The Archetypal Narcissist.

There’s a detail in an ancient story I find intriguing. The story, the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’, is fascinating in and of itself. It is, after all, the first and oldest story ever written down, penned (or is that ‘stylused’? ) in ancient Sumerian nearly 5 thousand years ago.

The Epic predates much of the Old Testament by several millenia. It is also the only written record from a time where goddess worship would not get you hung drawn and quatered. But most of all, this first story is one about the first man, the first king, who got it into his head to build a massive wall around where he lived and give it a name, Uruk.

The story of Gilgamesh is a salutory tale about what happens when you wall yourself off from Nature.

The king builds his wall, feels chuffed with himself, feels safe from the things-out-there that never seemed to bother him before…. now his wall is built the sounds of the creatures are all…alien, and worse, there is a wild man out there terrorising the land.

Of course, the wild man is his own split off natural self, Enkidu, whom he defeats and charges with the task of joining him on the quest to defeat the ‘Humbaba’, a monster, and destroy the sacred grove of Cedars she lives in. Trawl the archives and you find that Humbaba, is also Kumbaba, AKA Cybele, Mother Goddess of the Ancient world.

Oops.

She is defeated. Her sacred grove, the symbolic tree of life is cut down. Gilgamesh commands  Enkidu to help him carve the wood into a set of  great gates which they then float down the Euphrates back to Uruk.

What an odd tale! If you watch the u tube videos about Gilgamesh there is much chuckling up the sleeve at those citizens of Uruk at this stage of the story who were clearly just cobbling stuff together as a way of making sense of the world.

Innit?

The fact that senior scribes and priests dedicated their all to a cryptic tale containing, like the shard of the hologram, their entire cultural experience, seems lost on the commentators satisfied in their superiority……and narcissistic presumption.

5,000 years ago,  on the fertile plains of Mesopotamia, ego consciousness was manifested by the creation of a walled city. The difference between me and not me emphasised by the novelty of the sudden schism between the world in here and the world out there.

Gilgamesh, previously an entity complete but without self awareness, becomes self conscious but only at the price of an inner split between an idealised self and a dark, shadowy, horned self represented by Enkidu. These ‘brothers’, can only hold together so long as the idealised self defeats the shadow self, setting it the task of raiding the sacred grove and killing off the principle of Relatedness. In so far as the trees represent the earthly manifestation of the Goddess, the gates are made from the defeated and dismembered body of the Great Mother.

Gilgamesh is compelled to split himself in two and shore up the defences of his fragile ego with the bones of the Great Mother. Divided from her he can no longer ‘cathect’ what he needs. So he can’t really grow up. He can only reinforce his defences against the aliveness of the feminine principle with her own dead body which will soon  lead  to the death/loss of Enkidu, only to be ameliorated by growing awareness of his own mortality.

Sound familiar?

When we split ourselves off from our own dark nature in the absence of a containing mother whose divine counterpart is degraded and cut down leading to hubris and loss of relatedness, then narcissism ensues.

Does this mean that narcissism is endemic in our culture from the beginning? Does it mean that the primary causes have to do with splitting off the shadow and devaluing the feminine? Is the way through by virtue of grief and sorrow?

What will the first story tell us about what can be done? Will Gilgamesh find a way out of his situation?

What needs to be done in our own time with the groves being destroyed at record speed and the dark brother being slaughtered beyond every city wall?

 

Attachment and Separation

I’m walking along a level suburban street. The intersecting roads all run up a steep hill. As I approach a cross roads there comes a young mom flying down the slope on her bike with her 2/3 year old in the basket up front.

The kid’s making the best of it but her tight knuckles give the game away. Her shrill voice belays the underlying anxiety. ‘Mom, if we crash, all I’ll do is…’ and then they were gone.

The kid has reached the outer limits of play. It’s stopped being fun. The child’s status has shifted from Mom-joining-daughter’s world  to Daughter-having-to-join-Mom in her world. She loses both mother’s containment and the resource of mother processing her fear for her in the process.

