Prophetic Charisma Excerpt - Part 2

Narcissism begins with the infantís early attachment to the mother and the accompanying sense that they form a unified whole. This is a carryover from life in the womb, when baby and mother were one. In this early period of "oneness" (Mahler, Pine, and Bergman 1967), a dialogue of mutual cuing and empathy, of quiet gesture and molding, develops for both mother and infant. Through the motherís holding and feeding the baby, a choreography develops in which their boundaries seem to melt away. It is as if the mother and child merge, the being of one dissolving into the being of the other (Kaplan 1979, 100).

At this time the child feels exalted in its motherís eyes, omnipotent in its childish world, and grandiose in its uninhibited egoism. The baby is a conqueror who seemingly creates magic without understanding how or why. The rising nipple finds the hungry mouth, and a warm, yielding softness that feels and smells just like the child molds itself around him. From this comes the illusion that his feelings and gestures have created the nipple, the motherís body, and the rest of the world (Kaplan 1979, 92). The child feels like "an angel baby held in the sumptuous lap of a saintly Madonna" (Kaplan 1979, 116), his love coming from a sense of shared perfection with the mother.

In normal development this "primary narcissism" (Freud 1914) soon gives way to the discovery that the world does not revolve around oneís ego, and painful adjustment must be made to accept reality. This means recognizing oneís aloneness and helplessness in the face of an indifferent universe, and rising to the challenge of reality. This occurs through "optimally failing parents" (Kohut 1977, 237) and optimal frustration of the infant in a secure family environment where the mother can coach her child toward separateness and autonomy. The gleam in her eye mirrors the infantís exhibitionistic display, and her participation in the babyís egotistical enjoyment confirms the childís self-esteem, despite whatever painful encounters with the world occur. By gradually increasing the selectivity of her responses, the mother channels the babyís behaviors in realistic directions and the sense of oneness slowly breaks down (Kohut 1977, 188). This in turn leads to the consolidation of the childís self. The store of self confidence and self-esteem that sustains one through life derives from these early difficult but ultimately successful struggles (Kohut 1971, 116).

However, for some this development remains incomplete. This may happen when an extremely devoted and idealizing mother, whose "baby worship" (Kohut 1971, 124) has created a child with very high self-esteem, suddenly and unpredictably withdraws her empathy and support. If this is not so traumatic as to impair the child, and if the child is exceptionally talented and adaptable, he may compensate for the loss of the mother by taking on her "filter" mechanisms (my term) as part of his self (Kohut 1976,414). Normally the mother filters reality in such a way that the child is not exposed to dangers or unpleasant events beyond its capacity to cope. When painful or confusing events occur, she interprets and evaluates them for the child in a positive manner. Perhaps the narcissistic child learns to mimic the motherís filter mechanisms when failures of rapport occur or when she isnít around for protection. The child may adopt her strategies, incorporating them as part of its own self, and so, rather than falling from grace with her, blends closer (emotionally) with her and retains, or even increases, the sense of oneness.

Now, instead of surrendering his narcissism, the child draws on all his resources. He learns to charm, manipulate, bully, and calculate his way through situations that defeat others. Alone he denies his aloneness and defies the world, yet without understanding the significance of his actions. As one who refuses to grow up, the child somehow avoids the "reality principle"--compromise with an indifferent and dangerous world--and his egocentric view of life remains substantially intact. As part of this, Kohut says, he becomes "superempathic" with his self and with his own needs. [footnote: Kohut doesnít go deeply into quite how this happens, but we can make some intelligent guesses. Personality is largely socially constructed, but if one regards the social world as merely an extension of oneís ego--a part of oneself--major areas of psychic functioning change their meanings drastically (e.g., defense mechanisms). What would such a person be defending himself against? Himself? We need not dwell on this point except to observe in passing that seeing the external world as a part of oneself changes utterly the inner relations of the psyche.] The result is a remarkable autonomy in which the narcissistic child asserts his own perfection yet uses others to regulate his self-esteem, demanding full control over them without regard for their rights as independent people. This leads to a severe reduction in the educational power of the environment (Kohut 1976, 414-15). The narcissistic child lives in a psychological world of his own creation, beyond or outside "normal" reality, and virtually unreachable at depth.

