The Narcissistic Parent
Is there a "typical"
relationship between the narcissist and his family?
We are all members
of a few families in our lifetime: the one that we are born to and
the one(s) that we create. We all transfer hurts, attitudes, fears,
hopes and desires a whole emotional baggage from the
former to the latter. The narcissist is no exception.
has a dichotomous view of humanity: humans are either Sources of Narcissistic
Supply (and, then, idealised and over-valued) or do not fulfil this
function (and, therefore, are valueless, devalued). The narcissist
gets all the love that he needs from himself. From the outside he
needs approval, affirmation, admiration, adoration, attention
in other words, externalised Ego boundary functions. He does not require
nor does he seek his parents' or his siblings' love,
or to be loved by his children. He casts them as the audience in the
theatre of his inflated grandiosity.
He wishes to impress
them, shock them, threaten them, infuse them with awe, inspire them,
attract their attention, subjugate them, or manipulate them. He emulates
and simulates an entire range of emotions and employs every means
to achieve these effects. He lies (narcissists are pathological liars
their very self is a false one). He plays the pitiful, or,
its opposite, the resilient and reliable. He stuns and shines with
outstanding intellectual, or physical (or anything else appreciated
by the members of the family) capacities and achievements. When confronted
with (younger) siblings or with his own children, the narcissist is
likely to react in three phases:
At first, he perceives
his offspring as a threat to his Narcissistic Supply Sources (his
turf, the Pathological Narcissistic Space). He does his best to belittle
them, hurt (also physically) and humiliate them and then, when these
reactions prove ineffective or counter productive, he retreats into
an imaginary world of omnipotence. A period of emotional absence and
detachment ensues. The narcissist indulges himself in daydreaming,
delusions of grandeur, planning of future coups, nostalgia and hurt
(the Lost Paradise Syndrome). The narcissist reacts this way to the
birth of his children or to the introduction of new foci of attention
to the family cell (even to a new pet!). Whatever the narcissist perceives
to be competition for scarce Narcissistic Supply is relegated to the
role of the enemy. Where the uninhibited expression of the aggression
and hostility aroused by this predicament is considered illegitimate
the narcissist prefers to stay away. He disconnects, detaches
himself emotionally, becomes cold and disinterested, directs transformed
anger at his mate or at his parents (the more legitimate targets).
see the opportunity in the "mishap". They seek to manipulate their
parents (or their mate) by "taking over" the newcomer. Such narcissists
monopolise their siblings or their newborn children. This way, indirectly,
the narcissist basks in the attention directed at the infants. An
example: by being closely identified with his offspring, a narcissistic
father secures the grateful admiration of the mother ("What an outstanding
father he is"). He also assumes part of or all the credit for baby's/sibling's
achievements. This is a process of annexation and assimilation of
the other, a strategy that the narcissist makes use of in most of
As the baby/sibling
grows older, the narcissist begins to see their potential to be edifying,
reliable and satisfactory Sources of Narcissistic Supply. His attitude,
then, is completely transformed. The former threats have now become
promising potentials. He cultivates those whom he trusts to be the
most rewarding. He encourages them to idolise him, to adore him, to
be awed by him, to admire his deeds and capabilities, to learn to
blindly trust and obey him, in short to surrender to his charisma
and to become submerged in his folies-de-grandeur. These roles
allocated to them explicitly and demandingly or implicitly and perniciously
by the narcissist are best fulfilled by ones whose mind is
not fully formed and independent. The older the siblings or offspring,
the more they become critical, even judgemental, of the narcissist.
They are better able to put into context and perspective his actions,
to question his motives, to anticipate his moves. They refuse to continue
to play the mindless pawns in his chess game.
They hold grudges
against him for what he has done to them in the past, when they were
less capable of resistance. They can gauge his true stature, talents
and achievements which, usually, lag far behind the claims
that he makes.
This brings the
narcissist a full cycle back to the first phase. Again, he perceives
his siblings or sons/daughters as threats. He quickly becomes disillusioned
and devaluing. He loses all interest, becomes emotionally remote,
absent and cold, rejects any effort to communicate with him, citing
life pressures and the preciousness and scarceness of his time. He
feels burdened, cornered, besieged, suffocated, and claustrophobic.
He wants to get away, to abandon his commitments to people who have
become totally useless (or even damaging) to him. He does not understand
why he has to support them, to suffer their company and he believes
himself to have been trapped. He rebels either passively-aggressively
(by refusing to act or intentionally sabotaging the relationships)
or actively (by being overly critical, aggressive, unpleasant, verbally
and psychologically abusive and so on). Slowly to justify his
acts to himself he gets immersed in conspiracy theories with
clear paranoid hues. To his mind, the members of the family conspire
against him, seek to belittle or humiliate or subordinate him, do
not understand him, stymie his growth. The narcissist usually finally
gets what he wants and the family that he has created disintegrates
to his great sorrow (due to the loss of the Narcissistic Space)
but also to his great relief and surprise (how could they have let
go someone as unique as he?).
This is the cycle:
the narcissist feels threatened by arrival of new family members
assimilation of siblings or offspring obtaining Narcissistic
Supply from them overvaluation of these new sources by the
narcissist as sources grow older and independent, they adopt
anti narcissistic behaviours the narcissist devalues them
the narcissist feels stifled and trapped the narcissist becomes
paranoid the narcissist rebels and the family disintegrates.
This cycle characterises not only the family life of the narcissist.
It is to be found in other realms of his life (his career, for instance).
At work, the narcissist, initially, feels threatened (no one knows
him, he is a nobody). Then, he develops a circle of admirers, cronies
and friends which he "nurtures and cultivates" in order to obtain
Narcissistic Supply from them. He overvalues them (they are the brightest,
the most loyal, with the biggest chances to climb the corporate ladder
and other superlatives).
some anti-narcissistic behaviours on their part (a critical remark,
a disagreement, a refusal, however polite, all constitute such behaviours)
the narcissist devalues all these previously over-valued individuals.
Now they are stupid, cowardly, lack ambition, skills and talents,
common (the worst expletive in the narcissist's vocabulary), with
an unspectacular career ahead of them. The narcissist feels that he
is misallocating his resources (for instance, his time). He feels
besieged and suffocated. He rebels and erupts in a serious of self-defeating
and self-destructive behaviours, which lead to the disintegration
of his life.
Doomed to build
and ruin, attach and detach, appreciate and depreciate, the narcissist
is predictable in his "death wish". What sets him apart from other
suicidal types is that his wish is granted to him in small, tormenting
doses throughout his anguished life.
Loved Enemies - An Introduction
fact is that the child is not sure that it exists. It avidly absorbs
cues from its human environment. "Am I present?", "Am I separate?",
"Can I be noticed?" these are the questions that compete in
his mind with his need to merge, to become a part of his caregivers.
Granted, the infant (ages 0 to 2) does not engage in a verbal formulation
of these "thoughts" (which are part cognitive, part instinctual).
This nagging uncertainty is more akin to a discomfort, like being
thirsty or wet. The infant is torn between its need to differentiate
and distinguish its SELF and its no less urgent urge to assimilate
and integrate by being assimilated and integrated.
we know, from the point of view of the physiologist, that a child
needs to be given certain foods, that he needs to be protected against
extreme temperatures, and that the atmosphere he breathes has to contain
sufficient oxygen, if his body is to become strong and resilient,
so do we also know, from the point of view of the depth-psychologist,
that he requires an empathic environment, specifically, an environment
that responds (a) to his need to have his presence confirmed by the
glow of parental pleasure and (b) to his need to merge into the reassuring
calmness of the powerful adult, if he is to acquire a firm and resilient
(J. D. Levine and Rona H. Weiss. The Dynamics and Treatment of Alcoholism.
Jason Aronson, 1994)
The child's nascent
self must first overcome its feelings of diffusiveness, of being an
extension of its caregivers (to include parents, in this text), or
a part of them. Kohut says that parents perform the functions of the
self for their child. More likely, a battle is joined from the first
breath of the child: a battle to gain autonomy, to usurp the power
of the parents, to become a distinct unit. The child refuses to let
the parents serve as its self. It rebels and seeks to depose them
and take over their functions. The better the parents serve as self-objects
(in lieu of the child's self) the stronger the child's self
becomes, the more vigorously it fights for its independence. The parents,
in this sense, are like a benign, benevolent and enlightened colonial
power, which performs the tasks of governance on behalf of the uneducated
and uninitiated natives. The more lenient the colonial regime
the more likely it is to be supplanted by an indigenous government.
question then is whether the parents are able to reflect with approval
at least some of the child's proudly exhibited attributes and functions,
whether they are able to respond with genuine enjoyment to his budding
skills, whether they are able to remain in touch with him throughout
his trials and errors. And, furthermore, we must determine whether
they are able to provide the child with a reliable embodiment of calmness
and strength into which he can merge and with a focus for his need
to find a target for his admiration. Or, stated in the obverse, it
will be of crucial importance to ascertain the fact that a child could
find neither confirmation of his own worth-whileness nor a target
for a merger with the idealised strength of the parent and that he,
therefore, remained deprived of the opportunity for the gradual transformation
of these external sources of narcissistic sustenance into endopsychic
resources, that is, specifically into sustaining self-esteem and into
a sustaining relationship to internal ideals." [Ibid.]
B. The Narcissistic
"When the habitual
narcissistic gratifications that come from being adored, given special
treatment, and admiring the self are threatened, the results may be
depression, hypochondriasis, anxiety, shame, self-destructiveness,
or rage directed toward any other person who can be blamed for the
troubled situation. The child can learn to avoid these painful emotional
states by acquiring a narcissistic mode of information processing.
Such learning may be by trial-and-error methods, or it may be internalised
by identification with parental modes of dealing with stressful information."
(Jon Mardi Horowitz.
Stress Response Syndromes: PTSD, Grief and Adjustment Disorders. Third
edition. New York, NY University Press, 1998)
fundamentally an evolved version of the splitting defence mechanism.
The narcissist cannot regard humans, situations, entities (political
parties, countries, races, his workplace) as a compound of good and
bad elements. He is an "all or nothing" primitive "machine" (a common
metaphor among narcissists). He either idealises his object
or devalues it. The object is either all good or all bad. The bad
attributes are always projected, displaced, or otherwise externalised.
The good ones are internalised in order to support the inflated ("grandiose")
self-concepts of the narcissist and his grandiose fantasies
and to avoid the pain of deflation and disillusionment.
earnestness and his (apparent) sincerity make people wonder whether
he is simply detached from reality, unable to appraise it properly
or willingly and knowingly distorts reality and reinterprets
it, subjecting it to his self-imposed censorship. I believe that the
narcissist is dimly aware of the implausibility of his own constructions.
He has not lost touch with reality. He is just less scrupulous in
remoulding it and in ignoring the uncomfortable angles.
are accomplished by shifting meanings and using exaggeration and minimisation
of bits of reality as a nidus for fantasy elaboration. The narcissistic
personality is especially vulnerable to regression to damaged or defective
self-concepts on the occasions of loss of those who have functioned
as self-objects. When the individual is faced with such stress events
as criticism, withdrawal of praise, or humiliation, the information
involved may be denied, disavowed, negated, or shifted in meaning
to prevent a reactive state of rage, depression, or shame."
The second mechanism
which the narcissist employees is the active pursuit of Narcissistic
Supply. The narcissist actively seeks to furnish himself with an endless
supply of admiration, adulation, affirmation and attention. As opposed
to common opinion (which infiltrated literature) the narcissist
is content to have ANY kind of attention. If fame cannot be had
notoriety would do. The narcissist is obsessed with the obtaining
of Narcissistic Supply, he is addicted to it. His behaviour in its
pursuit is impulsive and compulsive.
"The hazard is
not simply guilt because ideals have not been met. Rather, any loss
of a good and coherent self-feeling is associated with intensely experienced
emotions such as shame and depression, plus an anguished sense of
helplessness and disorientation. To prevent this state, the narcissistic
personality slides the meanings of events in order to place the self
in a better light. What is good is labelled as being of the self (internalised)
Those qualities that are undesirable are excluded from the self by
denial of their existence, disavowal of related attitudes, externalisation,
and negation of recent self-expressions. Persons who function as accessories
to the self may also be idealised by exaggeration of their attributes.
Those who counter the self are depreciated; ambiguous attributions
of blame and a tendency to self-righteous rage states are a conspicuous
aspect of this pattern.
shifts in meanings permit the narcissistic personality to maintain
apparent logical consistency while minimising evil or weakness and
exaggerating innocence or control. As part of these manoeuvres, the
narcissistic personality may assume attitudes of contemptuous superiority
toward others, emotional coldness, or even desperately charming approaches
to idealised figures." [Ibid.]
Freud versus Jung
Freud must be
credited with the promulgation and presentation of a first coherent
theory of narcissism. He described transitions from subject-directed
libido to object-directed libido through the intermediation and agency
of the parents. To be healthy and functional, the transitions must
be smooth and unperturbed. Neuroses are the results of such perturbations.
of each stage as the default (or fallback) of the next one. Thus,
if a child reaches out to his objects of desire and fails to attract
their love and attention it regresses to the previous phase,
to the narcissistic phase. The first occurrence of narcissism is adaptive.
It "trains" the child to love an object, albeit merely his self. It
secures gratification through the availability, predictability and
permanence of the loved object (=oneself). But regressing to "secondary
narcissism" is mal-adaptive. It is an indication of failure to direct
the libido to the "right" targets (to objects, such as his parents).
If this pattern
of regression persists and prevails, a narcissistic neurosis is formed.
The narcissist stimulates his self habitually in order to derive pleasure
and gratification. He prefers this mode of deriving gratification
to others. He is "lazy" because he takes the "easy" route of resorting
to his self and reinvesting his libidinal resources "in-house" rather
than making an effort (and risking failure) to seek out libidinal
objects other than his self. The narcissist prefers fantasyland to
reality, grandiose self-conception to realistic appraisal, masturbation
and fantasies to mature adult sex and daydreaming to real life achievements.
Jung had a mental
picture of the psyche as a giant warehouse of archetypes (the conscious
representations of adaptive behaviours). Fantasies to him are just
a way of accessing these archetypes and releasing them. Almost ex
definitio, regression cannot be entertained by Jungian psychology.
