Malignant narcissism and identity

Malignant narcissism is an extreme form of narcissism characterized by aggression against people who threaten the narcissist’s narcissistic supply.

A malignant narcissist sees the other person as the threat, not just what they say or do.

This makes sense in that a narcissist has at some level concluded that they as a person are the standard for all things; thus, other people are blamed and attacked far out of proportion to whatever the narcissist believes they have done.

In Christian terms, the malignant narcissist blames the sinner not the sin and thus attacks the sinner, even when the sin may be as mild as a withheld compliment or a deserved rebuke.

I think all narcissists behave in a manner similar to this, though the ordinary type, which is very common in this world, is less aggressive than the malignant type.

Since narcissism is so common, one can say that in some ways narcissists have good reason to be suspicious of others and take revenge on them. There really is a good chance that they are dealing with another narcissist, who will do the same to them if they get the chance.

In a previous post, I wrote about the vortex or tautology of identity, the tautology of basing our identity on a semiotic matrix that, by its very nature, always refers back to the same “identity.” A malignant narcissist is an extreme example of this problem.

The semiotics of malignant narcissism are such that the narcissist sees his or her identity as being the person they really are. Seeing themselves in this way, narcissists apply a similar logic to others—at their core they are people who must be opposed or attacked for even the slightest perceived offense.

A group example of extreme malignant narcissism might be North Korea. If an NK citizen makes a single mistake—even a slight verbal mistake—they run the risk of being executed and also having three generations of their family sent to prison for life. The reasoning is that the original offender is a very bad person, which can be known from what they said. And since they are very bad, they must have influenced every person in their family who is younger than them and been influenced by every person in their family who is older than them.

If that isn’t hell on earth, I don’t know what is.

It is my belief that most groups, even very cute and nice ones, tend toward narcissism and many of them tend toward and become malignantly narcissistic. This happens because groups form and maintain themselves on the basis of shared semiotics, which necessarily are formulaic or simplistic.

We can see malignant narcissism in many religious, political, nationalist, or ethnic groups. The clearest sign is a disproportionate response to criticism—banishment, murder, violence, loss of employment, etc.—but narcissistic groups can also be clever and hide these responses or delay them long enough that the connection to the “offense” is hard to see.

Just as narcissistic groups cannot bear criticism, even self-criticism from within, so individual narcissists are bad at introspection. For either one, to honestly view and assess the core value (me!) is to destroy the false identity. For either one (group or individual) this would be a wonderful thing for them and others, but it is hard to do because their semiotic matrix is a tautology and they cannot admit this, or usually even see it.

Identity as a vortex or tautology

Our identities are fundamentally made up of semiotic matrices. That is to say, in part, that our identities have meaning; they mean something to us.

Often they mean a great deal to us and from them we derive the semiotics of motivation, intention, life-plans, many of our central interests, and so on.

Identities have strong emotional components, to be sure, but our emotions are ambiguous or diffuse if they are not positioned on a semiotic matrix and focused or defined by that matrix.

Identity is usually tautological in that its components, interests, and associations tend always to lead back to a few central elements. Often these elements have been inculcated in us by training. Some, we learn on our own. These elements are our values and beliefs, and also how these values and beliefs are understood and pursued.

The semiotics of identity must mean something to the person identifying with them. In this sense, they are almost always tautological. I do what I do because that is how I learned how to do it, think it, feel it, perceive it.

Most people are more adept at moving the parts of language around than they are at moving semiotic elements around. For many, semiotics are either an unknown, unconscious level of being or abstractions that belongs in scholarly journals.

To think like that is a big mistake. Semiotics are very real and they affect us constantly on many levels.

When semiotics are unconscious, they act like a vortex pulling perception, emotion, and understanding always toward the center of the identity. I think this is another way to say, in the Buddhist sense, that the self is empty; that it has no “own being.”

We can pursue an understanding of an empty self through Buddhist thought and practice, but I believe we will get better results more quickly if we add a practice that deals directly with the semiotics of our identities.

