In the Midst of Winter there was an Eternal Summer: Finding
and Hope in Suffering, the Case of Antisocial-Narcissistic
Oudi Singer, Med, RC
University of Akron
Singer, O. (2004). In the Midst of Winter there was an Eternal Summer: Finding Spirituality and Hope in
Suffering, the Case of Antisocial-Narcissistic Personality. International Journal
Rehabilitation. 9 (1), 99-106.
The only living organism that fails of being genuine with his own
nature is man (Camus, 1956). An animal is fixed to its here-and-now by
the senses, but man manages to detach himself, to remember, to
sympathize with others, to visualize their states of mind and feelings.
However Humans capacity to grasp their selves is only achieved darkly
and imperfectly. Suffering is created, until every single atom in men’s
feeling becomes a ‘howling of anguish’ (Lem, 1984). Within every men
there is a tormented martyr nailed to a cross, said Hesse (Hesse,
1965). Each individual must carry his own burden in the most unique
way. Realizing it, is coming from afar, closer to fulfillment, closer
to friendships closer to hope, and closer to peace (Camus, 1966; Walsh,
1999; Frankl, 1984). This is a look into Dread, Suffering, struggle and
it’s relationship to the spiritual life.
Existential Psychotherapy: Etiological Views and Pathology and the
“Midway the journey of this life I was aware that I had strayed into
the dark forest, and the right path appeared not anywhere”(Dante, 1947,
pp.3). Such journey is the journey of men. Born to the cradle thrown
with fear and dread into life of confusion and uncertainty, knowing the
only certain factor is death (Kiekegaard, 1944, 1958; Heidegger, 1962).
The cause of happiness comes rarely, says the bodhisattva, while
stating that the seeds of sufferings are many (Lama, 1994). However he
leaves the scholar with a sense of optimism:” yet if I have no pain,
I’ll never long for freedom” (Shantideva, 1997, pp.78). The Rabbi
followed his eastern sage, lamenting:” the whole heart is a broken
heart” (Kotzker Rebbe cited in Wolpe, 1999, pp.7).
The sages valued suffering, pain and illnesses and saw them as
communication vessel between the human being and the divine, as well as
between individuals and their inner selves (Walsh, 1997; Cooper, 1997;
Rumi, 1994). Suffering was another opportunity for men to investigate
his life, and his behavior (Walsh, 1999).
In contrast therapists and counselors since the time of Freud over
emphasized individual self- interest (Doherty, 1995). Contemporary
trends, both psychological and economical highlighted pursuit of
happiness and comfort as the main goals of life, overlooking the
moral-philosophical arena, in which avoidance of discomfort and
narcissism will prevail (Fromm, 1976; Doherty, 1995).
These is an investigation into the world of dread, fear, and negative
emotions in general, as arising out of the existential conflict between
the ontological and the epistemological, between human beings and the
absurdity of life’s unpleasant occurrences (Shoham, 1987).
A systemic approach will examine the historical-philosophical
existentialism, moving towards the practical phenomenology with two
anti-social/narcissistic clients and their unique journey towards
healing. This is and qualitative attempt to capture the despair, revolt
and eventually divine acceptance and surrender by the human spirit.
The Human Condition: the void and the absurd
Existentialism is the title of the set
of philosophical ideals that emphasizes the existence of the human
being, the lack of meaning and purpose in life, and the solitude of
human existence (Kaufmann, 1956; Frankl, 1984) Existentialism maintains
existence precedes essence: This implies that the human being has no
essence, no essential self, and is no more that what he is (Frankl,
1984; Hesse, 1965; Camus, 1956).
According the existential thought
existence is always particular, unique and individual (Hesse, 1965;
Camus, 1956). Existentialists are opposed to the view laws explaining
human freedom and activity can be formulated. Existence is essential
and fundamental: Being cannot be made a topic of objective study. Being
is revealed to and felt by the human being through his own experience
and his situation (Laing, 1967; Camus, 1956; Frankl, 1984).
