Dracula Is the Iconic Toxic Narcissist
When I speak or write about toxic narcissism, which is, I believe, the source of all evil in the world, I often mention that toxic narcissists are like ‘psychic vampires,’ in that they suck the souls out of good, compassionate people in the same fashion as mythical (I hope) vampires suck the life blood out of trusting victims. That construct leads me to examine here the idea that Dracula, the epitome of vampirism, is also a perfect icon of toxic narcissism.
First, some definitions for those unfamiliar with this issue. The American Heritage Dictionary defines narcissism as “1. Excessive love or admiration of oneself. 2. Psychoanal[itical]. An arresting of development or a regression to the infantile stage of development in which one’s own body is the object of erotic interest.” The condition is named for the mythical Narcissus: “A youth who pined away in love for his own image in a pool of water and was transformed into the flower that bears his name.”
In Greek myth, humans are punished for their acts which offend the gods. The human is a doer and so must act on need or desire and the doer must be punished. Often they are punished even for the deeds or obsessions of the very gods they worship. This case brilliantly exposes the destructive nature of self-loving humans. Narcissus was a young man so lovely and perfect in his physical beauty that everyone fell for him, men and women, but no one seemed to meet HIS standards. One girl he rejected was so hurt that she withered away to nothing but a voice, one heard only if someone else spoke first; her name was Echo.
Because of her pain from his rejection of her pure, unselfish love, Echo asked the gods to punish him, and they did. He fell in love with his own reflection, discovered in a pool of water in the forest where he liked to gambol and gather admirers. The image he saw was perfect in every way, but when he tried to embrace this loveliest of boys, the vision of beauty disappeared, again and again. In one version of the myth, he pines away beside the pond; in another, Narcissus continues to embrace the beautiful image until he plunges into the pond and drowns. In both versions, he destroys himself waiting for the love of his life to accept him, and a flower, the narcissus, blooms where he died. The gods often brought life and beauty out of horror, just as spring flowers emerge after the seeming death brought by winter.
Like most Greek myths, the story of Narcissus is meant to teach us of the dangers of selfish love to the exclusion of all others. I suspect that a narcissist in the 21st century would not recognize that moral. Instead, s/he might think that Narcissus’ only mistake was in not surrounding himself with compassionate givers whose worship of him would have—should have—reinforced his narcissism. He would never die, as long as someone gave him the attention he deserved and required—rather like a toxic Tinkerbell for whom you must clap and clap and…
The term toxic narcissism, given to individuals identified as having Narcissistic Personality Disorder, goes beyond the simple vanity of Facebook and Twitter and selfies (oh, my!). When this selfishness is not just a passing self-interest but a modus operandi aimed at ensnaring loving and compassionate people who think that caring for others will earn them love, the condition becomes toxic to these victims. It is toxic because the narcissist brings nothing to the relationship except need and dependency—and control. Like Dracula sucking the life out of those he feeds on, toxic narcissists feed on the love, compassion, the very humanity of their victims. Both leave victims to suffer and die alone. However, if the victim unmasks the handsome Count or the attractive narcissist, s/he will be met with lethal violence—Dracula will not stop until his opponents are dead (or he is); likewise, the narcissist tries to gaslight victims so that they doubt reality and their own sanity and escalates to character assassination for fear that victims will reveal the truth about them. Sunlight (God’s gift) kills Dracula while truth (the light of reason) destroys the psychic vampire.
Like psychopaths, sociopaths, and antisocial personalities, narcissistic personalities have an inflated sense of their importance and superiority as well as a deep need for admiration and attention. At the same time, these dependent daisies have no empathy for others and suffer no remorse for their heartless self-aggrandizement at others’ expense. Dracula and the promiscuous narcissists never feel guilt or shame as they move to victim after victim, never satiated.
Recent clinical studies have revealed that the brains of those identified with these disorders lack gray matter in the area of the brain associated with empathy, compassion, emotional and cognitive functioning (the left anterior insula). Behind the facade of ultra-confidence, however, lurks a self-loathing infant whose self-esteem is so fragile that it cannot tolerate even mild criticism. These people are deeply unhappy, always seeking out loving worshipers who reflect the narcissist’s self-deluded image. Dracula’s folklore explain him as one of the ‘undead,’ lacking a soul because he has sold it to the Devil. That’s why mirrors and crosses are anathema to him, reminding him of his despair. Monsters never suffer guilt, satisfying their blood lust until they are staked or beheaded (like a rabid animal).
The joke in psychiatric circles is that toxic narcissism is the only mental disorder that leaves the person with this condition alone while treating instead all of his/her victims.
