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YOU are Narcissist’s Tradition, His Reflexive Self

Uploaded 10/2/2022, approx. 22 minute read

If you dig deep into the archaeology of this channel, you will find videos about the narcissist as the leader of a cult.

An intimate relationship with a narcissist is a cult. It is a private religion where he is godlike and you are his worshiper.

And exactly like in a religion, they are rituals, they are routines and above all, they are traditions. You are the narcissist emerging tradition.

The longer you stay in the relationship, the longer you collude in the shared fantasy, the longer you fulfill your role, the less you deviate and diverge from your snapshot introject in the narcissist's mind, the more you become a tradition.

The role of tradition in the narcissist's shared fantasy is very critical. The narcissist expects you to behave predictably in a stable way and manner across the lifespan of the relationship.

Only the narcissist is entitled to introduce unpredictability, capriciousness, arbitrariness, indeterminacy and uncertainty into your relationship.

You do not possess this right and if you dare, you will be devalued and discarded.

A long forgotten genius by the name of Anthony Giddens was the first to describe the role of traditions in the emergence of a coherent self. He postulated that traditions in the past helped people to find their self-identity.

And today, in the absence of functioning tradition, everyone is scrambling for themselves. Everyone is coming up and conjuring a narrative self. Everyone is creating his or her own tradition.

The narcissist is no different. He doesn't possess an ego. He doesn't have a constellated, integrated self.

Like everyone else, he has self-states. But unlike everyone else, these self-states are largely dissociated.

You are the glue who is holding the narcissist together. And you're holding the narcissist together by being you on a consistent basis.

But not the real you. The idealized you. You're an internal object in the narcissist's mind. That's where you belong. That's where you function. You don't exist out there. There's no perception of an external object.


Today, we are going to discuss an intriguing concept by Anthony Giddens, first suggested in the 1990s when I started my work on narcissism.

And this is the concept of the reflexive self.

The reflexive self is very respondent to traditions and cults and religion and rituals.

Now, following this introduction, you're going to be submerged into the icy waters of social psychology.

Anthony Giddens was only one of its proponents. Aaron Beck, Zygmunt Bauman were others.

I also recommend that before you watch this video, you go to another video that I've made two days ago about ontological insecurity, narcissist's inability to trust people, inability to trust himself and inability to trust the world.

Ontological insecurity. Should you listen to this first video, the current video would be much easier to comprehend.

So, I wish you the best. Some of you will survive this video, rest assured. And those who don't, what can I say? Viewers are like bosses. They come and go.


Yesterday, I analyzed the concept of ontological insecurity, first proposed by Anthony Giddens.

But ontological insecurity is only one component in a much bigger body of work.

First of all, I recommend that you watch yesterday's video on ontological insecurity before you watch this one.

Anthony Giddens, who was a sociologist, had proposed a whole theory of identity, self-formation, and how they are embedded or reactive to an environment, the environment.

So, in a way, his work was the equivalent of Freud's work dozens of years earlier.

And today, we're going to discuss yet another concept of Anthony Giddens. And that is the concept of reflexive self.

The reflexivity has been described in psychology long before Anthony Giddens. Giddens was a British sociologist, and he worked during the 1990s.

But reflexivity has been described in the literature decades before. It is the human capability or human tendency to turn attention to internalize or redirect consciousness back upon oneself. Introspection is a form of reflexivity. It's as if you look inwards, as if you place yourself in your own field of view and then observe yourself from the outside.

The human capability of turning the attention of consciousness back upon itself says the encyclopedia of identity, being aware of the fact that we are aware, thinking about thinking, or more mundanely, perhaps providing accounts of ourselves, who we are.

While reflexivity has been around long before Giddens, the concept of reflexive self was developed most extensively by him. But he was preceded by others, such as Margaret Archer, Zygmunt Bauman, and Arik Beck. They have approached reflexivity in different ways, not the same, but still it's an integral part of their work.

Reflexivity is a crucial concept, but it is very controversial both in psychology and in sociology and in the intersection of these two sciences, social psychology, especially social psychology of identity.

Giddens and others perceived that there are changes to the relationship between social structures and the way people experience themselves intimately. Long before Giddens and others, even Freud realized, Adler, Freud, Jung, others, they will realize that interacting with other people, object relations, are crucial to the formation of a sense of self, of a self-identity.

