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|"…withdrawal, emotional aloofness, hyporeactivity (emotional flatness), sex without emotional involvement, segmentation and partial involvement (lack of interest and commitment to things outside oneself), fixation on oral-stage issues, regression, infantilism and depersonalisation. These, of course, are many of the same designations that Lasch employs to describe the culture of narcissism. Thus, it appears, that it is not misleading to equate narcissism with schizoid disorder." [Page 19]|
We have dwelt elsewhere in this book on the developmental phases of the narcissist and on the psychodynamics of narcissistic development, its causes and reactive patterns (see the FAQs "The Narcissist's Mother", "More on the Development of the Narcissist" and "Narcissism – The Psychopathological Default"). Still, it is worthwhile to study the theoretical foundations of the comparison between narcissism and the schizoid disorder.
The first to seriously consider this similarity, if not outright identity, was Melanie Klein. She broke ranks with Freud in that she believed that we are born with a fragile, easily fragmentable, weak and unintegrated Ego. The most primordial human fear is the fear of disintegration (death), according to Klein. Thus, the infant is forced to employ primitive defence mechanisms such as splitting, projection and introjection to cope with this fear (actually, with the result of aggression generated by the Ego).
The Ego splits and projects this part (death, disintegration, aggression). It does the same with the life-related, constructive, integrative part of itself. The result of all these mechanics is to view the world as either "good" (satisfying, complying, responding, gratifying) – or bad (frustrating). Klein called it the good and the bad "breasts". The child then proceeds to introject (internalise and assimilate) the good object while keeping out (=defending against) the bad objects. The good object becomes the nucleus of the forming Ego. The bad object is felt as fragmented. But it has not vanished, it is there.
The fact that the bad object is "out there", persecutory, threatening – gives rise to the first schizoid defence mechanisms, foremost amongst them the mechanism of "projective identification" (so often employed by narcissists). The infant projects parts of himself (his organs, his behaviours, his traits) unto the bad object. This is the famous Kleinian "paranoid-schizoid position". The Ego is split. This is as terrifying as it sounds but it allows the baby to make a clear distinction between the "good object" (inside him) and the "bad object" (out there, split from him). If this phase is not transcended the individual develops schizophrenia and a fragmentation of the self.
Around the third or fourth month of life, the infant realises that the good and the bad objects are really facets of one and the same object. He develops the depressive position. This depression [Klein believes that the two positions continue throughout life] is a reaction of fear and anxiety. The infant feels guilty (at his own rage) and anxious (lest his aggression harms the object and eliminates the source of good things).
He experiences loss of his own omnipotence since the object is outside his self. The infant wishes to erase the results of his own aggression by "making the object whole again". By recognising the wholeness of other objects – the infant comes to realise and to experience his own wholeness. The Ego re-integrates.
But the transition from the paranoid-schizoid position to the depressive one is by no means smooth and assured. Excess anxiety and envy can delay it or prevent it altogether. Envy seeks to destroy all good objects, so that others don't have them. It, therefore, hinders the split between the good and the bad "breasts". Envy destroys the good object but leaves the persecutory, bad object intact. Moreover, it does not allow the re-integration ["reparation" in Kleinian jargon] to take place. The more whole the object – the greater the envy. Thus, envy feeds on its own outcomes. The more envy, the less integrated the Ego is, the weaker and more inadequate it is – the more reason for envying the good object and other people. Envy is the hallmark of narcissism and the prime source of what is known as narcissistic rage. The schizoid self – fragmented, weak, primitive – is intimately connected with narcissism through envy. Narcissists prefer to destroy themselves and to deny themselves – rather than to endure someone else's happiness, wholeness and "triumph". They fail an exam – to frustrate a teacher they adore and envy. They fail in therapy – not to give the therapist a reason to feel professionally satisfied. By failing and self-destructing, narcissists deny the worth of others. If the narcissist fails in therapy – his analyst must be inept. If he destroys himself by consuming drugs – his parents are blameworthy and should feel guilty and bad. One cannot exaggerate the importance of envy as a motivating power in the narcissist's life.
