The Narcissist


In the Narcissus Myth recorded by Ovid (1984), Liriope was raped by the river god Cephisus where she conceived and gave birth to Narcissus. When Liriope asked the prophet Tiresias about her son’s fate, his message was clear: Narcissus will live a long life as long as he doesn’t get to know himself. Narcissus became a very beautiful young man with many admirers who followed him but in his arrogance pushed all of them away. Echo, a girl cursed by the goddess Hera to repeat the last words of what she heard, fell in love with Narcissus and pursued him intensely. As Narcissus wondered around the woods he sensed Echo’s presence and he called out to her but Echo just kept repeating his last words. Like what the psychoanalyst does in therapy, Echo reflects the Narcissus’ questions back at him without introducing anything new. Becoming a mirror to the analysand the psychoanalyst, like Echo, follows the analysand wherever he wishes to go.  When Narcissus asked her to come forward and meet, Echo made the fatal mistake of revealing herself and jumping into his arms, intruding upon the safe distance the withdrawn Narcissus implemented on himself and the world around him. The action frustrated Narcissus who shouted “Hands off!…May I die before I give you power over me.” Echo left devastated and heartbroken. She withered away, her bones became stones, and what was left was her voice echoing in the woods reminding her tragic story. When another betrayed admirer, Ameinias, prayed on goddess Nemesis to avenge Narcissus, his prayer would soon be answered. Narcissus approached a pool of water and then he saw his own reflection in the water not recognizing that he was looking at himself. He fell in love with the reflection, staring endlessly, until he pined away and transformed into the flower that bears his name.

Talking about narcissistic patients, Spotnitz (1967) stated that, “ The excessively narcissistic patient tends to react negatively to explanations of what is going on in his mind. Information may traumatize the relationship by provoking resentment and mortification, which he is unable to verbalize at the time; thus his withdrawal tendencies may become even stronger. Interpretations must be withheld until the patient is able to communicate in adult language unless they will improve his immediate functioning.”

Traditionally, what is known about Narcissus is that he was suffering from excessive self-love and self-admiration. However, little emphasis has been given to the surrounding facts of his death. The nature of Narcissus’ death, namely, by self-neglect, shows the magnitude of aggressive energy being released in destructive ways. From a psychoanalytic point of view in the myth of Narcissus we can see the infantile aggression that is turned against the self in an infant who gets neglected in his first weeks of life. If we see Narcissus as a baby wondering alone in his internal world instead of the beautiful young man that he appeared to be, we may get a glimpse of Narcissus mental being. Spotnitz wrote:

“Self-neglect due to helplessness is the most primitive form of self-destruction and is obvious in the behavior of the newborn child. The only method available to the healthy human being at birth to be destructive is to destroy one’s self. Children are born without the ability to be directly damaging to others. The method used by Narcissus to be destructive is then that of the most primitive method available to human beings; helpless self-neglect. The primitive helpless self-destructiveness was concealed behind the camouflage that Narcissus was loving and admiring himself when actually he was primarily behaving in a way to produce his own death.”

Like in Narcissus’ case, narcissists may cause frustration to the people around them by their complete arrogance and self-absorption. These reactions are perfectly understandable but I would ask you to consider the myth of Narcissus next time you meet such person. Narcissists may be suffering more than we ever thought of.  Seeing and getting to know themselves is very scary for them and that’s understandable; just think of Narcissus’ fate.

Χτίζοντας συνείδηση

Μέχρι την ηλικία των δυο χρονών το παιδί δεν γνωρίζει τι πάει να πει συνείδηση. Ενεργεί αυθόρμητα για να ικανοποιήσει άμεσα τις ανάγκες του, είτε από μόνο του είτε με την βοήθεια κάποιου άλλου προσώπου, συνήθως της μητέρας. Και ενώ η σωματική ωρίμανση θα πάρει την έμφυτη πορεία της, το ίδιο δεν συμβαίνει με την ψυχική ωρίμανση. Η ανάπτυξη κοινωνικής συνείδησης που συνοδεύεται με τον περιορισμό της άμεσης ικανοποίησης των ορμών και παρορμήσεων είναι μια διαδικασία που το παιδί από μόνο του δεν μπορεί να επιτύχει.

Το παιδί δεν έχει κανένα λόγω ούτε και κανένα κίνητρο για να ελέγξει τις ορμές του και ο μονός λόγος που το κάνει είναι διότι οι γονείς του το ζητούν. Οι γονείς θα δώσουν τα κίνητρα που θα αποτελέσουν μέρος του χαρακτήρα του και στο μέλλον το παιδί θα τα ονομάσει δικά του κίνητρα. Πίσω από τα κίνητρα του παιδιού είναι η έγκριση του γονέα, μητέρας και/ή πατέρα, που το παιδί έχει τόση ανάγκη. Η επιθυμία να ικανοποιήσει τους γονείς του θα αποδειχθεί πιο δυνατή από την επιθυμία του για άμεση ικανοποίηση των παρορμήσεων του.

