Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Victim As Seen Through The Eyes Of A Past Abuser: Insights From Dr Sam Vaknin

Posted by James Raper

1. Overview Of This Post

My past posts here have been from the perspective of a lawyer, commenting on aggregations of evidence and how justice systems perform.

If there are to be any gains at all from this sad affair, both wider understanding of policework and law and also wider understanding of the relervant psychology should definitely be among those gains.

I dont have formal qualifications or expertise in psychology but several years ago I drafted a post on the psychology of perpetrators and then shelved it as it seemed then that our knowledge of the sciences and the perps in this case were both still lacking.

This is the post revisited, modified and upgraded to contribute to all the new knowledge we have been acquiring.

I want to concentrate on the work of Dr Sam Vaknin and especially his respected book Malignant Self Love (see Amazon reader rating below) which has helped many to understand why some people inflict pain.

2. Essentials Of Dr Vaknin

It transpires that in fact he also has no academic qualification (or anything approaching it) in psychology.  Indeed he is a colourful, controversial character and, it seems, an inveterate self publicist. Rather like, say, Hampikian? Aha.

There is a Wiki page on Vaknin. He has twice been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and has also been found to be borderline schizoid.  He has accepted the diagnosis.

Who better, however, to write on the subject of narcissism than someone who has both extensively done the research and himself been the subject of an accepted diagnosis? His output has been enormous.

In any event his book gave me what I have considered to be helpful (if not authorative) conceptual and investigatory tools or windows on the subject and I have found these to be invaluable.

So this post concerns narcissism in its many forms and consists of direct quotes from “Malignant Self Love” with my own observations and some tentative conclusions. However (and given that I am just an amateur), I have to leave it to the reader to draw his/her own conclusions.

3. Insights For Our Case

Primary Narcissism

“Primary Narcissism, in psychology, is a defence mechanism, common in the formative years”

Pathological Narcissism

“Secondary or Pathological Narcissism is a pattern of thinking and behaving in adolescence and adulthood, which involves infatuation and obsession with one’s self to the exclusion of others. It manifests in the chronic pursuit of personal gratification and attention (narcissistic supply), in social dominance and personal ambition, bragging, insensitivity to others, lack of empathy and/or excessive dependence on others to meet his/her responsibilities in daily living and thinking.”

We do not know as much as we should know about Amanda’s childhood and adolescence. Unfortunately much of what we are told comes from partial observers which provides a picture of relative normality. This contrasts sharply with the picture as it unfolds once Amanda leaves Seattle. Immediately we see an Amanda in chronic pursuit of personal gratification and attention (sex and drugs etc), freed from what may have been excessive dependence on her parents. Not uncommon with adolescents but the word “chronic” does seem an apt part of the picture.

Amanda does not like not being the centre of attention. Witnesses report that when conversation leaves her in the background she starts singing loudly in protest.

The constant strumming of the same chord on her guitar to annoy others (again when she is being ignored) is another comically classic case of narcissistic supply.

She also knew (insensitively) how to make Meredith feel awkward, even humiliated “Me and Giacomo get on really well “¦. But I’ll let you have him”.

When things start to go wrong with her narcissistic self image she retreats into a dependency on Raffaele, - quite excessive in it’s intensity, - and the relationship is belatedly paraded at the cottage in what may have been an attempt to re-establish, if not social dominance, at least social equality.

The phone calls to mother when the postal police arrive at the cottage can be interpreted (amongst other things) as a need to re-establish a dependency, or mutual dependency, to see her through the uncertain events ahead.

Pathological Narcissism is at the core of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

“Research shows that most narcissists are born into dysfunctional families. Such families are characterised by massive denials, both internal (“you do not have a real problem, you are only pretending”) and external (“you must never tell the secrets of the family to anyone”). These families may encourage excellence, but only as a means to a narcissistic end. The parents are usually themselves needy, emotionally immature, and narcissistic and thus unable to recognise or respect the child’s emerging boundaries and emotional needs”.

