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3.0 out of 5 stars A curate;'s egg - Warning spoilers, 21 Nov. 2013
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This review is from: The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love, and Family (Kindle Edition)
The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists (WoOz) is an excellent guide to gaining an understanding of, and coping with aspects of NPD. I have given it 3 1/2 stars because while it is illuminating in some respects, there are omissions and IMO, some of her recommendations are glib and consequently flawed.

Off topic ... As usual, the Kindle version is full of typos, spelling errors, poor pagination and alignment, which is distracting. However, the worthiness of the material in a book should not be measured by sloppy typesetting and editing. I wish that Kindle would clean up their act, because reviewers often dock a star for this reason alone. I have not done so.

Until recently, I did not know that narcissism is a recognized disorder, only stumbling across it by chance on Amazon's recommended reading list. Further research revealed labels for other similar personality disorders, namely BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) and AsPD (Antisocial Psychopathic Disorder), which encompasses psychopaths and sociopaths. Apparently the major difference is that psychopaths are born, while sociopaths are made (heredity vs environment).

Fortunately, one seldom encounters full blown AsPDs. Not all narcissists are sociopaths, but all sociopaths are narcissists. There are obviously many more personality disorders, but they are not relevant to this review.

A professional would probably have little difficulty in distinguishing between them, but the layperson will surely be bewildered, as their characteristics overlap. These three (and maybe more) personality disorders are all about smoke and mirrors. While intrinsically such individuals claim not to be aware of the misery they cause, in reality they either don't care, or get a kick out of being so adept at their craft. I say this because I have seen NPDs switch easily between thoughtfulness and contempt depending on their loyalty meter or degree of sycophancy. I am convinced that most of them are actually more aware than they let on, leading to their compulsion to lie pathologically.

We all know that regardless of age, people lie for 3 main reasons :

1. They know they have done something wrong or have something to hide;
2. Self-aggrandizement or financial gain;
3. Fear of eliciting disapproval.

While being painfully familiar with the character traits of what I now know to be NPD and BPD respectively, I had assumed that the former was simply immaturity, while the latter was ... borderline, but not quite, therefore relatively harmless. Not so!

For most of my adult life, I have been in close contact and relationships with more than my fair share of people manifesting traits of both BPD and NPD, to the extent that I had been brainwashed into thinking that I was paranoid. To my immense relief, WoOz has proven otherwise by pointing out why I seem to attract these people. As a co-dependent nurturer, I gravitate towards and enable them. That nugget alone is worth a 5 star rating!

The overt narcissist is so in-your-face that he is easy spot, but harder to manoeuvre around - once you are in his/her gun sights, you are already dead in the water, without warning. In addition, fuelled by their insecurity and low boredom thresholds they are easily swayed by malicious rumour-mongering - in fact, they thrive on it. A carefully worded insinuation can turn the overt NPD from your best friend into your worst enemy in a flash, without pause for thought, or verification.

The susceptibility of NPDs to influence is not mentioned explicitly - with a second reading one can deduce this, but only if you are specifically looking for it. Considering how detailed and at times repetitive her case studies are, the onus should not be on to the reader to work it out. Instead of tackling NPDs head on, which seldom works, it is worth (carefully) appealing to their baser natures via this admittedly devious method and by flattery. It takes a thief to catch one.

An example of this is the mischief-making that goes on between competitive daughters-in-law vying for their NPD mother-in-law's approval.

Conversely, the passive-aggressive, covert NPD animal avoids confrontation and his/her inflexibility curbs troublemaking somewhat. But in the end, both NPD types will hang you out to dry in their own ways, because even if the covert NPD was not the instigator, he/she is still complicit by his/her reluctance to go out on a limb for you. Getting them to admit culpability is a challenge, if not impossible. Further, their apparent inaccessible austerity is a deterrent to engaging them in discussion or highlighting their shortcomings. Despite their warped morality, they have a rigid perception of right and wrong, hence their habitual lying, often for no discernible reason, even when not challenged.

Ms Payson describes the covert NPD's aloofness in her first chapter, but contradicts herself later in the book by encouraging the abused care-giver to verbally set boundaries. This won't get off the ground - they rarely permit analysis and are largely incapable of introspection. Tamper with the ego of an overt NPD at your peril.