Any reversion to earlier phases of mental life, to earlier coping
strategies, to earlier choices in other words, any default
is interpreted as simply the psyche's way of using yet another,
hitherto untapped, adaptation strategy. Regressions are compensatory
processes intended to enhance adaptation and not methods of obtaining
or securing a steady flow of gratification.
It would seem,
though, that there is only a semantic difference between Freud and
his disciple turned-heretic. When libido investment in objects (esp.
the Primary Object) fails to produce gratification, maladaptation
results. This is dangerous. A default option is activated: secondary
narcissism. This default enhances adaptation, it is functional and
adaptive and triggers adaptive behaviours. As a by-product, it secures
gratification. We are gratified when we exert reasonable control over
our environment, i.e., when our behaviours are adaptive. The compensatory
process has TWO results: enhanced adaptation and inevitable gratification.
Perhaps the more
serious disagreement between Freud and Jung is with regards to introversion.
Freud regards introversion as an instrument in the service of a pathology
(introversion is indispensable to narcissism, as opposed to extroversion
which is a necessary condition for libidinal object-orientation).
As opposed to
Freud, Jung regards introversion as a useful tool in the service of
the psychic quest for adaptation strategies (narcissism being one
of them). The Jungian adaptation repertoire does not discriminate
against narcissism. To Jung it is as legitimate a choice as any. But
even Jung acknowledged that the very need to look for a new adaptation
strategy means that adaptation has failed. In other words, the search
itself is indicative of a pathological state of affairs. It does seem
that introversion per se IS NOT pathological (because no psychological
mechanism is pathological PER SE). Only the use made of it CAN be
pathological. One would tend to agree with Freud, though, that when
introversion becomes a permanent feature of the psychic landscape
of a person it facilitates pathological narcissism.
introverts (who habitually concentrate on their selves rather than
on outside objects) from extroverts (the converse preference). According
to him, not only is introversion a totally normal and natural function,
it remains normal and natural even if it predominates the mental life.
This is where,
to my mind, Jung missed the proverbial "narcissistic train". The habitual
and predominant focussing of attention upon one's self, to the exclusion
of others is THE definition of pathological narcissism. What differentiates
the pathological from the normal and even the welcome is, of course,
degree. Pathological narcissism is ex-clusive and all-pervasive. Other
forms of narcissism are not. So, although there is no healthy state
of habitual, predominant introversion, it remains a question of form
and degree of introversion. Often a healthy, adaptive mechanism goes
awry. When it does, as Jung himself recognised, neuroses form.
narcissism as a POINT while Jung regards it as a CONTINUUM (from health
In a way, Kohut
took Jung a step further. He said that pathological narcissism is
not the result of excessive narcissism, libido or aggression. It is
the result of defective, deformed or incomplete narcissistic (self)
structures. Kohut postulated the existence of core constructs which
he named: the "grandiose exhibitionistic self" and the "idealised
parent imago" [see below]. Children entertain notions of greatness
(primitive or naive grandiosity) mingled with magical thinking, feelings
of omnipotence and omniscience and a belief in their immunity to the
consequences of their actions. These elements and the child's feelings
regarding its parents (who are also painted by it with a brush of
omnipotence and grandiosity) coagulate and form these constructs.
The child's feelings
towards its parents are reactions to their responses (affirmation,
buffering, modulation or disapproval, punishment, even abuse). These
responses help maintain the self-structures. Without the appropriate
responses, grandiosity, for instance, cannot be transformed into adult
ambitions and ideals.
So, to Kohut,
grandiosity and idealisation are positive childhood development mechanisms.
Even their reappearance in transference should not be considered a
pathological narcissistic regression.
"You see, the
actual issue is really a simple one
a simple change in classical
[Freudian] theory, which states that autoeroticism develops into narcissism
and that narcissism develops into object love
there is a contrast
and opposition between narcissism and object love. The (forward) movement
toward maturation was toward object love. The movement from object
love toward narcissism is a (backward) regressive movement toward
a fixation point. To my mind (this) viewpoint is a theory built into
a non-scientific value judgement
that has nothing to do with
(H. Kohut. The
Chicago Institute Lectures 1972-1976. Marian and Paul Tolpin (Eds.).
Analytic Press, 1998)
is nothing less than revolutionary. He says that narcissism (subject-love)
and object-love coexist and interact throughout life. True, they wear
different guises with age and maturation but they always cohabitate.
is not that the self-experiences are given up and replaced by
a more mature or developmentally more advanced experience of objects."
inevitably led to a dichotomy of disorders. Kohut agreed with Freud
that neuroses are conglomerates of defence mechanisms, formations,
symptoms, and unconscious conflicts. He even did not object to identifying
unresolved Oedipal conflicts (ungratified unconscious wishes and their
objects) as the root of neuroses. But he identified a whole new class
of disorders: the self-disorders. These were the result of the perturbed
development of narcissism.
It was not a cosmetic
or superficial distinction. Self-disorders were the results of childhood
traumas very much different to Freud's Oedipal, castration and other
conflicts and fears. These are the traumas of the child either not
being "seen" (that is not being affirmed by objects, especially the
Primary Objects, the parents) or being regarded merely as an
object for gratification or abuse. Such children develop to become
adults who are not sure that they do exist (lack a sense of self-continuity)
or that they are worth anything (lack of self-worth, or self-esteem).
They suffer depressions, as neurotics do. But the source of these
depressions is existential (a gnawing sensation of emptiness) as opposed
to the "guilty-conscious" depressions of neurotics.
are interrupted by rages because things are not going
their way, because responses are not forthcoming in the way they expected
and needed. Some of them may even search for conflict to relieve the
pain and intense suffering of the poorly established self, the pain
of the discontinuous, fragmenting, undercathected self of the child
not seen or responded to as a unit of its own, not recognised as an
independent self who wants to feel like somebody, who wants to go
its own way [see Lecture 22]. They are individuals whose disorders
can be understood and treated only by taking into consideration the
formative experiences in childhood of the total body-mind-self and
its self-object environment for instance, the experiences of
joy of the total self feeling confirmed, which leads to pride, self-esteem,
zest, and initiative; or the experiences of shame, loss of vitality,
deadness, and depression of the self who does not have the feeling
of being included, welcomed, and enjoyed."
(Paul and Marian
Tolpin (Eds.). The Preface to the "Chicago Institute Lectures 1972-1976
of H. Kohut", 1996)
One note: "constructs"
or "structures" are permanent psychological patterns. This is not
to say that they do not change they are capable of slow change.
Kohut and his self-psychology disciples believed that the only viable
constructs are comprised of self self-object experiences and that
these structures are lifelong ones. Melanie Klein believed more in
archaic drives, splitting defences and archaic internal objects and
part objects. Winnicott [and Balint and other, mainly British researchers]
as well as other ego-psychologists thought that only infantile drive
wishes and hallucinated oneness with archaic objects qualify as structures.
Karen Horney's Contributions
Horney is one
of the precursors of the "object relations" school of psychodynamics.
She said that the personality was shaped mostly by one's environment,
society, or culture. She believed that the relationships with other
humans in one's childhood determine both the shape and functioning
of one's personality. She expanded the psychoanalytic repertoire.
She added needs to drives. Where Freud believed in the exclusivity
of the sex drive as an agent of transformation (later he added other
drives) Horney believed that people (children) needed to feel
secure, to be loved, protected, emotionally nourished and so on.
She believed that
the satisfaction of these needs or their frustration early in childhood
were as important a determinant as any drive. Society came in through
the parental door. Biology converged with social injunctions to yield
human values such as the nurturance of children.
contribution was the concept of anxiety. Freudian anxiety was a rather
primitive mechanism, a reaction to imaginary threats arising from
early childhood sexual conflicts. Horney argued convincingly that
anxiety is a primary reaction to the very dependence of the child
on adults for his survival. Children are uncertain (of love, protection,
nourishment, nurturance) so they become anxious. Defences are
developed to compensate for the intolerable and gradual realisation
that adults are human: capricious, arbitrary, unpredictable, non-dependable.
Defences provide both satisfaction and a sense of security. The problem
still exists, but it is "one stage removed". When the defences are
attacked or perceived to be attacked (such as in therapy) anxiety
Karen B. Wallant
in "Creating Capacity for Attachment: Treating Addictions and the
Alienated Self" [Jason Aronson, 1999] wrote:
to be alone develops out of the baby's ability to hold onto the internalisation
of his mother, even during her absences. It is not just an image of
mother that he retains but also her loving devotion to him. Thus,
when alone, he can feel confident and secure as he continues to infuse
himself with her love. The addict has had so few loving attachments
in his life that when alone he is returned to his detached, alienated
self. This feeling-state can be compared to a young child's fear of
monsterswithout a powerful other to help him, the monsters continue
to live somewhere within the child or his environment. It is not uncommon
for patients to be found on either side of an attachment pendulum.
It is invariably easier to handle patients for whom the transference
erupts in the idealising attachment phase than those who view the
therapist as a powerful and distrusted intruder."
So, the child
learns to sacrifice a part of his autonomy, of WHO he is, in order
to feel secure. Horney identified three NEUROTIC strategies: submission,
aggression and detachment. The choice of strategy determines the type
of personality, or rather of the NEUROTIC personality. The submissive
(or compliant) type is a fake. He hides aggression beneath a facade
of friendliness. The aggressive type is fake as well: at heart he
is submissive. The detached neurotic withdraws from people. This cannot
be considered an adaptive strategy.
Horney's is an
optimistic outlook. Because she postulated that biology is only ONE
of the forces shaping our adulthood culture and society being
the predominant ones she believes in reversibility and in the
power of insight to heal. She believes that if an adult were to understand
his problem (his anxiety) he would be able to eliminate it
altogether. My outlook is much more pessimistic and deterministic.
I think that childhood trauma and abuse are pretty much impossible
to erase. Modern brain research tends to support this sad view
and to offer some hope. The brain seems to be more plastic than anyone
thought. It is physically impressed with abuse and trauma. But no
one knows when this "window of plasticity" shuts. It is conceivable
that this plasticity continues well into adulthood and that later
"reprogramming" (by loving, caring, compassionate and empathic experiences)
can remould the brain permanently. I believe that the patient has
to accept his disorder as a given and work AROUND it rather than confront
it directly. I believe that our disorders ARE adaptive and help us
to function. Their removal may not always be wise or necessary to
attain a full and satisfactory life. I do not believe that we should
all conform to a mould and experience life the same. Idiosyncrasies
are a good thing, both on the individual level and on the level of
C. The Issue
of Separation and Individuation
It is by no means
universally accepted that children go through a phase of separation
from their parents and through the consequent individuation. Most
psychodynamic theories [especially Klein, Mahler] are virtually constructed
upon this foundation. The child is considered to be merged with his
parents until it differentiates itself (through object-relations).
But researchers like Daniel N. Stern dispute this hypothesis. Based
on many studies it appears that, as always, what seems intuitively
right is not necessarily right. In "The Interpersonal World of the
Infant: A View from Psychoanalysis and Developmental Psychology" [New
York, Basic Books 1985], Stern seems to, inadvertently, support
Kohut by concluding that children possess selves and are separate
from their caregivers from the very start. In effect, he says that
the picture of the child, as depicted by psychodynamic theories, is
influenced by the way adults see children and childhood in retrospect.
Adult disorders (for instance, the pathological need to merge) are
attributed to children and to childhood.
This view is in
stark contrast to the belief that children accept any kind of parents
(even abusive) because they depend on them for their self-definition.
Attachment to and dependence on significant others is the result of
the non-separateness of the child, go the classical psychodynamic/object-relations
theories. The self is a construct (in a social context, some add),
an assimilation of the oft-imitated and idealised parents plus the
internalisation of the way others perceive the child in social interactions.
The self is, therefore,
an internalised reflection, an imitation, a series of internalised
idealisations. This sounds close to pathological narcissism. Perhaps
it is really a matter of quantity rather than quality.
D. Childhood Traumas and the Development of the Narcissistic Personality
Traumas are inevitable.
They are an inseparable part of life. But in early childhood
especially in infancy (ages 0 to 4 years) they acquire an ominous
aura, an evil, irreversible meaning. No matter how innocuous the event
and the surrounding circumstances, the child's vivid imagination is
likely to embed it in the framework of a highly idiosyncratic horror
have to go away due to medical or economic conditions. They may be
too preoccupied to stay attuned at all times to the child's emotional
needs. The family unit itself may be disintegrating with looming divorce
or separation. The values of the parent may stand in radical contrast
to those of society.
To adults, such
traumas are very different to abuse. Verbal and psychological-emotional
abuse or neglect are judged by us to be more serious "offences". But
this distinction is lost on the child. To him, all traumas are of
equal standing, though their severity may differ together with the
permanence of their emotional outcomes. Moreover, such abuse and neglect
could well be the result of circumstances beyond the abusive or negligent
parent's control. A parent can be physically or mentally handicapped,
But the child
cannot see this as a mitigating circumstance because he cannot appreciate
it or even plainly understand the causal linkage.
Where even the
child itself can tell the difference is with physical and sexual abuse.
Here is a co-operative effort at concealment, strong emotions of shame
and guilt, repressed to the point of producing anxiety and "neurosis".
Sometimes the child perceives even the injustice of the situation,
though it rarely dares to express its views, lest it be abandoned
by its abusers. This type of trauma which involves the child actively
or passively is qualitatively different and is bound to yield long-term
effects such as dissociation or severe personality disorders. These
are violent, premeditated traumas, not traumas by default, and the
reaction is bound to be violent and active. The child becomes a reflection
of its dysfunctional family it represses emotions, denies reality,
resorts to violence and escapism, disintegrates.
One of the coping
strategies is to withdraw inwards, to seek gratification from a secure,
reliable and permanently-available source: from the self. The child,
fearful of further rejection and abuse, refrains from further interaction.
Instead, it builds its own kingdom of grandiose fantasies where it
is always loved and self-sufficient. This is the narcissistic strategy
which leads to the development of a narcissistic personality.
E. The Narcissist's
"For very young
children, self-esteem is probably best thought to consist of deep
feelings of being loved, accepted, and valued by significant others
rather than of feelings derived from evaluating oneself against some
external criteria, as in the case of older children. Indeed, the only
criterion appropriate for accepting and loving a new-born or infant
is that he or she has been born. The unconditional love and acceptance
experienced in the first year or two of life lay the foundation for
later self-esteem, and probably make it possible for the pre-schooler
and older child to withstand occasional criticism and negative evaluations
that usually accompany socialisation into the larger community.
