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Narcissistic Vulnerabilities Experienced within the Processes of Change and Development

Camm, E.M (2009). Narcissistic Vulnerabilities Experienced within the Processes of Change and Development. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Ouroboros is a symbolic metaphor depicting the process of individuation as a circular self-contained process (Schwartz-Salant, 1986). The Ouroboros often represents self-reflexivity, or cyclicality, especially when referring to something constantly re-creating itself. The way individuals reflect on themselves and re-create, whether from within or without, have within themselves a partially conscious image of how they want to be seen. Jacoby (1994) refers to this as an ‗ego-ideal‘. Depending on the needs of the ‗ego-ideal‘, we respond to them in narcissistic self-absorbing or narcissistic self actualizing ways.

My motivation to use this metaphor of Ouroboros was because it reflects all the struggles and triumphs experienced by the individuals in the client study, critical literature review and research study, illustrating how the different spectrums of narcissism can be understood and utilized.

This thesis comprises of sections: A: Preface; B: Client Study; C: Critical Literature Review; D: Research Study. They are set out in the temporal order of completion. I wrote the client study at the beginning of my 3rd year as a trainee counseling psychologist; and the critical literature review was the last piece of work in my 3rd year. The research study followed seven years later. Although the client study and review have been updated, I still feel that these pieces of work reflect my growing understanding of narcissism and its presentation - not only in the client and participant‘s but also in me. Underpinning all three pieces of work are the subtle interactions of the different spectrums of narcissism unraveling and evolving within the intersubjective space between us.

A: The preface provides an overview of each component of the thesis as well as how the various components of the Portfolio are inter-related with the concept of narcissism.

B: The case study illustrates the slow development of trust within the therapeutic relationship when working with a client with dual diagnoses of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Therapy with this client took place within the context of his high managerial position in a very competitive organization within the international environment where displaying ‗narcissistic behavior' is rewarded. As his therapist, challenges to my way of working was firstly, in identifying the tensions between self-absorbing and self-actualizing narcissism that were maintaining Phil‘s unmanageable levels of anxiety. Secondly, to find ways of working with both concepts and feelings that were in tension with one another that were also in the client‘s best interests.

C: The critical literature review examines the nature of counter-transference experienced by myself as a 3rd year trainee as a result of a critical incident in the workplace. Available literature on counter-transference is reviewed; the unconscious processes involved, as well as available empirical studies on countertransference as experienced by qualified therapists and trainee therapists.

D: The research study explored how women in midlife experienced facial ageing and facial rejuvenation within a ‗culture of narcissism‘. The study aimed to explore in-depth phenomenological experiences of a ‗non-clinical‘ sample of women who chose to undergo facial rejuvenation cosmetic surgery and/or procedures and were satisfied with the results. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was chosen as this approach enabled participants to express the meaning this experience held for them. As the researcher I engaged with these reflections with the intention of hermeneutically understanding the meanings this act held for them. The findings revealed interplay between external facial appearance and internal intra-psychic phenomenon maintaining a repetitive cycle of self-conscious emotions such as shame and pride. The thesis concludes with the argument that the concepts of shame, pride/vanity and shame are circular in nature and integral aspects of facial ageing and rejuvenation for most of these women. It concludes with a chapter on Validity, Limitations, Building-on the Research, and Relevance to Counselling Psychology.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses > School of Arts and Social Sciences Doctoral Theses
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