Month: July 2014

Malignant Narcissists

The Charming Narcissist

The Charming Narcissist

There are few encounters more damaging than those you have with extreme narcissists — in romance or as managers they often end up trying to control you through abuse. Here’s part of the chapter on narcissists from Bad Boyfriends: Using Attachment Theory to Avoid Mr. (or Ms.) Wrong and Make You a Better Partner:

Extreme versions of the attachment types can be diagnosed in adults as disorders. Many theorists believe that an entrenched avoidant attachment is at the core of the narcissistic personality disorder.[1]

Narcissism to varying degrees is a normal personality trait—we could substitute “self-centered” for the term and be correct. Psychologists think youthful narcissism is a part of typical emotional development—the stage where you say “Mine!” when asked about any toy. Normal children grow out of this as they experience the evaluations of others, and create a more realistic view of themselves and others as they grow up.

Many high-achieving adults score high on a narcissism test, being preoccupied with how they look to the world and working hard to increase the admiration received from others. In many professions this can be a useful and even necessary trait. But the most effective of them also understand and value the feelings of others, and thus are more successfully manipulative in getting them to do their bidding.

When we talk about dysfunctional narcissism, we are talking about adults whose self-centeredness and use of others to satisfy a deep need to be the center of attention has gone beyond functional to become abusive. The harm they do to their partners comes from manipulation, verbal and physical abuse, and abandonment—because the attention of a partner is only valued when it is shiny and new, and the increasing distress of a narcissist’s partner is met with hostility instead of efforts to reassure. The narcissist has little empathy or sympathy for the feelings of others since he or she is only concerned about getting the attention needed to cover up the hollowness of their low self-esteem.

How does the narcissist get that way? As a defense to caregiving that devalues the child’s true self, often provided by a narcissistic caregiver who needs the child to be “perfect” and “special” because that is how the caregiver views herself.

Babies crave having their performance validated, they need to be seen and loved for who they truly are, and they need to be given an ongoing sense of belonging, of being a valued fellow being in the family. If a mother fails consistently to attune to her baby in this way and to respond to his complex emotional needs, the young child, feeling unknown and unappreciated, is unable to know or appreciate himself. He shrinks back into a sense of helplessness, smallness, defectiveness, and shame, which he may then defend against by clinging to his infantile grandiosity, a grandiosity one or both of his parents may promote.… Outwardly self-important, prone to pomposity, self-adoration, and an annoying attitude of entitlement, he is haunted by a fragile self-esteem. His friends complain he’s only interested in talking about himself, his boss that he takes frustrations too personally, his neighbors that he’s pushy and conceited.[2]

Narcissistic personalty disorder is a recognized diagnostic category defined by the DSM-IV-TR, with these symptoms:

• Expects to be recognized as superior and special, without superior accomplishments
• Expects constant attention, admiration, and positive reinforcement from others
• Envies others and believes others envy him/her
• Preoccupied with thoughts of great success, enormous attractiveness, power, intelligence
• Lacks the ability to empathize with the feelings or desires of others
• Is arrogant in attitudes and behavior
• Has expectations of special treatment that are unrealistic

Splitting is the defense mechanism narcissists use to save their fragile self-images from real-world negative evaluation. The self is grandiosely inflated and all which fails to reflect this false high self-esteem is devalued, “splitting” the world into good self-and-adherents and bad everything else. “Other people are either manipulated as an extension of one’s own self, who serve the sole role of giving admiration and approval, or they are seen as worthless (because they cannot collude with the narcissist’s grandiosity).”[3]

Narcissists are users: they exploit others ruthlessly for their own needs, and as a result tend to have few or no long-term relationships, with shallow and utilitarian relationships predominant.

Because of their underlying lack of self-esteem and dependence on others, they are deeply hurt or angered by criticism or a lack of the attention they feel they deserve, imagining slights in the most minor incidents.[4] Not having a realistic understanding of the emotional states of others, constant reinforcement of their egos (called narcissistic supply) is required for them to remain stable. If a relationship partner is critical or fails to provide the needed supply of ego-boosting attention, the narcissist will go into a rage and devalue the partner, with physical or emotional abuse being a common control technique. Tearing down others makes the narcissist feel better about themselves, and one key to recognizing a narcissist quickly is a self-reported history of being involved almost entirely with unreliable, crazy, or otherwise defective partners. No relationship breakdown is ever the narcissist’s fault!

Narcissists believe they are special and better than other people, and if the universe fails to confirm their belief as it becomes clear in later life that their grandiose expectations will remain unsatisfied, psychic collapse and depression can result. Narcissists rarely recognize any problem with their condition until depression and loss have made them desperate.

How to Recognize a Narcissist

A narcissist tends to talk about himself in glowing terms and denigrate or diminish others in his life; if your date mentions several previous partners and has something bad to say about all of them, he’s probably a narcissist, because no relationship issue is ever his fault. Putting down others to feel superior is their thing.

