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Narcissism Explained Via Carl Jung

These days the term narcissist is associated with manipulative, selfish vampires. How about we look at it with some more nuance?

[Image by Author & DALL-E 3]

What Is Narcissism?

First of all we need to differentiate between narcissism as a trait, and narcissism as a disorder.

In small doses, the trait is part of a healthy psyche, as it enables the individual to take risks and forge relationships.

While the first can vary in severity, the disorder encompasses the more extreme forms of it, and is called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). It is defined in diagnostic manuals like the DSM-V.

According to clinical psychology, the causes of narcissism “are not yet well-understood”.

Parenting obviously plays a major role, but also the culture of competition people grow up in.

According to Psychology Today, people in New York are more prone to develop more severe narcissistic traits than, say, in Iowa (less competitive environment).

So far so good. But what does analytical psychology has to say about this?

While clinical psychology typically focuses on standardized criteria, analytical psychology looks at each individual’s internal experiences, as well as the unconscious.

Here’s a brief comparison:

  • Clinical psychology: observable behaviors, symptom relief, empirical, evidence-based methods for treatment
  • Analytical psychology: individual’s internal experiences and unconscious mind, symbolic and archetypal elements in personal development

Narcissism as Part of the Psyche

Narcissism as a disorder (NPD) became an official thing in 1980, so 20 years after Jung’s death.

Prior to this, the concept was primarily discussed by Sigmund Freud and later by other psychoanalysts.

While Jung himself never explicitly wrote about pathological narcissism (the way it is understood today), his theory does outline the mechanisms behind it.

Jungian analysis would view (the severe and unhealthy) narcissism as an imbalance in the person’s psyche, often related to the underdevelopment of the ‘true self’.

The goal of any individual, according to Jung, is individuation — integrating various aspects of the psyche to become a whole, balanced person.

Individuation involves acknowledging and reconciling different elements within oneself, including the shadow — the unconscious, repressed, and often darker parts of the personality.

[Image by Author & DALL-E 3]

Narcissists tend to deny their vulnerabilities, weaknesses, or negative traits, which are essential components of the shadow.

Instead, they oftentimes project these negative traits onto other people.

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. — Carl Jung

At the same time this lack of integration leads to an inflated sense of self-importance and an inability to empathize with others.

A narcissistic individual may be overly identified with their Persona, the social face they present to the world.

Archetypes and Narcissistic Personality

Jung identified various archetypes within the collective unconscious, each playing a role in the development of personality disorders like narcissism:

The Ego

In a narcissistic individual, the Ego may become inflated, leading to an overemphasis on self-importance and a detachment from the true self.

The Shadow

Often the repressed part of the personality, the Shadow in narcissism can manifest as a lack of empathy and disregard for others, concealing the darker aspects of the self.

The Magician

This archetype, when in the Shadow, can deceive and manipulate, altering reality to fit the narcissistic narrative.

It represents the cunning, rule-breaking aspects that can be prominent in narcissistic behavior.

The Magician plays a central role in many of the narcissist’s behavior patterns. I’ll explain it in more detail below.

Sub-Complexes (The Vampire, The Bad King, The Innocent)

These facets can serve the Magician’s bidding, displaying traits like detachment (The Vampire), authoritarianism (The Bad King), and deceptive innocence (The Innocent).

Dissociation and Narcissism

Jung’s understanding of dissociation — the splitting off of traumatic memories — is crucial in narcissism.

This mechanism can lead to the development of a dual ego state, where one part of the self (the “True Self”) is overshadowed by a more dominant, often destructive part (the “Shadow Self”).

Shadow Self

Jungian theory suggests that life-altering events can trigger the manifestation of narcissistic traits.

A significant failure or humiliation, for example, can activate the “Shadow Self,” leading to behavior changes characterized by anger, abusiveness, and unpredictability.

Let’s say a narcissistic person named Lucas got fired from their job recently.

Upon the activation of their shadow self, they become “Shadow Lucas”.

The Role of the Magician in Protection

For those with childhood trauma, the Magician archetype serves as a protector, although in a darker way.

It also tends to exploit childhood wounds to justify narcissistic behaviors.

It uses the sub-complexes to guard the Self from vulnerability, which often results in antisocial protective strategies.

The Magician’s logic goes like this:

It’s not manipulation if it’s for a greater purpose — my purpose.

The manipulation doesn’t stop at others. Narcissists also manipulate themselves.

Being in their Magician mode, they may confabulate reality, distorting memories to align with their narrative.

The Magician as the Main Culprit

The Magician archetype is central to understanding the narcissist tendency to charm, manipulate and mislead others.

