Jian Ghomeshi and the Problem of Narcissistic Male Rage

This post originally appeared in the Toronto Star

His public persona shattered, Jian Ghomeshi’s overweening narcissism has become the subject of public scorn. His reported violence against women, whether inside or outside sexual interplay, has been rightly denounced. Yet making this scandal all about Ghomeshi, we risk ignoring the broader sources of male narcissistic rage towards females. We are dealing here with far more than the pathological quirks of an apparently disturbed and charismatic individual.

We live in a society steeped in male narcissism, one in which aggression towards women is deeply entrenched in the collective male psyche. Nor is male sexual predation confined to a few “sick” individuals: that we see it portrayed, relentlessly and voyeuristically, in movies, TV shows, and advertising is beyond obvious, except for those mired in denial.

Acknowledging such realities is not “a tremendous slur against men”, as one denial-mired national columnist suggested recently; it is not to label men as “pigs.” It is simply to recognize that Ghomeshi’s reported behaviours arise from a misogynistic culture that degrades and confuses people of all genders. Few men enact extreme hostility, but few are those who do not harbour anti-feminine aggression somewhere in their psyche.

As a man, a husband, and the father of an articulate and proudly feminist daughter from whom I have learned much, I know that Mr. Ghomeshi’s actions—hitting women even as he hits on them—are symptoms of a larger problem. Inside what has been called a “rape culture”, many men are familiar with fantasies of non-consensual sexual dominance and violence. Although not in physically violent ways, I, too, have acted out male rage, including toward the woman with whom I am about to celebrate our forty-fifth wedding anniversary. Much as I regret it, it’s the truth.

From what dynamics does this narcissistic male anger flow?

A narcissist sees and experiences the world primarily with respect to his own needs. It is all about him; other people merely supply or frustrate these needs, seeming to lack individuality, dignity, or needs of their own.

There is a time in life, in infancy, when we are all narcissists. In this early developmental phase we implicitly believe the world revolves around us, and properly so: we have but to feel a need, and the world moves to meet it. The people who remain stuck in narcissism, whether everyday narcissism expressed as ordinary self-centredness or the extreme forms we label as pathologic, are the ones who never fully developed past that early stage. We graduate from a developmental phase only if our needs at that stage were fully satisfied. And in our society, most children do not get their needs met.

The growth of a healthy self depends on emotionally rich, attuned interactions with parents who are emotionally present and available. Stressed, depressed or anxious parents, or those who were themselves traumatized, may be incapable of providing their children with such interactions. In our increasingly alienated, isolating, and hyper-stressed culture, many children grow up under conditions characterized by what the seminal psychologist and researcher Alan Schore has called “proximal separation”: the parents are physically there but often emotionally absent. In this context healthy human development is impaired. Thus narcissism pervades our culture.

The rage against women is rooted in what the late feminist scholar Dorothy Dinnerstein identified as the “female monopoly of early child care,” where an isolated woman is seen by the child as the sole source of nourishment, physical soothing, and emotional support. In a mobile and economically unstable society, it falls upon an individual female to become the entire world for the child. The male child, finding his needs frustrated, develops rage. As the brilliant Canadian psychologist Gordon Neufeld points out, “frustration is the engine of aggression.”

Rage against the mother later becomes generalized into rage against women. In pathological cases, that hostility is acted out precisely in moments when intimacy is sought, such as sex, because it was in early moments of vulnerable intimacy that the narcissistic wound was sustained. The rage is an implicit memory of intense proximal separation. Many boys also witness and absorb the hostility of their overworked and emotionally alienated fathers and, unconsciously, blame their mothers for not having protected them.

The problem is worldwide and as old as civilization. We fool ourselves if we believe that our advanced society has come even near to resolving it. A new consciousness and a new conversation are needed. Jian Ghomeshi, in all his traumatized dysfunction and for all the pain he has inflicted, may have done us the favour of waking us up.

