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Dreams have played an important role in my therapy process. In dreams the unconscious part of the human soul tells something to the conscious part. Dreams use analogue language: images, stories and emotions, which don't use the logic of the day. They have their own logic. In dreams forces are speaking which keep silent during the daytime.
I used to have standard dreams. My mind chose images that were present from my former everyday life: working as a house parent or staff member in a children's home. At first I thought that this concerned my experiences in the past when I worked there, but a dream tells more; it uses the image for its message. A standard rule for interpretation is that everything in a dream refers to something in the self, possibly a suppressed part of the self. One has to search to find this part; sometimes it will be just the counterpart of your initial belief.
My dreams always told the story of a skilled and successful childcare worker. I always brought order to the group and I created a good and therapeutic climate where other workers had made chaos.
Then, suddenly, I realized that these dreams were quite narcissistic and that they did not refer to reality but to wishes, feelings, beliefs ... or illusions. Now I had to acknowledge that there was a narcissistic element hidden in my soul.
This acknowledgement is, so I read later on, a crucial moment because someone who is just a narcissist never will realize and acknowledge that there is something wrong with him or her, and surely not that it is narcissism.
Indeed, so I read, denying the problem is exactly a crucial aspect of the problem. Narcissism is the maintenance of a grandiose persona, the outward person as he wants to be seen. But this obscures the other side of the human, the shadow, which supposedly is less pretty. Narcissism is convulsively covering up and keeping the shadow hidden.
Factually, a persona is an illusion that must be defended. A narcissist is not able to trust anyone, or himself, so he cannot be passive and dependent. Narcissists are always on their guard and map their own route; there is no surrender, no dependency. Supposedly, one establishes such a narcissistic pattern because the base of the personality is weak. This must be kept hidden. It should not appear that the giant has feet of clay - to use a figure from the prophet Daniel, or rather from the dream of his emperor.
Once conscious of this, I could not wriggle out of this acknowledgement after my soul had given me a dream I could not deny.
In my dream, I was a foster father and I had a day off. I went to visit another foster family that lived on a mountain. The point of the story is that the foster mother did not see me simply as a fellow, but as 'the great and famous orthopedagogue who remarkably was only a foster parent'. That was the way she mother saw me and treated me.
This 'foster mother' is a strength within me who sees me in that way. It may seem desiderable to be seen in that way, but it is not. This view prevented a normal and good contact with the foster mother. I could not escape this role. This disappointed me and I went away with the notion this role imprisoned and isolated me. I wanted to get out of this role, so I thought about it on my way back home.
So, my soul said to me in the language of a dream: 'acknowledge that you are captured and isolated in a role (cocoon, ivory tower or fortress) - try to change this!'
Later on, I read that indeed loneliness is a characteristic of narcissism. One lives in an ivory tower and so it is difficult to make real contact with fellow humans. I recognized this; many people have said that I am standoffish and I have this feeling also.
After this, I could no longer deny a narcissistic element in my soul and the need to change this. However, I had no idea how to do this.
Remarkably, after that acknowledgement things went easier. Clearly, acknowledgement was a crucial moment. I saw it crumbling away. There was no need to do anything else except give room to my dreams and the emotions they gave.
Nevertheless, this was not simple; there was quite a lot of rubbish that had to be cleaned up in the cellar of my soul. Instead of paying attention to the narcissism, I paid attention to my shadow side. I read books about it and I wanted to know whatever there was. Merely by asking oneself such a question and by starting a quest, narcissism crumbles away of itself. It turned out that the famous successful orthopedagogue in my dreams simply disappeared; instead, a failing childcare worker appeared - a more realistic image.
There was some fear, but this fear
was before, not during that crumbling away. In my diary, I wrote: "I
am afraid of something - but what? For the crumbling of a self-image? Is this
that narcissism? Is it fear of disintegration? Fear of the crumbling of a weak
building on a weak foundation?"
So I asked myself: "That narcissistic pride, isn't it already broken? I'm doubting about everything nowadays. Or is that broken pride the core of the narcissistic neurosis?"
I also wrote in my diary: "I am restless, I can't find my rest. Today, I have worked a long time on a letter to someone who acts on the level of 'knowing some facts', but doesn't act on the level of thinking in terms of processes - which I do. Quite narcissistic, this idea. Time will tell the truth."
Later on I wrote:
"Something catches my attention about this alleged narcissism. I have told the story of my marriage as the story of the great rescuer (me) and my 'unstable sick and egocentric' wife. That's a narcissistic story. In fact, it was me who was not able to maintain the relationship. My fatherhood went better.
At my job, I was not very good on the level of policy and management; my
strength was the going about with the youngsters because I felt like them and could
be an example to the other childcare workers.
I still worry about the idea that there seems to be a fundamental flaw in my personality. Better not to turn a blind eye to it and tell a narcissistic story.
'See the truth' is easier said than done. Irresistibly, nasty feelings came up. These seemed to be fundamental in my life, a kind of ancient stew. I have always covered up and fended off these feelings; they didn't have a chance to appear and so I never could come to terms with them. Now I let them come and, remarkably, they gradually disappeared, the stew diluted so to speak. Things were not as bad as they seemed.
