When the selfing process goes wrong: Social-biofeedback, causal mechanisms, and pathological narcissism

Cristina Meini


Abstract: In direct opposition to the dominant nativist perspective tracing back to Descartes, William James suggested that the sense of self is constructed through a never-ending process of reflexivity. In more recent years, empirical data from various psychological domains (notably developmental, clinical and social psychology) have further strengthened this constructivist perspective. Notably, Gergely and Watson’s social biofeedback model has been proposed as a central mechanism in the development of emotional introspection, which itself constitutes a crucial step in the process leading to a mature sense of self. In accordance with the social biofeedback model, it has been suggested that reiterated failures in biofeedback mechanisms predispose an individual to mental suffering. While borderline personality disorder and antisocial behavior have received the most attention, here I make a preliminary attempt to examine the impact of dysfunctional biofeedback on the pathogenesis of narcissism, suggesting that some central features of pathological narcissism may result from serious and reiterated disruptions in social biofeedback. This preliminary exploration aims to deepen our understanding of the origins of psychological suffering. In this sense, my effort could contribute to the construction of a causal model going beyond the purely categorical, atheoretical analysis of mental diseases typical of the diagnostic and statistical manuals.

Keywords: Self; Self-ing Process; Social Biofeedback Model; Narcissism

Il farsi e il disfarsi del sé. Biofeedback sociale, meccanismi causali e narcisismo patologico

Riassunto: La prospettiva costruttivista sullo sviluppo del sé, efficacemente difesa da William James in opposizione all’innatismo di stampo cartesiano, è oggi ulteriormente avvalorata da numerosi dati empirici provenienti da diversi ambiti della psicologia (in particolare, psicologia dello sviluppo, clinica e sociale). Il modello del biofeedback sociale di Gergely e Watson è stato proposto quale meccanismo centrale nello sviluppo dell’introspezione emotiva. In accordo a tale modello, ripetuti gravi fallimenti del biofeedback predispongono al disturbo mentale, segnatamente al disturbo borderline di personalità e al comportamento antisociale. In questo saggio mi occuperò di disturbo narcisistico di personalità, suggerendo che anche alcuni dei sintomi principali di questa patologia potrebbero derivare da disfunzioni gravi e reiterate del biofeedback. Nonostante la sua natura preliminare, la mia indagine si inscrive nell’alveo di quelle ricerche che mirano costruzione di un modello causale che vada oltre l’analisi puramente categoriale e ateoretica tipica dei manuali statistico-diagnostici.

Parole chiave: Self; Identità personale; Social Biofeedback Model; Disturbo narcisistico di personalità

Parole chiave

Self; Self-ing Process; Social Biofeedback Model; Narcissism

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.4453/rifp.2020.0006

Copyright (c) 2020 Cristina Meini

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