Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Dr. Sanity on Narcissism

Dr. Sanity is a blog by a psychiatrist "Shining a psychological spotlight on a few of the insanities of life." Though it's primarilly a political blog, she offers a great explanation of narcissism that you may benefit from.

I quote from Part I below:

A healthy Self has two fundamental and equally important parts:

1) Self-Esteem – or a sense that one has a right to Life and success; ambition; a healthy exhibitionism and comfort with one’s body. This part of the Self supplies the instinctual fuel for ambition and purpose; and for enjoyment of Life’s activities.

2) Ideals – a belief in something outside the “Self” that guides and gives meaning to one’s Life. Having ideals make developing one’s goals in Life possible. It is this part of the Self that also makes healthy interpersonal relationships possible.

The development of BOTH parts is essential to psychological health. When one part develops at the expense of the other—it has grave consequences for the individual and society.

She goes on to explain that ...

The infant is born with what is called “Primary Narcissism”. Mothers know that the newborn child is not able to differentiate between the Mother (referred to as “Other”) and himself (referred to as “Self”). For example, the Mother's breast is treated by the infant initially as a part of himself. Slowly over months and years, the child begins to differentiate himself from the Mother; and as he goes through normal biological development he becomes more and more independent and self-sufficient.

At some point, the Self and the Other--once "perfectly" merged--are now two distinct objects. This important process of separation-individuation is facilitated by the normal shortcomings(i.e. imperfections) in maternal care, which spur the child's development as an individual. For example: baby demands food, but mother is unavailable right now and doesn’t feed baby until her schedule permits (but doesn’t let him starve either!). Such natural and normal imperfections of empathy with the child are actually healthy. I won’t go into a full discussion of this, but suffice it to say that the Other must not be too perfect, nor too imperfect, as either extreme carried on for too long will interfere with the developing Self of the child.

It is because of the slow separation of Self from Other that the two developmental lines come into being. The first line Kohut refers to as the “Grandiose Self”(or idealized self image) and the second is referred to as the “Idealized Parent Image”. Both of these images represent psychological attempts to save the original experience of "perfection" by the infant when the Mother (Other) and the infant (Self) were “one”.

The “Grandiose Self” will develop over time (if not disrupted) into healthy Self-Esteem; and the” Idealized Parent Image” will eventually lead to the development of Ideals that give meaning to the individual’s life; and to healthy interpersonal relationships.

Read the whole thing: Narcissism and Society.
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