“Pathological narcissism wears many forms;

  • classic or malignant narcissism

  • appropriative (e.g histrionic)

  • schizoid, and

  • aggressive destructive”

The foregoing forms are arbitrary categories, helpful to investigative analysis. As with all psychology the labels that are used describe mental conditions inferred from behaviour and language.

The foregoing forms of pathological narcissism represent solutions, adopted by the subject, to the ongoing gap between fantasy/the false self, and reality/the true self. They are not, as categories, mutually exclusive but can overlap as circumstances dictate.

Above: an online poster for one of Dr Vaknin’s recent presentations

(1) The Classic Narcissistic Solution

“This dissonance - the gap between grandiose fantasy and frustrating reality - gives rise to the unconscious “decision” to go on living in the world of fantasy, grandiosity and entitlement.”

“Thus the true self is replaced by the false self.”

“The Schizotypal Personality Disorder largely belongs here because of it’s emphasis on fantastical and magical thinking. The Borderline Personality Disorder is a case of a failed narcissistic solution. In BPD the patient is aware that the solution is failing. This becomes a source of separation anxiety (fear of abandonment). This generates identity disturbance, suicidal ideation and action, chronic feelings of emptiness, rage attacks and transient paranoid ideation”.

The Schizotypal PD is a mixture of Schizoid and Narcissistic Solutions. Amanda, for me, is not schizoid but I think her use of drugs, and an ego in free fall, tipped her behaviour into the schizotypal, if that is not a contradiction in terms.

Of more interest is Borderline Personality Disorder as I believe her behaviour in the lead up to Meredith’s murder is indicative of a case of failing narcissistic solution.

I think that Amanda’s perceptions were that she had little in common with Filomena and Lauretta, that she was probably regarded as little more than “trash” by the boys downstairs, and that she was “dumped” by Meredith on Halloween night. She perceived that Meredith was clearly now preferring her english friends to her, and furthermore was very likely going to supplant her at Le Chic. There was no one to reinforce her (deteriorating) self image/false self other than Raffaelle and the manipulated Rudy.

Bringing Raffaelle to the cottage on the morning of the 1st November was probably in part an attempt to establish some social dominance (or at least equality)  vis a vis Meredith but perhaps also in part an attempt at a sort of peace offering, both of which seem to have backfired. Meredith spent much if not all of the morning in bed and then was off again to see her friends. It is perfectly possible that whilst Meredith was no doubt polite she pretty much ignored the two of them. Again Amanda may have felt demeaned.

I do not know what Raffaele actually told her about his mother’s death. There is some suspicion that it may have been suicide and he may have told her that. In any event she talks of “her suicide” and the thought of that may have affected Amanda though there seems to be nothing to suggest that Amanda herself has ever thought of suicide.

I am also interested in Amanda’s “fascination” with Harry Potter. The boy who as a child survives a murderous attack on his parents by an evil wizard and is “marked” (like Cain) but who discovers his own magical powers with which to confront the evil wizard. The fascination even extends to picking a boyfriend who looked like the actor who plays the hero in the films and she even claims to have been reading a Harry Potter book on the evening of Meredith’s murder. These are elements of fantasy, grandiosity and entitlement to reinforce the False Self.

“Narcissistic rage is not specifically a reaction to stress - it is a reaction to a personal slight, insult, criticism or disagreement. It is intense and disproportional to “the offence””.

(2)  The Appropriation Solution

“This is the appropriation of someone else’s self in order to fill the vacuum left by the absence of a functioning Ego.”

““Appropriators” misjudge the intimacy of their relationships and the degree of commitment involved, they are easily suggestible and their whole personality seems to shift and fluctuate with input from the outside.”

Here I am thinking again of the brief intensity of her relationship with Raffaele.

I am also thinking of Amanda’s ability to change her persona like a chameleon (from the little girl lost routine, to earnest and sympathetic co-operation, to help me if you please charm). This is a skill derived from somewhere.

