Self-realization - freely and spontaneously being “ourselves”
somewhere in chapter 3: When the experience of oneself as primordial presence is complete, this presence is coemergent with the body.
When we know what we want, and see that our desires authentically reflect who and what we are, our self-esteem improves, and we find ourselves enjoying truly human interactions. The more effortlessly secure we are in being ourselves, the more we can afford to open up to others, and the more we can naturally act with generosity and magnanimity. Then we are able to feel more in touch with our humanity, and more willing to be kind and sensitive to others; loving becomes a joy and giving a gift.
However, the moment we feel insecure in our sense of ourselves, the moment we sense that we are not centered in what and who we are, this whole picture reverses. A heavy darkness descends on our experience; we cease to be open or generous, and we find ourselves forgetting our humanity. We begin to feel self-centered and self-conscious, and we become anxiously and egotistically concerned about ourselves. An obsessiveness over how we appear to others develops, and we find ourselves needing an unusual amount of admiration, approval, and recognition. Our self-esteem turns extremely fragile, and we find ourselves unusually vulnerable to feeling hurt and insulted over the slightest lack of understanding or empathy. Our sense of ourselves grows shaky and, rather than coming form within, depends upon feedback from others, making us defensive. Our actions and expressions tend to become false, inauthentic, and reactive, making it difficult to know what authentic action would really be. Without a spontaneous and free sense of who we are, we can only feel empty and unimportant; our lives will lack meaning or significance. Rather than experiencing a sense of value and esteem, we find ourselves feeling worthless and ashamed; rather than enjoying our interactions and activities, we find ourselves beset by anger, rage and envy; instead of being generous and magnaminous, we slide towards exploiting and devaluing others.
In this book we refer to the first condition – that of freely and spontaneously being ourselves – as self-realization. […this has been the concern … of many of the world’s spiritual teachings.]
The second condition – the condition of not feeling centered in oneself, or authentic and free enough to be oneself – involves many of the characteristics that are usually ascribed to narcissism. [Psychology tends to focus more on the pathological manifestations.]
When the soul is caught up in rigid identifications and relations with others and the world, it is not satisfied. In every soul there is an inherent drive toward truth, an inherent desire to feel fulfilled, real and free. Although many people are not able to pursue this desire effectively, the impetus toward the realization of the self is in all of us; it begins with the first stirrings of consciousness and continues throughout life whether or not we are directly aware of it. This impetus spontaneously emerges in consciousness as an important task for the psychologically and spiritually maturing human being. As maturity grows into wisdom in an optimally developing person, this task gains precedence over other tasks in life, progressively becoming the center that orients, supports and gives meaning to one’s life, ultimately encompassing all of one’s experience.
In self-realization our experience of ourself is a pure act of consciousness. We know ourselves by directly being ourselves. All self-images have been rendered transparent, and we no longer identify with any construct in the mind. There is no reactivity to past, present or future. There is no effort to be ourselves. There is no interference with our experience, no manipulation, no activity – inner or outer – involved with maintaining our identify; we simply are.
We are able to respond, feel, think, act – but from a purely spontaneous and authentic presence. We are not defensive, not judging ourselves, nor trying to live up to any standard. We may also be silent, empty, or spacious. We do not have to DO anything to be ourselves. We are whole, one, undivided. It is not the wholeness of the harmony of parts, but the wholeness of singlehood. We are one. We are ourselves. We are being. We simply are.
…[an] experience of self-awareness does not necessarily mean that there was no conscious or unconscious image in the mind, or that there were no memories. Images, memories, and associations can be present or not (the usually are), but they do not determine one’s experience of oneself.
What is presence? What is Essence? The self can experience itself either purely and immediately, or through memories and structures created by past experience. When it is seeing itself directly, it is aware of itself in its primordial purity, without veils, without obscurations. It recognizes this pure condition as its ontological nature. This primordial purity or ontological nature is recognized as the self’s ultimate truth. So we say the self has an essence. The central proptery of this Essence, or true nature, is that it is an actual ontological presence. Presence is the essence of the self, just as protoplasm is the essence of the body.
What is identity? As we saw in Chapter 2, one of the most significant characteristics of the soul is that it can identify with the content of experience. It can take any impression, for example self-image, and make itself believe that that impression is itself. It can also take a part of the psychological structure and believe it to be the whole of itself. Identifying with an impression or content of experience makes the self feel that it has an identity, and through this identity it then recognizes itself. Our personal history, constituted by our memories, comprises the basic content of our usual identity. This identification with the personal history provides a feeling of self-recognition, a sense of identity, or a sense of self. So in experiencing itself through the veil of memories, the soudl not only loses sight of its primordial purity – its essence – but also identifies itself through and with this veil of personal history. …
For now we will simply say that the soul can identify with any dimension of experience – presence, physical body, feelings and emotions, or impressions and images originating from the past. It can identify with its essential nature or with memories, or with specific parts of these memories, or with organized structures of these memories. So the experiential identity of the self can be essential presence – which is known in the present – or it can be another, more superficial, dimension of its experience, which is usually determined by the past.
In narcissism, the experience of the self is disconnected from its core, from the depths of what it is. It is estranged from its true nature, exiled from its primordial home. The soul’s estrangement from its true nature is the basis of narcissism. (Here, we are using the term narcissism in the colloquial sense, similar to what is referred to as narcissistic disturbance in psychoanalytic terminology. After we present our general account of self-realization and narcissism we will be able to use more precise terminology.)
Narcissism involves identifying with any level of the experience of the self at the expense of its essential presence. In this context, several insights about narcissism arise:
Since narcissism is present when the self is identified with anything other than essential presence, whenever we identify with a dimension of experience superficial to our essential presence, we are bound to acquire narcissistic traits. Therefore if we identify with th ebody, emotions or any mental content, we will experience some narcissistic qualities.
As has been amply demonstrated by object relations theory, since all ego structures are based on identifications with impressions from the past, it is clear that the experience of ego cannot be devoid of narcissism. Thus the conventional dimension of experience, which is deeply patterned by these structures (whether healthy or pathological), includes an instrinsic narcissism. Everyone knows that he has some measure of selfishness, self-reference, a need to be seen and appreciated, a deep wish for esteem and admiration from others, and some distortion in his self-concepts. Although we are accustomed to thinking of these traits as normal, they are in fact narcissistic phenomena. They are universal to all nonrealized individuals, reflecting the fundamental narcissism that is the result of not knowing oneself on a deep level. This is what we call the “narcissism of everyday life” or “fundamental narcissism.”
When a person is working on self-realization, this narcissism is increasingly exposed; in fact, it is usually aggravated for some time. When we approach the dimension of essential presence we inevitably confront the narcissism inherent in our disconnection from that presence. The success of the work on self-realization depends, to a great degree, upon successfully resolving the arousal and intensification of narcissistic manifestations. The narcissism of everyday life is much more ubiquitous, much deeper, an dmuch more significant than we usually allow ourselves to see. However, it dissolves steadily in the deeper stages of self-realization. Full self-realization completely eliminates this narcissism, for it is not natural to the realized self.
…[there are degrees of narcissism, the more superficial the dimension identified with, the more severe the manifestations of narcissism.]
Pathological narcissism … is basically a severe form of the narcissism of everyday life. … The personality is crystallized around its disconnection from the depths of the soul.
The state of wholeness and beingness characteristic of the infant’s primary self-realization is related to the condition that Sigmund Freud termed “primary narcissism.” He believed that the experience of the infant is dominated by primary narcissism, in which there is little differentiation between self and other, and between the various parts and impressions of the self. It is a state of primary perfection and bliss. He writes in his groundbreaking paper, “On Narcissism: An Introduction”:
The primary narcissism of children … is less easy to grasp by direct observation than to confirm by inference from elsewhere. If we look at the attitude of affectionate parents towards their children, we have to recognize that it is a revival and reproduction of their own narcissism, which they have long since abandoned…. Thus they are under a compulsion to ascribe every perfection to the child…. The child shall have a better time than his parents; he shall not be subject to the necessities which they have recognized as paramount in life. Illness, death, renunciation of enjoyment, restrictions on his own will, shall not touch him; the laws of nature and of society shall be abrogated in his favor; he shall once more really be the center and core of creation – ‘His Majesty the Baby,’ as we once fancied ourselves.
Freud’s description highlights the sense of perfection, freedom, pleasure, and power that the baby experiences, which Freud considered mostly unrealistic and delusional. We postulate, however, that the parents’ responses to the infant reflect an awareness of the actual qualities of perfection and bliss in the infant’s state. These qualities actually appear in the experience of self-realization, but in self-realization we experience them within the realistic, discriminating intelligence of the mature adult. … Initially, at the beginning of life, the ego and the id are undifferentiated from one another.
Looking at this transformation from the perspective of the stages of ego development identified by psychologists such as Mahler, we find that the essential presence takes a different form in each of these stages.
Narcissism develops when the soul loses touch with its wholeness, especially as it loses touch with its true nature. The soul loses awareness of its wholeness through the loss of the immediacy of experience, which results from experiencing itself through past impressions. The loss of immediacy is identical with the loss of awareness of presence, and since presence is the “glue” that unifies all aspects of experience, wholeness is gone. The baby loses her primary self-realization (and her primary narcissism) as she begins to experience herself as an object.
An increasing veil composed of memories (and reaction-induced results or consequences) intervenes between the subject – the self – and the object. This duality gradually transforms the infant’s experience in such a way that she ultimately loses her identification with the sense of presence. As the infant develops an identity situated in dimensions of experience superficial to her essential presence, she loses her capacity to simply be herself. In a sense, rather than actually losing this capacity, the infant simply forgets it as she gradually finds herself reacting to and maniupulating her experience, and becoming increasingly alienated from her true nature. Thus, the loss of contact with her true identity involves the loss of the sense of the perfeection and wholeness of the self.
The four forms of narcissism we have identified in our work are:
Oral narcissism, which results from disturbances in the first few months of life (including the prenatal period), but mostly in the stages that Mahler defines as the autistic and symbiotic stages of ego development. The true self related to this form of narcissism is the unified dynamic soul, the nondual presence. We believe that Otto Kernberg emphasizes this level in his theory of narcissism, which probably reflects the population of individuals he treats. Its manifestations tend to be more primitive than the other types of narcissism, reflecting origins in the oral stage. When this type of narcissism dominates a person’s structure, she will tend to manifest severe structural difficulties of the borderline kind. Intense oral rage and envy, as well as insatiable hunger for primitive forms of narcissistic supplies, are the external manifestations of the hidden, empty and powerless self.
Central narcissism, which results from disturbances in both the differentiation and practicing subphases of the separation-individuation process, spanning the period roughly from seven months to eighteen months, but particularly in the practicing period, and probably extending to the beginning of the rapprochement subphase, up to two years of age. This is the period that most researchers believe to be the specific developmental phase for the narcissistic disorders, which is one reason we call it “central” narcissism. In central narcissism thbe true self from which the soul is alienated is the Essential Identity. This form is the narcissism that Heinz Kohut emphasizes, again probably reflecting the population of patients he treats. It can be severe and intense, but is not as primitive as oral narcissism. It is characterized by fewer borderline features than in the oral type, greater functional capactiy, and an intense need to be special, unique, and constantly mirrored. The idealization of “special” others is a specific trait of central narcissism, as is grandiosity. In contrast, in oral narcissism these characteristics tend to be vague and mixed with various borderline defenses, such as splitting and projective identification.
Individuation narcissism, which results from disturbances mostly in the rapprochement phase of the separation-individuation process, in the second, third, and sometimes fourth, years of life. The true self is the individuation self, the essential form or true self that we have called the Personal Essence. … The narcissistic manifestations are colored by issues of separation-individuation, such as separation anxiety, protection of autonomy, longing for the merged perfection of the symbiotic stage, the rapprochement conflict, and the importance of object relations in the functioning of the self and for self-esteem. [“Rapprochement conflict,” as defined in another Diamond Approach book: Both mother’s reaction to his new behavior, and the child’s fear of losing the separateness and autonomy that he has gained so far, lead to a conflictive relationship to her. This manifests in approach-avoidance behavior. He wants to go to her, be with her, even merge with her, but he is afraid of losing his boundaries and autonomy. So he reacts by avoiding her or pushing her away. This behavior dominates this important subphase, which can last up to 18 months. This rapprochement conflict is usually reenacted in our work, after the Personal Essence is experienced in a sustained manner. The student goes back and forth, from feeling individuated and autonomous, to feelings of longing and yearning for closeness and merging, indicating the wish for mother. It is possible to recognize the conflicts, the feelings and behavior of clinging and demanding, on one hand, and those of separation and avoidance, on the other, in love relations, and in the transference with the teacher, and even with the group We find that every individual, regardless of how integrated he is on the ego level, has an unconscious rapprochement conflict. The conflict is usually resolved in childhood by the child ultimately finding some kind of a compromise between the wish for individuation and the wish for closeness with mother.]
