Seeing and being seen: Narcissistic pride and narcissistic humiliation

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Abstract

Seeing and being seen are important aspects of narcissism, where self-consciousness is always a feature, and one which becomes acute when a patient loses the protection of a narcissistic relationship and is obliged to tolerate a degree of separateness. Having felt hidden and protected, he now feels conspicuous and exposed to a gaze which makes him vulnerable to humiliation. This often has a devastating and unbearable quality to it, particularly when it is felt to arise in retaliation to the patient's own use of gaze to establish a superiority which allowed the patient to look down on others. The need to avoid or cut short such humiliation may be so acute that the patient cannot deal with guilt and other emotions connected with loss which might otherwise be bearable. The author argues that development is impeded unless the patient is able to gain support to make the humiliation better understood and hence better tolerated. He describes some sessions from an analysis to illustrate how, in some analytic situations, much of the patient's concern and many of his defensive manoeuvres aim to reduce or to reverse experiences of humiliation. An understanding of the mechanisms involved seemed to enable some development to proceed.

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