Top critical review
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Based on a dangerous premise
on 1 September 2009
I bought this book because my ex is a paid up narcissist and, as a psychologist myself with a grounding in CBT and a familiarity with both schema therapy and Jeffery Young's book (something frequently referred to by the author), I thought this book came with good credentials. I have to be honest at this point that I haven't read it cover to cover to yet, because it has yet to engage me, but I have speed read my way through.
However, my gut reaction was such that I wanted to write a review. Personally this book seems based on a dangerous premise - that it's good to see the world from the narcissist's point of view and that you can help them to change. In my opinion narcissists are excellent at seeing the world from their own point of view anyway and I think that sympathy and empathy for them is potentially quite harmful for the sympathiser. It keeps you where they want you - involved with them. Furthermore, narcissists are notoriously reluctant to engage in the process of change - why should they when they're so great anyway?
Whilst I can see the utility of giving people strategies for dealing with the unavoidable narcissists in their lives (close relatives, co-parents, colleagues etc), I think there's a lot to be said for the mantra of a lot of survivors' groups out there of simply getting as far away from any avoidable narcissists as you can (and that would include partners and supposed friends). Ms. Behary seems to give a lot of examples of interactions with the latter group in which the non-narcissist is supposed to be empathic for the narcissist's plight and help them on the road to change. Personality Disorder is rightly conceptualised as a continuum and if we're talking about people who are on the milder end of the narcissistic continuum, then that might be appropriate, but if you are involved with someone at the more extreme end, I think you could waste a lot of your time - and your life - atempting to put these ideas into action. CBT therapists are very good at data collection; personally before I bought into Ms Behary's approach, I'd like to know outcome statistics and the degree of narcissism of her clients.
If you're looking at books like this, I'd recommend "Why is it always about you?" by Sandy Hotchkiss. If you're interested in a CBT approach to narcissism, check out the last chapter of Jeffrey Young's book, "Reinventing your life" on entitlement schemata - this resonated for me. You might also find "The sociopath next door" by Martha Stout or "Without conscience" by Robert Hare useful. In my experience, hard core narcissists can behave very much like sociopaths and it can be useful to work out the differences. Apart from that, if you can, I wouldn't bother trying to help someone to change - let the narcissist get on with their entirely self centred life, whilst you make a better life for yourself.