Much later in the 60s, many British scholars, such as Gantt and Fairbair and Winnicott and others, have suggested that what we call the self is actually the intersection of multiple interactions with other people.

Therefore, the self, therefore, is not a unitary, immutable entity, but is a reflection of relational dynamics.

So, Giddens' work on reflexivity relied on a very long tradition of believing that our actions within social structures, upon social structures and with others, these activities, these actions, choices, decisions and interactions, put together for what we call euphemistically, bereaps, the self.

Giddens' model of selfhood consisted of three components, the unconscious, the practical consciousness and self-reflexivity.

The unconscious is, of course, of primary importance in almost all modern psychological theories. I'm not talking about behaviorism and experimental psychology, I'm talking about psychodynamic theories.

In all of them, the unconscious is critical for the development of self-identity because basic trust and ontological security reside essentially and mostly in the unconscious.

Again, I recommend that you watch the video about ontological insecurity, which I posted yesterday.

The experience of what Erichsen called the basic trust at the unconscious level in infancy provides the individual with a secure orientation towards the world, towards others and ultimately towards himself. And this protects the individual from engagement and from other threats to identity. So, the sequence is basic trust and infancy with a mother who provides a secure base and then ontological security and then a sense of secure attachment and self-identity, which protect the individual against risks to identity such as engulfment. Borderline, for example, doesn't have this, so she has engulfment anxiety.

The narcissist doesn't have any of this, he doesn't have basic trust, he doesn't have ontological security, so the narcissist has impaired reality testing and is unable to interact with the external world. He's totally immersed in his mind, where he's on a constant quest to interact with and dialogue with internal objects. Very indistinguishable from psychosis and the psychotic hyper-reflexivity.

Still, all of us, narcissists, borderlines, healthy people, even psychotics, we are faced with reality, we are faced with ontology.

There are demands associated with being and demands associated with existence and the exigencies and vagaries of day-to-day life. We call these ontological demands.

They are ontological demands, for example, for relative order, structure, constancy. Every day life, starting in infancy, must be structured somehow, even if we impose imaginary and fantastic order, patterns and structures, a phenomenon known as pareidolia, even if we do this, we do this because it enhances our ontological security and reduces our anxiety.

When this process fails or is disrupted, when infant is unable to feel secure or safe, to predict behaviors and actions by others, and to make sense of the world around him, when this process fails at infancy, then there is a problem with unconscious trust.

The ability to go on in everyday life without being overwhelmed by uncertainty and anxiety is launched at the level of practical consciousness, but its roots are in the unconscious, where trust, regularity, predictability, law and order, structure, they give rise to ontological security.

And so practical consciousness, this ability to function without being overwhelmed or dysregulated or anxious, relies on a stock of learned knowledge that has become automatic, second nature, taken for granted, but nonetheless potentially available to reflexive scrutiny.

In Giddens' work, practical consciousness answers or responds to existential questions, questions about doing, questions about becoming, questions about being in everyday life.

Practical consciousness prevents us from having to contemplate, analyze, think about everything we have to do. Our actions and decisions and choices do not have to be pored over and contemplated at the level of reflexive awareness because we have this hype or infrastructure of experience.

And so Giddens' major contribution, I think, was not in describing the reflexive self, not really in dealing with the unconscious.

There have been previous thinkers who have made similar contributions to the literature. Giddens' I think main departure from accepted wisdom was that he embedded the emergence of the self and the functioning of our identity in day-to-day life. He embedded them in context, in traditions.

He believed that the social environment, society, helps us to consecrate trust in the coherence of everyday life. He believes that symbols around us provide answers to existential questions that underline experience.

In other words, he did not believe in the separateness of the individual, in the individual, divided. He didn't believe in this.

He thought we are all so deeply integrated and enmeshed in life, even on a day-to-day basis, that we are indistinguishable from our environment and context.

This was his major contribution.

The success of practical consciousness in his work has to do with defending the self against overwhelming anxiety. And it is dependent on the viability of traditions. Traditions allow subjectivity, a relatively unquestioned passage through the trials and tribulations and vicissitudes of life.

