Friday, November 09, 2012

Grandiosity and Omnipotence

Greenberg (1990) focuses on Freud's incorporation of Ferenczi's original concept of primary narcissism, which is described as a state
of pleasure and the absence of desire in which the subject and object are merged. This pleasurable unity is split apart when the infant discovers the external object and begins to experience painful separation. ... [The infant's] attempt to re-establish unity would necessarily take on a two-fold, contradictory form. On the one hand, the infant could attempt to unite with external objects that would represent the life instincts and sexuality. On the other hand, the infant could attempt to eliminate objects altogether representing the death instinct and aggression. ... In either case the result would be the same: a psychological state of existence devoid of external objects, a state which the unconscious equates with absolute pleasure, primary narcissism. [p. 278]
... Freud's antipathy to concepts of merger between self and other, between subject and object, arises from his view that merger represents a regressive, maternal, or religious organization of experience in contrast to a scientific perspective that demands a separation of subject and object. ...

An interesting clinical discussion of grandiosity as action reflects the patient's need to eliminate and destroy all objects in the world (Symington 1985)  as part of an early survival function. Symington develop's Bick's (1968) hypothesis that is infant does not experience a secure parental holding environment, he has to hold himself together
He is driven to act in order to survive. His catastrophic fear is of a state of unintegration and spilling out into space and of never being found and held again. ... The baby holds himself together in a variety of ways. He may focus his attention on a sensory stimulus ... He may engage in constant bodily movements .... A third method consists of muscular tightening, a clinging together of particular muscle groups, and maintaining them in this rigid position. This is an attempt physically to hold everything sp tightly together that there can be no gap through which spilling can occur [p. 481]
These actions, which reflect the patient's need to hold himself together, are often experienced by the analyst as rejection by a grandiose individual who must act as if there is no other person in the world in order to maintain a sense of safety from feelings of unintegration and of the inhuman, inorganic experience of death and nonbeing.
Esther Bick describes the experience and necessity of grandiose action and the destruction of the awareness of the other in a session with a 6-year-old boy (Symington 1985). ....
.... The child could not risk trusting her [the mother] until he felt held, but he couldn't feel held through his armor of ``I must do it myself.'' This statement ... captures a fundamental problem in working with a grandiose patient: the patient need to deny the analyst's existence. We may think about grandiosity as an attempt to maintain an experience of being an individual while struggling against the overwhelming tide of nonbeing .... Analytic work with these patients involves the development of omnipotence, the capacity to reach a state of pleasurable unity through internal processes of symbolic and metaphorical merger of self and other in place of the destruction of the world of object and the experience of death and emptiness.
... we may think of grandiosity and despair as a disintegration product of omnipotence and merger, which the individual has needed to adopt in order to survive by doing everything by himself. ... in adopting this grandiose strategy it becomes necessary to kill off, to destroy, the other, the external objects, simultaneously destroying the possibilities of becoming a subject and being trapped as an object without hope, immersed in an experience of psychological death. --- pp. 60-65, Between Emotion and Cognition


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