In dealing with the theme of narcissism there are inevitably some questions to be asked whose solution constitutes the framework within which to move in order to avoid falling into the traps that a theme of this kind tends to anyone who delves into it. As you can see, the trap is already set and distrust becomes inevitable as in all cases in which one finds oneself having to deal with idealized instances of oneself. I will wisely keep in mind a teaching that perhaps I have not yet made entirely of mine according to which in life you do what you can and not what you should.
I briefly summarize the salient features of this frame of these assumptions on which to build a discourse on the topic:
How to avoid doing narcissistic intervention on narcissism
Show the aspects of narcissism that affect everyone and that each can feel as their own
Show the importance of narcissism in daily life
Narcissism is characterized by the elimination of the other or at least by such an attempt.
So I hope in this work to be able to consider others and that is not to kill you who read and to worry about what I will be able to make you understand as much as what I would like to say. Among other things, it is known that success in the relational field is precisely linked to how much one is able to take the other into consideration and make him feel involved in his own thoughts without excessively frustrating his narcissism. In short, the more you reach the end of this writing with the idea of having understood something, the more you will have the feeling of being satisfied with it.
The important thing is not to adhere excessively to the logic of success and try in its name to live up to expectations, because otherwise I would be forced to tell you only things that you already know thus frustrating my narcissistic ambitions to make you think about something new. It should be borne in mind that the psychological concept of narcissism refers to very complex theoretical constructs and human situations, which cannot be unduly simplified: some difficulty and therefore inevitable.
Each of us when listening to something new would always do well to ask ourselves where the difficulty of understanding a concept or a speech lies: objective difficulties exist, of course, but there is not always an individual component of ours, an active resistance. to understanding
And this resistance is not a first narcissistic phenomenon
Introducing something, an idea, an image, a concept coming from outside constitutes an alteration of our interior.
We always oppose this alteration and in certain periods of life when we most need to feel ourselves precisely because we are changing (and not only in adolescence), this attitude can be both conditioning and saving. The defects and unnecessary complications of this work are to be attributed only to me, but a certain type of difficulty also belongs to each of you: if this difficulty is recognized, each of you will be able to understand well a first meaning of the term narcissism.
In everyday language the word narcissism has taken on a series of meanings that only partially have to do with the psychological meaning: it is often used to indicate a vain person, full of himself, who does not care about others (selfish) and is connoted often in a negative sense, a kind of condemnatory judgment. It would be good for this occasion to leave this limited conception aside and reflect on the fact that narcissism is an essential way of being of the human soul.
Of course, it can have excessive declinations, it can be at the basis of serious pathologies (malignant narcissism at the basis of psychopathic behaviors), but, first of all, it is a normal, healthy way of thinking, essential for life itself within certain limits.
The interesting thing is that, as always happens in medicine in general and in psychiatry in particular, the common meaning of a term refers to the pathology (for which a tumor is always a cancer, and a moment of loss of contact with reality and a schizophrenia) and therefore the term narcissism commonly refers to people who are classified by DSM V as suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder, characterized by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (both in fantasy and in behavior), need for admiration , poor empathy and onset in early adulthood and presenting in a variety of modalities as indicated by the following criteria (5 of them are required for a diagnosis):
- A grandiose sense of one’s own importance
- Fantasies of unlimited success, power, beauty and love
- Idea of being a special person and being able to be understood and being able to only associate with equally special people or people of high social status (or institutions)
- Continued demand for excessive admiration
- Feeling of being privileged and claiming to be treated in a special way
- Tendency to take advantage of interpersonal relationships with a tendency to manipulate
- Lack of empathy: Difficulty identifying with the thoughts and needs of others
- Arrogance and contemptuous manner in both behavior and judgments
The prevalence of the disorder referred to the criteria defined in DSM IV (the previous classification) varies between 0 and 6%. In other words, it is possible according to some studies that the disorder as described does not exist. I leave it to each of you to reflect on the meaning of these data.
