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Narcissist When Reality Is Just A Dream

Uploaded 10/3/2023, approx. 45 minute read

Eros is not pride. Ego is not vanity. Ego is not hotness. Ego is not arrogance.

Do not listen to self-styled online gurus who have no idea what they are talking about. Ego is a construct postulated by Sigmund Freud as part of his model of the psyche.

The main role of the ego is to interface with reality and prevent us from doing crazy, id-driven things.

But the ego has many other functions, among them impulse control, regulation and many others.


Today's compilation, starting with this new video, will review all the functions of the ego.

I'm going to start with the most important function by far, reality testing.

My name is Sam Vaknin. I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited. I'm a former visiting professor of psychology, currently on the faculty of CIAPS, Commonwealth for International Advanced Professional Studies, Cambridge United Kingdom, Toronto Canada and what else, Lagos, Nigeria.

Okay, egos and ego-ets. We are going to discuss today the minefield of the ego. It is a minefield for a variety of reasons that I'm going to review.

I'm also going to point out serious mistakes in the literature, including scholarly literature, or maybe especially scholarly literature, starting with the earliest writings.

I'm going to try to put the very concept of ego and the functions of the ego on more firm footing, at least when it comes to rigor and philosophical internal and external consistency.

Before we go there, I owe some of your response.

In several of my videos, I mentioned that the impact of incest on children is mediated via society. In other words, the child is also affected by society's reaction to the incest.

Part of the trauma of the incest is actually socially induced in the child.

People ask me, "What do you base yourself on, Mr. Vaknin?"

Well, I'm referring to work by Boris Sirolnik, CYRULNIK. He did some work on resilience in children and he based a lot of his writing on much earlier work by Donald Winnicott, a pediatrician turned psychoanalyst.

Donald Winnicott wrote a very famous paper on hate and countertransference.

Within this paper, he made some very controversial statements about abused children.

Actually, I have a video here dedicated to this paper and it's about how abused children love and like to be hated.

But apart from that, there was a lot of discussion about incest in Sirolnik's work and so on and so forth and I refer you to these studies.


Okay, that's not the topic of today's video.

There are two ways that the ego can malfunction and when the ego malfunctions, you lose all sense of reality. You live inside your head. You revert from externality or externalizing to internality or internalizing.

This is a subversion, a malignancy of a healthy process known as internalization identification, introjection and incorporation.

The process first described by Melanie Klein, later expounded upon by many others, Anna Freud and many others.

So when the ego goes awry, something happens in the human mind, which I'm going to discuss at length in today's lecture.


But why would the ego malfunction? What is the source of this breakdown, meltdown of the ego?

Well, there are two.

Number one, when there is a disruption in the formation of the ego or much later, the integration of the ego or the constellation of the ego, depending which school of psychology you belong to.

When there is a disruption, in short, in the normal process of becoming a person, of developing a self, if you want to use this metaphor, self states, if you want to use Bromberg's and my metaphor, doesn't matter. The metaphor doesn't matter.

And the process of becoming you.

When there is a disruption in this process, the ego malfunctions.

This is one type of malfunction.

The other type of malfunction is when there is a misallocation of energy.

Freud postulated the existence of emotional energy, later named kafexis, a term that Freud detested and heated, by the way.

So Freud said that all of us have libido. It's a life force. Part of it is Eros, which is the sex drive.

But libido is not limited to sex at all. When it is sublimated, it leads to many other activities.

Generally, it's a life force.

So Freud said that we invest libido. We invest libido in objects. We invest libido in people. We invest libido in activities.

And this is called libidinal investment or kafexis.

Now, we can invest our libido, our elanvital, our life force. We can invest it in external objects. And we can invest it in internal objects, something known as narcissistic kafexis.

But what happens when we are unable to tell the difference between external and internal objects for some reason?

Then the whole libidinal investment economy goes crazy, goes haywire.

And the libido, this energy, is misallocated. It's very important to understand any libidinal investment, any kafexis, even in external objects, leads to divorce from reality.

The minute your emotions get involved, coupled with your cognitions, of course, but mainly your emotions, that minute you're no longer in reality.

Freud himself suggested that when we libidinally kafex, when we emotionally invest in an external object, something also known as love, we lose sight of the true traits, qualities and features of that external object.

We love blinds us. Love blinds us literally. We no longer see the object, the external object, as she is. We see only positive elements.

We idealize the object.

This leads to object perfection.

And of course, when you love someone and they become totally idealized, then you would have only positive effects.

Freud himself, therefore, suggested, was the first to suggest, that love or any emotional investment in an external object, recognizing, even recognizing the externality and separateness of the external object, even then, leads to a partial divorce from reality, partial detachment from the object as it is.

Let alone, when the emotional investment is directed inwards, not at external objects, but at internal objects, something known, for example, as megalomania, the precursor to narcissism, paranoia, schizophrenia, much later in the 70s, borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder.

