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  • Rudy Bauer

Existential Phenomenological Psychotherapy – “Obscurations,” Part 2

By Rudolph Bauer, Ph.D., Diplomate in Clinical Psychology, A.B.P.P.


Rudolph Bauer, Ph.D., Writer, Michelle Mae, Transcriber, Erin Johannesen, M.A., M.D., Editor


Grandiosity destroys equal vision.  It destroys compassionate oneness.  Grandiosity can destroy the group, institutions, families, couples, and spiritual movements.  One of the sneaky things about grandiosity is that it takes time to give its results.  Inflation takes time to give its results because it’s not necessarily obvious.  It can feel like the self coming forward.  But grandiosity is known by its results in terms of one’s own sense of subjectivity [as the] the subjectivity of the other. [Or said perhaps another way, in grandiosity, nothing is 'not me,’ so 'other' is experienced as a self-reflected object and not as another being with his or her own sense of subjectivity. There remains too, at the heart of grandiosity, a lack of an experiencing of self, and so another’s subjectivity can be mistaken for a self-reflection and ‘grabbed,’ or taken on, as one’s own.] Mara [a demon who makes the mundane alluring, or the ‘negative’ seem ‘positive’] is the queen of grandiosity, the devil of grandiosity.  Like when Jesus was tempted by the devil, “Everybody will bow down to you and adore you.” Becoming God-like is delusional, destroying humanness.

Compassion is the oneness of the subject with the other subject.   That’s why when we like or love a person, it is awareness being made manifest.  We don’t have to close our eyes to discover that, to discover our awareness as love for people, for animals.  It is not easy to forego powerful narcissistic orientation and grasping without the true inner support of the field.  As one allows oneself to become aware of awareness, to become a subject, [to become] a brother and a sister, one becomes infused by the field and by the qualities of the field.  Habituation of grandiosity comes to the fore at that moment. 

To work within the context of narcissism, you are doing the same thing:  Being attuned to that inner self, to that inner awareness coming forth, to that kind of mirroring that brings it forth through words, [through] gesture, through your own experience of the field, [and] through that connection.    At the same time, as you bring that inner awareness forth through mirroring, D.W. Winnicott speaks about the necessity of some degree of ruthlessness in this therapeutic work.  Ruthlessness, as used here, does not mean being ugly, but means being pointed and direct.  So you feel the connection, a resonance, with this person, and the work you need to do is going to hurt.  If you have a problem hurting a person, this sort of thing is not your bag.   As Martin Buber said many years ago when he was in town, at first you join the person in their claim against the world.  Then, at the right moment, you make the claim of the world in regards to this person. 

We’ll just sit for a few minutes and focus on this [grandiosity] in our own self.  Part of our assumption is that it takes one to know one… We’re not asking for a confession, but just focus in and play out this [grandiosity of narcissism] in your own experience, with your own strength in this area.  You want to be able to feel how one thing leads to another.  That is where a lot of these stories are predictable.  Let’s go around and make some comments about this experience, but again, I’d like it if you could stay with your experience right now, as it is unfolding.  We’re entering into this obscuration [we’re entering into something about ourselves that’s hard to accept and, therefore, hard to recognize; it is experiencing our own grandiosity], so say something about this particular phenomenological thing, articulating what you are experiencing. 

Woman #1:  “I love this conversation.  I’m just experiencing the discussion of grandiosity, entering the field and my own relationship to that.”

What’s it like just to feel you own relationship to that, just to feel that you have one to this topic?

“I think it helps me go further into the field, to enter into a little bit of grandiosity, to expand… I can play around in it a little bit.”

Do the two types of mirroring make sense to you, what mirroring is, to the self level?

“Yeah, definitely.  That is why I asked about the striving.  It’s almost like the other person wants to be seen for their essence, but there is misdirection in going for the talent.  They are experiencing their experience of mirroring as empty or non-existence.”

There is also a foreclosure for that person.  When we get caught in the narcissistic mirroring, it can create a shield that starts to come down as protection.  If that mirroring doesn’t come into the face how we want it, [if it doesn’t appear on the face of another as we need it to appear], we can’t actually perceive [it]; the shield stops the direct perception from coming in [from coming in to our awareness].  You can sometimes feel it [feel that shield] in yourself or in that person.  There is an encasement.  We are all here in this dimension [of narcissism] in different ways, but if we really get captivated by it, there is an encasement that doesn’t allow anything outside of it in.  It’s like [the television show,] “American Idol”.  People will have no talent, but they’ve been the singer in the family for years… And Simon [Cowell, one of the judges] says [of their performance], “That’s terrible!”

Woman #2:  “I feel a real intense pain that is, that seems to be, the pain of grasping and being with someone who is grasping for that recognition, and the emptiness of it.”

It is unbearable pain, and [experiencing] that pain, [for you] as a therapist, can be useful because it can be the pain of compassion.  When you, the therapist, in a non-weakened condition, are feeling the horror and the hell of that pain, it can be extremely useful for that person who is suffering a hell realm, who is a hungry ghost… I like you’re articulations because it’s really what is coming up for us; how we articulate for ourselves is the instrument.