Oedipal narcissism, which results from disturbances in the oedipal stage of psychosexual development, extending from the beginning of the fourth to the end of the fifth, and possibly extending to the sixth year. The true self is the libidinal self, or the passionate-erotic self, which manifests, and can integrate, the essential aspects of Passionate and Affectionate Love, in which the erotic element is inseparable from the love.
Quote from Ibn Arabi:
There is nothing but a rational soul, but it is intelligent, reflective, imagining, remembering, form-giving, nutritive, growth-producting, attractive, expulsive, digestive, retentive, hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling, and feeling.
Quote from a book by Jacobson:
“From the ever-increasing memory traces of pleasurable and unpleasurable instinctual, emotional, ideational, and functional experiences and of perceptions with which they become associated, images of the love objects as well as those of the bodily and psychic self emerge. Vague and variable at first, they gradually expand and develop into consistent and more or less realistic endopsychic representations of the object world and of the self.”
It is this concept of the self-representation which plays the greatest role in the various psychological theories of narcissism. Psychoanalytic theory uses the term narcissism in a neutral sense. There is normal (healthy) narcissism, and then there is pathological narcissism. Hartmann defined narcissism as the libidinal investment (cathexis) of the self-representation. Healthy narcissism results from a well-integrated, harmonious, and realistic self-representation being invested with positive energy or libido. Narcissistic disturbance or unhealthy narcissism, occurs when there is a problem with the libidinal investment of the self in terms of either the adequacy of the investment or the quality of the energy invested, and/or in the quality of integration of the self-representation. In simple terms, an individual is narcissistically healthy when he has developed a stable self-concept that is realistic, resistant to dissolution or disintegration, with inner harmony and positive self-regard. Pathological narcissism occurs when the self-representation is absent, weak fragmented, disintegrated, or unrealistic, or when it is particularly vulnerable to such disturbances. Hence, as Stolorow writes, in giving his functional definition of narcissism, “mental activity is narcissistic to the degree that its function is to maintain the structural cohesiveness, temporal stability and positive affective coloring of the self-representation.”
…The individual’s sense that he (including his body) is fragmenting makes this experience terrifying. The very least fearful scenario would be that he is uncertain whether or not the self (or body) is fragmenting.
This graphically illustrates that in conventional experience we do not discriminate the self from the self-representation. We feel, think, and behave as if we are the self-representation.
… The general view is that the development of the self-representation is inseparable from the development of the self, and is a major component of it. This is true; the problem, however, is that the self-representation is usually equated with the self. In fact, from the perspective of self-realization, identification with the self-image is actually the most fundamental cause of the difficulty in being authenically ourselves.
The presence is the center of the self, from which all creativity, initiative and action arise. This centeredness gives us the sense of purpose and orientation, and the changing forms provide the specific motives for action; that is, our action is based spontaneously on love, compassion, truth, intelligence, and so on. We might have ideals, but they are not what orient or drive our action. When we act out of love it is not because of an ideal that loving action is good. We are bound to act, for good or ill, but when presence manifests in us, in the pure quality of love for instance, we act spontaneously out of this love. We act and create naturally out of love, the way a flower blooms in response to water and sun. We act without self-conscious premeditation, without reflecting on our action to bolster our self-esteem. We cannot help but act out of the arising quality of our essence, with an innate intelligence. There is an ease and equanimity about the whole affair. Our actions have a self-existing sense of value and fulfillment, because they are true to our nature.
In contrast, when the self is not in direct contact with its true center, it develops a center which is a psychic structure. …
For instance, a person might have the objective of becoming a painter. Becoming a painter will involve many things he has never experienced, but the ambition is shaped by the way he believes he will feel, the responses he thinks he will receive, the impressions and influences he expects to make on others, and so on. These are determined or informed by his past experience. His objective and the values he attaches to it become an ideal.
He then experiences hope, which initiates desire for the ideal. This desire is an important element in psychological activity. It is the actual manifestation of the psychological drive. In other words, ambitious striving includes desire, which implies hope. Without hope there would be no desire.
Both hope for a future objective and desire for this objective imply that we experience the condition of the self at the present as not completely satisfactory. This discontent, subtle or gross, conscious or unconscious, constitutes a rejection of the present state of teh self. When there is complete acceptance of one’s present state, there is no desire and no need for hope. The subtle current of rejecting activity is based on the images which we have of ourselves, and the ideal images that we are trying to actualize. This condition can be conscious, but it is usually an unconscious and implicit undercurrent of the psychological activity of the self.
The psychological activity which is the dynamic center of the ego-self is composed, then, of desire that implies both hope and rejection, and its content is determined by our self-images and ideal images. Thus, the main components of ego activity are hope, desire and rejection.
We have now differentiated four categories of self-experience: self (or soul), entity, individuality, and identity. Soul is the totality of the human being, primordially a wholeness. In self-realization we recognize it as the experiencing consciousness. In the dimension of conventional experience the soul experiences itself as an entity. This sense of entity is the basis of the self experiencing itself as an individuality. The self, as an individuality, can recognize itself directly because it posses an identity, which it experiences as the feeling of identity. These concepts are the basic and most general pattersn of teh experience of teh self in the dimension of conventional experience. They are the primary experiences, or psychic structures, of the normal self. We have delineated them so precisely because such precision is necessary for completely understanding narcissism and self-realization.
Identification is a process that can possess the self so completely that we believe, for all practical purposes, that we are the content we are identifying with. Not only do we believe we are the content, we also live as if we are this content. For example, if a woman identifies with an image of being ugly, she will feel ugly, believe she is ugly, and behave as if she is ugly. She will have this complex of experiences even if she is actually beautiful according to others’ perceptions of her. When we are identified with a certain content, such as an image, state, or function, we are not capable of perceiving ourselves apart from this content.
…a person’s experience of herself will be largely mental if she is alienated from her emotions or is not in touch with her body. If a person is more identified with her feelings, she will feel most “herself” when concerned with them, and may not be identified with or even interested in what is happening on intellectual or physical levels. Thus, the sense of “I” of a given character may have a typical or habitual location, so to speak. Of course, on emay at different times locate the sense of “I” in different realms of experience, including dimensions of essential presence.
…In the experience of “no self,” … when one experiences the identity as absent, one may also feel that one doesn’t recognize oneself…. In initial experiences one is also likely to feel uncentered, lost, disoriented, not knowing which way to go or what to do, or even the sense of not being able to do anything. Clearly, this phenomenon is different from loss of memory, although that might also result in loss of the feeling of identity. It is more a sense of loss of a psychological self-reference. Losing the sense of self-recognition disturbs the element we depend on to know what to do and what direction to take in life; hence, we may feel disoriented and lost. How can we discern a meaningful direction or action if we do not know ourselves? Actions, plans and goals are meaningful only in relation to one’s identity. So loss of identity is bound to manifest, at least comethings, as disorientation and lack of direction. There is a common expression for this state – we say we are “not feeling centered.”
…she is not in her life, because she does not know herself in any depth.
This precarious situation places her in the position of having always to protect and defend her identity, to try constantly to strengthen and maintain the cohesiveness, stability and positive affective coloring of her sense of herself, and to seek external supports to shore up her identity. These maneuvers usually manifest as exaggerated self-reference, a sense of self-importance, and preoccupation with her self-esteem and value, as she attempts to counteract the fragility of her identity and the associated sense of insignificance. She might have a strong need to be seen, appreciated, and admired, because a shaky identity needs an inordinate amount of attention to support and stabilize it. She may feel a sense of uniqueness, and entitlement to special attention. her conception of herself might thus become grandiose. Such grandiosity is both an expression of the unreality of her identity and a way to cover up the underlying sense of deficiency and worthlessness. Another way her narcissistic disturbance might manifest is in her seeking relationships with people whom she can idealize, as she attempts to meet her need for external support from a “perfect” object which reflects her grandiose self-image.
What causes the identity to develop as weak, shaky, and distorted? What is the structural phenomenology of a disturbed identity? …
[Alice] Miller associates the vulnerabilities of identity with an individual’s identification with a false or incomplete self-representation. To put it precisely, the identity is vulnerable because it’s based on a false or incomplete self-representation. Also, since identity is a part of the self-representation, its disturbances involve both how faithful the representation is to the actual self, and the extent to which the self identifies with the representation.
When we are alienated from our essential presence – that is, when we are narcissistic – we are inevitably alienated also from the quality of Value. We are disconnected from our sense of innate value by the mere fact that our identity is situated in the conventional dimension of experience. This alienation from Value becomes apparent when the manifestations of central narcissism begin to approach our consciousness. We become aware of the lack of Value inherent in our normal sense of identity as this identity becomes transparent and is revealed as empty.
…Because [the Essential Identity was not seen during childhood] and was thus alienated, its development is incomplete in this respect. In the course of approaching or integrating the Essential Identity, the student feels urgently the need to complete this development. He feels that he wants to be seen, and to be seen with admiring eyes, and to be seen for who and what he truly is. It is a specific dimension of himself that needs mirroring.
The fullness and richness of the essential core constitutes the true source and substance of most of the self’s qualities: its Love, Pleasure, Satisfaction, Value, Intelligence, Strength, Will, and Nourishment. The development of the self is an expression of the optimizing force of its Being, in which its essential potential unfolds and expresses itself, in part, in unique and real individuality of the self. Thus, the psychic being, the self or soul, actualizes its potential as beingness while functioning in the world of humanity. The process of development of the true individuality … includes the process of ego development. This process involves the properties and capacities of the self, both essential capacities and what ego psychology calls ego functions, in developing the self into a sense of being a real person.
… The self cannot see through or beyond its concepts of itself or the world.
A person who engages in spiritual inquiry does not at the beginning expect to have her perception of herself and the world entirely and radically changed. However, in the transformation from one’s normal identity, which might involve some experiences of essential realities, to recognizing oneself as the essential nature, many assumptions inherent in the conventional world view must be seen through.
One such assumption, for instance, is that a human being is an entity fundamentally separate from other entities, which are also fundamentally separate from each other. Another, related, assumption is that the dimension of solid physical reality is the most – or even the only – fundamentally real existence. Another assumption is that one’s concepts about the world, about other people, and about oneself are actually objective, accurate representations.
[Because they often talk about “going beyond the mind” or “surrendering to God,”] so many spiritual teachings seem to distrust or devalue intellect. Their attitude toward the mind does not actually reflect a devaluation of the mind per se, but reflects a recognition that conceptualization can support the alienation from the true nature of the self, the nonconceptual essential presence. This is why these traditions emphasize “no-mind,” nonconceptual reality, surrender of one’s beliefs and identity, and so on.
[The student] might experience a deep hurt about not being seen, because experiencing essential presence involves experiencing a part of himself that is actually not seen yet by anyone. This situation tends to activate the old hurt about not having been seen in the past. In this example the spiritual practice – which focuses on the fundamental factors – activates issues arising from environmental influences, which the practice is not designed to deal with. It is true that if the individual in this case were completely successful in applying the spiritual practice, he would be able to transcend the arising difficulties. If he were no longer identified with any childhood self-representation, he would not have an issue about separation from the mother. So if his practice is deep enough, he will be able to experience the essential presence without this issue arising. However, how many people can apply a spiritual practice with complete success from the beginning? In our opinion, it is just this sort of scenario that makes people unable to pursue many traditional spiritual paths. in this example the separation anxiety will almost certainly not be felt consciously or understood, but might be acted out, say, in the person deciding that it’s really more important to pursue a relationship with a lover than to do this practice, which really doesn’t have enough emphasis on love anyway.
