Destroyed: Narcissist's Brain and Mind (Infant Amnesia, Psychotic Grandiosity)

Uploaded 8/30/2023, approx. 22 minute read

Okay, neshamot and neshamim. Look it up.

Today we are going to discuss a new approach to how narcissism is formed and why narcissists are the way they are.


My name is Sam Vaknin, I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited, a former visiting professor of psychology and currently on the faculty of SIAS.

And we'll start with your favorite part, which is the bullet points summary. And then feel free to break my heart and sign off and leave me all alone with the camera. Otherwise, those of you who choose to stay to the very end, bitter end shall I say, are going to be exposed to Freud's thinking, language theories, neuroscientists and a host of other titillating, exciting, amazing people.

Let's start as promised with the bullet points.

I suggest in this video that a flaw in spatial processing, the ability to process space and language processing, the ability to process language. I suggest that these two flaws are responsible for the emergence of narcissistic defenses, including the false self and ultimately narcissistic personality disorder or pathological narcissism, including narcissistic style.

Now why would a baby, an infant, experience these dual flaws, the flaw in processing space, the flaw in processing language, because of trauma and abuse?

The trauma and abuse force the child to hide, to minimize itself, in short, to withdraw from the world, from reality, thereby ignoring or denying or repressing the dimensions of reality, the most evident of which, the most ubiquitous of which is space.

Similarly, entraining by abusive parents, brainwashing, shall we say, being entrained causes the child to misidentify language with negative affectivity and also to be inhibited in processing language.

I can put it otherwise. The abusive parents' language takes over and does not allow the child to develop his or her own linguistic capabilities, language comprehension, and ultimately language usage.

So the abused and traumatized child withdraws from the world and loses access to space and spatial processing and is exposed to the misuse of language, the egregious misuse of language, in order to induce in the child fear, trauma, negative effects, negative emotions, such as anger and so on and so forth.

So the child kind of renounces language and takes on the parent's language, a process known as identification, introjection, incorporation.

Now, these two flaws which are induced in the child by the dead mother or the dead parent, if you wish, the dead mother, the parent, parental figure, who is the primary caregiver but is absent, impressive, hateful, selfish, instrumentalizing, parentifying, pedestalizing, idolizing, pampering, smothering, etc. All these are forms of abuse.

This kind of parent induces the dual flaws, the twin flaws that are described.

Now, when you're not integrated with reality, when you have no conception of space, you cannot tell the external from the internal. Space is about the external, obviously, you are embedded in space. So space is not you, space is outside to you. It's an outside phenomenon.

So these children whose spatial processing capacity has been hampered or obstructed, these children are unable to tell external from internal.

And this is a great definition of psychosis and of narcissism.

The psychotic confuses his internal world with the external. He believes that his internal world is external. The narcissist confuses the external world with the internal. He believes erroneously that the external world is actually happening inside his mind, inside his head. He internalizes external objects and continues to interact with the external objects.

Hyper-reflexivity both ways. So this is the first consequence of inability to process space.

Second consequence, impaired ability to form memories in the absence of space or the capacity to somehow relate to space and in the absence of language or functioning language.

Of course, we cannot form memories. This is grounded in neuroscience. The part of the brain that processes memories, the hippocampus, is also responsible for spatial orientation, spatial perception and functioning in space. So this is amazing. Memory and space in the human brain are one and the same.

So this kind of child is unable to form memories. He has an impaired ability to form memories.

In short, he dissociates the main relational mode, the main way the child interacts with his own life, his own autobiography. He dissociates. He cuts them off. He represses them. He denies them. He buries them.

And he has no access to these memories, which forces him later on in life to confabulate.

The child attempts to hide the memory gaps, the lost time. The child does this by confabulating, inventing narratives, inventing, coming up conjuring stories that are plausible, probable, likely, and then affording these stories and narratives with truth value, insisting that the confabulation is true. Although technically, of course, it's a lie.

The third impact, the third outcome of abusive, traumatic childhoods is impaired reality testing.

If you are not able to process space, if you are not able to use language properly, if language is associated with negative emotions, if space is associated with fear and the need to hide, and therefore the need to renounce reality, if you have impaired reality testing, if you can't form memories, and so on and so forth, if you leave a lie, you have a false self, you confabulate, then of course you can't have a grasp on reality. You have impaired reality testing.

