Narcissism FAQ: Narcissists, Inverted Narcissists, and Schizoids

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Question:

Are Narcissists also schizoids?

Answer:

This is not a question about dual diagnosis or co-morbidity. The implications of a positive answer run much deeper than a mere listing of traits and behaviours.

This is the definition of the Schizoid Personality Disorder (SPD) in the DSM IV (1994):

A. A pervasive pattern of detachment from social relationships and a restricted range of expression of emotions in interpersonal settings, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:

  • neither desires nor enjoys close relationships, including being part of a family
  • almost always chooses solitary activities
  • has little, if any, interest in having sexual experiences with another person
  • takes pleasure in few, if any, activities
  • lacks close friends or confidants other than first degree relatives
  • appears indifferent to the praise or criticism of others
  • shows emotional coldness, detachment, or flattened affectivity

B. Does not occur exclusively during the course of schizophrenia, a mood disorder with psychotic features, another psychotic disorder, or a pervasive developmental disorder and is not due to the direct physiological effects of a general medical condition.

In short, as the “Review of General Psychiatry (4th Edition), 1995” puts it:
“The person with schizoid personality disorder sustains a fragile emotional equilibrium by avoiding intimate personal contact and thereby minimizing conflict that is poorly tolerated.”

Intuitively, a connection between SPD and NPD seems plausible. After all, NPDs are people who self-sufficiently withdraw from others. They love themselves in lieu of loving others. Lacking empathy, they regard others as mere instruments, objectified “sources” of narcissistic supply. With the exception of criterion 6 above – the classic narcissist would tend to fit all the others.

The inverted narcissist (IN) is a narcissist, who “projects” his narcissism onto another narcissist. The mechanism of projective identification allows the IN to experience his own narcissism vicariously, through the agency of a classic narcissist. But the IN is no less a narcissist than the classical one. He is no less socially reclusive.

A distinction must be made between social interactions and social relationships. The schizoid, the narcissist and the inverted narcissist – all interact socially. But they fail to form human and social relationships. The schizoid is uninterested and the narcissist is both uninterested and incapable due to his lack of empathy and pervasive sense of grandiosity.

The ethnopsychologist George Devereux (“Basic Problems of Ethnopsychiatry”, University of Chicago Press, 1980) proposed to divide the unconscious into the id (the part that was always instinctual and unconscious) and the “ethnic unconscious” (repressed material that was once conscious). The latter includes all the defence mechanisms and most of the Superego. Culture dictates what is to be repressed. mental illness is either idiosyncratic (cultural directives are not followed and the individual is unique and schizophrenic) – or conformist, abiding by the cultural dictates of what is allowed and disallowed.

Our culture, according to Christopher Lasch, teaches us to withdraw inwards when confronted with stressful situations. It is a vicious circle. One of the main stressors of modern society is alienation and a pervasive sense of isolation. The solution our culture offers – to further withdraw – only exacerbates the problem.

Richard Sennett expounded on this theme in “The Fall of Public Man: On the Social Psychology of Capitalism” (Vintage Books, 1978).

One of the chapters in Devereux’s aforementioned tome is entitled “schizophrenia: An Ethnic Psychosis, or schizophrenia without Tears”. To him, the whole USA is afflicted by what came later to be called a “schizoid disorder”.

C. Fred Alford (in “Narcissism: Socrates, the Frankfurt School, and Psychoanalytic Theory”, Yale University Press, 1988) enumerates the symptoms:

“…withdrawal, emotional aloofness, hyporeactivity (emotional flatness), sex without emotional involvement, segmentation and partial involvement (lack of interest and commitment to things outside oneself), fixation on oral-stage issues, regression, infantilism and depersonalization. These, of course, are many of the same designations that Lasch employs to describe the culture of narcissism. Thus, it appears, that it is not misleading to equate narcissism with schizoid disorder.” (Page 19)

We have dwelt elsewhere in this book on the developmental phases of the narcissist and on the psychodynamics of narcissistic development, its causes and reactive patterns (see the FAQs “The Narcissist’s Mother”, “More on the Development of the Narcissist” and “Narcissism – The Psychopathological Default”). Still, it is worthwhile to study the theoretical foundations of any comparison between narcissism and the schizoid disorder.

