The Soul of the Narcissist
May you never have a relationship with one of these people. This is an excellent, and long article regarding a relationship with a Narcissist.
The Soul of the Narcissist
By Sam Vaknin
Author of "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited"
THE NARCISSIST AND THE OPPOSITE SEX
This chapter deals with the male narcissist and with
his "relationships" with women.
It would be correct to substitute one gender for another. Female
narcissists treat the men in their lives in a manner
indistinguishable from the way male narcissists treat "their" women.
I believe that this is the case with same sex partners.
To re-iterate, Primary Narcissistic Supply (PNS) is any kind of NS
provided by people who are not "meaningful" or "significant" others.
Adulation, attention, affirmation, fame, notoriety, sexual
conquests – are all forms of PNS.
Secondary NS (SNS) emanates from people who are in repetitive or
continuous touch with the narcissist. It includes the important
roles of Narcissistic Accumulation and Narcissistic Regulation,
Narcissists abhor and dread getting emotionally intimate. The
cerebral ones regard sex as a maintenance chore, something they have
to do in order to keep their Source of Secondary Supply. The somatic
narcissist treats women as objects and sex as a means to obtaining
Moreover, many narcissists tend to frustrate women. They refrain
from having sex with them, tease them and then leave them, resist
flirtatious and seductive behaviours, and so on. Often, they invoke
the existence of a girlfriend/fiancée/spouse as the "reason" why
they cannot have sex or develop a relationship. But this is not out
of loyalty and fidelity in the empathic and loving sense. This is
because they wish (and often succeed) to sadistically frustrate the
But, this pertains only to cerebral narcissists – not to somatic
narcissists and to histrionics (Histrionic Personality Disorder –
HPD) who use their body, sexuality, and seduction/flirtation to
extract Narcissistic Supply from others.
Narcissists are misogynists. They team up with women who serve as
Sources of SNS (Secondary Narcissistic Supply). The woman's chores
are to accumulate past Narcissistic Supply (by witnessing the
narcissist's "moments of glory") and release it in an orderly manner
to regulate the fluctuating flow of Primary Supply and compensate in
times of deficient supply.
Otherwise, cerebral narcissists are not interested in women.
Most of them are asexual (desire sex very rarely, if at all). They
hold women in contempt and abhor the thought of being really
intimate with them. Usually, they choose for partners submissive
women whom they disdain for being well below their intellectual
This leads to a vicious cycle of neediness and self-contempt ("How
come I am dependent on this inferior woman"). Hence the abuse. When
Primary NS is available, the woman is hardly tolerated, as one would
reluctantly pay the premium of an insurance policy.
Narcissists of all stripes do regard the "subjugation" of an
attractive woman to be a Source of Narcissistic Supply, though.
Such conquests are status symbols, proofs of virility, and they
allow the narcissist to engage in "vicarious" narcissistic
behaviours, to express his narcissism through the "conquered" women,
transforming them into instruments at the service of his narcissism,
into his extensions. This is done by employing defence mechanisms
such as Projective Identification.
The narcissist believes that being in love is actually merely going
through the motions. To him, emotions are mimicry and pretence. He
says: "I am a conscious misogynist. I fear and loathe women and tend
to ignore them to the best of my ability. To me they are a mixture
of hunter and parasite."
Most male narcissists are misogynists. After all, they are the
warped creations of women. Women gave birth to them and moulded them
into what they are: dysfunctional, maladaptive, and emotionally
dead. They are angry at their mothers and, by extension at all women.
The narcissist's attitude to women is, naturally, complex and multi-
layered but it can be described using four axes:
The Holy Whore
The Hunter Parasite
The Frustrating Object of Desire
The narcissist divides all women to saints and whores. He finds it
difficult to have sex
("dirty", "forbidden", "punishable", "degrading") with feminine
significant others (spouse, intimate girlfriend). To him, sex and
intimacy are mutually exclusive rather than mutually expressive
Sex is reserved to "whores" (all other women in the world). This
division resolves the narcissist's constant cognitive dissonance ("I
want her but…", "I don't need anyone but…"). It also legitimises his
sadistic urges (abstaining from sex is a major and recurrent
narcissistic "penalty" inflicted on female "transgressors"). It
tallies well with the frequent idealisation-devaluation cycles the
narcissist goes through. The idealised females are sexless, the
devalued ones – "deserving" of their degradation (sex) and the
contempt that, inevitably, follows thereafter.
The narcissist believes firmly that women are out to "hunt" men by
genetic predisposition. As a result, he feels threatened (as any
prey would). This, of course, is an intellectualisation of the real
state of affairs: the narcissist feels threatened by women and tries
to justify this irrational fear by imbuing them with "objective",
menacing qualities. This is a small detail in a larger canvass. The
narcissist "pathologises" others in order to control them.
The narcissist believes that, once their prey is secured, women
assume the role of "body snatchers". They abscond with the male's
sperm, generate an endless stream of demanding and nose dripping
children, financially bleed the men in their lives to cater to their
needs and to the needs of their dependants.
Put differently, women are parasites, leeches, whose sole function
is to suck dry every man they find and tarantula-like decapitate him
once no longer useful. This, of course, is exactly what the
narcissist does to people. Thus, his view of women is a projection.
Heterosexual narcissists desire women as any other red-blooded male
does or even more so due to their special symbolic nature in the
narcissist's life. Humbling a woman in acts of faintly sado-
masochistic sex is a way of getting back at mother. But the
narcissist is frustrated by his inability to meaningfully interact
with women, by their apparent emotional depth and powers of
psychological penetration (real or attributed) and by their
Women's incessant demands for intimacy are perceived by the
narcissist as a threat. He recoils instead of getting closer. The
cerebral narcissist also despises and derides sex, as we said
before. Thus, caught in a seemingly intractable repetition complex,
in approach-avoidance cycles, the narcissist becomes furious at the
source of his frustration. Some narcissists set out to do some
frustrating of their own. They tease (passively or actively), or
they pretend to be asexual and, in any case, they turn down, rather
cruelly, any feminine attempt to court them and to get closer.
