The task of the self comes from the depth of the unconscious need to renounce any identification with the collective role and come to grips with one’s inner archetypal power. A differentiation process and individual personality development away from collective norms and roles. The Ego is compelled to surrender a large part of its perceived autonomy, with an inferred risk of falling into chaos. Depth psychology concentrates on who we truly are beyond the distortions provoked by our parental conditioning and societal demands. The Ego needs to be strong enough to let go of its functions for control and organisation, to be flexible and open to uncertainty. A fragile ego will implement rigid defences against any impulse for transformation from that unconscious. Once the unconscious is confronted, it changes shape and becomes aware of the power at work and the need to cooperate and surrender to the process. The aim is to achieve harmony with these unconscious forces and the centring of the whole personality; These forces are structured and integrated by the self after maturation through symbols conveying a “numinous ” element.
The path towards self-realisation
Individuation is a fundamental change in the hierarchy of values, a shift from ego desires and needs into an objective moral stance. Higher consciousness increases awareness of our inner psychic connections and conflicts, gaining a sense of meaning and understanding of one’s psychic life. Many people with narcissistic personalities manage and master the first half of life due to their innate intelligence, talent and guile, providing superficial gratifications and existence. However, we can’t avoid ageing, illness and mental limitations, which eventually catch up with them in middle age. They may have to face separation, loss and loneliness for the first time in their lives, confronting the grandiose self with its fragility, limitations and transient nature.
Lack of Empathy
The narc cannot show or understand the concept of empathy as they have not started the individuation process; they are stuck in a fused state with no access to the interpersonal realm of different thoughts, values or subjectivity. The narc has no awareness of their motives or impulses, and they cannot communicate or discern single acts of recognition. They lack an adaptation to perceive, acknowledge or tolerate differences within another person. Empathy requires effort, delaying gratification, as one sets aside one’s feelings and desires to gather information from the outside /other. The capacity for empathy is an inborn potential in the human psyche with deep archetypal roots. If the differential of this capacity is hampered or arrested, it will remain at a primal level. The person will see others as an extension of themselves, where we all feel and think the same, an unconscious identity working within a participation mystique. Due to their lack of curiosity and creativity, they cannot imagine a psychic reality different from their own, unable to set firm boundaries between subject and object, Ego and self.
With the creative use of transitional objects, infants can support their capacity for taking life into their own hands. The infant can actively play and react effectively to their creative impulses, working through unconscious conflicts and generating and manifesting options and possibilities to overcome such conflicts. Psychic imbalances signify conflictual tendencies between the conscious and unconscious strivings. Creative activities such as dreams, fantasies, and imagination may allow the unconscious centre to express itself. The rigid, unprepared Ego must deal with a sudden influx of formerly repressed narc libido during playful activities. The person who lives creatively feels life is worth living, has meaning and purpose, and is motivated by the true self. The person starts experimenting with his own nature, a state of fluidity, change and growth, where nothing is eternally fixed or petrified. The creative unconscious expresses itself through unexpected manifestations, provoking intense affects, defences and instability. The opposite of creativity is compliance, a submissive basis for life, with over-adapting for the cost of psychic aliveness.
Anyone with a narcissistic fragility cannot tolerate or understand jokes, perceived as insults and slights, making everyone walk on eggshells around them. However, narcs use sarcastic remarks to scare off potential aggressors and keep people at a distance and outside the interpersonal realm. It requires a tremendous capacity for humour to resist identification with a grandiose image of sheer perfection. The narc cannot relate to themself with genuine tolerance for ambivalence and weaknesses. They constantly fear embarrassment, being humiliated or exposed, and making fools of themself. This can lead to a traumatic loss of self-esteem, fragmentation, and not living up to grandiose images and expectations. Narcs constantly seek approval and admiration, not any form of mockery, An unconscious belief they will be made fun of if they share their true self. Simultaneously they experience a tremendous need to be seen and taken seriously and be the centre of attention. This brings conflicts in their environment, criticism, punishment or rejection, and further offence inflicted. They must move away from the idealistic image of perfection to one who can also be stupid, awkward and imperfect.
Wisdom requires the courage and activity to critically pull our perceptions of the self and the world into question. To develop the capacity to accept our human imperfections and wounds, emotionally and intellectually. The inner psychic potential to integrate conflicting reactive patterns and tendencies. To feel balanced, we need social mirroring of our being and empathic responses. Self-objects are necessary for everyday life, self-contained and perceived as separate objects, whilst still carrying significance emotionally for the individual. The more we understand ourselves and our relationship with others, the greater our wisdom and the more secure our acceptability of transgression and frustrations. The more we are confident in offering love without fearing rejection or humiliation.
The narc lacks true self-assertion and the ability to make decisions for themself outside of a designated social framework or function. The narc is guided by idealised objects and their expectations on how they should perform and behave, leaving them paralysed and stifled when asked to think for themself. The grandiose self is a fixated image and persona seeking admiration and validation, therefore, it does not possess the ability to think creatively or autonomously. Any true self-assertion away from the internalised demands of the idealised objects can lead to stagnation, fragmentation or collapse. This renders the narc dependent on outside stimulus and demands to mobilise their convictions and motivations, achieving the goals and ambitions of the idealised object. They lack continuity of the self and emotional investment in their achievements, so they cannot hold onto images to work through obstacles and frustrations of their own free will.
