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Narcissism of Everyday Life

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Narcissism of Everyday Life

Approaching the Dimension of Essential Presence We Inevitably Confront the Narcissism Inherent in Our Disconnection from that Presence

When a person is working on self-realization, this narcissism is increasingly exposed; in fact, it is usually aggravated for some time. When we approach the dimension of essential presence we inevitably confront the narcissism inherent in our disconnection from that presence. The success of the work on self-realization depends, to a great degree, upon successfully resolving the arousal and intensification of narcissistic manifestations. The narcissism of everyday life is much more ubiquitous, much deeper, and much more significant than we usually allow ourselves to see. However, it dissolves steadily in the deeper stages of self-realization. Full self-realization completely eliminates this narcissism, for it is not natural to the realized self

Complete Resolution of Narcissism Requires that We Cease to use Self-representations for Self-recognition

Before we embark on this exploration, we need to address the significance of the above discussion with respect to narcissism. Our observation that the deepest root of narcissism is the absence of self-realization and the additional observation that in full self-realization the normal sense of identity dissolves, combine to give us a deep insight about narcissism: The presence of the normal identity is the root of narcissism. This implies two further insights, at different levels of the self. The first is that not only is normal identity fundamentally weak and vulnerable, but its very existence is responsible for this weakness, and thus it cannot become completely stable. In other words, the normal self (or more accurately, the ego-self) is inherently narcissistic because its identity is inherently weak and vulnerable. This weakness is due to the inevitable incompleteness of the self-representation, and therefore cannot be eliminated as long as the self-representation forms our sense of identity. Second, since the fundamental narcissism of everyday life is an expression of normal identity, complete resolution of narcissism requires that we cease to use self-representations for self-recognition.

No Conventional Self is Ever Free from the Narcissism of Everyday Life (Fundamental Narcissism)

We call this fundamental narcissism “the narcissism of everyday life” for no conventional self is ever free from it. However, this may bring up the question of how this dissolution of identity is related to the condition of fragmentation or disintegration of identity, which is, under normal
circumstances, a manifestation of pathological narcissism. The main difference between the “death of the self” in self-realization and the disintegration of identity in pathological narcissism is that the former is a developmental achievement based on the greater strength and flexibility of identity, while the latter is a developmental difficulty resulting from an extreme weakness and brittleness of the identity. There is no sense of the normal self in both conditions, but the former is a state of equanimity of the self for being fully itself, so fully itself that there is no need for self-reflection, while the latter is a painful and deficient state of the self, where it feels disconnected from its depth and fullness. The former is a state of self recognition not based on any representation, for it is recognizing what is actually present, while the latter is a state where there is no self-recognition of any kind.

The Experience of Ego Cannot be Devoid of Narcissism

As has been amply demonstrated by object relations theory, since all ego structures are based on identifications with impressions from the past, it is clear that the experience of ego cannot be devoid of narcissism. Thus the conventional dimension of experience, which is
deeply patterned by these structures (whether healthy or pathological), includes an intrinsic narcissism. Everyone knows that he has some measure of selfishness, self-reference, a need to be seen and appreciated, a deep wish for esteem and admiration from others, and some distortion in his self-concepts. Although we are accustomed to thinking of these traits as normal, they are in fact narcissistic phenomena. They are universal to all non-realized individuals, reflecting the fundamental narcissism that is the result of not knowing oneself on a deep level. This is what we call the “narcissism of everyday life” or “fundamental narcissism.”

Understanding the Extreme Difficulty of Attaining Self-realization

Recalling Mahler’s notion that the structure of self-identity is based on representations reflecting the inner core of the self—for Mahler, it is the body—we can see that the incompleteness of the self-representation specifically affects the substructure of self-identity. It is thus this substructure that is weakened by the absence of Being in the self-representation. This account clarifies our view of the fundamental narcissism of everyday life. It shows that the conventional experience of the self as determined and patterned by the self-representation, is bound to involve a fundamental weakness of identity. Also, the relation between narcissism and self-realization can now be understood in relation to a specific psychic structure, the self-identity, and a particular affect, the feeling of identity. There are further implications: The fact that the self-representation inherently excludes Essence means that we cannot maintain the familiar sense of ego identity and at the same time feel Essence as our nature. Armed with this insight, we have a precise way of understanding the extreme difficulty of attaining self-realization, since most individuals find it almost impossible to experience themselves, with equanimity, without their familiar sense of identity.

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