Maxson McDowell PhD, LMSW, LP is a senior Jungian analyst who has
practiced in New York City for the past 22 years. He is also the secretary and past president
of the C. G. Jung Foundation in New York.
Here he describes injury to self esteem, how it arises, how it affects us and how it may be healed.
Copyright 2009 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Excerpted text from Mrs Dalloway copyright: Harcourt, Inc., 1925; renewed by Leonard Wolf, 1953.
Narcissism: part 1
Narcissism: part 2
Narcissism: part 3
An injury to narcissism is an injury to self esteem or self-love. Healthy self esteem means unconditional love of self. This creates a coherent and secure sense of self.
Self esteem is injured if the parent does not love his or her child enough, or if the parent's love is conditional: "I love you because you are so special, so gratifying to me." Healthy self esteem, by contrast, forms when the parent loves his or her child just as much when the child is not gratifying.
Healthy self esteem does not prevent healthy self-criticism, but this means criticism of our actions, not of our self: "I don't like what I just did, but I love myself just as much anyway."
To the extent that a person with injured self esteem lacks a secure sense of self, he or she also lacks a secure sense of the other and may treat the other as a non-person. A person with injured self esteem tends not to notice the other's feelings and needs. Consequently the injured person may act hurtfully and destructively.
A person whose self esteem is injured feels empty and without value. He or she compensates with grandiose unconscious fantasies, either of worth: "I've won the lottery; I've discovered a gold mine; I'm king of the world" or of worthlessness: "I'm the worst person there ever was". Either way these fantasies make it hard to respect and appreciate others.
We all have injuries to our self esteem. Don't feel too bad if you recognize some of what I say here. What we can do is work to be conscious of our injuries; then we can begin to choose not to enact them.
Confronting injuries to self esteem usually does little to help them. The therapist must rather understand the injury to self esteem so that the patient feels unconditionally accepted. When the patient was first refused unconditional love the patient's sense of self stopped growing. When the therapist accepts the patient unconditionally this permits the patient to grow again, to begin to heal the injury. Again, the therapist can challenge the narcissistically-injured person's actions but must fully accept the person's self. This requires that the therapist has adequately faced his or her own narcissistic injuries.
The seminal psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut showed that injuries to self esteem, when transformed, lead to creativity, empathy, humor and the acceptance of limits.