Medium 9781855750470

Narcissism

Views: 1391
Ratings: (0)

The author presents fresh insights into the subject of narcissism, drawing on his vast clinical experience of treating people suffering from this disorder.

List price: $28.99

Your Price: $23.19

You Save: 20%

Remix
Remove
 

10 Chapters

Format Buy Remix

1. Setting the stage

ePub

Our task is to try to understand what narcissism is; I am still thinking about the subject and feel dissatisfied with certain things I have to say. Part of the reason for this is, I think, the model of the mind with which we are working. Certainly for most of us who are psychoanalysts, or who have been influenced by psychoanalytic theory, the model we have of the mind is inadequate to explain the phenomenon of narcissism, so much groundwork is needed to establish a model of the mind that makes the phenomenon comprehensible.

According to James Strachey, the word “narcissism” was introduced by the sexologists Havelock Ellis and Paul Nacke. The term “narcissus-like” was used by Havelock Ellis in 1898, and in the following year the term “narcismus” was introduced by Paul Nacke. In the intervening 90 years narcissism has become a household word; in analytic literature, given the great preoccupation with the subject, the term is used more than almost any other.

The myth of Narcissus

The story of the myth of Narcissus is told by Robert Graves (1960) in his book. The Greek Myths:

 

2. The composite self

ePub

Every piece of reality stands in relation to some other piece of reality: whenever we define something, we define it in its relation to something else. The only way to think of reality as relationless is to think of the whole of reality—the universe in its entirety, with nothing outside it. Every theory that we devise describes some aspect of reality relating to some other aspect. For instance, if I am standing on a beach looking at some seagulls at the edge of the surf and notice over time that they are slowly moving higher up the beach, in order to explain the scene satisfactorily to myself I have to invoke several scientific concepts. I need to understand that the seagulls are moving up the beach because the tide is coming in, and in order to understand the tide coming in, I have to have recourse to the law of gravity and the moon’s gravitational pull upon the earth, which creates the tides. I also have to understand the earth’s gravitational pull on the moon, which keeps the moon in orbit around the earth. And in order to explain that, I have to have an understanding of the earth’s mass and the moon’s mass and the relationship between the two. All this partly explains why the seagulls are moving up the beach, but it does not explain the why of seagulls. To grasp that, I have to know that seagulls are organisms that have evolved to fit a particular ecological niche—that of scavengers that feed on decaying living matter. To understand that, I need to have some knowledge of evolutionary theory. So just to explain that fairly simple scene in front of me, I need to have a grasp of several scientific concepts. In order to explain anything that is in front of us, we need some appreciation of the complex interplay of relationships between one thing and another.

 

3. The narcissistic option

ePub

In this chapter we will be trying to grasp a psychological reality. Just because such a reality is difficult to grasp, it is no less real than something which is easily defined, and if you are unaware of its reality the consequences can be disastrous. A professor who taught me philosophy many years ago used to give this analogy. He used to say that in a fog the outlines of an oncoming car are vague, but the car is just as real as if it were in bright sunlight. It is also more dangerous, because if you do not see the car, it may run you over. What follows in this exposition is a metaphor—it is pointing to the real but it is not the real itself. The reality can only be grasped by a personal psychic action.

In all theoretical models within the psychoanalytic literature, narcissism occurs when the ego takes itself as erotic object—or, to put it in classical Freudian terminology, when the libido takes its own self as love object. Returning to the principle of omission which I mentioned earlier, it is often what is not stated that gives a clue to the reality you are trying to get hold of, rather than what is stated. We have a statement here that narcissism occurs when the libido or the ego takes its own self as erotic object. This suggests that there is an alternative; this may sound obvious, but this alternative is seldom focused on clearly. If there is some other object that the ego can take rather than itself, what is it? Logically, if Narcissus can fall in love with his own reflection, the alternative is that he can fall in love with another.

 

4. The intentlonality of the self

ePub

I said earlier that the intentional core of the self is able to turn against this object that I have named the lifegfver. It is able to repudiate it, to turn its back upon it. In terms of psychoanalytic theorists, we are probably closer here to Fairbaim (1976) than to any other. He said that the ego can say, “I am going to have nothing to do with this object”, yet because of the survival instinct it is impossible for the self to repudiate it entirely. If one accepts the idea of the lifegiver being the source of emotional life and also the source of biological survival—that the two are linked—then the self can never effect a total repudiation, and so a split takes place, with one part of the self turning against the lifegiver. As the Itfegiver is incorporated into the self, a division and a repudiation of the selfs own nature occurs, resulting in an anti-relational position being taken. It is somewhat like a prisoner saying, “I am going to have nothing to do with these prison warders”, but having to have something to do with them in order to receive meals and so on, or he will die.

 

5. The erotization of the self

ePub

The psyche is the source of action, and it is helpful to divide this action into what we might call motor activity, which is geared to survival, and emotional activity, which enables us to relate to others. This division is not entirely satisfactory, for the two interpenetrate. There are circumstances, for instance, in which our survival depends on our capacity to act emotionally in such a way that we are in satisfactory contact with the human beings around us, so that we obtain food and shelter.

Overcoming fear is the sphere of emotional activity

Emotional activity is always a challenge. Human beings have a natural tendency to be frightened of each other. When you go to a party and find yourself next to a stranger, you tend to ask rather vacuous questions, such as “Where do you live?” in an attempt to overcome feelings of anxiety. In time someone comes

Rl and puts a drink into your hand, and you calm down a bit. I remember listening to a program by an analyst called Eva Rosenfeld, who knew Freud and his household when they were in Vienna, and she said their custom was not to offer guests a drink but to tell a Joke to put them at ease.