As children grow
beyond the pre-school years, the larger society imposes criteria and
conditions upon love and acceptance. If the very early feelings of
love and acceptance are deep enough, the child can most likely weather
the rebuffs and scoldings of the later years without undue debilitation.
With increasing age, however, children begin to internalise criteria
of self-worth and a sense of the standards to be attained on the criteria
from the larger community they observe and in which they are beginning
to participate. The issue of criteria of self-esteem is examined more
study of the relationship between self-esteem at age five and six
years and the quality of early mother-child attachment supports Bowlby's
theory that construction of the self is derived from early daily experience
with attachment figures. The results of the study support Bowlby's
conception of the process through which continuity in development
occurs, and of the way early child-mother attachment continues to
influence the child's conception and estimation of the self across
many years. The working models of the self derived from early mother-child
inter-action organise and help mould the child's environment 'by seeking
particular kinds of people and by eliciting particular behaviour from
them' [Cassidy, 1988, p. 133]. Cassidy points out that very young
children have few means of learning about themselves other than through
experience with attachment figures. She suggests that if infants are
valued and given comfort when required, they come to feel valuable;
conversely, if they are neglected or rejected, they come to feel worthless
and of little value.
In an examination
of developmental considerations, Bednar, Wells, and Peterson 
suggest that feelings of competence and the self-esteem associated
with them are enhanced in children when their parents provide an optimum
mixture of acceptance, affection, rational limits and controls, and
high expectations. In a similar way, teachers are likely to engender
positive feelings when they provide such a combination of acceptance,
limits, and meaningful and realistic expectations concerning behaviour
and effort [Lamborn et al., 1991]. Similarly, teachers can provide
contexts for such an optimum mixture of acceptance, limits, and meaningful
effort in the course of project work as described by Katz and Chard
(Lilian G. Katz
Distinctions between Self-Esteem and Narcissism: Implications
for Practice October 1993 ERIC/EECE Publications)
F. The Narcissist's Mother - A Suggestion for an Integrative Framework
The whole structure
of the narcissistic disorder is a derivative of the prototypical relationship
with the mother.
usually is inconsistent and frustrating in her behaviour. By being
so, she thwarts the narcissist's ability to trust others and to feel
secure with them. By emotionally abandoning him she fosters
in him fears of being abandoned and the nagging sensation that the
world is a dangerous, unpredictable place. She becomes a negative,
devaluing voice, which is duly incorporated in the Superego.
Our natural state
is anxiety, the readiness physiological and mental to
"fight or flight". Research indicates that the Primary Object (PO)
is really the child, rather than its mother. The child identifies
itself as an object almost at birth. It explores itself, reacts and
interacts, it monitors its bodily reactions to internal and external
inputs and stimuli. The flow of blood, the peristaltic movement, the
swallowing reflex, the texture of saliva, the experience of excretion,
being wet, thirsty, hungry or content all these distinguish
the selfless child from its self. The child assumes the position of
observer and integrator early on. As Kohut said, it has both a self
and the ability to relate to objects. This intimacy with a familiar
and predictable object (oneself) is a primary source of security and
the precursor to emerging narcissism. The mother is only a Secondary
Object (SO). It is the second object that the child learns to relate
to and it has the indispensable developmental advantage of being transcendental,
external to the child. All meaningful others are Auxiliary Objects
A "good enough"
SO serves to extend the lessons of the PO and apply them to the world
at large. The child learns that the external environment can be as
predictable and safe as the internal one. This titillating discovery
leads to a modification of naive or primitive narcissism. It recedes
to the background allowing more prominent and adaptive strategies
to the fore. In due time and subject to an accumulation of
the right positively reinforcing experiences, a higher form of narcissism
develops: self-love and self-esteem.
If, however, SO
fails, the child reverts back to the PO and to its correlated narcissism.
This is regression in the chronological sense. But it is an adaptive
strategy. The emotional consequences of rejection and abuse are too
difficult to contemplate. Narcissism ameliorates them by providing
a substitute object. This is an adaptive, survival-oriented act. It
provides the child with time to "come to grips with its thoughts and
feelings" and perhaps to come back with a different strategy more
suited to the new unpleasant and threatening data. So
the interpretation of this regression as a failure of object love
is wrong. The SO, the object chosen as the target of object love,
was the wrong object. Object love continues with a different, familiar,
object. The child changes objects (from his mother to his self), not
his capacity for object-love or its implementation.
If this failure
to establish a proper object-relation persists and is not alleviated,
all future objects are perceived as extensions of the Primary Object
(the self), or the objects of a merger with one's self, because they
are perceived narcissistically.
There are, therefore,
two modes of object perception:
(all objects are perceived as variations of the perceiving self) and
the social (all objects are perceived as others or self-objects).
As we said earlier,
the core (narcissistic) self precedes language or interaction
with others. As the core self matures it can develop either into a
True Self OR into a False Self. The two are mutually exclusive (a
person with False Self has no functioning True Self). The distinction
of the False Self is that it perceives others narcissistically. As
opposed to it, the True Self perceives others socially.
The child constantly
compares his first experience with an object (his internalised PO)
to his experience with his SO. The internalisations of both the PO
and the SO are modified as a result of this process of comparison.
The SO is idealised and internalised to form what I call the SEGO
(loosely, the equivalent of Freud's Superego plus the internalised
outcomes of social interactions throughout life). The internalised
PO is constantly modified to be rendered compatible with input by
the SO (for example: "You are loved", or "You are a bad boy"). This
is the process by which the Ideal Ego is created.
of the PO, of the SO and of the outcomes of their interactions (for
instance, of the results of the aforementioned constant comparison
between them) form what Bowlby calls "working models". These are constantly
updated representations of both the self and of Meaningful Others
(what I call Auxiliary Others). The narcissist's working models are
defective. They pertain to his self and to ALL others. To the narcissist,
ALL others are meaningful because NO ONE has BEEN meaningful hitherto.
This forces him to resort to crude abstractions (imagine the sheer
number of working models needed).
He is forced to
dehumanise, objectify, generalise, idealise, devalue, or stereotypise
in order to cope with the sheer volume of potential interactions with
meaningful objects. In his defence against being overwhelmed, he feels
so superior, so inflated because he is the only REAL three-dimensional
character in his life.
narcissist's working models are rigid and never updated because he
does not feel that he is interacting with real objects. How can one
feel empathic, for instance, towards a representation or an abstraction
or an object of gratification?
A matrix of possible
axes of interaction between child and mother can be constructed.
The first term
in each of these equations of interaction describes the child, the
second the mother.
The Mother can
- Accepting ("good
The Child can
- Repelled (due
to unjust mistreatment, for instance).
The possible axes
Child / Mother
How to read this
Attraction/Accepting means that the child is attracted to his mother,
his mother is attracted to him and she is a Winnicottean "good enough"
(Healthy axis, leads to self-love)
(Could lead to personality disorders such as avoidant, or schizoid,
or to social phobia, etc.)
Attraction/Doting or Smothering
(Could lead to Cluster B Personality Disorders)
(Could lead to narcissism, Cluster B disorders)
(Could lead to personality disorders such as paranoid, borderline,
(Could lead to DID, ADHD, NPD, BPD, AHD, AsPD, PPD, etc.)
(Could lead to avoidant, schizoid, paranoid, etc. PDs)
(Could lead to personality, mood, anxiety disorders and to impulsive
behaviours, such as eating disorders)
(Could lead to unresolved Oedipal conflicts and to neuroses)
(Could have the same results as axis 6)
(Could have the same results as axis 9)
This, of course,
is a very rough draft-matrix. Many of the axes can be combined to
yield more complex clinical pictures.
It provides an
initial, coarse, map of the possible interactions between the PO and
the SO in early childhood and the unsavoury results of bad objects
The results of
this POSO matrix continue to interact with AO to form a global self-evaluation
(self-esteem or sense of self-worth). This process the formation
of a coherent sense of self-esteem starts with POSO interactions
within the matrix and continues roughly till the age of 8, all the
time gathering and assimilating interactions with AO (=meaningful
others). First, a model of attachment relationship is formed (approximately
the matrix above). This model is based on the internalisation of the
Primary Object (later, the self).
interaction with SO follows and following a threshold quantity of
interactions with AO, the more global self is formed.
This process of
the formation of a global self rests on the operation of a few critical
- The child,
as we said earlier, develops a sense of "mother-constancy". This
is crucial. If the child cannot predict the behaviour (let alone
the presence) of his mother from one moment to another it
would find it hard to believe in anything, predict anything and
expect anything. Because the self, to some extent (some say: to
a large extent), is comprised of the adopted and internalised outcomes
of the interactions with others negative outcomes get to
be incorporated in the budding self as well as positive ones. In
other words, a child feels loveable and desirable if it is indeed
loved and wanted. If it is rejected, it is bound to feel worthless
and worthy only of rejection. In due time, the child develops behaviours
which yield rejection by others and the outcomes of which thus conform
with his self-perception.
- The adoption
and assimilation of the judgement of others and its incorporation
into a coherent sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
- The discounting
or filtering-out of contrarian information. Once Bowlby's "working
models" are at work, they act as selective membranes. No amount
of external information to the contrary alters these models significantly.
Granted, shifts in RELATIVE positions may and do occur in later
stages of life. A person can feel more or less accepted, more or
less competent, more or less integrated into a given social setting.
But these are changes in the values of parameters WITHIN a set equation
(=the working model). The equation itself is rarely altered and
only by very serious life crises.
"For Want of
a Better Good" (In process)
Challoner MA (Phil) MChS
Researcher Counsellor in Adoption & Fostering, and associated
child development issues. MA awarded by thesis on the psychology of
handicap A Culture of Ambiguity; 1992):
line for narcissism has been devised by Temeles, and it consists of
twelve phases that are characterised by a particular relationship
between self-love and object-love and occur in a precise order."
A developmental line for narcissism: The path to self-love
and object love. In Cohen, Theodore, B.; Etezady, M. Hossein; &
Pacella, B.L. (Eds.) The Vulnerable Child. Volume 1; The Vulnerable
Child. International Univ. Press; Madison, CT, USA 1993.)
As the infant
is incapable of distinguishing either the self or the object as adults
do, this phase is marked by their absence. However he is competent
in certain attributes particularly those that allow him to interact
with his environment. From birth his moments of pleasure, often the
instrument of infant-mother interaction, are high points in the phase.
He will try to avoid the low points of un-pleasure by creating a bond
that is marked by early maternal intervention to restore the status
DIFFERENTIATION AND OBJECT PREFERENCE
The second phase
can begin as early as the third week, and by the fourth month the
infant has prescribed his favourite individuals (apart from mother).
However he is still not really discriminating between self and subject.
He is now ready to engage in a higher state of interaction with others.
He babbles and smiles and tries to make some sense out of his local
environment. If he should fail to make the sort of contact that he
is seeking then he will turn away in a manner that is unequivocal
in its meaning. His main social contact at this stage is by the eye,
and he makes no bones about his feelings of pleasure or displeasure.
His bond with
his mother, at best, is now flowing and, if he is fortunate, there
is a mutual admiration society established. This is not however an
isolated practice for there is a narcissistic element on both sides
that is reinforced by the strength of the attachment. His continued
development allows him to find an increasing number of ways in which
he might generate, autonomously, personal pleasure. He finds delight
in making new sounds, or indeed doing anything that brings him his
mother's approbation. He is now almost ready to see himself in contrast
The infant is
now becoming able to know himself as "me", as well as being able to
know familiar others as "them". His fraternisation with father, siblings
and grandparents or any other closely adjacent person, endows this
interaction with a tone of special recognition as "one of the gang".
This is of vital importance to him because he gains a very special
feedback from these people. They love him and they shown their approbation
for his every ploy that he constructs in an effort to seal this knot.
He is now at the beginning of a period when he starts to feel some
early self-esteem. Again if he is lucky, he will be delighted at being
himself and in his situation. Also at this stage he can often create
a special affinity for the same-sex parent. He throws up expansive
gestures of affection, and yet can also become totally self-absorbed
in his growing confidence that he is on a "winning streak".
AWARENESS OF AWARENESS:
This is an extension
of the third phase and he is continuously becoming more aware of himself
and is adept at gaining the pleasures he seeks. The phase also coincides
with the beginning of the decline of maternal feeling that he is the
best thing on this earth. His activities both positive and negative
have started to draw on maternal resources to the point where they
may at times be sapping. Thus at the beginning of the child's second
year the mother starts to realise that the time has come when she
must "shout the odds". She begins to make demands of him and, at times,
to punish him, albeit in a discrete way. She may not now respond as
quickly as she did before, or she may not seem quite so adoring as
she was three months ago.
The most dynamic
intervention that a child can have at this time is the fear of the
loss of love. He needs to be loved so that he can still love himself.
This beginning of a time of self-reflection needs him to be aware
of being aware. It is now possible for him to be injured narcissistically,
for example, perhaps through sibling rivalry. His relationship with
his same-sex parent takes on a new importance. It now goes beyond
just a "mutuality club". Because he is becoming aware of his limitations,
he needs to know through this relationship with the same-sex parent,
just what he may become. This allows his narcissistic image of himself
to be regularly re-polished after any lapses that might have tarnished
PHASE: THE FIRST LIBIDINAL DISAPPOINTMENT
This is what has
been described as the Oedipal period, when genital and object-directed
sexuality comes to the fore. He must continue to recover whenever
he receives a blow to his self-esteem; but more, he must learn not
to over-compensate. As Temeles puts it, narcissistic supplies from
both the adored Oedipal object and also the loved rival are threatened
as the child's libidinal investments are sporadically supplanted by
negative impulses. [Idem.]
The child will
refresh his relationships on a different platform, but nevertheless
maintains and is sustained by his attachments to his parents, and
other subsidiary figures. At a time when he begins to divest himself
of some of the libidinal baggage he may enter into a new "love affair"
with a peer. The normal pattern is for these to disintegrate when
the child enters the period of latency, and for the interregnum to
be typified with a period of sexual segregation. By now he is going
to school and is acquiring a new level of self-sufficiency that continues
to enhance his narcissism.
OF PEER GROUPS: NEW OBJECTS
This phase, which
begins sometime in the third year, is marked by a resolution of the
Oedipal period and a lessening of the infant ties with the parents
as the child turns his attention towards his peers and some other
special adults (such as teachers or other role models). In some respects
these new objects start to replace some of the narcissistic supplies
that he continues to gain from his parents.
