Cognitive Therapy on Wall Street: Schemas and Scripts of Invulnerability

By Leahy, Robert L. | Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, January 1, 1992 | Go to article overview

Cognitive Therapy on Wall Street: Schemas and Scripts of Invulnerability


Leahy, Robert L., Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy


The content and development of schemas and scripts of narcissistic investors are described. These patients view themselves as highly visible, with special talents and destiny, excessive obligation to others, and avoidant of satisfaction. Their investment styles focus on regret, immediate outcomes and the use of recent, salient and irrelevant information. Envy is interpreted as reflecting a market value of the self, reflecting a belief in scarcity of respect and lack of intrinsic value. Developmental analysis indicates threats of abandonment, compensation for earlier inferiority, and family myths of uniqueness. Techniques for challenging narcissistic assumptions and a developmental cognitive treatment of a patient's schemas and scripts are described.

INTRODUCTION

In this article I focus on a cognitive analysis of the schemas and scripts of invulnerability of a number of my Wall Street clients. All of these clients initially appear extraordinarily successful in conventional terms: They are wealthy, respected, admired, attractive, charming, and popular with the opposite sex. In fact, because of their "success" they are often bewildered as to their anxiety and depression, since they "have it all." It is not my purpose to characterize Wall Streeters as "narcissistic." However, in the present article I have chosen to focus on this quality of their personality.

First, I describe the development of narcissistic schemas and scripts of invulnerability. Next, I identify the themes of ambition, greed and insatiability. Third, I discuss narcissistic impairment in investment styles. Fourth, I describe the narcissist's market value of the self. Fifth, I identify some techniques for modifying narcissistic assumptions. And, finally, I outline a case study which highlights this approach.

DEVELOPMENT OF SELF-OTHER COGNITION

According to Bowlby (1968,1970), failure to develop and maintain affectional bonds during early childhood results in disturbances in object representations of secondary attachment figures. Although Bowlby gives essential importance to infant-parent attachments, in the present approach I argue for the importance of parent-child attachment throughout infancy and childhood. These object representations and self-representations may be disturbed by either actual or threatened abandonment, resulting in ambivalent or hostile attachment to secondary figures. As Guidano and Liotti (1983) and Leahy (1985,1991) have indicated, the self may seek protection from further loss or punishment through the "protective belt" of avoidant and compensatory strategies. In the present sample of narcissistic patients, avoidance is indicated by the failure to develop intimacy (and its consequent vulnerability), thereby minimizing the presumed negative consequences of abandonment. In other cases, compensation for helplessness and the fear of dependency is gained by strategies of seeking invulnerability and achievement or through domination of others.

Considerable evidence now indicates that childhood experience has a substantial impact on both the real and ideal self-image. Adolescents and young adults whose parents were nurturant, nonauthoritarian, and used inductive discipline rather than physical punishment, had higher real self-images, lower self-image disparities, were less likely to be depressed and less likely to exhibit a depressive attributional style. Further, adults whose parents separated or died were more likely to be depressed (Leahy 1981,1989). These data on the quality of parenting and the experience of parental separation support the contention of Beck, Rush, Shaw, and Emery (1979) and of Bowlby (1980) that"negativeschemas" of the self are determined by earlier socialization experiences.

DEVELOPMENT OF SCHEMAS AND SCRIPTS

Schemas refer to concepts which might be analyzed through multidimensional scaling techniques to yield "concept spaces." Examples of these content areas in person perception are strong-weak, bright-dull, and extroverted-introverted. …

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