The Development of the Narcissist
by Dr. Sam Vaknin
How will a
narcissist that is overly and overtly attached to his mother react to her death?
are born with abilities of the first order (abilities to do) and of
the second order (potentials, abilities to develop abilities to do).
The environment, though, is critical to the manifestation of these
abilities. It is through socialisation and comparison with others
that we bring our abilities into full fruition and put them to use.
We are further constrained by cultural and normative dictates.
Generally speaking, four conditions are present as we develop:
- We possess an
ability and society recognises and encourages it – the result
is a positive reinforcement of the capacity.
- We possess an
ability but society is either indifferent to it, or outright
hostile to it, or does not recognise it as such. Weak persons
tend to suppress the ability as a result of social (peer and
other) pressures. Stronger souls go on with it, defiantly,
adopting non-conformist, or even rebellious stances.
- We have no
ability and yet society tells us otherwise – we usually
succumb to its superior judgement and develop the talent in
- We have no
ability or talent, we know it and society informs us as much
through its reactions to us. This is the easiest case: no
propensity to explore the irrelevant capacity will develop.
Objects) and, more specifically, mothers are the first agents of
socialisation. It is through his mother that the child explores the
answers to the most important existential questions, which shape his
entire life. How loved one is, how loveable, how independent can one
become, how guilty one should feel for wanting to become autonomous,
how predictable is the world, how much abuse should one expect in
life and so on. To the infant, the mother, is not only an object of
dependence (survival is at stake), love and adoration. It is a
representation of the "universe" itself. It is through her
that the child first exercises his senses: the tactile, the
olfactory, and the visual. Later on, she is the subject of his
nascent sexual cravings (if a male) – a diffuse sense of wanting
to merge, physically, as well as spiritually. This object of love is
idealised and internalised and becomes part of our conscience
(Superego). For better or for worse, it is the yardstick, the
benchmark. One forever compares oneself, one's identity, one's
actions and omissions, one's achievements, one's fears and hopes and
aspirations to this mythical figure.
Growing up (and,
later, attaining maturity and adulthood) entails the gradual
detachment from the mother. At first, the child begins to shape a
more realistic view of her and incorporates the mother's
shortcomings and disadvantages in this modified version. The more
ideal, less realistic and earlier picture of the mother is stored
and becomes part of the child's psyche. The later, less cheerful,
more realistic view enables the infant to define his own identity
and gender identity and to "go out to the world". Partly
abandoning mother is the key to an independent exploration of the
world, to personal autonomy and to a strong sense of self. Resolving
the sexual complex and the resulting conflict of being attracted to
a forbidden figure – is the second, determining, step. The (male)
child must realise that his mother is "off-limits" to him
sexually (and emotionally, or psychosexually) and that she
"belongs" to his father (or to other males). He must
thereafter choose to imitate his father in order to win, in the
future, someone like his mother. This is an oversimplified
description of the very intricate psychodynamic processes involved
– but this, still, is the gist of it all. The third (and final)
stage of letting go of the mother is reached during the delicate
period of adolescence. One then seriously ventures out and, finally,
builds and secures one's own world, replete with a new
"mother-lover". If any of these phases is thwarted – the
process of differentiation is not be successfully completed, no
autonomy or coherent self are achieved and dependence and
"infantilism" characterise the unlucky person.
the success or failure of these developments in one's personal
history? Mostly, one's mother. If the mother does not "let
go" – the child does not go. If the mother herself is the
dependent, narcissistic type – the growth prospects of the child
are, indeed, dim.
There are numerous
mechanisms, which mothers use to ensure the continued presence and
emotional dependence of their offspring (of both sexes).
The mother can
cast herself in the role of the eternal victim, a sacrificial
figure, who dedicated her life to the child (with the implicit or
explicit proviso of reciprocity: that the child dedicate his life to
her). Another strategy is to treat the child as an extension of the
mother or, conversely, to treat herself as an extension of the
child. Yet another tactic is to create a situation of "folies-a-deux"
(the mother and child united against external threats), or an
atmosphere suffused with sexual and erotic insinuations, leading to
an illicit psychosexual bonding between mother and child. In the
latter case, the adult's ability to interact with members of the
opposite sex is gravely impaired and the mother is perceived as
envious of any feminine influence other than hers. The mother
criticises the women in her offspring's life pretending to do so in
order to protect him from dangerous liaisons or from ones which are
"beneath him" ("You deserve more"). Other
mothers exaggerate their neediness: they emphasise their financial
dependence and lack of resources, their health problems, their
emotional barrenness without the soothing presence of the child,
their need to be protected against this or that (mostly imaginary)
enemy. Guilt is a prime mover in the perverted relationships of such
mothers and their children.
The death of the
mother is, therefore, both a devastating shock and a deliverance.
The reactions are ambiguous, to say the least. The typical adult who
mourns his dead mother usually is exposed to such emotional duality.
This ambiguity is the source of our guilt feelings. With a person
who is abnormally attached to his mother, the situation is more
complicated. He feels that he has a part in her death, that he is
partly to blame, responsible, did not behave right and to the utmost
of his ability. He is glad to be liberated and feels guilty and
punishable because of it. He feels sad and elated, naked and
powerful, exposed to dangers and omnipotent, about to disintegrate
and to be newly integrated. These, precisely, are the emotional
reactions to a successful therapy. The process of healing is, thus,
was written by:
By: Dr. Sam
The author of Malignant Self Love -
Narcissism Revisited ORDER
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