|Contents||Bulletin||Scripting in shell and Perl||Network troubleshooting||History||Humor|
|News||Recommended Books||Skeptics||Recommended Links||Fight of withdraw||Drowning in Paperwork|
|Understanding Micromanagers and control freaks||Surviving Micromanagers||Workagolism and work overload||Aikido||Common Signs of Burnout||The Fiefdom Syndrome|
|Enemy at the Gate||The psychopath in the corner office||Rules of Communication with Micromanagers||Steps for Decreasing Toxic Worry||Learned helplessness||Humor|
"Vanity, thy name is narcissism".
The narcissist is just one type of corporate psychopath and it shares probably more then 90% of traits with the general case of psychopathic manager whose true character is disguised behind an image he/she wants to project. Moreover, Alexander Lowen suggested that paranoid personality is a subtype of “narcissistic character”.
It goes without saying that like all psychopaths any narcissist is always a bully and they share many personal and behavioral traits with them ( see Behavior of the serial bully for the original list). While this is a systemic trait that is not easily decomposed on components, among typical signs of narcissism we can mention those listed in Diagnostic criteria for 301.81 Narcissistic Personality Disorder
A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
(1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
(2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
(3) believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
(4) requires excessive admiration
(5) has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
(6) is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
(7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
(8) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
(9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
Like all psychopaths narcissists lack empathy and consider co-workers, subordinates and family members as objects that can be instrumental in achieving certain goals(tools). It should be stressed that for narcissist they are not humans they are just tools. Actually the best insight into narcissistic bosses can be obtained not from reading "self-help" literature devoted to the topic but from literature devoted to the analysis of the behavior of the leaders of high demand cults. The same is actually true for the bullies.Lie is constant and pervesive. In a way it is a way of life. Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, M.D., even titled his book “People of the Lie”. Peck diagnoses the "people of the lie" as being so self-absorbed and narcisistic that they continually make excuses about the abuse they heap upon other people, somehow turning every story 180 degrees in the opposite direction and always claiming victimization when the situation so clearly points to them as the perpetrator. It is a sad indictment of what must be a pandemic within institutions, as these folks clamor and cling to power, money and title oblivious to the human carnage left in the wake of their passing. Brad C. Pape in his review of the book noted:
If you have ever experienced or been frustrated by people who seem to have a hidden agenda then you will enjoy and benefit from this book. The author states (some are paraphrased) and explains the following:
1. The evil hide their motives with lies.
2. Evil people want to appear to be good.
3. When confronted by evil, the wisest and most secure adult will usually experience confusion.
4. Evil seeks to discourage others to think for themselves (fosters dependency).
5. To oppose evil we must have an ongoing dedication to reality at all cost.
I agree that to be mentally healthy we must believe what is true and only what is true. After reading this book you will be better equipped to deal with people who cause strife and confusion. It will also help you identify thought patterns where you are lying to yourself.
Narcissistic managers are less likely to make major changes in their behavior than are managers with other toxic issues. They are also particularly likely to become outraged and vindictive if someone challenges their behavior. Therefore, when you are dealing with a manager who is rigid or aggressive, it is important to determine whether narcissism or other disorders lie underneath their destructive behavior.
Wikipedia lists several types of narcissists:
Theodore Millon identified five subtypes of narcissist. Any individual narcissist may exhibit none or one of the following:
- unprincipled narcissist - including antisocial features. A charlatan - is a fraudulent, exploitative, deceptive and unscrupulous individual.
- amorous narcissist - including histrionic features. The Don Juan of our times - is erotic, exhibitionist.
- elitist narcissist - variant of pure pattern. Corresponds to Wilhelm Reich's "phallic narcissistic" personality type.
- fanatic type - including paranoid features. A severely narcissistically wounded individual, usually with major paranoid tendencies who holds onto an illusion of omnipotence.
What distinguish narcissists from other corporate psychopaths is an all-pervasive pattern of self-promotion, need for admiration or adulation, sense of grandiosity (super competent, super-diligent, super-workaholic, super-economical, etc). A false image that narcissist quite cleverly projects is not unique trait and is typical for all types of corporate psychopaths. The key difference is the amount of efforts spend on building and maintaining the image and or "cult of personality". In a way narcissist can be defined as a psychopath preoccupied with building a false and often grandiose self-image. Almost nothing can be spared in efforts to have people admire, applaud and envy in order to create it.
While according to Greek origin of the term a narcissist is a person in love with himself, in reality, it is mostly the opposite. Narcissists suffer from the acute lack of self-respect. That's why narcissism is frequently discussed as a type of depression. Aggression, anger at any threat to the image is the most valuable sign for diagnostics of narcissism.
The overall pattern of narcissistic behavior is emotional instability and aggressive behavior caused by insecurity and weakness rather than any real feelings of confidence or self-esteem. Commentator John Hockenberry recently linked narcissism and politics He hypothesized that:
"Narcissism IS politics in America. What else can the world possibly think listening to our political rhetoric... the constant invocations of being the greatest nation on earth, the greatest people, the pinnacle of civilization, the divine custodians of all that is moral and free in the world?"
As always be aware that "trait"-based static definitions are very limited and cannot provide true insights into this psychopathic behavior that is driven all consuming addition to power:
"Since the narcissist is incapable of asserting his or her own sense of adequacy, the narcissist seeks to be admired by others. However, the narcissist’s extremely fragile sense of self worth does not allow him or her to risk any criticism."
Narcissists are masters of creating "artificial reality" adept at manipulating
perceptions and are excellent imitators (Zelig-like types, chameleons).
They like to project work ethic and emphasize team work, while destroying
the team and converting it into a pack of frightened animals. The narcissist
is willing to accept the employee as an "under-humans", whose need obediently
support his/her grandiose fantasies. Narcissists are pathological compulsive
liars. This is a lifestyle trait and they have no shame at all because their
very self is a fake, an invention.
Here is one interesting review of the book Emotional Blackmail When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You. I found on Amazon (Please note that Sam Valkin is an author of book on Narcissism and being himself a narcissist tends to exaggerate things):
The Guilt of the Abused, November 23, 2003
This book describes insightfully the dance macabre that is the abuser-victim dyad. Self-flagellation is a characteristic of those who choose to live with a narcissist (and a choice it is). Constant guilt feelings, self-reproach, self-recrimination and, thus -- self-punishment typify the relationships formed between the sadist-narcissist and the masochistic-dependent mate or partner.
Reviewer: Sam Vaknin "author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited" (Skopje, Macedonia) - See all my reviews
The narcissist projects his inner turmoil and drags everyone around him into a swirl of bitterness, suspiciousness, meanness, aggression and pettiness. His life is a reflection of his psychological landscape: barren, paranoiac, tormented, guilt ridden. He feels compelled to do unto others what he perpetrates unto himself. He gradually transforms all around him into replicas of his conflictive, punishing personality structures.
Some narcissists are more subtle than others. They disguise their sadism. For instance, they "educate" their nearest and dearest (for their sake, as they present it). This "education" is compulsive, obsessive, incessantly, harshly and unduly critical. Its effect is to erode the subject, to humiliate, to create dependence, to intimidate, to restrain, to control, to paralyze.
The narcissist deliberately confuses responsibility with guilt and demands compensation for his or her "sacrifices". By provoking guilt in responsibility-laden situations, the narcissist transforms life with him into a constant trial.
The narcissist-victim dyad is a conspiracy, a collusion of victim and mental tormentor, a collaboration of two needy people who find solace and supply in each other's deviations. Only by breaking loose, by aborting the game, by ignoring the rules - can the victim be transformed (and by the way, acquire the newly found appreciation of the narcissist).
The narcissist's partner should not feel guilty or responsible and should not seek to change what only time (not even therapy) and (difficult) circumstances may change. She should not strive to please and to appease, to be and not to be, to barely survive as a superposition of pain and fear.
Releasing herself from the chains of guilt and from the throes of a debilitating relationship - is the best help that a loving mate can provide to her ailing narcissistic partner. Sam Vaknin, author of "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited".
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Jesse's Café AméricainIf you wish to see the narcissist in their natural habitat, the chat boards and comment sections of some blogs are where the marginally successful dwell, often dominating the conversation with their self-obsessed arrogance. Sometimes in periods of unusual circumstances they can even rise to positions of power. They are attracted to corporate structures, and financial and political positions.
"Narcissism falls along the axis of what psychologists call personality disorders, one of a group that includes antisocial, dependent, histrionic, avoidant and borderline personalities.
But by most measures, narcissism is one of the worst, if only because the narcissists themselves are so clueless."
-- Jeffrey Kluger
“Hate is the complement of fear and narcissists like being feared. It imbues them with an intoxicating sensation of omnipotence...
The sadistic narcissist perceives himself as godlike, ruthless and devoid of scruples, capricious and unfathomable, emotion-less and non-sexual, omniscient, omnipotent and omni-present, a plague, a devastation, an inescapable verdict.”
-- Sam Vaknin
They have no humility, no doubts, and no empathy. Whatever life or luck or others may have helped them to achieve, they feel that they deserve it all, and more. They have worked for everything they have, whereas others who have suffered setbacks and misfortune simply have made bad choices or been lazy. And if others have been cheated and abused, then they deserve it for being stupid.
They are often judgmental and racist, and brimming over with hateful scorn for others, unless they can be co-opted into their sphere of influence and behave according to the narcissist's world and rules.
As Thomas Aquinas said, 'well-ordered self-love is right and natural.' It is when this natural behaviour becomes excessive and twisted that it becomes a pathology, a disorder of the personality.
Often narcissists have exaggerated ideas about their own talents and worth and work. Sometimes they are compensating for the neglect and disregard, or even abuse, of one or both parents who failed to see and appreciate how special they are. At other times they are the product of an environment in which they have been raised to believe that they are special, and deserve special treatment and consideration. Since obviously not all children of privilege or abuse become narcissists, it might have its genesis in an untreated form of depression or genetic predisposition.
"The classic narcissist is overly self-confident and sees themselves as superior than other people. Think of a child who has always been told by mom and dad that they would be great, and then that child takes and internally distorts that message into superiority.If this affliction is accompanied by other problems such as sadism or malignant mania, they may become a destructive element for all who encounter them. Their illness affects others more than themselves, so they may often not seek treatment, and excuse the damage they inflict with the 'weakness' of others.
The compensatory narcissist covers up with their grandiose behavior, a deep-seated deficit in self-esteem. Think of a child who felt devalued but instead of giving up on life, resorts to fantasies of grandeur and greatness. This person will either live in that fantasy world or decide to create that fantasy world in real life."
They seek to fill the great empty holes of self-loathing with the lives and possessions of others, all the while proudly wreathing their actions with self serving rationalization.
They are more to be pitied than scorned, as they are living in a small part the hell which they are making for themselves. But we must guard ourselves against their powerful certainty in an age of uncertainty. Their certainty is a madness which serves none but itself.
"Narcissism is a psychological condition defined as an obsession with the self. While not all forms of self-love or self-interest are destructive, extreme cases can be very damaging and may be diagnosed as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
In these instances, the disorder is characterized by a lack of empathy for others, sadistic or destructive tendencies, and a compulsion to satisfy personal needs above all other goals.
People suffering from NPD tend to have difficulty establishing or maintaining friendships, close family relationships, and even careers. About 1% of people have this condition, and up to 3/4 of those diagnosed with it are men.
The signs of narcissism often revolve around a person's perception of himself in comparison to other people.
Those with severe cases often believe they are naturally superior to others or that they possess extraordinary capabilities. They may have extreme difficulty acknowledging personal weaknesses, yet also have fragile self-esteem.
Narcissistic people also frequently believe that they are not truly appreciated, and can be prone to outbursts of anger, jealousy, and self-loathing when they do not get what they feel they deserve."
Hallmarks of Narcissism
A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
•Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
•Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
•Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
•Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
•Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
•Requires excessive admiration
•Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
•Believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
•Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
Christopher Lasch's "The Culture of Narcissism" was originally published in 1979, and has been a major cynosure of cultural and social criticism ever since. English literary critic Frank Kermode called it, not inaccurately, a "hellfire sermon." It is a wholesale indictment of contemporary American culture. It also happens to fall into a group of other books which share the same body of concerns that I have been working my way through, or around, in recent months: Daniel Boorstin's "The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America," Guy Debord's "Society of the Spectacle," Philip Rieff's entire corpus (especially "Charisma," but also his earlier work on Freud), and even the book I'm currently reading, Tony Judt's "Ill Fares the Land."
All of these books discuss some aspect of social anomie, loss of community, and subsequent feelings of dissolution. This isn't by any means a new debate; in the field of sociology, it dates at least as far back as Ferdinand Tonnies' distinction between gemeinschaft and gesellschaft, a distinction that was almost a prerequisite for the invention of modernism.
First, a note on the word "narcissism." It was formerly a clinical term to diagnose the individual, but has "gone global" - or at least national. Lasch doesn't really mean for the term to be a diagnosis in the clinical sense, but rather a "metaphor for the human condition" in contemporary times. In his argot, the word means much more than just lack of empathy, a tendency toward manipulative actions and pretentious behavior. "People today hunger not for personal salvation, let alone for the restoration of an earlier golden age, but for the feeling, the momentary illusion, of personal well-being, health, and psychic security" (p. 7). Lasch is more interested in the dissolution of communities and relationships that makes us feel as if we live highly individualized, atomized lives detached from the concerns of others. The book spells out the ways in which these patterns are positively correlated with the rise of materialism, technologism, "personal liberation" (those bywords of sixties radicalism) and nominal egalitarianism.
His few words on contemporary corporate America will strike anyone who has ever worked in one of these organizational hellscapes: he states that corporate bureaucracies
"put a premium on the manipulation of interpersonal relations, discourage the formation of deep personal attachments and at the same time provide the narcissist with the approval he needs in order to validate his self-esteem."
