Today, we're going to look at magical thinking, a trait of both borderline and narcissistic personality disorder. This post is in three sections:
- Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, and brilliance (NPD)
- Preoccupation with fantasies of ideal love (BPD and NPD)
- Brief states of paranoia (BPD)
Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, and brilliance (NPD)
For the narcissist, it's hard to distinguish between fantasies, unconscious lies, and the False Self. As a DSM-IV trait, it refers to the narcissist's need to fend off inner emptiness, feel special and in control, and avoid feelings of defectiveness insignificance (Hotchkiss, Why is it Always About You, 2003, p. 8-9). While we all fantasize, the trouble with narcissist fantasy is that the narcissist treads a fine line between what is magical thinking and what is real. As unhealthy as it is for the narcissist, it becomes gaslighting for his family members and contributes to their own confusion, frustration, and magical thinking.
Sam Vakin, a narcissist and author of Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited, acknowledges this when he writes;
Everything I do is imbued with these grandiose fantasies. I fully expect my writings to elicit overwhelming attention (either negative or positive), to impact events and personalities, and to render me immortal. I fancy myself the power behind the throne, and a mover and shaker. I look everywhere for evidence to support these confabulated narratives. I communicate my fantasies to co-workers and family. I create a shared psychosis and mobilize them to participate in my grand schemes and thus to buttress my inflated (false) self. I reject, deny, belittle, and re-interpret all information to the contrary.
A woman says, "Before my husband went into therapy, he frequently based our plans on fantasy scenarios of sudden wealth (winning the Lotto) rather than on a realistic in-the-here-and-now plan. In terms of our relationship, he had built up a happy-ever-after scenario that had no basis in reality. He had himself so convinced of the happy-ever-after scenario that he wasn't even able to hear me when I expressed the need for the trust/honesty issues between us to be addressed."
Preoccupation with ideal love (NPD and BPD)
You don't need me to tell you how these relationships begin. The narcissist, borderline, and partner all get caught up in idealized, obsessive relationship in which "I love you's" are declared more quickly than the time it takes to download "Hello, I Love You," by the Doors on the Internet. I have yet to hear a relationship tale that didn't begin with the terms "white knight," "princess," "fairy tale" and "soulmate." And too often, the tale ends unhappily when the person who was split "white" either becomes split black (often in the case with BPs) or discarded when they start making demands and fresh narcissistic supply comes along. People confuse intensity with intimacy, which takes time, self knowledge, honesty, consideration, and willingness to be vulnerable.
A woman told me this all-too-familiar story about the charisma of the narcissist and the willingness of the partner (who often has low-self-esteem) to play their part:
He was internationally known symphony orchestra conductor. I was a striking, dynamic single woman in her 30's; a violin player for a major orchestra. He is married and several decades older than her. Their fairy tale begins when they first meet, as he is a guest conductor for her orchestra. Their eyes meet. She approaches him to talk about the music.
Her violin concerto should be heard across the world, he says. After a few days he started sending her text messages. His words were powerful, and seemed truly genuine: his feelings for her were extremely strong, he was in awe, had never met anyone like her. The texts began to get romantic. When he met her at the airport on her way to Rome, he knew this relationship was inevitable: they were meant to be together.
It was love at first sight he told her. He was blown away by her charm. This totally unexpected and wonderful love is emotionally and intellectually satisfying. He is away frequently on tour. But when they do meet he is loving, tender at times, very passionate, he admires her so much he becomes speechless. She writes so beautifully her letters should be kept for posterity.
Only he cancelled several meetings at the very last minute. In fact, they rarely had more than 90 minutes together. She lived on a roller-coaster of hope and expectation. He's told her about his traumatic childhood, so she knows how vulnerable he is.
He touched and fascinated her intellectually and as a person, he made her feel like a whole woman. His marital status and work situation were good reasons for giving him time. She never imagined she could be in such a relationship with someone of that age, but it seemed genuine. She loves him; he loves her. Life is magical-as long as she doesn't make any demands on him of any sort.
Only...he doesn't keep his promises and wraps her up in silence for longer and longer periods of time. He says he can't stand her pleas to leave his wife. He cancels several meetings and doesn't contact her for weeks. They reunite and the sex is incredible. Yes, they will live together forever. Then 23 hours after their last meeting she receives a text-message. He can't do this. And he is truly sorry if he "unwittingly may have led her to think otherwise."
Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation, delusions or severe dissociative symptoms (BPD)
Dissociation and paranoia is the ninth and final DSM-IV borderline trait. Dissociation is periods of feeling removed from reality. An example includes performing actions without fully connecting to them (running on automatic. This usually happens during periods of extreme stress.
Describing this sensation, one BP says, "Sometimes I feel like a robot going through the motions. Nothing seems real - my eyes cloud over and it's like there's a movie going on all around me. When I come back, people tell me that I did or said certain things that I can't remember.
Robert O Friedel, MD., says in "Borderline Personality Disorder Demystified (Marlowe & Company: 2004) p. 13
Research shows that people with BPD are more likely to expect others to behave badly toward them than people who do not have the disorder. When exposed to stress (usually criticism), or imagined or real fear of abandonment, when under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, or when treated with certain classes of stimulants such as amphetamine, or with certain antidepressants, some [BPs] become very suspicious and have difficulty thinking rationally. Brief episodes of paranoid thinking may occur, when they falsely believe that others are plotting harm against them. These episodes may last from several hours to several days, or even longer.
The person with BPD especially sees negative intent as it revolves around infidelity and fear of abandonment, and loss of control. (Narcissists can also be jealous and fear losing control, but it has more to do with maintaining supply sources.)
Of course this, in turn, affects the suspected family members. They become angry and emotional at being unjustly accused, second guess themselves, and eventually do start thinking about leaving (something called "projective identification").
One woman was so afraid of her boyfriend getting in touch with other women that she demanded that he leave his cell phone on the bedroom dresser when he had to go to the bathroom. Contacts with anyone of the opposite sex may be forbidden, and partners become so enmeshed in the relationship that it doesn't occur to them they can say "no." They are too busy struggling to keep their spouse happy for themselves and the sake of the kids. Once again, if the spouse becomes upset, the partner figures it's their fault and keeps trying (and failing) to secure the BP's/NP's trust.