When I was about 8 my father took me to the grave site of our ancestor, a great king. The king was not my mother’s ancestor so she was not present. He showed me the grave with a flourish. It seemed to be made of nettles. We stood about. He seemed to be praying. I looked around. This was no kings burial! Who did he think I was to suck up such bullshit? I could even read the marker, Jo Bloggs blah blah
The significance of the story is that the next few years are a blur. The narcissistic parent isn’t just preoccupied and vain. He doesn’t just dump his shit in you and hold your worth in proportion to your fufilment of that holy task. Nor even depersonalise you by reducing your being to a mere extension of his fantasy world.
Just as importantly at stake is the attribution of your worth to themselves. Flush, and giddy with all the personhood in the room, or overgrown churchyard, he can say what he pleases without reflection. Everyone else really will be toooo stupid to notice the grandiose babble for what it is.
I always felt worthless in my father’s company. Not just because my significance failed to go beyond being a repository for all his inferiority but because he sucked me dry.
Leaving the church yard, I felt, not only that he had crapped in my chest, nor even that I was a marginalised bit player in a game whose rules I would never know, but that all the life and vitality in my Being had just been poured out of me.
Narcissists will steal your thunder, attribute your values to themselves, and behave as though all your accomplishments are really down to them. In the language of the trade, the self of the other is cathected in order to ensure the going-on-being of incomplete ego structures. So every success is not really yours whilst every disaster is. All your attributes and qualities are just on loan and all your inner treasures something to give back at the end of playtime.
The narcissistic parent rootles around in the child’s inner world and has it away with their treasures. He doesn’t just preen. He doesn’t just dump. He wants your inner world.
The hubris of assuming leverage over someone else’s inner world, compensates for and shores up the yawning gap in the other’s life that they so need you to make better and raided you for in the first place.
Now for the ugly bit. Its infectious. You too can have kings for ancestors and thereby wear the mantle yourself, one day, when you’ve proved your worth.
The Great King is real. The archetypes of the Deep Unconscious do indeed have their own life. But its not an experience we can have whilst polishing our own tinsel crown or tottering about being descended from royalty.
If we are encounter the Great King in any meaningful way we will need to address our own inner narcissist, the point where we got infected ourselves. A good place to start is to recognise that the inferior self we might so urgently wish to hide beneath a grander mantle is itself a construct. It doesn’t need compensation. It needs dismantling.
The halls of our inner worlds are deeper and more complicated than we could ever imagine. We just need to allow them to be other. The otherness of others is not the Narcissist’s main problem, its the otherness of himself.
The Great King is real. Our task is not to mistake ourselves for him or stake some claim over him. The innoculation to the infection is a propitious attitude and if not a journey into the dark then at least respect for it.
My forthcoming book, ‘Abundant Delicious’ is about a king who found a way to put down a crown that wasn’t really his to wear and the spiritual journey that then followed.