And so, in his work, an aspect of self-identity is reflexivity. And reflexivity is understood by him to be a universal human capacity. Any awareness of the self as a self in some form is, by definition, a reflexive act, a reflexive feat.

Reflexive awareness is the universal vehicle through which we constitute our identities, and then we maintain, preserve, buttress, and protect our identities, ourselves. We sustain awareness of the self as a distinct and propited entity via reflexivity.

So reflexivity is the precondition for self-identity, through the lifespan.

And here, Giddens makes a leap, an intellectual leap.

He says, you can't be truly reflexive. You can't maintain a stable sense of self-identity throughout life if you are not embedded in some tradition.

He made a distinction between traditional premodern societies and post-traditional, post-modern, and modern societies.

Self-reflexivity is ubiquitous in Giddens' work, and it's a universal, almost reflexive behavior. That's why it's self-reflexivity, it's reflexive.

But his conceptualization of reflexivity is novel, because it presents a claim that it is only in post-traditional societies that the self becomes genuinely a reflexive project.

So Giddens' position was that post-traditional societies force us into extreme reflexivity, a reflexivity that can easily deteriorate and become deleterious, self-defeating, and self-destructive, dysfunctional reflexivity.

And this rests on an account of the nature of recent social changes and the impact they have upon his tripartite model of the self.

Giddens describes social change as a decisive break with tradition. He claims that traditions once provided people with fairly rigid and temporarily constant points through which to navigate the sense of self, and this way they facilitated self-reflexivity, but within fairly narrow existential parameters. They sort of channeled self-reflexivity. Tradition was a channel through which self-reflexivity was allowed to flow. It couldn't overflow the channel. It was narrow.

Much of what might be questioned was effectively answered by the Givens of tradition, by the pillars of tradition.

Tradition told you these are the questions you can ask about yourself, about others, about the world. These questions are taboo. They're out of bounds and boundaries. They should never be asked.

Christopher Bollas, who is a British psychoanalyst, described something he called the unfought known. It's something you know probably in your unconscious but never expresses itself as a thought, cognitively, and yet it affects behavior.

The unfought known is closely aligned with Giddens's perception of post-modern self-reflexivity, and so traditions dictate the boundaries of the unfought known, if you wish. They allow for self-reflexivity, but within strict parameters and only in highly specific ways.

The prescriptive nature and proscriptive nature of traditional rituals, routines, beliefs, values, this was largely under research. There was no questioning of these things because they were taken as a given. They were taken as background noise, but actually what happens is that these traditions combine forcefully with a localised experience, and so each region, each country, each place in the world have its own traditions which are localised, and these traditions give rise and bind experiences into a sense of identity.

I mentioned Giddens back, many others, suggested that the past pre-modern societies extended almost until the end of the Second World War before the Second World War.

There have been of course modern society, there has been modernity, but modernity was wedded to traditions, and these traditions hailed forth came from, emanated from the Enlightenment, which is a period in the philosophical movement beginning in the 18th century, mainly in Europe. Enlightenment was associated with the rise of rational discourse, scientific thinking and methodology, political ideologies such as democracy, republicanism, and liberalism.

And while modernity has erupted on the scene after the Industrial Revolution, well over 150 years ago, it was still shackled and chained and channeled within Enlightenment traditions, and so self-reflexivity again was very restricted and limited.

Modernist identities were prescribed and proscribed by traditional institutions.

Consider for example nationality, class, empire, family, sexuality, intimacy, relationships, these are all traditions and they all emanate from more or less the 18th and 19th century, even concepts such as childhood and adolescence are relatively new.

The Enlightenment was premised on radical doubt, and yet this radical doubt became a tradition.

The institutions founded on skepticism served to structure people's identities in relatively unquestioned ways. You're allowed to doubt everything except doubt itself, and of course there have been families before the Enlightenment, but modern families and later nuclear families and later single parent families, they are organizing principles which emanate from these traditions.

So functioning was connected or related intimately to tradition in traditional societies and premodern and modern societies up to the Second World War, and functioning allowed for a limited scope of self-reflexivity, but limited.

And so then after the Second World War there's been a future shock, numerous social changes, and they've propelled our individual experience of ourselves out of the orbit of tradition.

