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Self Love and Self Destruction

By: Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited

If narcissists love themselves and are so self-centered, why do they have all these self-destructive and self-defeating behaviours?  Isn't this a contradiction?

ANSWER

There are two important differences between healthy self-love and malignant narcissism:

(a) in the ability to tell reality from fantasy, and (b) in the ability to empathise and, indeed, to fully and maturely love others. As we said, the narcissist possesses no self-love. It is because he has very little True Self to love. Instead, a monstrous, malignant construct – the False Self – encroaches upon his True Self and devours it.

The narcissist loves an image which he projects unto others and which is affirmed by them. The projected image is reflected back at the narcissist and, thus, he comes to be reassured both of its existence and of the boundaries of his Ego. This continuous process blurs all distinctions between reality and fantasy.

A False Self leads to false assumptions and to a contorted personal narrative, a false worldview, and to a grandiose, inflated sense of being. The latter is rarely grounded in real achievements or merit. The narcissist’s feeling of entitlement is all-pervasive, demanding and aggressive. It easily deteriorates into open verbal, psychological and physical abuse of others. Maintaining distinction between what we really are and what we dream of becoming, knowing our limits, our advantages and faults and having a sense of true, realistic achievements in our life are of paramount importance in the establishment and maintenance of our self-esteem, sense of self-worth and self-confidence. Reliant as he is on outside judgement – the narcissist feels miserably inferior and dependent. He rebels against this degrading state of things by partly escaping into a world of make-belief, daydreaming, pretensions and delusions of grandeur. The narcissist knows little about himself – and finds what he knows to be unacceptable.

The second difference is even more important. Our experience of what it is like to be human – our very humanness – depends largely on our self-knowledge and on our experience of our selves. In other words: only through being himself and through experiencing his self – can a human being fully appreciate the humanness of others. The narcissist has precious little experience of his self. Instead, he lives in an invented world, of his own design, where he is a fictitious figure in a grandiose script. He, therefore, possesses no tools which enable him to cope with other human beings, share their emotions, put himself in their place (=empathise) and, of course, engage in the most demanding task of inter-relating, love them. He just does not know what it means to be human. He is a predator, rapaciously preying on others for the satisfaction of his narcissistic cravings and appetites for admiration, adoration, applause, affirmation and attention. Humans are Narcissistic Supply Sources and are (over- or de-) valued according to their evaluated contribution to this end.

Self-love is a precondition for the experience and expression of mature love. One cannot truly love someone else if one does not first love one's True Self. If we never loved ourselves – we never experienced unconditional love and, therefore, do not know how to love. If we keep living in a world of fantasy – how will we notice the very real people around us who ask for our love and who deserve it? The narcissist wants to love. In the rare moments of self-awareness that he has he feels ego-dystonic (unhappy with his situation and with his relationships with others). This is his predicament: he is sentenced to eternal isolation precisely because he needs people too much.

These internal agonizing conflicts lead the narcissist to hate his tormenting self. As a form of self-punishment he then engages in self-destructive and self-defeating behaviours.

We can classify these behavior patterns according to their underlying motivation:

The Self-Punishing, Guilt-Purging Behaviours

These are intended to inflict punishment and to provide the punished party with a feeling of instant relief.

This is very reminiscent of a compulsive-ritualistic behavior. The person harbors guilt. It could be an "ancient" guilt, a "sexual" guilt (Freud), or a "social" guilt. He internalized and introjected voices of meaningful others that consistently and convincingly and from positions of authority informed him that he is no good, guilty, deserving of punishment or retaliation, corrupt. His life is thus transformed into an on-going trial. The constancy of this trial, the never adjourning tribunal IS the punishment. It is Kafka's "trial": meaningless, undecipherable, never-ending, leading to no verdict, subject to mysterious and fluid laws and presided by capricious judges.

The Extracting Behaviours

People with Personality Disorders (PDs) are very afraid of real, mature, intimacy. Intimacy is formed not only within a couple, but also in a workplace, in a neighbourhood, with friends, while collaborating on a project. Intimacy is another word for emotional involvement, which is the result of interactions in constant and predictable (safe) proximity. PDs interpret intimacy (not DEPENDENCE, but intimacy) as strangulation, the snuffing of freedom, death in installments. They are terrorized by it. The self-destructive and self-defeating acts are intended to dismantle the very foundation of a successful relationship, a career, a project, or a friendship. NPDs (narcissists), for instance, feel elated and relieved after they unshackle these "chains". They feel they broke a siege, that they are liberated, free at last.

The Default Behaviours

We are all afraid of new situations, new possibilities, new challenges, new circumstances and new demands. Being healthy, being successful, getting married, becoming a mother, or someone's boss – are often abrupt breaks with the past. Some self-defeating behaviors are intended to preserve the past, to restore it, to protect it from the winds of change, to inertially avoid opportunities.

Primitive Envy

Narcissists seek to avoid the pain of abandonment, or the death of loved ones. Moreover, narcissists are terrified of ALL emotions lest they provoke the cesspool of their negative feelings. Thus, the narcissist always strives to destroy, or devalue the objects of his love. Narcissists experience this inner conflict as pathological and primitive envy (the wish to eliminate the desired object because it is also a source of frustration and pain).

But what happens when the object of the narcissist's affection and tenderness - emotions much derided by him - is the narcissist himself?

The narcissist then "envies" his self. He seeks to destroy and devalue his own self. He seeks to punish himself and to motivate others to punish him ("projective identification").

It is just one of the paradoxes of this disorder, a veritable mirror hall, where nothing is what it seems to be. Love is reason for envy and destruction. Self-love leads to self-annihilation and self-defeat. Welcome to the narcissist's topsy-turvy universe.

 


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