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The Development Psychology of Psychopathology
Sam Vaknin
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Title: The Development Psychology of Psychopathology
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The Developmental Psychology of Psychopathology
Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.
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Philosophical Musings and Essays
Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited
I. The Narcissistic Parent
II. The Narcissist's Mother
III. Born Alien
IV. Parenting - The Irrational Vocation
V. The Development of Narcissists and Schizoids
VI. Serial Killers
VII. Sex, or Gender
VIII. The Author
IX. About "After the Rain"
The Narcissistic Parent
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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.
The narcissist 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).
Other narcissists 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 his relationships.
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
But following 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.
The Narcissist's Mother
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
A. The Loved Enemies - An Introduction
An oft-overlooked 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.
"Just as 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 self."
(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.
"The crucial 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 Personality
"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,
Narcissism is 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.
The narcissist's 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.
"The disguises 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." [Ibid.]
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
Such fluid 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.
Freud conceived 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
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.
Jung distinguished 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.
Freud regards narcissism as a POINT while Jung regards it as a
CONTINUUM (from health to sickness).
Kohut's Approach
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
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 developmental psychology."
(H. Kohut. The Chicago Institute Lectures 1972-1976. Marian and Paul
Tolpin (Eds.). Analytic Press, 1998)
Kohut's contention 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.
Kohut: "It is not that the self-experiences are given up and replaced
by ... a more mature or developmentally more advanced experience of
objects." [Ibid.]
This dichotomy 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.
Such depressions: "...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
Horney's great 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 is reawakened.
Karen B. Wallant in "Creating Capacity for Attachment: Treating
Addictions and the Alienated Self" [Jason Aronson, 1999] wrote:
"The capacity 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 monsters_without 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
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 the species.
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
D. Childhood Traumas and the Development of the Narcissistic
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 story.
Parents sometimes 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, for instance.
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,
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 Family
"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 closely below.
Cassidy's [1988] 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 [1989] 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 [1989]."
(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.
This "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 (AO).
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:
The narcissistic (all objects are perceived as variations of the
perceiving self) and the social (all objects are perceived as others or
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
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.
The internalisations 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.
Moreover, the 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 be:
* Accepting ("good enough");
* Domineering;
* Doting/Smothering;
* Indifferent;
* Rejecting;
* Abusive.
The Child can be:
* Attracted;
* Repelled (due to unjust mistreatment, for instance).
The possible axes are:
Child / Mother
How to read this table:
Attraction - Attraction/Accepting means that the child is attracted to
his mother, his mother is attracted to him and she is a Winnicottean
"good enough" (accepting) mother.
1. Attraction - Attraction/Accepting
(Healthy axis, leads to self-love)
2. Attraction - Attraction/Domineering
(Could lead to personality disorders such as avoidant, or schizoid, or
to social phobia, etc.)
3. Attraction - Attraction/Doting or Smothering
(Could lead to Cluster B Personality Disorders)
4. Attraction - Repulsion/Indifferent
[passive-aggressive, frustrating]
(Could lead to narcissism, Cluster B disorders)
5. Attraction - Repulsion/Rejecting
(Could lead to personality disorders such as paranoid, borderline,
6. Attraction - Repulsion/Abusive
(Could lead to DID, ADHD, NPD, BPD, AHD, AsPD, PPD, etc.)
7. Repulsion - Repulsion/Indifferent
(Could lead to avoidant, schizoid, paranoid, etc. PDs)
8. Repulsion - Repulsion/Rejecting
(Could lead to personality, mood, anxiety disorders and to impulsive
behaviours, such as eating disorders)
9. Repulsion - Attraction/Accepting
(Could lead to unresolved Oedipal conflicts and to neuroses)
10. Repulsion - Attraction/Domineering
(Could have the same results as axis 6)
11. Repulsion - Attraction/Doting
(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 internalised.
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).
The attachment 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 principles:
1. 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.
2. 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.
Reprinted with permission from:
"For Want of a Better Good" (In process)
Author: Alan Challoner MA (Phil) MChS
(Attachment Theory Researcher Counsellor in Adoption & Fostering, and
associated child development issues. MA awarded by thesis on the
psychology of handicap - A Culture of Ambiguity; 1992):
"A developmental 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
(Temeles, M.S. - 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 quo.
