Vanessa Bokanowski - Psychologist in Brussels

Psychologist specializing in Narcissism, narcissism and narcissistic perversion

I am clinical psychologist in Brussels and I specialize in narcissistic disorders. Narcissism is a complex concept, which I will try to summarize in this article. If you suffer from narcissistic disorders or find yourself in the grip of a narcissistic personality, I urge you to consult a psychologist.

What do we really mean by narcissism? In the popular definition, a narcissist would be someone with a high level of self-confidence, described as generally full of himself or herself. 

If this definition is partly correct, narcissism, which is the subject of many fantasies today, is a very complex notion to grasp in all its reality. 

The concept originated with Sigmund Freud in 1913, who explained how it originated in childhood. We'll discuss the development of this pathology and the consequences it can have on the individual and those around him. 

We then turn to the narcissistic pervert, a special case of the narcissistic personality. The notion of the narcissistic pervert was introduced by Paul-Claude Racamier in 1986. Contrary to popular belief, the narcissistic pervert is not a grouping of all narcissistic disorders, but rather a special case of them. 

Surveys show that 6.2 % of the population suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder. This figure is probably underestimated, as few narcissists seek help from a psychologist because they are unaware of their pathology. However, this figure includes narcissistic personality disorders as a whole, not just narcissistic perverts. 

Psychotherapist in Uccles - Brussels

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I am clinical psychologist and psychotherapist in BrusselsI specialize in questions relating to narcissism and narcissistic perverts.

The notion of narcissism and its origins.

Narcissism is built up in the first years of life, and generally becomes fixed in childhood, in relation to the quality of parent-child relationships, as Freud demonstrated when he introduced the notion. It was in 1913, in his work "The Disposition to Obsessional Neurosis", that he mentioned it for the first time. He would develop the concept further in his work "Pour introduire le narcissisme" 1913, 

At first, babies don't understand that the sensations they experience (bottle-feeding, caressing, various forms of care) come from someone else. He doesn't perceive the people who take care of him as external to him, and therefore feels omnipotent, with the illusion of satisfying himself. This is narcissism. 

Gradually, the child comes to realize that he depends on others for his needs and survival, with the ambivalence that this realization reveals.

Every subject must let go of the illusion of omnipotence of the first moments, when he thinks he can satisfy all his needs, to discover that at the end of the breast or bottle, there is a mother on whom he depends. Awareness of a self and a non-self begins. The child moves from a feeling of self-sufficiency (total narcissism) to awareness of the other, and later to love of the other.  

How do you become a narcissist?

What causes narcissism?

How do you become a narcissistic pervert?

In the next stage of development, parents need to pay sufficient attention to their child's dreams, hopes, worries and disappointments, without burdening him or her with disappointments and frustrations linked to their own history. 

If the child feels respected as a child with clear limits, he or she will acquire a sense of security, self-worth and empathy for the outside world. They'll become aware of themselves and of others. 

But if childhood has been parasitized by parental projections (intrusion into the child's world by the parents' own suffering as children), neglect and abuse, it's impossible to value oneself and develop a healthy narcissism.

Whatever the configuration, the common denominator is that the "narcissistic child-to-be" is never recognized as a child with his or her own personality and needs. He's not helped to grow up, but becomes an extension of the parents in the service of their own narcissism.  

The narcissist will never want to depend on anyone again, because the relationship with his parents was too difficult.

Paradoxically, he'll need the admiration and validation of others to feed his fragile ego. He'll want to possess them first, to render them harmless, and to avoid being spurned and abandoned again at all costs. 

This constant quest for validation will distort all human relationships and often lead to self-destructive behavior.

The narcissistic personality. 

What are the signs of a narcissist?

The common denominators for all narcissistic personalities are the following, as set out in DM5, "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders", 2013. 

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance; 
  • Is absorbed by fantasies of unlimited success, power and splendor ;
  • Thinks you're "special" and unique;
  • Has an excessive need to be admired;
  • Thinks everything is his due;
  • Exploits others in interpersonal relationships;
  • Lack of empathy;
  • Often envies others, and believes that others envy him;
  • Demonstrates arrogant and haughty attitudes and behavior.

The pathology of narcissism is a continuum, with a spectrum of narcissism ranging from the fairly harmless, even if not very empathetic, individual to the predatory psychopath. 

