Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Eros Template: Some Common Themes of (Male) Narcissism

The following is an excerpt from
Eros and The Shattering Gaze; 
Transcending Narcissism
by Kenneth Kimmel

The Eros Template

Eros is an unrepentant, narcissistic lover who retreats from all emotional attachments. He takes the first steps toward maturity and love only after suffering and enduring a life-changing wound that opens him. We find him brought to life by countless writers and artists in many guises and circumstances throughout the long, meandering history of the Western world. Eros, son of Venus, husband of Psyche, is the prototype of the many versions of the puer aeternus we will meet in Eros and The Shattering Gaze; Transcending NarcissismWe recognize him through the actions of men who leave behind the scattered wreckage of lost relationships. This type of man harms many women in their search to find the diamond in the dung heap of love and relationship. He’s the one who leaves a goodbye note, is caught with the best friend, or turns cold and distant when the “L” word is spoken. It is ironic that these men who give so little are loved so much. This is due, perhaps, to their aura of specialness, or to their accomplishments, attractiveness, sensitivity, charisma, charm, and creativity, or even to that pitiful little-boy-lost quality that can evoke a mothering response in the most independent of partners.

Apuleius’ “Tale of Amor and Psyche” is the classical story that best charts the course of these men’s romantic, narcissistic, and even predatory love. It is embodied in the character of Eros as well as in that of Lucius, the hero of The Golden Ass. These stories follow Eros and Lucius through their wounding and suffering, and toward the possibility of mature love, humility, and devotion. Regarding this from the standpoint of the male (as opposed to that of women), one can extract from Eros a template that outlines the key qualities of one pattern in narcissism—that of “mother’s perfect little god,” who habitually seeks instant pleasure in paradise but never in mutual relationships.
Here are some of the common themes of narcissism in the Eros Template extracted from “The Tale of Amor and Psyche.” They are generally found embedded in our notions of romance and love, and are met throughout Western history.

Mother’s special boy. He is the divine son of his mother. He is so special, and he knows no bounds. He can’t take no for an answer. His desires and impulses must be gratified instantly. He is incestuously bonded to his mother, but as long as he does her bidding she protects him from the slings and arrows of the cruel world that may try to knock him down a few pegs for being so full of himself.

His beauty is only skin deep. He is a physically beautiful man but he lacks the capacity for internal reflection. His life centers around surface things: fulfillment of physical desires, attainment of beautiful possessions, and expectations of perfection. The great control and power that he must exert over his outer environment and relationships is a form of compensation for an emotionally unstable and chaotic internal identity that he cannot hold in check.

Predator. His desires are fueled by an internal lack, and when he becomes satiated he searches ceaselessly for a new object of desire and pleasure. He is a predatory hunter. He seeks the adrenaline rush of sexual conquest and power over the helpless victim. Like Psyche awaiting her sacrifice atop the mountain, she is merely his thing to be used to meet his needs.

He seeks fusion in relationships. He maintains his control over the love object by keeping her in the dark about who he really is. She has no identity separate from his, and as long as she is fused with him she is not an object to be related to but is compelled instead to be an object of his desire alone. He unconsciously seeks to relive the fantasy of incest with his own mother in his own little Garden of Eden, by finding her substitute, the newer version of Venus—young Psyche.

He is split between his mother and his lover. His loyalty is split between the need for mothering and the desire for the mature love of a woman, a division that interferes with his maturation and prolongs his stay in eternal youth. Alternatively, he is tossed between his longing for the untouched virgin and his desire for pleasures that only the goddess of love may bestow.

Idealization and devaluation of the object of love. He is always in search of the ideal, perfect woman. Because she is only human, the woman merely plays a role in his perfect fantasies and he has no idea who she really is. The moment she begins deviating from his expectations his feelings turn cold or destructive. Her imperfections arouse all sorts of uncertainties and insecurities within him, and to avoid those unstable feelings he must devalue her. Using her to maintain his stability and his illusions of perfection, he can also blame her when she lets him down. He sets things up so that he never has to look within to his own weaknesses. He rids himself of his own bad feelings by dumping them into the devalued woman.

The narcissistic wound leads to negation of the other. Owing to an unstable identity, he is full of exaggerated sensitivity and therefore is easily slighted and wounded, which leads to negation and devaluation of his ideal love object. Because the internal feelings prove too unbearable to look at, he instead chooses to retaliate against any perceived betrayal that causes him pain. He will easily abandon and evacuate the woman from his mind if it will allow him to avoid suffering.

Continual return to mother to avoid the difficulties of life. He will seek the old familiar retreat to his mother’s rooms to heal the narcissistic wounds inflicted by what he sees as a cold, cruel world, a world that demands to meet him as a real person. He is split between the need for security, sympathy, and maternal comfort, and the instinctive hunger for sexual gratification.

Feigned innocence serves to mask his own destructive, hateful impulses. By splitting off his awareness he turns a blind eye to the terrible mother and her group of vengeful handmaidens who fall mercilessly upon Psyche when she surrenders herself to Venus. By involving himself so exclusively in bemoaning his own mistreatment, Eros feigns innocence. His guilt lies in his complicity. A man such as this can bat his eyelashes innocently while he compartmentalizes his hatred and aggression, though it will often seep out indirectly, passively.

The mother-bound man destroys all links to human relationships. Mother-Venus and her handmaidens threaten Psyche with death if she fails to fulfill any of the impossible tasks set before her. They hope to destroy any links to love, dependency, and vulnerability. As in the previous paragraph, Eros feigns innocence as the dirty work is done for him, thus insulating himself from real life and real relationships and the pain that might ensue. These destructive handmaidens exist within the mother-bound man as protecting and persecuting objects, encapsulating him in a shell and protecting him from the risk of an intimacy that might cause him pain. He stays safe within mother’s orbit, unwilling to break free of her power. On a conscious level he is only cognizant of his role as the “offended party” and will not own responsibility for the violence he inflicts on others when defending himself against perceived threats to his self preservation.

The wounding that pierces the narcissistic shell. In the end, Eros has suffered through his wounding and his separation from his wife Psyche. The bearing of shame plays a vital role in deflating one’s omnipotence (although this step is not as clearly elucidated with Eros as it is with Apuleius’ main character, Lucius). Eros develops within himself the courage and resilience to defy his mother’s wrath and to return to Psyche. The wound that Eros ultimately bears exposes the false self that he has perpetuated in order to maintain his illusion of control over life. He chooses the life-giver, as Neville Symington calls it, with all its uncertainties (Narcissism: A New Theory (London: Karnac Books, 1993), 80.

Repairing the capacity to love. A psyche must develop a resilience and cohesiveness in order to bear the vicissitudes of life, and from this, love in its transcendence may emerge. In the story, Eros comes to see this in Psyche, as he realizes the depth of her sacrifice and devotion, all for the sake of love. Her courage has touched something within him that inspires him to break out of his prison and seek connection and love in a human way. He discovers the capacity for care and the meaning of sacrifice. He repairs his marriage, but only after the couple suffer through separation, pain, and loss. Through a process of great suffering in which the capacities for transcendence emerge, Psyche, recognized as a man’s inner psyche-soul-anima, transcends the maternal complex in which she has been mired. Love frees the soul.
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