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Horner, A.J. (1994). In Search of Ordinariness: The Dissolution of False Pride. Am. J. Psychoanal., 54(1):87-93.

(1994). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 54(1):87-93

In Search of Ordinariness: The Dissolution of False Pride

Althea J. Horner, Ph.D.

In my view the self-psychology concept of a “mature” narcissism is a contradiction in terms. Although such narcissism is quite likely to be present in us all to a greater or lesser extent, I do not agree that it is therefore “mature.” By normalizing certain psychological phenomena, such as narcissism, we divert ourselves from an exploration of them. This blocks recognition of false, defensive or compensatory pride and its analysis in therapy.

In therapy, although we do our best to avoid wounding the patient, we cannot evade the difficult task of analysis of the underlying pathology. Ralph Greenson noted that there is no problem as great as the shame of it.

We cannot let our countertransference anxiety or guilt keep us from the difficulties inherent in the patient's eventual ability to give up false and compensatory pride and to accept the fundamental ordinariness we all share. Although it is often easier said than done, as an outcome goal it is to be pursued, albeit with the greatest of care and sensitivity.

Just as we observe in the social and political realm “guilt by association,” so do we find “pride by association,” a source of pride that may sometimes swell to hubris in the psychoanalytic world itself. It is a pride that is often passed down from one professional generation to another. A specialness claimed by virtue of being psychoanalysts goes beyond conviction of the rightness or usefulness of a point of view. It goes to the heart of the matter, of a shared narcissistic dependency on idealized selfobjects and a sharing of that idealization through identification with them that then becomes the nexus of a self-esteem that covers over unresolved feelings of personal shame or inferiority. That this dynamic is played out in other spheres there is no doubt. For example, Missouri Synod Lutherans believe that only they will go to heaven. But the very structure of psychoanalytic training and teaching lends itself to this dynamic in a unique way.

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