Movie Recommendations #7: Gone Girl

The real world has been keeping me too busy to blog regularly, but I plan to return to it soon, I promise. In the meantime, I saw the movie Gone Girl, a pretty interesting movie this weekend that covers a major topic of this blog, Cluster B personality disorders.

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It’s a fascinating fictional case study of a Cluster B, and what I find very interesting about the book is that it’s a story that if written about a man would probably not be a bestseller and would definitely not be a made into a major studio movie. Even with a female author, the accusation of misogynist still reared its head (spoilers in link).

I’m not going to write in depth about the movie because I don’t want to give spoilers, but at a later date I probably will.

Recommended Reading:

Gone Girl: A Novel – The novel that the movie was based on. Goes more in-depth about the childhood and thought processes of the Cluster B in question, and has more psychological depth than the movie, which is limited by being a visual medium.

Raw Concepts: The Jumpzone


Jumpzone is a phrase I’ve coined, but that I think needs to enter widespread usage. In fact, if someone can create an urbandictionary entry for it for me I’d be grateful.

A jumpoff is a girl used strictly for sexual validation and no other type of connection. The jumpoff is the female equivalent of the friendzoned male. When a man offers deep emotional connection with the goal of graduating to a sexual connection,  but instead ends up getting stuck in that deep emotional connection role, he is said to be in the friendzone. Similarly, when a woman offers a sexual connection with the goal of graduating  to a deep emotional connection, but instead ends up getting stuck in that sexual connection role, she is said to be in the jumpzone.

It relates to the old adage, “Men give love to get sex, while women give sex to get love.”

Although friendzoning typically happens to men, and jumpzoning typically happens to women, this isn’t always the case. For example fat girls or ugly girls who are funny or have good personalities may often find themselves getting friendzones. Also, men who are deemed highly attractive sexually but bad as relationship potential often find themselves getting jumpzoned. I had a friend once who was a personal trainer and actor with a “bad boy” vibe. He often complained that a lot of high-end female customers like doctors and lawyers and other alpha female types would love to take him home as a boy toy and he had them wrapped around his finger sexually, but they would never take him seriously as relationship material. For the most part he was fine with this, but occasionally he would have a partner he wanted more than just sex from and wanted a deeper emotional connection with, and he couldn’t get it because they had a certain type of safe “nice guy” with a traditional career track they preferred for serious relationships. So occasionally, he would end up getting jumpzoned (yes, this term can also be used as a verb).

Compulsion, Expanded


In my last post I described the three elements of addiction, which were:

  1. Compulsion
  2. Tolerance
  3. Withdrawal

I want to take this time to explore in more detail exactly what is meant by compulsive behavior.

In the book Neurosis and Human Growth, Karen Horney discusses compulsion. The specific illustration she is using involves narcissism, which one can view as an addiction, with the mood-changer in that scenario being narcissistic supply. So you can view the word “glory” as “narcissistic supply” and replace the former word with the latter term in the following excerpt to more clearly illustrate how Horney’s description is related to the concepts of narcissism and addiction as we’ve been discussing them in this blog:

When we call a drive compulsive we mean the opposite of spontaneous wishes or strivings. The latter are an expression of the real self; the former are determined by the inner necessities of the neurotic structure. The individual must abide by them regardless of his real wishes, feelings, or interests lest he incur anxiety, feel torn by conflicts, be overwhelmed by guilt feelings, feel rejected by others, etc. In other words, the difference between spontaneous and compulsive is one between “I want” and “I must in order to avoid some danger.” Although the individual may consciously feel his ambition or his standards of perfection to be what he wants to attain, he is actually driven to attain it. The need for glory has him in its clutches. Since he himself is unaware of the difference between wanting and being driven, we must establish criteria for a distinction between the two. The most decisive one is the fact that he us driven on the road to glory with an utter disregard for himself, for his best interests…We have reason to wonder whether more human lives – literally and figuratively – are not sacrificed on the altar of glory than for any other reason…Here a truly tragic element enters into the picture. If we sacrifice ourselves for a cause which we, and most healthy people, can realistically find constructive in terms of its value to human beings, that is certainly tragic, but also meaningful. If we fritter away our lives enslaved to the phantom of glory for reasons unknown to ourselves, that assumes the unrelieved proportion of tragic waste – the more so, the more valuable these lives potentially are.

Another criterion of the compulsive nature of the drive for glory – as of any other compulsive drive – is its indiscriminateness. Since the person’s real interest in a pursuit does not matter, he must be the center of attention, must be the most attractive, the most intelligent, the most original – whether or not the situation calls for it; whether or not, with his given attributes, he can be the first. He must come out victorious in any argument, regardless of where the truth lies. His thoughts in this matter are the exact opposite of those of Socrates: “…for surely we are not simply contending in order that my view or that of yours may prevail, but I presume that we ought both of us to be fighting for the truth.” The compulsiveness of the neurotic person’s need for indiscriminate supremacy makes him indifferent to truth, whether concerning himself, others, or facts.

