Rethinking Narcissism: Book Report

Time for a new feature. Book report. I got rid of the weekly calendar of things I was going to blog about every day of the week. I also released back to the universe many of my 10 goals for the year. But reading...that's something I want to do and do more often. By sharing notes and highlights from books with you, I'll also have a copy for myself to refer to again in the future! Here's where I will keep the list.  

Narcissism isn't all bad. But in order for that to be true, many of us need to reorient our beliefs around narcissism. If you're anything like me, you have a negative connotation of narcissism. Dr. Malkin would say that narcissism actually exists on a spectrum of 0-10. A 10 is a sociopathic/psychopathic narcissist who will do just about anything to feel special regardless of how others are impacted. A 0 on the other hand is an "Echo" - someone who is the opposite of a narcissist. Someone who has no ability to advocate for their own needs because he/she doesn't feel special/worthy at all - People at the 0 level will "echo" the needs of other people and become utterly consumed with those instead of learning to feel comfortable with their own needs. 

Both ends of the spectrum are dangerous - but a 10 is more dangerous to society and a 0 is more dangerous to themselves. Dr. Malkin says a 5 is the sweet spot and a goal for us all. I found the book very impactful! It helped me recognize healthy and unhealthy ways of feeling good about ourselves - and how important it is to be able to advocate for one's own needs. 

There are a lot of great chapters in this book - including a do-it-yourself quiz to gather where you're at on the spectrum, a chapter about unhealthy/dangerous narcissism, a chapter on social media use, and a chapter on parenting. Throughout the pages, you'll find many real-life examples and stories from clients he has worked with. 

If you live locally, you can check it out from the Rochester Public Library. What I loved most about the book was the hopefulness of his approach to narcissism. No one is STUCK at any point on the spectrum. We can learn, grow, change, and move up or down on the spectrum depending on our individual needs. 

