Reich divided his types into Categories: Genital, Phallic, Anal, Oral and Ocular Types. These are correlated with developmental phases of growth, affecting the character and their biophysical/energetic progression. If an individual does not sustain the Phallic level, he or she may drop back to a Pregenital level (an earlier level of development) because those fixations or blockages dominate the picture. I will be covering the Pregential characters according to Reich and Object Relations in future posts. For the next few posts, I will be discussing Phallic Character Types, the first one being the Narcissistic Character Type.
Let me start with a discussion of healthy narcissism. We all need and wish to feel good about ourselves and experience a consistent and stable sense of our self worth. Our perception of inherent goodness, wholeness and integrity can translate to creative enterprises and a willingness to promote ourselves in our world both socially and in the work realm. This is called healthy entitlement. Therefore, we can have a reasonable agenda and activate it, allowing our expression of Self to speak in a variety of ways. These efforts represent healthy stable narcissism without destabilization from negative self-talk and inaction in our life. Further, our healthy narcissism allows us to be in relationship with others in a reciprocal fashion that supports others as we support ourselves. We saw these healthy traits in the Genital Character previously described. Remember, when we have achieved a mentally healthy condition, life becomes simpler. There is more complexity to living as individuals slip into neurotic or disordered patterns.
The Narcissistic Character Type has a very different process. It has a well-known brand, the top dog, which many of you may recognize in yourself or others. First and foremost, the Narcissistic Type has exaggerated self-confidence and exudes a sense of superiority. He demands to be in control and does not want to subordinate to anyone. His inflated self-confidence can lead to poor decisions. Plus, his inability to focus on details due to his exaggerated self-confidence leads to inflated decisions that can easily fall apart in reality.
Narcissistic Character Types can be quite self-engrossed and self-maximizing. His predominant and consistent focus is on his own needs, concerns and wishes. He is an excellent self-promoter who loves the limelight and vies to be seen as special. He expects his needs to take center stage in his relationship to others. He is often upset if those needs are not mirrored perfectly by his partners, friends, or colleagues.
The world is their oyster is a good phrase representing a developmental phase from which the Narcissistic Character did not graduate. This phase of development occurs when the toddler is still within the orbit of the parent, having not yet separated. She feels imbued with the power of the parent behind her, so the child feels the world is hers for the taking. There isn’t yet the recognition that she is at risk if she moves too far out of Mom or Dad’s sphere. Then she would experience her separateness and that can be a shocking realization at first. In the next phase of development, she realizes she is differentiated and shuttles back and forth between the parents for resources. She begins to absorb that she is, at times, separate from her parents. But while in the parental orbit, she remains empowered and feels omnipotent. So the Narcissist can be seen as holding at this phase and, given the world is their oyster, they are filled with a sense of omnipotence. They believe they should get what they want when they want it – and that they are entitled to it. They command, control, dominate and cajole to get their needs met and there are no limits! Others are an extension of them and not seen as separate. For example, if they like something, their partner should like it, or if they do a chore a certain way or have an attitude about an issue, their partner needs to match that exactly for there to be peace. They can be critical and demanding at times, as they want things to be perfect to reflect their internalized quest for perfection. This can be troublesome in relationships!
Narcissist Types go about working everyone to get maximum gain. And they can be charming, with a charisma that others, who don’t have those qualities, are attracted to. Sooner or later these traits are obnoxious, especially to individuals who are attached to them. Narcissists can have a glow, due to their power, that attracts fireflies to their light. Because of that, they can control and dominate others. And, others get burned as the Narcissist takes what they wants and needs and then moves on.
Narcissistic Characters can be nearly healthy as seen in successful athletes, political figures, or businessmen. The less healthy Phallic may slide into alcohol and drug addiction, or depression, and becomes less functional depending on the configuration of earlier developmental blocks. Less functional Narcissistic Types cannot accomplish as much because their egos are weaker and their decision making more flawed. These types don’t succeed by external standards but think they are the cat’s meow. They can be filled with bravado without any basis in reality, thinking their ultimate success is just around the corner…a corner not even close to their vicinity. I will say more about this lower level Narcissist at the end of this series when I add in other characters to Reich’s typology.
The Narcissistic Type can have grand visions and live the big life. They are status-seekers and covet power symbols to ensure their need to be recognized and emulated. Narcissistic Types thrive on winning. They want admiration, are competitive, and likely concerned with their image, burnishing that to maintain a sense of self worth and dominance. Thus, they live in a world of idealized others and devalued others. They inflate others – look up to them, want to emulate the more powerful – and then devalue those that don’t impress them. These feelings of inflation and deflation are also internal and relate to how they view themselves. They are on top of their world, or they are failing, not keeping up, not good enough.