And then depending on the path of etiology, depending on the path that you take as a child, you begin to use other people for reality testing and the processing of reality. Other people become the gauges of reality.

And this is known as external, this part of external regulation.

Next, another outcome of the devastation wrought on the child by abuse and trauma is grandiose magical thinking.

The child develops magical defenses against an environment which is perceived as arbitrary, cruel, capricious, threatening, terrifying, and so on and so forth. Magic and primitive religions were the reactions of humanity to similar environments when we didn't have science.

So the child becomes a magician. He adopts magic as a defense, magical thinking. And magical thinking survives into adulthood.

Referential ideation, the belief of everyone is talking about you, everyone is mocking you. That's magical thinking. Paranoia is magical thinking. You are at the center of malign, malicious, malevolent conspiracies against you. So you're important, you are you are grandiose, but at the same time, this is magical thinking.

Megalomania, the belief that everything that's happening is happening because of you and that you have the capacity to induce change in the external environment just by thinking about something, just by imagining something and of course, just by wishing something very hard.

Now, Megalomania, megalomaniacal magical thinking is at the heart of many of modern, the modern day phenomena of business coaching, dating coaching and so on and so forth. These coaches tell you all you have to do is really wish, all you have to do is really think about it and you will attract to you the universe. The universe will adopt itself to you and you will manifest your wishes and expectations and dreams and hopes out there. Things are going to happen. People are going to be attracted to you and you know, everything will rearrange itself to suit your needs, to cater to them.

This is of course magical thinking.

And finally, this erotomanic delusions, erotomanic delusions is to believe that other people are in love with you, attracted to you, even if they are not self, even if you're not aware of this, they are in love with you, they are attracted to you.

And so the magical thinking in this case is that everything the other person does is a form of signaling and that actually the other person unconsciously sometimes is just attempting to get close to you because you are the center of love, you are Eros, Rayfied.

So this is grandiose magical thinking, another outcome.

The next outcome is identity diffusion and disturbance.

Of course, abuse and trauma induce an inability to process space, inability to process language, inability to form memories, inability to gauge reality, grandiose magic, magical thinking.

And without memories, and without emotions attendant on memories, there's no identity, there's no core identity.

And we have something that Eric Scheff called identity diffusion. And today we call identity disturbance.

It fits well with my theory of self states founded on Philip Bromberg's work, where actually, in the case of borderline and narcissism, the mechanism for alternating between self states is broken. And the self states alternate autonomously, triggered by cues from the environment, like a kaleidoscope, gun or eye or kaleidoscope, gun bed.

So this is identity diffusion and disturbance.

And finally, arrested development in fonnalism, the inability to become an adult.

Of course, there's no separation individuation from an abusive parent or dead mother, there's no separation and individuation.

Therefore, there's no individual. And there is an inability to perceive the separateness of other people, for example. There's no experience of separateness.

That's why narcissists, borderline psychotics, paranoid, to a logic that's why they can't tell the difference between themselves and the world. There's no out out there in here, there's no external and internal, as I said before.

So the this kind of person remains emotionally stuck in very early childhood, very early, I mean, very early, like two years old, three years old, something like that.

So we have infantilism.

Now, these were the bullet points, you're free to go dismissed, report to duty tomorrow. And those of you who are of masochistic bent, or have nothing better to do on a Wednesday morning.

Here I am with filling in some of the details of what I just said. Let's start with Ziegmont Freud.

Ziegmont Freud coined the term, who else? I mean, I, there's nothing in human in the human mind or human psychology, that Ziegmont Freud didn't have something to say, or was not somehow involved in the ambit, genius, amazing genius, discarded, idiotically, by the new establishment in academic psychology, which plays an establishment which places emphasis on statistics, because they are grandiose, and they want to appear to be scientists. I can't tell you how stupid this is. Can begin to tell you any coming back to Ziegmont Freud, forget my rant.

Ziegmont Freud was the one who coined the term infant amnesia. At the time he explained it as a form of repression. The brain said Ziegmont Freud was hiding the desires and emotions of infancy from the adult from the adult psyche. And only psychotherapy would allow access to these repressed memories and emotions and desires and urges and drives and so on and so forth. So this was infant amnesia.