Sadistically, they tremendously enjoy their ability to frustrate the
desires, passions and sexual wishes of women. It makes them feel
omnipotent and self-righteous. Narcissists regularly frustrate all
women sexually – and significant women in their lives both sexually
Somatic narcissists simply use women as objects and then discard
them. They masturbate, using women as "flesh and blood aides". The
emotional background is identical. While the cerebral narcissist
punishes through abstention – the somatic narcissist penalises
The narcissist's mother kept behaving as though the narcissist was
and is not special (to her). The narcissist's whole life is a
pathetic and pitiful effort to prove her wrong. The narcissist
constantly seeks confirmation from others that he is special – in
other words that he is, that he actually exists.
Women threaten this quest. Sex is "bestial" and "common". There is
nothing "special or unique" about sex. Women's sexual needs threaten
to reduce the narcissist to the lowest common denominator: intimacy,
sex and human emotions. Everybody and anybody can feel, copulate and
breed. There is nothing in these activities to set the narcissist
apart and above others. And yet women seem to be interested only in
these pursuits. Thus, the narcissist emotionally believes that women
are the continuation of his mother by other means and in different
The narcissist hates women virulently, passionately and
uncompromisingly. His hate is primal, irrational, the progeny of
mortal fear and sustained abuse. Granted, most narcissists learn how
to disguise, even repress these untoward feelings. But their hatred
does swing out of control and erupt from time to time.
To live with a narcissist is an arduous and eroding task.
Narcissists are infinitely pessimistic, bad-tempered, paranoid and
sadistic in an absent-minded and indifferent manner. Their daily
routine is a rigmarole of threats, complaints, hurts, eruptions,
moodiness and rage.
The narcissist rails against slights true and imagined. He alienates
people. He humiliates them because this is his only weapon against
his own humiliation wrought by their indifference. Gradually,
wherever he is, the narcissist's social circle dwindles and then
Every narcissist is also a schizoid, to some extent. A schizoid is
not a misanthrope. The narcissist does not necessarily hate people –
he simply does not need them. He regards social interactions as a
nuisance to be minimised.
The narcissist is torn between his need to obtain Narcissistic
Supply (from human beings) – and his fervent wish to be left alone.
This wish springs from contempt and overwhelming feelings of
There are fundamental conflicts between dependence, counter-
dependence and contempt, neediness and devaluation, seeking and
avoiding, turning on the charm to attract adulation and reacting
wrathfully to the minutest "provocations". These conflicts lead to
rapid cycling between gregariousness and self-imposed ascetic
Such an unpredictable but always bilious and festering ambience,
typical of the narcissist's "romantic" liaisons is hardly conducive
to love or sex. Gradually, both become extinct. Relationships are
hollowed out. Imperceptibly, the narcissist switches to asexual co-
But the vitriolic environment that the narcissist creates is only
one hand of the equation. The other hand involves the woman herself.
As we said, heterosexual narcissists are attracted to women, but
simultaneously repelled, horrified, bewitched and provoked by them.
They seek to frustrate and humiliate them. Psychodynamically, the
narcissist probably visits upon them his mother's sins – but such
simplistic explanation does the subject great injustice.
Most narcissists are misogynists. Their sexual and emotional lives
are perturbed and chaotic. They are unable to love in any true sense
of the word – nor are they capable of developing any measure of
intimacy. Lacking empathy, they are unable to offer to their
partners emotional sustenance.
Do narcissists miss loving, would they have liked to love and are
they angry with their parents for crippling them in this respect?
To the narcissist, these questions are incomprehensible. There is no
way they can answer them. Narcissists have never loved. They do not
know what is it that they are supposedly missing. Observing it from
the outside, love seems to them to be a risible pathology.
Narcissists equate love with weakness. They hate being weak and they
hate and despise weak people (and, therefore, the sick, the old and
the young). They do not tolerate what they consider to be stupidity,
disease and dependence – and love seems to consist of all three.
These are not sour grapes. They really feel this way.
Narcissists are angry men – but not because they never experienced
love and probably never will. They are angry because they are not as
powerful, awe inspiring and successful as they wish they were and,
to their mind, deserve to be. Because their daydreams refuse so
stubbornly to come true. Because they are their worst enemy. And
because, in their unmitigated paranoia, they see adversaries
plotting everywhere and feel discriminated against and
Many of them (the borderline narcissists) cannot conceive of life in
one place with one set of people, doing the same thing, in the same
field with one goal within a decades-old game plan. To them, this is
the equivalent of death. They are most terrified of boredom and
whenever faced with its daunting prospect, they inject drama or even
danger into their lives. This way they feel alive.
The narcissist is a lonely wolf. He is a shaky platform, indeed, on
which to base a family, or plans for the future.
A good point of departure would be jealousy, or rather, its
pathological form, envy.
The narcissist becomes anxious when he grows aware of how
romantically jealous (possessive) he is. This is a peculiar
response. Normally, anxiety is characteristic of other kinds of
interactions with the opposite sex where the possibility of
rejection exists. Most men, for instance, feel anxious before they
ask a woman to have sex with them.
The narcissist, in contrast, has a limited and underdeveloped
spectrum of emotional reactions. Anxiety characterises all his
interactions with the opposite sex and any situation in which there
is a remote possibility that he would be rejected or abandoned.
Anxiety is an adaptive mechanism. It is the internal reaction to
conflict. When the narcissist envies his female mate he is
experiencing precisely such an unconscious conflict.
Jealousy is (justly) perceived as a form of transformed aggression.
To direct it at the narcissist's female partner (who stands in for
the Primary Object, his mother) is to direct it at a forbidden
object. It triggers a strong feeling of imminent punishment – a
likely abandonment (physical or emotional).
But this is merely the "surface" conflict. There is yet another
layer, much harder to reach and to decipher.
To feed his envy, the narcissist exercises his imagination. He
imagines situations, which justify his negative emotions. If his
mate is sexually promiscuous this justifies romantic jealousy – he
The narcissist is a con artist. He easily substitutes fiction for
truth. What commences as an elaborate daydream ends up in the
narcissist's mind as a plausible scenario. But, then, if his
suspicions are true (they are bound to be – otherwise, why is he
jealous?), there is no way he can accept his partner back, says the
narcissist to himself. If she is unfaithful – how could the
Infidelity and lack of exclusivity violate the first and last
commandment of narcissism: uniqueness.
