The child has no comprehension of their real self due to being told not to be who they are and want to be. Who you disappoint me (mother), threatens me, angers me or overstimulate me? You need to be what I want, and I will love you. The child cannot realise their true self due to these narcissistic injuries creating the differentiation of the self. The child denies repressed reality with the present false self by seeking materials such as clothes, home, cars, etc. The real self needs the real self to be expressed via

  1. Unity individuation
  2. Grandiosity and vulnerability

Symbiosis blocks the integration of the individuation process, and narcissism blocks the concept of expressing one’s grandiosity whilst being open to vulnerability at the same time. Failure in both aspects and the individual does not develop the behaviour and awareness to see the real world as it is but learns to view the love object and the world as they want it to be. The parent uses the child to provide the mirroring and understanding they did not receive from their own parents during the rapprochement phase. Failure to live up to one’s parents’ expectations or mirroring may lead to parental withdrawal, where the child displays outbursts of anger which will stay with them until worked through as an adult. The withdrawal represents the abandonment leading to the abandonment depression and the associated feelings of rage, sadness, helplessness and hopelessness. The child will invest in the narcissistic false self (the one the parents want) to try and regain union with the love object, sacrificing the emotional development needed to discover the true self.

A jealous impaired father will humiliate their sons because he fears losing his spouse’s attention, fulfilling his own narcissistic needs. The injury could be a combination of the mother`s inability to accept the child’s vulnerability and idealises him or the father`s need to retaliate and humiliate him. Dual rejection of the true self, split between entirely supportive (idealisation) or completely threatening (humiliating), where the child learns to live and must give up their vulnerability and feelings.

  • Lives up to grandiosity by the accomplishment of perfection
  • Disallow and render unconscious their truly primitive nature
  • The more successful their compromise, the more difficult to give up

The child needs to find others to discover and strengthen his real self to nurture it with independence and end the need for perpetual adoration. The narcissistic differentiation at the body level is due to confusing boundaries, ego-dystonic thoughts and impaired thinking. At the lower end, there is a merger through the extension of the grandiose self of the parent. They are psychologically merged with significant others at the higher end and able to see them completely and exclusively.

“If I feel ugly, I will attempt to merge with someone beautiful. If I feel stupid, I will attempt to merge with someone intelligent.”

Types of relational and adaptive behaviour

Ego syntonic– behaviours, values and feelings in harmony or acceptable to the needs and goals of the ego

Ego dystonic– in conflict (compulsions, desires) dissonant with ego and ideal self-image

Merger –looking for perfection in potential mate, problems in nurturing/holding functions of caregivers, still looking for insufficient or lost symbiosis. They create the perfect role model with an idolising mirror transference due to later development arrest, where the child needs someone to look up to, believe in and emulate, looking for the self in the other. If this is not neutralised, there is no internalisation of images, with the maturing cycle from idealisation to disillusionment and integration of good/bad parts.

Twin ship– more involved separation and acknowledgement, but the child and the object have the same psychologies with similar likes, dislikes, beliefs and perceptions. Any difference threatens the relationship. The concept of a Soul mate is the search for a perfect alter ego that is more evolved than just “mirroring “, where the other is often used for acknowledging and aggrandising the false self.

Identity formation– is the disruption of the sense of self, self-concept and self-image (visual, auditory or kinaesthetic). The child suppresses sadness and rage due to parental rejection by promoting the false self to meet environmental approval. They suppress real pleasure demands and embrace the idealising functions and attitudes demanded, learning to forego the pleasures and desires of the real self in exchange for power and control. The total investment of libido in the conceptualised ideal image and the abstraction of power over pleasure /intimacy, with the feeling of elation /euphoria experienced by attainment of success, achievement or through control and manipulation. When the false self collapses or the willpower becomes exhausted, the narcissist will collapse or compensate with ego-dystonic symptoms.

The child has feelings and experiences of emptiness, void, panic and fragmentation combined with archaic demands for a rapprochement merger or twinship—the development of feelings of rage and hurt at empathic failures and lack of parental attunement. To discover and develop the real self, the Adult/Child will have to reexperience the very primitive and vulnerable self, subject to overwhelming affective states within a contained and empathic environment such as therapy. The experience of self-fragmentation and enfeeblement leads to rage and injury, wanting to merge the idealised perfect other, engaging in a symbiotic twinship for constant perfect mirroring. The oral character is insecure, sees themselves as needy and weak, and fears desertion of anyone significant to them, recreating the dynamic of loss of the object and the emerging self. The narcissist fears the loss of the love of the object, alternating between striving for happiness and ego pleasure whilst experiencing overwhelming self-hatred and looking for self-validation. He treats his body the same way he treats the body of his sexual object.

