JNU attack: furious rage may often be a reaction to a deep narcissistic injury
In a recent shocking incident at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Akash, a 23-year-old student armed with a gun, axe and knife, furiously attacked the object of his ‘love’, who is battling for life at Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi. The young man with a promising future is dead, having consumed poison after the brutal attack.
A more comforting course is to read the incident as isolated — the work of a ‘psychopath’. However, it is the link between the ‘normal’ and the ‘pathological’ — the teasing out of the dynamics at play in ‘love’ and unravelling the possible sources of the rage — that can help us find ways to prevent a recurrence of such situations. Another incident the same week on the same campus, 24-year-old Abhinandan trying to throttle and push a young woman in front of a moving vehicle underlines the need for such enquiry.
The popularity of legends like Laila-Majnu, folk tales like Kissa Tota-Maina (The Story of the Parrot and the Starling) and staple Bollywood cinema, one of the most recent being Raanjhanaa, offers us insights into notions that have shaped our society’s views on love and romance. Laila-Majnu is about being bewitched at first sight; love here is not about getting to know each other, sharing interests, likes and dislikes. It is routine for young men to stalk women they are attracted to, perceiving the action to be reciprocal. Likewise, it is not unknown for ‘boys’ to have ‘girl-friends’ to whom they may have never spoken but are ready to beat up other boys for daring to do so.
The tremendously popular Kissa Tota-Maina, printed on cheap paper and found on pavements all over Hindi-speaking India, is a series of ‘love stories’ focussing on the unfaithfulness of women. The offerings of Bollywood pulling at our heartstrings and deeply impacting notions of love are a legion. Lata-Rafi’s tum meri ho mere siva kisi ki nahi (You are mine and belong to no one but me) and Mukesh’s tum agar mujkho na chaho to koi baat nahi, tum kisa aur ko chahogi to mushkil hogi (it’s ok if don’t want me, but it will create difficulties if you want anyone else) epitomise the dominant sentiment of possessive love.
Akash’s suicide note says — “She used me, I am feeling cheated … and I am going to resort to an extreme step because of that.” In the case of Abhinandan, the extreme behaviour took the shape of trying to kill the woman he purportedly ‘loved’. The 22-year-old woman reports that “he would be furious if he found me with friends or in a meeting. I had to answer him for every move I made, even if I was just going to the library.” We just have to look at the extreme behaviour of Majnu, the cultural ideal of glorious ‘love’: ‘He was in rags and looked wilder each day … from far people would point at him and say: “There goes Majnu the madman, the crazy one …”.
Furious rage may often be a reaction to a deep narcissistic injury — a perceived threat to the entire sense of self-worth and for undoing a hurt by whatever means. It is an attempt to turn from a passive sense of victimisation to an active role. Incoherent and unjust rage appears to the narcissist as rage directed towards the person who has slighted him.
On the other hand, a person with severe narcissistic traits sees the ‘other’ as a mere screen for one’s own projections. The yearning is for an unconditional love where the ‘chosen’ partner will give him perfect love and make up for all the hurts and slights of his life. A narcissist, not wanting to feel bad inside, builds defences such as denial and a strong need to be right.
This, in turn, prevents the person from taking responsibility for his actions, instead of blaming the other, learning from mistakes and growing up. Others then become for us, not partners in a caring relationship, but ways of providing pieces of self. Most adults realise that unconditional love would be comforting but understand that it rarely happens as people we love usually hold us accountable for our actions in some way. As we should be — no one should be allowed to impose their neediness and bad behaviour on others.
The brutal incident at JNU should serve as a wake-up call to offer psychotherapeutic and counselling services in colleges and universities. Therapy initiates a process of taking back the bad parts of oneself, rather than projecting them on to the other, to understand the defences at work, to tolerate uncomfortable, emotional states and to move towards achieving a more satisfying and balanced relationship with others.
(The author is a Delhi-based psychotherapist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)