The Open Narcissist

 

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. 

 

Your thoughts?

(Sam Vaknin’s website is here.)

20 Comments

Filed under Narcissism

20 responses to “The Open Narcissist

  1. Jerry

    Awesome blog, Thank you. I really like knowing you read other stuff (Christian & non) that flows into your own Biblical approach to dispensing Grace to your narcissistic readers like me. Thanks too for creating a blog that we can turn to when we finally get in touch with our own powerless to change and dire need for God’s Grace thru Jesus. Nothing else on this planet satisfies or assuages our narcissistic injuries than thinking and mulling on Jesus’ real and bloody sacrifice on my and our behalf….crazy…but Oh so desperately needed by me.

    • Kelly

      I read this book 1 year ago. I too could not put it down. It described the man I had been married to. It described both my parents. At the end of the day what I gleaned from that was 1) I could forgive these people for their treachery by God’s grace. 2) Through the eyes of Vaknin I could have mercy for those who live in this sort of personal hell while still protecting myself from them. Also, armed with that knowledge, by the grace of God, the man I met at church and will soon marry is full of love and grace and is healthy spiritually, emotionally and physically. I broke out of the cycle of being a victim of narcissists.

    • Thanks, Jerry! I appreciate that you share my heart for tying together the pain of narcissism with the love and grace of God. When I started this blog, I did not realize how much the idea of narcissism would resonate with people. Four days a week I write about grace and one day about narcissism. That seems to be a reasonable balance of energy. The two really are not separate. Grace, learning to trust the love of God, is the heart need of the narcissist.

      Kelly, the truth will make us free. There is power in that statement. Knowing the truth about the thing that hurts us actually enables us to overcome it or to cope with it. Vaknin’s book opened my eyes to truth. Perhaps it was not the whole truth, but it was truth and it helped.

  2. Romans 7:24

    I am an admirer of Vaknin’s work. I understand that some of what he says is at odds with the world’s secular mental health community, but that is of little consequence to me. Just as I don’t believe the scientific community’s theories of evolution, I also don’t believe the Freudian theories embraced by the secular mental health profession either. Regarding Vaknin, I’ve done my best to filter his theories through the eyes of the Bible, discarding anything I find to contradict scripture, and prayerfully considering the rest.

    Regarding whether or not the narcissist can be trusted…. Philipians 1:6 applies to the narcissist as much as it does any believer. The only question should be whether or not they are in Christ. We should not be demonizing those for whom Christ died. And if they are not showing any fruit whatsoever, I don’t think we should hesitate to prayerfully consider the veracity of their profession of faith in Christ. If indeed they are unbelievers, Ephesians 6:12 and Titus 3:2-7 should color our thoughts on the narcissist.

    • First, I hope you stay with me for awhile. I appreciate the reminder that narcissists are people, too. It is easy to return the depersonalization, to make a monster of the narcissist. It is easy to be cruel in regard to them, partly because they hurt us. But I don’t ever want to forget that they are in pain as well. So… keep me honest!

      Second, because narcissism and the Christian life are so different, it is very difficult for some to believe that a narcissist could become a Christian and still be a narcissist. If we define narcissism as an addiction, which would be acceptable to me, we could make some kind of distinction between the active and inactive narcissist, I suppose. But even then this is not a normal addiction.

      So I would like to develop some kind of framework, some vocabulary and perspective, that would help us decide in what way a narcissist could be a Christian. This is important to me because I deal with so many narcissists who are active in the church. If I am to respect them, I have to be open to the idea that they are believers. Yet, I honestly find this to be challenging because I see the kind of behavior you reacted to in your first comment.

      If you have read other posts, the posts on grace, you will see that I understand how believers can still be influenced by the flesh. But narcissism is, perhaps, the strongest type of flesh there is. Would that person be able to accept that he must throw himself completely on the mercy of Christ and trust nothing of himself?

      • Romans 7:24

        You basically hit the nail on the head of my thinking…. and actually that is very encouraging because I have been struggling with this notion ever since arriving at it in the past two months or so… essentially what you said…… NPD rages in my wretched flesh and if I take my eyes off Christ I backslide into this most wretched form of sin which so easily entangles me…. but when my eyes are on Christ, I actually feel alive and am becoming more and more capable of love and empathy, when my eyes are on Christ that is… so I have been chewing on that same NPD/flesh, Spirit/freedom idea myself and the reinforcement is quite encouraging.