Since there is no book you can go to to look up how your unique semiotics of identity works, you have to see for yourself how it works. You can do much of this on your own, but eventually you will need a partner because there is no way you will be able to get an objective perspective on yourself acting alone.

FIML practice is the only way I know of to fully see into and through the semiotics of your “identity.” Beneath identity there is a sort of artesian well of pure, undefined consciousness. FIML helps us experience that well while keeping us from rushing back into the tautological matrix of identity, or static self-definition.

FIML is able to do this because FIML is process. FIML itself has no definition, only a procedure. It is not a tautology because it has no semiotic boundaries.

Semiotics, FIML, and identity

After you have a done a good deal of FIML, you will start to see semiotics as things, similar to words or memories.

FIML facilitates this process by forcing us to pay close attention to the ways we use semiotics and the ways they affect us.

Our identities, such that they are, are based on our closeness to or need for semiotics that define us, assure us, make us feel at home, tell us who we are.

Our use of semiotics in that way is very common but it is hard to grasp if we have no other basis for our identity, which few of us do.

FIML practice provides a different basis for identity than “extrinsic” semiotics, the conscious and unconscious semiotics of culture, upbringing, media, advertising, schooling, what we may think others think.

FIML partners, by constantly paying attention to the play of interpersonal semiotics, gradually will shift the bases of their identities from largely static extrinsic signs to dynamic intrinsic, or interpersonal, processes. This is what makes semiotics start looking like things rather than abstract elements of linguistic analysis.

Semiotics are things as much as words are. They differ in that there is no dictionary of them; we have to see them for ourselves and understand how they have been formed and why they affect us as they do.

Once partners do this through FIML practice, they will eventually notice that their habitual extrinsic semiotics will start to slough off, to fall away from them. This happens very naturally as a rich dynamic realm of largely error-free communication develops between them.

The falling away of habitual extrinsic semiotics that had been used to define or maintain the identity is accompanied by delightful feelings of freedom and lightness, independence and assuredness that one’s being is better served by the intimate communication of FIML than the inculcated beliefs and values of the past.

Semiotic proprioception in dreams and waking

Proprioception means “one’s own” or “ones’ individual” (Latin proprius) “perception.”

We normally use this word to refer to our physical position in the world—whether we are standing or sitting, how we are moving, and how much energy we are using.

When we dream, our capacity for physical movement, with rare exceptions, is paralyzed. But we still do a sort of proprioception in dreams—a semiotic proprioception, or proprioception within the semiology of the dream.

In dreams, we grope through semiotic associations and respond, gropingly, to them. People and things often look smaller in dreams, or distorted, because we do not have either the need or the capacity to calibrate our physical proprioception as we do in waking life.

Dreams move from one semiotic proprioception to another via our individual four-dimensional (3D plus time) groping/associative function. In one short segment of a dream we are at home, then we go through a door only to find ourselves on a boat in the ocean. Our 4D semiotic proprioception within dreams readily accepts groping, associative shifts like this.

Much of what we perceive when we are awake is memory. We glance at a room we know well and call up our memory of it rather than actually look closely at the room.

I am fairly sure that the memories we call up to aid perception while we are awake are much the same as the groping proprioception we experience in dreams. A major difference is when we are awake we can and do check our waking proprioception with the people and objects around us, while in dreams the associative function has a much freer range.

Notice how dreams move from scene to scene rather slowly. Things can go quickly, but normally dreams grope somewhat slowly along the 4D path of semiotic proprioception.

In waking life, our dreamy use of memory and association to aid perception of the world happens constantly.

When we speak with another person, we use this function to make groping associations concerning what we think they are saying. We grope and respond to them as in a dream while at the same time searching for clues that indicate we are both in the same dream.

These clues that two people may sort of “agree on” while speaking are normally standard public semiotics that belong to whatever culture(s) they share. By “agreeing” on them, we form a sort of agreeable camaraderie with whomever we are speaking, and this can be satisfying, but if we only get this, it can also become deeply unsatisfying.

The four dimensional groping/dreamy function of our mind is far richer than any standard collection of public semiotics. In our public lives—professional, commercial, based on organizations, etc.—we have, at present, little recourse but to accept normal public semiotics, to agree with them and manifest agreement.

