The Excessively Self Involved Person

Summary

The excessively self involved person is unable to love because he doesn’t see the other. Self love precludes an ability to see and have empathy for other people. Others exist as shadow people. Early disappointments of her needs to be loved leads her to depreciate what other have to give her. Protection against dependency is achieved in this way. Therapy focuses on the need to devalue the other, facilitates the other “coming alive” and removes a barrier to loving.


Presenting Problem

The person who is preoccupied with self love has a barrier loving because the focus on love of self precludes having a capacity to see or empathize with others. When he looks at the other, he/she does not see the other but only a reflection of himself. She is like Narcissus staring into a pool and falling in love with her reflected image. Psychoanalytic Theory calls this person a narcissistic personality. Indeed, others as independent human beings with a separate existence do not exist for him. All she experiences are shadow people. He has a barrier to loving because he doesn’t see the other person, thus there is no other to love. Moreover, she is terrified of needing anyone and protects herself against needing by devaluing what ever is given to her. Thus, he eliminates the possibility of seeing others as having something to offer.

These people present an unusual degree of self reference in their interactions with other people, a great need to be loved, and a curious apparent contradiction between a very inflated concept of himself and an inordinate need for tribute from others. Her emotional life is shallow. He obtains very little enjoyment from life other than from the tributes he receives from others or from his own grandiose fantasies. She feels restless and bored when external glitter wears off and there are no new sources to feed her self regard. In general, relationships with others are clearly exploitative and sometimes parasitic. It is as if he feels he has the right to control and possess others and to exploit them without guilt feelings. Behind a surface which one senses coldness and ruthlessness, is very often a charming and engaging presentation. Very often such people are considered to be dependent because she needs so much tribute from others. But on a deeper level, he is completely unable to really to depend on anybody because of his deep distrust and depreciation of others.

The haughty, grandiose and controlling behavior is a defense against allowing herself to need others. Childhood deprivation robbed him of any gratifying experience of dependency. She projects her anger about her frustrated dependency needs onto others and fears that others are as angry with him/her as he/she is unconsciously.

Origins and Dynamic Features

People typically develop an ideal self. This ideal self consists of an internalization of his parent’s values. Our parents may value hard work, patriotism, certain religious values, tolerance for others etc. When we behave according to these values, we are infused with feelings of well being that flows from being the person we think we should be. Also, our parents will gratify us or disappoint us in childhood. We develop a concept of an ideal other under these circumstances. The ideal other will consist of people who remind us of our gratifying parents or who remind us of the person we wished our parents would have been. Our search for our beloved in later life is colored by these images. We look for a beloved who is a combination of our ideal self and our ideal other.

This does not happen with the excessively self involved person. She does not see other people but only reflections of herself. This happens because for these people there was severe deprivation and frustration of his early needs to be loved. She becomes terrified of needing. Instead, he identifies with his own ideal self and other images in order to deny dependency on others. It is as if she is saying, “I do not need to fear that I will be rejected for not living up to the ideal of myself. My ideal self alone makes it possible for me to be loved by the ideal person I imagine would love me. That ideal person, my ideal image of the person and my real self are all one. This conflated ideal is better than the ideal person whom I wanted to love me. Therefore, I do not need anybody else any more.” In other words, the actual self, on the one hand, and the ideal self and ideal other on the other, is eliminated by the building up of an inflated self concept within which the actual self and the ideal self and ideal other are conflated.

He devalues all people he is dependent on because of his fundamental mistrust and need to devalue others to protect himself against needing anyone. This creates a constant emptiness in her social life and reinforces her internal experience of emptiness.

Therapy

This conflict becomes the focus of therapy. A typical scenario is that the person falls in love with someone they consider very beautiful, gifted, warm, and completely satisfying. He has a brief period of awareness of how he hates the beloved for being so perfect, just before the beloved responds to him and he decides to marry. After her marriage, she becomes bored with the beloved and becomes completely indifferent to him. During therapy the person becomes aware of how he treats the therapist in a similar way. She depreciates everything she receives from the therapist in order to prevent envy and hatred from coming to the surface. The person may then develop suspiciousness and hatred toward the beloved for having all that she wished she had. However, he did not have this and is also afraid that the beloved would abandon him and leave him with even less. She is able for the first time to become aware of and to be moved by the beloved’s expression love and tenderness. The person’s awareness of her aggressive disqualification of the beloved and the therapist and her increasing ability to tolerate hatred without having to defend against it by destroying her awareness of other people helps. This awareness make both the beloved and the therapist “come alive” as real people with independent existences and eventually permit the person to experience not only hatred but also love for them.