When the important people in [the child’s] life do not see him he may feel alone and isolated, as if he is from a different species. He may feel unwelcome, or not “at home.” He may feel unimportant and insignificant, wondering, “Why won’t they see me?” But most of all, his arising sense of identity remains unrecognized and unconfirmed, and as a result he will most likely doubt it himself. Even if he manages to know and see himself in some way, he will feel totally alone because his identity – who and what he truly is – is not seen. This state of aloneness is too intolerable for a child, so he has to find a way to avoid it. Most of the time, the way to do this is to be something that the parents can see and will respond to.
The child’s need to be seen includes his external manifestations: his actions, feelings, expressions, preferences, capacities, accomplishments, motives, and their observable qualities. When any of these elements is not recognized or appreciated by the important people in a child’s life, he is likely to become alienated from these elements. This factor in narcissistic disturbance is recognized by depth psychology.
… Thus, almost everyone grows up alienated from his essential presence, for who has parents who can see Essence? Most parents do not see their child’s essence because they are not aware of their own essential presence. This is probably the most significant environmental factor in the development of narcissism. In other words, the child becomes narcissistic because his parents are subject to the narcissism of everyday life.
[If the child is not both seen AND related to, he] is likely to end up believing that there is something fundamentally wrong with him. Most children blame themselves for not being related to and end up hating the most precious element in themselves. They strive to develop those aspects of the self that are seen and appreciated. Thus, the child’s self develops empty of its center and essence, identifying only with his external manifestations. This is his fake identity.
The narcissistic constellation
The disconnection of the self from its essential presence manifests as a profound and deep wound to the self. It is as if the very core of the self is yanked out from within it. This is the specific narcisstic wound, the hurt that expresses the pain of this fundamental loss, and reflects the actual state of loss. All of the factors which contribute to narcissism, compounded by the self turning away from its connection with essential presence, lead to this narcissistic wound. Centrally, the narcissistic wound is caused by the decathexis of the Essential Identity.
Alienation from the Essential Identity leads to the loss of the profound sense of value and preciousness intrinsic to the sense of one’s identity with Being. Value is a quality of Being which, when lost, leads to a loss of self-esteem. When we are in touch with Being, self-esteem is experienced as an intrinsic feature of the self, as part of one’s inalienable human inheritance. The wound of the loss of value is intimately associated with the narcissistic wound.
The alienation from the Essential Identity results in narcissistic emptiness. This feels like a deficient emptiness, the specific deficiency being the feeling of absence of the sense of self. It is the loss of identity. instead of clear and definite self-recognition, the person feels an emptiness, a phenomenological nothingness, with an accompanying sense of no identity. She feels that her self is missing. This deficient emptiness makes her feel lost, with no center, no orientation, no purpose, no meaning.
A typical reaction to this deficient emptiness comes in the form of superego attacks. One feels one is worthless, not important, not good enough, or perhaps fake. The deficient emptiness is the feeling of having no self, which can feel like a lack of center or orientation. When this emptiness is arising, superego reactions … might arise as resistances to directly experiencing the deficiency. These reactions are partly due to disconnection from the value of Being. A healthy reaction at this point might be the sense of remorse of conscience, for failing to be authentic.
The emptiness and the wound make up one structure, the emptiness-wound. The emptiness and the wound are intertwined elements of narcissistic alienation. The emptiness-wound is where the hurt and vulnerability are felt. In experiencing the lack of all other aspects of Essence, one generally experiences both the emptiness and the hurt about its lack or loss, but emptiness and hurt are experienced separately. Only in the loss of contact with the Essential Identity does one experience the hurt and emptiness inseparable from each other, as two elements of the same felt state.
Reactions to this inquiry include narcissistic rage, envy, and depression. The rage has specific narcissistic features, such as lack of empathy and a sense of entitlement. These affects have a function in the overall narcissistic development, which we will discuss later.
The narcissistic injury, that is, the emptiness-wound and its various associated affects and reactions, is covered over by the self-identity, through the identification with self-images and their associated affects. The overall structure of the self-identity is sometimes experienced as a shell around the deficient emptiness. This shows very clearly that the experience of being an empty shell – which is reported frequently by individuals suffering from narcissism – refers to the psychic structure of self-identity, and that th eemptiness inside this shell is the direct consequence of the alienation from the Essential Identity.
One does not usually experience the shell directly as a shell; if she did, she would be aware of the deficient emptiness. The more she becomes aware of the truth of her identity, the more likely she will become aware that she is a shell, and the more aware she will become of the emptiness. The usual experience of what we are calling the shell is the sense of self characterized by a specific feeling of identity. Because of the normal feeling of identity, the ordinary individual is not directly aware of her fundamental narcissism. As she becomes aware of her fundamental narcissism, she will recognize that her feeling of identity is based on a structure which she can perceive directly as an empty shell. This will usually make her feel phony or fake.
The more narcissistic the person, in other words, the greater the distance from Essential Identity – indicating greater narcissistic injury in childhood – the more her identity is based on the grandiose self.
We call the totality of the self-images the shell, because the sense of being a shell-like structure surrounding an empty space is a very common way that people experience the normal identity as it becomes conscious. Normally, of course, this structure is unconscious; one doesn’t experience the shell as a shell, one simply experiences a sense of identity. For most people, this shell is not a grandiose self; it’s just a sense of identity. For the narcissistic personality, the sense of identity is a grandiose self because the grandiose component self-representations dominate the sense of identity.
However, we must not forget that the shell is nothing but the soul itself, the actual self identifying itself through representations and hence patterning itself according to past experiences. it is the self structuring itself largely according to the parts of itself recognized and related to by the parents, and the environment in general. The empty shell results when the consciousness disavows the core of the self and identifies with the surface of who it is.
[A student tends to relate to his teacher as an idealized selfobject, quoted from Kohut:] “Since all bliss and power now reside in the idealized object, the child feels empty and powerless when he is separated from it and he attempts, therefore, to maintain a continuos union with it.” The student believes, at least unconsciously but often consciously, that his teacher posseses perfection and greatness. This perception is based not on reality but on his own narcissistic needs. He does not question this image of his teacher, believing it to be true, and feels blessed and fortunate to have such an extraordinary teacher. He cannot help but adore his teacher, believing him to be the best thing that has ever appeard on the earth. His mind might be somewhat incredulous of the intensity of his love and admiration, but his feelings are completely convincing.
Kohut believes that the reactivation of the relationship to the idealized selfobject is necessary to enable the individual to resume the development that was arrested at the stage when it was actually needed.
“Under optimal circumstances the child experiences gradual disappointment in the idealized object – or expressed differently: the child’s evaluation of the idealized object becomes increasingly realistic – which leads to a withdrawal of the narcissistic cathexis from the imago of the idealized self-object and to their gradual (or, in the oedipal period, massive but phase-appropriate) internalization, i.e., to the acquisition of permanent psychological structures, which continue endopsychically, the functions which the idealized self-object had previously fulfilled.”
This describes the development of the structure of the self related to guiding ideals, one of the main poles of the bipolar self.
[A description of an experience by a student:]
“In the context of my personal life I was working through deep barriers to sustaining the work in the face of the narcissistic catastrophe of losing my intimate relationship. At the same time in my relationship to you and the group I was feeling strongly that I did not want to depend on you or the work for guidance and support for my process, although I was clearly aware that this dependence did exist. I needed you and my friends to see and support where I was. But this need was hard to tolerate.
In this meeting you were talking about mirroring. I had been passionately exploring the question of what is mirroring really. What’s it for? In the course of sitting there listening to you I became very heavy, depressed, leaden. I felt alone, abandoned. I might as well be dead. No life, no love. I just completely surrendered to that state. Profound depression and heaviness. A big lump of dead rock. But in the back of my mind I am listening to you and really wondering about mirroring. Then in a moment I saw it. I saw what is really happening when a mother sees a baby. The insight was, what is seeing and what is being seen are the same thing. No boundary; the intense golden love and the seeing together. The room was transformed into this beautiful golden structure. It is the essential reality seeing itself. Even if the mother doesn’t know it, even if it will be forgotten and lost, at this moment the mother’s seeing and love makes possible this powerful structure of light and love.
Then to my amazement, for a long time afterward the dominant state was teh felt sense of the Diamond Will, immovable, unaffectable, immense, but at the same time direct and simple. In intimate situations with a friend I could feel I was in a much deeper place than my friend, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t need my friend to be where I was, and didn’t feel the usuall narcissistic hurt that I wasn’t seen. I felt completely free to be myself whether there was support and mirroring or not."
… The need of the typical student to be seen and appreciated by his teacher is part of his normal relationship with her. All people have this need in their important relationships. The mirror transference is a more intense manifestation of this normal need. It may occur in any significant relationship, but inevitably develops in the student in his relation to the teacher, as the narcissistic constellation approaches consciousness. He starts increasingly to feel the intense need to be seen, recognized, understood, related to, admired, and appreciated. He wants her to see him as special and unique. He wants the teacher to be accurately attuned and empathic to where he is. he comes to realize how much he wants her to give him special attention and love, and how sensitive he is to whether she is giving it to him or not.
This may manifest as an overt tendency to brag … or as a passive sensistivity to the presence or absence of recognition and approval from the teacher. It may take the form of the outright demand to be seen and acknowledged consistently or in a special way, or as increased sensitivity to imperfections in the teacher’s perception of, and feedback to him. At this juncture, then, the needs of the student to be seen, related to, understood, valued, and admired as precious, special, and unique, with empathy and attunement, intensify in his relation to his teacher, and become the central thread in his process of understanding himself. He will usually also experience an intensification of these narcissistic needs in his various significant relationships, but it is in the relation with his teacher that he has the most favorable circumstance for understanding them.
A poetic (but not actually metaphorical) way of describing the need for mirroring is that the human soul feeds on light. This light is awareness, the soul’s clarity about itself. The self needs this nourishment for its growth, development and maturation. When our awareness about ourselves is opening, as in insight, at the moment of that insight there is a quickening, a movement towards integration and development. We also observe that when we don’t understand, when we are not clear about where we are or what is happening to us, there is a lack of movement. The soul will not move from where it is until it completely comprehends, completely sees, where it is.
The soul is a living consciousness, a presence that is pure consciousness, which is characterized ultimately by pure transparency, pure clarity. The various qualities, capacities, and functions of this self will not develop completely until it is able to be those things consciously, with full awareness and clarity. So when we say that the soul feeds on light, we mean that developing a clear and objective recognition and perception of ourselves allows us to realize our capacities. Also, when a part of the self is not recognized, acknowledged, related to, and valued – when it is not positively seen – it will not develop. The element not seen might be a quality of Being, a dimension of mind or feeling, a certain capacity or a way of functioning. When any inherent attribue of the soul is not developed, the soul’s overall development is not harmonious. This highlights the importance of awareness, clarity, and self-recognition, all throughout life and not just in childhood.
[Quote from Pearce:]
“Nature’s imperative is, again, that no intelligence unfolds without a stimulus from a developed form of that intelligence.”
What are the origins of the need for mirroring?
We have observed that the need for mirroring is based on the following three features of the process of the soul’s development:
In order to develop, the soul needs, among many elements, to see and recognize itself.
It is immaterial whether this self-awareness and recognition results from directly seeing oneself or as a result of being seen by an external source.
In early childhood the soul does not possess the capacity for self-reflection. It does not see itself. This is an accepted fact in developmental psychology.
Therefore, the baby needs to be seen in order to grow because he is incapable of seeing himself. The only possibility, then, is to be seen from the outside. This expresses itself as the need for mirroring. The baby needs the environment to mirror him so that he can come to know himself, and for his soul to grow and develop. For this unfolding to occur completely and harmoniously, the baby needs reflection from the pure awareness which is the mirror-like awareness. He needs to be seen with the clear, objective light characterized by the pure spiritual qualities: love, value, openness, compassion, strength, intelligence, joy, satisfaction, peacefulness, and so on. So optimal mirroring is celebrative, appreciative, admiring, empathic, attuned, understanding, and relational, expressing the essential qualities of the mirror-like awareness. It is this awareness that is needed for the mirroring. If it is available then the self has the opportunity to mature naturally, spontaneously, fully, and perfectly.