A la Debord, the politics of narcissism become more about "managing impressions" and "human relations" more than actually solving problems, citing Kennedy's disaster at the Bay of Pigs as an example. To steal from the language of yet another late French thinker, it's all about the simulacra. In a chapter called "The Degradation of Sport," he notes that enormous amounts of corporate money have turned athletes into mere entertainers to be sold to the most prestigious sports syndicate. The central concept of the sporting even - the agon, the contest - has been displaced in order to sell products and personalities who will invariably be with the team for only a short time.
Lasch's political affiliations are sometimes interestingly and tellingly misconstrued. Though often criticized for being a reactionary conservative simply because he points to the radicalism of the sixties as one of the desiderata under consideration, Lasch's analysis is self-consciously informed by both Marx and Freud, two figures hardly recognized for being popularly co-opted by various brands of twentieth-century conservatism. Those who believe that Lasch is a blind ideologue on other side of the spectrum need to read him again: he explicitly faults both the right for their veneration of the market's "invisible hand" and the left for their cultural progressivism. Lasch is in politics, above all else, a democratic humanist.
He writes in the Afterword,
"The best defenses against the terrors of existence are the homely comforts of love, work, and family life, which connect us to a world that is independent of our wishes yet responsive to our needs. It is through love and work, as Freud noted ... that we exchange crippling emotional conflict for ordinary unhappiness."
It might not sound like a prognosis abounding in optimism, but it drips with the sincerity of an honest, heartfelt critic of American culture.
Clark L. Coleman (Virginia)
Great on observation, not so great on causes and cures, November 17, 2010
The ideal book of cultural criticism would accomplish three things: (1) Show us convincingly that there is a problem. (2) Diagnose the causes of the problem. (3) Recommend a credible cure for the problem. Lasch is excellent at the first goal, examining many areas of American culture in detail and showing the narcissistic common denominator of many social ills. His diagnosis of the problem, couched entirely in Freudian perspectives, is suspect in my opinion (details to follow). He does not attempt to prescribe any cures. Charitably, we could say that the book is large enough as it is and he had no room for prescription. I would give the book about 4-5 stars on achieving the first goal, about 2 stars on the second goal, none on the third goal.
The first major problem with Lasch's diagnosis of the causes of our narcissism is that he makes it sound inevitable, implying (intentionally or not) that there is no cure. The trends of industrialization, growth in size of society and government, etc. are often described in terms that cause you to despair that we could ever reverse the negative effects. Even the trends that were consciously directed by the intellectual elite (e.g. feminism, sexual liberation) are described fatalistically; you cannot turn back the clock, the old ways are too abhorrent to want to restore them, etc.
The second major diagnosis problem is that Lasch does not perceive the irony (or hypocrisy) of condemning the ill effects of the modern therapeutic culture, brought about by all the social science pseudo-experts that he rips apart, while being totally absorbed in the language and perspective of Freudianism. The therapeutic culture came about because an older religious culture gave way to a secular psychological perspective from the late 19th century through the 20th century. I doubt that the cure is to be found if we continue to immerse ourselves in secular psychological thinking.
The third major diagnosis problem is that there is a more fundamental diagnosis of how we came to be so narcissistic. Rather than blaming a variety of economic, political, and social trends that cannot be reversed, the deficiency of modern Western societies lies in the loss of transcendence. With a lack of conviction in the eternal importance of each life, each aspect of life is hollowed out. Marriage was about propagating one's faith, race, ethnicity, and family line; now, it is about chasing romantic happiness. Work was performed to support one's family and perpetuate the civilization; now it is to make money for any purpose whatsoever, from supporting your family to enabling your consumerism. Numerous examples could be given. If there is no transcendence, no connection to the eternal, I am left with ME and my SELF and my desires. Narcissism is inevitable.
Lasch is a modern liberal who tears apart our culture because of the effects of liberal modernity, but who cannot bring himself to recommend the cures that are needed because the implication of his criticisms is that we must reject the modern, secular, anti-traditional, anti-transcendent culture and turn back the clock (horrors!) to earlier ways of living and thinking. After each criticism of how feminism has destroyed relations between the sexes, for example, he hastens to add that the old ways were certainly oppressive and terrible as well. In which case, what is left for the reader besides despair?
The book is worth reading for its description of the symptoms of our ills. Many observations provide insight into aspects of modern life that we might not realize differ so greatly from not so long ago (e.g. education, sports), depending on what you have read in these areas before this book. Be forewarned that when you finish, you will be full of criticism of our culture and will have been given little idea of where to go from there.
The ex-LAPD officer who was the most hunted fugitive in California until Tuesday might have been a huge narcissist, according to experts.
Christopher Dorner, who allegedly killed two civilians and a cop, is presumed dead after a fire ravaged the mountain cabin where he was hiding from police.
Dorner was likely suffering from a "classic case of malignant narcissistic personality disorder," retired FBI profiler Mary Ellen O'Toole told The Associated Press, pointing to his grandiose belief that he could evade all the police chasing him down.
In Michael Maccoby's book "The Productive Narcissist: The Promise and Peril of Visionary Leadership," he says that many leaders have some element of narcissism.
However, the productive ones have learned to retain an element of their egos, while moderating the negative side effects of narcissism.
Lawyers may also share those narcissistic traits.
The over-the-top workaholic tendencies that make lawyers so great at their jobs means they may also be perfectionists, which is a narcissistic trait.
We collected a variety of insights from Maccoby's book, Psychology Today, and other sources and compiled them into a diagnostic test.
The more you identify with these characteristics, the more likely you're an egocentric narcissist.
Recently I tried to persuade a friend, a professional woman in her 40s, to create a Facebook account. Like many people, I’m a regular user, usually to post photos and updates of my daughter’s sports and academic accomplishments — and to keep track of friends and family. But my friend believed Facebook would drain her time. She said that if she couldn’t maintain friendships in the real world, she wasn’t interested in keeping up with the small details of people’s lives.
There has been a lot of scholarship devoted to the study of Facebook, sparking debate about the mental health and personality traits of frequent users. Most recently, research from Western Illinois University suggested, like other studies before it, that Facebook appeals to our most narcissistic tendencies. The study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, asked 292 people to answer questions aimed at measuring how self-involved they were.
Those who frequently updated their Facebook status, tagged themselves in photos and had large numbers of virtual friends, were more likely to exhibit narcissistic traits, the study found. Another study found that people with high levels of narcissism were more likely to spend more than an hour a day on Facebook, and they were also more likely to post digitally enhanced personal photos. But what the research doesn’t answer is whether Facebook attracts narcissists or turns us into them.
Last month, a study of 233 Facebook-using college students by researchers at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and the University of Hartford took a different approach. Were the students primarily writing self-promoting status updates? Or were they interested in others, clicking “likes” and posting comments on friends’ pages? How many Facebook friends did they collect?
In addition to measuring narcissism (Do you like being the center of attention or blending in with the crowd?), the researchers also measured a student’s sense of privacy. (Do you share information with a wide circle of friends or value your privacy?) The researchers found, to their surprise, that frequency of Facebook use, whether it was for personal status updates or to connect with friends, was not associated with narcissism. Narcissism per se was associated with only one type of Facebook user — those who amassed unrealistically large numbers of Facebook friends.
Instead, frequent Facebook users were more likely to score high on “openness” and were less concerned about privacy. So what seems like self-promoting behavior may just reflect a generation growing up in the digital age, where information — including details about personal lives — flows freely and connects us.
“It’s a huge oversimplification to say Facebook is for narcissists,” said Lynne Kelly, director of the school of communication at the University of Hartford and one of the study’s authors. “You share information about yourself on Facebook as a way to maintain relationships.”
The social medium of choice for the self-absorbed appears to be Twitter. The researchers found an association between tweeting about oneself and high narcissism scores. That finding alone, I think, is worth tweeting about.
Jul 14, 2009 | The Big Money
How grandiosity and lack of empathy created our modern malaise
Narcissism is back in the news, thanks to Sarah Palin. Todd Purdum's Vanity Fair profile, which appeared just days before Palin announced her resignation, described the Alaskan governor this way:
More than once in my travels in Alaska, people brought up, without prompting, the question of Palin's extravagant self-regard. Several told me, independently of one another, that they had consulted the definition of "narcissistic personality disorder" in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—"a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy"—and thought it fit her perfectly.
The diagnosis clearly resonates, not because it is accurate (who knows?) but because narcissism is the psychological substrate of our troubled times. During the credit boom, an unquenchable need for short-term success, combined with a lack of empathy for those who didn't share in the economic windfalls, was a byproduct of a society trying desperately to survive beyond its means. We both empowered the most ruthlessly self-aggrandizing among us and succumbed to the erosion of any authority that might have contained the overweening. We lost any independent measure of the American dream.
Still, a question remains: Was the army of narcissists unleashed upon our society a product of the boom or the cause of it—or both? For John Gartner, grandiosity was a precondition for success. His 2005 book The Hypomanic Edge praised the reckless abandon of Americans who leapt before they looked. (Slate's Dan Gross made a great case for why those leaders ultimately threaten the institutions they lead.)
In the noughties—given our obsessing over celebrities, insatiable consumption of debt to keep up with others, and the loss of any meaningful values that might sustain us in adversity—the country seemed to be caught up in its own culture of narcissism. As exceptional as this new culture was, it was not new. The culture of narcissism first appeared as a popular concept 30 years ago. And this week marks the apogee of its influence with the anniversary of President Jimmy Carter's infamous "malaise" speech (delivered on July 15, 1979).
That much-reviled address is an unlikely subject for study. But historian Kevin Mattson has done his best to reclaim it in his new book What the Heck Are You Up to, Mr. President? To Mattson, a desperate nation, hobbled by a stagnating economy with chronic energy shortages, a crumbling manufacturing sector, and crippling inflation, was buoyed by Carter's willingness to level with them. Carter tried to snap the country out of its frenzy of selfishness and return it to a civic-minded purpose. The speech boosted the president's poll numbers by 11 points in one evening, and the event seemed to provide a catharsis of sorts, if a short-lived one.
The 1970s were a nadir of American self-confidence. Carter came to give the "malaise" speech at the prodding of Patrick Caddell, who was himself inspired by a reading of historian Christopher Lasch's surprise best-seller of 1979, The Culture of Narcissism. A quiet Midwesterner with a cranky pen, Lasch was the Paul Krugman of 1979 — an esoteric thinker whose political stance was informed by raw anger and disgust. Lasch may have used radical cultural concepts to inform his views, but he himself was deeply and personally conservative. He would later write a book dismissing the notion of progress and locating our best hope as a society in small-town acceptance of limitations.
The Culture of Narcissism was an attack not only on the excesses and disillusionment of the '70s but also on the growth of institutions—the liberal state, corporations, and the therapeutic culture—that broke down the individual's independence and authority. Those institutions may have grown out of a need to protect us from depredations. But the unintended consequence was to replace our freedom and individual authority with insecurity and anxiety.
Thus was born the narcissistic personality of the 1970s. The cultural narcissist—as opposed to the clinical one, like Palin—can overcome the anxiety created by his or her lost economic and social independence, according to Lasch, only "by seeing his ‘grandiose self' reflected in the attentions of others, or by attaching himself to those who radiate celebrity, power, and charisma. For the narcissist, the world is a mirror whereas the rugged individualist saw it as an empty wilderness to be shaped in his own design."
Narcissism thrives only where positive authority—a world of role models who establish genuine, trusted leadership and an economic system where rules are defined and enforced—no longer presides. Lasch's narcissism was a direct result of the hypocrisy of the liberal state and its collapse under the multiple assaults of the Vietnam War, Watergate, the degraded environment, and the emasculating energy crisis.
In our own day, narcissism seems the direct result not of societal failure but of success run amok. (Though we've had our own fruitless, frustrating war with its concomitant betrayals of public trust and an awareness of impending environmental collapse, too.) Beginning in 1994—15 years after the "malaise" speech and 15 years before today—the United States turned itself inside out. The Republican congressional victory of 1994 brought about a libertarian detente between left and right centered around globalization, in the form of NAFTA, and cultural truce, where everyone agreed to disagree on hot-button issues like abortion.
The new order unleashed an explosion of wealth, new technology, and a reinvention of politics both domestically and internationally. The '90s ended up being the 1970s in reverse. Instead of the decline of industry, we had the upending explosion of the Internet. Where the 1970s had eroding pessimism, the 1990s had the optimism that "this time, it is different."
In both cases, the path from past to future was no longer clear, which created confusion and doubt about what rules to follow. Clinton's new liberalism sought deregulation and a return to personal responsibility, but only one side of the equation took hold. Throughout American society in the 1990s, authority was eclipsed by the unparalleled success of young people.
There were other similarities between then and now that contributed to the emergence of the cultural narcissist. Both eras had presidents who were threatened with impeachment. Both eras had a vertiginous rise in housing prices. In the 1970s, homes became a rare anchor for embattled Americans as their most important asset became a refuge from rampant inflation.
For us later, our houses were the devil's candy to satisfy our insatiable needs. Instead of the last and most vital of our assets—the one protected from bankruptcy by homestead laws in many states—we used property as a grub stake in a poker match, hoping to win shallow advantages like better-looking kitchens, elaborate home theaters, and more authentic personal experiences. Each one of these desires fits neatly into the Lasch-ian definition of narcissism: the frantic need to distinguish ourselves without ever mastering our anxieties.
Lacking her own goals, and an independent measure of success, the narcissistic personality keeps chasing a fleeting dream. Perhaps that is why the debt bubble churned endlessly without restraint. We had everything, but it was never enough. Insatiability, of course, is a hallmark symptom.