Salome

The Opera Salome, by Richard Strauss, illustrates the barriers to loving in people for whom there is no other. King Herod Antipas of Judea, the son of Herod the Great, is living in unlawful union with Herodias, the wife of his brother whom he murdered. Already tired of Herodias, he lusts after Salome, the daughter of Herodias by her first marriage.

Jocanaan (John the Baptist), the herald of a new era, who has a great following among the people, has foretold the coming of a new Kingdom of God, and of punishment for all sinners. He prophesies the coming of the Messiah. He has remonstrated against the dissolute life of the court of Herod, and especially against Herodias, the “daughter of Babylon.”

To Herod the accusations of Jocanaan, the “Holy man” and an emissary of an unknown God, also threaten political danger. He has had Jocanaan arrested and keeps him prisoner, heavily guarded, in a cistern or well- not only for Herod’s own safety, but also to protect the prophet from possible attack by the Jews, as well as, from the vengeance of Herodias.

Herod is celebrating his birthday with his guests in the banquet hall of his palace. The young Syrian, Narraboth, captain of the palace guard, is enchanted by Salome’s beauty. From the terrace he gazes longingly at her. His friend, Herodias’s page, tries by all the arguments he can muster, to dissuade Narraboth from his yearning.

Narraboth is the ideal admirer for a person who is excessively self involved: unadulterated admiration and worship. It is not important to Salome who Narraboth is. Indeed, she lacks the capacity for empathy to know him. She only cares that he admires and profess love for her.

Salome is fascinated with Jocanaan and orders him brought to her. He doesn’t want to see her or talk to her. When she tells him that she is Princess Salome, the daughter of Herodias, Jocanaan once again tells her to get away and that her mother is an abomination. Salome speaks of her attraction to his hair, his ivory virginal skin and most of all his red lips. Jocanaan rebuffs her advances, tells her to cover her hair with ashes, seek out the Lord, who sails on the sea of Galilee, and ask his forgiveness. Salome repeats her wish to kiss his lips and Jocanaan returns to his cistern to get away from her.

Herod continues to pursue Salome and asks her to dance for him. She says she will, if he grants her any wish she wants. Herod agrees. Salome dances the Dance of the Seven Veils and then asks that Jocanaan’s head be brought to her on a silver plate. The order is carried out and Salome kisses his lips. Herod is horrified and orders his soldiers to crush her to death with their shields.

How do we understand Salome? She had no empathy or understanding of Jocanaan and what motivates him. It makes no impact on Salome that Jocanaan is announcing the coming of the Messiah and a new world order where sinners will be judged. Salome only cares about being loved. There is no ideal self that she strives to be in hopes of becoming a better person. She is her own ideal. There is no ideal other that she seeks to find to complete her. She looks in the mirror and sees whom she most loves; her beautiful self. She is incapable of loving, because she can not see the other person to love. Others as people do not exist for her.

How do we understand Salome’s rage when rebuffed that she would decapitate Jocanaan for not letting her kiss him. The fusion of the ideal self and ideal other onto the self occurs when people have been deeply disappointed in their early years of childhood dependence. Perhaps, Salome’s mother, Herodias, let her down. Salome then does not allow herself to seek love from anyone and she becomes her own ideal and thus loses any ability to see or love others. When Jocanaan rebuffs her, all her rage from childhood, perhaps at Herodias, comes flooding back. It is characteristic of excessively self involved people to be prone to what Psychoanalytic Theory calls narcissistic rage when rebuffed. Rages are often provoked when slights to self esteem occurs. The rage is a repeat of the rage over frustrated dependency needs in their relationship with mother. Road rage is a contemporary example of this.