Reflections on Narcissism
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Reeling from a critique I received from my last post, I balance out my ideas about the masochism to narcissism continuum in this one. I elaborate, specifically, on the narcissistic end of the spectrum.
In doing so, I expand a topic I covered a few days ago. Here’s the link:
As I mentioned then, mature persons balance their love-of-self with their love-of-other. A wide range of “normality” exists in the middle zone. For example, some people tend to sacrifice for others quite a bit; others tend to be more self-focused.
These are not really problematic styles. They are just normal stylistic differences. Problems, usually of an interpersonal nature, occur with folks whose styles reside at either end of the spectrum.
Several themes prove troublesome for those persons who are far on the narcissistic end:
Firstly, and by definition, excessive self-valuation always comes at the expense of interest in others. In other words, persons with narcissistic styles struggle to empathize with others. They tend to devalue them. They cannot see them clearly.
Secondly, these individuals tend to base their impressions of others on their own fantasies. They imagine what others think and feel. They struggle to understand other points of view. It is difficult for them to identify others’ feelings. Instead, they see others through a highly distorted filter based on their own conceptions of the world.
Thirdly, they project their discomfort into others. Thomas Szasz once quipped that psychoanalysts dislike working with narcissistic patients because it makes them uncomfortable. They tend to make others–including psychoanalysts–feel insecure and inadequate. They may brag–a tendency to make others feel envious of them. They overtly criticize.
I recently had a narcissistic patient who wildly vacillated between idealization and devaluation of me. Some sessions, he would praise me, calling me the best psychoanalyst in Pasadena. He told me I was the only professional who could understand him. At other times, he harshly criticized me. Once, he called me incompetent. He said, “You are obviously an amateur; you need to get into supervision.”
Narcissistic folks unconsciously turn victimhood into a fine art. They have felt so victimized that they created the opposite in themselves. They are always on top; others always on the bottom. To coin the phrase trademarked by the Jewish Defense League, they ensure they will “never again” find themselves abused or neglected.
Because they tend to project out their own insecurity, these persons are prone to conflictual interpersonal relationships. They tend to make others feel insecure, envious, inadequate. They create mental pain in others.
These persons either have subtle neurological deficits, delayed psychological development, and/or were traumatized early in their lives. They tend to be, deep down, extremely insecure.
Unconsciously, they retreated into themselves as a primitive form of defense. The interpersonal world of their childhoods was dangerous. They felt they could trust no one, and therefore they turned inward. In my view, they deserve our empathy. But, like the patient I described above, they make empathy for them arduous.
In contrast, mature persons tend to listen to and observe others with care. They make inferences about other peoples feelings and thoughts based on reality rather than imagination. They may lean towards self-focus; they may tend to attend to others to excess. But they avoid either extreme.
Tremulously submitted with hopes for my own maturity,
Szasz, T. (1988). The ethics of psychoanalysis. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.
Like this post? Subscribe to Psychoanalyzing Life.