Another era of adversity might have restored the bulwarks of our society. The excesses of the Internet boom were burned off in the scandals of Enron, Tyco, and the like. The Sept. 11 attacks also seemed to presage a new era of rationality. The Bush administration's response, however, was narcissism through and through. A sober response would have been to track down the malefactors to ensure that justice prevailed. Instead, the neocons in the Bush Pentagon pursued an unlikely target—Iraq—with the misguided idea that they could transform the politics of the Middle East through shock and awe. (Grandiose?) They even imagined they would be greeted as liberators. (Admiration seeking?) And they failed to address the root causes of Sept. 11 attacks: the frustrations felt by the disenfranchised toward the United States. (Not much empathy there, eh?)
So the flood of credit from 2002 on only fueled the narcissism raging at the center of our society. To read the Culture of Narcissism today is to look at ourselves through a distant mirror. We have a better communicator as president, but many of the same maladies confront us—a crippled economy, a recently discredited president whose White House was filled with dirty-tricksters, and a sense that American power no longer has a place in the world. The only good thing is that the feeling of desperation so pervasive during Jimmy Carter's time has not taken hold; but that could be because we just haven't hit bottom yet.
Marion Maneker is the former publisher of HarperCollins's business imprint.
Re: Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Yes. I have just realized that my last relationship was doomed to failure because of his of NPD. He's not been diagnosed with it as far as I know but I am quite sure he has it based on the standard criteria.
He wanted constant attention and doting -- this included me brushing his hair frequently and him trying on clothes and asking repeatedly, "Aren't I cute?". He seemed to not care about my or anybody else's problems. Anytime he had a problem he escalated it to crisis and was furious if I wasn't there to help him (somehow he had decided it was my job to care for him). He took millions upon millions of digital images of himself and even lately got himself a web cam which just shows him sitting at the computer. He was often contrary just for the sake of getting into a fight. He liked to fight and would instigate them quite often. He rarely ever paid for any of our "dates" and owes me quite a lot of money (and seemed to forget about 1/2 of it). If I was at his house, he would want to spend hours upon hours on the computer and would get mad if I went to watch t.v. because he wanted me to sit in a chair, adjacent to him on the computer while he was on the computer. He seemed to totally lack empathy. He was a pathological liar and I believe that he believed in his own lies. He had multiple on-line emotional relationships so that he would have constant attention and adoration. If we were visiting my sister or my friends, he would literally cling to me as if he has hands and arms were Velcro and would snuggle his head into my shoulder and giggle like a school girl and would prefer the he and I sat and had our own internal conversations forsaking the company of other folks who were present. He had frequent mood swings. He said really unkind things to me which I pointed out to him that he was hurtful and he said, "oh, I was just teasing because I like you."
Somehow I thought that I would "fix him". I entered into this relationship on the heels of a very difficult break-up. I wasn't ready to see anyone and he had just gotten out of a relationship. I have since learned that I am co-dependent and I thought that he was as well but after reading more and more I am pretty sure that it is NPD. Last week he "broke up" with me at least three times. I had been trying to break up with him for some time but he kept luring me back in and I was lonely so I took the bait. I want to distance myself from him but I'm worried that it may just make him seek even more attention from me. I'm trying to "step out" of the relationship rather than end it with an official break up. Yes, I said he broke up with me three times but it was actually him saying, "well I guess I'm not the right guy for you" and making generalizations about me and our relationship and then hanging up. He does not recognize ALL of the things that I have done to improve his life over the course of 5 months. He takes it all for granted and he will escalate the smallest disappointment with me so that he can be right and feel entitled to some kind of reparation.
I struggle with self-esteem issues and still dealing with a break-up from last summer. For the last several months I have been crying daily and feeling extremely anxious. I gained a lot of weight and stopped exercising or doing anything good for me because he demanded my time. I have not seen him in over two weeks now. I'm feeling more happy and confident than I have since he and I have been going out. I hate to lose him as a friend but he sucks the life out of me. It's sad because when we had good moments those highs were really high. He could be sweet to me and he always made me laugh and we shared so many similar things that made knowing him very easy. It breaks my heart that I cannot fix him. It makes me mad that I wasted all this time with him because he really doesn't mean it when he says "I love you". He figured out that with me, needy me, those three words can get you everywhere.
Is your partner a narcissist? You may not know how to tell, but even worse, you may be thinking that you are the crazy one. Narcissists work hard to distort our reality to make their reality feel safer.
So what is a narcissist? Someone who preens in front of the mirror all day in admiration? NOT! Ask yourself this: is your partner intensely angered by anything that seems to suggest that he or she might have a flaw? Narcissists will do anything, including brutalizing their own family, to maintain their own feeling that others see them as without any flaws. And, narcissists have extreme and illogical sensitivities, sometimes connecting the most minute observations with their intense fears of being seen as flawed. Narcissists will strain every muscle to meet their own "flawless" image, and demean or destroy anyone or anything who casts any doubt on this image. If you see this dynamic in your partner, family member, coworker, or friend, you are very probably dealing with a narcissist.
Overcome the Love Locking You In
Many of us ended up in unhealthy relationships because, in the beginning, our partners held up a false front. Many of us felt or thought that we had met our soul mate; found the perfect partner; met that one special person in the universe. It's no surprise that we can fall in love with someone like this!
Later, usually after we've made a binding commitment like marriage, or sometimes after the relationship changes due to children being born, a job change, or other major life changes, our partner shows a completely different side. The person who was once perfect now can become angry, demeaning, demanding, and harshly critical. When alcohol or drugs are involved, the substance abuse usually takes a big step up, too. I talk about this dynamic in my book on disordered behavior, Meaning from Madness. From someone we have deep feelings for, these actions are brutal. Yet we may still have strong feelings of love pulling us to that person. Talk about being torn!
At some point, many of us realize this situation needs to change, but feelings are not chosen. How can you overcome the love that pulls you to someone who is abusing you?
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While you can't turn those feelings off like a switch, you can learn to understand where those feelings come from, and how our minds create them, and then set the stage for new feelings to develop - hopefully toward someone who's better for us. At first this issue was a chapter in my book, Tears and Healing, but it was so important it eventually became its own short book, In Love and Loving It - Or Not! The really sad part is that our minds create these feelings so that we'll be motivated to engage in a relationship that meets our emotional needs, yet those same feelings can end up locking us in, pulling back again into a broken relationship that just can't fill those needs! Its like a trap, one that we need new understanding to get out of.
Deal with the Abuse
Disordered people aren't just hurtful. They also spin our reality to make theirs less painful. They project their problems onto us, and blame us for what they do. After a while it becomes hard to distinguish what is real from what is being projected and what is being distorted. We begin to doubt our reality and question whether we're the crazy ones. What's more, disordered people hide their problems very effectively, concealing their disease from most people, causing us further confusion.
The truth is, THEY'RE NOT RIGHT. But they feel better when they can get us to carry the burden of their illness and their behavior.
15 March 2002 | New Scientist
Narcissistic people do not make pleasant colleagues, but they perform better than average at tasks that would daunt others, according to new US research.
"Narcissists will leave everyone else to do the drudgery and come in at the end to take all the credit, or show up when there's some opportunity to be admired," says Roy Baumeister of Case Western Reserve University, Ohio, who led the research.
"But if you need someone to make a crucial presentation or to do something spectacular, they could be good to have around," he adds.
The study is the first to find that narcissistic people perform better on tasks that give them the opportunity for glory, Baumeister says.
In the mirror
The team studied 248 people, who completed questionnaires assessing the degree to which they agreed with statements such as: I am an extraordinary person, I like to look at myself in the mirror, the world would be a better place if I ruled it.
They then took part in four tests: the children's board game Operation (a test of manual skill), darts, and measures of arithmetic and creativity.
People who scored higher on the narcissism measure performed on average about 20 per cent better on the tests when they were given the chance to shine, says Baumeister.
"For example, we'd have an audience present or not present. Or we'd tell them that to do well, they'd have to outperform 95 per cent of other people, or only 50 per cent. Being better than average isn't much incentive to a narcissist, but 95 per cent was something they could really shoot for," he says.
Noxious self esteem
When given a high or public target to aim for, the more narcissistic people also performed better than those with lower narcissism scores.
But the trait is poorly understood, Baumeister says: "We are at a fairly early stage of finding out about these people and what makes them tick."
Most people have a degree of narcissism, but at its extreme it is characterised by a "noxious sense of self esteem," he says. "But why people grow up to be narcissists is a really important question and we do not have enough data on that."
Baumeister presented his research at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society in Blackpool.
The perpetrators of the recent spate of financial frauds in the USA acted with callous disregard for both their employees and shareholders - not to mention other stakeholders. Psychologists have often remote-diagnosed them as "malignant, pathological narcissists".
Narcissists are driven by the need to uphold and maintain a false self - a concocted, grandiose, and demanding psychological construct typical of the narcissistic personality disorder. The false self is projected to the world in order to garner "narcissistic supply" - adulation, admiration, or even notoriety and infamy. Any kind of attention is usually deemed by narcissists to be preferable to obscurity.
The false self is suffused with fantasies of perfection, grandeur, brilliance, infallibility, immunity, significance, omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. To be a narcissist is to be convinced of a great, inevitable personal destiny. The narcissist is preoccupied with ideal love, the construction of brilliant, revolutionary scientific theories, the composition or authoring or painting of the greatest work of art, the founding of a new school of thought, the attainment of fabulous wealth, the reshaping of a nation or a conglomerate, and so on. The narcissist never sets realistic goals to himself. He is forever preoccupied with fantasies of uniqueness, record breaking, or breathtaking achievements. His verbosity reflects this propensity.
Reality is, naturally, quite different and this gives rise to a "grandiosity gap". The demands of the false self are never satisfied by the narcissist's accomplishments, standing, wealth, clout, sexual prowess, or knowledge. The narcissist's grandiosity and sense of entitlement are equally incommensurate with his achievements.
To bridge the grandiosity gap, the malignant (pathological) narcissist resorts to shortcuts. These very often lead to fraud.
The narcissist cares only about appearances. What matters to him are the facade of wealth and its attendant social status and narcissistic supply. Witness the travestied extravagance of Tyco's Denis Kozlowski. Media attention only exacerbates the narcissist's addiction and makes it incumbent on him to go to ever-wilder extremes to secure uninterrupted supply from this source.
The narcissist lacks empathy - the ability to put himself in other people's shoes. He does not recognize boundaries - personal, corporate, or legal. Everything and everyone are to him mere instruments, extensions, objects unconditionally and uncomplainingly available in his pursuit of narcissistic gratification.
This makes the narcissist perniciously exploitative. He uses, abuses, devalues, and discards even his nearest and dearest in the most chilling manner. The narcissist is utility-driven, obsessed with his overwhelming need to reduce his anxiety and regulate his labile sense of self-worth by securing a constant supply of his drug - attention. American executives acted without compunction when they raided their employees' pension funds - as did Robert Maxwell a generation earlier in Britain.
From customer review
Murray's weakest "case" involves Carly Fiorna at H-P. Here he contends that the board's initial concern involved Carly's complex matrix structure, and being out more than she was in (130 speeches in her last year). Then here overreaction to their concerns and desire for an operations leader led to her firing. Ignored were some of the serious costs of her matrix structure. The new CEO substantially improved H-P through laying off another 15,300 without any loss of revenues - mostly from the centralized personnel, finance, and in-house technical staffs she created. Hurd also split PCs back off from printers, phased out centralized selling (CSC) unit, raising product-manager accountable costs from 30% to 80%. A third major step was to centralize IT - databases went from 85 with 7,000 applications to 6 with 1,500 - cutting IT costs from 4% to 2%, using all H-P equipment and then using the experience and expertise to help sell services and equipment elsewhere. Thus, poor performance was also a major issue, as well as Carly's seemingly annual round of layoffs. (Most CEOs try to get this over all at once.) Regardless, Carly's leaving during the turmoil with her board to attend an economic conference in Switzerland was probably the last straw.
Husband and other managers barely mentioned,
October 10, 2007
This review is from: Tough Choices: A Memoir (Paperback)
By San Jose Reader (San Jose, CA) - See all my reviews
Egomaniac. It is all about her. Her husband and the managers who reported to her are barely mentioned.
There are successful women running companies. Would like to see books by them but they are too busy doing a good job to waste time on ego trips.
narcissistic and self-deluded,By G. Mellen
October 12, 2006
As a 21-year HP veteran who survived the Carly "cult of personality" years, I would describe this book as self-serving hogwash. In my opinion, her abrupt dispatch was the much deserved result of arrogance and incompetence, not sexism. In thousands of conversations with other HP employees during those five years, not once did I hear disparaging comments regarding her gender. The merger with Compaq was of dubious business value but allowed her to place her mark on this venerated company while diluting a culture based on egalitarianism and merit. HP missed quarter after quarter under Carly's leadership, the stock price dropped by 75%, and she blames everyone but herself. New CEO Mark Hurd demonstrated a more thorough understanding of the HP businesses during his first employee meeting than Carly ever had, and won back much of the employee drive and dedication that Carly squandered. HP hasn't missed a quarter since and the stock price has more than doubled. Carly bolstered HP's sagging brand, to be sure; spin is her specialty. But it seemed to employees that Carly then usurped the brand for her own personal glory.
Carly eliminated thousands of competent and loyal HP employees who didn't get $42M golden parachutes, so please spare us the crocodile tears. Avoiding this book shouldn't be a Tough Choice for anyone.
How to Make a Mess and Deny Responsibility,
October 11, 2006
Sweet, smart, decent Carly Fiorina--how well she does faux innocence. She has no idea why she was fired! How could they fire her? All she did was to almost destroy a big company while making oodles of money for herself and spending her time getting her perfectly coiffed photos published. She writes that she likes to work with people--she must have really enjoyed making thousands of hard-working HP employees miserable.