Existentialism stresses the risk, the
voidness of human reality and admits that the human being is thrown
into the world, the world in which pain, frustration, sickness,
contempt, malaise and death dominates (Camus, 1956; Kierkegaard,
1944,1958; Kaufmann, 1956). Life has no absolute meaning. In spite of
the human's irrational "nostalgia" for unity, for absolutes, for a
definite order and meaning to the "not me" of the universe, no such
meaning exists in the silent, indifferent universe (Camus, 1956, 1966).
Between this yearning for meaning and eternal
verities and the actual condition of the universe there is a gap that
can never be filled. The void is a living void. Lack of meaning is
elastic by nature all that is relieving, all that helps alleviate the
pain, drugs, food, gambling, sex, and possessions. The confrontation of
the irrational, longing human heart and the indifferent universe brings
about the notion of the absurd (Camus, 1966; Frankl, 1984).
Thrown into the world, the human being
is condemned to be free. The human being must take this freedom of
being and the responsibility and guilt of his actions (Kiekegaard,
1944, 1958; Camus, 1956; Sartre, 1958; Heidegger, 1962). Humanity's
primary distinction, in the view of most existentialists, is the
freedom to choose. Existentialists have held that human beings do not
have a fixed nature, or essence, as other animals and plants do; each
human being makes choices that create his or her own nature (Sartre,
1958; Camus, 1966). Freedom of choice entails commitment and
responsibility. Because individuals are free to choose their own path,
existentialists have argued, they must accept the risk and
responsibility of following their commitment wherever it leads (Camus,
1956, 1966; Sartre, 1958; Comer, 1998).
Where the absurd starts and agony takes over
Existence is of two types: authentic and
inauthentic forms of existence. Authentic existence is contrasted with
dynamic and is the being-for-itself, rising from the human being's bad
faith, by which the human being moves away from the burden of
responsibility (Kiekegaard, 1944,1958; Comer, 1998). The inauthentic
being-in-itself is characteristically distinctive of things; it is what
the human being is diseased with for his failure to see himself as and
act according as a free agent and his impotency to reject bad faith.
Things are only what they are (Camus, 1956; Sartre, 1958).
The human being hides himself from
freedom by self-deception, acting like a thing, as if he is a passive
subject, instead of realizing the authentic being for the human being
(Comer, 1998). This self-deception is the root of man’s dysfunctions
(Kierkegaard, 1985; Comer, 1998). By trying to avoid, hide, misplace,
and blame, individuals moves beyond anxieties into the realms of anger,
depression, resentments and guilt (May& Yalom, 1995 1989; May,
The Defiant nature of man’s Spirit
The defiant power of the human spirit
(Frankl, 1965) refers to the human capacity to tap into the spiritual
part of the self and rise about the negative effects of situations,
illness or the past. Camus referred to the defiant behavior of man
towards crises, as the rebellion, which may produces Ill emotions or,
if done creatively, may establish a new meaning for the sufferer
(Camus, 1956, 1966).
The revolt against the universe,
situations, events, traumas, creates more than just ill emotions. It
may also produce stress on the value system (Camus, 1956). Virtue and
vice are mixed when man lies in the pit of despair (Camus, 1956). As
that happens and the client becomes a victim of outside forces, since
he fails to be accountable, all is permitted. Deviant behavior may be
the outcome of failure to cope with the anxieties, anger, blame or even
suicide (Camus, 1956, 1966).
The need for control of the outcomes is
another cause for neurotic existence (Hayes, 1997). The client who
becomes helpless, since he/she neither has nor control over the trauma
or bad circumstances, he or she has no significance in this world. The
human being cannot find any purpose in life; his existence is only a
contingent fact (Frankl, 1984; Hayes, 1997). His being does not emerge
from necessity. If a human being rejects the false pretensions, the
illusions of his existence having a meaning, he encounters the
absurdity, the futility of life.
