The intention is to, in a systematic way, target the victim’s mental equilibrium, self confidence, and self esteem so that they are no longer able to function in an independent way. Gaslighting involves the abuser to frequently and systematically withhold factual information from the victim, and replacing it with false information. Because of it’s subtly, this cunning Machiavellian behaviour is a deeply insidious set of manipulations that is difficult for anybody to work out, and with time it finally undermines the mental stability of the victim. That is why it is such a dangerous form of abuse.
Kohuts (1966, 1971) early descriptions of narcissistic personality disorder emphasised how three attributes of the self - cohesion, visor and harmony - operate to produce the clinical forms of the disorder. he explained that the self requires attuned responsiveness from the external world to maintain cohesiveness. By attuned responsiveness Kohut meant empathetic self object experience. Kohut identified two primary kinds of self object experience - mirroring and idealisation; representing two sectors or poles of a bipolar self (Kohut, 1971, 1977).
Mirroring is the 'echoing presence' that Kohut regarded as the mean by which others 'affirming responsiveness strengthens the self". It is one route for firming up a sense of being valued.
Mirroring is built up from experiences normal development in which young children expect that their accomplishment will be recognised and met with wonderful satisfaction. Kohut (1971) conceptualised mirroring needs as arising from what he termed the grandiose -exhibitionist self, comprising three forms. A healthy mirroring manifestation, as Kohut phrased it a mirroring transference in the narrow which is familiar seeking of an affirmation or admiring presence without compromising the boundary between self and mirroring self-object. The other form of mirroring is the twinship or alter ego transference, representing a need for an other to be a faithful replica of the patient. This is a pathological formation of the self as the narcissist see's themselves in another individual, that's where the notion of extension of themselves comes from. There is no stable sense of self over time, which represents a damaged self representation (they don't know who they are) that is why for them drifting from person to person it is natural to them because they don't have their own personality or views they pick everybody else who they are around.
In a healthy representation, a child is rather understood and is a product of vitality resulting from caregivers (parents) empathetic responsiveness to their accomplishments in the form of proud encouragement.
Before Kohut (1984) differentiated twinship from mirroring as a distinct self-object function, he described another sector (pole) of the self: the idealised parental image. Idealisation is a self-object function and emerges when in young children to turn to others as all powerful to calmed by their strong or steadying presence: in this way the other becomes an idealised self-object (role model). Like mirroring and twinship, idealisation is a normal developmental function. It becomes apparent when children experience their caregivers as providing a soothing function when their own capacity to calm themselves is inhibited and they cannot soothe themselves. Children's longing to merge with the idealised self-object strengthen and foster the restoration of equilibrium.
Self-object failures may occur when idealised self objects no longer can provide this function. Idealised self-object disturbances happen when the narcissist perpetually seeks perfection in their targets who offers the promise of fulfilling his or her thwarted idealisation longings. Such personality types with idealisation needs attempt to merge with their targets, sometimes successfully and feel revitalised with self-esteem. However, these merges are short lived and futile because they typically do not lead to a dependable structure that strengthen self cohesion. Narcissists / personality disorders individuals therefore are frequently left feeling disappointed once the idealisation stage is tainted in their minds. That is why they then tend to go and seek other self-objects (people) to replace that target. Attempts to secure self-cohesion through repeated idealisations often fail to restart a developmental process of internalising self-cohesion that is interrupted. In the absence and chronically disappointing relationships or unavailable self-objectification leads the narcissist to injuries that overwhelm and injure the self devastatingly.
The third primary self object function Kohut identified as the twinship or the alterego. He originally identified this as the self object function as a manifestation of mirroring (Kohut, 1971). Like mirroring and idealisation self-object needs twinship also a representation of a normal developmental striving.
Twinship is characterised as a a longing for an intimate experience in which self object is perceived as a faithful replica of oneself. It is not a merger in which the sense of an autonomous self is submerged. What I mean here is that two people in a relationship are two autonomous people, but the experience that the narcissist provides is that of a soulmate (even engulfing) merging experiencing the other as part of oneself. The twinship or altered self-object function, like those of mirroring and idealisation exists to provide a calming of a vulnerable self.
It is akin to the feeling of a special connection that goes far deeper to sustain self cohesion when the self is experienced as being devitalised.
Therefore narcissistic personality disorder typically results in failure from echoing, affirming responsiveness or mirroring self-objects from failures. So people with narcissistic personality disorder move from childhood into adolescence and then into adulthood repeatedly failing to realise who they are. They frequently achieve far less in life, than the promise they once were presented with. Ambition and life experiences are often stifled associated with depression, lethargy, anxiety and addiction. A propensity to shame is very common coexisting with rage reaction when shortcomings are highlighted.
I hope that this blog has been able to give some insight into the narcissists world and way of being. It ultimately is the result of a broken childhood where their parents were unable to provide them with the correct nurture and experiences in order to help them become full human beings. Their mental health is a product of that and is something that cannot be fixed through medication, therapy or unconditional love - its too late, they are who they are.
Did you ever recognise these behaviours in your experience with your narcissist?