Narcissism and the Bottomless Pit.

In thirty years of practice as a psychotherapist I never came across an indigenous person with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The reason is that native people generally have a way of raising their kids that is  radically different to parents in the ‘civilised’ West.

This does not mean that Western women are bad mothers, but that they have to contend with a split reality endemic in our culture that makes it difficult for baby to cross certain developmental thresholds.

On the one hand the child, as depicted in the majority of psychoanalytic literature, is a voracious power hungry little monster who battles mother for dominance and has to be brought to heel at all costs.

”Babies have become a sort of enemy to be vanquished by mother…on the premise that every effort should be made to force baby to conform when it ’causes’ work and ‘wastes’ time.’ J. Liedloff

On the other hand, and by way of compensation, we have the effusive and liberal face of Dr Spock, whose sales of his book ‘Baby and Childcare’, come second only to the Bible on the best seller list. Spock advocated ‘childcentric’ households which effectively have children ruling the roost. Detractors claim he cultivated Narcissism in millions as the most trusted name in childcare and parenting since 1940 and even hold him personally responsible for the moral decline of  western culture.

”When a society becomes out of control, it is because its members elevate self-indulgence and lack self-control…and [have] come to see gratification as a right.” R. Bradley.
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 These radically polarised veiws of parenting presented by Freud and Spock, often operating without reference to one another under the same roof, have something strangely in common. Both the liberal, anti-authoritarian mandate of currying entitlement in children and the cold hearted philosophy of ‘you did it to yourself’ inherent in Freudian theory, marginalised the fact that women have been having babies for seven million years without the input of opinionated men in lab coats.
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 Both men’ knew better’ than the feminine soul. To the extent that these theories were imposed upon women’s natural instincts, their innate knowing, their connection to their own mothers and to the Divine Feminine that presided over childbirth and motherhood, so too was their role undermined, ancient wisdom eroded and intrinsic understanding of what was right and proper, subverted and injured.
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So whilst it may be true that excessive permissiveness fosters narcissistic tendencies and a sense of entitlement, it is also the case that narcissistic wounds are inevitable when the bond between mother and child is intruded upon by someone who thinks they know better than Nature herself, irrespective of the received ‘wisdom’ under consideration.
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You’re probably familiar with the educational maxim ‘would you teach a fish to climb a tree?’ but we forget that its even more undermining to teach a fish to swim.
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A centiped was happy, quite!
Until a toad in fun
Said, ‘pray which leg follows which?
This raised her doubts to such a pitch
She fell exhausted in a ditch,
Not knowing how to run.
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“If we have learnt certain [things] so that they have sunk below the level of conscious control, then if we try to follow them consciously we very often interfere with them so badly that we stop them”. Carl Popper.
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It follows that if mother has it instilled in her that she doesn’t know her job  without instruction from a clipboard wielding MD then baby will be similarly confused and struggle with developmental tasks, understandably preferring the relative safety of remaining partly fused with mother in a state of  ‘symbiotic omnipotence’. (M. Kahn).
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This interupts the process of separation and healthy growth, preventing the child from crossing the threshold associated with ‘symbol formation’. This is significant because it is symbol formation that is responsible for the experience of others as persons in their own right, and for the development of values associated with feelings about others having their own purpose and destiny. The child can get eternally caught  in the concrete thinking of symbolic equations where, for instance, worth is measured in terms of money,  loveability in terms of sexual conquest, power in terms of domination of others, all the things we recognise as symptoms of NPD.
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‘No-one loves me, because you don’t wipe my chin.’ Liedloff.
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The figurative representation of ideas, conflicts or wishes cannot be experienced and so metaphorical notions of honour, faithfullness, duty, empathy and so on remain conceptual ideas rather than lived and experienced realities…
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”from which intellectualism is only to ready to emancipate itself.” C.G. Jung
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This is most obvious in our relationships because Narcissism does not really experience the Other as such. Their humanity remains conceptual. The notion that others have equal rights is an abstract idea to be rationally concluded without actually being lived.
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Racism and sexism are the most common outcome of such a mind set, but the irony is that the Narcissist has equal trouble conceiving of ‘his own’ in fully human terms unless they remain entirely joined at the hip. Humanity is not experienced, it is deduced, much as Socrates ‘worked out’ that one day he would die.
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‘Socrates is a man. Men are mortal. Therefor Socrates will die.’
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On the basis of such abstract deduction ordinary instinctual care for one another is occluded. One’s own self barely exists in its own right, how shall another fare any better?
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The developmental threshold of symbol formation affords not only the recognition of the otherness of the Other, it also affords value and significance to the otherness of oneself, in other words to the fantasies, intuitions and aspirations emerging from the archetypal layers of the psyche that take over the job of feeding the child, as it were, from within.
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This leads to a lack of faith, not only in others but towards life itself which cannot be trusted to provide. The child becomes a consumer…
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‘clinging to objects and people, investing them with magical powers, ferocious in [the] demand to possess and control.” Liedloff
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Asking Narcissism to share is thus experienced as an attack on all that is holy because money and resources have been imbued with a kind of spiritual manna. Losing hegemony over it is tantamount to desecration. The paranoid tendency of the Narcissist  is not simply that someone is out to get him, but that all he holds sacred is under attack.
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And so the predominant experience of life is one of being a victim, no matter how much one has, nor how much there is available. It is like being a planet without a sun, or worse, having a black hole to revolve around which threatens to drain and crush at every turn. Without the inner ‘other’, there is nothing to mediate the dark forces of the cosmos.
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”Our connection with a sacred centre [gives] a sense of real existence that counters the terror of chaos and nothingness, helps [a person] find their bearings and makes order of the Universe’. Bizint
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Since what we cannot integrate is invariably projected it will seem to those who stub their toe on at the threshold of symbol formation that some illegitimate other has stolen the key to happiness. He lives, not only in a state of lack but as if his divine inheritance is being withheld. And because he’s in the bind of having to deny what he needs, his lack and being witheld from is acted out in the world, which perhaps explains the conundrum of how it is possible for the richest and greatest nation in the world to sweep one of its most powerful men to high office on the shirt tails of the  slogan, ‘make America great again’, as though it were a mere dispossesed guttersnipe on the fringes of the stage.