 

6. The phenomenology of narcissism

ePub

So far I have described the processes that give rise to narcissism, but I have not truly described narcissism itself. It may seem more sensible to have started with a description, but I thought we would have a greater chance of grasping its nature if we first understood some of its components.

I have emphasized that a person governed by inner currents of narcissism always tries to conceal it. Narcissism never stands nakedly in the open. This is another difference between selfishness and self-centredness. People are quite often openly, unashamedly selfish, but self-centredness is always hidden. Narcissism always has to be flushed out. Paradoxically, when it is flushed out, its structure is changed in the act. When people begin to grasp the narcissistic elements in themselves, these elements will already be losing their hold. One sees this clearly in the clinical situation where something has arisen as a result of narcissistic currents—say, extreme jealousy. When the patient becomes aware of his jealousy—he might have a dream about it—he is already entering into some relationship with it, so its strength will be diminishing.

 

7. The relation between trauma and the narcissistic option

ePub

Narcissism is nearly always the product of a trauma. The whole narcissistic way of functioning—the grandiosity and the disowning of parts of the self—is a defensive procedure. It can be difficult to grasp this in the middle of an encounter with someone who is exceedingly narcissistic, given the way such a person is always arousing other people—making them want to escape, making them anxious or angry, whatever it happens to be.

One of the difficulties, when trying to treat someone who is narcissistic, is that you cannot truly find out what the trauma is until you get through some of this defensive barrage. In someone’s case history you might see that they have had some terrible disaster in their childhood, but no amount of talking will be of therapeutic value unless that talking makes contact with the emotional reality of those events. Quite frequently you can hear someone speak about some trauma they have undergone, they may even cry about it, but they speak from a distance. This is understandable. When there has been severe trauma, the last thing a person wants to do is to return emotionally to where it happened.

 

8. The reversal of narcissism

ePub

Is it possible to reverse the narcissistic situation? The theory I am positing is that narcissism is chosen, in traumatic circumstances, at a deep level within the personality. As it is a choice, it is possible for that choice to be reversed. I take the view, however, that there can be traumata so severe that the human spirit collapses. Remember the story of Anne Frank. She endured appalling suffering but finally, in the concentration camp, her sister’s death broke her spirit, and she then died too. My view is in line with Bowlby’s researches where he posits three stages in the infant’s relation to loss. My thesis is that when the spirit breaks, the person may opt for the narcissistic solution. This is in line with Frances Tustin, who says that the autistic shell covers a black hole of despair, and I believe that what she describes as infantile autism is closely allied to infantile narcissism.

My thesis is that individuals are given the chance, perhaps several chances, to alter that radical narcissistic option. This is contrary to a determinlst view, which holds that narcissism comes about because of certain circumstances—trauma. It is then difficult to see how it can be reversed. I think that there is an intermediate step, which is an affective response to the trauma. This has to be seen in the light of what I said earlier about the Itfegiver. The Itfegiverls a mental object within, which only comes into existence at the moment of being chosen. It is outside, but yet, when opted for, it is inside. This moment of choosing is always risky. There is daring involved. A safe haven has to be abandoned without knowing that what has been chosen is going to be better. In the myth, at the last moment Cassius does not dare cross the river. In Anna Karenina, in those last terrible hundred pages before Anna’s death, she is totally preoccupied with whether Vronsky loves her.

 

9. The relation of this theory to other psychoanalytic theories

ePub

I now intend to compare the theory I have been proposing with various other psychoanalytic theories of narcissism. in particular those that have arisen out of the British Object Relations School—the theories of Fairbairn, Melanie Klein, Winnicott, Frances Tustin, and Heinz Kohut—not so much because they specifically addressed narcissism, although they did do so, but because the approaches people take to narcissism are usually related to one of these theories.

Fairbairn’s theory of narcissism

Fairbairn seldom used the term “narcissism” because he focused his clinical attention upon what he referred to as schizoid states, by which he meant states in which the ego was withdrawn into itself and not in contact with the external object. The foundation stone of all his theorizing was that lib-ido was object-seeking. Freud said that libido is energy, a drive, seeking discharge through one of the erotogenic zones. Falrbaim, however, said that the erotogenic zone was just a gateway through which libido travels in order to reach the object. So libido acquired a different meaning in his hands, and I think libido was the wrong term for what he was describing.

 

10. The effects of narcissism on character

ePub

I have said several times that I think it is a mistake to split narcissism into positive and negative: in my experience they constitute a single entity. Kit Bollas, in his book Forces of Destiny (1989), divides narcissism into these two categories, but what he characterizes as anti-narcissism is, in my view, the hidden part of narcissism:

The anti-narcissist opposes his destiny. As he forecloses his true self, refusing to use objects to articulate his idiom, he is of special interest to me. For as he negates his destiny, this antl-elaborative person “stews in his own juice” and adamantly refuses to nurture himself. He may come to an analyst precisely in order to defeat the aims of analysis, (p. 159]

On the surface it looks as though the person has a healthy love of himself, but Bollas discovers that there is an enemy within the camp—a fifth columnist who destroys harmonious discourse. Bollas says:

My sense of a mutual destiny, involving reciprocal object use, was the very factor Giovanni evoked in me in order to destroy it. [p. 160)

 

Details

Print Book
E-Books
Chapters

Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Sku
B000000020214
Isbn
9781781811252
File size
555 KB
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata