Face to Face with Buried Traumas: Personality Disorders as Survival Adaptations

Uploaded 5/17/2020, approx. 17 minute read

And so is the introduction of split-off material in any way helpful? Is it likely to lead to an integrated ego or self?

The question itself is wrong, because it confuses two issues.

With the exception of schizophrenics and some types of psychotics, the ego or the self is always integrated. There is no such thing as non-integrated ego or self.

That the patient cannot integrate the images of objects, both libidinal and non-libidinal, doesn't mean that he has a non-integrated or disintegrative ego.

The inability to integrate the world, as is the case in borderline or narcissistic personality disorders, this inability relates to the patient's choice of defense mechanisms. It's a secondary layer.

The crux of the matter is not what state the self is in, integrated or not. But what is the state of one's perception of his self?

So personality disorders are secondary layers. They are like shrink wraps, pardon the pun. They're like introspective things. They're like self-observation, self-referential.

That's why autoeroticism is very strong there. From the outside to the inside.

So it's like the narcissist or the borderline has a self-perception or self-image that is divorced from the integrated ego because it cannot put together all the content. Some of it is hidden, shelved in the darkest resources of the unconscious.

And that's from a theoretical point of view.

The reintroduction of split-off material does nothing to increase the ego's integration. And this is especially true if we adopt the Freudian concept of the ego as inclusive of all split-off material. And of course it's right if we are Jungians.

But the question is, does the transfer of split-off material from one part of the ego, the unconscious to another, the conscious, if we transfer, does it somehow affect the integration of the ego?

Confronting split-off repressed material is still an important part of many psychodynamic therapies. It has been shown to reduce anxiety, cure conversion symptoms and generally have a beneficial and therapeutic effect on the individual.

Yet, this has nothing to do with integration. It has to do with conflict resolution, dissonance amelioration, arbitration, whatever you want to call it.

So when we move split-off repressed material from one part, the unconscious to another, the conscious, we have abreaction. We have an emotional reaction to it, but it has nothing to do with integration.

That various parts of the personality are in constant conflict is an integral principle of all psychodynamic and psychoanalytic theories.

Dredging split-off material to our consciousness reduces the scope or the intensity of these conflicts. That's all.

This is so by definition. Split-off material introduced to consciousness is no longer split-off material and therefore cannot participate in the war raging in the unconscious.

The energy, the pent-up energy locked with a split-off material is released, it's like nuclear fission.

But is it always recommended? That's the question.

Here I beg to differ with all these authorities. I don't think it's always recommended to get in touch with the unconscious.

Consider personality disorders. Personality disorders are adaptive solutions in the given circumstances. It is true that as circumstances change, these solutions prove to be rigid, straight jackets, maladaptive rather than adaptive.

But does the patient have coping substitutes available? Usually not. No therapy can provide this kind of patient with substitutes because the whole personality is affected by the ensuing pathology, not just an aspect or element of it.

That's not me. That's the DSM, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. It says it's all pervasive. Bringing up split-off material may constrain or even eliminate the patient's personality disorder.

But then what? Imagine we have a magic cure and we succeed to cure narcissistic personality disorder or borderline personality disorder.

And with DBT, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, we succeed to cure borderline. Cold Therapy shows promising signs of curing narcissistic personality disorder.

But then what? How is the patient supposed to cope with the world then? A world that has suddenly reverted to being hostile, abandoning, capricious, whimsical, cruel, devouring, just like it used to be in his infancy, before he stumbled across the magic solution of splitting and personality disorder.

Anyway, segue to Freud.

According to Freud, the narcissist's true self has relegated its functions to the outside world but is not in touch with the outside world. It is only the false self which is in touch with the outside world instead of the true self.

So how can we settle this apparent contradiction? If the true self has shifted its functions to the outside world, must somehow be in touch with it.

Now the thing is that the narcissist's true self is introverted and dysfunctional. In healthy people, ego functions are generated from the inside, from the ego by definition. In narcissists, the ego is dormant, comatose. The narcissist needs the input and feedback from the outside world, from others, in order to perform the most basic ego functions.

For example, recognizing of the world, setting boundaries, forming a self-definition or identity, differentiation, self-esteem and regulating a sense of self-worth. These are all ego functions.

The narcissist doesn't have a functioning ego, so he goes to other people and outsources these needs. He wants them, these people, to do it for him.

These inputs or feedback are known as narcissistic supply.

Only the false self gets in touch with the world. The true self is isolated, repressed and conscious. In Jung's words, perhaps a shadow.

The false self is therefore a kind of hive self or swarm self. It is a collage of reflections, a patchwork of outsourced information, tidbits garnered from the narcissist's interlocutors, and laboriously cohered and assembled so as to uphold and buttress the narcissist's inflated, fantastic and grandiose self-image. It's a kaleidoscope.

And this continuity accounts for the dissociative nature of pathological narcissism as well as for the narcissist's seeming inability to learn from the errors of his ways.

This goes for the psychopath as well, although psychopaths don't have a false self.

In healthy, normal people, ego functions are strictly internal processes. In the narcissist, ego functions are imported from the surroundings. They are thoroughly external, ambient, and environmental.