Such a person grows up behaving normally, for he has learned the appropriate behaviors to get rewards and avoid punishment. But deep down, he still views the world as an extension of his ego in the way he originally saw the mother, and his early relationship with her remains the model for all subsequent relationships. Perhaps we all do this to some extent, and have varying degrees of insight into ourselves, but for the narcissist these insights remain purely intellectual. Deep down, he "knows" the world revolves around him, and his adult life is an attempt to perpetuate his childish egocentrism.

Adult forms of narcissism vary, and sometimes there are pathological elements (Kohut [1976] spoke of Hitler as having a "healed-over psychosis"), but the result is a person who sees the world in a radically different way from others. He is likely to be enormously confident and fearless. (How can one be afraid of anything in a world that is merely an extension of oneself? It would be like being afraid of oneís leg.) He may seem, superficially, to be a product of the society he grew up in, but really he is his own universe and only his body, needs, thoughts, and feelings are experienced as truly real. Others are perceived intellectually but without emotional weight and color, without substance. Perhaps they are experienced in a manner analogous to how we experience our internal organs; we know they exist and are real, but we never actually encounter them.

Such a person is detached from the "real" world (although his world is real enough to him). By always being a little bit inside yet a little bit outside the world, he is well placed to diagnose its problems and devise solutions. His insights will seem to be profound truths to those who share his values and background. The talents he has developed in order to survive with his narcissistic worldview intact now give him an uncanny resonance with his times and with those who will become his followers. In addition, other key traits associated with childhood (to be discussed in the next chapter) are developed to an extreme. Perhaps this really does give the prophet a "truth" that others lack.

Eventually the successful adult narcissist stands ready for the call to leadership. He fits in well with those who seek a new life or are in crisis. In return for their love and devotion, he leads them to the promised land, and in so doing he re-creates the ego-reflecting universe he knew as a child. The followers appreciate his vision and wisdom because he keeps his head in a crisis; he is above the fray (which is why narcissistic patients are so hard to treat--they canít be reached).

Kohut gives us two images of the charismatic personality. In the first and less flattering, he discusses Wilhelm Fliessís relationship with Sigmund Freud (Kohut 1976). During Freudís most creative period--his self-analysis that preceded The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900--he became weak and needy in the throes of a supreme creative act. Many thinkers and artists need support during periods of intense creativity, especially when their creativity leads them into lonely areas not previously explored by others. Such isolation may prove terrifying because it repeats an early traumatic childhood fear of being alone and abandoned. At such times even a genius like Freud may attach himself to someone whom he sees as wise and all-powerful, with whom he temporarily bonds in order to draw support (Kohut 1976, 404). Fliess and others like him, with their unshakable self-confidence and certainty, lend themselves to this role (Kohut 1971, 316).

The Fliess type is similar to charismatic leaders like Hitler and Napoleon (Strozier 1980, 403), who have enormous yet brittle self-esteem. Lacking self-doubts, they set themselves up as leaders. Their absolute certainty makes possible great leadership but also risks total failure, for such people lack flexibility and have an all-or-nothing quality with only two options: success through strength, or destruction through defeat, suicide, or psychosis (Kohut 1976, 404; Strozier 1980, 403). Such leaders may be quite paranoid, but what fits them for their role is the fact that their self-esteem depends on their incessant use of certain mental functions. They continually judge others and point out their moral flaws, then--without shame or hesitation--they set themselves up as leaders and demand obedience. Yet they depend on their followers; Freud took up with Fliess when he needed him but dropped him soon afterward. Some of Kohutís patients behaved similarly (Kohut 1976, 404). Kohut insists that although such relationships are opportunistic, they are not pathological. Anyone who is in need of support will tend to be drawn to charisma (Kohut 1971, 317; 1976; 1980, 393, 493; 1985, 219).

