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Traumas as Social Interactions and Self Love

Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited

Read “Traumas as Social Interactions” by Dr. Sam Vaknin, l (accessed August 12, 2015)

We react to serious mishaps, life altering setbacks, disasters, abuse, and death by going through the phases of grieving. Traumas are the complex outcomes of psychodynamic and biochemical processes. But the particulars of traumas depend heavily on the interaction between the victim and his social milieu.

It would seem that while the victim progresses from denial to helplessness, rage, depression and thence to acceptance of the traumatizing events – society demonstrates a diametrically opposed progression. This incompatibility, this mismatch of psychological phases is what leads to the formation and crystallization of trauma.

Self Love

Victim Phase I – DENIAL

The magnitude of such unfortunate events is often so overwhelming, their nature so alien, and their message so menacing – that denial sets in as a defense mechanism aimed at self-preservation. The victim denies that the event occurred, that he or she is being abused, that a loved one passed away.

Society Phase I – ACCEPTANCE, MOVING ON

The victim’s nearest (“Society”) – his colleagues, his employees, his clients, even his spouse, children, and friends – rarely experience the events with the same shattering intensity. They are likely to accept the bad news and move on. Even at their most considerate and emphatic, they are likely to lose patience with the victim’s state of mind. They tend to ignore the victim or chastise him, to mock, or to deride his feelings or behavior, to collude to repress the painful memories, or to trivialize them.

Summary Phase I

The mismatch between the victim’s reactive patterns and emotional needs and society’s matter-of-fact attitude hinders growth and healing.
The victim requires society’s help in avoiding a head-on confrontation with a reality he cannot digest. Instead, the society serves as a constant and mentally destabilizing reminder of the root of the victim’s unbearable agony (the Job syndrome).

Victim phase II – HELPLESSNESS

Denial gradually gives way to a sense of all-pervasive and humiliating failure, often accompanied by debilitating fatigue and
mental disintegration. These are among the classic symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
These are the bitter results of the internalization and integration of the harsh realization that there is nothing one can do to alter the outcomes of a natural, or man-made, catastrophe. The horror in confronting one’s finiteness, meaninglessness, eligibility, and powerlessness – is overpowering.

Society Phase II – DEPRESSION

The more the members of society come to grips with the magnitude of the loss, or evil, or threat represented by the grief inducing events – the sadder they become. Depression is often little more than suppressed or self-directed anger. The anger, in this case, is belatedly caused by an identified or diffuse source of threat, or of evil, or loss. It is a higher level variant of the “fight or flight” reaction, tempered by the rational understanding that the “source” is often too abstract to tackle directly.

Summary Phase II

Thus, when the victim is most in need, terrified by his helplessness and adrift – society is immersed in depression and unable to provide a holding and supporting environment.
Growth and healing are again retarded by social interaction.
The victim’s innate sense of annulment is enhanced by the self-addressed anger (=depression) of those around him.

PHASE III

Both the victim and society react with RAGE to their predicaments. In an effort to Narcissistically reassert himself, the victim develops a grandiose sense of anger directed at paranoidly selected, unreal, diffuse, and abstract targets (=frustration sources).
By expressing aggression, the victim re-acquires mastery of the world and himself.

Members of society use rage to re-direct the cause of their depression (which is, as we said, self-directed anger) and to channel it safely. To ensure that this expressed aggression alleviates their depression – real targets must are selected and real punishments meted out. In this respect, “social rage” differs from the victim. The former is intended to sublimate aggression and channel it in a socially acceptable manner – the latter to reassert narcissistic self-love as an antidote to an all-devouring sense of helplessness.

In other words, society, by itself, being in a state of rage, positively enforces the narcissistic rage reactions of the grieving victim. This, in the long run, is counter-productive, inhibits personal growth, and prevents healing. It
also erodes the reality test of the victim and encourages self-delusions, paranoid ideation, and ideas of reference.

Victim Phase IV – DEPRESSION

As the consequences of narcissistic rage – both social and personal – grow more unacceptable, depression sets in. The victim internalizes his aggressive impulses. Self-directed anger is safer but is the cause of great sadness and even suicidal ideation. The victim’s depression is a way of conforming to social norms. It is also instrumental in ridding the victim of the unhealthy
residues of narcissistic regression. It is when the victim acknowledges the malignancy of his rage (and its anti-social nature) that he adopts a depressive stance.

Society Phase IV – HELPLESSNESS

People around the victim (“society”) also emerge from their phase of rage transformed. As they realize the futility of their anger,
they feel more and more helpless and devoid of options. They grasp their limitations and the irrelevance of their good intentions. They accept the inevitability of loss and evil and Kafkaesque agree to live under an ominous cloud of arbitrary judgment, meted out by impersonal powers.

Summary Phase IV

Again, the members of society are unable to help the victim to emerge from a self-destructive phase. His depression is enhanced by their apparent helplessness. Their introversion and inefficacy induce in the victim a feeling of nightmarish isolation and alienation. Healing and growth are once again retarded or even inhibited.

