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On Narcissism


The so called 'narcissistic personality disorder' is a
complex and often misunderstood disorder. The cardinal
feature of the narcissistic personality is the grandiose
sense of self importance, but paradoxically underneath this
grandiosity the narcissist suffers from a chronically
fragile low self esteem. The grandiosity of the narcissist,
however, is often so pervasive that we tend to dehumanize
him or her. The narcissist conjures in us images of the
mythological character Narcissus who could only love
himself, rebuffing anyone who attempted to touch him.
Nevertheless, it is the underlying sense of inferiority
which is the real problem of the narcissist, the
grandiosity is just a facade used to cover the deep
feelings of inadequacy. The Makeup of the Narcissistic
The narcissist's grandiose behavior is designed to reaffirm
his or her sense of adequacy. Since the narcissist is
incapable of asserting his or her own sense of adequacy,
the narcissist seeks to be admired by others. However, the
narcissist's extremely fragile sense of self worth does not
allow him or her to risk any criticism. Therefore,
meaningful emotional interactions with others are avoided.
By simultaneously seeking the admiration of others and
keeping them at a distance the narcissist is usually able
to maintain the illusion of grandiosity no matter how
people respond. Thus, when people praise the narcissist his
or her grandiosity will increase, but when criticized the
grandiosity will usually remain unaffected because the
narcissist will devalue the criticizing person.
Akhtar (1989) [as cited in Carson & Butcher, 1992; P. 271]
discusses six areas of pathological functioning which
characterize the narcissist. In particular, four of these
narcissistic character traits best illustrate the pattern
discussed above. " (1) a narcissistic individual has a
basic sense of inferiority, which underlies a preoccupation
with fantasies of outstanding achievement; (2) a
narcissistic individual is unable to trust and rely on
others and thus develops numerous, shallow relationships to
extract tributes from others; (3) a narcissistic individual
has a shifting morality-always ready to shift values to
gain favor; and (4) a narcissistic person is unable to
remain in love, showing an impaired capacity for a
committed relationship".
The Therapeutic Essence of Treating Narcissism
The narcissist who enters therapy does not think that there
is something wrong with him or her. Typically, the
narcissist seeks therapy because he or she is unable to
maintain the grandiosity which protects him or her from the
feelings of despair. The narcissist views his or her
situation arising not as a result of a personal
maladjustment; rather it is some factor in the environment
which is beyond the narcissist's control which has caused
his or her present situation. Therefore, the narcissist
expects the therapist not to 'cure' him or her from a
problem which he or she does not perceive to exist, rather
the narcissist expects the therapist to restore the
protective feeling of grandiosity. It is therefore
essential for the therapist to be alert to the narcissists
attempts to steer therapy towards healing the injured
grandiose part, rather than exploring the underlying
feelings of inferiority and despair. Differential
Psychological Views of Narcissism
The use of the term narcissism in relation to psychological
phenomena was first made by Ellis in 1898. Ellis described
a special state of auto-erotism as Narcissus like, in which
the sexual feelings become absorbed in self admiration
(Goldberg, 1980). The term was later incorporated into
Freud's psychoanalytic theory in 1914 in his essay 'On
Narcissism'. Freud conceptualized narcissism as a as a
sexual perversion involving a pathological sexual love to
one's own body (Sandler & Person, 1991). Henceforth,
several psychological theories have attempted to explain
and treat the narcissistic phenomenon. Specifically, the
most comprehensive psychological theories have been
advanced by the psychodynamic perspective and to a lesser
extent the Jungian (analytical) perspective. Essentially,
both theories cite developmental problems in childhood as
leading to the development of the narcissistic disorder.
The existential school has also attempted to deal with the
narcissistic problem, although the available literature is
much smaller. Existentialists postulate that society as a
whole can be the crucial factor in the development of
narcissism. The final perspective to be discussed is the
humanistic approach which although lacking a specific
theory on narcissism, can nevertheless be applied to the
narcissistic disorder. In many ways the humanistic approach
to narcissism echoes the sentiments of the psychodynamic
The Psychodynamic Perspective of Narcissism
The psychodynamic model of narcissism is dominated by two
overlapping schools of thought, the self psychology school
and the object relations school. The self psychology
school, represented by Kohut, posits that narcissism is a
component of everyone's psyche. We are all born as
narcissists and gradually our infantile narcissism matures
into a healthy adult narcissism. A narcissistic disorder
results when this process is somehow disrupted. By contrast
the object relations school, represented by Kernberg,
argues that narcissism does not result from the arrest of
the normal maturation of infantile narcissism, rather a
narcissism represents a fixation in one of the
developmental periods of childhood. Specifically, the
narcissist is fixated at a developmental stage in which the
differentiation between the self and others is blurred.
