Narcissism and 'Narcissistic Wounds'
Introduction by Corey Donovan (from a post dated Sept 17, 1999)
A big part of my personal journey over the last few months has been an effort to understand why Castaneda's messages (and personality) appealed so much to me, and why I was increasingly drawn in, ultimately ignoring certain warning signs, to the point that I was nearly willing to do whatever he wanted.
I am fairly well-educated, a professional, have had years of therapy, and thought I was pretty aware of most of my motivations and predilections prior to meeting up with Castaneda & Co. I've also known since my first major round of therapy in the mid-80's that I was the child of a narcissist.
Some of you may have read Alice Miller's groundbreaking The Drama of the Gifted Child about issues common to children of narcissists. Reading it (at the insistence of my therapist) was the most devastating experience of my life (up until Castaneda's death and the departures of Florinda and Taisha), since I couldn't get through even a few pages without feeling overwhelmed with grief on recognizing that the parental "love" I experienced as a child had always been felt as being entirely conditional on my performance, achievements and "mirroring" the attention my narcissistic mother demanded of me. After years of unsatisfying relationships with other narcissists, therapy (which I had entered due to basic, inescapable feelings of emptiness) helped me realize that my attraction to these self-centered, overbearing, larger-than-life, and predominantly cold and manipulative types was due to looking to fill the "narcissistic void" generated by my upbringing. This awareness eventually made it possible for me to become attracted to, and enter into my first long-term relationship with a non-narcissistic partner, and to the kind of "healing" and emotional learning that is possible in a truly nurturing interpersonal relationship.
Several years later, when I met Castaneda and the "Witches," I was immensely attracted to their claims of having "eliminated ego" from their lives. I was also attracted to their assertions that they had given each other sorceric "blank checks of affection." Little did I know that I was about to become enmeshed with people whose grandiose fantasy lives outdid those of anyone I'd ever known, and whose pathological, non-empathetic manipulations of their "followers" and closest associates can still leave me gasping in horror and awe.
I submit that the chronologies already produced on "Carol Tiggs" and "Nury Alexander" would lead most psychotherapists to a conclusion that they are indicative of textbook cases of narcissistic personality disorder--i.e., people with an inflated sense of self-importance and grandiose fantasies who have a sense of entitlement accompanied by the tendency to exploit. Castaneda also fits the basic NPD definition, in my opinion, but shares certain additional traits common to other charismatic religious and spiritual leaders that are not necessarily typical of others with NPD. (For further explanation regarding these traits, see Prophetic Charisma: A Psychological Explanation for the 'Castaneda Phenomenon.')
The following excerpts from Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists in their Struggle for Self, will hopefully help illustrate why children of narcissists are particularly attracted to charismatic, narcissistic partners and "gurus." In reading this material (including more posts on narcissism to come), I suggest reflecting not only on what you have so far heard about Castaneda's behavior, but also keeping in mind the "willing follower" type predominant among the Cleargreen staff.
Excerpts from Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists in their Struggle for Self, by Dr. Elan Golomb (1992)
From the Introduction:
"People who are relatively free of narcissistic traits (most of us have some) do not attempt to place themselves above others. They are unconcerned with such comparisons. They stay in touch with their feelings and try to do their personal best. Their standards are internal and realistic since they have a good idea of who they are and what they can accomplish (such objectivity is not insignificant). They are not free of idealistic wishes and dreams.
Narcissists are wholly different. They unconsciously deny an unstated and intolerably poor self-image through inflation. They turn themselves into glittering figures of immense grandeur surrounded by psychologically impenetrable walls. The goal of this self-deception is to be impervious to greatly feared external criticism and to their own roiling sea of doubts.
This figure of paradox needs to be regarded as perfect by all. To achieve this, he or she constructs an elaborate persona (a social mask which is presented to the world). The persona needs an appreciative audience to applaud it. If enough people do so, the narcissist is relieved that no one can see through his disguise. The persona is a defensive schema to hide behind, like the false-front stores on a Western movie set. When you peer behind the propped-up wall, you find . . . nothing. Similarly, behind the grandiose parading, the narcissist feels empty and devoid of value.
