Distribution Automatique

Sunday, March 14

Further Thoughts on Blogging and Narcissism

Since the word "narcissism"
derives from the Greek
myth of Narcissus, which
centers around the mythological
character's contemplating his
own image in a pool, while
his partner Echo looks on,
narcissism is rightly thought to
center around issues
of bodily self-esteem and self-absorption.
But this is only part of the story. In
psychoanalytic theory,
the appropriate functioning of
self-esteem derives from the
wholesome development,
and ultimate crystalization within
the ego, of what is known
as the ego-ideal. The dynamic between
the part of the personality
known as the ego, and its partner in
negotiating issues with
derives in part from the outcome of
this development.

In early, or perhaps very early, childhood
the child gradually becomes
aware of its extreme dependency on
its caretakers. There
is a delicate balance to be resolved
between the child's feelings
of love and admiration for its relatively
"rich and powerful" parents
and its feelings of anxiety flowing
out of its awareness of its
vulnerability if the caretakers are
unavailable to offer necessary
physical or emotional supplies.
Over time, the child's feelings of
pleasure and security obviously
derive from the ministrations of the
caretakers. The caretakers' apparent
knowledge and mastery of this world,
clearly riddled with dangers and risks,
with its potential deprivations of comfort and
necessities, for example, becomes
part of the source of the child's idealization of
the caretakers, which is the core of what
later are to become feelings of love. As the
child becomes aware of
its gender, the gender(s) of his caretakers
also enters into the development
of experiences of identity and the corresponding
feelings and sources of knowledge
about living.

Gradually, however, as the child gains
separate mastery over his or her environment,
this idealization of the parent becomes
less an aspect of immediate reverence
and dependency, and more an aspect
of its identifications and sense of self.
"If I am like the powerful caretaker,
and I love and admire
the 'rich and powerful' caretaker,
the caretaker will admire and love me,
and so will others." Such feelings are at
the core of the development of the
ego ideal, and ultimately, the superego.

The internal struggle over these feelings
gradually emerges over latency
(7-11) and comes to a crisis during adolescence.
This is the moment in
development when the personality is in the
most danger of succumbing to
pathological narcissism. It is at this moment
that the individual personality
crystalizes and must choose between ideals,
and give some external expression
to these ideals. Usually the individual chooses
a peer group that personifies
and activates such ideals. While feeling
varying degrees of ambivalence about giving up
some aspects of the conscious idealization
of the caretakers and other sources
of internal identification, in favor of symbolic
heroes like cultural icons and
other admired people in the individual's
immediate environment, there is
a corresponding reduction in felt dependency
on the caretakers. This
sense of self-sufficiency is at the core
of the healthy, or unhealthy development
of an internal self-esteem mechanism.
It it at this moment of development
that pathological narcissism has its greatest
opportunity to take root in the
personality. A relatively dangerous bridge
must be crossed, as the personality
negotiates between its desires for self-sufficiency
and the powerful pull of crucial, previously developed,
ego ideals. If the individual feels
the necessity of trying to completely
eradicate these earlier ideals, if they are too
threatening in their tendency to dominate
or engulf the individual, for example,
or the person's felt awareness of some
profound failures on the part of the
caretakers, the individual may consciously
reject the ego ideals, but all the more
unconsciously embrace them. This becomes,
then, fertile ground not only for unconscious
conflict, but for assuming the existence of varying degrees
of to some degree false self-sufficiency. False, because the
unconscious identifications remain intact,
while at the same time being consciously rejected.

[As it happens, right now we happen to be listening to
Laurie Anderson's *Oh, Superman*, which
powerfully evokes many of the points I am making here.]

(to be continued)