Tag Archives: Narcissism

Lost in the rough

 

In the Covid era, a meeting at a golf course between two non-golfers makes as much sense anything else. It made more sense than meeting at our favorite local eatery, anyway. I was the one to object to an original plan of an airless interior versus an open space. In response, Joe, my friend, my co-author, suggested the nearby golf course, saying he wanted to “hit some balls”, possibly with double entendering purpose.

I’ve played golf about a dozen times in my life. Turns out Joe has played even less than that. No matter, it seemed as we got together, ostensibly to discuss our currently dormant writing project, entitled and herein promoted as Getting Real About Sex Addiction: A Psychodynamic Approach to Treatment. It isn’t dormant because we’ve got writers’ block and have stopped writing on it. It’s not dormant because we can’t find a publisher and are tired of rejection (well…). Actually, it’s dormant because we do have a publisher, who for the time being shall remain nameless, who is near dormant in his interest. He expresses support and enthusiasm—has done for over a year—but for one reason of another (especially since the Covid outbreak and subsequent restrictions), he cites delays owing to other priorities, suggests an indefinite time-frame for our publication, and even ignores requests for a publishing contract. With our shared penchant for innuendo, Joe and I agree that our publisher is like a careless lover, ever promising affection but never making a commitment. Regarding our book: he won’t put a ring on it.

Perhaps this is perversely apt for a book that is mostly about male sex addicts, because although female or pan sex addicts exist, they are not the focus of our profession’s “clinical attention”, much less progressive society’s thinly-veiled contempt. Hate. When it’s deemed righteous it’s called revolution, or a paradigm shift, or something like that. Clearly, based upon statistics and stereotype, the contemporary sex addict is wayward in his habits, slick and therefore elusive in his communications; at times compulsive, he is also calculating, gaslighting, opportunistic, and prone to ghosting. In a word, he is untrustworthy. In at least one more, he is heterosexual and of course male, because the most livid pathologizing is reserved for the most privileged. They are privileged with the “pathologizing” label of sex addiction, so-coined by an industry patriarch, Patrick Carnes, and since promulgated to the mental health colony, now dominantly feminine. The sex addiction label (not yet a diagnostic category) is controversial, in part because it is pathologizing, which isn’t nice, critics assert, unless it’s aimed at the privileged. The dominant faction of label recipients, men, are therefore further privileged to receive tender care and attention for their narcissism-fueled desires. Excuse me while I pause to laugh at the twisting rhetoric of my profession. This is my commentary, my satire, aimed as it is at the ideological undercurrents that live within the sex addiction field in particular. What are my qualifications? How well placed am I? How well placed is anyone to observe the sexual mores of our dystopian 2020? Is not lying concurrently in the beds of or before the laptops of millions stopping anyone else from having opinions? As Joe sat before me at lunch, at times eyeing a pair of golf clubs with which he’d hoped to get in some driving practice, I reminded him of these themes in our book, or within my slightly more numerous chapters, at least. See, partly because of delays, we haven’t talked about or even read each other’s chapters in ages. Gee, d’ya think it might be a good idea to remind each other of what we’re doing, I evinced.

Let’s go for a walk, I suggested, with Joe gleaning that I was about as interested in golf as a squirrel scrambling across one of the putting greens. He pointed to a path that seemed to wind its way throughout the course, there for players, and at least appropriate for pedestrians, we thought. Or, we didn’t think. Not really. We thought to take the clubs along so that I could swing at the air, take the head off a weed, or a stray daisy. To fidget with a toy; to self-sooth, as therapists are prone to observing. Play of another, less organized kind. Joe and I had too much to talk about, having not seen each other in months, but in spells, at least, we stuck to our task, and spoke of our embattled manuscript as we strolled along the sinewy path. At one point we stopped talking for a few moments as we were semi-politely shushed by a tall and patrician-looking man who was about to—how do you say?—make a drive? He thrust an open palm in our direction, signifying a genteel, yet officious displeasure. “Just…please, don’t talk”, he beseeched, containing an imperious disapproval. “Are you guys lost?” he followed up in a friendlier voice, having just taken a satisfying shot. Joe picked up on the meaning. I didn’t and was then treated to Joe’s assessing comments for the next few minutes. The man had reminded him of some in his practice, of the breadth of masculine Narcissism that has informed, darkened, but also fed private practice psychotherapy, and likely sex addiction treatment, in recent generations.

