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Loving Gaze, Adulating Gaze: False vs. True Self

Uploaded 11/23/2011, approx. 3 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin, I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

In the film, The Beaver, the character played by Mel Gibson suffers from depression. He latches on to a tattered puppet in the shape of a beaver and communicates exclusively through it. The beaver is everything his ostensible master is not. The beaver is daring, exuberant, omnipotent and omniscient, gregarious, resourceful, charismatic and charming. Good father, good chief executive officer and good company all around.

In short, the beaver is the reification of the protagonist's false self.

When his wife, played by Jodie Foster, confronts him, having exposed his configurations and the need to let go of the contraption, the beaver rages at her and asserts his superiority, invincibility and brilliance.

The depressive water, the true self, is derided by the beaver as a dysfunctional wreck, utterly dependent on the beaver's administrations and the interference the beaver runs on his beaver.

The film ends unrealistically with Walter mutilating his body, literally, in order to rid himself of the domineering and old pervasive appendage.

I say unrealistically because narcissists never succeed in resuscitating their dilapidated and crushed true self.

The narcissist is his false self.

So in reality, water should have been devoured and consumed by the beaver.

But then we would not have a typical syrupy, happy ending, would we?


Back to reality.

Both the true self and the false self depend on the gaze of others.

The false self relies on adulation and attention, narcissistic supply, for the maintenance of the precarious, confabulated, fantastic grandiose and counterfactual narrative that is the narcissist's persona, his public face.

Without the constant flow of such high-quality input and feedback, without the adulating gaze, the narcissist crumbles like a house of ephemeral cards and resorts to a variety of dysfunctional, self-destructive and self-defeating behaviors and psychological defense mechanisms.

Similarly and equally, the true self needs a loving gaze to sustain itself. Another person's love serves two purposes. It confirms the existence of the true self as a lovable object and thus lays the groundwork and facilitates the necessary and sufficient conditions for self-love.

Additionally, another person's loving gaze allows the true self to perceive the existence of a safe, loving and holding other. Such insight is the very foundation of empathy.

Do the false and true self ever duel it out? Do they fight it out? Is there a David versus Goliath, good versus evil, the beaver versus water thing in reality?

Alas, they never do.

The false self is concocted by the narcissist to fend off and ameliorate hurt and pain. The false self is perfect, impenetrable, impermeable. The false self is a shield, a cocoon. It rewards the narcissist by flogging him with warm, fuzzy, exhilarating feelings, and it sustains the narcissist's delusions and fantasies.

The false self is the narcissist's dreams come true. In other words, as far as the narcissist is concerned, the false self is adaptive and functional, a good thing.

The narcissist is emotionally invested in the false self and he actually despises the true self for having failed to cope with the exigencies and vicissitudes of the narcissist's life.

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