They often accomplish a great deal as they have available aggression and that is a positive aspect of this type. On the other side, they often neglect their close relationships because they need to maintain their status position and that absorbs their focus. Their relational skills are compromised as they are usually too inflated to be sensitive or empathetic. They can be limited in their contact as they are really quite self-engrossed. And, usually, internally they are competing, in a position of envy, and comparing who is better or worse off. And there is the overriding concern of what can they get from another.
Narcissists often utilize an attack mode to dominate and control, which is sometimes masked in a sophisticated style. They will use attack if necessary to maintain their advantage, to control and dominate. They can escalate in a conversation and over-talk, and raise their voice and increase their speed to establish superiority resulting in others backing down. Or they become down right argumentative and rude in order to assert their top dog position. Narcissistic Types have a great deal of anger as they compensate when they feel internally insecure, like when they feel they are losing their edge, feel criticized, or have a competitor. They have to maintain their edge or they can drop into their basic feelings of worthlessness. They will get angry to maintain their position and cover up their hidden feelings of inadequacy. They often deny their inherent insecurity because their defenses work well. This type does not want to stop the speedy, aggressive push forward in order to slow down enough to make contact and self-examine.
Narcissists are extremely sensitive to criticism. If they even feel the slightest criticism, they will act defensively. If they anticipate an attack, they will attack first. They have fragile egos and don’t do well with challenge and feedback. They can rear up defensively and dominate the conversation through fury, or withdraw punitively. They lack flexibility to engage and drop their defensive structure, because they need to keep their egos protected from demotion.
Sexually, certain issues emerge for the Narcissist. Reich’s healthy genital character type expresses sexuality in the service of expressing love, affection, and closeness. And yes, sexuality can be visceral and intense as well. When we move to the Phallic Narcissistic male, they like to manifest their potency through aggression and can express revenge in sexuality. They can be competitive, asserting power over their partner and wanting to show off their prowess more than express vulnerability with their partner. The male can wish to primitively pierce to prove their potency. Phallic Narcissistic women can be competitive, with a need to cut down and diminish the male. She can be relentlessly critical and is therefore effective in her ability to dominate and then discard the male she is with.
Biophysically, the Narcissist has a well-proportioned, athletic body with high energy and vigor. They can be good looking and attract others to them through their good looks. Due to their high energy, they can be expansive in their actions yet bristle easily due to their high charge. Also, because they build up energy easily, they can be impatient and overly aggressive in benign situations. They can move from charming to arrogant and from warmth to cold withdrawal.
The Narcissistic Character’s armoring is general yet focused in an inflated chest, armored diaphragm with upper body, shoulder, and neck armoring, and tension in the legs. The chest cannot give in to the breath or yield to softer feelings. There can be other blocks that can dominate the picture. For example, if there is a significant eye block, then the character turns more paranoid. If the oral block dominates, then the Narcissist experiences depression. I will say more in another post on unsatisfied or repressed blocks. These blocks help paint a more thorough picture with shadings that illuminate each particular person within the character type.
Narcissists seek therapy when their empires break down. Maybe they lose a good job or their marriage, get demoted, or otherwise lose their status through loss of wealth, status or power. Then they begin to feel their weak, fragile, dependent underpinnings. They are habituated to control and dominate at their work or in their families. Suddenly, the hierarchical status symbols are waning. Aging, loss of image, illness, loss of control: all these types of situations challenge the Narcissistic Character. They are not flexible in adjusting to losses that affect their identity. They can fall into depression, lose motivation, and become unstable and anxious. Or they throw temper tantrums and rage at their weakening defenses. They have been bolstering themselves with external approval and external identity and, when that shifts, they experience alienation, fragmentation, loss of self, and depression.
Phallic Types who cannot maintain their dominance over their lifetime or who initially did not get their emotional needs met in their family of origin will become chronically depressed. They fall into our next type: the Chronic Depressive covered in my next post.
In working with this type, the Orgonomist dismantles all defenses listed above. As this type is extremely sensitive to criticism and will fight all the way to keep their position of dominance, the therapy can be quite engaged. As these defenses relent, the individual can feel more deeply into the underlying issues. The person can examine his or her inner demand to be special and better-than, and let this false power position go. Then they can relate better to others and their aggressive approach will fall away. With good therapy, their natural, exuberant high energy can be put to good use relationally, creatively, and spiritually.