In all these cases, the emotional investment is directed inwards, not at an external object, but at internal objects, different types of internal objects in each case.

When our libidinal investment, when our energy is directed at an object, external or internal, we no longer perceive reality as it is. It impairs our reality testing. We regress. It involves regression because the perception of the world is made of discrete objects, is an adult realistic perception, reality principle, reality-based, evidence-based perception.

But the perception of the world is objects with which we are fused and merged and enmeshed. That's an infantile perception. That is how a newborn would perceive reality. That's how a toddler would perceive reality prior to age 36 months, according to Mahler, Margaret Mahler.

So, whenever we direct our emotional investment, our libido, whenever we affect an object, we idealize that object, we become, in effect, one with that object.

This is love. This is love in the case of an external object. It's narcissistic investment in the case of an internal object.

This leads to infantile regression founded on magical thinking, the omnipotence of thoughts and the magical power of words.

We become infants.

This is the impossible task of the ego.

If I had to summarize the ego's functions, all of them, in one phrase, it is to fight off regression, to avoid regression.

Regression is very easy. It's very soothing. It's very comforting.

We all want to be babies again, to be taken care of, to be held, to be contained, to be loved unconditionally. This is the narcissist power.

He offers this to you as his intimate partner or friend. So, we all want this.

And it is the role of the ego to serve as a gatekeeper, to stand in the way of such regression.

One could therefore say something very surprising. The main role of the ego is to prevent emotional cathexes.

Now, I know this is, especially to those of you who are initiated in psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic schools and so on, I know this is mind spinning. It's difficult to wrap your mind around, but just bear with me for a minute because everything I'm saying is based on the writings of the giants in the field, as I'm going to delve into a bit later.

Every emotional investment in an external object or in an internal object leads to divorce from reality. That's not Vaknin. That's Freud.

The ego's role is to provide you with reality testing, with a realistic assessment of the environment.

But how can the ego do this if you're emotionally invested in the environment?

Your emotions distort your thinking. Your emotions affect your judgment. Your emotions lead you astray. Your emotions falsify or reframe the very least reality and your emotions lead ultimately to fantasy.

So the ego fights off your libido, fights off your cathexes, fights off, opposes, rejects vehemently, assiguously, powerfully, aggressively, fights off aggressively your cathexes.

You can therefore say that the main function of the ego is to de-cathect. Not cathexes, but de-cathexes.

The ego wants you to withdraw from the environment, to stand back, to put some distance between you and the reality that you have to appraise and assess and evaluate and assimilate.

You need to see reality as it is, objectively, without prejudice, without bias, without idealization, without devaluation, without any emotional reaction.

The ego forces you to de-cathect. This creates a God Almighty internal dissonance and clash because you want to cathect. You want to fall in love, for example. Or you want to think that you're the greatest of the more brilliant and perfect, if you're a narcissist. You want to cathect. You want to invest your emotions somewhat.

The ego stands in the way. So the ego, to some extent, could become your enemy. If you're inclined to cathect and the ego prevents you from doing this, the ego is a source of frustration.

A narcissist, for example, they don't tolerate frustration. So this is another reason that the narcissist does not have an ego. Whatever ego elements or ego nuclei, to use the language of Gantri, Fairburn and others, whatever ego nuclear exists, the narcissist represses them. He doesn't want them to manifest. He doesn't want an ego.

A narcissist doesn't want reality. An ego is founded on the reality principle.

The ego is another part and it's a part of the ego, the superego, which the narcissist regards as even more of an enemy.

Narcissism is a rejection of the ego and of the super ego. It's a defense against the ego and against the superego.

And luckily for the narcissist, he doesn't have a fully formed, full fledged, fully functioning ego.

So the battle, the dissonance is not as devastating as it could have been, which would have led to psychosis.

Because the narcissist's ego is fragile and fragmented and weak, the internal conflict or dissonance within the narcissist is moderate, mild, manageable.

Had the narcissist's ego been very strong, fully formed, fully functional, the internal battle between the narcissist's megalomania, the narcissist's narcissistic catharsis in himself and the ego, this battle would have led to psychosis.


Could be an excellent explanation of psychosis.

The narcissist invests emotional energy in himself. He idealizes himself. This is the essence of grandiosity.

He doesn't want to see reality. He doesn't want to know the truth about himself. He doesn't want input from the environment, which is objective and calibrating. He doesn't want any of this, the narcissist.

And here's the ego and the ego is doing exactly this, bringing him news from reality, which he hates and detests. So he hates the ego. He detests the ego and he wants to suppress and repress the ego. He doesn't want to have an ego. The ego is reality, a narcissist, the narcissist is fantasy.

And when the battle is extreme, the narcissist, the person, not the narcissist, when the battle is extreme between ego and narcissistically bidonal investment, then we have psychosis because the rejection is total. Something known as a mentia. I'll discuss it a bit later.


Okay. I hope you got this part.