So she compensates with a grandiose fantasy that if mummy should suddenly become dysfunctional, or break, or run into the back of a taxi she could still mange very well by… swooping around the lampost… or flying up into the sky… or something else equally heroic.

She has to attribute super hero status if not godlikeness to herself in order to manage fear the management of which is normally Mother’s department.

Bit by bit, if we’re lucky, ego consolidates itself slowly out of the primordial identification with mother/world but only if its safe enough. If life itself is a white knuckle ride then we are  bound to remain in part fusion with  the Self in order to magically handle our situation. Many an obsessive ritual has its roots in the  numinous  word or gesture that somehow has the power to shore up selfhood.

I have to find a way to remain in this exalted state of extreme self belief because no-one is going to catch me when I surely fall.

I have to identify with the most enduring structures in the psyche to remain safe.

If that means depersonalising you in the process, well, you too can use the magic shield of Captain America or the Silver Surfer’s board to help yourself.

A lack of reliable resources has the child tunneling in to its own archetypal grain store and unconsciously feeding itself with stuff that it would normaly take many years to access and digest. The narcissistic are often precocious as a result.

I should know, I was reading Tolkein at 9.

Separation from our parents is one of the great thresholds of life. But how do you do that if you’re so insufficiently attached in the first place that you’ve had to grow wings or x-ray vision or ESP to compensate the fact? And what would it take for those amulets to be traded in for.. ordinariness and vulnerablity? Who would do such a dumb thing?

 

mending mummy

I spent years in a relationship with someone overwhelmed with NPD. Maybe it was more of a cage fight.

It was only supposed to be a brief fling….

yeah, right.

I didn’t know what I was getting into…

Uhuh..

Suddenly life was all mortgage and diapers and screaming….

You felt it happened to you…

Damn right. but i quickly realised i was in trouble…

So slow, so very slow.

Nothing was ever right for her. She’d switch the Aga off in November and back on in June. She’d hide my stuff or just throw it away. Someone once rang when i was in the bath and said they’d call back in half an hour and she said , ‘no, in 32 minutes’.

So, you have a thing for control freaks….

She’d go in my room and remake my bed!

..for control freaks who are also very intrusive…

She’d want sex in the middle of an arguement..!

and pervy…

But I didn’t choose that situation..!

No, it chose you and you allowed it because in amongst all that shit was some little veign of gold, something wanting expression, some shard of selfhood..

I dreamt I was riding her like a broomstick..

You’re doing something witchy with her…

Then I dreamt I was remonstrating with her about something, punching my fist into my hand to emphasis a point. Then the perspective panned back and I was Robin from Batman…

…unconsciously identified with the caped crusader….

I’m on a crusade.

She is the crusade. Who do you imagine yourself to be that you might storm such battlements? And for what purpose?

I’m in adolescent avenger mode…

and getting her to carry all the chaotic childhood stuff so you don’t have to..

Oops.

Meantime you can educate her like some post modern Eliza Doolittle, and panel beat her into some semblance of functioning so that the chaotic child can be looked after by her if not by you.

Double ooops..

               The catastrophic expectation is a memory’. Donald Winnicott.

Sooo, i got a bit paranoid after this little chat…. paranoia that seemed unrelated to stuff you might actually get paranoid about, like coppers parked outside your house and threats of imprisonment. No, it was more like… being taken away for ever and ever and ever because… you have green eyes… or fair hair… or nice shoes.

Then it condensed into a fantasy of two women banging on the door, determined to..take me away. I was …five. Then I remembered, two women, come to take me away from my black mother, whose language I spoke, whose smell I knew, whose heart loved me… but who would now be gone. Forever.

perhaps I could reconstruct her. If I squeezed my eyes hard enough and explain well enough how you have to be… if I spoke slower..maybe.. or found better words..

We have poor relationships for a reason. Despite the misery something makes it worthwhile. And despite your intention that something is pushing for the light. Like the ring, it wants to be discovered. So you have to work hard at your misery. Really help them. Try harder. Explain it again. And be patient.

Your friends commiserate with how much shit you seem to take. Someone tells you that you must have the patience of a saint. That’s it, you’re just too good a person.

Bollocks.