The first to seriously consider this similarity, if not outright identity, was Melanie Klein. She broke ranks with Freud in that she believed that we are born with a fragile, easily fragmentable, weak and unintegrated Ego. The most primordial human fear is the fear of disintegration (death), according to Klein. Thus, the infant is forced to employ primitive defence mechanisms such as splitting, projection and introjection to cope with this fear (actually, with the result of aggression generated by the Ego). The Ego splits and projects this part (death, disintegration, aggression). It does the same with the life-related, constructive, integrative part of itself. The result of all these mechanics is to view the world as either “good” (satisfying, complying, responding, gratifying) – or bad (frustrating). Klein called it the good and the bad “breasts”. The child then proceeds to introject (internalize and assimilate) the good object while keeping out (=defending against) the bad objects. The good object becomes the nucleus of the forming Ego. The bad object is felt as fragmented. But it has not vanished, it is there.

This (the fact that the bad object is “out there”, persecutory, threatening) – gives rise to the first schizoid defence mechanisms, foremost amongst them the mechanism of “projective identification” (so often employed by Narcissists). The infant projects parts of himself (his organs, his behaviours, his traits) unto the bad object. This is the famous Kleinian “paranoid-schizoid position”. The Ego is split. This is as terrifying as it sounds but it allows the baby to make a clear distinction between the “good object” (inside him) and the “bad object” (out there, split from him). If this phase is not transcended the individual develops schizophrenia and a fragmentation of the self.

Around the third or fourth month of life, the infant realizes that the good and the bad objects are really facets of one and the same object. He develops the depressive position. This depression (Klein believes that the two positions continue throughout life) is a reaction of fear and anxiety. The infant feels guilty (at his own rage), anxious (lest his aggression harms the object and eliminates the source of good things). He experiences loss (of his own omnipotence since the object is outside his self). The infant wishes to erase the results of his own aggression by “making the object whole again”. By recognizing the wholeness of other objects – the infant comes to realize and to experience his own wholeness. The Ego re-integrates.

But the transition from the paranoid-schizoid position to the depressive one is by no means smooth and assured. Excess anxiety and envy can delay it or prevent it altogether. Envy seeks to destroy all good objects, so that others don’t have them. It, therefore, hinders the split between the good and the bad “breasts”. Envy destroys the good object but leaves the persecutory, bad object intact. Moreover, it does not allow the re-integration (“reparation” in Kleinian jargon) to take place. The more whole the object – the greater the envy. Thus, envy feeds on its own outcomes. The more envy, the less integrated the Ego is, the weaker and more inadequate it is – the more reason for envying the good object and other people. Envy is the hallmark of narcissism and the prime source of what is known as narcissistic rage.

The schizoid self – fragmented, weak, primitive – is intimately connected with narcissism through envy. Narcissists prefer to destroy themselves and to deny themselves – rather than to endure someone else’s happiness, wholeness and “triumph”. They will fail an exam – to frustrate a teacher they adore and envy. They will fail in therapy – not to give the therapist a reason to feel professionally satisfied. By failing and self-destructing, narcissists deny the worth of others. If the narcissist fails in therapy – his analyst must be inept. If he destroys himself by consuming drugs – his parents are blameworthy and should feel guilty (bad). One cannot exaggerate the importance of envy as a motivating power in the narcissist’s life.

The psychodynamic connection is obvious. Envy is a rage reaction at not controlling or “having” or engulfing the good, desired object. Narcissists defend themselves against this acidulous, corroding sensation by pretending that they DO control, possess and engulf the good object. This is what we call “grandiose fantasies (of omnipotence or omniscience)”. But, in doing so, the narcissist MUST deny the existence of any good OUTSIDE himself. The narcissist defends himself against raging, all consuming envy – by solipsistically claiming to be the ONLY good object in the world. This is an object that cannot be had by anyone, except the narcissist and, therefore, is immune to the narcissist’s threatening, annihilating envy. In order not to be “owned” by anyone (and, thus, avoid self-destruction in the hands of his own envy) – the narcissist reduces others to “non-entities” (the narcissistic solution), or avoids all meaningful contact with them altogether (the schizoid solution).

The suppression of envy is at the CORE of the narcissist’s being. If he fails to convince his self that he is the ONLY good object in the universe – he is exposed to his own murderous envy. If there are others out there who are better than he – he envies them, he lashes out at them ferociously, uncontrollably, madly, hatefully and spitefully. If someone tries to get emotionally intimate with the narcissist – she threatens the grandiose belief that no one but the narcissist can possess the good object (the narcissist himself). Only the narcissist can own himself, have access to himself, possess himself. This is the only way to avoid seething envy and certain self-annihilation. Perhaps it is clearer now why narcissists react as raving madmen to ANYTHING, however minute, however remote that seems to threaten their grandiose fantasies, the only protective barrier between themselves and their envy.

