Saturday, November 21, 2015

Malkin - Rethinking Narcissism

I picked up Craig Malkin’s Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad – and Surprising Good – about Feeling Special (2015) primarily because of the emerging research about on-line behavior, specifically the phenomenon of selfies. My bias as I began the book was clearly negative but Malkin’s research, practice as a clinician, and writing offered a much more balanced view.

Essentially, narcissism is a way of making oneself feel special – it’s that simple. Seeking to be ‘special’ is a necessary coping system in a world where we are all seeking a sense of identify and self-worth. Healthy narcissism can lead to being happier, more fulfilled, and more productive in life.

The term narcissism comes from the ancient Greek fable of Echo and Narcissus. In the story, Narcissus is a handsome young man who grows obsessed with his own reflection in the water, so obsessed that he ignores the adoration of others. To punish him, Nemesis condemns Narcissus to a life of unrequited friendship and love. Narcissus was extreme in rebuffing others and this is the kind of narcissism that Malkin identifies as problematic – obsession with oneself to the degree that there is no ability to empathize with others, no understanding of how one’s behavior impacts others, no ability to feel remorse, and a general penchant for manipulation.

Although gregarious narcissists can appear very self-assured and dominant, they are most often covering for the fear that lurks inside. Their bravado is a shield to keep them on their pedestal, on top of the world and feeling special.

Narcissists can pop up among lovers, children, work colleagues, acquaintances and elsewhere. One of the groups that is currently criticized for being narcissistic is Millennials, a characterization that Malkin rejects citing research that they are most often respectful of parents and elders, value marriage and family, self-confident, expressive and open to change – all traits that are very different from the typical narcissist. There is, however, a natural tendency for people under 25 to be more narcissistic, primarily due to youthful ambition and optimism. This temporary narcissism declines naturally with age. Frightening for us all is that a number of psychiatrists are now going public that front-runner Republican Presidential candidate, Donald Trump, suffers from classic narcissism personality disorder.

Malkin’s book has many helpful insights. There is a self-assessment to determine where you are on the scale from echoists, to healthy narcissist, and to extreme, abusive and manipulative narcissist. The book also has chapters related to family, children, co-workers and others, each of which contains tips for spotting narcissists and figuring out what to do to respond to them. Because narcissists often suffer from insecure love and doubts about their own competence, they take out their bad feelings on others through bullying, cruelty, and dismissive gestures. The root of these behaviors is generally an extreme sense of entitlement. Malkin’s advice is to not overreact to narcissists negative behavior but, instead, recognize and nurture behaviors that reflect growing empathy, understanding, and care for others. In the workplace, focusing on the benefits of collaboration and understanding can be a path to discovering a new way of interacting with others. It’s basically a process of nudging the extreme narcissist toward more healthy narcissism that openly acknowledges fears, sadness, loneliness and other softer feelings.

Malkin explains that “anything that takes us further away from authentic relationships is more likely to feed narcissistic addiction. “ Specifically related to social media, spending lots of time viewing others’ profiles and posts can actually damage our own healthy narcissism. As we view how others want us to see them (which generally is all the good and none of the bad stuff), we end up feeling that our life is either average or inadequate, which drives us to post often, change our profile picture, and do other things that are centered on us. Malkin suggests that the best way to control our own and other’s potentially narcissistic urges is to “move from SoMe to SoWe,” meaning that we should seek genuine relationships and seek to find, and be ourselves, the kind of people who share not for purposes of shaping an image but for simply sharing the journey of life. In addition, sharing and pursuing passions that include a focus on caring and concern for others is key, resulting in narcissism that combines passion and compassion.

"At the heart of healthy narcissism is the capacity to love and be loved on a grand scale. People who live in the center of the spectrum don’t always take to the stage, but when they do, they often lift others up with them.”

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Naim - The End of Power

A month after a Russian plane was alleged to have been downed by an ISIS bomb, one day after Lebanon was also bombed, and less than 24 hours after multiple attacks in Paris the pundits will most likely start their tirade of blaming and politicians will begin the exploitation of the tragedy of others for their own advancement. Lest we fall prey to their spin, we need to look for the fuller, historic and contemporary conditions related to these atrocities. I offer no excuses, no blame, but search for understanding and I hope more and more true patriots of all countries will join together in finding solutions.

A book I recently read, The End of Power (Moises Naim, 2013), provided some insights that could be relevant to understanding terrorism and its impact on us all. Naim’s thesis is that the dynamics of power in our world have changed and that the change is irreversible. Whether talking about the power of military, institutions, politics, economics, or other systems, power is less accessible, harder to maintain, and more widely distributed than we’ve experienced in modern history. Naim proposes “that power is shifting from brawn to brains, from north to south, and west to east, from old corporate behemoths to agile start-ups, from entrenched dictators to people in town squares and cyberspace.” The dynamic of elusive and changing power has set loose a process of power grabbing and manipulation that denies traditional power-holders the chance to control what is going on around us.

Our current ideas about power being vested in large, influential organizations and in individual leaders and governments came from the industrial era, a time when massification and bureaucracy were seen as the path to prominence, profit, and effectiveness. The End of Power proposes that power is different as a result of revolutions in three areas – more, mobility, and mentality. These three revolutions have resulted from the expansion of access to products and services worldwide (more), movement of people and ideas across borders (mobility), and the fact that now every person and institution is subject to challenge (mentality). These revolutions have broken down the former barriers to power that protected the privilege of the few who previously controlled them. In place of the controlling dictators or bureaucratic systems, the new order is defined by democratic processes, minority and factional groups, regional coalitions, and grass-roots movements.

Today, after Russia, Lebanon, and France have all been attacked by ISIS, we have to understand that believing in battle ships and drones ignores the ubiquitous and seemingly uncontrollable presence and action of violent, dispersed, and stealthful splinter groups. In Naim’s words, “The decay of power has changed the terms and the possibilities of conflict, increasing the influence of small, nonstate, and nontraditional players as the tools have generalized and the costs have tumbled.” Those in business also face a very different competitive world where advantage often goes to a smaller organization that can innovate without the encumbrance of approvals, traditions, and over-attention to the risk of brand. For those concerned with politics, it’s critical to understand that the paralysis observed in the U.S.A. and other “mature” democracies is largely the result of the same dynamics that have undermined power in the military and business – conflicting interests asserting their demands or product without regard for the impact for anyone else.

Naim compels us to name the change we are experiencing, understand its dynamics, and stop bemoaning the loss of privileged power that has trapped many of us in blind alleys. Those who continue to simplify what is going on to elementary levels have to be called out. The terrible simplifiers of our age offer simplistic and uninformed direction that may make us feel good (i.e. “Make America Great Again”) but sets us against each other. These simplifiers also exploit anyone with lower critical thinking insight or those whose identities are wrapped up in being victims. Once we join together in calling out the terrible simplifies, we need to work as citizen patriots to foster trust in each other and in people and systems that need our support.  This is the essence of renewed democracy as more citizens from many different perspectives begin to participate on our own ground rather than the platform offered to us by those who continue to perpetuate a form of power that is proving to be ineffective. “The undeniable positive consequences of the decay of power include freer societies, more elections and options for voters, new platforms for organizing communities, more ideas and possibilities, more investment and trade, and more competition among firms and thus more options for consumers.”