Consequently, the narcissist often confuses his inner mental psychological landscape with the outside world. He tends to fuse and merge his mind and his milieu. He regards significant others and sources of supply as mere extensions of himself. And he appropriates these sources of supply because they fulfill crucial internal roles.

And as a result are perceived by him to be sheer internal objects, devoid of an objective external and autonomous existence.

It's also frightening. If all your internal functioning, if all your psychodynamic processes crucially depend on outsiders, and these outsiders are autonomous and independent and can just walk away at any minute, this is terrifying, because it means that when they're gone, you are gone.

And this is the process of mortification.

Forcing the narcissist's false self to acknowledge and interact with his true self is not only difficult, but may also be counterproductive and dangerously destabilizing.

The narcissist's disorder is adaptive. It's functional, though, rigid.

The alternative to this maladaptation would have been self-destructive, suicidal, course of action.

So this bottled up self-directed venom, poison, toxic environment is bound to resurface.

If the narcissist's various personality structures are coerced into making contact, if we merge the host personality, the false self with the alter, the true self, because I regard narcissism as a forma form of dissociative identity disorder, multiple personality disorder with two personalities.

And so that the personality structures such as the true self is in the unconscious does not automatically mean that it is conflict generated, or that it is involved in conflict, or that it has the potential to provoke conflict.

As long as the true self and the false self remain out of touch with each other, conflict, dissonance, are excluded. The false self pretends to be the only self and denies the existence of a true self.

It is also extremely useful. It's adaptive.

Rather than risking constant conflict, the narcissist opts for a solution of disengagement, actually human sacrifice. The false self is a god and the narcissist sacrifices his true self to this god.

A classical ego proposed by Freud is partly conscious and partly preconscience and partly unconscious. Everything with Freud is three, because he's Jewish.

The narcissist's ego is completely submerged.

The preconscious and conscious parts are detached from it by early traumas, and they form the false ego.

The superego in healthy people constantly compares the ego to the ego ideal, what the person wishes he were.

The narcissist has a different psychodynamic. The narcissist's false self serves as a buffer and as a shock absorber between the true ego and the narcissist's sadistic, punishing, immature superego.

The narcissist aspires to become the pure ideal ego and then convinces himself that he had succeeded.

The narcissist's ego cannot develop because it is deprived of contact with the outside world, of course, and therefore his ego endures no growth-inducing conflict.

The false self can't grow and develop because it's rigid.

So, no ego, no developing false self, and the result is that the narcissist is unable to respond and to adapt to threats, illnesses and other life crises and circumstances.

He's fragile and brittle. He's prone to be broken rather than bent by life's trials and tribulations.

Narcissists are actually the weakest among mental health patients. That's why they are so defensive and so aggressive in protecting their grandiosity. It's the only thing that stands between them and madness.

The ego remembers, evaluates, plans, responds to the world, acts in the world, on the world. It is the locus of the executive functions of the personality. It integrates the inner world with the outer world, the id with the superego.

It acts under a reality principle rather than a pleasure principle and it imbues the person with the feeling of an inner locus of control. The person feels in control of his life, that he largely makes his own decisions, and he carves and charts his own path.

Narcissist has an external locus of control because he depends on the outside totally.

This means that the ego is in charge of delaying gratification. It postpones pleasurable acts until they can be carried out both safely and successfully.

The ego is therefore in an ungrateful position.

Unfulfilled desires produce unease and anxiety. Reckless fulfillment of desires is diametrically opposed to self-preservation and self-interest.

The ego has to mediate these tensions.

In an effort to thwart anxiety, the ego invents psychological defense mechanisms.

On the one hand, the ego channels fundamental drives. It has to speak the language of these drives. It must have a primitive, infantile component.

On the other hand, the ego is in charge of negotiating with the outside world and of securing a realistic, optimal bargain for his client, the id.

These intellectual and perceptual functions are supervised by the exceptionally strict court of the superego.

So the ego has to be very mature. He has to be an adult. He has to be an adult, but with a child's mind, in a way.

Persons with strong ego can objectively comprehend both the world and themselves.

In other words, they are possessed of insight.

They are able to contemplate longer time spans, plan, focus, schedule. They choose decisively among alternatives. They follow their resolve. They are aware of the existence of their drives, but they control the drives. They channel the drives in socially acceptable ways. This is called sublimation. They resist pressures, social or otherwise. They choose their course. They pursue it. They have a spine. They have boundaries. The weaker the ego, the more infantile and impulsive the owner, the more distorted his or her perception not only of reality but of himself.

A weak ego is incapable of productive work and incapable of helping to generate, helping to generate a clear boundary which would help to generate, to foster a clear identity.

The narcissist is an even more extreme case in this.

His ego is non-existent for all practical purposes. The narcissist is a fake substitute ego. This is why his energy is drained. It's depleting. He spends most of his time and resources on maintaining, protecting and preserving the warped unrealistic images of his false self and of his fake world.

The narcissist is a person exhausted by his own absence.

The healthy ego preserves some sense of continuity and consistency. It serves as a point of reference. It relates events of the past to actions at present and to plans for the future.

