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Grandiose Self

Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Grandiose Self?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Grandiose Self

Connection Between the Ego Ideal and the Grandiose Self

The ego ideal is connected to the grandiose self, but it is not the same thing. It is a less radical defense than the grandiose self. A person who depends on the grandiose self is someone who hasn’t got much of an ego ideal. Normal people have an ego ideal. More narcissistic people have a grandiose self. The grandiose self believes, “I am such and such a way.” This is less realistic than someone who has an ego ideal and believes, “I’m going to become that way.” According to depth psychology, the person who has developed an ego ideal is considered normal. A narcissist didn’t have a chance to develop an ego ideal, and developed the defense of grandiosity, which is a much flimsier defense than the ego ideal. The ego ideal is more tenacious, deeper, more entrenched; it permeates the fabric of the personality. Although the ego ideal is a good indication of normality, some people have more extreme ego ideals than others, and the more adjusted the person is, the more realistic is the ego ideal. For instance, a person might want to be all-knowing, to know everything there is to know. Another person might want to be a professor of philosophy. Both have to do with knowing, but becoming a professor of philosophy is actually possible. You can go to a university, get a degree, and become a professor who knows a great deal. This is a much more realistic ideal than wanting to be all-knowing.

Denial of the State of Inadequacy

One of the main ego defenses against the state of inadequacy is that of grandiosity, as we discussed at the beginning of this chapter. One comes to believe, and to behave as if, one has no such inadequacy. The defense is not only that one is not inadequate, but that one is the best, strongest, most able. One feels one can do anything. This defense is a complete denial of the state of inadequacy through a reaction formation, which is usually called the grandiose self, or a grandiose belief about one’s omnipotence. In most individuals, this defense is unconscious, and one must look with a discerning eye to see it in operation in one’s life. But it always comes to the foreground when the state of inadequacy is pushing towards consciousness.

Essential Identity Arising as the Grandiose Self in the Practicing Period

What Kohut and others call the grandiose self is actually the Essential Identity, or more accurately, the condition of the soul as it is patterned by the Essential Identity in the practicing period. We hasten to clarify that this normal grandiose self of the practicing period is not the same as the grandiose self of the narcissistic adult. The latter is a psychic structure, not an essential Presence. So where does the narcissistic grandiose self come from? It is an imitation of the Essential Identity, a fake "shell" which develops around the end of the practicing period and the beginning of the rapprochement subphase.

Grandiosity is a Defense Against Deep Hurt and Vulnerability

No. There’s no room for reality and no room for other people’s perspectives. It’s a very rigid position. The grandiose self is very rigid, very brittle, and that rigidity makes it vulnerable. Grandiosity is mainly a defense against deep hurt and vulnerability. This is the same hurt and vulnerability that the ego ideal hides, which is the hurt of the absence of self and value. One way people become grandiose is having inadequate external guidance in childhood. To survive they had to believe they knew who they were and what to do, because they had no support from the outside. This means that breaking through the grandiosity will bring out the insecurity of having no support, the sense that there is nothing there to help.

The Grandiose Stance Seen as Reflecting Authentic Childhood Feelings

These similarities and differences between our view of the grandiose self and those of Kohut and Kernberg have important implications for our approach to the process of working through narcissism. We must address the defensiveness of the grandiose self, while taking into consideration that it is a fixation on non-defensive feelings the individual actually felt as a young child. The defensiveness of the grandiose self needs to be allowed to unfold in the working relationship with the teacher, as Kohut recommends, while interpreting and understanding its defensive nature. The student needs empathic understanding of the truth within the grandiose self, not rejection of it as completely groundless. In fact, she needs to arrive at the understanding, or even the memory, of the grandiose stance as reflecting authentic feelings, which she came to use for defensive purposes. Not interpreting the feelings of omnipotence as delusional, although they are by now defensive, may give her the opportunity to see that these feelings represent an authentic childhood state. When she can see their delusional element, she might then appreciate their real source, the Essential Identity. This latter insight often precipitates the experience of the Essential Identity.

The Spark of Being in the Child

We believe that the situation is not as simple as it appears, and that the child is not as delusional as Kohut and Wolfe believe. The child’s grandiosity is not a groundless delusion. There is a deeper reality to the need for admiration and adoration than the need to have a false grandiose self supported. What needs to be seen and loved is not only the external, physical, emotional, and mental manifestations of the child, but more important, his very presence, his true self and identity. This true self, the Essential Identity, is actually what is precious and special in the child. It is the spark of Being in him, the most beautiful, wonderful, magnificent preciousness in his self. It is important and significant because it is the fundamental true nature of his self and the source of his true potential, the source of everything beautiful and majestic in a human being. Given that this is the nature of his being, how can the child feel seen and appreciated if he is not seen as special and precious and amazingly wonderful? The child needs such admiration to make him feel seen and appreciated, because adoration is the appropriate response to the presence of Essence. Anyone who has a clear experience of essential presence will understand this need immediately, because when he beholds this presence he is filled with adoration and exquisite appreciation. This admiring response accurately mirrors the true self, not the grandiose self.

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