Saturday, March 03, 2012


I don’t sign up for RSS on many blogs but one I’ve kept up with since I was reading 2blowhards years ago is “the rawness.” ( As I understand it -- and I may be way off base because I don’t really know -- this is written in New York City by a half-Haitian (black, I guess) man addressing the many many young and youngish men trying to make it in the city. They are obsessed with “game” and though they seem on the surface to mean by that scoring with women, in fact this guy (who signs himself “T” or Ricky Raw) gives advice about “human nature” and how to be a better person. He’s pretty damn solid.

The big recent topic? Narcissism. Both in terms of those alpha guys who elbow a milder man away from the bar and in terms of the histrionic female vampires who can eat a man alive and unpeeled. The main argument of the moment is that people learn narcissism from narcissistic parents -- too busy, too self-absorbed, too incompetent -- to raise the children they have been too narcissistic to prevent having. What this teaches the kids is to look out for themselves (replicating narcissism), although sometimes with a crippled, needy parent, they end up being sucked into taking care of them. Then they are a “parentified child” or “co-dependent,” always more comfortable when taking care of someone. Narcissism and codependence are reciprocal, often playing off against each other and leading to grandiosity, control issues, and other miserable stuff like borderline personality disorders. But when a narcissist finds a codependent and they’re a good fit -- hey, it’s intense. And some people really want that. Others do not.

This blogger-man reads book after book and is shrewd and dependable in his opinions of them. He’s not the male equivalent of a Helen Gurley BrownSex in the City” game player, but rather someone looking for the real thing: trustworthy and lasting relationships that support a meaningful life. I have three responses.

One of my tests is whether these ideas work with same sex relationships. I think that narcissism/codependency dysfunctions do indeed work as useful concepts in that context and I can think of examples among the people I know. Another of my tests is whether these ideas are a useful way to think in terms of ministry relationships and, again, I find that they are. A third context is in parent/child relationships and in this case the dynamics of identity formation are very relevant. The whole point of the generational boundary -- that the party with greater power and control be careful to protect the vulnerable instead of using them for their own ends -- is illuminated clearly.

Going back to the first context, let’s look at Yves St. Laurent (the Paris fashion designer) and Pierre Bergé (his partner in business and at home), so I can talk about same-sex relationships without getting into trouble. (When you look up Valier on one of those community analysis websites, they will tell you there are NO gay or lesbian couples here. How do they know??) So -- in terms of the Paris fashion world, this was a long and productive partnership. The two men were not “equal” -- one could argue that St. Laurent was a child while Bergé was the adult, but it was equally true that St. Laurent was creative in a way that Bergé was not. They had an asymmetrical but reciprocal relationship. Probably you could say that St. Laurent was a narcissist and Bergé was co-dependent, an enabler. It worked because it WAS about work and I believe that’s a key stabilizer. In all these discussions of “game” there is never a hint of the people involved collaborating to do something they feel passionately about. Everything is devoted to the two people’s relationship. Everything is face-to-face instead of side-by-side. Each other is the only thing they feel passionately about. A major and consuming mistake IMHO.

In the best of conventional worlds, the “something” the two adults would feel passionately about protecting and growing would be children. Conservatives feel this is the point of sexual relationship. But two adults could also join in other enterprises, like business, arts, a cause of some kind, a garden, military life, a ranch, or public service. The goal needs to be something compelling enough to supply the discipline capable of curbing the excesses of grandiose narcissism and toxic enabling. In my experience, men are better at finding this uberprinciple than women are, but only slightly. And it is a mistake to let the guiding cause justify excesses of power. A complexification in the case of two same-sex people is the stigma. If there is enough money or fame, the stigma is erased, but not the curiosity, unless people have seen enough, as in a liberal community.

Next we get into the accepted stereotype of the charismatic and admired church leader and his little supporting hen of a preacher’s wife, uncomplainingly raising the children alone and overlooking insults and trespasses for the sake of the greater good. Female ministers walk into a confusing mix of requirements based on gender stereotypes instead of practical roles. (Is she Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, or Ingrid Bergman playing a nun?) Ministers attract codependent people in droves, both genders, not always based on sex. If these needy people are frustrated, they can be vengeful. If the religious conviction is strong enough to be a governing discipline, that helps.

Back to the parent/child cathexis: how does one wean a child from the natural dependence of babyhood in an emotionally healthy way? First of all, attention must be paid to the child. Second, a child is not a puppet and must be trusted to do his or her own growing in his or her own way but without letting him or her play in traffic. Third, listen to the stories. The great strength of “The Rawness” is that he offers story after story. Mostly, in resilient families, the members go in and out of narcissism and co-dependence, learning as they go where the balance is and how to feel it. Every kid is different, times are different, unexpected things happen. Either it’s fascinating and increases the amount of love, or everyone goes into lockdown and gets drunk, or there’s some variation in between. Hopefully without violence.

And hopefully these ideas are interesting and useful enough to avoid all the pointless obsessing about “stress.” There’s too much “game” in stress, mostly coming from pharmaceutical companies. It gets very boring.

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