… At some point, the need for mirroring becomes primarily the need to have mirrored the essence of who one is. This allows integration of essential presence into his direct experience of who he is, his true identity. The need for mirroring focuses on Essential Identity as the student is dealing with the issues of central narcissism, which is due to alienation from the Essential Identity. The need for mirroring and the mirror transference become most distinct and precise as the issues of central narcissism arise. The student is likely to experience the following issues:
The need to be seen and admired, which is characteristic of narcissism in general, becomes more specifically the need to be seen as special and precious.
It is accompanied by the need to be seen and recognized not only as special, but as unique. He wants his uniqueness to be seen and applauded, whether or not this uniqueness is specifically in relation to his qualities and existential traits.
The more extreme his narcissistic alienation is, the more the need for mirroring is not only for specialness and uniqueness, but for grandiose conceptions of them.
… The need for mirroring is a general need of the soul, necessary for it to recognize its manifestations and integrate them into its sense of identity. The mirror transference arises because of the activation of the elements of the self that were inadequately mirrored in the formative years. Since infants receive so little mirroring of their essential nature, when Essence is activated the mirror transference will be triggered. In any helping relationship and in spiritual work in particular, the mirror transference is primarily due to the activation of the Essential Identity. The more pathologically narcissistic the individual is, the more the mirror transference will express itself as the need of the grandiose self (rather than the Essential Identity) to be seen and glorified. Even in narcissistic pathology, however, the mirror transference reflects the activation of the Essential Identity. Since the grandiose self is the central representation in the self-identity structure of the narcissistic personality, and since the deeper need for mirroring of essential elements of the self is subsumed under the mirroring need of the self-identity structure, in the narcissistic personality the grandiose self appropriates this desire for mirroring.
Even when a student is seen accurately, he will feel unseen if this particular structure, his familiar identity, is not recognized or acknowledged. Usually, a person is aware of only a part of what is going on with him. He might be, for example, conscious of some of his thoughts and anxieties but not of his anger, even though it is obvious to others. Unaware of his arrogant and demanding behavior, he might think of himself as a mistreated genius. So when his anger or his arrogance are mirrored back to him, he feels hurt, insulted and not seen, because it is not his anxieties or his genius that are mirrored. His center of awareness, which is associated with his familiar sense of self, is located within a certain region of his structure, and he can thus acknowledge only the feedback reflecting this region. Otherwise, he experiences mirroring as a threat to this identity.
… The student goes through a sequence of experiences, realizations, or discoveries, that make sense as a series. Students seem to traverse these stages in a certain general sequence, although some variations in the order do occur. We will see that this series becomes comprehensible as we understand the structure of self-identity and its relation to the various levels of the experience of the self. The stages of working-through can be listed as follows. Each of these steps involves an arising awareness of a definite phenomenological element in the self-structure or an aspect of Being associated with elements of the true self:
The narcissistic wound
The great betrayal
Narcissistic rage, hatred and envy
Narcissistic emptiness, meaninglessness and pointlessness
Loss of orientation, center and self-recognition
Narcissistic rejection object relation
Selfless inner spaciousness
Helplessness and nondoing
Trust and the need for holding
The ego ideal
The holding loving light
The Essential Identity
Point-diamond, or essential self-recognition and resolution of the need for mirroring
At this point the student literally experiences himself as a hard shell (of various degrees of hardness depending on how defensive he feels) that contains nothing within it. The empty shell feels impoverished, insubstantial, and false. He feels hollow and vacant, as if his body has become a shell of tension with its insides sucked out of it.
We find Mark L. dealing with this painful realization of himself when he comes to his session, feeling a great deal of rage and envy of the teacher whom he sees doing what he likes to do and being authentic in it. He feels that he cannot authentically function on his own, comparing himself to the teacher and feeling incapable. Exploring his rage and feelings of inadequacy, he feels a hardness around his chest. Fear arises, which he tries to choke off because he wants to appear strong. As he sees through his defensive attempts, he becomes aware that the hardness around his chest conceals emptiness within it. He then remembers an incident with his father, a time when he stood up to him and asserted himself about something simple. His father could not tolerate his assertion and attacked him verbally. His mother did not help; in fact, she got angry at him in support of his father. He felt deeply hurt, wounded to the core, but he could not show it. He needed to appear strong. So he went numb in order to deal with the hurt and fear. He disconnected from himself, feeling that there was no support or approval for asserting who he was, and he did not want to lose the approval of his parents or hurt their feelings.
In this session Mark realized that incidents like this caused him to disconnect from himself and to appear different from his actual sense of himself. He then began to experience himself as a hard shell all around his body, not only around the chest. He felt empty, hollow, not present. However, the more he understood the situations that alienated him from his inner core, the sadder he felt.
… [Mark’s process…] … the sense of the empty shell meant that the self he presented was a pretense, a make-believe self created for others to see and approve, like the pretense he had constructed earlier for his parents. He felt humiliated, ashamed and guilty, rejecting the shell in an attempt to get away from the sense of phoniness.
As I helped him to see that juding and rejecting his experience made it difficult to understand the truth of it, he managed to let his experience be, rather than trying to change or avoid it. …
… recognizing the development of this shell as the development of the concept of himself, he realized that the shell was composed of many self-iamges, many of which he had seen before, but a myriad of which were still waiting to be exposed. The more he felt the mental quality of the empty shell, the more he felt separate from it. Many fears and resistances accompanied this process, but Mark finally arrived at the experience of himself as a sense of “I am,” witnessing the shell and its component images. He recognized himself as a brilliant point of light and awareness with an immense potential for experience, free and apart from any past experience or mental concept. He recognized the Essential Identity he had been alientated from and understood that it was exactly what was missing in the emptiness of the shell. This, of course, led him to other affects and memories and further understanding of himself.
This shell, then, is simply the soul, structuring itself through the self-image. It is the self structured by the totality of all self-representations. It includes trying to be a certain way in order to be recognized and loved, but it also includes any image through which we define ourselves. Thus, the shell exists at several levels, depending on what dimension of identity we are aware of. Any definition of ourselves through an image, or through any concept, will at some point be seen as a shell. The moment we know ourselves through the mind, we become a shell. Even an image of the Essential Identity itself can become part of the shell. Any image, arising from any experience, even the experience of self-realization, becomes a shell if it is used by the mind to define who we are in the present. Any memory of Essence, or any spiritual experience, becomes part of the shell if it is used for identity. The shell is the self produced by the mind. It is a mental structure and not beingness in the now.
Understanding this about the shell helps keep us from becoming too discouraged in our process, for after we work through the shell it comes back! We may be liberated from some level of our old identity for some time, but then that sense of fakeness or hollowness will inevitably return. if we look closely at the shell at this later stage, we will see that it has different qualities; it might be softer or harder, have different characteristics or images in it. Some of the self-representations in this shell will be new, resulting from recent experiences, including experiences of Essense or spaciousness. Again the mind is structuring the self through memory. And again we are likely to experience an increased need for mirroring as we attempt to make this shell appear to be a true living identity, not just an image, not just an empty thing. We fear that we will die or disappear as we lose old identities, so there is an intense need for mirroring to confirm our very existence.
There are many resistances against experiencing and acknowledging the shell, some of which are: (a) fear of being nothing, or having nothing, (b) fear that if one looks deeply he will realize that he is not important, not significant, that he does not count, (c) fear that one really is just an empty shell, and (d) shame.
The awareness that the integrity of [the student’s] sense of self is threatened may appear first as a vague feeling of dread. She may feel a general inexplicable anxiety. She may find herself preoccupied with catastrophic fantasies of being injured or harmed, even of fatal accidents. There is usually no rationale in her daily life for such feelings and thoughts, so she tends to dismiss them. She may become concerned about falling ill, and her fantasy might carry her to imagine extremes of illness and destruction with no apparent physical cause. She may start having nightmares about injury, illness, and death. Only an in-depth inquiry into these manifestations can reveal the underlying reasons for this existential dread. Then she can connect it to her work on narcissism; the loss of narcissistic supplies is threatening her in a much deeper and more fundamental way than she believed possible.
If there is to be any possibility of working through the narcissistic constellation, with its impressive array of defensive reactions described here, we must empathically understand these reactions of narcissistic rage, hatred, envy, and jealousy. We must appreciate their defensive function, observe the situations that occasion such reactions, and explore their significance. This process can make it possible to fully experience the narcissistic wound, and thus to open up to the emptiness that leads to the realization of the core of the soul. We may experience the narcissistic wound before the rage, but can experience it fully and understand it completely only when we experience, understand, and metabolize the narcissistic rage.
[Part of a quote from a student:]
“I have been feeling depressed too. Depression aches, hurts, feels painful, pressure in chest. Depression wards off emptiness. Fear of feeling emptiness. Blank emptiness appears at some point. Emptiness feels different than other emptinesses I have experienced. A deficient emptiness, feels like loss, feels alone. There was absolutely nothing in this emptiness. Not hot or cold, no judgment, just neutrality, just is. This is what opened up to the vastness. But I felt a loss.
When asked what was missing I heard from within, ‘me.’ My familiar sense of identity was not in this emptiness."
…the sense of identity gives the self a sense of center, a center of awareness and action. We do observe that one feeling associated with the emptiness is that one has lost one’s center, or does not have a center. This loss of center makes her feel that she does not know how to act, or more specifically, she feels: “I don’t know what to do.” The identity which has given her a center of initiative and the motivation for action seems to be missing. Kohut sees these motivations as ideals and ambitions, but rather than lacking motivation, it is more that the student needs to know who she is in order to take meaningful action. To know what she wants to do, she needs to know herself. This is a central factor in the sense of paralysis from which many extremely narcissistic individuals suffer. These individuals do not accomplist much in their lives; often then cannot find a job or decide on a career because they do not know what it is important for them to do. They do not know what is significant and meaningful for them because they are not in touch with who they are.
…Realizing that her [Beth’s] mother was emotionally a child [and could not provide necessary mirroring], she starts feeling helpless and hopeless about satisfying her needs. This connects Beth with a very deep hatred for her inner child, the child of her childhood, for needing and wanting what she could not get. She understands now how she disowned herself in order to be able to relate to her mother. She rejected her natural need for mirroring because her mother could not satisfy it.
The narcissistic emptiness sheds its deficiency and reveals its truth, as an emptiness that has no sense of self, but is spacious and peaceful. The deficient emptiness is actually nothing but this inner spaciousness, experienced through the judgment of deficiency. The state of no self is actually a pure manifestation of inner spacious reality, Being it is openness, we experience it as empty space, immaculate and pure, light and clean, empty of everything structured by the mind. However, the self reacts to the sense of no self in many ways – as a loss, as a deficiency, and so on, plus the associations, memories, and feelings that go with these interpretations. All this psychic content pervades the inner spaciousness so that we lose sight of its lightness, purity, immaculateness, and freedom. Instead, we feel it as deficient emptiness, dull and flat, heavy and dark.
Only when we allow this emptiness to be, without judgment or rejection, without reaction or opinion, does it shed its obscurations and reveal its inherent truth: the state of no self, the freedom and openness of our Being. We experience ourselves then as a luminous night sky, transparent and pure, light and happy, cool and virginal, deep and peaceful. An emptiness, yes, but a stillness, a silence, where we recognize the absence of the familiar identity as the absence of agitation.
[Quote from Alice Miller:]
“Thus depression can be understood as a sign of the loss of self and consists of a denial of one’s emotional reactions and feelings. This denial begins in the service of an absolutely essential adaptation during childhood, to avoid losing the object’s love.”
The intense ego activity seems, at this juncture, like an alternative to giving up hope and succumbing to this heavy hopelessness. However, some people get stuck in the narcissitic depression – not because they cannot get out of it, but because it functions as a kind of a filler for the narcissistic emptiness. It does feel like a heavy, sticky and thick substance, which some students feel is more tolerable than the stark emptiness. To be depressed is more acceptable than to be nothing at all. As [a student] states in another excerpt:
“The depression came on to ward off the emptiness. As long as I was identified with depression nothing would move. From this arose fear of no protection from the emptiness, the emptiness of just is. There is nothing in the emptiness yet I hear a voice talking.”
Each student encounters this depression in the process of working through the narcissistic sector of the personality. Discovering that one has been living the life of the empty shell brings up a deep hopelessness about living an essentially authentic life.