The Crane Wife.

There was a poor weaver who finally had so little that he could not even afford to buy thread for the loom. In despair he goes out into the woods to look for food where he finds an injured crane. He takes it home and nurses it back to health with what little he has left.

After he releases the crane, a woman appears at his doorstep with whom he falls in love and marries. His new wife offers to weave silk that they can sell at the market, but only if he agrees never to watch her at the loom.

The cloth is wonderous.

So they sell the mysterious silk at a great price and live a comfortable life. But he soon makes her weave more and more. The house rattles and shakes with the shuttling of the loom. He fails to notice his wife’s declining health. His greed increases. His curiosity and wanting…

to know..

get the better of him.

Eventually he peeks in to see what she is doing to make the amazing silk. He is shocked to find the crane plucking feathers from her own body and weaving them into the loom.

The crane, seeing him, flies away and never returns.

oops…

Like the western version of this story, ‘the Elves and the Shoemaker’, where the cobbler is likewise down to his last, at the end of his teather, but receives magical help from elves who make the finest shoes…

but make off when the people involved want to know to much.

Curiosity does not kill the cat.

Greed and narcissistic entitlement do that.

The weaver is not simply satisfying a whim, he’s betrayed a trust…

but why should the rule apply to him?

Narcissism is not at all the popularly construed puffing up of the ego, like some grandiose bag of wind though it can look like that..

Nature abhors a vacuum and what takes residence is not always home grown. We naturally take in the psychic undercurrents of family life along which pathways through the under-brush can run forced traffic.

This is why the term ‘Symbiotic Omnipotence’ (M. Kahn) is so useful in understanding narcissistic entitlement. The narcissist is one end of an invisible double act with an intrusive parent who trades off rental space in the child for the greater challenge of living their own life.

This smudgy ‘bond’ creates..

