“People who are relatively free of narcissistic traits (most of us have some) do not attempt to place themselves above others. They are unconcerned with such comparisons. They stay in touch with their feelings and try to do their personal best. Their standards are internal and realistic since they have a good idea of who they are and what they can accomplish (such objectivity is not insignificant). They are not free of idealistic wishes and dreams.
“Narcissists are wholly different. They unconsciously deny an unstated and intolerably poor self-image through inflation. They turn themselves into glittering figures of immense grandeur surrounded by psychologically impenetrable walls. The goal of this self-deception is to be impervious to greatly feared external criticism and to their own roiling sea of doubts.
“This figure of paradox needs to be regarded as perfect by all. To achieve this, he or she constructs an elaborate persona (a social mask which is presented to the world). The persona needs an appreciative audience to applaud it. If enough people do so, the narcissist is relieved that no one can see through his disguise. The persona is a defensive schema to hide behind, like the false-front stores on a Western movie set. When you peer behind the propped-up wall, you find . . . nothing. Similarly, behind the grandiose parading, the narcissist feels empty and devoid of value.
“Because his life is organized to deny negative feelings about himself and to maintain an illusion of superiority, the narcissist’s family is forcibly conscripted into supporting roles. They have no other option if they wish to get along with him. His mate must be admiring and submissive to keep the marriage going and his children will automatically mold themselves into any image that is projected upon them.
“Here the tragedy begins. A narcissist cannot see his children as they are but only as his unconscious needs dictate. He does not question why his children are incredibly wonderful (better than anyone else’s) or intolerably horrible (the worst in all respects) or why his view of them ricochets from one extreme to another with no middle ground. It is what they are.
“When he is idealizing them, he sees their talents as mythic, an inflation that indicates they are being used as an extension of his grandiose self. When he hates them and finds their characteristics unacceptable, he is projecting hated parts of himself onto them. Whether idealizing or denigrating, he is entirely unaware that what he sees is a projection and that his views are laying a horrible burden on his child.“
“The offspring of narcissists grow up fulfilling their assigned roles. They may sense that they are in a state of falsehood, but do not know what to do about feelings of nonauthenticity. They try all the harder to become what they are supposed to be, as if their feelings of uneasiness come from an improper realization of their role. If their parents see them as miserably deficient, from the shape of their bodies to the power of their minds, that is what they become. If they were portrayed to themselves as great muckamucks, especially if they have innate ability to fulfill a powerful role, they become the movers and shakers of society.
“At heart, children of narcissists, raised up or cast down by the ever-evaluating parent, feel themselves to be less than nothing because they must ‘be’ something to earn their parents’ love. Conditional love offers no support for the inner self. It creates people who have no personal sense of substance or worth. Nourished on conditional love, children of narcissists become conditional. They find themselves unreal.”
“As a child, the narcissist-to-be found his essential self rejected by his narcissistic parent. The wounds of the parent are a template for the wounding of the child. Each narcissistic parent in each generation repeats the crime that was perpetrated against him. The crime is non-acceptance. The narcissist is more demanding and deforming of the child he identifies with more strongly, although all his children are pulled into his web of subjectivity. How can he accept offspring who are the product of his own unconsciously despised self?
“The narcissist-to-be turns away from a world he perceives as devoid of nurturance and love (since a mother’s care gives the child its first version of the world). He withdraws into grandiose fantasies to shield himself from profound feelings of unworthiness caused by the fact that his mother does not really love him. Grandiosity permits him to believe that he is complete and perfect unto himself, thus shielding him from his secret sense that he is a ravening beast, ready to murder others in order to eat and survive. The food of this beast is admiration.
“The narcissistic mother, caretaker of the child’s earliest years, is grandiose, chronically cold but overprotective. She invades her child’s autonomy and manipulates him to conform to her wishes. She rejects all about him that she finds objectionable, putting him in the anxiety-ridden position of losing her affection if he expresses dissatisfaction. She responds to his baby rages and fussing with anxiety, anger, or withdrawal. He becomes unable to cope with the ugly feelings that threaten to erupt and destroy the bond between him and his mother, the bond he depends on for survival.
“His mother’s grandiosity models a way out of his dilemma. She places him on a common throne, sharing the rarefied air of her greatness. By appropriating and embellishing the aura of specialness in which she has enveloped him he can create a grandiose fantasy about himself to escape to. This fantasy eventually crystallizes into a psychic structure we call the grandiose self. A new narcissist is born.