Narcissism: Behind the Mask Paperback – Aug 21 2015
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I found it helpful that the author used the term "codependent" rather than the more pejorative "minion", "enabler", "co-narcissist", and "reverse narcissist" that are frequently deployed. (The last thing someone who is suffering or has suffered due to a narcissist needs to hear is that they're a "co-narcissist" as it -- albeit unintentionally -- adds to the feelings of guilt, shame, and confusion they already endure as part of the abuse.) The more neutral "codependent" term and the author's explanation of what causes codependency makes it easier to understand and accept that one's own experiences and psychological wounds cause him or her to be more susceptible to narcissistic control. Acknowledging one's own acquiescence and submission to the sick relationship is one of the steps needed to grow healthier and move past it, but there are many stages one must pass through before being ready to confront this. It is not an easy undertaking. As David Thomas affirms, it takes courage -- the courage to confront our own truths as well as the truths of others.
While I wouldn't recommend it as a stand-alone source about narcissism, this is a worthwhile read if you are interested in this topic.
I think that I started to worry about some of the ideas in this book when I read early on that that team-effort leading to a positive goal is about the deepest fantasy possible. I thought that events where staff and management take part in team-building work outside of their normal work are very constructive. I don't think that the author will be asked to coach any astronauts or military employees given his open disdain for the team that can work well.
I do not understand why Sam Vaknin, a convicted fraudster with no first degree in psychology and a bought Phd (he admits this in the film 'I Psychopath')was ever quoted in this book. He is a very skilled speaker and I think that his book and video lectures have actually helped people. He never cites any case-studies or research. His diagnosis of Barack Obama and the whole of the USA as narcissistic is preposterous. The author also indulges in diagnosis of people he has never met such as Robert Mugabe and George W. Bush. Such people do not actually need to be narcissists in order to do and say the things that they do.
The Zimbardo prison experiment is mentioned several times in this book. The experiment is about conformity, people given roles, altered norms, doing things they would not normally do. The subjects in this experiment did not have to be narcissists or co-dependents. This type of experiment from near the end of the golden age of social psychology, although interesting would not be conducted today and is of historical interest only, there are too many ethical issues involved and overt manipulation of situations to make it credible today. More subtle experiments in say bystander apathy situations may identify the psychopaths and the non-psychopaths in very interesting ways.
Co-dependency is never ever the flip side of the same coin as narcissism. It is a very general personality type that happens to be exploitable by the narcissist and by the sociopath. A narcissist without co-dependents does not become less narcissistic and the way they think does not change at all. There is no symbiosis. The narcissist does not perish in a a psychic sense without victims as they are ever the predator and simply look for new ones.
Co-dependents are not narcissists in any sense of the word, there is no such thing as the 'covert or inverted narcissist', just as there is no such thing as an inverted-psychopath, there cannot be such a person. This is an incorrect idea coined by the likes of Sam Vaknin. Co-dependents are correctly described in this book as products of dysfunctional upbringing, they could be anybody and comprise a wide variety of people. Narcissists are people whose cognitive processes are rigid and fixed which result in a fairly well defined cluster of behaviours and thought patterns. Even a tendency towards narcissim is not healthy, positive or very nice to be around for others. The description of the healthy narcissist is so vague that this person is of course not a narcissist at all.
Co-dependents are not usually sufferers of incipient mental illness or on a sliding continuum leading to a personality disorder. Narcissists are psychic predators and will always take more than they invest. The symbiosis described in this book does not really happen in real life. Narcissists are deeply damaging people to know. There is not enough description of how narcissists operate and seek not just to take but to destroy. The discussion of envy and the parasitic personality of the narcissist come very close but are not explored enough.
Most people are often not ever aware that they are dealing with a narcissist or what a narcissist is. Blaming them because the narcissist is positive about them seems rather unreasonable. Most people would of course prefer to be treated in a positive way. At the very end of the book co-dependents and narcissists are equally described as people who are responsible for causing emotional pain and suffering in the world. I should disagree with the idea that co-dependents are responsible for anything like as much abuse and misery as narcissists are. Many emotionally abusive people are neither narcissists or co-dependents. The author appears to have described co-dependents mostly as victims in collusion with the narcissist for most of the book and appears to contradict himself.
There is no mention of the empath, the healthy alternative to, not the flip-side of narcissim, but often a product of emotional abuse too.
There is no mention of cultists, and certain authors of self-help literature who all offer questionable varieties of global hope to people who are not co-dependent but quite understandably seeking answers in life and trying to improve their lives. Their gain is of course narcissistic supply and money. I'm surprised the Rev Jim Jones, Appleyard, Bhagwan Rajneesh, Billy Graham and the self-proclaimed employment guru and founder of the international scanner organisation John Williams are not mentioned. The excellent but brief discussion of how our materialistic world causes children and parents to be unhappy needs to be expanded. The main facets of learned-helplessness and depression are that problems in life are global, stable and external. Cultists and the like always answer these needs with global, stable and external non-solutions. The psychopathology of the narcissist cultist aside from being incapable of empathising might be said to mirror the depression of the person seeking a solution. Their solutions always have a dull unimaginative quality. Maybe narcissists and their prey carry a similar level of learned depression.
Nadia and Nathan the executives discussed in the book appear to be typical self-interested and controlling executives who totally lack social intelligence, typical of most senior managers and business owners I have ever encountered and not at all a surprise really. It would have been more educational to hear an account of a really dysfunctional company because then it would have helped the reader identify the lower level activity in their own work life. The most extreme example of toxic behaviour I have ever come across in a company was that of management who moved a paying client's deadline so that the client was inconvenienced so that they could accuse an employee of incompetence at his review which was happening the following week and contrive a constructive dismissal case.
I subsequently read about such antics and had it not actually happened to me it is something so insane that I should not have believed it. The notion of executives who put the business second which is described in this book in order to spite and control their employees could not be more true. A petty example of the lower management's control-and-disdain tactic was to say to an employee 'The customer is always right' which was a cowardly way of being spiteful and saying at the same time that there would be no managerial backup. Can you imagine such people managing something important where people need to work as a team? The corporate accounts of executive antics in this book sadly made for very convoluted reading.