The ego activity, the voice that still exists in the emptiness in [the student’s] report above, has a more comprehensive function, which is to perpetuate itself; this makes slowing it down extremely difficult. We get a taste of this difficulty in the following report from [another student]:
“In the meeting I asked about physical action and the activity of my mind, and mentioned that I did not know whether to do something or not because I thought it would just reinforce the basic inner activity. Then I realized from our work that the concern is the activity itself, to keep up the activity, and that I was wanting to do something out of rejection of what was happening at the moment.
“When I saw that, the activity slowed down and I began to feel deficient, bad and ashamed about being deficient. I saw that the deficiency was what was behind the inner activity and that this activity was a rejection of the deficiency and an attempt to change it. The deficiency felt larger than I have felt before and I felt suspended. Then, after staying with the deficiency and relaxing my legs a pure experience of Being, Being without attributes, emerged. I felt complete for a second or two then I felt somewhat incomplete, and felt the incompleteness was about not knowing what to do with this sense of Being in my life.
“The activity of my mind began to increase again and the sense of pure Being became less, and the whole cycle began to feel that I just did not know what to do, and that was just a fact, and not a reflection of deficiency on my part. The activity stopped and the sense of pure Being came back more. Then I thought I had the answer now, became interested and desirous of holding onto it to be able to reenact this process. The activity began again.
“You pointed out that we are not incomplete, that we think we are getting something but that is not the case. This insight seemed very significant and like the missing link. It made the whole situation look truly ridiculous.”
The surrender also requires deep and unquestioned trust in truth and in reality in general. It requires an unusual faith or basic trust that if one suspends the activity, everything will be okay, that everything will be taken care of. For most people, this basic trust was eroded because of early parental treatment that failed to give the child the implicit confidence that she would be taken care of without having to manipulate for her environment to provide what she needed.
The inadequacies of the early holding environment made her feel that she cannot just relax and be; she has to take things into her own hands, and make sure that she will be safe and cared for. This orientation manifests in later life as a general distrust of reality. She learns to react instead of being, to manipulate things in an attempt to compensate for inadequate holding, as Winnicott observed some decades ago: “If maternal care is not good enough then the infant does not really come into existence, since there is no continuity of being; instead the personality becomes built on the basis of reactions to environmental impingement.” This reactivity is part of the very structure of the self-identity; the fundamental distrust is one of the deepest motivations for the compulsive activity. Because the self believes that she can trust only her own activity, she is certain that it would be foolish and dangerous to cease this activity. Therefore, the prospect of the cessation of this activity tends to produce a tremendous amount of terror.
Another important factor in the ego activity is that the self is always striving to be a particular way, in order to achieve support. The primary image patterning this activity is the ego ideal. The self tries to approximate a certain ideal, in the hope that if she succeeds, she will be worthy of the support she needs. This ideal is never attained, but the self never tires of trying. Thus, effort is a chronic characteristic of the self-identity structure. This understanding of the ego activity of moulding oneself according to an ideal is similar – but not identical – to Kohut’s formulation of the action arc of the self which is motivated by ideals. Our concept of ego ideal is borrowed from traditional ego psychology, but integrated into our conception of the self.
This lack of basic trust is fundamental to the normal identity. There is no sense that the deeper nature of the universe is good and loving. This basic distrust reflects the ignorance of the knowledge which arises only with self-realization, which is that Being is the fundamental ground of all existence, and that its nature is inherently benevolent. In religious language, this issue is understood as the lack of faith that God exists.
One conflict that arises for most students [at the time of realization that our consciousness is the accumulated consciousness of mankind, and an activity of thought] has to do with influence. Seeing the tremendous influence that is exerted on the mind by the totality of human consciousness may make the student want to escape this influence. The desire to be free becomes connected to old, unresolved object relations, especially those of separation and rapprochement, and manifests as the desire to separate and not be influenced by anyone or any teaching or situation. He might start wanting to isolate himself from people and situations he feels influenced by, like teachings, teachers, institutions, even family. He starts wanting his own mind, his own ideas, his autonomous way of viewing things, believing this will give him the freedom to simply be.
This can become a trap … [because] the issue is not the influence of others, but how this influence is carried to the self. … there is no total freedom of mind as long as one is depending on mind for identity. … freedom … [is] a matter of freedom from mind.
Engaging in any activity – ego manipulation or spiritual technique – in order to put oneself in one state or another can only lead to disconnecting from where one is, which is bound to lead to alienation from presence, for presence is always now. So at this point we need to forget about the conceptualizations of whatever teaching or system we have been following. This is the meaning of the Zen koan, “If you meet the Buddha on the road kill him.” We also need, at this point, to cease any practice or method that includes any effort, orientation, aim, or position. Some theistic traditions call this stage “surrender to God’s will” (in contrast to surrender to God). Traditions which use meditation as the primary spiritual method call it “nonmeditation.”
The approach becomes finding where one is – that is, what happens to be the manifestation of the soul at the moment – and inquiring into it. We simply follow the thread of where we are. This acceptance spontaneously reveals the various facets and dimensions of the soul as a result of the evolutionary optimizing force inherent in the dynamism of our Being. This is the process of spontaneous unfoldment of the potentials of the self naturally revealing its ultimate wholeness. This is a celebrative and appreciative participation in life as the revelation of the mysteries of Being.
The insight that specifically invokes the manifestation of the new dimension is that of seeing, in one’s experience, that freedom from influence does not happen through control of one’s experience or circumstances, but by surrendering to where one is. Where we are is how Being is manifesting itself in the presentations of the self. We discover that what we want is to be truly where we are, whatever Being is presenting in our experience. Joy arises now, as the heart is fulfilled and brimming with the sweetness of love.
We do not simply need to be seen; we need to be seen with admiration, kindness, appreciation, love, precision, clarity, joy, excitement, and so on. These needs are totally met when we start seeing ourselves with these qualities, reflecting the presence of these essential qualities in the mirroring awareness. The clear medium then appears with the beautiful yellow of Joy, reflecting seeing ourselves with sweetness and love; or with th emerald green of Loving Kindness, reflecting seeing ourselves with kindness and sensitivity; or with the deep amber of Value, as we see ourselves with appreciation and esteem; or with the brilliant ruby red of Strength, reflecting seeing ourselves with excitement and aliveness; or with the rich apricot color of Fulfillment, reflecting being fulfilled by seeing ourselves; and so on.
Frequently, a student needs to work on her predominant form of narcissism before she can approach her central narcissism; but she will not be able to effect any deep transformation in it before tackling central narcissism. So the general pattern of the process of working on narcissism is that the student will do some work on the predominant form, then address central narcissism deeply, and after that, return to the first to be able to understand it more completely. This is the general orientation of the process, but we do find variations and deviations from this pattern.
… The Personal Essence is the presence of the self as a person, a human individual with unique qualities and capacities. This person is an ontological presence of pure consciousness.
In contrast, the sense of being a person in the conventional dimension of experience is determined by self-images based on our experience of the body and of object relations. We have discussed Mahler’s descriptions of the development of the normal sense of being a person, in which the ego structure is constructed through the process of separation-individuation. According to Mahler’s model, the sense of being an individual is the outcome of the development of the two ego structures – self-identity and self-entity, as we see in the following passage quote by Marjorie T. White:
“The task to be achieved by the development in the course of the normal separation-individuation process is the establishment of both a measure of object constancy and a measure of self constancy, an enduring individuality as it were. The latter achievement consists of the attainment of the two levels of the sense of identity: (1) the awareness of being a separate and individual entity, and (2) a beginning awareness of a gender-defined self-identity…”
Thus, the ordinary sense of being a person is the experience of the self patterned by the structures that give it the sense of being an individual entity with a particular identity.
The Personal Essense, in contrast, is the sense of being a person independent of ego structures. It is the awareness of presence qualified by personhood. This sense of personhood is independent of one’s personal history; it is a direct recognition of a pure form of Being. This form of Being feels personal, and gives the self the capacity for immediate personal contact. It is an individuated experience of presense, arising from the unique development of the self into a person with essential qualities that provide the self with various capacities, skills, and talents. it is the integration of the development of the self on the essential dimension. The Personal Essence, then, is the essential counterpart to the sense of individuality that Mahler describes as being established through ego development.
From a perspective of self-realization, the Personal Essence is the individuation of the soul. When the self is alienated from this form of Being, it is narcissistically disturbed in relation to individuation, rather than in relation to identity only, as in central narcissism. Thus, there are narcissistic disturbnaces in relation to the sense of being an autonomous individual, in the intregration of the unique individual qualities of the self, and in the integration of its capacties, skills, and talents. The development of individuality, qualities, skills, and talents is not necessarily absent; rather, the integration of this development into one’s sense of identity is disturbed. Issues of self-esteem related to this development are significant in individuation narcissism. This narcissism is an important element of the disturbances of individuation, but not identical to them. Individuation narcissism manifests as the need for support for individuation, and as the need for mirroring of one’s skilla and capacities, and as grandiose ideas about one’s qualities, skills, talents, and accomplishments.
It is significant that [the Blancks] consider “the very experience of adequacy” important for narcissistic health. This reflects their emphasis on functioning in the developing self. Functioning is again a characteristic of the Personal Essence, as contrasted to the Essential Identity. The Essential Identity brings a sense of authenticity, reality, being oneself, spontaneity, being a center of intitiative and awareness, and so on. The Personal Essence, on the other hand, is related to qualities of integration, competence, individuation, autonomy, capacity, personal love, and so on.
Oedipal stage, paraphrased:
A healthy oedipal stage (3 to 6 years old) involves empathy and recipience from opposite gendered parent and some amount of recognition (“pridefully pleased”) as a competitor by the same gendered parent.
Falling in love
Recognizing and appreciating the nature of the oedipal self and its narcissistic disturbances brings us a powerful understanding of the phenomenon of falling in love. The characteristics of this form of self, both the sweetness of love and the ecstasy of passion, are exactly what the individual in love enjoys. To be in love is to be swept by an ecstatic love, in which the sweetness of appreciation and affection cannot be separated form a passionate desire to be one with the beloved. We feel full, alive, sexually stimulated, and vigorous; we behold the beloved as beautiful, luscious, sexy, and extremely desirable. We feel tender and selflessly loving, but also turned on, excited and full of life.
We need intensely for this love to be seen, appreciated and reciprocated. Unrequited love causes us extreme frustration, also deep narcissistic hurt and disappointment. It exposes the disturbances of oedipal narcissism. A common narcissistic element of being in love is exclusive preoccupation with the beloved at the expense of other areas of one’s life. The lover has extreme hopes for a level of fulfillment that goes beyond merely the reciprocation of love; he deeply entertains the hope for complete narcissistic gratification, which will enable him to spontaneously be himself with deep, orgiastic abandon. In other words, the lover’s desire is not only the reciprocation of his passionate love, but the realization – through the support and mirroring in this reciprocation – of his oedipal self.
Depth psychology tends to view the qualities of falling in love as determined mostly by idealization of the beloved and grandiose images of the self. This is partially accurate, but this depends on our view of the oedipal self. We saw in our exploration of central narcissism that idealization and grandiosity are remnants of memories and intuitions of authentic potentials of the self, of essential qualities the self has not yet realized. We believe this is also the case with the phenomenon of falling in love. The qualities the lover sees in the beloved are partly her actual essential qualities, but she cannot completely embody them. The fact that the lover is seeing quawlities of the beloved which she has not completely realized may allow us to view the lover’s feeling as based on idealization. However, this is at most a partial explanation. Part of what the lover beholds in his beloved is a projection of qualities of his own oedipal self; his longing to merge with the beloved is partly the desire to regain the lost connection to the vigor and aliveness of his oedipal self.
… Unless one has dealt with his oedipal history and arrived at some realization of his oedipal self, one’s love life will be contaminated with his narcissistic needs and vulnerabilities.
Kernberg views the grandiose self as a structure that defends against very primitive, terrifying, and conflictual object relations:
“The patient’s efforts to hold on to his grandiose self, and to avoid acknowledging the analyst as an independent, autonomous person, consistently reveal his defense against the intense envy, against the feared relationship with the hated and sadistically perceived mother image, and his dread of a sense of empty loneliness in a world devoid of personal meaning.”