What has served me better is to set boundaries myself, without consultation. I will never instil consideration and empathy in someone who is unaware of, or unreceptive to their responsibility in needing to adopt these attributes. Before reading the book, I realized that there are 3 choices. Get out before irreparable damage is done, accept them as they are, or learn to survive in spite of them, subtly dishing out an occasional dose of their own medicine (to make you feel better).

Ms Payson is somewhat idealistic in her classification of, method of tackling and prognosis for NPDs. If they don't see anything wrong with their behaviour, how genuinely willing can they be to undergo therapy? The wife-basher who tells his spouse : "You made me do it!" is a case in point. Criticism is a no-no, so confronting them privately or in therapy is looking for a hiding to no-where. As happened to me, NPDs are more likely to charm the therapist into thinking that they are a catch made in heaven and I was the problem, with my unrealistic and trivial expectations!

Understandably, Eleanor Payson says that "therapists with expertise in this arena know that it is unwise to treat more than two or three NPD individuals at any one time because of the enormous amount of energy and attention they require." If she is wary of NPDs with whom she is not intimately involved, the threat they pose to those seriously invested in close relationships with NPDs and their cousins must be formidable. I wonder if she is not blurring the lines somewhat between NPDs and AsPDs.

"In "Snakes in Suits : When Psychopaths Go to Work", industrial psychologist Paul Babiak and psychopathy expert Robert Hare cite examples of full blown AsPDs capable of walking into their offices with loaded guns, fully prepared to open fire on co-workers and/or managers. I had written this before reading her identical example. Admittedly, she adds the coda that they may then blow out their own brains. I disagree that they are NPDs - they are psychopaths.

The above is an extreme example and Babiak and Hare caution against indiscriminate and hasty pigeonholing for good reason. NPDs may be manipulative, needy and unscrupulous, but they are not psychopaths - yet. While "Snakes in Suits" case studies are confined largely to the workplace, again one can adapt the material to personal situations.

Unlike the classic example of the born psychopathic serial killer whose descent into madness began by torturing and dismembering small animals as a child, sociopaths evolve over time. Hitler and Osama bin Laden (to quote her examples) probably started out as overt NPDs or bullied children, as did many cult leaders. They developed magnetic personalities to establish a following, spurring them on to greater things - like getting groupies to action their sick fantasies. Yes, terrorists are groupies too!

If somewhat verbose at times, Ms Payson's book does a great job in the areas that she covers and I was able to apply techniques from other types of interpersonal relationships to my own circumstances. But by overlooking the concomitant grey areas of BPD, NPD and AsPD, vulnerable co-dependents have not been alerted to potential danger. In the interests of personal safety, some individuals are best left unchallenged.

She goes into great detail for the child of an NPD parent, but the reverse - namely information for the parent of an (adolescent/adult) NPD child - is notably absent. It is a delicate dynamic and, as with taking on a covert NPD, a confrontational stance may not be appropriate, so I am no wiser on that front.

There are some really good people out there whose acts of kindness and generosity do not conceal an agenda. But I fear that far from humanity evolving, society today fuels self-centeredness, childlike behaviour and abuse. Human rights have probably never been in a worse place than they are now. According to Martha Stout's book, "The Sociopath Next Door", 4% of the western population are sociopaths.

Facebook, Twitter, blogs and forums all provide outlets for people to show off and have their say, without face-to-face confrontation. Cyberspace is the perfect vehicle for the cowardly passive aggressives to vent at a distance and for overt psychopaths to home in at leisure on their next victim. Many of the followers of the past don't need leaders anymore - they can just do their own thing.

More photographs, especially self-portraits are being taken than ever before. We are firmly in the "me" generation - "I" am the only one who really matters.

The child who interrupts her mother with "Look at me, look at me now!" has the excuse of being too young to see outside "self" to acknowledge "other". But she may grow up to be the person who tunes out of conversations, conveniently forgets chores and errands, or is indifferent to loss or illness suffered by others. Was she marginalized or overindulged in her formative years? We will never know, because the childhood she portrays may be a fabrication.

I may have painted a bleak picture, but Ms Payson's advice is somewhat simplistic, outdated and misleading. It should be viewed as a cautionary tale - for co-dependents to set boundaries for themselves in their current relationships, as well as not repeating their mistake of attaching themselves to another narcissist.
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