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on May 15, 1998
This is the book that Dr. Drew on "LoveLine" recommends to his listeners.
This book will help you understand your behaviours in relationships and the driving force behind your behaviours. Primarily it deals with narcissism disorder, borderline peronality disorder, fear intimacy, abandonment depression and separation anxiety and how these underlying disorders manifests itself in your relationships. He describes the theories which explain the behaviour and then describes real life cases of people with these disorders and how they conduct themselves in relationships. After reading this, you will better understand your defenses that help the false self prevail over the real self and how to develop the real self so that you can express yourself genuinely in your life. You will also know how to recognize these behaviours in others and know which people to watch out for and know when you are engaging in descructive relationships. It really gives you some insight into yourself and others' actions. This is a great book for anyone looking to engage in some self therapy and discovering oneself. I highly recommend it.
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on January 11, 2007
Masterson is extremely insightful about two common, and until recently considered untreatable, personality disorders: borderline spectrum and narcissism. He helps the reader to understand the etiology of these disorders and how both involve the creation of a false self. What I liked most about this book is that he doesn't treat people with these disorders as if they're an alien species ("crazy people"), while the rest of us are "normal". We all have a little borderline or narcissism in us. This is a compassionate and intelligent book.
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on January 5, 1999
After reading this book and picking it up to read passages over again I found it very close to heart. It made me understand why I may not be leading a fulfilling life, why I date a certain type of woman, and why I fail at relationships. Whether its truly "the answer" to all negative and self-defeating behavior I don't know. But it certainly makes one pause.
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on August 15, 2006
I have read a good deal of Winnicott and Bollas writing about the true self, and it has been enlightening and informative, yet somewhat nebulous. Without realizing it, this probably relates to the fact that coherent theories of the Self are sketchy and incomplete. Masterson masterfully reviews these theories, the confusion between ego and self and "I", then offers a very clear conceptualization of the self, with focus on the Real Self. Far apart from the romantic or mystical connotations one might have, Masterson addresses the components and development of the Real Self, he defines it as such to highlight the role of the Real Self in dealing with reality, and describes a therapeutic technique - and the crucial timing of its use - as a means of supporting self-initiation, especially with borderline and narcissistic personalities. This is a must read for professionals working from a psychodynamic and/or object relations framework. It should have some value for the lay person, although it is not designed as such. A beneficial surprise is Masterson's look at the real self in relationship to creativity - creativity in living and artisitic creativity, as well as a brief review of the fate of the Real Self in different cultures.
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on September 17, 2001
The Search for the Real Self straddles between serious analysis and pop psychology. It provides numerous examples of so-called borderline personalities, people whose real selves lie submerged under a surface of behavior designed to produce the least anxiety and to avoid conflicts lurking underneath.
The book targets underachievers and overachievers, those unable to form stable relationships for reasons not apparent to them, and people reacting to underlying fears of abandonment or engulfment. Author James Masterson traces the narrow, frustrated lives of these people to their childhood years and picks apart the reason for their apparent inability to grow up emotionally or feel like adults in a world where it seems everyone else does just fine.
Masterson carries the reader through the formation, experience and playing out of various defensive strategies people use to avoid what he calls their real selves, but his therapy seems to take years and fortunes, and it's unclear how much benefit patients actually get from the therapy. He acknowledges the power of creativity to free an individual but relegates the impact of religion and spirituality to pathology.
It's not a bad book, but the author's style lapses into over-analytical language that will put off a non-professional reader and perhaps not impressing a professional who may find the book too simplistic overall. It also will not appeal to those at odds with Freud's theories.
Worsening matters is that the detached and cool therapeutic approach necessary for Masterson's practice carries over to his writing style, making the doctor appear unfeeling and bloodless.
It's not that there's anything particularly wrong with the book, but it leaves an empty feeling in the reader and makes one wonder if analyzing various personality types really leads to changed behavior, or whether the hard work of reevaluating one's life is aided by such analysis.
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on April 17, 2014
As I understand it, the theory in this book runs as follows:

During the first 18 months of life, the child's image of himself is fused with his image of his mother. It might be like two circles overlapping each other in his mind. If for some reason the child isn't permitted to develop (due to mother's absence, "maternal libidinal unavailability," trauma, etc) from there, he will react by establishing for himself an inflated, entitled persona/personality as a protective mask. The child's underdeveloped real self (ie: the part of him that allows him to feel a wide range of feelings, his ability to know what he likes, to self activate, his ability to comfort himself, to be vulnerable and intimate with others, to enjoy being alone, to be creative, etc.) will be forced to go into hiding. As the child grows up, he discovers that society often rewards his false self and thus is able to excel in school and career due to denying his deeper feelings and interests. He is able to achieve prestige and power which fuel and maintain his inflated/entitled image of himself. His relationships will often be based on partners being willing to constantly mirror or be codependent with him. The author refers to this situation as a "narcissistic disorder of the self" and presents his approach on how to cure it.

If the child is able to develop into the next stage of development (18 - 36 months), he will discover that he is a separate person from this mother (the circles separate) but at the same time his images of himself and his mother will split into two parts: one self part that he feels is bad linked to a part mother image that he sees as punishing/withholding and the other self part where he feels he is good linked to a part mother image that he sees as rewarding. The child with this psychic set up bounces back and forth between his self parts depending on how he views the "other" in his environment. The author calls this situation a "borderline disorder of the self." As I understand it, the term is used to describe that the child is in between or on the border between the narcissistic stage and the beyond-36-months stage.

There seems to be some debate in the psychology community over the etiology of these patterns. Masterson says the one with the borderline pattern is "healthier" than the one with the narcissistic pattern because the former can form loving relationships with others based on the feeling that there are two people in the room (two circles) whereas the later only sees himself in the room (one circle). "The narcissistic personality disorder is more difficult to treat than the borderline patient because of the unique characteristics of the defensive tactics on which the grandiose self relies. It uses aggression to coerce others, including the therapist, to resonate with its grandiose view of itself." pg 174

Children who are loved and supported up to the age of three are able to develop a "psychological birth of the self" (Mahler) and at worst may end up with some neurotic habits and at best will be a warm and confident person who feels loving and real.

The author reports that through a certain type of interpretation (mainly for those with the narcissist pattern) and "confrontation" (for those with the borderline pattern), a therapist can fulfill his role as a "guardian for the real self."

Whether or not one subscribes to this theory, this book offers a wealth of insights and much food for thought about human development, object relations theory and personality.

The book also includes some pointers for therapists working with those with the above two patterns and concludes with a chapter on how three famous artists attempted to use their art skills as a way of searching for their real selves.
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on June 28, 2013
This is one of the best popularly-readable books on the subject of personality disorders. It is a helpful wake-up call that will motivate you to become more self-aware and explore the reasons behind your own psychological make-up.

Particularly illuminating- and amusing in places- are Mastersons case-studies, in which most of us can probably see snippets of ourselves.

It is tragic that many people may waste years or decades stuck in self-defeating behavioral patterns or ways of thinking, leading to unsatisfying or dysfunctional relationships and a lack of self-realization. And worse, remain oblivious to the forces at play and their root causes.

There seems to be some contention as to the credibility of such a concept as the "real self", but not all things are accessible to science and I'm sure many of us will recognize that mysterious "special someone who persists through space and time", and who endures as a special entity regardless of how the various parts of it shift and change.
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on April 14, 2013
Extremely useful reading. It helped me in the conceptualization of my clinical work. It also illuminates the challenges we all face with intimacy, whether we have an underlying borderline, narcissistic, or schizoid process, and it was very useful in terms of the therapeutic process. Masterson's work has been illuminating in depth clinical issues that makes me feel the necessity to read his other books as well. Highly recommended for trainees of counselling and psychotherapy. I have also read parts of the "Psychotherapy for the Disorders of the self. the Masterson approach" which is edited by Masterson and is an equally essential reading. I need to add that his writing style is very simple, accessible, not complicated yet very rich. Also his way of thinking is non-pathologizing and leaves a sense of hope for the discovery and the development of the true self.
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on May 1, 2005
I agree with the reviewer who said that this book is best taken metaphorically rather than at face value, but my personal qualms with the book are slightly different...

