If Freud said our personal ideologies are our “private religion” (convictions with unfaltering ritualization of behavior, repetition compulsion, if you will), Shaw adds that our private religions spring from our attachment story for we are all subjugated by our internal objects. Shaw defines traumatic narcissism as the need to defend against dependency, for dependency is intolerably shameful and humiliating, and must be disavowed. Instead, dependency and neediness is seen in the other for the traumatic narcissist has everything within the self and needs no one. Traumatic narcissism is a relational dynamic requiring both the narcissist and its object to be subjugated. The easiest target is its child.
While all parents may sometimes attack the reality of their children, self aggrandize the child’s accomplishments, and have hope that the child will make up for their own failures, the traumatic narcissist can never admit fallibility, can never apologize, and continually attempts to control and erase the subjectivity of their children. This is the cumulative relational trauma. The traumatic narcissist despises the child’s neediness, yet, paradoxically, any attempts by the child towards independence and agency are punished (by withdrawal or retaliation) for the narcissist requires the child to be the container for shameful neediness, Bateson’s classic double bind. This child, shamed for its dependence (and what is a child but dependent?), made to feel selfish and greedy, recognizing that only the attachment figure’s needs are deemed valid, grows up to identify with the hated, but much needed, aggressor, an intergenerational transmission of traumatic narcissism.
Objectification of the child by the traumatic narcissist is an absence of recognition, or a presence of negation. In analytic love, the therapist envisions the potential that cannot be realized, much like the good enough parent sees what the child can become. The children of traumatic narcissists, when they become our patients, demand not only that we recognize their trauma, but that we recognize our own disavowed traumatic narcissism! What a dangerously fraught journey for both patient and analyst as we struggle together toward freedom from the tyranny of our inner objects.