The narcissist has three levels of functioning.
- Effective surface adaptation with success due to underlying talent or skill.Comes to therapy for neurotic symptoms, sexual difficulties or object relations problems.
- Severe difficulty in object relations and sexual problems
- Borderline fragmentation and ego collapse.
The narc seems to have a high capacity for ego functioning with the self and object fused together. Therefore, one of the main functions of the rapprochement crisis is to bring about the separation-individuation phase of development. This brings into reality a phase-appropriate disappointment with frustrating archaic structures, the grandiose self and the omnipotent object. The child starts to lose a prior sense of grandiosity and omnipotence and learns that the world is not their oyster and must learn to cope independently. As the child returns to the mother, demanding she shares every aspect of her life, it no longer works. Narcissism occurs before this point as the child behaves like the object representation (mother ) is an integral part of the self, an omnipotent fused unity. This allows the fantasy of omniscience and omnipotence to persist as the world revolves around them. To protect the illusion, they must seal and split off by denying and devaluing realistic perceptions that don’t resonate with their grandiose narcissistic projections.
Narcissistic mothers are commonly cold and exploitative and oppose any separation-individuation needs to mould their children that will justify their own perfectionism and emotional needs. As a result, the child resonates with the mother’s idealisation projection, which leads to the development of the grandiose self, a defence against their mother’s failures and the child’s emptiness and depression. The grandiose self enables a feeling of uniqueness, being special, superior, and perfect, concealing the underlying pathology of the aggressively fused unit. The aggressive fused unit consists of a harsh, primitive and attacking object with a self-representation of feeling humiliated and empty, linked with the affect of the abandonment depression and a fragmented self.
The narcissistic expects and demands perfect mirroring of their grandiosity and uniqueness.
The defensive fused unit allies with the pathological ego to defend against the abandonment depression. In addition, the fused unit protects against any true self-activation with realistic goals. The unit propagates narc goals such as pursuing money, power, status and beauty. Any precipitation of the abandonment depression activates the alliance, where the child avoids, denies or devalues any offending stimulus or perception. This maintains the narcissistic equilibrium and denies the depression. Beneath the facade lies low self-esteem, a sense of worthlessness and rejection, and a pang of hunger for response and reassurance. True self-esteem development would need the mother`s mirroring and attunement with the father`s idealising function.
Defective mirroring springs from emotional withdrawal. The child is expressing their unique self or grandiose exhibitionism. This expression attempts or frustrates their mother’s projections, who want to shape the child for her own narc needs and maintain her own intrapsychic equilibrium. The narc disorder is a development arrest; the narc`s disappointment can precipitate the abandonment, depression or fragmented self at the hands of the primary object or their own efforts towards self-assertion and individuation.
Before the rapprochement phase, the arrest takes place, where deflation of infantile grandiosity and omnipotence has not occurred.
However, the rapprochement phase is crucial to the borderline, where pathology can reflect their immersion in the inability to resolve the crisis. The borderline self and object representations are not fused but separate and split with reading and withdrawing units. Therefore, projections are not continuous but alternating; they use passive-aggressive behaviours to meet their needs. They have no access to free aggression—self-assertion, where one comes up against maternal and withdrawing objects, is not available for self-esteem. The child responds by clinging or distancing from the object. The borderline is hypersensitive to truth and reality, which contradicts their perceived reality—a brittle, vulnerable, fragile sense of self with erratic irrational outbursts of rage.
Feelings of inadequacy dominate the borderline depression, manifesting as hostility towards the self. Rage shows the intensity and destructiveness of relatedness, where envy is subordinate to depression and anger aimed at the loss of maternal care. One must confront both disorders with aspects of reality they are denying or devaluing since the outbursts and grandiose self does not perceive the harm done to themself or the offending object.
The confrontation of behaviour will be deemed an attack and defended against by ego defences.
A pathological ego function of the borderline is to maintain union and fulfilment of their mother`s wishes by avoiding separation and self-assertion. They behave in a helpless, dependent, clinging, needy and asexual manner. Meanwhile, they deny the behavioural adaptation and destructiveness to the self-concept.
Masterton, J.F.(1981) The narcissistic and borderline disorders, An integrated development approach, Brunner Routledge, New York
15 Narcissistic Traits and signs of a Narcissist: https://www.conjunctio.co.uk/15-narcissistic-traits-what-are-signs-of-a-narcissist/