Gradually, I looked more critically at my life. I see elements of a psychodrama building on my unconscious feelings. I have sublimated feelings. O.K., but why? And which feelings? What does doing so hide? Romanticizing disappears, narcissism crumbles away. Things go wrong in my dreams, but this is good, says my therapist, because now there is better contact with reality.
When I looked more self-critically at my marriage I found my male sexuality was not fully developed. What happened was: tarnishing, de-romanticizing, de-sublimating, but so also de-narcissism. As regards to content, it was an intensive and difficult event, but the process ran nearly automatically and was unstoppable.
It's not easy to conclude such things about oneself. I still have to acknowledge that something has gone wrong in my life and development and that I have used narcissism as a defence and to survive. This is exactly the diagnosis against which I was protesting. Now I can give a self-diagnosis based on my own quest in my own inner world.
If I had a narcissistic personality, what are its sources? This was not an easy question. The answer did not come until I had investigated a lot of my soul. I had to go a long way back in my life roaming in the cellars of my soul. There was a lot to discover.
There was a lot of mess and there were scary animals. At first an angry elephant in a cellar appeared in my dream. But there also appeared a little prince, a baby prince in a princely cradle in a beautiful small room under the ground.
According to my therapist, this referred to the womb and the wish to return to that nice little cradle. I realized that I was the youngest son and that I was my mother's little prince. But in reality, there were a lot of children and foster children who caught her attention. Thus, it was more a wish than reality. In fact, I was lonesome in a large family.
It was much later when I could fit this into my growing insight of the narcissism. Both of my parents had a role in starting and maintaining it and I took over the flag. My mother's role was positive: I was her little prince, not daddy's little prince. My father had a more negative role: he simply did not see me, and he slated and berated what he saw of me. He was never content or proud of his youngest son, at least not when I was young.
Thus, the son became proud of himself as a matter of survival. The son went to live in an ivory tower where he feels good - but maintains his loneliness. The son hid himself, he shrank into himself. Indeed, I felt lonesome as a child. In my puberty, I fantasized an empire in which I was of course the winning good emperor.
Such a triangle maintains itself: my mother and me against my father. It is the Oedipal triangle, a problem the boy has to resolve by imitating the father. I did not, at least not on conscious level. See my essay Oedipal Muddle.
It was a long journey to escape this narcissism. I had to distance myself from the image of my mother as only an angel and of my father as only a bully to combat or escape. This has happened in my dreams. I shouted to my mother: "Let your son go!" and I went away from her. I even dreamed of my mother as a witch. The image of my father went the opposite way: he has received his honor lately - quite a great difference. In another dream I give my father back to my mother as her partner. So I stepped out of the Oedipal triangle and swept away the ground for narcissism. Or... I let the narcissism crumble away so I could leave the Oedipal triangle? That crumbling away was nearly automatic, but the job of sweeping away the basis of it - or the results of it - was a big one.
Somebody asked me: "Lovers of little girls are usually always viewed as narcissistic... Where does that idea come from?" I replied:
I am studying just such questions because I am
alleged to be narcissistic.
Narcissus gazed at his mirror image in the water and fell in love with it. He wanted to embrace the nymph he saw, but regrettably the image disappeared and he drowned. There sprouted a flower, the daffodil.
There are two interpretations, which each explain one aspect:
The first one highlights the pride,
the second one emphases the falling in love.
The pride is a reaction to one's pride being hurt, for example, as children whose parents constantly say that they are bad eggs. The reaction will be: "I am very good!" In adulthood, such a person likes to be named "The Great Leader", like Mao and others did.
One assumes that the girl lover (or boy lover) feels good because he is more mighty, intelligent, etc., than the young friend and that such a lover especially likes this power difference. 'Oh yeah,' one says, 'he calls it love, but factually it's a kind of pride to be greater, a love of power.'
I doubt this interpretation. Factually, I never see boy lovers or girl lovers enjoying power. Nevertheless, I recognize something of this interpretation from my dreams in which I was 'the famous good childcare worker'. Later on, this image crumbled away and I dreamed stories about human searching, roaming and failing.
The falling in love concerns one's mirror image. In a psychological sense, this is one's repressed self or the repressed aspects of the self, one's shadow, as Jung says.
This is the accusation one has for people with pedophilic feelings. However, take a look at the the average real man who has repressed the female aspects of himself and who thus falls in love with a woman: his mirror image, his shadow figure. Whoever represses the male aspects will, male or female, fall in love with a man.
I have realized something like this: I fall in love with vital children and I like to have them around me. Then, I feel that I am a more complete human being. My vitality was suppressed in my childhood, especially by my father. He could not bear noise, vivaciousness, playing soccer, manifesting myself, being there. He only accepted me as being 'a silent grey mouse' and so I became a silent grey mouse, but also a cunning mouse. With great jealousy, I watched out of the window at the children who were allowed to play soccer on the street.
Vitality just around me... (1960)
Also the animals around me have this function: they represent my own repressed vitality. The dog should enjoy walking. hunting, sniffling and wetting the trees - not I; I like to make sure the dog feels good. The children should enjoy playing soccer, swimming, etc... - Not I; I feel good when they feel good.