The narcissist tends to regard his partner's cheating in absolute
terms. The "other" guy must be better and more special than he is.
Since the narcissist is nothing but a reflection, a glint in the
eyes of others, when cast aside by his spouse or mate, he feels
annulled and wrecked.
His partner, in this single (real or imagined) act of adultery, is
perceived by the narcissist to have passed judgment upon him as a
whole – not merely upon this or that aspect of his personality and
not merely in connection with the issue of sexual or emotional
This perceived negation of his uniqueness makes it impossible for
the narcissist to survive in a relationship tainted by jealousy.
Yet, there is nothing more dreadful to a narcissist than the ending
of a relationship, or abandonment.
Many narcissists strike an unhealthy balance. Being emotionally (and
physically or sexually) absent, they drive the partner to find
emotional and physical gratification outside the bond. This
achieved, they feel vindicated – they are proven right in being
The narcissist is then able to accept the partner back and to
forgive her. After all – he argues – her two-timing was precipitated
by the narcissist's own absence and was always under his control.
The narcissist experiences a kind of sadistic satisfaction that he
possesses such power over his partner.
In provoking the partner to adopt a socially aberrant behaviour he
sees proof of his mastery. He reads into the subsequent scene of
forgiveness and reconciliation the same meaning. It proves both his
magnanimity and how addicted to him his partner has become.
The more severe the extramarital affair, the more it provides the
narcissist with the means to control his partner through her guilt.
His ability to manipulate his partner increases the more forgiving
and magnanimous he is. He never forgets to mention to her (or, at
least, to himself) how wonderful he is for having thus sacrificed
Here he is – with his unique, superior traits – willing to accept
back a disloyal, inconsiderate, disinterested, self-centred,
sadistic (and, entre nous, most ordinary) partner back. True,
henceforth he is likely to invest less in the relationship, to
become non-committal, and, probably, to be full of rage and hatred.
Still, she is the narcissist's one and only. The more voluptuous,
tumultuous, inane the relationship, the better it suits the
After all, aren't such tortuous relationships the stuff Oscar
winning movies are made of? Shouldn't the narcissist's life be
special in this sense, too? Aren't the biographies of great men
adorned with such abysses of emotions?
If an emotional or sexual infidelity does occur (and very often it
does), it is usually a cry for help by the narcissist's mate. A
forlorn cause: this rigidly deformed personality structure is
incapable of change.
Usually, the partner is the dependent or avoidant type and is
equally inherently incapable of changing anything in her life. Such
couples have no common narrative or agenda and only their
psychopathologies are compatible. They hold each other hostage and
vie for the ransom.
The dependent partner can determine for the narcissist what is right
and virtuous and what is wrong and evil as well as enhance and
maintain his feeling of uniqueness (by wanting him). She, therefore,
possesses the power to manipulate him. Sometimes she does so because
years of emotional deprivation and humiliation by the narcissist
have made her hate him.
The narcissist – forever "rational", forever afraid to get in touch
with his emotions – often divides his relationships with humans
to "contractual" and "non contractual", multiplying the former at
the expense of the latter. By doing so he drowns the immediate,
identifiable, emotional problems (with his partner) in a torrent of
irrelevant frivolities (his obligation within numerous
other "contractual" "relationships").
The narcissist likes to believe that he is the maker of the decision
which type of relationship he establishes with whom. He doesn't even
bother to be explicit about it. Sometimes people believe that they
have a "contractual" (binding and long-term) relationship with the
narcissist, while he entertains an entirely different notion without
informing them. These, naturally, are grounds for innumerable
disappointments and misunderstandings.
The narcissist often says that he has a contract with his
girlfriend/spouse. This contract has emotional articles and
One of the substantive clauses of this contract is emotional and
But the narcissist feels that the fulfilment of his contracts –
especially with his female partner – is asymmetrical. He is firmly
convinced that he gives and contributes to his relationships more
than he receives from them. The narcissist needs to feel deprived
and punished, thus upholding the guilty verdict rendered by the
primary and all important object in his life (usually, his mother).
The narcissist, though highly amoral (and at times, immoral), holds
himself, morally, in high regard. He describes contracts as "sacred"
and feels averse to cancelling or violating them even if they had
expired or are invalidated by the behaviour of the other parties.
But the narcissist is not constant and predictable in his
judgements. Thus, a violation of the contract by his romantic
partner is deemed to be either trivial or nothing less than earth-
shattering. If a contract is violated by the narcissist he is
invariably tormented by his conscience to the extent of calling the
contract (the relationship) off even if the partner judges the
violation to be trivial or explicitly forgives the narcissist.
In other words, sometimes the narcissist feels compelled to cancel a
contract just because he violated it and in order not to be
tormented by his conscience (by his Superego, the internalised
voices of his parents and other meaningful adults in his childhood).
But things get even more complex.
The narcissist acts asymmetrically as long as he feels bound by the
contract. He tends to judge himself more severely than he judges the
other parties to the contract. He forces himself to comply more
strenuously than his partners do with the terms of the contract.
But this is because he needs the contract – the relationship – more
than the others do.
The annulment or the termination of a contract represent rejection
and abandonment, which the narcissist fears most. The narcissist
would rather pretend that a contract is still valid than admit to
the demise of a relationship. He never violates contracts because he
is afraid of the reprisals and of the emotional consequences. But
this is not to be confused with developed morals. When confronted
with better alternatives – which more efficiently cater to his
needs – the narcissist annuls or violates his contracts without
Moreover, not all contracts were created equal in the narcissistic
twilight zone. It is the narcissist who retains the power to decide
which contracts are to be scrupulously observed and which
offhandedly ignored. The narcissist determines which laws (social
contracts) to obey and which to break.
He expects society, his partners, his colleagues, his spouse, his
children, his parents, his students, his teachers – in short:
absolutely everyone – to abide by his rulebook. White collar
narcissist criminals, for instance, see nothing wrong with their
misconduct. They regard themselves as law-abiding, God-fearing,
community-members. Their acts are committed in a mental enclave, a
psychological no man's land, where no laws or contracts are binding.