The Cry for Meaning: Dread and Anxiety
In a world stripped of its illusions and
false pretensions, the human being is an outside, who lives without any
meaning. The human being is placed in a hopeless and void situation
(Camus, 1966; Frankl, 1984). This limiting reality leads the human
being to encounter the absurd in every aspect of being, ranging from
routine activities in life to unusual and unconventional circumstances
(Camus, 1956, 1966).
All human actions and thoughts
develop in the void, in the midst of weariness and frustrations,
irrelevancies, the bizarre, unconformities, illusions, and evasions,
which make those actions and thoughts absurd. The human attempt to
grasp the mechanism and the dynamics of the universe also turns into an
absurd confrontation between the human being and his surroundings
(Camus, 1956; Sartre, 1958).
Out of the cry for meaning, man’s
becomes hopeless, helpless, and meaningless. Those introverted ones may
turn the anger and frustration towards self, may become alienated from
self and other fall into the world of psychosis (Laing, 1965, 1967).
Extroverted beings may revolt outwardly by anti social behavior, or by
any others aggressive means (Shoham, 1987; May, 1972).
The client may also feel completely
alone. A break in attachment or a conflict in relationship is created.
The client now realizes he must depend on self. In this state of
aloneness the client starts wondering how will he/she live (Corey,
1996). Aloneness and isolation may result as lack of affective
rottenness and interactions of the individual with his environment
Hope, Courage, and Healing: The Case of antisocial personality
Facing the absurdity of illness, life and trauma, men becomes helpless
and hopeless and may resort extreme measures (Camus, 1965, 1966; May,
1972; Fromm, 1973). Without emotional ties with the world, the
extroverted rebel may be in a state of lostness, relationship will
become evolved around self only (narcissism), the individual might also
try to control, aggressively others in a sadistic way (Fromm, 1973).
Doesn't this make a futile pessimistic chaos of life? Wouldn't
suicide, or self-injurious behavior as in addiction be a legitimate way
out of a meaningless life? As the individual face the absurd he rebels
cognitively and emotionally against God and the world, the options
remain open for the rebel: suicide (hurt self)/homicide (hurt others)
In the following section emotional-existential focused therapy will
examine beneficial outcomes for 2 individual who chose life long
rebellion with alcohol, drugs and aggression which brought about
incarceration and grief. Though the absurd cancels all chances of
eternal freedom it magnifies freedom of action (Camus, 1965, 1966).
Brief Literature review of Anti-social personality treatment shows a
gloomy, pessimistic view (Comer, 1998).
Approximately quarter of people diagnosed with antisocial personality
disorder actually receive treatment for it (Reiger, et al., 1993).
Generally most of today’s treatments approaches have a little or no
impact of individuals with antisocial personality disorder (Comer,
The Emotional Life of a Narcissist
Narcissism is an effort to contain the ominous onslaught of stale
emotions, repressed rage, a child's injuries. Narcissism Isolates the
Narcissist from the pain, and dread of facing reality and allows him to
inhabit the fantasyland of ideal God like perfection and brilliance
APD affect lacks subtlety, depth, and modulation. Individuals with
severe APD appear to live in a pre-socialized emotional world; feelings
are experienced in relation to self but not to others (Cleckley, 1982).
Such individuals are unable to experience emotions such as gratitude,
empathy, sympathy, affection, guilt, or mutual eroticism that depend on
the perception of others as whole, real, and meaningful (Cleckley,
1982; Comer, 1998).
Clinical investigations confirm previously discussed reactions to
negative emotions of life’s absurdity. Individuals with APD are
frequently described as irritable. This irritability is defined as a
disposition toward anger and aggression. Here, aggression is the APD
behavior intended to inflict discomfort, hurt, harm, injury, or
destruction on others (Comer, 1998). Oldham suggests that even if
individuals with APD improve later in life, they remain irritable,
angry, and tense (Oldham, 1990).
The narcissist's positive emotions come bundled with very negative
ones. This is the outcome of frustration and the consequent
transformations of aggression. This frustration is connected to the
primary caregivers of the narcissist's childhood (Vaknin, 2003).
