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Freud and Jung on Cold Therapy: Re-integrating the Narcissist's Self

Uploaded 2/25/2019, approx. 24 minute read

Dear colleagues, my name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited, and other books about personality disorders.

I am a visiting professor of psychology in Southern Federal University, Rostov-on-Don, Russian Federation. A professor of finance and a professor of psychology in CIAS-CIAPS, the Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies.

This is the second half of my video presentation, where I analyze the first half in terms of psychodynamic theories, especially early psychodynamic theories, with emphasis on Freud and Jung. Of course, I will be making use of the three-partite model and of Jung's various concepts. I do not endorse these concepts, nor do I believe in their objective validity or existence, but I think they are very useful as metaphor or even as literary metaphor.

So those of you who have listened to my video presentation and want this depth introduced can listen now to the second half.

The narcissist's true self is introverted and dysfunctional. In healthy people, ego functions are generated from the inside, from the ego. In narcissists, the ego is dormant, comatose. The narcissist needs the input of other people, feedback from the outside, in order to perform the most basic ego functions, for example, to recognize the world, to set boundaries, to form a self-definition or self-identity, to differentiate, regulate self-esteem in the sense of self-worth, etc., of this ego function.

The irony is that narcissists actually don't have an ego. This input or feedback is known as narcissistic supply.

Only the false self gets in touch with the world. The true self is isolated, repressed, and unconscious shadow, if you wish.

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

This discontinuity accounts for the dissociative nature of pathological narcissismas well as for the narcissist's seeming inability to learn from the errors of his ways.


Let's retrace.

In healthy, normal people, ego functions are strictly internal processes. And as we said in the narcissist, ego functions are imported from the surroundings. They are thoroughly external.

Consequently, the narcissist often confuses his inner mental psychological landscape with the outside world. It's a psychotic feature.

He tends to fuse and merge his mind and his milieu. He regards significant others and sources of supply as mere extensions of himself, as avatars, inner representations, and he appropriates them because they fulfill crucial internal roles.

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

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.

Narcissist's disorder is adaptive. It is functional, though rigid.

The alternative to this maladaptation would have been self-destructive or suicidal ideation, if not action.

This bottled up self-directed venom is bound to resurface if the narcissist's various personality structures are coerced into making contact, let alone cohering.

That a personality structure such as the true self is in the unconscious does not automatically mean that it is conflict generating or that it is involved in conflict or that it has the potential to provoke conflict.

In this sense, I deviate from Freud. As long as the true self and the false self remain out of touch, conflict in my view is excluded.

The false self pretends to be the only self. It denies the existence of a true self. It is also extremely useful, as I said, adaptive.

Rather than risking constant conflict, the narcissist opts for a solution of disengagement.

The classical ego, proposed by Freud, ispartly conscious and partly preconscience and unconscious.

The narcissist's ego is completely submerged. The preconscious and conscious parts are detached from it by early traumas. They form the false ego.

The superego is an unhealthy ego constantly compares the ego to the ego ideal. The narcissist is 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 actually to become pure ego ideal, devoid of any other constructs, hence the feeling of emptiness and void.

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

The false self is rigid.

So the result is that the narcissist is unable to respond and to adapt to threats, illnesses and other life crises and circumstances. He is brittle. He is prone to be broken rather than bent by life's trials and tribulations. He is also gullible.

The ego remembers, evaluates, plans, responds to the world and acts in it and on it. 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.

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

The ego is therefore in an ungrateful position.

Unfulfilled desires produce an unease, an anxiety.

Reckless fulfillment of desires is diametrically opposed to self-preservation. The ego has to mediate these tensions and conflicting requirements.

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 their language, so to speak. 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 and optimal bargain for his client, the id.

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

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

In other words, they are possessed of insight, mediated via introspection. They are able to contemplate longer time spans. They are able to plan forecasts and schedule.