Because his life is organized to deny negative feelings about himself and to maintain an illusion of superiority, the narcissist's family is forcibly conscripted into supporting roles. They have no other option if they wish to get along with him. His mate must be admiring and submissive to keep the marriage going and his children will automatically mold themselves into any image that is projected upon them.
Replica Watches Replica Watches
Here the tragedy begins. A narcissist cannot see his children as they are but only as his unconscious needs dictate. He does not question why his children are incredibly wonderful (better than anyone else's) or intolerably horrible (the worst in all respects) or why his view of them ricochets from one extreme to another with no middle ground. It is what they are.
When he is idealizing them, he sees their talents as mythic, an inflation that indicates they are being used as an extension of his grandiose self. When he hates them and finds their characteristics unacceptable, he is projecting hated parts of himself onto them. Whether idealizing or denigrating, he is entirely unaware that what he sees is a projection and that his views are laying a horrible burden on his child.
. . . .
The offspring of narcissists grow up fulfilling their assigned roles. They may sense that they are in a state of falsehood, but do not know what to do about feelings of nonauthenticity. They try all the harder to become what they are supposed to be, as if their feelings of uneasiness come from an improper realization of their role. If their parents see them as miserably deficient, from the shape of their bodies to the power of their minds, that is what they become. If they were portrayed to themselves as great muckamucks, especially if they have innate ability to fulfill a powerful role, they become the movers and shakers of society.
At heart, children of narcissists, raised up or cast down by the ever-evaluating parent, feel themselves to be less than nothing because they must 'be' something to earn their parents' love. Conditional love offers no support for the inner self. It creates people who have no personal sense of substance or worth. Nourished on conditional love, children of narcissists become conditional. They find themselves unreal."
From chapter entitled, "How to Recognize a Narcissist and Narcissism":
"As a child, the narcissist-to-be found his essential self rejected by his narcissistic parent. The wounds of the parent are a template for the wounding of the child. Each narcissistic parent in each generation repeats the crime that was perpetrated against him. The crime is non-acceptance. The narcissist is more demanding and deforming of the child he identifies with more strongly, although all his children are pulled into his web of subjectivity. How can he accept offspring who are the product of his own unconsciously despised self? . . . .
The child who will eventually turn into a full-scale narcissist most often had a narcissistic mother. The reason why the maternal narcissist is more often likely to turn her child into a fellow narcissist is because the mother most often provides the predominant care that defines the babyís early world. If the father is narcissistic and the mother is not, the fatherís traumatic impact is attenuated at the time when the child is establishing a sense of self.
The narcissist-to-be turns away from a world he perceives as devoid of nurturance and love (since a motherís care gives the child its first version of the world). He withdraws into grandiose fantasies to shield himself from profound feelings of unworthiness caused by the fact that his mother does not really love him. Grandiosity permits him to believe that he is complete and perfect unto himself, thus shielding him from his secret sense that he is a ravening beast, ready to murder others in order to eat and survive. The food of this beast is admiration.
The narcissistic mother, caretaker of the childís earliest years, is grandiose, chronically cold but overprotective. She invades her childís autonomy and manipulates him to conform to her wishes. She rejects all about him that she finds objectionable, putting him in the anxiety-ridden position of losing her affection if he expresses dissatisfaction. She responds to his baby rages and fussing with anxiety, anger, or withdrawal. He becomes unable to cope with the ugly feelings that threaten to erupt and destroy the bond between him and his mother, the bond he depends on for survival.
His motherís grandiosity models a way out of his dilemma. She places him on a common throne, sharing the rarefied air of her greatness. By appropriating and embellishing the aura of specialness in which she has enveloped him he can create a grandiose fantasy about himself to escape to. This fantasy eventually crystallizes into a psychic structure we call the grandiose self. A new narcissist is born.