Bundling, and stuffing is far easier than unbundling. The narcissist is
unable to evoke his positive feelings without provoking his negative
ones. Gradually, he becomes phobic: afraid to feel anything, lest it be
accompanied by the fearsome, guilt inducing, anxiety provoking, out of
control emotional complements (Vaknin, 2003).
Here are the stories in which courage to feel, opened a new path, a new
meaning. The counselors attempts were to move emotions from cognitive
schema into an experiential one, allowing the detached individual to
become one with the totality of the “the kingdom within”.
The void, the hunger, the destruction, and the hope: The Case of Joe
Joe was born in a barrio, to a father who was in prison and mother whom
was a pusher and a drug addict (O.S., Field Notes, May, 2003). Joe
adolescents and early adulthood was characterized by anger and
hostility toward mother, whom he tried to befriend and love numerous of
times, finding himself beat and humiliated. Joe turned his aggression
toward self and women in general (O.S., Field Notes, June, 2003)
Joe described his life as a chase after money, women and material
possessions, and as long as he was satisfied, he was falsely happy. Joe
reported his suffering growing as the void got filled but none in
essence existed: relationship with women, turned into a tale of abuse,
and then a conflict, Money ran down along with his growing habit to
assassinate the self (O.S., Field Notes, May, 2003). The security Joe
found in possessions faded away as his addiction ran deeper and deeper
into oblivion. “Nothing could satisfy”, said Joe. “I was angry at
everybody” (O.S., Field Notes, May, 2003).
Out of desperation and aloneness, Joe turned again to mother, but “she
turned me away”, sending him coldly into the street. “When she was
desperate, I allowed her to stay with me, she didn’t have to do a
thing”, stating with bitter morose (O.S., Field Notes, June, 2003).
After two month of looking at the creation of the void down the
passages of childhood, sitting tied to a chair hungry, going to school
with wet socks and torn pants, yearning for love, Joe came to realize
that he was aimlessly seeking the love, growing up and unable to
fulfill his own essence with care towards self, unconditional care
(O.S., Field Notes, August, 2003). Client realized that all his life he
was living in a wheel chair, using a crutch whether it was alcohol,
drugs, women, or possessions. But these did not satisfy the void (O.S.,
Field Notes, June, 2003).
Throughout the also month of treatment, Joe turn all the efforts
and motivations towards self. In the past he was ashamed he couldn’t
read, now he decided to engage with school (O.S., Field Notes, May,
2003). Joe came from evening schooling and with tears of joy said:” I’m
sitting with older folks, I don’t feel ashamed, I feel good, I felt
belonged” (O.S., Field Notes, June, 2003)
Client left treatment and started filling his time with volunteering,
helping in hospitals. Joe started working (O.S., Field Notes,
September, 2003). Calling me few months later, Joe said:” Thank you, I
do today everything I haven’t done, I did not read no I started reading
poetry, I went to the show Cats, I always ran to relationship and sex,
I don’t even look for it now, I know that if God will allow it will
come, today I am somebody, thank you” (O.S., Field Notes, February,
From Brokenness to Arrogance: Georges’ search for significance
This was his seventh or eighth treatment center. Desperate he entered
the session stating his diagnosis clearly:” I’m anti social with
narcissistic traits (O.S., Field Notes, September 2002).
George discussed his journey into darkness, reflecting on a
conquest. George was summarizing his rise and fall. Snorting cocaine
with the rich and famous. Having his own band, touring, and women all
around tapping on his shoulder boosting up his ego (O.S., Field Notes,
“Can you feel?” I asked at one point. “ You talk greatly and
intellectualize your life, but can you live it, love it, and feel it,
don’t answer, write in your journal, think about it” (O.S., Field
Notes, October 2002). George left my office and returned a day later
quietly with sadness saying:” I can’t cry I can’t feel I don’t know how
too”. “Tell me about your childhood”, I said (O.S., Field Notes,
George started with vivid descriptions of childhood memories, sleeping
scared at night, his father, a raging alcoholic, beating up his mother
(O.S., Field Notes, October 2002). “One night we heard the anguish
screams of my mom, my brother woke me saying:” lets kill him”.” How do
you feel I said, don’t think feel, I urged him. Georges’ eyes were red,
the closest I saw him in two month to feeling empathy. “I am sad”, he
said.” I am angry too” (O.S., Field Notes, October 2002).