By C. Kurdas (Brooklyn, NY United States) - See all my reviews
What's behind that tight smile? You won't know by reading her memoir, which is a book-length public relations release. It describes her career choices and corporate battles without useful insight. The cumbersome business jargon is annoying, but not quite as annoying as the bland, fake front she puts up. To get the real story of her ambitious drive up the executive ladder and ill-considered battle to acquire Compaq, read Backfire by Peter Burrows. That fight left HP reeling and its board a war zone, with leak investigations leading to the questionable tactics now under investigation by California prosecutors.
Sure, HP had troubles and needed change, but her dreadful management left it a complete, chaotic shambles. It would be good to understand how things went so very wrong, but Fiorina is no better at explaining than she was at running the firm. Predictably, she goes for the "gender" card to defend herself. So let's be fair: she was certainly no worse than the male board members who agreed to her outrageous pay package. She and they could be icons for all that's wrong with corporate America.
1. They are never EVER wrong.
2. They never admit to anything.
3. Nothing is ever a great idea unless it comes from them.
4. You will never get any credit for what you do. Ever.
5. They don't seem to know or care how what they say might impact you.
6. You get hopelessly entangled in their arguments, and it never leads to a resolution.
7. Emotion = Weakness."
What an eye opener!,
- Paperback: 184 pages
Publisher: New Harbinger Publications (March 2008)
October 16, 2007
By Stormy - See all my reviews
I'm a 51 year old female who needed to read this book when I was 11 and then promptly be moved to another family! Both of my parents are Narcissists, but I didn't know what it was until I read this book. The book describes exactly how I was treated by both of my parents and why I never had a sense of self. I was never asked my thoughts, I was told how I was going to think and what I was going to do. Everything this book details is real. 15 years ago I severed ties with my father because he was the more physical abuser. I just recently I severed ties with my mother. Both of them are very abusive. I didn't realize what a lacky I was to my mother but always felt she didn't like me, or was jealous of me, or always but always disappointed her.
She has tried to take over my life, my husband - almost telling me how to have sex with him or someone else will do it for me and my house by walking in rearranging my furniture, putting things on the wall and telling me that she's "helping me" and how everything would look so much better her way and has divided my 2 brothers and I to where we don't speak to one another anymore and she has blamed me for it.
The control, mental abuse and meanness is behind closed doors and out in the open other people always wondered why I was so sensitive around my mother because she always was so delightful to be around.
I moved away from my family when I was 24, and have back around my mother for 10 years. I'm absolutely drained of emotion. I understand now why I had depression and still have it and why I feel I need to please everyone and be a non entity.
From reading this book, I am working on being my own person with my own actual thoughts and views and hold my head up high. The book does give you examples on how to get along with this type of person, only if you want to get along with them.
For those who do, its a good guideline. For those who don't, read this book and beat your demons! What you thought was happening to you - it was and this validates those thoughts - the narcissist isn't ever going to validate you as a person. Break Free! This book has helped me tremendously to understand "it wasn't me" and I just might be worthy of someone loving me. 51 years to find that out.... what a waste of a life.
All I can say is WOW,
December 2, 2007
By Angelo (Stamford CT) - See all my reviews
I dated someone who is described in this book, and while together I didn't know what the heck was wrong with her thinking at times...that is until I read this book. A happy relationship most of the time, it then became crazy other times, getting worse and worse as time went on. Eleanor Payson hits it right on the nose and explains the child-like behaviors that would occasionally surface from an otherwise truly brilliant and highly successful woman. Here are some of the behaviors described:
1. They are never EVER wrong.
2. They never admit to anything.
3. Nothing is ever a great idea unless it comes from them.
4. You will never get any credit for what you do. Ever.
5. They don't seem to know or care how what they say might impact you.
6. You get hopelessly entangled in their arguments, and it never leads to a resolution.
7. Emotion = Weakness.
And on and on it goes. The closer you get to them, the worse it becomes. Every chapter sent me reeling as all these behaviors are discussed. Probably half the book is highlighted in yellow and I read it twice. It was like this book was written about her.
It also helped me confront my part in the whole thing as well.
READ THIS BOOK if you suspect a significant other or parent has these tendencies listed above. If so, this book will blow you away. I wish I had this knowledge DURING the relationship and not after I ended it. Understanding the dynamic has brought me some closure and the wisdom of avoiding anything like it again. The sad (and most painful) part is that the only healthy thing you can do is leave.
You cannot help them. You cannot heal them. You will not change them.
Fell short of what is promised,
March 6, 2008
Karen E. Fauls-traynor "karenft" (Chittenango, New York USA)
Overall, I found this book to be disappointing. It was helpful in terms of learning about narcissists and why they behave the way they do. The information about schemas and the reasons why we let narcissists push our buttons was also interesting. What I was looking for--as promised in the book--was strategies for dealing with people with this disorder, and I thought that those listed were very unrealistic. The examples of helpful dialogue that the author gives are just not practical. A narcissist would be have tuned out after the first sentence of most of those monologues. The tips for dealing with a narcissist coworker were few and far between. Basically, I was left with the impression that there is not much you can do about a narcissist in your life except change your own behavior or get them out of your life.
The yellow brick road, December 18, 2004
Joe Kort "www.joekort.com" (Royal Oak, Michigan United States) - See all my reviews
This book opened my eyes as a therapist about the *covert* narcissism that exists in families, particularly among women. There are so few books identifying both of these key components. Most books examine male narcissists along with the overt nature of the disorder. This book shines a different light and adds to the prism of possiblities for recovery.This book helped me understand so much., October 24, 2003
John B. Collins "John Collins the Architect" (Denver, CO USA) - See all my reviews
As a 48 year old guy who has been working his way out of narcissistic codependence for about 15 years, this book clarified several issues I wasn't even aware of. Specifically, Ms. Payson deals squarely with the lack of self-esteem that a narcissist will imbue in a codependent's life. (The narcissist says, "I'm OK, you've got a long way to go and you'll never get there anyway.) Another thing is the insidious, clandestine way in which NPD's work their sordid magic. An NPD is someone with narcissistic personality disorder. The author goes through a 9 item list of the pitfalls and traps that keep a codependent codependent. Ms. Payson also explains in depth how being in a relationship with an NPD can happen in your love life, your work life, and your family life. Often these adult situations are a reliving of the same type of relationship from one's childhood. So much is clearer now and I feel much steadfast in my resolve to overcome this disorder. I have reassessed many of my friendships and old situations only to realize that I was unwittingly reliving my past.
Mrs. Payson's language is clear, warm-hearted, and exact. She uses examples based on experiences of clients from her practice. All in all, I highly recommend this book to those who suffer from narcissistic co-dependence and those who know someone who does.
An excellent, truly helpful book,
April 27, 2006
Black Hole Of Books (Chicago, IL)
I'm not a big fan of the self-help genre in general, but The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists really struck home. I recently broke up with a narcissist for whom I was the codependent, and at a number of points in the book I just had to put it down for a moment and have a "Wow" moment. Not only Payson's descriptions of narcissistic traits (which made me a little uncomfortable, since I recognized some of my own behavior in them) but also her descriptions of the dynamics between narcissists and codependents have the ring of authentic experience; that's really what it's like being with an NPD sufferer. She also made me wonder: was this last one just the tip of the iceberg? Were there more before? Will there be more afterward? Some of this stuff gets pretty scary, but I really couldn't put the book down.
I did take one star away for the writing, which is...well, not so great. There are lots of cliches, and the proofreading seems to be sort of nonexistent. ("Illusive" rather than "elusive?" Hmmm.) I found the writing distracting at points, but the force of the points Payson makes generally overcame the sludgy prose.This Hits The Nail On The Head!,
September 19, 2005
eclectic1 - See all my reviews
I've been in a committed relationship with someone who can double-talk circles about absolutely anything and around absolutely anyone. He rarely tells the truth about anything -- no matter how small the situation. Nothing is ever his fault. The most benign statement to him throws him into immediate defensive or striking-out-at-anyone mode. He doesn't give the slightest care about the effect his words or behavior has on anyone else's feelings or life. I thought I wasn't understanding enough, kind enough, or patient enough. This book helped rescue me from sure insanity! If you have a feeling you're in a relationship of confusion, lies, and emotional abuse -- you're probably living with someone in the throes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). This is a must read handbook to help you sort through all the smoke & mirrors your "special someone" has been using to distract you from who he (or she) really is!
Amazon.com Why Is It Always About You The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism Sandy Hotchkiss,James F. Masterson Books
Dealing with the egotists in your life.,
August 4, 2002
By R. Shaff "Velocipede" (USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Why Is It Always About You? Saving Yourself from the Narcissists in Your Life (Hardcover)
Think you don't know a narcissist? Think again. Narcissists are everywhere particularly, in the public eye. Think about the Enron and Worldcom disasters. Do you think Skilling and Fastow or Ebbers and Sullivan aren't as narcissistic as they come? They fit the mold in spades. And how about our cultural obsession with these egotists? Aren't we somewhat awestruck by the "My ... doesn't stink" stars? From time-to-time, we're all a bit 'wowed.' I'm certainly guilty but perhaps now I'll have a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding the situations and 'icons' involved. WHY IS IT ALWAYS ABOUT YOU is an extremely insightful expose' on the egotists in your world, whether mildly or flagrantly narcissistic. And, this 'disease' doesn't just apply to our public figures; it can be as close as your immediate family or, heaven forbid, yourself!
Narcissism derives its origin from a youth in classical Greek Mythology, Narcissus. The story goes that one day Narcissus saw his reflection in a pool of water and immediately fell in love with his image. From that very moment, he began to see everything as it related to his own image. The world was his looking glass and his insatiable appetite for himself took him all over the globe, and he was invariably pleased with what he saw. He left in his path a troubling wake which slipped like a fever through the people who saw him.
Ms. Hotchkiss has nailed this subject when she posits "Their needs are more important than anyone else's, and they expect to be accommodated in all things. They can't comprehend why they might not always come first." Narcissists are endearing, enticing creatures typically with extremely thick skins....but only to certain elements. Think about the guy or gal at the cocktail party who brazenly bullies his or her opinion on any and all subjects without any plausible evidence to back them up. Some find these people oppressive, some finding them fascinating. (As for me, I've just come to grips with the unmistakable fact that the breakup of a previous business partnership was due primarily to a case of narcissism. A childhood friend of mine who eventually became my partner was image-laden. Eventually, all things relative to our business became 'how did it benefit him?' Without knowledge of what I was experiencing, I became disenchanted and extremely angry. Perhaps if I'd had Ms. Hotchkiss's book at hand, I might have been able to craft an alternative path and save the partnership. Regardless, I have no regrets at this point.)
Ms. Hotchkiss doesn't necessarily offer any new information about the origins of narcissism but she does a fascinating job of portraying the disorder and the types of behaviors associated with this 'malady.' According to Ms. Hotchkiss, narcissists morph their personalities to sng to achieve the adulation they seek.
Ms. Hotchkiss breaks the narcissist down for the reader outlining the attributes one should understand. She entitles these attributes, "The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism" as follows: Shamelessness, Magical Thinking, Arrogance, Envy, Entitlement, Exploitation and Bad Boundaries. Ms. Hotchkiss illustrates these qualities with profiles of the narcissists she's encountered throughout the book. The irrefutable moral of each story is that these people are missing out on what's really important. They are so busy loving themselves that they've forgotten to love anyone else.
Marcy L. Thompson (Sammamish, WA USA)
Why Is It Always About You? Saving Yourself from the Narcissists in Your Life (Hardcover)
I admit to being disappointed in this book. Even so, it was a useful overview of a pervasive problem, one that faces most of us much of the time: how do we deal with self-absorbed narrcisists without being untrue to ourselves?
Things I liked about the book include the use of illuminating examples, the checklists and suggested courses of action in dealing with particular kinds of issues, and the excellent explanation of what narrcissism is and where it comes from. In fact, the examples she gave of narcissism in action were all extremely good and useful. After reading several books on the subject, I have to say I think she does the best job of providing examples and elucidating them.
Things I did not like about the book include the fact that since she covers so very much ground, much of it is covered superficially. One thing she did frequently that eventually grated on me a lot was to include a disclaimer right before offering advice about how to proceed in some particular kind of encounter with a narcissist. This disclamer essentially said "make sure you aren't being guilty of any narcissism before you start". Well, that makes sense. But one of the things the book makes clear is that narcissists can't really see that they are doing anything wrong at all. And so, I had to wonder exactly how is the reader supposed to determine whether, in this case, she is acting rationally or narcissistically?
In conjunction with other books, I think this one is useful. However, be prepared for a certain level of superficiality.
Claire is 47, a mother of two, and recently divorced. Her ex-husband, Dan, 58, was a successful businessman when they met 12 years ago. “By the time we separated,” she says, “I no longer knew what was true and what was a lie. I was emotionally battered, my confidence was in shreds, and I felt the person I had once been had somehow been sucked out of me by Dan’s bullying and manipulation.”
A friend studying to be a psychotherapist suggested she look up narcissism on the internet. “I began reading everything I could, and that led me to narcissistic personality disorder [NPD]. It made me realise that not only me but a couple of friends had experienced something similar in their relationships. NPD is said to be particularly prevalent among the driven and ambitious.
“At first, I thought Dan was a really secure guy, with normal values and objectives. A person with NPD will be whatever you want him to be – as long as it suits him. Then, suddenly, you’re in exile, and you’re left perplexed, blaming yourself for what you’ve apparently done wrong. I was either worshipped or, more often, undermined. At the same time, whatever traits you have that he finds attractive – and therefore threatening to his own sense of superiority – he will set out to destroy.