And I'm quoting, allow me to quote Freud, "Hideto it has not occurred to us to feel any astonishment at the fact of this amnesia, though we might have had good grounds for doing so." He wrote it in 1910.

"For we learned from other people that during these years, of which at a later date we retained nothing but a few unintelligible and fragmentary recollections, during this period we reacted as children in a lively manner to impressions. We were capable of expressing pain and joy in human fashion. We gave evidence of love, jealousy and other passionate feelings by which we were strongly moved at the time. And even we gave utterance to remarks which were regarded by adults as good evidence of our possessing insight and the beginnings of a capacity for judgment. And yet we remembered none of this.

And of all this we, when we are grown up, have no knowledge on our own. We forget all of this. We delete it, erased all of this.

First few years of life. Three, four.

Why should our memory, asks Freud, why should our memory lag so far behind the other activities of our minds?

Freud conceived of memory as a permanent storage system that acts a lasting influence over behavior in adulthood. In adulthood.

And he said, it doesn't matter if the memory is conscious or unconscious, it's there, it has an energy of its own and it uses this energy to influence behavioral choices and other things like emotions and so on and so forth in adulthood.

But Freud of course was writing in 1910, there has been some progress since then in our understanding of both the brain, neuroscience and psychology. And what Freud didn't know is that this period of infant amnesia, usually until age two, but it could go up to age three, this period of infant amnesia and then childhood amnesia, but there's something called childhood amnesia which lasts until age six, where we have only filtered memories, extremely specific and extremely few memories. Until age two, we have no memory. No one remembers anything that happened before age two.

And if they claim to remember something that happened before age two, they were probably told about it and forgot that they were told about it.

So this infant amnesia followed by childhood amnesia until age six. So Freud didn't know that this is common not only among humans, but among all mammals.

Now that's interesting because we tend to connect memory, identity and so on and so forth to upbringing, to the environment, to parental figures, to abuse, to trauma, to good parenting, good enough mother and so on and so forth.

But it seems that amnesia to some extent is biological. There is some biological reason for it.

Perhaps brain structures are not sufficiently evolved, but it's a fact that even mammals have infant and childhood amnesia. All altricial species that these are species who raise their young, including rats, including monkeys, experience a period of amnesia.

And it seems that there is some kind of evolutionary necessity for this amnesiac dissociative developmental period. I am not disputing this. I am not saying that abusive traumatizing dead parents induce infant amnesia. That's not what I'm saying. Infant amnesia is independent.

Even if you have the best parents in the world, you would still not remember anything prior to age two and very little prior to age six.

But what I am saying is that traumatizing abusive parents fixate infant amnesia. Make it impossible for the child to exit the period of infant amnesia and to begin to develop memories and identity founded on memories.

Now, this corresponds perfectly with separation individuation. Separation individuation takes place between 18 months and 36 months of life.

It seems that abusive traumatizing instrumentalizing, parentifying parents do not allow the child to separate and therefore the child cannot become an individual and cannot transition from infant amnesia to childhood amnesia and then to memory.

This kind of parenting somehow damages the circuitry, the ability to develop memories and to recall them, the recall ability.

And we are finding out that this is done, this is mediated, this damage is mediated via some kind of obstruction to spatial processing capacities, the ability to process space and language processing capacities.

And all these are linked to later life effects in adolescence and adulthood, which I mentioned in the bullet points. I'm sorry. Okay. Time has passed, Freud has died like the best of us and between the 1970s and the late 1990s there was another school and they suggested that infant amnesia was owing to a child's lack of language. They said that early memories become inaccessible because babies transition from nonverbal to verbal communication. So early memories are nonverbal. When language becomes the main mediator between the child and the environment, the world and the child and itself, the emerging self, the constellated, integrated self. So language is a bridge. It's a bridge between the child and his newly emerging nascent self and it's a bridge between the child and the universe and reality. And this new bridge, or if you wish, the glue that holds everything together.

If this new bridge emerges, it eradicates, it buries, represses, destroys, whatever you wish to call it, nonverbal memories, because there's no way to access them. Language monopolizes access. The only way to access our memories, our identity, our emotions, yes, our emotions too, our cognitions, the environment, reality, other people, object relations, the only way is language.