Furthermore, like any other compulsive drive, the search for glory has the quality of insatiability. It must operate as long as the unknown (to himself) forces are driving him. There may be a glow of elation over the favorable reception of some work done, over a victory won, over any sign of recognition or admiration – but it does not last. A success may hardly be experienced as such in the first place, or, at least, must make room for despondency or fear soon after. In any case, the relentless chase for more prestige, more money, more women, more victories and conquests keeps going, with hardly any satisfaction or respite.

Finally, the compulsive nature of  a drive shows in the reaction to its frustration. The greater its subjective importance, the more impelling is the need to attain its goal, and hence the more intense the reactions to frustration. These constitute one of the ways in which we can measure the intensity of a drive. Although this is not always plainly visible, the search for glory is a most powerful drive. It can be like a demoniacal obsession, almost like a monster swallowing up the individual who has created it. And so the reactions to frustration must be severe. They are indicated by the terror of doom and disgrace that for many people is spelled in the idea of failure. Reactions of panic, depression, despair, rage at self and others to what is conceived as “failure” are frequent, and entirely out of proportion to the actual importance of the occasion.

To make it even clearer, reread the preceding excerpt a few more times, but with the word “glory” replaced by the words “a mood change” or the words “a high.” Do this to get an idea of how compulsiveness applies in a broad context across all types of addictions. Replace the word “glory” with any other mood-changer you can think of, like “a sexual conquest.” In general this is a good intellectual habit to cultivate: taking information and applying it to different contexts to see whether or not they still apply.

So to sum up Horney’s insights about compulsions in general terms:

  1. Compulsion is characterized not by “I want” but by “I must in order to avoid some [emotional] danger [in the form of a negative mood].”
  2. Compulsion creates an utter disregard for oneself and one’s best interests. For example most red-blooded males love sex, but most of them won’t take the outrageous, self-destructive risks for it that a sex addict will. Most of us love junk food, but few of us will binge to the extremes that a food addict will.
  3. Compulsion is characterized by indiscriminateness. Someone in the grips of a compulsion, if given the choice, may certainly not mind a higher-quality mood-changer, if given the choice, but if not given the choice, any quality of mood-changer will do. This is why many alcoholics will drink terrible liquor or even vanilla extract if their liquor of choice is unavailable, why sex addicts will have sex with some terribly unattractive, high-risk partners if their preferred type of partner is unavailable, and why a narcissistic woman will accept the attentions of a low-value friendzoned guy when she doesn’t have access to a high-value man’s attentions.
  4. Compulsion is characterized by insatiability. It’s never enough. The high wears off quickly, and the reality is almost always incredibly disappointing in comparison to the anticipation.
  5. Compulsions are characterized by disproportionate responses, especially to their frustrations. Someone in the grip of a compulsion may seem inordinately happy to attain the object of his compulsion, at least for a short time (although this usually wears off quickly due to the insatiability component). But you really see the disproportionate response when the compulsion is frustrated. The reactions can be intense rage, depression, suicidal ideation, desperation, and illegal behavior ranging from theft to murder.

Recommended Reading:

Neurosis and Human Growth by Karen Horney. One of the best books on mastering human nature I’ve ever read. Maybe even the best. Highly recommended.

Raw Concepts: Mood-Changers, Addiction Elements


There are many cultural critics from different disciplines who complain about how people expand the language of addiction to describe everything: sex addiction, gambling addiction, eating addictions, etc. The rationale is that by labeling forms of bad behavior, you are somehow excusing them. I strongly disagree. I think if anything we are too limited in our thoughts about addiction, and that we should view more things through the prism of addiction, and that doing so does not excuse the bad behavior of the addict.

I believe the only thing an object really needs to have the potential to become addictive is to be a mood-changer. The definition of a mood-changer is pretty obvious and contained right there in the name. A mood-changer is any object that brings about a change in mood. All addictions involve being hooked on mood-changers. The An addictive mood-changer tends to bring about a change in moods that is perceived by the user to be a positive change, even if it’s a change in mood that the average person would not view as positive. This means that although addictive mood-changers usually are chosen to bring about mood changes that most of society would deem as positive, like giddiness or omnipotence, this isn’t always the case. Some people may strongly enjoy moods that most people would view negatively, such as humiliation, self-pity, or numbness, making that person’s mood-changers of choice things that humiliate, depress, or anesthetize him. A person’s private logic often runs contrary to society’s public logic.