Narcissistic traits are particularly common in adolescents and their presence in this age group is not indicative of a future pathological development of the personality structure. Adult individuals with a narcissistic personality disorder may have particular difficulty in perceiving when their physical and work performance is no longer supported by a favorable condition as a result of age-related limitations.
The myth of Narcissus
The story told by Ovid in the Metamorphoses can be said to have been created by him. We have received very few stories or allusions to Narcissus or to characters who have had a history like him before. It is also true that there have also been a lot of later versions. So what did Ovid say
You may never have read the Metamorphoses and still know the story of Narcissus. This is precisely the characteristic of the myth, namely that of being handed down through the story. Someone like me in this article may have told you the story. One version currently circulating would be that Narcissus was a guy who, falling in love with his own image reflected in the water, drowned in an attempt to catch himself. There is undoubtedly some truth in this version but it has nothing to do with the richness of the story told by Ovid (book III, from verse 316 to verse 510 of the Metamorphoses).
Ovid gives birth to the whole story from a hangover of Jupiter, which in the state of intoxication causes Juno to be sure that husbands enjoy more than wives during sexual activity. Juno, who had his work cut out chasing Jupiter for Olympus always hunting for nymphets, is not at all in agreement and the two decide to ask an opinion from Tiresias, a guy who had had a notable mishap: while he was in a wood had beaten two coupled snakes and was suddenly transformed into a woman. After seven years he had met the snakes again and hitting them again became a man. Tiresias takes this question seriously and gives reason to Jupiter. Angry Juno blinds Tiresias guilty of not having seen right. Jupiter who cannot undo the decree of another god, conscience is saved by giving Tiresias a metaphorical sight: you will be blind, but a seer. He will not see ahead of him in space but in time he will.
Tiresias is consulted some time later by the mother of Narciso (also son of Cefiso), the nymph Liriope, to find out if her newborn child would have lived to become old. Tiresias, incensed by his blindness and by the impossibility of seeing himself, gives the nymph a response that is the prophecy-curse of an envious: to the question whether this beautiful child will live long he replies “yes if not noverit” (if he does not know , he will not look at himself). Over the years Narciso becomes a beautiful boy who does not let anyone touch him (boy or girl they may be) and while he goes hunting he is spotted by the splendid nymph Eco who falls madly in love with him.
Echo had been punished by Juno for her long tongue and condemned not to be able to do anything but repeat the end of the words heard and therefore speak only through the words of others (although she is mute she cannot be silent if someone speaks). So Echo when she falls in love with Narcissus can not help but speak through the words of the latter. So Ovid constructs an intriguing situation in which recapitulating Tiresias is blind but seer, Echo is mute but somehow speaking and Narcissus sees but must not see himself but metaphorically sees no one but himself. The tragic game is all about who speaks to whom and who sees whom.
But let’s go back to poor Eco and Narciso the superb. Eco then secretly chases narcissus while she goes deer hunting but she can’t talk to us so she just has to make some noise to get her attention. A dialogue based on misunderstandings is therefore triggered in which in the end Narciso urges Eco to find himself in a “huc coeamus” place to which Eco inevitably responds “coeamus” which, in addition to being together, means joining carnally and when happy to be able to express his intentions tries to throw his arms around Narcissus’s neck, he rejects her indignantly and shouts “I crack rather than stay with you”.
Echo can only answer “being with you” feeling a great shame that will make her consume to death: since then only her voice has remained (Juno’s condemnation persists even after death: a divine decree cannot be canceled ). Narcissus in the meantime continues to make a massacre of hearts so much that one of the disappointed wishes him to love without being loved and the gods (Nemesis) welcome the prayer and when that fateful day, tired he lies down to rest in the cool near a spring and sees with the corner of her eye reflected in the water her own beautiful image, believing that it was someone else, falls madly in love with that image that she uselessly tries to embrace and when she realizes that her tears cloud her
Poor Echo (or what was left of it, that is the voice) feels great pain and repeats Narcissus’s tortured words that will echo throughout the forest until the hello with which Narcissus greets his own image and Echo greets his beloved. When Narcissus realizes that he himself is reflected from the surface of the water, he will feel the drama of all those for whom the other does not exist. We remember with regard to mirroring that the ancient mirrors were not so clear and it was often believed that the mirror carried bad and that mirroring, even in the dream, announced the death of one’s own or of some relative and maintains this quality in many popular beliefs.
