Could a thing like Object Relations Theory be a clue to understanding why communicating with a narcissistic individual can spin us in dizzy circles? I read an article by Dr. Elinor Greenberg, a real deal specialist in defining and diagnosing baffling character disorders. The article magnetized puzzle pieces to fit, explain, clear the mist of confusion. These are my thoughts after further investigation and I wanted to share the discovery about the aspects and effects of the Object Relations Theory. Don’t shy away because it sounds clinical. Bear with me and see if you see what I did.
Could this possibly be what drives the narcissist?
I’ve read clinical references to the Object Relations Theory when determining how relate to a narcissist. It helps determine what the narcissist’s world view is, how they reason and react to interpersonal relationships. Babbled the best out of me until I did some research. Wow, it makes perfect sense.
There are two aspects to this theory that turned the bright on for me.
Healthy Nurturing Development Fosters:
- Whole Object Relations. The ability to see a person, the whole person, as they actually exist with both their positive and negative traits. If we are nurtured through early developmental years (particularly by our mothers) we are able to relate to others more as a whole and as they truly are.
- Object Constancy is the ability to recognize that an object or person does not change simply because we can’t see it or them. This dispels fears of abandonment for instance.
- Internal Constancy ♦♦ WHOO-HOO! THIS IS THE CLINCHER!! Internal Constancy is our psychological and emotional impression of a person. In healthy development as related to 1 & 2 above, we can see the whole person in spite of faults or disagreements.
UNHEALTHY or Negligent Nurturing Can Foster:
The Narcissist’s distorted perception. Internal constancy gone haywire that confuses the devil out of us.
- This internal constancy is the impression we hold onto when the person is not physically there and it influences how we view the person in real life.
- For the Narcissist, if an interchange with us has frustrated, made them angry, defensive, defiant because they didn’t get their way or were challenged, this is the impression of us they take with them, incorporate into their view of us, not just in the moment, but into their lasting perception.
- We become irritating, infuriating, selfish because they didn’t get their way. And They lock into this distorted view of us. Blame us. Period.
- They can’t see our ‘whole person’ the good qualities we possess or things we do, they only see the negative things. They cannot see themselves objectively at all.
This becomes their reality. Their internalized view of us. Only negative, frustrating, infuriating, selfish.
When I read this, it answered so many baffling questions we ask ourselves.
How could someone who loves us lie, cheat, devalue, hurt us.
Why don’t they understand? I’ve explained, talked, tried a million ways to help them understand.
If there is a flicker of understanding…a moment they tell us they can see it for the first time. Get that we aren’t the only one with a problem. That we aren’t out to hurt or hate them, it rarely lasts.
This is where what’s referred to as ‘Gaslighting’ comes in. The next time we talk, they don’t remember any of it or wonder what in the world they were thinking if they do. They know exactly who we are, the problems we have and if we’d just see and fix those, life would be good. We are not perfect, but we are rarely the vindictive person they come believe us to be.
Nature vs Nurture?
Physiological-genetic wiring can predispose a person’s psychological wiring to go haywire. They can become a branch on a narcissistic family tree and we join them unaware. The lineage of this through generations and families is more than just a trend of abuse filtering throughout, but it may not be the only or the most impactive cause.
The Lack of healthy nurturing—being traumatized, abused, abandoned, neglected, can distort a person’s development and affect their ability to possess a healthy, whole object reality or maintain object constancy without distortion. WTH…they may have been gaslighted, devalued, and bullied into cloning the behavior to normalize.
We can tag this consequence as a characteristic in narcissistic individuals, sociopaths, psychopaths and surely other disorders that narrow and distort the ability to see, feel and react to others in relationships, particularly intimate ones in a realistic way.
Why evidence indicates they rarely, if ever, change is because they lack the ability to see beyond their distortion of reality. They can’t maintain the clarity to perceive whole object reality.
I’m reminded of the 3 C’s that are a coping cornerstone of those dealing with addicts or alcoholics.
You didn’t CAUSE it.
You can’t CURE it.
You can’t CONTROL it. I’m going to add a 4th C to this coping collection.
You can’t CHANGE it. They have to, but they can’t see or grasp the problem.
One dandy Catch 22, right?
If any of this makes sense to you, sparks any clarity, answers confusing questions, there’s no hard-fast direction to recommend you go. All of our circumstances are unique, even though our struggle with these distortions are universal. It’s up to each of us to take what we read and learn, accept or reject, and set our own course in life.
I urge everyone to believe that you matter in this life and that it is never too late to begin again. Losing battles are just that. Head down the road to freedom.
author of LEAVING YOU…for me