walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_Rethinking Narcissism_, Craig Malkin

This was NOT a library book; I read it on the kindle.

I had been looking for a book about NPD that would be sort of like what _The Buddha and the Borderline_ was for BPD: written by someone who was a bit of an activist, who had/has the diagnosis, and was a lively storyteller. This is NOT that book; I don't know if such a book exists, but if you know of one please tell me!

In the meantime, Malkin's book is the best I've found on the topic. Unlike the other book I read which mashed up narcissism as a character trait and NPD as something diagnosable, Malkin has an orderly way of thinking about the range, and a convenient little quiz to help the reader figure out where she is on that range. He argues exactly what I argue: the upward drift in scores on the standard inventory for narcissism is measuring increased self-esteem, which is not the real problem in NPD. But he goes much, much further.

He divides narcissism into three components: Thinking You Really Don't Deserve Anything-osis (not his term, or Doc McStuffin's term), Healthy Narcissism (the trait which enables us to dream big dreams and pursue them, and which helps us acknowledge our wants/needs/desires enough to make sure they are satisfied), and Toxic Narcissism (I'm Better Than Everyone Else, especially when abused to make oneself feel better). Those who score high in the first section he says suffer from Echoism. The goal is to score about right in the middle, and not too high on either end. The third component is a problem when rather than comforting ourselves by connecting with those we love and similar, we instead refer inwardly, reinforcing a belief that I Am Better Than Anyone Else. As that moves from habit (a problem, but correctable) to addiction (much harder to recover from), it erodes empathy and drastically interferes with problem solving and other necessary life skills.

He even notes that people can score high on both extremes (wow, does that explain some people!), and describes them _very_ recognizably.

Malkin isn't just here to help us spot troublemakers and avoid them (he does do that, too!). He is also here to help us move to the sweet spot in the middle, and adjust how we interact with others to help _them_ move to the sweet spot in the middle. There is some really pragmatic, useful advice on how to assess toxic coworkers (friends, family members) and figure out to what degree we can adjust them down to the middle -- or limit our contact. His section on what causes narcissism in terms of child rearing is a little above average, altho not awesome (it's the usual authoritarian/permissive/authoritative analysis and advice; it's like P.E.T. hasn't been around for decades with an alternative approach. You know, if people _acknowledged_ the P.E.T. approach and said, here's why it sucks, I'd read that in a hot minute. But people pretend it doesn't even exist. It is Weird.). I cannot tell you how happy I was to see Twenge come in for some much needed criticism.

I also got a lot out of things like the description of "twinning" in narcissistic friendships. It fits very well with the theoretical framework of Love Maps, altho Malkin doesn't mention them (or I failed to notice if he did). And it helped explain on a mechanical level why people who think you are their soul mate/Just Like Them on very little knowledge of you are So Problematic To Be Around.

Malkin is a pretty chatty writer. His section on Social Media was somewhat irritating to me (SoMe? Really? Well, then what did the We in SoWe stand for), but I didn't actually disagree with his analysis or conclusions. I just eyerolled my way through Another Newbie the way I have been doing for decades, which probably just means I am a shitty human being.

Whether you believe that NPD is a real thing, or have never heard of it, or are somewhere on the fence (as I have been recently), Malkin's analysis of narcissism as a character trait that can become toxic at the extremes is a WONDERFUL frame for thinking about how we do -- and how we could instead -- think about and feel about ourselves. It is particularly wonderful that he draws a direct line between thinking well of ourselves and being able to Dream Big and then actually implement. There is so much messaging -- especially towards women -- that kills Big Dreams that are pretty attainable. I'm not talking about discouraging a kid from wanting to be a fire fighter or ballerina or a rock star or whatever. I'm talking about the way we destroy entrepreneurship, and we assume that there is no point in pursuing aesthetic pursuits if we aren't going to be The Best Ever in The World. Aesthetic pursuits are gifts that support joy throughout one's life. It's worth it to have at least one you love, whether it is drawing, sculpting, making music, dancing or something else. At a minimum, we should all have some aesthetic that we consume; participation is better. We need to do a better job at helping people -- young and old -- translate participation in the arts into something that they can find meaning and pleasure in OUTSIDE of career/job. And we need to do a MUCH better job at supporting practical entrepreneurship, whether that means founding your own enterprise, or learning how to direct and develop your own career or taking the initiative to suggest new projects within an existing institution. (And everything I just said can be applied equally well to athletic pursuits, where we all to often act like people who can't Make the Team somehow shouldn't participate in Sport or physical activity in any form at all.)
Tags: book review, psychology
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