Not long after that, George started getting into the childhood he never
had, feeling alienated by parents, feeling lonely and sad. Going into
description of adolescent and adulthood, George realized that he his
anger and rage were developed into a more sophisticated beast:
arrogance. “Everything I wanted I got. Money women, power”. “I did not
feel empty and lonely no more” (O.S., Field Notes, October/November
“Now I have nothing”, said George in a mourning tone of voice. The show
is over, the crowd is gone, women aren’t clapping, and I’m alone again”
(O.S., Field Notes, October 2002). I could see now, three month after,
George was tearing. “I am feeling again”, he said.” I don’t like what I
feel, but I feel it”. Thank you (O.S., Field Notes, November 2002).
George left treatment successfully after 4 month. He changes his
occupation and now he helps transporting the mentally retarded. He
called me few months after:” This is king baby”, he said. “I feel
humble, the residents teach me to be humble again, I feel like a kid
again, all fresh all new, it feels good not to feel good Oudi”, he said
(O.S., Field Notes, February 2003).
Emotional wisdom is defines by Greenberg
(Greenberg, 2001), as the ability to be aware and express one’s own
difficult emotions. Such process can open new doors for the sufferer,
such as: greater capacity to make sense of self, improved emotion
regulation and the ability to develop better empathy toward others’
feelings. In both cases, patterns of avoidance and escape were created
by living hedonistic life. Chasing women, money, and drugs. Avoidance
of pain as suggested by scholars will create further grief and pain,
and will perpetuate the cycle of maladaptive behaviors (Hayes, 1997;
Greenberg, 2001; Walsh, 1999).
Growth and change, as a process, are attained through the mirror of
relationships, through the understanding of the contents of his/her own
mind, and through observation and not through intellectual analysis or
introspective dissection. Man has built in himself images as a fence of
security - religious, political, personal. These manifest as symbols,
ideas, and beliefs. The burden of these images dominates man's
thinking, his relationships, and his daily life. These images are the
causes of our problems for they divide man from man (Krishnamurti,
In This dyad of the therapeutic dialogue,
conditions of deep empathetic and compassionate care are authentically
embraced and applied by health practitioners; a climate of change and
self-actualization will eventually be created (Laing, 1965, 1967;
Rogers, 1951, 1961). By building trust and love, and by encouraging the
client to feel and express negative emotions (fear, anger, guilt, shame
est.…), the chain of self medicaiding and avoidance in broken (Hayes,
1997; Greenberg, 2001; Walsh, 1999).
Clinical literature shows a high recidivism and high
drop out of anti- social clients from treatment (Comer, 1998). However,
even due to the limitation of small sample casework analysis, the hope
of helping individuals who suffer from emotional frozenness is still
somewhat evident. Only through loving relationship, the therapist can
help his recipient actualize his lost potential (Frankl, 1984).
Blake’s hope of living in joys’-
‘eternity’s sunrise’ is promised only to those sufferers who break the
binds to Joy Itself (Rinpoche, 1994). To embrace and feel the dread,
the depression and anger of life is not a curse for the Sufi teacher
but a blessing. The old mystic teacher, Jalaluddin Rumi, chose to
embrace the ill emotions, seeing negative emotions as a bridge to
better life. The supreme style of coping is best illustrated in the
“This being human is a guesthouse
every morning a new arrival a joy,
depression, a meanness Some momentary
awareness comes as an
visitor welcome and entertain them
all! Even if they're a crowd of sorrows
who violently sweep your house Empty of
its furniture Still treat each guest
honorably, He may be cleaning you out for
some new delight! The dark
thought, the shame, the malice meet them
at the door laughing and invite them in,
be grateful for whoever comes Because
each has been sent as a guide from the
beyond”. (Rumi, 1995 cited in Zokav,
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