a reply to: Bluesma
I really want to hesitate labelling narcissists, because it seems to have become such a fad - anyone you are mad at is now a narcissist. How can you
be sure that your anger that they aren't respecting or treating you as you want them to, isn't a product of your own narcissism?
Simply being exposed to the same culture as others leads most of us towards the same sorts of experiences. If we learn about our experiences, we
'prime' our minds to be 'alerted' when we observe something in others that remind us of what we've observed in ourselves.
So essentially everything I've written about narcissists is partly influenced by relational psychoanalytic theory (which integrates object relations,
self theory and interpersonal theory into one overarching dynamic), partly by ecological ideas of how the self develops (which is based on
developmental psychoanalysis i.e Ed Tronick, Daniel Stern, Colwyn Trevarthen, Robert Emde) in terms of the variegated and disparate meanings that
touch, sound, smell, and affective experiences have on a psyche organized to find 'coherency', that is, a state of "control" where the mind feels
itself able to 'use' thoughts (experiences) without finding itself entrapped by negative feelings; and partly by how I've come to live and respond
to the traumatic experiences I've had.
Unless you don't already know, my history is complex, my mother was very abused, and so came into motherhood qualifying as someone with "unresolved
trauma". I don't know what my early life was like, but my body and the memories I can sense (as somatic sensations, feeling, almost like an
memory, from the perspective of a perceiving infant body) tell me that I was tense and scared a lot of the time. Just knowing my mother
now gives me strong reason to believe that she often projected her anxieties onto me, blaming me for doing something that would have seemed innocuous
to anyone else (reaching for her) because she "feels" that my reaching out is an act of 'grabbyness". In people with whats commonly called a
"borderline pathology", thinking and reality are made psychically equivalent. The person literally feels like his every interaction says something
What they think about the world is 'true', because they 'know', in their bodies, the "truth" of their experiences.
People like that tend to have very poor self-awareness, or 'interoception' - they mostly fail at knowing and analyzing themselves in any cognizant
way. Without being too general, a similar structure or pathology can have a different organization yet produce the same net-effect. For instance, in
my mother, her intellectual side was "shut off" by being controlled by her mother and father; working and giving her money to paying off their
mortgage. Following strict rules and suffering the projective aggression of her father when she didn't "respect him" i.e failing to do what he
asked, led to episodes of intense physical abuse (belt whipping, tied up in the chair). This sort of conditioning created a logical effect: my mothers
mind conformed itself
to be attuned to the wishes of other minds. At the same time, her mother and father were playful and hosted members of
the extended family. Her father was experienced as funny, charismatic and likeable; others loved him, "crazy Joe" they called him. Being exposed to
two, very different versions of her father created a dissociative "split", an "idealization" of her father, loving very deeply the good parts of
him and denying, dissociating and resisting awareness of the pain he is causing you.
By the time my mother reached adulthood, she was a mind with many different habits. She met a man who abused her - just like her father did. Prior to
meeting my father, my mother was caught in a traumatic feedback loop: she sought men who reminded her of her idealized (overly identified with)
father, but who also had a 'dark side', like her father, which her unconscious picked up as an uncrecognized aspect of his behavior.
However, in meeting my father, my mother was able to be in a relationship in which she
could be her father. In a strange and twisted way (my
parents are still married, 34 years) my mother 'saw' things in my father that reminded her of her dissociated 'weak' state. The relationship,
really, from the get-go, was sadomasochistic. My mother hated my father because of his apparent femininity. But my father kept pursuing her. He had
"gusto", by which I mean an amazing acumen for dissociating negative self-experiences. My mother, no doubt, probably insulted him - as my dad, as is
his way, converts into a non-shameful episode - but he kept going at it. My mother now began experiencing my dad as a "good object". Remember how
people sought her father? To be wanted feels good
, and so my mother began liking my father because of how my father saw her
. Whatever it
was that brought my dad closer, he clearly loved her and helped her in many ways. Yet, my mother could never "let go" and forgive what she
experienced as weakness. She hated it in herself and so she hated it in others - especially her husband.
In being traumatized by her parents, my mother 'logically' developed into a person who had developed many defenses against knowing herself. The
closer she came to the experience of weakness, the more angry she would get. Her mind was unable to 'contain' the logical relationship between
context and experience. She would go from a feeling of shame or helplessness, to angry projection, without realizing how the former CAUSED the latter.
The 'object', or the thing which occupies her mind as she yells, is the result of the minds "coherency making" function: finding a plausible
explanation to justify a feeling without knowing the process of how it happens.
So this was a very violent world to grow up within. It had its good parts, but it was also full of enactments, back and forth, between my fathers
unconscious (his father left his mother, who went through a depression; he spent his teenage years doing everything he could to make her happy i.e. to
fix her. It is probably not a coincidence that he was attracted to a woman who was beautiful, cute, but also "needed fixing") needs and my mothers
unconscious needs. When others are always projecting from their anxieties - the other person, the baby, child, or adult - inevitably "assumes" the
"used object" position. This is also another way for pathology to develop.
Having a "conflict-driven mother", who would move from intense kindness, playfulness, and generosity, to anger, irritation, spitefulness and
physical abusiveness, and throw in a little depression and anxiety, and you get a kid who "needs" to make his mommy happy; who does everything in
his power to maker her happy. I was the prototypical "anxious-ambivalent" kid of the strange-situation paradigm. I could not leave my mother lest I
cry and feel helpless. When I was 5, after being so involved in an episode of teenage mutant ninja turtles, I didn't realize my mom was gone. At 5
years old, I couldn't tolerate not having her in my constant presence. I went berserk. I cried myself unconscious.
My ability to say that I can discern narcissism in others derives from seeing that in myself. I see myself in many different ways. Perhaps, in most
ways that I can be (of course, there are probably aspects that lie beyond my scope) I sense the relation