But when the Dryads are preparing to prepare the stake to burn the corpse of poor Narcissus, they no longer find him: in its place (and here is the metamorphosis) a red-orange flower has grown and blossomed surrounded by a white corolla that ever since its name is narcisus poeticus, the flower that anticipates spring and dies soon and that looks downwards as the protagonist of the myth looked at himself reflected in the source from top to bottom.
We can now return to our narcissism and to the theories that underlie its meaning in psychology and psychiatry but some premises are necessary in order not to fall into the trap of classifications, which as we have seen previously, with the aim of creating shared criteria, can lead to the description of clinical situations far from the reality of individuals:
theoretical constructions are abstractions and, if it is true that a person cannot be reduced to a theory, it is equally true that mostly unconscious phenomena such as those underlying narcissism, can only be described through theoretical abstractions
it is not possible to evaluate a person from a detail by attributing a diagnostic category to him and therefore it is necessary to distinguish the personality structures from the personality traits of which the structures are the result
- It is very important to bear in mind that a behavior is practically never a direct index of a particular psychic orientation . Exchanging a part for the whole and often the basis of those generalizing processes that characterize the paranoid constructions that lead to interpreting reality without taking it into account (in a narcissistic way therefore).
These clarifications are necessary to avoid that some psychological concepts can be used in a moralistic sense and therefore to give summary judgments. The goal of analyzing the mechanisms that determine thoughts and behaviors and understanding or, within a therapy, awareness not judgment. The psychiatrist by nature can therefore never be a judge.
Freud (1914) from his earliest studies on narcissism (Introduction to Narcissism) distinguishes two types: on the one hand, an inaugural situation of absolute, primary narcissism, that of the newborn (his majesty the baby) who experiences the external world as an extension of himself and, from inside a dyadic bubble in which perfect symbiosis with the absolute accomplice mother is achieved, armed arm of his thought (magical omnipotent) rules the world. As this condition cannot be experienced directly, it can only be presupposed in a theoretical construct.
On the other hand, Freud distinguished a later psychic situation called secondary narcissism, connectable to clinically observable and more or less partially subjectively experienceable phenomena. The latter is what we commonly refer to when we talk about narcissism and it is precisely that necessity of individuals to exclude more or less temporarily the external world in order to regain an internal balance. Numerous people in daily clinical practice (and beyond) seem not to really recognize the existence of others. Obviously these people have to do with others but if you listen to them, you realize that the other, even the closest, is not recognized as an autonomous bearer of affections, ideas, desires.
Simply the other is considered a means to achieve their ends (through manipulative methods) or someone who confirms their opinions (as happens with those people who want to be right at any cost). Often the recognition of the other and of his existence in these people is disturbing for one’s own balance and awareness of the existence of others only determines irritability (frequent when one is suddenly awakened in the morning), anger (when the idealized construction of the other does not it is confirmed for example when the other does not give us reason) and violent aggression (when the other is indistinct from himself and his loss coincides with the loss of himself, at the basis of many homicides-suicides that seem to be the most popular ).
In this perspective, the two theories, although they agree on the impossibility of the existence of an absolute narcissism, distinguish the possibility of a certain degree of almost physiological absolute autonomy in the case of primary narcissism (in which the relationship with the outside is almost absent), while in the case of secondary narcissism (intended as a defense of one’s individuality from the invasion of the external world) a certain degree of equally absolute dependence is assumed. In both cases the dynamics would be unconscious, that is, the subject does not notice it at all (“Pippo Pippo doesn’t know….” Rita Pavone used to say in the 70s).
