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Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Narcissism?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Narcissism

Development of Narcissism in the Early Years

Narcissism develops throughout the early years, not only at one particular stage. The earlier it appears, of course, the greater the disturbance it creates, since disconnection from essential presence in the early stages of development predisposes the child to further disconnection in the later stages. Also, narcissistic disturbances can be more severe in some stages than in others, depending on the changing circumstances of the child’s life, such as changes in her relationships with her parents, in her health, and so on. Later we will discuss these factors in detail, but here it is sufficient to note that, although narcissism develops throughout the developmental stages, and although the earlier stages influence the later ones, the nature and severity of narcissistic disturbance fluctuates depending on many factors. The capacities and properties of all dimensions of the self—mental, emotional, cognitive, physical, maturational, and so on—influence narcissistic disturbances, depending on the stage during which the disturbances occur. As we have discussed, narcissistic manifestations are determined not only by their central causative root, which is the loss of felt contact with the essential presence, but also by the particular qualities of the forms of the soul that emerge in the various stages of development. The fact that specific forms of essential presence characterize each developmental stage is consonant with the phenomenon of specific developmental changes in all dimensions of the self. Our understanding of this phenomenon has developed partly from direct observation of children, but more from the reconstruction of childhood experience during the extensive investigation of adult experience and memory. Thus, there are different forms of narcissism that originate in different developmental stages.

Forms of Narcissism

The four forms of narcissism we have identified in our work are: Oral narcissism which results from disturbances in the first few months of life . . . 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 . . . Individuation narcissism which results from disturbances mostly in the rapprochement phase of the separation-individuation process, in the second, third and sometimes fourth years of life . . . Oedipal narcissism which results from disturbances in the oedipal stage of psycho sexual development, extending from the beginning of the fourth to the end of the fifth and possibly extending to the sixth year.

Fundamental and Pathological Narcissism

Fundamental narcissism, the specific and most central manifestation of the disconnection from the essential core of the self, the Presence of being, underlies all other forms of narcissism. Pathological narcissism is a distortion or an exaggeration of fundamental narcissism. Fundamental narcissism is an intrinsic property of the ego-self, which is the self as experienced in the dimension of conventional experience.

Narcissism Develops Continuously Throughout the Various Developmental Stage

Although all the forms of narcissism affect each of us, narcissism develops continuously throughout the various developmental stages. The characteristics common to all types go through their vicissitudes throughout our early development, and the specific characteristics develop at each stage. The intensity of the general characteristics will vary from one individual to another, depending on one’s overall history. So narcissism might take the form of the normal narcissism of everyday life, or what is called the narcissistic character disorder, or it may develop as a more severe disturbance of the paranoid character, or even some forms of schizophrenia. Also, depending on our personal history, one form or another of narcissism may dominate our character. So a person’s narcissism might take mostly the oral form, or the central form, and so on. Of course, more than one form may dominate, or all the forms might be somewhat equally present in our personality.

Narcissism is the Loss of Essential Identity

Narcissism is not simply alienation from being, but more specifically it is the loss of the Essential Identity. Given our discussion of the function of the Essential Identity to allow identification with one's true nature, it is clear that this loss is the central factor in our incapacity to know ourselves as Being, and thus, in our narcissism.

Seeing that We Cannot Separate Our Psychology from Our Spirituality, Our Psyche from Our Spirit

We also believe that understanding the spiritual nature of the self can help us to understand even the severe forms of narcissistic disturbance. This perspective can help us to see that we cannot separate our psychology from our spirituality, our psyche from our spirit, for we are fundamentally whole. Our self is one self, and cannot be dichotomized into a spiritual or “higher” self and a psychical or psychophysical self. Perhaps the following multifaceted exploration of self-realization and narcissism will contribute to a healing vision of our fundamental wholeness, and an appreciation of the rich potential for the human soul. Our approach to self-realization in its relationship to narcissism allows two new possibilities. The first is that it allows us to understand and resolve narcissism at its fundamental roots. This is facilitated enormously by the greater access to essential nature permitted by this view. The mere conception of the existence of essential nature tends to open us up to perceiving it. The second possibility is that this approach provides us with a new way of working towards self-realization, the method of inquiry that includes psychological understanding. Traditional spiritual practices do not include the contemporary Western understanding of self. This understanding of the self and its narcissism is a central part of our work, and can also be useful to those engaged in traditional spiritual practices.