Soon, Joe returned his attention to our shared, if oft-interrupted endeavor. He asked after feedback given to us by early readers, which aren’t interested friends or colleagues, necessarily. I think we’ve managed to enlist one person whom we know to read more than a handful of pages. No, the more rigorous feedback has come from other would-be publishers, departments of review to whom we (or I) have submitted sample chapters, hoping to capture academia’s interest. Well, we received interest, I reminded Joe—some of it hostile in nature, which I found pleasing, as this is in keeping with the book’s adjunctively subversive aim, as far as I am concerned. However, the most salient critiques were based upon misunderstandings, of passages clumsily written by myself, and thus were necessarily and easily correctible. The reaction to opinions that are indeed irreverent and will hopefully remain so, or out of the mainstream, or “evidence-based”—that selectively applied principle—are yet to come, perhaps. In speaking of all this, Joe seemed a bit lost in our project, and needful of my re-orienting influence, especially if we are to have the requested latitude to further edit or re-write our material over the next year or so. By the end of our golf course, socially-distanced outing, my co-author was proclaiming rejuvenation: an agreement to revisit our dormant project; to revive it regardless of others’ interest, or our publisher’s interest, and to add updated material to its extant substance. A few topically relevant passages about therapy in the era of Covid, Joe agreed.

Near the end of our visit we were walking amongst a derelict section of the course, within a quadrant that featured an old gazebo, plus some manner of waiting area—a wholly undefined yet concrete structure. As we left its perimeter, we were approached by a golf cart driven by a smiling woman whose piercing gaze shot right into us. She pulled up uttering a query similar to the one directed at us by that superior-looking figure from the previous hole. Are you lost? was not quite the question she led with, and even if she had, its effect would have been quite different. Immediately, I was struck by her pleasant demeanor, and when she offered to escort us back to the golf club’s entrance—a suggestion made vague by an offhand turn of phrase—I quickly suspected that Joe and I had broken course etiquette, yielding a complaint resulting in this woman’s approach. This time Joe was slower on the uptake, which meant that I was quicker to the space next to our driver, while Joe sat on the end of the cart’s seat, which seemed designed for two. “Riding bitch” she said, which belied the air of flirtation I’d briefly assigned to her, or not. Was it an insult? A moment of manly teasing from a woman who has assimilated obnoxious golfing men? On the ride back via the sinewy, not-quite-the-pedestrian path we thought it was, our chauffeur pleasantly asked after our business. I replied that we’d patronized the club’s bar/sandwich shop, implying an entitlement to walk the grounds. Joe changed the subject, speaking of a club employee—a teenager, youngster, or something—who might be known this woman, and who might vouch for our decent characters, maybe. Actually, I’ve no idea why Joe was small-talking this woman about some kid who worked at the club. However, his distraction didn’t stop me from making, like a good, as in present therapist, the elephant comment of the moment: “I’ve a feeling that we shouldn’t have been walking where we were, that we’ve broken the club’s rules here”. Laughing, seemingly embarrassed yet keeping her dignity, the woman confirmed that “technically” we were walking where we shouldn’t have, but that it wasn’t a big deal. Not a big deal. What Joe and I were doing, on all levels, is not a big deal, I thought with a touch of angst, but a newfound bit between my teeth. “Treading on a few toes”, I later muttered, thinking of the year or so ahead.

 

 

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Sexual Narcissism

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“I’m in porn.” He’d said it quickly, in a clipped voice, while looking away, like he’d wanted the words off him, shooed away. I gave him a stilled look at which he grinned teasingly, masking unease. “Well, alright. I’m getting into porn, I should say. I’ve been in one clip so far.”