Such healthy people choose decisively among alternatives and follow their result. They are aware of the existence of their drives, but control these drives and urges. They channel them, socially acceptable ways. They sublimate. They resist pressures, social or otherwise.

They choose their course. They pursue it.

But the weaker the ego is, the more infantile and impulsive its order. The more distorted his or her perception of self and reality.

A weak ego is incapable of productive work. The narcissist is an even more extreme case.

His ego is not weak. It is non-existent.

The narcissist is a fake, substitute ego. This is why his energy is drained. He spends most of his energy on maintaining, protecting and preserving the warped, unrealistic images of his false self and 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. It incorporates memory.

The healthy ego incorporates memory, dissipation, imagination and intellect. It defines where the individual ends and the world begins.

So, boundaries. Though not co-extensive with the body or with the personality, it is a close approximation of both.

In the narcissistic conditions all these functions are relegated to the false self. Its hallow of confabulation rubs off on all these functions.

The narcissist is bound to develop false memories, conjure up false fantasies, anticipate the unrealistic and work his intellect to justify.

The falsity of the false self is dual. Not only is it not the real thing, it also operates on false premises. It is a false and wrong gauge of the world. It falsely and inefficiently regulates the drives. It fails to thwart anxiety.

The false self provides a false sense of continuity and of a personal center. It weaves an enchanted and grandiose fable as a substitute to reality.

The narcissist gravitates out of his self and into a plot, a narrative, a story.

The narcissist continuously feels that he is a character in a film or in a novel, fraudulent invention, a con artist to be momentarily exposed and summarily, socially excluded and ostracized.

Moreover, the narcissist cannot be consistent, cannot be coherent. The narcissist's false self is preoccupied with the pursuit of narcissistic supply.

The 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 crises when the false ego ceases to function for a time.

From the dental point of view, all this is easily accounted for. The child reacts to stimuli both internal and external. He cannot, however, control, alter or anticipate.

Instead what the child does, he develops mechanisms to regulate the resulting tensions and anxieties.

The child's pursuit of mastery of his environment is compulsive. He is obsessed with securing gratification. Any postponement of his actions and responses forces the child to tolerate added tension, added anxiety.

It is very surprising that the child ultimately learns to separate stimulus and response and to 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.

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

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 the world. The intellect is what makes the child believe in the accuracy and high probability of his predictions.

It is through the intellect that the concepts of laws of nature and predictability through order are introduced. Causality and consistency are all mediated through the intellect, but the intellect is best served with an emotional complement.

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

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

An example, the child is likely to learn from his parents and from other adults that the world is a predictable, law abiding place.

However, if his primary objects, most importantly his mother, behave in a capricious, discriminating, unpredictable, unlawful, abusive or indifferent manner, it hurts and the conflict between cognition and emotion becomes powerful. It is bound to paralyze the ego functions of the child.

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

Narcissists are victims of such a glaring discrepancy between what adult figures in their lives preached and the contradictory causes of actions they have adopted.

Once victimized, narcissist swore to himself, as a child even, no more. He will do the victimizing now, and as a decoy he presents to the world his false self, but he faults prey to his own devices, internally impoverished and undernourished, isolated and cushioned to the point of suffocation.

The true ego degenerates and decays. The narcissist wakes up one morning to find that he is at the mercy of his false self as much as his victims are.

I have dealt with the classical Freudian concept of the ego. It is partly conscious, partly preconscience, partly unconscious. It operates on a reality principle, as opposed to the ego's pleasure principle, and maintains an inner equilibrium between the onerous and unrealistic or ideal demands of the superego and the almost irresistible and unrealistic drives of the ego. It also has to fend off the unfavorable consequences of comparisons between itself and the ego-ideal.

Comparisons of the superego is only too eager to make.

In many respects, therefore, the ego in Freudian psychoanalysis is the same, but not so in Jungian psychology.

The famous, no controversial psychoanalyst, C.G. Jung, wrote the following. All the quotes are from C.G. Jung's collected works edited by Adler, F. V. Hammed, Reed, and published between 1960 and 1983 by Princeton University Press.