Narcissists are engaged in narcissistic or egoistic, egocentric self absorption. This is known as autistic thinking. And they are also engaged in fantasy infused cognitions. This is known as the race, the thinking. I have a video dedicated to that. And in this compilation, I included it in this compilation, narcissism is reality alienation. It's an estrangement from reality.

And the only nagging construct within the narcissist, the thing that keeps reminding the narcissist that reality is out there, that there are external objects, that there are consequences, real life consequences to his actions. That's the ego.

Narcissist hates his ego.

And again, luckily the narcissist's ego is fragmented, infantile, not fully formed.

So the narcissist prevails and the battle is not as ruinous and self destructive as it could have been.

Reality alienation is not limited to narcissism, of course, in hypnoic states, in what is known as twilight states. In all these conditions, mental conditions, we are a bit removed from reality. We are half within our internal world and half in reality or even 90% in our internal world and 10% in reality.

There's a kind of, it's a kind of transitional twilight zone. That's why it's called twilight states.

So twilight zone between reality and external reality and internal reality.

And in all these conditions, the ego is disabled, deactivated, or at the very least dysfunctional. In very extreme states we have amantia. Amantia is de-cathexis, removal of emotional energy from both the internal world and the external world.

You see in narcissism, there is emotional investment. It's inwardly directed. It is narcissistically veto, but at least there is some emotional investment.

But there are conditions where all emotional investment ceases, stops. There's no more emotional investment, not in the outside, not in the inside.

And then what happens?

A new universe, internal universe emerges. It's a universe that reflects wish fulfillment. It has no leg in reality and no leg in the internal world.

It's like saying, I'm rejecting reality and I'm rejecting myself. And now I'm going to reinvent another person, another world, and I'm going to be there. I'm emigrating to another planet. This is known as amantia.

Now, the ego is founded on the reality principle. The ego is an evaluator of reality. The ego ventures out to reality, surveys the scene, collects data and information, amalgamates them within cognitive models, cognitive maps, and brings the results to the host of the ego, to the person.

So the ego goes out and comes back and says, listen, don't do this. Don't act this way, because if you do, consequences are going to be dire.

Or the ego goes out and say, you can do this. You can. Maybe you feel inferior and inadequate, but you actually can do it.

Or the ego goes out there and says, you know, that's a good person, someone you can trust.

So the ego is the bridge, the interface between the person and reality. Gauging reality is the main function of the ego.

And that is what is known as reality testing.

But the reality principle upon which the ego is founded is predicated, premised on postponement of pleasure.

Freud said that the reality principle is the antithesis of the pleasure principle.

Like the pleasure principle is for kids, for dysregulated people, for crazies, for the pleasure principle is instinctive, reflexive, instinctual, I'm sorry, reflexive.

It's a drive, it's a series of drives, and it's inexorable and irresistible, the pleasure principle, animalistic, in a way.

Here comes the ego, which is a mature development, which leads us to adulthood. And the ego, the ego teaches us to postpone gratification, to avoid pleasure.

This creates, of course, tension between the wish to please oneself and the realization that one would better not.

So the conflict between the reality principle and the pleasure principle, which takes place within the ego, creates anxiety, creates tension.


But here is something that most of the scholars, all the scholars actually, have missed.

Both the reality principle and the pleasure principle are founded on primary narcissism, on the initial grandiosity of the toddler.

Do you remember when the toddler, when the infant separates from mummy?

The separation requires grandiosity. The infant says, "I can take on the world. I'm godlike. Therefore, I can abandon mummy for a few minutes, of course, and explore the universe or my environment."

This requires a lot of grandiosity.

And together with introversion, which is another process, this leads to what Freud called primary narcissism.

Infant is a narcissist. The infant doesn't have an accurate perception of reality. The infant underestimates the risks and overestimates its own powers, which is an excellent description of narcissism.

So the infant is a narcissist.

And Freud's mistake, if I'm allowed to criticize the master, is he didn't realize that the reality principle is highly grandiose.

He thought that only the pleasure principle is grandiose.

Freud said that narcissistic investment, narcissistically bidonal investment, leads to the gratification of the pleasure principle at the expense of the reality principle.

And that's where he was completely wrong.

The transition from pleasure principle as an organizing ruling principle to the reality principle as an organizing ruling principle is a transition between less developed grandiosity and more developed grandiosity.

I can prove it to you easily. The reality principle involves grandiosity because the reality principle says if you postpone gratification now, the outcomes in the future would be much better.

So there is an assumption underlying the reality principle that the ego is able to predict future outcomes. It's omniscience.

The ego pretends to be omniscient. The ego says, I can tell you what's going to happen in the future. I know the future perfectly. I can predict the future without a fault. I'm never wrong about the future. It's omniscience of future pleasure.

Ego says, I want to strike a bargain with you. Let's make a deal. You will postpone your immediate reflexive instinctual overwhelming irresistible gratification. You will postpone your pleasure.