  • Robin Mazumder
    November 6, 2014 at 5:51 PM

    Hi Dr. Mate

    It was a pleasure meeting you and introducing your talk this past weekend at the Edmonton Public Library’s speaker series. I am a big fan, and it was an honour to meet you.

    Your talk inspired me, and so I wrote a blog post about how what you spoke of could be relevant to Edmonton. You can find it here: http://wp.me/p4FPgP-1A

    I also wanted to share a book that I think is very relevant to your piece on Jian Ghomeshi. I know you’re extremely busy, but if you ever have a chance I’d recommend you check it out. It is by the late Jungian analyst, Eugene Monick, and is titled “Castration and Male Rage”. (http://www.amazon.ca/Castration-male-rage-phallic-wound/dp/0919123511)

    It is a Jungian approach to the topic you wrote on, and echoes a lot of what you discuss. I wasn’t sure how to send it your way, so I thought I’d comment on your blog here. Thanks again for doing the work you do.

    Robin

  • Karlton
    November 13, 2014 at 8:47 PM

    This question was asked: From what dynamics does this narcissistic male anger flow?

    Well, here’s one possible answer.

    When the sperm cells, only about 5 to 50 or so (down from 100’s of millions), finally reach the egg cell they has been through a harrowing journey in the woman’s body.

    After ejaculation 25% are immediately killed by the women’s immune system (what has been called a ‘hostile environment’ by some ~male~ reproduction researchers) and all the sperm cells go into a kind of collective shock.

    When they finally wake up they begin swimming, swimming up toward the fallopian tubes, getting ‘picked off’ along the way by white blood cells, destroyed by the much higher heat of the vagina compared to the testicles, burned by the acidic surface of the ‘sacred temple,’ and also getting lost and disorientated.

    Some of them find the fallopian tube with the egg cell ‘goddess and vessel of life’ in it, and by now they can even smell perfumey invitations from her. Sperm are known to have olfactory receptors for the primal nectar that flows down from the follicular fluid once surrounding her as she ovulated. The one and only time she has moved in perhaps 20 years, like Sleeping Beauty.

    By the time the remaining weary chaps get to her they have traveled the approximate equivalent distance (based on their size) of a road trip from Vancouver to Edmonton. Then the little knights in shining armour, but just a few of the most handsome ones, are coaxed toward the her by the cumulus oophours cells surrounding the her, only to slam their heads against the corona radiata, a tightly packed layer of cells protecting her, kind of like the pawns on a chess board, or like bridesmaids.

    The knight who makes it past the corona is then trapped by the zona pellucida, the ‘skin’ of the egg. She is like a 50 foot tall woman: the largest cell in the body (approximately 40 times bigger than itself in length, but volume-wise is more like the size of a small stadium). The sperm’s tail is ripped off as it gets stuck to the zona surface. It’s head is then pulled into the inner-sanctum of the egg where it lands on the vitelline surface, and then is pierced by tens of knife-like fingers which finally pull him into her cytoplasm where his head slowly explodes to deliver the haploid genes.

    Each and every sperm cell dies, but the most violent death is perhaps enacted upon the conceiving sperm, who has come to deliver not only it’s share of haploid genes, but a magic jewel: the centriole, which the egg is lacking, and without which she will die.

    Do you believe in cellular memory?

    Enraged narcissistic men, after therapy, often report that they felt: 1) a justifiable revenge-like fuel burning up in them, blinding them, and coaxing them into these horrible actions, and; 2) even a perverse satisfaction and entitlement to permit them to do what they have done.

    Luckily, there is treatment for this condition, but unfortunately it is not offered widely. Perhaps more relevant is the challenge of getting men to go deal with their narcissistic rage if they could have access to the treatment of resolving ‘Perpetration Identification Sperm Shock.’

    • Lokahi
      December 5, 2014 at 2:31 AM

      The logic here is one of the most advanced cases of projection I have heard. Reproductive biology and Nature would truly have to be flawed for this theory to fly. Imagine if women harboured this unconscious aggression towards the infants they had just carried for nine months and then birthed because it was a painful, and self disfiguring experience. We might just as well give up on continuing the great human experience.