Kohut's Theory of Narcissism
Kohut believes that narcissism is a normal developmental
milestone, and the healthy person learns to transform his
or her infantile narcissism into adult narcissism. This
transformation takes place through the process which Kohut
terms transmuting internalizations. As the infant is
transformed into an adult he or she will invariably
encounter various challenges resulting in some frustration.
If this frustration exceeds the coping abilities of the
person only slightly the person experiences optimal
Optimal frustration leads the person to develop a strong
internal structure (i.e., a strong sense of the self) which
is used to compensate for the lack of external structure
(i.e., support from others). In the narcissist the process
of transmuting internalizations is arrested because the
person experiences a level of frustration which exceeds
optimal frustration. The narcissist thus remains stuck at
the infantile level, displaying many of the characteristics
of the omnipotent and invulnerable child (Kohut, 1977).
Kernberg's Theory of Narcissism
Kernberg's views on narcissism are based on Mahler's theory
of the separation- individuation process in infancy and
early childhood. Mahler's model discusses how the
developing child gains a stable self concept by
successfully mastering the two forerunner phases (normal
autism and normal symbiosis) and the four subphases
(differentiation, practicing, rapprochement, and
consolidation) of separation-individuation. Kernberg argues
that the narcissist is unable to successfully master the
rapprochement subphase and is thus fixated at this level.
It is essential, however, to understand the dynamics of the
practicing subphase before proceeding to tackle the
narcissist's fixation at the rapprochement subphase.
The practicing subphase (age 10 to 14 months) marks the
developmental stage at which the child learns to walk. The
ability to walk gives the child a whole new perspective of
the world around him. This new ability endows the child
with a sense of grandiosity and omnipotence which closely
resemble the narcissist's behavior. However, reality soon
catches up with the child as the child enters the
rapprochement subphase (age 14 to 24 months). At this stage
the child discovers that he or she is not omnipotent, that
there are limits to what he or she can do. According to
Kernberg if the child is severely frustrated at this stage
he or she can adapt by re-fusing or returning to the
practicing subphase, which affords him the security of
grandiosity and omnipotence (Kernberg, 1976). The Preferred
Psychodynamic model
The Psychodynamic literature in general tends to lean
towards the object relations school because of the emphasis
it places on a comprehensive developmental explanation
(i.e. the use of Mahler's individuation-separation model).
Nevertheless, the theory of Kohut has left a deep
impression on Psychodynamic thinking as is evident by the
utilization of many of his concepts in the literature (i.e.
Johnson, 1987; Manfield, 1992; and Masterson, 1981).
Therefore in the remainder of the Psychodynamic section a
similar approach will be taken, by emphasizing object
relations concepts with the utilization of the occasional
Kohutian idea.
The Emergence of the Narcissistic Personality
According to Kernberg and the object relations school the
crisis of the rapprochement subphase is critical to the
development of the narcissistic personality.
The individual who is unable to successfully master the
challenges of this stage will sustain a narcissistic
injury. In essence the narcissistic injury will occur
whenever the environment (in particular significant others)
needs the individual to be something which he or she is
not. The narcissistically injured individual is thus told
"Don't be who you are, be who I need you to be. Who you are
disappoints me, threatens me angers me, overstimulates me.
Be what I want and I will love you" (Johnson, 1987; P. 39).
The narcissistic injury devastates the individual's
emerging self. Unable to be what he or she truly is the
narcissistically injured person adapts by splitting his
personality into what Kohut terms the nuclear (real) self
and the false self. The real self becomes fragmented and
repressed, whereas the false self takes over the
individual. The narcissist thus learns to reject himself or
herself by hiding what has been rejected by others.
