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Narcissism and Schizophrenia

The links in the table on the left take you to sub-headings on this page.


Two Selves

In my experience, narcissism is the emotional basis for the problem of schizophrenia. What exactly the nature of this form of mental disorder is, is the subject of dispute.

I prefer the characterisation of it by R.D. Laing, to which I add my own views. Laing describes a particular form of madness, which he calls ‘schizophrenia’, in his book ‘The Divided Self ’.

According to Laing, the person suffering from schizophrenia considers that there are two selves in him, and that they are separated or dissociated from each other. Such a person has come to understand that what he terms his ‘inner ’, ‘true’, or ‘real ’ self is separate from those aspects of himself which are observable by other people.

What other people observe about him the person calls his ‘false self ’.  The inner self does not participate in the actions and behaviour of the false self, and so such actions and behaviour are felt to be false and futile.

Sub - Headings
Usefulness of a false self
A Sexual problem
Hateful Eye
Emotional dynamics

In order to describe the rationale of schizophrenia, I take this way of characterising a person and add my understanding of the dynamics of the subconscious mind, particularly the manner in which anxiety is handled. [¹]

For such a person, anxiety arises from social relationships, and the purpose of the false self is to prevent this anxiety reaching the inner self. The false self is a barrier that is created to protect the person against the problems of relating to other people. However, this strategy slowly fails because the false self only prevents the transmission of some anxiety, not all of it, to the inner self. The response is to reject more and more of the inner self as it becomes contaminated with anxiety, and associate it with the false self. So slowly the false self becomes bigger as the inner self shrinks to a phantom. The person has lost himself in schizophrenia.

When schizophrenia is not so intense, the person erects the false self as a means of playing roles (the person is now usually labelled ‘schizoid’, rather than ‘schizophrenic’).  This way he can function smoothly in society without developing or intensifying anxiety (hopefully).

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Usefulness of a False Self

I learned the value of such a false self after my experience of catatonia – in order to carry on with my job I had to keep the turmoil of my inner self separate from my outer social façade. I usually managed to make my social façade convey an impression of unruffled composure. However, since such a role is not self-validating, this schizoid charade sooner or later comes to signify the falsity of the person’s life.

Relating to other people always causes problems. Each person has to construct strategies for coping with and overcoming his relationship difficulties.  Schizophrenia is just a particular strategy for handling such problems. It has both advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that it enables an idealist to keep his internal distress hidden from public view – the idealist can associate his will power (and imperturbability) with the false self, and restrict his emotional responses to his hidden inner self.

This form of disturbed functioning was a picture of my own mentality in my 40s, moderated by my idealism and by my growing self-consciousness. Because the rationale of it is to dissociate a mask or persona from the real self, I call this form of madness ‘dissociative schizophrenia’. And it is, in my view, the only genuine form of schizophrenia that exists (I use the adjective ‘dissociative’ merely to indicate that my idea of schizophrenia is not the same as that of orthodox psychiatry).  The other varieties of ‘schizophrenia’ found in medical textbooks most likely belong to either the problem of catatonia and meaninglessness, or to paranoia, or to what I call ‘kundalini psychosis’.

Psychiatric diagnostics are unable to differentiate between all these separate disorders. Why is this ?  Partly it is the usual one of too narrow a specialism, resulting in a lack of breadth of mind. How many doctors know what the kundalini power is ?  Kundalini is a well-known power within Indian religions and meditation theory. How many doctors have ever studied Buddhist and yoga theories of the self ?

And the other main reason is that the major disorders function within dynamic patterns of mind. This means that one disorder can lead to another one. So within mental disorder it is possible for the person to experience different forms of madness at different times, and even to switch between binary, or complementary, psychotic states in a short period of time, say in a day. This labile nature produces the headache of classification.

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A Sexual Problem

What is the central problem that is maintaining (as opposed to causing) this form of madness ?  It is the issues of transference and identification. These bonding states are generating intense anxiety in the disturbed person. The person is attempting to dissociate from bonding so that he can become himself ; he is attempting to centre himself on narcissistic love. It is  sexual transference especially that creates problems for him, and so he cannot handle sexuality harmoniously. [²]

Jealousy bonds the child to the parent. In schizophrenia the person is trying to break the bonds of jealousy, of sexual transference in particular, between him and his parents (or parental figures). The bonds are too strong and jealous love (from the parents) is threatening his identity ; his identity is becoming submerged into a sense of vagueness and an inability to assert his own values and attitudes. His identity is sinking into confusion. Jealous love is overwhelming his narcissistic love.

