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Pathological Narcissism

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Pathological Narcissism

An Expression of the Soul Experiencing Itself from Within, and Through, the Self-Representation

If it has not already been clear to the reader, it now becomes clear that the veil of personal history is the self-representation. Regardless of how realistic the self-representation is, it cannot contain the true reality of the self. It follows then that the narcissism of everyday life is an expression of the soul experiencing itself from within, and through, the self-representation. Pathological narcissism is fundamentally the same manifestation, which locates the experience of the self much farther away from the dimension of essential presence, and thus involves a greater alienation from the essential core of the self. Pathological narcissism can include alienation from other, more surface dimensions of the self, that remain accessible to the normal individual, such as the physical and emotional dimensions. The greater distance from the essential core, in addition to the alienation from other dimensions of the soul, manifests not only in the aggravation of traits shared by the normal individual, but also in the development of other more typically narcissistic traits such as a pervasive sense of emptiness, a tendency to fragmentation, hypochondriacal preoccupation, and so on.

Delusional Belief of the Pathologically Narcissistic Person

Clearly, if our ideals are grandiose and our ambitions unrealistic, we will find it difficult to be authentic and thus to function as a normal, healthy self. The pathologically narcissistic person also tends to delusionally believe that he has attained idealized qualities and accomplishments, thus manifesting what is called the grandiose self. Hence, an amelioration of this condition which enables the self to establish a strong bipolar self (with realistic ambitions and ideals) will expand one’s capacity to be truly himself. His condition can move, then, from pathological narcissism to the narcissism of everyday life. As we have seen, the incapacity to be authentically ourselves is the expression of not being able to simply be. Simply being is not a matter of being anything in particular; it is not a matter of being according to any view of ourselves, realistic or not. Simply being means the absence of any activity, inner or outer, to be ourselves. Simply being is just that: Being.

Narcissistic Issues are the Closest to Our Sense of Who We Are for Our Very Identity is in Question

Narcissistic issues are extremely difficult to go through by ourself, because it is very hard to see one’s own narcissistic issues. Clearly, these issues are the closest to our sense of who we are, for our very identity is in question. At this level a teacher can be helpful, even indispensable. The student needs the teacher at these times more than he did for other issues, because the narcissistic issues make him feel lost and disoriented. The states and issues that arise at this point are similar to those of pathological narcissism, but at this phase of development they do not generally reflect pathology. Rather, they reflect the increasing awareness of the fundamental weakness and emptiness of the normal identity. In pathological narcissism, on the other hand, this weakness is chronic, indicating the lack of integration of the sense of self and identity, in which the underlying emptiness and unreality are chronically exposed. Theories of depth psychology posit that the emptiness and unreality are due only to the lack of integration of the self.

Pathological Narcissism is Basically a Severe Form of the Narcissism of Everyday Life

Pathological narcissism, or what is called in self psychology the “narcissistic personality disorder,” is basically a severe form of the narcissism of everyday life. As a personality structure, it is more deeply and strongly crystallized, and thus more rigid, than the character of the normal individual. The personality is crystallized around its disconnection from the depths of the soul. The identity of the person with a narcissistic personality disorder is superficial, brittle, distorted, and feeble because of the extreme disconnection from its own presence.

Pathological Narcissism Occurs when the Self-Representation is Absent, Weak, Fragmented, Disintegrated or Unrealistic

It is this concept of the self-representation which plays the greatest role in the various psychological theories of narcissism. Psychoanalytic theory uses the term narcissism in a neutral sense. There is normal (healthy) narcissism, and then there is pathological narcissism. Hartmann defined narcissism as the libidinal investment (cathexis) of the self-representation.19 Healthy narcissism results from a well-integrated, harmonious, and realistic self-representation being invested with positive energy or libido. Narcissistic disturbance or unhealthy narcissism, occurs when there is a problem with the libidinal investment of the self in terms of either the adequacy of the investment or the quality of the energy invested, and/or in the quality of integration of the self-representation. In simple terms, an individual is narcissistically healthy when he has developed a stable self-concept that is realistic, resistant to dissolution or disintegration, with inner harmony and positive self-regard. Pathological narcissism occurs when the self-representation is absent, weak, fragmented, disintegrated, or unrealistic, or when it is particularly vulnerable to such disturbances.