The psychodynamic connection is obvious. Envy is a rage reaction at not controlling or "having" or engulfing the good, desired object. Narcissists defend themselves against this acidulous, corroding sensation by pretending that they DO control, possess and engulf the good object. This is what we call "grandiose fantasies (of omnipotence or omniscience)". But, in doing so, the narcissist MUST deny the existence of any good OUTSIDE himself. The narcissist defends himself against raging, all consuming envy – by solipsistically claiming to be the ONLY good object in the world. This is an object that cannot be had by anyone, except the narcissist and, therefore, is immune to the narcissist's threatening, annihilating envy. In order not to be "owned" by anyone (and, thus, avoid self-destruction in the hands of his own envy) – the narcissist reduces others to "non-entities" (the narcissistic solution), or avoids all meaningful contact with them altogether (the schizoid solution).
The suppression of envy is at the CORE of the narcissist's being. If he fails to convince his self that he is the ONLY good object in the universe – he is exposed to his own murderous envy. If there are others out there who are better than he – he envies them, he lashes out at them ferociously, uncontrollably, madly, hatefully and spitefully. If someone tries to get emotionally intimate with the narcissist – she threatens the grandiose belief that no one but the narcissist can possess the good object (the narcissist himself). Only the narcissist can own himself, have access to himself, possess himself. This is the only way to avoid seething envy and certain self-annihilation. Perhaps it is clearer now why narcissists react as raving madmen to ANYTHING, however minute, however remote that seems to threaten their grandiose fantasies, the only protective barrier between themselves and their envy.
There is nothing new in trying to link narcissism to schizophrenia. Freud did as much in his "On Narcissism" . Klein's contribution was the introduction of immediately post-natal internal objects. Schizophrenia, she proposed, was a narcissistic and intense relationship with internal objects (such as fantasies or images, including fantasies of grandeur). It was a new language. Freud suggested a transition from (primary, object-less) narcissism (self-directed libido) to objects relations (objects directed libido). Klein suggested a transition from internal objects to external ones. While Freud thought that the common denominator of narcissism and schizoid phenomena was a withdrawal of libido from the world – Klein suggested it was a fixation on an early phase of relating to internal objects.
But is the difference not merely a question of terminology?
"The term 'narcissism' tends to be employed diagnostically by those proclaiming loyalty to the drive model [Otto Kernberg and Edith Jacobson, for instance – SV] and mixed model theorists [Kohut], who are interested in preserving a tie to drive theory. 'Schizoid' tends to be employed diagnostically by adherents of relational models [Fairbairn, Guntrip], who are interested in articulating their break with drive theory… These two differing diagnoses and accompanying formulations are applied to patients who are essentially similar, by theorists who start with very different conceptual premises and ideological affiliations."
(Greenberg and Mitchell. Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory. Harvard University Press, 1983)
Klein, in effect, said that drives (e.g., the libido) are relational flows. A drive is the mode of relationship between an individual and his objects (internal and external). Thus, a retreat from the world [Freud] into internal objects [object relations theorists and especially the British school of Fairbairn and Guntrip] – IS the drive itself. Drives are orientations (to external or internal objects). Narcissism is an orientation (a preference, we could say) towards internal objects – the very definition of schizoid phenomena. This is why narcissists feel empty, fragmented, "unreal" (movie-like) and diffuse. It is because their Ego is still split (never integrated) and because they withdrew from the world (of external objects). Kernberg identifies these internal objects with which the narcissist maintains a special relationship with the idealised, grandiose images of the narcissist's parents. He believes that the narcissist's very Ego (self-representation) fused with these parental images.
Fairbairn's work – even more than Kernberg's, not to mention Kohut's – integrates all these insights into a coherent framework. Guntrip elaborated on it and together they created one of the most impressive theoretical bodies in the history of psychology.
