Through praise and attention, parents instill in us that we are understood, loved, and admired, thus laying the foundation for our healthy self-esteem.
Donald Winnicott is a British pediatrician and child psychoanalyst. One of the most important representatives of the theory of object relations.
We all want attention, acceptance of ourselves by others and the experience of that experience. Yes, in adulthood we can not “give” all the attention and joyful eyes that we have not seen from our parents. But people can give a lot… I, for example, also want to be noticed and commented on my their abilities, strengths and accomplishments. Moreover, it is an integral part of a lot of what I do. I don’t behave like this for praise or recognition. But they are an important part of my interaction with others. It makes me feel good to be celebrated and acknowledged. It is my natural need that fills my life with a special pleasure to share the joy of my accomplishments with others. It feels like pride inside, which is what healthy narcissism is all about. Or rather, one part of it. I can both be proud of myself when I have reason to be, and I can endure a state of my own ordinariness when I don’t do anything special or do not do very well.
Once upon a time there was a Little Narcissus.
She was very smart, beautiful, and even talented.
But for some reason, she never heard any such confessions about herself.
Or she could never hear it…
And here deficit narcissists have their own peculiarities that “trigger” the process of unsatisfiability. Instead of giving themselves a chance to be seen through the eyes of another person and to be recognized, they devalue their own successes. To others they will not present or show anything. They really don’t stand up well to others’ views of their own merits. First, they will tell themselves that it is shameful to brag like a child. And second, they have their own reasons for being afraid to present themselves.
The fact is that they have such a picture of reality “built in” in which their merits, successes and achievements will also be devalued by those around them, will pass by, will be considered unimportant. Or out of envy they will want to “take away” or “destroy” them. They would be glad to brag, but they are afraid. Because they do not expect joy for themselves, support and curiosity even from their loved ones.
And most importantly. Those around them are not blind or dumb. They often say compliments to narcissists and admire them. But the usual feedback to the deficient narcissist is always insufficient. He himself does not realize how much praise and admiration would be enough for him. But the one he receives is always something “off.” And while one part of him insatiably demands recognition and reflection in other people’s eyes, and the other part despises himself for this dependence on other people’s gaze and attention, everything remains the same. He is not satiated, remaining hungry. And hunger pushes him to new “feats,” which he again devalues. And so it goes in a circle…
In order to be “sated,” the narcissist demands from himself even more achievements and exerts even more effort. In his reality, this, first, will give him an uninterrupted supply of admiration, praise, and recognition from his environment. And second, it will make him invulnerable and independent of people and circumstances. “You can drop me or reject me. What I have achieved and achieved will either make me so valuable that you cannot do that to me. Or from the height of my accomplishments I won’t care that I am nothing to you.”
This is how inside the deficient narcissist his grandiose self manifests itself. And the grandiosity of the narcissist is not that he is great and magnificent. It is not even quite that he has to match it.
The grandiose self of the narcissist is the expectation of love, care, support, and special treatment from others, for which he would not have to “pay anything.
That is, he wants to receive special treatment from people and from the world at large because he is important and loved in his own right, but without in any way acknowledging or showing that he needs it. He wants to be valuable to others, destroying for himself the value of those around him. He wants to become the center of the whole world, because of the whole world he can only hope for himself.
And this is very sad. Others can be lost. They may not give you what you want. Or stop choosing you. Narcissus just makes sure you don’t depend on it all. The way he’s used to it. He’s trying to pick up the key to becoming somehow special. This, he thinks, can guarantee that others will want to love him and give him what he needs. Because by being an ordinary person, he will become a nobody.
In doing last week’s exercise, you may have fallen into the trap of narcissism in which everything we do evaporates and is not retained in the psyche as a reason to be proud. It is even possible that you could not write your list of accomplishments at all. In that case, I still insist that you make the effort.
Next, I invite you to look at the list and evaluate the events of your life. How did you decide: was it an accomplishment or not? What did you choose as your criteria?
For example, clients often cite a college degree as their achievement. And then it turns out that they went to the institute for my mom, and a diploma was needed dad.
Or another example: one girl told me about her achievement in the form of an incredible climb up the career ladder. When I noticed that she was saying all this with a rather sad expression on her face, she admitted to me that this job was a drag on her. And she wouldn’t want to work for this company at all. All she would like to do is stay at home with the baby and run the household. But in her family that is considered embarrassing. And in the community, her career successes are met with respect.
All of this shows that we do not always have formed criteria for what we personally can consider an achievement. That is why I invite you to think about it.
The key to the exercise
The American psychologist and one of the founders and leaders of humanistic psychology, Carl Rogers, said: “The way to find out who you are is not to compare yourself to others, but to see if you are realizing your best potential.”
There are two ways for a narcissist to figure out if what he has is valuable, important and essential. The first is by comparing himself to others. And the second is by conforming to the fantasies and pictures that the narcissist constantly generates, again from comparing himself with the one he idealizes. And when it turns out that it is possible to look at one’s actions differently, the narcissist is lost: what is to be evaluated, the result or the process? What should be the pleasure from, from the effort or from what has been accomplished? Can you consider as pleasure what is difficult to achieve?
It is as if his attunement has been disrupted, so that he cannot independently determine: is this valuable, important, meaningful to me? And why?
With the passage of time I was able to formulate the attributes of an adult achievement.
It is an action or an event made possible by a choice that takes the person out of his or her usual limits and gives him or her a greater sense of self.
So, we can talk about adult achievement when:
- I step out of my zone of habitual ability and become convinced, “Wow! It turns out I can do that!”
- something is hard for me, but thanks to my efforts I realize again that I have managed and can do it;
- as a result of my actions I got what I wanted or needed for a long time;
- I allow myself what all my life I had a taboo on inside me. And at some point I dare, I try it, and I am convinced that I can;
- I overcome my resistance, fear and anxiety, move into the actual problems and cope again, etc.
My accomplishments are giving me me, I am gaining more power to influence the situation where I felt limited before. It is my choices, my risks, that I take and get what I claim for it, with pride and satisfaction. It’s a pleasure not of appreciation, but of expanding myself and relying more on my abilities.
Now look at your accomplishments. Perhaps, thanks to the criteria you have listed, you can now add to them a dozen more, valuable and important to you specifically.
Fragments from the forthcoming book “Fragile People: A Secret Door to the World of Narcissists”