Sunday, 9 February 2014
"Personality Disorder" as a "Mask"
After rage, despair & loss there needs to be compassion, not abuse I don't wish to downplay the hurt and damage that "personality disorder" brings to lives. This is sometimes reflected in writing about PD which conveys the idea of individuals more or less out to hurt others. I think this takes us away from the compassion that is it's antidote. The notion of a mask is often called up, and in this way of writing about personality disorder, a lot depends on how we conceive of the "self" behind this mask. The mere naming of ways of relating (to self and to others) by writers is a step towards isolating and containing the phenomenon in individuals, when it is clear that it arises from patterns of socialisation in which we are all, one way or another, involved. Even sympathetic accounts by learned people will use terms such as "mad, bad and sad" to characterise different manifestations of personality disorder. (See Hannah Pickard, for example). No doubt there has been a lot of learning about this psychopathology, and writing about it is an indispensable part of conveying that learning. In doing so, there is inevitably a strain between the urge to describe, outline and understand, as an enquiry into this phenomenon, and the need to maintain a sympathetic stance towards individuals in whom it manifests. It's been part of my journey to encounter "narcissistic personality disorder" (NPD), and more specifically what James F Masterton called "closet" NPD. Readers will find other posts on this topic in my blog, in which I have tried to relate the kinds of thing, generally lack of empathic parental care or active parental abuse, which give rise to this personality disorder. I hope my posts do something to balance what I see as pervasive misrepresentation of NPD ("closet" or otherwise) as a mask more or less consciously worn by wicked people. This metaphor goes some of the way to getting a grasp of personality disorder, but I think it misleads because it suggests the presence of self apart from the "disordered" self. The word "personality" derives from the Greek "persona", the mask worn by players in early Greek theatre. If we are accustomed to seeing our own personalities as rooted in our early lives, we do not tend to look at the ways we relate to others as a mask. We have some sense of the difference between being ourselves and behaving in a socially appropriate way when necessary, but do not regard the latter as causing our "selves" to disappear. We are adaptable and there is a more or less continuous sense of our self through different situations and through different phases of life. "Personality disorder" is not to be thought of as a self donning a mask, because it has emerged where the self should be. There has been early experiential trauma (for example persistent maternal neglect or rejection, lack of mirroring, abandonment) to which an infant adapts by being what is perceived by the infant to be desired by the mother or primary carer. At this early stage - let's say, before two years - there is no language, so no thinking which could be construed as the infant perceiving mother's unhappiness and reasoning that such and such things "I" do ought to be kept out of sight or changed. There is, as yet, no "I". But there is an innate need for love and connection with the mother, and some kind of reasoning - at the level of emotional or existential being - occurs, for example, when mother keeps not smiling back: the connection is lost and with it goes "my" self. Effort is made to have that connection again with mother.'What do "I" need to do to keep her attention and love on me?' Perhaps the infant will need to never be depressed, not be needy, not be angry, always shine, always be helpful, always be good, always be strong, always win. But the neediness won't go away, envy will remain, anger will remain, failures will happen, only it will not be accessible to the child as he grows. They won't be integrated aspects of his self, his "I". An infant will be whatever is needed in order to keep mother's love and those aspects of his innate self which cause mother's love to go will be, as Melanie Klein put it, "split off" and denied to consciousness and expelled from it. Patterns of relating to self and others emerge which support this necessary self image, the image that mother loves - not "my self" with all my rage and neediness - even at the expense of denying reality. What D W Wnnicott called the "false self" is the only self-image available. I think echo.me.uk is one internet resource that provides a compassionate and broad view of narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissistic abuse is real. Don't put up with narcissistic abuse! Seek help from established organisation and the professionally trained people associated with them. Treat internet resources with scepticism.