Social relations involve transference, so the mask or persona is set up in order to restrict that transference to the false-self system. However, without insight this cannot be done and transference invades the real self. Eventually this process is experienced as the destruction of one’s self, of one’s narcissistic reality, of the love that is the core of one’s being.

Schizophrenia is the result of having sexual bonds that are too intense for the person to handle skilfully. So the false self is erected as a means of defence against the sexuality of others. The paradox for the person is that the more he tries to deny sexual interests, the more he may yearn for them.

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The Hateful Eye

The schizophrenic or schizoid person has some vulnerable traits of character. Laing mentions the awareness of being an object of someone else’s observation. The gaze of another person can be experienced as an actual penetration into the core of the ‘inner ’ self. The recipient may verbalise this look as being the ‘evil eye’, as being a death ray, and similar. Laing tries to conceptualise what this experience means, but he does not really understand it. However, I do. I have been on the receiving end of this kind of look countless times. The evil eye is the eye of hate ! – especially when the hate is the hate mode of pride. [³]

For the schizoid individual to see another person look at him through hate-filled eyes is instantly demoralising. When hate is directed at him it shrivels him. Once I had learned to recognise hate in myself it became the easiest thing for me to see the hate in another person.

The reason that the schizoid individual is sensitive to the evil eye of hate from another person is because he himself is often motivated by hate. He himself uses hate to repudiate the power of others, to obliterate their importance to him. So when he is on the receiving end of the evil eye, he knows intuitively how the other person is thinking or feeling about him. The fanciful idea of receiving death rays is an existentially correct description of reality when he is seen by hate-filled eyes. The look of hate destroys his fragile sense of individual identity. [4]

The problem of the evil eye is a very difficult one. If a person is feeling fragile and is seeking social approval from another person then he is letting himself be vulnerable ; the dilemma is that the same vulnerability means that he can be disintegrated by that other person. It is a problem of sensitivity. [5]

Hate is a dominant trait in the English character. When I walk down my local high street I can see numerous examples of hate-motivated people. However, because of their lack of self-awareness these people would deny that they are being hateful. When I see a look of hate in a person’s eyes then I know that any speech by that person is almost certain to be sarcastic, hateful, ridiculing, denigrating, etc. The poor psychotic individual is under the delusion that the other person is picking on him especially, whereas in fact the other person is being hateful to most people whilst that mood of hate is in the ascendant.

This understanding has implications for care or therapy. In a psychiatric ward, or in a home for the elderly infirm, if a nurse is feeling hateful, resentful, angry, then he should be given the day off work ; otherwise he will be a disaster for the patients. He is likely to dump his negative emotions onto the patients, so that by the end of his shift he may now feel good but they will feel bullied and trodden on.

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Closely tied to hate is the sensitivity to ridicule. This was always a major difficulty for me, especially as a mild form of mania was often an intimate companion to me. Happiness in general, and mania in particular, was instantly destroyed by any suggestion of ridicule. Once when I was subjected to ridicule by my mother I saw the jealousy behind her hate. Therefore the emotional dynamics of ridicule are jealousy plus hate. However, there are two intensities of feeling in ridicule.

When there is a gleam of delight in the eyes during the expression of ridicule, then it is a jeering attitude.
Then ridicule = jealousy + hate.

Whereas when the gleam is absent there is a more destructive attitude, an icy ‘serve you right ’ attitude.
Then ridicule = envy + hate.

For a schizophrenic child the two worst traits of character in a parent are the voicings of ridicule and of negative criticism (or fault-finding). It is no coincidence that a regular ‘sign’ of acute schizophrenia is the hearing of an internal voice which ridicules and criticises the person. It is not hard to understand where this voice originally came from ! The excessively-strong bonding with the parents means that the child takes their negative view of itself as its own view of itself.

The source of any internal voice or antithetical thought that criticises oneself is usually either a parental one or the person's own idealised conception of himself.

In psycho-therapy a schizophrenic person should never be exposed to ridicule or negative criticism from the therapist. If criticism has to be made then it should be done within a constructive, supporting setting. At no time should the therapist be confrontational.

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In chapter 6 of  ‘The Divided Self ’, Laing writes about compliance, but gives it only a brief mention. He failed to realise its significance. The schizoid person is willing to do (that is, to comply with) what other people want him to do, even what they expect him to do. But his inner self derives no satisfaction from serving others.

