What I recognize in the literature

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The origins
The continuation  
The crises 
The breakthrough  
Two documents 

The origins

Cumulative traumas were present. I was in the incubator I, a weak newborn, separated from the mother - the standard example in literature. Pneumonia, ear surgery, war, famine, bombardments, a flight - surely cumulative traumas. I refused food - so I remember and so confirmed my mother later on. This refers to an early depression.

I have always pretended I had became strong because of these problems. Nevertheless, now it seems me to be a narcissistic claim hiding a factual weakness. This claim was maybe the fašade, behind which I had already, quite young, given up vitality - had said no to life.

In fact, just like Symington describes, I spoke in a distant way about the facts in my childhood. One, even I, could not recognize them as traumas. It was others who drew my attention to it, among others my daughter. I believe her. In the course of the therapy process, this has changed, as I recognized over time.


Ultimately, one sees the light, not by means of a methodologically correct treatment, but by means of a personal confrontation in which the truth is said and heard.

Korteweg e.a., 1996, p. 123.

Then, I was that little Oediprince of my mother; I did not murder my father, but I abandoned him as father, and after that I combated or avoided him. I did not like it at all when I discovered my beloved mother had to sleep with this man. I did not understand how she could stand for this. Here we see the rejection of the life-creating sleeping together, the rejection of life itself and, unconsciously, of my masculinity. Oedipal rumble...

Before that, there was the narcissism, which in turn caught me in the Oedipal triangle. Here we see narcissism as a pre-oedipal problem which influences and handicaps the Oedipal situation, and which in turn handicaps repair and development. 

The continuation

I felt lonesome, in spite of the large family in which we were as close as sardines in a tin, an image in my dreams. I felt my parents were unreachable, factually and later on in dreams. I chose splendid isolation. I became a standoffish silent grey mouse. I had given up vitality, the inner life giver, long since. I had killed my own vitality, just like I tried to kill the storm petrel in my dream.

But the petrel, the strong bird, survived and gave me life-saving food in my dream, which I accepted. My vitality, hidden by myself - or, if I project the problem, stolen by my father - was a crucial element in my quest: the life giver?

As a teenager, I fantasized of an empire with a always-victorious emperor and happy people. I had friends, but could not reach the vital ones I longed for, so the more standoffish friends remained, young artists and youth leaders. 

As a youth leader, I felt like the right man in the right place: the celebrated and beloved leader. Around me, I saw vitality - my own repressed vitality projected onto those street children. This is exactly what Symington wrote. Later on, I was the valued staff member, admired by the child care workers. It seemed to be a nice altruistic profession and life... perfectly hiding the underlying egocentrism.

Fortunately, I could give life to a child, albeit in a somewhat difficult marriage. In my inner self, I had some difficulties with the life-creating heterosexual sexuality.

The crises 

Just like Cassius, I did not learn from a crisis, my divorce, nor from another crisis, being hospitalized in 1988. I had a feeling of being double in those times which I could not explain. This double feeling is described in the literature as the splitting of the ego, which must be kept in the unconsciousness. 

Several years later, there was a hint of a breakthrough. The next crisis started. In a dream, a furious elephant, caged in a cellar, appeared. Next year, the crisis was so heavy my defenses broke and my self image crashed, the fašade broken down. The blanket was drawn away and I had to look at the I which was laying underneath. 

The original pain, my ancient stew, came about and I really felt that pain. Indeed, a feeling of basic insecurity was an ingredient of this stew. Also the feeling of being deprived (of the mother figure, the first and the classic trauma). This re-feeling was painful, but not until after that came room and a feeling of release from the cocoon. Factually, a crisis was needed, a considerable one.

I had killed the pain of my ancient stew, but this was not a curative, only a drug which palliated the problem. Not until a painful crisis and going to the rock-bottom did things really change, just like Symington says.

The breakthrough

In complete accordance with what I have read, the breakthrough came only by acknowledging that there was something wrong inside me, even if I was not able to say exactly what this was. This acknowledgement is crucial in the process of healing, so we  read. That acknowledgement and the choice to come out of the cocoon happened in dreams, thus on the unconscious level and in analogue language, the deeper level of the soul.

Such a breakthrough is just like taking the plunge into the unknown - crossing Cassius' river and not being able to return, the plunge into puberty or adolescence without a return. Quite recognizable. In my dreams, I could not take the plunge across the river.

Or have I? Maybe, by becoming conscious about the fact I did not dare to take that plunge and returned, and by accepting this as facts, I actually have made the plunge.

I dreamed about a storm petrel, a bird that knows to survive at the Antarctic, as I have read in a newspaper. An animal with vitality. In my dream, the bird survived an attack. Note, by myself. It appeared to have a sack with food for me, live-giving food, vitality.

Maybe I have taken the plunge at that moment, the plunge of accepting the life giver, life itself.

At the beginning of this essay, I wrote how someone whom is left with the diagnosis of 'narcissism' at their door, arrives at a paradox: the more one denies, the more the diagnosis will be seen as confirmed. However, there is a way out of this paradox, the therapeutic or healing paradox: the more one acknowledges there is something wrong inside, the less wrong there will be.

Sheldon Kopp (1996) explains this on the basis of Dante's Divine Comedy. Dante had to discover that 'the way to heaven leads trough hell. As long as we acknowledge this even within ourselves, we don't need to be afraid that it passes all bounds with us.' He then gives a clarifying example:

A patient asks for a therapy because he has troubles getting along with other people. Because of some unknown reason, he always says the wrong words and hurts other people. Actually, so he says, I'm a very nice guy; I only have this out of hand neurotic problem.
What he does not want to know is that this 'unconscious hostility' is not the problem, but actually is the solution. Factually, he is not a nice guy, he is a scoundrel who hurts other people, but who meanwhile pretends that he is a nice guy. 
If the therapist can lead him to the hell of his soul, he has a chance to cure. [...] We cannot change something within ourselves until we have accepted it. Jung has said that 'the patient should not learn to combat his neurosis, but to live with it.'


Two documents

I just had gone through my quest, including this report, when I found two old documents that confirmed,  reasonably objectively, the above. One is a report from a career advice center, from 1960, the other a similar report from 1962 when I was in the military.

After I had re-read them, I realized I had not recognized the narcissistic elements in them - not until now. I had seen those documents earlier, and I was astonished that I had never seen the narcissistic elements clearly written in them. 

Here we see narcissism's characteristic that it cannot see itself, and if one sees it, it disappears. Narcissism does not want to disappear, so it does not want to see itself. This deficit of self-knowledge is mentioned repeatedly in literature. 

In those two documents, I could recognize what is said in literature, but I clearly did not want to see this in the course of all those years.

Yes, now I see it, I recognize and acknowledge it. The most remarkable characteristic of narcissism is that, as soon as one sees it, it crumbles away and it disappears, just like the mirror image in the water disappears as soon as one as soon as one touches the water and recognizes it as a mirror image. Well, better late then never, it seems to me.


A crisis asks the utmost of discipline. Who has gone positively through such a period, may look back with a mixture of pride and thankfulness. Pride, because he has not fallen into his personal pitfalls too often. Thankfulness, because it's a wonder that he has made it, whilst he had not made it without any help.

Korteweg e.a. 1996, p. 16
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