And I give you my word, says the ego, I guarantee that you will have much more pleasure in the future.

It's a famous marshmallow test. If you don't eat the single marshmallow now, in half an hour, you will get two marshmallows.

But of course, no one can predict the future. Anyone who claims to know the future and anything which claims to know the future are grandiose.

These are grandiose, counterfactual, fantasy-based claims. The ego is grandiose in the sense that it pretends to know best.

It tells the individual, let me control you. Let me micromanage you. Let me inform you about reality. Let me predict future outcomes because I am perfect. I'm infallible. You could rely on me 100%.

Forget the ego. The ego is an idiot. I am much more than the ego. I'm superior to the ego.

This is a dialogue of a narcissist. This is a monologue of a narcissist.

So for I was wrong.

Both the reality principle and the pleasure principle are grandiose manifestations.

When the ego goes awry, when it malfunctions, it produces outcomes which are manifestly pathological.

For example, catastrophizing in depression. The ego of a depressed person keeps producing predictions about the future which are catastrophic and horrible.

So you become depressed because your ego keeps generating prophecies about the future which terrify you, which render you hopeless and helpless.

And this is an example of the ego's grandiosity when it's coupled with dysfunction.

Catastrophizing is a form of grandiosity because no one knows the future and yet you pretend to know the future.

Reality testing is the capacity to judge whether your cognitions, ideas and emotions which are forms of cognitions, whether they conform to reality. It's the ability to distinguish what's going on inside your mind from your perceptions, from your sensa, sensory inputs. It's the ability to tell apart fantasy from reality. It's capacity to determine whether a mental image, a voice, a sensation arise from within yourself or somehow exist in the external world.

This is of course where psychotics fail. They confuse their internal images, their internal voices with the external world, something known as hyper reflexivity.

Freud, who else coined the phrase reality testing? There's a debate, 1911 probably.

And I will not go into all the history of because there were four transmutations or four transformations of reality testing in Freud's work.

But Freud described reality testing as an emergent property, the outcome of personal growth and development, the ability to dedicate attention, judgment and memory to external phenomena.

Freud did not regard reality testing as an inborn, innate trait or dimension or quality.

The newborn does not have reality testing. That's why the newborn can't tell apart himself and mummy. That's why the symbiotic phase, we no longer use the phrase symbiotic phase. I don't know why, by the way, I think it's very accurate and very powerful.

The babies merge with mummy, fuse with her, one with her and one with the world because she brings the world to him. She represents the world. She stands in for the world. So baby is one with the world. It's oceanic, but it's not real. Baby doesn't have reality testing.

And Freud himself and many others later, Franz Alexander, we'll discuss some Winnicott, all these giants, they realize the crucial role of reality testing in pathogenesis, as well as in therapy, in treatment.

Ideas, experiences, such as trauma, they are very frequently repressed. And so they cannot be subjected to rigorous analysis and inspection and examination and treatment.

And so we don't know if these ideas and experiences and memories are accurate, because we never test them against reality.

And this is not 5% of your mind. This is 95% of your mind, also known as unconscious. 95% of your mind is never tested against reality.

And yet you inhabit your mind. You're a captive of your mind. You're a resident in your mind. So you are a resident in fantasy.

We are all creatures of fantasies. We are all creatures of our dreams. We are all storytellers and spinners of narratives.

Because our interface with reality is exceedingly limited.

Neuroscientific studies, neurobiological studies show that we process about 5% of data that we're exposed to. 95% are relegated to the unconscious, which is never tested against reality.

Our ideas, experiences, memories that are repressed are crucial for the maintenance of mental health.

If we, for example, were to experience and re-experience and re-experience trauma, we would fall apart. Retraumatization is very dangerous in the wrong hands.

But what happens when we deny reality, when we repress it, at a point in life, in early childhood, when we are still incapable to tell the difference between reality and fantasy?

Today as an adult, you can tell the difference between reality and fantasy. You know, for example, that I'm an external object, not an internal object.

But what happens if you're a kid, if you're two years old, and you can't tell the difference between reality and fantasy, and then for some reason you have to repress, you have to deny, you have to bury a huge amount of pain and shame and memories which were traumatic and experiences which were harrowing and threatening, and you have to bury all this.

These thoughts, these actions, these memories, these emotions, these cognitions that are repressed in you as a kid, as a two-year-old child, as a one-year-old child, as a three-year-old child, they're no longer accessible to reality ever. They're no longer subject to reality testing ever, except perhaps in therapy.

So they all function as unexamined, unrealistic, an unrealistic background, hint-alum and they gradually take over and thoughts and wishes and desires which are related to these repressed memories and ideas and experiences and emotions and cognitions.

These thoughts, wishes or desires are experienced mostly as figments of fantasy.

Now what happens when you find yourself trapped permanently, perpetually in a fantasy?