Enjoyment of mood-changers alone isn’t proof of an addiction. Everyone uses and enjoys mood-changers. What matters is a person’s ongoing relationship to a specific mood-changer. For a relationship to a mood-changer to be considered addictive, three elements need to be present:

  1. Compulsion. The use of the mood-changer has to be compulsive. We’re going to go deeper into what constitutes compulsive behavior in a later post, but for now we’ll just define it as something one feels driven to do, even in situations where the person is intellectually aware that he’s engaging in behavior that is risky and self-destructive to a degree far out of proportion to any potential benefits derived. He is often willing to defy common sense and long-term logic in order to indulge in the behavior. There is a lack of control involved in compulsion, a feeling of powerlessness to say no in the face of your desire.
  2. Tolerance. The more you use the mood-changer, the more you get mentally and physically accustomed to the mood-changer. You lose sensitivity to it, the doses that used to excite you now bore you and have little effect, and you require bigger doses to achieve the same mood-changing effect as before.
  3. Withdrawal.As tolerance continues to increase, you reach a tipping point where you go from needing the mood-changer to feel above-average or superhuman to needing it just to avoid feeling shitty. You can see this with coffee addicts who can’t even feel like a human being until that first cup of coffee. This is what withdrawal is; when you don’t have access to the mood-changer, you feel subhuman and terrible. In life, you feel as if you’re constantly oscillating between feeling superhuman or subhuman, with your various mood-changers being the relevant trigger.

As long as you are using a mood-changer, and your relationship to that mood-changer has these three elements, you have an addiction. It doesn’t matter what areas of your brain are being lit up when an fMRI is scanning you; if you’re compulsively using something as a mood-changer, you need bigger amounts of that thing than you used to to get the same effects as before, and you feel shitty when you don’t have that thing, than you have an addiction to that thing, plain and simple.

Sex, Lies, and Rinsing Guys

This documentary is a few years old, and apparently generated some buzz in the UK in 2012, but this is my first time hearing about it. The thirst is real, people.

Comments and Emails, #1

[NOTE: I am taking a break on accepting letters regarding personal problems for a while. I have a backlog of email to respond to, which I’ve decided to use as material for blog posts. This is the first of those blog posts. You can still email me for a variety of reasons, including to share or receive book recommendations, ask for clarification of concepts from blog posts, or just to share some insights. But as far as emails asking for in-depth help along the lines of therapy, please refrain from sending me things of that nature, at least until I make it through this series of posts. I’d really like to catch up with the emails I already have, and those types are the most time-consuming both to read and respond to.]


A reader wrote to me for advice, but it was quite long so this is an extremely abridged version (in the future, if you want a response from me, please try to be as concise as possible).

Hi T,

I am an offspring of a narcissistic family, with a very distant, non-emotional father and a deeply depressive mother. While my mother was always very unhappy with her life and especially aging (she is working out every(!) day to stop it and had several plastic surgeries), my father never really cared about me and was more of a loner. What my parents cared about was that I represent them in a proper way (school, behaviour, career). They never really asked for my opinion and got very mad at me when I didn’t want to do the things they intended for me. They called me bad names, yelled at me and in case of my father sometimes hurt me physically (he never beat me up, but hit me on the head with the back of his hand and things like that).

As you can imagine, I also wasn’t the most popular kid in school as I had no self-esteem and even got bullied by my classmates. I was getting obese and lived in my own world, not going out playing and not having many friends, mainly spending time by playing video games and daydreaming.

The happiest time of my youth was when I was in holiday camps, I felt more cared for and in a family there then at home and this was the best part of all year. I lived on like that till I was sixteen and I finally got fed up with being the victim. I started to work out and go out regularly and I got more friends and better looks (while still being very anxious, but even that got better).

I had my first girlfriend when I started the training and it did only last for half a year, but never been loved, I felt like in heaven for that time. Unexperienced as I was, the relationship was an up and down for both of us and she also had many issues and it ended when she dumped with no real reason. I was completely devastated, thought she was the woman of my life and cried for days/weeks. I wanted to have her back for more then five years, but I’ll come back later to this.

When joining university, I also got many real good friends (I have most of them even today) and a new girlfriend. She was codependant. I started acting out as if I would be the greatest guy on earth, being the complete opposite of the shy guy of my youth. I didn’t really want my girlfriend and more or less signaled that to her, but she stayed at my side and I mainly used her for sex. It was always a very troubling relationship and I never regarded her as the woman I would get old with. Nowadays, I guess she was only a source of narcissistic supply for me. All that time, I only wanted my Ex back and even tried it, but I didn’t succeed then. After three years we finally broke up and I was happy that I made that decision. I had two good months, but then suddenly a friend of mine started dating her and that completely fucked me up.

[The letter then goes on to describe all types of toxic dramas with his two ex-girlfriends, both of whom keep re-entering his life and the roles and power dynamics between him and his exes keeps changing. He will be the codependent with one girl and they break up, only for the power dynamics to switch when they reunite years later and he will now be the narcissist to her codependent . Likewise with another girl he will start off as the narcissist to her codependent, they break up, and when they reunite later on he is now very codependent and in the lower power position in the relationship. The email goes on to describe lots and lots of drama and power shifts and love triangle complications between him and his two on-again, off-again exes. He also describes another relationship with a girl who was incredibly beautiful, model beautiful. Their relationship was very toxic also but he admits he was addicted to the narcissistic supply of being with such a hot, hot woman that he tolerated the toxicity for longer than he should have.]