He observes that in most cases these individuals had a narcissistic mother who was chronically cold, but overprotective.
[In the second layer of oral narcissism we find] a group of object relations centered around powerful aggression, rage, and hatred on the one hand, and intense instinctual and animal-like devouring desire and wanting on the other. The student experiences herself as an instinctual animal organism, sometimes as an intensely emotional infant, and sometimes as a more primitive structure like a powerful and primitive animal – a leopard or panther. She feels either rageful and hateful, wanting to destroy the selfobjects that failed her, or she experiences a dep, lustful, powerful, and devouring hunger and wanting. The selfobject she perceives is either a person, a group, or the whole world. The hateful-destructive object relation is usually reversed at the beginning; so she first projects her power and hatred onto the object, feeling that she is small, weak, helpless, generally good, but paranoid and terrified of the all-bad powerful looming object.
Transformation of this object relation through precise understanding of its meaning and etiology leads to the integration of the aspect of essential personal Power. One then experiences oneslf imbued with natural power, an amazing fullness that feels both alive and forbidding. This is the power of the primal self of the oral stage, which was distorted by frustration of the attempt to gain the orally fulfilling narcissistic support and enhancement in early childhood.
The other major object relation involved in oral narcissism is that of a hungry, libidinal, and devouring self, that feels full of life and vigor, passion and desire, uncontrollably wanting an object that appears to it full, luscious, yummy, and totally desirable. The resistance against this early oral object relation is due to the fear of destroying the object by devouring it, and deeper still, the fear of frustration in the event the libidinal object is unattainable. This resistance frequently appears as a defense against dependency, which manifests as devaluation of the object, and not feeling one’s neediness. Another form this resistance assumes is that of creating relationships in which the other experiences the narcissist as full and desirable but unavailable.
When the resistances dissolve and the object relation becomes conscious, one’s experience of oneself ranges from being a hungry and desirous infant to a sense of being a primitive, instinctual, devouring organism. There is passionate love suffused with devouring desire. This is not an easy object relation to transform, and its significance is not restricted to the question of narcissism. It underlies some of the fundamental attitudes of the personality, and its transformation requires the exploration and clarification of object relations in general. Fairbairn has conceptualized this object relation as the relation between the libidinal ego – which is a split-off part of the self – and the exciting and frustrating object. This libidinal ego is the underlying oral self that needs to be transformed in the resolution of oral narcissism. It is not what Freud called the id; it is a primitive structure of the ego-self.
The transformation of this libidinal object relation usually takes the student into a deep experience of the self, in which he feels integrated with his essential heart. He then feels full and fulfilled, juicy and satiated, with the qualities of the heart aspects, those of Joy, Love, Contentment, Value, Satisfaction, Nourishment, and so on. He feels his heart full of wonderful tastes and textures.
The understanding, clarification, and transformation of this group of object relations is a complex process, fraught with difficulties, terror, rage, pain, frustration, deprivation, and so on. The passionate-devouring object relation is deeper and more basic than the aggressive-destructive one; in fact, the latter may be understood as a reaction to the frustration of the desire in the first. Kernberg believes that the self at this level of object relation is the deepest self-structure defended against, and he describes it as “a hungry, enraged, empty self, full of impotent anger at being frustrated, and fearful of a world which seems as hateful and revengeful as the patient himself.” This is a combination of the two selves of the above two object relations. But it can be seen more accurately as the self revealed through the clarification of the object relations. It is the beginning of seeing the narcissism underlying these object relations – the emptiness that underlies the devouring hunger – which is at the heart of both the frustration and the rage.
The student understands at this point that this hungry, empty self is the deepest psychodynamic source of his selfishness, self-centeredness, self-seeking, exploitativeness, cruelty, heartlessness, and compulsive need for narcissistic supplies. This self views these supplies – the admiration, acknowledgement, recognition, support, love, success, acclaim, applause, and the rest – as a kind of food it needs to assuage the gnawing hunger and to fill its painful emptiness. At this point, as the underlying emptiness of the self begins to manifest, the student might experience the usual narcissistic meaninglessness and emptiness of life and existence. He feels empty and meaningless, but also experiences the whole world as empty, devoid of warmth and nourishment. Persisting with exploring these manifestations, he discovers that for this self, meaning is food, or a full stomach. However, this food has a narcissistic quality to it. Before he actually experiences the emptiness, he feels hungry, and observes that he tries to assuage his hunger with narcissistic supplies. He tries to fill himself with acclaim, applause, admiring mirroring, adoring support, and idealizing love, with recognition, appreciation, and approval, but goes about it with the uncontrollable hunger of a famished soul. He can never get enough; his satiation is transitory and his fullness can only be short-lived.
This phenomenon clarifies in a very striking manner why narcissism is primarily a matter of connection to the self, and only secondarily a question of object relations. Why is it that when the self feels hungry and empty, due to oral deprivation, it resorts to narcissistic supplies to assuage this hunger? Why does the self try to fill its oral emptiness with supplies that are intended to shore up and enhance the sense of self? It would seem that if the emptiness is due to inadequacy of nourishment or love, it should seek these. But it does not; instead, it seeks tirelessly for feedback that will help it to feel a stable and cohesive sense of self, for interactions and situations that support its feeling like a whole and integrated self. Clearly, the emptiness is not the absence of nourishment, love or warmth, although the absence of these might be important in the genesis of this emptiness.
The obvious conclusion is that the deprivation and conflictual object relations in the oral stage affected the child in such a way that he lost his inner core. This loss of core is the specific narcissistic disruption. It is what accounts for the character of narcissistic strategies to regain connection to it.
[The student] arrives at the next session and reports that she has been feeling very hungry for some time. She has been experiencing intense wanting, with greed and aggression. She misses what she calls “co-creation,” and wants it in a devouring way. When I ingquire what this means, she starts feeling that she wants some kind of wholeness. She feels she wants a sense of totality and completeness. She feels hungry and empty, and when I inquire about what will satisfy her, she says feeling whole. This brings up her sense of body boundaries, and she feels the restriction of her self-entity structure. This leads to other experiences of presence and boundlessness.
We see here that after she felt the emptiness and meaninglessness [the student] started experiencing the oral hunger for self. The self she felt she lacked was a sense of totality and wholeness. This brings us back to the question of the characteristics of the primal self.
In his description of primary narcissism, Freud noted that the original condition of the self is a sense of perfection and equilibrium. Hartmann pointed out that this condition lacks differentiation between the various elements of the self, describing what he called the “undifferentiated matrix,” which refers to the experience of the neonate as a unified whole, without differentiation between body and psyche, ego and id, inside and outside, and so on.
Some self psychological researchers have understood that narcissistic disruptions in the oral stage lead primarily to the loss of wholeness of the self. The Jungian analyst, Schwartz-Salant, conceives of the situation as that of the child losing his Dionysian foundation for an object world that is ruled by an Apollonian I-Thou clarity.
“It is a stage in which there is a consolidation of opposites, but a loss of wholeness, the Dionysian wholeness of body and mind…. But it loses something in the process: it loses a part of its soul, and an experience of soma that it was born with. It becomes at least somewhat disembodied, schizoid.”
But what is this Dionysian wholeness? How is it experienced? Schwartz-Salant uses archetypal psychology, including Greek myths and mythological figures, to give some sense of it, but refers to it also as the union of the ego (normal self) and the divind child, characterized primarily by joy: “The two parts of the emerging Self, the part with an archetypal link and the older part, carrying all the residual elements of a process that has never successfully unfolded, unify in the analytical vessel through dealing with the erotic energies of the transference.” We do observe this unification taking place as part of the recovered wholeness, but the wholeness implies a great deal more.
The self that emerges in the transformation of oral narcisissm is a presence that feels whole and total. It feels like the presence of a total completeness of being ourselves. We feel a sense of purity, of clarity and lightness, that seems to exclude nothing. We feel as if all of what we are is present, but all comprising one individible whole. There are no parts; all of our feelings, thoughts, and movements appear as colorful manifestations within, and inseparable from, this pure and innocent presence. At the same time this presence has a deep sense of dynamism, as if it is constant flow and transformation. This flow and transformation is the appearance of the changes in the manifestation of this presence.
The self realized through the transofmration of oral narcissism is a dynamic wholeness. It is the integrity of oneself that includes all of one’s qualities and dimensions of experience. The life of this presence is the flow of qualities of Essence, which emerge according to the demands of the situation, without being separate from the presence of wholeness.
The wholeness of the primordial self implicity includes all aspects of Essence, present in an undifferentiated way. The aspects differentiate sometimes in response to situations, but even when an aspect is manifesting expicitly, we feel whole and complete.
The disruption of the self in the oral stage can best be described as the loss of wholeness. By losing contact with the primordial presence, the self loses the element responsible for a sense of wholeness. This loss is like the loss of the glue that maintains the cohesiveness of the experience of the self. This cohesiveness is not that of an ego structure, but of the primordial wholeness, where everything is an indivisible presence, that contains mind, but is not structured by it.
This is why, at this juncture of work on self-realization, students feel the need for their wholeness to be seen. The narcissistic wound appears whenever one is seen partially. In other words, if only some of one’s qualities and capacities are seen and mirrored, but not others, she will tend to react narcissistically, with hurt and rage. in fact, the need for this specific kind of mirroring is one of the most certain indications that we are dealing with oral narcissism. It indicates the disconnection from wholeness.
Contrast [the familiar sense of self falls away slowly to be replaced by “nowness”] with Kernberg’s formulation of successful therapy: “If they are treated successfully, they come to realize a deeper and more meaningful life, and begin to draw from sources of strength and creativitiy in their newly developing world of internalized object relationships.” Kernberg understands the meaninglessness experienced in oral narcissism in terms of object relations: “The loss of the world of loving and loved internal objects brings about the loss of meaning of the self and of the world.” Our view is that the narcissistic meaninglessness is a reflection of the loss of what gives the self meaning, the presence of the fundamental truth of the self and the world, which returns us to an awareness of our wholeness when we experience the presence completely and fully.
The loss of this wholeness is equivalent to the loss of contact with all the aspects of Essence. This explains why the empty shell that is due to the loss of the primal self feels like the shells of all of the other forms of narcissism combined. The primal self is the wholeness that implicitly includes the qualities of the true self of all later stages, in an undifferentiated way.
From this perspective, we can understand the manifestations of oral narcissism as the expression of the self identifying itself with the oral, deficient, and empty self, the self that feels itself as an empty, impoverished bag, because of teh loss of its core, its inherent essential richness. The empty, hungry self is the experience of the self patterned by the structure that develops as a reaction to the disturbances of the primal self. This empty self then relates to the world in an oral way, trying to regain its earlier perfection and wholeness by devouring and possessing the exciting objects that it believes are the sources of acclaim, admiration, and idealization. The underlying image of this exciting and desirable object is the full and luscious breast of the all-good mother. And we agree with Kernberg that the “lack of an integrated self is also characterized by chronic feelings of unreality, puzzlement, emptiness, or general disturbances in the ‘self-feeling’… as well as in a marked incapacity to perceive oneself realistically as a total human being.” We would only substitute “wholeness” for “integrated self” and understand the “total human being” to mean the “total completeness of human Being.”
…realization of the Essential Identity makes up only the first step in the resolution of central narcissism, and … central narcissism emerges again at deeper levels of experience. Its resloution at these levels leads to the self-realization of deeper dimensions of Being. The progressive self-realization of deper and deeper dimensions of Being, indicating the increasing subtlety in its appreciation, finally culminates in the realization of nondual presence, which is the wholeness of the self, experienced in its primordial original condition.
This allows us to envision central narcissism as possessing several levels, each associated with the alienation from a certain level of essential identity. We believe these levels of central narcissism are best conceived of as related to stages of development extending from the beginning of life to about sixteen months of age. In this way, we begin with oral narcissism and end with the central narcissism associated with the Essential Identity. We suggest this only as a helpful framework that has emerged from our investigations, but we do not know with certainty whether these levels of central narcissism originate each in a specific and different developmental stage, or are all expressions of one stage. We do observe, however, in the work of self-realization, that these levels emerge in a certain progressive order, and that this progression coincides with increasing manifestations of oral characteristics in the arising associated structures of the self. We also observe that the levels of Being that emerge are inclined towards a deeper and more complete nonduality of experience.
