Narcissism, Compulsion and the Soul.

There were once two psychiatrists. The one invites the other for dinner. The guest arrives, asks to use the bathroom and disappears for an hour. Eventually he emerges with a knowing look.

”You have a serious obsessive compulsion,’ he says to his collegue, ”there are 542 bars of soap in your bathroom. I know, I counted every last one.”

Of course psychological conditions are bound to overlap but Narcissism and OCD seem to have a special relationship.


I was watching a Ted Talk, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of ‘ Eat, Pray, Love’. She made the point that people who became very successful had a tendency to go mad and top themselves because they confuse themselves with the ‘Genius Loci’ who served as their muse.

The solution, she said, is to remember that ‘genius’, is its own thing. Not-me.

Very Interesting, but what is your point?

The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves. ~Carl Jung.

Narcissism notoriously lives out only one corner of (an idealised) life. Both the dark Brother, the less than salubrious aspects of himself, and the unlived potential, The Self, have to be projected…

and then come banging at the castle gates again and again.

And because the contents projected are always the same…

the banging is also the same…

and so interpersonal scenarios are endlessly repeated..

as are ritualised patterns of behaviour behind closed doors.

We live in a time of relative spiritual malaise. We also live in a time of marked obsessiveness and compulsive behaviour.

Could there be a connection?

Its curious that the definition and symptoms listed by DSM5 for a diagnosis of OCD (which includes praying!) sound distinctly like the ritual contents of religious ceremony. These include,

”repetitive behaviours, according to rules that must be rigidly applied.”DSM5

like a church service….

Precisely. Sacramental acts are also, ‘aimed at preventing or reducing distress or preventing some dread event.’

What’s the connection with Narcissism?

Waaal, Narcissism is particularily prone to OCD not just because the dark brother is eternally projected, but because the ego is identified with the Self. This means that there is no real spiritual life.

I don’t get it.

Spiritual life necessitates a relationship with God..


but if you are identified with God then there is no relationship. Instead of having a religion, the religion has you…

By the scruff…

And marches its children off to war….

or down to the supermarket for a dozen bottles of bleach and a pack of toothbrushes so you can purify the pelmets of your appartment at 4 in the morning…

or out in the rain to buy cigarretes while every bone in your body is screaming, ‘DON’T DO IT!!’.

or muttering shameful babble to appease the fates whilst not realising that the person next to you on the bus is lookin’ at you strangely…

or washing endlessly in lieu of a genuine cleansing.

”It is not a matter of indifference if one calls something a ‘mania’ or a ‘god’. To serve a mania is detestable and undignified. But to serve a god is full of meaning and promise.” CG Jung

Narcissism won’t share, has no story, nothing to be a part off…

because there is no relatedness or participation in that which transcends it.

And for the want of partness in the greater whole we have compulsive patterning instead.

Like a stuck gramaphone record doing the same thing over and over. Round and round. Instead of meaningful sacrament we have chaotic excrement.

Instead of being drawn we are driven.

The fantasy that we are the captains of our own ships beckons the raven’s claw.

”Whoever sets himself up as judge of truth and knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the Gods.” A Einstein.

For want of having a story to belong in we are caught eternally on the same page.

And more than that, for want of the Principle of Relatedness that gifts us with both belonging and the internal flexibility of a conversation between I and me, we are robbed not just of meaningful context but of our own humanity..

which is perhaps why the DSM5 definition of OCD uses the language of automation, describing the phenomenon as ‘the brain’s junk mail.” Though it significantly acknowledges that OCD is responsible for, ”communication errors among different parts of the brain.” Ie. there’s a problem with internal dialogue.


That without the capacity for self-reflection we are driven along like leaves in the wind.

The legacy of Western Civilisation is effectively the deification of consciousness. Having cast out the divine feminine, the principle that mediates between Logos and ego, the two are bound to get confused…

like when you don’t have a soap dish and so you leave the soap in the bath and it gets all mushy and your mum yells at you?

Exactly, ego gets ‘god-almighty’, which is all very well for a bit…

until the mush begins..

and soon starts behaving as though there were no limits and as if nothing mattered save itself.

The psyche responds with a big fat neurosis to bring about some sense of proportion in lieu of actual awareness. Instead of the cleansing renewal he was hoping for the bath room hero finds himself compulsively feeling about the teensy yet glorified space into which he’s soaped himself.

…pretty sure he’s in there somewhere.

The Anatomy of Longing.

”There are links between a society’s predominant form of primal relationship and its collective social behaviour.” Mario Jacoby. Longing for Paradise.

Wow, what an idea. The collective pattern of mother/infant relations shapes culture, sex, religion…

How we eat, pray, love.