We can express some deviation from them and sometimes make jokes about them, but we are generally fairly bound to the semiotics of the culture or organization that generates the context of our speaking. Consider how people in the same church or school are bound by the semiotics of those institutions.

In our intimate relations, however, we do have recourse to investigate and understand how our groping, 4D semiotic proprioception works. This is what FIML does. It allows partners to observe, analyze, and understand the semiotic proprioceptions of their minds as they are actually functioning during interpersonal communication.

If you constantly avoid FIML types of investigations, you will be stuck with a mix of dimly shared public/private semiotics that will tend to become highly ambiguous, even volatile, or very shallow.

Identity and signaling

Identity is constructed of memories, memories that have to be tended to, and this takes time and energy.

You have to remember who you are and often have to work pretty hard just to maintain that image within yourself, to say nothing of projecting it toward other people and getting them to accept it.

A big problem with this way of constructing a “self,” an identity, is it’s probably based on misinterpretations and a good deal of self-deceit.

Our identities, such that they are, are complex fictions. They are a central flaw in our internal signaling system.

If your identity is large and complex, it will use a good deal of energy. As you signal internally to yourself about your identity, you will also be receiving signals from other people, and these signals will necessarily be processed by your large and complex identity. And that, of course, will lead to serious misinterpretations, both internal and external.

If you belong to a group that defines, or helps you define, your identity, you can save some energy but will have as much fiction, maybe even worse fiction.

Consider the codes of group behavior (group signaling)  for Stalin’s NKVD officers who purged so many millions of innocents in the 1930s. All of those officers had identities that were largely determined by signals coming from the NKVD and Joseph Stalin.

There was a weird sort of ethical behavior among those officers in that they were trying to adhere to a group signaling system and not go their own way. This same problem in less serious form can be observed all over the world in every culture.

One problem with ethics and ethical signaling within groups is ethical questions can be difficult. There are few formulas that will always work, and formulas are what hold groups together.

Back to your identity. I hope it is clear that you have to be careful when you base your identity on group signaling systems. If you are a banker, you might do many bad things out of loyalty to your group. Same for all of us.

While ethics are hard to codify, the will to behave ethically is simpler. I want to do the right thing but I don’t always know what it is or how to do it. That is a good statement to make. If you can honestly say that to yourself, that is good because that means that your internal signaling system is seeking greater integrity, great clarity.

When we seek clarity and integrity within our signaling systems, we are seeking better ethics. We are changing our identities, or allowing our identities to be transformed by a higher desire for clarity, purity, integrity, goodness.

When we seek to improve our signaling systems, our ethics, we begin to abandon static identities and poorly constructed fictions about ourselves by subjecting them to a higher order of thought. If we can take a meta-position on ourselves, we will find the process of improving signaling is easier and more enjoyable than clinging to a static fictionalized identity that may have been constructed years before.

Everyone imagines

When you listen to someone speak, you have to imagine, or interpret, what they mean. This is obvious.

But if it is so obvious, what are you doing about it?

Are you imagining correctly? And just as importantly, are others imagining you correctly?

People are like cut-outs always posturing one way or the other to produce some desired effect in the minds of other people—an effect that they imagine.

With most people, it is very difficult to leave that system, to correct erroneous or imaginary interpretations of what we say and hear. But with those closest to us, we can correct wrong interpretations.

The only way that I know of to do this effectively is FIML practice. All other methods that I know about only lead toward generalities, stories, and more imaginary posturing.

Semiotic codes and signs can be understood and gotten outside of in a very profound way, but this has to be done at the micro-level, the level of basic FIML practice. It must be done “in the moment” at the interpersonal level between (almost always) just two people.

This is so because speech is clumsy and if you add more people, there will be more confusion. It is possible for three or four people to do FIML together, but it will be more difficult in most cases.

You also cannot do FIML—or any profound semiotic analysis—alone. This is because a mind alone is inevitably liable to bias and self-deception (self-posturing).

If any reader knows a way to accomplish FIML results without doing FIML, please let me know. So far, I have not seen anything else that does it.