Charismatic personalities come in all shades and degrees. A few are almost psychotic--dogmatic, blind fanatics possessing only an unusual cunning--yet others are quite different. To illustrate this, Kohut discusses Winston Churchill.

Replica Watches  Replica Watches

Churchill and other leaders of his type seem to have transformed their primary narcissism into a "cosmic narcissism" that is basically pro-social. In addition to his talent for inspirational leadership, Churchill was capable of wit and wisdom, qualities that Kohut argues are rare in charismatic personalities. Yet Churchill also had an inflated sense of his self. Kohut speculated that he may have retained the infantile delusion that he could fly; some passages in his autobiography, certain childhood escapades, his escape during the Boer war, and his leadership of Britain during World War II suggest this. [Footnote: "Dreams of flying are an extension of the aspirations of manís grandiose self, the carrier and instigator of his ambitions" (Kohut 1977,113)."]

Between the extremes of Fliess and Churchill there are many possible types of charismatic personalities. Their common features are extreme narcissism in which they identify others--and perhaps the entire universe--as parts of their own ego, an unshakable conviction of their own rightness and virtue, and a stunted empathy for others. Such traits may be expressed in a pro-or antisocial manner.

An important difference between charismatic personalities and ordinary folk is that most people attempt to fulfill their ambitions in a realistic way--that is, they take account of the needs and feelings of others. And normal people accept their limitations, their flawed yet "near enough" approximations of success in their attempts to live up to their ideals. For most of us, our ideals and values are mere direction-setting standards that we try to live up to. We feel good when we measure up and we feel bad when we fall short. Empathy with others shows us that nobody is perfect, and this prevents the development of a sense of absolute moral superiority. Hence no unrealistic feeling develops that we are perfect while others are corrupt. The charismatic, however, lacks empathy. He identifies totally with his ideals and no longer measures his behavior against them. He and his God are one, and there can be no half measures (Kohut 1976).

Such leaders pay a price. Their relationships are shallow because they have a double standard of reality; they relate with genuine concern to others at the same time as they see them as objects to manipulate. Further, the leaderís ego-reflecting worldview is always under threat because people behave differently from how he wills them to behave. Although this difference can be excusedóoneís stomach sometimes behaves differently from how one wills it--the logical implication is that the leader is not really in control, that there is an objective reality beyond his ego. But to recognize this is to admit the original trauma that produced the flight into narcissism. This is avoided at all cost.

What the charismatic leader most lacks is a sense of the humanity of other people. He may accurately diagnose their problems and brilliantly solve them, he may even genuinely love the followers--loving them quite literally as he loves himself--yet they remain unreal to him because he must not acknowledge what it means to be a fellow sufferer, to feel alone and to have to adjust to an indifferent world, to have to reach out in trust to another for help. He may have actually been alone and had to trust and adjust, but he is rigidly fortified against the meanings of such events. They occur to him as strange, inexplicable interludes on a continuum of mastery and dominance, of self-sufficiency and control; he is "phobic" about recognizing any emotional vulnerability. Any outright opposition is countered with vociferous energy--what Kohut calls "narcissistic rage"--a rage that shows by its extremity and persistence that he is more deeply wounded by injuries to his worldview than by any physical injury (Kohut 1972). Hence he is fondest of the true believers who enthusiastically mirror his ego; those who donít are resented. Despite the leaderís wisdom, his acceptance of others exists only as long as his own needs are being fulfilled. When they behave contrary to his wishes, he may respond with incomprehension or even paranoia. For what he really empathizes with is shades of himself, and he attracts only those who are in tune with him. He is unable to empathize with people who are indifferent to him, whose needs do not mesh with his own. His inability to experience himself as vulnerable is like a chasm between himself and others. For vulnerability is a vital part of human reality--we are not gods--and anyone who cannot experience it remains fundamentally out of rapport with ordinary people, no matter how successful his manipulations and wisdom may appear. Because of this lack the leader is not a great man; he is a great actor playing the role of a great man.

