Regardless of which pattern is being expressed by an individual in any relationship there is a creation of interactional dynamics that are frequently exhausting, frustrating, personally painful, and emotionally trying. The remaining text is dedicated to illustrating the differences in the dual symptom structure of narcissism starting with the inhibited symptoms of narcissism and followed by unrestrained symptoms of narcissism.
Inhibited symptoms of narcissism
- Related to the poor quality of attachment and attunement that exists in a traumagenic family environment one can discover that children develop a sense of inferiority, be indecisive with powerful self-doubts, a marked propensity toward feeling ashamed, with a fragility and highly defended ego structure that can activate a relentless search for and power and control in passive and indirect ways.
- Frequently these are coupled with a marked sensitivity to criticism and a low tolerance for realistic setbacks and difficulties. Traumagenic families are low on stable predictability in their interactions which can greatly exacerbate interpersonal confidence problems and trust in others. There exists in many traumagenic families a genuine question about the dependability of others and how much one can trust them. In addition this self-erosion generates envy and jealousy about the possessions, talents and capacity of others, always finding one’s self lacking or not measuring up in significant ways.
- Another challenge that is faced by the members of a family that could be characterized as traumagenic can be a lack of direction that may appear as aimlessness and shallow or poor patterns of commitment. This aimlessness is related to inadequate reinforcement for successful performance, or a lack of faith in one’s ability to create a significant change in an overt outcome, coupled with doubt that one can be influential in the individual’s own daily life.
- When members of a traumagenic family are operating within the inhibited symptoms of narcissism one would readily notice a constant flux or shifting in values to gain favor, gain control, or protect a fragile ego structure. This highly defensive stance is recurrently associated with pathological lying, materialistic lifestyles even if the family is very poor, delinquent tendencies, and a strong disregard for authority or social institutions.
- As the child grows to adulthood in the traumagenic family structure it becomes clear that there exists a clash in the desire for loving relationships and the ability to maintain love. The loved one is seen as a possession, that is there to serve the ego based needs of the individual, which impairs one’s capacity for viewing the romantic relationship as having separate interests, rights, and values
Unrestrained symptoms of narcissism
- The separate but equally disturbing pattern that can develop in a traumagenic family structure is the production of members that possess a strong sense of grandiosity and entitlement. This dynamic may trigger a perpetual mental process where one is preoccupied with fantasies of outstanding success united with an undue sense of uniqueness, seeming self-sufficiency that is mostly hollow and protective of a fragile sense of self.
- One of the hallmarks of unrestrained narcissism is found in repeatedly shallow relationships of a relatively intense nature that require others to provide emotional, psychological or social tribute. This is associated with an emotional posture of scorn for those who will not pay the tribute, a genuine lack of empathy for those who they share a relationship with
- Unrestrained narcissism often takes on the mask of cordiality and social charm as a tool to exercise power and control in the social and interpersonal environment within which they operate. There is an intense ambition that can accompany this dynamic which is attached to a drive for the psychological and social tribute of others admiration. There is also an omnipresent idiosyncratic personal morality that can be incredibly destructive to relationships in general. This is often manifested by marital instability, seductiveness but unsatisfying relationships or extramarital affairs and promiscuity.
In conclusion, it is easy to understand how poor quality or insecure attachment and attunement are adversely impacted by the interactional patterns of a traumagenic family as well as how narcissism can readily grow out of these dynamics. Many professionals and most laymen that encounter the narcissist tend to react quite negatively and with tremendous judgment and condemnation which has little influence on improving the interactions in any substantial way. The challenge is to create environments where true attachment and attunement can take place while triggering the old familiar and well used patterns more than absolutely necessary. Generally this is a matter that will require psychotherapy to overcome the weight firmly placed on the shoulders of those who never asked for this burden to be theirs.
Why consider family work when resolving trauma?
One of the unfortunate developments of the last 150 years of psychology, counseling and medicine is the emergence of a narrowed focus on the individual and seeing the individual as carrier of deficits or disease. This over simplified conceptualization inadvertently has become the mechanism of reductionist nosology and the emergence of the magician’s trick in the mental health field. It sometimes could be considered that the diagnostic nosology is akin to the magician’s art of Misdirection which is a form of deception in which the attention of an audience is focused on one thing in order to distract its attention from another. In the mental health world we are often misdirected to look at the overt and obvious in the planning and execution of treatment, and unfortunately the overt and obvious while often being quite annoying are not often the root or causal force in the production of behavior.
This magician’s trick is quite different from the more traditional prospective of healing which was essentially relational in nature, and that healing also required relationships and connectivity to a community. In this most emergent and continuing development of healing as an art and practice there is a much more individualistic focus that actively downplays or reduces relational quality and connection to healing. This is quite different from the traditional view of healing that assumed the individual functioned as part of the community, and not only was the healer part of that community, but many of those responsible to support the recovery of the individual were elements in that community as well. In the world today, more so in industrialized and post industrialized societies, there is a tyranny of individualism that is based on a philosophy of personal responsibility and accountability. Yet this focus on the individual in the absence of their environment or context weakens the effectiveness of healing and recovery from trauma.