Distinguishing the Narcissistic Character from the Borderline Individual
Although it is true that narcissism affects the overall self-representation, our observations point to identity as the specific central psychic structure responsible for narcissism and its disturbances. Narcissism relates to our experience of ourselves in general, but specifically, as it affects our sense of identity. The overall self-concept determines our identity, because the totality of ego identifications (and all object relations connected to them) influence its development. But this does not mean that narcissism is specifically related to the totality of the self-concept. To think of narcissistic disturbance as disturbance to the self-representation in general posits it as a form of the borderline condition, which it is not. The borderline individual is usually less functional than the narcissistic character, more outwardly dependent and clinging, more prone to regressive disorganization and disintegration, more aware of ego weakness and deficiency, with more predominance of splitting and projective identification, and with a more vague and amorphous structure. In contrast, “the surface functioning of the narcissistic personality is much better than that of the average borderline patient.”(Kernberg, 1975) The narcissist might exhibit borderline features, but his reality testing is usually intact and his tendency towards disintegration is less severe. When there is disintegration, it is generally temporary and reversible. (Kohut, 1971)
The Point of Existence, pg. 119
Essential Development Involves Confronting Rips in the Structure of the Personality
Narcissistic pathology, borderline syndrome, and the psychoses are nothing but failures and deficiencies of the structure of the personality itself, as is becoming understood now in depth psychology. The work on essential development involves actually confronting and softening this same structure. It does not only modify it but in some sense actually dismantles the ego identity and reinstitutes the lost identity, the true, high self of the essence. This is bound to bring to consciousness all the conflicts, fears, distortions and deficiencies in the structure. We are not here lauding weak or deficient structures of the personality; borderline tendencies and psychosis are not essence. They are just rips in the structure of the personality itself. Actually, the personality must be somewhat stable but flexible for the work of essential development to be possible. Otherwise, the conflicts and fears will be too quicklydisintegrating, and the person will not be able to tolerate the process.
Everybody has Neurotic, Borderline, Narcissistic and Psychotic Features in His Personality
However, even neurotic and normal personalities have features similar to these severe pathologies. Sometimes the difference is only in the degree of pathology. The extent of the presence of borderline, narcissistic, and psychotic features in neurotic and normal personality structures is just beginning to be acknowledged in psychological circles. It is still very far from being seen objectively. From our perspective, everybody has neurotic, borderline, narcissistic, and psychotic features in his personality, each stemming from its developmental anlage in the process of ego development. People differ in the preponderance and intensity of the different developmental features in their personalities. Diagnosis in terms of neurotic, borderline, and so on is useful only for the practical purposes of applying technique and judging what is the best sequence of development for a particular student. For instance, a normal person with borderline tendencies might need to deal to some extent with some of the features of his ego structure before it is possible or even desirable to deal effectively with his superego.
The Defenses Generally Associated with Psychopathology Do Not Completely Disappear in Normal Ego Development
We have observed that these defenses, which are generally associated with psychopathology—regressive refusion with psychosis, grandiosity with pathological narcissism, defensive detachment with schizoidism, and splitting with borderline conditions—do not really completely disappear in normal ego development. Our exploration of the deeper layers of the normal personality reveals that these defenses are still present and are in fact employed extensively. They become more active, or rather more consciously active, in the deeper stages of inner realization, revealing, in the presence of every ego individuality, structures that are, or are similar to, psychotic, borderline, narcissistic and schizoid structures. The individual does not usually become pathological when these structures emerge in consciousness, indicating that they are not the dominant structures in the personality, but they do cause considerable distress and anxiety. Thus we see that, although in the normal individual the well-adapted or “conflict-free” segment of ego predominates, the structure actually contains all the forms of the major pathologies, both structural and neurotic. We have seen that the various defenses against ego inadequacy involve regressions to various subphases of ego development, in the attempt to contact the support of the dominant essential aspect of each phase. Furthermore, the state of deficiency itself is a reflection of difficulties in the rapprochement phase, indicating the absence of the aspect of the Personal Essence.
Pearl Beyond Price, pg. 374
The Psychotic Core of All People
But our concern here is not therapy. Our aim is much more fundamental; it is the return to being. From our perspective, anybody who has lost the merging essence and wants to regain it must go back to the symbiotic stage and deal with its issues. And this is true for normal people, those who are neurotic, and everybody else, not just for the severe psychopathologies. In fact, we will see that if a person involves himself with the journey of return using the psychodynamic approach, the issues explored will be mostly what are usually considered in psychoanalytic circles as borderline, narcissistic, and psychotic issues. This means that all people, not just the ones afflicted with pathology, are narcissistic, borderline, and psychotic. However, these tendencies, termed the psychotic core, are buried very deeply in the unconscious, and the normal person never really deals squarely with these underpinnings of his character. Neither, of course, does he come to live the life of essence, unless he sincerely embarks on doing the work.
The Rigidity and Opaqueness of Ego Structuring Obscure Our True Nature from Awareness
This fact does not mean, however, that spiritual attainment is independent of one’s mental health. The perspective we have been unfolding is that of how the rigidity and opaqueness of ego structuring obscure our true nature from our awareness. The more transparent are the structures of the self, the more access we can have to the dimension of true nature. There can be breakthroughs when for one reason or another one’s obscuring structures are not in force. This may result from making some of the structures transparent, so they allow access to essence, but other structures may remain unclarified and manifest in neurosis or distortion. Furthermore, a borderline might have a weak ego structure, making his or her structure not only not cohesive, but also, and as a result, not so able to block such deep potential. So such an individual might develop an access to true nature, while still being a borderline. However, this access is bound to be limited one way or another. Furthermore, this access is not going to affect one’s life in the balanced and integrated way necessary for Spirit to integrate life into its dimension, which is an important part of spiritual attainment.