This of course
has its dangers because other objects can be notoriously fickle, especially
peers. He is now at a stage where he has journeyed into the outside
world and is vulnerable to the inconstancies of those who now are
around him in greater numbers. However all is not lost for the world
revolves in circles and the input that he requires from others is
shared by the input that they need from him.
On an individual
basis therefore if he "falls out" with one person then he very quickly
will "fall in" with another. The real potential problem here is for
him to be disliked by so many others of his peers that his self-esteem
is endangered. Sometimes this can be rectified by his mastery of other
elements; particularly if they contribute a steady flow of narcissistic
supplies. However the group-ideal is of great significance and seems
to have become more so in recent times.
of a burgeoning independence together with a sense of group recognition
are both in the nature of self-preservation issues. The parental influence,
if it has been strong and supportive and consistently streaked with
affection and love, will be the launching pad for an adequate personality
and a move towards eventual independence.
OF SELF-ASSESSMENT: IMPACT ON SELF-LOVE
phase encompasses a child who still needs the reassurance of his peers,
and hereabouts his attachments to certain individuals or groups will
intensify. The assaults on his self-esteem now come from a different
There is an increased
concentration on physical attributes, and other comparisons will be
made that might diminish or raise his narcissistic supplies. His self-confidence
can be strained at this time, and whilst the same-sex peer is still
dominant, the opposite-sex peer starts to catch the corner of his
At this time,
when he needs all the support he can gather, he may find to his chagrin
that a certain ambivalence is coming to pass in his relationships
with his parents. They in turn are discovering a rapidly changing,
not so compliant, and more independent child. They may be astounded
by the group ideals that he has adopted, and whilst in reality he
still needs to receive from them abundant narcissistic supplies, the
affectionate ties may be strained and the expected or desired support
may be somewhat withered.
MATURITY: IMPORTANCE OF THE SEXUAL OBJECT
At this stage
ties with parents continue to slacken, but there is an important change
taking place as the affectionate characteristics are converging with
libidinal ones. The need to be loved is still there and the adolescent
version of narcissism begins to trail its coat. Gradually the narcissistic
element is enhanced as the subject becomes more self-assured and develops
the need to win the frank admiration of a sexual object. Hormonal
mood swings can underlie the degree to which rejection reduces the
Where there is
a blatant over-valuation of the self it is often the result of a defence
mechanism coming in to play to protect the subject. Individual subjects
compare themselves with others in their group and may become aware
of either shortcomings or advantages that add to the feelings in self-assessment.
Over-inflated Ego ideals may bring about a negative assessment, and
the need arises for young people to confront themselves with reality.
A failure to do this will result in a much more severe assault on
their narcissism later.
MASTER ISSUES: IMPACT OF SELF-LOVE
Having now experienced
the change of love object, and tasted the new relations that stem
from it, there is a need to resume the issues of mastery. These are
no longer childhood fantasies but are the basic requirements for a
successful future. On them depend the acquisition of a successfully
completed education, skill training and employment. At this stage
narcissistic supplies depend upon success, and if this is not obtained
legitimately then it may be sought by other means. His culture and
to some extent his peer group will tend to dictate what the criteria
of success will be. Within some societies there is still a gender
difference here but it is reducing with time. Temeles suggests that,
If the woman's narcissistic supplies are, in fact, more dependent
on maintaining a relationship with the libidinal object, then perhaps
it reflects a greater need to maintain more affectionate ties reminiscent
of the past. [Idem.]
When the time
comes for parenthood earlier ties tend to be reinvigorated; parents
become grandparents and the cycle begins again.
THE BALANCE BETWEEN
SELF- AND OBJECT-GENERATED NARCISSISTIC SUPPLIES
Each culture has
its unit of social characteristics. These often revolve around family,
work, leisure and on the extent to which they are successful will
depend the amount of contentment and pride that is generated. A continuance
of narcissistic supplies will continue to flow from partners, colleagues,
children, parents etc. The more success the greater the flow; and
the greater the flow the more success can be achieved and the better
the subject will feel about life. The downside of this is when things
go wrong. We are in a situation generally where many people have lost
jobs and homes; where marriages have broken up and children are separated
from one of the parents. This causes great stress, a diminution of
self-esteem and a loss of narcissistic supplies. This may result in
the loss of the power to sustain an effective life style and with
a continuing diminution of narcissistic supplies the result may bring
about a negative aspect to life.
The subject has
now arrived at middle age. Whatever success has been achieved it may
well be that he will be at the summit of his personal mountain, and
the only way forward is down. From here on mastery is waning and there
is a tendency to rely more and more on relationships to supply the
good feelings. The arrival of grandchildren can herald a return to
earlier mutuality and may account for narcissistic supplies for both
generations. In the long-term the threat of, or the reality of, a
reduction in physical capacity or ill-health may play a part in the
reduction of narcissistic supplies.
SELF VERSUS OBJECT
will develop its threat. Not only is this at a personal and physical
level, but often it is at an emotional level. Long gone are the inter-generational
family settings. Grand parents, parents and children now not only
reside in different houses, but in different counties or even different
countries. The more one is separated and possibly alone the more one
feels threatened by mortality which is of course the ultimate in the
loss of narcissistic supplies. When loved ones disappear it is important
to try to crate substitute associations either through re-entering
into group activities or perhaps the solitary pleasure that can be
gained from a domestic pet. Loss of the good feelings that were present
in earlier times can lead to depression. This is countered by those
who have developed a degree of self-sufficiency and who have maintained
interests that provide a continuance of narcissistic supplies. Once
any or all of these start to disappear there enters a factor of dissimulation,
and we can no longer reconcile what we were to what we now are. We
lose our self-esteem, often our will to live, but even though this
is not consonant with a will to die it often leads to a failure to
no psychology. If operated upon, for instance, they are not supposed
to show signs of trauma later on in life. Birth, according to this
school of thought is of no psychological consequence to the newborn
baby. It is immeasurably more important to his "primary caregiver"
(mother) and to her supporters (read: father and other members of
the family). It is through them that the baby is, supposedly, effected.
This effect is evident in his (I will use the male form only for convenience's
sake) ability to bond. The late Karl Sagan professed to possess the
diametrically opposed view when he compared the process of death to
that of being born. He was commenting upon the numerous testimonies
of people brought back to life following their confirmed, clinical
death. Most of them shared an experience of traversing a dark tunnel.
A combination of soft light and soothing voices and the figures of
their deceased nearest and dearest awaited them at the end of this
tunnel. All those who experienced it described the light as the manifestation
of an omnipotent, benevolent being. The tunnel - suggested Sagan -
is a rendition of the mother's tract. The process of birth involves
gradual exposure to light and to the figures of humans. Clinical death
experiences only recreate birth experiences.
The womb is a
self-contained though open (not self-sufficient) ecosystem. The Baby's
Planet is spatially confined, almost devoid of light and homeostatic.
The fetus breathes liquid oxygen, rather than the gaseous variant.
He is subjected to an unending barrage of noises, most of them rhythmical.
Otherwise, there are very few stimuli to elicit any of his fixed action
responses. There, dependent and protected, his world lacks the most
evident features of ours. There are no dimensions where there is no
light. There is no "inside" and "outside", "self" and "others", "extension"
and "main body", "here" and "there". Our Planet is exactly converse.
There could be no greater disparity. In this sense - and it is not
a restricted sense at all - the baby is an alien. He has to train
himself and to learn to become human. Kittens, whose eyes were tied
immediately after birth - could not "see" straight lines and kept
tumbling over tightly strung cords. Even sense data involve some modicum
and modes of conceptualization (see: "Appendix
5 - The Manifold of Sense").
Even lower animals
(worms) avoid unpleasant corners in mazes in the wake of nasty experiences.
To suggest that a human neonate, equipped with hundreds of neural
cubic feet does not recall migrating from one planet to another, from
one extreme to its total opposition - stretches credulity. Babies
may be asleep 16-20 hours a day because they are shocked and depressed.
These abnormal spans of sleep are more typical of major depressive
episodes than of vigorous, vivacious, vibrant growth. Taking into
consideration the mind-boggling amounts of information that the baby
has to absorb just in order to stay alive - sleeping through most
of it seems like an inordinately inane strategy. The baby seems to
be awake in the womb more than he is outside it.
Cast into the
outer light, the baby tries, at first, to ignore reality. This is
our first defense line. It stays with us as we grow up.
It has long been
noted that pregnancy continues outside the womb. The brain develops
and reaches 75% of adult size by the age of 2 years. It is completed
only by the age of 10. It takes, therefore, ten years to complete
the development of this indispensable organ almost wholly outside
the womb. And this "external pregnancy" is not limited to the brain
only. The baby grows by 25 cm and by 6 kilos in the first year alone.
He doubles his weight by his fourth month and triples it by his first
birthday. The development process is not smooth but by fits and starts.
Not only do the parameters of the body change but its proportions
do as well. In the first two years, for instance, the head is larger
in order to accommodate the rapid growth of the Central Nervous System.
This changes drastically later on as the growth of the head is dwarfed
by the growth of the extremities of the body. The transformation is
so fundamental, the plasticity of the body so pronounced that
in most likelihood this is the reason why no operative sense of identity
emerges until after the fourth year of childhood. It calls to mind
Kafka's Gregor Samsa (who woke up to find that he is a giant cockroach).
It is identity shattering. It must engender in the baby a sense of
self-estrangement and loss of control over who is and what he is.
The motor development
of the baby is heavily influenced both by the lack of sufficient neural
equipment and by the ever-changing dimensions and proportions of the
body. While all other animal cubs are fully motoric in their first
few weeks of life the human baby is woefully slow and hesitant.
The motor development is proximodistal. The baby moves in ever widening
concentric circles from itself to the outside world. First the whole
arm, grasping, then the useful fingers (especially the thumb and forefinger
combination), first batting at random, then reaching accurately. The
inflation of its body must give the baby the impression that he is
in the process of devouring the world. Right up to his second year
the baby tries to assimilate the world through his mouth (which is
the prima causa of his own growth). He divides the world into "suckable"
and "insuckable" (as well as to "stimuli-generating" and "not generating
stimuli"). His mind expands even faster than his body. He must feel
that he is all-encompassing, all-inclusive, all-engulfing, all-pervasive.
This is why a baby has no object permanence. In other words, a baby
finds it hard to believe the existence of other objects if he does
not see them (=if they are not IN his eyes). They all exist in his
outlandishly exploding mind and only there. The universe cannot accommodate
a creature, which doubles itself physically every 4 months as well
as objects outside the perimeter of such an inflationary being, the
baby "believes". The inflation of the body has a correlate in the
inflation of consciousness. These two processes overwhelm the baby
into a passive absorption and inclusion mode.
To assume that
the child is born a "tabula rasa" is superstition. Cerebral processes
and responses have been observed in utero. Sounds condition the EEG
of fetuses. They startle at loud, sudden noises. This means that they
can hear and interpret what they hear. Fetuses even remember stories
read to them while in the womb. They prefer these stories to others
after they are born. This means that they can tell auditory patterns
and parameters apart. They tilt their head at the direction sounds
are coming from. They do so even in the absence of visual cues (e.g.,
in a dark room). They can tell the mother's voice apart (perhaps because
it is high pitched and thus recalled by them). In general, babies
are tuned to human speech and can distinguish sounds better than adults
do. Chinese and Japanese babies react differently to "pa" and to "ba",
to "ra" and to "la". Adults do not which is the source of numerous
of the newborn is not limited to the auditory. He has clear smell
and taste preferences (he likes sweet things a lot). He sees the world
in three dimensions with a perspective (a skill which he could not
have acquired in the dark womb). Depth perception is well developed
by the sixth month of life.
is vague in the first four months of life. When presented with depth,
the baby realizes that something is different but not what.
Babies are born with their eyes open as opposed to most other animal
young ones. Moreover, their eyes are immediately fully functional.
It is the interpretation mechanism that is lacking and this is why
the world looks fuzzy to them. They tend to concentrate on very distant
or on very close objects (their own hand getting closer to their face).
They see very clearly objects 20-25 cm away.
But visual acuity
and focusing improve in a matter of days. By the time the baby is
6 to 8 months old, he sees as well as many adults do, though the visual
system from the neurological point of view is fully
developed only at the age of 3 or 4 years. The neonate discerns some
colors in the first few days of his life: yellow, red, green, orange,
gray and all of them by the age of four months. He shows clear
preferences regarding visual stimuli: he is bored by repeated stimuli
and prefers sharp contours and contrasts, big objects to small ones,
black and white to colored (because of the sharper contrast), curved
lines to straight ones (this is why babies prefer human faces to abstract
paintings). They prefer their mother to strangers. It is not clear
how they come to recognize the mother so quickly. To say that they
collect mental images which they then arrange into a prototypical
scheme is to say nothing (the question is not "what" they do but "how"
they do it). This ability is a clue to the complexity of the internal
mental world of the neonate, which far exceeds our learned assumptions
and theories. It is inconceivable that a human is born with all this
exquisite equipment while incapable of experiencing the birth trauma
or the even the bigger trauma of his own inflation, mental and physical.
As early as the
end of the third month of pregnancy, the fetus moves, his heart beats,
his head is enormous relative to his size. His size, though, is less
than 3 cm. Ensconced in the placenta, the fetus is fed by substances
transmitted through the mother's blood vessels (he has no contact
with her blood, though). The waste that he produces is carried away
in the same venue.
of the mother's food and drink, what she inhales and injects
all are communicated to the embryo. There is no clear relationship
between sensory inputs during pregnancy and later life development.
The levels of maternal hormones do effect the baby's subsequent physical
development but only to a negligible extent. Far more important is
the general state of health of the mother, a trauma, or a disease
of the fetus. It seems that the mother is less important to the baby
than the romantics would have it and cleverly so. A too strong
attachment between mother and fetus would have adversely affected
the baby's chances of survival outside the uterus. Thus, contrary
to popular opinion, there is no evidence whatsoever that the mother's
emotional, cognitive, or attitudinal state effects the fetus in any
way. The baby is effected by viral infections, obstetric complications,
by protein malnutrition and by the mother's alcoholism. But these
at least in the West are rare conditions.