Συχνά έχω ακούσει γονείς στην Κύπρο να λένε στο παιδί τους «Δεν σε αγαπώ» σαν ένα είδους τιμωρίας ή για να ελέγξουν «άτακτες» συμπεριφορές. Δυστυχώς με τέτοιες αντιμετωπίσεις εκβιάζουμε τα παιδιά μας που πολύ πιθανό να εμπεδώσουν στην ψυχή τους το μήνυμα ότι κάνοντας κάποιο λάθος θα χάσουν την αγάπη του γονιού. Στο μέλλον φυσικά, όταν όλα θα είναι ασυνείδητα, το μεγάλο πλέον παιδί θα έχει παρόμοιες ασυνείδητες ανησυχίες με τον/την σύντροφο του/της και γενικά με τα άτομα γύρω του.

Παρόλο που η διαδικασία για ανάπτυξη συνείδησης είναι χρονοβόρα, τα θεμέλια μπαίνουν από μικρή ηλικία. Η Fraiberg (1987) αναφέρει ότι «τα πρότυπα του γονικού ελέγχου που δημιουργούνται στα πρώτα χρόνια ζωής, ενεργούν ως πρότυπα αυτό-ελέγχου στα μελλοντικά χρόνια, γίνονται δηλαδή πρότυπα συνείδησης». Οι γονείς όμως θα πρέπει να είναι προσεκτικοί καθώς υπερβολικές απαιτήσεις και περιορισμοί σε ένα παιδί που μόλις ξεκινάει να γνωρίζει τον κόσμο γύρω του θα πρέπει να αποφεύγονται. Ας μην ξεχνάμε ότι η συνειδητοποίηση στο παιδί ότι δεν τα έχει όλα υπό τον έλεγχο του και ότι η εφαρμογή της μέχρι τότε προσέγγισης της «αρχής της ηδονής» (Freud’s pleasure principle), δηλαδή άμεσης ικανοποίησης όλων των ορμών, δεν είναι πλέον κοινωνικά αποδεκτή, είναι από μόνη της τραυματική. Χρειάζεται υπομονή και επιμονή έτσι ώστε το παιδί να αποκτήσει στο μέλλον μια υγιές αυτό-πειθαρχία.

Σταδιακά καθώς οι ψυχικές διαδικασίες εξελίσσονται και καθώς επίσης αναπτύσσεται η δυνατότητα του λόγου, το παιδί θα μπορεί πιο εύκολα να αντικαταστήσει τις μη αποδεκτές πράξεις με λέξεις και σκέψεις. Ο λόγος είναι από τα πιο δυνατά «όπλα» του πολιτισμού και σαν γονείς έχουμε καθήκον να προωθούμε τον λόγο στα παιδιά μας. Όταν το παιδί μας μαθαίνει να μιλά τότε μπορούμε να αυξήσουμε τις απαιτήσεις και προσδοκίες μας αλλά πάντα με μέτρο. Θα πρέπει πάντα να θυμόμαστε ότι το παιδί τώρα ξεκινάει να γνωρίζει τους περιορισμούς της ζωής και τις επακόλουθες ματαιώσεις και ότι πολύ συχνά θα παρουσιάζονται παλινδρομήσεις όπου το παιδί μας θα συμπεριφέρεται πάλι σαν νήπιο. Αυτό είναι απολύτως φυσιολογικό.


In the name of the father


A lot has been written regarding the relationship mother-baby and the importance of the father’s role has been somehow neglected. The primary relationship of the baby and the mother is of course the basis of all future relationships the baby would have but again the father’s role should not be underestimated.

The term “Name of the Father” was introduced in psychoanalysis by Lacan at the beginning of 1950 and it concerns the forbidden role of the father towards the incestuous desires of the child, establishing through this process the laws and morals. The father would become identified symbolically and unconsciously as a representation of law. Something similar Freud had already said much earlier in his theory of the Oedipus Complex.

Few years later Lacan would add that the absence of the “name of the father” would result in psychosis. The primary relationship of mother-baby is narcissistic. In the mind of the infant mother and baby are one, there is nothing else in between. In this omnipotent on the one hand and suffocating relationship on the other hand, the father’s presence would rescue the situation. In simple word: it is the father and what he represents that would “pull” the child out of the narcissistic relationship with the mother, a step necessary for his mental development and maturity.

The father’s presence in the family environment is needed. And when I say needed I don’t mean so much as a physical presence but as mental and emotional one. Unfortunately, we often witness families where the father is emotionally absent and this has impacts on the children. Also, if the father’s word is repeatedly renounced by the mother then the child is doomed to remain submitted to the mother’s omnipotence.

Even though in psychoanalysis the reasons that may lead to psychosis differ, Lacan postulated an interesting thesis. On the other hand there is consensus in the different psychoanalytic schools of thought regarding the father’s role in the creation of the child’s sexual identity. In the healthy completion of the Oedipal phase, the boy would identify with the father and the masculine position and the girl would identify with the mother and the feminine position.

Winnicott (1960) said that the father’s role is to protect the mother-child relationship providing the mother the necessary help to respond to the difficulties and frustrations of motherhood. The father’s presence offers a safe environment for both mother and baby. Like Freud once said, “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.” (Freud, 1930)