COMFORTERS (dummies, blankets, soft toys) represent what the British child psychiatrist Donald Winnicott termed the Transitional Object: a material replacement for the presence of the mother. The wholly dependent baby is unable to conceive his or her mother as a separate entity. So emotionally urgent are the demands of the infant that tolerating the threat of mother-bond loss is unbearable. Clinging to a comforter wards off the desolation of the unformed Self. As confidence grows, extra-maternal comfort wanes.
I remember the sense of unease that I experienced, aged three, as my older brother discarded his comforter. Always the more boisterous of the two of us, he just lost interest in his Duck blanket one day. I continued to cling on to Panda for a few more years.
Adults tend to cling to ingrained bad habits in place of their soft toys or blankets. Running on auto-pilot, when the Self is under stress, these defences kick in. On some level we are all still hiding from the existential void our mothers kept us from. But for narcissists this state of defence is permanent. An elaborate mask and protective behaviours cover a fragile and wounded self.
This is the psychology, I believe, that underlies the age of narcissism, or narcissism epidemic we are living in. Psychologically narcissism can be understood as a developmental wound, not just an obsession of self. However it is understood, a projection of ‘me’ is at the forefront.
Between two and four years old the forming Self, mediated by mother and kept safe by a comforter, is a highly charged entity: it is the blueprint for who we become.
Emotional neglect or overbearing parenting can result in narcissistic injury and leave a legacy of shame and affecting the development of genuine autonomy.
The adult narcissist cathects objects and others to fill this void of a broken self-identity, often using perfectionism, vanity and grandiose virtue to cover the wound. Woe betide anyone who causes the mask to slip. The rage of a narcissist is righteous and unpleasant as we see in the more vitriolic of social media tweets and below the line comments.
It’s my contention that such emotional immaturity and insecurity is driving our national debate and to its detriment. Wokism informs it. These otherwise inexplicable behaviours and irrational policies are rooted in the separation of mind away from heart, in a collapse of genuine identity – that comes from familial belonging and attachment. Legions of people – especially the young – have become unmoored from a firm sense of self. To compensate, they join the ranks of ideological tribes spawned by identity politics and react with frenzy against any perceived threat to their group. Such fears explain the pathological obsession with control we find amongst today’s politicians and advisers.