What I found so deceitful in myself was when I had to give the ‘right ’ emotional responses (whether of joy, horror, righteous anger, etc) during conversation in order to avoid upsetting the other persons. The conversation of a normal person usually focused on materialistic and mundane matters, and so had nothing of interest in it for me, the inner me. If I were true to myself then I would be considered to be expressing an ‘inappropriate’ response, the reason being that what was important to the other persons appeared to me to be just amusing dramas. If I were true to myself I would smile at the dramatic tales of woe and be dismayed by the superficiality that passed as happiness for them. My responses would be ‘inappropriate’ because they would be opposite to the responses expected by the other persons.

Here we come to the root, the origin, of schizophrenia.
Compliance is the move after infancy trauma that creates schizophrenia. [6]

Therefore, the unconscious idea that creates schizophrenia is : [7]
I have to be compliant in social relationships.

Compliance is the technique evolved by the child to cope with the experience of trauma, but it becomes a trap with no easy way out. The inability to withstand social conflict leads to compliance, but compliance leads to passivity and the inability to withstand social conflict. The child, and later the adult, is trapped within a circle of futility.

Compliance is a dreadful existential condition since it curtails self-assertion, thereby drastically reducing freedom of choice. Compliance is the attitude which the fragile ego has to reject. Hence the strategy of splitting into two selves is evolved. The compliant aspect of the ego becomes the shield around the vulnerable ‘true’ ego or inner self. The compliant self becomes the false self. The schizophrenic person has no vitalised inner self, no strong real self that can stand alone in the light of day and be a source of meaning.

The desperate need of the schizophrenic person is to reject compliance and become an individual. The false self is the compliant self. The false self is the social self. So the person believes that to become an individual means to reject as completely as possible all social involvement. In my memories, nearly everything that I did as an individual, whether right or wrong, is free from guilt (what I did that was ‘wrong’ is associated with bitterness). But nearly everything that I did as a socially-focused person, whether right or wrong, is filled with guilt. The reason for this split in memory is that everything that I did socially is associated with compliance in some degree, and so my idealism rejects it.

In order to reject compliance the individual has to develop strength in willpower. Unfortunately this often means a subconscious fixation on pride (mode of hatred of other people) and resentment. Then the schizophrenic person finds himself oscillating between compliance and hatred of society. So he may act a role that he thinks is required of him (= compliance), or he may act a role that he thinks shows self-assertion (= repudiation of compliance). But since he lacks genuine self-assertive ability, his attempt to show it may turn into a caricature of the real thing (one person that I met, in his attempts at conversation, used to bark out questions and orders like a sergeant-major on parade). However he acts, everything is felt to be only a charade of meaningless and clumsy role-play.

The issue facing the schizophrenic person is that he has to achieve his true individuality first before he can become socially active in a genuine way. It has taken me most of my life to achieve this goal. I now classify my two selves as inner and outer, rather than true and false. This move allows me to see social identity as being a useful identity alongside my individual identity. This move allows me to turn schizophrenia into a skill rather than a liability. Having readjusted my valuation on my selves, I now follow a path of trying to balance them. This is a painful process, since my long-despised social identity contains much that is immature and naive. Social immaturity can only be eliminated by working slowly through it within society.

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Emotional Dynamics

Now I turn to the emotional dynamics of dissociated schizophrenia in a man, that is, the emotional factors that give intensity to the unconscious idea. The psychosis arises from the fragility of narcissism, brought about by infancy trauma (especially the factor of fear).

Narcissism in love mode is the ground of individuality, but for the disturbed person this emotional foundation cannot be maintained against the love mode of jealousy. This mode of jealousy is the ground of a person’s social identity, and this is what the individual is trying to reject. But the rejection is unsuccessful. Fear undermines narcissism and so sexual transference invades the individual’s subjective world. The more strongly that the bonds are to the parents, the more intense is the jealous love that threatens the individual, and so the more severe the schizophrenic state becomes.

In the terminal state, jealousy has neutralised narcissism and the external world has absorbed the internal one – a social shell envelops a phantom nucleus. Schizophrenia symbolises the failure of narcissism.

Schizophrenia is the effect of a rejected social identity and a failed individual identity.

Note: compare catatonia, in a previous article
Catatonia is the effect of a rejected individual identity and a failed social identity.

Schizophrenia (in a man) is the response of a sensitive child to both the jealous and critical aspects of the mother’s personality, and to the mother’s sexuality.