Meredith’s murder is the ultimate appropriation of another’s self.

(3) The Aggressive Destructive Solution

“These people suffer from hypochondriasis, depression, suicidal ideation, dysphoria, compulsions and obsessions and other expression of internalised or transformed aggression directed at a self which is perceived to be inadequate, guilty or disappointing. Many narcissistic elements are present in exaggerated form. Undulating self esteem is transferred into impulsiveness and failure to plan ahead.”

A sexual humiliation of Meredith may have been pre-conceived as an act of revenge when she was at a low and feeling inadequate and this may have temporarily raised her self esteem as a consequence but quite obviously without any planning ahead as to the consequences.

Impulsive behaviour is common to the above categories and the misuse of alcohol and drugs is common.

Psychopathologies ( in adolescence and adulthood)

“Psychopathologies are adaptive mechanisms”.

“The (narcissistic) mechanism is three-phased:-

(1) The person encounters an obstacle

(2) The person regresses to the infantile narcissistic phase

(3) Thus recuperated, the person confronts the obstacle again.”

Vaknin terms this mechanism The Psychopathological Default; a perfectly natural mechanism and being the only option an individual - even a perfectly rational, balanced,  and mature individual - has when confronted with some personal trauma or major life crisis with which he can not cope. The Pathological Narcissist will have the Default pre-set at a lower threshold to address any attack on the False Self.

“While in step (2), the person develops childish, immature behaviours. He feels that he is omnipotent and misjudges his powers and the might of the opposition. He underestimates challenges facing him and pretends to be “Mr Know All”. His sensitivity to the needs and emotions of others and his ability to empathise with them deteriorates sharply. He is pre-occupied with fantastic, magical thinking and daydreaming”

Perhaps here we can consider Amanda’s behaviour at the police station. The forthcoming questioning and the actual questioning being seen as obstacles to be encountered. There are the cartwheels and splits, the behaviour with Raffaelle and the appallingly insensitive remarks about Meredith and her death in front of M’s friends. The overconfidence under questioning suddenly breaks down and all too rapidly becomes the dreamlike incident at the cottage with Lumumba attacking Meredith.

“Whenever we experience a major life crisis (which hinders our personal growth and threatens it) - we suffer from a mild and transient form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder”“¦..(but)”¦.“the contrast between the fantastic world (temporarily) occupied by the individual and the real world in which he keeps being frustrated, is too acute to countenance for long without a resulting deformity”.

4. Some Tentative Conclusions

The defining attribute of the psychopath is that he has no moral conscience and he is highly skilled at fooling people and carrying off the appearance of being perfectly normal.

Amanda, by contrast it seems, only fools those who are easily fooled and furthermore, particularly because of what she says and does, merely draws attention and suspicion to herself.

In nearly all her statements, verbal or written, Amanda has had two different narratives before her. One narrative is the true version (the obstacle) and the other is the false version (the way through or around).

She has struggled to cope with the narratives when she is subjected to examination. The result has been the lying and the spider’s web of confusion and deceit, and the childlike, sympathy-seeking, performances to which we have become accustomed.

This is the narcissistic psychological default. Since being suspected of and charged with Meredith’s murder Amanda has been stuck in the default position because this time the obstacle - the evidence -  has always been in her way and, until the court case has final closure, will continue to be in the public domain and in her way. In this context the default position became critical and primal with the accusation of Patrick Lumumba and has continued playing out, but with some modification since her release from prison, ever since.

Since her release from prison her life has been organised for her in a manner that ensures that she receives the constant ameliorating narcissistic supply that is required to sustain her ego, in this case the False Self, and this has partially empowered and enabled her. It has come in the form of the publication of her “Memoir”, and interviews on TV. In the public domain she is a celebrity, even if that book and the TV appearances were not the success for which she and her managers would have wished.

