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The Narcissist - From Abuse to Suicide

"Suicide - suicide! It is all wrong, I tell you. It is wrong psychologically. How did (the narcissist in the story) think of himself? As a Colossus, as an immensely important person, as the center of the universe! Does such a man destroy himself? Surely not. He is far more likely to destroy someone else - some miserable crawling ant of a human being who had dared to cause him annoyance ... Such an act may be regarded as necessary - as sanctified! But self-destruction? The destruction of such a Self? ... From the first I could not consider it likely that (the narcissist) had committed suicide. He had pronounced egomania, and such a man does not kill himself."

["Dead Man's Mirror" by Agatha Christie in "Hercule Poirot - The Complete Short Stories", Great Britain, HarperCollins Publishers, 1999]

"A surprising ... fact in the process of self-splitting is the sudden change of the object relation that has become intolerable, into narcissism. The man abandoned by all gods escapes completely from reality and creates for himself another world in which he ... can achieve everything that he wants. as been unloved, even tormented, he now splits off from himself a part which in the form of a helpful, loving, often motherly minder commiserates with the tormented remainder of the self, nurses him and decides for him ... with the deepest wisdom and most penetrating intelligence. He is ... a guardian angel (that) sees the suffering or murdered child from the outside, he wanders through the whole universe seeking help, invents phantasies for the child that cannot be saved in any other way ... But in the moment of a very strong, repeated trauma even this guardian angel must confess his own helplessness and well-meaning deceptive swindles ... and then nothing else remains but suicide ..."

[Ferenczi and Sandor - "Notes and Fragments" - International Journal of Psychoanalysis - Vol XXX (1949), p. 234]

There is one place in which one's privacy, intimacy, integrity and inviolability are guaranteed - one's body and mind, a unique temple and a familiar territory of sensa and personal history. The abuser invades, defiles and desecrates this shrine. He does so publicly, deliberately, repeatedly and, often, sadistically and sexually, with undisguised pleasure. Hence the all-pervasive, long-lasting, and, frequently, irreversible effects and outcomes of abuse.

In a way, the abuse victim's own body and mind are rendered his worse enemies. It is mental and corporeal agony that compels the sufferer to mutate, his identity to fragment, his ideals and principles to crumble. The body, one's very brain, become accomplices of the bully or tormentor, an uninterruptible channel of communication, a treasonous, poisoned territory. This fosters a humiliating dependency of the abused on the perpetrator. Bodily needs denied - touch, light, sleep, toilet, food, water, safety - and nagging reactions of guilt and humiliation are wrongly perceived by the victim as the direct causes of his degradation and dehumanization. As he sees it, he is rendered bestial not by the sadistic bullies around him but by his own flesh and consciousness.

The concepts of "body" or "psyche" can easily be extended to "family", or "home". Abuse - especially in familial settings - is often applied to kin and kith, compatriots, or colleagues. This intends to disrupt the continuity of "surroundings, habits, appearance, relations with others", as the CIA put it in one of its torture training manuals. A sense of cohesive self-identity depends crucially on the familiar and the continuous. By attacking both one's biological-mental body and one's "social body", the victim's mind is strained to the point of dissociation.

Abuse robs the victim of the most basic modes of relating to reality and, thus, is the equivalent of cognitive death. Space and time are warped by sleep deprivation - the frequent outcome of anxiety and stress. The self ("I") is shattered. When the abuser is a family member, or a group of peers, or an adult role model (for instance, a teacher), the abused have nothing familiar to hold on to: family, home, personal belongings, loved ones, language, one's own name - all seem to evaporate in the turmoil of abuse. Gradually, the victim loses his mental resilience and sense of freedom. He feels alien and objectified - unable to communicate, relate, attach, or empathize with others.

Abuse splinters early childhood grandiose narcissistic fantasies of uniqueness, omnipotence, invulnerability, and impenetrability. But it enhances the fantasy of merger with an idealized and omnipotent (though not benign) other - the inflicter of agony. The twin processes of individuation and separation are reversed.

Abuse is the ultimate act of perverted intimacy. The abuser invades the victim's body, pervades his psyche, and possesses his mind. Deprived of contact with others and starved for human interactions, the prey bonds with the predator. "Traumatic bonding", akin to the Stockholm syndrome, is about hope and the search for meaning in the brutal and indifferent and nightmarish universe of the abusive relationship. The abuser becomes the black hole at the center of the victim's surrealistic galaxy, sucking in the sufferer's universal need for solace. The victim tries to "control" his tormentor by becoming one with him (introjecting him) and by appealing to the monster's presumably dormant humanity and empathy.

This bonding is especially strong when the abuser and the abused form a dyad and "collaborate" in the rituals and acts of abuse (for instance, when the victim is coerced into selecting the abuse implements and the types of torment to be inflicted, or to choose between two evils).


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Last Updated: 03 June 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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