Imagine you're in a nightmare and you can't wake up. What happens? Fear, guilt, shame, negative affectivity, confusing thinking with action, magical thinking.

So the people, people who have been exposed to extreme repression and denial and other defense mechanisms, splitting, projection, projective identification, people who have been exposed to all this at a very early age, they're trapped. They're trapped in an eternal nightmare and they can't ever exit this nightmare.

The ego is disabled and therefore they're denied access to reality.

And so this is an important component of course of psychoanalysis and other psychoanalytic therapies to introduce the patient to his own trapped globule capsule, time capsule of fantasy and devotional reality.

But I will not go into it right now.


So reality testing initially has been used to differentiate psychosis from other pathologies.

Allegedly the psychotic had impaired reality testing and had a failure of reality testing while others didn't.

Today we know better. Today we know better. There are gradations of reality testing. There's more or less impaired reality testing even among healthy people, let alone among narcissists, borderlines and so on so forth.

So there is extreme failure of reality testing in psychosis even to the point of dementia, not dementia but amnesia.

And there's a variety of partial failures or impairments of reality testing in other mental health conditions.

Of course there is an underlying unspoken assumption here that reality exists. And there's another assumption that we can perceive it and both assumptions are highly suspect.

Does reality exist? Is there such a thing as objective reality that is not mediated via the senses, that is not fitted into cerebral models in the brain? Is there such a thing?

I mean do we ever have access to reality as it is, as opposed to reality as it is perceived?

It's an open question. I just published a polylog with Eitan Schatzkalnin with my brother Shimon Vaknin. It's available on the Good Men's Project, deals exactly with this issue.

Sounds very clear.


And the second question is of course can we perceive reality as it is, even if it does exist as it is, is our perception trustworthy? Can we rely on it?

The answer is of course not. Our perception is constantly colored by psychological needs and expectations and fears and unconscious fantasies and our mentation, our mentality, our psyche.

We never perceive the way an instrument in a laboratory perceives, the way maybe artificial intelligence would perceive one day.

Our perception is mediated, filtered through membranes of emotions and memories and traumas and fears and hopes and wishes until it's no longer recognizable, until reality is no longer recognizable.

So how can we test reality? How can we use rational judgment to assess the accuracy of certain statements or convictions and so on and so forth? How can we be sure that we are not filtering out, avoiding, upsetting information, information that is countervailing? What about confirmation bias?

When we distort reality, what about cognitive distortions such as grandiosity that we are all subjected to to some extent?

So reality testing can be suspended, can be distorted. That's the work of Grossman in 1996.

We do exercise reality testing of course. Our ego is an automatic pilot, autopilot. We don't control it. We don't say, "Okay ego off, ego on." It's always there. It always mediates between us, the recesses of our mind, our drives and urges, our instincts and reflexes, our fears and wishes, our shame and guilt, our traumas buried and open wounds, our fantasies.

The ego mediates between all these baggage here and reality all the time on autopilot.

But it doesn't always work.

Reality testing is often suspended.

For example, when you daydream, reality testing is off. When you're watching a movie, reality testing is off.

So we could say that dissociation is the suspension of reality testing.

We could now conflate the two concepts. We could say that when reality testing is suspended to the extent that it never recovers with regards to a specific item in reality, specific piece of information, that's dissociation. It's irreversible suspension that is locus specific, specific to a memory, specific to an event, specific to a person, specific to an experience. Highly specific targeted suspension of reality testing is just a definition of dissociation.

The psychoanalytic view of reality testing, of course, is intimately linked with what used to be called in philosophy positivism. There is such a thing as reality out there, independent of us. It's a naive definition of reality as external, a passively perceived landscape. They're irrespective of our perception.

And so, of course, this is wrong, as I made clear.

So reality testing in the writings of Sigmund Freud went through various metamorphoses and transformations. And I think it would behoove us to have a look at the development of his genius thinking with regards to this particular concept.

Freud was in the habit of discarding old ideas in favor of new ideas. It's a very bad habit, because many of his old ideas were even more potent, more accurate, and more amazing, and more thought-provoking than his newer ideas. And many of his new ideas were influenced by other thinkers and other scholars and other students, disciples, and so on and so forth.

He was a people pleaser, in effect. One could say that Freud was a people pleaser.

Freud postulated that reality testing is an ego function, and it distinguishes thought from perception. It distinguishes the inner world from external reality. That much hasn't changed in any of Freud's thinking.

He also intimately linked, closely linked, reality testing with ego boundaries. The minute you perceive or you realize the existence of external reality, automatically you acquire a boundary. That's where you end and external reality begins. Now you begin to realize the importance of separation and individuation in personal growth and personal development.

Among other things, separation from money allows the child to develop boundaries. Boundaries are the perimeter within which the self coalesces and constellates and becomes. I've dealt with it in previous videos.

Freud has promulgated four theories of reality testing in 1911, 1917, 1925, and 1937.

The first theory was that reality testing provides for a distinction between subjective and objective.