She has also had narcissistic supply from (as might be expected) her family and close friends, but also from those outsiders in the PR campaign devoted to “demonstrating” her innocence. Vaknin talks of “inverted narcissists” - those whose egos obtain sustenance from providing the “supply” the narcissist feeds on. Or, as we put it in this case as regards the outsiders, white knights charging to the rescue of a damsel in distress.

Both the narcissist and the inverted narcissist have an unhealthy symbiotic relationship with each other.

I think that psychologically it will, without help, be impossible for Amanda to tell us about her involvement in Meredith’s murder. Incarceration would be preferable to a public demolition of her False Self.

I do believe that she is at least a pathological narcissist and as such has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Her condition at the time of Meredith’s murder was probably exacerbated by alcohol, drugs and an ego which was in free fall. At the same time her False Self probably tipped sharply towards the Aggressive Destructive Solution.

“Narcissistic rage is not specifically a reaction to stress - it is a reaction to a personal slight, insult, criticism or disagreement. It is intense and disproportional to “the offence””.

On the night of Meredith’s death, as a result of some event, or something said, or as the culmination of a series of events, (in which she had colluded - or which, far more likely,  she had instigated), and probably as a result of all three happening,  Amanda may well have flown in to an uncontrollable rage at the cottage. That would fit with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Posted by James Raper on 12/10/14 at 12:58 AM in Crime hypothesesPondering motiveThe psychology


Very interesting James - thank you.

I like the idea of “narcissistic supply” and “inverted narcissists”. There are clearly a significant number of rather pathetic people with deeply suppressed infantile emotions and false self constructions who intuitively identify with AK’s plight, and find in her some sort of crazy vindication for their own ongoing sociopathy (hello relatives, Bruce, Frank et al). They really do seem to think that denial is just a river in Africa. 😊

Early childhood development is key in my opinion and I do believe general awareness in this whole area is increasing, albeit slowly.

Posted by Odysseus on 12/10/14 at 06:41 PM | #

Thank you for all your work in assembling this, James. It is very comprehensive of the grevious issues.\

I like 4) the Tentative Conclusions.

I agree AK is unlikely, now, to be able to drop the mask, and speak plainly about what happened.

‘narcissistic supply’ is commonly observable : sometimes too known as narcissistic co-dependence. It has the characteristic of someone fawning towards the dominant one - all dignity lacking. They will defend the other, irrationally, and do their bidding.

There has been a movement lately, to re-define Narcissistic Personality Disorder, with a slightly different method, that is less categorical. This helps where a personality doesn’t neatly fit into one sub-type, but has overlapping characteristics. It’s referred to as ‘Trait-specific’.

There ‘s some more detail to be found under ‘DSM -5, NPD’ if anyone wishes to go into this. (I’m having difficulty actually copying a link).

“Narcissistic rage is not specifically a reaction to stress - it is a reaction to a personal slight, insult, criticism or disagreement..”

I think I would express this slightly differently : the ‘slight, insult’ etc (which can be imaginary too) can be experienced as Rejection. Especially for the Borderline type, rejection is everything. They cannot bear it.

Hence they become very stressed by the experience of rejection. They don’t have normal mechanisms for dealing with this feeling, and separation (as said).

So indirectly, it’s a response to the rejection feelings, which have resulted in unbearable feelings of stress and fear - and the inner rage is triggered.

(I know several professional psychologists who lean towards Amanda being Borderline Personality Disorder.)

With ‘the Psychopathological Default’, as mentioned, being a perfectly natural mechanism that can cause temporary manifestation of narcissistic behaviour (in otherwise adjusted people)... The difference is, in the Disordered Personality, that the perfectly natural mechanism needed to re-correct the behaviour back again, to ‘normalize’ - is completely lacking and absent.

It is not there, maybe permanently, depending on the severity of the disorder.

Posted by SeekingUnderstanding on 12/10/14 at 08:50 PM | #

This is an excellent analysis of a seriously disturbed individual that belongs behind bars! Thank you James.

