Narcissistic defenses are restrictions in expression, actions, and intimacy caused by fear of something going wrong, fear of negative judgement, or rejection. They are caused by early trauma. Narcissism restricts internal freedom causing distance, separation, isolation, aloneness and loneliness. Healing narcissism in psychotherapy can be a long road depending on the severity of the trauma and how inherently sensitive the child was. The narcissistic defenses are restricting in that they prevent dependence because the need for others is felt to be a negative thing. This prevents connection and intimacy despite the longing for it. Isolation and loneliness is prevalent. The old fear from what was experienced as traumatic prevents need from being acted upon because of an assumption that will lead to a bad outcome. This is the restriction. Internal freedom is the opposite. In working with people we show how the restriction developed and how it plays out in life including in relationship to the therapist. This attention loosens the restrictions creating more internal freedom to choose what is truly wanted.
As an example, I will describe a clinical experience. I had been working with a middle aged man for about six months. As I worked with him I had the sense that at any time for almost any reason he could dispense with the work and me. I worked with him carefully being mindful and respectful of his sensitivity to being hurt. One day a few days after a difficult session in which he demonstrated some resilience by owning what I had brought up, I was late to my session with him. I had mistakenly miscalculated time and was leaving for my office when I was due to meet with him. Immediately upon becoming aware of my mistake, I texted him to say I was going to be late and apologized. He could not wait and said he would see me the next session. The next morning I was surprised by an email saying he is terminating his treatment because there was a way I was thinking about him I could not own. He then explained it was not my tardiness but that I had not communicated with him when I knew I was going to be late, implying that I didn’t hold him in esteem. I responded to his email acknowledging his hurt feelings and explaining what had happened and that I had let him know I was going to be late just when I became aware of my mistake which was a few minutes after our starting time.
The narcissism from his early trauma got triggered by this unfortunate event leaving him no choice but to terminate the relationship, which he had acknowledged had been helpful. He felt too deeply hurt and dismissed like he was unimportant to me. He couldn’t tolerate the hurt he felt which must have felt so much like old hurt from the early trauma. Therefore he couldn’t talk about it and find out more about what happened with the possibility of a resolution. That may be what he wanted to do but felt restricted internally because of the unbearable hurt of feeling so unwanted and unimportant.