Jacoby draws on anthropological research comparing New Guinian tribes, the Arapesh and the Mundugumor.

The Arapesh have a distinctly close bond between mother and child and though they are a poor people they are characterictically friendly and generous. Their cosmology is easy going and occassionally adopts outside influences.

The warlike Mundugumor have a less bonded infancy, earlier weening and believe crying children augur well, bringing luck in their battle with various malign super-natural forces. Though they are prosperous the Mundugamor are aggressive, macho and nostalgic by comparison to the cheery Arapesh.

Also, if the Mundugamor took a dislike you you might get eaten…

that too..

What is going on in your life is quite secondary to how comfortable you are in your own skin. Jacoby links ‘well-being’ directly to a cosmology where, ‘the archetypal feminine is not suppressed.’

The Mundugamor are patriarchs. There’s no divine feminine, but there is a lot of mutual suspicion and nostalgic, whimsical longing, the object of which is often manifest as someone else’s stuff.

So ,what for we in New Guinea now?

I’m interested in it because we’re not so different. We too live in a largely reactionary world full of paranoia, greed and, above all, nostalgia.

But nostalgic and longing for what?

And if it is true that..

”Culture is an attempt to resolve the fears generated by a specific (pattern of) mother/child relations in earliest life.” F Renggli.

….then is there a connection between the longing in our culure that manifests as a desire for stuff and a lurking but as yet unnamed fear that permeates our culture…

surfed only by Bling!

gleaming hero!

Archangel of Mammon.

but what is he surfing?

Before we ask that, let’s recall  the old adage that the devil’s best trick is to get people to say he doesn’t exist.

I was dining alone on holiday at an open air restaurant on a Greek island.  I was forty. The table next to me had a young family sat down for dinner. In the process of not staring I began to soak in something the eye rarely catches, the inflection of tone in a man’s voice, how he jostles between wheedling with his wife or trying to trip her up whilst ‘managing’ his kids who seemed both lost and confused at his continuous frustration of their aliveness.  And underneath all of that was a particular cheddary scent of fear with overtones of raspberry and citrus and so eventually I turned to him and said, ”excuse me but when you were a child did you go to Plumtree school in Rhodesia and were you in Milner house?

Boys Boarding School.

endless Kalahari scrub.. ,

masters in khaki with guns.

Even the matrons had beards.

and it was all in his voice and gestures 3 decades on.

The poor man nearly fell of his chair.

Consistent with the culture of that time there was no further discussion once we’d established that he had left the year before I arrived and was therfore my senior.

Our culture was so rooted in unacknowledged  loss of the Principle of Relatedness, that you could smell it. I could sense it in this man’s table manners, in his style of fathering, in the convolutions of his relationship with his wife and in his bullish condescension dealing with the waiter.

And at the heart of it was a kind of ugly gap where something softer and more yielding might have been and without which our childhoods had been moulded in such detail that after 30 years and half a world away, I could recognise the impact of it on a person I had never met.

The miracle of which we could not discuss.

We think we can congratulate ourselves on having already reached such a pinnacle of clarity, imagining that we have left all these phantasmal gods behind. But what we have left behind are only verbal spectres, not the psychic facts that are responsible for the birth of the gods. CG Jung.

I went to a dating agency and they wanted to know straight off how long it had been since I was in my last relationship. They had a formula; It takes 20% of the duration of the previous relationship to get over it.

I was a couple of months shy.

Did you take their advice?


And went on some dates anyway..


how did they go?

The point is that in the whole of our species’ life span, some 120 thousand years of species stabilisation, we’ve lost half our pantheon in only the last fortieth of that time….

or actually only a third if you go by the apocryphal book of Enoch.

The point is that the violent suppression of the divinine feminine over the last several millenia is not so long ago. Somewhere in the collective unconscious of our species, it’s a recent emotional wound……

FFunny how apocryphal used to mean BBanned-on-pain-of-death and now only means of-unknown-PProvenance…

… much so that from the perspective of the species we are still in shock from something that we can barely remember, like a kid who’s all aggressive in the street and can’t concentrate in class as a direct consequence of something he no longer thinks about but still acts out in a symptomatic way.

”We are still as much possessed by autonomous psychic contents as if they were olympians. Today they are called phobias, obsessions and so forth; in a word neurotic symptoms.” CG Jung

In my 25 years as a psychotherapist I have consistently noticed that even the smallest acknowledgment of the sacred feminine, even if it is simply at the level of longing or divine homesickness,

even if its just at the level of admitting the vastness of the unconscious let alone what it contains,

has a way of resolving affliction.

How? Because the affliction was the unacknowledged psyche in the first place.