I’ve been thinking about narcissism lately and ended up watching Now, Voyager yesterday and selected excerpts form the Alien films this morning. None of this ran together in the way I have just written it until I began writing the words ‘narcissistic feed’, but there we go.
Narcissism isn’t necessarily a bad thing: thinking about what you like to eat, wear, say and do; if I didn’t I would, in an awful sense, disappear. There’d be nothing of me on show and no return from that in the world to give me a sense of having a life that’s mine. Of course narcissism can be overdone and, from time to time, most of us overdo it – unless we underdo it, which I might come to at another time: underdo as in written our of life or written over someone else, no doubt a particularly egregious narcissist. We forget that we don’t actually know better than other people, or that we know them half as well as we might imagine. All kinds of narcissism rely on a feed from the outside world, from the kind of ‘that’s a nice hat’ comment to the more disturbing ‘you’re mine’ behaviour which characterises those egregious types I mentioned.
If you want to see what happens when narcissism becomes a difficult thing watch what happens to Charlotte Vale, or the crew of the Nostromo in Alien. Narcissists take a dim view of those around them trying to assert themselves: it interrupts the feed. Charlotte or Kane could have stayed in their cabins, but instead they went looking for adventure.
Differentiation, the move from a ‘we’ to an ‘I’, recognising the other, will always in some way be worrying (not being comfortable as an ‘I’ leaves you feeling anxious). You know you’ve got a problem when someone insists on ‘we’, not necessarily if they get worried about the ‘I’ … we all do that.
The ‘I’ demands a leap into the unknown unless I believe, secretly, we really are always a we, inseparable and conjoined. Wilfred Bion wrote about Experiences in Groups, not ‘experiences of groups’. Groups are an experience rather than an entity – as The Three Musketeers would have done well to remember.
I got worried about something like this yesterday. When I was a boy hooked on watching Sunday afternoon matinee films Now, Voyager had only existed for thirty years … rather like the relationship between now and another film I love: Withnail and I. And so I was reminded that I am 50 again. The ‘we’ of Tom Tomaszewski, me in all of my incarnations, still hasn’t quite become used to this ‘I’, the 50-year old one.
A couple of the posts I’ve written recently have ended up with me mentioning narcissism. Where does my mind go when I think about that? There’s Narcissus, a figure from a Greek myth. I find the thought of him, transfixed at his reflection and losing the will to live, more like an explosion than an idea. I would – my father was such a narcissist. Can I ever have an ‘idea’ of Narcissus: the silent scene from the myth, of him staring into the water? I always hear noise around him.
I think of people I work with as a psychotherapist who are disgusted by their bodies but who remain just as trapped looking at them, not seeing what I or other people see, stopping eating and slowly dying. I then think of the narcissists I’ve known who lose sight of other people in different ways (in both cases there’s fear of other people) and the angry sound of them colliding with individuals who they won’t truly acknowledge as other people … more as ideas from their own minds: knowable, malleable, useful.
I think of beautiful things, too. The vase of daffodils (narcissus) on a table at work that so surprised me when I saw them. My writing (if ever there was a narcissistic project). My clothes and other people’s clothes. All the colours and shapes in the world, dressing people. I love fashion without looking particularly fashionable.
Fashion is superficial but everything happens on the surface. Without fashion there would be no form to the living world; no attachment to the things we cover ourselves and our environment with. Fashion’s sometimes stupid and the fashion world, having dealt with some of its casualties, often particularly cruel. But there will always be things we consider beautiful, and as a phenomenon fashion will always happen.
How can you keep sane in the face of fashion?
- Don’t wear the same coloured socks and trousers.
- Fashion needs to leave room for movement. If you can’t move freely it’s wrong.
- Fashion should never look down. Fashion must look up, because we are the ideal.
- People criticise fashion and waste their time on money on so many other things.
- Don’t talk about size, talk about how you’re feeling.
I’m dumbfounded when I hear people dismiss telepathy. Freud was very probably a believer. I know many people who’ve spent a lot of their life around people struggling to find words for something that’s often beyond words have a sense that a thought can pass between two people without either of them being particularly conscious of it. In my training as a psychotherapist it was called projective identification, transference, counter-transference … You may know it simply as a feeling you get when you’re with someone ‘noisily quiet’, and after having that feeling something pops into your head and you can’t think where it came from. Look across at your silent friend. Maybe you get a strange sense that she or he is straining to tell you something. You may be about to receive a telepathic message (far more fun than a text, I can tell you, although there’s something uncannily telepathic about what a text message suggests that it doesn’t actually say). So what can I say about telepathy that isn’t too X-Files (although I used to like the X-Files) and doesn’t get too Melanie Klein?
- You won’t find this mentioned on the UKCP or BACP web site but it’s possibly a way of thinking about something that most psychoanalytic psychotherapists engage with every day.
- Strangely being in synch with someone relies on more than guessing. How much of your relationship is telepathic?
- It can all go terribly wrong if you don’t take a lot of time to get to know yourself. Instead of receiving you project: you see someone through the lens of your own emotional circus (like feeling really glum, going to work and thinking ‘God, what a sad bunch’).
- Telepathy isn’t mind-reading. It’s picking up on an unspoken message using my mind, without getting anywhere near the inside of another person’s head.
- Narcissists are not telepathic, they just think they know better than anyone else. Don’t let one fool you that she or he can read your mind. There are some very good mind-guessers.