Tag Archives: Freud

The Buddhism and Addiction Series (Part II of III)

Part II:

Narcissism, Addiction and Sexuality

The Narcissistic Personality

Like spirituality, the concept of “narcissism” is one that defies simple reduction.  Infused with different meanings by different theorists to explain both normal and pathological conditions, narcissism is one of the oldest and most enigmatic terms in all of psychology (Drescher, 2010; Brown & Bosson, 2001).  Origins of the word may be traced to the Greek myth of Narcissus, a young man who was cursed by the goddess Nemesis, fell in love with his own reflection, and ultimately transformed into the flower which bears his name (Beck, Freeman, & Davis, 2003).  As a psychological construct, the term first appeared in a footnote to a 1905 essay by Sigmund Freud entitled Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (Rubenstein, 2010).  Use of the term, however, did not gain prominence in psychoanalytic circles until the late 1960’s and 1970’s at which time it was more fully explicated by object relations theorists.  These theorists posited that primary narcissism arises from early childhood when all of the infant’s needs are met, and its self is undifferentiated from that of its caretaker (Beck et al., 2003; Epstein, 1986).  In the absence of childhood trauma, the infant transitions from this state to one of a mature, normal self (Van Schoor, 1992).  Psychological disturbances arise, however, when there is inadequate caregiving during childhood (Beck et al., 2003; Kernberg, 1982; Kohut, 1972).  During this phase of development, called “rapprochement”, there is alternation between exploring moves into the environment and returning to the safekeeping of the caregiver, [but] the child sometimes receives inadequate support in these alternating efforts because caregivers are inconsistent, unavailable, or place self-centered demands upon the child. (Beck et al., 2003, p. 243)

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On Human Nature

Discourse on human nature tends to focus on those natural characteristics which appear to distinguish humans from other forms of life. The general theme is usually anthropocentric and goes something like “that which makes us different is that which defines our humanity.”  While comparing differences is informative in some contexts, it is an exercise that is too often undertaken as a means to demonstrate a special, preordained standing in nature for mankind and moral supremacy.  In fact, the essence of human nature is not that which sets us apart from or above other forms of life, but those characteristics which we share in a common evolutionary history.

It is along this continuum that core human operational modules — such as survival, socialization, and the pursuit of happiness — have developed by natural selection.  Thus, it is from the broad perspective of unity and inclusion that human nature is best described and from which an understanding of morality may be gained.

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