We live our lives among people, forming various bonds with them. Some become our dear friends, some we only know through chess club, with some we work together and keep them at a general friendly distance, and, of course, some we wish we have never met (hopefully, just a few).
And then, some will be buried with us in one grave.
We all are unique and fascinating, with different interests, stories, aspirations and backgrounds. And different talents. If we’re healthy and respectful, we approach each other with properly set boundaries, recognizing our differences and emotional needs. Sure, it doesn’t always play out by the book… But we can work through it.
Then, there are those with personality disorders. Clinical psychologists and neurologists still research their provenience: genetics must play a role, especially in the development of Anti-Social Personality Disorder type I, or psychopathy. Sociopaths (ASPD type II) and narcissists (NPD, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is curiously also the abbreviation for Germany’s neonazi party) could have been made: due to repeated abuse in early childhood, their brain did not develop properly. All flavors of identity disorders and borderline disorders are a different story, as people suffering from them do not grow to be the same kind of abusers… Still, so much of clinical psychology boils down to one statement: please, if you want to save the world, love your children unconditionally.
Among them, narcissists are a special species. Their highly intelligent form is very similar to sociopaths, yet, unlike sociopaths, they feel shame, they crave admiration as their only source of validation is external. They operate on deeply rooted defense mechanisms, which make them unable to handle any form of criticism (and to a narcissist, criticism can be perceived in the most absurd way). A criticized narcissist boils in rage and in shame, and the collateral damage inflicted in this process can be irreversible (for instance, throwing away a doctoral thesis may occur as a side effect).
Now, many victims of narcissists engage in the helpful and cleansing process of survivor writing – and the Internet is rich in videos, quora groups or blog posts helping others understand this kind of abuse and live through the pain. Many of these materials are excellent commentaries on the twisted inner world of narcissists, focusing on their self-centeredness and objectification of others.
However, what is really happening in the head of someone with NPD may be much deeper than that (which also makes it less personal – survivors, it was never about you!).
The magnificent Dr Les Carter of the „Surviving Narcissism” channel on Youtube claims what really bugs a narcissist and what really summarizes his or her relations with others is…
„You are not me”.
„How can you not be me? You must be wrong by not being me. I feel criticized, I feel deeply uneasy by the fact that you are different. You should be me. How dare you be so atrociously separate from me right in my face?”
It’s like looking into a child’s brain that is stuck in the developmental stage when the proper sense of self and others has not been figured out yet.
In this case, it will never be – that is why NPD is labeled a disorder. Not receiving any empathy and unconditional love before age 5 has forever changed the shape of the young brain – and, later on, caused a lot of suffering to those who came too close to the disordered person in adulthood.
If a young child has never been validated as their own person, if their needs have never been recognized, if their only justification for existence in the eyes of their caregivers was to play a role in their own play, bring back straight A’s from kindergarten, recite that poem to the letter or go to bed without dinner (and these are just examples) – such children will never develop their sense of validity and uniqueness as a human being that is separate from others. They will feel deep shame about who they originally are, and bury it under multiple defense mechanisms. They will live just to be seen, to be recognized, to be praised, and their whole existence will hang on how they are perceived by other people. If they are criticized, it’s like hearing „you are worthless”. Even if it’s „the glass you just washed is still a bit dirty” – it still translates to „you are worthless”. It will result in a tantrum. Done by an adult. Because that sense of self will never be developed now, it’s too late.
They will in the end truly believe everything around them is about them, including the behavior of other people, how someone smiled, what he said, that he scratched his ear. Everyone has to think about them and look at them! That is the only way. They won’t be able to stand any differences. They will perceive it as criticism. And criticism means they shouldn’t exist.
„You like raspberries better than mangoes? I prefer mangoes! Maybe you’ll just hit me in the face?” – and then they won’t talk to you for a few days…
And yes, the highly intelligent narcissists, those who have picked up the basic courtesy of human conduct and learned all the proper manners by heart in order to blend in and further their grandiose agenda in the government, in academia, in industry – they will be able to hide it quite well in most circumstances, but these sick scenarios will still play inside their heads.
