[Written around 2004.]
Everyone is born narcissistic – that is, full of intense need. This is healthy. If a child is lucky his parents will meet all of his needs and he will grows optimally, straight through to enlightenment, straight through his development with no traumas to bog him down. But when they fail – and where they fail – he has to bury his neglected needs in self-protection. These then become a fixed part of his unconscious personality, and he will go through the rest of his life in an unconscious desperation to heal. These unhealed parts of him become the kernel of his narcissism.
For a narcissist to heal he must take responsibility for his wounds. He must excavate them, feel their pain, trace their sources, place appropriate blame, confront perpetrators either interactionally or internally, and grieve their horror. This is a nearly impossible task, but not fully so. Enlightenment is possible for anyone.
But few heal. Most avoid healing their wounds and instead seek out objects to gratify these wounds – often in the most clever, charming, and even seductive ways. The world is full of heroes and rescuers and martyrs who are drawn like magnets to narcissists. They delude themselves into believing they can fix them. These rescuers of narcissists are closet narcissists themselves, disguising their mis-attempts to self-heal through attempting to gratify others. No one attempts to narcissistically gratify anyone else unless he is in denial of his own comparable wound.
But they always fail at deeply gratifying anyone. Gratification is contrary to healing. Healing requires boundaries and a depth of insight, qualities antithetical to closet narcissism. But failure is no great loss to them, because they carry a great ace up their sleeve: they can always blame their failure on the fact that they were the victim of yet another narcissist. But this is not true. The only narcissists that truly victimized them were their own parents.
In their relationship with their child narcissistic parents are like sheriffs dealing with outlaws in the dusty Wild West: “There’s only room for one of us in this town…” To make the analogy fit, the outlaw (i.e. the child) must lack weapons, strength, or skill. Whenever he tangles with the sheriff (i.e. the parents) he always loses and gets booted out of town (i.e. the needs of the parents win, and his get neglected).
What then happens is the outlaw, if he doesn’t die some destructive death, leaves town (i.e. buries his needs in his unconscious) and goes to find another weaker town in which he declares himself sheriff (i.e. starts his own family, often with exploitable kids of his own).
Thus the system perpetuates itself…unless its members find some way to heal.