The narcissist is sometimes perceived as whimsical, traitorous,
posing and double crossing. The truth is that he is predictable and
consistent. He follows one over-riding principle: the principle of
The narcissist had internalised a bad object. He feels corrupt,
deserving to fail, to be disgraced and punished. He is forever
surprised and thankful when good things happen to him. Out of touch
with his own emotions and with his capabilities, he either
exaggerates them or underestimates them.
He is likely to be grateful to his partner – and berate her! – for
having chosen him to be her mate. Deep inside, he thinks that no one
else would have been (or will be) as foolish, blind, or ignorant to
have made this choice. The purported stupidity and blindness of his
mate or spouse is substantiated by the very fact that she is his
mate or spouse. Only a stupid and blind person would have preferred
the narcissist, with his myriad deficiencies, to others.
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This feeling of a "lucky break" is the true source of the asymmetry
in the narcissist's relationships. The partner, having made this
incredible choice to live with the narcissist (to bear this cross)
is worthy of special consideration in compensation. The narcissist's
willing partner – a rarity – warrants special treatment and a
special (double) standard. The partner can be unfaithful,
withholding (emotionally, financially), be dependent, be abusive,
critical and so on – and, yet, be forgiven unconditionally.
This, no doubt, is the direct result of the narcissist's very flawed
sense of self-worth and of an overpowering sense of inferiority.
This asymmetry is also an effective barrier against the expression
of anger, even legitimate anger.
Instead, the narcissist accumulates his grievances every time that
the partner takes advantage of the asymmetry (or is perceived by the
narcissist to be doing so). The narcissist tries to convince himself
that such abuse is an expected result of the daily friction of
cohabitation, especially by partners with radically different
Some of the anger is passively-aggressively expressed. The frequency
of sexual relations is reduced. Less sex, less talk, less touch.
Sometimes the pent-up aggression erupts explosively in the form of
rage attacks. These are usually followed by panicky reactions
intended to restore the balance and to reassure the narcissist that
he is not about to be abandoned.
Following such rage attacks, the narcissist regresses to
passiveness, maudlin tenderness, appeasing gestures, or to wimpish,
saccharine, and infantile behaviour. The narcissist does not expect
or accept same behaviour from his partner. She is allowed to be
cantankerous to her heart's content without as much as apologising.
Another hurdle on the narcissist's way to establishing lasting (if
not healthy) relationships is his excess rationality and, chiefly,
his tendency to generalise on the basis of tenuous and flimsy
The narcissist regards abandonment or rejection by his emotional-
sexual partners as a final verdict concerning his very ability to
have such relationships in the future. Because of the mechanisms of
self-denigration I have described, the narcissist is likely to
idealise his mate and believe that she must have been uniquely
predisposed and "equipped" to cope with him.
He "remembers" the way his partner sacrificed herself on the altar
of the relationship. The more convinced the narcissist is that his
partner invested extraordinarily in the relationship and the more
assured he is that she was uniquely equipped to succeed in it – the
more frightened he becomes.
Why the fear?
Because if this partner, as qualified as she was, as desirous of him
as she was, failed to sustain the relationship – surely, no one else
is likely to succeed. The narcissist believes that he is doomed to
an existence of loneliness and destitution. He stands no chance of
ever having a resilient, healthy relationship with another partner.
The narcissist would do anything to avoid this conclusion. He begs
his partner to return and re-establish the relationship, no matter
what transpired. Her very return proves to him that he is worthy,
the preferred alternative, someone with whom maintaining a
relationship is possible.
The partner, in other words, is the narcissist's equivalent of
market research. That he was chosen by the partner is tantamount to
receiving a quality award.
This dyad comprised of a "quality inspector" and a "chosen product"
is only one of the pairs of roles adopted by the narcissist and his
partner. Others include: "the sick" and "the healthy", "the
doctor/psychologist" and "the patient", "the poor, underprivileged
girl" and "the white knight in shining armour" dyads.
Both roles – the narcissist's and the one willingly (or unwillingly)
adopted by the partner – are facets of the narcissist's personality.
Through complex Projective Identification processes and other
projective defence mechanisms the narcissist fosters a dialogue
between parts of his self, using his partner as a mirror and a
Thus, by fostering such dialogs, the narcissist's relationships have
a highly therapeutic value on the one hand. On the other hand they
suffer from all the problems of a regime of psychotherapy:
transference, counter-transference and the like.
Let us briefly study the pair of roles "sick-healthy" or "patient-
doctor". The narcissist can assume either role in this pair.
If the narcissist is the "healthy" one, he attributes to his "sick"
partner his own inability to form long-standing, emotion-infused
couple relationships. This would be because she is "sick" (sexually
hyperactive, "nymphomaniac", frigid, unable to commit, to be
intimate, unjust, moody, or traumatised by events in her past).
The narcissist, on the other hand, judges himself to be homely and
striving to establish a "healthy" couple. He interprets the
behaviour of his partner to support this "theory". His partner
displays emergent behaviours, which conform with her role.
Sometimes, the narcissist invests less in such a relationship
because he regards his mere existence – sane, strong, omnipotent,
and omniscient – to be a sufficient investment (a gift, really),
voiding the need to add "maintenance efforts" to it.
In the other, converse case, the narcissist labels many of his
behaviour patterns as "sick". This usually coincides with latent or
open hypochondriasis. The partner's health is idealised to form the
background with which the narcissist's purported sickness is
contrasted. This is a responsibility shifting mechanism. If the
narcissist's pathology is deep seated and irreversible – then he
cannot be held responsible for his actions, past and future.
This role playing is the narcissist's ways of coping with an
The narcissist is mortally terrified of being abandoned by his
partner. This fear drives him to minimise his interactions with his
partner to avoid the inevitable pain of rejection. This, in turn,
leads exactly to the feared abandonment. The narcissist knows that
his behaviour instigates that which he is so afraid of.
In a way he is happy about it, because it gives him the illusion
that he is in exclusive control of the relationship and of his own
fate. His alleged "sickness" helps to explain his unusual conduct.
Ultimately, the narcissist loses his partners in all his
relationships. He hates himself for it and is enraged. It is because
of the life-threatening magnitude of these negative emotions that
they are repressed. Every conceivable psychological defence
mechanism is employed to sublimate, transform (through cognitive
dissonance), dissociate or re-direct this self-mutilating wrath.