Fairbairn internalised Klein's insights that drives are object-orientated and their goal is the formation of relationships and not primarily the attainment of pleasure. Pleasurable sensations are the means to achieve relationships. The Ego does not seek to be stimulated and pleased but to find the right, "good", supporting object.
The infant is fused with his Primary Object, the mother. Life is not about using objects for pleasure under the supervision of the Ego and Superego, as Freud postulated. Life is about separating, differentiating, achieving independence from the Primary Object and the initial state of fusion with it. Dependence on internal objects is narcissism. Freud's post-narcissistic (anaclitic) phase of life can be either dependent (immature) or mature.
The newborn's Ego is looking for objects with which to form relationships. Inevitably, some of these objects and some of these relationships frustrate the infant and disappoint him. He compensates for these setbacks by creating compensatory internal objects. The initially unitary Ego thus fragments into a growing group of internal objects. Reality breaks our hearts and minds, according to Fairbairn. The Ego and its objects are "twinned" and the Ego is split in three [Guntrip added a fourth Ego]. A schizoid state ensues.
The "original" (Freudian or libidinal) Ego is unitary, instinctual, needy and object seeking. It then fragments as a result of the three typical interactions with the mother (gratification, disappointment and deprivation). The central Ego idealises the "good" parents. It is conformist and obedient. The antilibidinal Ego is a reaction to frustrations. It is rejecting, harsh, unsatisfying, against natural needs. The libidinal Ego is the seat of cravings, desires and needs. It is active in that it keeps seeking objects to form relationships with. Guntrip added the regressed Ego, which is the True Self in "cold storage", the "lost heart of the personal self".
Fairbairn's definition of psychopathology is quantitative. Which parts of the Ego are dedicated to relationships with internal objects rather than with external ones (e.g., real people)? In other words: how fragmented (=how schizoid) is the Ego?
To achieve a successful transition from internal objects to external ones – the child needs the right parents (in Winnicott parlance, the "good enough mother" – not perfect, but "good enough"). The child internalises the bad aspects of his parents in the form of internal, bad objects and then proceeds to suppress them, together ("twinned") with portions of his Ego. Thus, his parents become PART of the child (though a repressed part). The more bad objects are repressed, the "less Ego is left" for healthy relationships with external objects. To Fairbairn, the source of all psychological disturbances is in these schizoid phenomena. Later developments (such as the Oedipus Complex) are less crucial. Fairbairn and Guntrip think that if a person is too attached to his compensatory internal objects – he finds it hard to mature psychologically. Maturing is about letting go of internal objects. Some people just don't want to mature, or are reluctant to do so, or are ambivalent about it. This reluctance, this withdrawal to an internal world of representations, internal objects and broken Ego – is narcissism itself. Narcissists simply don't know how to be themselves, how to acquire independence and, simultaneously manage their relationships with other people.
Both Otto Kernberg and Franz Kohut agreed that narcissism is between neurosis and psychosis. Kernberg thought that it was a borderline phenomenon, on the verge of psychosis (where the Ego is completely shattered). In this respect Kernberg, more than Kohut, identifies narcissism with schizoid phenomena and with schizophrenia. This is not the only difference between them. They also disagree on the developmental locus of narcissism. Kohut thinks that narcissism is an early phase of development, fossilised, forever to be repeated (gigantic repetition complex) while Kernberg maintains that the narcissistic self is pathological from its very inception. Kohut believes that the narcissist's parents provided him with no assurances that he does possess a self (in his words, with no self-object). They did not explicitly recognise the child's nascent self, its separate existence, its boundaries. The child learned to have a schizoid, split, fragmented self – rather than a coherent ad integrated one. To him, narcissism is really all-pervasive, at the very core of being (whether in its mature form, as self-love, or in it regressive, infantile form as a narcissistic disorder).
Kernberg regards "mature narcissism" (also espoused by neo-Freudians like Grunberger and Chasseguet-Smirgel) as a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron. He observes that narcissists are already grandiose and schizoid (detached, cold, aloof, asocial) at an early age (at three years old, according to him!). Like Klein, Kernberg believes that narcissism is a last ditch effort (defence) to halt the emergence of the paranoid-schizoid position described by Klein.