Between them, every nuance and configuration is possible.  

It was in American literature that the notion of the narcissism "spectrum" was established, and more specifically by Craig Malkin, in his book: "Rethinking Narcissim", 2016, which has not been translated into French. 

However, this notion is crucial and little understood in French literature, which tends to confuse narcissists with narcissistic perverts. Yet narcissistic perverts are far from the norm; they are at the very end of the spectrum and constitute the most dangerous category. 

As a general rule, narcissists are unaware of their pathology. They don't deliberately seek to cause harm; it's a survival instinct of which they have no knowledge.

When you're not aware of your own folly, you can't question yourself. 

That's why the more insane you are, the less conscious you are, and the less likely you are to seek treatment.  

What's a narcissist?

Often exalted, they talk frantically about themselves, often losing themselves in endless monologues to their own glory.

They can get completely disproportionately angry over a detail. They're contemptuous in what they say, because nobody ever measures up.   

Because they're not in touch with their emotions, they project everything onto the other person. If they're angry, they'll make you think it's you. If they're upset, they'll do everything they can to put you in the same state as them. 

Their lives consist of trying to find value in the eyes of others. 

As a result, it's the others they exhaust. You can't exist when you're with them, you're always reduced to the role of a token, and you leave them feeling questioned, confused and often angry without really knowing why! 

The narcissistic pervert

As mentioned above, narcissistic personality disorder is much more widespread than narcissistic perversion. Each of us has more than one narcissist in our entourage, but if you think you've crossed paths with a narcissistic pervert, as many people do today, it's possible that this isn't the case, because generally we don't think it, we know it.  

the hidden face of the narcissistic pervert

How can you spot a narcissist in a relationship?

This experience is extremely traumatic, and leaves an indelible mark on any confidence you may have in the human race. You come out of it drained, traumatized, doubting yourself and everything else. 

"There's nothing to expect from associating with narcissistic perverts, we can only hope without coming out unscathed!" Paul-Claude Racamier. 

Narcissistic perversion is a particular form of narcissism, characterized by a constant need to degrade the outside world in order to feel valued and to combat depressive anxieties stemming from childhood. 

The narcissistic pervert is an extremely damaged narcissist with an extremely fragile ego, who will therefore have a compulsive need for the other, whom he will use as a drug. 

How to recognize a narcissistic pervert in a couple?

He'll actively seek to degrade the other person, unlike the narcissist who behaves in a completely self-sufficient way, but without any particular relentlessness.

Marie-France Hirigoyen, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who has taken a keen interest in the subject, especially in her brilliant book "Le harcèlement moral: la violence perverse au quotidien", 2003. 

She points out that in moral perversion, as in narcissistic perversion, the aim is to annex the other person's psyche and destroy it bit by bit, in order to triumph. This is what's known as emprise: the aim is to appropriate another's psyche for one's own psychological comfort. The other is treated like a tool. 

"The narcissistic pervert is a narcissist in the sense that he intends to owe nothing to anyone, and he is a pervert in the sense that he intends to make others pay the price of these disillusions" Paul-Claude Racamier. 

 He takes revenge for his childhood by degrading the other and triumphing over him, because he was unable to triumph over his parents. From then on, he thinks he'll become omnipotent again by reducing the other to nothing. You're nothing and I don't need you. 

From the victim, the NP only expects a demonstration of his own strength, seeking admiration rather than recognition. 

There's no satisfaction to be gained from seeing the other person, but rather a jubilation derived from an impression of superiority, of triumph over the other person, and that's what makes it so perverse.

Perversion isn't about love, it's about hold as an exclusive means of getting in touch with the other person. 

The other person is progressively emptied of his or her personality, losing self-esteem and a sense of reality. He or she doubts his or her own psychic perceptions, sometimes to the point of total psychic destruction. 

The stages of a relationship with a narcissistic pervert.

At first, he'll study the other person to find their emotional flaws and try to offer himself as the cure. He flatters a lot at first, making the promise of an idyllic, fairy-tale love seem real. 

The meeting is unreal, he is charming, witty, very empathetic, understands you so much that speech is hardly necessary...his love seems unconditional, indestructible... 

