Wednesday, July 26, 2006

In Search of the Lost Entitlement

We’re still discussing the issue of narcissism, in response to CY’s question about how it relates to evil in families and to society at large.

It is interesting that, at the same time psychoanalysts began noticing an increase in narcissism (as opposed to more analyzable, garden variety neuroses) among their patient population, there was a very influential movement in the wider field of psychology to eliminate the whole notion of psychological diagnosis or even of mental illness as such. This movement began just as leftist thinking started to insinuate itself into psychology, just as it eventually did into virtually every other academic discipline.

This is another sinister meme that has led directly to the “defining down” of deviancy, for if we cannot say what is wrong with someone, we cannot say what is right. Rather, everyone was free to selfishly “do their thing,” as the slogan went. Therapy often consisted in facilitating the doing of this thing without the inexplicable guilt that followed. Diagnosing was pejoratively defined as “labeling,” so that “patients” became “clients.” By the time I underwent my internship at Camarillo State Mental Hospital in 1986, violently psychotic patients who had to be drugged with major tranquilizers in order to prevent them from bashing their head on the floor were called “consumers of mental health services.”

I was interested in psychology long before I actually entered graduate school in 1981. Although I didn’t major in psychology for my undergraduate work, I read fairly widely on my own, and I can see now that so much of it was utter nonsense--people such as R.D. Laing, Carl Rogers, N.O. Brown, Thomas Szasz, and Eric Fromm. Laing, for example, thought that people weren’t actually mentally ill, but that their symptoms represented creative responses to an oppressive capitalist society. As I recall, he even considered schizophrenics to be mystics that can communicate great truths about reality. Szasz wrote a best-selling bunk entitled “The Myth of Mental Illness,” in which he “debunked” the idea that mental illness existed at all. This is a very appealing idea to a raging narcissist, or even just a raging, immature, beer-guzzling, post-adolescent lunatic such as myself.

“Diagnosing” someone with a mental condition became analogous to “judging” them, and judging is something we must never do (another strange perversion of Christianity). So this entire self-serving movement gave cover to a lot of narcissistic snookeroil salesmen. To this day, most self-help books basically involve one kind of narcissist helping another (probably healthier) kind by appealing to one of the two poles of narcissism discussed yesterday--grandiosity or idealization. The books either flatter your narcissism: “you’re great, you’re a giant, you’re enlightened!,” or allow you to merge with, partake of, and bask in, the teacher’s greatness, e.g., Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, Dr. Phil, Deepak Chopra, and the whole new age traveling salvation show. Billions of dollars are made in the gap between infantile entitlement and parental failure. In many ways, it is what makes the world go 'round--in reverse gear.

But once I entered graduate school, I became fascinated with the whole idea of psychopathology. In a certain limited way, the critics are correct in stating that there can be an arbitrary or culturally conditioned aspect to pathologizing someone. For example, I suspect that most little boys who are on ritalin or other drugs actually suffer from a disease called “being a little boy.” I remember how hyper I was as a child, especially in kindergarten and elementary school. Most boys simply weren’t designed to sit still in a classroom for six hours. I certainly wasn’t. I’m still not. Apparently, the whole educational establishment in America was designed in the early 20th century with the idea of training children to get used to the drudgery of factory work. Thus, the whole system revolves around punching in on time, suppressing your normal human impulses, sitting still, learning mindless drivel, and obeying authority. Your report card is your paycheck.

I eventually came to regard the mind as analogous to any other organ, except that it is a “virtual” organ that exists in a hyperdimensional manifold of holographic space. You might say that the mind is the first multidimensional organ in the cosmos. Natually, it still has a lot of bugs that must be worked out. Just like every other organ, it has a proper function--in fact, that is what defines any organ. Therefore, the properly functioning mind is designed to do and/or be something, and anything that interferes with achieving that process is a priori pathological (perhaps tomorrow I will delve into the question of what it is the mind was designed to do.)

Again, the infant cannot be studied in the absence of the “mothering person” or "caretaking environment." It is in the intersubjective space between mother (in the generic sense) and infant that our narcissistic needs for mirroring, idealization, and twinship emerge, and where empathic failures inevitably occur. Our mental pain is first discovered in this intersubjective space, but the question then becomes, what to do with it? For it is very difficult for the infant to bear this pain. Thus, it can be split off, projected, broken into disconnected bits, or somatized (projected into the body), and become a sort of semi-autonomous subjectivity within the psyche, something I have called a “mind parasite.”