Subsequently, the narcissist will attempt to compensate for
his or her 'deficiencies' by trying to impress others
through his or her grandiosity. The narcissist essentially
decides that "There is something wrong with me as I am.
Therefore, I must be special" (Johnson, 1987; P. 53).
The Narcissist's View of Others
Just as the individual becomes narcissistic because that is
what the environment 'needed' him or her to be, so does the
narcissist view others not as they are, but as what he or
she needs them to be. Others are thus perceived to exist
only in relation to the narcissist's needs. The term object
relations thus takes on a special meaning with the
narcissist. "We are objects to him, and to the extent that
we are narcissistic, others are objects to us. He doesn't
really see and hear and feel who we are and, to the extent
that we are narcissistic, we do not really see and hear and
feel the true presence of others.
They, we, are objects... I am not real. You are not real.
You are an object to me. I am an object to you" (Johnson,
1987; P. 48). It is apparent than that the narcissist
maintains the infantile illusion of being merged to the
object. At a psychological level he or she experiences
difficulties in differentiating the self from others. It is
the extent of this inability to distinguish personal
boundaries which determines the severity of the
narcissistic disorder (Johnson, 1987). Levels of Narcissism
The most extreme form of narcissism involves the perception
that no separation exists between the self and the object.
The object is viewed as an extension of the self, in the
sense that the narcissist considers others to be a merged
part of him or her. Usually, the objects which the
narcissist chooses to merge with represent that aspect of
the narcissist's personality about which feelings of
inferiority are perceived. For instance if a narcissist
feels unattractive he or she will seek to merge with
someone who is perceived by the narcissist to be
attractive. At a slightly higher level exists the
narcissist who acknowledges the separateness of the object,
however, the narcissist views the object as similar to
himself or herself in the sense that they share a similar
psychological makeup.
In effect the narcissist perceives the object as 'just like
me'. The most evolved narcissistic personality perceives
the object to be both separate and psychologically
different, but is unable to appreciate the object as a
unique and separate person. The object is thus perceived as
useful only to the extent of its ability to aggrandize the
false self (Manfield, 1992). Types of narcissism
Pending the perceived needs of the environment a narcissist
can develop in one of two directions. The individual whose
environment supports his or her grandiosity, and demands
that he or she be more than possible will develop to be an
exhibitionistic narcissist. Such an individual is told 'you
are superior to others', but at the same time his or her
personal feelings are ignored. Thus, to restore his or her
feelings of adequacy the growing individual will attempt to
coerce the environment into supporting his or her grandiose
claims of superiority and perfection. On the other hand, if
the environment feels threatened by the individual's
grandiosity it will attempt to suppress the individual from
expressing this grandiosity. Such an individual learns to
keep the grandiosity hidden from others, and will develop
to be a closet narcissist. The closet narcissist will thus
only reveal his or her feelings of grandiosity when he or
she is convinced that such revelations will be safe
(Manfield, 1992) Narcissistic Defense Mechanisms
Narcissistic defenses are present to some degree in all
people, but are especially pervasive in narcissists. These
defenses are used to protect the narcissist from
experiencing the feelings of the narcissistic injury. The
most pervasive defense mechanism is the grandiose defense.
Its function is to restore the narcissist's inflated
perception of himself or herself. Typically the defense is
utilized when someone punctures the narcissist's
grandiosity by saying something which interferes with the
narcissist's inflated view of himself or herself. The
narcissist will then experience a narcissistic injury
similar to that experienced in childhood and will respond
by expanding his or her grandiosity, thus restoring his or
her wounded self concept. Devaluation is another common
defense which is used in similar situations. When injured
or disappointed the narcissist can respond by devaluing the
'offending' person. Devaluation thus restores the wounded
ego by providing the narcissist with a feeling of
superiority over the offender. There are two other defense
mechanisms which the narcissist uses.
The self-sufficiency defense is used to keep the narcissist
emotionally isolated from others. By keeping himself or
herself emotionally isolated the narcissist's grandiosity
can continue to exist unchallenged. Finally, the manic
defense is utilized when feelings of worthlessness begin to
surface. To avoid experiencing these feelings the
narcissist will attempt to occupy himself or herself with
various activities, so that he or she has no time left to
feel the feelings (Manfield, 1992).