Precisely for this reason it is evident at this point how much in common language the word narcissism has meanings very far from its psychological meaning: usually narcissism means and condemns an arrogant conscious attitude or is used as a synonym for vanity or selfishness. On the other hand, in psychology narcissism does not concern conscious attitudes and above all it concerns a balance which, however one sees it, is of fundamental importance for human life.
In summary: for the life of each of us it is essential to develop a certain degree of autonomy, self-sufficiency, self-esteem, security, pleasure in being with oneself, a feeling of being an integrated whole. Narcissism is for this. But while he fulfills these conditions he puts the others in parentheses. For the most part this exclusion is an unconscious way of thinking, of which only some consequences can be perceived and only in extreme cases can it be manifest to others and conscious to the subject who expresses it.
On the other hand, we all live in a world that in some way claims us by continually invading us with its stimuli and requests, constantly disturbing our balance made up of awareness and self-perception. Overall we could say that each of us in the course of the day oscillates between himself and the others with a prevalence of narcissism during sleep and a renunciation of it prevalent in the waking state: it is a physiological condition that will appear to everyone as necessary. In the so-called narcissistic pathology we are faced with an investment in oneself even in the waking state and this determines serious consequences on the relational level.
Narcissism in everyday life
It often happens to hear reflections on the fateful “class parties”, a sort of dive into the past in which old schoolmates meet again, and how the experience with respect to these repatriations is changeable. Those who adapt less seem to be those who, by virtue of past time and the perception of it, have a certain difficulty in relating to people who have become strangers over the years. On the contrary, the protagonists of these meetings are those who have the impression that time has not passed and who perceive others on the basis of their own memories and have a lot of fun, even in a somewhat sadistic way, digging up gory jokes and disqualifying nicknames. . Usually the former return from these situations with a sense of strangeness or boredom (the more characteristic effect in response to the absence of a meaningful object relationship) while the latter derive great fun from it and look forward to the next year to repeat the experience. In reality, the nice ones have the ability not to relate to the real person they have in front of them but with the image they have within themselves and no matter how much the other cares to clarify how much things have changed because in any case “The sympathetic” will keep his image tightly, that you are and that you will remain: a kind of object that I need for some of my thoughts, not a person with his own history and his becoming. The other exists not so much per se in the narcissistic logic but only as a mirror (as Ovid narrated) of one’s own psychic activity, the confirmation of one’s own thought. The same can happen in reuniting with an old flame: who we have met
A person we loved with his story, the beloved of the past (his image that we made) or the love we felt once (i.e. the only feeling we felt towards him then)
The world of politics
Let’s take a cue from tangentopoli (but the speech could be valid for other much more current situations): it is important to remember that in those years there were some suicides of people questioned by the judiciary, in prison or outside. In the controversy of the time (but things have not changed) the death of these people was attributed, according to the commentator’s orientation, to the persecutory of justice or to the guilt of the suicide (almost as if the suicide constituted an obvious admission of guilt ).
If we look at things in a less conditioned way (and today it is certainly easier than then) some of these suicides have particular characteristics, almost as if suddenly they belonged to the nomenclature (a term I prefer caste), to a group that he considers himself untouchable, they had perceived that the image they had built of themselves and which had supported them until then was not only false but even collapsed. The result of such a sensation is that if I am no longer there (idealized), I do not exist and I might as well die. We can ask ourselves in front of this tragic example what narcissistic balance governed such people, what kind of illusion governed their acts and even why people with this structural balance had reached such remarkable positions.
The question is: what effects does an individual with a narcissistic balance structure have on other people
Although it seems strange, (if one does not notice me why should I in turn consider it
) a narcissistic balance and the basis of so-called social success. Security, pride, ambition, the certainty of superiority constitute an invitation to identification for many people, who with their support determine the success of the narcissist (hence the copious participation in class parties organized by the usual suspects) . A circle of self-enhancement of the phenomenon is therefore created, because success increases the narcissist’s safety, pride, ambition, feeling of superiority and invulnerability and this further increases his charm, which produces further proselytes and further chance of success….
