On the last track, we discussed three aspects of the lack of feeling in narcissistic clients. These three aspect of the denial of feeling in narcissistic clients included: overt denial; treatment of others; and suppression of emotion.
As we discussed on the last track, narcissistic clients are characterized by a lack of feeling, particularly feelings of sadness and fear. These two emotions are singled out because their expression makes the client feel vulnerable. To express sadness leads to an awareness of loss and evokes longing. To long for someone or to need someone leaves the client open to possible rejection and humiliation. This denial of sadness and fear enables the client to project an image of independence, courage, and strength. This empowers the client to make his or her ultimate object control over others.
On this track, we will examine three concepts related to a narcissistic client’s need for power and control. These three concepts related to a narcissistic client’s need for power and control include: preventing humiliation; envy; and rage.
3 Needs for Power and Control
Need #1: Preventing Humiliation
The first concept related to a narcissistic client’s need for power and control is preventing humiliation. As stated earlier in the track, narcissistic clients often control the emotions of sadness and fear as a prevention against vulnerability. This desire to remain seemingly powerful and in control often results as a defense mechanism developed in early childhood. As children, I have found that these clients suffer a severe narcissistic injury or a blow to self-esteem that scars and shapes their personalities.
This injury most often entails humiliation, specifically the experience of being powerless while another person enjoys the exercise of power. Often, this other person is a parent or guardian who uses physical strength to force the child into submission. To regain their own sense of power, narcissistic clients will use their inability to feel in order to control others around them.
Holly, age 26, described many repeated instances of feeling powerless in her early childhood and adolescence. She stated, “My parents were contemplating putting me in a mental hospital without telling me. This was when I was seventeen. On another occasion, when I was fourteen and away at camp, they changed my high school without asking me.”
When I asked about her parents, Holly stated, “My father is a bull! He’s a person who controls people. He always appears as a nice guy, and most people see him that way, but he causes so much disorder! In business, he is ruthless. His only trip is power—power and money. He is rather handsome, but big and burly. When he was angry, he was very frightening.”
From her description, I could deduce that Holly’s father was a narcissistic character who valued power and control. Because of his own need for power, he took the control away from Holly in making decisions for her. This left her feeling powerless and to regain that power, she suppressed her own feelings of sadness and fear. Think of your Holly. How has his or her own need for power affected his or her emotions and feelings?
Need #2: Envy
The second concept related to a narcissistic client’s need for power and control is the relationship to envy and rage. An important aspect of the nature of power is the envy it evokes in others. Power seems to confer on its possessor a mantle of superiority, specialness, and sexual potency. If power evokes envy, it creates fear and leads to hostility. Narcissistic clients wish to be envied, because to be envied is to have power over the other person. Envy can also correlate with fear of the person in power or fear of those who envy the person in power. In either case, the envy leads to unstable relationships, both in the workplace and in interpersonal relationships.
Kim, age 36, was a successful business owner who provided the majority of the income in her marriage. Her husband, Nate, had begun to comment on Kim’s controlling attitude. Kim stated, “Nate is just jealous because a woman is making more money than he is. He wants to be the head of the household, but that is not going to happen. He’d screw everything up.”
I stated to Kim, “Your perception of the situation does not deny what Nate is alleging. You admit to being a control freak, and also admit to limiting Nate’s control of the relationship. However, your assessment that Nate is envious of your power does not coincide. He does not mention wanting more money nor does he ask you to give up the job you are currently holding. Instead, this remains a specifically relational issue, not a financial one.” Think of your Kim. Is he or she misinterpreting the envy of others?
Need #3: Rage
In addition to preventing humiliation and envy, the third concept related to a narcissistic client’s need for power and control is rage. Although many people associate “anger” and “rage” as the same, I prefer to offer this definition. While anger is directed toward removing a force that is acting against the person, rage is undirected, unfocused, and irrational. Anger is usually proportionate to the provocation, but narcissistic clients often fly into a rage which does not coincide with the offense.
In narcissistic clients, rage is used as a tool to retain control. A client who meets resistance, however slight and unimportant, will try and assert his or her superiority by frightening the other person into submission. However, this can also be linked to preventing powerlessness. Clients who experience powerlessness at an early age may do anything to remain in control.
Technique: Rage Control
Holly, who we discussed earlier in this track, experienced this sort of powerlessness when her parents refused to allow her to make her own decisions. Holly stated, “I get into a rage sometimes at co-workers! For the littlest things! One guy asked me if I could cover for him so that he could go to his brother’s wedding. I said I wouldn’t, not because I couldn’t, but because I just didn’t want him dictating to me what to do. When he asked again, I shouted at him and continued shouting at others. That’s why they sent me to anger management and then was sent to you.”
To help Holly contain her narcissistic rage, I asked her to try some Rage Control exercises. These included repeating over and over to herself, “I am in control. No one controls me. I am in control.” And “I don’t need to control others if I can control myself.” Asking Holly to accept and recognize that she is indeed in control of her environment, helps her learn that she can control her own rage against other people. Think of your Holly. How could he or she control his or her rage? We will discuss anger more thoroughly in a later track.
On this track, we discussed three concepts related to a narcissistic client’s need for power and control. These three concepts related to a narcissistic client’s need for power and control included: preventing humiliation; envy; and rage.
On the next track, we will examine three aspects of a narcissistic client’s need for manipulation. These three aspects of a narcissistic client’s need for manipulation include: parental attention in early childhood; splitting of the identity; and seduction as power.
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