Narcissistic Defenses

A Molnos

At the earliest stage of life when mother and child are still in a symbiotic union, the infant naturally needs to have the mother at his total disposal, to use her for the fulfillment of his needs and to be mirrored by her. After a few months of life the child's psychological requirements include the need to be noticed, understood, taken seriously and respected by his mother. All this can be regarded as age-appropriate, healthy narcissism. If these needs are satisfied a healthy self-feeling will establish itself in the growing child. With it the interest for others, the pleasure to give and care for others will unfold naturally while the early narcissism recedes. If, on the other hand, the mother does not allow herself to be used in this way by the infant who needs her, but, on the contrary, unconsciously uses him to satisfy her own self-centred needs, then the child's emotional development will be hampered. It will adapt himself to satisfy his mother's needs, thus remaining needy himself. In a nutshell, narcissistically disturbed mothers bring up narcissistically disturbed children. In this way these disturbances may be transmitted through several generations. The process is beautifully described by Alice Miller (1981) and before her by Margaret Mahler.

The narcissistic disturbance in adults leads to an alternating between feelings of grandiosity and depression. One of the most characteristic narcissistic disturbance is the so-called narcissistic rage (Kohut, 1978) as a response to a narcissistic injury, such as ridicule, contempt or insult. The essence of narcissistic rage is the unrelenting obsessive need for revenge. There is a complete lack of empathy with the offender, an unforgiving fury. There is a frantic need to reestablish control and a thirst for limitless power. Chronic narcissistic rage might be assuaged by the person becoming the aggressor, treating others sadistically in the same way as he was treated by his parents.

See also EARLY DAMAGE, GRANDIOSE IDEAS, MIRRORS & MIRRORING, MOTHER, PARENTS, RESPONSIBILITY OF PARENTS, SELF, SYMBIOSIS, UNIVERSAL RAGE