S has questioned me about my invocations of narcissism. And I think he is right. What do I mean? As he points out there are multiple types of narcissism. Not just the pre-oedipal Trumpist ‘his majesty the baby’, who extrapolates the world from himself and arrogates it to himself as a matter of right, What he wants always already belongs to him. But D and I had extensive conversations about Kohut’s theory of healthy, necessary narcissism. We considered it in relation to our understanding of the psychodynamics of the Bourne films. But it also applies beyond that. The ability to care for oneself, to contain one’s own contradictions, the capacity for self love and self respect. The capacity to meet the other as an equal.
And maybe a good narcissism is the ability to stand up for your dignity, to assert your agency, the desire and capacity to learn. What comes to mind as I write this is a memory of Lola as a puppy. She did not like fetching things. She found it pointless and boring, preferring to roughhouse with me according to rules I have never understood. But I did have these miniature nerf balls all over the floor and would try to get her to play with me with these anyway. One day when I was working, facing the computer, I heard a commotion going on behind me. I turned to find Lola throwing a ball and looking thrilled with herself. It seemed to me that she had suddenly discovered her own agency, that she could act on the world and have an impact. For several weeks, she engaged in throwing nerf balls around, eventually extending that to throwing her little stuffed toys at me or across the room, when she wanted something from me. Whether dogs have a sense of dignity or not, I don’t know. But for me there was dignity and agentful self love in Lola’s exercise. She does something akin to this now – realising that I’m not well enough to play as we used to, she stamps her feet at me and challenges me to mini duels in bed. I’ve come to realise its not instrumental as I’d first thought. She isn’t demanding treats. She likes to make me laugh.
So what do I mean when I continually attribute narcissism to the exercise of this blog? Do I really think it is self serving to want to leave a mark in the world, or to externalise my inner thoughts, or to reflect on my situation, sometimes to the exclusion of other things? Am I worried about the appearance of complacency, or self-involvement to no end but itself? I agree when S points out, my assertions to the NHS are not self serving, though they are a plea, and at times a militancy, on my own behalf. I don’t think it is only me who should get decent treatment. So what is narcissistic about all of this? I don’t know. Yet I worry about it. Sometimes feel embarrassed, or want to distance myself. I do feel mawkish and angry and sorry for myself. Is that selfish? I don’t think I’d say it was if it was someone else. I tell G I am sorry for turning out to be such a bad bargain. And he asks, is that what you’d feel about me if the situation was reversed? No I wouldn’t.
Many years ago, when C was the bane of the Department, among a number of narcissistic incursions into our intimate, interpersonal.political dynamics, I was able to contain myself by reading and rereading an essay I found online, about how to challenge narcissism in the workplace with what the author* termed ‘sustainability’. He listed the qualities that can enable an effective challenge and disruption to narcissism. Reading it made me laugh as I recognised that I had few of those qualities, particularly the ability to tolerate frustration and anxiety. But it gave me things to work on. Food for thought. Trevor Noah** did something of the same in a clip from his show about how to fight with a toddler (you don’t — you ask them to elaborate, rather than telling them they are wrong) as a lesson in how the media should respond to Trump.
*Gregory, Bruce. July 23 2010.’The Impact of Narcissism on Leadership and Sustainability’ <http://poisonfornarcissist.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/impact-of-narcissism-on-leadership-and_23.html> “Recognizing the presence of narcissistic forces is an important aspect of the transformational process. Moving to the next phase, interacting effectively with narcissistic forces, involves a number of important factors which include: awareness of and freedom from victim complexes, freedom from being intimidated, skills to deal with intimidation efforts, excellent emotional boundaries, accountability skills, skills for building consensus with others in the group, empowering others, and a highly developed inner ability to tolerate frustration and anxiety.”
[yesterday, exchange with S]
I’m re-reading your blog and I’m wondering, what is wrong with narcissism? Why has it got such a bad rap? Are we not called on to defend our selves, our positions? To make a difference, to leave something behind, is this not good? Does it not serve a greater good? There comes a point where this is irreducible to the kind of normotic phantasies that you discuss in your work (and with which I agree, you’ve persuaded me). Can’t there by ab-normotic desires? I don’t know Bollas on this.
I love the idea of ab-normotic politics, phantasies, claims. What a wonderful turn on bollas. I might want to take this up later in a blog, including your question about narcissism. It’s a fair question. And yes, narcissism is necessary otherise we repudiate and neglect ourselves. …I was thinking not about healthy narcissism, but the overweening, mawkish, solipsistic kind. I worry about that because I am only engaged in the world in such a limited way.
Briefly (morning for you, late night for me — throwing a night-time log on the fire and heading to bed), yes, well, narcissism. Freud (from terrible memory) has primary narcissism and secondary narcissism. The primary is the refusal of the infant to recognize the breast as belonging to anyone else. “I am the world,” I think he says. Think of Trump! That pussy is HIS to grope! Vile piece of filth. Never. The failure of even the most basic socialization. But secondary narcissism, or even tertiary (?), socialization turned on itself. Can there be a return that is not simply a repetition? And under what conditions? Your demands on the British NHS are not narcissistic, for instance, not in the least. Though they might unfairly, cruelly, be dismissed as such. It’s where the seeming narcissist’s demands yield to basic dignity, rights, community.