The second theory was that, yeah, reality testing provides for this kind of distinction between subjective and objective, but with a proviso that only the pleasurable is assigned to the ego, and everything that is not pleasurable is relegated to the outside world.

So the ego is the seat of pleasure in order to sustain the reality principle, in order to force the individual to confront reality.

The ego dispenses pleasure. It's like giving candy to a child.

The ego says, if you were to recognize reality without fear and without prejudice and without bias, you're going to have a lot of pleasure in the future.

And this is, of course, the ego's grandiosity, because no one can predict the future with any certainty, and no one has a monopoly on pleasure.

So it was a grandiose view of reality testing.

The third theory of reality testing dated 1925 was that it was the appearance and consolidation of the capacity to genuinely distinguish fantasy from reality and conception from perception, regardless of the drive-based economy of such judgments.

This was a major departure.

What Freud was actually saying, the ego would have emerged regardless of the id, and the ego is not concerned with the internal feuds and conflicts and machinations between the various parts of the psyche.

No, ego is there to guide you bravely and accurately into a properly assessed environment with objective data and the right guidelines.

Ego is evidence-based, contrasted, so trusted friend and conciliatory, so to speak.

There was 1925. Twelve years later, 1937, Freud came up with the last of his reality testing theories. He said it's the development of a finer capacity to scan how one's inner biases, internal biases, have an impact upon the perceptions and the relationships with people in one's life.

So in 1937, Freud was among the prophets, the ancestors of object relations theories.

Now that wasn't Freud actually, it was Adler, but okay.

Freud and Adler and others, they were beginning to talk about the psyche. One's psychology is relational, is having to do with other people.

So the main role of reality testing would be to identify biases and distortions and prejudices, realize that they are internal, that they have no bearing on external reality, and then interact with other people in a way which would be reality and evidence-based in a way which would not reflect internal biases, prejudices, emotions, fears, wishes, and so on.

So this was reality testing, it was people-oriented, object-oriented.

The impairment of reality testing, as I said, has many gradations.

Take dreams, for example. In dreams, of course, reality testing is suspended, but in psychosis, it is lost.

In what he called perversions, no longer accepted in psychology, but at the time, in what he called perversions, the ego has a contradictory attitude towards reality. One part of the ego accepts reality, and one part of the ego denies that reality is real.

This is especially manifest in fetishism. I will discuss it a bit later.

And then Freud came up with transitional phenomena, where both reality and non-reality coexist, and the issue of reality testing doesn't arise. One could even say that transitional objects are kind of transitional phenomena, where the imaginary friend is both real, it's reified by an object, a real object, like a teddy bear or a blanket.

So the imaginary friend is both real and not real.

And this is the power of the false self in the narcissist and borderline personality structure.

The false self is perceived as out there. The false self is the only external object in the narcissist world.

So it's out there, and it's in here. It unifies the internal with the external, and therefore the false self is definitely a transitional phenomenon.

Franz Alexander described neurotic characters as pathological personalities. He says neurotic characters function perfectly in life, but they don't always conform to the requirements of reality because they let unconscious infantile attitudes, wishes and representations take over from time to time.

Their ego is compromised. The gauging of differences between internal and external worlds is at the core of reality testing.

And this is the single element that survived all the transformations and manifestations of Freud's and many others' works.

Tell the difference between external and internal.

And that is why in my work, I keep emphasizing the narcissist's inability to tell the externality and separateness of objects. This is why his reality testing is impaired.

A little known phrase is the reality indicator. Freud came up with it in the "Metasychological Supplement to the Theory of Dreams" which he published in 1970.

The reality indicator makes it possible for the psyche to determine whether the experience is present or some memory.

So, I don't know how many of you have asked this question, but how do you know that what you're experiencing right now is real? How do you know it's not a memory? How do you know you're not a butterfly dreaming yourself or yourself dreaming a butterfly? How do you tell these things apart?


And Freud suggested that there is something called a reality indicator and later he integrated it with reality testing.

All this is because we are creatures of dreams. We by far default into a state of fantasy.

Healthy people, normal people, not only narcissists.

The difference between healthy people and narcissists. Healthy, normal people default into fantasy and rebound into reality.

The narcissist can't rebound. He is trapped in the fantasy and not only is he trapped in the fantasy, he's trying to impose his fantasy on reality itself. He's trying to substitute his fantasy for reality and he's trying to force you to accept this with a shared fantasy, to accept this substitution, counterfactual and demented and fantastic as it is.

Hallucinations are at the core of the psyche. There's a proclivity to hallucinate, but if previous experiences have been hallucinated, how can we make them present to perception? How can we make sure that what we're experiencing right now is not a hallucination?

You see, when you're in a dream, very often you don't know that you're dreaming. And when a psychotic hallucinates, he doesn't know that he's hallucinating, he thinks it's reality.

How do you as a healthy, normal person can tell?

Well, there is a problem here.