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
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 to others.
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
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 it.
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.
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.
The development 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
This pre-adolescent 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 quarter.
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 eye.
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.
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 narcissistic supplies.
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.
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.
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.
Advancing age 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 thrive.
Born Aliens
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
Neonates have 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
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 jokes.
The equipment 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.
Expectedly, it 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.
The composition 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 others.
Without accumulating 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
But - even 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
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
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
Another argument 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 and deprived.
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
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 development.
At their beginning, neonates are only vaguely aware, in a binary sort
of way.
l."Comfortable/uncomfortable", "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.
This self-containment 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.
The separation from the mother, the formation of an individual, the
separation from the world (the "spewing out" of the outside world) -
are all tremendously traumatic.
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,
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
Parenting - The Irrational Vocation
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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.
First hypothesis: 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 factor.
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
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).
People derive 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
Moreover, the 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
For further elaboration, please refer to: "Malignant Self Love -
Narcissism Revisited" and the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
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
If explanation is true, the following should also hold true:
a. 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)
b. The more sources of readily available Narcissistic supply - the less
children are needed (the substitutability of Narcissistic sources of
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.
Having children 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 children.
This seems to be the key to our determination to have children:
To experience 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.
Narcissists, Inverted Narcissists and Schizoids
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
Are narcissists also schizoids?
This is the definition of the Schizoid Personality Disorder (SPD) in
the DSM-IV-TR [2000]:
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.
B. Does 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."
Intuitively, a 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.
The 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
A distinction 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.
The ethno-psychologist 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
"...withdrawal, 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." [Page 19]
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
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
He experiences 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.
The psychodynamic 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 schizoid solution).
The suppression 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" [1914]. 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 internal
But is the difference not merely a question of terminology?
"The term '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
(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.
Fairbairn's work - 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.
Fairbairn internalised 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
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.
The newborn's 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 state ensues.
The "original" (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".
Fairbairn's definition 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).
Kernberg regards "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).
C. Fred Alford in "Narcissism: Socrates, the Frankfurt School and
Psychoanalytic Theory" [Yale University Press, 1988] wrote:
"Fairbairn and 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.
That narcissism 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." [Page 67]
Serial Killers
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
Countess 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
The 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.
The 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.
Her 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,
largely made, 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
Serial killers are the quiddity and quintessence of malignant
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.
In 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'".
Lasch described 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.
Fiercely competitive 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."
The narcissist's 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.
Similarly, serial 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 dolls.
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:
"The perverse 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
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.
The narcissist's 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.
Correspondingly, 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, and envy.
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.
Serial killers 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
APPENDIX - Criteria of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
An all-pervasive 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
* 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
* Devoid of empathy. Is unable or unwilling to identify with or
acknowledge the feelings and needs of others
* Constantly envious of others or believes that they feel the same
about him or her
* Arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes coupled with rage when
frustrated, contradicted, or confronted
Some of the language in the criteria above is based on or summarized
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical
manual of mental disorders, fourth edition (DSM IV). Washington, DC:
American Psychiatric Association.
The text in italics is based on:
Sam Vaknin. (2003). Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited, third,
revised, printing. Prague and Skopje: Narcissus Publication.
Read this for in-depth information - A Primer on Narcissism
Sex or Gender
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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
vehicle" (Reuters).
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?
Certain traits 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 formation.
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
The authors conclude:
"The cumulative 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 Pf„fflin (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."
Freud, Kraft-Ebbing, 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.
Joanne Meyerowitz, 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 flux.
Transgender activists, 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 themselves asexual."
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.
Anne Fausto-Sterling, 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 maleness.
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?
Sociobiologists would have us think so.
For instance: 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.
Furthermore, gender identity is determined during gestation, claim some
Milton Diamond 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".
HealthScoutNews 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.
Society, through 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".
Inevitably as 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" fluid concepts.
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, immutable "facts".
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 A&M University:
"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 patterns.
'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