So I will not repeat this bibliographic reference. Here's a quote.

Complexes are psychic fragments which have split off owing to traumatic influences or certain incompatible tendencies. As the association experiments prove, complexes interfere with the intentions of the will and disturb the conscious performance. They produce disturbances of memory and blockages of the flow of associations. They appear and disappearaccording to their own laws, they can temporarily obsess consciousness or influence speech and action in an unconscious way.

In a word, complexes behave like independent beings, a fact especially evident in abnormal states of mind.

In the voices heard by the insane, they even take on a personal ego character like similar to the spirits who manifest themselves through automatic writing and similar techniques.

Jung says further, I use the term individuation to denote the process by which a person becomes a psychological individual that is a separate, indivisible entity or whole.

Individuation means becoming a single homogenous being. And in so far as individuality embraces our innermost innermost lust and incomparable uniqueness, it also implies becoming one's own self.

We could therefore translate individuation as coming to selfhood or self-realization.

But again and again I note, says Jung, that the individuation process is confused with the coming of the ego into consciousness and that the ego is in consequence identified with the self, which naturally produces a hopeless conceptual model.

Individuation is then nothing but egocentricness and autoeroticism.

But the self comprises infinitely more than a mere ego. It is as much one's self and all other's selves as the ego.

Individuation does not shut one out from the world but gathers the world into one's self, clarifies Jung.

As far as Jung is concerned, the self is an archetype, the archetype. It is the archetype of order as manifested in the totality of the personality and as symbolized by a circle, the square, or the famous quaternity.

Sometimes Jung uses other symbols, the child, the mandala, etc.

He says the self is a quality that is super-ordinate to the conscious ego. It embraces not only the conscious but also the unconscious psyche and is therefore, so to speak, a personality which we also are.

There is little hope of our being able to reach even approximate consciousness of the self since however much we may make conscious, there will always exist an indeterminate and indeterminable amount of unconscious material which belongs to the totality of the self.

The self is not only the center but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious. It is the center of this totality just as the ego is the center of consciousness.

The self is our life's goal for it is the complete expression of that fateful combination we call individuality.

So Jung postulated the existence of two personalities, actually two selves, one of them being the shadow. Technically the shadow is a part, though an inferior part, of the overarching personality, one's chosen conscious attitude.

The shadow develops this way, inevitably, some personal and collective psychic elements are found wanting or incompatible with one's personality, with one's narrative. Their expression is suppressed and they coalesce into an almost autonomous splinter personality.

This second personality is contrarian, it negates the official chosen personality though it is totally relegated to the unconscious.

Jung believes therefore in a system of checks and balances. The shadow balances the ego. The ego is conscious.

This is not necessarily negative. The behavioral and attitudinal compensation offered by the shadow can be positive.

Jung says the shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and yet it is always trusting itself upon him, upon the subject, directly or indirectly.

For instance, inferior traits of a character and other incompatible tendencies, the shadow is that hidden, repressed, for the most part, inferior and guilt-laden personality, whose ultimate ramifications reach back into the realm of our animal ancestors and so comprise the whole historical aspect of being conscious.

If it has been believed, hitherto, that the human shadow was the source of all evil, it can now be ascertained on closer investigation that the unconscious man, that is, his shadow, does not consist only of morally reprehensible tendencies but also displays a number of good qualities such as normal instincts, appropriate reactions, realistic insights, creative impulses, etc.

It would seem fair to conclude that there is a close affinity between the complexes, split of materials, and the shadow.

Perhaps the complexes also are the result of incompatibility with the conscious personality, so perhaps the complexes are the negative part of the shadow. Perhaps they just reside in the shadow, closely collaborating with it in a kind of feedback mechanism.

Perhaps whenever the shadow manifests itself in a manner of obstructive, destructive, or destructive to the ego, we call it a complex.