The shocking answer is that you can't be sure that you're getting it right. Never.

There is an instinctual catharsis. You're investing emotional, instinctual and drive energy in this process of interfacing and interacting with reality.

So this fogs up the ego. It blurs. It's like looking through a glass darkly.

The capacity of the ego to differentiate between past and present, internal and external, is hampered, is damaged, is impaired by this emotional, instinctual investment, which happens all the time. You can't stop it. It's automatic.

And the intensity of your emotional investment, of your catharsis, the intensity of your instinctual investment may prevent the ego from differentiating between perception and hallucination.

We could therefore say that psychosis is cathecis out of control.

And we can absolutely safely say this about narcissism. The narcissism is cathecis out of control.

And of course we can say this about borderline, because borderline is nothing but emotional dysregulation. All these manifestations and forms of cathecis, gone awry, cathecis, gone awry.

Therefore, effectively suspending or disabling the ego's ability to tell apart hallucination and fantasy from reality.

Successes of Freud, Winnicott for example, they emphasized another process that contributes to this distinction between reality and fantasy and external and internal. And this process that has been emphasized by Winnicott and others is that external reality resists fantasized destruction.

Now that sounds very childish. Winnicott says, if you want to know if something is reality or fantasy, try to destroy it. If you cannot destroy it, sorry, it's reality. If you can destroy it, it's fantasy. Destroy it in the mental sense, in the psychological sense, not with a hammer and not with explosives, but mentally. If you can undo it, if you can reverse it, if you can deny it, if you can repress it, if you can eliminate it, it's fantasy.

If you can't do any of these things, if your defenses don't work, it's reality.

And Winnicott unwittingly touched upon something very important.

Reality is about decompensation. Our defenses work against reality.

Defenses, our psychological defense mechanisms.

The main role of psychological defense mechanisms is to falsify reality, reframe reality, reject reality, repress reality, destroy reality, but they never succeed.

So this leads to decompensation. Our psychological defense mechanisms break apart when they are pitted against reality because reality is stronger and objective and out there and untouchable.

So our defenses crumble. They fall apart. They disintegrate.

A process known as decompensation. That's why I said in an interview, the interview with Michel Paradis, I said to accept reality is to accept decompensation, to accept reality is to accept pain, loss, shame.

Reality is this. Reality is our inability to defend against it. It's very hurtful and it is composed of losses, object losses and real losses. And there's nothing we can do about it.

That's Winnicott's insight. Nothing we can do about it.

Reality, externality can be discovered by its capacities to resist the subject's destructiveness.

This confers upon the analysis of negative transference, a preponderant role in treatment, but I'm not going to break.


What about sex? Is it sex or sexualization, the bridge between the internal and the external? Isn't this the secret power of sex?

Sexualizing cognitions. Sexualizing thought is a process that we observe in many mental health cognition, mental illness, mental illnesses, mental health conditions.

For example, in obsessional neurosis, we observe the sexualization of thought. These people derive sexual pleasure from the thinking process, from the content of the thought. The process of thinking itself is sexualized. The act of thinking becomes sex in obsessional neurosis.

So achieving the result of thinking of the thought is experienced as arousing, arousal, sexual satisfaction. The thought is endowed with the power of action. And this is known as omnipotence of thought. You don't need to have sex. You just need to think of having sex and you are sexually gratified. You're aroused.

This is an example of how even sex, which is 100% action and 100% thought and 100% emotion, it's everything. Sex is the ultimate act. Even sex can be converted or reduced into magical thinking where thought equals action. Thought is action and therefore thought is omnipotent. Thought of this kind becomes compulsive because sex is so gratifying, caters so much to the id pleasure principle that is addictive. Sex is addictive.

So thinking about sex becomes compulsive.

Prohibition of sexual pleasure, which is derived from thought, becomes a prohibition of thought or inhibition of thought. This is a very important observation.

I'm going to try to explain.

In immature people, narcissists, obsessive neurotics, other types of immature people, or people who have a massive problem with reality testing, there's a confusion between thinking and action. This is known as magical thinking, omnipotent thinking. Never mind. It's a confusion.

Thinking is perceived as action. If I think about sex, I'm having sex. If I think that I want someone to die, he would die. So this is magical thinking.

And so if you become compulsive about sex, if you become a sex addict, and then you tell yourself, I have to stop thinking about sex. Porn addicts say this. I have to stop thinking about sex.

The problem then becomes that because thinking is identified with action, when you try to inhibit or prohibit the sexual pleasure that comes from thinking, you prohibit the thinking itself.

So whenever an individual with impaired reality testing is trying to prohibit the outcome of his internal world, he prohibits the internal world itself.

I'm going to repeat this a third time because this is a very crucial insight.

You're a narcissist. You're psychotic. You're obsessional, neurotic, whatever. And your reality testing is impaired. You can't tell the difference between reality and fantasy.