The love object /partner will not be rejected, discarded or exchanged for another satisfying object if they no longer provide admiration. The individual can hold onto the object and image of the object even in their rage, envy or absence to continue the relationship. The object no longer needs to tell the individual they exist and are valued; they can start processing their impulses and delay gratification for stimulus and pleasure. The total self can direct the maturation of the grandiose self, with the ego at the centre of one’s consciousness and its functions for more mature ideals, not based on achievement, status and superficial virtue. Any mature love relationship can not be without mutual self-esteem and subjectivity, enhancing mirroring and idealisation. The sense of belonging, with space and freedom, mutual understanding and acceptance.
The child’s environment is neglectful and emotionally not nourishing, which leaves the child hungry and starving for human warmth, contact and self-recognition. The child is surrounded by cold, detached and unemotional objects, imprisoned within a painful struggle, filled with fear, distrust and dissatisfaction. A narc disturbance in their narcissistic libido leads to impairment and disintegration of specific personality components, distortion of self-perception and low self-esteem. If the Ego -self axis is damaged, the interplay between the self and Ego is disturbed.
Where the Ego is not strong-rooted, it will appear fragile, unstable and be rigidly defensive.
The narc will suffer from subtle feelings of emptiness or depression, with an undermining dullness and inertia. They seldom take on new mirroring interactions or activities, often misreading or misinterpreting interplay along the lines that confirm their convictions of maintaining the distorted image. A low self-esteem complex with intense fears of rejection with expectations to suffer continuously without any let-up. New annihilating blows lead to greater withdrawal, resignation and discouragement. They deeply long for love, appreciation and admiration but counter it with the “who would ever love me belief”. There is a never-ending need for grandiose gratification from the environment and significant others to keep the deep unworthiness at bay.
Any thoughts of grandiosity, self-importance or self-assertion are submitted to harsh criticism, where the child fears the needs of their self-importance, which are never fully developed or expressed. One must be modest and well-behaved, as archaic feelings of omnipotence are split off. The child then feels unable to do anything spontaneously or correctly and experiences themself as worthless. The adult’s child fills their centre of emptiness with alcohol, drugs or sex where they need to feel alive. This helps compensate for feelings of inferiority, stagnation, numbness and paralysis, seeking external stimulus and validation. They have trouble tolerating any autonomy or separation from their partner as their fusion with the self is under threat and lacks cohesion. When coupled with feelings of frustration and rejection, unconscious fits of rage are projected onto the bad object, not mirroring or admiring them. Only what is perfect is allowed; anything else affects the grandiose self-image, leading to feelings of shame and inferiority. Accepting or acknowledging one’s weakness or shadow means one is not perfect and their whole existence is worthless.
If their partner is not perfect at mirroring or idealising them, their disappointment is total, desperately disillusioned and they may feel their world is collapsing around them, like a 2-year-old child. The narc identifies with ideals and rigid principles that are supposed to remain valid forever in every case and every instant. Any Sense of doubt will cause identity confusion, as they lack any self-critical ability or analysis to counter such doubts. A child abandoned in its helplessness and dependence causes the narc to erupt with intense rage, with an unconscious sadistic desire to devour or get revenge on their mother. Their subjectivity is subordinated forever, unable to establish their own realm of influence as the separation of primal archetypal parents has not taken place.
The greater the need for fusion , the lesser the critical ability
A constant seeking for fusion with an idealised object or ideology to be held within the group of similar kinship (mother container). The leader and authority figure regulate what is normal and stipulate the goals and ambitions of the individual.
Narcissistic Disorders of Self Pathology
- Sexual Sphere – results in perverse fantasies or lack of interest in sex
- Social Sphere – work inhibitions, inability to form and maintain significant relationships, delinquent behaviour. Exploitative and superficial social interactions
- Personality Features – lack of humour, lack of sense of proportion, no empathy for others, unconditional rage and pathological lying. Alternating feelings of grandiosity or inferiority, overdependence or withdrawal.
- Boredom and emptiness – continuous search for instant gratification of strivings for brilliance, wealth and beauty
- Chronic Uncertainty and dissatisfaction about themself.
- Intense envy and defences against any show of envy
- Psychosomatic Sphere – Hypochondria preoccupations
When the father is aloof or absent, the child is left to the mother’s brutality or narcissism, where no idealisation occurs, leaving the child feeling empty, helpless and stifled. They will always seek out an idealised object to fuse with, always longing for an object to idealise, to validate and approve of them. The greater the need for fusion ( expressed in religion or ideology ), the lesser the critical ability to discern and make one’s own evaluations. Treatment with narcissism is difficult and long, as there is no transference as their libido has been internalised and fused with the grandiose self. The other/partner is used for the maintenance of the individual’s own narcissistic equilibrium. The therapist is also internalised and unconsciously asked to collude with the narcissistic fantasy, where the individual may want to be admired and fulfilled. The therapist’s position and tolerance of creativity and spontaneity are usually rejected or ignored, as this would warrant breaking parental taboos. They may have to relate to their impulses, needs and hurts, withstanding the need to split them off. If they can deal and cope with problems consciously and successfully, they will allow the unconscious to co-operate instead of being driven into opposition and conflict. Nothing is scarier than becoming dependent again, admitting to a need for others, and wanting to be vulnerable and intimate.