There is nothing new in trying to link narcissism to schizophrenia. Freud did as much in his “On Narcissism” (1914). Klein’s contribution was the introduction of immediately post-natal internal objects. Schizophrenia, she proposed, was a narcissistic and intense relationship with internal objects (such as fantasies or images, including fantasies of grandeur). It was a new language. Freud suggested a transition from (primary, object-less) narcissism (self-directed libido) to “objects relations” (objects directed libido). Klein suggested a transition from internal objects to external ones. While Freud thought that the common denominator of narcissism and schizoid phenomena was a withdrawal of libido from the world – Klein suggested it was a fixation on an early phase of relating to internal objects.

But is the difference not merely a question of terminology?

“The term ‘narcissism’ tends to be employed diagnostically by those proclaiming loyalty to the drive model (Otto Kernberg and Edith Jacobson, for instance – SV) and mixed model theorists (Kohut), who are interested in preserving a tie to drive theory. ‘Schizoid’ tends to be employed diagnostically by adherents of relational models (Fairbairn, Guntrip), who are interested in articulating their break with drive theory… These two differing diagnoses and accompanying formulations are applied to patients who are essentially similar, by theorists who start with very different conceptual premises and ideological affiliations.”
(Greenberg and Mitchell – “Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory” – Harvard University Press – 1983)

Klein, in effect, said that drives (e.g., the libido) are relational flows. A drive is the way a relationship between an individual and his objects (internal and external) is. Thus, a retreat from the world (Freud) into internal objects (object relations theorists and especially the British school of Fairbairn and Guntrip) – IS the drive itself. Drives are orientations (to external or internal objects). Narcissism is an orientation (a preference, we could say) towards internal objects – the very definition of schizoid phenomena. This is why narcissists feel empty, fragmented, “unreal” (movie-like) and diffuse. It is because their Ego is still split (never integrated) and because they withdrew from the world (of external objects). Kernberg identifies these internal objects with which the narcissist maintains a special relationship with the idealized, grandiose images of the narcissist’s parents. He believes that the narcissist’s very Ego (self-representation) fused with these parental images.

Fairbairn’s work – even more than Kernberg’s, not to mention Kohut’s – integrates all these insights into a coherent framework. Guntrip elaborated on it and together they created one of the most impressive theoretical bodies in the history of psychology.

Fairbairn internalized Klein’s insights that drives are object-orientated and their goal is the formation of relationships and not primarily the attainment of pleasure. Pleasurable sensations are the means to achieve relationships. The Ego does not look to be stimulated and pleased but to find the right, “good”, supporting object. The infant is fused with his primary object, the mother. Life is not about using objects for pleasure under the supervision of the Ego and Superego, as Freud postulated. Life is about separating, differentiating, achieving independence from the Primary Object and the initial state of fusion with it. Dependence on internal objects is narcissism. Freud’s post-narcissistic (anaclitic) phase of life can be either dependent (immature) or mature.

The newborn’s Ego is looking for objects with which to form relationships. Inevitably, some of these objects and some of these relationships frustrate the infant and disappoint him. He compensates for these setbacks by creating compensatory internal objects. The initially unitary Ego thus fragments into a growing group of internal objects. Reality breaks our hearts and minds, according to Fairbairn. The Ego and its objects are “twinned” and the Ego is split in three (Guntrip added a fourth Ego). A schizoid state ensues.

The “original” (Freudian or libidinal) Ego is unitary, instinctual, needy and object seeking. It then fragments as a result of the three typical interactions with the mother (gratification, disappointment and deprivation). The Central Ego idealizes the “good” parents. It is conformist and obedient. The Antilibidinal Ego is a reaction to frustrations. It is rejecting, harsh, unsatisfying, against natural needs. The Libidinal Ego is the seat of cravings, desires and needs. It is active in that it keeps seeking objects to form relationships with. Guntrip added the Regressed Ego which is the “True Self” in “cold storage”, the “lost heart of the personal self”.

Fairbairn’s definition of psychopathology is quantitative. Which parts of the Ego is dedicated to relationships with internal objects rather than with external ones (e.g., real people)? In other words: how Fragmented (=how schizoid) is the Ego?

