There was once a poor frog who, quite unknowingly and entirely by accident, leapt into a pail of milk. He just couldn’t get out no matter what he did. The sides were too steep and the level of milk too low… A passing rat looked on mockingly and said, ‘You should just give up and die. Nothing can save you. Why prolong the agony?”
”Well, you never know”, said the frog and kept on swimming.
”Ha,” said the rat,” any fool can see your fate.” He laughed unkindly and scampered off.
Frog kept swimming and as he swam he wondered about all kinds of things. Sometimes it was about juicy slugs. Sometimes it was about the meaning of Life and the Universe, but mostly it was to remind himself that the secrets of life and death are meant to remain so and that if he could once have been a wriggling tadpole there was no saying what might be about to unfold.
Frog held out for the possibility that he didn’t have all the facts pertaining to his situation. Life was still a mystery and having more questions than answers was a good thing. It left room for the Unexpected and held the tension between longing and despair.
”There is no consciousness without the discrimination of opposites.” CG Jung.
By morning he was still alive, perched upon the island of butter he’d churned during the night.
So, sometimes its better to have the problems of the Neurotic than the solutions of the Narcissistic…… who have an answer for everything but won’t make it through till dawn.
Rat has to have the answer, even if its suicide. Everything must be cut and dried. Get with the programme or call yourself a taxi. Its like that because his identity is so fragile. Even a little tension or dissent will tear the fabric of Being apart let alone entering into life’s mysteries like how life can still be worth it in the face of the inevitable..
The unshakeable belief that you know what’s going on and what must happen next is compensation that’s essential to Narcissism’s going-on-being. Its like having a super strong patching over an otherwise rickety picket fence, sections of the Great Wall of China interrupted by square miles of open badlands that require sentry posts and somewhere safe to water your horse..
What makes Narcissism malignant is when the sentry posts are overun, when there are major border incursions by perceived ‘wisdom’ and how-things-are-done. Identity gets so destabilised it now requires more aggressive solutions to maintain inner sovreignty. It borrows from the chess strategy of offence being the best method of defence and goes looking for situations to accomodate such a gambit, to justify explosions of temper, to give himself a rush of adrenalin and the unifying zeal of prejudice. All done as if poor impulse control and paranoia were in fact riteous indignation and moral outrage.
There is nothing that quite consolidates a shaky sense of identity like an emergency, especially if you can become adept at creating them yourself. Its as close to an infant magically producing the breast as you can get to in later life without first meditating for forty years. All the disparate shards of selfhood begin to pull together out of situational necessity, as if by magic.
”People lose their neuroses during times of war.” S. Freud.
What’s particularly dangerous about Malignant Narcissism is that conflict then becomes an Ontological Necessity. It needs conflict in order to know itself and without which is thrown into anxious crisis.
…does not play nicely with other children…
In ‘Chrome Yellow’, Aldous Huxley makes the observation that the protracted wars between the South American countries that had all been given independence by Spain about the same time needed their conflict with one another because they had lost their cultural identities. There was not enough tribal culture left to tell a Venezualan from an Ecuadorian. National conflict gave the people an immediate and made-to-meaure sense of patriotic identity.
One sure fire way of staying in conflict and the comfy internal cohesion it provides is to have more than you need or at least to aspire to it. Having or wanting wealth beyond a certain point cannot help but take bread from the mouths of aggrieved others, though they may be a continent away and tucked out of sight. In any case, the distant rumble of insurrection is music to his ears. The Malignant Narcissist needs to be hated.
It is said in the trade that psychopaths can only be loved once they are hated. Objective hate..
”is part of the healing process. It gives a person a sense of individuality and separation which allows him to start feeling real.” D. Winnicott
and only thereafter..
”being able to feel love and love others.” ibid
Of course, this doesn’t mean acting out our hate in some clumsy splurge. In the West we tend to think of hate as simply negative and destructive. But it has a developmental function. For the child to have a sense of belonging it is necessary….
”not [just] for unconditional love and acceptance but for parents to experience the child as a nuisance – hate him for it if need be- and then by giving the child time to become loveable again.” A. Phillips.
