On the last track, we discussed four degrees of narcissism. The four degrees of narcissism included: phallic narcissism; the narcissistic character; the borderline personality; and the psychopathic personality.
On this track, we will examine three aspects of the lack of feeling in narcissistic clients and their attempts to control their own emotions. These three aspects of the denial of feeling in narcissistic clients include: overt denial; treatment of others; and suppression of emotion.
3 Aspects Regarding Lack of Feelings
Aspect #1: Overt Denial
The first aspect of the lack of feeling in narcissistic clients is overt denial. Clients who overtly deny their feelings may express anger or sadness, but do not connect these emotions with actual physical expressions. A client who becomes embroiled in an argument may shout, but when asked what he or she is angry about, he or she may respond, "Who’s angry?" They may perceive their shouting as justified as a necessity by saying "People weren’t really listening. I had to get their attention."
Others may deny their own actions or need to impress by passing along the guilt to the other person. When confronted with their narcissistic ways, the overtly denying client may stated, "Well, you weren’t recognizing my superiority." In these narcissistic clients, the action is dissociated from the feeling or impulse and justified by the image.
Brad, age 23, constantly justified his own emotions, not as emotions, but as rational and logical responses to outside stimuli. When Brad yelled at an employee, I asked him if he was angry when he did this. He stated, "No, I wasn’t angry. That’s just the way to get through to those people. If you don’t make a big fuss and scare them a little, you’ll never get anything done."
In this case, it’s not clear whether or not Brad had actually felt angry, but denied these feelings. Instead, he justified his position with what was to him a logical rationalization. Think of your Brad. In what sense does he or she overtly deny his or her own feelings and emotions?
Aspect #2: Treatment of Others
The second aspect of the lack of feeling in narcissistic clients is the treatment of others. When a client has been successful in completely subverting his or her feelings, he or she finds it near impossible to sympathize with others. As such, these types of clients become ruthless, domineering, and unabated in their ambition for power and control. Their image of themselves has completely overtaken their actual sense of self.
Although their behavior may be seen as selfish and diabolical, the clients are no easier on themselves. They are perpetually setting up standards and driving themselves to these standards. They refuse to give themselves any kind of respite. Narcissistic clients do not see others as humans, because they do not view themselves in human terms. Instead, they are more like a machine, performing tasks and reaching goals, all in the pursuit of feeding the image.
Harry, age 34, had already developed a reputation for being a ruthless defense lawyer, willing to defend the most shocking of crimes as long as the money was good. His reputation included a disregard for the victims at hand and an uncanny method of manipulating the courts to his own devices. Recently, Harry had procured a six-month sentence for a confessed rapist. He stated, "I know most of my clients are guilty, but they aren’t paying me to put them in jail! It’s not like I like these people, they’re just a means to an end."
When I asked about justice for the victims, he stated, "These are just people in the wrong place at the wrong time. They gripe about what happened to them, but I know it’s all an act. Given a chance and the capabilities, they would have probably done the same crime as my clients." Harry’s narcissism would not allow him to feel any remorse for the victims of crimes. His loyalties lay with the person who could best provide him with the means to success. Think of your Harry. How does he or she interact with others?
Aspect #3: Suppression of Emotion
In addition to overt denial and treatment of others, the third aspect of the lack of feeling in narcissistic clients is the suppression of emotion. Suppression differs from the denial of emotion in that the client has emotionally deadened him or herself to the world through an active force of will. One way of inhibiting feelings is through the inhibition of bodily movement. Such tension produces a rigidity in the body and a partial deadness.
Because this rigidity is associated with the suppression of feeling, one can tell which feelings are being suppressed by studying the pattern of tension. A constricted throat, for instance, prevents deep sobbing and helps the person suppress sadness. Stiff shoulders diminish the intensity of an angry reaction.
Victoria, age 25, had very apparent movement restrictions. She had regulated her breathing and spine in such a way as to give a statuesque appearance. Victoria owned a chain of boutiques which were noted for their quality and style. Because of this, Victoria constantly projected an image of a perfectly engineered woman, just as her clothes were perfectly engineered. She stated, "If I don’t look good in the clothes, my clients won’t think they will either."
But her bodily restriction had another function. Besides helping her project her image, the rigidity of her movements had long suppressed the pain and sadness surrounding her childhood. Sexually abused as a child, Victoria had learned to emotionally detach herself from her body through the constant regulation of breath and movement. Without letting go of her rigidity, she would find it increasingly difficult to rediscover her emotions. Think of your Victoria. What emotion is his or her body language suppressing?
Technique: Letting Go
To help clients like Victoria release their stronghold on their bodies and emotions, I suggest they try "Letting Go" exercises. This technique involves prescribing certain physical and stress-relieving activities in order to counteract the muscle restriction they have developed over the years. Each client, depending on what muscles they are restricting, is given different exercises. Because Victoria regulated her breathing, I gave her a breathing exercise that I encouraged her to use every night. Also, I suggested she join a yoga class to help move her spine and unleash the tension within it.
At first, Victoria was reluctant. I stated, "The stress you are building up will eventually affect your health and appearance in the future. By not exercising your spinal column, you leave yourself open to fractures and head braces. Restrictive breathing reduces the amount of oxygen to your cells and subsequently the cells in your skin. You can begin to look haggard and older than you already are. If you truly value your appearance for the sake of your boutiques, this is the most beneficial course."
By appealing to her value system, I was able to convince Victoria to try the "Letting Go" exercises which subsequently will allow her opportunities to feel her emotions again. Think of your Victoria. What exercises would you recommend to him or her in order to release the flood gates of emotion?
On this 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.
On the next 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.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Afek, O. (2019). Reflections on Kohut’s theory of self psychology and pathological narcissism—Limitations and concerns. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 36(2), 166–172.
Sherwood, V. R. (1990). The first stage of treatment with the conduct disordered adolescent: Overcoming narcissistic resistance. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 27(3), 380–387.
Sleep, C. E., Sellbom, M., Campbell, W. K., & Miller, J. D. (2017). Narcissism and response validity: Do individuals with narcissistic features underreport psychopathology? Psychological Assessment, 29(8), 1059–1064.
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