Psychodynamic Treatment of the Narcissist
The central theme in the Psychodynamic treatment of the
narcissist revolves around the transference relationship
which emerges during treatment. In order for the
transference relationship to develop the therapist must be
emphatic in understanding the patient's narcissistic needs.
By echoing the narcissist the therapist remains 'silent'
and 'invisible' to the narcissist. In essence the therapist
becomes a mirror to the narcissist to the extent that the
narcissist derives narcissistic pleasure from confronting
his or her 'alter ego'. Grunberger's views are particularly
helpful in clarifying this idea. According to him "The
patient should enjoy complete narcissistic freedom in the
sense that he should always be the only active party. The
analyst has no real existence of his own in relation to the
analysand. He doesn't have to be either good or bad-he
doesn't even have to be... Analysis is thus not a dialogue
at all; at best it is a monologue for two voices, one
speaking and the other echoing, repeating, clarifying,
interpreting correctly-a faithful and untarnished mirror"
(Grunberger, 1979; P. 49).
The Mirror Transference
Once the therapeutic relationship is established two
transference like phenomena, the mirror transference and
the idealizing transference, collectively known as
selfobject transference emerge. The mirror transference
will occur when the therapist provides a strong sense of
validation to the narcissist. Recall that the
narcissistically injured child failed to receive validation
for what he or she was. The child thus concluded that there
is something wrong with his or her feelings, resulting in a
severe damage to the child's self- esteem. By reflecting
back to the narcissist his or her accomplishments and
grandeur the narcissist's self esteem and internal cohesion
are maintained (Manfield, 1992).
There are three types of the mirror transference
phenomenon, each corresponding to a different level of
narcissism (as discussed previously). The merger
transference will occur in those narcissists who are unable
to distinguish between the object and the self.
Such narcissists will perceive the therapist to be a
virtual extension of themselves. The narcissist will expect
the therapist to be perfectly resonant to him or her, as if
the therapist is an actual part of him or her. If the
therapist should even slightly vary from the narcissist's
needs or opinions, the narcissist will experience a painful
breach in the cohesive selfobject function provided by the
therapist. Such patients will then likely feel betrayed by
the therapist and will respond by withdrawing themselves
from the therapist (Manfield, 1992).
In the second type of mirror transference, the twinship or
alter-ego transference, the narcissist perceives the
therapist to be psychologically similar to himself or
Conceptually the narcissist perceives the therapist and
himself or herself to be twins, separate but alike. In the
twinship transference for the selfobject cohesion to be
maintained, it is necessary for the narcissist to view the
therapist as 'just like me' (Manfield, 1992).
The third type of mirror transference is again termed the
mirror transference. In this instance the narcissist is
only interested in the therapist to the extent that the
therapist can reflect his or her grandiosity. In this
transference relationship the function of the therapist is
to bolster the narcissist's insecure self (Manfield, 1992).
The Idealizing Transference
The second selfobject transference, the idealizing
transference, involves the borrowing of strength from the
object (the therapist) to maintain an internal sense of
cohesion. By idealizing the therapist to whom the
narcissist feels connected, the narcissist by association
also uplifts himself or herself. It is helpful to
conceptualize the 'idealizing' narcissist as an infant who
draws strength from the omnipotence of the caregiver. Thus,
in the idealizing transference the therapist symbolizes
omnipotence and this in turn makes the narcissist feel
secure. The idealization of the object can become so
important to the narcissist that in many cases he or she
will choose to fault himself or herself, rather than blame
the therapist (Manfield, 1992).
The idealizing transference is a more mature form of
transference than the mirror transference because
idealization requires a certain amount of internal
structure (i.e., separateness from the therapist).
Oftentimes, the narcissist will first develop a mirror
transference, and only when his or her internal structure
is sufficiently strong will the idealizing transference
develop (Manfield, 1992).
Utilizing the Transference Relationship in Therapy
The selfobject transference relationships provide a
stabilizing effect for the narcissist.
