|Narcissus by Michelangelo Caravaggio|
I was typing a message the other day while sitting next to my kitchen window. The sunlight streaming through the glass struck the face of my watch reflecting a shiny orb onto kitchen cabinetry; which utterly fascinated two rambunctious kitties. They leapt through the air, crawled under the table, and stalked the illumination wherever it skipped, hoping to capture the mystical orb with their furry paws. Yea, it was terrific fun messin’ with the kitty cats’ unlimited energy since they were intent on capturing the illusive spotlight.
If I had extended my arm, those kitty cats would have ignored me completely since my Timex doesn’t sparkle, it has scratches on the lens and let's face it, it's not exactly thrilling to chase an old woman’s wrist around the kitchen. Their fascination was intent on chasing a dancing piece of sunlight diverting their attention from the true source of the reflection: the nurturer’s hairy arm.
It got me thinking about narcissists and the grandiose images they mistakenly assumed to be the Self. Just like kitty cats, narcissists chase illusions, never realizing the movement of the watch is the true source of the reflection. How does a human confuse a reflected Image (lie) with a real or true self? Lowen equates the 'self' with feelings, or with the sensing of the body. If strong feelings are consistently defended against and denied, the narcissist is, in effect, denying the real self.
When we think of a narcissist, we usually say he or she only loves the self, that they are self-serving and selfish. But if they lack a sense of self, it’s probably more accurate to say narcissists only love the image, that they are image-serving and image-ish.
“The important distinction, then, is between the person who operates in terms of an image and the person who functions in terms of his or her feelings. But since feelings are a natural attribute of being human, how can one not feel?
If the image is established as the dominant force in the personality, the person will suppress any feeling that contradicts it.
But an image can only gain this dominant position in the absence of strong feelings. I strongly believe that the absence of feeling is the basic disturbance in the narcissistic personality, and the one that allows the image to gain ascendancy. In narcissism, as opposed to the typical neuroses of earlier times, the loss of feeling is due to a special mechanism, which I call the denial of feeling.” ~Alexander Lowen (page 46)
But everyone identifies with an Image, right? And don’t we all deny certain feelings that make us feel bad about ourselves?
In a lifetime of intimate friendships, I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t eaten his or her share of humble pie when the image they believed to be themselves, was contradicted by reality. Maturation offers fat plates of Blew-it-Berry cobbler whenever we fail or fall short of achieving impossible expectations we set for ourselves. Our false Image will be consistently bombarded by truth and reality. If we deny our imperfection to the exclusion of truth, we’ll be offered second-helpings of humble pie until we hopefully accept fallibility as the state of being human.
Breaking down defenses serving the Image and not the true self, is a natural process of maturation. At least, this is how I view sacrificing my Image of the Perfect Mother (Lie) to my reality as a Good-Enough Mom (reality).
In my culture, young women identified with the Image of the Madonna and conscious or not, assumed their identity was based on being perfectly nurturing, tender and all giving. But once my first child came screaming from the womb and my dreamtime was interrupted with a red-faced infant demanding attention (even when I needed to take a shower…preferably by myself), deep and powerful emotions picked at the lifelessness of the Image.
I recall a particular experience with a friend who had a baby at the same time as myself. Her child yelled ever-bit-as-much as mine, so one day I expressed my dissatisfaction trying to sooth an infant who wouldn’t have been soothed by mother Mary herself. ”I’m so frustrated when nothing I do calm her downs. It makes me feel terrible about myself and I don’t like being a mother!” I told her.
She stared at me, shocked to hear any woman question mothering as an overwhelming role. “I don’t feel terrible about anything. I love my baby. I love being a mother. I never feel frustrated or anxious. I certainly don’t resent taking care of an innocent child."
It was the perfect chastisement from the Holy Mother herself. I went home feeling like a second-rate Madonna and thought about our conversation all night. In-between 'feedings', that is. Even not knowing a thing about narcissism, I finally concluded, “That woman sure knows how to lie to herself.”
The narcissist’s egotistically constructed Image is one of Superiority, Perfection, Power and Control. Whether in the boardroom, the bedroom or poised perfectly on a yoga mat, the narcissist is convinced of his or her superiority. Denying any feelings of powerlessness, vulnerability and weakness means they choose to live a lie rather than to live a life.
Have you ever dealt with the spiritual narcissist who views himself as the icon of incorruptible principles? The narcissist’s Image of being special, superior and good means anything ‘bad’ must be denied. If we ask them to “Tone it Down ‘cuz you’re scaring me!” the narcissist will deny reality, often blaming us for being too sensitive. We can always tell someone lacks self-awareness when they erupt in anger yet insist they aren’t upset. Yelling contradicts their Image of sanity, rationality and respect and will, as a consequence, be denied. Just like someone who insists they’re not jealous of other people's achievements & talents when it’s obvious their eyes have turned green with envy. Maybe they have painful lessons to learn in life as we all do; but if they refuse to sacrifice the Image of Perfection and accept their common humanity with the rest of us low-lifes, they’ll end up being written about on narcissism blogs.
In theory then, the narcissist denied his humanity a long time ago by relegating the unsightly, imperfect & feeling self to the dungeon of the unconscious---never to see the light of day, with no possibility of parole and living on meager prison rations. I’m guessing the narcissist’s true self is holding back a lot of rage for having been disrespected, rejected and subordinated to a lie: the Image. So if you’re hoping to break through the narcissist’s defenses and release what you believe to be an innocent child within, alls I gotta say to you is this: grab your bullet proof vest and put on your fastest Nikes. Narcissists don't "meow", they bite.
Lowen, Alexander, M.D. Narcissism: Denial of the True Self. 1997 edition