“As the marriage progressed and I discovered more of his lies, the angrier he became and the more he drank,” Claire recalls. “I begged him to get help for the sake of the children – not realising that the root of the problem was probably NPD.”
Dan agreed, but later Claire found out that the time he was supposed to be spending in alcohol-addiction centres and on anger-management courses, he was with his girlfriends. “Healthy narcissistic tendencies are life-preserving,” she says. “But when the narcissism is extreme, it’s hugely destructive to everyone around. It’s a form of emotional abuse that isn’t properly recognised yet, and it ought to be. Narcissists play a subtle, long-term psychological game that is truly deadly to the other person’s psyche.”
Claire is one of a growing number of people in Britain who are convinced their partner, boss or one of their parents has NPD.
Although Freud published his study On Narcissism in 1914, NPD wasn’t officially recognised as a personality disorder in the US until the 1980s. Seen as the high-flyers’ disease, often allied with drugs, gambling and alcohol abuse, it is now a multi-billion-dollar industry.
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In the myth, falling in love with one’s own image is seen as punishment for being incapable of loving another. In reality, NPD, at its most extreme, can lead to murder. In 2004, the public-school boy Brian Blackwell, 19, stabbed and bludgeoned his parents to death at their home in Merseyside before embarking on a £30,000 spending spree. He was obsessed with fantasies of success, power and brilliance, claiming, for instance, that he was a world-class tennis player. He was diagnosed as suffering from NPD.
NPD appears to affect men more than women. A person with NPD is spectacularly lacking in curiosity or concern for others, but can easily simulate both if it ensures the continuation of what psychiatrists call “the narcissistic supply” of uncritical admiration and adulation.
In Narcissism: Denial of the True Self, first published in 1985, the American psychiatrist Dr Alexander Lowen refers to the case of Erich, brought to him by his girlfriend, Janice. Dr Lowen asks Erich about his feelings. “Feelings!” Erich replies. “I don’t have any feelings… I programme my behaviour so that it is effective in the world.”
Erich describes his mother as perpetually on the verge of hysteria, provoked by a father who was cold and hostile. Dr Lowen diagnoses that Erich has deadened his emotions in response to his parents’ dysfunctional relationship. He writes: “The narcissistic image develops in part as a compensation for an unacceptable self-image and, in part, as a defence against intolerable feelings… a state of living death.” Erich, in his relationship with Janice, has continued to shut down feeling while exercising power. “He got her to love him without any loving response on his part,” Dr Lowen explains. “Such exploitativeness is common to all narcissistic personalities.”
So, how do you know if a person has NPD? Mental-health professionals in Europe and the US draw on two sets of guidelines that are regularly updated by international groups of psychologists and psychiatrists to help make a diagnosis. The ICD-10, the World Health Organization’s classification of mental and behavioural disorders, published in 1992, lists nine categories of personality disorder, but does not include NPD.
In the US, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was first published by the American Psychiatric Association in 1952, in part to provide a benchmark for insurance companies handling medical claims. The fourth and current version (DSM-IV), published in 1994, lists 10 categories of personality disorder (see page 27) of which NPD is one. (DSM-V is due to be published in 2010.) DSM-IV also gives a list of nine characteristics, of which a person has to have at least five before NPD is considered.
The nine include
- a grandiose sense of self-importance;
- preoccupations with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love;
- a belief that he or she is “special”, only understood by other “special” people;
- a need for admiration;
- a sense of entitlement or unreasonable expectations of favourable treatment;
- exploitative, taking advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends;
- unwillingness to recognise or identify with the needs of others;
- envious of others, or thinks others are envious of him or her,
In its most extreme form, known as malignant narcissism, paranoia and physical aggression may also be displayed: Stalin, Hitler and Saddam Hussein come to mind. In the rich and successful, many of the characteristics of NPD are of course seen as positive attributes. In a 2005 study, the psychologists Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon at Surrey University found that three personality disorders, including NPD, were more common in managers than in criminals.
In an article in The New York Times, Board explained: “A smattering of egocentricity, a soupçon of grandiosity, a smidgen of manipulativeness and lack of empathy, and you have someone who can climb the corporate ladder and stay on the right side of the law, but still be a horror to work with. Add a bit more of those characteristics, plus lack of remorse and physical aggression, and you have someone who ends up behind bars.
“What’s important is the degree to which a person has each ingredient or characteristic, and in what configuration.”
Since many people may belong to more than one category of personality disorder, DSM-IV divides the categories into three clusters. NPD belongs to Cluster B – dramatic, emotional or erratic types, embracing histrionic, narcissistic, antisocial and borderline personality disorders.
“The characteristics and categories provide clues, but not a definitive diagnosis,” says Professor Eddie Kane, the director of the Personality Disorder Institute at Nottingham University. “While it’s clear when a person is psychotic or schizophrenic, we have to be wary in diagnosing personality disorder. Putting a label on someone’s behaviour that may have an enormous impact on their lives has to be very carefully considered.”
In a paper published this May in The British Journal of Psychiatry, Professor Peter Tyrer and colleagues from the department of psychological medicine at Imperial College London wrote unequivocally: “The assessment of personality disorder is currently inaccurate, largely unreliable, frequently wrong and in need of improvement.”
And the psychiatrist Dr Paul Moran of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, the author of several papers on personality disorders, says: “A number of biases can distort the assessment of personality. For instance, there is evidence to suggest that the term “personality disorder” may itself be a label applied to unlikable patients who are regarded as difficult. A person can be supremely confident, superficially charming, and only choosing to treat people as stepping stones in his life. But does that mean he’s displaying signs of NPD? At present in the UK, our understanding of the characteristics, causes and treatment of NPD are very rudimentary. It’s still only a theory about how some people might behave. However, I have no doubt that individuals can and do manifest these traits.”
In 2006, a team that included Professor Jeremy Coid of the forensic-psychiatry unit at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, published an assessment of the prevalence of personality disorders in Great Britain in the British Journal of Psychiatry. The study concluded that they are “common”, affecting nearly 1 in 20 people (4.4%) – previous estimates have given a higher figure of 10-13%. What the study failed to find, however, was a single case of NPD. (DSM-IV estimates that about 1% of the US population has NPD.)
“That does not mean it doesn’t exist in the UK,” Professor Coid says. “The questionnaires used to pick it up do not work very well because not many people admit to these criteria. People don’t like to admit they are arrogant and envious.”
One reason why people with NPD appear few in number is that they are treatment resistant. Put plainly, they don’t believe they have a problem, so they rarely present themselves for help.
Shmuel “Sam” Vaknin, 46, has been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder twice. He is unusual in that he accepts the diagnosis, uniquely turning it into a way to provide an international source of narcissistic supply. Born in Israel, since the mid-1990s he has written extensively about himself and NPD, both on the internet and in books, including his magnus opus, Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited. Hundreds interact daily on his websites. He insists that he offers help and advice only to ensure a narcissistic supply of attention that confirms his superiority, intelligence and specialness – not because he cares.
Vaknin is an unsettling combination of the chilling and the charming. In conversation, it’s hard to disentangle truth from the narcissist’s tools of the trade – exaggeration, flattery, grandiosity and the display of fake vulnerability and self-pity to elicit sympathy. He is a verified economist, award-winning writer, poet, philosopher, journalist and financial consultant. He is also, he says, a failure. On one of his websites, he writes: “I have lived in 12 countries, worked in 50, and I don’t think there is one that will take me back. I consider the businesses I drove to bankruptcy with my narcissistic temper tantrums and superiority contests… The fortunes I squandered… I cherished and revelled in my self-annihilation.”
Vaknin lives in Skopje, Macedonia. He is one of five siblings, but he hasn’t seen his family for over a decade. His father was a construction worker from Morocco, who suffered from clinical depression. “Violence was the main channel of communication,” Vaknin says. His mother was from Turkey. She believed she was a prodigy, but had to leave school and sell shoes to rich people at the age of 14. “I have an IQ of 180 and it was her enormous misfortune to have me as her first-born,” Vaknin says. “My parents were ill-equipped to deal with normal children, let alone the gifted. I was her ambassador to the world, but I also constituted a threat.” Vaknin says his mother is a narcissist. In a short story – Nothing’s Happening at Home – fiction based on his own childhood, he describes the life of a six-year-old with a violent, resentful and unpredictable mother. “ …mother takes a broom to me and beats me forcefully on the back and all the neighbors [sic] watch… on the floor is this large yellow puddle in which I stand. Mummy’s broom gets all wet and the neighbors [sic] laugh… She takes down my trousers and I am exposed to the jeering crowd, drenched and naked. It isn’t a good day, this one”.
“Children with narcissistic parents are objectified. They are like circus animals, performing on order, to extract a little love,” Vaknin says. “I don’t hate my mother. I hate what her illness did to her. I began to live as if life is a film and I’m playing out a script, totally detached to fend off hurt and injury. Now, I am a monster. Underneath the skin, I am a hideously deformed individual. When you look at the quadriplegic, you can understand if he can only wink – the quadriplegic is a marathon runner compared to me and my emotional disability.”
At 17, Vaknin left home to join the army and never returned. He was first diagnosed with NPD at 26. He was living in opulence in London with his then wife, Nomi. On her insistence, he visited a psychiatrist. “When I first received the diagnosis, I was mortified and very frightened. Then, as a typical narcissist, I thought, ‘Can I use the diagnosis as leverage to become famous? Make money?’ The answer was yes.”
In 1995, Vaknin was diagnosed for a second time by a psychiatrist in an Israeli jail. He was serving 11 months for fraud, trying to manipulate the price of stock. In jail he began to write Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited.
“I am no healthier today than I was when I wrote that book. My disorder is here to stay, the prognosis is poor and alarming. The vast majority of narcissists end up at the very top or the very bottom – derelict, desolate, schizoid, bitter, decaying and decrepit. You won’t find any in the middle. My narcissism is much worse than it used to be. As my capacities dwindle, minute by minute, the gap between reality and grandiosity becomes bigger and bigger. The larger the gulf, the more narcissistic defences are needed.
“I am an abject failure in comparison to my potential. I should have been a public intellectual. But people don’t like looking in the mirror, and I like forcing them to look.”
Vaknin has been married to his second wife, Lidija, 37, for five years, and they have been together for 10. She is Macedonian. Lidija would like a child. In response, Vaknin says he is a cerebral narcissist, relying on his intellect to attract a narcissistic supply. He is not much interested in sex. “For Lidija, our relationship is a constant war of attrition,” Vaknin says. “I think she is very tired. She says sometimes she is being erased. But she stays, so I must respond to some of her emotional needs. A narcissist infiltrates his partners like acid,” he explains. “If she fails to erect strong defences, the narcissist takes over, forcing the eviction of the person’s original self.”
Vaknin says narcissism recruits as it infects. “Narcissism creates a bubble universe similar to a cult. In the bubble, special rules apply that do not always correspond to an outer reality. The narcissist conditions people, so the victims come to assimilate the narcissist’s way of thinking. You can abandon the narcissist but the narcissist never abandons you. We are like body snatchers.”
Lidija Vaknin appears undaunted. “Some people think I’m crazy to stay with him, but I’ve discovered I am strong. At the beginning, several times a day, I wanted to leave. Now, it’s easier. My father was a narcissist and very physically abusive. My previous partner was violent. I learnt to read the eyes, the mouth, the body language. I don’t feed Sam’s need for admiration. We talk and tackle the issue. Sometimes I have to repeat what I say many times, and sometimes I give up trying.
“On occasions, he is untouchable. If he’s in that state, I don’t even try to communicate. He has his own world, and if I try to enter it, he explodes into many pieces. We are a good match. Sam is clever and funny. He makes jokes about himself, which is rare for a narcissist.”
Lidija’s sister, Meri Petrov, says of Vaknin: “I’ve never met a man like him. He knows how to be a good friend, but one minute everything is going well, then suddenly he says horrible things and has a terrible anger. One minute he’s kind, the next I can’t define him. My sister has found a way to live with him, I don’t know how.”
Vaknin believes his NPD was triggered by childhood trauma and abuse. “Every human being develops healthy narcissism. That is rendered pathological by abuse. By ‘abuse’ I mean refusal to acknowledge the emerging boundaries of the individual. Smothering, doting and excessive expectations are as abusive as beating and incest.”
Dr Bob Johnson, consultant psychiatrist and co-founder of the James Nayler Foundation to further research into personality disorders, agrees. “Personality disorders are all to do with software. The trauma a person has experienced in childhood. They have nothing to do with predispositions or genetics or the type of society in which a person lives. Address the trauma and the personality disorder evaporates. But the individual first has to want to change.”
Professor Eddie Kane disagrees. He says the causes of personality disorders, including NPD, may turn out to be “multi-factorial”. Biological, psychological and social-risk factors may have differing impacts on different individuals. Dr Joel Paris, professor of psychiatry at McGill University, Montreal, suggested 10 years ago that: “Personality disorders are pathological amplifications of normal personality traits… different social structures tend to reinforce some traits and discourage others.” The DSM-IV definition of personality disorder refers to behaviour “that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture” – but could a narcissistic culture act as a hothouse for NPD?
The American Dr Theodore Millon is an internationally renowned psychologist and psychiatrist. In Personality Disorders in Modern Life (2000), written with Roger Davis, he argued that pathological narcissism gained prominence only in the late 20th century. “Individuals in less advantaged nations… are too busy trying (to survive) to be arrogant and grandiose.” Millon and Davis attribute pathological narcissism to “a society that stresses individualism and self-gratification at the expense of the community, namely the United States”. Others see western culture devaluing and undermining the very elements, home and family life, work, self-reliance and healthy personal relationships that act as protective factors against narcissism.
