As counsellors and therapists, we have all come across clients who show characteristic narcissistic traits – a grandiose sense of self-importance, arrogance, compulsive narcissistic displays and a sense of entitlement and yet, in some instances they may exhibit an extremely famished sense of self and almost boundless hunger for mirroring that can only be assuaged or soothed through the attention and validation from others. Thanks to the contributions of Heinz Kohut, there is greater understanding that such manifestations are representative of narcissistic injuries – the development of narcissistic traits that co-existed with impaired attachment in childhood, leading to deficits in the structure of the self.
Narcissistic injuries are primarily attributable to unmet mirroring needs in childhood and lack of empathic attunement, or due to severe traumatisation, abuse or neglect. Such injuries can also occur as a result of relational trauma in which a child is excessively idealised and not seen or accepted for who they are; but seen as an extension of the primary caregiver. It is crucial for therapists to fully comprehend the underlying dynamics of narcissistic injuries, so they can effectively interpret the apparently contradictory behaviours of such clients. We need a better understanding of the linkages between relational trauma, unmet mirroring needs and expressed narcissistic traits – so we can remain empathic when working with narcissism and provide a non-shaming therapeutic space.
About the Speaker
Christiane Sanderson is retired senior lecturer in Psychology at the University of Roehampton. With over 35 years’ experience working in the field of childhood sexual abuse interpersonal trauma and domestic abuse. She is the author of Counselling Skills for Working with Shame, Counselling Skills for Working with Trauma:Healing from Child Sexual Abuse, Sexual Violence and Domestic Abuse, Introduction of Counselling Survivors of Interpersonal Trauma, Counselling Survivors of Domestic Abuse, Counselling Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse 3rd Edition, The Seduction of Children: Empowering Parents and Teachers to Protect Children from Child Sexual Abuse; The Hidden Taboo of Sibling Sexual Abuse: Working with Adult Survivors and The Warrior Within: A One in Four Handbook to Aid Recovery from Childhood Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence, The Spirit Within: A One in Four Handbook to Aid Recovery from Religious Sexual Abuse Across All Faiths, Responding to Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse: A pocket guide for professionals, partners, families and friends and Numbing the Pain: A pocket guide for professionals supporting survivors of childhood sexual abuse and addiction.
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