Complexes may really be one and the same, the result of a massive split of material and its relegation to the realm of the unconscious.

This is part and parcel of the individuation-separation phase of our early childhood development.

Prior to this phase, the infant begins to differentiate between self and everything that is not self.

The child tentatively explores the world, and these excursions bring about a differentiated worldview. The child begins to form and store images of his self and of the world, initially of the primary objective of his life, normally his mother.

These images are distinct. To the infant, this is revolutionary stuff, nothing short of a breakdown of an erstwhile, unitary universe and its substitution with fragmented, unconnected entities. It is traumatic.

Moreover, these images in themselves are straight. The child has separate images of a good mother and a bad mother, respectively, and they are associated with the gratification of his needs and desires, or with their frustration.

The child also constructs separate images of a good self and a bad self, linked to the ensuing states of being gratified by the good mother and being frustrated by the bad mother.

And at this stage, the child is unable to see that people are both good and bad. He is unable to integrate. He is unable to construct an entity with a simple identity which can both gratify and frustrate. He engages in splitting, dichotomous thinking. He derives his own sense of being good or bad from the outside. The good mother inevitably and invariably leads to a good, satisfied self. The bad, frustrating mother always generates the bad, frustrated self.

But the image of the bad mother is very threatening. It is anxiety provoking. The child is afraid that if it is found out by his mother, she will abandon him.

Moreover, the bad mother is a forbidden subject of negative feelings. One must not think badly about mother. One must not be aggressive towards mother. One must not hate mother or be angry.

Thus, the child splits the bad images off. He uses them to form a separate collage of bad objects. And this process is called object splitting. It is the most primitive defense mechanism.

When still used by adults, it is an indication of pathology. And this is followed by the phases of separation, individuation between 18 and 36 months. The child no longer splits his objects, bad objects to one repressed side, good objects to another, conscious side. He learns to integrate. He learns to relate to objects, to people, as integrated wholes with the good and the bad aspects coalesced.

An integrated self-concept inevitably follows. The child internalizes the mother. He memorizes the roles. He becomes his own parent, his own mother in effect. He performs her functions by himself. He acquires object permanence or object constancy to use Piaget's language.

The child learns that the existence of objects does not depend on his presence or on his vigilance. Mother always comes back to him after she disappears from sight.

A major reduction in anxiety is a result of this integration. The result of developing object permanence is a reduction in anxiety. And this permits a child to dedicate his energy to the development of stable, consistent, and independent senses of self and interests, internalized images of others.

This is the juncture at which personality disorders form.


Let's recap.

The child internalizes the mother. Then he takes her bad aspects, which are usually unconscious, and her good aspects, which are usually conscious, and merges them, integrates them.

As he integrates the bad mother and the good mother, he also integrates the bad self and the good self.

And he becomes whole. He becomes one.

This wholeness reduces the child's anxiety and releases, frees up energy that he can use for other things, like development of a stable, consistent, and independent sense of self, or tackling or managing interests, internalized images of others.

So at this stage, between the ages of 15 months and 22 months, there is a sub-phase of separation and individuation, and it is known as an aproshmo.

The child at this stage is exploring the world. This is a terrifying and anxiety-inducing process.

The child needs to know that he is protected, that he is safe, that he is doing the right thing, and that he is gaining the approval of his mother. He needs a safe base, a secure base.

The child periodically returns to his mother for reassurance, affirmation, and admiration, as if making sure that his mother endorses his newfound autonomy and independence, and that he separates himself from others, with no repercussions, with no penalties.

When the mother is immature, narcissistic, or suffers from a mental pathology, she withholds from the child what he needs, approval, admiration, and reassurance. She feels threatened by the child's independence. She feels that she is losing the child. She does not let go sufficiently. She smothers the child with overprotection, overindulgence. She develops in the child and sense of entitlement. She puts him on a pedestal, idolizes him, bridges his boundaries, offers love, conditioned on performance. She offers him overpowering emotional incentives to remain mother-bound, dependent, and developed, a part of a mother-child, symbiotic, diet, a merger, a fusion.

