Thoughts on Narcissism and Narcissistic Rage

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“Thoughts on Narcissism and Narcissistic Rage”

Heinz Kohut, M.D.

Kohut’s psychoanalytic theories on narcissism provide explanation for and expansion of the fundamental Freudian concept of a disparity between reality and pleasure principles. I assert that intentions of self-fulfillment often turn violent and perverse when the Freudian concept of possessing others (“object-choice”) that was meant to unify reality and sexuality transforms into the exploitation of family and lovers. The internal/external, pleasure/reality, man against the world conflict is brought into the household, ostensibly because an individual struggle holds no import in the world at large. Kohut [directly] addresses this conflict in his [explanation] of the fragmented self, seeking cohesion, which often [vents] frustration and suppression of the grandiose self by means of narcissistic rage.

Freudian beliefs maintain that in order to resolve the reality and pleasure principle disparity the self turns to “narcissistic object-choice” (or “identification”) and “anaclitic object-choice”. These dual desires, to be like another and to possess another, respectively, emerge when a child realizes that the indistinguishable unification between pleasure and reality has been demolished (Brown 41). Freud claims that an infant’s self-preservation (the essence of one’s reality) is directly connected to its sexual gratification, therefore once this conjunction has been [ruptured/severed] by further development, the child and subsequent adult forever seeks to regain this association. As one matures I believe that this association between reality and pleasure principles parallels the association between an individual’s external (reality) and internal (pleasure) self. Kohut argues that this conflict [emerges] from the impeded development of the ego and misguided narcissism. Kohut cites parent-child relationships as instrumental in a child’s cohesion of self, parents as necessary “mirroring” figures for a child who requires consistent approval and validation as integral to development. Without sufficient “mirroring”, a child’s “narcissistic cathexis…remains thus unaltered and its archaic grandiosity and exhibitionism cannot be integrated with the remainder of the psychic organization” but instead “become split off from the reality ego or separated from it through repression” (Kohut 373). That is to say the child develops a fragmented self through discounted narcissism.

Kohut attests that once the separation of self-grandiosity from the reality ego prevents future modification by external influences (Kohut 373). However this seems to refute an earlier claim that transitional periods and emotional situations serve as catalysts for a “reshuffling of the self” throughout one’s life, not merely in the early stages of childhood development (Kohut 367). Also Kohut’s aforementioned pessimisstic claim seems to undermine the whole purpose of psychotherapy. This leads me to a contrary belief, in the ability of an individual to unify a formerly fragmented self through appropriately directed narcissism and by [integrating oneself with ideal object-choice]. Moreover, I feel that society at large, more specifically, the members of society whom one chooses for intimate relationships (lovers, friends, family) replace the parental, or more exactly, the maternal role of “mirroring” necessary in childhood. While I feel that childhood development may be the most significant upon an individual’s life, I dually believe that since the self [endures/sustains] continual reshuffling, one still requires a consistent reaffirmation of self. Kohut states that self-affirmation adopts several forms, approving-mirroring, merging with a idealized self-object, and [tangentially/ transitively], possessing another (arguably a form of merging) (Kohut 386). Thus, this external dependence derived from an insufficiency of self forges the individual’s conflict between external/internal and reality/pleasure.

Threats directed toward the self and associated feelings of shame often elicit narcissistic rage as a type of premeditated retaliation against a perceived injurious force, as in another person. The subconscious mentality is as follows: defeat the enemy before it defeats you, before it destroys your delusion of the perfection and “limitlessness of the power and knowledge of a grandiose self” (Kohut 385). This vengeful expression results from the neglect of the ego and inadequate recognition of the necessity and acceptability of a healthily directed narcissism. By a healthily directed narcissism I mean an ego secure in its self-esteem, whose ambitions are directed toward a meaningful reality. Once again reality surfaces as a byproduct in the resolution of narcissism, effectually, in the resolution of the internal/external binary that appears at the heart of self-conflict.

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