In an adult such an emergence is known as "psychosis" and this is why Kernberg classifies narcissists as borderline (almost) psychotics. Even Kohut, who is an opponent of Kernberg's classification, uses Eugene O'Neill's famous sentence [in "The Great God Brown"]: "Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue." Kernberg himself sees a clear connection between schizoid phenomena (such as alienation in modern society and subsequent withdrawal) and narcissistic phenomena (inability to form relationships or to make commitments or to empathise).
C. Fred Alford in "Narcissism: Socrates, the Frankfurt School and Psychoanalytic Theory" [Yale University Press, 1988] wrote:
"Fairbairn and Guntrip represent the purest expression of object relations theory, which is characterised by the insight that real relationships with real people build psychic structure. Although they rarely mention narcissism, they see a schizoid split in the self as characteristic of virtually all-emotional disorder. It is Greenberg and Mitchell, in Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory who establish the relevance of Fairbairn and Guntrip … by pointing out that what American analysts label 'narcissism', British analysts tend to call 'Schizoid Personality Disorder'. This insight allows us to connect the symptomatology of narcissism – feelings of emptiness, unreality, alienation and emotional withdrawal – with a theory that sees such symptoms as an accurate reflection of the experience of being split-off from a part of oneself.
That narcissism is such a confusing category is in large part because its drive-theoretic definition, the libidinal cathexis of the self – in a word, self-love – seems far removed from the experience of narcissism, as characterised by a loss of, or split-in, the self. Fairbairn's and Guntrip's view of narcissism as an excessive attachment of the Ego to internal objects (roughly analogous to Freud's narcissistic, as opposed to object, love), resulting in various splits in the Ego necessary to maintain these attachments, allows us to penetrate this confusion." [Page 67]
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
Countess Erszebet Bathory was a breathtakingly beautiful, unusually well-educated woman, married to a descendant of Vlad Dracula of Bram Stoker fame. In 1611, she was tried - though, being a noblewoman, not convicted - in Hungary for slaughtering 612 young girls. The true figure may have been 40-100, though the Countess recorded in her diary more than 610 girls and 50 bodies were found in her estate when it was raided.
The Countess was notorious as an inhuman sadist long before her hygienic fixation. She once ordered the mouth of a talkative servant sewn. It is rumoured that in her childhood she witnessed a gypsy being sewn into a horse's stomach and left to die.
The girls were not killed outright. They were kept in a dungeon and repeatedly pierced, prodded, pricked, and cut. The Countess may have bitten chunks of flesh off their bodies while alive. She is said to have bathed and showered in their blood in the mistaken belief that she could thus slow down the aging process.
Her servants were executed, their bodies burnt and their ashes scattered. Being royalty, she was merely confined to her bedroom until she died in 1614. For a hundred years after her death, by royal decree, mentioning her name in Hungary was a crime.
Cases like Barothy's give the lie to the assumption that serial killers are a modern - or even post-modern - phenomenon, a cultural-societal construct, a by-product of urban alienation, Althusserian interpellation, and media glamorization. Serial killers are, indeed, largely made, not born. But they are spawned by every culture and society, molded by the idiosyncrasies of every period as well as by their personal circumstances and genetic makeup.
Still, every crop of serial killers mirrors and reifies the pathologies of the milieu, the depravity of the Zeitgeist, and the malignancies of the Leitkultur. The choice of weapons, the identity and range of the victims, the methodology of murder, the disposal of the bodies, the geography, the sexual perversions and paraphilias - are all informed and inspired by the slayer's environment, upbringing, community, socialization, education, peer group, sexual orientation, religious convictions, and personal narrative. Movies like "Born Killers", "Man Bites Dog", "Copycat", and the Hannibal Lecter series captured this truth.
Serial killers are the quiddity and quintessence of malignant narcissism.