Victim Phase V – ACCEPTANCE AND MOVING ON

Depression – if pathologically protracted and in conjunction with other mental health problems – sometimes leads to suicide. But more often, it allows the victim to process mentally hurtful and potentially harmful material and paves the way to acceptance. Depression is a laboratory of the psyche. Withdrawal from social pressures enables the direct transformation of anger into other emotions, some of them otherwise socially unacceptable. The honest encounter between the victim and his (possible) death often becomes a cathartic and self-empowering inner dynamic. The victim emerges ready to move on.

Society Phase V – DENIAL

Society, on the other hand, having exhausted its reactive arsenal – resorts to denial. As memories fade and as the victim recovers and abandons his obsessive-compulsive dwelling on his pain – society feels morally justified to forget and forgive. This mood of historical revisionism, of moral leniency, of effusive forgiveness, of re-interpretation, and of a refusal to remember in detail – leads to a repression and denial of the painful events in society.

Summary Phase V

This final mismatch between the victim’s emotional needs and society’s reactions is less damaging to the victim. He is now more
resilient, stronger, more flexible, and more willing to forgive and forget. Society’s denial is really a denial of the victim. But, having
ridden himself of more primitive narcissistic defenses – the victim can do without society’s acceptance, approval, or look. Having endured the purgatory of grieving, he has now re-acquired his self, independent of society’s acknowledgment.

Is it Antisocial Personality Disorder?

Some teenagers act as if they have antisocial personality disorder

I once knew a family with a son who was diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder.  The “kid” had grown up in a wealthy subdivision with a father who was a former professional athlete.  The “kid” had everything that most “kids” would want.  In high school, he had a brand new car that he immediately totaled after a party.  He was in trouble with the law several times during high school.

When his father tried to put his foot down, his mother took the “kid’s” side.  She thought he would grow out of it.  Others said that his behavior was the result of “privilege”, which certainly didn’t help, but it is clear that not every wealthy kid is a spoiled brat – and a dangerous one at that.

Antisocial Personality DisorderRather than using his position and financial ability to go to college and earn a degree, he started doing drugs and got kicked out.  He was sent to a famous rehabilitation center where as soon as he “dried out”, he beat up a staff member and was thrown out.  He went home and beat up his girlfriend, but his mother hired the most expensive lawyer available, and he was given probation.  He was arrested with a sizeable amount of drugs – and again was bailed out by his mother.

This went on for a number of years – but the teenage behavior never stopped.  He finally exhausted the judge’s leniency and ended up in a state penitentiary.  Each time, he blamed his behavior on someone else.  He wouldn’t have gotten drunk if he hadn’t been so mad, he wouldn’t have beaten his girlfriend if she had just done what he said… and on and on.  This “kid” was 35 by the time he went to prison, but he never understood what he had done wrong.  It was still someone else’s fault.

When someone is disagreeable, people will often say “He is anti-social.”  What they are referring to is an actual psychiatric diagnosis, Antisocial Personality Disorder, but just because someone is disagreeable or even downright rude doesn’t mean they have the condition.

A personality disorder is a pervasive pattern of behavior that is not “acceptable” by cultural standards.  It is readily seen as abnormal behavior and usually starts in adolescence or early adulthood.  In order to qualify as a “disorder”, it must lead to personal distress or impairment.

Antisocial personality disorder cannot be diagnosed until the age of 18 because many of the “symptoms” seem like typical teenage behavior.  It is characterized by disregarding and violating the rights of other people.  Many teenagers act as if they have antisocial personality disorder – but they don’t.  In addition, in order to be labeled as “antisocial“, there must have been some conduct disorder symptoms before age 15 – or the time kids are often worst as teenagers.

Ashamed of Mental Health StigmasThings that kids do or say during the teen years, don’t count.

A person with antisocial personality disorder has a general disdain for the rights of other people and may violate those rights on a routine basis.  They may be charming, but ruthless and are likely to be irresponsible, irritable, and aggressive.  They are also likely to be in legal trouble and likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.

Antisocial Personality disorder also comes in a range of severity.  A person with mild antisocial personality disorder could be compared to a teenager who continuously borrows her mother’s jewelry when she has been told not to.  This would not be completely out of the norm in some teen girls, but in adults, it may indicate pathology.

People with more dangerous or harmful behavior are referred to as sociopaths or even psychopathsSociopaths have even less regard for someone else’s rights or property and may not even feel the need to argue if confronted – acting like a schoolyard bully.  Psychopaths are said to have a complete lack of conscience and are unable to recognize the violation and do not have the ability to empathize – something like “The Joker” in Batman.

People with antisocial behavior patterns are also extremely manipulative and splendid liars.  It is hard to tell what is true and what is not true.  They may appear to be friendly when they want something, or they may attempt suicide when they want something else.  It is a fine line to walk, whether to believe them or not.

Unfortunately, personality disorders are not something that can be changed through medication.  In this case, it is a failure of conscience, and there is no pill for that.  In some cases, therapy can work but the therapist must be very skilled in order to avoid being manipulated themselves.

Melissa Lind