This constant inner turmoil generates unremitting fear manifested in
the form of anxiety attacks, or an anxiety disorder. In the course
of such life crises, the narcissist briefly believes that he is
intrinsically deformed and defective and that he is irreparably
dysfunctional when it comes to establishing and to maintaining
relationships (which is true!).
The narcissist – especially during a life crisis – loses touch with
reality. Defective reality tests and even psychotic micro-episodes
are common. Narcissists interpret the (fairly common) mismatch
between personalities that doomed the relationships in an
apocalyptic manner. Dependence, a symbiotic interaction, raises
doubts regarding the narcissist's very ability to form relationships.
But throughout all this, the narcissist needs a collaborative
partner. He needs someone to serve as a sounding board, a mirror,
and a victim. In other words, he needs a Polyandric woman.
The narcissist thinks of all women as either Monoandric or
The Monoandric woman is psychologically mature. She is usually older
and sexually sated. She prefers intimacy and companionship to sexual
satisfaction. She is in possession of a mental blueprint, which
dictates her short-term goals. In her relationships, she emphasises
compatibility and is predominantly verbal.
The narcissist reacts with fear and repulsion (mixed with rage and
the wish to frustrate) to the Monoandric woman. Consciously, though,
he realises that intimacy can be created only with this kind of
The Polyandric woman is young (if not of age, then at heart). She is
still sexually curious and varies her sexual partners. She is not
adept at creating intimacy and emotional rapport. Because she is
more interested in the accumulation of experiences – her life is not
guided by a "master plan", or even by medium-term goals.
The narcissist is aware of the transience of his relationship with
the Polyandric woman. So, he is attracted to her while being
devoured by his fear of abandonment.
The narcissist, almost always, finds himself paired with Polyandric
women. They pose no threat of getting emotionally close to him (of
being intimate). The incompatibility between the narcissist and
Polyandric women is so high and the probability of abandonment and
rejection so great – that intimacy is all but excluded.
Moreover, this consuming fear of being left behind leads to a re-
enactment of the primordial Oedipal Conflict and to a whole set of
transference relations with the Polyandric woman. This inevitably
results in the very abandonment the narcissist so dreads. Serious
psychological crises follow such relationships (narcissistic trauma
The narcissist knows (or, if less self-aware, feels) all this. He is
not as much attracted to the Polyandric woman as he is repelled by
the Monoandric variety. Monoandric women threaten him with two
things deemed by the narcissist to be even worse than abandonment:
intimacy and a loss of uniqueness. Monoandric women are the venue
through which the narcissist can communicate with his very
threatening inner world. Last but not least, they want him to settle
into a moulded non-unique way of life common to virtually all
humanity: marriage, children, a career.
On the one hand, there is nothing like children to make the
narcissist feel threatened. They are the embodiment of commonness, a
reminder of his own, dark, childhood, and an infringement upon his
privileges. They compete with him for scarce Narcissistic Supply.
On the other hand, there is nothing like children to boost an
habitually flagging Ego. In short, nothing like children to create
conflict in the tormented soul of the narcissist.
The narcissist does not react to people (or interact with them) as
individuals. Rather, he generalises and tends to treat people as
symbols or "classes". This is also true in his relationships
with "his" women. Women resent this kind of treatment and,
gradually, the narcissist finds it more and more difficult to be
himself with them.
Women analyse his body language, his verbal and non-verbal
communication and compare their own pathologies to his. They study
his behaviour patterns and his interactions with his (human) milieu
and (non-human) environment. They test their sexual compatibility by
having sex with him.
They examine other types of compatibility by cohabiting or by
prolonged dating. Their mating decision is based on the data they
thus glean plus some "evolutionary survival parameters": the
narcissist's genotype (genetic and chemical makeup), his phenotype
(his looks and constitution), as well as his access to economic
This is a standard mating procedure with standard mating checklists.
The narcissist usually passes the genotype and phenotype reviews.
Many narcissists, however, fail the third test: their ability to
support themselves and their dependants economically. Narcissism is
a very unstable mental condition and it complicates the narcissist's
functioning in daily life.
Most narcissists tend to move between numerous positions and jobs,
to gamble away their savings, and to become heavily indebted. The
narcissist rarely accumulates wealth, property, assets, or
possessions. The narcissist prefers to fake knowledge rather than to
acquire it and to compromise rather to fight.
He usually finds himself engaged in capacities far below his
intellectual ability. Women notice this as well as his pompous,
inflated body language, haughtiness, rage attacks and severe acting
out. Finally, the closer they get to the narcissist, the more they
are be able to discern antisocial, abnormal, and a-normative
The narcissist turns out to be a crook, an adventurer, a crisis-
prone, danger seeking, emotionally cold, sexually abstaining or
hyperactive individual. He might be self-destructive, self-
defeating, success-fearing, and media-addicted. His turbulent
biography is likely to include abnormal sexual and emotional
relationships, prison terms, bankruptcies and divorces. Hardly the
Even worse, the narcissist regards women as a direct threat to his
uniqueness, and a potential for degradation. To him, they are the
conformity agents of society, the domesticating whips. By forcing
him into homemaking, child rearing and the assumption of long-term
consumer credits (and mortgages), women are likely to reduce the
narcissist to a Common Man, an anathema. Women represent an invasion
of the narcissist's privacy, unmasking his defence mechanisms by "X-
raying" his soul (the narcissist attributes paranormal powers of
penetration to women).
They possess the ability to hurt him through abandonment and
rejection. The narcissist feels that women are very "business-like,
use and discard" type of people. They exploit their capacities for
deep psychological insight to further their goals. In other words,
they are sinister and are not to be trusted. Their motives should
always be questioned.
This is the old fear of intimacy disguised. These are the old
phobias: of being controlled, of being assimilated, of losing
control, of being hurt, of being vulnerable. This is the deep-rooted
feeling of emotional inadequacy. The narcissist believes that, upon
closer scrutiny, he will be found lacking emotionally and, thus,
It is part of the narcissist's "Con-Artist Effect". The narcissist
feels an objective and thorough scrutiny is bound to expose him for
what he is: a fake, an impostor, a con man. The narcissist is the
chameleon-like "Zelig" – everything to everyone, no one to himself.
Narcissists interact with women emotionally (and later, sexually),
or only physically.
