‘To enliven her was my living’: thoughts on compliance and sacrifice as consequences of malignant identification with a narcissistic parent’
This paper explores the dynamics involved for children growing up with a narcissistic parent. It suggests that as a consequence of a malignant identification children resort to compliance and sacrifice in varying degrees. Compliance, as part of the sacrificial dynamic, also serves as a means for identification, which in the absence of other emotional nurturance the infant and later the child is reluctant to relinquish. Drawing on the personal and professional experiences of both D.W. Winnicott and H.J.S. Guntrip the paper discusses the underlying conflict between absorption into and abandonment from the narcissistic parent. The psychotherapeutic relationship offers a space to acknowledge the systematic interconnectedness that is at the heart of the malignant identification and the terrible dependency involved. Through a good personal relationship a benign identification with the therapist can begin to replace what was previously so strongly held onto. Brief extracts from two incomplete psychotherapies with young men are used to illustrate certain aspects of the therapeutic work involved.
Fiona Gardner, British Journal of Psychotherapy, Volume 21, Issue 1, Article first published online: 17 NOV 2006,