Phoniness is Inherent to the Life of Ego

In the process of working through our narcissism, we come to realize that to present an image of ourselves, instead of the immediate presence of who we are, regardless of how faithful it is to the original, is to be fake and to live a phony life. It is the life of the empty shell, a life without authenticity, without fundamental truth. This understanding of the sense of being phony that is universally associated with narcissism is more fundamental than that offered by the theories of depth psychology. It demonstrates that phoniness is inherent to the life of ego. It is not only a quality of pathological narcissism or what is called the “false self”; it is intrinsic to the experience of the self in the conventional dimension of experience. The fakeness is simply more obvious in pathological narcissism because the shell is more exposed.

Since the Essential Self is the True Self, One is Either Basically Narcissistic or Self-Realized

The final outcome of ego development is a unified self-image. This is experienced as a sense of self and a separate individuality; or one could say there is an individual with a sense of self. The Essential Self is replaced gradually by the ego sense of self, as the latter becomes increasingly established. By the time the ego development is capable of selective identification, the ego sense of self has become dominant. The process of loss of contact with the Essential Self is also exacerbated by the usual narcissistic difficulties and traumas in early childhood. The self is no longer an ontologic presence. One is now cut off from the true Self by identification with an image. One’s sense of self is now determined by a memory-image constructed from past object relations and structured by the development of internalized object relations, just as object relations theory contends. But as is clear according to our present analysis, that is not the whole story. The feeling of identity in the self-image is a vague memory of the true feeling of identity. One important consequence of this development is its profound and disturbing implication for narcissism. Since pathological narcissism is usually understood to be a consequence of the pathology of the self—either absence of it, or a distortion of its sense and structure—then clearly the individuality based on self-image is bound to be narcissistic in a very fundamental sense. In other words, since the Essential Self is the true Self, one is either basically narcissistic or self-realized. Ego by its nature is narcissistic.

Student Sensitivity that Mimics Pathological Narcissism

However, when students in the process of self-realization develop a sensitivity that mimics pathological narcissism, creating a greatly increased need for mirroring—what is needed is a special kind of mirroring, empathic mirroring, which is reflection that is exactly appropriate for the particular individual at that specific time. This is a different kind of seeing than the mirror-like awareness. With the mirror-like awareness, we might see the totality of the person in his fullness and reflect that. But if the person is narcissistically sensitive, he will not feel seen by this reflection. He feels he is not getting what he needs, and in some sense he is right. What he needs is to be mirrored and supported in that particular place where his center of awareness—his identity—happens to be at that moment. If he is very narcissistically hurt or wounded, the most that we can do is to exactly reflect back what he says. He says, “I’m hurt.” The teacher can say, “I can see you are hurt.” If she says, “I see you are hurt because somebody didn’t like you,” he will feel hurt or angry because he might not know that yet, and will experience her feedback as a lack of empathy; he feels she is not seeing him. At this point he might start feeling that his sense of self is disintegrating. The teacher is adding something else, more than he can handle, even though it might be true, and it might be what he will need at some later point. But at this point he is not interested in the truth; he is interested in confirming his shaky identity, which happens to be his particular truth.

The Exhilarating Journey when a Person with Pathological Narcissism Begins to Open Up

It is an exhilarating and exciting journey when a person with pathological narcissism (or any pathology that restricts or denies the emotions, feelings and their vitality) begins to open up emotionally and to learn the freedom and spontaneity in this maturity. A whole universe opens up, a universe of qualities, meanings, new modes of relating, and a new maturity and expansion of the self. Something similar happens when the self opens up to its essence, except that the experience now has a vividness, a depth, a profundity and openness that was not only unavailable on the emotional realm, but hardly conceivable. The richness and the sense of realness in the essential realm of presence eclipse the emotional experience, in all of its heights and depths, in ways not conceivable by us until we actually have the direct taste. This direct taste will immediately show us how limiting is the life based on emotional maturity (to the exclusion of the essential realm) and why it remains narcissistically incomplete.

Without Essential Realization Emotional Maturity and Freedom are Limited

In our view, the real self includes the availability, maturity and spontaneity of the emotional dimension of the self, but if we define ourselves at this level our capacity to be ourselves will be limited. In Miller’s words, this is a fixation on an incomplete self. 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.

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