One of the most eye-opening articles of your website was the one about “toxic shame“. I don’t really feel guilt, I only feel shame that someone sees what a fault I really am. When I first discovered this and understood it, I could let this a bit go and even felt guilt for the first time for some of the things I did. I felt guilt the way I treated my ex and it made me feel sad, but this felt a bit like a relieve.

I live right now like a machine. I go to work, then I do sports, then I practice some skills (video games, poker,…). The only thing that really keeps me going is that I hope that I will feel better one day. But I don’t have my illusions anymore and have to fight this false lovesickness every day. I won’t give up and try my best till the last of my days, but is there any way to stop that cycle from reappearing and to finally feel better? 

My answer was in the form of two emails, which appear in combined form below:

Hi, a few things:

I think you have a lot of unresolved problems with rejection from your parents, and you tend to relive those issues with your romantic relationships. On some level, you seek out or construct those same dynamics in all new relationships. Your hope is to get it right this time. You get attracted to image conscious or emotionally problematic people and try to win them over, because your parents were image conscious and emotionally problematic, and you couldn’t ever fully win them over. For a conquest to matter in your mind, it has to be over someone like your parents. Also, your problem is your dislike with yourself. You feel fundamentally flawed and on some level unlovable. It’s like the old Groucho Marx saying, “I don’t want to be part of any club that would have me as a member.”

Since you don’t love or respect yourself, you have trouble appreciating anyone else who loves or respects you, because you think someone has to be defective themselves on some level to want you so unconditionally. That’s why that one ex-girlfriend only gained value in your eyes once she rejected you and chose to date your friend.

Your biggest obstacle right now, I think, is to stop thinking of yourself as flawed and to stop focusing on “fixing” yourself. The obsessive desire to look for the right answer to fix yourself just drives the point home harder that you’re fundamentally flawed right now. It’s what I talk about in my most recent posts, you are oscillating between an idealized false self and a despicable false self and believing those are your only two options. Unless you step out of that vicious cycle, you’ll keep repeating the same mistakes. Instead of fixing yourself, I would focus more on accepting yourself as being fine the way you already are, and then improving yourself from there. If I were you, I would start with finding small things to appreciate about yourself regularly. Keep a notepad if necessary to write them down. If you don’t learn to love and respect yourself, and you’re the one who spends the most time with yourself, then you will always expect other people to eventually feel about you the way you feel about yourself the better they get to know you, and you’ll even start self-sabotaging in order to speed the process along.

You have to realize that any rejections your parents did of you were due to their own issues, not yours, and make peace with that. Then you have to fix your relationship with yourself before you can have a good one with other people. Maybe it involves finding little ways to be of service to other people without expecting anything in return. Maybe it can be getting involved in a spiritual practice with a community of like-minded people who are supportive. Maybe it can involve getting some therapy to help you understand your issues with your parents and putting them to rest. The most important thing is that you have to stop focusing on fixing yourself, and focus more on accepting then improving yourself.

The idea of getting better by not trying so hard to improve is very counterintuitive and difficult. I highly recommend the book A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle in regard to that. I had to read it a couple of times to wrap my head around it. Also, whenever you do think about how to improve yourself, focus more on how to improve your relationship with yourself rather than improving superficial aspects, such as your looks, your social skills, how you dress, how witty your banter is, things like that. Not that that stuff isn’t important, because it definitely is, but if your foundation, which is your relationship with yourself, is faulty, it’s the equivalent of putting a new paint job and rims on a run down jalopy, a short term solution.

Some more food for thought: if you were selling something extremely defective and of low value, what kind of people will you expect to find such an object extremely desirable? Only two types of people would place high value on an object that is defective and pf low value: people who are desperate and of even lower value themselves, so they want it even if they’re aware of what it is, or people who are high value but are under the mistaken belief that the defective and low value object is actually an exquisite, high-value object, either because they were lied to or because they haven’t gotten a chance to examine said object closely enough or for a long enough time under a variety of conditions.

The same logic goes for when that extremely defective and low value object you’re selling is yourself. If you think of yourself in such a way, you will slot all highly interested buyers” in the same two categories: (1) people who may or may know how defective you are, but are only interested because they’re desperate and of lower value, or (2) people of higher value that you have to keep up a front around and constantly use a false idealized self to impress, for fear that if they ever discovered your true self they’d realize they got a defective product and leave. Even though both cases will give you narcissistic supply, it won’t be fulfilling. In the first case the narcissistic supply isn’t fulfilling because you’re getting it from what you regard as a degraded source, someone even lower than you. In the latter case the narcissistic supply isn’t fulfilling because you have to get the supply under phony pretenses, using the lie of a false, idealized self. The catch-22 of false idealized self is that they create a barrier of defense that keeps our true self from getting hurt, but they also create a barrier that keeps us from getting true, genuine connection. Just as one requires vulnerability to be hurt, one also needs vulnerability to be loved. So while huge false selves keep up from getting hurt to a degree, they also keep us from being fully loved also.