Everything would be fine if it weren’t for a detail and that is that this vicious circle leads us to let go of reality up to a real detachment. I would stop for a moment on this reflection (with a minute of silence) because it unwittingly seems to describe some phenomena that we experience with particular frequency in our days. So let’s summarize for a moment: on the one hand there is a person who for convenience we call “the narcissist” but who has a fascinating and charismatic effect, on the other a certain amount of people who identify with him and who push him to continue on his path that at this point makes the poor narcissist more and more convinced, against all reality, inextricably linked to the image that is reflected to him by his fans,
The fall of an individual who has staked everything on himself will inevitably be terrible (it also depends on the height of the pedestal): with slightly more narcissistically technical words we could say that we are faced with the experience of the collapse of the narcissistic object.(such as the disappearance of the breast for a newborn or the mother for a child in the first year of kindergarten) which is nothing more than the image of himself (the myth and the death of Narcissus at this point becomes frankly representative) and the consequence and an extreme attempt to still be protagonists of one’s own life by taking it away. I could venture the hypothesis that the suicides of some entrepreneurs overwhelmed by the current economic crisis have the same nature but I know that this would provoke in many reactions of indignant protest. So it is more comfortable to consider these people as martyrs of capitalism in the name of the power of rhetoric.
The world of entertainment
At this point of the drama I would like to reassure you that in reality this type of suicide does not happen so frequently: often this type of narcissist maintains effective social success over time and will live happily ever after even after falls, as demonstrated by many of our politicians and people of the entertainment world. It is necessary to distinguish between social success and personal fulfillment and it is by no means certain that the first guarantees the second, on the contrary sometimes the absence of this personal fulfillment keeps the hunger for success to the bitter end.
When a person for 18 hours a day deals with meetings, promotional activities, exhibitions to the public, elaboration of further strategies to be more successful, the remaining 6 hours dedicated to sleep and nutrition no longer seem sufficient to have a real private life with those moments of happiness deriving also from the participation of the joy of others and do not seem sufficient to become aware of an external reality that surrounds us within which ours takes place.
As the myth of Narcissus teaches us we could say that fundamentally narcissism is unhappy. The research to which he pushes is never entirely satisfactory because it continually witnesses the absence of the other. Many of the continuous love affairs of successful media characters are also due to this phenomenon: the search for the mirror even in private life leads sooner or later (usually sooner) to realize that that person chosen as a narcissistic partner is different, too different ( by itself) and when it becomes a person and not an image reflected by a mirror, the narcissistic relationship is broken and therefore ends. We may wonder if it is power that blinds or the blindness of narcissism that facilitates the rise to power
. I think there is matter for another relationship….
At this point with these few concepts we can look a little closer to us but to do so we always need a certain distance: when we look away we can see certain phenomena with a certain clarity but when our nose is against the wall it is difficult for us to see. the whole house. We can therefore pass from the examples drawn from politicians and public figures to others closer to us and concerning the family.
Narcissism in the family
We have already given a definition of narcissism: it is a situation that eliminates the other and is characterized by affective investment in oneself. This does not mean that the others exist in any case. Therefore, to say that a relationship is narcissistic may seem a contradiction of terms if it were not specified that it is an ellipsis: it must therefore be said that there are relationships with and between narcissistic people and that these relationships have the characteristic of determining a sense of loneliness.
We must also think that narcissism being also a physiological phenomenon in part a certain sense of loneliness, albeit transitory, can always be felt (in a healthy way). It is a frequent experience (especially with advancing age) that of being at a dinner with friends and having the impression that everyone is speaking for themselves and that there is no real thread running through the discussion (with the consequence of feeling alone).