The child, in turn, develops mortal fears of being abandoned, of losing his mother's love and support.

His unspoken dilemma is this. Should he become independent and lose mother, or should he retain mother and never become an individual, never have a self?

This dissonance, this dilemma, they make the child angry. The child is enraged because he is frustrated in his quest for a self. He is anxious because he is fearful of losing mother. He feels guilty for being an angry mother. He is attracted and repelled.

In short, he is an eclogic state of mind.

Whereas healthy people experience such eroding dilemmas now and then, to the personality-disordered person, they are constant characteristic emotional state.

To defend himself against this intolerable vortex of emotions, the child keeps these emotions out of his consciousness. The bad mother and the bad self, plus all the negative feelings of abandonment, anxiety, and rage, they are split off.

But the child's over-reliance on this primitive defense mechanism obstructs his orderly development.

As a case of arrested development, the child fails to integrate the split images. The bad parts are so laden with negative emotions that they remain virtually untouched throughout life, in the shadow, as complexes.

It proves impossible to integrate such explosive material with the more benign good parts.

Thus, this kind of adult remains fixated at this earlier stage of development. He is unable to integrate and to see people as whole object. He strikes people as pure realm, infantile.

These people, I mean, the personally-disordered, are either regard other people as either all good or bad. They are idealized and devalued.

The personally-disordered patient is terrified unconsciously of abandonment, actually feels abandoned, or under threat of being abandoned, and subtly plays it out in his interpersonal relationships.

But is the reintroduction of split off material in any way helpful? Is it likely to lead to an integrated ego or self?

To ask this, in my view, is to confuse two issues.

With the exception of schizophrenics and some types of psychotics, the ego or the self is always integrated, that the patient cannot integrate the images of objects, both limidinal and not limidinal, does not 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, relates to the patient's choice of defense mechanisms, a secondary layer.

The crux of the matter is not what state the self is in, integrated a lot, but what is the state of one's perceptions of that self?

Thus, from the theoretical point of view, the reintroduction of split off material does nothing to increase the ego's cohesion or integration. This is especially true if we adopt the Freudian concept of the ego as inclusive of split off material in any case.

But does the transfer of the split off material from one part of the ego, the unconscious, to another part, the conscious, does it in any way affect the integration of the ego?

Confronting split off repressed material is still an important part of many psychodynamic theories. 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.

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

Dredging split off material to our consciousness reduces the scope and the intensity of these conflicts. This is so, by definition, split off material introduced to consciousness is no longer split off material and therefore can no longer participate in the war, raging Indian conscious with split off material.

But is it recommended?

In my development of the new treatment modality called therapy, I reach a conclusion that it is not recommended.

Consider personality disorder. Personality disorders are adaptive solutions in the given circumstances. It is true that as circumstances have changed, these solutions have been rendered rigid straitjackets, maladaptive, rather than adaptive.

But the patient has no coping substitutes available. No therapy can provide the patient with such substitutes because the whole personality is affected by the ensuing pathology, not just an aspect or element of the personality.

Bringing up split off material may constrain or even eliminate the patient's personality disorder and then what? How is the patient supposed to cope with the world without his personality disorder? A world that has suddenly reverted to being hostile, abandoning capricious whimsical, cruel and devouring, just like it had been in the child's infancy before his stumble upon the magic of splitting and the double magic of narcissism.

We need to get rid not of the personality structure.

The loss of pathological narcissism is not in the personality. It's not an ego problem. It's not an integration problem. It's not a problem of cohesion or reconciling narratives. It's a problem of social acceptability. It's a post-traumatic condition.

The child needs to relive the trauma as an adult and realize how unnecessary and inefficient and energy and time and resources consuming are the solutions that he had designed when he had been too young to consider any alternatives.

Thank you for listening.

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