Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool
And when he sees his reflection, he’s fulfilled
Oh, man is opposed to fair play
He wants it all and he wants it his way.
Bob Dylan: License To Kill
Narcissism has a reputation for being notoriously difficult to engage with in therapy, for a variety of good reasons, not least because the very idea of ‘needing’ therapy is a humiliating insult to the grandiose self. As one of the key modern ‘disturbances of the self’, narcissism has replaced Victorian repression as the psychological disease of the age, which means that the original theories of our discipline from 100 years ago no longer quite apply. As a dominant collective issue, as exhibited by the celebrity culture all over the world and all over the media, the term ‘narcissism’ has entered pop psychology and lost all precision and meaning. In order to be clinically useful, we need to have a clear, circumscribed definition of narcissism, and its origins and manifestations.
Beyond commonplace over-simplifications, the various therapeutic traditions have widely divergent ideas and theories about narcissism, leading to quite contradictory recommendations for therapists. More than many other issues, therefore, narcissism requires an integrative stance, that can draw insights and understanding from the various approaches and combine them, to provide a comprehensive understanding and therapeutic response.
Because the narcissist tries to approximate an image of perfection (attempting to manifest a grandiose self), this leads to a chameleon-like disconnection from the body, and an objectifying, ‘perfecting’ treatment of it. For many celebrities, the body becomes an advertisement of the False Self, treated like one more fashion accessory. More than many other issues, therefore, narcissism calls for an embodied therapy, reconnecting the person to pleasurable, ordinary human reality, rather than pursuing the delusions of a disembodied virtual self.
Because the narcissist was emotionally ‘used’ by their parent(s), their individuality was never fully seen and mirrored. Therefore, in the moment where we apply a generic diagnostic label and put the narcissist into the same category with many others, we are re-inflicting a lack of individual mirroring. More than any other issue, narcissism reveals some of the shadow aspects and weaknesses of our discipline. In order to make therapy possible, we cannot afford to rely on a reasonable and supposedly realistic ego-ego alliance: we need a working alliance both with the wounded, insignificant self as well as the inflated grandiose self.
This course will provide condensed understanding extracted from the various therapeutic approaches, specifically drawing from and integrating the various psychoanalytic, the humanistic-embodied and the Jungian traditions. We will combine the theoretical input with practical, experiential work, based upon vignettes and case illustrations volunteered by participants, to explore how these ideas may be applied in practice.
We will be drawing on the following literature:
- Jacoby, Mario (2013, Reprint edition) Individuation and Narcissism: The Psychology of Self in Jung and Kohut. Routledge.
- Johnson, S. M. (1987) Humanizing the Narcissistic Style. W.W. Norton.
- Johnson, S. M. (1994) Character Styles. W.W. Norton.
- Kohut, H. (2009) The Analysis of the Self: A Systematic Approach to the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders.
- Kohut, H. (2009) The Restoration of the Self.
- Kernberg, O. (1984) Severe Personality Disorders: Psychotherapeutic Strategies. Yale University Press.
- Kernberg, O. (1996) Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism. Jason Aronson.
- Otto Kernberg, On Narcissism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyP92WLLqIU ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeVMtZns5Pw
- Lowen, A. (2004) Narcissism: Denial of the True Self. Touchstone.
- Schwartz-Salant, N. (1982) Narcissism and Character Transformation. Inner City Books.
- Shaw, D. (2013) Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation. Routledge.
- Twenge, J.M. & Campbell, W.K. (2010) The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. Free Press.