If we consider the family, we will see that even in it the narcissistic components are never lacking. The important thing is that they are not dominant. But it would be tragic if they were completely missing.
Many of the narcissistic experiences occur in very early childhood, and the family context and stage in which the drama of the discovery of the world and dependence on it takes place, when the newborn, naked, unable to act and speak, even to think, lives. totally at the mercy of the environment. From this perspective, we understand how relationships are essential for life. The problem of everyone at birth is therefore that of becoming an individual, a being detached and different from the others but in some way in relation to them, endowed with a certain degree of autonomy (both psychic and material) without the need for excessive detachment. .
The condition of the newborn could be described as that of an individual who is such and knows (unconsciously) that he is and who experiences that he is unable to be. However, the newborn has the great possibility, in the face of its disastrous initial situation (seen through the eyes of an adult), to conceive itself in an enlarged form.
Who I am I
am the set of my pleasant conditions, the forces that give me pleasure: this is the form alluded to when talking about primary narcissism. The limit of this formulation is that it is a form of expressing a situation in terms of the adult. Probably the newborn does not ask himself the question “who I am
”But he directly experiences feeling enlarged by pleasure and feeling as a stranger everything that causes sorrow. It goes without saying that this condition of primary narcissism has nothing to do with reality, so much so that the acceptance of a concept of this type inevitably causes strong resistance in the listener.
But it is useful to underline its usefulness because if the newborn had a very precocious awareness of his reality he would feel desperate and at the mercy of others, while his sense of omnipotence and the possibility of being able to look at the world with confidence and satisfy his needs with the The arrogance of screaming and crying allows him to build up enough self-confidence over time to face the world. And the other at the beginning of life and yes someone from whom one can expect food, warmth, love, but also someone huge, disproportionate.
The newborn is therefore a dwarf who must have a lot of self-confidence to be able to face the world of giants (for those who have read Gulliver’s Travels the concept should not be difficult to understand). The difference between this condition and the secondary narcissism of Narcissus, the successful politician or the guy who meets an old acquaintance on the street, is that the object, that is the someone on whom to project an image of their own (often idealized), does not exist.
In the beginning, the newborn does not reflect himself in anyone, he does not look at himself reflected elsewhere: he simply likes himself because he feels pleasure. The transition from primary to secondary narcissism is determined by the failure of the first and is not painless and passes through the recognition that something (which then becomes someone) from the outside must intervene to eliminate the source of tension, of displeasure.
The absence of the mother for the newborn from this point of view, and the absence of self and when a child is in a condition of (objective) neglect, abandonment, can only suffer the trauma of the sensation of death that this entails. In more usual situations in the process of recognizing the other there is the problem of experiencing the suffering of the frustration of waiting: the mother is not always there to give food etc …
In retrospect we can say: fortunately the mother is not perfect: if she were, she would not incentivize the child to get out of his condition of primary narcissism which, as we know, is completely unrealistic. And yet this experience failed, it was so satisfying that we have to constantly try to return to it and we do it daily as we have seen with sleep an absolutely necessary event. The external reality is perceived by the individual as disrupting while the individual needs to integrate.
If sleep then serves to reintegrate and because the external reality forces us to invest in it to understand it or to process the stimuli that it continuously sends us, making us constantly different from how we were before by subtracting energy from our need for integration. The absence of sleep in some pathological situations such as manic states causes the disintegration of individuals in a short time, throwing them during wakefulness into a state of dissociation from reality, an extreme narcissistic defense against an invasion from the outside that has become unmanageable in other ways. .
At this point one might ask what is the role of the mother in bringing the newborn out of primary narcissism, a question that obviously does not make practical sense so there is no need to take notes but only to let oneself go to a possible flow of thoughts. Fortunately, the mother is struck by a series of new sensations that we commonly define maternal instinct and on the basis of this she feels that the child is one with her, frequently causing some reaction of jealousy in neglected husbands (regressed for the occasion to the state of newborns).