So if your memories at age one are nonverbal, they're dead, they're gone because language is a monopoly. It doesn't allow any other forms of communication.

Now, of course, people who have mystical experiences and so on, mystical experiences, religious experiences, they claim to have gained access to various aspects of reality and of themselves via non-language means. That is wrong and we'll deal with it perhaps in another video.

That is absolutely wrong. There is no other way except language and anything that preceded language is dead and gone. That's a theory.

Okay. So around the age of 18 months, there is an explosion of language in infants, which is a precondition for separating from mummy separation and then becoming an individual.

And shortly thereafter, infantomnesia dissipates and disappears.

Nora Nukon, the founder of the Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center at Temple University, said the following. "They believed that the advent of memories has to do with both language acquisition and is then tied up with cultural norms about the importance of remembering unique events. These are obviously not unimportant. We speak, we live in social groups.

But that idea wasn't going to be enough. It wasn't going to be the only explanation. Language was needed.

But how to explain animal species that never develop language and do seem to remember events in their lives?

There here, neuroscience has a contribution. It's a concept of space.

It seems that all of us, even the most lowly forms of life, we have a conception of space. We somehow relate to space. And space is a language.

Any physicist would tell you. I'm a physicist. Any physicist would tell you. Space and time are language elements.

So even mammals who don't use English or Arabic or Hebrew, what did I just say? Okay. Even mammals who don't use language, they use language.

It's a very primitive language, rudimentary language. It's a language of space.

And so the human brain uses the same neural circuits for navigating space and episodic memory. That's a fact.

So Kate Jeffrey is a neuroscientist. She works in University College in London. She published an article, an intriguing article in Current Biology. It's an academic job. And she wrote, "Why would nature have used the same structure for both space and memory, which seems so different?

An intriguing possibility is that the cognitive map provides, in a manner of speaking, the stage upon which the drama of recollected life events is played out.

By this account, it serves as the mind's eye, not only for remembering spaces, but also the events that happened there in that space.

And even according to recent human neuroimaging evidence, imagination itself.

Now, I recommend that you read the book. There's a book called The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World. It was written by M.R. O'Connor. Don't ask me what is S.P. published by St. Martin's Press in 2019. And it deals with many of these issues at length, if you want to go deeper. Suffice it to say that the abused and traumatized child suffers multiple blows. It's not a double whammy. It's like a quintopoly whammy.

The child feels the need to hide and to conceal itself, to minimize itself, to disappear in order to not be traumatized. So the child rejects space. Space is where bad things happen. Space is where abuse happens. Space is where trauma happens.

So no space for me. Thank you. Child rejects space. The parent's language is so dominant and so terrifying and so in the absence of language and in the absence of space as a language, there's no ability to develop reality testing and everything I've mentioned in the previous points.


What about animals? What can we learn from animals?

I mean, we can't experiment on human babies, unfortunately.

So what about animals?

Well, there are studies that have shown that when animals are raised in a space which is without features, featureless space, or in confinement in a box, they are unable to engage in, successfully engage in spatial tasks. If they are blindfolded, they don't see sharp angles and so on and so forth. So the exposure to space, big space, varied space, space with features is very important.

And if you as a child minimize yourself, put yourself in a corner, literally put yourself in a corner and refuse to venture out because you're afraid of being beaten or being expropriated or being expropriated or being exposed to breach of boundaries.

And I repeat again smothering, pampering, idolizing, pedestalizing, these are breaches of boundaries. They don't allow the child to separate an individual. They are abusing.

Children are terrified of these as much as they're terrified of physical abuse or sexual abuse or whatever.

So if you are a child and you know that's what's waiting, that is what awaits you if you were to kind of expose yourself and become visible, you try to become invisible.

You know the famous story is about invisibility cloaks and so on. These are childhood imaginations. This is an escape route.

And so you don't explore space as you should. And that has disastrous consequences, the ability to form memories, because it's the same circuitry, use it or lose it.

