January 4, 2012

Narcissistic Defenses and Briar Rose

image credit: TBWA, Paris

by Dr. Stephen Diamond

"...Another myth depicting the bitter, vengeful, destructive quality of neurotic narcissism is the Grimm's fairy tale Little Briar Rose, better known to most Americans as Sleeping Beauty. In that story, Briar Rose is placed under a spell by a narcissistically offended witch, declaring that at the age of fifteen, she will fall into a century-long sleep from which no one will be able to waken her. When on her fifteenth birthday the princess accidentally pricks her finger with a needle, the evil prophesy is fulfilled, and she succumbs to a coma-like slumber. All life around her is also curtailed, except that around her castle, a thick hedge of stiletto-like thorns grows, covering the entire structure. 

As the legend of this sleeping beauty spread across the land, suitors from far and wide made valiant efforts to penetrate the thorny briar surrounding the princess, only to be fatally impaled upon it. The grotesque image of these luckless suitors skewered on bloody  thorns and suffering an agonizing fate bespeaks the poignant experience of every man or woman who has tried in vain to get closer to a narcissistically prickly person. Such Briar Rose-types (both female and male) are still so unconsciously angry about prior rejections, disappointments and narcissistic injuries that they are simply not psychologically prepared for any real relatedness or true emotional intimacy--despite what they may consciously believe. Sex, of course, may be another matter entirely. Prickly defense mechanisms serve to protect the insecure, vulnerable, narcissistically injured individual, in much the same way real thorns protect a rose's delicate petals: We may successfully fend off (e.g., offend) those persons by whom we might someday be hurt emotionally; but, in so doing, we imprison ourselves within thorny castles of our own creation. 
This question of emotional or psychological "readiness" is as central to the story of Briar Rose as it is to the thorny relations between women and men. It takes real courage to create intimate relationships, since we all have our share of protective prickliness through which to navigate. Like much in life, it's all about timing. We can see both the great courage and impeccable timing required to overcome these barriers to intimacy in the happy--well, fairy tale ending--of the story: A brave young prince, undaunted by the grisly lot of her numerous, now dead would-be suitors, decides--against all wise counsel to the contrary--to seek the hand of the sleeping princess as his bride. Fully prepared to aggressively risk life and limb confronting the spiney hedge, he finds instead magnificent flowers which, magically parting for him, provide easy access to the castle. As fate would have it, the hundred-year-spell ended at precisely the moment he arrived on the scene. When he gently kisses the still somnolent princess, she is ready to waken and return to life. And to love. Intimacy--in the deepest sense of allowing another person access into one's well-defended fortress--always involves a conscious choice, a fundamental decision to fully live, to love, to risk. Fate is a factor. Good timing helps. And so does some plain old blind luck." ~Dr. Stephen Diamond

"The fateful slumber floats and flows
About the tangle of the rose.
But lo the fated hand and heart
To rend the slumberous curse apart."
~William Morris~

(one hour and fifteen minutes)

No comments:

Post a Comment