Woman #3:  “I feel a lot of anxiety around this topic.  Towards the end when you asked us to go inside there was a bit of relief of opening to the self and a reluctance to open to the field.  This topic is quite close to home.”

I appreciate you bringing that up.  It’s like we can enter awareness up to a point and [because of our] fear of grandiosity, as we start to feel that immense possibility arising in us, we will start to foreclose it [start to foreclose deepening awareness].  In the foreclosure we will feel some disintegrative affects arising.  The fear can be so strong it can create disintegration; we start to feel like we are starting to fall apart.  It’s great that you said this; there is a forward movement with the field, with awareness, [but then] you start feeling the fear, and it’s so strong because of experiences we’ve had with others or within ourselves, and we will at that point really foreclose entering awareness.  There will be those disintegrative affects around it.  Yet, because you are aware of the destructiveness of grandiosity, it is really useful, nonetheless, with courage and kindness, to allow yourself to go into the field.  A lot of times, when people have been through a “spiritual experience” with their teachers or their therapists, they experience too not only the crash of grandiosity, but also the [disintegrative]results of it [of the crash], and they then foreclose awareness for themselves.  That is a painful tragedy for people.  I’m sure if you work with awareness, you will see people who have had those experiences.  Because of grandiosity, they now have a phobia to awareness itself and the power of it, because of how it’s been played out.

Man #1:  “I’m actually kind of struck by how hopeful it is for me to hold my grandiosity and my inferiority at the same time in the field.  The compassion helps with the inferiority, and the strength of the field helps with the grandiosity, to hold them both…”

They mirror each other both in the intra-psychic dynamic and in the interpersonal dynamic.  They shift back and forth.  But to be able to feel that in your body and to hold that is totally cool.  In that capacity, a deep healing can take place in yourself and in other people.  But it’s work…

Man #2:  “I more tend on wanting to melt the narcissist through the field rather than to go to the confronting side, so I think that is where my edge is, how to be kindly direct.  I’ve had all sorts of clients shooting through my head and where those moments could be a little more direct.  I think that is where I can grow a bit more.”

I appreciate your saying that.  It feels really true… Thank you for your honesty as you are working on your creative edge.  Winnicott has some wonderful things to say about the necessity of ruthlessness, and he was a most kind person.  He has a chapter on the necessity of hate…hate and common transference.  He understood transitional space, the fragility of the self, but he also understood the counterpart of grandiosity and working with that, the destructiveness of it for one’s own self.  So I would look at some of his stuff.  In the yogic world, Padmasambhava has a great writing about taming beasts and how compassionate confrontation is necessary.  There is always that devilness! 

Man #3:  “Where do I find the reading on the necessity of hate?”

It is in a book of a compilation of his [Winnicott’s] papers – ‘Maturational Processes.’ It is really useful to read it because you will find yourself thinking it.  It’s not easy to read, and when it’s not easy to read, it forces you to think. 

Woman #4:  “I’m hoping that the field is going to help me to hold on to…  well let me explain, a client who practices S&M, he is married to a very famous person, who flips between inferiority and grandiosity all the time.  He’ll say, “Why can’t I advocate for myself when I am supposed to, instead of having these rageful explosions, then it becomes submissive…”

Let me ask you this, just for a moment, what does that story mean to you, focus on your experience.  It’s really your experience that you can work on here… It’s one of our basic assumptions:  We’re working on our own experience, which will be useful for people we are working with… Just notice what that experience brings up for you.  What happens with you?  That is your own phenomenology.

Woman #4:  “I feel like he projects the grandiosity onto me, as in “you are a good therapist, you are helping me when we can deal with rageful things.” But that is really tough for me to be dealing with that because I see it as part of the shield you were speaking about.  I feel that he’s putting the grandiosity onto me, and I have to be careful of if he is coming because of me.”

As you feel that enactment on you, if you can, this is a direct piece of advice sort of; this is not to just go out and do this tomorrow.  But sometimes when you have the enactment so direct and clear, if there is enough connection between you and this person at the level of the phenomenological self and that oneness is there, and there is enough sense of the transitional or imaginal – it’s not just totally real, – then an enactment between yourself and him may be useful, or himself with himself. I don’t mean doing empty chair work, but [rather] those enactments when one can actually feel what it is to be on the other side.  Because the ‘other side’ is [already] within that person, enactment [can help bring it forth in that person].   The safest would be his playing both sides.  If you have enough outrageousness, you can play the enactment out with that person, but you need a real feeling of the play.  By ‘play’ I don’t mean a phony baloney play, but enough creativity that the enactment, the psychodrama, can bring forth the affects of both sides.  The locatedness and victim posture in that context have to be dissolved.   Just think about that from your own side.  That is just one suggestion, a very direct one, and [it] doesn’t necessarily work at all.  But sometimes you’ve gotta feel the possibility:  Is it within you, and [do] you feel at home with it?  If it’s not a true possibility, if you don’t feel the supporting context, [and you go ahead and say it anyway] because you want to throw that statement out there [for the person to hear], then you will be an “as if” personality at that moment, and it [what you say] will have no authenticity.  I’m very careful about direct supervision, but just hearing this [possible way of handling it] floating around, [just hearing] someone say it, then you can feel the possibility of one way of a psychodramatic experience [perhaps occurring].  Supervision becomes a super ego function more often than not, and creativity is foreclosed.  The actual is foreclosed to be a creative therapist, if you take it from the super ego point of view.  [From the super ego’s perspective, a creative therapist forecloses the 'actual,' that is,  temporarily blocks, or sidesteps, the super ego's unrelenting judging and harsh criticism of self, but while the super ego mistakes this judging for 'actual,' a creative therapist does not.  If, however, we have the super-ego’s view, then] we can have a master/slave life that way…

