Narcissism in psychology: what it is and how to communicate with narcissists

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Many psychotherapists are convinced that narcissists do not want to change. They are believed to be uninterested in psychotherapy because they find looking inward too painful.

They have a hard time admitting their shortcomings, dealing with hidden shame, and finding a healthier way to function. Psychotherapists themselves do not like to work with narcissists because they often become the object of their rage. First, they idealize the psychotherapist and strive to show themselves in the best light, and then devalue his professionalism. The therapist must get used to being yelled at when he says or does something that makes narcissists angry.

However, only to a psychotherapist do narcissistic clients tell things that they cannot admit to anyone else. It turns out they are:

– understand that they are behaving incorrectly when they become angry;

– are aware that they are overreacting, but do not know why they are doing this or how to stop;

– tired of looking for new sources of confirmation of their significance and value;

– no longer confident that a high position, a new car or a beautiful girlfriend will make their life better;

– suffer from depression, shame and self-hatred.

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What is narcissistic personality disorder?

Narcissistic personality disorder is an adaptation to an unhealthy environment in the parental family. The consequence of this is unstable self-esteem.

Like any habitual action, your narcissistic reactions are encoded in the brain as a series of neural connections. They work automatically in specific situations. But you can learn new skills to respond that will be more effective. Over time, new, non-narcissistic strategies will take the place of the old ones.

Most people regularly update their computer programs and smartphone applications, but no one thinks about upgrading their psychological strategies!

If you want to change, use the 7-step self-help program.

First set your goals. Select what you want to change.

It is up to you to choose which problems to work on. People around you will willingly intervene and offer you a lot of options. They will make a long list of things you should do differently because your behavior offends them. This is understandable, but you change for yourself, not for others. To achieve success, you must look within yourself.

The Omnipotence and Fragility of the Narcissist

I think that from the very first lines you will be disappointed, because in this article not a word will be said about omnipotence. Perhaps one mention of him is enough to remember and imagine those very self-centered and wanting to be omnipotent individuals that you encounter from time to time in life or at work. Or, in other words, narcissists.

Narcissism is another word that many people use to describe certain characteristics of the manifestations of different people. Sometimes they insult with this word, sometimes they explain this or that behavior, like “he’s narcissistic.” Sometimes they want a little bit of it for themselves. In order to simplify and streamline the inconsistency of different views on narcissism, you can pay attention to the following concepts: Narcissistic personality type (narcissistic personality): the broadest concept that denotes a set of stable characteristics that manifest themselves in different life circumstances. Which, in fact, can determine the direction of the individual - those tendencies, that energy that, as motives, determines human activity and manifests itself in relationships with others, with oneself, with society. That is, the entire spectrum and range of narcissistic manifestations that do not cross over into the area of ​​personality disorders. This may be referred to as a personality with a narcissistic structure (Kernberg), a narcissistic character (Reich), a narcissistic personality (Kohut), a narcissistic personality type (McWilliams). Accordingly, these features can be expressed differently in different people, in some more pronounced, in others less. And the difficulties that arise in the process of life can also be of varying degrees of severity. Some of the stable features bring discomfort when interacting with the outside world, while others turn out to be very appropriate, life-saving and help to adapt to current circumstances. Narcissistic pathology (narcissistic disorders, disorders): this is a narrower concept that involves a diagnosis and some treatment. When the ICD and DSM criteria are cited, they often refer to this as criteria for a narcissistic personality, but what is meant, of course, is a disorder, and not just a character or personality type. Narcissistic needs: this also includes the formulations “narcissistic part” (mine, yours), “narcissistic orientation” or “narcissistic component”. In the dynamic concept of personality, the narcissistic component (or in Gestalt vernacular - “narcissism”) is not a diagnosis or pathology. But it is viewed rather as a necessary part of life; abilities that arise at a certain stage of development - to manipulate objects, objects (internal and external world), people. The needs that are actualized during this period are also narcissistic meta-needs. We can talk within the framework of this concept about narcissistic traits (parts), as necessary for each of us to fully live our lives harmoniously and holistically. Let’s say that normal personality development made it possible for the “narcissistic part” to form. Everything has “grown” to a fairly good size (everything - I mean what we talk about within the framework of DCL - schizoid, neurotic, narcissistic). But this does not mean that the world has stopped, and, for example, narcissistic needs will always be satisfied, and the “narcissistic part” will always be full and satisfied. No, it’s precisely life that suggests that we balance every day, live, breathe, look for some balance in what we want, what I can, what I do, and so on.