        Few if any people who know me now and knew me before I was a believer would deny their has been a change in how I treat them. I have also told someone about my condition who met me since my conversion, who said they saw no reason to believe I had it (this was when I asked if they would have ever guessed it). HOWEVER, I can backslide into the flesh too, and when I backslide, old narcissism is there waiting for me. However, when I fall into this, I am constantly angry at myself for it, I am struggling against it, trying to fight it, and I usually get very mad at myself and depressed even when I am fighting old narcissism. I am constantly paranoid now of hurting others or being a stumbling block to others, it is honestly at the level of paranoia. I hate my sin with a passion, I mean my moniker on here is Romans 7:24….

        What you said in your last sentence is what I struggle with and the Lord has been convicting me of this daily: ” Would that person be able to accept that he must throw himself completely on the mercy of Christ and trust nothing of himself? ”

        I am a narcissist who has learned not to act my narcissism out quite as much – but this acting out is mainly related to greed, lying and hurting others. I am still very obsessed with my personal appearance, but that is only because I hate myself, inside I still think the only thing people could ever like about me is my appearance or the fact that I appear intelligent. I still fear narcissistic injury greatly, and narcissist injury does very much have the potential to make my inner world collapse. You would have to be very close to me and be looking for it, but you could easily see that in the background I am doing everything I can to avoid narcissistic injury. My methods have just changed. I didn’t stop fearing narcissist injury when I started fearing the Lord – but I do trust what God says in Philippians 1:6. How I act towards them is tempered by my fear of the Lord, but it is still very very hard for me to see true friendship or emotional involvement as something that would end in anything other than devastation for me. God has been working on that a lot though. Since becoming Christian God has been very slowly helping me form real relationships, but for me this experience feels very much like walking along the edge of a cliff. I honestly think God is using my NPD to build my faith, I think up in heaven it is probably a joy for Him to lead me through these things, rather than just zap me and take the NPD away with no leading, no pruning (John 15:1-2), no overcoming, no victory. I mean, that would just be the Holy Spirit zapping me, it would be like if God just zapped Golaith dead rather than giving David the victory in a very frightening, faith-building scenario. At least that makes the most sense to me right now. I mean all believers are supposed to struggle with their flesh right?

        I can’t speak for other narcissists, but self examination is difficult for me – it has swung to the other extreme since my conversion. Now I am brutal and merciless in examining myself and my fruit – I mean I have Romans 7:24 as my moniker, going back to your comment about throwing myself at the mercy of Christ alone… it is still very difficult for me to accept that God doesn’t hate me as much as I hate myself. If anything, I hate myself more than ever since becoming a Christian.

  3. Romans 7:24

    To clarify… greed/lying/hurting others are the aspects of NPD which I don’t act out nearly as much since my conversion

  4. Romans 7:24

    For me, conviction of sin would be the dividing line – do they have a Matthew 5:3-4 attitude or not?

    • Kelly

      To Romans 7:24 I am blessed by your honesty and transparency on this blog. I so very much appreciate you sharing your here. Something I would like to share with you is -plunge deep into the grace of God, so much so that you don’t give yourself enough thought to even actively hate yourself. I believe walking in grace is about forgetting me while I enjoy Him. As far as struggling with the flesh, what I have learned about my identity in Christ is to “reckon” myself indeed dead to sin. That was settled at the Cross and we reckon it dead. I also believe anyone with NPD who is truly converted to Christ would greatly benefit in studying the Scriptures of your IDENTITY IN CHRIST..after all that is your true identity and perhaps that would help put NPD in perspective. ” Greater is He that is IN YOU”……..

  5. Romans 7:24

    Kelly what you said led to some prayer last night and God used those words to work a lot of necessary things into my thinking

  6. Thank you for your kind and well-thought out words. You may find these of interest:

    Narcissism and Religion

    http://vaksam.tripod.com/journal45.html

    http://vaksam.tripod.com/faq47.html

    The Cult of the Narcissist

    http://vaksam.tripod.com/journal79.html

    • Svjetlana

      Ofcourse, Sam is responding on his usual way 😉 Sam, God exist and I know it is very hard for you to accept u r loved by Him – if you just stop trying to explain all through npd glasses – but, U can NOT, because u r narcissist? Then TRY to read all what is written here or to ask God himself does He really exist?
      U know I love u as a person a lot and I am praying for you.

      Svjetlana

    • Sam, welcome! Your work has been a great contribution to this mystifying topic and I am grateful.

      To all: These three articles might trouble those who usually read this blog, but I find each of them to be powerful and insightful. If you have ever been involved with Gothard or any other oppressive religious group, you will want to read “The Cult of the Narcissist.” I think the on point analysis will surprise you.

