Sunday, March 11, 2007

After a narcissist loses his narcissistic mother how does he cope?

Overweening, smothering, spoiling, overvaluing, and idolizing the child - are all forms of parental abuse.

This is because, as Horney pointed out, the child is dehumanized and instrumentalized. His parents love him not for what he really is - but for what they wish and imagine him to be: the fulfilment of their dreams and frustrated wishes.

The child is taught to ignore reality and to occupy the parental fantastic space. Such an unfortunate child feels omnipotent and omniscient, perfect and brilliant, worthy of adoration and entitled to special treatment.

The faculties that are honed by constantly brushing against bruising reality - empathy, compassion, a realistic assessment of one's abilities and limitations, realistic expectations of oneself and of others, personal boundaries, team work, social skills, perseverance and goal-orientation, not to mention the ability to postpone gratification and to work hard to achieve it — are all lacking or missing altogether. The child turned adult sees no reason to invest in his skills and education, convinced that his inherent genius should suffice. He feels entitled for merely being, rather than for actually doing (rather as the nobility in days gone by felt entitled not by virtue of its merit but as the inevitable, foreordained outcome of its birth right). In other words, he is not meritocratic - but aristocratic. In short: a narcissist is born.

The narcissist has a complicated relationship with his parents (mainly with his mother, but, at times, with his father). As Primary Objects, the narcissist's parents are often a source of frustration which leads to repressed or to self-directed aggression. They traumatise the narcissist during his infancy and childhood and thwart his healthy development well into his late adolescence. Often, they are narcissists themselves. Always, they behave capriciously, reward and punish the narcissist arbitrarily, abandon him or smother him with ill-regulated emotions. They instil in him a demanding, rigid, idealistic and sadistic Superego. Their voices continue to echo in him as an adult and to adjudicate, convict and punish him in a myriad ways.

Thus, in most important respects, the narcissist's parents never die. They live on to torment him, to persecute and prosecute him. Their criticism, verbal and other forms of abuse and berating live on long after their physical demise. Their objectification of the narcissist lasts longer than any corporeal reality. Naturally, the narcissist has a mixed reaction to the passing away of his parents. It is composed of elation and a sense of overwhelming freedom mixed with grief. The narcissist is attached to his parents in much the same way as a hostage gets "attached" to his captors (the Stockholm syndrome), the tormented to his tormentors, the prisoner to his wardens. When the bondage ceases or crumbles, the narcissist feels both lost and released, saddened and euphoric, empowered and drained.

Additionally, the narcissist's parents are Secondary Narcissistic Supply Sources (SNSSs). They fulfil the triple role of "accumulating" the narcissist's past, evidencing the narcissist's grand moments ("live history") and providing him with Narcissistic Supply on a regular and reliable basis (Regulation of Narcissistic Supply). Their death represents the loss of the best available Narcissistic Supply Source and, therefore, constitutes a devastating blow to the narcissist's mental composure.

But beneath these evident losses lies a more disturbing reality. The narcissist has unfinished business with his parents. All of us do — but his is more fundamental. Unresolved conflicts, traumas, fears and hurts seethe and the resulting pressure deforms the narcissist's personality. The death of his parents seals inability to come to terms with the very sources of his invalidity, with the very poisonous roots of his disorder. These are grave and disconcerting news, indeed. Moreover, the death of his parents virtually secures a continuation of the debate which rages between the narcissist's Superego and the other structures of his personality. Unable to contrast the ideal parents with the real (less than ideal) ones, unable to communicate with them, unable to defend himself, to accuse, to pity – the narcissist finds himself trapped in a time capsule, forever reliving his childhood and its injustice and abandonment, denied the closure he so craves and needs.

The narcissist needs his parents alive mostly in order to get back at them, to accuse and punish them for what they have done to him. This attempt at reciprocity ("settling the scores") represents to him justice and order, it introduces sense and logic into an otherwise totally confused landscape. It is a triumph of right over wrong, weak over strong, law and order over chaos and capriciousness. The demise of his parents is perceived by him to be a cosmic joke at his expense. He feels "stuck" for the rest of his life with the consequences of events and behaviour not of his own doing or fault. The villains evade responsibility by leaving the stage, ignoring the script and the director's (=the narcissist's) orders.

The narcissist goes through a final big cycle of helpless rage when his parents die. He then feels, once again, ashamed and guilty, worthy of condemnation and punishment (for being angry as well as elated at their death). It is when his parents pass away that the narcissist becomes a child again. And, as it was during the first time round, it is not a pleasant or savoury experience.

Based on my book "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited"

Sam Vaknin