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Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad-and Surprising Good-About Feeling Special Hardcover – July 7, 2015
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“A fresh approach to the way we regard one of psychology’s most complex conditions. In a book that’s persuasive, insightful, and never dry, Dr. Malkin offers the right mix of analysis and advice and presents compelling, ground-breaking evidence that narcissism is necessary—in the right doses, of course.” (Peggy Drexler, PhD, Assistant Professor, Weill Cornell Medical College, author of Raising Boys Without Men and Our Fathers, Ourselves)
“This is an enthralling book. It takes the clichés of narcissism and unpacks them to help us understand and accept our human need to feel special while also coping with the dangers of self-absorption. It will become a classic.” (Dr. Sue Johnson, author of Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships)
“... a book that will have readers rethinking themselves and, paradoxically, those around them.” (Publishers Weekly)
“This is a true gem on the subject of narcissism.” (Library Journal)
“[Dr. Malkin’s] reassuring tone and plethora of case histories offer considered advice and generous encouragement.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“A gripping and sometimes terrifying book that will make you look anew at your spouse, your parents, your children, your friends, your enemies, your fellow workers and - perhaps most pertinently - your reflection in the mirror.” (The Daily Mail (UK), "Book of the Week")
“Dr. Craig Malkin offers a surprising, accessible analyis of narcissism—and explains why a healthy dash of narcissism can be a good thing.” (Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of Better Than Before and The Happiness Project)
“In Rethinking Narcissism, Dr. Malkin reveals the surprising good news about narcissism, exploring the complexities of narcissistic traits and deflating popular myths. Most importantly, he shows us how to develop a healthy sense of narcissism and how to manage relationships with narcissistic partners, friends, colleagues, and family.” (Dr. Drew Pinsky, author of The Mirror Effect)
“Certainly one of the best books I’ve read this year. Don’t be fooled by the title.. this book is for anyone trying to better understand themselves and other people.” (Todd Kashdan, PhD, author of The Upside of Your Dark Side)
“[A] fascinating book.” (The Independent)
From the Back Cover
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.
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This book offers a variety of scenarios in which we all are apt to find ourselves at one point or another - real-life circumstances that are challenging to negotiate, whether you are dealing with "healthy self-esteem gone astray" at either end of the spectrum and whether the aberration is in yourself, a parent, child, co-worker, friend, mate or romantic prospect.
Many other writers offer little hope for those taking the frightful steps of opening up to vulnerability and moving away from the growth-stunting ends of the self-esteem scale (or for those who are supporting them), but this one offers strategies for avoiding shutdown and opening up communication; at worst, it teaches how to take the temperature in assessing the chances for nurturing growth.
Compassion says that no one chooses to be a narcissist any more than one chooses to fall on the co-dependent end of the spectrum, but sometimes life circumstances breed these traits as survival mechanisms for a time. The point is, anyone can get stuck given the right circumstance (in my view), so here is an opportunity to get the lever out and mindfully approach ourselves, those we love or those we must otherwise manage to circumnavigate.
Also, while some other books get heavily into the psychology of development vis-a-vis narcissism (and I've enjoyed a couple of those as well), in my experience they tend to be harder to follow and, perhaps, offer far less practical or hopeful advice.
If I may compliment them both with the comparison, I'd liken Dr. Malkin's book on narcissism to Brené Brown's wonderful TED talks on vulnerability. If one resonates with you, I wouldn't be surprised if the other did.
I had to read his book because the word narcissist has been getting thrown around in my world quite a bit the last few years. When my ex told me he didn’t love me anymore it was because he was convinced I was a narcissist. My therapists and friends say, no, he is the narcissist. So you see my dilemma!
The myth of Narcissus includes a young man whose reputation for both his gorgeousness and his indifference was renowned. He thought of himself above any kindness and love. The woman in the myth is named Echo; she has no voice of her own.
Dr. Malkin presents narcissism on a spectrum from 1 to 10. Moderate narcissists fall in the middle, between 4 and 6. Moderate narcissism, the doctor says, can actually enhance love. People who fall on the spectrum between 2 to 3 and 7 to 8 have some bad habits that can be corrected. Echoism, the absence of narcissism and on the spectrum from 0 to 1, most likely requires hospitalization with little hope of recovery. Extreme narcissism, on the spectrum between 9 and 10 is considered an addiction and also requires treatment with less than optimal outcome expected.
