Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Popular writing on NPD

Popular writing on "covert", or "overt", "narcissistic personality disorder" is intended to provide information to people so they can recognise behaviours and traits of individuals in whom the disorder manifests (call them ONs and CNs) and possibly help them, if they are in close personal relationship with ONs or CNs, to understand what may be giving rise to hurt and damage in the relationship.

This is all to the good.

Of course the one who is in a relationship with a N is attracted to something, and it may often be the case that there is a great pay-off for that person in staying in the relationship, even if it means tolerating a lot of abuse.

This is difficult territory, because N disorder is a social phenomenon insofar as the self-image of the N requires constant mirroring and buttressing from others in the world. It may often be the case that the one who provides such constant mirroring (in a relationship) to a N is someone of low self-esteem and who derives esteem through his or her attachment to the N.
In this way maintenance of a defensive (special or inflated) self image - i.e. that of the N - may become the purpose of ways of relating in the relationship, and it may become "co-dependency", with an "enabler" tied to the N.

But popular writing doesn't often get this far. Authors seeking attention and web-hits know it is more attractive to general readers, who know little about NPD or other personality disorders, but who may have hurts deriving from relationship with a N, to harp on the outright "wickedness" of Ns.

This satisfies what is legitimate anger and desire for retribution when we have suffered abuse, but does nothing to promote understanding of N disorder or develop awareness of the parts we have had to play in sustaining disorder in our midst. It excuses is from thinking more deeply about the roots of personality disorder in our social and cultural life.

Indeed, in my view, much popular writing - even, or perhaps especially, from persons psychoanalytically trained - actively mis-represents N disorder by using language that coneys the notion that disordered individuals (Ns) choose to be N, for example, 'in order to' 'conceal' their 'true self'.

Beth K MacDonald examines an example of this psychologically loaded language in her MA thesis "Out of The Mirror: A Workbook of Healing for Children of Covert Narcissistis" (Adler Graduate School, October 2013).
The example is taken from "Trapped in the Mirror": Adult Children of Narcissists" by E. Golumb (1997), a work evidently concerned primarily with the "overt" N.

"They turn themselves into glittering figures of immense grandeur, surrounded by psychologically impenetrable wall. The goal of this self-deception is to be impervious to greatly feared external criticism and to their own rolling sea of self-doubts."
(E. Golumb, Trapped in the Mirror)

Here, for example, the use of the term "self-deception" implies a self that is lied to. But the character of the disorder is precisely that any such lied-to self is not present. There is what Winnicott called the "false self". Only breakdown and psychotherapy, I believe, is capable of revealing the disorder (the false self) to the individual in whom it manifests.

MacDonald writes:
"A reader who is not familiar with the complex nature and psychology of NPD might conclude that narcissists choose this personality disorder, and thus could choose a different way of living if they truly wanted to."

I follow Dr Hanna Pickard's view that there is indeed choice for the N. But I don't believe that this choice can be perceived without a co-incident breakdown of the false self.
In my view it is a mis-representation of disorder - a pervasive psychopathology - to suppose that it is a mask consciously worn by the N. The moment of realisation that there is choice is accompanied by the realisation that N disorder is where the true self, the "I", should be.

In other words, any individual who becomes conscious of themselves as manifesting N disorder must also become conscious of the loss of self they have sustained. There is no "real self" underneath or behind the disorder, no homunculus operating the mask from behind the scenes. At best there are fragments if self, around which some new self-image might form.
The individual in whom N disorder manifests is maintaining the self-image that arose for them in their childhood, winning the love of his or her mother which was otherwise withheld.

In these circumstances, what is called for is, yes, refusal and condemnation of narcissistic abuse in whatever form, but also sustained compassion for the individual for whom N disorder has been the route to psychic survival.

Among online resources on narcissistic psychopathology that I regard as compassionate and insightful, and would recommend to anyone interested, are academic papers such as:

McWilliams and Lependorf “narcissistic pathology of everyday life”:

Here is an extract from the McWilliams/Lependorf paper which indicates the care they take to avoid demonisation of disordered individuals, even while showing how abuse looks.

"[We] are departing somewhat from the tone of much of the
current literature on narcissism, which, because it is about
treating patients with pathological self-structures, observes
narcissistic processes from a position of sympathetic identification
with the person who manifests them. Our exploration of the nuances
of narcissistic operations will be conducted primarily from a
position of identification with the objects of these subtle and
often malignant processes. In explicating what might be considered
the typical dilemmas of "victims" of narcissistic operations, we do
not want to be misunderstood as minimizing the suffering of
the "perpetrators" of narcissistically motivated acts."

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