“Uh-huh. What film? What’s its title?” Rick laughed again, and shook his head. I felt like an idiot, stalling with questions to conceal my blushes.

“What film? I don’t know, man. Who cares…what film? Big dicks. It’s called ‘Big dicks’. There. I just gave it a title.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to—”

“Nah, it’s cool. I don’t know why I’m giving attitude, actually. I’ve got a name, if that means anything. Kane—Kane Able. How do you like it?”

“A play on…I suppose.”

“Sure.”

“That’s good,” I lied.

So I asked about plot. About the film with no name: I asked if his clip contained any plot, or acting, or even theme. Surprisingly, Rick, or Kane—was pretty sure I’d not make the shift on this one—said there was. Firefighting, he said, not surprisingly. His part, as in his role, was that of a firefighter who has entered a burning building to rescue a trapped woman, who is feebly crying out (I imagined the acting) until the hero arrives, ready to spare her. The room is very hot, about which the performers comment wittily, and then the room gets hotter, and soon they don’t care so much about the fire and…well, you get the picture.

“Any dialogue?” I asked. Rick looked at me as if I were reading from a book of stupid questions.

“I ad-libbed this one line as I came: ‘fire in the hole, baby’, I said.” This time I said nothing. “I know, don’t tell me,” Rick lamented. “Pretty dumb, huh?”

“Did she say anything, have any lines, ad lib or scripted?”

Rick shook his head, uttered a dismissive noise, like I’d asked whether the props spoke on set. I blew air through my teeth, and thought of Lira.

“That’s typical. It goes to show there just aren’t enough good roles for women these days.”

— a passage from Venus Looks Down On A Prairie Vole

An example of parody in my mischief novel: the name Kane Abel is a play on words, of course, common to porn actors. My favorite from the real world of porn? Peter North. Subtle, right? Anyway, Kane is otherwise Rick, a young man whom Daniel Pierce meets while living at a sober living house, wherein he’s in retreat from a fraught personal and professional life. Rick’s day job is in a seafood restaurant, as a chef. There he causes trouble, disturbing his boss and Daniel’s temp boss, Jimbo, by stirring unrest, harassing female staff, flirting with nubile customers, doing very little cooking, it seems, while strutting his sex like a farmyard stud. Rick likely thinks his place in the service industry has layered meaning. He’s the kind of man who feels entitled to promiscuity, who feels offended, let down by another man’s diffidence, thinking that humankind benefits from the indiscriminate sharing of seed. He’ll try to re-ignite something in Daniel, provoke a libidinal return in the grieving, wilted psychologist. That last line, Daniel’s teasing of a feminist complaint, glides over Rick’s head, not so much because of stupidity, but rather self-absorption.

The role of women. What indeed is the role of women?

**image by Philip Lawson

 

 

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The Careless Passage of Time

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In the next section of Candace Orcutt’s book, Trauma in Personality Disorder, we read of Mr. H. and Mrs. M. Mr. H., she describes, presents a case with “traumatic overtones”, though the trauma isn’t obvious at first. Is it the rejection from his wife? The business failure, coupled with the partner’s nefarious financial actions? The problems with his adult children? He is depressed, Narcissistic, manifestly so (exhibitionistic?), and according to Orcutt, needful of mirroring, and not always with an accompanying interpretation. The Narcissist has an antipathy towards interpretation, she writes (p. 100), but she points out that the Masterson model bypasses this antipathy by wrapping such interventions with empathy for the patient’s vulnerability. With that seeming understanding in mind, one wonders why her transcripts appear to wander so often from the technique: instances of reassurance (p. 97: “it will get better in the end”, p. 91: “you have your kids and your pride. You’re managing”); so-called reasoning (p. 88: “Wouldn’t it be easier to stop fighting and accept the offer?”); a warning (p. 86: “Maybe it’s important to remember that reaction plays into others’ hands”); a confrontation (p. 85: “are you really defending yourself by turning this into WWIII”). The mirroring aims at maintaining idealized unity with the therapist; the confrontation a containment of acting out; the reassurance perhaps girds Mr. H. for his subsequent disclosures about an incestuous relationship with his mother. He ends therapy having broken a secret, and seems happy enough, with a new woman in his life and a better relationship with his kids. 