The supportive therapist thus allows the narcissist to heal
his or her current low self esteem and reinstate the
damaged grandiosity. However, healing the current
narcissistic injury does not address the underlying initial
injury and in particular the issue of the false self. To
address these issues the therapist must skillfully take
advantage of the situations when the narcissist becomes
uncharacteristically emotional; that is when the narcissist
feels injured. It thus becomes crucial that within the
context of the transference relationship, the therapist
shift the narcissist's focus towards his or her inner
feelings (Manfield, 1992).
The prevailing opinion amongst Psychodynamic theorists is
that the best way to address the narcissist's present
experience, is to utilize a hands-off type of approach.
This can be accomplished by letting the narcissist 'take
control' of the sessions, processing the narcissist's
injuries as they inevitably occur during the course of
treatment. When a mirror transference develops injuries
will occur when the therapist improperly understands and/or
reflects the narcissist's experiences. Similarly, when an
idealizing transference is formed injuries will take the
form of some disappointment with the therapist which then
interferes with the narcissist's idealization of the
therapist. In either case, the narcissist is trying to
cover up the injury so that the therapist will not notice
it. It remains up to the therapist to recognize the
particular defense mechanisms that the narcissist will use
to defend against the pain of the injury, and work
backwards from there to discover the cause of the injury
(Manfield, 1992).
Once the cause of the injury is discovered the therapist
must carefully explore the issue with the narcissist, such
that the patient does not feel threatened. The following
case provides a good example of the patience and skill that
the therapist must possess in dealing with a narcissistic
patient. "...a female patient in her mid-thirties came into
a session feeling elated about having gotten a new job. All
she could talk about is how perfect this job was; there was
no hint of introspection or of any dysphoric affect. The
therapist could find no opening and made no intervention
the entire session except to acknowledge the patient's
obvious excitement about her new job. Then, as the patient
was leaving, the therapist noticed that she had left her
eyeglasses on the table. He said, "you forgot your
glasses," to which she responded with an expression of
surprise and embarrassment saying, "Oh, how clumsy of me."
This response presented the therapist with a slight seem in
the grandiose armor and offered the opportunity for him to
intervene. He commented, "You are so excited about the
things that are happening to you that this is all you have
been able to think about; in the process you seem to have
forgotten a part of yourself." The patient smiled with a
mixture of amusement and recognition. In this example the
patient is defending throughout the session and in a moment
of surprise she is embarrassed and labels herself "clumsy",
giving the therapist the opportunity to interpret the
defense (her focus on the excitement of the external world)
and how it takes her away from herself" (Manfield, 1992;
PP. 168-169).
The cure of the narcissist than does not come from the
selfobject transference relationships per se. Rather, the
selfobject transference function of the therapist is
curative only to the extent that it provides an external
source of support which enables the narcissist to maintain
his or her internal cohesion. For the narcissist to be
cured, it is necessary for him or her to create their own
structure (the true self). The healing process is thus
lengthy, and occurs in small increments whenever the
structure supplied by the therapist is inadvertently
interrupted. In this context it is useful to recall Kohut's
concept of optimal frustration. "If the interruptions to
the therapist's selfobject function are not so severe as to
overwhelm the patient's deficient internal structure, they
function as optimal frustrations, and lead to the patient's
development of his own internal structure to make up for
the interrupted selfobject function" (Manfield, 1992; P.
The Jungian (Analytical) Perspective of Narcissism
Analytical psychology views narcissism as a disorder of
Self-estrangement, which arises out of inadequate maternal
care. However, prior to tackling narcissism it is useful to
grasp the essence of analytical thought.
The Ego and the Self in Analytical Psychology
It is important to understand that the Self in analytical
psychology takes on a different meaning than in
psychodynamic thought (Self is thus capitalized in
analytical writings to distinguish it from the
psychodynamic concept of the self). In psychodynamic theory
the self is always ego oriented, that is the self is taken
to be a content of the ego. By contrast, in analytical
psychology the Self is the totality of the psyche, it is
the archetype of wholeness and the regulating center of
personality. Moreover, the Self is also the image of God in
the psyche, and as such it is experienced as a
transpersonal power which transcends the ego. The Self
therefore exists before the ego, and the ego subsequently
emerges from the Self (Monte, 1991).
Within the Self we perceive our collective unconscious,
which is made up of primordial images, that have been
common to all members of the human race from the beginning
of life. These primordial images are termed archetypes, and
play a significant role in the shaping of the ego.