The child needs to be a nuisance. His belonging depends upon it.
The formal voice, the hard look, the annoyance at intrusion, are all there to tell the other that they’ve crossed a line and are currently not the centre of the Universe, something an emerging sense of individuality depends upon.
The Narcissist rarely has these boundaries set and so he will unconsciously seek out hate producing situations and provoke triggering behaviours in others out of the developmental need to experience the authentic boundary setting and angry protest that gives rise to selfhood.
I once saw a young boy of eight or so at a wedding flicking up the ladies’ dresses and getting roundly told off every time. I was about to say something to his father when the boy ran over and threw himself into his father’s lap oblivious to the presense of others, demanding sweets. His father replied, ”you can have anything you want..’ and suddenly the situation was explained.
Something you will often find is that the family of the Malignant Narcissist are all saints. No-one ever says a cross word or speaks ill of the dead. Mother in particular is a paragon of virtue though beneath the surface she has had her femininity so undermined that the ordinary reality of petty annoyance, an angry look or a harsh word in the right place has to be suppressed in favour of a gilded fantasy. An alternative fact.
If mother can’t feel her hate, mediate it, chew on it, make it intelligible, then no-one can know what the rules are. A just scolding, even a look of disapproval from someone who loves you, invites the child to experience a bigger picture of life, a greater sense of proportion and of its place in the world, as well as the possibility of feeling honest shame and of making reparation for it.
That’s why we value and remember teachers from school years who had that quality of being ‘firm but fair.’ A good teacher will not only educate the mind, they will also usher souls into being.
My woodwork master was called D. Mudge. It was an unfortunate name because of the ease with which you could run it together as ‘Damage’, which is what he was, very damaged, shell shock as you’ve never seen it, including running for cover at the sound of any and all light aircraft and a curious tendency to be attacked by bees. But he was a great mentor because he had this alchemical blending of kindness and severity. So even though he’d fly off the handle, he’d also invite us to tea as equals and talk about fascinating things.
In my first year someone wrote an annoymous poem about him for the school magazine..
Dust is rising through the air..
Sound of mallets everywhere
A Cornish voice shouts, ‘Ere’ Ere’..
Watchya doin’ over there?”
Calling the child to account for itself does more than correct its behaviour. It acts as a mid-wife to the child’s shadow, compelling the child to develop a relationship with that part of itself and blossom as a result.
So whilst the Narcissist is seduced into the ‘priviledge’ of being so above the rules, he’s actually been deprived of the building blocks of selfhood. His mother’s oppression has given rise to a great storehouse of unlived potential in her which she cannot help but secretly hope he will manifest on her behalf albeit at the expense of his own unfolding. Specialness is traded off against having his own path through life, a dynamic to be endlessly repeated in adult relationships as the contradiction between feeling special and yet of being somehow eternally thwarted.
This contradiction is all too easily attributed to outer situations. I was moved by a detail in Donald Trump’s biography where the children would be taken to their father’s building site of a Sunday to collect and straighten bent nails in the yard. But… they were millionaires and lived in a twenty-three bedroom mansion..! No holding of opposites but rather a wild collision of realities! Having more than you need and yet there never being enough….
So there is no slow churning of milk into butter to make an ‘I’ land. Its said that Narcissists have big egos but the problem is quite the reverse. They have yet to churn one. The rat in our story only has the brash persona of, ‘why don’t you just drown already?’ Its an attitude that requires others to carry his inferior feelings and personal clumsiness for him, something a healthy ego can shoulder for itself.
Such a dismissive attitude is dangerous for everyone else, not just because it is heartless or unfeeling, but because it flourishes best in an increasingly Apartheid environment where the inferiority of newly designated second class citizens becomes enshrined and concretised in law. Narcissism thrives on inequality which it not only imagines but must also create and if necessary, conjure.
So he becomes a kind of magician still caught at the childhood stage of wishing making it so..
Its gonna be great, trust me..
but still needing the hateful experience of the milk churn which the Fates are increasingly liable to provide in the form of corrective sanction.