Narcissism, Trauma, Addiction: The Bridge



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Addictions, post-traumatic behaviors, and pathological narcissism are strongly correlated: narcissism is a reaction to childhood trauma and abuse and PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) leads to lifelong substance abuse. Indeed, CPTSD (Complex PTSD) is indistinguishable from Cluster B personality disorders with a dominant dimension of narcissism (such as Borderline). Narcissism is an addiction (to narcissistic supply)

All three mental health issues resemble Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly: Multiple Personality Disorder). In all three cases a personoid (personality-like) mental construct or structure takes over the Self: the Addictive Personality, Post-traumatic Personality, and the False Self (in narcissistic disorders), respectively. When the trauma threshold is crossed – when the person is exposed to a number of triggers simultaneously – all three are expressed and feed on each other.

The usurping personoid construct is dissimilar in some important respects to the person’s “normal” personality: it is devoid of inhibitions, lacks empathy, sports little to no impulse control, is unable to delay gratification, engages in dichotomous thinking (splitting or idealization-devaluation), has poor judgment of future consequences (reckless), and is infantile and aggressive.

Addicts are slaves to their addictions? No such thing as an addictive personality in my new theory of addictions and addictive behaviors.

Addictions are the natural state, the baseline. We start off by getting addicted (to mother, her milk) and continue to develop addictions throughout life (habits, love, automatic thoughts, obsessions, compulsions). Addictions are powerful organizing and explanatory principles which endow life with meaning, purpose, and direction. Addictions provide boundaries, rituals, timetables, and order.

Addictions are ways to regulate emotions and modulate interpersonal relationships and communication. Addictions are the exoskeleton and scaffolding of life itself: our brain in programmed to constantly get addicted. A high is the desired permanent outcome. Addictive states must serve some evolutionary purpose and are therefore beneficial adaptations, not maladaptations.

In the process of socialization we internalize inhibitions and introjects (“superego”) against certain addictions so as to render us functional and useful in human communities and environments. Other addictions – mediated via institutions such as church and family – are encouraged for the same reasons. Non-conforming and defiant addicts are conditioned to self-destruct and to defeat and loathe themselves.

Addictions are individual, their proscription and inhibition social. No wonder that they are associated in clinical and abnormal psychology with antisocial or even psychopathic and sociopathic traits, behaviors, and personalities.

The addict seeks to alter his perception of reality. Addictions are both intersubjective theories of mind and of the world. Many addictions come replete with or in the context of ideologies. Addictions spawn subcultures and provide social milieus.

Traumas can be habit-forming and constitute the core of a comfort zone. Trauma victims often engage in variations on the same set of self-defeating, self-destructive, and reckless behaviors because they seek to re-traumatize themselves in order to reduce anticipatory anxiety.

Traumas fulfill important psychological functions and may become addictive as the victim gets habituated to intermittent reinforcement, operant conditioning, and abusive misconduct (“trauma bonding” and “Stockholm syndrome”). One of the most critical functions of traumas is to help make sense of the world by perpetuating a victim role. Traumas are powerful organizing and hermeneutic (interpretative, exegetic) principles.

Regrettably, treatment modalities (psychotherapies) for PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) and CPTSD (Complex PTSD) focus on behavior modification and prophylaxis (prevention). They rarely if ever deal with the etiology of the trauma or with its compulsive and adaptive aspects and dimensions: the trauma’s survival value.

Trauma victims are taught how to avoid triggers and to refrain from certain types of decisions, choices, and attendant conduct. But they are rarely forced to confront and exorcise the demons of trauma, the ghost in the machinery of pain, bewilderment, disorientation, and a labile sense of self-worth that give rise to the horrible tragedies that keep unfolding and recurring in these patients’ lives.

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