So it provides temporal continuity. It incorporates memory, anticipation, imagination, intellect. It defines where the individual ends and the world begins.

Though not co-extensive with the body or with personality, the ego is a close approximation. I tend to agree with Freud about this. Jung is right. The self is more than the ego, but the ego is, you know, like 80%.

In the narcissistic condition, all these functions are relegated to the false self. Its hallow of confabulation wraps off on all these functions.

The narcissist is bound to develop false memories, conjure up false fantasies, anticipate the unrealistic work his intellect to justify all these fake movie-like narratives.

The falsity of this false self is dual. Not only is it not the real thing, the real McCoy, it also operates on false premises. It is a false and wrong gauge of the world. It's a pre-variation and a confabulation.

It falsely and inefficiently regulates the drives. It fades towards anxiety.

So actually, narcissists and psychopaths are very anxious people. Although psychopaths don't have a false self, I repeat.

The false self provides a false sense of continuity and of personal center.

It weaves an enchanted and grandiose fable as a substitute to reality.

There's a brilliant book by Bruno Bettelheim about fairy tales and how they represent internal psychological realities, I strongly recommend it.

The narcissist gravitates out of his self and into a plot, a narrative, a story, a fairy tale. He continuously feels that he is a character in a film, a fraudulent invention, a con artist to be momentarily exposed and summarily socially shunned and excluded and excommunicated. The imposter syndrome.

Moreover, the narcissist cannot be consistent or coherent. His false self is preoccupied with the pursuit of narcissistic supply.

Narcissist has no boundaries because his ego is not sufficiently defined or fully differentiated. The only constancy is the narcissist's feelings of diffusion and annulment.

This is especially true in life crisis when the false self ceases to function. In the case of mortification, watch my previous videos.

From the developmental point of view, all this is easily accounted for. Child reacts to stimuli, both internal and external.

He cannot therefore control, alter or anticipate this stimuli. He's reactive.

Instead, the child develops mechanisms to regulate the resulting tensions and anxieties because the anticipation is killing him.

It's like, when's the next shoe going to drop? And it's like a millipede, you know, there's a thousand shoes.

The child's pursuit of mastery of his environment is compulsive. He's obsessed with securing gratification.

Any postponement of his actions and responses forces him to tolerate added tension and anxiety.

I encourage you to go online and watch the famous marshmallow experiment with children. It is very surprising that the child ultimately learns to separate stimulus and response and delay the latter.

This miracle of expedient self-denial has to do with the development of intellectual skills on the one hand, and with the socialization process. On the other hand, we are told by social agents like our parents that it's good to postpone gratification.

The intellect is a representation of the world. Through it, the ego examines reality vicariously without suffering the consequences of possible errors.

We create models of the world and we operate in these matrices. It's like the matrix, you know.

The ego uses the intellect to simulate various courses of action and their consequences, and to decide how to achieve its ends and the attendant gratification.

The intellect is what allows the child to anticipate, to predict the world, and what makes him believe in the accuracy and high probability of his predictions.

It is through the intellect that the concepts of, for example, laws of nature or predictability through order, through the intellect, these concepts become integrated, are introduced, and the child accepts them. Causality and inconsistency are all mediated through the intellect.

But the intellect is best served, of course, with an emotional component, with an emotional complement and correlate.


Because people have emotions. If you don't get emotions, if you don't get empathy, you lack the basic tools to understand people. And if you don't understand people, you don't understand 99% of your environment because we live in a man-made environment.

We no longer have to cope with tigers, we have to cope with psychopaths.

Our picture of the world and our place in it emerges from experience, both cognitive and emotional.

Socialization has a verbal communicative element, but decoupled from a strong emotional component, it remains a dead letter.

Let's take an example.

The child is likely to learn from his parents, from other adults, that the world is a predictable, law-abiding place, orderly place.

However, if his primary objects, most importantly his mother, behave in a capricious, arbitrary, discriminating, unpredictable, unlawful, abusive, or indifferent manner, it hurts.

And the conflict between his cognition, the world is just, the world is predictable. Conflict between his cognition and the emotion, the pain that such a mother causes him, this conflict is powerful. It is bound to paralyze the ego functions of a child and finally he has to give up one of them.

Either he gives up his emotions and becomes a narcissist, or he gives up his cognitions and he can become anything between codependent and psychotic. Borderline is a typical compromise.

The accumulation and retention of past events is a prerequisite for both thinking and judgment. Both are impaired if one's memories and personal history contradict the content of the superego and the lessons of this socialization and acculturation processes.

Narcissists are victims of such a glaring discrepancy between what adult figures in their lives preached and the contradictory courses of action these adults had adopted.

Once victimized, the narcissist swore to himself as a child, no more. He will do the victimizing now. He will become the abuser. He will take back the power that he had given others and he will use it on others.

And as a decoy, he presents to the world his false self.

But if false prey to his own devices, internally impoverished and undernourished, isolated and cushioned to the point of suffocation, the true self degenerates, decays, dilapidated, atrophies.

The narcissist wakes up one day to find that he is at the mercy of his false self, every bit as much as his victims are.

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