My personal recommendation would be to take a break from dating for a few months and spend a lot of time doing introspection and building a friendship with yourself. Make people with your past, make peace with yourself, forgive yourself for whatever you tend to beat yourself up for. Your relationship with yourself is important. If your new therapist is good, keep seeing her and doing the personal work to grow. After that I would spend six months or so just dating, with no aims of getting in a relationship. Date as much as you can, and have fun, and try not to take yourself or anything too seriously. When you feel more confident in your relationship with yourself, then and only then would I say to worry about a girlfriend. You strike me as being fairly young, so you have time to have serious relationships.


I have a project I’m undertaking in 2014 with the blog. I plan to answer every question-asking single email or comment I’ve ever received from the beginning of this blog’s existence. If you have ever written a comment or sent me an email asking a question of me or asking for advice, whether it was just yesterday or 6 years ago, I will answer it in a blog post.

I tend to get overwhelmed by real-life responsibilities from time to time, especially work-related, and I don’t get to do everything I set out to do. One of those is respond to every email or comment that I want to respond to. I decided to remedy that this year, plus I figure it will be an easy way to generate content, so win-win.

So if at any point you ever asked for advice, asked for clarification of a post, or just asked for a book recommendation, whether in comment form or email, you will be receiving an answer in the form of a blog post in the next few months. I haven’t figure out yet if I’m going from oldest to newest or from newest to oldest.

These response emails won’t be the only content for the blog. I’ll still be doing regular planned posts about specific topics. This response emails will be more of a bonus than something to replace originally planned content.

The Atrophied True Self


In my last post, I discussed how people tend to have three selves in play:

  1. The idealized false self
  2. The despicable false self
  3. The true self

I also discussed how many people have two problems. First, they mistake the despicable false self for their true self, and second, they don’t have much of a true self to rediscover because it’s so underdeveloped. The first problem the subject of my last post, and now I’d like to discuss the second.

There is an old saying that goes “What you feed, grows. What you starve, dies.” When you spend most of your life trying to identify with a role and project an image, whether that image you’re invested in is to appear superhuman or to appear subhuman, you are feeding one of your false selves. Time, energy, and psychic resources are all limited, so the more of them you devote to your false selves, the less of them you have for feeding your true self, so it begins to atrophy and die.

Think of a crop in soil with two bigger, very aggressive, well-rooted weeds. The roots of the weeds can end up using up all the nutrients and moisture of the soil for themselves, starving the crop of nutrition and hydration. They can also grow taller than the plant and cast shade on it, blocking the sunlight and depriving the plant of the full advantages of the atmosphere.

Similarly, for many people all their time and resources go into dealing with the false selves, and the true self ends up neglected and overshadowed as a result.

One may think the solution is simple: just toss aside the false selves the same way one would uproot and throw away weeds and then the true self will flourish. While this is not wrong in theory, the next problem comes from the fact that for many people, they only know how to deal and interact with the world through their false selves, and without their false selves they’re clueless as to who they are and how to deal with real world issues.

For example, take a guy whose despicable false self is someone who is stupid, unlovable, and lacking the emotional, social, and mental intelligence required to be accepted by his peers. Early in his adolescence, he was often bullied and ostracized as a result. Because he was bigger and stronger than the other kids, let’s say he built up an idealized false self of being a tough, take-no-crap bullying badass. At first being a bullying badass works for him. People stop picking on him, he instills fear and dread into would-be bullies, and he gets a degree of social acceptance based on intimidation. So his idealized false self, to a degree, is an effective solution, even though it’s hardly the best one.

Over the long term, this solution proves itself to be maladaptive. What that means is, it was at one point a good enough solution in the short term, and it got the job done for a time, but over the long term it proves to be a worse adaptation than originally believed, and started offering diminishing returns or even opens the door to a whole new set of problems. So in the case of the bully we’re describing, let’s say because of his bullying, badass persona he attracts friends, but they’re the wrong crowd. He gets into trouble with teachers and administrators at school so often that he gets labeled as a bad kid and falls through the cracks even more, eventually dropping out. He still is making no real deep lasting connections with good people, because you need a certain amount of vulnerability to form connections and he is incapable of showing any in his present mental state. He can’t hold down a good job for very long, so he ends up getting demeaning, rough work much of the time. He can only afford to live in bad neighborhoods and because his legal employment options feel like a dead end, he often falls in and out of criminal behavior and may even end up being sporadically incarcerated.

Bad neighborhoods, rough jobs, and prison are all environments that he ended up in because of his maladaptive idealized false self, but they’re also environments where he needs that same maladaptive idealized false self more than ever just to survive. That’s the self-perpetuating trick of false selves, whether of the despicable variety or the idealized: they are constantly perpetuating themselves by putting you in bad situations where you feel like you need them more and more to survive, despite the paradoxical and ironic fact that they’re the very reason you’re in the bad situations to begin with.