Narcissists disrupt every area of life, from personal relationships to school to work to raising families to all areas of social interaction. The narcissist learns early how to mask his/her true desires and goals while assuming a mask appropriate to situations or victims. They are accomplished liars and manipulators, always playing the victim when their true nature is revealed. Once unmasked, they attempt to destroy the truth-teller to prevent others from knowing what they are. They can be paranoid about other people’s opinions of them, assuming that everyone is as interested in them as they themselves are. While Dracula has no job or school and his only ‘family’ consists of his ‘brides,’ he brings death and desolation to everyone in his path. The brides never become ‘wives’ because they were taken in youth, so will never age, but they will never be a partner to Dracula, only servants to his desires. He gleefully deserts them to save himself. Likewise, the narcissist throws everyone under the bus, because nothing is his/her fault. Both have cult-like followers.
According to the DSM-5, narcissistic personalities are extremely likely to exhibit other symptoms: substance abuse, mood and anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, and others. Toxic narcissism is more common among men, while borderline pd seems more common in women, as they tend to be victims of child abuse (associated with bpd) more often than men. Some individuals with NPD can be ambitious and capable, but their inability to tolerate setbacks or disagreements make it difficult to maintain long-term professional achievement. They are easily distracted and expect others to give them what they need because they’re ‘special.’
The cause of narcissistic personality disorder is unknown but research suggests that some are born with an oversensitive temperament that is encouraged by excessive parental admiration and praise without realistic feedback. Alternatively, these children may be victims of excessive criticism for bad behavior, unpredictable care-giving by parents, and even severe emotional abuse. Researchers have found that narcissism runs in families, but it is unclear whether there is an inherited tendency or that family structure and interactions re-create the same patterns generationally. In Dracula’s case, his father was away fighting the Ottoman Turks invading Wallachia (Transylvania) and his mother died of the plague when he was a child. To ensure a peace treaty with the Turks, Dracula’s father left him as a hostage to the Turks when he was a child. By all accounts, the boy was brutalized in every way imaginable. (Here, I’m speaking of the real-life Count Vlad Tepes, known as Vlad the Impaler, who was a brutal leader but a national hero in Romania).
At first, they are attractive and charismatic and shower their new-found victim with ‘apparent’ love and gifts and seeming adoration. But once they have ensnared a loving and good person, they become more demanding and more ‘entitled,’ jealous, and increasingly abusive. It may be verbal, emotional, even physical, and they will return with half-hearted (unfelt) apologies and explanations that make the victim take the blame. As the narcissist isolates the victim, from friends and family, and even from the victim’s own sense of self and reality, the narcissist, who actually has low self-esteem and a lot of self-loathing on a subconscious level, begins to devour his/her source of emotional nourishment by shaming, gaslighting, and emotional ping-ponging. They are such expert liars and manipulators that their victims begin to doubt their own sanity and reality. Most never realize that they’ve been innocent victims, and never see what these narcissists truly are, until the relationship (finally) ends.
Dracula doesn’t own a mirror yet his hair is neatly parted and combed. He sleeps in a coffin, yet his suits are always neatly pressed and shoes are shined. He is suave and sophisticated; when he arrives at a party in England, all eyes are on him. He mesmerizes his victims and has a strange psychic link to them, even before he has taken their blood. Most victims die, never knowing what he is. A few, like Jonathan Harker, may escape and Dracula then shows his monstrous side. As Harker tries to save his fiancee Mina, Dracula becomes more aggressive. Harker must hunt him down in his lair and drive a stake through his heart to free the love of his life. Modern-day narcissists practice character assassination to prevent victims from revealing the truth about their dark side. Victims must refuse contact with these monsters or risk returning to the horrors of their emotional crypt.
We are all, to some degree, narcissists; it’s in our DNA. As humans, we have the unique experience of memory, time, and expectations of the future. We believe that we are God’s highest creation and that that ‘fact’ means that we can do anything we want to each other, other animals, and our long-suffering planet. I’m not saying that’s a good thing; often our ‘stewardship’ has been filled with rapine of nature’s (God’s) gifts. A big part of essential narcissism is its absolute necessity for survival. If we did not love ourselves, we would perish; without self-interest, who would seek out food, shelter, clothing, and love?
Humans are the only creatures who are born and who remain utterly helpless for years. Researchers even argue that babies (human and animal) are cute and adorable because that is an evolutionary trick to ensure survival of offspring. Symmetrical features, cute, puffy cheeks, and physical beauty have always been viewed as perfection and goodness. Subconsciously, even animal mothers reject offspring with abnormalities because resources are limited and those with physical or mental problems will not survive. Thankfully, humans have evolved beyond that reptilian aspect of survival. Mostly.
Most humans have a selfless, compassionate side that protects the innocent and helpless and cares for those with difficulties of whatever sort. We see selfless acts daily as firefighters rush into burning buildings, military men and women fight wars to protect our country (wars they didn’t start), police risking their lives to protect us from the bad people and the crazies who assault us with their feed-me mentality. For Christians, the best example of totally unselfish, self-sacrificing love is seen in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. None of us ever reach that level of agape.