The Last Element Which Supports Narcissism

This clarifies the observation that one of the main sources of narcissism is the self-reflective capacity of the normal self. More precisely, one of the main characteristics of narcissism is self-consciousness, an outcome of the normal self’s capacity for self-reflection. It is only at the level of the Absolute that this characteristic disappears. It does not disappear at the earlier stages of self-realization, not even at the level of nonconceptual reality because there is always consciousness when we reflect. The ego-self hangs on to this consciousness, even nonconceptual consciousness, by self-reflection. In the experience of nonconceptual reality, we perceive pure consciousness when looking backward or inward. In the experience of the Absolute, consciousness disappears when we attempt to reflect. The experience then is not self-consciousness but cessation of all consciousness. We could say that in the self-realization of the absolute truth, our front is the perception of phenomena, which is the same as the phenomena, and our back is total cessation. The quality of this depth of Being, whose nature is total cessation, dissolves self-consciousness. This eliminates the last element which supports narcissism.

The Root of Narcissism

In the experience of self-realization, the self recognizes its identity as presence. When a person is identified with something other than the primordial presence, self-realization is absent. He is not then being himself; he is not simply being. He is not one with his essence. The most fundamental and deepest aspect of the soul is absent in his experience of himself. This is the root of narcissism. In narcissism, the experience of the self is disconnected from its core, from the depths of what it is. It is estranged from its true nature, exiled from its primordial home. The soul’s estrangement from its true nature is the basis of narcissism. Here, we are using the term narcissism in the colloquial sense, similar to what is referred to as narcissistic disturbance in psychoanalytic terminology.

The Self of the Average Individual is Deeply and Fundamentally Narcissistic

Narcissism is a very general, basic element of ego life. The self of the average individual is deeply and fundamentally narcissistic. The complete resolution of narcissism will elude us until the achievement of self-realization. All that conventional psychotherapy can do is alleviate symptoms resulting from severe disturbances of narcissism, and, when successful, can help the individual to reach the level of the narcissism of everyday life. To proceed further and address this fundamental narcissism, only spiritual development will make a real difference. We also believe that understanding the spiritual nature of the self can help us to understand even the severe forms of narcissistic disturbance. This perspective can help us to see that we cannot separate our psychology from our spirituality, our psyche from our spirit, for we are fundamentally whole. Our self is one self, and cannot be dichotomized into a spiritual or “higher” self and a psychical or psychophysical self.

The Struggle to Know Two Sides of Our Consciousness

As the emptiness of the Absolute began to reveal the more primitive layers of structuring, we discovered that the nonconceptual dimensions correlate to the neonatal consciousness. Primary among the issues that surface are what we call Absolute narcissism and soul, or oral, narcissism. These can be deeply interrelated, and both concern the inability to recognize our true nature, though from slightly different angles of misperception. It is possible, even necessary, to know the Absolute in its purity, beyond the individual consciousness and to become the emptiness that reveals the true nature of the soul – but the fear is that if we do so, we will die as a consciousness. We are afraid because we do not know that realizing the Absolute will allow us to emerge again as the true form of Being we have always been, and that our soul will retain its individuality in a state of unified wholeness with True Nature. Once the soul recognizes her nature as the One – the Absolute nature of all – she is united with the many and with her deepest self. In order to truly know what we are as both sides of the equation – both soul and True Nature, as the one that has an individual location yet is inseparable from Being – it is necessary to work on both forms of narcissism. For the soul this requires discovering her inherent wholeness so that she no longer needs validation by anyone else. This is not an easy task, because one of the indicators of soul narcissism is a vigorous, insatiable hunger for the totality of what we are to be seen and acknowledged by someone else in order to feel whole . . . . . . Absolute narcissism also involves a surging need for mirroring, but it is not a hankering to be seen as special or the best or even for all of our qualities to be acknowledged or admired. It is an intense desire to be – and to be regarded as – the only One in contrast with another or many others. But the true oneness of Being is the One, the only that is everyone. These two forms of narcissism set in motion the struggle to know the two sides of our consciousness: the immanence of the soul and the transcendent nature of which she is the instrument.

