Working with Highly Reactive and Narcissistically Wounded Couples
Such lack of safety for the psyche in early childhood often produces shame, destructive automatic thoughts, negative entitlement. and low
self-worth. The defenses against psychic vulnerability can create distant and reactive interactional patterns in later interpersonal relationships. The list of individual defenses is long and ranges from denial and suppression to rationalization, grandiosity, or intellectualization. Interpersonally, the major defenses are anger and different styles of reactivity such as defensiveness, attack, and withdrawal. Through aggressive communication, an individual attempts to cover his or her wounds and distance an intimate partner for the purposes of trying to create individual safety. There is a need to not be seen as wounded or needy. Closeness increases the likelihood that the neediness is felt and perceived. The more intimate a relationship, the more a person is potentially vulnerable and exposed. Such aggression usually creates one or all of the following reciprocal patterns in a partner: (a) aggression creates more aggression; (b) aggression creates passivity and withdrawal in a partner, which in turn effects feeling rejected or unloved; or (c) aggression creates passive aggression. For example, a wife asks her husband to get milk, bread, and eggs at the store and he returns with milk, bread, and yogurt; she gets angry, he feels unappreciated, and they both become reactive. She says, "Just go to the store and get medium brown eggs," and he returns with extra large eggs. Reactive and aggressive feelings are the end interactional result, with the pain of feeling unheard, unloved, and criticized so deeply felt.