Book Introduction

"Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited"
The Introduction: The Habitual Identity

In a famous experiment, students were asked to take a lemon home and to get used to it. Three days later, they were able to single out "their" lemon from a pile of rather similar ones. They seemed to have bonded. Is this the true meaning of love, bonding, coupling? Do we simply get used to other human beings, pets, or objects?

Habit forming in humans is reflexive. We change ourselves and our environment in order to attain maximum comfort and well being. It is the effort that goes into these adaptive processes that forms a habit. The habit is intended to prevent us from constant experimenting and risk taking. The greater our well being, the better we function and the longer we survive.

Actually, when we get used to something or to someone - we get used to ourselves. In the object of the habit we see a part of our history, all the time and effort that we put into it. It is an encapsulated version of our acts, intentions, emotions and reactions. It is a mirror reflecting back at us that part in us, which formed the habit. Hence, the feeling of comfort : we really feel comfortable with our own selves through the agency of the object of our habit.

Because of this, we tend to confuse habits with identity. If asked WHO they are, most people will resort to describing their habits. They will relate to their work, their loved ones, their pets, their hobbies, or their material possessions. Yet, all of these cannot constitute part of an identity because their removal does not change the identity that we are seeking to establish when we enquire WHO someone is. They are habits and they make the respondent comfortable and relaxed. But they are not part of his identity in the truest, deepest sense.

Still, it is this simple mechanism of deception that binds people together. A mother feels that her off spring are part of her identity because she is so used to them that her well being depends on their existence and availability. Thus, any threat to her children is interpreted to mean a threat on her Self. Her reaction is, therefore, strong and enduring and can be recurrently elicited.

The truth, of course, is that her children ARE a part of her identity in a superficial manner. Removing her will make her a different person, but only in the shallow, phenomenological sense f the word. Her deep-set, true identity will not change as a result. Children do die at times and their mother does go on living, essentially unchanged.

But what is this kernel of identity that I am referring to? This immutable entity which is the definition of who we are and what we are and which, ostensibly, is not influenced by the death of our loved ones ? What is so strong as to resist the breaking of habits that die hard?

It is our personality. This elusive, loosely interconnected, interacting, pattern of reactions to our changing environment. Like the Brain, it is difficult to define or to capture. Like the Soul, many believe that it does not exist, that it is a fictitious convention. Yet, we know that we do have a personality. We feel it, we experience it. It sometimes encourages us to do things - at other times, as much as prevents us from doing them. It can be supple or rigid, benign or malignant, open or closed. Its power lies in its looseness. It is able to combine, recombine and permutate in hundreds of unforeseeable ways. It metamorphesizes and the constancy of its rate and kind of change is what gives us a sense of identity.

Actually, when the personality is rigid to the point of being unable to change in reaction to changing circumstances - we say that it is disordered. A personality Disorder is the ultimate misidentification. The individual mistakes his habits for his identity. He identifies himself with his environment, taking behavioral, emotional, and cognitive cues exclusively from it. His inner world is, so to speak, vacated, inhabited, as it were, by the apparition of his True Self.

Such a person is incapable of loving and of living. He is incapable of loving because to love (at least according to our model) is to equate and collate two distinct entities : one's Self and one's habits. The personality disordered sees no distinction. He IS his habits and, therefore, by definition, can only rarely and with an incredible amount of exertion, change them. And, in the long term, he is incapable of living because life is a struggle TOWARDS, a striving, a drive AT something. In other words : life is change. He who cannot change cannot live.

"Malignant Self Love" was written under extreme conditions of duress. It was composed in jail as I was trying to understand what had hit me. My nine year old marriage dissolved, my finances were in a shocking condition, my family estranged, my reputation ruined, my personal freedom severely curtailed. Slowly, the realization that it was all my fault, that I was sick and needed help penetrated the decades old defenses that I erected around me. This book is the documentation of a road of self discovery. It was a painful process, which led to nowhere. I am no different - and no healthier - today than when I wrote this book. My disorder is here to stay, the prognosis is poor and alarming.


The narcissist is an actor in a monodrama, yet forced to remain behind the scenes. The scenes take centre stage, instead. The narcissist does not cater at all to his own needs. Contrary to his reputation, the narcissist does not "love" himself in any true sense of this loaded word.

He feeds off other people, who hurl back at him an image that he projects to them. This is their sole function in his world: to reflect, to admire, to applaud, to detest - in a word, to assure him that he exists.

Otherwise, they have no right to tax his time, energy, or emotions - so he feels 

To borrow Freud's trilateral model, the narcissist's Ego is weak, disorganized and lacks clear boundaries. Many of the Ego functions are projected. The Superego is sadistic and punishing. The Id is unrestrained.

Primary Objects in the narcissist's childhood were badly idealised and internalised.

His object relations are distraught and destroyed.

The Essay, "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited" offers a detailed, first hand account of what it is like to have a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It contains new insights and an organised methodological framework using a new psychodynamic language. It is intended for professionals.

The first part of the book comprises 102 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) regarding narcissism and personality disorders. The posting of "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited" on the Web has elicited a flood of excited, sad and heart rending responses, mostly from victims of narcissists but also from people suffering from the NPD. This is a true picture of the resulting correspondence with them.

This book is not intended to please or to entertain. NPD is a pernicious, vile and tortuous disease, which affects not only the narcissist. It infects and forever changes people who are in daily contact with the narcissist. In other words: it is contagious. It is my contention that narcissism is the mental epidemic of the twentieth century, a plague to be fought by all means.

This book is my contribution to minimising the damages of this disorder.

Sam Vaknin

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APA Reference
Vaknin, S. (2008, November 5). Book Introduction, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Last Updated: July 5, 2018

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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