Contemporary scholarship and a bit of prudence would, I hope, lead one to question the existence of a unitary "self" and therefore take the book's theorizations with a grain of salt. But I think that in this case the author has been careful to separate the subjective notion of "self" (ie. the continuity of consciousness most of us actively perpetuates) from any claim that this self is in fact singular and unitary in practice. In fact, Masterson writes first and foremost (though only briefly) of the multiplicity of self-representation, only further postulating that these representations are ultimately regulated at the level of subjective experience by a supraordinate "self" acting as arbiter. This arguably allows his theory to coexist with more contemporary notions of "multiple" or "fragmented" selves, so I think that the concepts themselves can be of use even to one with a somewhat more postmodern bent, rather than requiring rejection out-of-hand.

I think that interpreting Masterson's analytical construct of "the real self" from a psychosocial standpoint, rather than an intrapsychic one as per the author's intent, by asserting an altogether different definition of the word "self" loses much of what is being got at; it sidesteps Masterson's own choice of focus, which he has rather carefully defined in the introductory chapters. Whether his rationale for coming to this definition was sound is a matter in itself (and this is where my own qualms lie), but if one is to grapple with Masterson's ideas I believe that one does best meet him on his own conceptual grounds rather than at a simplified level of semantics.

That being said, I do have considerable qualms with certain aspects of Masterson's thinking, some of which I share with the other reviewer. I think that by idealizing the maturation of a singular "real" self as pitted against all other (presumably pathological) "false" selves, and failing to take into account the practical effects of environment and culture in the construction of "ideal" functionality, Masterson's theory remains incomplete at best and direly problematic at worst. Plenty of writers (eg. Goffman, Sartre, Doi) have explored the problems encountered when one seeks to unify necessarily disparate social-role "selves" into a congruent whole; there is little evidence that this "unity" is either a universal necessity or a universal mechanism, and I think that its unquestioned assertion in therapy may potentially create more problems than it may solve.

I really sympathize with the poor bloke whose mind was fried by reading this thing; it wreaks utterly of the deterministic, pathologizing mindset so common amongst psychoanalysts. Masterson's reductionism also has a way of pulling all sorts of common daily psychological phenomenon under an enormous umbrella of personality malfunction, ever construed to be congruent with his essentializing structures. Moreover, like many psychoanalysts, Masterson possesses a deep streak of paternal idealism, with a consequent tendency to pathologize the otherwise functionally sound. The structure of his text is thus soaked to the core with the value judgments and prognoses of a particular brand of psychoanalysis, which -- as another reviewer pointed out -- rest on rather questionable foundations.

I think that many of the structures and mechanisms discussed in the book do seem intuitively sound, and while this judgment alone may not be enough to fully justify their active employment in diagnosis and treatment, there's still much to be had here for the interested reader. As food for thought, and as fodder for further synthesis with a discourse less preoccupied with maintaining its own essentialized notions, it can serve to raise some interesting themes. From the standpoint of postmodern discourse, for example, Masterson's emphasis on the "real self" functions as a nice, clearly defined conceptual counterpoint to more generally accepted alternatives.

By the way, if this review seemed helpful, I recommend "The Real Self: A Developmental, Self, and Object-Relations Approach," over this book, as it does a much better job of underlining the more technical aspects of Masterson's thinking. This book is geared much more towards mainstream readership, a purpose for which, incidentally, I can honestly recommend neither.

One last thing (and I should have probably said this earlier): If you've just been diagnosed with BPD, and are looking for further reading on the subject, avoid this book. Some others have recommended this book for its therapeutic value, but it has distinct way of tracing everyday actions back to pathological causes that can drive you batty if you identify too strongly with the case studies. Proceed with caution.
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on October 29, 2010
This is an excellent book. It helped me to understand my BPD behavior much better, and also to understand how I got that way. I wish I had been diagnosed twenty years ago. I was misdiagnosed with depression, bipolar, panic, etc. Knowing that I did not really fit those categories, I stopped medication for several years. I coped by using nutrition and solitude. But as soon as I was around people, my behavior would come out again. That was the key that no doctor ever looked at: I'm only crazy when there is someone there. Someone to cling to, manipulate, and feel abandoned by or attacked by or criticized by. My illness is a lot like the three-year-old who stops their tantrum when there is no one listening or watching. Now, with a diagnosis and study, I can use medication, nutrition, and counseling to cope with this illness and deal with people much more calmly and sanely. Sorry, I have not said much about the book. Well, this is the book that explained the illness better than anything else I read on the topic.
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