The narcissist mistakes the false self for the real self, where any threat to the integrity of the being threatens annihilation and abandonment. During the rapprochement phase, the use of splitting, coercion and acting out for egoic survival are implemented to relieve the feeling of annihilation. The feelings of humiliation and worthlessness with any failures of embarrassment are symptoms of the refusal to relinquish the grandiose self-concept, where depression serves to protect the grandiose expectations (I could if I was not depressed). Their infantile outlook wants great things with little effort with a heightened sense of entitlement. Continued solation protects from intimacy and closeness, which would trigger threatening demands of the real self and challenges the form of perfectionism and desire for nurturance. Narcissism retains the idolised image by suffering loneliness instead of reaching out and risking fragmentation or vulnerability. Energetic blocks are used to restrain and render unconscious unacceptable impulses and reactions. Some of the characteristics are as follows :

  1. Psychopath. Weakness in the body’s lower half accompanies the upper part’s upper development. A weak base supporting exaggeration of power, wilfulness and achievement.
  2. Chameleon-like distortion in the body is a false self-representation of the world.
  3. Pelvis rigidity held in the sexual realm with tension blocking the awareness in the sexual charge. Constriction of the waistline further inhibits the sexual impulse, with further severe blocks in the muscles.
  4. The eyes of the narcissist display suspicion or charm that is beguiling. Concerned with being used or using others, putting energy into egocentric pursuits

The therapist helps the narcissist by making them

  • Aware of their martyrdom
  • Feel how he has sacrificed and continues to do so
  • Mourn irretrievable losses and historical deaths
  • See the benefit of internal experience and self-refection
  • Erode compensation and pursuit of desires to the experienced reality
  • Assist in the depth to tolerate painful experiences, but expanding reality
  • Support and nurture true self-development

The narcissist may be angry with those who don’t recognise his special status, which entitles him to be at the centre of another people’s world. The primary work is the explanation, reconstruction and interpretation of their current disappointment and embedded rage due to the failures of the environment to meet their child’s demands. Exploring and explaining the void, the feelings of panic and fragmentation of the self are signs of being undernourished, unsupported and underdevelopment in crucial functioning. They will need to identify new mature values and ambitions. Acceptance of one’s abilities and achievement with one’s vulnerabilities and weaknesses are the context of achieving the expression of one`s innate sense of self.

The Road to Recovery

  • Access self-statements of worthlessness, distrust, inertia, depression
  • Statements in reliance on achievement, grandiosity, pride, entitlement
  • Access the defensive function of the false self
  • Create a developed instinctual /dynamic understanding of himself regarding his feelings of emptiness, void, rage, and deep hurt.
  • Process of discovery and self-development, and expression
  • Integration and ambivalent experience of others and the self
  • A realistic assessment of ambitions and capacity
  • Realistic limitations, weaknesses and vulnerabilities
  • Integration of all of the above.
  • Mourn false self and build a true sense of self.
  • Shame is an exaggeration of claims, archaic demands and feelings of the real self.

Stages of narcissistic recovery

  1. Access injuries due to empathic failures in response to the need for merger, twinship and mirroring.
  2. Access injury of idealised other
  3. Fear of re-injury, suspicion, distortion and paranoia.
  4. Narcissistic rage in response to injury
  5. Need for merger and differentiation and maturation of needs
  6. Grandiosity compensatory self (pride /entitlement)
  7. The feeling of emptiness and fragmentation
  8. Nurture and support, internalisation of empathy and love for others
  9. Normal “narcissism” and true self-love
  10. Vulnerability and accepted limitations. challenge magical thinking
  11. Find a Support system that supports him when not being mirrored for grandiosity, false self and achievement.
  12. The decision to grow up and give up magical thinking where the symptomatic self sold out to
  13. Intolerable injuries
  14. Expectations of others

The symptomatic self is somatic, where the narcissist avoids bodily effects, having conversations about physical discomfort rather than psychic pain. Focuses on history, family, feelings and work instead of somatic ailments. They have rationalised that if the pain is somatic, they are ok as they are not responsible for it. If the illness is psychosomatic, they are bad and to blame and will have to change their thinking. The battles with families, friends, and work are all externalised and isolate them from confronting the other psychic issues and somatic difficulties which have developed out of contractions against self-expression and aliveness. Awareness of feelings, body symptoms and obsessions are secondary gains and avoided for materialistic pursuits. The Narcissist is willing to give up these somatic feelings, resulting in the loss of the somatic sensations to achieve primary gains. They need to permit themselves to feel needy, to fail, to feel the loss of vulnerable and infantile feelings, to relinquish the false self and work through the archaic demands and effects of the real self where the demands of the archaic false self are more available, even if they overwhelming to be worked through to realise a true self.

The Borderline lives less, in reality, caught between the belief in grandiosity and feelings of entitlement and feelings of intense rage or need. Acts of violence to herself or others. More impulsivity, inappropriateness and exaggerated emotionality create unstable or intense relationships, less successful and reliable. They need support with ego-building and working through transferences and reactions with the therapist, with affective containment instead of affective release. They have less awareness of their extreme grandiosity and sense of false entitlement, with more awareness of obligation and a sense of duty, whilst disavowing the true depth of these compensatory feelings. Transference needs to be more evoked, deliberate and confrontational in its pursuits for the development of affective expression to enable more tolerance to feel the archaic reactions that have been repressed.

The healing process will exhibit the following characteristics

  • The amalgamation of expression of innate capacities
  • Maturation of identification
  • neutralisation of grandiosity
  • Expression of ambitions
  • Maturation of a life span of values within a social context.
Kernberg, O. F. (1984). Severe personality disorders: Psychotherapeutic strategies. New Haven, CT: Yale, University Press.