In the first three
months of the pregnancy, the central nervous system "explodes" both
quantitatively and qualitatively. This process is called metaplasia.
It is a delicate chain of events, greatly influenced by malnutrition
and other kinds of abuse. But this vulnerability does not disappear
until the age of 6 years out of the womb. There is a continuum between
womb and world. The newborn is almost a very developed kernel of humanity.
He is definitely capable of experiencing substantive dimensions of
his own birth and subsequent metamorphoses. Neonates can immediately
track colors therefore, they must be immediately able to tell
the striking differences between the dark, liquid placenta and the
colorful maternity ward. They go after certain light shapes and ignore
any experience, these skills improve in the first few days of life,
which proves that they are inherent and not contingent (learned).
They seek patterns selectively because they remember which pattern
was the cause of satisfaction in their very brief past. Their reactions
to visual, auditory and tactile patterns are very predictable. Therefore,
they must possess a MEMORY, however primitive.
granted that babies can sense, remember and, perhaps emote
what is the effect of the multiple traumas they are exposed to in
the first few months of their lives?
We mentioned the
traumas of birth and of self-inflation (mental and physical). These
are the first links in a chain of traumas, which continues throughout
the first two years of the baby's life. Perhaps the most threatening
and destabilizing is the trauma of separation and individuation.
The baby's mother
(or caregiver rarely the father, sometimes another woman) is
his auxiliary ego. She is also the world; a guarantor of livable (as
opposed to unbearable) life, a (physiological or gestation) rhythm
(=predictability), a physical presence and a social stimulus (an other).
To start with,
the delivery disrupts continuous physiological processes not only
quantitatively but also qualitatively. The neonate has to breathe,
to feed, to eliminate waste, to regulate his body temperature
new functions, which were previously performed by the mother. This
physiological catastrophe, this schism increases the baby's dependence
on the mother.
It is through
this bonding that he learns to interact socially and to trust others.
The baby's lack of ability to tell the inside world from the outside
only makes matters worse. He "feels" that the upheaval is contained
in himself, that the tumult is threatening to tear him apart, he experiences
implosion rather than explosion. True, in the absence of evaluative
processes, the quality of the baby's experience will be different
to ours. But this does not disqualify it as a PSYCHOLOGICAL process
and does not extinguish the subjective dimension of the experience.
If a psychological process lacks the evaluative or analytic elements,
this lack does not question its existence or its nature. Birth and
the subsequent few days must be a truly terrifying experience.
raised against the trauma thesis is that there is no proof that cruelty,
neglect, abuse, torture, or discomfort retard, in any way, the development
of the child. A child it is claimed takes everything
in stride and reacts "naturally" to his environment, however depraved
This may be true
but it is irrelevant. It is not the child's development that
we are dealing with here. It is its reactions to a series of existential
traumas. That a process or an event has no influence later
does not mean that it has no effect at the moment of occurrence. That
it has no influence at the moment of occurrence does not prove
that it has not been fully and accurately registered. That it has
not been interpreted at all or that it has been interpreted in a way
different from ours does not imply that it had no effect. In
short: there is no connection between experience, interpretation and
effect. There can exist an interpreted experience that has no effect.
An interpretation can result in an effect without any experience involved.
And an experience
can effect the subject without any (conscious) interpretation. This
means that the baby can experience traumas, cruelty, neglect, abuse
and even interpret them as such (i.e., as bad things) and still not
be effected by them. Otherwise, how can we explain that a baby cries
when confronted by a sudden noise, a sudden light, wet diapers, or
hunger? Isn't this proof that he reacts properly to "bad" things and
that there is such a class of things ("bad things") in his mind?
Moreover, we must
attach some epigenetic importance to some of the stimuli. If we do,
in effect we recognize the effect of early stimuli upon later life
At their beginning,
neonates are only vaguely aware, in a binary sort of way.
"cold/warm", "wet/dry", "color/absence of color", "light/dark", "face/no
face" and so on. There are grounds to believe that the distinction
between the outer world and the inner one is vague at best. Natal
fixed action patterns (rooting, sucking, postural adjustment, looking,
listening, grasping, and crying) invariably provoke the caregiver
to respond. The newborn, as we said earlier, is able to relate to
physical patterns but his ability seems to extend to the mental as
well. He sees a pattern: fixed action followed by the appearance of
the caregiver followed by a satisfying action on the part of the caregiver.
This seems to him to be an inviolable causal chain (though precious
few babies would put it in these words). Because he is unable to distinguish
his inside from the outside the newborn "believes" that his
action evoked the caregiver from the inside (in which the caregiver
is contained). This is the kernel of both magical thinking and Narcissism.
The baby attributes
to himself magical powers of omnipotence and of omnipresence (action-appearance).
It also loves itself very much because it is able to thus satisfy
himself and his needs. He loves himself because he has the means to
make himself happy. The tension-relieving and pleasurable world comes
to life through the baby and then he swallows it back through his
mouth. This incorporation of the world through the sensory modalities
is the basis for the "oral stage" in the psychodynamic theories.
and self-sufficiency, this lack of recognition of the environment
are why children until their third year of life are such a homogeneous
group (allowing for some variance). Infants show a characteristic
style of behaviour (one is almost tempted to say, a universal character)
in as early as the first few weeks of their lives. The first two years
of life witness the crystallization of consistent behavioral patterns,
common to all children. It is true that even newborns have an innate
temperament but not until an interaction with the outside environment
is established do the traits of individual diversity appear.
At birth, the
newborn shows no attachment but simple dependence. It is easy to prove:
the child indiscriminately reacts to human signals, scans for patterns
and motions, enjoys soft, high pitched voices and cooing, soothing
sounds. Attachment starts physiologically in the fourth week. The
child turns clearly towards his mother's voice, ignoring others. He
begins to develop a social smile, which is easily distinguishable
from his usual grimace. A virtuous circle is set in motion by the
child's smiles, gurgles and coos. These powerful signals release social
behaviour, elicit attention, loving responses.
This, in turn,
drives the child to increase the dose of his signaling activity. These
signals are, of course, reflexes (fixed action responses, exactly
like the palmar grasp). Actually, until the 18th week of his life,
the child continues to react to strangers favorably. Only then does
the child begin to develop a budding social-behavioral system based
on the high correlation between the presence of his caregiver and
gratifying experiences. By the third month there is a clear preference
of the mother and by the sixth month, the child wants to venture into
the world. At first, the child grasps things (as long as he can see
his hand). Then he sits up and watches things in motion (if not too
fast or noisy). Then the child clings to the mother, climbs all over
her and explores her body. There is still no object permanence and
the child gets perplexed and loses interest if a toy disappears under
a blanket, for instance. The child still associates objects with satisfaction/non-satisfaction.
His world is still very much binary.
As the child grows,
his attention narrows and is dedicated first to the mother and to
a few other human figures and, by the age of 9 months, only to the
mother. The tendency to seek others virtually disappears (which is
reminiscent of imprinting in animals). The infant tends to equate
his movements and gestures with their results that is, he is
still in the phase of magical thinking.
from the mother, the formation of an individual, the separation from
the world (the "spewing out" of the outside world) are all
The infant is
afraid to lose his mother physically (no "mother permanence") as well
as emotionally (will she be angry at this new found autonomy?). He
goes away a step or two and runs back to receive the mother's reassurance
that she still loves him and that she is still there. The tearing
up of one's self into my SELF and the OUTSIDE WORLD is an unimaginable
feat. It is equivalent to discovering irrefutable proof that the universe
is an illusion created by the brain or that our brain belongs to a
universal pool and not to us, or that we are God (the child discovers
that he is not God, it is a discovery of the same magnitude). The
child's mind is shredded to pieces: some pieces are still HE and others
are NOT HE (=the outside world). This is an absolutely psychedelic
experience (and the root of all psychoses, probably).
If not managed
properly, if disturbed in some way (mainly emotionally), if the separation
individuation process goes awry, it could result in serious
psychopathologies. There are grounds to believe that several personality
disorders (Narcissistic and Borderline) can be traced to a disturbance
in this process in early childhood.
Then, of course,
there is the on-going traumatic process that we call "life".
Parenting - The Irrational
There are some
grounds to assume that a cognitive dissonance is involved in feeling
that children are more a satisfaction than a nuisance. Why do people
bother with parenting? It is time consuming, exhausting, strains otherwise
pleasurable and tranquil relationships to their limits. Still, humanity
keeps at it: breeding.
It is the easiest
to resort to Nature. After all, all living species breed and most
of them parent. We are, all taken into consideration, animals and,
therefore, subject to the same instinctive behaviour patterns. There
is no point in looking for a reason: survival itself (whether of the
gene pool or, on a higher level, of the species) is at stake. Breeding
is a transport mechanism: handing the precious cargo of genetics down
generations of "organic containers".
But this is a
reductionist view, which both ignores epistemological and emotional
realities and is tautological, thereby explaining something
in terms of itself. Calling something by a different name or describing
the mechanisms involved in minute detail does not an explanation make.
we bring children to the world in order to "circumvent" death. We
attain immortality (genetically and psychologically though
in both cases it is imaginary) by propagating our genetic material
through the medium of our offspring.
This is a highly
dubious claim. Any analysis, however shallow, will reveal its weaknesses.
Our genetic material gets diluted beyond reconstruction with time.
It constitutes 50% of the first generation, 25% of the second and
so on. If this were the paramount concern incest should have
been the norm, being a behaviour better able to preserve a specific
set of genes (especially today, when genetic screening can effectively
guard against the birth of defective babies). Moreover, progeny is
a dubious way of perpetuating one's self. No one remembers one's great
great grandfathers. One's memory is better preserved by intellectual
feats or architectural monuments. The latter are much better conduits
than children and grandchildren.
Still, this indoctrinated
misconception is so strong that a baby boom characterizes post war
periods. Having been existentially threatened, people multiply in
the vain belief that they thus best protect their genetic heritage
and fixate their memory.
In the better-educated,
higher income, low infant mortality part of the world the number
of children has decreased dramatically but those who still
bring them to the world do so partly because they believe in these
factually erroneous assumptions.
Second hypothesis: we bring children to the world
in order to preserve the cohesiveness of the family nucleus. This
claim can more plausibly be reversed: the cohesiveness of the social
cell of the family encourages bringing children to the world. In both
cases, if true, we would have expected more children to be born into
stable families (ante or post facto) than into abnormal or dysfunctional
ones. The facts absolutely contradict this expectation: more children
are born to single parent families (between one third and one half
of them) and to other "abnormal" (non-traditional) families than to
the mother-father classic configuration. Dysfunctional families have
more children than any other type of family arrangement. Children
are an abject failure at preserving family cohesiveness. It would
seem that the number of children, or even their very existence, is
not correlated to the stability of the family. Under special circumstances,
(Narcissistic parents, working mothers) they may even be a destabilizing
Hypothesis number three: children are mostly born
unwanted. They are the results of accidents and mishaps, wrong fertility
planning, wrong decisions and misguided turns of events. The more
sex people engage in and the less preventive measures they adopt
the greater the likelihood of having a child. While this might be
factually true (family planning is all but defunct in most parts of
the world), it neglects the simple fact that people want children
and love them. Children are still economic assets in many parts of
the world. They plough fields and do menial jobs very effectively.
This still does not begin to explain the attachment between parents
and their offspring and the grief experienced by parents when children
die or are sick. It seems that people derive enormous emotional fulfilment
from being parents.
This is true even
when the children were unwanted in the first place or are the results
of lacking planning and sexual accidents. That children ARE the results
of sexual ignorance, bad timing, the vigorousness of the sexual drive
(higher frequency of sexual encounters) can be proven using
birth statistics among teenagers, the less educated and the young
(ages 20 to 30).
great happiness, fulfilment and satisfaction from their children.
Is not this, in itself, a sufficient explanation? The pleasure principle
seems to be at work: people have children because it gives them great
pleasure. Children are sources of emotional sustenance. As parents
grow old, they become sources of economic support, as well. Unfortunately,
these assertions are not sustained by the facts. Increasing mobility
breaks families apart at an early stage. Children become ever more
dependent on the economic reserves of their parents (during their
studies and the formation of a new family). It is not uncommon today
for a child to live with and off his parents until the age of 30.
Increasing individualism leaves parents to cope with the empty nest
syndrome. Communication between parents and children has rarefied
in the 20th century.
It is possible
to think of children as habit forming (see: "The
Habit of Identity"). In this hypothesis, parents especially
mothers form a habit. Nine months of pregnancy and a host of
social reactions condition the parents. They get used to the presence
of an "abstract" baby. It is a case of a getting used to a concept.
This is not very convincing. Entertaining a notion, a concept, a thought,
an idea, a mental image, or a symbol very rarely leads to the formation
of a habit.
living baby is very different to its pre-natal image. It cries, it
soils, it smells, it severely disrupts the lives of its parents. It
is much easier to reject it then to transform it to a habit. Moreover,
a child is a bad emotional investment. So many things can and do go
wrong with it as it grows. So many expectations and dreams are frustrated.
The child leaves home and rarely reciprocates. The emotional "returns"
on an investment in a child are rarely commensurate with the magnitude
of the investment.
This is not to
say that people do NOT derive pleasure and fulfilment from their offspring.
This is undeniable. Yet, it is neither in the economic nor in the
mature emotional arenas. To have children seems to be a purely Narcissistic
drive, a part of the pursuit of Narcissistic supply.
For further elaboration,
please refer to: "Malignant Self
Love Narcissism Revisited" and the Frequently
Asked Questions (FAQs) sections.
We are all Narcissists,
to a greater or lesser degree. A Narcissist is a person who projects
a (false) image to the people around him. He then proceeds to define
himself by this very image reflected back at him. Thus, he regards
people as mere instruments, helpful in his Sisyphean attempt at self-definition.
Their attention is crucial because it augments his weak ego and defines
its boundaries. The Narcissist feeds off their admiration, adoration
and approval and these help him to maintain a grandiose (fantastic
and delusional) sense of self. As the personality matures, Narcissism
is replaced with the ability to empathize and to love.