As for the followers, Kohut suggests that they are attempting to draw strength from a powerful figure in order to perform some profound creative change. This may take the form of a regressive psychic merger with an evil Hitler figure, in which case the relationship is based as much on shared hates as on mutual love. Or it may, as in the case of Freudís relationship with Fliess, be an opportunistic and temporary relationship aimed at discovering some deep truth about oneself or the world. It may involve aspects of the parent-child relationship, as well as "regression in the service of the ego," that is, creative acts that can seem bizarre or dangerous to outsiders (Kris 1952). Invariably courage is needed in order to give up the defenses and illusions carried over from childhood, and to surrender to the leader (Kohut 1976, 424).

One well-studied example of such a relationship is that between analyst and analysand. Kohut has written of the patientís temporary need to identify with the analyst (Kohut 1985, 47), and has argued that the key to understanding such relationships lies in creativity. The follower or analysand is seeking to fulfill some aspect of his or her self, while the leader or analyst is seeking to shape the world closer to his or her needs. The follower helps the leader to realize his or her vision while using the leader for his or her own personal transformation. But it is something of a hit-and-miss, blind-following-the-blind process. Just as a charismatic analyst with a quasi-religious fervor may cure a patient with love (albeit a somewhat narcissistic love; Kohut 1971, 222- 23), so the prophet may help the followers yet be blindly unaware of their true needs. Perhaps neither ever really encounters the other. There may be pathological factors in both the followerís and the leaderís creative efforts (Kohut 1985, 7, 249), but these need not detract from their worth. Despite even severe disturbance, many creative people manage to live fulfilling and significant lives, perhaps more so than most "normals" who, despite the absence of neurosis, often seem to lead empty, shallow, narrow existences (Kohut 1985, 48).

Both Weber and Kohut distinguished two kinds of leaders. Weber began by noting three main features that distinguish the prophet from other figures: (a) prophets do not receive their mission from any human authority--they simply seize it; (b) the prophet has a "vital emotional preaching" typical of prophecy; and (c) the prophet proclaims a path of salvation through personal revelation (Weber 1968b, 258-61). Weber then distinguished between "ethical" and "exemplary" prophets. The ethical prophet, as typified by Moses, believes he is an instrument of God. Such figures arise where there is belief in a personal, transcendent, ethical God. Preaching as one who has received a commission from God, the ethical prophet demands obedience as an ethical duty (Weber 1968b, 263). The exemplary prophet arises where belief in superdivine, impersonal forces and the concept of a rationally regulated world dominates. Teaching by example in the manner of Jesus and Buddha, he shows the way of salvation. His example appeals to those who crave salvation, recommending to them the same path he has traversed (Weber 1968b, 263-64).

Kohut distinguished between messianic and charismatic personalities, but added that mixed cases are likely to be most common (Kohut 1976, 415). He speculated freely about these constructs (Kohut 1976) and provided several practical distinctions. The messianic personality identifies its self with what Kohut calls the "idealized superego"--in effect, God or oneís ultimate concern. Because the superego has "object qualities"--that is, it seems to be an entity of some sort--the messianic leader can envisage and describe, and even enter into a (dissociated) dialogue with, this God. Because of the nature of his early conflicts, he experiences this God as outside and above, and he receives his revelation from this heavenly external source. Thus he is led by his ideals in the manner of Moses or Muhammad (Kohut 1966, 250). Kohut suggests that a particular fantasy may sustain him--an unconscious belief that "You [the mother, parent, primary caregiver, or deity] are perfect and I am part of you." Thus there is a fundamental shifting aside of the self and a subsequent identification and union with God.