Man #4:  “What I experienced with the grandiosity and inferiority thing, I in fact generalized because I tend to have a personality that operates in extremes in all aspects of life.  So how that ties in for me and the field and meditative practices I have, [is that it] helps me is to build a buffer and assists in bringing things in towards the middle ground.  That has been most of the benefit that I have felt and continue to work on for the rest of my time in this room.”

I like how you said that; you are a true dialectician!  [Through] the dialectic of extremes – actually living through one and living through the other – the natural emergence will take place.  You know who thought this way a lot, besides Hegel, was Nagarjuna.  He was a great dialectician.  He was against Aristotle.  He did not like Aristotle’s logic of ‘it either is, or isn’t’.  He thought that [Aristotle’s logic] was a confining way to be in the world.  In order to have a logic that could really hold the extremes so that a person could feel the space that held it, Nagarjuna started trying to develop a logic that a thing could both be and not be at the same time.  He was very smart on languaging logic and fields.

Woman #5:  “This conversation was very resonant with me.  I had a very deep sense of that grandiosity and expansiveness yesterday.  There was awareness afterwards; later reflecting on it, of both the sense in me of the grandiosity and the inferiority piece, but the grandiosity I felt like, “Oh, I’m getting somewhere, and then later feeling, what a trap that is!” As you were speaking there was an unfolding in me, witnessing and watching that in my own self and realizing that when that came up yesterday, just to be able to check that out in myself, seeing that it was there.”

Woman #6:  “I’m having a hard time explaining myself… I’m coming to an understanding of why I don’t want to be ruthless in any situation.  It has reflected back to me, an essential part of myself that I can now work with.”

Great, congratulations…  Talent is a two-edged sword! 

“I feel overwhelmed by this morning in a wonderful way.  I don’t even know that I can process it all, but I felt like you were talking about my life in many ways, the achievement, the searching for achievement, the moving into spiritual grandiosity and this discussion about holding the opposites feels incredibly important.  I feel incredible gratitude and joy, with a certain amount of pain mixed in.”

Woman #7:  “Holding the narcissism in one’s self, I’m becoming aware of that, and it brings up such compassion in myself and then this genuine authenticity feel, owning this shadow and seeing how holding and recognizing that – letting it be part of who you are – creates a genuine authenticity with the person that you are with, and allows a greater awareness of the field.  It’s real between the two of us then.  I’m learning!”

Woman #8:  “This has all been very helpful for me.  I love the expansion and field.  There is so much pleasure in it, that it really helps me understand that sometimes when I come out of that, there is a sense of irritability that arises, or momentary experience that it’s gone; the pleasure of it is gone.  Being with that, understanding that place in me where it feels like a momentary loss, will be very helpful.  The place where it feels a momentary loss, losing the awareness field, that moment will be useful.”

You are completely right, for all of us. 

Woman #9:  “For me, I have this feeling of excitement and empowerment, experiencing this… In some senses allowing both parts, the grandiosity and inferiority within myself… It’s kind of like welcoming home a lost part of me.  It feels exciting to tap into that, particularly the grandiosity, because it’s not part of my normal orientation of myself.  When I tap into it, I can feel both, even though I don’t feel my self on the grandiose side, but it’s still there and feels very empowering to hold on to that and knowing that it’s going make my work with people come from a different place, a more whole place.”

Beautifully said; we’re glad you are here…

Man #6:  “It was not a pleasant experience. When you lead us to explore our own grandiosity, it really brought a lot of anger up in me, a feeling of rebellion… and then later as people were talking about their own experience, the anger dissolved, and instead I was left with a lot of sadness.  I’m not exactly sure about what, but maybe the sadness of failing to be humble or failing to be open.  I don’t know…”

I appreciate you saying that…

Woman #10:  “I feel like I’ve gone on a long journey, just this morning.  When you talked about the narcissism, my mind grabbed and held it and was proud of how well it was holding it.  Later I realized, ‘Wait, maybe this is narcissism’.  At that same time there was a shift, and I was laughing at myself and enjoying that joke.  Then I became more aware of a split between my mind and emotions and sense of openness to the field.  In some ways, I don’t feel fear when my mind is grasping at things, but as I let it go [as I let my mind lessen its grip], the fear and pain came.  I think [my experiential response comes] partly out of that disconnect that is going on and partly out of the lack of trust that is going on here.”

Thank you for saying that, and I think you are really working so explicitly on trusting your own authorship.

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