The energy (libido)
initially directed at loving one's (false) self is redirected at more
multidimensional, less idealized "targets": others. This edifice of
maturity seems to crumble at the sight of one's offspring. The baby
evokes in the parent the most primordial drives, a regression to infancy,
protective, animalistic instincts, the desire to merge with the newborn
and a sense of terror generated by such a desire (a fear of vanishing
and of being assimilated). The parent relives his infancy and childhood
through the agency of the baby. The newborn provides the parent with
endless, unconditional and unbounded Narcissistic supply. This is
euphemistically known as love but it is really a form of symbiotic
dependence, at least in the beginning of the relationship. Such narcissistic
supply is addictive even to the more balanced, more mature, more psychodynamically
stable of parents.
It enhances the
parent's self-confidence, self esteem and buttresses his self image.
It fast becomes indispensable, especially in the emotionally vulnerable
position in which the parent finds himself. This vulnerability is
a result of the reawakening and reconstruction of all the conflicts
and unsolved complexes that the parent had with his own parents.
is true, the following should also hold true:
- The higher
the self confidence, the self esteem, the self worth, the clearer
and more realistic the self image of the potential parent
the less children he will have (the Principle of the Conservation
of the Ego boundaries)
- The more sources
of readily available Narcissistic supply the less children
are needed (the substitutability of Narcissistic sources of supply)
Sure enough, both
predictions are validated by reality. The higher the education and
the income of adults the fewer children they tend to have.
People with a higher education and with a greater income are more
likely to have a more established sense of self worth. Children become
counter-productive: not only is their Narcissistic input (supply)
unnecessary, they can also hinder further progress.
is not a survival or genetically oriented imperative. Had this been
the case, the number of children would have risen together with free
income. Yet, exactly the reverse is happening: the more children people
can economically afford the fewer they have. The more educated
they are (=the more they know about the world and about themselves),
the less they seek to procreate. The more advanced the civilization,
the more efforts it invests into preventing the birth of children:
contraceptives, family planning, abortions. These all are typical
of affluent, well educated societies.
And the more Narcissistic
supply can be derived from other sources the less do people
resort to making children and to other procreative activities (such
as sex). Freud described the mechanism of sublimation: the sex drive,
the Eros (libido), can be "converted", "sublimated" into other activities.
All the sublimatory channels and activities are Narcissistic in character:
politics, art. They all provide what children do: narcissistic supply.
They make children
redundant. It is not by coincidence that people famous for their creativity
tend to have less children than the average (most of them, none at
all). They are Narcissistically self sufficient, they do not need
This seems to
be the key to our determination to have children:
the unconditional love that we received from our mothers, this intoxicating
feeling of being loved without caveats, for what we are, with no limits,
reservations, or calculations. This is the most powerful, crystallized
source of Narcissistic supply. It nourishes our self-love, self worth
and self-confidence. It infuses us with feelings of omnipotence and
omniscience. In these, and other respects, it is a return to infancy.
Inverted Narcissists and Schizoids
This is the definition
of the Schizoid Personality Disorder (SPD) in the DSM-IV-TR :
A. A pervasive
pattern of detachment from social relationships and a restricted range
of expression of emotions in interpersonal settings, beginning by
early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated
by four (or more) of the following:
- Neither desires
nor enjoys close relationships, including being part of a family;
- Almost always
chooses solitary activities;
- Has little,
if any, interest in having sexual experiences with another person;
- Takes pleasure
in few, if any, activities;
- Lacks close
friends or confidants other than first degree relatives;
- Appears indifferent
to the praise or criticism of others;
- Shows emotional
coldness, detachment, or flattened affectivity.
not occur exclusively during the course of schizophrenia, a mood disorder
with psychotic features, another psychotic disorder, or a pervasive
developmental disorder and is not due to the direct physiological
effects of a general medical condition.
Or, as the Howard
H. Goldman (Ed.) in the "Review of General Psychiatry" [4th Edition.
London, Prentice Hall International, 1995] puts it:
"The person with
Schizoid Personality Disorder sustains a fragile emotional equilibrium
by avoiding intimate personal contact and thereby minimising conflict
that is poorly tolerated."
connection between SPD and NPD seems plausible. After all, NPDs are
people who self-sufficiently withdraw from others. They love themselves
in lieu of loving others. Lacking empathy, they regard others as mere
instruments, objectified "Sources" of Narcissistic Supply. With the
exception of criterion 6 above the classic narcissist would
tend to fit all the others.
inverted narcissist (IN) is a narcissist, who "projects" his narcissism
onto another narcissist. The mechanism of projective identification
allows the IN to experience his own narcissism vicariously, through
the agency of a classic narcissist. But the IN is no less a narcissist
than the classical one. He is no less socially reclusive.
must be made between social interactions and social relationships.
The schizoid, the narcissist and the inverted narcissist all
interact socially. But they fail to form human and social relationships.
The schizoid is uninterested and the narcissist is both uninterested
and incapable due to his lack of empathy and pervasive sense of grandiosity.
George Devereux [Basic Problems of Ethno-Psychiatry, University of
Chicago Press, 1980] proposed to divide the unconscious into the Id
(the part that was always instinctual and unconscious) and the "ethnic
unconscious" (repressed material that was once conscious). The latter
includes all the defence mechanisms and most of the Superego. Culture
dictates what is to be repressed. Mental illness is either idiosyncratic
(cultural directives are not followed and the individual is unique
and schizophrenic) or conformist, abiding by the cultural dictates
of what is allowed and disallowed.
Our culture, according
to Christopher Lasch,
teaches us to withdraw inwards when confronted with stressful situations.
It is a vicious circle. One of the main stressors of modern society
is alienation and a pervasive sense of isolation. The solution our
culture offers to further withdraw only exacerbates
the problem. Richard Sennett expounded on this theme in "The Fall
of Public Man: On the Social Psychology of Capitalism" [Vintage Books,
1978]. One of the chapters in Devereux's aforementioned tome is entitled
"Schizophrenia: An Ethnic Psychosis, or Schizophrenia without Tears".
To him, the whole USA is afflicted by what came later to be called
a "schizoid disorder".
C. Fred Alford
[in Narcissism: Socrates, the Frankfurt School and Psychoanalytic
Theory, Yale University Press, 1988] enumerates the symptoms:
emotional aloofness, hyporeactivity (emotional flatness), sex without
emotional involvement, segmentation and partial involvement (lack
of interest and commitment to things outside oneself), fixation on
oral-stage issues, regression, infantilism and depersonalisation.
These, of course, are many of the same designations that Lasch employs
to describe the culture of narcissism. Thus, it appears, that it is
not misleading to equate narcissism with schizoid disorder."
We have dwelt
elsewhere in this book on the developmental phases of the narcissist
and on the psychodynamics of narcissistic development, its causes
and reactive patterns (see the FAQs "The
Narcissist's Mother", "More
on the Development of the Narcissist" and "Narcissism
The Psychopathological Default"). Still, it is worthwhile
to study the theoretical foundations of the comparison between narcissism
and the schizoid disorder.
The first to seriously
consider this similarity, if not outright identity, was Melanie Klein.
She broke ranks with Freud in that she believed that we are born with
a fragile, easily fragmentable, weak and unintegrated Ego. The most
primordial human fear is the fear of disintegration (death), according
to Klein. Thus, the infant is forced to employ primitive defence mechanisms
such as splitting, projection and introjection to cope with this fear
(actually, with the result of aggression generated by the Ego).
The Ego splits
and projects this part (death, disintegration, aggression). It does
the same with the life-related, constructive, integrative part of
itself. The result of all these mechanics is to view the world as
either "good" (satisfying, complying, responding, gratifying)
or bad (frustrating). Klein called it the good and the bad "breasts".
The child then proceeds to introject (internalise and assimilate)
the good object while keeping out (=defending against) the bad objects.
The good object becomes the nucleus of the forming Ego. The bad object
is felt as fragmented. But it has not vanished, it is there.
The fact that
the bad object is "out there", persecutory, threatening gives
rise to the first schizoid defence mechanisms, foremost amongst them
the mechanism of "projective identification" (so often employed by
narcissists). The infant projects parts of himself (his organs, his
behaviours, his traits) unto the bad object. This is the famous Kleinian
"paranoid-schizoid position". The Ego is split. This is as terrifying
as it sounds but it allows the baby to make a clear distinction between
the "good object" (inside him) and the "bad object" (out there, split
from him). If this phase is not transcended the individual develops
schizophrenia and a fragmentation of the self.
Around the third
or fourth month of life, the infant realises that the good and the
bad objects are really facets of one and the same object. He develops
the depressive position. This depression [Klein believes that the
two positions continue throughout life] is a reaction of fear and
anxiety. The infant feels guilty (at his own rage) and anxious (lest
his aggression harms the object and eliminates the source of good
loss of his own omnipotence since the object is outside his self.
The infant wishes to erase the results of his own aggression by "making
the object whole again". By recognising the wholeness of other objects
the infant comes to realise and to experience his own wholeness.
The Ego re-integrates.
But the transition
from the paranoid-schizoid position to the depressive one is by no
means smooth and assured. Excess anxiety and envy can delay it or
prevent it altogether. Envy seeks to destroy all good objects, so
that others don't have them. It, therefore, hinders the split between
the good and the bad "breasts". Envy destroys the good object but
leaves the persecutory, bad object intact. Moreover, it does not allow
the re-integration ["reparation" in Kleinian jargon] to take place.
The more whole the object the greater the envy. Thus, envy
feeds on its own outcomes. The more envy, the less integrated the
Ego is, the weaker and more inadequate it is the more reason
for envying the good object and other people. Envy is the hallmark
of narcissism and the prime source of what is known as narcissistic
rage. The schizoid self fragmented, weak, primitive
is intimately connected with narcissism through envy. Narcissists
prefer to destroy themselves and to deny themselves rather
than to endure someone else's happiness, wholeness and "triumph".
They fail an exam to frustrate a teacher they adore and envy.
They fail in therapy not to give the therapist a reason to
feel professionally satisfied. By failing and self-destructing, narcissists
deny the worth of others. If the narcissist fails in therapy
his analyst must be inept. If he destroys himself by consuming drugs
his parents are blameworthy and should feel guilty and bad.
One cannot exaggerate the importance of envy as a motivating power
in the narcissist's life.
connection is obvious. Envy is a rage reaction at not controlling
or "having" or engulfing the good, desired object. Narcissists defend
themselves against this acidulous, corroding sensation by pretending
that they DO control, possess and engulf the good object. This is
what we call "grandiose fantasies (of omnipotence or omniscience)".
But, in doing so, the narcissist MUST deny the existence of any good
OUTSIDE himself. The narcissist defends himself against raging, all
consuming envy by solipsistically claiming to be the ONLY good
object in the world. This is an object that cannot be had by anyone,
except the narcissist and, therefore, is immune to the narcissist's
threatening, annihilating envy. In order not to be "owned" by anyone
(and, thus, avoid self-destruction in the hands of his own envy)
the narcissist reduces others to "non-entities" (the narcissistic
solution), or avoids all meaningful contact with them altogether (the
of envy is at the CORE of the narcissist's being. If he fails to convince
his self that he is the ONLY good object in the universe he
is exposed to his own murderous envy. If there are others out there
who are better than he he envies them, he lashes out at them
ferociously, uncontrollably, madly, hatefully and spitefully. If someone
tries to get emotionally intimate with the narcissist she threatens
the grandiose belief that no one but the narcissist can possess the
good object (the narcissist himself). Only the narcissist can own
himself, have access to himself, possess himself. This is the only
way to avoid seething envy and certain self-annihilation. Perhaps
it is clearer now why narcissists react as raving madmen to ANYTHING,
however minute, however remote that seems to threaten their grandiose
fantasies, the only protective barrier between themselves and their
There is nothing
new in trying to link narcissism to schizophrenia. Freud did as much
in his "On Narcissism" . Klein's contribution was the introduction
of immediately post-natal internal objects. Schizophrenia, she proposed,
was a narcissistic and intense relationship with internal objects
(such as fantasies or images, including fantasies of grandeur). It
was a new language. Freud suggested a transition from (primary, object-less)
narcissism (self-directed libido) to objects relations (objects directed
libido). Klein suggested a transition from internal objects to external
ones. While Freud thought that the common denominator of narcissism
and schizoid phenomena was a withdrawal of libido from the world
Klein suggested it was a fixation on an early phase of relating to
But is the difference
not merely a question of terminology?
'narcissism' tends to be employed diagnostically by those proclaiming
loyalty to the drive model [Otto Kernberg and Edith Jacobson, for
instance SV] and mixed model theorists [Kohut], who are interested
in preserving a tie to drive theory. 'Schizoid' tends to be employed
diagnostically by adherents of relational models [Fairbairn, Guntrip],
who are interested in articulating their break with drive theory
These two differing diagnoses and accompanying formulations are applied
to patients who are essentially similar, by theorists who start with
very different conceptual premises and ideological affiliations."
(Greenberg and Mitchell. Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory.
Harvard University Press, 1983)
Klein, in effect,
said that drives (e.g., the libido) are relational flows. A drive
is the mode of relationship between an individual and his objects
(internal and external). Thus, a retreat from the world [Freud] into
internal objects [object relations theorists and especially the British
school of Fairbairn and Guntrip] IS the drive itself. Drives
are orientations (to external or internal objects). Narcissism is
an orientation (a preference, we could say) towards internal objects
the very definition of schizoid phenomena. This is why narcissists
feel empty, fragmented, "unreal" (movie-like) and diffuse. It is because
their Ego is still split (never integrated) and because they withdrew
from the world (of external objects). Kernberg identifies these internal
objects with which the narcissist maintains a special relationship
with the idealised, grandiose images of the narcissist's parents.
He believes that the narcissist's very Ego (self-representation) fused
with these parental images.
even more than Kernberg's, not to mention Kohut's integrates
all these insights into a coherent framework. Guntrip elaborated on
it and together they created one of the most impressive theoretical
bodies in the history of psychology.
Klein's insights that drives are object-orientated and their goal
is the formation of relationships and not primarily the attainment
of pleasure. Pleasurable sensations are the means to achieve relationships.
The Ego does not seek to be stimulated and pleased but to find the
right, "good", supporting object.
The infant is
fused with his Primary Object, the mother. Life is not about using
objects for pleasure under the supervision of the Ego and Superego,
as Freud postulated. Life is about separating, differentiating, achieving
independence from the Primary Object and the initial state of fusion
with it. Dependence on internal objects is narcissism. Freud's post-narcissistic
(anaclitic) phase of life can be either dependent (immature) or mature.