When the interaction is emotional, the narcissist feels that he is
risking the loss of his uniqueness, that his privacy is invaded,
that his defence mechanisms are being unravelled, and that
information divulged by him (following the collapse of his defences)
might be abused through destructive criticism or extortion.
The narcissist constantly feels that he is rejected. Even if such
rejection is the normal outcome of incompatibility, without any
comparative judgment and "rating" – the feeling persists. The
narcissist just "knows" that she is not sexually or emotionally
exclusive (others preceded him and others will succeed him).
During the initial phases of emotional involvement the narcissist is
likely to be told that there was no one like him in the partner's
life before. He judges this to be a false and hypocritical statement
simply because it is likely to have been uttered before, to others.
This prevailing sense of falsity permeates the relationship from the
In the back of his mind the narcissist always remembers that he
is "different" (sick). He recognises that this deformity is likely
to thwart any relationship and to lead to abandonment, or at lease
to rejection. The seeds of abandonment are embedded in every nascent
interaction with a woman. The narcissist has to cope with his
special predicament as well as with social changes and the
disintegration of the social fabric, which anyhow make sustaining
relationship an ever more difficult achievement in today's world.
The alternative, mere corporeal contact, the narcissist finds
repellent. There, uniqueness and exclusivity – what the narcissist
relishes most – are definitely absent.
This is especially true if an emotional dimension does exist in the
relationship. Whereas the narcissist can always convince himself
that both his emotions and their background are unique and
unprecedented – he is hard pressed to do so concerning the sexual
aspect of the relationship. Surely, he hasn't been his lover's first
sexual partner and sex is a common and vulgar pursuit.
Still, some narcissists prefer less complicated and less threatening
sex: devoid of all emotion, anonymous (group sex, prostitution) or
autoerotic (homosexual or masturbation). The sexual partner, in
these conditions, lacks identity, is objectified and dehumanised.
Exclusivity cannot be demanded of objects and the potential risk of
unfaithfulness is happily allayed.
An example that I always use: a narcissist, eating in a restaurant,
would rarely feel that his uniqueness is threatened by the fact that
thousands of people ate there before him and are likely to do so
after his departure. Eating in a restaurant is an impersonal,
The notion of his own uniqueness is so fragile that the narcissist
requires "total compliance" in order to be able to maintain it.
Thus, the emotional and sexual exclusivity of his partner (a pillar
in the temple of his uniqueness) must be both spatial and temporal.
To satisfy the narcissist, the partner must be sexually and
emotionally exclusive in both her past and her present. This sounds
highly possessive – and it is. The narcissist shivers at the thought
of his partner's past lovers and her exploits with them. He is even
jealous of movie actors, whom his partner finds appealing.
This need not deteriorate into active, violent jealousy. In most
cases, it is an insidious form of envy, which poisons the
relationship through mutated forms of aggression.
The narcissist's possessiveness is geared to safeguard his self-
imputed uniqueness. The partner's exclusivity enhances the
narcissist's sensation of uniqueness. But why can't the narcissist
be unique to his partner today as others have been to her in the
Because serial uniqueness is a contradiction in terms, uniqueness
means ultimate compatibility, enzyme and substrate, protein and
receptor, antigen and antibody, almost immunological specificity.
The likelihood of serially enjoying precisely such compatibility
with successive partners is very low.
For serial compatibility to occur the following conditions have to
be met (believes the narcissist):
That one (or both) of the partners will have changed so radically
that the former specifications of compatibility are replaced by new
ones. This radical change can come from the inside (endogenous) or
from the outside (exogenous).
Such a dramatic shift must, therefore, occur with every new partner.
Or that each partner is even more specifically compatible than its
predecessor – a highly unlikely occurrence.
Or that compatibility is never achieved and one (or both) partners
react badly to some of the specifications and initiates separation
in order to move on to a more suitable partner.
Or that compatibility is never achieved and any claim to the
contrary (especially the sentence "I love you") is false. The
relationship, in this case, is contaminated by major hypocrisy.
Yet, narcissists do get married. They do try to have lifetime
partners. This is because they distinguish "their" women from all
other. The narcissist's occasional girlfriend (however "permanent")
and his permanent partner (however randomly chosen) must satisfy
The permanent partner (wife, usually) must meet four conditions:
She must act as the narcissist's companion but on highly unequal
terms. She must be submissive and motherly, sufficiently intelligent
to admire and admiring enough never to criticise, critical enough to
assist him and helpful enough to make a good friend. This
contradictory equation can never be solved and leads to bouts of
frustration and rage staged by the narcissist if any of his demands
or expectations goes unheeded.
The narcissist's partner has to share quarters with him. But the
narcissist, with an inflated sense of privacy and what can be best
described as spatial paranoia, is very hard to live with. He regards
her presence in his space as intrusion. The fragile or non-existent
boundaries of his Ego force him to define rigid outer boundaries for
fear of being "invaded".
He enforces his brand of compulsive orderliness and his code of
conduct on his entire physical space in the most tyrannical manner.
It is a hybrid, almost transcendental existence led by the
narcissist's mate or spouse. There when required by him, making
herself absent at all other times. Rarely can she define her own
space or impress her personal preferences and tastes upon it.
The cerebral narcissist's partner is usually his only sexual mate.
Cerebral narcissists are normally very faithful because they are
mortally afraid of the repercussions if found out cheating. But,
being purely Sexual Communicators, they get bored very easily and
find it ever more taxing to maintain regular (let alone exciting)
sexual relations with the same partner.
They are under-stimulated and for want of alternatives, they develop
a vicious frustration-aggression cycle, leading to emotional absence
and coldness and to sexual intercourse decreasing in both quality
and quantity. This could drive the partner to having extramarital
sexual (or, even emotional) affairs.
It provides the narcissist with the justification that he needs to
do the same. However, the narcissist rarely uses this license.
Instead he leverages the partner's inevitable guilt feelings to
deepen his control over her and to place himself in a morally
Often, the narcissist destabilises the relationship and keeps his
partner off-balance, in constant uncertainty and insecurity by
suggesting an open marriage, possible participation in group sex and
so on. Or, he constantly alludes to sexual opportunities available
to him. This he might do jokingly but he ignores his partner's avid
protestations. By provoking her jealousy, the narcissist believes
that he endears himself to her and furthers his control.