Because of the nature of unconscious logic, the internalized mind parasite is always polarized, with an affective link between subject and object, so that, at different times, we may identify with either pole--e.g., we may become the “victim” in search of a victimizer, or the victimizer in search victims with whom to engage in the intersubjective dance of projective identification. This is the stuff of most dysfunctional relationships. We tend to think of the “abuser” as the sicker individual in such relationships. Not so. Their pathology is just more visible.

I can't tell you how many times I have evaluated a female consumer of mental health services who somehow managed to get involved in five consecutive relationships in which she was mistreated and/or physically abused by some brute. If you asked me how to locate and identify such a beast, I wouldn’t know where to begin, but these women seem to possess an unconscious “preydar” that assures they will repeatedly find their abuser. Am I blaming the victim? Er, yes. So she can actually be empowered in a meaningful sense, instead of just the leftist sense, which is only a defense mechanism that indulges collective grievance, teat for tot (if you're abreast of what feminists are mouthing).

Now CY made the important observation that “I'm still trying to crawl out from under” the “malignant influence” of a narcissistic parent: “Sometimes I feel beset by a sense of oppression or downright evil that's hard to define but feels very real, even though both of these people have been dead for several years. I suppose a Freudian would say it's either just signal anxiety or free-floating anxiety, but that type of ‘horizontal’ explanation just doesn't fit. I'm sticking my neck out and asking about this because you must have encountered some patients over the years who had to pick up the pieces of their lives after a relationship with a narcissist.”

I believe this phenomenon has to do with the internalized affective link between the child and parent--love, hate, anger, greed, rage, titillation, envy, etc.--which may at times become the “ambiance” around them--the very psychic air in which the narcissistically wounded person lives and breathes. Therefore, it is possible for us to enter--or, more accurately, to be engulfed by--eery mental states that can suddenly or subtly descend upon us like a cloud.

Everyone experiences these states at one time or another (often in a positive sense--for example, I often experience one of the mildly blissful ones around Christmas time), but some people live their entire lives immersed in a negative infantile mental state--say, bitterness and rage at symbolic stand-ins responsible for the Lost Entitlement of Infancy. I’m thinking, for example, of someone who wastes their life obsessed over “slavery reparations,” or “the right of return,” or “gender inequality.”

These people do not realize that they are indeed victims--victims of a mental state that actually represents the primordial link between them and their disappointing intersubjective Other. But it is only by reclaiming and becoming reunited with our lost selves that we may grow. We cannot grow by projecting them in relationships or acting them out politically or culturally. In my experience, most monomaniacal “activists” are lost in one of these mental states, looking for “payback” or cosmic justice. They are trying to balance the scales of infancy, but since the original injustice was "infinite," so too is the political solution. Leftists always want to put us out of their misery.

At the same time, in order to grow, we must forfeit our belief in omnipotence--or at least reserve it for its proper object. For both idealization or demonization are the “vapor trails” of infantile omnipotence. Omnipotence must be “mourned” as we gradually accommodate ourselves to the dictates of reality. But this is much more difficult to do if our normal need for omnipotence was never indulged, or if it was prematurely or traumatically impinged upon, or even if the illusion was allowed to continue, thereby interfering with the reality principle.

This seems to happen a great deal in Muslim culture, what with the narcissistic overindulgence of boys, which is likely where the idea of the omnipotently evil Jew is hatched. In attempting to genocidally eliminate Israel, Arabs are not trying to vanquish a state but a mental state. Unfortunately, they are centuries away from the independent discovery of psychic reality as enunciated by Freud and his followers. This is not to say that we cannot speed up the calendar, as we are attempting to do in Iraq. (Too bad--if only the mullahs were as eager to get their barbarous hands on modern psychoanalytic books as they are to parasitize our nuclear technology. They are trying to obtain the latter in the exact degree to which they desperately need the former.)