      • nina
        February 2, 2015 at 5:18 PM

        Yes, I totally agree with you Lokahi. The above silly sperm rage story brings to mind many examples in nature of having to totally become undone to grow. A seed growing in dirt completely bursts its original parameters to become a plant. I laugh at the ridiculous idea that the original seed gets pissed off at the sun, the dirt, and the water that caused it’s transformation.

    • Bilal
      October 6, 2015 at 6:19 PM

      Agreed with the above commentors. This is a case of massive projection.

  • Average Joe
    January 28, 2015 at 6:27 AM

    Wholly agree with what I am capable to follow, there is two point that I would like to ask:

    How do you, Dr. Maté, define “rape culture”?

    How does misogynistic culture function in current society? Can we view narcissism as an addiction to narcissistic supply?

  • Adam
    June 11, 2015 at 7:10 AM

    Wow that blog post just blew me away. I have had terrible addiction problems with woman, intimacy, sex and instant gratification for many years. I am starting to recover but am still “holding on” the more private addictions – like pornography by the skin of my teeth. I am desperate to get to the bottom of and finally end the bondage of these addictions and articles like this help my understanding so much, so i can realise, understand, learn, apply and hope to god I can recover for the sake of my sanity and my family. Thank you. Adam

  • Denise
    July 20, 2015 at 6:44 PM

    This is one of those eureka moments when someone gives a name to and affirms something long experienced. Proximal separation is an idea I have known for some time under other less catchy verbage.

    Interesting to connect that experience with narcissism. In my ongoing process of looking at the unpleasant parts of my life and healing them with the best wisdom I have available, that is now high on the agenda.

    Thank you for your insights.

    • Sage
      November 30, 2015 at 4:35 PM

      I don’t recall if it’s in the book, but my toerhy blames it on biology. We’re set up to rely solely on our mothers from our first moments, we have no other choice. Then we figure out that our mothers are only doing the bare minimum, the stuff that makes her look good for the outside world, and we assume that’s normal? (I did.) But what you live for is the public mom, the one who is nice and kind and proud of you, the one who wants her life to look perfect in the outside world. So then you’re reliant on the fake mother, believing that maybe if you’re good enough, you can make that mother stick around forever.

  • Lyle Jones
    November 26, 2015 at 4:58 AM

    I believe that carful and focused narrative therapy can slowly guide a self deluded man into accountable connection with the nature of what he is actually dling,. I’ve seen this be the mirracle that changes the entire man. And a fresh new man walks out the other side. Beautiful.

    I applied this technique to what I was confronted with when meeting a mother whose child was just removed for cause. I would hear her tell that there was no reason to take her Child. She loved her Child. So much. And I would say I believes her I could see her love and I wanted for her to be with her Child agajn for good and never to be seperared again. Did she believd me? Yes. Then let’s get to work and letsts start at your kitchen sink. Once there is say Tell me what you see in this sink. And shed begin a lot and a cup, and we would narrow down the narrative until she was describing minute of what she saw in her kitchen sink. And almost every time the MIRRACLE momdnh would come and she would begin to truly morn and weep connected to her real accountable conduct, and she would tell each thing she saw in the sunk that she had imposed upon her Child really connected to the truth she told, and then TGE cryikg and denial would stop and a new fresh mother stood up ready to learn how to keep her Child safe and healthy for good. This narrative was an excellent tool. And there was always a sink to tell the narrative through hahaha.

  • Lyle Jones
    November 26, 2015 at 5:03 AM

    And there is miraculous redemption when i have the courage to be accountable within the narrative then move on. I think it is our time machine. Direct connection with personal accountability alters the past and makes a fresh unbelievable future possible. It is the #1joy of narrative therapy for me. Enternalize the problem then attack it together with uncovered resiliancy.