Last – but definitely not least – is the issue of procreation and of
Narcissists like children only as unlimited Sources of Narcissistic
Supply. Put simply: children unconditionally admire the father-
narcissist, they succumb to his every wish, submit to his every
whim, obey his every command, and are deliciously malleable.
All other aspects of child-rearing are considered by the narcissist
to be repulsive: the noises, the smells, the invasion of his space,
the nuisance, the dangers, the long-term commitment and, above all,
the diversion of attention and admiration from the narcissist to his
offspring. The narcissist envies his successful offspring as he
would any other competitor for adulation and attention.
A profile of the narcissist's spouse emerges:
She must value the narcissist's companionship sufficiently to
sacrifice any independent expression of her personality. She must
usually endure confinement in her own home. She either refrains from
bringing children to the world altogether or sacrifices them to the
narcissist as instruments of his gratification. She must endure long
spells of sexual abstinence or be sexually molested by the
This is a vicious cycle. The narcissist is likely to devalue such a
submissive partner. The narcissist detests self-sacrifice and self-
effacement. He scorns such behaviour in others. He humiliates his
partner until she leaves him and, thus, proves that she is assertive
and autonomous. Then, of course, he idealises her and wants her back.
The narcissist is interested in the kind of woman that he is able to
drive to abandon him by sadistically berating and humiliating her
(on what could be regarded as justified grounds).
In his internal dialogues, the narcissist mulls over his problematic
experience with the opposite sex.
A far as he is concerned, women are emotional objects, instant
narcissistic solutions. As long as they are indiscriminately
supportive, adoring and admiring they fulfil the critical role of
Source of Narcissistic Supply.
We are on safe ground, therefore, when we say that mentally stable
and healthy women refrain from having relationships with narcissists.
The narcissist's lifestyle, his reactions, in short: his disorder,
prevent the development of a mature love, of real sharing, of
empathy. The narcissist's mate, spouse, or partner is treated as an
object. She is the subject of projections, Projective
Identifications and a source of adulation.
Moreover, the narcissist himself is unlikely to cultivate a long-
term relationship with a psychologically healthy, independent, and
mature woman. He seeks her dependence within a relationship of
superiority and inferiority (teacher-student, guru-disciple, idol-
admirer, therapist-patient, doctor-patient, father-daughter, adult-
adolescent or young girl, etc.).
The narcissist is an anachronism. He is a Victorian arch
conservative, even if he denies it vehemently. He rejects feminism.
He feels ill at ease in today's modern world and is seldom self-
conscious enough to understand why. He pretends to be a liberal. But
this conviction does not sit well with his envy, an integral element
of his narcissistic personality.
His conservatism and jealousy combine to yield extreme
possessiveness and a powerful fear of abandonment. The latter can
(and does) bring about self-defeating and self-destructive
behaviours. These, in turn, encourage the partner to abandon the
narcissist. The narcissist, thus, feels that he has aided and
abetted the process, that he facilitated his own abandonment.
This is all part of a facade whose genesis can only be partially
attributed to repression or denial mechanisms. This fake front is
coherent, consistent, ubiquitous and completely misleading. The
narcissist uses it to project both his cognition (the results of
conscious thought processes) and his affect (emotions).
The narcissist, for instance, would adopt the role of a warm,
sensitive, considerate and empathic person – while, in truth, he is
likely to be emotionally shallow, to have attention deficits, to be
inordinately self-centred, insensitive and unaware of what is
happening around him and to other people.
He makes promises casually, plagiarises with abandon, and
pathologically (compulsively and unnecessarily) lies – all part of
the same phenomenon: a promising, impressive front behind, which are
concealed psychical "Potemkin Villages". This makes him the target
of strong frustration, hate, hostility and even verbal, physical or
The same scenario applies to matters of the heart. The narcissist
employs the same tactics with women.
The narcissist lies because he thinks his reality is too "grey" and
unattractive. He feels that his skills, traits, and experience are
lacking, that his biography is boring, that many aspects of his life
call for improvement. The narcissist desperately wants to be loved –
and modifies and mends himself to render himself loveable.
To this there is only one exception.
The sociologist Erving Goffman coined the phrase "Total
Institutions". He was referring to institutions with total
regulation of the totality of life within them. The army is such an
institution and so is a hospital, or a prison. To some extent, any
alien environment is total. Living outside one's country, in a
foreign, somewhat xenophobic and hostile, society, is reminiscent of
living in a Total Institution ("Total Situation").
The mental health problems of some narcissists grow worse in such
institutions – and this is understandable. There is nothing like a
Total Institution to negate uniqueness.
But others feel relaxed and secure. How come?
This is an enigma the solution to which provides us with important
insights regarding the codes, which control the narcissist's
attitudes towards women.
Total Institutions and Total Situations have a few common
They eliminate the individual's idiosyncratic identity through
external measures such as donning uniforms, sleeping in dormitories,
using numbers instead of names. In hospitals the patients are
identified by their organs or conditions, for instance. But this is
counter-weighed by a sense of emerging, compensatory uniqueness, the
result of belonging to a mysterious select few, an order of
suffering or guilt, a brotherhood of endurance.
People in these places have no past or future. They live in an
The starting conditions of all the inmates are identical. There are
no relative or absolute advantages, no value judgments, no rating of
worthiness, no competition, no inferiority or superiority complexes
induced from the outside. This, naturally, is a gross
oversimplification, even, to some extent, a misstatement of the
facts – but we need to idealise in order to analyse.
The Total Institution offers no frame of reference or of comparison
which might foster feelings of failure or of inferiority.
The constant threat of sanctions restrains and constrains
A heightened awareness of reality is necessary for survival. Any
self-injury or sabotage is punished more severely than in the
outside, "relative", world.
Thus, the narcissist can attribute any failure to his new
If his new environment is the outcome of a voluntary choice (for
instance, emigration) the narcissist can say that it was he who
chose failure over success – a choice that indeed he made.
Otherwise, the failure is ascribed to overriding external
imperatives ("force majeure"). The narcissist has an alternative in
this case. He doesn't have to identify with his failures or to
internalise them because he can convincingly argue (mainly to
himself) that they are not his, that success was impossible under
the objective circumstances.