Here are the key points from the various chapters that caught my attention. 
  1. Introduction/Old Assumptions, New Ideas
    1. It is a normal, pervasive human desire to feel good about oneself
    2. Destructive narcissism (8-10 on the spectrum) is rooted in a desire to bury normal emotions like fear, sadness, and loneliness because the person is afraid they will be rejected for having them - they shield themselves from these more uncomfortable emotions with they belief that they are very special
    3. Premise of the book: it's about balance. It's about finding that 5-zone on the spectrum. 
  2. Confusion and Controversy
    1. Over the years, many psychologists have studied narcissism. 
    2. Healthy narcissism = genuine pride, self-worth, the capacity to dream, has empathy, admires others and is also willing to be admired
    3. The roots of destructive narcissism (the 8-10 range) are in childhood - often dealing with environments of abuse or neglect. The individual ends up feeling vulnerable and fragile on the inside but arrogant, pompous, and hostile on the outside to make up for how worthless they actually feel.
    4. "only people who never feel special or feel special all the time pose a threat to themselves and the world"
  3. From 0-10: Understanding the Spectrum
    1. 0 isn't good: these folks refuse support, help, and love and are utterly out of touch with their own human needs
    2. 10 isn't good: these folks basically cease to exist if people aren't acknowledging their importance - and they'll do about anything to feel important and special 
    3. Narcissism spikes when we feel shake about ourselves
    4. Politicians rank higher on the narcissism scale than any other group (librarians are the lowest)
    5. Echoists (0-3 on the scale) dread becoming a burden or inconvenience in any way to others. They hae a difficult time recognizing their own needs and a deep dread of becoming a true narcissist.
    6. Narcissists (8-10 range on the scale) see other people completely as extensions of themselves - not separate humans with separate desires and needs. At this level of narcissism, a person is blinded to other people's feelings. Other people are just tools. 
    7. "At the heart of healthy narcissism is the capacity to love and be loved on a grand scale. People who live int he center of the spectrum don't always take the stage, but wen they do, they often lift others up with them." - They bring out the best in everyone. 
  4. (didn't take any notes on this chapter)
  5. Root Causes
    1. Nature and nurture 
    2. The key childhood experience that pushes children too high or too low on the scale is always the same: insecure love. If a child grows up in an environment where parental love was not consistent and compassionate, the child often ends up on one end or the other. 
    3. "Secure love provides protection against many of the world's psychological dangers." - At a young age, we learn that it is either safe or not safe to depend on anyone for anything. At both ends of the spectrum, a person doesn't truly depend on others. Instead, they are depending on themselves. 
  6. Echoism and Narcissism
    1. Main rule of an Echo: try not to need anything
    2. Their deepest fear is that asking too much would drive others away
    3. Unhealthy narcissism (high on the scale) = always consulting an imaginary scoreboard to see if he/she is "winning" - based on looks, talents, helpfulness, success
    4. Entitlement surge: a sign of unhealthy narcissism - a person thinks they "deserve" more and more - just on the basis of being themselves. It can become exploitation which is doing/saying anything necessary to get ahead or stand out. 
      1. over time, other people's needs and feelings matter less and less
      2. other people are just extensions of themselves
      3. vacillate between delusions and fantasies of greatness and devastating episodes of shame
      4. Vacillate between feeling special and feeling worthless
  7. Warning Signs of dangerous narcissism
    1. Displaying emotional phobia
    2. Playing emotional hot potato (projecting)
    3. Exerting stealth control
    4. Placing people on pedestals
    5. Seeing other people as "twins"/extensions of self 
  8. Change and Recovery *Emily note: Like I said - I like his approach because NO ONE is stuck on the spectrum. Everyone can move up or down - depending on how hard they are willing to work and whether or not they are willing to be vulnerable. 0s can move up the scale to a healthier way of being and 10s can move down to a healthier way of being. 
    1. "Always remember that unhealthy narcissism is an attempt to conceal normal human vulnerability, especially painful feelings of insecurity, sadness, fear, loneliness, and shame" 
    2. If you want to help a child, friend, partner, or co-worker who is at the upper end of the spectrum, you can model vulnerability. BUT ONLY DO THIS IF YOU SENSE SOME MEASURE OF PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL SAFETY (He's big on that point). Otherwise a person can get taken advantage of and really hurt. 
    3. Try empathy prompts. 
      1. Step 1: Voice the importance of your relationship to the person. 
      2. Step 2: Reveal your own feelings. 
      3. By sharing an empathy prompt, you're looking to see if the other person is capable of genuine empathy. If so, this is a sign of healing and moving lower on the spectrum. If people are not able to respond with a healthy expression of care/concern, empathy, Dr. Malkin says, "You need to view their narcissism exactly as you would any addition. The drug (of feeling special) has taken over their lives. 
    4. If you are dealing with a narcissistic person who doesn't respond to empathy prompts, self-protection should then become the primary goal. Dr. Malkin says, "The people you love can't change if they're unwilling to acknowledge their problems." 
    5. Sometimes people lower on the spectrum deal with a lot of feelings of self-blame. "One way you can liberate yourself from this kind of self-criticism is by confronting a feeling you've probably come to fear more than you realize: disappointment." 
      1. Remind yourself: you have a right in life to feel disappointed by people, events, and situations. 
      2. "Recognize self-blame for what it is: a powerful fear that you'll lose love if you ask for what you need." 
    6. In healthy relationships, disappointment can DEEPEN intimacy. Ideally, if a person expresses that they are disappointed, they other person/people will respond with high understanding and empathy - and then the relationship can be strengthened. 
    7. 3 steps to get back in touch with learning to express healthy disappointment
      1. Set healthy boundaries
      2. Check self-blame at the door: Instead of asking, "What have I done wrong?" - ask, "Am I feeling disappointed? Am I afraid to say something is wrong?"
      3. Don't confuse empathy with responsibility. It's okay to feel empathetic feelings. But don't jump to the conclusion that it's your responsibility to manage other people's emotions and realities. 
  9. Coping and Thriving: Workplace Narcissism
    1. This is a great chapter about how to deal with colleagues or bosses who might be high on the narcissism scale. If you have such a person in your working environment, I highly recommend this chapter! To a narcissist in the work place: "Getting ahead is more important than getting along because they've never experienced much success with creating trusting, close relationships" 
    2. Some narcissists can use your feelings against you by shaming you, so don't share feelings if it's not safe. 
    3. The chapter has some very real, helpful strategies to implement - many revolving around the "empathy prompt" idea
  10. Promoting Healthy Narcissism as Parents
    1. Again - great chapter if you have kids! It's a chapter of strategies to help your child end up in the 5-range on the spectrum. The list includes:
      1. Firm empathy
      2. Catch the good
      3. model vulnerability
      4. set limits
      5. coach your child
      6. be warm but respectful
      7. Model repair by using "re-dos" as a family - if something doesn't work or if you say/do something, just acknowledge the mistake and try again; this helps kids learn that mistakes are part of normal closeness with loved ones (*Emily note: LOVE THIS re-do idea in all interpersonal relationships)
      8. volunteer with your kids
  11. SoMe/SoWe: Healthy Use of Social Media
    1. I mentioned this chapter last week in a blog post. It's great. All about using social media in life-giving ways that don't increase narcissism.
    2. "Anything that takes us further from authentic relationships is more likely to feed narcissistic addiction"
    3. Healthy social media use = building authentic relationships
    4. Spend minimal time looking at other people's profiles - especially if you don't really know him/her; it can make us feel worse about ourselves
    5. Avoid image churning: changing your profile pics too often
    6. Follow wisely: if you're going to follow someone or some organization - make sure it's a person or organization you WANT an authentic relationship with
  12. A Passionate Life/Conclusion
    1. "A good life balances our own self-interests with other people's needs" - it's where passion and compassion merge
    2. It's about secure loving relationships and genuine intimacy

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