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Carl-John X Veraja Interview with Sam Vaknin, Author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited

By Carl-John X Veraja

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An Interview with Sam Vaknin, Author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited
 (Sam Vaknin)

I recently became entranced with the subject of narcissism and what role it plays in how we relate to ourselves, others, and society at large.
 To my delight, author Sam Vaknin agreed to answer some questions on this fascinating subject which I am just beginning to familiarize myself with.
 Vaknin is also the editor-in-chief of Global Politician , runs a website about narcissism, and has made appearances in documentaries.

Q. Why would the average person need to know about narcissism?
SV: The concept of narcissism has a great explanatory value. It is a potent organizing principle. It helps to explain the behavior patterns of both individuals and collectives. Healthy narcissism is at the core of the Self and malignant, pathological narcissism manifests itself in literally all known abusive, dangerous, and reckless behaviors: family violence , murder , genocide, addictions , corporate malfeasance , sexual abuse and paraphilias , incest , and more.
Q. How likely is it the average person has a narcissist in their life?
SV: Strictly defined, a "narcissist" is someone who has been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) . Less than 1% of the general population are diagnosed narcissists, so your chances to come across one are 1:100. But, as Theodore Millon observed correctly, there are many more people with narcissistic traits, a narcissistic style, or a narcissistic personality who would not be diagnosed with NPD, but are still as deleterious and detrimental to their human environment as the "full-fledged" variety.
Q. How can one manage and improve their own narcissistic tendencies?
SV: All of us have narcissistic traits, behaviors, and thoughts (cognitions). But these are tempered by empathy , fear of punishment, our conscience (known in psychoanalysis as "superego"), and social mores and conventions. One cannot manage or improve one's healthy narcissism - nor is it desirable. One only needs to listen to one's inner voice, be self-aware, self-critical, listen to input and feedback, and be guided by one's empathy to be a productive and accepted member of the community. Pronounced antisocial conduct, however. requires professional help and a regime of therapy, sometimes with medication to enhance impulse control.
Q. What is the prognosis for a narcissist who undergoes treatment?
SV: The prognosis is hopeless for someone diagnosed with [sign in to see URL] Personality Disorder cannot be cured, but certain antisocial and self-destructive or self-defeating behaviors can be modified using cognitive-behavioral therapies. Narcissists attend therapy only as a last resort and only in order to restore their access to narcissistic supply . Narcissists hold the therapist in contempt and seek to establish their grandiose superiority and entitlement by playing mind games and by undermining the therapeutic alliance.
Q. In 1984, the State, in the guise of Big Brother, appears to me to be a sort of collective narcissist. Do you think that a society can have narcissistic traits and do you see any evidence of this in the United States and elsewhere?
SV: In their book "Personality Disorders in Modern Life", Theodore Millon and Roger Davis state, as a matter of fact, that pathological narcissism was the preserve of "the royal and the wealthy" and that it "seems to have gained prominence only in the late twentieth century". Narcissism, according to them, may be associated with "higher levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs ... Individuals in less advantaged nations .. are too busy trying (to survive) ... to be arrogant and grandiose".

They - like Lasch before them - attribute pathological narcissism to "a society that stresses individualism and self-gratification at the expense of community, namely the United States." They assert that the disorder is more prevalent among certain professions with "star power" or respect. "In an individualistic culture, the narcissist is 'God's gift to the world'. In a collectivist society, the narcissist is 'God's gift to the collective'".
Millon quotes Warren and Caponi's "The Role of Culture in the Development of Narcissistic Personality Disorders in America,Japan and Denmark":
"Individualistic narcissistic structures of self-regard (in individualistic societies) ... are rather self-contained and independent ... (In collectivist cultures) narcissistic configurations of the we-self ... denote self-esteem derived from strong identification with the reputation and honor of the family, groups, and others in hierarchical relationships."
Having lived in the last 20 years 12 countries in 4 continents - from the impoverished to the affluent, with individualistic and collectivist societies - I know that Millon and Davis are wrong. Theirs is, indeed, the quintessential American point of view which lacks an intimate knowledge of other parts of the world. Millon even wrongly claims that the DSM's international equivalent, the ICD, does not include the narcissistic personality disorder (it does).
Pathological narcissism is a ubiquitous phenomenon because every human being - regardless of the nature of his society and culture - develops healthy narcissism early in life. Healthy narcissism is rendered pathological by abuse - and abuse, alas, is a universal human behavior. By "abuse" we mean any refusal to acknowledge the emerging boundaries of the individual: smothering, doting, and excessive expectations are as abusive as beating and incest.
With 7 billion humans on the planet, the need to assert oneself, to be noticed, to be recognized as unique is ever more pressing. No one likes to feel a cog in a machine, an atom in an organism, or a speck among billions. Consumerism and mass communication that lead to global cultural and societal homogeneity foster the same narcissistic reactions and provoke the same narcissistic defenses in whole collectives as they do in individuals.
There are malignant narcissists among subsistence farmers in Africa, nomads in the Sinai desert, day laborers in east Europe, and intellectuals and socialites in Manhattan. Malignant narcissism is all-pervasive and independent of culture and society.
It is true, though, that the WAY pathological narcissism manifests and is experienced is dependent on the particulars of societies and cultures. In some cultures, it is encouraged, in others suppressed. In some societies it is channeled against minorities - in others it is tainted with paranoia. In collectivist societies, it may be projected onto the collective, in individualistic societies, it is an individual's trait.
Yet, can families, organizations, ethnic groups, churches, and even whole nations be safely described as "narcissistic" or "pathologically self-absorbed"? Wouldn't such generalizations be a trifle racist and more than a trifle wrong? The answer is: it depends.

Human collectives - states, firms, households, institutions, political parties, cliques, bands - acquire a life and a character all their own. The longer the association or affiliation of the members, the more cohesive and conformist the inner dynamics of the group, the more persecutory or numerous its enemies, the more intensive the physical and emotional experiences of the individuals it is comprised of, the stronger the bonds of locale, language, and history - the more rigorous might an assertion of a common pathology be.

Such an all-pervasive and extensive pathology manifests itself in the behavior of each and every member. It is a defining - though often implicit or underlying - mental structure. It has explanatory and predictive powers. It is recurrent and invariable - a pattern of conduct melded with distorted cognition and stunted emotions. And it is often vehemently denied.

Encyclopedia of Narcissism and Psychopathy

Buy 16 books and video lectures on 3 DVDs about narcissists, psychopaths, and abusive relationships
Dec/15/2011, 1:54 pm Link to this post  

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