And this is normal when we actually want to be valuable to someone, to feel our significance and success, to be proud of ourselves, doing something in this life, to achieve, among other things. And, therefore, when something of this does not work out, fails or is not implemented, it brings discomfort, complexity, and various kinds of “unpleasant” experiences. Impairments in functioning can range from “I want love,” but I am good at getting it by demonstrating success and achievements. And to “I don’t need anything other than success, then I’ll be happy.” And the reasons for this can also be very different - a traumatic event, a crisis - age-related, professional, etc. And, accordingly, so does the depth of experience and complexity of solving this problem. And a very narrow concept is narcissistic injury. In general, is it clear the difference between trauma and character?

The loss of some integrity of the mental tissue, a hole that arose against the background of what has already been formed, what exists. Something broke, something broke. In this case, the idea of ​​oneself, one’s value, significance, and one’s skills to achieve anything may be “broken.” Using DCL as an example, the ability to manipulate objects in the internal and external world, objects, and people is impaired (due to traumatic circumstances).

Let's just think about the concepts

The person you meet in your life or psychotherapeutic practice may be a narcissistic personality (have a narcissistic character type), may have a narcissistic disorder or narcissistic injury, or may be just at the stage where his “narcissistic part” ( as narcissistic needs) is just developing and being realized. These people may look different, demonstrate different behaviors, and experience their difficulties within themselves in different ways. But outwardly, if we look superficially, we can call such a person a “narcissist.” What we mean by this and what actually happens to a person is not clear. Why we should label him as a “narcissist” is also not very clear. In order to begin to heal (if this is a client who asked for help), in order to understand how to be in a relationship with him, in order to insult and express his own anger at what this person is? To complicate matters, imagine a person with a narcissistic character type who is at that stage when something does not work out, it is impossible, the narcissistic part does not find satisfaction. What we see doubles. Can a “narcissist” be a traumatist? Maybe. Just like “hysterical” or “schizoid”. Can any other personality type exhibit a complex of narcissistic traits (as compensation or as a fact, as a basic package)? Maybe. For example, a person with a schizoid character type: Harry Guntrip in his work “Schizoid Phenomena, Object Relations and the Self,” listing characteristic schizoid traits, also names narcissism, meaning that all his love objects are within himself, his attachments relate as if to himself. In addition, our conditional narcissists (I’m speaking in general now, not focusing on whether we are talking about character or trauma) have two types of compensatory behavior - from grandiose to depressive. And in this case, the depressed client (friend, person) - in general, the Other, opposite us - at first glance may seem like a completely non-narcissistic character, but inside there are problems precisely from the area of ​​narcissism. Are narcissistic personalities different from hysterical, obsessive-compulsive, psychopathic, and depressive ones? They are different. How and with what? Does it matter?

Narcissistic personality and narcissistic injury (reaction) - what is the client actually demonstrating in the “here and now”? These answers matter. Precisely because these nuances, subtleties, differences lead to some confusion in understanding who exactly is in front of us. And when working with the topic of narcissism, it is important to have the ability to be sensitive, careful and careful to these subtleties, shades, nuances, and perhaps be meticulous. Precisely because (in my opinion) in this topic, more than anywhere else, shades play a significant role. Find out how they become “that way.” In Gestalt therapy, the concept of diagnosis is rarely used and they strive not to “label”, trying more to describe, understand, observe and explore what is happening with the client. And this research (joint with the client) helps to first see some part of reality (which was previously ignored, was not conscious and fully experienced), and then (and actually thanks to this) move towards harmonizing one’s own life. You can read about the formation of basic meta-needs at least here (article by D. Khlomov “Individual history of narcissism”). There, in fact, a view of the narcissistic component is indicated. However, not for the sake of shortcuts, but for the sake of the actual quality of contact, it is still important to have some arsenal in order to understand a little more about the person sitting in front of you than he is showing now. And at the moment, I am talking about the narcissistic personality type (character). Or if we apply the filter of the dynamic concept of personality to this concept, then about a person who, in the process of passing through phases or stages during which the formation of various parts of the personality occurs (schizoid, neurotic, narcissistic), discovers, satisfies/does not satisfy meta-needs and gets a failure . And it is not a fact that the failure occurred at the stage of formation of the ability to manipulate people, objects, objects of the internal and external world, but rather the opposite. This part has found its path of development, this ability has developed more than others, the ways to satisfy this need are more accessible and clear. But everything else is a question? What prompted this path? In the simplest possible terms, there is no way to know who I am. A child who needs closeness and acceptance does not feel, does not worry, does not feel important, valuable, and close with his entire inner world. Those who are nearby (significant Others - Adults who actually chose to accompany him into this world) - for some reason, they could not give the child this feeling of closeness, his emotional life turned out to be unimportant, unnecessary, or interfering. And the push, the desire for closeness, warmth, contact gives the energy to move exactly there, but “there” turns out to be cold, unpleasant, prickly, or as if nothing had changed at all, whether I appeared there or not. In this sense, ignoring a child (as indifference, not being involved in any emotional reactions) can provoke his movement towards a narcissistic disposition to the same extent as condemnation, evaluation, criticism. And thus, moving back and forth, as if listening to himself, for what and how he can receive “indifference” (this sounds like supposedly conscious and thoughtful actions, in fact, this is not what happens at all. It just happens , forming some experience, stable features and traits) - the child searches and finds something thanks to which he can be noticed. Thanks to what actions, what actions, what manifestations, what qualities, what feelings is he noticed by Others? It is unknown whether this (what makes him noticeable) is all this is actually “him” or is it just tools, objects and phenomena for manipulation that can be demonstrated.

