Friday, March 30, 2007

This Is Not A Narcissistic Injury

I know it looks like one, but it's not. And why it's not makes every difference in predicting what will happen next.

My previous post described the modern narcissist, which is slightly different than the kind described by Kohut and others. In short, the narcissist is the main character in his own movie. Not necessarily the best, or strongest, but the main character. A narcissistic injury occurs when the narcissist is confronted with the reality that he is not the main character in his movie; the movie isn't his, and he's just one of 6 billion characters.

The worst thing that could happen to a narcissist is not that his wife cheats on him and leaves him for another man. He'll get angry, scream, stalk, etc, but this doesn't qualify as a narcissist injury because the narcissist still maintains a relationship with the woman. That it is a bad relationship is besides the point-- the point is that he and she are still linked: they are linked through arguing, restraining orders, and lawyers, but linked they are. He's still the main character in his movie; it was a romantic comedy but now it's a break-up film. But all that matters to the narcissist is that he is still the main character.

No, that's not the worst thing that can happen. The worst thing that could happen to a narcissist is that his wife cheats on him secretly and never tells him, and she doesn't act any differently towards him, so that he couldn't even tell. If she can do all that, that means she exists independently of him. He is not the main character in the movie. She has her own movie and he's not even in it. That's a narcissistic injury. That is the worst calamity that can befall the narcissist.

Any other kind of injury can produce different emotions; maybe sadness, or pain, or anger, or even apathy. But all narcissistic injuries lead to rage. The two aren't just linked; the two are the same. The reaction may look like sadness, but it isn't: it is rage, only rage.

With every narcissistic injury is a reflexive urge towards violence. I'll say it again in case the meaning was not clear: a reflexive urge towards violence. It could be homicide, or suicide, or fire, or breaking a table-- but it is immediate and inevitable. It may be mitigated, or controlled, but the impulse is there. The violence serves two necessary psychological functions: first, it's the natural byproduct of rage. Second, the violence perpetuates the link, the relationship, keeps him in the lead role. "That slut may have had a whole life outside me, but I will make her forever afraid of me." Or he kills himself-- not because he can't live without her, but because from now on she won't be able to live without thinking about him. See? Now it's a drama, but the movie goes on.

So if you cause a narcissist to have a narcissistic injury, get ready for a fight.

Saddam is not experiencing a narcissistic injury: he is still the main character in the movie. If he was sentenced to life in prison, to languish, forgotten, no longer relevant, no longer thought about, that would be a narcissistic injury-- then his rage would be intense, his urge towards violence massive. But who cares? There's nothing he could do.

But remaining the main character, he has accomplished the inevitable outcome of such a movie: he has become a martyr. Even in death, he is still the main character. That's why the narcissist doesn't fear death. He continues to live in the minds of others. That's narcissism.

I'm not saying executing Saddam wasn't the right thing to do, and I'm not sure I have much to add to theoretical discussions about judgment, and punishment, and the sentence of death. It doesn't matter what your political leanings are, what matters is we look at a situation that has occurred, and use whatever are our personal talents to try and predict the future.

I understand human nature, and I understand narcissism. And I understand vengeance. Saddam was a narcissist, but this wasn't a narcissistic injury.

This was a call to arms.

We should all probably get ready.

The Last Psychiatrist