The tradition now is to challenge traditions, to undermine traditions, to replace traditions with deconstructed uncertainties. This is a tremendous impact on our ability to reflect on ourselves and via this self-reflexivity form stable lifelong identities.

According to Giddens and others there's no such thing as self or identity without context, and there's no such thing as context without traditions. Factos associated with the late 20th century and early 21st century contribute to this fuzziness, blurriness, and instability of a sense of self or a sense of identity.

Consider for example globalization, rapid technological change, communication, social media, travel, finance, traffic. There's a traffic of humans and human activity, and this constant friction between competing histories, competing experiences, competing laws, incompatible traditions.

The tradition for tradition to shape identity, it needs to be consciously understood as tradition, accepted as tradition, and succumbed to as a tradition.

But when you're in a globalized world with increasing exposure to other people who come from other cultures and other societies with their ideas, their behaviors, their collective ways of doing things, this works against understanding anything as a tradition.

And the consequence of this dynamism, this dynamism of social change, the consequences are that we are afloat, we are adrift. The institutions through which social relations were organized and defined are no longer static. There are no unified external criteria.

And what had replaced stability is a constant, chronic reflexive approach to both knowledge and to practice and to yourself and to others. This constant reflexivity, self reflexivity and other reflexivity that can never be switched off.

There is a kind of better background process. This is a profound impact on the structure of the self.

This collapse in traditionality, this change is the constant.

This has destroyed our ability to form selves.

And the upshot of this is the extension of reflexivity at the level of self identity, but without any discernible success.

In such a world, we find it increasingly difficult to build our life stories, according to the taken for granted knowledge stocks of practical consciousness previously provided by traditions.

Narratives were dictated by traditions, and the self is a narrative.

Instead, we develop our own narratives. And our accounting for ourselves is marked by a pervasive reflexivity, says the encyclopedia of identity.

Now, there have been many theories, and there have been constant, consequently, many arguments. And there are substantial differences in how we deal and how we conceptualize this explosion or extension of reflexivity.

And what is the subjective experience? How do we subjectively experience this constant reimagining of ourselves, this constant observation of ourselves in our field of view?

Social media is just a technological way of expressing this out of control self reflexivity, we need to, it's as if we need to behold ourselves to believe that we still exist.

If for some reason, we're not seen either by ourselves or by others, we feel a nod, we feel that we had vanished and disappeared.

And this extension, and the implications of this extension of reflexivity, are unfolding as we speak.

But there is a general consensus that individual identities are increasingly marked by malignant, cancerous, self reflexivity, and the expense of taken for granted knowledge and traditions.

And so ontological security, the basic security about conditions, routines, circumstances of life, one's own existence as a separate self, ontological security is every diminishing.

And it's a serious risk.

And so there is a tendency to view the situation as a dilemma for the self.

On the one hand, it does, the fact that yourself is in flux, that it is not stable, that it is flexible and reactive, it is experienced sometimes as a sense of liberation, a sense of empowerment, and mastery of being required to have more choice in the way that we fashion our relations to others, developing our own autobiographical trajectory.

So I personally believe the disempowerment is the outcome of cognitive dissonance.

We feel so uncertain. We feel so insecure that we are lying to ourselves, but becoming grandiose.

We're telling ourselves delusionally that we are more powerful, that we are empowered, that we are omnipotent in effect, because we now own the ability to fashion and sculpt and structure our self identity out of nothing. We are godlike.

It's creation all over again.

Each genesis, each and every one of us, not bound by any traditions, can now foster and engender a self that befits one's own preferences, priorities, predilections, proclivities, emotions, fears, hopes, wishes, and so on.

And so this power, this power to shape yourself, is perceived as divine and is sought after by an increasingly more narcissistic population.

But on the other hand, this very situation and this very undisputed, newly acquired capabilities to self-reflect and self-form, self-structure, self-become, these new powers, therefore with anxiety and uncertainty. And this anxiety and uncertainty stretch well into the unconscious, because constancy and permanence of the world out there, constancy and permanence of relationships with object permanence, object constancy, they are prerequisites, they're preconditions for basic trust.

And if you cannot trust, what are you left with? What are you left with?