Yet, to some degree, we all are narcissists. Primary narcissism is a universal and inescapable developmental phase. Narcissistic traits are common and often culturally condoned. To this extent, serial killers are merely our reflection through a glass darkly.
In their book "Personality Disorders in Modern Life", Theodore Millon and Roger Davis attribute pathological narcissism to "a society that stresses individualism and self-gratification at the expense of community ... In an individualistic culture, the narcissist is 'God's gift to the world'. In a collectivist society, the narcissist is 'God's gift to the collective'".
Lasch described the narcissistic landscape thus (in "The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an age of Diminishing Expectations", 1979):
"The new narcissist is haunted not by guilt but by anxiety. He seeks not to inflict his own certainties on others but to find a meaning in life. Liberated from the superstitions of the past, he doubts even the reality of his own existence ... His sexual attitudes are permissive rather than puritanical, even though his emancipation from ancient taboos brings him no sexual peace.
Fiercely competitive in his demand for approval and acclaim, he distrusts competition because he associates it unconsciously with an unbridled urge to destroy ... He (harbours) deeply antisocial impulses. He praises respect for rules and regulations in the secret belief that they do not apply to himself. Acquisitive in the sense that his cravings have no limits, he ... demands immediate gratification and lives in a state of restless, perpetually unsatisfied desire."
The narcissist's pronounced lack of empathy, off-handed exploitativeness, grandiose fantasies and uncompromising sense of entitlement make him treat all people as though they were objects (he "objectifies" people). The narcissist regards others as either useful conduits for and sources of narcissistic supply (attention, adulation, etc.) - or as extensions of himself.
Similarly, serial killers often mutilate their victims and abscond with trophies - usually, body parts. Some of them have been known to eat the organs they have ripped - an act of merging with the dead and assimilating them through digestion. They treat their victims as some children do their rag dolls.
Killing the victim - often capturing him or her on film before the murder - is a form of exerting unmitigated, absolute, and irreversible control over it. The serial killer aspires to "freeze time" in the still perfection that he has choreographed. The victim is motionless and defenseless. The killer attains long sought "object permanence". The victim is unlikely to run on the serial assassin, or vanish as earlier objects in the killer's life (e.g., his parents) have done.
In malignant narcissism, the true self of the narcissist is replaced by a false construct, imbued with omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. The narcissist's thinking is magical and infantile. He feels immune to the consequences of his own actions. Yet, this very source of apparently superhuman fortitude is also the narcissist's Achilles heel.
The narcissist's personality is chaotic. His defense mechanisms are primitive. The whole edifice is precariously balanced on pillars of denial, splitting, projection, rationalization, and projective identification. Narcissistic injuries - life crises, such as abandonment, divorce, financial difficulties, incarceration, public opprobrium - can bring the whole thing tumbling down.
The narcissist cannot afford to be rejected, spurned, insulted, hurt, resisted, criticized, or disagreed with.
Likewise, the serial killer is trying desperately to avoid a painful relationship with his object of desire. He is terrified of being abandoned or humiliated, exposed for what he is and then discarded. Many killers often have sex - the ultimate form of intimacy - with the corpses of their victims. Objectification and mutilation allow for unchallenged possession.
Devoid of the ability to empathize, permeated by haughty feelings of superiority and uniqueness, the narcissist cannot put himself in someone else's shoes, or even imagine what it means. The very experience of being human is alien to the narcissist whose invented False Self is always to the fore, cutting him off from the rich panoply of human emotions.
Thus, the narcissist believes that all people are narcissists. Many serial killers believe that killing is the way of the world. Everyone would kill if they could or were given the chance to do so. Such killers are convinced that they are more honest and open about their desires and, thus, morally superior. They hold others in contempt for being conforming hypocrites, cowed into submission by an overweening establishment or society.
The narcissist seeks to adapt society in general - and meaningful others in particular - to his needs. He regards himself as the epitome of perfection, a yardstick against which he measures everyone, a benchmark of excellence to be emulated. He acts the guru, the sage, the "psychotherapist", the "expert", the objective observer of human affairs. He diagnoses the "faults" and "pathologies" of people around him and "helps" them "improve", "change", "evolve", and "succeed" - i.e., conform to the narcissist's vision and wishes.
