Thank you all for your interest in exploring the ever-present issue of narcissism in contemporary men and women today and its underlying impact upon  romance and eros. And many thanks go to you, Bonnie, for providing this forum.  These issues have had an impact upon me far longer than the ten years it took to write the book.   As Jung has said, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘all psychological theory is based on personal confession.’


Jung has been stalking me since I was eight. My synagogue on Pico Blvd. in West L.A. was just across the side street from a little building called “The Jung Institute.” The eight year old thought it was a Chinese dentist! Seriously.  In high school and early college my friend Tom and I used to go over to his Uncle Hal’s home. ‘Uncle Hal’ was Hal Stone, former president of the L.A. Institute and originator of Voice Dialogue. My master’s thesis in 1974 led me to fieldwork among the Mayan healers and shamans of Guatemala, and the spiritist mediums of Brazil. My mentors at the time were Stanley Krippner, Alberto Villoldo, and Gordon Tappan at Sonoma State. Jung as many of you know, wrote his dissertation on mediumship practices which were all the rage around the turn of the 19th century among psychologists in Europe and America. When I returned to the United States I interned on a psych ward that conducted research with psychotic patients who were permitted to go through their processes without the use of medications. I conducted a dreamgroup on the ward and collected patient dreams that profoundly mirrored themes of death, rebirth and initiation that were common to the ritual practices in South America. Portions of my thesis revolved upon these themes.


These seminal experiences ‘marked’ me in a significant way, and set me on a course that has brought me to where I am today. I like to think of that early work as a ‘former life’, for I was infused in those early years with creative energies of the “puer aeturnus”—the eternal youth. Now, at 61 years of age the energies of the “Senex,” the old father, are part of a continuum of being that balance those youthful energies still alive within me.  Through the emerging acceptance of my own finiteness and the sense of responsibility as a man and a father I have come to value what it means to place the other’s needs before my own, to be less preoccupied with grand inner truths and more cognizant of the relational sphere. 


You will read about Emmanuel Levinas whose work was informed by the Holocaust and the enormous loss he suffered. Yet despite this, rather than succumbing to depression and ultimate suicide--like so many sensitive Jewish poets, artists and writers who survived the camps--Levinas and his philosophy exudes a life-affirming spirit, a vibrant poetic cadence of being—a being for the Other--an other whom he felt compelled to place before himself. As you will discover, this is the key to helping a man to find his way out of the labyrinth of narcissism, that insulates him from all threat, and destroys all links to anyone that might try to love him. It is often a result of trauma or loss or misfortune that ultimately shatter the illusions of the grandiose defenses and de-centers the narcissistic ego. It may lead to enormous pain and loss, but if endured, may awaken a man’s capacities to love.


The ancient stories of Eros and Psyche, and Narcissus and Echo are the templates that we use to describe the entrapment and the transcendence of these destructive aspects of narcissism in romance. I was gratified to read in earlier posts of  readers’ interest in the Psyche and Eros tale. Because my book is written from the male perspective about men’s narcissism, I approach the myth in much the same way as von Franz, in her great work on The Golden Ass,  to which the Psyche story is a part.


The book is long.  Please try to stay with it as best you can. One month, both Bonnie and I agreed, is not enough time to absorb its many turns. For the sake of this book club, if you do not have time to read the whole book, read the introduction and the introductions to each of the three parts, as well as the concluding remarks at the end of the book. Many people really like the last chapter. Do what you can. Find the stories or dreams that fill its many pages that speak to you.  As I have described in the introduction to the book club page, there are three themes arising from the book--men's narcissism beneath romantic fusion and their underlying fixation with the mother complex; denial of love through negation of the other and destructive narcissism; and transcendence of narcissistic defenses and the awakening of capacities to love.


The book is not lacking in clinical insights for men and  women practitioners. But as John Beebe says in the blurb on the backcover, none of us as authentic relational beings can escape the pitfalls of  the “fear-driven shadow of predation” that we encounter at some point in our long histories of love, loss and tragedy.  


I look forward to hearing about your experience of Eros and the Shattering Gaze, and I invite any and all questions evoked from the reading.

By the way, if you still need to order the book, you can do so here

With Kind Regards,




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    • Bonnie, apparently there was a tech grimlin b/c it is this post that mention above.  When I tried to reply to it this morning (2x) it was deleted. 

      So here is my reply.  It is my personal and professional experience that in relationship one or the other will be conscious of the story happening, but rarely both at the same time.  So from my pov of view, the first step is to own and pull back one's own projections to the degree that it is possible.  If the other can do so, then maybe conversation can begin.  But this type of work, as you well know is not a game and takes many years of hard personal work to even begin to make one's self somewhat conscious of one's own complexes, etc.  So I can't imagine it without the pain, but I can say that the pain diminishes with increased awareness of one's own narcissism.  I have a little saying - the truth will set you free, but first she will bitch slap you.