Freud hypothesized that the mother will allow the child to get out of primary narcissism to the extent that it makes the frustration of dealing with reality tolerable for the child. All this would seem possible through a holding function that the mother would be able to support in the external environment. In this environment, the child over time will be able to perceive the mother as separate from himself and to undertake that process of identification that will lead him to build his own personality structure over time.
In the daily life of a family, narcissism carries a great deal of weight. Each member has to do not only with other family members but also with their own identifications with them. So we arrive at those situations that are only apparently paradoxical in which, for example, father and son cannot stand each other because they have the same character.
If, on the one hand, resembling someone for a child constitutes the basis for the introjections of parental traits, deriving a reassuring sense of belonging, on the other they constitute the failure of one’s constant attempt at individuation, that is, of the process that will lead him to feel unique. A particular and not uncommon case is that of the narcissistic parent, the so-called successful parent with the particular identification game that can be established.
to a child who identifies with such a father ? differentiation becomes severely hindered and destructive outbursts of anger directed against the parent or extra-family realities are often observed, attempting in the first case to destroy the narcissistic image of the father and reducing him to more human features by forcing him to face his own failure and in the second case by concretely realizing what the father symbolically implements, that is, the destruction of others as irrelevant.
Anyone who has had teenage children has had some experience of this kind, even if only temporarily. The problem is that anyone who has previously been a teenager and to some extent tolerates regressing to their experience of time to understand their child experiences the same difficulty again (but with their parent). It is easy to understand the complexity of (mirroring) processes of this magnitude.
If this (narcissistic) regression will allow the parent to return to experience sustainable emotions, that understanding will be possible that will determine the overcoming of the conflict and help the child to tolerate the difficult situation.
If, on the other hand, this return to the past causes unresolved conflicts to which the parent remained “fixed” to re-emerge, his reaction will inevitably be one of irritation and / or anger (“I don’t know who you got it from”) with the expected outcome of a conflict unsustainable, to which the child will have to yield if he does not want to pay the price of the destruction of a (no longer) idealized parent: the price will be the withdrawal into himself, with the construction of an ideal self, a real persecutor, giving life to that feeling of shame or low self-esteem, which is often called into question (even inappropriately), when you are not satisfied with yourself and when you have that destabilizing feeling that “no matter what you do or try to do it seems that it is never enough “.
In daily family life, the balance between narcissistic needs and the relational ones that push towards other people, is continually tested and precisely in this lies one of the fundamental functions of the family, namely that of being a place where a child remains a child. and a parent remains a parent, a brother remains a brother no matter what happens. The equilibrium of this system based on the stability of relations can constantly change, but will resist if sufficiently elastic and mobile.
At this point I think it may begin to become clear how the issue of narcissism is truly fundamental: it underlies very different conceptions of humanity because what is at stake is the very idea of the individual as part of humanity.
We could hypothesize in an absolutely general way, that the displacement of pathologies in psychiatry towards the narcissistic pole and the increase in the importance of the narcissistic component in daily life, represent a defensive modality in the face of the continuous tendency to represent the individual as constantly insufficient of facing a constantly increasing quantity of environmental stimuli. It goes without saying that an increase in stimuli involves an increase in narcissistic defenses aimed at maintaining a certain internal balance.
This representation of insufficiency, precisely because of its constancy, sounds like a social prescription so much so that the good individual is the one who conforms to it. The daily messages that arrive from the outside (from television and advertising for example) define an individual who does not know, who alone would not be able to do it, who for trivial daily tasks needs the expert of this or that other product or of some kind of consultant (perhaps global).
A mother or father would not know how to deal with their child if there were no expert disguised as a psychiatrist, psychologist or housekeeper on duty to advise how to treat or even love him, how to feed him healthily and with which products: schools are born for parents. In this bombardment of stimuli, we are convinced that everyday problems are soluble only with the help of others or with an external means (thus promoting the distortions of the relationship that we commonly know with the term addiction.
