On the last 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 this 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.
2 Aspects Regarding a Need for Manipulation
Aspect #1: Parental Attention in Early Childhood
The first aspect of a narcissistic client’s need for manipulation begins, I feel, in parental attention in early childhood. Most parents want something or seem to need something from their children. For some parents, a child has to be successful in the world, often to compensate for the parent’s own sense of failure.
The child, on the other hand, wants or needs to seem “special” or worthy in the eyes of his or her parents. In early childhood, an unspoken agreement occurs between that of parent and child. If the child performs the role his or her parent wishes, the parent will then regard his or her child as special.
Lowell, age 35, had described to me his mother’s constant attention and validation. He stated, “She always told me that I was one of God’s children. Not in the broader sense, as in everyone is God’s children, but that I was special somehow, that I was chosen. When she read to me the story of the declaration of Israel as God’s Chosen People, I knew instinctively that she was trying to show me I was like them. I felt a little like Jesus. But when I was bad, she punished me severely. There were many beatings in my childhood.”
I asked Lowell if there were any certain behaviors he would perform in order to obtain this sort of validation from his mother. Lowell stated, “Whenever I did special things like giving her a hug or helping her around the house. I would even compliment her when she got dressed up. My father left us when I was young, so I was kind of her replacement I guess.”
I stated, “Your behavior towards your mother was one of fear of the rod. Because she did not have the intimacy of a husband, she sought your intimacy and approval. In a simplified sense, you were playing the role of husband and son, a performance too complex for your young identity. You feared her wrath and craved her attention, and so decidedly chose to please her and gain a feeling of importance.” Think of your Lowell. In what ways has his or her parents manipulated him or her?
Aspect #2: Splitting of Identity
The second aspect of a narcissistic client’s need for manipulation is the splitting of identity. When a client is being raised in a conditional familial structure, that is the parent only provides affection on the condition that the client then does as he or she is told, the client’s identity becomes split. Through the split identity, the child incorporates the parent’s values wholesale and develops a self-image to reflect them. At the same time, the child must reject the self that the parent found objectionable - namely, bodily feelings and the desire to be independent.
In this process, the parent’s values become superior to those values associated with the body and its feelings. To be special is therefore to be superior to one’s bodily self. The child comes to believe that what the parent rejected was only the child’s “lower” nature. This illusion assuages the pain, which is then denied. The child’s new self-image acquires status as an expression of his or her “higher” nature.
Mick, age 39, had dissociated his “lower” nature from his “higher” nature. He stated, “My father had always told me that weakness was a sin. So whenever I cried, I tried my hardest to stop myself. I knew that that part of me was not acceptable and I could never gain my father’s approval. So now everyone thinks I’m a tough guy, because I can’t cry and never want to.”
In Mick’s early age, his father had conveyed to him that he would reject any show of sadness or fear, which Mick soon associated with his “lower nature.” By splitting his identity, Mick could reject what he perceived as the undesirable part of him. Think of your Mick. What does he or she perceive as his or her “lower” nature?
Aspect #3: Seduction as Power
In addition to parental attention in early childhood and the splitting of identity, the third aspect related to a narcissistic client’s need for manipulation is seduction as power. As discussed on the last track, narcissistic clients crave control and power over those around them. This comes as a result of several instances of childhood humiliation and powerlessness. Seduction and manipulation of others gives the client the perception of control. He or she is able to control the actions of others through personality behaviors that either seduce the other person into doing the client’s will or intimidate and manipulate the other people.
This manipulative and seductive behavior is learned in early childhood when the client was taught that certain behavior is rewarded through intimacy and approval. Similarly, the client will make his or her own intimacy and approval desirable to others in an attempt to make them behave in an acceptable manner. However, the manipulated will perceive they are being used and resent the client which then poses even more difficulty for the narcissist.
Technique: Respect over Control
Terence, age 43, had made many enemies at his stock broking firm. Specifically, he had slept with a dozen or so female coworkers in order to manipulate them into helping him gain promotions and raises. The current hostility was not unmarked by Terence. He stated, “I’m a little concerned for my own well being. Primarily, I’m looking out for sabotage. Those women I supposedly insulted are looking out for ways to bring me down.”
I stated to Terence, “I can honestly say that most of these women feel disrespected by your actions, and they should. Their anger is justified in that you have treated them as mere sexual objects, not working human beings. Although you may view yourself as just an instrument of your firm, these women felt betrayed by being used as an instrument by you.” To help Terence become more respectful of the women around the office, I suggested he try the “Respect over Control” exercise.
I stated that to begin this technique, the next time he begins to see another person that he would like to gain control over, he might instead stop and write down their characteristics. Not physical characteristics, but what he can discern from their own behavior. Are they confident, shy, good humored? Instead of framing others by how they could be useful to his own ambitions, this exercise forces Terence to instead define others by what they wished to be defined by. In other words, they become more human.
The next week, Terence showed me the characteristics he wrote down. For the new office assistant, Gina, Terence wrote: “She likes to laugh, but not because she’s pleased. She gets nervous, and smiles to break her own facial tension.” In his description, Terence made a feeling observation, that Gina was nervous. Think of your Terence. Would he or she benefit from the “Respect over Control” exercise?
On this track, we discussed three aspects of a narcissistic client’s need for manipulation. These three aspects of a narcissistic client’s need for manipulation included: parental attention in early childhood; splitting of the identity; and seduction as power.
On the next track, we will examine three aspects of the narcissistic client’s need to control emotion and the connection to past traumatic experiences. These three aspects of the narcissistic client’s need to control emotion and the connection to past traumatic experiences include: horror; the fear of insanity; and repression of feelings.
What are three aspects of a narcissistic client’s need for manipulation? To select and enter your answer go to .