      I think that the individual who is playing either role of mother or whore can change her behavior, if she is willing to do the hard work of making herself aware and conscious and continue to do so the rest of her life.  The reason I say the rest of her life is b/c I do not think we are ever completely free of our complexes or relational patterns.  Of course we're never in the grip of it as much as when we are younger, or less self aware, but the pattern or the narcissim is always there.  For it to not be would imply a perfectionism or inflation.  This has been my observation in working puers, strippers and mothers....:)  (and my own analysis). 

      I do not believe that it is the responsibility of the narcissist to initiate the change and why would he - if we stick to your example?  Or could he?  I've seen extremely narcissistic puer types change only due to age, incarceration, the death of the real mother or some other trauma. 

      I'd really love to read Ken's or another male's pov on your questions.  I've been skipping around the book while trying to follow Ken's suggestions in his welcome post, and feel the way you do.  Maybe more will be revealed when I'm finished with it. 

      Thanks so much Bonnie!  nance



    • I can't really speak about the fantasy "fling partner" who the narcissist has taken up with in this scenario, as far as what she should or shouldn't do when she becomes aware of the narcissus pattern and her role in it , except to say that if she wants to help herself while simultaneously  being an example of what vulnerability looks like then she could try to make amends in some way with the other partner.  If a real process of forgiveness happens between the two women (surely a very challenging painful long process), it very well could lead to a breaking open of the hardened narcissistic male partner to the point where he really starts seeking/finding help for himself.  The narcissist may be left without a partner by the end of the process but hopefully he would be on the road to seeing what is really going on within himself and working on finding a better, healthier, more consciously relational story to live inside of (and to live inside of him).  

      If the maternal partner is deeply and painfully aware of the narcissus pattern that is playing out in her partner, and knows her role in the story,  and would like to keep working in and on the relationship, then it would be important for her, I think, to allow for space when her partner finds his way into relationships with males who seem to be of solid character and with decent self-awareness and hopefully who are consciously working on being better persons.  At the slightest hint that the narcissistic male partner might be interested in hanging out with such a guy or guys, I  would say encourage it (but not too exuberantly!).  

      It is my opinion that the only hope for a narcissistic male -- in whatever the scenario is , whether caught in a love triangle or not -- is to move into relationship with a more upright man or group of men where he might be able to enter into some real and  vulnerable spaces  (and possibly experience the positive mother qualities in those upright men who also have solid masculine positive  father qualities).   There just needs to be a safe container to open up about his pain and despair  without being allowed to completely indulge in it .  After a certain point, it is just no good to get a narcissistic mother-complexified man to be vulnerable around women  even though that is probably what he secretly  loves to do.  He is good at using that kind of situation in his favor -- to fortify his manipulative abilities and his hardness.   It is only helpful for him to open up around women with real vulnerability, I think ,  after he has truly started integrating The Narcissist, and knows The Narcissist well, and has the tools for transcendence and is able and willing to use them when The Narcissist shows up throughout the day in any given moment.  

    • Hello Chris and All.  You make a very important point. Owing to the often 'exquisite sensitivity' of the male's thin-skinned ego complex, it will be very difficult to receive his wife or partner's 'truth' without defensiveness or retaliation. Equally problematic, he may look to a more nurturing female therapist early on in treatment who may provide a positive  'Kohutian' mirroring and understanding for him. But he is just as likely to be ever so charming and seductive to her. They may spend many months--years even--dealing with his wounded inner child, without ever touching the hidden aggression that often lies buried. In getting to your point, Chris, men such as this often need the older male or the male group to traverse the territories of woundedness and aggression. This is often taboo territory for him to share with women in relationships, for, on the one hand, he may feel compelled to shield them from his ugliness or anger;  on the other hand, he may feel incapable of tolerating their pain that he has caused, or his emerging shame associated with their judgements and outrage.  

      I am not suggesting that female therapists should not work with men with strong narcissistic object relations. One does need to be comfortable working in the transference with such a patient, and can think creatively about one's own counter-transferences.  For instance, does it feel like the patient is 'protecting' you from his aggression and hatred at times, cloaking it behind being too good, or acting as 'the wounded child'. Are sexual projections preventing a deepening or the work? Do you ever feel like you've lost your capacity to think when you're in the room with him, or feel like you are compelled to play a precise role like the supportive listener, good mother, etc.? You must be able to respond to these pressures analytically. The same difficulties present in male to male relationships as well, but the patient may tend to project different expectations upon men, and they may have a little more space in which to respond, as 'one guy to another.'  He may feel less pressure to hide his 'true sexual nature' from a man, as well.

      And when the aggrieved wife finally musters up the courage to speak her 'less-than-delicate-truth' to him, a strong container must be present--whether male or female clinician--to help him integrate the 'bitter truth' without slipping into long periods of fragmentation and regression. 