      Obviously, I have some disagreement with “Jesus Christ – Narcissist,” but perhaps not as much as you might expect. The fundamental problem of the narcissist is deception. He deceives himself even as he tries so hard to deceive others. Because the narcissist cannot live with the thought that his hidden self is the only reality, he must build around himself the fantasy of superiority (or victimization). But it is all a lie and he knows it. The more he thinks about it, the stronger he must fight for the lie to be true, or at least for others to believe it.

      You see, the narcissist’s problem is that he is not God. He cannot live up to the false image he has established. He fails over and over. His failure is his bane and he cannot overcome it. It tasks him and his primary goal is either to overcome his failure or explain it away. Thus, the lies and the blame.

      But the question of Jesus is not whether he was a narcissist. The question is whether he was and is God. In other words,

        What if Jesus was right?

      What if he did come to save us? What if he is worthy of our worship? What if people really were healed and the stories of his miracles are true? That would make all the difference. What if God took on Himself human flesh to reach out to us in love in the person of Jesus?

      If Jesus is not God, then I agree with Sam. I might even suggest that Jesus was the greatest and most unfortunate narcissist of history. He accomplished the greatest deception ever, but died before he saw it. In that case, I would shake my head in wonder at his personal power and ability and the serendipity of his death.

      But I do not agree with Sam. I believe that Jesus was just who he said he was, and he said it over and over. There is no question that Jesus asserted himself to be God, the only question is whether he was right. I have many reasons for my faith. The greatest is that most amazing communication of love, love that has spanned the centuries to get to me and tell me I am a treasure of great price to the Creator and Judge. It would take far greater faith to believe that a narcissist, even the most powerful narcissist ever to live, could communicate such life-transforming love.

  7. Jen

    Can you trust a narcissist?

    Never. If his mouth is moving, he’s lying. Check out Wendy Behary’s book on how to talk to one.

  8. I consider myself a fan of Vaknin’s books and writings. I have read his journals too. Some abuse survivors won’t take him seriously because he’s a narcissist, but I think that actually gives him credibility and makes it possible for the rest of us to know what it FEELS like to be a narcissist.
    I do not think Sam wants to be a narcissist, and it pains him greatly that he can’t change. He’s done an enormous service for victims of narcissitic abuse and I don’t even care if his main motive was to promote himself. There is so much truth, pure emotion and passion in everything he writes. I don’t agree he’s not a narcissist (I had my doubts too at first) but I do think he’s an insightful and intelligent one who has attempted to “make up” for his disorder by warning the rest of us about people like him.
    I am also following your blog now.

    • Sharon

      We all like to be appreciated when we are serving a helpful purpose. It is alright to feel good about ourselves when we do the right thing. Neither is a symptom of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Humans by nature are narcissistic making humility a tough call for all of us. NPD seems to be an exacerbated state of human nature making humility impossible. Perhaps a divine higher power who is both Creator and Savior able to save us from ourselves could be the only one worthy of an NPD’s recognition. Perhaps we’re not so different…the Narcissist and the rest of us including his/her victims.

      • I did read somewhere that narcissism was an exaggeration of normal human traits, so I agree with you. We all have some degree of pride, envy, greed, entitlement, game-playing with others, etc. If we didn’t we wouldn’t be able to survive!

        One of my articles was even about how narcissism is good (in small doses). Without it, we would think we weren’t worthy to even live.

        Still, we in the narc abuse community are hypervigilant even about ourselves; we tend to become obsessed with the idea of narcissism to the point we see it everywhere, and have an unfortunate tendency to mislabel others (including ourselves) as narcissists when we are anything but. That in itself can be dangerous.

        I guess we’d be prudent to not automatically give someone the “narc” label the minute we see a red flag. Maybe we should wait until we see a pattern instead of an isolated incident, and not be so quick to judge ourselves as narcissists when we are just being human.

        I think you just gave me the idea for my next post! 🙂

  9. Sharon

    Comment to the statement: “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.

    Hopefully this statement is true but only if he recognizes and is willing to acknowledge his vulnerability to the Narcissist’s mindset. As any addict it’s one day at a time and a daily awareness of himself and actively maintaining that self understanding. Actually that is a truth concerning any of our possible mental conditions that require corrective action. Fortunately for Dr. Sam, he is earning a living doing just that. Unfortunately for many their level of understanding wouldn’t extend to that level of expertise for a marketable skill.

  10. Steve

    Keep in mind that in 2009 Vaknin underwent a psychological evaluation in which he met the criteria for psychopathy according to the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, but did not meet the criteria for narcissism.
    That said, some of his theories are indeed fascinating, especially one that states that narcissism is akin to a form of artificial intelligence (see “When Narcissism becomes pathological”)

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