”an imbalance in the articulation  of the total ego-capacities. Mother’s selective sponsoring leads to (ego) retardation.” M. Kahn.

I an’ me not talking.

Jung gives the example of a girl from his village who became a prostitute. He knew the family scenario and helped her to see that she was living out the unconscious life of her profoundly prudish parents. She was being used as a vessel for the sexual shame in the family.

The girl got a a more ordinary job.

The internalised collusive parent lets us off the hook in respect of ordinary standards of behaviour. So the narcissist is really a kind of Gollem. Originally the Gollem were fashioned out of clay and made to do their master’s secret bidding. For all the cold clay of Narcissism the life being lived is not their own.

And so the peeking weaver is both above the law and a slave to the unmediated passions and restless spirits of a destiny not quite his own and out to spoil his experience.

He gets off lightly.

When Acteon  intrudes on Diana’s bath in Greek mythology she turns him into a stag and has his hounds tear him apart.

When Hippomenes ‘knows’ Atalanta in the sacred crypt the furious goddess Cybele..

”considered plunging both as they copulated into Styx, the tar pit of bubbling hell.

But that seemed insufficient to her.

Instead she dropped maned hides over their sweating backs. Hardened and hooked their clutching fingers into talons…

..their loathsome fangs obedient only to the bridle-bits of Cybele.” T Hughes.

Psyche fares slightly better when she intrudes upon the secret of Eros’ face whom she’s been forbidden to see.

Eros wakes from a wounding drop of hot oil from Psyche’s lamp and immediately leaves foreover…

a lover’s tiff that leads to much questing….

strangely rooted in the mud of betrayal and fear.

M L von Franz makes the brilliant observation that there is something lurking in all this, ‘wanting to know’.

”The real motive in this rational depreciation is fear.” M L von Franz.

And given all the gods and giant snakes and tentacled nightmares lurking in the  swamplands of  Psyche its hardly surprising..

In fact what do you expect…?

”Civilised man reacts to new ideas by errecting psychological barriers to protect himself from the shock of facing something new.” CG Jung.

and the stab of fear is the challenge, not just to your pride but to your ontological security. The new thing does not just add to your house..

it can tear it down.

And so the weaver sabotages his own good fortune in order to be rid of the uncanny running through his life, the mysterious and unknowable Other.

Out of fear and inner poverty of spirit he resorts to action designed to depersonalise and diminish, rather than be humbled by gratitude. The peeking is a defensive means to an end.

”Enlightenment is a destructive process. It is a crumbling away of untruth, seeing through the facade of pretense, the eradication of everything we imagine to be true.” Adyashanti

To be attended by your creative muse is to be riddled with perplexity, chaos and unknowing.

It’ll be ok.

The house can be rebuilt.

 

The Golden Child.

Stanford University professor David Rosenhan and some of his students decided to see what would happen if they feigned hearing voices to gain admission to  hospital, but then behaved completely normally once they were inside.

http://www.bonkersinstitute.org/rosenhan.html

Their ordinary behaviour was interpreted as schizophrenic in all but one case. Note taking was described by staff as, ‘engaging in writing behaviour.’

”Given that the patient is in the hospital, he must be psychologically disturbed. And given that he is disturbed, continuous writing must be behavioral manifestation of that disturbance, perhaps a subset of the compulsive behaviors that are sometimes correlated with schizophrenia.” D. Rosenhan.

All the students were compelled to admit that they had mental illnesses and take antipsychotic drugs as a condition of their release.

Once the cat was out of the bag, one peeved hospital administration challenged Rosenhan to send them more pseudopatients which they would then detect and unmask, so to speak.

Rosenhan agreed.

Over the next weeks the hospital identified 20% of their admissions as Rosenhan ‘fakes’…..

but Rosenhan had sent no-one there…..

booyakasha….!

Our ‘guilty until proven innocent’, model of sanity, is rooted in Freud’s Drive Conflict theory, the jewel in the crown of Western Civilisation’s war of attrition against the Principle of Relatedness.

