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Oral Narcissism

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Oral Narcissism

A Specific Form of Borderline Organization

In other words, the self-structure of the narcissist consists of a pathological grandiose self that defends against, and compensates for, an underlying borderline weakness. So it is a specific form of borderline organization. Our view is that oral narcissism does include borderline weakness, but this is because it develops from the oral stage, which is characterized by primitive manifestations usually associated with borderline organizations, and not because it is a form of such organizations. However, this is a moot point because of the absence of differentiation in this developmental stage.

Alienation of the Self from Its Essential Core

In most of our students, the grandiose self that becomes exposed is not generally the major structure of the self. However, we do observe that if the work of inquiry progresses very deeply, each individual will eventually encounter oral narcissism with its intense envy, hate, hunger, devaluation, and rage. This does not ordinarily indicate a deep pathology, but reflects the fact that each self in the conventional dimension of experience—each self patterned by ego structures—is fundamentally narcissistic, and this narcissism always includes some degree of oral narcissism. The oral narcissism which arises in the process of spiritual development reflects fundamental narcissism in the oral stage and relates to the processes in the very early part of life which contributed to alienation of the self from its essential core. The intensity and the degree of uncontrollability of the arising manifestations depend on the degree of disturbance in early childhood, but the quality and flavor of these manifestations are common to all ego-selves. In general, it is difficult to penetrate and transform oral narcissism, and this difficulty does not depend only on the degree of disturbance. The primitive nature of the affects and object relations that emerge, the vagueness of experience and structure that reflect the undifferentiation of this early stage, and the deep compulsiveness of the impulses of this form of self, combine to make this work subtle, difficult, and of long duration.

Disruption of the Integrity of the Child's Self

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... This inquiry takes the student back to his earliest experiences, especially with his mother. He finds himself dealing with his early life experiences, with the question of maternal care, with his real hunger and its frustrations, with his oral need for love, warmth, holding, and safety. He confronts the effects of early deprivation, physical and emotional abandonment, inattunement to his needs, and intrusiveness into his field of experience. He experiences the wounding the, the betrayal, the rage, the hunger, and finally the emptiness. It is a specific narcissistic emptiness, a gnawing and dry emptiness... This empty shell does not reveal itself until he goes deeper into understanding the hungry and empty self. Then he will experience himself as an empty bag, a flaccid, empty stomach sack.

Manifestations of Oral Narcissism

When this type of narcissism dominates a person’s structure, she will tend to manifest severe structural difficulties of the borderline kind. Intense oral rage and envy, as well as insatiable hunger for primitive forms of narcissistic supplies, are the external manifestations of the hidden, empty and powerless self.

Narcissism is Primarily a Matter of Connection to the Self

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.

Object Relations around Oral Narcissism

What we find is a group of object relations centered around powerful aggression, rage, and hatred on the one hand, and intense instinctual and animal-like devouring desire and wanting on the other. The student experiences herself as an instinctual animal organism, sometimes as an intensely emotional infant, and sometimes as a more primitive structure like a powerful and primitive animal—a leopard or panther. She feels either rageful and hateful, wanting to destroy the selfobjects that failed her, or she experiences a deep, lustful, powerful, and devouring hunger and wanting. The selfobject she perceives is either a person, a group, or the whole world. The hateful-destructive object relation is usually reversed at the beginning; so she first projects her power and hatred onto the object, feeling that she is small, weak, helpless, generally good, but paranoid and terrified of the all-bad powerful looming object. Transformation of this object relation through precise understanding of its meaning and etiology leads to the integration of the aspect of essential personal Power. One then experiences oneself imbued with natural power, an amazing fullness that feels both alive and forbidding. This is the power of the primal self of the oral stage, which was distorted by frustration of the attempt to gain the orally fulfilling narcissistic support and enhancement in early childhood. The other major object relation involved in oral narcissism is that of a hungry, libidinal, and devouring self, that feels full of life and vigor, passion and desire, uncontrollably wanting an object that appears to it full, luscious, yummy, and totally desirable. The resistance against this early oral object relation is due to the fear of destroying the object by devouring it, and deeper still, the fear of frustration in the event the libidinal object is unattainable. This resistance frequently appears as a defense against dependency, which manifests as devaluation of the object, and not feeling one’s neediness. Another form this resistance assumes is that of creating relationships in which the other experiences the narcissist as full and desirable but unavailable.