I was only free of my NPD nightmare when I realised the part I was playing, how I’d foisted a chaotic inner child on someone only too ready to receive the projection whom I could then remonstrate with from a distance  whilst getting her to double up as my DIY Mom.

Treble oops.

The only way out without having to repeat the whole thing (as badly) was to suffer the reality of my own early losses and feel my paranoia in its proper context.

I lost my mother.

They gave me another one but she was broken.

 

The Great King.

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.

Doing unto Others

I very nearly lost my son. He was taken away from me by the authorities who decided that a man could not possibly be a primary carer. He was sent away. I almost let him go.

Some horrible, semi-human construct inside me, barely audible, began to canvas for his demise, my own child, a demise that would have had all the hallmarks of , ‘I told you so’, beginning with his academic collapse, progressive dishevilment, through self harm and cutting to…  what?

I nearly let him go.

Why should he have you? Who did you have? Does he deserve better? What about your needs? Its not fair! You are a victim of the State!

The inner 12 year old in me that had been sent away, rejected and violated, came screaming to the rim of consciousness, demanding congruence, demanding my son suffer at least his fate if not worse… and for just a brief moment, I capitulated. I hung my head and gave up.

A friend of mine once told me that stuff doesn’t change in life until you hear ‘the Voice of Noyt’. Noyt was a slang term at Uni for ‘no’. Only, its a capitalised,’No.’  and emphasised,’NO!’ and then screamed from the gut like a banshee..

On the way home from the court, having been given two days to comply with the judge’s ruling or be arrested for contempt, I heard the Voice of Noyt, made the Sound of Noyt, had to pull the car over, choking, and wrestle like a bitch with whatever it was inside me offering me an easy way out.

Compulsive repetition. Do unto others, particularly those you love. Again and again. One of the reasons that abuse is so pernicious is that the child is compelled to idetify with the abuser, paradoxically so as not to feel the pain of his wound. He steps into the shoes of his assailant so as not to have to experience what that other is doing. And then does that horrible.. thing, to some other poor bastard.

My default position, my automatic pilot, my deferential yes-man, so wanted my child to be sent away. What happened to me could then be ligitimised, I could forgive my father for sending me away and compulsively repeating what had happened to him, and, in the fullness of time, my boy would betray his child and forgive me for abandoning him..

Simples.

To defy the judge meant much more than the prospect of 3 months in jail (and how would you look after him from prison, smartypants?) It meant, after years of analysis and being trained as a psychotherapist myself, that we would now find out what I was actually made of and whether I could bear the rapidly condensing memories, the abuse, the abandonment, the terrible under-resourced desolation of being sent away myself that was bound to claw for the surface if I refused the path of least resistance.

When Dracula tells his Igor to stop torturing the poor beast left in his charge, he turns and says, ‘Its what I do, master. I do unto others as they do unto ME.’

Not to ‘do unto others’, means stripping what the others have done… of their legitimacy. Suddenly an inner court is in session, and all kinds of unpleasant shit offered up for exhibit.

So, the enemy was not the judge, who I politely wrote to declining his kind suggestion, nor the coppers who came round and dragged my boy away, nor his mother who drove him half crazy with her bullshit, nor the corrupt CAFCASS officers grinding their double headed axes, nor the collusive court officials who lied and cheated, nor the expert witness whose report made me look like jack the ripper, but my own quiet… ‘do unto others.’

When I decided to forgo the luxury of being the state’s victim and risk detention at her Majesty’s Pleasure I found that I now had two kids to look after, my boy, whom the Universe quickly restored,( the Voice of Noyt carrying far in the halls of the psyche) and the neglected 12 year old in myself who was actually battered way beyond what I had remembered.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, ‘There’s what happens to us and there’s what we do with what happens to us.’

What happens to us is difficult enough, but most things can be survived and actually used as impetous to create and acheive, if only we will refrain from identifying with the aggressor or at least bear in mind that we are, strangely, liable to collude with the ills done to us and pass them on wholesale to others as a trade off with destiny not to have to feel any of it. The hot potato doesn’t burn if you are quick enough….

