@Dominic Hamilton-Leathart Counselling 2020

Colloquially speaking, narcissism has generated overwhelmingly negative connotations since its conceptualisation in the field of psychoanalysis. One could be forgiven for thinking that a consensual validation had been reached about its entrenched reputation as a deleterious characteriological trait or considerably more serious psychopathological condition necessitating psychiatric and psychotherapeutic attention. Some authors have gone so far as to suggest that narcissism is culpable for the degeneration of the moral fibre of western civilisation. Whether it be an overinflated sense of entitlement, or the purported rampant use of social media for the purposes of uploading heavily retouched selfies, narcissism has been unrelentingly maligned as something irredeemably negative. Narcissism is far too complex a state for oversimplifications of this kind and thus a more nuanced approach demands to be applied to help us expand our understanding of the phenomenon.

Indeed, the truth of the matter is that narcissism is much more interesting and in fact essential for our mental health. Unbeknown to many, there exists a commensurate tradition of narcissism being recognised as contrarily advantageous for a person's psychological health--with narcissism existing on a continuum from healthy to unhealthy. If a person has too much narcissism, say situated at the far end of the spectrum, such a person would indeed conform to the quintessential symptomological picture of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as delineated in the American psychiatric textbook known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). These pathognomonic traits include egocentricity, grandiosity, obsessionality surrounding a hypertrophied self-image and a disconcerting incapacity to empathically understand others.

Conversely, a person on the other end of the continuum would exhibit a measurable deficiency in self-regard entirely and their interpersonal associations are typically characterised as allocentric. This complexus of self-minimisation and exclusive community-mindedness is otherwise known as echoism. Being at the opposite end of the continuum, echosim is the antithesis of psychopathological narcissism in that the afflicted person has a marked retrenchment of the ego. Echoists are unbendingly averse to asserting themselves and express unerring distaste for commendation of any kind. Being the centre of attention is unendurable. In contradistinction to the narcissist, an echoists needs are indistinct and oftentimes unidentifiable as their locus of evaluation, or the source by which experience is appraised with positive or negative valance, has been externalised to others. Though this is applicable to persons on either end of the continuum, it is arguably far more pronounced in those whose interpersonal relationships are typified by submissiveness.

As narcissism is therefore understood to operate on a continuum, with the polarity of echoism and pathological narcissism being situated on far end of the left or right side of the spectrum respectively, healthy narcissism is located somewhere in the middle. A person with a wholesome degree of narcissism embodies psychological qualities concordant with humanistic psychological constructs of psychosaneology. In concrete terms, this means that someone possesses an unshakeable connection with his or her own organismic valuing system and exhibits unyielding confidence in their own self-feeling. They are able to articulate and integrate their experience without undue trepidation about upsetting the equilibrium of the people around them. This capacity to embrace their idiosyncrasies as an integral part of who they are is conducive to being open to all of their sensory and visceral experience and its vicissitudes. Loving other people in the person's life is commensurate with their own unashamed enjoyment and joie de ivre of being who they authentically are.

Whether or not one's narcissism becomes a source of psychological maladjustment is oftentimes contingent on whether our interpersonal relationships were sound or unsound during our formative years. It is during the embryonic or primordial stages of the self-organisations development that a person is particularly susceptible to malformations. A principle element in psychological growth is the manner our needs were received and met by our caregivers. This epoch of infancy and childhood therefore usually holds the key to discerning the critical preconditions that have led to an organism's healthy narcissism to metamorphose into something malevolent. Variations on the continuum are therefore largely based on environmental factors. Briefly examining these contributive factors may be illuminating in helping us to recognise how important narcissism is to our psychological health and how we can go about protecting it from degradation.

An instructive place to start would be the phenomenon of narcissistic elation. A useful concept that elegantly describes the infant's prototypical narcissism can be found in the late Hungarian psychoanalyst Bela Grunberger's 'narcissistic coenaesthetic expansion'. Theoreticians and practitioners have pointed to the unambiguous sense of narcissistic joy that accompanies the infant's autonomous exploration of their bodies and circumambient reality--with his or her movements towards an locomotive, ambulatory state serving a prime example. The triumphant sense of accomplishment ensuing from bringing about autogenic changes in the environment, unfurling untapped potentialities and increasing mastery of their faculties, asseverates the underlying force of what person-centred psychology calls the actualising tendency. Pleasure is derived from an honest love affair with the world.