There is a phenomenon in infancy and beyond. And Kate Jeffery says, when she talks about studies in animals, experiments with animals and so on and so forth, there is a phenomenon, this period of time in infancy and beyond, during which we don't have a lasting episodic memories. We don't seem to be laying down these memories. Young infants don't form cognitive maps in the way adults do. Their spatial organization of information is a lot less rich.

It's possible that memories you form as an infant, because the hippocampus is still developing, may get overwritten or disturbed by the new circuitry that is still developing. And as an adult, you cannot retrieve those early life memories the way you can later ones.

And so no one knows what is the exact process by which the hippocampus perceives and creates representations of space and stores long-term memories and whether one is the condition to the other. Although it would seem, based on design principles, that if the same circuitry is used for spatial processing and memory formation, then these two have something to do with each other. So we're just speculating at this stage, but it seems that this is what's happening.

The entorhinal cortex is split into five layers and they represent different cell types. Entorhinal cortex is the interface between the neocortex, the part where intelligence resides.

So most people have neocortex with the exception of course of YouTube viewers. So neocortex is the seat of intelligence and there's the hippocampus and the mediator, the facilitator, the interface, whatever you wish to call it, is the entorhinal or interrenal, depending on the professor, entorhinal cortex.

This interface, this bridge, the interrenal cortex is divided into five, as I said, vision, primary sensory areas, vision or function or vision, touch, a little bit of this, a little bit of that, as Jeffries puts it.

And all these feed into the interrenal cortex and from the interrenal cortex, the arrows, there's kind of shadows, shadows of communication into the hippocampus.

Hippocampus is divided, there are many circuits in the hippocampus, each one is fed by various layers of the interrenal cortex, but the connection is clear.

Jeffries says by the time you get to the hippocampus, quite a lot of stuff has happened. These senses are very highly processed, but it turns out that layer two goes here, layer three goes there, and so on and so forth. So it's all highly specialized.

The channels of communication are not diffuse. There's a lot of backward and forward flow of information, but along dedicated channels.

And she says in recent years, some of the most stunning images of the hippocampus have emerged from Harvard University Center of Brain Science. There's a neuroscientist there, his name is Jeff Lichtman. He uses microscopes to map neural connections in the brains of mice. And he plays with genes and he causes mice to express different fluorescent proteins in individual neurons. It's stunning light show.

And there are these beautiful bursts of pink and blue and green. These are known as brain bows, brain brawls. And he shows how the cells in the hippocampus are condensed into single orderly layers.

If you go to the cortex, the neurons look like a galaxy who has exploded a kind of supernova, like a galaxy which has exploded, a galaxy which came across and improvised explosive devices. All the neurons are strewn totally randomly. It's like a big mess, like someone spilled neurons, and you can't make head or tails. There's no sense in any of this. Nothing is organized.

But the hippocampus is elegant. Everything is aligned in curving or arcs. It is structured. Hippocampus is the seat of order and structure.

While the cortex thrives on randomness, it seems that randomness gives rise, among other things, to intelligence, the ability to synoptically connect things because they are adjacent by mistake.

So the cortex is randomized and it's built on coincidences, but not so the hippocampus.

Hippocampus resembles a library. The cortex resembles a carnival or a rave, and the hippocampus resembles a library. They're called pyramidal neurons, pyramidal pyramids.

Many neuroscientists are very fascinated by these cells. It seems that all is converging there that these cells are the key to infant amnesia.

But I won't go in any further. I'm not a neuroscientist. My area, my field, is the meta-phenomena, the phenomena that emerge from neuroscientists, also known as mind.

The connections are unequivocal. Early childhood abuse and trauma prevent the child from developing an ability to process space, prevent the child from processing language appropriately because his language is hijacked by the parental edicts, the entraining parental voice, trauma and abuse.

Because they hamper the ability to process space and they hamper the ability to relate to the world by language, they make it impossible for the child and later on the adult to tell the difference between external and internal hyper-reflexivity and psychosis and narcissism, make it impossible to form memories, to test for reality, and the child compensates with grandiose magical thinking. Identity diffusion, because there's no memories. Memories are the glue that all the memories make up identity. Identity is just another name for the library of memories.

So there's no identity, there's identity diffusion and disturbance.

And finally there's no separation, no individuation, and the person remains stuck at around age two.

And these are known as narcissists.

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