The charismatic personality, on the other hand, identifies with what Kohut calls the "grandiose self" in the form of some symbol of onmnipotence--God--located within the self. Unlike the idealized superego, the grandiose self is not perceived by the mind as an object. Kohut likens it to the eye, a part of the organism that is involved in perception and hence cannot perceive itself; the grandiose self is the most primitive and essential "organ" of being and cannot apprehend or observe itself. Thus the charismatic prophet senses his God more vaguely, as a peculiar sensation within his being, a pressure coming from below, and he is driven by his ambitions rather than pulled by his ideals (Kohut 1966, 250). Kohut suggests that the unconscious fantasy sustaining this type is "I am God" (or perhaps "I and the mother [or father] are one"; Hanly and Masson 1976). In sum, the messianic prophet gazes up in awe at his God, whom he tries to emulate and follow, whereas the charismatic prophet feels God stirring within and tries to express and get recognition for his deity.

In concluding this brief overview of Kohutís theory, it is important to clarify some technical points in order to avoid misconceptions. In his account of the development of the infant, Kohut argues that the self is "bipolar," that it has two extremities--the "grandiose self" and the "idealized superego." The grandiose self is nurtured by the "mirroring self-object" and the idealized superego is nourished by the "idealizing self-object." In some discussions (typically in Kohutís case studies) the term "mirroring self-object" is loosely translated as "mother," for in the external world it is most often the mother who performs this function. Further, regardless of who the mirroring self- object is, the childís grandiose self will develop, for better or for worse, in response not just to the actual deeds of an external mother (or father) but also in response to the perceived and felt deeds of an internalized image of this person, and in accordance with how the infant construes these deeds, images, feelings, and perceptions. Kohut is emphasizing psychological processes within the child in response to actions by external agents, rather than the actions and external agents in themselves. This is because in the childís mind, its parents are not experienced as wholly external. Hence Kohutís coining of the term "self-object"--the mother (or father) is an object all right, but remains identified as part of the childís self. Similarly, in the external world the father often performs the functions of the idealizing self-object. If the real father is absent, the developmental process of construing an idealizing self-object and developing an idealized superego goes on.

In this book some modifications to Kohutís jargon are necessary, and they result from a stark choice. His precise terms are so unwieldy that even his fellow analysts have, on occasion, had difficulty understanding him. Yet to substitute "mother" and "father" annihilates the accuracy of his technical meanings. The justification for doing so is to retain a thread--a connection--with ordinary experience. No unwarranted assumptions about gender, or about the roles of mothers or fathers in narcissistic development, are intended. It is the psychological,"mother"--the mirroring self-object--and the psychological "father"--the idealizing self-object--entities in the developing infantís mind, that are intended, even though actual mothers and fathers usually correspond to these entities. Nevertheless, the child remains the agent of his own processes, and may construe neglectful, abusive, or even absent parents as positive self-objects if driven to do so by the needs of the developing self.

In presenting the theory of prophetic development proposed herein, Kohutís term "self-object" will sometimes be used to designate a psychological parent or caregiver in the childís mind (the idealizing and mirroring self-object"), and sometimes to indicate actual parents (the mother or the father) or caregivers in the childís external world when it is useful to do so. This both simplifies and distorts the subtleties and complexities of Kohutís theory, but it allows for an easier discussion of the main issues. The terms "mother," "father," "carer," and "primary caregiver" will also be used in case studies and when traditional roles and relationships are likely to be involved. The more cumbersome technical jargon will be avoided wherever possible. In sum, these labels will be used as much for their convenience as for their technical accuracy.

To add to Weber and Kohut, Erich Fromm distinguishes between two kinds of narcissism--benign and malign. In the benign form--corresponding to Weberís ethical prophet and Kohutís messianic personality--the goal of the leaderís efforts is something he produces, achieves, or does; that is, it is something external to himself. For the messianic prophet this includes doing Godís will by saving souls, building up the church, serving others, preaching the gospel, or whatever. Consequently this form of narcissism is self-checking. To do Godís work, the prophet must be related to reality; this constantly curbs his narcissism and keeps it within bounds (Fromm 1964, 77). In contrast, the goal of malignant narcissism--corresponding to Weberís exemplary prophet and Kohutís charismatic personality--is not something the prophet does or produces, but something he has or is. He draws closer to God not because of something he achieves but because of some inner quality. In maintaining this belief he does not need to be related to anyone or anything. Such figures may remove themselves more and more from reality and inflate their delusions to huge proportions in order to avoid discovering that their divinity is merely a product of their imagination. Thus malignant narcissism lacks the corrective element that is present in the benign form. It is not self- limiting but is crudely solipsistic and xenophobic (Fromm 1964, 77).