This narcissistic elation is vulnerable to being curbed through interactions and transactions the organism has with the people in their intrafamilial and extrafamilial proximity. Instead of empathising and reflecting the sense of excitement and gratification that's engendered by following their own organismic values and promptings, whether it be yelling in excitement for conquering a task, or playing rough with a sibling, punitive rebuffs communicate the message that a part of their being is absolutely unacceptable to those they love. During the process of socialisation, our experience is not infrequently met with unvarying disapprobation from the people closest to us that thereby upsets our belief of being someone worthy of love and acceptance. Certain aspects of our attitudes and behaviour are liable to elicit punishment or ridicule and our organic confidence in our own self-feeling can be consequently undermined to the point of relinquishment. We will efface our own organismic predilections to appease and fit in with our environment.

A boy may cry after having fallen off his bicycle. Getting up, he may notice his skin is grazed and lacerations have caused bleeding. He calls attention to his injury and wishes to communicate his distress to his caregivers. Whilst he may anticipate compassionate understanding and commiseration, his mother or father may quickly downplay his pain by assuring the child that there's nothing to cry about; reprimanding him for dramatising his pain in a baseless solicitation of sympathy. He may be commanded to walk it off and affection may be sharply withdrawn. The message he receives is that it is not permissible to express what he feels organismically as that would endanger his nascent feeling of being lovable and worthwhile. Given the child's helplessness vis-a-vis the caregiveing one, he is naturally dependent on their ministrations for his survival. Evoking displeasure can endanger his sense of being loved from the very people whose care he unequivocally needs. If a male child jubilantly talks about his affinity for ballet dancing and aspires to become ballerina one day, only to be told by his caregivers that such ambition is unsuitable for a boy, he will repress his perceptions in order that they become aligned with his caregivers.

Irrespective of whether the need for positive regard is intrinsic to the organism or the product of acculturating conditioning, as some continue to animatedly debate in academic circles, we all appear to be susceptible to becoming estranged from our organism in order that the love we desire from our parents and compeers isn't jeopardised. Those parts of ourselves that risk accruing negative regard become unassimiliable with our evolving self-concept and they're energetically repelled. This experiences cannot be held in a symbolic relationship to the picture we have of ourselves. When experience contradictory to our prevailing concept of self encroaches upon our awareness, especially if it violates an entrenched condition of worth, our psychic equilibrium suffers. Psychological defence mechanisms, or security operations, are usually deployed to either distort experience so that it's compatible with the self or denied in their entirety. These defences are also mobilised when dystonic sensory and visceral experience catalyses the disorganisation of the self-structure and reparations of the disintegrated self-structure subsequently ensue.

Our foundational self-esteem predicated on being harmoniously connected to our inbuilt organismic wisdom can be severely compromised as we're engaged in a sequence of adjustments to preserve our caregivers approbation. Our attention is focalised by a gradient of anxiety that gauges whether our interpersonal associations function in keeping us feeling secure and safe. If maintaining our caregivers love requires that we dissociate fundamental portions of our experience, contorting our unabridged innervation to conform with these extrinsic values we later go on to internalise, we will do so. The impoverishment of our indigenous self-love or primary narcissism is the repercussive eventuality of repudiating this biophilic predisposition. Instead of taking joy in discovering and realising our unparalleled power as a unique, irreproducicble being, with our own agency, we contract and our experience becomes something we fear could destabilise our highly conditional self-regard.

In the absence of healthy narcissism, we can be prevented from truly relishing in the elation that follows unapologetically being ourselves. This systematic repression of our self-love can atrophy our capacity to resolutely face adversity as our underappreciated and innate resilience, what can otherwise be considered an inner sustainment born from the original conviction of specialness, is buried under layers upon layers of encrusted psychological fortifications. Thankfully, these psychological malformations are not immutable. In a suitable therapeutic climate, our experience can be subject to exploration and differentiation so that the allochthonous can be distinguished from what we genuinely experience.