With but desperate improvisation in a world that is increasingly perceived as more and more hostile, less and less amenable to accommodate your needs, including deeper psychological needs. What are you left with but a paranoid mindset to secretary delusions and ideation?

Forgiddens, the balance is tipped toward the positive, because Giddens said that we can increasingly establish the character of our identity through reflexivity and reflexively made choices. He said there's an emergence of the reflexive project of the self.

Giddens, Beck, Bauban, they all pursued the conceptualization of reflexivity theoretically rather than empirically.

And so when these ideas of new self-empowerment in a world governed by humans who had become gods, when these ideas were put into the test, empirically investigated in studies, the role of reflexivity in contemporary identities has started to gain momentum as a legitimate research project.

There have been numerous studies now based on structured interview data, and they have offered some qualified support to the claim that self-reflexivity is the contemporary organizing principle of identities. There's been even a strong case that social structures still underpin identities in different ways, feeding into some aspects of the critical reception with which claims of extended self-reflexivity have been created.

But these empirical studies did not delve into the subjective experience of shaping oneself.

This power granted to us to reflect upon ourselves and thereby form ourselves, make ourselves become. This power comes with enormous and daunting responsibilities as Jean-Paul Sartre has observed.

We now have the power of the gods to choose and to decide, and with it come all the anguish of the gods over such power.

Power is a prize.

The criticism of the conceptualization of heightened self-reflexivity stems from concerns about the ideology behind Giddens's theory and work.

There's an apparent neglect of the contextualized specific and situated nature of the construction and maintenance of identity. There are ways in which the reflexive capacities of identity are always already physically embodied. They become habituous, kind of, and at the same time socially embedded.

So this encourages a re-emphasis on the cultural, the material, and the effective parameters of identity formation.

In short, this new project of self-discovery may be more wishful thinking than actual.

When we assign increased perspicuity to contemporary reflexive selves, there is a danger of losing sight of the ways in which reflexivity emerges from a complex interface of socially and culturally stratified, classed contexts, dynamic interpersonal relations and psychodynamics.

We can't simplify the whole thing and say, if we reflect on ourselves, we thereby become ourselves.

Because there are numerous other stakeholders at play, not the list of which is other dynamics, psychological dynamics, inside ourselves and our introjects, but also social players and structures, institutions, contexts and environments, they're all participants in our self-formation and identity formation.

These contexts shape not only the way choices become reflexively known and acted upon, but also the forms of reflexivity through which the self engages with and is constituted through social reality.

So the structural basis for the differentiation of reflexivity seem to emerge out of much more nuanced symptoms of social changes.

And this claim that a single thing underlies the universal extension of the self, this is at the very least counterfactual.

And so these are the pro and con arguments with regards to Giddens' work.

He opened our eyes to the way traditions and societies help to form the self, but then he kind of bought into the ideology that it's great to be released from these traditions and societies and to shape ourselves the way we choose as a project.

Individuals are embedded, embedded in the and the heightened reflexivity is a reaction to changes in the environment and structures and institutions and others and our own psychodynamics determine who we ultimately become.

The end result is to say that extended reflexivity relies on an excessively voluntary notion of the individual agent when actually it's a myth, it's fiction.

Despite all this, the concept of reflexivity is central in the new debates of the relationships between structure and agency in social theories of identity.

The structures which are there, out there, they're strong, they're almost immutable and this is the agency of the individual.

It is an interplay between these two that helps to form identity.

Social changes affect us and affect interrelationships of psychological and social dynamics and this is Giddens' main contribution.

The empirical evidence is, to use a British understatement, qualified and the criticism is strong in convincing the universal applicability of the notion of heightened reflexivity in response to social change is an oversimplification as it is presented by Giddens.

But there is a great deal of potential in his work because he was the one who traced the pathways, the trajectories of reflexivity as it confronts traditional props of identity.

As a phenomenon, the positive transformative power of hyper-reflexivity, however elusive or even delusional, can be welcomed because even as a construct, even as a concept, even as a delusion, even as a fantasy, it can and does affect the formation of our identities and ourselves if we adhere to this organizing principle.

And so, to think about ourselves, to consider our lives, to contemplate every dimension of us alone, individually and in conjunction with others, is the best and surest ways to form an identity which would reduce our anxiety and make us more ego-consonant, ego-syntonic.

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