Their need to be asserted as a valuable separate human has never been met when they needed it the most – so now the whole world has to assert them by being them, bowing down to them, and feeling and thinking exactly what they feel and think. Anything short of that is destruction.
Nobody likes criticism – and we all prefer to be among people similar to us. But to narcissists, difference is fatal. They should be the only being that matters.
That truly is a child stuck forever in the stage of figuring out the proper relations with themselves and others. It is a tragedy, but mostly felt by those around the child… Because they will never see we are indeed surrounded by different people. And I am me just like you are you. To a narcissist, there is no parallel. They will be blind to the fact that someone else is a human being in the same way as they are.
Now, how does it relate to Hegel and his pantheistic view of the world and of man?
Before I answer, I need to disclaim this is in no way an attempt to diagnose Hegel or any of his disciples with narcissistic adaptations. However tempting, it is not possible. And also – not needed to make the point. Regardless of anyone’s narcissism (or lack thereof), Hegel’s philosophical claims on their own sound like a narcissistic adaptation glorified by the tower of German philosophy. They are based on a false notion of a human being, and, if inflicted on real people, will result in objectification and cause trauma.
So, let us look closer at how the Hegelian view of man resembles the „how dare you not be me” pain of a narcissist…
What is alienation, this notion that Marx later on picked up from Hegel? It originates from a certain answer to a very fundamental, cosmic question: Why did God create the universe?
An Augustinian Christian would answer that God, being by definition perfect and complete, created the Universe out of love and joy. God is exuberant to see the creatures He made free and unique. The estrangement from God that man deals with is moral, coming from his own choices, for he is free to choose against God. However, God, in His love for each man, not wanting them to be alienated from Him in the moral sense, provided a route for Salvation in His Son. Salvation is then achieved by individuals – the fate of each separate man is what matters.
The heresy which has later influenced Hegel (and I use the word „heresy” because it describes a view condemned by orthodox Christianity) claims that God is not perfect and complete. The Universe He created was created out of need, out of feelings of uneasiness. Man is supposed to be united with God in one singular cosmic blob to ease God’s imperfection. In this way, man is indeed God – on a quest of cosmic evolution to achieve full unity with the Universe. The alienation of man from God is not merely moral, it is fundamental – the problem with man is that he is not God when he should be God, as should everyone, consolidated in one single mind. The Hegelian use of the world „man” does not mean „an individual” – the separateness of human persons is considered evil, something that should be eradicated on the cosmic quest of unifying with the otherwise imperfect God, the quest of relieving the Spirit (singular!) from the alienation of finitude. „Man” to Hegel means the one mind of the species…
To quote Rothbard’s passage on Hegel in „Classical Economics”:
„But why, one might ask, is Hegel’s man so odd, so neurotic, that he regards every thing that is not himself as alien and hostile? The answer is crucial to the Hegelian mystique. It is because Hegel, or Hegel’s man, cannot stand the idea of himself not being God, and therefore not being of infinite space and without limits. Seeing any other being, or any other object, exist, would mean that he himself is not infinite or divine. In short, Hegel’s philosophy is severe and cosmic megalomania on a grand and massive scale”
[Don’t be surprised by how the fundamentals of Hegel’s and then Marx’s view of man go back to Christian theology (or a heretical twist of theology), even though Hegel pantheised, and Marx later atheised these notions. The questions about the origins of the Universe, of man and of evil will never escape from the religion and culture that have shaped our reality before us.]
Now, the notion that only unity can exist is what gave birth to the Marxist kind of dialectics, where – because we have to be one! – every „yes” has to come with a „no”, and somehow they don’t contradict each other, and evil does not exist – to quote Hegel, „every conflict is between two rights” . The only „evil” is then diversity, straying away from the one unified mind… How dare you be someone else? You have to be one with the Spirit… You can’t accuse someone to be an abuser… „Truth” stops existing in this framework. But… we’re not describing real life! So what actually happens if you inflict these ideas on human beings as they are, separate and unique in a world that was not made out of imperfection?
