In June 1978 I started outpatient psychotherapy with a psychiatrist in Philadelphia named I.J. Oberman. Dr. Oberman was Medical Director of the Northwest Institute of Psychiatry, a psychiatric hospital. The hospital had a cafeteria.
At one of my sessions, Dr. Oberman brought with him to the office his dinner on a tray. I still remember it was a hamburger on a bun. As I sat there talking, he sat there eating his dinner.
In retrospect, I wonder if he felt that I was starving him. I don’t know. Sometimes a hamburger is just a hamburger.
Be that as it may.
In an ancient Greek legend, Narcissus was a beautiful youth who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool and remained transfixed until he died.
But when Dr. James F. Masterson, a Cornell Medical Center psychiatrist, discusses ”narcissistic personality disorder,” he has a more modern image in mind. He describes the grandiosity of people, such as the brilliant researcher who was astounded to find that he had been passed over for a promotion and even more surprised to learn that he lost out because of his poor relations with the staff.
”When this man turned to his colleagues and family for sympathy, he was shocked to hear them say that they agreed with his boss,” recalled Dr. Masterson. ”Even when he started therapy, he still didn’t understand the problem, because he believed that all of these people were wrong about him.”
For such narcissicists, other people exist only ”the way a hamburger exists for them – to make them feel good,” says Dr. Masterson. ”They may charm you and manipulate you to make you see how wonderful they are — [or read to you the paper they plan to present to an upcoming scientific conference] — but as soon as they get your admiration, they’ll drop you.”
The new narcissism is just one aspect of a current ferment among analysts as some of them diverge from traditional Freudian theory in search of better ways to deal with contemporary emotional disorders.