We learn in the playpen and in the schoolyard that there are ‘takers’ and there are ‘givers,’ and it is that basic war of narcissism vs compassion that is the history of this planet. I’d like to believe that narcissists can change, but it’s impossible. To misquote Gertrude Stein, a thorn is a thorn is a thorn. To change, you must admit that there is a problem, that you are the problem, that your approach to life, your expectations of others, your need to control, to be admired, to be cared for like the psychological infant you are, are THE PROBLEM. The narcissist sees no problem, just people who don’t appreciate his/her awesomeness. Too often, the ‘givers’ try to change themselves, believing the lies of the narcissist that love and compassion and caring belongs only to them and that no one else DESERVES them.
Because of their belief that they are so deeply flawed that others cannot accept or love them for themselves, narcissists try to protect themselves from painful rejection and isolation by controlling how others see them and behave around them. If someone confronts them with their true selves, narcissists react with disdain, disbelief, rage, and defiance. They will then do everything they can to assassinate the character of their victim, fearful that s/he will reveal the beast behind the mask.
Below is a table I’ve prepared comparing Dracula (Bram Stoker’s fictional character, not Vlad Tepes) and the toxic narcissist (one with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder with or without co-morbidities). Some characteristics may seem repetitive but are included for emphasis or clarification.
|Raison d’être||Vampire||Psychic vampire||To feed off others|
|Sucks out your life||Blood||Soul||Love, compassion, sense of self|
|Dependent||Human blood||Attention, care||Façade of independence|
|Attractive||Charismatic, mysterious||Charismatic, adoring||Well-groomed, attentive|
|Manipulative||“Come to Me”||Conditional love||Do as I say or else|
|Jealous||You belong to me||I know you’re cheating||Projection of own faults|
|Abusive||Kills victim||Kills victim’s spirit||Blame, shame|
|Reality Shift||Turns into a bat, fog||Gaslighting||Victim doubts own memory, sanity|
|Self-important, sense of entitlement||Ruler, demands strict obedience||Superior to all, fantasies of success||“I’m special”|
|Appearance||Opulent castle, good looks||Materialistic, good looks||Combed, pressed, flawless|
|Reality||Coffin in crypt||Self-loathing, ugly||Monster|
|Mirrors||No, lacks a soul||Deceived by ego||Cannot reflect|
|Excessive self-love||Recreates self in brides||Selfies, “I” and “me”||You should be grateful I’m here|
|Need for followers||‘Brides,’ human helpers (Renfield)||Sources for love||Toxic Tinkerbell|
|Fragile self-esteem||Fears sunlight||Fears truth||Exposure means death|
|Infantile needs||“I vant to drink your blood”||I must be loved, admired, supported||I’m 2 years old and I am helpless (I’m the victim)|
|No empathy||Destroys everyone||Lacks compassion||No remorse|
|Deceiver||Shape-shifter||Masks true self||Chameleon|
|Revelation of truth||Kills all who seek him out||Destroys truth-teller||Character assassination|
|Paranoid||Only appears at night, hides coffin||Everyone’s opinions matter||Talking about me, hides true nature|
|It’s not my fault||Vampire bit him and turned him||Parents pampered me||Generational vampirism|
|Isolation||Dracula lures Harper to his Transylvanian castle||Friends and family interfere w/plans||Removes competition for attention|
|Victims||Most die without knowing what he is||Most don’t see what s/he is until it ends||If you survive, you will protect yourself|
|What they fear||Garlic, sunlight, cross||Truth, victim success||The light of reason|
|Followers||‘Brides’ enthralled to him, his needs||Future victims, innocent friends deceived by lies||Cult-like minions|
|Insight||“The blood is the life.”||Can’t see own toxicity||Only my needs matter|
|Fantasy||Kill, infect everyone||Everyone loves me||Irrational|
|Superficial Intimacy||Sex via blood transfer||Sex as control||Promiscuous|
|Exploitation||Uses money, law, British politeness||Takes everything from victims, wants more||Leaves when victim is empty, used-up|
|Emotional behavior||Melodramatic, cape||Extreme highs, lows||Crying, tantrums|
|Self-loathing||No mirrors!||Deeply flawed, unlovable||Fear of rejection, abandonment|
|Bad parenting||Abuse, abandonment, used as hostage||Praised or criticized too much||Learns to manipulate others|
|Antisocial||Abandoned castles||Emotional walls||Fear of criticism|
|Control of others||‘Brides’ not autonomous, bring victims to him||Belittles others, downplays their accomplishments||Competitive, must be the center of attention|
|Unpredictable||Bat, fog, wolf||Moody, changeable||Like bipolars|
|How to destroy them||Stake through heart||Tell the truth||No contact or risk renewal of vampirism|
If you are or have been in a relationship with a toxic narcissist, a psychic vampire, RUN far, far away or s/he will drain every last drop of your heart, goodness, love, compassion, sanity, soul. Then you too will be an empty husk like your monster.
Q. How many narcissists does it take to change a light bulb?
A. Only one, but everyone on earth has to work to turn the earth around to unscrew the bulb.
A2. None. I like it in the dark. I’m used to having to do everything myself; you’re lazy and useless…
©2015 Linda L Labin, PhD (except images, whose copyright belongs to their respective owners)