Well, I better end this prematurely. For whatever reason, the Gagboy is having a bad day, and it looks like I'd better help out. He’s had some kind of bug for the last couple of days, and it’s clearly interfering with his grandiosity. He’s in kind of a bad mental space that’s infecting the whole house. "If I can't enjoy my grandiosity, then neither can anyone else."


More on narcissism today from the grandiose Dr. Sanity. (I guess it's not really grandiosity if she can back it up.)


I was trying to come up with an accessible but still relatively deep book on narcissism. The best I can come up with at the moment is this one, "The Point of Existence: Transformations of Narcissism in Self-Realization":

In all honesty, it's been awhile since I read it, but I seem to recall this person having a pretty sophisticated and insightful grasp of the issues, especially for a layperson, although I would probably disagree with some of the spiritual implications, which at times seem a bit new-age cultish, and I don't believe the cure is quite as simple as I seem to remember him making it out to be. Nevertheless even if it is new age-y, it's still considerably deeper than the typical stuff of that genre.

And if you ever want to really get deep into it, not just into narcissism, but the whole enchilada, try my brand:

A more accessible summary:

Another good comprehensive survey, but without all the empirical science:


Anonymous said...

"Billions of dollars are made in the gap between infantile entitlement and parental failure."

I like it . . . I like it.

Anonymous said...

Great post. The idea of the "atmosphere" surrounding a narcissistic parent is very helpful.

OreamnosAmericanus said...

"For example, I suspect that most little boys who are on ritalin or other drugs actually suffer from a disease called “being a little boy.”

I worked as an MFT intern in the San Francisco middle schools for 2 years. In that utterly PC totally female-dominated world, I came to see that ADHD was often just another form of SWM, "Studying While Male".
You are right on this one. The pathologization of males and of masculinity in this culture is played out in the literal pathologization of 12 year old boys for being ...12 year old boys.

Anonymous said...

"I can't tell you how many times I have evaluated a female consumer of mental health services who somehow managed to get involved in five consecutive relationships in which she was mistreated and/or physically abused by some brute. If you asked me how to locate and identify such a beast, I wouldn’t know where to begin, but these women seem to possess an unconscious “preydar” that assures they will repeatedly find their abuser. Am I blaming the victim? Er, yes. So she can actually be empowered in a meaningful sense, instead of just the leftist sense, which is only a defense mechanism that indulges collective grievance teat for tot."

I had a woman that worked for me that followed--and follows still, I am told--this same pattern. I theorized then that some of these men were not actually abusers until they were in a relationship with her. In part I base this on a study I read years ago which indicated that about 90% of cases where spouses who are married to an alcholic and then divorce and remarry, the new spouse will then become an alcoholic. Not sure if there is any truth to these notions, but they seem to ring true in my observations.

Gagdad Bob said...

That, my friend, is a very great, and very politically incorrect, observation--women that provoke men into abusing them. It makes me wanna slap my mama. So to speak.

Anonymous said...

I think both Bob and Joseph have a point. I think the preydar comes into play when they're trying to find somebody with the propensity to become brutish. Then, once in the relationship, they figure out how to appropriately give out "I'll take whatever crap you throw my way" signals so that he is more likely to become brutish.

Of course, the emphasis on either preydar or "you can beat me if you want and you don't have to be so nice to me 'cause I'll always blame myself" differs with each given case.

I've often seen parallels between "battered wife syndrome" and the US is always wrong left. Both hold their own side to impossibly high standards while excusing barbaric behavior on the part of their lovers/enemies.

Lisa said...

That is so true, Joseph & Bob. I saw this happen to a friend in college. Her boyfriend was beating her up a little bit and I happen to see one fight. She baited him and wouldn't let him walk away until he got physical with her. I still do blame him for not being in control of himself, but she actually started hitting him first. I knew that if I were in her situation, I would have walked away much sooner and never let it escalate to the point it did. Being a small female, I always knew that most men could beat the crap out of me and I shouldn't deliberately pick a fight with someone bigger and stronger than myself.

I think this also can apply to those Islamic terrorist thugs that cry foul when Israel smacks them down ten times as hard after they get uppity! Disproportionate response is what they seem to call it. Complete nonsense!

Gagdad Bob said...


That is such a good point. The terrorists provoke and provoke--I would even say "seduce"--and when we or Israel finally respond, it's "disproportionate."

Anonymous said...

