Narcissism and Inadequate Mirroring

In the early stages of an individual’s life, the soul is not capable of self-reflection or self-monitoring.  So, for the helpless child to grow and develop a healthy identity through the first personality, it needs both reflection and monitoring to be provided from outside itself.

In psychological terms, this natural phenomenon is known as “mirroring”.   So, when a child comes into the world, it needs caring, loving eyes to mirror back to them that they are loved.  Mirroring includes how the mother (or another authoritative caregiver) holds the infant or the tone she uses to communicate with her baby.
The way in which she reinforces or suppresses her child’s spontaneity, (either through her fear, anxiety or calmness). Or how she expresses approval and sets necessary boundaries without shaming or threatening the child.

The mirroring of loving, calm, and non-judgemental supportive eyes promotes “moments of oneness” with the mother (or other authoritative caregivers), creating the connection and bonding that makes the child feel safe and protected in the world. It is through loving, compassionate mirroring that the child senses that they are accepted, good-enough, valued, treasured as a worthy individual, and loved.
This is vital for building the child’s confidence and self-worth, and for developing a healthy and strong sense of self within the growing child.

It is through the mirroring empathic eyes of the mother that the child also learns that it is admired, understood and appreciated, allowing them to grow, develop and mature in a natural way. The mother’s (or authoritative caregiver’s) active mirroring cultivates the child’s essence and helps the growing child to trust its developing True Self.

When the mirroring comes from an individual who is well attuned and in a deep soul relationship with themselves, the developing child can then learn how to take that self-worth from within itself for building and developing the True Self and carrying that forward for building healthy future relationships with others throughout their life.

Without adequate attachment and mirroring, the child experiences the core wound of abandonment.  Gravely wounded the child becomes emotionally detached and separates from its True Self, forming a False Self to build their ego identity, resulting in what Kohut (1971) described as a narcissistic personality.

Without a real sense of self, the child’s narcissistic personality becomes established by reactions to the environment, and everyone within it.  Sadly, not all infants experience perfect attachment and mirroring.  Many mothers (or authoritative caregivers) are unaware of the needs of the child; they act harsh, impatient, aggressive, and resentful with the child, making the mirroring and bonding process stunted, and leaving the child feeling very unsafe.
In such an environment, they will experience the mother’s voice as cold and harsh, her touch as insensitive and unloving.

When the mirroring comes from a parent who is not entirely in touch with their true self, the child will be unable to get a real sense of their true nature, and this will prevent them from growing and developing their true self-worth.  They will internalise themselves as being deficient, wrong, not good enough in some way, and they will spend their life looking for validation through a myriad of mirroring eyes; which, of course, will never convince them that they are alright as they are.  Because of faulty mirroring, the individual is then unlikely to develop and mature correctly and entirely.

Although the exact cause of narcissism is unknown, many theorists agree that it is inadequate mirroring that is the fundamental cause of a narcissistic personality forming.  Isolated from its True Nature, the child, is separated from its True Self and develops a false self in its place.
Now separated from their True Self the child’s ego-personality development is arrested, resulting in the ego taking over, where “Ego” then rules supreme.
The child will continue into adulthood where the second personality will be arrested, and the ego will not be transcended, leaving them unable to go beyond their ego self, with total disregard for others.

In this corrupt state, unconsciously the growing child will go on to develop a position of superiority.  The superiority is a good way for them to mask their feelings of inferiority that results from the separation from one’s True Self.
Guilt and shame for having needs, the child will look for ways of getting those needs met through other means, demanding special attention and empathy from anyone they can manipulate, and this is likely to continue throughout its adult life.

When they fail to get the mirroring that they want, their grandiosity will lead to their becoming enraged and punishing; the angry, sensitive inner child is always ready to react no matter what age they are.  It is only when a narcissist is basking in the light and getting empathy and mirroring from others that they feel validated.
When validated they are happy, secure and satisfied bunnies.  But, if anybody should outshine them, or the mirroring stops, their mood will suddenly change, and they will feel narcissistically wounded.

Always on the lookout for a sense of safety, security, esteem, value and worth, the narcissist constantly searches for mirroring eyes that will mirror the validation, acceptance, approval, love, and self-worth that they desperately crave.  They are particularly attracted to compassionate, empathic, loving people, and especially attracted to those qualities that they lack in themselves.

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Christine is a Psychotherapist, Educator, Author and Supervisor of mental health professionals for over 28 years. She was part of a team in the Trauma Unit of St. Brendan’s Psychiatric Hospital, Dublin, and has worked specifically with victims of pathological narcissistic abuse in her private practice for many years.
Her books, “The Three Faces of Evil: Unmasking the Full Spectrum of Narcissistic Abuse” and “When Shame Begets Shame: How Narcissists hurt and shame their victims” set out to to help those who have been affected by a narcissist and also to address the shortfalls in a therapist’s education, so that they become better equipped to work with survivors of narcissistic abuse.Much of her knowledge has come from her post-grad studies in Criminology and Forensic Psychology, and it is through these disciplines that she has gained her understanding of “The Dark Triad”, (Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Psychopathy).
These three faces of evil are vital information for understanding the full spectrum of narcissistic abuse and the dire effects on the victims.It is her vision that narcissistic abuse becomes part of the curriculum of all Mental Health clinicians.
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