As therapists, we have all come across clients who show characteristic narcissistic traits – a grandiose sense of self-importance, arrogance, compulsive narcissistic displays and a sense of entitlement and yet, in some instances they may exhibit an extremely famished sense of self and almost boundless hunger for mirroring that can only be assuaged or soothed through the attention and validation from others.
Thanks to the contributions of Heinz Kohut, there is greater understanding that such manifestations are representative of narcissistic injuries – the development of narcissistic traits that co-existed with impaired attachment in childhood, leading to deficits in the structure of the self.
Narcissistic injuries are primarily attributable to unmet mirroring needs in childhood and lack of empathic attunement, or due to severe traumatisation, abuse or neglect. Such injuries can also occur as a result of relational trauma in which a child is excessively idealised and not seen or accepted for who they are; but seen as an extension of the primary caregiver. It is imperative for therapists to fully comprehend the underlying dynamics of narcissistic injuries, so they can effectively interpret the apparently contradictory behaviours of such clients.
We need a better understanding of the linkages between relational trauma, unmet mirroring needs and expressed narcissistic traits – so we can remain empathic when working with narcissism and provide a non-shaming therapeutic space.
This practical event will be useful for psychotherapists, counsellors and psychologists across modalities, specifically discusses the following:
• Can relational trauma induce narcissism? What are the underlying dynamics that we need to comprehend?
• How can we conceptualise narcissism on a spectrum, ranging from domineering and extroverted to introverted and neurotic?
• The linkages between narcissism and narcissistic injuries to early childhood trauma, neglect and relational trauma (as explained through Kohut’s Self Psychology)
• The key distinctions between healthy narcissism and dysfunctional narcissism – including the traits we need to be able to identify
• The role of shame and dissociation in the development of narcissism and the implications this has for the therapeutic relationship
Christiane Sanderson BSc, MSc. is a senior lecturer in Psychology at the University of Roehampton, of London with over 30 years of experience working with survivors of childhood sexual abuse and sexual violence. She has delivered consultancy, continuous professional development and professional training for parents, teachers, social workers, nurses, therapists, counsellors, solicitors, the NSPCC, Towards Healing, Ireland. the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Committee, the Methodist Church, the Metropolitan Police Service, SOLACE, the Refugee Council, Birmingham City Council Youth Offending Team, and HMP Bronzefield.