Originally posted on Lucky Otter’s Haven, February 15, 2015
Article has been heavily edited from the original.
I know there are many Sam Vaknin detractors, among both narcissists and non-narcissists. But I think what I’m about to write is important because of its profound implications for both ACONs and sufferers of NPD, which I will describe at the end of this post. My apologies to those of you who are not his “fans.”
Sam Vaknin is a controversial figure, and for good reason. He was probably the first person on the Internet who explored NPD in any depth outside medical professionals, and even more importantly, one who focused on victims of narcissistic abuse. But many survivors and ACON bloggers feel that he took over the topic, using narcissism as his claim to fame and fortune, and his various sites as a way to promote his book, Malignant Self-Love (which I have reviewed and will be my next post). He has made a living or even a fortune off his mental disorder. He would never deny that is the case.
Sam is a narcissist, and that is both his curse and his blessing. To some abuse victims, Sam being a narcissist gives him credibility to write about it, because he can write about it from the inside–unlike mental health professionals, he can tell us what the disorder feels like, and he does that very well. A psychiatrist or psychologist can only write about it from their own observations of others who have the disorder and from what they learned about it in medical or graduate school. But to some abuse survivors, the controversy over his credentials and how he attained his Ph.D (which is in philosophy–and personally I don’t give a rat’s ass about his credentials; it’s not as if I have any to speak of) coupled with the fact he is a convicted white collar criminal and a narcissist (who insists he is a psychopath as well) makes him suspect or even distrusted to a lot of people. This is understandable, especially given the fact that Sam himself has admitted he didn’t write his book to help anyone, but “to obtain narcissistic supply for himself.”
At least he’s honest, and I personally find his honesty refreshing and disarming. It made me want to read his material, which is prolific to say the least.
So I have been reading his seemingly endless articles, all available on his website, as well as watching his numerous videos on his Youtube channel. I prefer his writings, as they are less robotic and (to me) far more emotional than his videos; even his educational (as opposed to his personal) writings are infused with the darkness and hopelessness of a tormented man who believes he cannot ever escape from his disorder. I find that darkness compelling–because more than the actual words themselves, it gives me a look inside the mind of a person with NPD, but one with enough insight to know what narcissism has done to his psyche and his life. And since the original publication of this article, I also realized my fascination with Sam was because he was a kind of mirror–through studying his mind, I learned a lot about myself, my abusers–and most importantly, my own narcissism.
Some people have an issue with Sam’s dark and hopeless views about NPD, and his evident hatred of his own kind. Many NPDs believe he demonizes them and writes about them as if they’re less than human. This is not an incorrect observation. I think Sam’s hatred of people with NPD stems from his own self-hatred, or at least from his frustration that he chose a way of being in the world (narcissism) a long time ago, a way of being he believes he can’t escape from and that dominates his outlook on life and colors everything he does and feels in shades of dingy gray, black and scorched-earth brown. He is an unhappy man and whenever he writes about his disorder, he flagellates himself–and probably derives pleasure from this process of self inflicted punishment. He has said he’s masochistic.
Sam’s hatred of narcissists is shared by many ACONs recovering from narcissistic abuse, but many of them have turned to him as a guru just the same (which of course he likes). The most vehement opposition I’ve seen against Sam’s writings is from mental health professionals, who think Sam has defined narcissism the way he sees fit, by lumping together several other similar disorders, such as ASPD, under the “narcissist” label. Vaknin claims that in 2013, the mental health profession (DSM V) adopted his position from 1997, not the other way around.
Some object to Sam’s lack of what they consider an “official” Ph.D or one in the field of mental health. Personally, I don’t give a damn where his degree is from or how he defines narcissism–I’ve found his writings most helpful (as many have).
But many ACONs hate him too, and believe he’s trying to garner pity for people like himself. I actually disagree that is the case.
Opposition also comes from people suffering from NPD who want to get better–they dislike Sam’s work because he gives them no hope. He demonizes them. He condemns them to the pits of hell. I can understand their anger and dislike.
Of everything Sam has written, I find his poetry (and journal entries on his website) the most descriptive of what it feels like to have NPD. Because it’s here where you can really feel what Sam feels every day of his life, and it’s not a mental place anyone would want to be. His journal entries and poetry made me realize for the first time how narcissism hurts the sufferer too. They victimize others, but they also victimize themselves (narcissism was chosen or acquired as a defense mechanism to cope with parental abuse). It isn’t always adaptive, because narcissists can’t ever realize their full potential or ever feel true joy, empathy or true love. They sacrificed the ability to experience life’s beauty to avoid further hurt (narcissists started life more sensitive than other people and this was the only way they thought they could survive in a world that seemed so hostile to them).
But comforting is the last thing Sam needs. He himself has said that if a narcissist is to ever have any hope of healing at all, the only time a window opens is when they have suffered a grave loss of an important source of narcissistic supply (such as a marriage or a job). With no narcissistic supply at hand, a person with NPD falls apart like the house of cards they are. They cannot keep up their mask of sanity. They come face to face with their own vulnerability–their true self. It’s during these desperate these times someone with NPD may finally seek psychological counseling.
Personally I think Sam is intelligent and insightful enough to be able to respond to therapy should he ever decide he can’t stand being a narcissist anymore, or if his sources of supply ever fail him. He’s self aware and that’s the first step. But does he want to heal? He hates his disorder, but it’s an addiction and a part of him loves it too. It’s become his claim to fame, his entire identity, and has provided a comfortable income. So he may not have the willingness to heal.
Unlike many people, I don’t believe low-mid spectrum narcissism can’t be healed, if the narcissist becomes self aware and willing. I think Sam himself has convinced a lot of people that narcissists are hopeless evil monsters who can’t ever get well. I agree with him that malignant narcissists high on the spectrum probably can’t. But I don’t think Sam is malignant. My guess is he’s mid-spectrum, bordering on malignant but not quite there. After all, he’s exiled himself to a far-flung, poor country (Macedonia) and has become a near recluse, in order to avoid humanity. Could this self-exile really be his conscience keeping him from engaging with others to avoid hurting them? I think it’s possible Sam may one day want to heal from NPD, and if that ever happens I think he can if he wants to badly enough and wants to do the necessary hard emotional work. It’s not going to be easy. It never is.
All that negativity aside, Sam has occasionally discussed in his writings the possibility of reparenting as a cure (which I’ve written about on this blog), a therapy which extracts NPD at its source (much like having a skeleton transplant!), rather than just treating behaviors like CBT. My ideas about it also include intensive retraining the brain in developing empathy and a conscience. (His may also–I have to read about this further; it’s so hard to keep up with his writings.)
If Sam ever does seek to be cured of his NPD and it works, imagine how much hope that would give to so many people, especially others who suffer from NPD and those who love them. Imagine if one day he writes a new book describing how he was cured of narcissism. Not only would it give him an enormous amount of credibility, it would give hope to many more people. He would also be one of the first (if not the first) people in the world to be able to say he was cured of narcissism.
Some cynics would no doubt say he was faking and was never cured at all, but I think most of us reading his words would know on a gut level he was being truthful, because one thing Sam has never done in his writings, in spite of being a narcissist, is lie. He may not be that nice a person to deal with on a personal level, but he’s nothing if not brutally honest about himself. That honesty is they key to getting better, if he can get better. I wish the best for him.