Has your idealized false self of arrogance lost you friends and made you enemies? That same arrogance will tell you that the answer is to call all those people jealous haters, double down on your arrogance, and become invested in never admitting your wrong or learning from your mistakes. Has your idealized false self of having to be physically flawless led you to a job like modeling, acting, or nightlife, surrounded by superficial people who only judge other people by their looks, and you know live in a part of town filled with plastic, superficial people to boot? The same false self that caused you to pursue beauty in the first place will now make you double down on your efforts to remain beautiful because it led you to become immersed in an environment where your survival depends on your false self more than ever.

False selves are like infections or cancer; they just want to grow and spread and thrive at all costs. False self leads to more false self. False selves are perpetually creating their own demand. The same goes not only for idealized false self like the examples in the previous paragraph but your despicable false self as well. Say for example you have a despicable false self that you identify with strongly, causing you to be a people-pleasing codependent.  You will end up surrounded by emotional vampires in your social circle. Your friends and family will all be people who are around you for your people-pleasing, low self-esteem ways. Your professional advancement will be severely impaired and you may end up trapped in a soul-crushing dead end job you can’t afford to lose with an abusive boss. Your spouse may be a sociopath or narcissist who has beaten down your self-esteem and convinced you you’re nothing without them. Your despicable false self has ensured it’s own survival and growth by putting you in an environment where everything, from your social circle to your financial livelihood to your life companionship, appeared to depend on you continuing to be a doormat and a victim. You feel so invested in this role now that if you did try to change and become more confident and assertive you would risk losing everything you have, and even though what you have is shitty, you may feel that keeping something shitty is better than having nothing. After all, remember that people are more driven by the need to avoid losses than by the desire to maximize wins.

So to repeat, false selves do what they can to ensure that they’ll survive and thrive. This is something I touched upon in the past in my post about world creation. False selves do what they can to ensure that you keep feeding them at the expense of your true self. False selves do what they can to trap you in a harsh world where you feel your only way to survive and thrive is to rely more and more on the same false self that led you to be trapped there in the first place; false selves, like drugs, create and constantly increase your dependency on them. False selves create a vicious circle where they subtly create a problem, then offer to rescue you from that same problem, but in a way that increases your dependency on the false selves and never solves the problem in a meaningful, long-term way. Not only does your true self atrophy as a result, but you start to believe if you stop feeding your false self even for a second, the forces in your life with engulf you and you will die. This is why the people who most desperately need to let of their false selves in order to start feeding and strengthening their dilapidated and atrophied true selves are also the people who find it most difficult to do so.

So there are three factors that arise:

  1. you believe your despicable false self is actually be your true self, which causes you to believe that in life your only options consist of a binary choice of being an idealized false self or a despicable false self
  2. your actual true self is too atrophied from starvation to be defined or of much use to you, and is far below your conscious level of awareness, and
  3. you believe your idealized false self to be your savior and believe it’s essential to your survival, while at the same time utterly failing to realize how responsible it is for placing you in a world where you need it to survive in the first place.

These three factors show why it’s not easy to tell people to just embrace their true selves and reject their false selves, even after you explain the existence of the false selves and true self to them. They believe their false selves are needed, even if on some level they realize that they’re maladaptive, self-perpetuating, and part of the problem. They don’t even have the faintest idea what their true self is, and they’re too scared to go without their false selves long enough to grow their true self and discover what it actually is. I see these dynamics in a question that I receive quite often: “Without my ego and without narcissism, how can I be successful? I need it to drive me!”

Sam Vaknin discusses these dynamics as well in a post called “The Dual Role of the Narcissist’s False Self.” While I recommend reading the whole thing, here are the parts most pertinent to this piece:

[T]he narcissist has no private life, no true self, no domain reserved exclusively for his nearest and dearest. His life is a spectacle, with free access to all, constantly on display, garnering narcissistic supply from his audience. In the theatre that is the narcissist’s life, the actor is irrelevant. Only the show goes on.

Once formed and functioning, the False Self stifles the growth of the True Self and paralyses it. Henceforth, the True Self is virtually non-existent and plays no role (active or passive) in the conscious life of the narcissist. It is difficult to “resuscitate” it, even with psychotherapy…

There is no conflict between the True Self and the False Self.

First, the True Self is much too weak to do battle with the overbearing False. Second, the False Self is adaptive (though maladaptive). It helps the True Self to cope with the world. Without the False Self, the True Self would be subjected to so much hurt that it will disintegrate. This happens to narcissists who go through a life crisis: their False Ego becomes dysfunctional and they experience a harrowing feeling of annulment.

The False Self has many functions. The two most important are:

  1. It serves as a decoy, it “attracts the fire”. It is a proxy for the True Self. It is tough as nails and can absorb any amount of pain, hurt and negative emotions. By inventing it, the child develops immunity to the indifference, manipulation, sadism, smothering, or exploitation – in short: to the abuse – inflicted on him by his parents (or by other Primary Objects in his life). It is a cloak, protecting him, rendering him invisible and omnipotent at the same time.
  1. The False Self is misrepresented by the narcissist as his True Self. The narcissist is saying, in effect: “I am not who you think I am. I am someone else. I am this (False) Self. Therefore, I deserve a better, painless, more considerate treatment.” The False Self, thus, is a contraption intended to alter other people’s behaviour and attitude towards the narcissist.