An extensive study showing the significant growth of narcissism in the US was published earlier this year. Headed by Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, it assessed the responses of 15,234 college students, between 1987 and 2006, to a test called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. It attempts to rate changes in areas such as self- esteem, assertiveness and whether individuals see themselves as leaders. As part of the inventory, students are asked to agree or disagree with statements such as, “I think I am a special person.” The study found, “an alarming rise in narcissism and self-centredness”. It discovered that the average college student scored higher in narcissism than 65% of students 19 years earlier. “We’ve seen a distinct increase in narcissism,” Twenge says. “Is some of it healthy narcissism? I’m not sure there is such a thing.”
Twenge is also the author of Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable than Ever Before, published last year. “The rise in narcissism has very deep roots,” Twenge says. “We fixate on self-esteem and unthinkingly build narcissism because we believe the needs of the individual are paramount.”
Yet, in highly narcissistic societies, millions do not develop NPD – why not? The psychologist Dr Jeffrey Young suggests an antidote might be: “Unconditional parental love that includes fair and firm boundaries, consistent discipline and a resistance to the inclination to spoil.”
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I spoke to several psychiatrists about what a person should do if he or she believes a partner has NPD. The response was unanimous: “Leave.” “The children of narcissists may find themselves attracted to narcissists, because they have had an early training,” says Dr Michael Isaac, consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer in psychological medicine at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London. “But for other women, what often happens is a dovetailing of needs. A woman may feel a sense of service and self-abnegation. Or she may entertain the notion that she is his chosen one. It’s only later the pleasure becomes pain.”
Claire has no regrets about making her break. Her ex-husband, Dan, rejects the suggestion that he has NPD. “If you have a lot invested in your choice of man, denial about his behaviour is easy. I thought it was my fault I couldn’t reach him. Learning about NPD put together a lot of the pieces in our marriage that had refused to fit before. I now know, if you’re living with someone who has the disorder, whatever you do will never be enough. Be warned.”
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How narcissistic are you?
If a person displays five or more of the following traits, they are likely to have narcissistic tendencies
- A grandiose sense of self-importance (eg, exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognised as superior without commensurate achievements)
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love
- Believes that he or she is ‘special’ and unique, and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
- Requires excessive admiration
- Has a sense of entitlement, ie, unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
- Is interpersonally exploitative, ie, takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
- Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognise or identify with the feelings and needs of others
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
- Shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes
The Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) has been recognized as a seperate mental health disorder in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (DSM) in 1980. Its diagnostic criteria and their interpretation have undergone a major revision in the DSM III-R (1987) and were substantially revamped in the DSM IV in 1994. The European ICD-10 basically contains identical language.
An all-pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration or adulation and lack of empathy, usually beginning by early adulthood and present in various contexts.
Five (or more) of the following criteria must be met:
- Feels grandiose and self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents to the point of lying, demands to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
- Is obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power or omnipotence, unequalled brilliance (the cerebral narcissist), bodily beauty or sexual performance (the somatic narcissist), or ideal, everlasting, all-conquering love or passion
- Firmaly convinced that he or she is unique and, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high-status people (or institutions)
- Requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation -or, failing that, wishes to be feared and to be notorious (narcissistic supply).
- Feels entitled. Expects unreasonable or special and favourable priority treatment. Demands automatic and full compliance with his or her expectations
- Is "interpersonally exploitative", i.e., uses others to achieve his or her own ends
- Devoid of empathy. Is unable or unwilling to identify with or acknowledge the feelings and needs of others
- Constantly envious of others or believes that they feel the same about him or her
- Arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes coupled with rage when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted.
There are different types of narcissistic disorder according to, Alexander Lowen, M.D., in his book, Narcissism – Denial of True Self, “Narcissism covers a broad spectrum of behavior “
Lowen lists five types of what he terms, “narcissistic character” in order of increasing narcissism as:
- “Phallic-Narcissistic Character
- Narcissistic Character – which he applies not to all types of narcissists but this type only
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Psychopathic Personality
- Paranoid Personality “
Lowen explains, “… the more narcissistic one is, the less one is identified with his or her feelings is inversely proportional to the degree of narcissism … there is a correlation between the denial of or lack of feeling and the lack of a sense of self.” (Pg 14)
“People who are overly narcissistic commonly feel rejected, humiliated and threatened when criticised. To protect themselves from these dangers, they often react with disdain, rage, and/or defiance to any slight, real or imagined. To avoid such situations, some narcissistic people withdraw socially and may feign modesty or humility.” (Wikipedia)
The picture of narcissism is a confusing one, however, because not all professionals or theorists agree on everything about it. Some tend to describe narcissism in ways that would suggest that it is the same or manifests very similarly regardless of its originating sources, others totally disagree with that and posit that the narcissism seen, to one degree or another, in all personality disorders has its origin specific to the arrested emotional developmental stage that largely causes any given personality disorder.
“There is a broad spectrum of pathologically narcissistic personalities, styles, and reactions -- from the very mild, reactive and transient, to the severe and inflexible narcissistic personality disorder.” (Wikipedia)
There are vastly different reasons and manifestations in those with NPD and those with BPD that are different in causation or origin and that are also different in the roles that they play in the pathological dysfunctional structures of each personality disorder. (Masterson)
To gain a clearer perspective of narcissism it is important to be aware of its source. The source of what causes narcissism in people is not the same for all people who are narcissistic. The same is true of the ways in which narcissism is manifested within the various syndromes or disorders on the spectrum of narcissism. Depending upon the source the disorder in personality may manifest as NPD, or BPD, and/or other personality disorders.
“The common use of the term narcissism refers to some of the ways people defend themselves against this narcissistic dynamic: a concern with one’s own physical and social image, a preoccupation with one’s own thoughts and feelings, and a sense of grandiosity. There are, however, many other behaviors that can stem from narcissistic concerns, such as immersion in one’s own affairs to the exclusion of others, an inability to empathize with others’ experience, interpersonal rigidity, an insistence that one’s opinions and values are “right,” and a tendency to be easily offended and take things personally.” (Wikipedia)
Aside from being varying degrees of experienced and manifested narcissism the points at which early childhood psychological and developmental arrests occur and the reasons for these narcissistic injuries are not all the same. They do not take place at the same age or for, necessarily the same reasons. Added to this is the reality that not all with any form of narcissism will necessarily display or manifest that narcissism exactly the same as others. Even those who have varying degrees of narcissism are individuals.
It is also important to note that while narcissism is a common thread, to one degree or another, in all personality disorders. (MSN Encarta Encyclopedia) This should not see everyone with narcissism lumped into the definition of NPD. Those with NPD and BPD, while they may share some similarities are not one in the same either. (Masterson) (Lachkar)
There is also such a thing as healthy narcissism that also needs to not be confused with pathological or unhealthy narcissism. We must also take into consideration when dealing with anyone with narcissistic traits, that we also live in highly narcissistic cultures.
This also has an effect on our over-all perception of and experience with all that narcissism, across its continuum, in our daily lives.
Not everything from everyone that has some narcissistic features to it means that someone has NPD or even BPD. Those who have personality disorders can benefit from professional diagnosis and treatment. However, it is important not to assign pathology to someone, without them being assessed by a professional.
In order to put NPD into perspective it is important to be aware that narcissism is, to one degree or another, a feature of all personality disorders. Narcissism, like the traits that define BPD are found in the general population and are human traits, is found in everyone as well (healthy narcissism).
Narcissism, no matter from where on the spectrum, aside from being in the healthy realm, it originates is a major contributing factor to those who have these features, to one degree or another, having considerable and substantial difficulty building and maintaining healthy adult age-appropriate relationships. For those who are in or have ended relationships with people who fall somewhere on this continuum of narcissism the reality of the pain and damage experienced is significant and traumatic.
With a back-drop of an ever-proliferating culture of narcissism in many societies and cultures it may be too easy, equally erroneous, and not helpful to anyone if we lump everything together in attempts to find reasons for our negative and painful experiences and/or for all that goes wrong in very human attempts to relate, to understand each other, and to find our way in life.
10. Narcissists and Manipulation
Narcissists are adept at manipulating what I call their Narcissistic Pathological Space (country, family, friends, colleagues, workplace). They are excellent imitators (Zelig-like types, chameleons). In the workplace they will project work ethic and the sharing of basic goals in a team work. To their spouse they will reflect "love", to their colleagues - collaboration and mutual respect. Scratch the surface though and out springs the ever-youthful narcissist: indignant, rageful, vengeful, dangerous, painful.
11. Narcissist Employer
To a narcissist-employer, his "staff" are secondary sources of narcissistic supply.
- Their role is to accumulate the supply (in humanspeak, remember events that support the grandiose self-image of the narcissist) and to regulate the narcissistic supply of the narcissist during dry spells (simply put, to adulate, adore, admire, agree, provide attention and approval, and so on, in other words, serve as an audience).
- The staff (or should I say "stuff"?) is supposed to remain passive.
- The narcissist is not interested in anything but the simplest function of mirroring. When the mirror acquires a personality and a life of its own, the narcissist is incensed. He may even fire the employee (an act which will help the narcissist recover his sense of omnipotence).
An employee's presumption to be his employer's equal (friendship is possible only among equals) injures the narcissist. The narcissist is willing to accept the employee as an underling, whose very position as such serves to support his grandiose fantasies. But the grandiosity rests on such fragile foundations, that any hint of equality, disagreement, or of his needs (for a friend, for instance) threatens the narcissist profoundly. The narcissist is exceedingly insecure. It is easy to destabilize his impromptu "personality". His reactions are merely in self-defense.
Classic narcissistic behavior is when idealization followed by devaluation. The devaluating attitude develops as a result of disagreements OR simply because time has eroded the employee's capacity to serve as a FRESH source of supply.
In time, the employee is taken for granted by the narcissistic employer, and becomes uninspiring as a source of adulation, admiration and attention. The narcissist needs new thrills and stimuli.
[Not true] The narcissist is notorious for his low threshold of resistance to boredom. He exhibits impulsive behaviors and has a chaotic biography precisely because of his need to introduce uncertainty and risk to what he regards as "stagnation" or "slow death" (=routine). Even something as innocuous as asking for office supplies constitutes a reminder of this deflating, hated, routine.
Narcissists do many unnecessary, wrong and even dangerous things in pursuit of the stabilization of their inflated self-image.
Narcissists feel suffocated by intimacy, or by the constant reminders of the REAL, nitty-gritty, world. It reduces them, makes them realize the "grandiosity gap" (between their self image and reality). It is treated as a threat to the precarious balance of their personality structures (mostly "false" and invented).
Narcissists will forever shift the blame, pass the buck, and engage in cognitive dissonance. They "pathologize" the other, foster feelings of guilt and shame in the other, demean, debase and humiliate the other, in order to preserve their sense of grandiosity.
Narcissists are pathological liars. They think nothing of it because their very self is FALSE, an invention.
Here are a few useful guidelines:
- Never disagree with your narcissist-employer or contradict him.
- Never offer him any intimacy.
- Look awed by whatever attribute matters to him (for instance: by his professional achievements, or by his good looks, or by his success with women and so on).
- Never remind him of real life out there and if you do, connect it somehow to his sense of grandiosity (these are the BEST art materials ANY workplace is going to have, we get them EXCLUSIVELY, etc., etc.).
- Do not make any comment which might directly or indirectly impinge on his self image, omnipotence, judgment, omniscience, diagnostic capabilities, professional record, or even omnipresence.
Bad sentences start with: "I think you overlooked ... made a mistake here ... you don't know ... do you know ... you were not here yesterday so ... you cannot ... you should ...(perceived as rude imposition, narcissists react very badly to restrictions placed on their omnipotent freedom) ... I (never mention the fact that you are a separate, independent entity.
Narcissists regard others as extensions of their selves, their internalization processes were screwed up in their formative years and they did not differentiate objects properly)...".
My list of Narcissistic personality characteristicsA clinical list of Narcissistic personality characteristics
When I see anyone with low self-esteem covered-up by a grandiose presentation, I always suspect a narcissistic personality. These are the characteristics that I look out for:
- Rigid, inflexible thinking - Anyone with a different approach is seen as personally attacking the narcissist. Rules rule, and some narcissists get inappropriately angry when they see little things, like grammar errors. I knew a narcissistic computer programmer who would refuse to answer any e-mail that used non-accepted word abbreviations! - ("My way is the ONLY RIGHT way and any other way is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG").
- Cannot be wrong - The narcissist is never, ever wrong, and they like to present "proofs" that they are correct. The narcissist cannot accept responsibility for making a mistake and they are expert at diverting the blame to others - ("It's not my fault. I lost that promotion because my team let me down").
- Arrogant, boastful and pretentious - These are people with stupid/fake certificates and awards on their walls, the kind of people who exaggerate their accomplishments or use inflated job titles like "Engineer, Physicist" in their resume job histories. - (i.e. "I'm a Sanitation Engineer"). This narcissistic trait is especially prevalent in computer work where people elevate themselves to "expert" status, and then treat people in a demeaning way when they get questions ("Boy, now that's a really stupid question. Where did you go to college?)".
- Aggressive responses to criticism - ("How dare he criticize me? That lying bastard, I swear I'll get even, if it takes years"). This essay notes that it especially difficult to do anything critical with the narcissist because they see the criticism as a threat to their self, making them great fun during job performance reviews:
"Since the narcissist is incapable of asserting his or her own sense of adequacy, the narcissist seeks to be admired by others. However, the narcissist’s extremely fragile sense of self worth does not allow him or her to risk any criticism."
... ... ...
This article on dealing with narcissistic children has a good list, and has some of the items that I noted.