Bob, it's been awhile since I read him, but I believe that Thomas Szasz's reasons for denying the existence of mental illness were quite different from Laing's, as you describe them. Szasz argued that the so-called "mentally ill" were in fact refusing, on a deep level, to confront reality and take responsibility for their interaction with it. So labeling them as ill and treating them with drugs and hospitalization was actually enabling their avoidance. I believe he would have preferred administering some kind deep psychic kick in the rear, if such a thing were possible--even to the most florid schizophrenic.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure which is uglier, the ideal-worshipping narcissist who desperately tries to ignore reality or the self-worshipping narcissist who demands that reality conform to his whim.

You see both of these trends in the recent outlandish behavior of the blogging Left. The collectivist's superiority complex ("our ideals are better than yours") is meshed quite inextricably with the radical's greed ("WE WANT THE WORLD AND WE WANT IT - NOW" ).

To sum their views up in one sentence: "In our noble quest to save the world from the dangers of our ideological enemies, no tactic is too unfair to use."

Anonymous said...

Bobsir, I'm not all that psychology well-read, but I do recall reading snippets of A. Maslow and his "peak experience" and "peak individual" observations. One of his descriptive profiles of the peak individual was so similar (albeit lacking in mystical wording per se) to that of a spiritual adept that I really was stunned by his insight. I was also favorably impressed by Maslow's idea that there should be a psychology that does, in fact, use the peak individual as a a template rather than that of your garden variety neurotic.

And that's about as much as I know about Maslow. In what respect does he fall into your "utter nonsense" category? FWIW, I did know how loopy Laing was. And what ever happened to Arthur "primal scream" Janov? Reincarnated as Yoko Ono?

really curious in chicago

Gagdad Bob said...


You are correct. I suppose it's unfair to blame the teacher for the disciples. I believe that Maslow started off on the right track, but he was very quickly co-opted by the new age, and in fact, is now considered one of its pioneers. I don't think he would have been happy about it if he could have seen the shamelessly fraudulent "personal growth" industry that now exists.

At the time, Maslow's ideas seemed liberating and progressive, a sort of necessary corrective to old-fashioned orthodox or classical psychoanalysis, which had, to a certain extent, lost its way prior to certain developments in the 1970's. I don't believe the "third force" psychology which he founded has really gone anywhere, because it's not rooted in a solid developmental model, and personal growth is going to be stymied unless one somehow deals with the good old unconscious.

Of course, it's tempting to chase after peak experiences, but the idea is to transform altered states into altered traits, otherwise it can be somewhat like running away from one's problems. Plus, I like the idea of trying to see the transcendent in the mundane, as opposed to trying to have isolated peak experiences.

Gagdad Bob said...

Come to think of it, I just removed Maslow from the list of offenders altogether. There are literally thouands of better examples of the point I was trying to make, which is simply that a lot of psychological theorists in the 1960's and 1970's not only excused but actively promoted narcissism. Nor do I mean to necessarily imply that these were bad people--certainly Maslow was not by any means. On the other hand, someone like Timothy Leary apppears to have been an outright sociopathic narcissist.

Anonymous said...

Bob: Even Hunter Thompson had turned against Leary by the end of the Sixties. He damned Leary in the pages of FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS for "crashing around America selling 'consciousness expansion,' without any concern for the grim meathook realities lying in wait for anyone [...] who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for two bucks a hit."

SC&A said...

As I recall, Hans Selye (I'm a big fan) noted that stress can be the same, irrespective of cause. In fact, the stress levels are the same, even if the causes are polar oppsites ('your son is wait- he's alive!)

In other words, a desired result also be achieved with various kinds of conditioning....certainly, appropriate political responses are predicated on an always moving target (with shifting values).

A lot of response has to do with packaging and anticipated responses.

black hole said...

Godwin, you write well, I averr. Your book looks very, very interesting too...yes, yes, I just might buy the book. But first for free I will peruse all of der contents of your blog. Yes, you said some very very interesting things about narcissism and "symmetrical wounding" in dysfunctional relationships. Yes, just about everything you say I seemed to have learned the hard way. This is good shtuff.

Anonymous said...

For any of Mark Steyn fans out there, he has a take on "boomer narcissism" as it relates to Andrea Yates: