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Narcissistic Issues

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Narcissistic Issues

Differing Responses to Narcissistic Issues

The intensity, depth, and extent of narcissistic issues and manifestations one confronts in this process differ according to the degree of narcissistic disturbance. Some students understand these manifestations when they experience them, and go through them with relative ease. Some become somewhat overwhelmed and find it difficult to experience clearly or understand these conditions. Some become stuck within such states almost all the time. It is difficult for this latter group to disidentify from such manifestations, and they tend to act them out, indicating a more severe underlying narcissistic disturbance. For some individuals, these manifestations are compounded with neurotic, schizoid, or borderline features and defenses, which complicate the situation and make working through the narcissism more difficult. For example, obsessiveness, hysteria, defensive isolation, splitting, and ego inadequacy make it more difficult to clearly comprehend the specifically narcissistic manifestations. However, the narcissistic manifestations tend to predominate as we progress to deeper states of self-realization, and tend to intensify each time a person approaches another level of self-realization. This may mean that narcissistic manifestations will continue to be present, not necessarily intensely, but as reminders of the barriers to self-realization.

Narcissistic Constellation

We call this group of states, conditions and structures of the self, “the narcissistic constellation.” The disconnection of the self from its essential Presence manifests as a profound and deep wound to the self… Centrally, the narcissistic wound is caused by the decathexis of the Essential Identity. Alienation from Essential Identity leads to the loss of the profound sense of value and preciousness intrinsic to the sense of one’s identity with Being. Value is a quality of Being which, when lost leads to a loss of self-esteem… The alienation from the Essential Identity results in narcissistic emptiness. This feels like a deficient emptiness, the specific deficiency being the feeling of absence of the sense of self… The emptiness and the wound make up one structure, the emptiness wound… Reactions to this injury include narcissistic rage, envy and depression… The narcissistic injury, that is, the emptiness-wound and its various associated affects and reactions is covered over by the self-identity, through the identification with self-images and their associated affects. The overall structure of self-identity is sometimes experienced as a shell around the deficient emptiness One does not usually experience the shell directly as a shell … The usual experience of what we are calling a shell is the sense of self characterized by a specific feeling of identity … The more narcissistic the person, in other words, the greater the distance from the Essential Identity – indicating greater narcissistic injury in childhood – the more her identity is based on the grandiose self.

Narcissistic Gap

Another way to say this is: if we don’t have that certainty, if we don’t trust who we are, then we reify ourselves so that we carry an identity around with us. And we go around asserting it to others. Some people are identified with being the Absolute, and if somebody tells them they are not the Absolute, they feel wounded. “Can’t you see that I am? Everybody should see that I am the Absolute!” That can happen to spiritually advanced adults. But this means that there is an identification. And even though the person might be actually experiencing themselves as the Absolute, the identification creates a gap, what I call the narcissistic gap. In that gap of needing to be seen as what we are, we are not being completely ourselves, we are not being where we are. We are not simply being.

Spiritual Work Exposes and Intensifies both Pathological and Fundamental Narcissistic Issues

Without essential realization, emotional maturity and freedom are limited. The exclusion of deeper dimensions of the self distorts the more surface dimensions. The self is fundamentally a unity; dissociation from one of its dimensions inevitably affects other dimensions. The effect of normal narcissism on our emotional life is not resolved by freeing and integrating the emotions. If treatment of narcissistic pathology is limited to the emotional level, it can ameliorate the pathology only to the point where the narcissism of everyday life remains. This amelioration is, of course, very significant to the suffering individual, providing him or her with the capacity to live a satisfying human life. Also, achieving emotional health makes it possible for some people to embark on the journey towards the greater maturity of spiritual realization. Emotional freedom and maturity are important for self-realization; disconnection from emotions will cause narcissistic disturbance even for those with a degree of self-realization. We sometimes encounter this situation in our work, when a student has done a great deal of spiritual practice but no work on the emotions. Since spiritual work exposes and intensifies both pathological and fundamental narcissistic issues, these issues generally distort or limit the person’s self-realization unless they are worked through. Without psychological understanding they are not easy to deal with.

The Insight that Makes it Possible to Actually Resolve Narcissistic Issues

It is central to our view that the self can be known in its essence. Further, this insight into the essence of the soul can reveal the deepest roots of narcissism, making it possible to actually resolve narcissistic issues. In fact, in the experience of spiritual realization, we discover that the pure presence of the essence of the soul can be known more directly, more intimately, and more precisely, than can the more external manifestations of the self. This is because the latter are usually experienced through self-reflection and thus indirectly. Self-perception is further obscured by the various contents of the psyche, whereas the essential presence of the self is cognized by being it, without the intermediary of extraneous mental content. 

Truly Dealing with Narcissistic Issues

To truly deal with the narcissistic issues one must go through the shell in a very specific way. It is not enough to experience only the narcissistic emptiness; understanding the shell is an important part of the process of understanding and working through the narcissistic constellation. The most important part of this work, the part where a school and a teacher are almost indispensable, is that of exposing to consciousness the narcissistic situation. Most people are not aware of the narcissistic nature of many of their expressions; in fact, they resist such awareness. The student needs to experience directly that her sense of identity is not real, that what she takes to be her identity is really nothing but an empty shell. Most people do not have this awareness; they walk around taking their normal sense of self to be real, that it is who they truly are. They do not question their normal sense of self in the conventional dimension of experience. So a major body of work, which in some sense begins the whole process, involves inquiries and practices which lead to the realization that what one is taking oneself to be is not the real thing, but an empty thing. When a person arrives at this understanding the process begins.

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