Posted by Johnny Yen on 12/10/14 at 09:09 PM | #

This has elements of the Patty Hurst syndrome. Same ballpark really. That is where Sollecito and Knox feed off each other.

Posted by Grahame Rhodes on 12/11/14 at 01:14 AM | #


Posted by Ergon on 12/11/14 at 07:11 AM | #


Excellently said.

But it is really tough to cope with rejection. And the borderline can be really broad. Anger is the most common symptom. If the hormones do not come down in an hour or so, anything can happen!

One of our paper was rejected twice and (believe me) I know how rejection feels. I have decided to sit on it for one month and then revise and resubmit.

I often wonder why her lawyers ignored this aspect. She could have gotten off lightly.

Posted by chami on 12/11/14 at 07:41 PM | #

Yes, indeed, chami…
Rejection goes very deep, and evokes strong or even turbulent emotions (which may or may not surface).
It does touch on our true vulnerability.

But like everything, it’s how we handle it. How we respond and react.

Also inseparable from this is the instinct for Belonging. The longing for belonging, one might say. It is powerful, and can motivate incredible things, both good and bad.
On some level, somewhere, we need to feel accepted for who we are - we need, at some point, validation.
We seek to find it, immaturely, in others’ approval.
For the insecure and dysfunctional, being a leader of a ‘gang’ gives a substitute, a synthetic validity. (Hence the FoA).

One also sees it on show in the excesses of the Arts, where celebrities of mediocrity ‘belong’ to a certain social set.

But belonging really matters, - for everyone - normally adjusted, and loving, talented people too.
I think that’s why rejection (especially from someone one holds in high esteem) cuts to the quick.

Posted by SeekingUnderstanding on 12/11/14 at 09:18 PM | #

This is somewhat off topic so I apologize in advance. As you all probably know now, the FOAKers recently put together a new multi-lingual petition on Of course it is a feeble last-minute attempt to exonerate AK and RS but, nonetheless, it should be removed from right away!

It may be necessary to sign up for this (or not), but if possible, be sure to flag this petition for inappropriate abuse as it has many people who have signed it multiple times. This is in violation of the terms of use for You can flag this petition by clicking on the “Flag as inappropriate” link at the very bottom of the page here:

When the pop up window appears, be sure to mention this violation and request that this petition be removed from the website as soon as possible. Thank you.

Posted by Johnny Yen on 12/11/14 at 10:56 PM | #

It is also possible to have this petition removed from by writing directly to the website administrators here:

Posted by Johnny Yen on 12/12/14 at 01:12 AM | #

@Johnny, I looked and looked, and could not find the “flag as inappropriate” button/link ...

(I have signed a couple of petitions on in the past year, I’ll be damned if I do this again)

Posted by Bjorn on 12/12/14 at 05:11 PM | #

I couldn’t find it either, but I wrote all over the place complaining to ‘ to take it down anyway. If that was successful OK. If not so what? This, at the very least, is a Hail Mary pass which will be ignored. The supporters of Knox and Sollecito have a very narrow view of their own importance. ie they really believe they can do a bate and switch. They do not realize that the US state department is far more concerned with international law that just a few hundred (perhaps thousand) signatures to a petition which will be ignored anyway. There was another one, I remember, which was written to John Kerry which went nowhere. The reason for this is in every office in the state department there is a very large shredder which get used every day to shred all the petitions that come in. These petitions number in their hundreds if not more, and nobody even bothers with them since they are just window dressing. The reason for petitions is to make people think that they are important and can sway the thinking of any Government Office. Think about it in real terms.

“Here is another petition, put it with the others.”

Then at the end of the day they are all shredded since they take up too much space and nobody can really be bothered to read them. Even those which are read go up the chain of command being vetted by various secretaries along the way…  They never get read by anybody of importance since those people have far more to do such as conducting problems in the Middle East or talking to Angela Merkle concerning Vladamir Putin. Petitions forget it.

Posted by Grahame Rhodes on 12/12/14 at 06:14 PM | #

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