In the realization of the Essential Identity, it is useful to discriminate the self-identity from the self-entity; it is specifically the former that replaces the Essential Identity as the sense of self-recognition. However, Being will challenge all structures of the ego-self, and self-realization will challenge not only the self-identity structure, but all structures that support it or are related to it. The most significant of these is the self-entity structure. This structure supports the identity in many ways. It becomes increasingly challenged as Being reveals its more profound dimensions.
This aspect of the process manifests initially as the arising need for more primitive forms of idealized and mirroring selfobjects. Specifically, the student recognizes his need for a merged relationship that provides support and mirroring. He begins realizing his need to depend on the selfobject, to know his experience of himself, and to value it. So he expects the teacher, or significant others in his life, to know how he feels and to satisfy his needs, without him having to communicate them himself. This exposes the need for the merged mirroring selfobject, which may also manifest as seeing the selfobject as an extension of himself, which has no value or existence independent from him. He becomes hurt and enraged if the selfobject does not act solely to please and serve him, if she acts in an independent way that neglects his needs or does not make them her only concern. The absence or loss of this merged selfobject allows him to feel an emptiness characterized by the lack of a sense of identity and by loneliness. In this state, he feels the loss of both himself and the other; he is lost and also lonely, indicating the loss of both mirroring and the merged connection.
The need for idealization manifests as the need for a dual unity in which both individuals are positive objects; it is also important that they share the same qualities and interests. The student idealizes both the selfobject and the connection with her. It is important that they agree on everything, so he tends to disregard disagreements and differences to avoid experiencing a severe disruption in his relation to her and a loss of self and support. Disagreement by the selfobject, her expression of a difference – or his observation of it – will make him feel betrayed and disappointed. He feels abandoned when he perceives that the selfobject is different from him or not an extention of him. Understanding this transference manifestation leads to the realization of the Diamond Will on the merged dimension, in other words, the presence of essential support in the absence of a differentiated self. The differentiation between the mirroring and idealized selfobjects becomes difficult at this point because the self in the merger transference is an undifferentiated self where the self and the object are not clearly differentiated.
A certain shell arises at this level of the process; it is reminiscent of the fakeness and emptiness experienced in dealing with the Essential Identity, but there are significant differences. We experience the fakeness not only in ourselves, but everywhere. We feel fake and empty, empty of anything real and significant, and we also feel that everything around us is empty and lacks fullness. We first feel the empty shell as a contraction around the body, as a membrane that separates us from the rest of the world, reflecting the structure of self-entity. Further investigation reveals that the shell is not really separate from others – it is an extension of a larger and universal shell that includes everyone. When we finally experience the shell completely, we fell like part of a universal shell that includes the whole universe. In other words, we see that what we have been seeing as the world – both animate and inanimate – is actually empty and devoid of fullness, nourishment, or significance. This reflects the loss of the nondifferentiated self, the state of the soul in which the self and the object world are not yet differentiated in experience.
The self knows unconsciously, or we could say intuitively, that its identity is the boundless pure Being, but it is still consciously identified with being a separate entity. So even at this level of work, there are often big issues. For example, when this manifestation is arising, and the student is feeling that she is the “most special” or the “only special” one, when anyone else is treated in a special way, she feels hurt and wounded. So she knows she is the most special because she is the purity of Being, but becomes grandiose when she attributes this specialness to her conscious identification of herself as a separate individual. Clearly, the way to work with the situation effectively is not to judge her narcissistic need as grandiose and unrealistic, but to discover in that need information about the true self from which she feels alienated.
The narcissistic wound that arises here is for not being seen as the source of everything, of all knowledge, understanding, love, value, preciousness, meaning, and existence. We are hurt about not being recognized as this supreme manifestation of Being, the one most worthy of love and admiration. It also reflects our own incapacity to see our true pure nature, as we are not yet realized at this level.
At this juncture, we understand that believing that we are separate individuals, or autonomous entities, rather than recognizing ourselves as the oneness of all existence, creates alienation from pure Being. To take oneself as ultimately a separate and autonomous person creates the supreme wound, which appears as an abyss, an abysmal chasm, that alienates us not only from our true nature, but also from everybody and everything. This is the supreme betrayal, and the beginning of endless suffering.
We also understand, here, the cosmic shell as the experience of the world devoid of its true nature, the infinite pure Being. Looking through the representational world, we see only a world devoid of Being.
The quality of infinity and omnipresence of the identity at this level of experience eliminates duality. We experience Being not only as our true nature, but as the nature of everything. This means it is also the true nature of the ego-self. The pure presence of Being is the underlying ground both for aspects of Essence, and for structures of the ego-self. Both become seen as particular formations within the presence of pure Being.
At this level, the movement from the duality between Essence and personality is different from that involved in realizing the Essential Identity. In the realization of the Essential Identity, the student experiences the personality in the third person, as if from the outside, as the totality of the suffering individual. She experiences herself as a center of awareness and presence separate from the individual person, relating to that person with compassion, love, and understanding. Or she experiences herself as a personality aware of the Essential Identity as an essential presence, characterized by the feeling of identity. There is duality in this experience.
In the process of realization of pure Being, the alternation is not between the personality and presence, but rather, between duality and unity. In duality, the student experiences herself as the totality of the ego-self, the personality, separate from the presence and resistant to it. She also experiences and understands it by being it. She experiences the movement of her ego-self directly, in all its details. She experiences it from within, in its totality, with a specific understanding of the nature of its functioning. This is in contrast to the experience of the personality in the dimension of the Essential Identity, where she experiences it from the ourside, as the other who is struggling and suffering. In the dimension of pure Being, her understanding of the nature of suffering becomes more specific and complete.
The result is that the personality is not necessarily transformed in the self-realization of the Essential Identity; there is only the shift of its identity. The complete realization of pure Being involves a process of purifcation and clarification of the personality, until there is no difference between it and the purity of Being. The final outcome is the condition of unity in which we experience the personality (the ego-self) as an inseparable manifestation of pure Being.
Understanding our attachments and realizing the nonconceptual reality of true nature does not resolve our narcissism completely. The empty shell returns, revealing even more primitive levels of its structure, which alienates us again from identity with Being. The object relations that manifest at this juncture are mostly the oral type, and the ego-self is the oral libidinal self that becomes aggressive when it is frustrated. There are different levels of this primitive strucure, as we saw in our discussion of oral narcissism. The self at this point manifests as more dynamic and alive than usual, full of impulses, desires, and passions. There is a distinct animal instinctuality to its experience, and a very robust and vigorous emotionality. In some sense, this is the first time that the student experience herself in a fully emotional and physical way and recognizes a self that is the ground and source of all of her emotions and impulses.
The normal experience of the ego-self is much more mental than we realize, in the sense that we may experience emotions and impulses but feel them to be vaguely related to a sense of self. Now, however, there is no vague sense of self or identity; we know ourselves intimately as a living, vital, animal organism, imbued with clearly instinctual, primitive, and powerful drives and impulses. The primitiveness of the structure means there is very little representation left in the self, mostly a sense of entitihood with very early and simple object relations. So there is a more direct experience of the quality of presence imbued with animal and primitive energies and drives.
At this point the shell does not always feel like a rigid boundary, but is teeming with aliveness and pulsing with desires. There is a distinct dynamism to the experience of the self, but as an instinctual and primitive force, it is loosely structured and poorly channeled. The impulsiveness and uncontrollability of the libidinal ego and its passionately overwhelming nature can dominate the student’s experience here.
The student generaly finds this transformation exciting and promising, especially if she has had mostly a schizoid kind of personality. hence, it might take a lot of experience, sincerity, and discrimination for her to begin to feel this sense of self as dystonic to her well-being and to see that it alienates her from her essential nature. If she remains sincerely dedicated to her inquiry, she finds that the instinctual driveness characteristic of her libidinal ego makes her less transparent to the purity and subtlety of essential nature. She sees now that these instinctual drives tend to fixate her consciousness and direct it in a certain prejudiced direction, which clouds her clarity. These drives confuse truth with falsehood and disorient her in her quest for self-realization. The drives, especially the primitive oral ones, tend to orient the self outward, towards promising objects, and away from itself and its beingness. This outward orientation is one of the most basic and stubborn characteristics of the libidinal ego and becomes one of the main barriers to self-realization. Self-realization involves emotional and spiritual self-sufficiency, while the libidinal ego is totaly governed by the attitude that all goodness and nourishment come from outside, as if one were an empty stomach. This outward orientation, coupled with insatiable hunger, automatically disconnects the self from the stillness of its beingness, leading to narcissistic alienation.
This situation necessitates working through the oral object relations discussed in Chapter 38. Confronting the various narcissistic hurts and reactions, and then learning not to identify with the drives, finally reveals the inner truth of the libidinal self as an empty bag: a thin, weak, soft, vulnerable container that is hungry and deprived. Both the inside and outside feel empty. The student experiences here the mere entitihood of teh ego-self, the bare bones of the structure of self-entity, which at this point is all that is left for the self to use for identity. She may also recognize that this bare minimum of structure is the center and source of all attachments, emotional reactions, and instinctual impulses.
The features of this denuded ego-self that remain are negations, or deficiencies. The student feels withdrawn, weak and inadequate, empty and impoverished. She feels vulnerable, lacking any strength or positive qualities. Frequently, she will feel this structure as a sac around her physical heart, and feel the heart empty and lacking. She beings to feel not only that she is insignificant, but that she is nothing and has nothing. She feels that she, as the ego-self, is nothing but a container that contains nothing. There is no sense of existence or presence, just the experience of the bag, a mere boundary around an emptiness.
The libidinal wanting may return at this point, but it can have a different aim. If she is not bound by her habitual beliefs, the student might come to realize that she longs to disappear, to gently vanish, to be no more. She experiences a very deep weariness, and a teary subtle longing, that sometimes becomes powerful and passionate, to simply fade away, and not to leave any trace. She finds the notion of absolute cessation sweet and dear to her heart. She feels that not to be, not even to know that she is not, would be the final release from a life of striving and searching. She contemplates not being, not knowing that she is not being, and not remembering that she ever has been, as some kind of ultimate, albeit obscure, fulfillment of her heart. It is as if she sense that only not being will bring contentment, and a peace beyond peace.
This gentle disappearing will actually come to pass if the process takes its course. She will have the experience once in a while – especially when she is relaxed and mentally unconcerned – of feeling herself disappearing. There will be a gap in consciousness, a cessation of all sensation and perception, without falling asleep or unconscious. She knows this because, when she comes to, she feels quite rested but also indescribably clear and fresh, as if her soul has been washed of its heaviness and conflicts. She feels lucid and totally care-free, light and totally light-hearted. No sleep ever rejuvenates her this much. It is as if not only her body, but her very self and soul have been renewed. She does not remember what happened because absolutely nothing has happened. There was absolutely no content of experience.
This is the beginning of tasting the absolute depth of her Being, although the encounter is still limited. She still needs to understand and let go of the subtle vestiges of representations. This transires in many ways. One of the most significant ways is to follow the narcissistic emptiness related to the approaching depth of Being. The student feels empty and impoverished. If she manages not to reject, judge, or react to this emptiness, she begins to realize how impoverished she actually is. She feels devoid of significance or value, of Essence or substance; she feels that she has only attachments. She begins to feel that she has to let go of everything because she does not possess anything. She has to let go of her attachment to relationships, pleasure, comfort, security, knowledge, Essence, realization, enlightenment, ego, self, suffering, and so on. Holding on to any of these attachments simply means resisting awareness of the poverty of the denuded shell of the self. She realizes she needs to let go of having – or let go of the belief that she has – a position, a place, recognition, fruit of work, accomplishment, contribution, knowledge, even state or development. She needs to let go of everything if she is not going to spend the rest of her life fighting the emptiness of her shell. This activates deep grief, very deep sadness and tears. The emptiness becomes a vast black ocean of tears.
The student realizes that in identifying with the ego-self she truly has nothing, for everything comes from Being. As the ego-self, she is fundamentally poor, totally indigent, devoid of all possession and qualities. This state is very profound; by this point, too, the student is coming to the insight that this is the intrinsic condition of the ego-self, and is not particular only to her personal situation. The state has a sense of having nothing, feeling nothing, being nothing, and perceiving nothing. It can easily shift to the state of cessation (the disappearing), but it can go further.