The child is unable to handle the mother’s jealous love without being swallowed up by it. This produces a marked characteristic trait in the adult : the inability to receive love over a time of more than a few minutes. I noticed this trait during the period of acute sensitivity that resulted from my own self-analysis. I could only accept love in five-minute doses – after five minutes I usually had to escape from any woman who was showing me affection, otherwise my anxiety started escalating rapidly.

Alternatively, if the schizophrenic person accepts much jealous love from someone of the opposite sex, then that person will find that antithetical thoughts (or voices) spontaneously arise after a few minutes. He will become persecuted by guilt feelings (for example, that he does not deserve love) and may show signs of distress, even in the presence of the one who is giving the love. What is happening is that love is being confused with sexuality, and so becomes threatening and invasive.

This characteristic trait can be expressed in a poignant way :
all my life I have run away from jealous love.

This trait explains one particular failure with psycho-therapy.
Some psycho-therapists have tried to create an atmosphere of love (which usually means jealous love) in the treatment session, and have been baffled by the lack of therapeutic success. This is the wrong approach ; the patient will be afraid of being engulfed by the therapist’s emotions. The therapist needs to be aware of his /her own jealousy, since the patient is likely to reject it and thereby ensure that therapy will be a failure. The basis of successful therapy has to be trust and respect, and not love. Only when trust and respect have been established is there any chance that love will be therapeutic.

The converse with the problem of love is that if the person does desire to have sexual relationships, they have to be intense. The person uses intensity as a way of overcoming his fear and anxiety of sexuality. So balanced relationships are not to be expected.

Schizophrenia is maintained by an unskilful dialogue between narcissism and jealousy. I classify the disorder under narcissism since the defences that the person erects to protect himself are created within his narcissistic bias.

In the article on Mind Loops, I describe the Loop of Schizophrenia.

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The number in brackets at the end of each reference takes you back to the paragraph that featured it. The addresses of my websites are on the Links page.

[¹]. Anxiety is an emotion and is analysed in the three articles on Emotion. See Basic Ideas page. [1]

[²]. There are articles on Transference and Bonding on my websites The Strange World of Emotion and Discover Your Mind.

There is an article on Identification & Absorption on my websites The Subconscious Mind and Discover Your Mind. [2]

[³]. A summary of the factors of some important emotions is :
Guilt = self-pity + self-hate.
Pride = vanity + hatred of other people.
Narcissism = love + vanity.
Jealousy = love + self-pity.
Anxiety = fear + vanity.

My definitions, descriptions, and analysis of emotions are given in the three articles on Emotion. See Basic Ideas page. [3]

[4]. In my view, a person has two identities – an individual identity and a social identity. See the article Confusion and Identity. [4]

[5]. The need to receive social approval from another person is an aspect of a person's social identity. This need is described in the article Social Approval & Inferiority, on my website The Subconscious Mind, and in the article Approval & Inferiority & Power, on my website Discover Your Mind.

Sensitivity is explored in the article Sensitivity & Effects of Fear, on my website Discover Your Mind. [5]

[6]. Infancy trauma is my name for psychological trauma that occurs in the first years of childhood. This distress occurs when the stresses and negative states of mind of the parents’ own lives are transmitted to the fledgling ego of the infant.

An article on Bonding focuses on some problems of a sensitive child and explains an unintentional source of infancy trauma. This is on my websites The Strange World of Emotion, or The Subconscious Mind, or Discover Your Mind.

In more detail, infancy trauma is explained in two articles. The first article, Vulnerability of the Ego, focuses on the origins of violence. And the second one, Guilt & Meaning - part 2, centres on why trauma occurs unintentionally. [6]

[7]. Unconscious ideas are introduced in the first article on Emotion, section Unconscious Ideas. See also glossary for Emotional Dynamics. [7]


Laing, R. D.
The Divided Self. Pelican Books, 1987.

Home List of  Articles Links Top of Page

The articles in this section are :

Guilt and Meaning - part 1,  Catatonia and Faith

Guilt and Meaning - part 2,  Trauma and slow-onset Catatonia

Narcissism and Schizophrenia

Narcissism - Mania and Manic Depression  (also known as Bipolar Disorder)

Jealousy and Kundalini Psychosis

Pride and Paranoia

Depression and Autism,  and other States of  Despair

Mind Loops

Copyright @2003  Ian Heath
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The copyright is mine and the articles are free to use. They can be reproduced anywhere, so long as the source is acknowledged.

Ian Heath
London, UK

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