I see a lot of people questioning how to deal with narcissists. The trick, having protectively scooped up the child you once were, is to disable the narcissist in yourself.

 

 

We’re Sending You Away…

When I was first sent to boarding school I was so excited. Soooo excited. Excited. Excited. Excited. After all it would be a full thirty years before some kind soul laid their hand on my shoulder and reminded me that the closest comparisons in the literature were the Nazi’s concentration camps with which I would become fascinated without quite knowing why….

We’re sending you away…

I was being honoured. Honoured, it was a great priviledge. One that would make me a man. ‘Its the best school in the country,’ my father told me proudly, the specks of spittle dancing in the corners of his mouth. Oh, my God, how fantastic. My manhood! A noble and proud and superior manhood was now my sure inheritance.

In my final year of incarceration one of my few friends in that place asked me, ‘Andy, do you  remember the first thing you ever said to me?’                                                                  ‘No.’                                                                                                                                                  ‘Fuck off’.

Start as you mean to go on. How else does the entirely unprotected field the daily maelstrom of feral teenage boys, entirely deprived of feminine contact, fed on inflated visions of their moral ascendency over the entire world whilst desperatly hiving off the underlying shame, humiliation and rejection of being sent away by torturing one another on a more or less continuous basis.

We’re sending you away…..

to play a game, one where you get to be the lords of the universe who will know themselves by being treated as scum and treating one another as scum, where kudos and pride are measured in caprice and malice and you get to know just how much we love you by having nothing to do with your growing up.

By the time I was fourteen I had been beaten with sticks, whips, cricket bats; sexually molested, felt up, and forced to publically have sex with my own bundled bedding. Is that rape? Yes it is.

But then something really weird happened.

I was in afternoon prep. I got called out by the housemaster and motioned to follow him to his house down the hall. I went. He invited me in and closed the door. We went through to the dinning room. He motioned me to sit. I sat. He went away, then came back with a slice of cake on a plate and a glass of coke. ‘It’s your birthday,’ he said, giving me this information as you might assert that Mogadishu is the capital of Yemen.

He put the things down and went away. I ate the cake in silence. Then I drank the coke. Then I waited. Then I got up and left.

I couldn’t think straight for days and that cake repeated on me endlessly until I realised that the reason I was choking so much on my gift was that  it meant  the very best I could hope for in this marvellous world of priviledge was a moment to be envied by everyone else in a room so empty I could hear the echo of my own heartbeat.

Why is this important?

Because the best people going to the best schools of the best religion generally turned out rather badly. And then they run the country.

I just heard ————  ——–  killed himself.

”Last seen in his car…..”

I trawled through his face book page trying to make sense of it. But it already made perfect sense. A narcissistic bully, fed all his life on the myth of his unbounded superiority, entirely invested in power to compensate the desperate and terrible insecurities engendered in being sent away, the worthlessness, the shame, the horror of a world where rape was normal, suddenly got to the point where his denial and compensations ran out of their batteries and as ever with the narcissist if he could not have his quota of being better than, tough at 50, then what else was there but to blow his brains out?

His brother was a terrible bastard. He would walk up and down the line of us little fags in his study, stripped to the waist, up and down, up and down, eventually lashing out violently at …  who knows, someone, maybe you, maybe..no-one. Up and down. Whose turn today? If not in the morning then maybe in the evening. I wound up in the sanatorium, not with bruises but, as I discovered much later, hysterical blindness bought about by acute, ongoing terror.

We’re sending you away….

This blog is a forum to explore the reality of the grown up children who, one way or another, were sent away, rejected or violated. It is also about how we are taught to send away, reject and violate –  the underbelly of  Western Civilisation.

My book,’Going Mad to Stay Sane’, about to have its third edition published, explores the legacy of parents who either invade or abandon their children and what those children can do to re-member themselves.

See the post of the same title below to preorder.

Coming out for the first time later in the summer is ‘Abundant Delicious, the secret and the mystery’, which shows how we can use our woundedness to discover who we are and celebrates the capacity and responsibility of the human spirit to triumph in the face of  the greatest adversity, the split reality of a divided world.