Upon closer inspection, we can truly ascertain whether our values are underlined by our organismic equipment or simply something we've incorporated from the outside. The introjects can be dissolved as we're given the permission to separate the wheat from the chaff. Formally enervated by negative estimations of our organic appetation, as in the example of a boy who wanted to pursue a career in ballet, we can retrieve the passions and vitality that we once sacrificed and betrayed. Our self-love is gradually reclaimed in the therapeutic relationship.

This organic self-love is unimpeachably distinct from the incongruent arrogation of selfhood that's emblematic of psychopathological narcissism. The latter is a product of a false self that has evolved to protect the afflicted individual from a recrudescence of psychological pain associated with the violent persecution and repression of his organismic self. Grandiose personifications are defensive constructions that rely on alloplastic adaptations, or outside changes in the environment, to keep their illusions of superiority afloat. Modifications of the environment can include surrounding themselves with people who provide them with much sought after narcissistic supply that reflects or reinforces their engorged and illusory ego. In its essence, like echoism at the other end of the continuum, it denotes alienation from the true self and its oppression at the hand of a false self comprised of introjects. Pathological narcissists are most certainly not in possession of a healthy self-love and feeling.

With an innocent appreciation and liking of our true self, we can exercise our organismic equipment unencumbered as we're now fully in touch with the whole dimension of our being. We grow more and more into our unlived potentialities--able to immerse ourselves in the rich diversity of sensations and opportunities that life affords us. Greater openness to experience, with information being relayed through the nervous system and conscious awareness unobstructed, maximises our ability to make more informed decisions as we reaffirm our commitment to navigate the terrain before us with unbiased eyes. We can evaluate experience without suppressing or denying the datum received by our interoceptive and exteroceptive sensory modalities and thereby become far more fully functioning. Falling in love with ourselves again is essential to maintaining vibrant mental health.

Born Authentic

"Infant’s are the embodiment of authenticity. From the onset of extrauterine life, an infant lives her experiences and expresses her needs without affectation. If she’s experiencing contractions in her stomach, she’ll respond to these sensations in a fashion that alerts the caregiver to her need for sustenance. Similarly, if she’s experiencing the sensation of coldness, an infants reactions to this discomfort can prompt the mothering one to adjust the temperature or hold the infant in her arms. Whether a sensation originates internally or externally, all of the infant’s responses are the unfiltered and authentic expressions of her organism.

As the infant begins to move and freshly explore the world around her, she relates her experiences of the configurations of sights, sounds and sensations to her innate valuing system. According to the late American psychologist Carl Rogers, this valuing process is regulated by a natural directional tendency that moves the organism towards fulfilling her potentialities. Attraction to certain objects or sensations is based on this inbuilt motivational force to both enhance and maintain the organism. Experience in accordance with the aforementioned growthful tendency is sought after, whilst experience inconosant with this organismic drive to expand and unfold is negatively estimated and therefore avoided henceforth."

Excerpt of my article published on the Counselling Directory: https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/memberarticles/how-counselling-can-promote-authenticity

Freud's elucidation of the phenomenon of infantile sexuality explosively contravened conventional wisdom at the beginning of the 20th century. At the time of Freud's unprecedented research into psychosexual development, children were considered to be entirely asexual and thus any semblance of sexual expression on the part of a child was deemed to be the consequence of florid psychopathology. Considering the prevailing consensus of children's asexuality, Freud's findings generated a tremendous amount of moral backlash and censor from all quarters. It took a considerable number of years for his findings on child sexuality to be accepted in the mainstream. While Freud's conceptualisation of the libido theory and the Oedipal complex has been discounted by contemporary sexological research as erroneous, it was his revolutionary contributions in this area that nevertheless brought the normalcy of childhood sexual development to light.

Freud's research has revolutionised our understanding of sexual identity in a truly big way. Data derived from caregivers and practitioners working with analysands in adulthood produced a new appreciation of the role of sexuality in both the periods of infancy and childhood. It's now indisputable that autoerotic exploration of the genitals takes place within just the first few months of extrauterine life and other erogenous zones soon follow under their purview. As children get older, their interests become interpersonal and many a girl and boy have been found playing doctor with genital play now becoming a mutual endeavour. In contradistinction to adult sexuality where a goal is usually in mind, namely orgasm, sexuality in childhood is far more orientated towards discovery and exploration. Naturally, children are curious about their bodies and organs that are particularly sensitive to touch garner a great deal of attention. Manipulation of the genitals, with the pleasure it unfailingly accrues, is ordinarily approached with positive psychological valance.

