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March 16, 2005

Sam Vaknin on Narcissism

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

For my own weirdo reasons I've spent a fair amount of time reading about narcissism, and about the pathological version of it that's known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder. (We narcisissm buffs call it "NPD.") As far as I'm concerned, NPD is a fascinating, destructive, horrifying syndrome, and the narcissist is a widespread and much-underdiscussed character type. This book struck me as a trustworthy and EZ popular intro to the topic; this book is a more substantial treatment.

When you type "narcissism" into Google, what you'll quickly run into is someone named Sam Vaknin. Vaknin's a genuine one-of-a-kind: a man who confesses to being a pathological narcissist himself, yet who has made it his life's mission to teach the rest of us about narcisissm -- how to identify it, what it is, how to deal with it, etc. His characterizations, knowledge, insights, and tips strike me as amazingly insightful, and he usually delivers them in a caustic and pitiless tone that I find transfixing.

I can't fathom how it's possible for someone with a crippling mental illness to describe, analyze, and discuss what he's suffering from as objectively as Vaknin does. Still, there you have it. And I've learned a lot from surfing his web pages and his very helpful Amazon Reader's Lists. Vaknin is such a prolific oddball that he initially set all my warning lights off even as I found myself drawn into his thinking. Yet the more I read him, the more trustworthy and enlightening I find him. Final verdict: a very impressive, very brilliant, and rather alarming guy. I'd be eager to hear from co-bloggers or visitors what they make of Vaknin.

If you're curious about narcissism, NPD, or Vaknin himself, you can use this page as a starting point. Here's the home page of Vaknin's suite of websites. Here's where you can start exploring Vaknin's many Amazon lists and recommendations. I'm glad to see that Vaknin has now begun a blog too.



posted by Michael at March 16, 2005


One thing I've discovered is that many narcissists are not only aware of their condition (if not by name, then at least be tendency), but even take a sort of perverse pride in it, at least to the extent that they wouldn't wish it away. A bit of neuroticism makes one a more interesting character, the thinking goes, and if you're going to have a neuroses, it might as well be one of self-love. I wonder if perhaps researching narcissism isn't prima facie evidence of being a bit of narcissist. I'll cop to it: the feeling I get upon recognizing myself in the descriptions of NPD is one of both horror and delight, much more heavily weighted toward the delight end of things than I'm afraid is healthy.

Posted by: Alex on March 17, 2005 10:35 AM

I suppose reading about narcissism, enjoying it, and seeing some of yourself in some of the descriptions -- well, is it a healthy thing or not? Let's hope it isn't too much like lingering in the mirror!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 17, 2005 11:57 AM

I thought Alexander Lowen wrote the classic book on narcissism.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on March 18, 2005 10:28 AM

He did, but it's a little out of date. Though people should make their own decisions, I found the two books I linked to easier and more helpful in a general-interest kind of way. Anyone who wants to study narcissism or become a pro needs Lowen. But civilians interested in the phenomonenon of narcissism and wanting to get a basic handle on it would do better (IMHO) with Vaknin or the two newer books ... Quicker, easier, more up to date, and as far as I can tell, trustworthy.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 18, 2005 10:53 AM

heh, i recommended sam vaknin's book recently over here :D

i first came across vaknin reading the idler (not that one!) back when it was hosted on geocities. btw it looks like jarvik is posting on blogspot now :D

anyway! i really liked his essay on the role of the artist and was delighted to find his homepage so i could read more of his ideas on philosophy, art & economics etc...

did you know that he used to write for central europe review and was a consultant to the macedonian gov't?

i check back irregularly to see what he's up to, but i confess narcissism doesn't interest me all that much.

fwiw, another "prolific oddball" that i've come across, and have been drawn to is tony smith. there are others, of course, but none with quite the same particular quality of "out there" and compelling. (i don't understand a tenth of it, but i find it oddly compelling nevertheless :)


Posted by: carabinieri on March 18, 2005 02:38 PM

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