The Jeweled Path, pg. 262-263

The Thesis that Narcissism is Fundamentally Due to the Alienation from Essential Presence, the Ontological Ground of the Self

It is insights and perceptions like these that support our thesis that narcissism is fundamentally due to the alienation from essential presence, the ontological ground of the self, and that pathological narcissism is a distorted exaggeration of this fundamental narcissism. We have not attempted to give clear conceptual support for our thesis because it is a result of many observations and insights whose source is direct experience and not theoretical considerations. The conceptual framework will develop and its inner consistency will reveal itself as we discuss the various elements and issues of narcissism and self-realization. It is the total picture, its nearness to actual lived experience, and its capacity to illuminate a wide range of observations, which support our main thesis. Our view also shows that what the spiritual teachings call the main barrier to spiritual realization—the ego, or what some traditions simply call the self—is nothing but the self-representation, and not the system ego, per se, or the actual self. Depth psychology has rendered a great service to spiritual teachings by providing a clear definition of the form of the self that is the main barrier in the spiritual path.

Why Narcissism is Primarily a Matter of Connection to the Self and Only Secondarily a Question of Object Relations

This phenomenon clarifies in a very striking manner why narcissism is primarily a matter of connection to the self, and only secondarily a question of object relations. Why is it that when the self feels hungry and empty, due to oral deprivation, it resorts to narcissistic supplies to assuage this hunger? Why does the self try to fill its oral emptiness with supplies that are intended to shore up and enhance the sense of self? It would seem that if the emptiness is due to inadequacy of nourishment or love, it should seek these. But it does not; instead, it seeks tirelessly for feedback that will help it to feel a stable and cohesive sense of self, for interactions and situations that support its feeling like a whole and integrated self. Clearly, the emptiness is not the absence of nourishment, love or warmth, although the absence of these might be important in the genesis of this emptiness. The obvious conclusion is that deprivation and conflictual object relations in the oral stage affected the child in such a way that he lost his inner core. Early experiences of frustration and abandonment, lack of attunement and adequate support, or intrusiveness and hostility, disrupt the integrity of the child’s self in such a way that he loses his connection to his core. This loss of core is the specific narcissistic disruption. It is what accounts for the character of narcissistic strategies to regain connection to it.

“Fall” of the Self Into Narcissism

Herein lies the mechanism for the “fall” of the self into narcissism. In the beginning of this chapter, narcissism was described as the identification with the more superficial structures of the self. We described the self as a flowing, dynamic presence, an organism with mind, feeling and body (but not identical with any of these), that has an open-ended potential for experience. The “fall” into narcissism happens as the self forms concepts and structures of concepts, and then identifies with them at the cost of its awareness of Being. These concepts, which the self comes to identify with and to view the world through, are much more opaque and rigid than the open, free, more natural state of the soul. What we describe as the free, spontaneous state of the soul is not a formless or unstructured state. The experience of the soul in a self-realized state is patterned by the intrinsic qualities of its Being, and by the structure of all dimensions of Being, including physical reality. The state of self-realization allows the soul to remain aware of its essential nature, yet at the same time to remain aware of the world of thought and speech, of social life and physical life, and to function in this world.

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