Rethinking narcissism The bad-- and surprising good-- about feeling special

Craig Malkin

Book - 2015

"Harvard Medical School psychologist and Huffington Post blogger Craig Malkin addresses the 'narcissism epidemic' by illuminating the spectrum of narcissism [and] ways to control the trait, and explaining how too little of it may be a bad thing"--

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New York, NY : Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers [2015]
Main Author
Craig Malkin (author)
First edition
Physical Description
xiv, 240 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages [211]-228) and index.
  • Introduction
  • The Myth of Narcissus
  • Part I. What Is Narcissism?
  • 1. Rethinking Narcissism: Old Assumptions, New Ideas
  • 2. Confusion and Controversy: How Narcissism Became a Dirty Word and We Found an Epidemic
  • 3. From 0 to 10: Understanding the Spectrum
  • 4. The Narcissism Test: How Narcissistic Are You?
  • Part II. Origins: Healthy and Unhealthy Narcissism
  • 5. Root Causes: The Making of Echoists and Narcissists
  • 6. Echoism and Narcissism: From Bad to Worse
  • Part III. Recognizing and Coping with Unhealthy Narcissism
  • 7. Warning Signs: Staying Alert for Narcissists
  • 8. Change and Recovery: Dealing with Lovers, Family, and Friends
  • 9. Coping and Thriving: Dealing with Colleagues and Bosses
  • Part IV. Promoting Healthy Narcissism
  • 10. Advice for Parents: Raising a Confident, Caring Child
  • 11. SoWe: The Healthy Use of Social Media
  • 12. A Passionate Life: The Ultimate Gift of Healthy Narcissism
  • Acknowledgments
  • Resources
  • References
  • Index
Review by New York Times Review

DURING HER REIGN, Kim Kardashian has proved herself to be a person of towering if brittle self-regard. The brittleness is revealed in the floods of tears that attend even minor affronts to her sense of self: if a family member gently teases her; if she feels in any way misunderstood; if she realizes she may give birth to her third fiancé's child before her second divorce is final. But the true nature of her self-regard - river deep and mountain high - is revealed in just about all of her other actions, and particularly in her recently published collection of self-portraits, "Selfish." As a physical object, the book is surprisingly elegant: a compact white bible, a thing beckoning to be held. The suggested interpretation of its cover photo - exquisite little head perched atop exquisite massive breasts - is implied by the resonant word that sits beneath it: Rizzoli. This is the post-Calabasas Kim, the Kanye West Kim, the Kim who must be deferred to by the world's greatest photographers and designers. But it's still our Kim, taking picture after picture of herself in full makeup or full monte, sticking out her tongue or her naked bottom, the mysteries of her arresting beauty undercut, as ever, by her own inane commentary: "I had one drink and was wasted LOL. Rachel and I met up with friends at a random bar in New York." Kardashian wants us to know that she is leading a beautiful life, that it is peopled by beautiful friends, all of whom reflect or enhance her own beauty, but the question for you and me is: Are we in any kind of danger here? Is Kardashian a threat to us? Or should we look to her, instead, as exemplar, as someone with much to teach us about mastering our own selfish lives? Opposing positions on these questions are taken by two new books: "The Narcissist You Know: Defending Yourself Against Extreme Narcissists in an All-About-Me Age," by Joseph Burgo, and "Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad - and Surprising Good - About Feeling Special," by Craig Malkin. Just when we had girded ourselves against the sociopath next door, Burgo alerts us to the narcissist across the street. What a neighborhood! Burgo, a psychotherapist, instructs us that 5 percent of the population consists of "extreme narcissists," people who "fall short of the diagnostic threshold for Narcissistic Personality Disorder" but who can still make our lives hell with their whims and rants. We are informed of eight types of the species - the Bullying Narcissist, the Know-It-All Narcissist, the Self-Righteous Narcissist - and invited to apply our newfound knowledge not only to our rotten neighbors but also to our national celebrities. We might consider Kardashian's tantrums as responses to "narcissistic injuries" - to the fact that deep shame lies underneath all grandiosity, and if that shame is activated (by losing a diamond in the Aegean or by being confronted by her chubby brother's bitter envy), nothing can contain it. Malkin, a therapist and psychology instructor at Harvard Medical School, takes a more inspirational attitude toward the subject. "Narcissism isn't all bad," he writes. "In fact, some narcissism is good - even vital - for us to lead happy, fulfilled and productive lives." He writes that "creativity, leadership and high self-esteem" are associated with the feeling that one is better than average. If we began to understand narcissism as yet another spectrum disorder, we might be able to assess our own egos, and maybe even pump them up a bit. "At the heart of narcissism lies an ancient conundrum," Malkin writes. "How much should we love ourselves, and how much should we love others?" For Kim Kardashian, this is settled science. Loving herself - extravagantly and in the manner of a grand romance, with fits of anger and remorse and ecstatic forgiveness - is the way to go. Who else could describe a collection of self-portraits as "a candid tribute to my fans"? Although her reach is vast, her beginnings are in reality television, a form so shallow it's mesmerizing, and that she is talentless - the one unifying assessment of her legion of detractors - is a baseless claim. Like Martha Stewart, she represents affordability and aspiration. Yes, her Sears line of clothing folded; true, her perfume is bewilderingly described as "a tantalizing Oriental gourmand," but she's not about Martha Stewart-style perfection. She got started with a sex tape, she has the heartbreak of psoriasis, she's holding nothing back. This is not granny-panty feminism; it's shopgirl feminism. What she's selling isn't the dream of a Sarah Lawrence degree, a bold venture into a sustainability-related career and eventual - messy, human, rewarding - co-parenting. She's selling the idea that any young woman scanning bar codes at Kmart can vault out of that condition not by night school and thrift but by texting enough naked selfies and staging enough tear-filled mini-dramas that she gets discovered and ends up with her own McMansion and a diamond as big as the Ritz. Could Kim Kardashian have created and capitalized upon this improbable vision if she had worked at achieving Craig Malkin's sweet spot of "just enough" narcissism? Would she be the woman she is today if she had taken Joseph Burgo's advice and severed ties to her narcissistic mother? There's nothing cynical about Kardashian's enterprise. What fuels everything - every product and episode and personal appearance - is the honestly held and unshakable conviction that she is special and better and more interesting than anyone else around her. That a trio of spray-tanned shoppers managed to transform themselves into the Mitford sisters of the San Fernando Valley is entirely because of Kim Kardashian - the only Kardashian most of us can reliably recognize - and her fathomless ego. In fact, the advice about narcissism in these two new books will be of more practical use to the army of trolls who live to mock her than it might be to Kardashian herself. The hundreds of people who rushed to Amazon to trash "Selfish" - often at great and considered length, usually without having seen a copy - might take these words from Burgo to heart: "Managing an Extreme Narcissist depends largely on mastering your own reactions to their behavior, your own defensive responses to their assaults on your self-esteem." It's easy to feel better than Kim Kardashian, and it's just as easy to sustain your own narcissistic injury by contemplating how much she has accomplished, and how little she cares about what you think of her. CAITLIN FLANAGAN is a contributing editor at The Atlantic.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [October 14, 2015]
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

