Many theorists talk about the importance of the early stages of development. Several different terms are used when it is referenced. One of the terms that makes sense to me in understanding why grown ups keep getting themselves into repetitive dysfunctional patterns, or self-destructive patterns, is narcissistic grandiosity.
As newborns, we are incapable of providing for ourselves or even having a distinct sense of self. We are in complete need of support and care-giving on the part of someone. Traditionally the person identified as this caregiver is the mom, known in psychological terms as the “object.”
The object is there to care for us, make us safe, and help us separate and individuate into an identity of our own. Part of how they accomplish this, is to attend to us. The object finds all that we do to be attractive, fascinating, lovable and interesting. Their job is to reflect back a sense of love and awe that borders on worshipfulness. It is at this stage in our development we possess the qualities known as narcissistic grandiosity. We are content in our knowledge that the world revolves around us and exists to make us happy.
Everything we need is provided for us when we need it. The provider generally smiles and coos and loves us. We accept this as our due, since the world does, indeed, revolve around us. Eventually, in healthy relationships we learn the sad truth that the world does not revolve around us and we begin to suffer narcissistic wounds as our perfect world becomes imperfect. We learn that we do not always get what we want, when we want it. Teaching us how we adjust to these losses is one of the major contributions the object can make. Then we begin to learn to manipulate the world around us in order to maximize our ability to get what we want, since we no longer perfectly receive it. The job of the object is to help us learn to experience the loss of our perfect satisfaction, yet still know that we are lovable, attractive, and able to get much of what we want.
The goal is for us to learn that our failure to have the world revolve around our wants and needs is not due to anything inherently bad or wicked in us. It is not that we do not deserve to be loved, or even that we are not loved. The nature of life is that we cannot be the center of the universe.
We have to begin to learn self-awareness and interpersonal skills as we learn how to manage life and navigate relationships. One of the important lessons that healthy people learn is called “internal OK-ness.” What makes them feel OK and emotionally safe needs to come from from their feeling of self satisfaction as they listen to the voice from within guide them in their actions.
Babies who do not learn this internalized OK-ness develop externalized OK-ness. If they do not learn to listen to the voice within them identify what they like and want, then they are likely to spend their life trying to please others. Their sense of OK-ness comes from the approval of others. Their relationships will be based on pleasing and on bargaining for safety. They will be defined by a sense of anger and rage because life does not “go their way” and others do not respond to their “specialness.” These are the people you experience who have that feeling of entitlement.
In therapy, the challenge is to identify these individuals who have an external sense of OK-ness and help them re-experience the innocence of their infancy. It is necessary to have the “object” provide the stroking of the grandiose narcissism. In this way, they can re-parent and provide for themselves the internalization of their OK- ness the way it should have happened with the object of their childhood.
A good therapist is able to reflect the acceptance and care of the “object” in a way that wasn’t provided for the client in infancy. The therapist needs to provide the space for the client to learn to internalize their sense of “OK-ness.” This will help them learn to reduce their rage and learn to cope with loss in more helpful and satisfying ways.