Orcutt writes that mirroring alone may be necessary when the patient is feeling especially vulnerable. This feels very permitting somehow, as though the interpretive piece were an extra chore for both patient and therapist; both are spared the task of dealing with the question of criticism that ambiguously lies within mirroring interpretations. Mrs. M is stoical, likes to “fix” problems. She seeks to control feelings, often by dismissing them, and thinks that having feelings and acting upon them are conflated concepts. She also discovers a family secret, through the experience of an accident in which no was injured, though Mrs. M. begins to suffer symptoms of PTSD. She wants medication, and hypnosis; she doesn’t want to dwell. She resists the psychologizing of her reaction from doctors, but soon integrates the therapeutic suggestion that her symptoms derive from stress, and more importantly, she acknowledges helplessness with respect to her fears. This appears to open up memories, including an incident in her teens wherein she felt responsible for a friend’s accident. Symptoms persist, and the therapist gives homework for Mrs. M. to interview family members about recurrent dreams of a little girl being killed. The investigation unearths a horrific family secret: a tragic incident in which Mrs. M’s four year old twin sister is accidentally killed by her mother’s first husband. Mrs. M. had witnessed the scene, but was thereafter amnestic, and the mother resolved to not talk about it. This is a painful story, one that had me reflecting sympathetically upon the father of the deceased girl as much as the horror of Mrs. M. She is distraught by the discovery, and blames the therapist for not preparing her for the burdens of memory. The therapist reassures that life will be put back “into one piece”, and adds that perhaps time will bring a change. Cliches aside, attributing change to the passage of time seems incomplete, even careless.

 

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Remember the Big No

ImageMasterson criticized Kohut’s theory of an independent line of narcissism, his idea that the self matures from infantile forms to mature forms through the self-object functions of parents (mirroring and idealizing) who, once again, don’t exist so much as separate individuals as much as they represent functions in a strictly vertical line of development. In Kohut’s model, which would appear to have influenced the latter day Strength-based movement which is aimed at kids in schools (and also kids in special needs programs), the individual seeks mirroring and idealization in an effort to correct prior deprivations. These ‘efforts to correct’ reframe the discussion of therapeutic intervention. They de-pathologize the defensive actions of the narcissist, in keeping with a positivist, ‘non-judgment’ ethos, and the reader might consider the shadow side of this bias.

Years ago I created a different kind of drama centered around the so-called unempathetic mother. In The Big No, Jill Evans, my first and only female protagonist, is living a protracted separation/individuation from her mother, a Romanian immigrant now living in Northern California. Jill’s mother is religious, somewhat narcissistic in her own right, and protective of a secret past. From within Jill’s disturbed sleep the reader glimpses a world parallel to her own. Her recurrent ‘Cinderella’ dream plucks beta elements from her everyday life and posits her as a step-child of a controlling mother, and an absent and/or abusive father. Ugly sisters are jealous and venal, and the father is a humiliated failure with sinister, exploitative friends. The dreams, like Chris Leavitt’s shadows from Crystal From The Hills, portend the future, or else they call out the guilty in the present. Like the culpable mothers that informed Masterson’s theory, Jill’s mother has maintained libidinal availability as long as Jill has been dependent. As the story begins, Jill has returned home after a relationship failure and a job transfer, with her tail between her legs. But it’s her dogged unconscious combined with later efforts to uncover family secrets that bristle against the family order: the mother’s comfortable old-maiden-like existence, living in proximity to Jill’s two conformist sisters; the secure knowledge that the past has been stashed, and that everyone is safe. A confrontation ensues, creating casualties out of each character’s false selves, their stifled existence. Society must set limits on some things, and liberate others. Everyone has something or someone they must covet. Everyone has something to fight against.

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