The Magician is an old wise figure with a lot of power. It’s the archetype of transformation and mystery, but also of knowledge and wisdom.

The Magician is not to be mixed up with the Sage archetype (also an old wise figure). While the latter thrives on pursuit of knowledge, its primary activity is contemplation, sharing wisdom, and teaching.

The Magician, on the other hand, doesn’t just contemplate, but can actively change the world, themselves, or other people, using their knowledge and skills.

The Magician [Image by Author & DALL-E 3]

At its highest expression, the Magician archetype is wise, thoughtful, understanding, reflective, healing, and benevolent.

At its lowest expression however, the Magician archetype embodies deception, manipulation, and exploitation.

Instead of using knowledge and insight for healing and positive transformation, the Magician in this shadow form employs these abilities for personal gain, often at the expense of others.

This negative aspect of the Magician is characterized by cunning, trickery, and a lack of moral or ethical considerations.

In this shadow state, the Magician becomes a master of illusion and deceit, using intelligence and charm to mislead, control, and exploit.

This can manifest in various ways, from the subtle manipulation of facts and emotions to outright deceit and psychological manipulation.

The shadow Magician may use their understanding of human psychology and their persuasive abilities to twist situations to their advantage, often hiding their true intentions and maintaining a facade of wisdom or benevolence.

This archetype, when distorted, may also exhibit a tendency to hoard knowledge and use it as a tool for power rather than sharing it for the collective good.

It can become overly concerned with personal gain and power, losing the positive qualities of transformation and healing. The shadow Magician becomes a symbol of untrustworthiness, using their skills to create confusion and chaos rather than clarity and understanding.

In interpersonal relationships this negative expression of the Magician can be particularly destructive, as it often involves manipulation and emotional exploitation. It’s a misuse of the Magician’s natural ability to understand and influence the deeper layers of the psyche, turning these into tools for control and domination.

Overall, the Magician archetype at its lowest is a figure of cunning, manipulation, and self-serving exploitation, using its gifts for personal gain and power rather than the greater good.

What To Do About All This?

Is there a way to speak with a narcissist to make them realize what they’re doing?

Dealing with a narcissist in a way that sparks self-awareness and change is tricky. You’ll need to tap into their deeper self without feeding into their often problematic tendencies.

While you might think reaching them through their Magician side could work because of its creativity and insight, this approach can backfire due to its ties to manipulation.

A better route? Aim for a mix, especially focusing on the Self archetype, which is about the whole of one’s psyche, blending consciousness and the unconscious.

When you try to connect with a narcissist on this level, you’re aiming to get past the usual defenses.

The Self archetype, in the context of Jungian psychology, is about achieving a sense of completeness.

Encouraging a narcissist to see and integrate all parts of themselves, even those they might not be proud of, can sometimes make them more open to change.

Here are a few examples of what you could say:

  • “I’ve noticed you have a real talent for understanding complex situations. Imagine how powerful it would be to also show your compassionate side more openly. Everyone has a mix of strengths, and showing vulnerability can actually be a sign of great personal strength.”
  • When you accomplished [specific achievement], it wasn’t just your intelligence that got you there. It was also your perseverance, even in moments of doubt. How do you think acknowledging those doubts might have helped you grow?”
  • “I’ve noticed there are times when you seem very hard on others, and it might be a reflection of being hard on yourself. We can talk about it anytime. It could help you grow and advance as a person.”

This method tries to sidestep the barriers thrown up by their more troublesome sides, like the Shadow or the Magician in its darker role.

How do you do this? Start with empathy.

Showing you understand where they’re coming from, without excusing the bad stuff, can lower their walls. It’s about making them feel heard so they might be willing to look inward.

Push them to talk about what really matters to them — their true desires and fears, not just the surface-level stuff. This can help them connect with their authentic self.

Acknowledge the good parts of their ‘Magician’ traits, like their ability to transform and create, but frame these in a way that’s about personal growth, not control over others.

You can also appeal to their ‘Anima’ or ‘Animus’ — the part of them that connects to the opposite gender — to help them understand their relationships and emotional reactions better.

Showing what healthy emotional expression looks like can encourage them to find a more balanced way to deal with their feelings.

Sometimes, you might need to gently call them out on their behavior, focusing on specific actions rather than attacking their character. This has to be done carefully to avoid just reinforcing their defenses.

Of course dealing with a narcissist is tough. You might need backup from a therapist, especially one who gets the dynamics at play.

Keeping your own boundaries is vital for your mental health. And manage your expectations — change in narcissists is often slow and complicated. They have to really want it, and it usually takes professional help.

Narcissistic Personality
Carl Jung
Jungian Psychology
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