These roles are crucial to survival and to the proper psychological functioning of the narcissist. The False Self is by far more important to the narcissist than his dilapidated, dysfunctional, True Self…

The False Self is an adaptive reaction to pathological circumstances. But its dynamics make it predominate, devour the psyche and prey upon the True Self. Thus, it prevents the efficient, flexible functioning of the personality as a whole…

Both the True Self and the False Self depend on the gaze of others. The False Self relies on adulation and attention – narcissistic supply – for the maintenance of the precarious, confabulated, fantastic, grandiose, and counterfactual narrative that is the narcissist’s persona, his public face. Without a constant flow of such high-quality input and feedback, without the adulating gaze, the narcissist crumbles like a house of ephemeral cards and resorts to a variety of dysfunctional, self-destructive, and self-defeating behaviors and defense mechanisms.

Similarly and equally, the True Self needs a loving gaze to sustain itself. Another person’s love serves two purposes: it confirms the existence of the True Self as a lovable object and thus lays the groundwork and facilitates the necessary and sufficient conditions for self-love; and it allows the True Self to perceive the existence of a “safe”, loving, and holding other. Such insight is at the very foundation of empathy.

Do the False and True Selves ever fight it out, David vs. Goliath, Good vs. Evil, The Beaver vs. Walter?

Alas, they never do. The False Self is concocted by the narcissist to fend off hurt. It is a perfect, impenetrable, impermeable shield, a cocoon; it rewards the narcissist by flooding him with warm, fuzzy, exhilarating feelings; and it sustains the narcissist’s delusions and fantasies. The False Self is the narcissist’s dreams come true. In other words: as far as the narcissist is concerned, the False Self is adaptive and functional. The narcissist is emotionally invested in the False Self and he despises the True Self for having failed to cope with the exigencies and vicissitudes of the narcissist’s life.

Also, a related video by Sam Vaknin:


Recommended Reading:

Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self by Richard Rohr

Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited by Sam Vaknin


The Two False Selves


I often talk about the idealized false self in my writing. It’s a concept that comes up very often in psychology, philosophy, and eastern spirituality, although not always under the same name.  It basically means a perfectionist persona that one believes represents the ideal type of person one should aspire to be. Neurotic people then put all their efforts into appearing to be this idealized false self. If a neurotic person had to choose between appearing to be their idealized, false self to the outside world and being secretly utterly miserable inside or being happy and at peace inside but not appearing to be their idealized false self to the outside world, they would prefer the former choice.

When you read a lot of psychological and spiritual self-help, you come across a lot of writing about false self and true self. While this distinction is very useful, it doesn’t tell the full story. There are two things lacking in this construct: first, neurotics usually have two false selves, not one, and second, not everyone has a developed true self. Today I’ll focus on the first observation, and save the second for my next post.

Karen Horney, in Neurosis and Human Growth, discusses the two false selves. Everyone has an idealized false self, an inflated persona they display to the world, and a true self, which is the more vulnerable person they are deep down in their heart of hearts and behind closed doors. However there is also a second false self in addition to the idealized false self, which I call the despicable false self. If the idealized false self can be described as everything a person feels they should try be, then the despicable false self can be described as everything a person dreads being and feels they should try to be the opposite of. The more neurotic one is, the more extreme, unrealistic and caricaturelike the polarization of both of these false selves is in their imagination.

So to review where we are, there are three selves in play:

  1. The idealized false self
  2. The despicable false self
  3. The true self

What differentiates an emotionally healthy person from a neurotic person is their relationships to these three selves?  An emotionally healthy person may have a positive ideal he aspires to and a negative image that he wants to avoid, but on some conscious level he’s aware that neither of these ideals or their corresponding labels truly represents him, or are even truly attainable (although in all honesty the despised false self is probably easier to come close to attaining than the idealized one is). The neurotic, whether narcissistic or codependent, really believes his only choice is between these two ideals and totally buys into their corresponding labels, believes both are attainable, and has a constant struggle of oscillating between two damaging false selves.

These two false selves are what are at play in a previous post I did, “The Superhuman/Subhuman Dichotomy of Shame.” I suggest reading or rereading it now. What a person is doing when they’re undergoing the dichotomy of shame is oscillating between playing the roles of these two false selves, the idealized false self when feeling superhuman and the dreaded false self when feeling subhuman.

Bewlow is a diagram from this site illustrating Horney’s beliefs about the three selves:


This site also discusses Horney’s beliefs:

Horney believed that the self is the core of one’s being, their potential. If one has an accurate conception of themselves, they are free to realize their potential. The healthy person’s real self is aimed at reaching their self-actualization throughout life.

The neurotic’s self is split, however, into an ideal self and a despised self. One’s ideal self is created when one feels they are lacking in some area of life and are not living up to the ideals that they should be. What they “should” be is their ideal. This ideal self is not a positive goal, nor is it realistic or possible. The despised self, on the other hand, is the feeling that one is hated by all around them; one assumes that this hated being is their true self. The neurotic, therefore, swings back and forth between pretending to be perfect and hating themselves. Horney called this inner battle the “tyranny of the shoulds” and the neurotic’s “striving for glory”. These two impossible selves prevent the neurotic from ever reaching their potential.

That passage describes a key component of this: that most people are driven by a fear that their dreaded, despicable self is actually their true self. Much of people’s problems stem from the dysfunctional ways they deal with this fear, which as usual consist of overcompensation, surrender, and/or avoidance.

Some good examples of this can be seen in the labels people choose to admire or bash. For example men may spend a lot of time thinking about alpha males (idealized false self) and beta males (despicable false self) and which category they fall under. Women may think about whether they’re a good girl vs. a slut or a bad bitch vs. a basic bitch.

The best solutions involve first, becoming aware of the concept of the three selves, and second, identifying what the idealized false self, despised false self, and true self specifically are for you. The problem is, for many of us, we effectively don’t have a true self that we can easily identify because our true selves are so underdeveloped through neglect, similar to a muscle one never uses. It’s like those deep undercover cop movies where someone is playing a role so long and spending so little time in their real identity that they believe they’re the role and begin to forget who they really are. The role becomes more real than the person they were born as. This idea of an underdeveloped true self will be the subject of the next post.

Recommended Reading:

Narcissists, Cluster Bs, Shame and Shamelessness


I’ve discussed in the past the relationship between narcissists and shame. Basically, anyone who suffers from Cluster B personality disorders (which include narcissism, histrionic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and sociopathy) is ruled by shame. Codependents are also ruled by shame as well. In response these observations, I’ve often received variations of a very sensible question from readers: “How can narcissists and other cluster B’s be so full of shame when so much of their behavior is shameless, and their responses to being confronted show a total lack of either shame or guilt?”

This is a very good question, as casual observation seems to show the opposite of what I say: that emotional vampires are characterized by shamelessness, not shamefulness. But there’s actually a logic to this contradiction that shows it’s not actually a contradiction at all.

Remember what I’ve said in the past, based on the teachings of Alfred Adler. There are three faulty coping mechanisms that are behind most dysfunctional behaviors: avoidance, surrender, and overcompensation. Codependents are full of shame, but they tend to surrender to it. For this reason, their behavior is explicitly shameful. Narcissists are full of shame, but they constantly are overcompensating against it. The possibility of feeling shame is such a constant, continual threat to narcissists, and they feel shame in such a deeper, more utterly annihilating way than normal people do, that they can’t allow themselves to emotionally access that feeling even for an instant. This is where that impression of being shameless comes from.

Think of it like two people who have extremely gluttonous tendencies and a dysfunctional relationship to food. One is insanely obese and the other one is thin and obsessive about healthy food and micromanages his diet and exercises like crazy. Both of them have food issues, but the former has surrendered to them, while the latter has overcompensated against them. The latter, thin person feels that they can’t handle fattening foods in moderation any better than the obese person can, so his responses is to not even entertain the very idea of sampling fattening foods. He might even have a full-blown eating disorder. If he allows himself to even taste something fattening, he knows he will fall way off the wagon and go on an eating spree. This is similar to the narcissist’s relationship to shame; he or she can’t allow himself to entertain the idea of accessing that feeling, for fear of being overwhelmed by it, because their relationship to shame is so unhealthy. The healthy form of shame is humility, but since they fear accessing any form of shame for even an instant for fear of total ego-annihilation, they will rebel against both humility and toxic shame whenever either rears its head.

Anyone who has tried to explain to a narcissist the effects of their behavior on others, or has called them out on bad behavior, or corrected them on anything, like getting a fact wrong, has probably encountered that disproportionate response of denial, usually something along the lines of “You can’t tell me what to do,” or “Well that’s YOUR opinion, but I’m entitled to mine and you can’t change it,” or if online, “This is my website or account and I will write what I want and if you don’t like it you can just leave or unfollow me.” If you call them out on a factual mistake, they will refuse to acknowledge any part of that factual mistake no matter how clear your evidence is and will resort to ad hominems, deflection, and fallacies galore or even censorship just to avoid having to admit they’re not perfect (not being perfect is a source of huge shame for narcissists too). Another example is the troll who prides himself on being offensive, and when called on it, tries harder to make a vocal and public display about how proudly unrepentant he or she is.

Whenever you see any sort of this type of excessively shameless behavior from someone, this is the dynamic that’s usually at play. Keep this dynamic in mind also when you encounter someone with an outrageously disproportionate reaction to any constructive criticism, factual corrections, general disagreement, or even an attempt to educate. Chances are these minor incidents often register to them as a narcissistic injury that’s due to set off an oncoming rush of shame.  People like this are very hard to reason with; they only want aggrandizement.