Though most of us are now cognisant of the normality of sexuality in a child's development, it's still the case that a sizeable percentage of men and women have been raised in a sex-negative environment that subverts the acquisition of a healthy sexual identity. These people are deprived of the opportunity to gradually integrate their inchoate sexual innervation as caregivers fail to provide a nurturing, empathic and unconditionally accepting psychological climate that maximally facilitates the child's psychosexual development. Instead, sexual feeling and expression arouse parental condemnation and the organismic experiences themselves are derided as morally opprobrious. In some families, even something as innocuous as a question pertaining to sex can elicit scathing disapprobation that directly endangers a child's feeling of being someone deserving of love and protection.

As the child attempts to adapt to an unwholesome atmosphere of this kind by priming their modal sensoriums to pick up on what facets of experience elicit approbation and disapprobation, sex-negative messages are internalised which invariably corrupt the child's embryonic structure of self. The parents attitudes of deploring sexuality are symbolised as if they were the child's own in spite of the organic absence of abience. Being reprimanded for harmless sexual exploration and assuming the parents attitudes contraindicates the inclusion of pertinent sensations into the emerging construct of self. As a result, they are disbarred from conscious admittance thenceforth. In person-centred terms, a child introjects, or takes in, conditions of worth that they can later bring with them into the periods of adolescence and adulthood. Their self-regard, otherwise known as self-esteem or self-worth, can thus become tenuously contingent on how they properly perceive and express their sexual feelings within a certain preset configuration of parameters.

A woman who has incorporated her caregivers puritanical aversion to sexual expression may bring this extrinsically based repulsion for sexuality into her own romantic relationships. This may express itself in recoiling from the sexual advances of her partner or in the inability to achieve an orgasm in spite of repeated stimulation. Men may experience erectile dysfunction as a consequent of imbibing a constellation sex-negative messages from their family home or cultural milieu growing up. Postcoital tristesse, a phenomenon statistically more commonly reported in men that describes a pervasive feeling of dysphoria following the conclusion of sexual intercourse, can pathogenically stem from unresolved guilt or shame about the gratification of their dystonic sexual urges. Indeed, the physiological or visceral sensations of their sexuality become contradictory to their armoured self-concept and its attendant negative appraisals of anything even peripherally sexual. A person's psychological equilibrium is perilous due to its constant need to defend itself against the conscious symbolisation of experience unintegrable with this gestalt or schema.

A general sense of dissatisfaction with a person's sex life is sometimes simply rooted in having introjected conventionalised and schematised values of sexuality during the process of acculturation - most typically by confining sexual expression to penis-in-vagina intercourse (PIV). This alienates us from our own valuing system as we assume what we've been taught and we've introjected is normal for us. Generally speaking, information appertaining sexuality is predicated on heteronormative constructs so that other approaches to sexual expression are thereby marginalised as abnormal or paraphilic. As men and women are still being reared in environments that educationally promote a very narrow understanding of the phantasmagorical diversity of human sexuality, practices as ubiquitous and irreproachable as masturbation are still subject to antiquated moralising and demonisation.

Counselling gives clients besieged by psychosexual conflicts the therapeutic space needed to retrieve and integrate sexual innervation that has been banished by defence mechanisms. In the examples provided, we can see that the organism is experiencing sexual feelings at the physiological level, but they are militantly opposed by a conscious self that registers sensuality as a cardinal violation of internalised prohibitions against sexual expression. Conditions denouncing the accurate articulation and communication of a person's sexuality are countermanded in a therapeutic relationship characterised by certain relational qualities that are evinced by the counselling practitioner. These relational qualities counteract edicts pertaining to conditional acceptability by prizing and unstintingly valuing a person in their totality and thus whatever experience they happen to bring into the room. The therapists relationship to the client is marked by the absence of judgement and predicated on the operational attitudes of empathic understanding and unswerving acceptance.

