bought three copies of the paperback book at $45 each. One for me, one for the narcissist, and one for his wife. You can probably guess what happened to them. I still have mine and use it. His went into the trash. Hers became trashed by innumerable comments, highlights, paperclips, and other markings.
Vaknin’s writings have been very popular on the web, partly because he offers them freely and gives people a place to communicate with each other. He is probably not, as I read from someone, the “world’s foremost authority on narcissism.” He is simply a narcissist who is able to communicate well about how he and other narcissists relate to the people around them. His writing is blunt and surprisingly helpful for those who want to understand why their narcissist acts the way he or she does. He has produced many YouTube videos as another method of getting his message out.
But Vaknin is not a professional psychologist. As I understand it, his degree is in Philosophy, which may establish him as a reader and thinker, but not a mental health professional. And he is up front with this. Nor does he write from a Christian perspective. I know nothing of his personal faith, but he writes from his own reasoning tempered by what he has learned through study.
All of this is fine, of course, and I have no desire to disrespect Sam Vaknin or his work. Not only is he very popular, but he helped me at an important time. I only have one question:
Can I trust a narcissist?
If a narcissist confesses his narcissism and tries to teach me about his problems, can I trust him? Those who have been in close relationship with narcissists will almost universally agree that when the narcissist seems to be sharing from his heart, he is simply using another method of deception and manipulation. The narcissistic need for hiding and self-preservation is so fundamental to the disorder that any sharing from the heart, honest and intimate communication, would be the ultimate risk. So experience would suggest that when a narcissist says, “Hey, I am a narcissist and here’s how I operate,” we should be on the alert.
It may be enough, of course, that Vaknin has achieved through his disorder far more than he had previously achieved in business. He has an opportunity to touch the lives of thousands of people with his own perspective. He is well-respected as a writer and teacher. And, even though he has not designed his website for significant revenue, he appears to sell both his books and his presence as a speaker.
Sometimes a narcissist will surprise you with what seems to be honest personal exposure. He may tell you something of the pain of his childhood. He may reveal how he thinks about people. She might show you what makes her afraid. You may be encouraged by this and open yourself in the same way. You may think that you are sharing something intimate. But beware. The narcissist will only be vulnerable to the point where he begins to feel vulnerable. In other words, if it serves his purpose and he can control the effect, he will share beyond your expectations. But he will not really open his heart to you and you may be suddenly betrayed and used.
Now, I will make a bold statement. I do not consider myself to be an expert on narcissism, nor do I think of myself as a mental health professional. But it seems to me that:
When a narcissist can truly open his heart to reveal his fear and pain, and be honest about how he hurts others in protecting himself, and can feel remorse for what he has done and empathy toward those he has hurt—he has ceased to be a narcissist.
(Sam Vaknin’s website is here.)