The Narcissist?s Mother

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 need to assimilate and integrate by being assimilated and integrated.


H. Kohut :

?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.?

(From: ?The Dynamics and Treatment of Alcoholism?)


The child?s nascent Self must first overcome its feelings of diffusiveness, of being an extension of its caregivers (also parents, in this text), or a part of them. Kohut says that the 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 be its Self for him. It rebels and seeks to depose them and take over their functions. The better the parents serve as selfobjects (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 abolished in a popular uprising.


Kohut: ?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 worthwhileness nor a target for a merger with the idealized 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.? (same)


C. 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 internalized by identification with parental modes of dealing with stressful information.?

(Jon Mardi Horowitz ? ?Stress Response Syndromes: PTSD, Grief, and Adjustment Disorders?, Third Edition)


Narcissism is fundamentally an advanced version of the splitting defense mechanism. The Narcissist cannot regard humans, situations, entities (political parties, countries, races, his workplace, whatever) as a compound of good and bad elements. He is an ?all or nothing? primitive ?machine? (a common metaphor among