To achieve a successful transition from internal objects to external ones – the child needs the right parents (in Winnicott parlance, the “good enough mother” – not perfect, but “good enough”). The child internalizes the bad aspects of his parents in the form of internal, bad objects and then proceeds to suppress them, together (‘twinned”) with portions of his Ego. Thus, his parents become PART of the child (though a repressed part). The more bad objects are repressed, the “less Ego is left” for healthy relationships with external objects. To Fairbairn, the source of all psychological disturbances is in these schizoid phenomena. Later developments (such as the Oedipus Complex) are less crucial. Fairbairn and Guntrip think that if a person is too attached to his compensatory internal objects – he will find it hard to mature psychologically. Maturing is about letting go of internal objects. Some people just don’t want to mature, or are reluctant to do so, or are ambivalent about it. This reluctance, this withdrawal to an internal world of representations, internal objects and broken Ego – is narcissism itself. Narcissists simply don’t know how to be themselves, how to acquire independence and, simultaneously manage their relationships with other people.

Both Otto Kernberg and Franz Kohut agreed that narcissism is between neuroses and psychoses. Kernberg thought that it was a borderline phenomenon, on the verge of psychosis (where the Ego is completely shattered). In this respect, Kernberg identifies narcissism with schizoid phenomena and with schizophrenia more than Kohut does. This is not the only difference between them. They also disagree on the developmental locus of narcissism. Kohut thinks that narcissism is an early phase of development, fossilized, forever to be repeated (gigantic repetition complex) while Kernberg maintains that the narcissistic self is pathological from its very inception. Kohut believes that the narcissist’s parents provided him with no assurances that he does possess a self (in his words, with no selfobject). They did not explicitly recognize the child’s nascent self, its separate existence, its boundaries. The child learned to have a schizoid, split, fragmented self – rather than a coherent ad integrated one. To him, narcissism is really all-pervasive, at the very core of being (whether in its mature form, as self-love, or in it regressive, infantile form as a narcissistic disorder).

Kernberg regards “mature narcissism” (also espoused by neo-Freudians like Grunberger and Chasseguet-Smirgel) as a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron. He observes that narcissists are already grandiose and schizoid (detached, cold, aloof, asocial) at an early age (at three years old, according to him!). Like Klein, Kernberg believes that narcissism is a last ditch effort (defence) to halt the emergence of the paranoid-schizoid position described by Klein. In an adult such an emergence is known as “psychosis” and this is why Kernberg classifies narcissists as borderline (almost) psychotics. Even Kohut, who is an opponent of Kernberg’s classification, uses Eugene O’Neill’s famous sentence (in “The Great God Brown”): “Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.” Kernberg himself sees a clear connection between schizoid phenomena (such as alienation in modern society and subsequent withdrawal) and narcissistic phenomena (inability to form relationships or to make commitments or to empathize).

C. Fred Alford in “Narcissism: Socrates, the Frankfurt School and psychoanalytic Theory”:

“Fairbairn and Guntrip represent the purest expression of object relations theory, which is characterized by the insight that real relationships with real people build psychic structure. Although they rarely mention narcissism, they see a schizoid split in the self as characteristic of virtually all emotional disorder. It is Greenberg and Mitchell, in Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory who establish the relevance of Fairbairn and Guntrip… by pointing out that what American analysts label ‘narcissism’, British analysts tend to call ‘schizoid personality disorder‘. This insight allows us to connect the symptomatology of narcissism – feelings of emptiness, unreality, alienation and emotional withdrawal – with a theory that sees such symptoms as an accurate reflection of the experience of being split off from a part of oneself. That narcissism is such a confusing category is in large part because its drive-theoretic definition, the libidinal cathexis of the self – in a word, self-love – seems far removed from the experience of narcissism, as characterized by a loss of, or split in, the self. Fairbairn’s and Guntrip’s view of narcissism as an excessive attachment of the Ego to internal objects (roughly analogous to Freud’s narcissistic, as opposed to object, love), resulting in various splits in the Ego necessary to maintain these attachments, allows us to penetrate this confusion” (page 67).

Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love, and runs the website Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited.Sam has served as the author of the Personality Disorders topic, Narcissistic Personality Disorder topic, the Verbal and Emotional Abuse topic, and the Spousal Abuse and Domestic Violence topic, Suite101.

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