Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

   The Victims

On the face of it, there is no (emotional) partner or mate, who 
typically "binds" with a narcissist. They come in all shapes and 
sizes. The initial phases of attraction, infatuation and 
falling in love are pretty normal. The narcissist puts on his 
best face - the other party is blinded by budding love. A 
natural selection process occurs only much later, as the
relationship develops and is put to the test.

Living with a narcissist can be exhilarating, is always onerous, 
often harrowing. Surviving a relationship with a narcissist 
indicates, therefore, the parameters of the personality of the 
survivor. She (or, more rarely, he) is moulded by the relationship 
into The Typical Narcissistic Mate/Partner/Spouse.

First and foremost, the narcissist's partner must have a deficient 
or a distorted grasp of his self and of reality. Otherwise, she 
(or he) is bound to abandon the narcissist's grip early on. The 
cognitive distortion is likely to consist of a belittling and 
demeaning of the partner - while aggrandising and adoring the 
narcissist. The partner is, thus, placing himself in the position 
of the eternal victim: undeserving, punishable, a scapegoat. 
Sometimes, it is very important to the partner to appear moral,
sacrificial and victimised. At other times, she is not even aware 
of his predicament. The narcissist is perceived by the partner to 
be a person in the position to demand these sacrifices from the 
partner, superior in many ways (intellectually, emotionally, 
morally, financially).

The status of professional victim sits well with the partner's 
tendency to punish his self, namely: with his masochistic streak. 
The torment, which is life with a narcissist is, as far as the 
partner is aware, a just punitive measure.

In this respect, the partner is the mirror image of the narcissist. 
By maintaining a symbiotic relationship with him, by being totally 
dependent upon the source of masochistic supply (which the narcissist 
most reliably constitutes and most amply provides) - the partner 
enhances certain traits and encourages certain behaviours, which are 
at the very core of narcissism. The narcissist is never whole without 
an adoring, submissive, available, self-denigrating partner. His very 
sense of superiority, indeed his False Self, depends on it. His 
sadistic Superego switches its attentions from the Narcissist (in 
whom it often provokes suicidal ideation) to the partner, thus finally 
obtaining an alternative source of sadistic satisfaction.

It is through self-denial that the partner survives. She denies her 
wishes,hopes, dreams, aspirations, sexual needs, psychological needs, 
material needs, and much else besides. She perceives her needs as 
threatening because they might engender the wrath of the narcissist's 
God-like supreme figure. The narcissist is rendered even more superior 
through and because of this self-denial. Self-denial undertaken to 
facilitate and ease the life of a Great Man is more palatable. The 
Greater the Man (=the narcissist), the easier it is for the partner 
to ignore her own self, to dwindle, to degenerate, to turn into an 
appendix of the narcissist and, finally, to become nothing but an 
extension, to merge with the narcissist to the point of oblivion and 
of dim memories of one's self.

The two collaborate in this macabre dance. The narcissist is formed 
by his partner inasmuch as he forms her. Submission breeds superiority 
and masochism breeds sadism. The relationships are characterized by 
rampant emergentism: roles are allocated almost from the start and 
any deviation meets with an aggressive, even violent reaction.

The predominant state of the partner's mind is utter confusion. 
Even the most basic relationships - with husband, children, or 
parents - remain bafflingly obscured by the giant shadows cast by 
the intensive interaction with the narcissist. A suspension of 
judgement is part and parcel of a suspension of individuality, 
which is both a prerequisite to and the result of living with 
a narcissist. The partner no longer knows what is true and
right and what is wrong and forbidden. The narcissist recreates 
for the partner the sort of emotional ambience that led to his 
own formation in the first place: capriciousness, fickleness, 
arbitrariness, emotional (and physical or sexual) abandonment. 
The world becomes uncertain and frightening and the partner has 
only one sure thing to cling to: the narcissist.

And cling she does. If there is anything which can safely be 
said about those who emotionally team up with narcissists, 
it is that they are overtly and overly dependent, even 
compulsively so.

The partner doesn't know what to do - and this is only 
too natural in the mayhem that is the relationship with 
the narcissist is. But the typical partner also does not 
know what she wants and, to a large extent, who she is and 
what she wants to become.