Combining the relevant components of Weberís, Kohutís, and Frommís theories, we may achieve a fairly useful description of the two types of prophets. This description is outlined in Chapter 10. However, the picture remains complex. What is needed is to fit these theories together in some systematic way. This can be done by describing the developmental stages through which prophets progress. In doing this, we find that Weberís and Kohutís theories best describe different stages in this sequence, while Frommís comments furnish useful background. This "natural history" of the prophet may be described as a five-stage sequence.

1. Early narcissism. Some process similar to, if not identical with, Heinz Kohutís description of the early life experiences of the charismatic personality must occur. To spend time with prophets is to discover that there really is something different about how they see the world. This "something" seems at first hard to define, and an attempt to locate its infantile origins has to be a speculative exercise. Chapter 3 will attempt to describe it and to retrace its likely development.

2. Incubation. This covers a period roughly following the onset of puberty and leading up to the adoption of the prophetic role. It is a time of struggle and uncertainty for the narcissistic personality as he attempts to reconcile his uniqueness with the demands of adult life. If he can negotiate this period safely, he is led to the discovery that he can never live as other people do, either because of some special truth he must express or because God has called him.

3. Awakening. This signals the adoption of the prophetic role. It may be a dramatic mystical experience or a more mundane realization of some important truth. There may also be several minor awakenings and false starts. In all, there is most likely to be a series of events culminating in some kind of crisis in the life of the developing narcissistic adult that is solved by taking on the role of the prophetic leader.

4. Mission. It is here that Max Weberís theory is most applicable. At this point the prophet heads an organization dedicated to supporting him and spreading his truth. However, it is also during this stage that the prophet interacts with the world on a grander scale than before, and many of his actions are responses to situations arising within his movement or from his leadership. Hence, in order to understand his behavior, we need to understand the unique features of his context and his movement, and the needs of his followers, as well as his own agenda.

5. Decline or fall. Some prophets grow old gracefully, and these tend to be messianic types. Those who fall from grace in the eyes of their followers and end their days in disgrace, or who are destroyed by external forces, tend to be charismatic personalities. These latter are more often unstable, power-seeking, and antisocial. This last stage in the natural history of the prophet enables us to evaluate his life--and to identify more clearly the processes that drove him--in the light of Weberís and Kohutís theories.

In sum, charisma was traditionally seen as a supernatural phenomenon, a gift from God. However, Max Weber argued that while charisma may rest on some attribute of a leader, it needs to be recognized by others in order to be effective. In this study charisma is defined as an attribute of one whom we associate with our ultimate concern or, if we ourselves do not, others do. This definition substitutes the phrase "ultimate concern" for God in the manner suggested by theologian Paul Tillich (Tillich 1949), but some problems remain. Weber speaks about three social roles--the shaman, the politician and the prophet--while Kohut speaks of two personality types--the messianic and the charismatic. Both treat the prophet as a prototype for other kinds of charismatic leaders, and agree that psychology alone cannot explain why some people become leaders and others do not.

The following chapters describe the natural history of prophets and attempt to explain their charisma. Because of the complexity of the subject, this account has to be somewhat selective, focusing at times more on messianic or charismatic personality types, though as both Weber and Kohut note, pure types are seldom found. The hope is that we may develop the tools to unravel the particular blend of factors that have combined to create the charisma of a specific individual.

Another Excerpt; Charisma, Detachment and Metanormal Abilities

The Followers and Their Quest: Another Excerpt from Prophetic Charisma