Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Arrested Child Development

What's the pain that the drug of attention kills?

It is widely believed (and my own experience with narcissists bears this out) that it is the pain of being judged as something to be ashamed of as a little child, during that crucial stage of personality development when the ego is all and fragile to boot. Being judged a disappointment. Not-good-enough to be acceptable to at least one parent.

Because something's wrong with you. What? Good question. That's The Big Mystery.

But you've always known that nobody holds and cuddles you or picks you up when you cry, or comes around just to giggle in your face and talk to you and play with you for a while. And you're finding out that you can never get it right, because you're always too "this" or too "that." You never say anything worth listening to. You never do anything worth noticing. You never deserve a compliment or praise. You shouldn't be encouraged to aim high, because that would give you the wrong idea and make you think you have what it takes to achieve something out of the ordinary.

But you need plenty of negative attention and criticism. Because you screw up all the time. Wet the bed? O God! That's worse than spilling milk. Over that the ear-piercing screaming will run for ten minutes straight.

Then she'll tell you that she has problems so you shouldn't be doing anything that bothers her.

How can a little child live up to that standard? They are always getting muddy or spilling milk or something. And notice the perversion of roles in that twist. In other words, you must see to it that Mamma has no trouble. She isn't here to take care of your needs and troubles: you are here to take care of hers. Because Mamma is a big baby. And, you are defective because you have problems that give Baby Mamma trouble.

Ah, the abuse that takes on a life of its own and keeps on abusing.

At this point, I must pause to point out that an abusive home life as a child is not a cause of NPD. It may be a temptation, but normal children come out of the same homes as malignant narcissists. Moreover, malignant narcissism is the foundation of psychopathy, and research on the psychopathic prison population strongly indicates that psychopaths come from both good homes and bad ones. Though an abusive home life is a big family secret that defies discovery by anyone on the outside, the amount of this research is so great that it must be taken seriously.

Therefore, this pain may be no more than any little child feels when his parents are too busy for him or when a parent makes the common verbal mistake of condemning the child, instead of the child's behavior, as "bad." We all got some of that, no matter how loving our parents were. So, it may be that malignant narcissists and psychopaths are just people who chose to carry a grudge, at a crucial age when it stunted their growth as human beings.

So, though she's dead and gone, Mamma becomes his demon. And here Narcissus is, an adult but still feeling the shame and trying to get right for her. He too is a case of arrested child development: he is still that child and still in that child's abyss of unbearable pain, doomed to forever try to claw his way out of the dungeon of her low regard.

Like his narcissistic parent, he rejects that child. He has replaced it with an imaginary self. It is perfect, godlike, mighty. Indeed, he cannot bear to look within and know his true self. So, he pulls the wool over his eyes by portraying a false, grandiose image of himself to gaze upon in mirrors.

Rather like a child playing "Pretend" — dressing up in his daddy's clothes before a mirror or imagining that he's Superman. Hey, nobody hurts his feelings!

But that isn't him. That's an imaginary him. The ideal him. Of course, this is a normal stage in child development. Children easily lose themselves in this game of "Pretend."

Kitty, dear, let's pretend --' And here I wish I could tell you half the things Alice used to say, beginning with her favourite phrase 'Let's pretend.' She had had quite a long argument with her sister only the day before — all because Alice had begun with 'Let's pretend we're kings and queens;' and her sister, who liked being very exact, had argued that they couldn't, because there were only two of them, and Alice had been reduced at last to say, 'Well, YOU can be one of them then, and I'LL be all the rest.' And once she had really frightened her old nurse by shouting suddenly in her ear, 'Nurse! Do let's pretend that I'm a hungry hyaena, and you're a bone.'

— Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Some children get stuck in the Land of Pretend and don't distinguish between fantasy and reality, creating an imaginary, ideal friend. Children do this because they feel so small and insignificant in our world. So they "pretend" a different one, one more to their liking. Their principal aim is to be important and grand like grown-ups.

Important enough to be worthy of some attention. They will actually die for want of attention, because their budding personalities cannot take the damage being disregarded does to their tender self-esteem.

Once fully formed, the person-alities of children outgrow the need to create an imaginary, "dream" self. They then become themselves. It's as though they accept and marry themselves, merging with themselves, as their person-ality integrates. In their thoughts they normally refer to themselves as "I" — not "you" or that imaginary "he" or "she."

But the dysfunctional person-alities of people with NPD remain forever in this disordered, half-formed state. They are in a permanent identity crisis.

They don't identify with themselves! They still identify with that imaginary self — a fictional character!

Consider that — in their thoughts, normal people never refer to themselves in the same terms that an author refers to the characters in a novel, as "he" or "she." We never step that far outside ourselves. And only when bawling ourselves out do we distance ourselves by addressing ourselves as "you."

How can anyone who doesn't have a proper relationship with himself have a proper relationship with anyone else?