These unanswered questions hamper the partner's ability to 
gauge reality, evaluate and appraise it for what it is. 
Her primordial sin is that she fell in love with an image, 
not with a real person. It is the voiding of the image that 
is mourned when the relationship ends.

The break-up of a relationship with a narcissist is, therefore, 
very emotionally charged. It is the culmination of a long chain 
of humiliations and of subjugation. It is the rebellion of the 
functioning and healthy parts of the partner's personality 
against the tyranny of the narcissist.

The partner is liable to have totally misread and misinterpreted 
the whole interaction (I hesitate to call it a relationship). 
This lack of proper interface with reality might be (erroneously) 
labelled "pathological".

Why is it that the partner seeks to prolong her pain? What is 
the source and purpose of this masochistic streak? Upon the 
break-up of the relationship, the partner (and the narcissist) 
engage in a tortuous and drawn out post mortem. But the question 
who really did what to whom (and even why) is irrelevant. What is 
relevant is to stop mourning oneself (this is what the parties 
are really mourning), start smiling again and love in a less
subservient, hopeless, and pain-inflicting manner.

     The Abuse
Abuse is an integral, inseparable part of the Narcissistic 
Personality Disorder.

The narcissist idealizes and then DEVALUES and discards the 
object of his initial idealization. This abrupt, heartless 
devaluation IS abuse. ALL narcissists idealize and then devalue. 
This is THE core of pathological narcissism. The narcissist 
exploits, lies, insults, demeans, ignores (the "silent treatment"), 
manipulates, controls. All these are forms of abuse.

There are a million ways to abuse. To love too much is to abuse. 
It is tantamount to treating someone as one's extension, an object, 
or an instrument of gratification. To be over-protective, not to 
respect privacy, to be brutally honest, or consistently tactless - 
is to abuse. To expect too much, to denigrate, to ignore - are 
all modes of abuse. There is physical abuse, verbal abuse, 
psychological abuse, sexual abuse. The list is long. Narcissists 
are masters of abusing surreptitiously. They are "stealth abusers". 
You have to actually live with one in order to witness the abuse.

There are three important categories of abuse:

1. Overt Abuse - The open and explicit abuse of another person. 
Threatening, coercing, beating, lying, berating, demeaning, 
chastising, insulting, humiliating, exploiting, ignoring 
("silent treatment"), devaluing, unceremoniously discarding, 
verbal abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse are all forms of 
overt abuse.

2. Covert or Controlling Abuse - Narcissism is almost entirely 
about control. It is a primitive and immature reaction to life's 
circumstances in which the narcissist (usually in his childhood) 
was rendered helpless. It is about re-asserting one's identity, 
re-establishing predictability, mastering the environment - human 
and physical.

3. The bulk of narcissistic behaviours can be traced to this 
panicky reaction to the remote potential for loss of control. 
Narcissists are hypochondriacs (and difficult patients) because 
they are afraid to lose control over their body, its looks and 
its proper functioning. They are obsessive-compulsive in their 
efforts to subdue their physical habitat and render it foreseeable. 
They stalk people and harass them as a means of "being in touch" - 
another form of narcissistic control.

But why the panic?
The narcissist is a solipsist. He carries the whole universe in 
his mind. To him, nothing exists except himself. Meaningful others 
are his extensions, assimilated by him, internal objects - not 
external ones. Thus, losing control of a significant other - is 
equivalent to the loss of control of a limb, or of one's brain. It 
is terrifying. It is paradigm-shattering.

Independent or disobedient people evoke in the narcissist the 
realization that something is wrong with his worldview, that he 
is not the center of the world or its cause and that he cannot 
control what, to him, are internal representations.

To the narcissist, losing control means going insane. Because 
other people are mere elements in the narcissist's mind - being 
unable to manipulate them literally means losing it (his mind). 
Imagine, if you suddenly were to find out that you cannot 
manipulate your memories or control your thoughts... 

Moreover, it is often only through manipulation and extortion 
that the narcissist can secure his Narcissistic Supply. 
Controlling his sources of Narcissistic Supply is a (mental) 
life or death question for the narcissist. The narcissist is 
a drug addict (his drug being the NS) and he would go to any 
length to obtain the next dose.

In his frantic efforts to maintain control or re-assert it, 
the narcissist resorts to a myriad of fiendishly inventive 
stratagems and mechanisms. Here is a partial list:

The narcissist acts unpredictably, capriciously, inconsistently 
and irrationally. This serves to demolish in others their 
carefully crafted worldview. They become dependent upon the 
next twist and turn of the narcissist, his next inexplicable 
whim, upon his next outburst, denial, or smile. Because he is 
assumed to be the only one intimately acquainted with his self -
he becomes the source of certitude and veracity. In other words:
the narcissist makes sure that HE is the only reliable existence 
in the lives of others - by shattering the rest of their world 
through his seemingly insane behaviour. He guarantees his stable 
presence in their lives - by destabilizing their own. In the 
absence of a self, there are no likes or dislikes, preferences, 
predictable behaviour or characteristics. It is not possible to 
know the narcissist. There is no one there.

The narcissist was conditioned - from an early age of abuse 
and trauma - to expect the unexpected. His was a world in motion 
where (sometimes sadistically) capricious caretakers and peers 
often engaged in arbitrary behaviour. He was trained to deny his 
true self and nurture a false one.

Having invented himself, the narcissist sees no problem in 
re-inventing that which he designed in the first place. 
The Narcissist is his own creator.

Hence his grandiosity.

Moreover, the narcissist is a man for all seasons, forever 
adaptable, constantly imitating and emulating, a human sponge, 
a perfect mirror, a non-entity that is, at the same time, all 
entities combined. The narcissist is best described by 
Heidegger's phrase: "Being and Nothingness". Into this 
reflective vacuum, this sucking black hole, the narcissist 
attracts the sources of his narcissistic supply. To an observer, 
the narcissist appears to be fractured or discontinuous.

Pathological narcissism has been compared to the Dissociative 
Identity Disorder (formerly the Multiple Personality Disorder). 
By definition, the narcissist has at least two selves. His 
personality is very primitive and disorganized. Living with a 
narcissist is a nauseating experience not only because of what 
he is - but because of what he is NOT. He is not a fully formed 
human - but a dizzyingly kaleidoscopic gallery of mercurial 
images, which melt into each  other seamlessly. It is incredibly 

It is also exceedingly problematic. Promises made by the 
narcissist are easily disowned by him. His plans are ephemeral. 
His emotional ties - a simulacrum. Most narcissists have one 
island of stability in their life (spouse, family, their career, 
a hobby, their religion, country, or idol) - pounded by the 
turbulent currents of a dishevelled existence.

Thus, to invest in a narcissist is a purposeless, futile and 
meaningless activity. To the narcissist, every day is a new 
beginning, a hunt, a new cycle of idealization or devaluation, 
a newly invented self. There is no accumulation of credits or 
goodwill because the narcissist has no past and no future. 
He occupies an eternal and timeless present. He is a fossil 
caught in the frozen lava of a volcanic childhood. The 
narcissist does not keep agreements, does not adhere to laws, 
regards consistency and predictability as demeaning traits.

Disproportional Reactions
One of the favourite tools of manipulation in the narcissist's 
arsenal is the disproportionality of his reactions. He reacts 
with supreme rage to the slightest slight. He punishes severely 
for what he perceives to be an offence against him, no matter 
how minor. He throws a temper tantrum over any discord or 
disagreement, however gently and considerately expressed. 
Or he may act inordinately attentive, charming and tempting 
(even over-sexed, if need be). This ever-shifting conduct coupled 
with the inordinately harsh and arbitrarily applied "penal 
code" are both designed by the narcissist and remain inaccessible 
to the "offenders". Neediness and dependence on the source of all 
justice meted - on the narcissist - are thus guaranteed.

Dehumanization and Objectification (Abuse)
People have a need to believe in the empathic skills and basic 
good-heartedness of others. By dehumanising and objectifying 
people - the narcissist attacks the very foundations of the 
social treaty. This is the "alien" aspect of narcissists - 
they may be excellent imitations of fully formed adults but 
they are emotionally non-existent, or, at best, immature.

