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Central Narcissism

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Central Narcissism

Deficient Emptiness

One of the most characteristic manifestations of narcissism is the painful state of emptiness, in which one feels a deficient inner nothingness—a vacuity, as if one has nothing inside, no substance. This poverty of inner life, experienced as an actual phenomenological nothingness, is usually accompanied by feelings of unreality, meaninglessness, pointlessness, and insignificance. He feels his life has no meaning or sense, his existence has no significance, and his action no point or real aim. These feelings reflect his alienation from essential presence, which is, in the deepest sense possible, the true significance and meaning of his existence, for the presence is his true existence.
There might also emerge other painful affects, accompanying the emptiness or separately, such as feeling lost, aimless, purposeless, disoriented, not knowing what to do, and the inability to initiate any meaningful action. These affects are specific manifestations of the loss or absence of the feeling of identity, which may be experienced directly as a sense of no self, as a feeling of not being able to feel one’s familiar identity. The lack of identity may also manifest as the specific feeling of having no center and no orientation, because identity functions as the center of the self.

Narcissistic Rage and Envy

Narcissistic rage and envy: The narcissistic individual, or the normal individual at this phase of development, is prone to intense anger, an irrational rage, which may take the form of acute explosions or be chronic and vengeful. This narcissistic rage is provoked by the slightest—real or imagined—narcissistic insult, such as not being seen, understood, or appreciated, in the way one feels he deserves. Narcissistic envy may arise; one hates anyone who has (or seems to have), a rich inner life or external acclaim and feels pain about not having what the other has.

Narcissistic Vulnerability

Another issue that arises when the narcissistic constellation begins to be dealt with is sensitivity to narcissistic hurt. This is what we call narcissistic vulnerability. It manifests as the tendency to feel hurt, slighted or humiliated at the slightest indication of lack of empathy, understanding, approval, value, admiration or recognition.
Some defend strongly against this vulnerability, but even if we defend against it we feel disturbed about the absence of narcissistic supplies. The student might act as if he does not care, but how he feels inside is a different story. The vulnerability is always there because of the fundamental weakness of the normal identity. Vulnerability is usually not in the foreground and is defended against in many ways, but becomes more conscious as the narcissistic constellation approaches consciousness. This sensitivity might readily present itself in the student’s experience, or the defenses against it might come to the fore first, and will need to be worked through before he can feel the sensitivity directly and fully.

Need for Mirroring

The normal need for mirroring becomes exaggerated at this point. This need is one element of the overall functioning of the normal self, but at this point it takes center stage, revealing its importance for our sense of identity. We become more aware of our fundamental need to be seen, recognized, admired, appreciated, and so on. This need has two elements: The first is the need for someone outside us to see us accurately, understand what we are about, how we feel, what we think, and so on. It is a matter of another person functioning like a mirror for us, thus shoring up our sense of identity. The second need is that the mirroring feedback has to be not only accurate, but extremely positive. We need to be seen with admiring and appreciative, even idolizing, eyes.
The need for mirroring reflects the insecurity and instability of the sense of identity. The individual expects the positive empathic feedback to shore up this self-structure. However, because this insecurity reflects the fundamental weakness of the ego identity, which is due to the alienation from the Essential Identity, it is an expression of a deeper need. This deeper need is for our true self to be seen and appreciated, simply because it is not seen, by anyone—ourselves or others.

Resolution of Central Narcissism

We are referring to the fact that the realization of the Essential Identity makes up only the first step in the resolution of central narcissism, and that central narcissism emerges again at deeper levels of experience. Its resolution at these levels leads to the self-realization of deeper dimensions of Being. The progressive self-realization of deeper and deeper dimensions of Being, indicating the increasing subtlety in its appreciation, finally culminates in the realization of nondual presence, which is the wholeness of the self, experienced in its primordial original condition. This allows us to envision central narcissism as possessing several levels, each associated with the alienation from a certain level of essential identity. We believe these levels of central narcissism are best conceived of as related to stages of development extending from the beginning of life to about sixteen months of age. In this way, we begin with oral narcissism and end with the central narcissism associated with the Essential Identity. We suggest this only as a helpful framework that has emerged from our investigations, but we do not know with certainty whether these levels of central narcissism originate each in a specific and different developmental stage, or are all expressions of one stage. We do observe, however, in the work of self-realization, that these levels emerge in a certain progressive order, and that this progression coincides with increasing manifestations of oral characteristics in the arising associated structures of the self. We also observe that the levels of Being that emerge are inclined towards a deeper and more complete nonduality of experience.

Self Esteem and Essential Value

When the narcissistic constellation approaches consciousness, the way it manifests depends on how resolved our narcissistic issues are. Here, we will discuss general characteristics that indicate the presence of these issues.
Self-esteem and essential value: A major concern is the question of value, which manifests as preoccupation with self-esteem, and various maneuvers meant to gain more of it or avoid losing it. The student becomes sensitive about his sense of worth, obsessively evaluating himself and his actions, and is unusually sensitive to the evaluations of others. He becomes more interested in making a good impression on others, insecure about whether he is, and generally unable to be objective about how others perceive and value him. He cannot help but try to gain value from others through his actions, expressions, utterances, appearance, accomplishments, and so on. He may tend to compulsively praise and congratulate himself.
These developments express the student’s growing awareness of a deep sense of low self-esteem. When he explores and understands these manifestations, he sees that the state underlying them is a sense of being deficient and worthless. Often this sense of worthlessness simply alternates with the inflated state. Some individuals tend to identify with the defenses against this painful sense of deficiency, attempting to shore up their self-esteem. Others (“closet narcissists”) tend to feel these affects more directly and identify with them. The underlying difficulty is the same; both types of individuals share the preoccupation with the question of value.
The issue of self-esteem reflects the loss of contact with our intrinsic value. This sense of value is lost when we are alienated from the true self. Self-esteem is a certain affect that relates to investing the self-identity with positive energy, libido, or value.

The True Self from which the Soul is Alienated is the Essential Identity

Central narcissism, which results from disturbances in both the differentiation and practicing subphases of the separation-individuation process, spanning the period roughly from seven months to eighteen months, but particularly in the practicing period, and probably extending to the beginning of the rapprochement subphase, up to two years of age. This is the period that most researchers believe to be the specific developmental phase for the narcissistic disorders, which is one reason we call it “central” narcissism. In central narcissism the true self from which the soul is alienated is the Essential Identity. This form is the narcissism that Heinz Kohut emphasizes, again probably reflecting the population of patients he treats. It can be severe and intense, but is not as primitive as oral narcissism. It is characterized by fewer borderline features than in the oral type, greater functional capacity, and an intense need to be special, unique, and constantly mirrored. The idealization of “special” others is a specific trait of central narcissism, as is grandiosity. In contrast, in oral narcissism these characteristics tend to be vague and mixed with various borderline defenses, such as splitting and projective identification.

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