Ego is looking for objects with which to form relationships. Inevitably,
some of these objects and some of these relationships frustrate the
infant and disappoint him. He compensates for these setbacks by creating
compensatory internal objects. The initially unitary Ego thus fragments
into a growing group of internal objects. Reality breaks our hearts
and minds, according to Fairbairn. The Ego and its objects are "twinned"
and the Ego is split in three [Guntrip added a fourth Ego]. A schizoid
(Freudian or libidinal) Ego is unitary, instinctual, needy and object
seeking. It then fragments as a result of the three typical interactions
with the mother (gratification, disappointment and deprivation). The
central Ego idealises the "good" parents. It is conformist and obedient.
The antilibidinal Ego is a reaction to frustrations. It is rejecting,
harsh, unsatisfying, against natural needs. The libidinal Ego is the
seat of cravings, desires and needs. It is active in that it keeps
seeking objects to form relationships with. Guntrip added the regressed
Ego, which is the True Self in "cold storage", the "lost heart of
the personal self".
of psychopathology is quantitative. Which parts of the Ego are dedicated
to relationships with internal objects rather than with external ones
(e.g., real people)? In other words: how fragmented (=how schizoid)
is the Ego?
To achieve a successful
transition from internal objects to external ones the child
needs the right parents (in Winnicott parlance, the "good enough mother"
not perfect, but "good enough"). The child internalises the
bad aspects of his parents in the form of internal, bad objects and
then proceeds to suppress them, together ("twinned") with portions
of his Ego. Thus, his parents become PART of the child (though a repressed
part). The more bad objects are repressed, the "less Ego is left"
for healthy relationships with external objects. To Fairbairn, the
source of all psychological disturbances is in these schizoid phenomena.
Later developments (such as the Oedipus Complex) are less crucial.
Fairbairn and Guntrip think that if a person is too attached to his
compensatory internal objects he finds it hard to mature psychologically.
Maturing is about letting go of internal objects. Some people just
don't want to mature, or are reluctant to do so, or are ambivalent
about it. This reluctance, this withdrawal to an internal world of
representations, internal objects and broken Ego is narcissism
itself. Narcissists simply don't know how to be themselves, how to
acquire independence and, simultaneously manage their relationships
with other people.
Both Otto Kernberg
and Franz Kohut agreed that narcissism is between neurosis and psychosis.
Kernberg thought that it was a borderline phenomenon, on the verge
of psychosis (where the Ego is completely shattered). In this respect
Kernberg, more than Kohut, identifies narcissism with schizoid phenomena
and with schizophrenia. This is not the only difference between them.
They also disagree on the developmental locus of narcissism. Kohut
thinks that narcissism is an early phase of development, fossilised,
forever to be repeated (gigantic repetition complex) while Kernberg
maintains that the narcissistic self is pathological from its very
inception. Kohut believes that the narcissist's parents provided him
with no assurances that he does possess a self (in his words, with
no self-object). They did not explicitly recognise the child's nascent
self, its separate existence, its boundaries. The child learned to
have a schizoid, split, fragmented self rather than a coherent
ad integrated one. To him, narcissism is really all-pervasive, at
the very core of being (whether in its mature form, as self-love,
or in it regressive, infantile form as a narcissistic disorder).
"mature narcissism" (also espoused by neo-Freudians like Grunberger
and Chasseguet-Smirgel) as a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron.
He observes that narcissists are already grandiose and schizoid (detached,
cold, aloof, asocial) at an early age (at three years old, according
to him!). Like Klein, Kernberg believes that narcissism is a last
ditch effort (defence) to halt the emergence of the paranoid-schizoid
position described by Klein.
In an adult such
an emergence is known as "psychosis" and this is why Kernberg classifies
narcissists as borderline (almost) psychotics. Even Kohut, who is
an opponent of Kernberg's classification, uses Eugene O'Neill's famous
sentence [in "The Great God Brown"]: "Man is born broken. He
lives by mending. The grace of God is glue." Kernberg himself
sees a clear connection between schizoid phenomena (such as alienation
in modern society and subsequent withdrawal) and narcissistic phenomena
(inability to form relationships or to make commitments or to empathise).
Alford in "Narcissism: Socrates, the Frankfurt School and Psychoanalytic
Theory" [Yale University Press, 1988] wrote:
Guntrip represent the purest expression of object relations theory,
which is characterised by the insight that real relationships with
real people build psychic structure. Although they rarely mention
narcissism, they see a schizoid split in the self as characteristic
of virtually all-emotional disorder. It is Greenberg and Mitchell,
in Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory who establish the relevance
of Fairbairn and Guntrip
by pointing out that what American
analysts label 'narcissism', British analysts tend to call 'Schizoid
Personality Disorder'. This insight allows us to connect the symptomatology
of narcissism feelings of emptiness, unreality, alienation
and emotional withdrawal with a theory that sees such symptoms
as an accurate reflection of the experience of being split-off from
a part of oneself.
is such a confusing category is in large part because its drive-theoretic
definition, the libidinal cathexis of the self in a word, self-love
seems far removed from the experience of narcissism, as characterised
by a loss of, or split-in, the self. Fairbairn's and Guntrip's view
of narcissism as an excessive attachment of the Ego to internal objects
(roughly analogous to Freud's narcissistic, as opposed to object,
love), resulting in various splits in the Ego necessary to maintain
these attachments, allows us to penetrate this confusion."
Erszebet Bathory was a breathtakingly beautiful, unusually well-educated
woman, married to a descendant of Vlad Dracula of Bram Stoker fame.
In 1611, she was tried - though, being a noblewoman, not convicted
- in Hungary for slaughtering 612 young girls. The true figure
may have been 40-100, though the Countess recorded in her diary more
than 610 girls and 50 bodies were found in her estate when it was
Countess was notorious as an inhuman sadist long before her hygienic
fixation. She once ordered the mouth of a talkative servant sewn.
It is rumoured that in her childhood she witnessed a gypsy being
sewn into a horse's stomach and left to die.
girls were not killed outright. They were kept in a dungeon and repeatedly
pierced, prodded, pricked, and cut. The Countess may have
bitten chunks of flesh off their bodies while alive. She is said to
have bathed and showered in their blood in the mistaken belief
that she could thus slow down the aging process.
servants were executed, their bodies burnt and their ashes scattered.
Being royalty, she was merely confined to her bedroom until she died
in 1614. For a hundred years after her death, by royal decree, mentioning
her name in Hungary was a crime.
Cases like Barothy's
give the lie to the assumption that serial killers are a modern -
or even post-modern - phenomenon, a cultural-societal construct, a
by-product of urban alienation, Althusserian
interpellation, and media glamorization. Serial killers are, indeed,
not born. But they are spawned by every culture and society, molded
by the idiosyncrasies of every period as well as by their personal
circumstances and genetic makeup.
Still, every crop
of serial killers mirrors and reifies the pathologies of the milieu,
the depravity of the Zeitgeist, and the malignancies of the Leitkultur.
The choice of weapons, the identity and range of the victims, the
methodology of murder, the disposal of the bodies, the geography,
the sexual perversions and paraphilias - are all informed and inspired
by the slayer's environment, upbringing, community, socialization,
education, peer group, sexual orientation, religious convictions,
and personal narrative. Movies like "Born Killers", "Man Bites Dog",
"Copycat", and the Hannibal Lecter series captured this truth.
are the quiddity and quintessence of malignant narcissism.
Yet, to some degree,
we all are narcissists. Primary narcissism is a universal and inescapable
developmental phase. Narcissistic traits are common and often culturally
condoned. To this extent, serial killers are merely our reflection
through a glass darkly.
their book "Personality Disorders in Modern Life", Theodore
Millon and Roger Davis attribute pathological narcissism to "a
society that stresses individualism and self-gratification at the
expense of community ... In an individualistic culture, the narcissist
is 'God's gift to the world'. In a collectivist society, the narcissist
is 'God's gift to the collective'".
the narcissistic landscape thus (in "The Culture of Narcissism:
American Life in an age of Diminishing Expectations", 1979):
"The new narcissist
is haunted not by guilt but by anxiety. He seeks not to inflict his
own certainties on others but to find a meaning in life. Liberated
from the superstitions of the past, he doubts even the reality of
his own existence ... His sexual attitudes are permissive rather than
puritanical, even though his emancipation from ancient taboos brings
him no sexual peace.
in his demand for approval and acclaim, he distrusts competition because
he associates it unconsciously with an unbridled urge to destroy ...
He (harbours) deeply antisocial impulses. He praises respect for rules
and regulations in the secret belief that they do not apply to himself.
Acquisitive in the sense that his cravings have no limits, he ...
demands immediate gratification and lives in a state of restless,
perpetually unsatisfied desire."
pronounced lack of empathy, off-handed exploitativeness, grandiose fantasies
and uncompromising sense of entitlement make him treat all people as
though they were objects (he "objectifies" people). The narcissist regards
others as either useful conduits for and sources of narcissistic supply
(attention, adulation, etc.) - or as extensions of himself.
killers often mutilate their victims and abscond with trophies - usually,
body parts. Some of them have been known to eat the organs they have
ripped - an act of merging with the dead and assimilating them through
digestion. They treat their victims as some children do their rag
Killing the victim
- often capturing him or her on film before the murder - is a form
of exerting unmitigated, absolute, and irreversible control over it.
The serial killer aspires to "freeze time" in the still perfection
that he has choreographed. The victim is motionless and defenseless.
The killer attains long sought "object permanence". The victim is
unlikely to run on the serial assassin, or vanish as earlier objects
in the killer's life (e.g., his parents) have done.
In malignant narcissism,
the true self of the narcissist is replaced by a false construct,
imbued with omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. The narcissist's
thinking is magical and infantile. He feels immune to the consequences
of his own actions. Yet, this very source of apparently superhuman
fortitude is also the narcissist's Achilles heel.
The narcissist's personality is chaotic. His defense
mechanisms are primitive. The whole edifice is precariously balanced
on pillars of denial, splitting, projection, rationalization, and
projective identification. Narcissistic injuries - life crises, such
as abandonment, divorce, financial difficulties, incarceration, public
opprobrium - can bring the whole thing tumbling down.
The narcissist cannot afford to be rejected, spurned,
insulted, hurt, resisted, criticized, or disagreed with.
Likewise, the serial killer is trying desperately
to avoid a painful relationship with his object of desire. He is terrified
of being abandoned or humiliated, exposed for what he is and then
discarded. Many killers often have sex - the ultimate form of intimacy
- with the corpses of their victims. Objectification and mutilation
allow for unchallenged possession.
Devoid of the ability to empathize, permeated by haughty
feelings of superiority and uniqueness, the narcissist cannot put
himself in someone else's shoes, or even imagine what it means. The
very experience of being human is alien to the narcissist whose invented
False Self is always to the fore, cutting him off from the rich panoply
of human emotions.
Thus, the narcissist believes that all people are
narcissists. Many serial killers believe that killing is the way of
the world. Everyone would kill if they could or were given the chance
to do so. Such killers are convinced that they are more honest and
open about their desires and, thus, morally superior. They hold others
in contempt for being conforming hypocrites, cowed into submission
by an overweening establishment or society.
The narcissist seeks to adapt society in general -
and meaningful others in particular - to his needs. He regards himself
as the epitome of perfection, a yardstick against which he measures
everyone, a benchmark of excellence to be emulated. He acts the guru,
the sage, the "psychotherapist", the "expert", the objective observer
of human affairs. He diagnoses the "faults" and "pathologies" of people
around him and "helps" them "improve", "change", "evolve", and "succeed"
- i.e., conform to the narcissist's vision and wishes.
Serial killers also "improve" their victims - slain,
intimate objects - by "purifying" them, removing "imperfections",
depersonalizing and dehumanizing them. This type of killer saves its
victims from degeneration and degradation, from evil and from sin,
in short: from a fate worse than death.
The killer's megalomania manifests at this stage.
He claims to possess, or have access to, higher knowledge and morality.
The killer is a special being and the victim is "chosen" and should
be grateful for it. The killer often finds the victim's ingratitude
irritating, though sadly predictable.
In his seminal work, "Aberrations of Sexual Life"
(originally: "Psychopathia Sexualis"), quoted in the book "Jack the
Ripper" by Donald Rumbelow, Kraft-Ebbing offers this observation:
urge in murders for pleasure does not solely aim at causing the victim
pain and - most acute injury of all - death, but that the real meaning
of the action consists in, to a certain extent, imitating, though
perverted into a monstrous and ghastly form, the act of defloration.
It is for this reason that an essential component ... is the employment
of a sharp cutting weapon; the victim has to be pierced, slit, even
chopped up ... The chief wounds are inflicted in the stomach region
and, in many cases, the fatal cuts run from the vagina into the abdomen.
In boys an artificial vagina is even made ... One can connect a fetishistic
element too with this process of hacking ... inasmuch as parts of
the body are removed and ... made into a collection."
Yet, the sexuality
of the serial, psychopathic, killer is self-directed. His victims
are props, extensions, aides, objects, and symbols. He interacts with
them ritually and, either before or after the act, transforms his
diseased inner dialog into a self-consistent extraneous catechism.
The narcissist is equally auto-erotic. In the sexual act, he merely
masturbates with other - living - people's bodies.
life is a giant repetition complex. In a doomed attempt to resolve
early conflicts with significant others, the narcissist resorts to
a restricted repertoire of coping strategies, defense mechanisms,
and behaviors. He seeks to recreate his past in each and every new
relationship and interaction. Inevitably, the narcissist is invariably
confronted with the same outcomes. This recurrence only reinforces
the narcissist's rigid reactive patterns and deep-set beliefs. It
is a vicious, intractable, cycle.
in some cases of serial killers, the murder ritual seemed to have
recreated earlier conflicts with meaningful objects, such as parents,
authority figures, or peers. The outcome of the replay is different
to the original, though. This time, the killer dominates the situation.
The killings allow
him to inflict abuse and trauma on others rather than be abused and
traumatized. He outwits and taunts figures of authority - the police,
for instance. As far as the killer is concerned, he is merely "getting
back" at society for what it did to him. It is a form of poetic justice,
a balancing of the books, and, therefore, a "good" thing. The murder
is cathartic and allows the killer to release hitherto repressed and
pathologically transformed aggression - in the form of hate, rage,
But repeated acts
of escalating gore fail to alleviate the killer's overwhelming anxiety
and depression. He seeks to vindicate his negative introjects and
sadistic superego by being caught and punished. The serial killer
tightens the proverbial noose around his neck by interacting with
law enforcement agencies and the media and thus providing them with
clues as to his identity and whereabouts. When apprehended, most serial
assassins experience a great sense of relief.
are not the only objectifiers - people who treat others as objects.
