On Narcissism or: How I learned to stop narking and love other narcissists

Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse, 1903.
Public Domain via Wikimedia.

Rethinking Narcissism: The Secret to Recognizing and Coping with NarcissistsRethinking Narcissism: The Secret to Recognizing and Coping with Narcissists by Craig Malkin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I discovered Craig Malkin’s work in Psychology Today. On subscribing to the magazine, I couldn’t help but think political science might have done the same thing. Psychology Today is a model for other disciplines of how to get their research out into the broader community in an easily digestible way. That’s not to say that I enjoy reading research results that are all presented as lists, i.e., “if you have these five characteristics you are an arsehole” – this becomes rather dull at times – but it does enable me to apply tools and learn about concepts in psychology that I would otherwise not have the training to comprehend appropriately.

Rethinking Narcissism is useful for self-analysis and for coping with others. The Narcissism Test was useful. I recall the first time I encountered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test in 1992, during a semester of “Character-Building”, a third-class module at the Royal Military College, Duntroon. I scored an extreme ENTJ (extraversion-intuition-thinking-judgment) – “The Commander”. I undertook the test again in 2001 and found I was slightly less extreme, less again in 2007, and since 2014 I occasionally score as an INTJ (introversion), but the NTJ types are still quite strong. Over time I have learnt to relax, to hold my tongue (when I am not ramming it down my throat), and to be patient, less aggressive, and less competitive. So, when I scored 7 on the narcissism spectrum (this is not too good – a five is ideal), I was not surprised but it made sense that from my teens until my forties I was easily in the extremely unhealthy narcissist range.

Malkin’s idea of narcissism as a spectrum was quite useful. When I left the military, I recall saying to my former CO, then a colonel, that I was sick of everything being so ego-driven (so said the young man who had been top of his cohort since Duntroon until leaving the Regular Army, a complete “thruster” if ever there was one and all at the expense of everyone around him). But the good colonel said to me that there was a bit of ego in everything, and it could be good. But off I went to join The Salvation Army, thinking it was circumstantial rather than me that was the issue (as you do). There have been several others who have recognised my philosophical struggles over the years and their insights were enlightening. Likewise, Malkin speaks to me in a way that makes it OK to be a narcissist sometimes, but to find a healthy balance in doing so.

On reading Malkin’s work, I can see I have much work to do. But now I also have a few tools to deal with the narcissists who surround me. Reading this work was similar to reading BIFF. One feels awkward reading about a scale of something rather than the binary “you suck – you’re awesome!” nonsense that drives most things in contemporary society. But Malkin echoes the words of the good colonel and for that alone it was worth the read. As for Goodreads’ rating system, I find it difficult to give such books a high score. Were they useful? Yes. Will I use the concepts? Yes. Does this strike me like Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice or Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast? Not really. So while my rating of this and other books is low, it is only in the company of the great literature I am reading. A separate ratings category for classics versus self-help books might be useful; regrettably, until such time I must rate books in the company they keep. But don’t let that stop you from reading this favourite from Oprah’s Book Club!

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