For all his air of self-sufficiency, the narcissist is full of interpersonal needs. He is more needy than most people who feel they have something good inside of them. If he is to survive, he must find a way to get his needs met without acknowledging the independent existence of the person off whom he wants to feed. To admit that a person is necessary to him gets him in touch with feelings of deficiency, which plummet him into intolerable emptiness, jealousy, and rage. To avoid this experience, he inhabits a one-person world. Either he exists and other people are extinguished or vice versa. In his mind, he is center stage and other people are mere shadows beyond the proscenium. This solution creates a new conundrum: ĎHow can I get fed without acknowledging the feeder??The solution is to dissect people and to turn them partially into objects, to make them inanimate. A person comes to represent a need-fulfilling function or an organ like a breast, vagina, or penis. There is no overall person to consider.
. . . . Since he is not psychotic and totally out of touch with reality, he is occasionally forced to recognize the presence of a benefactor. The emotional incursion of such an idea is warded off by demeaning the gift or the person who has given it. If a gift is unworthy he doesnít have to feel gratitude. Not to say that he does not at times proffer thanks. A narcissist can be quite charming when he wishes to impress, but his words are not deeply felt.
He usually does not see the need to go to such lengths with his family. They belong to him and are supposed to cater to his needs. His children are particularly crushed by his lack of recognition for their attempts at pleasing him since he is the main figure in their world. Adding insult to injury, they can always count on his criticism when what is offered falls below his standards.
Despite his bubble of grandiosity, the narcissist is remarkably thin-skinned, forever taking offense and feeling mistreated, especially when people appear to have eliminated the extras in their response to him. Less than special immediately implies that someone may be thinking the emperor is naked, precisely what he fears. He is enraged whenever the aching corns of his insecurities are stepped on.
A narcissist tends to have transient social relationships since few wish to abide by her rules. She has quick enthusiasms, business associates but few friends. Her closest are other narcissists who keep a comfortable distance while exchanging gestures of mutual admiration. Neither makes emotional demands on the other.
In a mate, if she does not choose a fellow narcissist, she will cohabit with a person who feels inadequate and who needs to hide in a relationship. This suits her well since she doesn't want to recognize the existence of another being. Often, her mate is the child of a narcissist, already indoctrinated to regard exploitation and disregard as love.
. . . .
The grandiose narcissist in her automat world may not feel the emptiness of her life, although her narcissistic traits cause suffering in all those with whom she has intimate contact. She only comes to recognize that something is wrong (not necessarily with herself) when the environment no longer supports her grand illusions and she fails to live up to expectations of greatness. At this time she may become depressed and seek psychotherapy to relieve the pain."
From Chapter 4:
"The narcissist attacks separateness in everyone with whom he must have a relationship. Either they fit into his ego-supporting mold or they are extruded from his life. Narcissistic rage and aggression are based on fear. His entitlement to absolute control over others must go unchallenged.
. . . .
Although the overall picture of narcissism can be readily understood, small details of [narcissistic] behavior are inexplicable. There is no rational explanation for what a completely self-centered person will do. What they themselves say about it later bears no relation to the original motivation. They often surrender to overpowering impulses based on distorted, one-sided, and limited perceptions."
From Chapter 13:
"Often, an initial move for independence involves joining a group. Membership in a group represents opposition to the parent. A narcissistic parent wants to determine her childís style and life objectives. Her child wants separation but, fearing to stand alone, joins an all-encompassing group as a halfway move to freedom. He thinks that membership expresses his individuality and cites group laws as buttressing independence from the parent. But such membership often limits his search for a self that needs separation to exist. In order not to be immersed in his parentís narcissistic net he buries himself in a group that operates like a narcissistic family and requires identity with members?goals and ethos. It is a style of life that reinforces personal nonbeing."