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I'm relieved that the UK mental health community doesn't seem to have taken Dr Peck's ideas on evil to heart
on 29 June 2011
I am recovering from years of bruising encounters with a family member I suspect to be personality disordered and was given this book by a well-meaning acquaintance. There was some helpful material here. In particular I found the first part of it to be a validating account of what it can be like to be on the receiving end of this kind of disordered interaction (in short: confusing). The author's observations about the disordered person's need to maintain the appearance of perfection rang especially true to my experience.
However, I was not persuaded by the suggestion that the psychiatric diagnosis of personality disorder, especially Narcissistic PD, should include the concept of evil. There are many problems with this, not least the extreme subjectivity of the notion (although Dr Peck implies that all right-thinking people are certain to recognise evil when they behold it, which is a slightly cheap way of selling his claims).
I was even less persuaded by the argument that evil is an illness like cervical cancer or hypertension. Dr Peck over-stretches that metaphor until it is wafer-thin. And then he asserts that evil people are different from people who merely do bad things; in his view true evil is awarded the fundamental status of a personality trait. As made in this book, the contention that evil is both a part of the self and an acquired illness seems sloppy and unconvincing.
Despite frequently stressing the importance of treating 'the people of the lie' with compassion and understanding, there is more than a whiff of 'them and us' in some of the case studies presented here. I found the account of Charlene's therapy distressing, as was the author's readiness to attribute the lack of any positive outcome to his patient's inherent evilness.
This is where I began to be seriously alienated, a process which was completed by the vague and histrionic description of the author's participation in two exorcisms. I didn't feel inclined to read beyond that point. My mental health has been seriously threatened by my relationship with a personality disordered individual, but I still don't see how the 'hope for healing' referred to in the title could ever emerge from viewing personality disorder in terms of evil. Is this not the type of preconception which has made psychiatry such a devastating force for abuse and oppression?
I remain glad that the professionals currently revising the diagnostic criteria for personality disorders show no signs of having consulted this book first.