Lightmind Extract 039
great line of thought jpt!
narcissism in non-clinical ternms usually, as you say, refers to a kind of annoying self-centeredness and inability to relate in a considerate way. we are all like this sometimes – some of us more than others
in more clinical terms, i think it’s helpful to make a distinction betweeen having a) a lot of unresolved narcissistic material and b) full blown narcissistic personality disorder.
now of course we could talk about the three above-mentioned “narcissisms” as existing on a continuum of escalating intensity and ingrained-ness, yes?
my understanding ( a la kohut) is that there is a natural primary narcissistic phase that we go through as kids, in which we should actually have the experience of being the center of the universe mirrored back to us by our parents. it’s like an extension of infantile omnipotence, the world revolves around us and exists to gratify us and reflect our grandiosity back to us. this is normal. it’s how we develop a “self”.
at this stage, we have yet to discover the subjectivity of others or to develop empathy.
if all goes well-enough the primary narcissism transitions into a well internalized sense of self that can tolerate (and relish) the realities of intersubjective relating.
the more unresolved narcissistic material one has from this period, the more likely one will inhabit positions further and further along that narcissistic continuum we described. so, failure to adequately complete this stage, or traumatizing violation/abandonment at this stage will create an unstable sense of self that is still seeking narcissistic mirroring to prove it’s existence and worthiness. most of us have some of this going on.
the further along the continuum one is, the more likely that there will be intense righteous narcissistic rage whenever the world fails to mirror the overblown grandiose compensatory false-self of the narcissistically wounded individual.
in adulthood this is a kind of secondary narcissism – a defense mechanism, or behavioral strategy for trying to get those primary needs met, which of course never works. so there is a vicious cycle that is painful for the narcissist and any one around them. (and usually unconscious) the only way to actually get at the root of the pain that the unconscious is trying to make sense of is by doing the deep, vulnerable healing work (grieving/venting the original material) and getting the long term “re-parenting” (mirroring, support, empathy) from the healer. this completes the incomplete stage and creates a “self” where before there wasn’t one…
now – it is interesting and fruitful, methinks, to look at how the grandiose concept of the guru is a perfect strategy for the otherwise intelligent and charismatic narcissistically wounded character to flourish, yes?
the deeper the wound, the more skillfully the narcissist is at manipulating, seducing and controlling others – add intelligence and the vehicle of the guru principle to mirror back the overblown superiority, and you have a potent incarnating demon. :O) he/she also has the perfect excuse to vent the narcissistic rage at the underling disciples in the name of fierce compassion, crazy wisdom etc……..great set-up!
interestingly, certain personality types are very taken by these charismatic manipulators. some narcissists are happy to bask in the reflected glory of a really powerful narcissist and to self identify as being part of a superior group who are plugged into the truth of the one true god-man guru- y’see? it reflects back their own need for grandiosity…
some folks with deep trauma are desperately seeking a powerful daddy/mommy with archetypal fantasy overtones, because of their early conflict. they are regressing into projecting an all powerful archetypal Mommy or Daddy onto the narcissist – both sides like this a lot!
the borderline (also existing on a continuum) will often intensely idealise the narcissist and then have a radical flip and think they are “the devil” – then go back and forth – this is tons of fun!
when it all blows up in the players faces, as it must, and there is no psychological awareness or forum to process what is going on in the spirit of honest inquiry, all sorts of spiritual fantasy rationalizations get thrown around until the dust settles and the game can begin again it’s vicious cycle.
anyway – my sense is that narcissistic material is treatable, but takes a good 5 to 10 years, basically of re-parenting, grieving/venting and cognitive awareness. the further along the continuum one is, the harder treatment is, with the full blown npd being very very difficult because even the relationship with the therapist is extremely hard to establish and maintain intersubjectively. the npd person also probably thinks they “dont have a problem”. oy! tough also to treat the narcissist who has developed a false-self around a “spiritual” set of beliefs or practices that have some stamp of absolute authority on them.
in terms of your question about who gets involved in cults:
i think that the more cultish the organization is, the more wounded and fragmented are the identities of the followers and the leader. by definition, all spiritual organizations are made up of seekers – those of us who are looking for healing/insight/growth/transformation, and of course everyone has issues, i would direct you to the chapter in jack kornfield’s “a path with heart” where he talks about the shadow side of many different paths – as a way to get a sense of what sort of character defenses will be drawn to which kinds of practices. there are on or two other chapters toward the end of the book where he talks about the issues of spiritual community, accountability, abuse etc in very cogent detail…
for me, the more magical, naive, ungrounded, fantasy-based the path/organization is, the more traumatized, wounded and fragmented will be it’s adherents.
Filed under: Heinz Kohut, Jack Kornfield, Lightmind Extracts, Psychospiritual Growth, Psychotherapy | Leave a Comment