This is so horrid, so repulsive, so phantasmagoric - that 
people recoil in terror. It is then, with their defences 
absolutely down, that they are the most susceptible and 
vulnerable to the narcissist's control. Physical, psychological, 
verbal and sexual abuse are all forms of dehumanization and 

Abuse of Information
From the first moments of an encounter with another person, 
the narcissist is on the prowl. He collects information with 
the intention of applying it later to extract narcissistic 
supply. The more he knows about his potential source of 
supply - the better able he is to coerce, manipulate, charm, 
extort or convert it "to the cause". The narcissist does not 
hesitate to abuse the information he gleaned, regardless of 
its intimate nature or the circumstances in which he 
obtained it. This is a powerful tool in his armoury.

Impossible Situations
The narcissist engineers impossible, dangerous, unpredictable, 
unprecedented, or highly specific situations in which he is 
sorely and indispensably needed. The narcissist, his knowledge, 
his skills or his traits become the only ones applicable, or 
the most useful to resolving them. It is a form of control by 

Control by Proxy
If all else fails, the narcissist recruits friends, colleagues, 
mates, family members, the authorities, institutions, 
neighbours - in short, third parties - to do his bidding. 
He uses them to cajole, coerce, threaten, stalk, offer, retreat, 
tempt, convince, harass, communicate and otherwise manipulate 
his target. He controls these unaware instruments exactly as 
he plans to control his ultimate prey. He employs the same 
mechanisms and devices. And he dumps his props unceremoniously 
when the job is done.

Another form of control by proxy is to engineer situations in 
which abuse is inflicted upon another person. Such carefully 
crafted scenarios involve embarrassment and humiliation as 
well as social sanctions (condemnation, opprobrium, or even 
physical punishment). Society, or a social group become the 
instruments of the narcissist.

Ambient Abuse
The fostering, propagation and enhancement of an atmosphere 
of fear, intimidation, instability, unpredictability and 
irritation. There are no acts of traceable or provable 
explicit abuse, nor any manipulative settings of control. 
Yet, the irksome feeling remains, a disagreeable 
foreboding, a premonition, a bad omen. This is sometimes 
called "gaslighting". In the long term, such an environment 
erodes one's sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Self-
confidence is shaken badly. Often, the victims adopts a 
paranoid or schizoid stance and thus render themselves 
exposed even more to criticism and judgement. The roles 
are thus reversed: the victim is considered the mentally 
disordered component of the dyad and the narcissist - 
the suffering soul.

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pp. 73-107
(5) Golomb, Elan - Trapped in the Mirror : Adult Children of 
Narcissists in Their Struggle for Self - Quill, 1995
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(12) Klein, Melanie - The Writings of Melanie Klein - 
Ed. Roger Money-Kyrle - 4 vols. - New York, Free Press - 1964-75
(13) Kohut M. - The Analysis of the Self - New York, 
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Warner Books, 1979
(15) Lowen, Alexander - Narcissism : Denial of the True Self - 
Touchstone Books, 1997
(16) Millon, Theodore (and Roger D. Davis, contributor) - 
Disorders of Personality: DSM IV and Beyond - 2nd ed. - 
New York, John Wiley and Sons, 1995
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New York, John Wiley and Sons, 2000
(18) Roningstam, Elsa F. (ed.) - Disorders of Narcissism: 
Diagnostic, Clinical, and Empirical Implications - American 
Psychiatric Press, 1998
(19) Rothstein, Arnold - The Narcissistic Pursuit of 
Reflection - 2nd revised ed. - New York, International 
Universities Press, 1984
(20) Schwartz, Lester - Narcissistic Personality Disorders - 
A Clinical Discussion - Journal of Am. Psychoanalytic 
Association - 22 (1974): 292-305
(21) Stern, Daniel - The Interpersonal World of the Infant: 
A View from Psychoanalysis and Developmental Psychology - 
New York, Basic Books, 1985
(22) Vaknin, Sam - Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited - 
Skopje and Prague, Narcissus Publications, 1999, 2001
(23) Zweig, Paul - The Heresy of Self-Love: A Study of 
Subversive Individualism - New York, Basic Books, 1968

- - -

Sam Vaknin is the author of "Malignant Self Love - 
Narcissism Revisited" and the editor of mental health 
categories in The Open Directory, Suite101, Go.com and 

His web site: http://samvak.tripod.com
Email: palma@unet.com.mk