In terms of Gestalt therapy (Self and the three Self functions - Ego, Id and Personality), in the end everything looks something like this. The Ego function: determines the choice, determines what I want and what I don’t want. A conscious choice that involves contact with both myself and the environment. I make a choice based on sensations, on feelings (on the Id) and on my experience, on ideas about myself (on personality). A personality formed by narcissistic type, this function turns out to be lost, because it serves the actual personality - inflated and not very real. Personality function: formed from experience, history, is the basis of what a person is, the way he is presented. That , who I am and who I am not. Defines identity. And in a situation where I had to demonstrate something that is not me in order to get what I need, this function is disrupted. Personality inflates, turns into a bubble, which must always be maintained by “air pumping”. Id function (id): freely arising feelings and desires, bodily, conscious and unconscious needs, needs that exist in a person. It happens to me, it just happens to me. In a narcissistic personality, this function is also impaired, precisely because the reliance on oneself and one’s needs and feelings is lost more and more with each attempt to get what one needs by pretending that one has this need and these feelings. Personality is ultimately formed without taking into account (not in contact with) the id. In psychoanalytic literature, as the causes and conditions for the formation of a narcissistic personality type (and about narcissistic pathology too), they talk about: - about primary and secondary narcissism, and about how this transition occurs, the movement from the infant’s primary narcissism in the process of development; - about frustration of oral needs in the period from 4 to 12 months of life. The fact that the maternal figure is functionally supposedly “good”, performing the necessary actions, but emotionally indifferent, soulless, unempathetic, filled with non-verbalized aggression, is also sadistic, restraining, dishonest, manipulative; - about encouraging a premature sense of autonomy at the stage of separation-individuation , as a fixation at the stage of an unreliable mother-child relationship, for a period of up to 18 months. Emotionally abandoning the child at the moment when he is not yet actually able to “separate” and needs this dependence on the maternal figure; - about using the child to continue himself, about the child as a narcissistic extension and about the fact that in this case he is not capable to manifest himself as who he really is, but should only be who and how they want him to be; - that the authenticity of self-expression is suppressed, and compliance with needs and standards is encouraged. Admiration, attention, recognition are earned by a child at the cost of inner emptiness, since he does not know how to hide what is in reality, and in fact all the forces of the soul are directed towards destroying it and ignoring it. So that, as if in reality, there is nothing except what needs to be demonstrated; - about how the child treated himself and the world around him with love, how the picture of his real world and the ideal was formed: about returning to a certain point in childhood, when the child was happy with himself. About self-love, however, about loving oneself as not the Real, but as the one that one could and would like to be; I am also personally impressed by how Steven Johnson speaks about the narcissistic character: the main condition for the development of a narcissistic personality type is that that parents use the child for their own purposes, to reflect, to raise their own value. Wanting him to be something more, they admire him, idealize him. Wanting to be something less, they humiliate, ignore. Sometimes both. A child is not a person, not a living being that has its own authenticity, germinating and in need of growth, but something, almost like a thing, that should be the way the parent and the environment need it. It is perceived and considered some kind of property that has no right to be anything else.

“Dried” residue - who are they and what are they?

Narcissistic etiology leads to fundamental infantilism in the feeling of self, in the concept of self and in the image of self. We deliberately present these three definitions to make it even clearer that the narcissistic representation of the self in each of the three main sensory systems (visual, auditory and kinesthetic) suffers from a unique pathology. Etiological conditions lead the individual to the decision: “Something in me, as I really am, is not right. I have to be exceptional." (Steven Johnson “Character Psychotherapy”) In terms of “non-Gestalt therapy”, based on the work of Steven Johnson, it looks like this.