The true narcissist displays “a complete lack of remorse and a penchant for manipulation; people who simply enjoy speaking their mind or being in charge are clearly different from narcissists who enjoy manipulation and lies; only people who never feel special or feel special all the time pose a threat to themselves and the world.”
You may have seen the test for narcissism on Facebook. I took the test and it said I was deficient in narcissism and directed me to Dr. Malkin’s book; where he discusses the test in greater detail. The test includes three parts to measure narcissism deficits, healthy narcissism and extreme narcissism.
My score showing me not feeling special enough puts me on the spectrum at 3. The statements that best define deficiency in narcissism are: “I’m not sure what I want or need in my relationships; when people ask me my preferences, I’m often at a loss.” Echoists are rarely straightforward about what might help them to feel better.
My tests score on healthy narcissism was also low, keeping me on the spectrum at 3. The statements that best define healthy narcissism are: “I like to dream big, but not at the expense of my relationships; I can rein myself in when people tell me I’m getting a big head.” Healthy narcissists enjoy fantasies of greatness without becoming addicted to them. They’re able to feel good about themselves with a solid sense of self-esteem and self-worth, and to enjoy attention and praise without a relentless need to prove themselves. The recipe for healthy narcissism is a family that encourages (not requires) dreams of greatness and a healthy model for love and closeness. Healthy narcissists learn to feel important to others by mutual caring and understanding.
Extreme Narcissism, where I also score well below average, is best defined by these 2 statements: “I secretly believe I’m better than most people; I’ll never be satisfied until I get all that I deserve.” The quickest way to engender unhealthy narcissism is to feel deep shame over ordinary human frailties and failings. When looks, talent or helpfulness become a perpetual concern there’s unhealthy narcissism.
There exist many different types of extreme narcissism. The extroverted narcissist loudly obsesses about standing out. The introverted narcissist silently races toward greatness while other people exist solely to support their self-esteem and relentless need to be understood. Communal narcissists regard themselves as especially nurturing, understanding and empathetic. They think they are the most helpful people ever, better than the rest of humanity at giving.
The most salient characteristic of the subtle narcissist is entitlement, an unremitting attitude that the world and everyone around them should support their exalted status. As dependence moves to addiction so entitlement escalates into exploitation and illness. Other people’s feelings begin to matter less and less. They will do anything necessary to get ahead including hurting others. The world exists for their benefit alone. This toxic blend of entitlement and exploitation blind the extreme narcissist to the needs and feelings of the other people around them.
The person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder vacillates between extreme arrogance and condescension, and feeling shy and full of shame. Either way they demand attention, admiration, approval and special consideration. Not all narcissists are psychopaths; but all psychopaths are narcissists. Devoid of sadness, anxiety, guilt and remorse, when confronted their rage can be terrifying.
How do you know if you are dealing with a dangerous narcissist and should RUN? There are warning signs. Extreme narcissists display emotion phobia and stay clear of other people’s emotions. They use an insidious form of projection where they deny their own feelings by claiming they belong to someone else. My ex also told me he didn’t love me anymore because I was jealous – an example of this type of projection that Dr. Malkin calls passing the hot potato. Other warning signs include the narcissist’s constant need to remain in charge. I was affected by this narcissistic control as I gradually without realizing it fell into his preferences and desires. Narcissists also put people on pedestals. It’s another way of feeling special and preventing deeper connection if the narcissist is with someone special.
Sharing your feelings of fragility and how you truly feel, encourages the narcissist to feel more caring and compassionate. Voice the importance of your relationship and your own feelings to distinguish the narcissist who can change from one who can’t. If the narcissist can’t change, the addiction to their narcissism has taken over their lives. If you cannot take these risks of being vulnerable with your narcissist, then the relationship isn’t safe and you should leave.
If your narcissist can change, show them the benefits of consideration, collaboration, understanding, mutual respect and caring. Echoists must protect themselves by creating boundaries and making requests. Secure love and caring relationships protect us from unhealthy narcissism. Healthy narcissism unlocks authentic passion allowing the rewards of genuine intimacy. Of course echoists and narcissists are attracted to one another and can make a pretty good pair if they meet in the middle.