It was fortuitous to have had John Auerbach, PhD in Tampa yesterday speaking at the local (Tampa Bay) Psychoanalytic Society, for the Institute begins its Fall Semester this week and we are reading on Wednesday, in the Narcissism and Shame course, a review by Auerbach. Speaking to Bach’s ideas on the subject, Auerbach highlights the disruption of reflective self-awareness in those with narcissistic disturbances.
Bach tells us that the grandiose, inflated narcissist exists in a state of subjectivity (increased subjective awareness, ‘it’s all about me’), with the sense of worthlessness in the background. Subjective self-awareness alternates with objective self awareness in which the narcissist denigrates the self, feeling deflated and worthless. Auerbach notes the paradox of these two states of reflective self-awareness: “subjective awareness increases the sense of aliveness but decreases objective knowledge of self, and objective self-awareness, by increasing knowledge of one’s place (and smallness) in the world, decreases self esteem.” This very paradox is what causes in the narcissist fragmentation of the sense of self. Interpretation (of, for example, the difficulty) is experienced “as an attack upon the self, a narcissistic injury.” Instead, the transitional space between objective and subjective can be utilized to develop and maintain self cohesion.
Self reflection is the ability to view oneself as if looking on (objectively) from the outside. Bach notes two states of self awareness: subjective and objective, and how difficult it is to move easily between them if early caregivers did not help regulate the transition between them smoothly enough to prevent abrupt shifts in autonomic and limbic systems’ firing. Auerbach, too, in his review of Nathanson’s The Many Faces of Shame, tells us that sudden interruption of excitement or joy can induce shame, the hallmark affect of narcissism, and Auerbach writes, “shame is the ineluctable consequence of objective self awareness…” And isn’t that what psychoanalytic therapy partly endeavors to do, to increase objective self-awareness, all the while inadvertently engendering shame? This semester, we endeavor to discuss how to minimize shame in our patients and ourselves as we struggle to become.
Auerbach, J.S. (1990). Narcissism: Reflections on Others' Images of an Elusive Concept. Psychoanal. Psychol., 7:545-564.
Bach, S. (1998).Two Ways of Being. Psychoanal. Dial., 8:657-673.