A narcissistic personality with good defenses is a personality with a developed false Self, described in the left half of the table. All mental forces are directed towards strengthening and maintaining the false Self. And as long as this is successful, the person does not need therapeutic help. When there are glimpses of awareness of the untruth of what exists or when actions to keep the false Self stop working, an interest in psychotherapy may arise, with the desire mainly to receive a tool that will help “stay afloat” along with the false Self. The narcissistic personality with weak defenses is represented in the right half of the table. Such a person is chronically absorbed in himself, his experiences, fears, “shame,” an impossible feeling of desire for relationships and intimacy and the simultaneous desire to escape from relationships, the fear of absorption, and besides this, the inability to appropriate and experience authentically his own conditionally “negative” traits. Such clients more often turn to a psychotherapist for help, with the main task of mitigating these symptoms, getting rid of unpleasant experiences, and finding a way to “make it easier for themselves.” Moreover, in both cases there is a third part (bottom) of the table, the true Self, about which the narcissistic personality has a very vague idea. An emotional reality that remains unconscious. If we speak in terms of Gestalt therapy, then the border of contact of the narcissistic personality is frozen - there is practically no liveliness in the movement towards satisfying the need, in relationships, in presence in one’s own life. No risk, in order to avoid contact (so as not to disturb the stability of the false Self, if we focus on the formulations above) and to keep our own feelings inside ourselves. Retroflection and egotism become the most successful mechanisms for life.

Egotism allows you to simulate contact, as if getting what you need. Retroflection allows you to keep feelings - disappointment, guilt, shame, anger, disgust - in yourself, and direct it inward. In this way he avoids his own rejection by the perfect Self, and in doing so he finds a way to have a good opinion of himself. Egotism means that by feeling fear, the client prevents himself from losing control. It becomes inwardly directed and does not open the boundaries for the collision in which the I-Thou relationship becomes “We.” (Harm Siemens) In my opinion, all this information from different sources perfectly complements and makes the topic of narcissism voluminous, showing the inconsistency and complexity of the phenomenon. The craving and desire to be noticed, heard, to feel fulfilled, loved and important cannot be destroyed. Even if you don’t have the skills and abilities to get what you need. It is this craving and desire for a harmonious life in all manifestations of completeness, harmony and intimacy that brings clients to therapy. And it also becomes a push towards the Other person in any relationship - friendly, loving, professional. Imagine - there is a push, there is energy, there is a desire, but there is no ability or skill. And for example, this push is completely unconscious, inaccessible - an unclear anxiety that leads somewhere, attracts, pulls. And what happens to a person at this moment brings suffering from the impossibility of where to put this desire and energy, how to “hold out”, “wait out” this push. And if you succumb to it, then from the inability to recognize the need, to accept it, from inability and lack of skills, this attempt to get what you need fails.

The therapist is required to be patient, tolerant, slow, careful, sensitive, inclusive, and present when working with narcissistic clients. Naturally, narcissistic clients can “hit” the therapist’s sore spots, strive to destroy him, destroy him, seduce him, based on what is actually happening in their inner conscious and unconscious world. And in this sense, it is really important, first of all, to have the ability to see who is in front of us. Real. Which involves taking into account both what is being demonstrated and what is being done. To have the ability to hear not only what a person says, but what he cannot say. Together we try to find the words that are missing. Together, each time inventing our own way of meeting and relating, which in the future will allow us to add flexibility to these rigid, frozen habitual ways of behavior and reactions. Which will give you the opportunity to become one step closer to a harmonious and fulfilling life.

"Disease" of our time

Each era has its own “diseases of the soul.”
At the beginning of the 20th century, typical patients of a psychoanalyst (for example, Freud) were people with a hysterical personality structure; in the middle of the 20th century, problems of the “schizoid” spectrum became widespread, and now modern psychotherapists agree that it is narcissism that is becoming epidemic (in the opinion of N. McWilliams). Our society is obsessed with self-esteem, and the obsession with selfies is clear evidence of this. Society broadcasts unrealistic standards (to be smart, rich, athletic, young and much more at the same time) by which people evaluate themselves. Failure to live up to these ideals leads to a severe blow to a person's self-esteem, causing depression and addictive behavior. Social networks, in turn, allow you to build narcissistic defenses around your unstable self. Here a person can filter information about himself and demonstrate only the desirable aspects of life. Thereby supporting the myth of one’s own “impeccability.”

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