It is understood that you with your head or your strength would never get there. Terrible and murderous message because the psychic structure of the individual constitutes an attack which, through thought, manages to devise adequate solutions to internal and external problems. It is therefore surprising that in the face of this bombardment that undermines the autonomy of thought, there is no adequate and proportional narcissistic reaction, a tendency to protect oneself by protecting that part of oneself that must be loved in order to survive as individuals.
Before condemning the unbridled narcissism of our age, as many nostalgics of the good old days do, we should ask ourselves if it does not really represent a response to an ongoing cultural and social trend and if, in this way, we are not drawing the profile of a contemporary human being different from the individual we used to think, both in the ways of suffering and in the ways of loving. It would seem a pessimistic consideration but for those who are used to considering humanity as inexhaustibly complex and capable of developing new thought tools, this could represent a challenge to think about current events and the future in new terms.
The possibility of considering the pressure of the narcissistic component on an individual and social level in a broader perspective could constitute a strategic key to think, for example, of a more effective therapy in the clinical field (more centered on awareness of one’s abilities than on the advice of a idealized expert) and political and social choices aimed at avoiding a narcissistic defense conditioned by regressive instances otherwise unsustainable (choosing strategies of empowerment rather than sanctioning control).
In a globalized society, in times of rapid change, the immediate impression we make can become much more important than our integrity and sincerity, qualities that continue to be appreciated in smaller and more stable communities. In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out how a society that offers equal opportunities to all can generate in citizens the concern of how to demonstrate their superiority.
Without a class system that provides visible levels of social status, citizens attempt to accumulate observable evidence of their superiority (so-called status symbols), since appearing inferior would correspond to personal failure. The possibility of a re-edition of a class system undoubtedly seems anachronistic, but bringing the individual back to a reality in which doing what you can be a reason for satisfaction could break this vortex of idealization in which individual human beings find themselves being centrifuged. (every success of today and the springboard for that of tomorrow …).
Freud in the 1929 essay “ Discomfort of Civilization”Argued that the commandment love your neighbor as yourself was the strongest defense against human aggression. The commandment is unachievable, such a grandiose inflation of love can only diminish its value. In civil society, those who abide by the commandment only put themselves at a disadvantage compared to those who do not care. What a huge obstacle to civilization must be the aggressive tendency, if the defense against it can make it as unhappy as its existence. The so-called natural ethics has nothing to offer here except the narcissistic satisfaction of being able to consider oneself better than others.
In these years when the world seems worse than the sum of those who make it up, the temptation to be good is very strong. Goodness, altruism, have undoubtedly become a consumer product and there are many associations that deal with them locally and internationally. There are also marketing phenomena in which voluntary associations based on altruism and “being at the service of others”, act as a vehicle for advertising messages.
A few months ago there was an advertising campaign in which if you went to a certain hairdresser (and not another) a part of what was donated to the hairdresser was destined for UNICEF. It would not have been masochistically simpler to do the hairdo at home for once and allocate the quantum directly
The idea that one would like to pass is that the good hairdresser will sacrifice a part of his earnings for the unfortunate children, but if many think that that hairdresser is better than the others, in the end goodness will triumph and will be the best to be the most rich.
All obviously associated with a narcissistic vehicle: the care of your hair, so the more often you take care of them (the hair, that is, what keeps the temperature of your head stable) the more you will help those poor children. How much good can you do by taking care of yourself.
I have the impression that by dint of making fun of this issue, I am convinced that loving your neighbor as yourself is really going to a specific strictly unisex hairdresser (I don’t want barbers who are victims of out-of-fashion machismo).
I would conclude with a consideration that at this point should be something more than a joke: it is often thought that “being cautious in criticism and generous in praise” is a respectable maxim, but, in the light of the knowledge we have put together in this work, the doubt arises that this maxim is as desirable towards the other as it is narcissistically risky if applied to oneself. Some might argue that these two weights and two measures might appear masochistic but that would be another matter.