Narcissism and the Narcissistic Defense
                              by Dr. Deborah Greene Bershatsky

We use the term "narcissism" to describe an inability to love caused by two things.

The first is an infant's failure to develop past the point when it first begins to perceive its mother as separate from itself. Unlike Narcissus of the myth, our narcissist loathes himself. His rage has nowhere to go. It has no outlet because he and his frustrating mother are one. His internal reality and the world around him are one and the same.

The second is that to the extent he has differentiated from his mother, he fears that his omnipotent rage will destroy her, and himself. In an effort to protect his own life, he turns his fury on himself, thus preserving his mother, who keeps him alive, from destruction. This is called "the narcissistic defense."

Dr. Hyman Spotnitz stresses the part of the Narcissus myth which shows that Narcissus's preoccupation with himself destroys him, even though it is described more as self-love than self-hatred. The Narcissus myth, though, presumes a more evolved patient than the one we treat. To our thinking, Narcissus is not curable through enlightenment. He is not a fool; he is a victim.

We cure him by insinuating ourselves into his objectless world and becoming a part of him, thus sharing with him the burden of his hatred. We then begin to facilitate the process of differentiation, helping him to be angry at us for our failure—as surrogates for the inadequate mother. At the same time we prove to him that we are not destroyed by his hatred, nor do we seek retribution. Now he realizes that he is safe in hating us. Merely tolerating the patient's hatred is an act of love of which the original mother was incapable. Through being loved in this way the patient develops self-esteem, and also learns to love.

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