To some extent, leaders of all sorts - political, military, or corporate
- do the same. In a range of demanding professions - surgeons, medical
doctors, judges, law enforcement agents - objectification efficiently
fends off attendant horror and anxiety.
Yet, serial killers
are different. They represent a dual failure - of their own development
as full-fledged, productive individuals - and of the culture and society
they grow in. In a pathologically narcissistic civilization - social
anomies proliferate. Such societies breed malignant objectifiers -
people devoid of empathy - also known as "narcissists".
APPENDIX - Criteria of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration
or adulation and lack of empathy, usually
beginning by early adulthood and present in various contexts. Five
(or more) of the following criteria must be met:
- Feels grandiose
and self-important (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents to
the point of lying, demands to be recognized as superior
without commensurate achievements)
- Is obsessed
with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power
or omnipotence, unequalled brilliance
(the cerebral narcissist), bodily beauty
or sexual performance (the somatic narcissist), or
ideal, everlasting, all-conquering love or passion
- Firmly convinced
that he or she is unique and, being special, can only be understood
by, should only be treated by, or associate with,
other special or unique, or high-status people (or institutions)
- Requires excessive
admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation - or, failing
that, wishes to be feared and to be notorious (narcissistic supply)
- Feels entitled.
Expects unreasonable or special and favorable priority
treatment. Demands automatic and full compliance with
his or her expectations
- Is "interpersonally
exploitative", i.e., uses others to achieve his or
her own ends
of empathy. Is unable or unwilling to identify with
or acknowledge the feelings and needs of others
envious of others or believes that they feel the same about him
- Arrogant, haughty
behaviours or attitudes coupled with rage when frustrated,
contradicted, or confronted
Sex or Gender
Alan Pease, author
of a book titled "Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps",
believes that women are spatially-challenged compared to men. The
British firm, Admiral Insurance, conducted a study of half a million
claims. They found that "women were almost twice as likely as men
to have a collision in a car park, 23 percent more likely to hit a
stationary car, and 15 percent more likely to reverse into another
Yet gender "differences"
are often the outcomes of bad scholarship. Consider Admiral insurance's
data. As Britain's Automobile Association (AA) correctly pointed out
- women drivers tend to make more short journeys around towns and
shopping centers and these involve frequent parking. Hence their ubiquity
in certain kinds of claims. Regarding women's alleged spatial deficiency,
in Britain, girls have been outperforming boys in scholastic aptitude
tests - including geometry and maths - since 1988.
On the other wing
of the divide, Anthony Clare, a British psychiatrist and author of
"On Men" wrote:
"At the beginning
of the 21st century it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that men
are in serious trouble. Throughout the world, developed and developing,
antisocial behavior is essentially male. Violence, sexual abuse of
children, illicit drug use, alcohol misuse, gambling, all are overwhelmingly
male activities. The courts and prisons bulge with men. When it comes
to aggression, delinquent behavior, risk taking and social mayhem,
men win gold."
Men also mature
later, die earlier, are more susceptible to infections and most types
of cancer, are more likely to be dyslexic, to suffer from a host of
mental health disorders, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
(ADHD), and to commit suicide.
In her book, "Stiffed:
The Betrayal of the American Man", Susan Faludi describes a crisis
of masculinity following the breakdown of manhood models and work
and family structures in the last five decades. In the film "Boys
don't Cry", a teenage girl binds her breasts and acts the male in
a caricatural relish of stereotypes of virility. Being a man is merely
a state of mind, the movie implies.
But what does
it really mean to be a "male" or a "female"? Are gender identity and
sexual preferences genetically determined? Can they be reduced to
one's sex? Or are they amalgams of biological, social, and psychological
factors in constant interaction? Are they immutable lifelong features
or dynamically evolving frames of self-reference?
attributed to one's sex are surely better accounted for by cultural
factors, the process of socialization, gender roles, and what George
Devereux called "ethnopsychiatry" in "Basic Problems of Ethnopsychiatry"
(University of Chicago Press, 1980). He suggested to divide the unconscious
into the id (the part that was always instinctual and unconscious)
and the "ethnic unconscious" (repressed material that was once conscious).
The latter is mostly molded by prevailing cultural mores and includes
all our defense mechanisms and most of the superego.
So, how can we
tell whether our sexual role is mostly in our blood or in our brains?
The scrutiny of
borderline cases of human sexuality - notably the transgendered or
intersexed - can yield clues as to the distribution and relative weights
of biological, social, and psychological determinants of gender identity
The results of
a study conducted by Uwe Hartmann, Hinnerk Becker, and Claudia Rueffer-Hesse
in 1997 and titled "Self and Gender: Narcissistic Pathology and Personality
Factors in Gender Dysphoric Patients", published in the "International
Journal of Transgenderism", "indicate significant psychopathological
aspects and narcissistic dysregulation in a substantial proportion
of patients." Are these "psychopathological aspects" merely reactions
to underlying physiological realities and changes? Could social ostracism
and labeling have induced them in the "patients"?
The authors conclude:
evidence of our study ... is consistent with the view that gender
dysphoria is a disorder of the sense of self as has been proposed
by Beitel (1985) or Pfäfflin (1993). The central problem in our
patients is about identity and the self in general and the transsexual
wish seems to be an attempt at reassuring and stabilizing the self-coherence
which in turn can lead to a further destabilization if the self is
already too fragile. In this view the body is instrumentalized to
create a sense of identity and the splitting symbolized in the hiatus
between the rejected body-self and other parts of the self is more
between good and bad objects than between masculine and feminine."
and Fliess suggested that we are all bisexual to a certain degree.
As early as 1910, Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld argued, in Berlin, that absolute
genders are "abstractions, invented extremes". The consensus today
is that one's sexuality is, mostly, a psychological construct which
reflects gender role orientation.
a professor of history at Indiana University and the editor of The
Journal of American History observes, in her recently published tome,
"How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States",
that the very meaning of masculinity and femininity is in constant
says Meyerowitz, insist that gender and sexuality represent "distinct
analytical categories". The New York Times wrote in its review of
the book: "Some male-to-female transsexuals have sex with men and
call themselves homosexuals. Some female-to-male transsexuals have
sex with women and call themselves lesbians. Some transsexuals call
So, it is all
in the mind, you see.
This would be
taking it too far. A large body of scientific evidence points to the
genetic and biological underpinnings of sexual behavior and preferences.
The German science
magazine, "Geo", reported recently that the males of the fruit fly
"drosophila melanogaster" switched from heterosexuality to homosexuality
as the temperature in the lab was increased from 19 to 30 degrees
Celsius. They reverted to chasing females as it was lowered.
The brain structures
of homosexual sheep are different to those of straight sheep, a study
conducted recently by the Oregon Health & Science University and
the U.S. Department of Agriculture Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois,
Idaho, revealed. Similar differences were found between gay men and
straight ones in 1995 in Holland and elsewhere. The preoptic area
of the hypothalamus was larger in heterosexual men than in both homosexual
men and straight women.
According an article,
titled "When Sexual Development Goes Awry", by Suzanne Miller, published
in the September 2000 issue of the "World and I", various medical
conditions give rise to sexual ambiguity. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia
(CAH), involving excessive androgen production by the adrenal cortex,
results in mixed genitalia. A person with the complete androgen insensitivity
syndrome (AIS) has a vagina, external female genitalia and functioning,
androgen-producing, testes - but no uterus or fallopian tubes.
People with the
rare 5-alpha reductase deficiency syndrome are born with ambiguous
genitalia. They appear at first to be girls. At puberty, such a person
develops testicles and his clitoris swells and becomes a penis. Hermaphrodites
possess both ovaries and testicles (both, in most cases, rather undeveloped). Sometimes
the ovaries and testicles are combined into a chimera called ovotestis.
Most of these
individuals have the chromosomal composition of a woman together with
traces of the Y, male, chromosome. All hermaphrodites have a
sizable penis, though rarely generate sperm. Some hermaphrodites develop
breasts during puberty and menstruate. Very few even get pregnant
and give birth.
a developmental geneticist, professor of medical science at Brown
University, and author of "Sexing the Body", postulated, in 1993,
a continuum of 5 sexes to supplant the current dimorphism: males,
merms (male pseudohermaphrodites), herms (true hermaphrodites), ferms
(female pseudohermaphrodites), and females.
Intersexuality (hermpahroditism) is a natural human
state. We are all conceived with the potential to develop into either
sex. The embryonic developmental default is female. A series of triggers
during the first weeks of pregnancy places the fetus on the path to
In rare cases, some women have a male's genetic makeup
(XY chromosomes) and vice versa. But, in the vast majority of cases,
one of the sexes is clearly selected. Relics of the stifled sex remain,
though. Women have the clitoris as a kind of symbolic penis. Men have
breasts (mammary glands) and nipples.
The Encyclopedia Britannica 2003 edition describes
the formation of ovaries and testes thus:
"In the young embryo a pair of gonads develop that
are indifferent or neutral, showing no indication whether they are
destined to develop into testes or ovaries. There are also two different
duct systems, one of which can develop into the female system of oviducts
and related apparatus and the other into the male sperm duct system.
As development of the embryo proceeds, either the male or the female
reproductive tissue differentiates in the originally neutral gonad
of the mammal."
Yet, sexual preferences, genitalia and even secondary
sex characteristics, such as facial and pubic hair are first order
phenomena. Can genetics and biology account for male and female behavior
patterns and social interactions ("gender identity")? Can the multi-tiered
complexity and richness of human masculinity and femininity arise
from simpler, deterministic, building blocks?
would have us think so.
the fact that we are mammals is astonishingly often overlooked. Most
mammalian families are composed of mother and offspring. Males are
peripatetic absentees. Arguably, high rates of divorce and birth out
of wedlock coupled with rising promiscuity merely reinstate this natural
"default mode", observes Lionel Tiger, a professor of anthropology
at Rutgers University in New Jersey. That three quarters of all divorces
are initiated by women tends to support this view.
identity is determined during gestation, claim some scholars.
of the University of Hawaii and Dr. Keith Sigmundson, a practicing
psychiatrist, studied the much-celebrated John/Joan case. An accidentally
castrated normal male was surgically modified to look female, and
raised as a girl but to no avail. He reverted to being a male at puberty.
His gender identity
seems to have been inborn (assuming he was not subjected to conflicting
cues from his human environment). The case is extensively described
in John Colapinto's tome "As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised
as a Girl".
cited a study published in the November 2002 issue of "Child Development".
The researchers, from City University of London, found that the level
of maternal testosterone during pregnancy affects the behavior of
neonatal girls and renders it more masculine. "High testosterone"
girls "enjoy activities typically considered male behavior, like playing
with trucks or guns". Boys' behavior remains unaltered, according
to the study.
Yet, other scholars,
like John Money, insist that newborns are a "blank slate" as far as
their gender identity is concerned. This is also the prevailing view.
Gender and sex-role identities, we are taught, are fully formed in
a process of socialization which ends by the third year of life. The
Encyclopedia Britannica 2003 edition sums it up thus:
"Like an individual's
concept of his or her sex role, gender identity develops by means
of parental example, social reinforcement, and language. Parents teach
sex-appropriate behavior to their children from an early age, and
this behavior is reinforced as the child grows older and enters a
wider social world. As the child acquires language, he also learns
very early the distinction between "he" and "she" and understands
which pertains to him- or herself."
So, which is it
- nature or nurture? There is no disputing the fact that our sexual
physiology and, in all probability, our sexual preferences are determined
in the womb. Men and women are different - physiologically and, as
a result, also psychologically.
its agents - foremost amongst which are family, peers, and teachers
- represses or encourages these genetic propensities. It does so by
propagating "gender roles" - gender-specific lists of alleged traits,
permissible behavior patterns, and prescriptive morals and norms.
Our "gender identity" or "sex role" is shorthand for the way we make
use of our natural genotypic-phenotypic endowments in conformity with
social-cultural "gender roles".
the composition and bias of these lists change, so does the meaning
of being "male" or "female". Gender roles are constantly redefined
by tectonic shifts in the definition and functioning of basic social
units, such as the nuclear family and the workplace. The cross-fertilization
of gender-related cultural memes renders "masculinity" and "femininity"
One's sex equals
one's bodily equipment, an objective, finite, and, usually, immutable
inventory. But our endowments can be put to many uses, in different
cognitive and affective contexts, and subject to varying exegetic
frameworks. As opposed to "sex" - "gender" is, therefore, a socio-cultural
narrative. Both heterosexual and homosexual men ejaculate. Both straight
and lesbian women climax. What distinguishes them from each other
are subjective introjects of socio-cultural conventions, not objective,
In "The New Gender
Wars", published in the November/December 2000 issue of "Psychology
Today", Sarah Blustain sums up the "bio-social" model proposed by
Mice Eagly, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University and
a former student of his, Wendy Wood, now a professor at the Texas
"Like (the evolutionary
psychologists), Eagly and Wood reject social constructionist notions
that all gender differences are created by culture. But to the question
of where they come from, they answer differently: not our genes but
our roles in society. This narrative focuses on how societies respond
to the basic biological differences - men's strength and women's reproductive
capabilities - and how they encourage men and women to follow certain
'If you're spending
a lot of time nursing your kid', explains Wood, 'then you don't have
the opportunity to devote large amounts of time to developing specialized
skills and engaging tasks outside of the home.' And, adds Eagly, 'if
women are charged with caring for infants, what happens is that women
are more nurturing. Societies have to make the adult system work [so]
socialization of girls is arranged to give them experience in nurturing.'
According to this
interpretation, as the environment changes, so will the range and
texture of gender differences. At a time in Western countries when
female reproduction is extremely low, nursing is totally optional,
childcare alternatives are many, and mechanization lessens the importance
of male size and strength, women are no longer restricted as much
by their smaller size and by child-bearing. That means, argue Eagly
and Wood, that role structures for men and women will change and,
not surprisingly, the way we socialize people in these new roles will
change too. (Indeed, says Wood, 'sex differences seem to be reduced
in societies where men and women have similar status,' she says. If
you're looking to live in more gender-neutral environment, try Scandinavia.)