Coping with recurrent failure is a figment of the narcissist's inner
life. The narcissist would tend to regard himself as a failure. He
doesn't say: "I failed" – but "I am a failure". Whenever he fails –
and he is predisposed to fail – he "assimilates" the failure and
identifies with it in an act of transubstantiation.
Narcissists are more prone to failure because of their built-in
precariousness, instability and their tendency for brinkmanship. The
schism between their rational apparatus and their emotional one
doesn't help, either. While, usually, highly talented and
intelligent – narcissists are emotionally immature and pathological.
Narcissists know that they are inferior to other people in that they
are self-defeating and self-destructive. They solve this gap between
their grandiose fantasies and their sordid and drab reality (the
Grandiosity Gap) by manufacturing and designing their own failures.
This way they feel that they control their misfortune.
Obviously, this apparently ingenious mechanism is, in itself,
On the one hand, it succeeds to make the narcissist feel that he is
in control of his failures (if not of his life). On the other hand,
the fact that the failure directly and unequivocally emanates from
the narcissist – makes it an inseparable part of him. Thus, the
narcissist feels not only that he is the author of his own failures
(which, in some cases, he, indeed, is) – but that failure forms an
integral part of himself (which, gradually, becomes true).
It is due to this identification with his failures, defeats and
mishaps, that the narcissist finds it hard to "market" himself, be
it to a potential employer or to a woman he desires.
The narcissist holds himself to be a total (systemic) failure. His
self-esteem and self-image are always crippled. He feels that he
doesn't have "anything to offer". When he tries to derive
consolation from the memory of past successes – the comparison
depresses him even further, making him feel that he is at a nadir.
As it is, the narcissist regards any need to promote himself as
demeaning. One promotes oneself because one needs others, because
one is inferior (however temporarily). This reliance on others is
both external (economic, for example) and internal (emotional). The
narcissist is also afraid of the possibility of being rejected, of
failing at his self-promotion. This kind of failure may have the
worst effect, compounding the narcissist's feeling of worthlessness.
No wonder that the narcissist regards any necessity to self-promote
as humiliating, as negating his self-respect in a cold, alienated,
transactional universe. The narcissist fails to understand why he
needs to promote himself when his uniqueness is so self-evident. He
envies the successes and the happiness of others (their successful
None of these problems arises in a Total Institution or outside the
narcissist's natural milieu (abroad, for instance), or in a Total
In these settings, failure can be explained away by being attributed
to poor starting conditions inherent in a new environment. The
narcissist does not have to internalise the failure or to identify
with it. The act of self-promotion is also made much easier. It is
understandable why one has to promote oneself if one is rendered
inferior or unknown by circumstances of one's choice.
In Total Situations, the need to market oneself is understandable,
external, and objective, a force majeure, really, though brought
about by the narcissist himself. The narcissist compares the
situation to a game of chess: you select which game to play but once
you have done so, you have to abide by the rules, however
In these circumstances failure can be attributed to outside forces –
including the failure to promote oneself. The act of self-promotion
cannot, by definition, dehumanise the narcissist or humiliate him.
In a Total Institution (or in a Total Situation) the narcissist is
no longer a human being – he has nothing.
The positive aspect of Total Situations is that the narcissist is
rendered special and mysterious by virtue of being a stranger and
even by the enigma of his prior identity. The narcissist cannot envy
the natives' successes and happiness – clearly they had a head
start. They belong, they control, they dictate, they are supported
by social networks and codes.
The narcissist cannot accept that anyone is more knowledgeable than
he is. He is likely to argue vehemently with the medical staff
attending him over his treatment, for instance. But he succumbs to
force (the more brutal and explicit – the better). And while doing
so, the narcissist feels a great relief: the race is over and
responsibility has been shifted to the outside. He is almost
euphoric when relieved of the need to make decisions, or when he
finds himself in a bad spot because this vindicates his internal
voices, which keep telling him that he is bad and should be punished.
It is this fear of failure – especially the fear of failing to
promote himself – that thwarts the narcissist's relationships with
women and with other figures of authority or of import in his life.
It is really the old fear of being abandoned in one of its endless
guises. The narcissist envies his deserting partner. He knows how
difficult and emotionally wrenching it is to live with him. He
realises that his partner will be much better off without him – and
this makes him sad (that he was unable to offer her an acceptable
alternative) and envious (that her lot is likely to be better than
his.) Of course, he displaces some of his emotions, blaming his
partner, then blaming himself, angry at her and afraid to feel this
(forbidden) anger (at his mother's substitute).
The narcissist does not feel sorry because a specific individual –
his partner – abandoned him. He feels sorry because he was
abandoned. It is the act of abandonment, which matters – the
abandoning figures (his mother, his partners) are interchangeable.
The narcissist always shares his life with a fantasy, an
idealisation, with an ideal phantasm he imposes upon his real life
partner. Abandonment is only the rebellion of the real life partner
against this fiction invented and compulsively enforced by the
narcissist, against the humiliation thus suffered – verbal and
For the narcissist, to be abandoned means to be judged and found
wanting. To be deserted means to be deemed replaceable. At its
extreme, it can come to mean the emotional annihilation of the
narcissist. He feels that when a woman leaves him she does so
because there it is emotionally easy to get away from him and never
to see him again. There is no problem to bid farewell to someone who
just is not there (at least emotionally). The narcissist feels
annulled, rendered transparent, abused, exploited, and objectified.
Put differently, the narcissist experiences through abandonment
(even through the mere risk of abandonment) a re-enactment of the
very mistreatment and abuses, which, earlier in his life,
transformed him into the deformed creature that he is. He gets a
taste of the medicine (rather poison) that he often ruthlessly
administers to others. At the same time he relives his harrowing
This mirror matrix of forces is too much for the narcissist to bear.
He begins to disintegrate and veers into utter and complete
dysfunction. At this late stage, he is likely to entertain suicidal
ideation. An encounter with the opposite sex holds mortal risks for
the narcissist – more ominous than the risks normally associated
Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant
Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West
Lost the East. He served as a columnist for Global Politician,
Central Europe Review, PopMatters, Bellaonline, and eBookWeb, a
United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and
the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in
The Open Directory and Suite101.
Until recently, he served as the Economic Advisor to the Government
Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com