Drive Conflict theory eroded the significance of Mother, and common sense, to such a point that the quality of interaction with baby now became a factor that was secondary to the child’s inherent constitution.

cut to the chase, mon.

People no longer affect one another. You hurt yourself because you are weak and stupid. As for Mother…

DON’T SPEAK HER NAME…

We will no longer speak Her name. In fact we will refer only to her ‘object-relations’.

Mother doesn’t get front billing in early life… just a part of her, nor will she play much part,

or have any responsibility for how screwed up you are.

and that is the official theory, mon.

”..it was regarded as almost outside the proper interest of an analyst to give systematic attention to a person’s real experiences.” J Bowlby.

What this means for’ mad’ and ‘sane’ alike is that there is no legitimate suffering in life. Psychoanalysis’ central theory places itself outside the vales of sympathy and compassion required to heal grief, trauma and tragedy. To heal, the wound must first be given legitimacy, and second, meaning.

”My argument with psychoanalysis is the preconception that suffering is a mistake, or a sign of weakness, when in fact, possibly the greatest truths we know have come out of people’s suffering.” Arthur Miller.

There is a line in Sophocles’,  ‘Oedipus Rex’, sung by the chorus and therefore almost certainly the philosopher’s own personal perspective on life..

”Life becomes death longing, if all longing else be vain”. Sophocles.

It means that life is not worth living for its own sake. Freud said that the purpose of his method was to return people to ordinary misery. Ordinary misery is not enough. There has to be involvement in life beyond individual gain and measure for it to be meaningful. There has to be connectedness with one another and meaning afforded to legitimate suffering.

Not to have this is worse than death.

The Divine Feminine is the keeper of such truths.

Without sufficient representation of Her in our lives we need a host of back up theories about the inevitablity of our isolation and how it is somehow intrinsic to experience. In fact it is a collective mallaise caused by the devaluation of the Goddess.

..and produces what Masud Khan calls ‘symbiotic omnipotence,” a mood of inertia, helpless dependence, and emotional manipulation in people….

”whose outward lives looked okay but who were empty inside.” Dale Mathers.

Here’s how it works…

The depleted mother tries to compensate for the absence of a sacred vessel for motherhood by idolising the child.

actively discouraging..

”the perception of others as valuable or nourishing, through subtle collusion and indulgences”.  M. Khan

and keeping it from the real world.

She hides her sacred heart in her child. The child gets to be ‘special’, but carry’s this great burden of archetypal expectation, almost as a redeemer….. expected to do miracles… but denigrated like a demon when it all goes wrong…

”such a maternal relationship leads to dissociations…” M. Kahn.

The child can’t integrate his own personality. He’s been inappropriatley seduced into propping up something that is not his task to shoulder. His specialness is in exchange for mother’s use of him as a repository for all the archetypal material she’s been schooled to disown from her own soul. In the process he gets turned into a kind of golden idol..

”that we can then worship and adore so we have the illusion that everything is wonderful but actually have no real contact at all..” D. Mathers.

it’s a horribly split reality that leads to all kinds of superior, narcissistic behaviour and feelings of pathological entitlement on the one hand and worthlessness on the other.

The scary thing is that Yahweh’s Covenant with his  people ticks all the boxes for Symbiotic Omnipotence.

Exclusive attachment,

THOU SHALT HAVE NO OTHER GODS BUT ME..

active discouragement of other influences,

THOU SHALT NOT MAKE IDOLS

shared specialness,

THOU SHALT BE AS A BRIDE UNTO ME

poor communication,

BURN THEM ALL,

”failure to integrate aggression,” M. Kahn

BURN THEM ALL.

and prohibitive harmony…

BURN THEM ALL.

Kahn’s prognosis is poor…

”with maturity they became even more isolated, suffering a pervasive mood of diffuse anxiousness and apprehension.” Kahn

being special is a con.

”Always remember that you are absolutely unique, just like everyone else.” Margaret Mead.

The healing here is not particularly in any moral outrage that one might have in what being special pans out to be but in the longing and incompleteness at back of it all…

because that longing and incompleteness is another way of talking about love.

which is why longing has such great power in it.