Reality distortion and Inability to See and Hear -- The child sees situations through his own sense of woundedness and neediness. . .
Mood Switching --The child's fractured self is caught in mood swings. She may go back and forth between "I'll be good" and pouting or outrage because she isn't getting what she wants. . .
Poor Impulse Control and Frustration Tolerance -- The child is highly reactive to outside stimuli that seem to threaten his sense of self and cannot delay gratification. He wants things NOW! . . .
Poor Ego Boundaries and Need for Control -- The child cannot view things from any other perspective other than his own. He is so caught in his own neediness that he cannot feel empathy for others.
Denial of Uncomfortable Feelings --The child keeps the focus on what he wants not how he feels. His constant demanding keeps him from feeling the pain inside.
Frequent Anger and Rage --The child substitutes anger and tantrums as a way of keeping her uncomfortable feelings from being experienced. She becomes a master of rationalization and justification of her explosive actions . . .
Need for Admiration --The child erroneously believes that he is special and should be given special privileges. . .
Grandiosity and Fantasy --The child spins grandiose fantasies to cover up the internal wounds of his fractured self. He sets up elaborate fantasy schemes of winning, becoming powerful or gaining revenge for injustice. Daydreams of becoming rich and famous without talent or hard work are common.
Idealization and Devaluation of Teachers or Therapists --The child will make you feel that you are wonderful and special as long as you humor her. "As long as you give me what I want, you are the ideal person for me" . . .
Externalization of Blame --The child cannot allow the bad feelings of being at fault for anything. He/she/they/YOU are the problem! He avoids feeling vulnerable by blaming others.
David: Good Evening. I hope your day went well. Welcome to HealthyPlace.com and our chat conference on "Narcissism in the Workplace." I'm David Roberts, the moderator of tonight's chat. Some of the topics we'll be discussing include: How to cope with a narcissistic boss. And when is it time to toss in the towel and leave that troublesome job?
Our guest is Dr. Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited and an authority on the subject of narcissism. You can read more about Dr. Vaknin by clicking on the link.
Just to clarify, Dr. Vaknin is not a therapist or medical doctor of any sort. However, he is an expert on the subject of narcissism and a self-proclaimed narcissist. Good Evening Dr. Vaknin and welcome to HealthyPlace.com. Just so we are all clear on the subject, can you give us a brief overview of what narcissism is?
Dr. Vaknin: Great to be here again. Thank you for having me and for the kind words. Hello, everyone.
Narcissists are driven by the need to uphold and maintain a false self. They use the False Self to garner narcissistic supply which is any kind of attention adulation, admiration, or even notoriety and infamy.
David: How does one recognize a narcissist?
Dr. Vaknin: It is close to impossible and that is the secret of their astounding success. Narcissists are good actors. They are adept at charming others, persuading them, manipulating them, or otherwise influencing them to do their bidding. The narcissist's sense of self-worth is unstable (labile) so, the narcissist relies on input from other people to regulate his self-esteem and self-confidence. He focuses on potential sources of supply and engulfs them with focused attention and simulated deep emotions. Only in later encounter, as time passes and the number of interactions grows, is it possible to tell that someone is a narcissist.
Narcissists are preoccuopied with grandiose fantasies unrealistic plans.
- They are poor judges of reality.
- They are bullies and often resort to verbal and emotional abuse.
- They exploit people and then discard them.
- They have no empathy and regard their co-workers as mere instruments objects, tools, and sources of adulation, affirmation, or potential benefits.
David: So, in the beginning, you are saying they will get on your good side by charming you and pretending to be interested in you and what you're doing. Later, what kind of behaviors should a person expect from the: (1) narcissistic boss and (2) colleague? And I'm assuming here that the behaviors for the two might be different.
Dr. Vaknin: Workplace narcissists seethe with anger and resentment.
- The gap between reality and their grandiose flights of fancy (the "grandiosity gap") is so great that they develop persecutory delusions, resentment and rage.
- They are also extremely and pathologically envious, seeking to destroy what they perceive to be the sources of their constant frustration: a popular co-worker, a successful boss, a qualified or skilled employee.
- Narcissists at work crave constant attention and will go to great lengths to secure it - including by "engineering" situations that place them at the center.
- They are immature, constantly nagging and complaining, finding fault with everyone and everything.
- They are very disruptive, poor team members, can rarely collaborate with others without being cantankerous and quarrelsome.
- They are control freaks and feel the compulsive and irresistible urge to interfere in everyting to micromanage and overrule others. All in all, a highly unpleasant experience.
This sounds like myself ;-)
[Not true] Cassandras who constantly predict impending doom.
[Not true] They are intrusive and invasive. They firmly believe in their own omnipotence and omniscience. They feel entitled to special treatment and are convinced that they are above Man-made laws, including the rules of their place of employment.
David: If you work with or under a narcissist, it sounds like your work life might be a living hell.
Dr. Vaknin: You would never forget it. It is traumatic and very likely to end in actual bullying and stalking behaviors.
- Many workers end up with PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
- Others quit, or even relocate.
David: What kind of individual, personality-wise, is best suited to work with a narcissist co-worker or boss?
Dr. Vaknin: Certain pathological personalities - for instance, someone with a Dependent Personality Disorder - or an Inverted Narcissist may get along just fine.
A submissive person whose expectations are limited, moods are subdued and willingness to absorb abuse is extended would survive with a narcissist, or even thrive in such an environment.
But the vast majority of workers are likely to suffer ill-health effects, clash with the narcissist, or end up being sacked, reassigned, relocated, or demoted.
The narcissistic bully very often gets his way: He gets promoted, the ideas he "adopted" become corporate policy, his misdeeds are overlooked, his misbehavior tolerated. This is partly because, as I said earlier, narcissists are excellent liars with considerable thespian skills - and partly because no one wants to mess around with a thug, even if his thuggery is limited to words and gestures.
David: We have a lot of audience questions, Dr. Vaknin. Let's get to a few and then I have a few more questions to ask you. Here's the first one:
AMichael: How common is narcissism within the population?
Dr. Vaknin: According to orthodoxy, between 0.7%-1% of the adult population suffer from the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This figure is an underestimate.
Pathological narcissism is under-reported because, by definition, few narcissists admit that anything is wrong with them and that they may be the source of the constant problem in their life and the lives of their nearest or dearest. Narcissists resort to therapy only in the wake of a harrowing life crisis.
They have alloplastic defenses - they tend to blame the world, their boss, society, God, their spouse for their misfortune and failures. Last, but not least, psychotherapists regard narcissists as "difficult" patients with a "severe" personality disorder - or, put plainly, lots of work with little reward. Narcissists, Paranoiacs and Psychotherapists Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) At a Glance.
Doria57: Is there any way to get along with these type of people at work?
Dr. Vaknin: Here are a few useful guidelines:
- Never disagree with the narcissist or contradict him.
- Never offer him any intimacy. You are not his equal and an offer of intimacy insultingly implies that you are.
- Look awed by whatever attribute matters to him (for instance: by his professional achievements or by his good looks, or by his success with women and so on).
- Never remind him of life outside his bubble and if you do, connect it somehow to his sense of grandiosity.Do not make any comment, which might directly or indirectly impinge on his self-image, omnipotence, judgement, omniscience, skills, capabilities, professional record, or even omnipresence.
- Bad sentences start with: "I think you overlooked & made a mistake here & you don't know & do you know & you were not here yesterday so & you cannot & you should, etc. These are perceived as rude imposition. Narcissists react very badly to restrictions placed on their freedom.
Linda3003: My husband is employed by a very large university, inspite of "outstanding" appraisals, many stolen ideas, marked increase in customer satisfaction and being very professional, he was resently fired. His boss did not like the acolaides my husband was receiving, etc. How does one combat the defamation?
Dr. Vaknin: Depends on your resources and your ability to accept recurrent interim defeats. Narcissistic bosses are very tenacious and resourceful. They are pillars of the community, usually widely respected and believed. They have at their disposal the entire wherewithal of the organization.
People say "where there's fire, there's smoke". "If he was fired, there must have been a good reason for it", "Why couldn't he simply get along? He must be egocentric, a bad team player." And so on. It is un uphill battle. My advice to you is to team up with an anti-bullying group or to have an attorney look into wrongful dismissal charges.
Here is an excellent place to start your search: http://www.bullyonline.org/workbully/npd.htm, http://www.bullyonline.org/workbully/
freedom03: I would like to know if the narcissist is aware of what they are doing?
Dr. Vaknin: Aware, cunning, premeditated, and, sometimes, even enjoying every bit of it. But it is not malice that drives them. They believe in their own destiny, superiority, entitlement, exemption from laws promulgated by mere mortals. The narcissist regards himself as one would an expensive present, a gift to his company, to his family, to his neighbours, to his colleagues, to his country.
Resistance calls for strenuous measures. Disagreement with the narcissist is bound to be the outcome of ignorance or obstructionism. Criticism is malevolent and ill-founded. The narcissist trusts that he has the full moral justification to battle his foes. To his mind, the world is a hostile place, full of Lilliputians who seek to shackle his genius, foresight, and natural advantages.
They aim to harness and castrate - and they deserve his ire and the ensuing punishment he metes out to them in his infinite wisdom. It is a crusade against the injustice of not recognizing the narcissist's true place in this world - at the pinnacle.
David: Dr. Vaknin, earlier you mention that the narcissist would act empathetic to draw in his prey, so to speak. In light of that, here's the next question:
martha j: Can this person genuinely develop authentic empathy skills?
Dr. Vaknin: No, he cannot. Narcissists lack the basic machinery of putting themselves in other people's shoes. They react with fury and denial when confronted with the fact that persons in their environments are individual entities with their own idiosyncratic and specific needs, preferences, choices, fears, hopes, and expectations. This, the refusal to grant autonomy, is at the core of abuse, whether on the domestic front or at the workplace. To the narcissist, others are mere extensions, instruments of gratification, sources of narcissistic supply. And nothing more than that.
delaware1974: With so many people afflicted with this - why are we making it sound like a death sentence? All of us still need to move on with our lives ...are we supposed to give up and accept because it's hard? We spend alot of time talking about the negative or "escaping" the narcissist, "surviving" the narcissist, what about those of us that want to help them and NOT give up on them? Are there LIVE face-to-face help groups? Hope?
Dr. Vaknin: It is possible to live with the narcissist, as I made clear earlier. It requires certain behavioral modifications and a willingness to accept the narcissist largely as he is. These may be of interest:
- The Inverted Narcissist - FAQ#66
- Treatment Modailties and Psychotherapies - FAQ #77
- The Reconditioned Narcissist - FAQ#63
- Narcissists, Paranoiacs and Psychotherapists - FAQs#26-27
- Narcissist Employer
And, yes, there are groups (though only online) who tackle healing and co-existance - they are listed here.
I am not aware of a live group though I heard recently that something is being organized in New York. Bullying - and especially workplace bullying - is tackled by many online and live groups. This website, managed by a former bullying victim, Tim Field, is the best I know of. It contains links to hundreds of resources.
David: For many people, Dr. Vaknin, if you are in a situation working with a narcissist or under a narcissist, they can't just pick up and leave their job. What is the best way for them to cope without "kissing" up to this person and being always vigilant about what you say and how you say it? or is that the only way to survive?
Dr. Vaknin: It depends whether the narcissistic bully represents the corporate culture of the workplace - or is an isolated case attributable to a quirky nature or a personality disorder. Alas, very often, abusive behaviors in one's office or shop floor are merely the epitome of all-pervasive wrongdoing which permeates the entire hierarchy, from top management to the bottom rung of employment.
Bullies rarely dare to express their tendencies in isolation and in defiance of the prevailing ethos. Or, if they do run against the grain of their place of employment, they lose their jobs. Typically, narcissists join already narcissistic firms and mesh well with a toxic workplace, a poisonous atmosphere, and an abusive management. If one is not willing to succumb to the mores and (lack of) ethics of the workplace, there is little one can do.
Surprisingly few countries (Sweden, the United Kingdom, to some extent) outlaw workplace abuse specifically.
Whistleblowers and "troublemakers" are frowned upon and are not protected by any institutions. It is a dismal landscape. The victim would do well to simply resign and move on, sad as this may be. As awareness of the phenomenon increases and laws take effect, hopefully this will change and bullied and abused workers will find effective ways to cope with mistreatment.
TimeToFly: What typically happens to a narcissist when they lose their position of authority or their job. How do they react to that? My narcissist ex-husband recently lost his job. He will not say what happened exactly, typical. But since then he has been on a rampage to destroy me. It was right after the loss of his previous job that he left me and our children 4 years ago. He had been the manager of engineering and was first demoted, and then finally left the company. I never did get the story. He has just remarried, but his new life somehow has not distracted him from his obsession with destroying mine.
Dr. Vaknin: Being demoted or losing one's job is a narcissistic injury (or wound). The entire edifice of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder is an elaborate and multi-layered reaction to past narcissistic injuries.
A gap opens between the way the narcissistic imagines himself to be (grandiosity) and reality (unemployed, humiliated, discarded, unneeded). The narcissist strives to bridge the grandiosity gap but sometimes it is simply to abysmal to deny or ignore. So, some narcissists go through decompensation - their defense mechanisms crumble. They may even experience brief psychotic episodes. They become dysfunctional. The narcissists redouble their efforts to obtain narcissistic supply by any means - sex, exercise, attention-seeking behaviors. Yet others withdraw altogether to "lick their wounds" (schizoid posture). What is common to all these narcissists is the ominous feeling that they are losing control (and maybe even losing it).
In a desparate effort to re-exert control, the narcissist becomes abusive. Sometimes abuse is about controlling the victim. Others seek "easy targets" - lonely women to "conquer" or simple tasks to accomplish, or no-brainers, or to compete against weak opponents with a guaranteed result.