Serial killers also "improve" their victims - slain, intimate objects - by "purifying" them, removing "imperfections", depersonalizing and dehumanizing them. This type of killer saves its victims from degeneration and degradation, from evil and from sin, in short: from a fate worse than death.
The killer's megalomania manifests at this stage. He claims to possess, or have access to, higher knowledge and morality. The killer is a special being and the victim is "chosen" and should be grateful for it. The killer often finds the victim's ingratitude irritating, though sadly predictable.
In his seminal work, "Aberrations of Sexual Life" (originally: "Psychopathia Sexualis"), quoted in the book "Jack the Ripper" by Donald Rumbelow, Kraft-Ebbing offers this observation:
"The perverse urge in murders for pleasure does not solely aim at causing the victim pain and - most acute injury of all - death, but that the real meaning of the action consists in, to a certain extent, imitating, though perverted into a monstrous and ghastly form, the act of defloration. It is for this reason that an essential component ... is the employment of a sharp cutting weapon; the victim has to be pierced, slit, even chopped up ... The chief wounds are inflicted in the stomach region and, in many cases, the fatal cuts run from the vagina into the abdomen. In boys an artificial vagina is even made ... One can connect a fetishistic element too with this process of hacking ... inasmuch as parts of the body are removed and ... made into a collection."
Yet, the sexuality of the serial, psychopathic, killer is self-directed. His victims are props, extensions, aides, objects, and symbols. He interacts with them ritually and, either before or after the act, transforms his diseased inner dialog into a self-consistent extraneous catechism. The narcissist is equally auto-erotic. In the sexual act, he merely masturbates with other - living - people's bodies.
The narcissist's life is a giant repetition complex. In a doomed attempt to resolve early conflicts with significant others, the narcissist resorts to a restricted repertoire of coping strategies, defense mechanisms, and behaviors. He seeks to recreate his past in each and every new relationship and interaction. Inevitably, the narcissist is invariably confronted with the same outcomes. This recurrence only reinforces the narcissist's rigid reactive patterns and deep-set beliefs. It is a vicious, intractable, cycle.
Correspondingly, in some cases of serial killers, the murder ritual seemed to have recreated earlier conflicts with meaningful objects, such as parents, authority figures, or peers. The outcome of the replay is different to the original, though. This time, the killer dominates the situation.
The killings allow him to inflict abuse and trauma on others rather than be abused and traumatized. He outwits and taunts figures of authority - the police, for instance. As far as the killer is concerned, he is merely "getting back" at society for what it did to him. It is a form of poetic justice, a balancing of the books, and, therefore, a "good" thing. The murder is cathartic and allows the killer to release hitherto repressed and pathologically transformed aggression - in the form of hate, rage, and envy.
But repeated acts of escalating gore fail to alleviate the killer's overwhelming anxiety and depression. He seeks to vindicate his negative introjects and sadistic superego by being caught and punished. The serial killer tightens the proverbial noose around his neck by interacting with law enforcement agencies and the media and thus providing them with clues as to his identity and whereabouts. When apprehended, most serial assassins experience a great sense of relief.
Serial killers are not the only objectifiers - people who treat others as objects. To some extent, leaders of all sorts - political, military, or corporate - do the same. In a range of demanding professions - surgeons, medical doctors, judges, law enforcement agents - objectification efficiently fends off attendant horror and anxiety.
Yet, serial killers are different. They represent a dual failure - of their own development as full-fledged, productive individuals - and of the culture and society they grow in. In a pathologically narcissistic civilization - social anomies proliferate. Such societies breed malignant objectifiers - people devoid of empathy - also known as "narcissists".
APPENDIX - Criteria of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
An all-pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration or adulation and lack of empathy, usually beginning by early adulthood and present in various contexts. Five (or more) of the following criteria must be met:
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