October 2015: Rethinking Narcissism

Written By: Malkin, Dr. Craig

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October’s Book of the Month:


Harvard Medical School psychologist and Huffington Post blogger Craig Malkin addresses the “narcissism epidemic,” by illuminating the spectrum of narcissism, identifying ways to control the trait, and explaining how too little of it may be a bad thing.

“What is narcissism?” is one of the fastest rising searches on Google, and articles on the topic routinely go viral. Yet, the word “narcissist” seems to mean something different every time it’s uttered. People hurl the word as insult at anyone who offends them. It’s become so ubiquitous, in fact, that it’s lost any clear meaning. The only certainty these days is that it’s bad to be a narcissist—really bad—inspiring the same kind of roiling queasiness we feel when we hear the words sexist or racist. That’s especially troubling news for millennials, the people born after 1980, who’ve been branded the “most narcissistic generation ever.”

In Rethinking Narcissism readers will learn that there’s far more to narcissism than its reductive invective would imply. The truth is that we all fall on a spectrum somewhere between utter selflessness on the one side, and arrogance and grandiosity on the other. A healthy middle exhibits a strong sense of self. On the far end lies sociopathy. Malkin deconstructs healthy from unhealthy narcissism and offers clear, step-by-step guidance on how to promote healthy narcissism in our partners, our children, and ourselves.

Top 3 Reviews:

1. Matt Steele

I admit prior to opening this book I sought the definition of “narcissism” in the dictionary. In ‘track and field’ terms, I was ‘slow getting out of the blocks’. I had never dwelt on this. I presumed a narcissist was someone who loved themselves excessively, above all others. My general understanding was pretty close, but the condition as defined has a more subtle consequence. It is often applied to those we might deem conceited.

Dr. Malkin’s underlying premise in Rethinking Narcissism is that varying levels o
f narcissism may exist in each of us continually, or at one time or another. It may occur in healthy or destructive doses, and it would serve us well to understand the distinctions.

The source of the Narcissus myth is provided by restating the story of Narcissus, a Greek boy of Divine origin who was admired by all. Though admired, he was unable to return admiration to those around him. He was self-consumed, incapable of neither appreciating nor loving another. His demise occurred upon seeing his own reflection cast in a pool. He was smitten by his own image, though dim to understanding he was seeing himself, not another. The longing he felt and the expressive joy he could not share with others provoked him to plunge into the pool never to surface again. Hence, the word we use today; Narcissist. One diminished by their own self-interest.

There is another character in this story I’ve not mentioned. It’s best to read the short story in the book. But the additional character helps define Dr. Malkins’ the spectrum of narcissism he believes exists. On the extreme end you find Narcissus (self-loving, self-ish). On the opposite end you find the self-deprecating character “Echo”. It is Echo who forgoes self-interest in order to please others (self-less). The question presented by the author; is where do we believe we exist in this prescribed spectrum?

This reading involves consideration of family, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, bosses and essentially anyone encountered in our lives. I feel fortunate I haven’t experienced many narcissists. Though I can certainly remember the few I’ve met. Braggarts, loudmouths, self-professed experts are common. It’s pretty much an opt-out situation for me, ‘no problemo’. But I recognize that if these conditions involve family members, things get dicey. You can’t just say ‘no problemo’ to a relative or relationship. They’re here for good. Sort of.

Rethinking Narcissism is a good book that can help you identify those that, due to narcissistic tendencies, make your life more difficult. It appears there is hope with moderate conditions, and equally apparent there may be little in extreme circumstances. Read and be advised.

The last portion of the book stands out, to me, as most useful for those of us at PHP. It involves social media. Understanding that a level of narcissism may be present in us all, and that we can expect to be surrounded by it to some extent, it is imperative that we avoid self-created pitfalls. Social media is a prime atmosphere for anyone wanting to express themselves in a self-centered way which could include a level of narcissism .Presenting ourselves as proclaimed experts, or otherwise making statements beyond our capabilities tends to create holes we may not be able to climb out of cleanly. The dirt will show.

When confronted with a question you have no answer for, admit you don’t. Simply say you will speak with a team member who does and get back with them. Provide accurate answers or hold-off until you have them. Rely on your team, the PHP program, the education provided by our company to assist in the needs of our clients. Integrity and narcissism are mutually exclusive, they can’t exist together. Dr. Malkin’s book is a good guide to identifying those circumstances we might miss, and understand how to handle the relations we may be provoked by. Good lesson.

2. Henryk Sarat

This book is a wonderfully clear layout of the Narcissistic spectrum, with beautifully refreshing insights into all the gradations of this personality disorder. Most of the many books on Narcissism I’ve read focus on the worst-case, sociopathic end of things. Here we get the whole middle ground, with extremely helpful descriptions of the various types of NPD, and super- readable descriptions of the threads of entitlement running through these people, who are anchored by their insecurity and their passion to keep their vulnerability locked deeply away.
The book contains examples of personality profiles that clearly illustrate the manipulative techniques used by each of the types; and they are priceless in learning what to watch for, avoid, and negotiate.

3. Rudy Garcia

I love how information can enlighten and broaden one’s way of thinking. I had no idea that narcissism had a sliding scale with extremes and a middle ground. I have only acknowledged the flamboyant side of narcissism and, thus, only one side of its negative aspects. I never considered how deleterious the other side of the coin could be, nor that the other extreme was also called narcissism. I also never considered that a degree narcissism could be healthy.
Because of my skewed definition, I never took the time to look at where my personal actions or inactions would be on the scale and the effects that these actions could play in my interactions with others and how I advanced through life. I became aware of how my incomplete perceptions influenced not only my behavior, but how I viewed others actions. In short, “Rethinking Narcissism” has given me a broader understanding of the topic and has simultaneously empowered and broadened my understanding.


Patrick Bet-David
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