As the student remains [in a state of surrender], [she has a] direct experience of … inner spaciousness … [which is identical to] the absolute depth of all Being.
However, because of the characteristic of the true self approaching conscious experience, this profound spaciousness is not differentiated from the related true self. The inner spaciousness turns out to be not only an emptiness, but at the same time a facet of this depth of Being, inseparable from it, actually nondual with it. More precisely, the inner black spaciousness at this level of self-realization is coemergent with the level of Being realized. Holding on to the belief that the separate self possesses anything, even existence, is a resistance against this absolute depth of Being; this resistance makes this depth appear to the self as a deficient emptiness characterized by impoverishment. Surrendering all positions and concepts of self, the student discovers the absolute depth of her nature. The transition is very subtle; it is a matter of asserting self or not. But the difference is profound: It is the difference between being an impoverished self lost in the universe or being the inexhaustible vast depth of Being. Or as a Buddhist might see it, it is the difference between samsara and nirvana. We can see this transition to lie at the root of narcissism: In one direction lies fundamental narcissism and in the other lies self-realization. Self-assertion results in samsara and selflessness leads to nirvana.
[Basically a summary of the process…]
… here we will note a few [of the perceptions and insights] that are most relevant for our understanding of the transformation of narcissism and its relation to self-realization.
The state of poverty is the emptiness within the libidinal ego. We experience it as a state of deprivation and insufficiency due to the oral fixation on emptiness as lack of nourishment. This makes us want to move away from it and to seek fullness from outside. This extroverted orientation is one of the first, basic ego attitudes that disconnect the self from its inherent inner richness. Turning toward external objects as sources of fulfillment is the oral fixation of the self on a mode of operation natural and necessary in the first year of life, a fixation that patterns the self in such a way that it alienates it from its inner core. Actual and severe deprivations and disruptions in early infancy will clearly deepen this fixation and give it a distorted character, but this basic fixation develops in all infants because of their total dependency. This patterning is a basic structure of the ego-self.
This extroverted orientation coincides with the development of object relations and the object-seeking drive characterizing the libidinal ego. Thus, the self becomes deeply impressed and patterned by the concept of relationship, which means that it is always relating to an object. This pattern becomes an impediment to self-realization, for the self tends to objectify Being and relate to it as an object. The structure of object relations is experienced as relating, and becomes a ground for the development of attachments. These attachments in turn become barriers against the capacity to simply be. This does not mean relating per se is problematic; but to use relating to define identity is.
At this level the shell tends to dissolve by turning into hot tears, initially because of the depth of grief of losing the self and its possessions; but ultimately the grief is about the self’s loss of contact with the depths of its Being. The dissolution into tears typically manifests as a disappearing, sometimes with intensity and passion. The passion is a deep love for the state of cessation, which turns out to be for the absolute depth of Being. The passionate intensity is sometime due to the dissolving action of this depth of Being. The dissolution might be experienced as a passionate annihilation of the self by the powerful love of Being, as self and Being connect in a passionate love towards each other. More accurately, we frequently experience the closing of distance and the dissolution of duality between self and Being as the gravitational pull of a passionate, ecstatic love, that annihilates the self into the depth of Being, evoking the analogy of lover and beloved.
This becomes an intense encounter when the student experiences the dissolution in the heart. She becomes aware of the shell as a membrane around the heart, where she feels the heart as the emptiness and the sense of poverty. As she accepts the poverty, the inner emptiness in the heart transforms into inner spaciousness, which is the absolute depth of Being. She recognizes she has been a lover and now has found her beloved, the true fulfillment of her heart. She feels that what she beholds now in her heart is what she has been searching for all her life. Her heart has found many lovers, but never one so perfect as this. She has always been searching for this beloved, but has seen him in one object or another. They were all idols standing between her heart and its true beloved, distracting her even more as they drew her closer. They were all veils, and now the beloved has been unveiled.
The depth of oral longing is simply a reflection of the deepest longing of the heart for its ultimate beloved. One has mistaken the libidinal exciting object of the oral stage for the true beloved, thus embarking on a never-ending journey of estrangement. By turning outward for fullness, the soul disconnected from her inner Being, then sought it in outside objects.
The passionate love for truth can be so powerful that is dissolves all these barriers with clear and discriminating understanding. Now, the student might find herself turning completely towards the depths, into her heart, the window to the mystery of Being.
The beauty of this depth is majestic, radiant with a crystal brilliance that bedazzles her and makes her forget all else. She feels passionately shattered, lovingly dissolved, and deliciously annihilated.
She feels she has arrived home, the original place from which she had strayed. She has been lost without knowing from what, searching without knowing for what, and now her search has ended and she is resting at home. At this point we understand narcissistic alienation as a movement of leaving the place where we belong – the only place where the self can totally rest – with its heart completely fulfilled. We might literally feel that we have been in exile, estranged from our home, never feeling at home. We see now why we could never before feel totally at home, for until now we had never experienced being totally at home.
The student may also come to understand that the love might be passionate and consuming, sweet and heavenly, but even that will tend to separate her somewhat from her beloved, for it relates her to it instead of totally disappearing into it. This only deepens her love to the point of totally annihilating all self-recognition. This precipitates the self-realization of the absolute truth of Being, where she becomes one with this dazzling mystery, totally identified with this luminous, crystal black vastness.
The student realizes at this point that she is infinite and boundless, a vastness that has no end. It is as if she becomes the vastness of intergalactic space, seeing that this absolute blackness has a crystalline purity and clarity which make the blackness shimmer and glitter with indescribable brilliance. Her mind explodes into absolute clarity and brilliance, her heart a vastness of annihilating intimacy and bliss, and her body a shimmering which is the appearance of the totality of the universe.
She perceives the universe, in all its multiplicity and richness, as a beautiful appearance, as a brilliantly colored robe that she wears. She finds herself to be the immensity of the mysterious blackness, with the universe as the colorful pattern of her radiance. The totality of the universe is an unified oneness, but more than that. Oneness is a poor concept to describe such sheer beauty. She recognizes all of appearance, all that appears to perception, as the brilliant luminosity of the mysterious black vastness.
She recognizes that it feels mysterious because she cannot determine its nature, which is absolutely indeterminable. She feels total solidity, a crystalline diamond solidity, but at the same time recognizes that she is absolutely nothing, that she is absence itself. The absolute truth of Being is absolute existence which is at the same time absolute absence. It is the source and essence of everything, but at the same time it is total openness, an absolute absence of any weight or substance. The fact that it is absolute nonexistence gives it its annihilating power. The self feels annihilated because it discovers that its absolute essence is total absence. There is actually no annihilation, only the realization of the selflessness of Being, whose absolute essence is totally ungraspable, completely beyond definition. This indeterminacy is experienced as a pradox of being and non-being, existence and nonexistence, neither and not neither.
The quality of absence inherent in the Absolute, its utter sense of openness and emptiness, is what makes the associated level of the shell feel like poverty. More precisely, the mysterious emptiness – which is a sense of indeterminacy and wonder when experienced clearly – is interpreted through the veil of the shell as a deficiency and lack. It is the source of all richness, but the fact that it feels like nothing makes the denuded self approaching it feel that it is poor and indigent.
We can have endless, amazing understanding in this absolute essence of Being; we can describe some of its qualities; but we never feel we have described it because it is inexhaustible. It is the source of all qualities, all possibilities, and all potential; but when we experience it directly we find absolutely nothing. It is a delightful nothing that dazzles and releases. In other words, it is the unmanifest source of all manifestation. From this source, everything appears as itself, originating from this unfathomable emptiness, but nothing becomes anything.
This luminous, crystalline vastness is absolute stillness, total peace, and complete silence. It is total stillness that is the richest of textures, stupendous silence that speaks mroe loudly than anything else, and complete peace that is the source of all manifestations. It is an absence that – by its sheer absence – becomes solid peace. But at the same time it is simplicity itself – not simplicity of mind, but of pure experience. Any ego activity is perceived with utmost clarity as a jarring and jagged energy.
Perhaps the best description of this state is that it is absolute and total intimacy, for we are directly in touch with the inmost of everything we experience. This sense of intimacy has an exquisite gentleness to it and a melting softness. Its smoothness makes the finest silk seem rough, and its texture the softest of all velvet gross.
We may recognize it as the self, but there is no feeling of “I,” identity, or self. This recognition has no conecptual quality. There is only the direct and clear perception that it is none other than one is. It is both the self and the nature of the self, but also of everything. It is the perception of the beingness of oneself without the feeling of oneself. One knows it is oneself because it is oneself. There is nothing else that is oneself. This realization is sometimes referred to as absolute subjectivity or realizing the absolute subject.
The Sufis refer to this reality as the “divine essence,” the essence of God, but also as the final nature of all existence. They use the Arabic word dhat to refer to it, which means self, identity, nature, and Essence all at the same time. The closest English equivalent of this term is the word ipseity. In the experience of ipseity, the absolute truth of Being, duality ends as we perceive that the identity and nature of everything, including ourselves, is inseparable from everything. Everything is the radiance of absolute ipseity, just as light is the radiance of the sun.
This clarifies how perception always has an “I” except at this state. We become aware that there has been a continuous and incessant sense or feeling of self or “I,” that was present in all experiences up to this point. Now there is experience and perception of experience, without being related to an “I.” More accurately, any experience is a manifestation of “who I am,” without “who I am” feeling attached to “I.”
This realization has fascinating consequences. We feel as if reality has two sides, front and back, the Shakti and Shiva of Kashmir Shaivism. The front is the totality of the dynamic universe, and the back is an absence. In fact, as it develops, it becomes even more mysterious: There is only a front; there is no back. We know then that there is nothing more behind or underneath this vastness; in some sense it is ultimate. There is nothing behind it because it has no back.
We feel utter spontaneity, where each though, word, and activity arises before there is any recognition. We merely witness the expression happening, and recognize it only after it happens. We are so much at the source of all expression that we can only perceive our expression as it manifests. This complete spontaneity can be quite disconcerting at the beginning because we feel no control over what we do or say.
The complete spontaneity is due to the fact that, in this condition of self-realization, there is absolutely no self-consciousness. We only see our front; there is no back to look back to, and hence, there is no possibility for us to look inward or backward towards ourselves. In fact, if we attempt to look back and reflect on the source of our manifestations, we encounter nothing. There is only a gap of consciousness or perception. We look back, and the first thing we become aware of is our looking outward towards the world of manifestation. There is no “inner” to the absolute truth, for it is the inner of the inner, the inmost of the inmost. There is only the possibility of looking to the front, or outward, which is inseparable from the manifestation of experience.
This clarifies the observation that one of the main sources of narcissism is the self-reflective capacity of the normal self. More precisely, one of the main characteristics of narcissism is self-consciousness, an outcome of the normal self’s capacity for self-reflection. It is only at the level of the Absolute that this characteristic disappears. It does not disappear at the earlier stages of self-realization, not even at the level of nonconceptual reality because there is always consciousness when we reflect. The ego-self hangs on to this consciousness, even nonconceptual consciousness, by self-reflection. In the experience of nonconceptual reality, we perceive pure consciousness when looking backward or inward. In the experience of the Absolute, consciousness disappears when we attempt to reflect. The experience then is not self-consciousness but cessation of all consciousness.
We could say that in the self-realization of the absolute truth, our front is the perception of phenomena, which is the same as the phenomena, and our back is total cessation. The quality of this depth of Being, whose nature is total cessation, dissolves self-consciousness. This eliminates the last element which supports narcissism.
We notice that our need for mirroring decreases radically and rapidly. We need less and less recognition and reflection. We find any reflection or mirroring a burden, a redundancy. The desire for mirroring becomes a habitual trace of a bygone need, although this trace might last a long time. If the need arises, it can only mean that we have objectified the absolute truth. How can absence need mirroring or support?
At the beginning it seems that the Absolute is something very distinct from everything else, but when our experience matures we realize there is nothing but the Absolute. Everything that happens is a manifestation of the Absolute. Everything is the Absolute, but with a form. So wherever we look we see the Absolute. In the experience of cessation, everything disappears; then, everything reappears as a manifestation of the Absolute, as the luminous awareness of the Absolute.