Presence Coemergent with the Body

The sense of wholeness means all dimensions of the self -- the conventional and the essential -- constitute one indivisible whole. We experience everything as Presence, including thoughts and feelings. We are a Presence coemergent with the body; the body feels like a part of this Presence. This is also true of images, feelings, and activities. At this level even the ego structures, with their images and object relations, are seen as part of this Presence. We are aware of these structures of internalized images but they appear as less luminous patterns within the overall Presence.

The Full Transformation of Oral Narcissism

The full transformation of oral narcissism requires not only the self-realization of the greatest depth of Being, the absolute truth, but the wholeness of Being, the nonduality of its depth with all manifestation. This is not exactly a matter of realizing a new presentation of Being, but of the integration of all levels in one unified presentation. This is a place of utmost subtlety, and the
various spiritual teachings take different positions about its meaning. It is a question of what the ultimate truth is, which is related to the ultimate state of realization posited by each teaching. Different traditions embrace varying positions about what exactly is the ultimate truth and variations in what ultimate realization entails. The Sufis, for instance, take the view that the Absolute is the unmanifest essence of divinity and that it transcends all manifestations. However, they do consider that the ultimate realization is to become part of the fabric of this reality. The Sufis do not usually attempt to analyze its nature beyond seeing it as a mystery, the source and ultimate nature of all manifestations, a bedazzling majesty and indescribable beauty. Their focus is not on analyzing its nature, but on becoming so totally suffused by it that one becomes the legs by which it walks, the eyes by which it sees, and the tongue by which it speaks.

The Predominance of Oral Needs and Concerns

In terms of our consideration of self-realization, oral narcissism results from disturbance of the original equilibrium of the self, which we have termed primary self-realization. This corresponds to the initial phases of early development coinciding with Mahler's autistic and symbiotic stages, or Freud's oral stage of psychosexual development. We have termed it "oral narcissism" because of the predominance of oral needs and concerns... When oral narcissism is the dominant form for a particular individual, her narcissism telescopes all four forms, with the oral characteristic dominating the picture.

The Shells of Narcissism

The loss of this wholeness is equivalent to the loss of contact with all the aspects of Essence. This explains why the empty shell that is due to the loss of the primal self feels like the shells of all of the other forms of narcissism combined. The primal self is the wholeness that implicitly includes the qualities of the true self of all later stages, in an undifferentiated way.

Transformation to a Wholeness

The self that emerges in the transformation of oral narcissism is a presence that feels whole and total. It feels like the presence of a total completeness of being ourselves. We feel a sense of purity, of clarity and lightness, that seems to exclude nothing. We feel as if all of what we are is present, but all comprising one indivisible whole. There are no parts; all of our feelings, thoughts, and movements appear as colorful manifestations within, and inseparable from, this pure and innocent presence. At the same time this presence has a deep sense of dynamism, as if it is in constant flow and transformation. This flow and transformation is the appearance of the changes in the manifestation of this presence. The self realized through the transformation of oral narcissism is a dynamic wholeness. It is the integrity of oneself that includes all of one’s qualities and dimensions of experience. The life of this presence is the flow of qualities of Essence, which emerge according to the demands of the situation, without being separate from the presence of wholeness. The wholeness of the primordial self implicitly includes all aspects of Essence, present in an undifferentiated way. The aspects differentiate sometimes in response to situations, but even when an aspect is manifesting explicitly, we feel whole and complete. The disruption of the self in the oral stage can best be described as the loss of wholeness. By losing contact with the primordial presence, the self loses the element responsible for a sense of wholeness. This loss is like the loss of the glue that maintains the cohesiveness of the experience of the self. This cohesiveness is not that of an ego structure, but of the primordial wholeness, where everything is an indivisible presence, that contains mind, but is not structured by it.

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