Therefore, "When the ego looks into the mirror of the Self,
what it sees is always 'unrealistic' because it sees its
archetypal image which can never be fit into the ego"
(Schwartz-Salant, 1982; P. 19).
Narcissism as an Expression of Self-Estrangement
In the case of the narcissist, it is the shattering of the
archetypal image of the mother which leads to the
narcissistic manifestation. The primordial image of the
mother symbolizes paradise, to the extent that the
environment of the child is perfectly designed to meet his
or her needs. No mother, however, can realistically fulfill
the child's archetypal expectations. Nevertheless, so long
as the mother reasonably fulfills the child's needs he or
she will develop 'normally'. It is only when the mother
fails to be a 'good enough mother', that the narcissistic
condition will occur (Asper, 1993).
When the mother-child relationship is damaged the child's
ego does not develop in an optimal way. Rather than form a
secure 'ego-Self axis' bond, the child's ego experiences
estrangement from the Self. This Self-estrangement
negatively affects the child's ego, and thus the narcissist
is said to have a 'negativized ego'. The negativized ego
than proceeds to compensate for the Self-estrangement by
suppressing the personal needs which are inherent in the
Self; thus "the negativized ego of the narcissistically
disturbed person is characterized by strong defense
mechanisms and ego rigidity. A person with this disturbance
has distanced himself from the painful emotions of negative
experiences and has become egoistic, egocentric, and
narcissistic" (Asper, 1993; P. 82).
Analytical Treatment of Narcissism
Since the narcissistic condition is a manifestation of
Self-estrangement, the analytical therapist attempts to
heal the rupture in the ego-Self axis bond, which was
created by the lack of good enough mothering. To heal this
rupture the therapist must convey to the narcissist through
emphatic means that others do care about him or her; that
is the therapist must repair the archetype of the good
mother through a maternally caring approach (Asper, 1993).
A maternal approach involves being attentive to the
narcissist's needs. Just as a mother can intuitively sense
her baby's needs so must the therapist feel and observe
what is not verbally expressed by the narcissist. Such a
maternal approach allows the narcissist to experience more
sympathy towards his or her true feelings and thus
gradually the need to withdraw into the narcissistic
defense disappears (Asper, 1993).
The Existential Perspective of Narcissism
Existentialists perceive narcissism to be a byproduct of an
alienating society. It is difficult for the individual to
truly be himself or herself because society offers many
rewards for the individual who conforms to its rules. Such
an individual becomes alienated because he or she feels
that society's rituals and demands grant him or her little
significance and options in the control of his or her own
destiny. To compensate such an individual takes pleasure in
his or her own uniqueness (grandiosity), he or she enjoys
what others cannot see and control. Thus, the alienated
person "sees himself as a puppet cued by social
circumstances which exact ritualized performances from him.
His irritation about the inevitability of this is
counterbalanced by one major consolation.
This consists of his narcissistic affection for his own
machinery-that is, his own processes and parts" (Johnson,
1977; P. 141).
Existential Treatment of Narcissism
The existential treatment of the narcissist is based on the
existential tenant that "all existing persons have the need
and possibility of going out from their centeredness to
participate in other beings" (Monte, 1991; P. 492). The
severely alienated narcissistic individual, however, does
not believe in the validity of experience outside of the
Unlike others, the narcissist does not believe that a
constructive relationship with others is possible.
Existentialists therefore believe that the therapist,
through emphatic understanding, must create a strong bond
with the narcissist, so that he or she can see that others
have feelings too (Johnson, 1977).
The Humanistic (Client-Centered) Perspective of Narcissism
Thus far, no specific formulations have been advanced by
humanistic theorists about the etiology of the narcissistic
condition. Nevertheless, by utilizing general humanistic
principles it is possible to explain narcissism.
Essentially, much like the psychodynamic explanation,
humanistic psychology would argue that narcissism results
when individuals are not 'allowed' to truly be who they are.
According to humanistic theory, humans have an innate need
for self actualization.
We want to be the best person that we could possibly be.
This is accomplished by internalizing the behaviors that
fit with the individual's personal self concept (that which
the individual finds to be appealing). However the self is
also subject to pressure from significant others.