So most of your life you spend in fantasy. Spending fantasy is safer. It's more efficacious. You're immured and immersed in fantasy.

Okay. Everything that happens happens in your fantasy. When you think about doing something, you do it in your fantasy.

Therefore, your thoughts and your actions are one and the same because they occur or co-occur in the fantastic space, never outside.

Now, there are consequences to these thoughts which are misperceived as actions in the fantastic space.

For example, if you think about sex, it is misperceived as sex and you have the pleasure of having had sex and you develop an addiction.

So if you try to eliminate, to eradicate the consequences of your thoughts, for example, the sexual pleasure that comes out of thinking about sex, you're going to inhibit the thinking about sex.

And if you try to control all the consequences and outcomes of your fantasy-based thinking, you're going to inhibit, you're going to turn off, switch off the fantasy.

But the fantasy is all there is. You're going to switch off yourself.

Trying to eliminate the consequences of fantastic thinking, autistic thinking, the realistic thinking, trying to eliminate the consequences of fantastic thinking, which is misperceived as fantastic action, this leads to the destruction of the fantasy and because there's only fantasy, there's no reality, it leads to psychosis.

Which kind of psychosis? A men's share, a men's shell psychosis.

The full dynamic complexity of splitting of the ego between reality and non-reality in these pathological conditions, we can see this in action in fetishism.

Unlike hallucinations, fetishes are not created by denial of reality, but by subtle avoidance of reality or reducing reality into a part object. You reduce reality to fit, to choose, to breathe. You reduce reality.

Or in this way, you avoid the totality of reality somehow.

So there's symbolic transfer of your cathexis, your emotional investment, into some part. Part of the body, an object, whatever the case may be.

There are some fetishes we choose. So fetishes are somewhere between hallucination and reality.

Perception, hallucination and perception. Fetishes are kind of bridge between hallucination and perception, and they are also the dividing line between psychosis and what Freud called perversion.

The splitting of the ego signals the ego's failure to build constructively on reality testing by interpolating between the instinctual demand and its gratification, the consequences of the envisaged course of action, whether the repression of the demand or the postponement of satisfaction, they all fail.

So in thought, in cognition, in thinking, the consideration of reality for which real satisfaction is supposed to be gained has a decisive role to play.

So we are beginning to see a substitute for the reality principle.

Sometimes it is not the reality principle that is at play, but the consideration of reality.

And this is not only in mentally ill people. This is known as thought identity. It's not only in mentally ill people.

The current schools of psychology, even non-psycho-analytic schools, non-psycho-dynamic schools, they accept that we don't have direct, disintermediated access to reality. What we have instead is thinking that reflects reality more or less accurately, more or less objectively.

So this is thought identity. Thought identity.

Reality testing regulates actions under the secondary process, but subject to a representation of reality in the mind, a model, if you wish.

So we acquire a psychic apparatus and we kind of integrate it with the reality and pleasure principle. The pleasure principle and the reality principle continue to operate, especially early on in psychic development.

And the reality principle pushes us to renounce instinctual gratifications, to postpone them, to tolerate the resulting instinctual tensions and anxieties.

It's all true and external reality forces this adaptation to real events.

And subdue instincts. And all this is still very true.

Sexual instincts operate initially autoerotically, without an extraneous object. And then they're removed from the direct influence of the external world. And they're integrated with the pleasure and the reality principle.

And all this, everything I've said until now is still okay, is still valid, is still true.

But there is a superimposed layer.

Not only perception, not only fantasy, not only hallucination, not only impairment, not only suspension, not only this thing.

Superimposed on all these things, is thought, thought, thinking, our thinking mind.

And perhaps this is where narcissists fail the most.

Because their cognition is distorted. This control mechanism is not functioning. They don't have proper cognition. They can't superimpose it.

All the mayhem and chaos of instincts versus ego versus reality, they can't create a cohesive, coherent structure.

That's why we say that narcissism and borderline personality organizations are chaotic, disorganized. There's no overlord. There's no master, which is essentially the cognition, cognitive process, cognitive map.

The narcissist, instead of cognition, actually has narratives.

Narcissist, for example, has a narrative about himself as superior, perfect, amazing, flawless, and godlike. And he doesn't bother to cross-check this narrative with reality via the ego. He adheres to the narrative.

And this narrative is not necessarily fantastic as much as counterfactual. It's a theory of the world which is wrong.

Similarly, the narcissist's theories of mind which are wrong. All of the narcissist's cognitions are distorted, wrong, biased. It amounts to a total cognitive deficit, in my view.

So narcissist doesn't have the main instrument, the main tool of self-regulation, self-control, self-awareness, self-acquaintance, and ultimately self-efficacy.

The narcissist, in short, not only does not have an ego or a self, he doesn't have a mind.

Narcissist is nothing but the vapors or miasma of a truly nightmarish and bad fantasy. It's nothing there but a hologram, a projection. You could put your hand through it because it's a phantasm.

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