    • Hello Nance and Bonnie. First of all, thank you for sharing your personal story, Nance. Your disclosure is so human and it's richly appreciated. This is REAL STUFF, is it not? I cannot add to your important discussion about the woman's role in the triangle, but I do want to deepen the conversation about the man's role, if I can.  

      I felt a strong response to your comment Bonnie, about our efforts to take steps that might cause the least amount of pain. I'm paraphrasing.  From the male's perspective, I don't truthfully see a way out of the pain for a man who enacts his split in such a usury or predatorial way. If there is any hope for his heart to be 'cracked open', as Melville would say, he must bear the truth of the harm  he has caused the people who love him, and the ensuing shame. Sad but true. That 'aletheia'--unconcealment--is the best remedy to lessen the suffering of those around him, and ultimately himself. Simply put, take responsibility! However, the man who struggles and fights to the death pleading his innocence, exacts endless suffering upon his 'loved ones'--those wives, partners and children--trying repeatedly to get at the hidden truth within him.  

      The sturdy analyst or therapist who  can go the distance with him will assist in containing his 'decentered' self, suffered as a result of such influences as loss, tragedy, illness, or trauma, etc. It's a huge question you both entertain, and my response is limited given the constraints of these pages.

    • Hi, Bonnie and All,

        I hope you get this...  I had sent a comment and a question for Ken last Thursday and somehow it did not get posted nor answered.  I probably didnt do something I should have but I think I just hit 'reply' hoping for it to send to Ken.  Anyway, Im testing it out again with this post to see if it shows up.  

    • Hello Thankful. I hope you try to resend your question and comment so the group has an opportunity to discuss them. 

    • Hi Thankful. I see this post now--but you're right; I haven't seen another one so I don't think it posted. Sorry for your trouble, and please do ask it again now that you're on a roll....

  • Hello Ken, I am so sorry that I am just now getting some time to ask some questions.  I work as a Jungian psychotherapist.  I find the description of the Eros' split 'between his mother and his lover" to be the perfect metaphor for  what I have observed for over 15 years.  I realize that I've actually 'noticed' this since before I had language for it. 

    In the early 90s I started using the term whore/madonna split (which I think you use somewhere) when working with puers.  I thought I understood this, but now I'm not so sure.  Can you please clarify what you meant when you wrote "he forces each woman to be as a mother to him, although they play out opposite roles?"  I never thought of them as both being different aspects of mother.  I do think of them as different aspects of the feminine, but separate when it comes to sons.

    Thank you so much for your time.  nance



    • Thank you writing Nance. I will try to respond to your very thoughtful question. Simply put, a mother can be both the nurturing anchor as well as the seductive goddess to her adoring or needy son. The quote you cited originates from a mythological context where the love goddess Venus/Aphrodite is both lover as well as mother to her son, Cupid/Eros. In the mother's role to her baby boy, she is all things to him--including nurturing and seductive. (For example, see LaPlanche on p. 202 of 'Eros') So, carrying on into youth and adulthood, the same split in the mother imago appears in the man's projections onto his objects of need and desire, both with wife and 'other woman'. In this way he 'appropriates' each one to play out  their roles that reflect the split in his own psyche. A more contemporary view of anima that I will paraphrase from the glossary (p. 265) may help further. The  anima comprises the 'essence' of the man that transcends the complexes. Originally it is "contra-sexual because it is usually discovered  through the force of eros  in projection or relationship. Because the mother is the first love of our lives, the anima is initially contaminated by elements of the mother complex . . . . " (my italics) In von Franz's view in The Golden Ass, it is the task of men to differentiate the anima from the maternal, and men languishing in this split state are unable to do so.

      Another distinction may help to clarify. The man's so-called 'feminine' self-states emerge largely from a maternal origin, whereas in Toni Wolff's schemata the Mother in a woman's psyche comprises only one quadrant of the mandala. This suggests the obvious: that Women's 'feminine' is far more complex and differentiated. 

    • Ken, Thank you so much for that clarification.  In a 1979 Bertolucci film, La Luna, the mother/son bond and incest is explored.  I bring it up b/c it was the first time, I realized that as a single mother (I was 26) of a 8 year old boy, I instinctively 'knew' that I had to change my own behavior toward my son.  I was in therapy and university at the time, so there was a container that allowed me to explore this topic.  Our relationship was not physically incestous, so pls do not misunderstand.   

      I'm self disclosing b/c of a deleted post by Bonnie where she writes that in "Chapter Three: The Split Feminine, Ken mentions how men who struggle with narcissism often rely on their wives or partners to mother them in order to stabilize their emotional well-being. This can lead to deadness in the relationship, causing men to turn to other women who they "fantasize will bring them back to life." (p. 69).

      Bonnie then asked what can we do even if we "recognize the story being played out, to cause the least amount of pain." 

      What can we do?  nance   (Bonnie, hope you don't mind and thank you for your post.)








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