King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia is all too happy to step in here. He finally has a Great Philosopher that can call his state divine. He has an excuse to reach for more power and transform the lives of his subjects – after all, we must strive for unity in the cosmic evolution, and the state is a step in the direction of the divine, standing above all.
The language change and words start meaning their actual opposites. „Freedom” is twisted – the closer you are to achieving full unity, the more your individuality gets erased by the divine state, the „freer” you are. For you are not you, you are a part of the Spirit.
As writes Robert C. Tucker: „Hegel’s conception of freedom is totalitarian in a literal sense of the word. The world-self must experience itself as the totality of being, or in Hegel’s own words must elevate itself to a „self-comprehending totality”, in order to achieve the consciousness of freedom. Anything short of this spells alienation and the sorrow of finitude.”
Now, such statements – again, regardless of anyone’s personality disorder – are a textbook example of a narcissistic defensive strategy. Coincidentally, the total unity, the one mind, is how a person with NPD views the world… And such perception is what makes a narcissist interact to exert control. It is done automatically, in a desperate fight of someone with underdeveloped sense of self. „Truth” doesn’t exist to a narcissist – they change the notion of truth depending on each situation, all in order to control others, because otherwise, they fear they would annihilate. In their heads, they are the Man-god already, even if they have never heard of Hegel, and they, a lot of times unwittingly, strive to subject everyone to their own will, seeing anything, any difference that denies them the Man-god status as evil.
Hegelian cosmology is a framework of control, and the rationalizations used by him and his disciples are known in modern clinical psychology of personality disorders. The same phenomena exist on an individual scale, when a Man-god narcissist objectifies others, because to him, there can only be one mind that exists. The parallels are striking – it seems it is due to the automatic, intrinsic nature of narcissistic defenses – whenever they see something that is out of their control, they start manipulation techniques such as gaslighting, smear campaigns, tantrums, triangulations, what-have-you.
These techniques will necessarily have their equivalents on a political scale in forms of dialectics, propaganda and all flavors of psychological war.
Why? Because human nature is what it is, and if you try to turn it into something else, you will not succeed, you will only break, abuse and kill real humans, calling slavery freedom on the way. Your attempt to end alienation will bring more alienation, your attempt to end poverty will bring immense poverty.
Hegel and later Marx have been proven wrong time and time again. Sadly, the experiments in treating them seriously have brought humanity insurmountable pain. And now, many impoverished people still suffer from alienation, complex trauma, impaired sense of self, deep problems with initiative and self-esteem. Similarly, individual victims of sociopaths and narcissists have to go through unthinkable isolation.
This only proves that our nature is not what they claim. We are not parts of a cosmic unity and we are not one. And certainly, we are not any narcissist’s piece of puzzle. We are beautifully different.
God did not create the Universe out of feelings of loneliness and uneasiness. But did Hegel and those who came before and after him create their version of the One-minded God-man-spirit out of the narcissistic wound of not being infinite, projecting their pain onto God/Universe (you pick the name!) in desperate megalomania? We will never know. Maybe we shouldn’t even ask that about those who have passed – the afterlife, if exists, has given them answers.
We could nevertheless reflect on how crucial it is to act with empathy towards the people that surround us, recognizing their difference and uniqueness, taking interest in them, celebrating them as individuals. Our differences have brought us the division of labor, which flourished into an amazing civilization. Maybe instead of projecting our wounds onto everyone else, God included – and we all tend to do that when in pain – we should take what is best in the non-heretical Christianity – and project God’s love and completeness onto ourselves. No matter the amount of pain and loneliness you’re now experiencing, your spirit (individual spirit!) and free will has been made in resemblance to God’s, and He is enough.
A believer or not, healing from narcissistic abuse, when you learn to celebrate your own individuality after deep trauma, involves this mindset.