This wide-ranging discussion aims to absolve narcissism of its negative reputation. Psychologist Malkin makes no attempt to rigidly define narcissism, instead expanding the term into one that encompasses many different meanings. Readers are presented with a range of features broad enough to include almost anyone. Malkin delves into the Greek myth of Narcissus, which inspires him to propose a new category of "subtle narcissists" he calls echoists. Supplementing fable with modern anecdote, he also addresses the more familiar subject of modern technology's influence on personality traits. Even if narcissism has come to be known as an affliction, it proves here to offer a range of adaptive benefits, collectively described as "healthy narcissism." An inset quiz allows readers to discover where they fall on narcissism's fluid continuum. Such a spectrum is perhaps too slippery: Malkin's newly liberal definition may make narcissism too flexible a term to be very useful. Yet this is, importantly, a book that will have readers rethinking themselves and, paradoxically, those around them. Agent: Miriam Altshuler, Miriam Altshuler Literary Agency. (July) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Can narcissism, the love one holds for his or her self-image, really be beneficial and necessary to develop a healthy self? Malkin, a clinical psychologist and regular contributor to publications such as Psychology Today, elegantly untangles the issues for the reader. After a concise introduction to narcissism, he presents the narcissism spectrum: a gradation of narcissism from 0 to 10. At the center lies healthy narcissism: people who safely depend on others and who can develop caring relationships through true intimacy. Both extremities of the spectrum are pathological, 0 being someone who refuses all attention and care, and 10 being a pathological narcissist (for example, psychopaths). Malkin provides dozens of rich examples from his clinic and offers parents, spouses, coworkers, and friends suggestions for how to help the narcissist in their life. The techniques he proposes are very well explained, with many examples of empathy prompts. VERDICT Malkin achieves his goal of helping readers better understand others and themselves, as the reading of his book has immediate positive introspective effects. This is a true gem on the subject of narcissism.-Maryse Breton, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

It's good to feel good about yourself. Clinical psychologist Malkin (Psychology/Harvard Medical School), contributor to popular magazines, the Huffington Post, NPR and Fox News, draws on decades of experience in his debut self-help book, focused on the problem of narcissism. That word, he says, is used so much that its meaning has become "alarmingly vague," synonymous with selfishness and self-aggrandizement. Even among psychologists, the "slippery and amorphous" term can refer to "an obnoxious yet common personality trait or a rare and dangerous mental health disorder." Malkin applies the term to a spectrum of traits, from benign to pathological, arguing that a little narcissisma feeling of being specialis a good thing, leading to confidence, optimism, and sociability. Healthy narcissism, though, "boils down to striking the right balance," and he focuses on how to achieve that balance in ourselves, friends, relatives, and children. As in most self-help books, this one provides an assessment questionnaire so readers can find their places on the Narcissism Spectrum: on the far left, individuals he calls echoists suffer from low self-esteem and tend to subjugate themselves to other people's wishes; on the far right, extreme narcissists "see themselves as better than their partners (and most everyone else)," are often manipulative, insatiably seek approval, and seem "unemotional (apart from anger and thrill seeking)." "Narcissists and echoists are made, not born," writes the author, justifying his advice about parenting: parents of echoists discourage their children's pride and senses of accomplishment; parents of narcissists "often inflate their children's achievements." Parenting for healthy narcissism involves encouraging (but not requiring) dreams of greatness and fostering love and closeness. Lest readers worry that they won't be able to identify a narcissist in their lives, Malkin provides five warning signs. The author believes that anyone willing to change will be able to do so, and his reassuring tone and plethora of case histories offer considered advice and generous encouragement. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.