Where does a Substitute Sense of Self come from?

Substitute Sense of Self is rooted in the absence of a natural Sense of Self and automatically generated to fill that void.

A person lacking a Natural Sense of Self would have, figuratively or metaphorically speaking, no spine, no structure, no base to return to. That person would be comparable to a ship without a set course at the mercy of the waves of the ocean. There is no anchor. That is why – when childhood conditions prevent the development of a Natural Sense of Self – the Life Force (Nature) via the child’s subconscious mind, comes up with some kind of alternative: the Substitute Sense of Self.

A person governed by a Substitute Sense of Self is totally dependent on fulfilling certain conditions.  These conditions are based on an infant and toddler’s early subconscious decisions about what it had to do in order to get its basic needs met, needs of having its presence in the world, its existence, be mirrored back by the primary caretaker/parent. Due to a problem in the parents make-up (narcissism, lack of Sense of Self) that mirroring didn’t happen appropriately.

A narcissistic person, as we know, believes the world revolves around her. Things and people are used and tolerated only if they serve (overtly or covertly) to put or keep a narcissist in the center of his own and preferably also other people’s attention. The moment such a person becomes a parent an intrinsic problem rises of which, unfortunately, the narcissist is unaware: a lot of attention and focus needs to go to the newly-born.

In the beginning that is not so much of a problem because the narcissist is able to ‘score’ for their own goals with the cuteness of the baby. However as the child grows up its presence becomes more and more noticeable. The natural way of things would be that a parent allows this presence to grow, and actually encourages it. Even though the process is hard, and the parent has to learn to make way for the new generation, it is the natural, healthy way of life.

A narcissistic parent however is unable to do so. She fully keeps focusing on herself and even if she does things seemingly ‘for the child’, there always is a hidden narcissistic agenda. You can’t even make her see this agenda; because she has no other concept of life than that it is about her.

The child therefore is also used as a pawn in her narcissistic game – a game which in fact has nothing to do with the reality of life in the world outside her small circle or with life as it presents itself in developmental processes. The narcissistic person is in complete denial of the true procedure of life and clings to his or her game till death comes about with a cruel vehemence as an ultimate reality check

The effect of the parent’s narcissism on the child is that the child isn’t seen or heard as a valued, autonomous human-being-in-process. To the outside world the child might seem to be a ‘so-cherished toddler’. In reality, he or she isn’t being taken into account as having a voice, and is only being acknowledged when displaying a behavior that for the narcissistic parent is favorable for their own purposes. Then, at least, the parent doesn’t get angry with the child causing feelings of humiliation and  ‘Annihilation’  by throwing a temper tantrum because things are not the way he or she needs them to be (for her own Substitute Sense of Self).

It isn’t hard to imagine that the child is forced to come up with some strategies to get its needs met. Just behaving in natural, unconstrained, authentic ways isn’t getting needs met. By observing what behavior works and what doesn’t work, to get some sort of an acknowledgment or positive feedback from the parent, the child forms what we might call a subconscious behavioral strategy. When the strategy works to successfully get the acknowledgment or positive feedback, the behavior is positively reinforced, and thus the behavior is more likely be repeated. This mechanism involves fulfilling ‘conditions’: “If I behave this way, I get that result so I have to fulfill the conditions of behaving this way, to get that result. I will get the result on the condition that I behave this way.”

With continuous and ongoing repetition, the observations and (subconscious) deductions that these decisions are based on, later turn into what this theory calls an Early Childhood Survival Strategy (ECSS). By the time a person has reached the adult age (30?), the conditions are totally internalized and the person identifies with them; the Early Childhood Survival Strategies have become what this theory calls Ego-References.

In other words, what started out as a strategic way of getting the child’s needs met if it didn’t occur naturally has now grown into a full blown way of being. The Substitute Sense of Self-oriented goal that in the first phase was the caregiver’s sincere attention and acknowledgment of the child being a ‘being with his or her own needs, wants, preferences and goals, has now reached phase II. The Substitute Sense of Self-oriented goal recognizes the strivings of the baby, child toddler, young adult as being ‘him’ or ‘her’, identifies with it and the person is never challenged develop any other way of being than just fulfilling those conditions (black list!).

Under Ego-References it is fully explained what those conditions look like and how they are different for everybody.

Where the reader goes next….