Healthcare Training Institute - Quality Education since 1979
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In the last section, we discussed three aspects of the ambivalence of feeling commonly found in narcissistic clients. These three aspects of the ambivalence of feeling in narcissistic clients included: early childhood development; confidence vs. self-dissatisfaction; and altruism and manipulation.
In this section, we will examine four degrees of narcissism. The four degrees of narcissism include: phallic narcissism; the narcissistic character; the borderline personality; and the psychopathic personality.
4 Degrees of Narcissism
♦ Degree #1: Phallic Narcissism
Greg, age 26, constantly described what he called his "sexual conquests." He stated, "Whenever I’m at a party, I’m always the one with the good sex story. I have a new partner about twice a week, three if I party on Thursday. When I was in my frat at college, I was the 'stud'. No ladies could resist me." I asked him what else he told his friends at parties, if he shared with them his fears and hopes.
He stated, "Nah, that’s not the type of guys I hang out with. They wanna hear about my romp in the sack the night before." I then stated, "Have you ever tried opening up with your friends? Why is it, do you think, that all you ever project about yourself involves your sexual prowess? You’ve never described yourself as caring, driven, or loyal. Those characteristics do not seem too high on your list of values. Instead, you are governed by your libido. That’s what you have, and that’s all you feel you are good at." Think of your Greg. How does he or she exhibit the characteristics of phallic narcissism?
♦ Degree #2: The Narcissistic Character
They may think too highly of themselves, but others may think highly of them too, because of their worldly success. However, narcissistic characters are completely out of place in the world of feelings and do not know how to relate to other people in a real and human way. While the phallic-narcissist may recognize that he is inferior in some ways to others, the narcissistic character does not make this realization.
Jeff, age 45, described the feeling as being like a celebrity. Jeff stated, "I felt like an important dignitary or movie star when I’m walking down the street. You know when the cops push adoring fans to the side? That’s how it feels. I think that other people are stepping out of their way for me. I know it’s an irrational thought, but that’s how it feels." Think of your Jeff. Is he or she a narcissistic character?
♦ Technique: Reality Check
The next week, he stated, "It worked, in a way. I didn’t feel any less superior, but I stopped thinking everyone was looking at me. I saw an old man and thought, ‘He probably has been through a lot in his life and has wisdom to bestow on anyone listening.’" Although Jeff’s narcissistic character has not fully evaporated, he can become more aware of those outside of his own sphere of self. However, with narcissistic characters, clients may only be projecting an image to the therapist to gain approval. They may have stated that they completed the exercise, but in truth, they still focused on themselves whenever an opportunity arose.
Think of your Jeff. How would be able to distinguish between a sincere client and one who is still projecting an image?
♦ Degree #3: The Borderline Personality
Unlike the narcissistic personality, the show of success does not provide any protection against depression. Often, these types of clients enter treatment with the complaint of depression. Narcissistic characters and borderline personalities may share the same types of fantasies, but borderline personalities do not have as strong an ego behind these fantasies as a narcissistic character does.
Dean, age 22, did not present a commanding or self-consciously handsome appearance. However, this outer facade covered a hidden narcissistic tendency. When I asked Dean to describe himself, he stated, "I feel I am strong, energetic, capable. I feel I am smarter and more competent than all others, and I should be recognized as such. But I hold myself back. I was born to be on top! I was born a king, superior to everyone else! I feel the same way on the sexual level. Sex should just be offered to me! Women should cater to my needs, but I act out the opposite. I hold back."
Although his grandiose fantasies replicate those of the narcissistic character, Dean excuses himself by saying, "I hold back." Think of your Dean. What narcissistic characteristics is he or she hiding?
♦ Degree #4: The Psychopathic Personality
These episodes of acting out portray an impulsive type of behavior that ignores the feelings of other people and is generally destructive to the best interests of the self. These impulses stem from experiences in early childhood that were so traumatic and so overwhelming that they could not be integrated into the developing identity. Although narcissistic characters and borderline personalities do act out, as Masterson points out, "The acting out of the psychopath compared to that of the borderline or narcissistic disorders is more commonly antisocial and usually of long duration."
Jenna, age 32, had moved up in her company to vice-president of her company, largely due to her inability to sympathize with other people. She stated, "It’s a dog-eat-dog world in the corporate business. Don’t get caught with milkbone underwear, or you’re going to get eaten alive. I got where I am by being ruthless, unmerciful, and unforgiving. I don’t regret a goddamn thing. I have to look out for my neck, not others."
Jenna brings out an interesting point about Western culture. Success and those who achieve this success often display psychopathic traits. Their inability to feel for others allows them to make cruel decisions without batting an eye. It is in this way that many future CEOs climb the corporate ladder. Think of your Jenna. Has he or she completely lost his or her ability to sympathize with others?
In this section, we discussed four degrees of narcissism. The four degrees of narcissism included: phallic narcissism; the narcissistic character; the borderline personality; and the psychopathic personality.