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The Emotional Involvement Preventive Measures

Chapter 8

The narcissist is typically born into a dysfunctional family. It is characterised by massive denial, both internal ("You do not have a real problem, you are only pretending") and external ("You must never reveal the family's secrets to anyone"). Such emotional illness leads to affective and other personality disorders shared by all the members of the family and ranging from obsessive-compulsive disorders to hypochondriasis and depression.

Dysfunctional families are often reclusive and autarkic (self-sufficient). They actively reject and encourage abstention from social contacts. This inevitably leads to defective or partial socialisation and differentiation, and to problems of sexual and self identity.

This monastic attitude is sometimes applied even to the extended family. The members of the nuclear family feel emotionally or financially deprived or threatened by the world at large. They react with envy, rejection, self-isolation and rage in a kind of shared psychosis.

Constant aggression and violence are permanent features of such families. The violence and abuse can be verbal (degradation, humiliation), psychological-emotional, physical, or sexual.

Trying to rationalise and intellectualise its unique position and to justify it, the dysfunctional family emphasises some superior logic it allegedly possesses and its efficiency. It adopts a transactional approach to life and it regards certain traits (e.g., intelligence) as an expression of superiority and as an advantage. These families encourage excellence - mainly cerebral and academic - but only as means to an end. The end is usually highly narcissistic (to be famous/rich/to live well, etc.).

Some narcissists, bred in such households, react by creatively escaping into rich, imagined worlds in which they exercise total physical and emotional control over their environment. But all of them divert libido, which should have been object-oriented, to their own self.

The source of all the narcissist's problems is the belief that human relationships invariably end in humiliation, betrayal, pain and abandonment. This conviction is the outcome of indoctrination in early childhood by their parents, peers, or role models.

Moreover, the narcissist always generalises. To him, any emotional interaction and any interaction with an emotional component is bound to end ignominiously. Getting attached to a place, a job, an asset, an idea, an initiative, a business, or a pleasure is certain to end as badly as getting involved in a relationship with another person.

This is why the narcissist avoids intimacy, real friendships, love, other emotions, commitment, attachment, dedication, perseverance, planning, emotional or other investment, morale or conscience (which are only meaningful if one believes in a future), developing a sense of security, or pleasure.

The narcissist emotionally invests only in things he feels that he is in full, unmitigated control of: himself and, sometimes, not even that.

But the narcissist cannot ignore the fact that there is emotional content and residual affect even in the most basic activities. To protect himself from these remnants of emotions, these remote threats, he constructs a False Self, grandiose, and fantastic.

The narcissist uses his False Self in all his interactions, getting it "tainted" by emotions in the process. Thus the False Self insulates the narcissist from the risks of emotional "contamination".

When even this fails the narcissist has a more powerful weapon in his arsenal: the Wunderkind (wonder-boy) mask.

The narcissist creates two masks, which serve to hide him from the world - and to force the world to cater to his needs and desires.

The first mask is the old, worn-out False Self.

The False Self is a special type of Ego. It is grandiose (and, in this sense, fantastic), invulnerable, omnipotent, omniscient, and "unattached". This kind of Ego prefers adulation or being feared to love. This Ego learns the truth about itself and its boundaries by being reflected. Other people's constant feedback (Narcissistic Supply) help the narcissist to modulate and fine tune his False Self.

But the second mask is as important. This is the mask of the Wunderkind.

The narcissist, wearing this mask, broadcasts to the world that he is both a child (and therefore vulnerable, susceptible, and subject to adult protection) - and a genius (and therefore worthy of special treatment and of admiration).

Inwardly this mask makes the narcissist less emotionally vulnerable. A child does not fully comprehend and grasp events and circumstances, does not commit himself emotionally, waltzes through life, and does not have to deal with emotionally charged problems or situations such as sex or child rearing.

Being a child, the narcissist is exempt from assuming responsibility and develops a sense of immunity and security. No one is likely to hurt a child or to severely punish him. The narcissist is a dangerous adventurer because - like a child - he feels that he is immune to the consequences of his actions, that his possibilities are unlimited, that everything is allowed without the risk of paying the price.