“But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very fiend himself — that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness — that I myself am the enemy who must be loved — what then?” -C. G. Jung, Psychology and Religion: East and West
Narcissism is reflected in the process of all human relationship. It is linked to an inability to see the other as separate and to a lack of self realization. Narcissism is also an essential component of mirroring in early childhood that occurs within the symbiotic relationship between mother and child that is vital to the development of healthy grandiosity and self esteem. Ideally, this mirrored alternation of inner and outer psychic process allows the mother to metabolize a sufficient amount of anxiety to enable the child to tolerate the growing pains of emerging consciousness and independence. Narcissism in infancy is the very beginning of an evolution of mirroring that develops the axial relationship between the archetypal depths and ego consciousness leading to unconditional Self love and Self realization.
If however, the parents own intergenerational narcissistic wound is so great and the mirroring process is so disrupted that the child’s anxiety related to emerging consciousness is not metabolized, the child will experience primal trauma provoked by this expulsion from paradise. The toxic self “love” of the parent cannot allow for the individual otherness of the child who is expected to grow up to mirror the parents own image. The child is unable to develop and experience their own emotions adequately, leading to emotional incest and abuse, codependency and pathological defenses that are re-patterned into adulthood. In today’s culture these narcissistic dynamics are mirrored collectively in the Facebook zeitgeist, in “selfies,” in our devastating disregard for the earth’s environment, and in wars.
Narcissus was on the edge of differentiating his reflection in the pool when he succumbed to his own bait, fell in and drowned. We can use the myth’s images as a caution. In the course of human events, we will fall in, but we need to learn to swim and drag ourselves out of the pool, having perhaps survived a near death experience of the ego. Using different versions of Narcissus and Echo, related myths, case material, and examples from contemporary culture, we will reexamine the dynamics and archetypal patterns of narcissism with the goal to see to a greater depth in order to reclaim our primordial wholeness from our reflection in the mirror of today’s world.