Thursday, May 13, 2010

To Have Loved and Lost

5 stages of grief ( anger) #3
"She said she was leaving because I loved myself more than her. How could she do this to me? She's the one who's selfish."

"It sounds like you're angry; anger is part of our normal response to loss and the experience of grief," I told him.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that. I'm not nearly as angry as I am disappointed. I chose her carefully, thinking she could appreciate being treated like someone 'special.' Obviously, I made a mistake, and it's one I won't make again."

"You feel let down by the breakup, naturally. Surely, this must hurt a great deal."

"Not really. It's mostly that she refused to live up to my expectations. I really thought I'd picked the right one this time."

This is an imaginary dialogue that reflects conversations I've had with narcissistic persons of both genders, who've gone through the breakup of a relationship. What has baffled me, consistently, is the way they respond. While most persons feel sad, heartbroken, or become emotionally distraught, they seem to be offended. It's as though a breakup is perceived by them more as an insult than a loss.

I've wondered if their anger isn't defensive, an attempt to protect themselves from the emotional impact of the breakup. It certainly functions like that for most people to some extent. Lately, however, I've begun thinking the problem isn't that they don't wish to feel pain, but rather that they can't. For a loss to be painful, one has to have a sense of attachment to something or someone else. If an individual is unable to form emotional bonds with another, however they describe the experience of loss, it's not going to be painful in the same way most of us conceptualize it.

Depending on the role of the significant other -- a decoration or a resource -- their absence will be experienced, more or less severely, as a blow to the narcissist's self-esteem, suggesting s/he is somehow unworthy of undying adulation or unlimited support. And their response is, how dare someone deprive them of that to which they feel entitled? The inability to put themselves in the place of another, renders them unable to imagine how that individual might think of them differently from how they think of themselves.

This is not to say narcissistic types are unfeeling, but they do appear to feel differently about interpersonal losses. In a sense, one could say, it's not that they don't hurt, but they hurt for reasons that have less to do with being deprived of love than experiencing a wounded self image. Reflecting on this, it occurs to me how much more fortunate one can be, to have loved and known the distress of loss, than to never have realized what was before them. Perhaps, not even after it's gone.

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