And what's more, they love exactly the same things as you. Who hasn't had a soul mate fantasy? Well, narcissistic perverts will make it come true! With them, you'll be loved like you've never been loved before, guaranteed!

the stages of narcissism

Little by little, the illusion gradually fades. At first, it's a little phrase that seems like nothing, "that skirt makes your calves look fat", "you've got a pimple on your cheek there". You feel a little unsettled, but nothing bad can come from him anyway, he loves me so much, he's so kind. 

It's only these initially innocuous phrases that intensify. The victim begins to feel confused by how different these phrases are from those heard at first.  

The narcissistic pervert has remembered everything you've told him, grasped all your weaknesses and knows how to press to hurt.  

Little by little, domination sets in, aiming for a state of gradual dependence and then absolute submission. 

The victim is stunned, unable to reconcile these two very different images. 

We give in to regain the love we once had and abandon ourselves. The sudden rejection is too much to bear. The hold is now total. 

The understanding, empathetic voice has given way to a cold, monotonous, affectless voice that ices over, worries, allowing contempt or derision to surface. Everything that existed insidiously is now out in the open: hatred. 

The effectiveness of their attacks lies in the fact that the victim, taking herself as a referent, cannot imagine that anyone could be so lacking in concern or compassion for the suffering of others. 

And yet, love has never existed for the pervert.

The victim of the narcissistic pervert

Victims don't realize they're being manipulated, and it's only when the violence becomes too obvious that the mystery is lifted, often with the help of outsiders. 

The victim has felt the pervert's suffering, which he has shown her to see, only to cut herself off again very quickly. As a result, she feels empathy for him and tells herself I'm going to make him change. If I put up with it long enough, he'll change, and this can unfortunately last for years, and for some people a lifetime. 

Victims are often very empathetic people who have had a problematic parent to care for and failed to save. We replay the scenario with one of the parents, thinking that this time the outcome will be a happy one. 

Alberto Eiguer, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, talks a lot about the destiny between his two personalities, in his book "Le pervers narcissique et son complice", 1989. It's a meeting between two unhappy pasts, but under totally different hospices.

How do you get out of the grip of a narcissist? 

Perverse violence confronts the victim with his or her own weaknesses, with the forgotten traumas of childhood. 

Vulnerability to domination is acquired in childhood. 

Victims often remain frozen and suffering. We know that leaving would save them, but they are often unable to do so because they are not free from their own suffering.

Often, they come to a psychologist's door citing depression, unexplained anxiety or a loss of confidence. If we talk about the relationship, it becomes complicated, because as violence is progressive and very insidious, it is often not recognized at first sight. 

woman in the grip of a narcissistic pervert

They doubt their psychic perceptions, sometimes thinking they've imagined it all, and often feel responsible for the violence. 

And it's from there that they can begin to trace what's going on, and hope to break out of that hold. 

When they finally become aware of the manipulation, it's often to shut themselves away in shame, the shame of having seen nothing! 

They lose their self-esteem. 

Shame comes from awareness of the pathological complacency that allowed the other's violence. To get better, they'll have to make sense of it all in the light of their own histories. 

Understand that you can't go back to the early days because that early person didn't exist. 

Understand that hatred is not meant for us. 

You have to let go and accept your powerlessness to change the other person. 

Rebuild a good self-image so that hatred of others never again calls into question your own identity.

 To get out of a hold, you need to revisit what happened in front of a witness, often the therapist, to restore fairness to events.

You have to spot the perverse process, get out of the daze and the guilt.

Analyze the problem cold, considering that the person you're dealing with has a dangerous personality disorder.

Conclusion: a fool's game. 

A group of masks on a table Description automatically generated

Between the pervert and his victim, it's a game of fools. Love is often a perfect crime. It's the meeting of two unconscious, unfinished stories, each seeking to rewrite the end in the encounter with the other.  

The pervert is looking for someone to destroy, to prove to himself that love doesn't exist, and the victim is looking for someone to save, often to compensate for the sense of failure he's carried around with him since childhood. 

The pervert says: "love is a dangerous lure and I'm going to prove to you that it doesn't exist, I'll never love you" and the victim "love is so powerful that it will triumph over everything and I'm going to prove it to you so much I'm going to love you".

We instinctively understand that between these two, the end can only be fatal.