  • Open
    November 30, 2015 at 4:27 PM

    I highly rommceend Mean Mothers by Peg Streep. Aside from the myriad of stories from other daughters in our situations, she highlights the cultural insistence that all mothers love their children and the effect that has on women who don’t. The hypothesis is that women believe that once they have their baby, they will suddenly experience this wash of love for her, and if they don’t (for whatever reason: Mental illness, personality disorder, etc) they may come to resent the child. The book is far more involved than that, of course, but when I read that, I felt like I understood my mother much better! Of course she would resent me, after all, nothing in her life had ever been her fault (you wouldn’t believe how everyone picked on her), so why would this be any different?

  • Gaz
    December 27, 2015 at 8:17 AM

    Hi, I’m someone in recovery for addiction working on my addict thinking and occasional narcissistic rage (aprox 12 times in my life I think, I’m 38) and I’d just like to add some thoughts and observations of my own regarding this topic.

    Not so long ago I helped someone with the technical side of an MRA (men’s rights activist) website – inside-man.co.uk. In case you don’t know MRA’s consider themselves anti-feminist and are often called women haters. I do not consider myself an MRA but I have some understanding of their perspective.

    I’m also someone who used to consider themselves a feminist but do not any more simply because I realised that I don’t actually know very much about the subject (I am pro gender equality though and always have been). My prior belief in feminism stemmed from the female side of my family (older sister, mother, even my older brothers sister in law) which is otherwise very traditionally conservative (I’m not).

    The older males in my family (father, older brother) as well as my older sister (the other non conservative in the family) also exhibit narcissistic rage from time to time.

    What I have understood from MRA’s though is that they are mostly focused on logical errors in arguments, interpretations of statistics and family court biases relating to gender equality. And on a number of counts I think they’re right, particularly the logical errors.

    Because of my focus on my addict thinking – minimising, catastrophizing, distorting etc. – I have been drawn to recognising these traits in others. My mother being the latest example (when I’ve mentioned certain distortions she denies them and accuses me of imagining things). My family is also one where triangulation is used more often than direct communication.

    And this has lead me to a belief that strong emotional attachments in a dysfunctional family produce a reflexive relationship between caring and controlling, and overt and covert aggression.

    And I think this concept can be expanding to our societies. Capitalism (covert agression via propaganda, individualistic) vs socialist (overt aggression via central control, collectivistic).

    Anyway, just some thoughts.

  • Garth
    November 5, 2017 at 7:50 PM

    Yes, I find this to be an remarkable and insightful comment on a disturbing problem. Thanks for sharing your wisdom Dr. Mate. I welcome your suggestions that a new consciousness and a new conversation are needed. I couldn’t agree more. I also think that practical approaches to healing are also needed.

    I think we need a culture that is less focused on ego driven (and hence violence prone) projects and more strongly on the awareness that Eastern meditative practices have suggested for many thousands of years. At their peak they commonly suggest that twoness (and even more so: many-ness) is an illusion.

    One of our most precious ego driven projects is the mating game. In my understanding, Love and Freedom go together. Our most sacred institutions cripple this truth in the name of “mine”, social stability and caring for children. Perhaps we should stop the baby making (and relationship) project for a while so that we can recreate ourselves and our culture and repair some of the damage we’ve done to our planet.

    On a very practical note, I’d like to see the availability of practices that can potentially heal the effects of early childhood developmental trauma made more widely available. I like to see more support for men who agree to help each other heal at this level and better support for men’s healing in general. Healing touch (Reiki, Healing Pathways and Quantum Touch are good examples of approaches that can help). CuddleParty is another (see: www. cuddleparty.com). I’d also like to see more interest (particularly amongst women) in healing approaches to intimacy between men and women as suggested by Marnia Robinson’s approach to Karezza (see: http://www.reuniting.info).

    So yes, let’s have those conversations, do the healing practices and recreate our culture starting at the roots.

    • Dorene
      March 8, 2018 at 3:48 PM

      Thank you for this comment Garth. I could not agree more!

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