For more on these behaviors:
David: If you are interested in purchasing Dr. Vaknin's excellent and very thorough book on narcissism, Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited, click on the link.
jenmosaic: What causes NPD?
Dr. Vaknin: No one knows. The accepted wisdom is that NPD is tan adaptative reaction to early childhood or early adolescence trauma and abuse. There are many forms of abuse. The more familiar ones - verbal, emotional, psychological, physical, sexual - of course yield psychopathologies. But are far more subtle and more insidious forms of mistreatment. Doting, smothering, ignoring personal boundaries, treating someone as an extension or a wish-fulfillment machine, spoiling, emotional blackmail, an ambience of paranoia or intimidation ("gaslighting") - have as long lasting effects as the "classic" varieties of abuse. Still, there is always the possibility of a hereditary component More about the roots of narcissism here
David: Here are a couple of audience comments about what's been said tonight:
Doria57: No one ever wants to form an anti-bullying group, they are afraid.
martha j: The descriptions of the narcissistic boss --Isn't this the unfortunate all American definition of the "successful boss?
Dr. Vaknin: I'd like to respond to that last comment. Mental health disorders - and especially personality disorders - are not divorced from the twin contexts of culture and society. Western society and culture are narcissistic. Disparate scholars and thinkers - Christopher Lasch on the one hand and Theodore Millon on the other hand - have concluded as much. Narcissistic behaviors - now labeled "misconduct" - have long been nornmative. The basically narcissistic traits of individualism competitiveness, unbridled ambition - are the founding stones of certain versions of capitalism. Thus, certain forms of abuse and bullying actually constitute an integral part of the folklore of corporate America. Narcissistic bosses were idolized. As long as this is the case, workplace abuse would be hard to overcome. More here:
- Collective Narcissism
- Narcissistic Leaders
- Narcissism in the Boardroom
- Bully at Work Interview with Tim Field
David: Thank you, Dr. Vaknin, for being our guest this evening and for sharing this information with us. And to those in the audience, thank you for coming and participating. I hope you found it helpful. We have a very large and active community here at HealthyPlace.com. You will always find people in the chatrooms and interacting with various sites. Also, if you found our site beneficial, I hope you'll pass our URL around to your friends, mail list buddies, and others. http://www.healthyplace.com
Disclaimer: We are not recommending or endorsing any of the suggestions of our guest. In fact, we strongly encourage you to talk over any therapies, remedies or suggestions with your doctor BEFORE you implement them or make any changes in your treatment.
We hold topical mental health chat conferences on on our site. The conference schedule and transcripts from previous chats are here.
Narcissists can be arrogant, self-aggrandizing, and manipulative. But what's it like to have narcissistic personality disorder? And how can it be treated? Guests include Dr. Jeffrey Young, the founder and director of the Schema Therapy Institute of New York and the Cognitive Therapy Centers of New York and Connecticut and co-author of "Reinventing Your Life"; Sandy Hotchkiss, a licensed clinical social worker and the author of "Why is it Always About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism"; Dr. Corinne Pache, an assistant professor of classics at Yale University and a fellow at Harvard University's Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington D.C., who talks about the myth of Narcissus and Echo; poet Tony Hoagland, whose latest collection is called "What Narcissism Means to Me"; and Samuel Vaknin, who has been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder and has written extensively about the topic.
Host Dr. Fred Goodwin begins with an essay in which he says he has always been fascinated by the boundary between healthy narcissism and narcissism as a disorder. In his world of medical research, it's not uncommon to hear some colleagues at the top of their game described by other colleagues as narcissistic. The label is generally meant to be pejorative (and might also reflect some envy), but he doubts that it always actually translates into narcissistic personality disorder. From time to time, he says, a colleague that he knows quite well is described as narcissistic. And yet those who work closely with him will often describe him as generous and supportive, in other words capable of empathy - which is lacking in the true narcissist. Dr. Goodwin believes the ability to empathize is what really distinguishes healthy narcissism from a personality disorder, and it's important to remember empathy is not always visible from a distance.
Then Dr. Goodwin interviews Samuel Vaknin. After receiving a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, Vaknin devoted himself to understanding the disorder and offering advice to others with it. He is the author of "Malignant Self-Love - Narcissism Revisited," and he runs, moderates, and contributes to several websites devoted to narcissistic personality disorder -- all of which, he readily admits, contributes the "narcissisistic supply" he craves.
Vaknin, who lives in Skopje, Macedonia was interviewed by phone from Italy, where he was on vacation. He says the disorder affects every aspect of his life, from work to interpersonal relationships to sexual relations. He has been diagnosed twice, once after a relationship ended badly and again in an Israeli prison where he was incarcerated for securities offenses. He says it is not uncommon for narcissists to see themselves as above the law. They believe they deserve special treatment and do not understand other people's feelings or needs, he says, laeding to antisocial behavior.
Vaknin then says he has no sense of his own self-worth. He needs other people to tell him what he's worth, and he therefore seeks constant admiration. Dr. Goodwin asks him if he feels he is special, and he says it's not a matter of feeling -- there is no distance between himself and that conviction -- it's more like "knowing" he's special. He admits that, if he is criticized, he is likely to erupt into rage, because his overriding sense of superiority has been challenged.
Then, Dr. Goodwin interviews psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Young, who has developed a new treatment for personality disorders, combining elements of cognitive, behavioral, object relations, and gestalt therapy. Dr. Young is the founder and director of the Schema Therapy Institute of New York and the Cognitive Therapy Centers of New York and Connecticut. He's also teaches in the psychiatry department at Columbia University, and is the co-author of "Reinventing Your Life."
Dr. Young begins by saying that the major characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder are seeing oneself as special, acting entitled, believing one should have whatever one wants, regardless of the feelings of others, and inflating oneself while putting others down. However, for people who actually have the disorder, the narcissism is a facade, a coping mechanism to deal with underlying feelings of loneliness and defectiveness. If they are challenged or criticized, they often react with rage because their self-image has been deflated. Then, their shame will often come to the surface and they can feel horrible about themselves.
Dr. Young then explains the difference between healthy and unhealthy narcissism. Healthy narcissism is having a sense of your basic rights -- for example, not allowing someone to cut in front of you in line, or even feeling proud of your accomplishments and not hiding them. Unhealthy narcissism is becoming obsessed with having people think you are special, and not just having a sense of your own rights, but not caring at all about the rights of others.
Since narcissists have difficulty admitting weakness, they usually do not seek treatment unless they have been deflated in some way, for example, if they are threatened with divorce of the loss of a job. Often, Dr. Young says, the only way to get a narcissist into treatment is with an ultimatum.
Dr. Young has developed a form of treatment for personality disorders called schema therapy. It is based on the idea that we all have different personality modes, or parts of the self (angry, easygoing, focused, carefree, etc.). For people with personality disorders, these modes are much more extreme, some are dysfunctional, and it is difficult to move flexibly from one mode to another. He says most people with narcissistic personality disorder have three dominant modes -- the self-aggrandizing, entitled mode (which is what people see as narcissism), the shamed or lonely child mode (which is the underlying sadness and isolation), and the self-soothing or self-stimulating mode (when alone, to avoid feeling "the lonely child," they will often engage in activities like gambling, compulsive sex or speculative investing to distract themselves from their more vulnerable side).
In therapy, directly addressing the narcissistic behavior generally doesn't work, so Dr. Young tries to engage "the lonely, shamed child," since that is the part of the person that is in pain. He does this by looking for any example of narcissistic behavior and then, rather than criticizing it, focusing on why the person is acting that way. The hope is to have the person acknowledge that he can feel vulnerable, he doesn't always feel good or think he's "the best," and in this way get him to understand his compensatory behavior. Dr. Young says that, of the people who stay in therapy, he is able to help the vast majority. However, as with any therapy for narcissists, unless the therapist spends the sessions telling the patients they're the best, many will leave early.
To contact Dr. Young, please write to: Dr. Jeffrey Young, Director, Schema Therapy Institute, 36 West 44th Street, Suite 1007, New York, NY 10036. Or visit http://www.schematherapy.com
The word "narcissism" derives from the name of the mythological character, Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection. The myth was made famous by the Roman poet Ovid, who created a story of great beauty and psychological complexity. Dr. Goodwin's next guest is Dr. Corinne Pache, an assistant professor of classics at Yale University. She is currently a fellow at Harvard University's Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington DC, where she is working on a project on "Divine Desire."
Dr. Pache begins by telling the story of Narcissus and Echo, the nymph who fell in love with him and was rejected. She says that the ancients were very suspicious of the extremes of love, and this myth served as something of a cautionary tale. Narcissus is at one extreme -- he is only able to love himself. Echo represents the other extreme -- she, who can only repeat what others say, loses herself completely in the object of her love and has no sense of self at all. This is perfectly represented in a passage in which Ovid writes that Narcissus tells Echo, "I would die before I give you power over me," and Echo answers back repeating his last words, "I give you power over me." Both end up dying because their love is unattainable. Dr. Pache says the lesson still holds for today -- many of us have great difficulty finding a healthy balance between self and other.
To contact Dr. Pache, please write to: Dr. Corinne Pache, Assistant Professor of Classics, Yale University, Department of Classics, P.O. Box 208266, 344 College Street, New Haven CT 06520-8266. Or visit: http://www.yale.edu/ or http://www.chs.harvard.edu
Having a spouse, parent or even a boss who is a narcissist can have profound and even devastating effects. After a short break, we hear a first-hand account. Given the personal nature of the story this wife shares, she asked us not to mention her name. She has been married for 34 years, but noticed a problem with the relationship very early on. Her husband insisted that everything go his way and that she be subservient to him. He accepted nothing but adherence to his vision of how their lives and their relationship should be. When she did stand up for herself, he would sometimes become physically abusive. She says all this left her feeling out of control, small, lonely, sad, and angry. She says she was left with little self-esteem and did not leave her husband because she feared being alone.
How do you handle the narcissist in YOUR life? Dr. Goodwin is then joined by Sandy Hotchkiss, the author of "Why is it Always About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism." Hotchkiss is a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice in individual, couples and family therapy in Pasadena, California.
Dr. Goodwin begins by asking Ms. Hotchkiss how people can tell if their boss or spouse or parent is a true narcissist and not just a bit self-involved or self-absorbed. She answers that you can tell by the way they make you fee. They will generally make you feel as if you don't exist unless you are in service to them. She also says they are likely to inflate you to bask in your glow. This can be very seductive to some people, but the inflation never lasts -- you are also likely to be exploited and deflated. Narcissists tend to be attracted to one of two types of people -- those they admire (the super-model or corporate leader) or those who admire them. An exciting, fantasy romance can be possible at the beginning of relationships, but, since untreated narcissists do not have the capacity for empathy, they will probably not be there for their partners, unless it suits their own needs.
Ms. Hotchkiss then describes the narcissistic parent, who, she says, is fundamentally incapable of recognizing the child as separate from himself or herself. The child grows up to be acutely attuned to what the parent needs from him or her. They often become stunted in some way in the development of their own self and can be magnets for other narcissists, since they are so good at meeting other people's needs (they can also grow up to be narcissists, themselves, if part of what the parent needed was a mirror for his or her own narcissism). She says that it is possible for an adult child to develop a compassionate relationship with a narcissistic parent, but only if the parent is not that toxic and the child recognizes the reality of the situation, grieves the loss of the parent he or she never had, and develops reciprocal relationships with other people in his or her life.
Finally, Ms. Hotchkiss talks about the narcissistic boss. Since narcissists crave power, many rise to positions of great authority, where they create an environment in which their employees are exploited in the service of their dream. In all relationships with narcissists, power is key, and often you can improve your situation with a narcissist by accurately assessing the power balance and changing your own behavior. However, if your boss is a narcissist, you are actually in a position of limited power, and this can be very difficult. She says that if you really are stuck and cannot change jobs, the best you can do is create a "work persona" that you know is not you. The persona may get abused and exploited, but you must leave it at the office, and work on having a real life outside of your job.
To contact Ms. Hotchkiss, please write to: Sandy Hotchkiss, 275 E. California Blvd, Suite J, Pasadena, CA 91106.
To order "Why is it Always About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism," click here.
Next, The Infinite Mind's Marit Haahr speaks with poet Tony Hoagland, whose latest collection -- "What Narcissism Means to Me" -- explores the narcissism in all of us. His previous works include "Donkey Gospel," which won the James Laughlin Award of The Academy of American Poets, and "Sweet Ruin," which won the Brittingham Prize in Poetry.
Hoagland begins by reading his book's title poem, "What Narcissism Means to Me." It begins:
There's Socialism and Communism and Capitalism,
and there's Feminism and Hedonism,
and there's Capitalism and Bipedalism and Consumerism,
but I think Narcissism is the system
that means the most to me...
Hoagland then says he believes American culture encourages self-involvement to a degree that makes it difficult for us to pay attention to anything but ourselves. He says our self-preoccupation is endlessly promoted and indulged by a consumer culture. Even the great American philosophers of self-reliance and self-sufficiency, people like Whitman and Emerson, have been co-opted in the service of car commercials (i.e. "March to the beat of a different drummer. Drive a Lexus."). With so many opportunities for self-gratification, it's difficult to know our own size in the world.
To order "What Narcissism Means to Me," click here.
Finally, commentator John Hockenberry looks at narcissism and politics. He says, "Narcissism IS politics in America. What else can the world possibly think listening to our political rhetoric... the constant invocations of being the greatest nation on earth, the greatest people, the pinnacle of civilization, the divine custodians of all that is moral and free in the world?"
- Marit Haahr
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Last updated: February 19, 2014