Contrariwise to the generation of anxiety, self-depreciation or shame that would've heretofore accompanied the unfettered admittance of certain sexual feelings, as inconsonant as they are to the self-picture, these organismic experiences are held and valued unconditionally by the person-centred therapist. Psychological contact between the therapist and their client facilitates the clients internalisation of attitudes that gradually erode the negative estimations of sexuality that they've absorbed environmentally. The energetic current of sexual excitation, regardless of its form or content, is now permitted to enter conscious awareness unobstructed by the former watchman who once guarded the self against repudiated visceral and sensory experience. The self is relaxing its entrenched defences and contradictory datum can now be safely processed without distortion or denial.

A therapeutic process is set in motion that facilitates the reorganisation of the self so that these feelings experienced physiologically are assimilated into a revised self-organisation. Sexual feelings at the level of the organism are harmonised with the organisation of self. Sexual arousal and desire are subsequently embraced as authentic expressions of their real self rather than a perpetual source of emotional pain and confusion. This refashioned self-organisation no longer has to mobilise against a threatened recrudescence of sensual streaming as the person is tentatively able to unashamedly and unreservedly own their sexual feelings and genuinely express and accept them unburdened by conditionality. In other words, a clients sexual development is set back on a trajectory to effloresce organically as it once could've done had the client been the recipient of the provision of relational preconditions of nurturance, attunement and unqualified respect in their formative years.

The psychological changes engendered by the counselling process produce concrete outcomes. Whereas a women's internalised anathematisation of sexuality may have contraindicated allowing herself to fully experience the sensual pleasure derived from engaging in sexual intercourse, she now finds herself able to comfortably relinquish her reservations and fully engross herself in the sexual act both with her partner and equally alone in the act of masturbation. Likewise, a man once troubled by erectile dysfunction, or premature ejaculation, is enabled to regain erective potency and sexual competency after the neutralisation of his conditions of worth. In therapy, clients can extricate their own disassociated sexual preferences and emancipate them from the sex-negative ordinances that have heretofore served to keep them quiet and concealed.

The counselling relationship can thereby help to undo the rejection of certain aspects of our sexuality and vitiate the maladaptive rift between our authentic experience and our sense of self. We can discover what sex means to us as opposed to faithfully and uncritically following a sexual script we've been continually inculcated with during our socialisation. It can be conceptualised as a process of liberation as we're granted the therapeutic space to find out who we truly are by tuning into our bodies and its internal pulsations. The more we become attuned and sensitive to our biological rhythms, and the more the extraneous material is distinguished from the endosomatic that genuinely resides within ourselves, the greater our sexual identity and relationships will be both interpersonally and intrapersonally.

Much like the infant, we're reconnecting with our estranged organismic valuing system that indefatigably operates on the basis of constructively moving the organism forward. Prototypically, need satisfaction is guided by this self-regulating motivational mechanism that keeps the organism on a directional path towards both the maintenance and enhancement of the person. When we disown parts of our experience, including our sexuality and preferences, this inherent system is undermined and we often find ourselves in a recurring state of psychological tension. Ultimately, human sexuality is immensely replete with differences across the board. Our bodies show huge variation and this therefore invariably means that what we find pleasurable will vary from one person to the next. The notion that there is only one way to express or experience our sexuality has become not only obsolete but detrimental to the development of a healthy sexual identity. While the maxim that prevention is better than cure is certainly true in that improving education to encompass a more informed range of sensualities, an instrumental measure in preventing psychosexual conflict and psychological maladjustment in toto, counselling can be an invaluable opportunity to safely explore your experience and reconnect with your own authentic values.

By interiorising the propitious attitudes of the person-centred counselling practitioner, comprised of empathy and unconditional positive regard, we can learn to be kinder to ourselves and better able to listen to what our own own bodies are telling us. Following person-centred counselling, clients can become more open to their sexual experience and move away from the cultural and familial proscriptions that once circumscribed their sexual being. We once again become the experts of our own life as we embrace the freedom that comes from living autonomously. Whilst this process of psychological movement takes time, and growth is not infrequently marked by periods of progression and retrogression, counselling can nevertheless be the first step to reclaiming our authentic sexual identity.