Significant others place upon the individual, conditions of
worth, upon which their love and approval is dependent.
These conditions may or may not be congruent with the
individual's personal self. If they contrast sharply with
the personal self, and the individual does not want to risk
loosing the approval or love of significant others, then
that individual will behave in ways maladaptive to his or
her self actualization needs.
Although humanistic theory does not elaborate on the
specificity of these maladaptive behaviors, it is possible
to speculate that narcissism is one possible outcome.
Specifically, the narcissistic individual chooses to mask
his or her damaged personal self by the display of a
perfect grandiose front to the world. Humanistic Treatment
of Narcissism
The humanistic treatment of the narcissist, is in general
no different from the humanistic treatment of any other
client. The humanistic therapist wants the narcissist to
rediscover his or her individuality, which was suppressed
by the conditions of worth imposed by significant others.
In order to accomplish this, the proper environment must be
set in therapy, free of any conditions of worth. The
narcissist must feel that whatever he or she does is all
right with the therapist. The therapist therefore gives the
narcissist unconditional positive regard. There is no
judgment of the narcissist, instead the therapist honestly
and caringly tries to see things through the eyes of the
When the narcissist comes to accept his or her true needs
he or she will be congruent with the personal self and the
narcissistic front will no longer be needed.
Comparative Analysis
Each of the psychological approaches discussed above
contains both strengths and weaknesses, in attempting to
solve the narcissistic puzzle. Nevertheless, the
psychodynamic model possesses a big advantage over the
other approaches in its ability to offer both a
comprehensive theory of etiology and a detailed description
of treatment.
With respect to etiology the other approaches suffer from:
a lack of concrete observational validity (the analytical
approach), lack of clarity in capturing the essence of
narcissism (the existential approach), and lack of
continuity in predicting narcissism (the humanistic
The analytical model of narcissism depends on too many
hypothetical concepts, such as the collective unconscious,
which are not supported by any concrete evidence. True the
psychodynamic model introduces some hypothetical concepts
of its own but these concepts are backed by Mahler's
comprehensive developmental theory. The existential model
seems to confuse narcissism with the schizoid condition. By
emphasizing the narcissist's tendency to withdraw into the
pleasures of the self, existentialists overlook the immense
suffering which so characterizes the narcissist. The
humanistic model shares much in common with the
psychodynamic model about the etiology of narcissism.
However, unlike the psychodynamic model it is rather vague
about why this etiology leads to the emergence of
With respect to treatment the major advantage of the
psychodynamic approach is that it goes beyond the exclusive
use of emphatic means to treat the narcissist. By limiting
treatment to emphatic understanding the other approaches
fail to address the underlying issues inherent in
narcissism. Therefore, the other approaches might shore up
the narcissist's damaged self esteem in the short run, but
it is doubtful if they will be able to transform the
Possibly the only weakness of the psychodynamic approach
lies in the length that it takes to treat narcissism.
Recall that a successful psychodynamic treatment requires
the therapist to be very careful about maintaining the
narcissist's delicate self perception.
Only gradually can the psychodynamic therapist direct the
narcissist's attention towards the real underlying
emotional feelings.
No matter which approach is utilized in the explanation and
treatment of narcissism it is important to recognize that
the narcissistic individual is a complex and multifaceted
human being. Deep inside narcissistic individuals
experience tremendous pain and suffering, for which they
attempt to compensate for by the projection of the
grandiose front. These people are not character disordered.
They are people tortured by narcissistic injury and
crippled by developmental arrests in functioning which rob
them of the richness of life they deserve. They are good
people, who are hurting. They are living and suffering the
narcissistic style. 

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Coleman Nelson (Ed.), The narcissistic condition. New York:
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York: Jason Aronson Inc.
Kohut, Heinz. (1977). The analysis of the self. New York:
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Manfield, Philip. (1992). Split self/split object
Understanding and treating borderline, 

narcissistic and schizoid disorders. New York: Jason
Aronson Inc. 
Masterson, James F. (1981). The narcissistic and borderline
disorders. New York: 

Brunner/Mazal Publishers.
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introduction to theories of 

personality (Fourth edition). Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace
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