Are we living in a postmodern age of narcissism and self centeredness? The majority of people would probably agree to this statement.
In the news media we are witnessing recurring cycles of reality shows celebrating the cult of a perfect and attractive body and the ideal of self optimisation. Our society seems to have embraced an ideology of uncompromising individuality promoting independence, performance and self actualisation at any cost.
We can see the consequences of this development in many areas, for instance in the progressive erosion of attachment and relationships, the loss of friendship and family bonds. And we are increasingly confronted with feelings of emptiness, meaninglessness and loneliness that we try to compensate for with all kinds of substitute satisfactions (like shopping) and addictions.
Meanwhile scientific research has confirmed that narcissistic behaviour or disorders are closely linked with insecure and traumatic attachment experiences early in our lives (developmental trauma). The less we experienced a loving, caring and contained bonding with our parents, the more we were forced to develop a superficial self devoid of deeper sensations, feelings and intrinsic self value.
But we dont know much yet about how exactly we lose access to deeper dimensions of bodily experience and somatic awareness or to what is called our „body ego“. Indeed we only now begin to understand how the gradual loss of deeper sensation or proprioception, the splitting of the „body ego“ and the hardening of the big superficial muscles creates a kind of „empty shell“ or armour.
It is precisely this empty shell, and the inner meaninglessness and even desperation as well as the absence of intrinsic self value that lie at the core of the narcissistic personality.
The Bodynamic approach offers us in this context a detailed description of the psychomotoric development based on the Character structure model and also points us towards effective practical treatment and sustainable therapeutic work with narcissistic phenomena:
A little infant (1 month to ca. one year, Need/attachment phase) experiences attachment to its early caretakers directly in its body based on its connection to its own center and sensations. If the baby is not met in its natural needs because of separation from the parents, or because the parents are unable to develop a secure physical and emotional attachment it will experience trauma.
To come to terms with the inadequate or missing contact outside and the intolerable emotional pain and helplessness it experiences inside, the baby will be forced to start giving up the connection to its own body or core self. The consequence is a gradual erosion, a hollowing out on a very fundamental level. This loss of a deeper sense of self experience and the resulting sense of emptiness and resignation in relation to natural attachment needs will form the core of the narcissistic dynamic. The child will start to relate to its own superficial self instead to meaningful others. It will learn different strategies and behaviour patterns in order to resort to itself, its own self image or reflection.
In the next phase of its development, called „autonomy “(ca. 8 months to 2,5 years), the child will start to move away from its caretakers and explore its close surroundings. If it experienced attachment in the phase before as painful or depriving it will start to use its motoric activity as a means to avoid close contact. To this end the toddler will tense up or “hyperactivate” its deep trunk muscles, eg the psoas, quatratus lumborum etc and in this way create a kind of division between upper and lower body. This division also further separates the child from its own center and core and its movements will be accordingly disconnected from deeper experience.
The more its new independence and its manifold activities in the outside world increase the attention and love of the parents, the more the child will lose further interest in attachment and consequently develop a superficial self that is primarily concerned with affirming itself. It will develop a marked self-centred relation to its own activity and seek narcissistic affirmation and admiration from outside to maintain its fragile sense of self and self value. If it stops, it will immediately be confronted with its deeper inner emptiness and loneliness and will thus increase its activity which will eventually mould into a fixed behavioural pattern.
In the course of this weekend we will “travel” with the help of specifically designed exercises again through the early stages of our development and reconnect with the deeper dimensions of self experience in relation to sensing, feeling and movement. We will use specific movement patterns from the relevant age levels to activate fascia and muscles – especially around the heart and belly center- to regain access to our natural resources.
All exercises will be done with a partner or within the group to enable us to make new, healing experiences through congruent mirroring. In this way we will be able to reconnect ourselves deeply to other people outside as well as to our inside (to our body ego and center).
Apart from self experience there will be a short theoretical introduction into the early stages of development as well as into the corresponding narcissistic structures.