The narcissist may have the outward trappings of success, but of all the types in this book, the narcissist is the most likely to be deeply in debt to keep up appearances. The car is leased, the teeth are capped, the successes they talk about are exaggerations. If no one you’ve met knows him well and you can’t confirm his stories, beware.

In conversation, if he seems unwilling to listen to you talking about your life and your feelings, beware. No matter how interesting he seems to be, if he doesn’t show signs of caring about how you feel, don’t get sucked in. Ask yourself why this person wants you around if they don’t care to know your history, your feelings, your friends, and your family—is it because you make a great fashion accessory? Does he look more successful when you’re with him?

Any hint of controlling behavior—extreme jealousy, paranoid accusations, the sense that you have to justify yourself constantly—is a red flag. Also note as signs: overreacting to mild criticism, rages and tantrums when questioned, denial of obvious facts and events you have witnessed, and frequent lies and evasions.

The Abusive Narcissist

The classic abusive partner is a narcissist. Using verbal and physical abuse to control and maintain his relationship with a partner treated as an accessory, a narcissist can spend years demeaning and abusing a partner who is locked into a co-dependence; commonly the partner has fallen into extreme dependence as the narcissist has manipulated his partner into cutting off relationships with friends and family who might help. The narcissist will at first build up a victim and treat the victim well, then devalue and abuse, and this can be cyclic—if about to actually lose their partner, they will pretend to feel remorse and behave more sensitively for just long enough to lull the victim into staying. A long-term relationship with an abusive narcissist can severely damage the victim’s self-esteem, finances, and support network, leaving him or her with few resources to recover.

Be aware that some of the more attractive people you will meet are narcissists, and they are life-destroying in a long-term relationship. Run like hell if you meet one.

Further Reading


[1] Karen, p. 390
[2] Karen, p. 390
[3] Kernberg, O.F. (1970). “Factors in the psychoanalytic treatment of narcissistic personalities.” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 18:51–85
[4] Jordan, C. H.; Spencer, S. J.; Zanna, M. P.; Hoshino-Browne, E.; Correll, J. (2003). “Secure and defensive high self-esteem”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 85 (5): 969–978. “A person can have a high self-esteem and hold it confidently where they do not need reassurance from others to maintain their positive self view, whereas others with defensive, high self-esteem may still report positive self-evaluations on the Rosenberg Scale, as all high self-esteem individuals do; however, their positive self-views are fragile and vulnerable to criticism. Defensive high self-esteem individuals internalize subconscious self-doubts and insecurities causing them to react very negatively to any criticism they may receive. There is a need for constant positive feedback from others for these individuals to maintain their feelings of self-worth. The necessity of repeated praise can be associated with boastful, arrogant behavior or sometimes even aggressive and hostile feelings toward anyone who questions the individual’s self-worth, an example of threatened egotism.”

More on Narcissists:

Malignant Narcissists
Teaching Narcissists to Activate Empathy

More on Attachment and Personality Types:

What Attachment Type Are You?
Type: Secure
Type: Anxious-Preoccupied
Type: Dismissive-Avoidant
Type: Fearful-Avoidant (aka Anxious-Avoidant)
Avoidant: Emotions Repressed Beneath Conscious Level
Serial Monogamy: the Fearful-Avoidant Do It Faster
Anxious-Preoccupied: Stuck on the Dismissive?
Anxious-Preoccupied / Dismissive-Avoidant Couples: the Silent Treatment
nxious-Preoccupied: Clingy and Insecure Relationship Example
Domestic Violence: Ray and Janay Rice
Histrionic Personality: Seductive, Dramatic, Theatrical
Life Is Unfair! The Great Chain of Dysfunction Ends With You.
Love Songs of the Secure Attachment Type
On Addiction and the Urge to Rescue
Sale! Sale! Sale! – “Bad Boyfriends” for Kindle, $2.99
Controlling Your Inner Critic: Subpersonalities
“Big Bang Theory” — Aspergers and Emotional/Social Intelligence
Porn Addiction and NoFAP
Introverts in Management

Hugh Howey and JAKonrath on the Indie Revolution, and Amazon’s Netflix-for-Books

Indie Reader Approved

Indie Reader Approved

Hugh Howey’s Wool Series is some of the best indie fiction so far, and it’s been optioned for a movie and published by legacy publishers — but only after he made it a success on his own, through Amazon. J A Konrath was a successful fiction writer with legacy publishers, but has done much better by going indie in recent years, and he acribes much of the support for legacy publishers to a variant of Stockholm Syndrome. His epic post on publishing and a “declaration of Independence” for authors is here:

When in the Course of publishing events, it becomes necessary for writers to sever their ties with the industry that is supposed to have “nurtured” them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that we should declare the causes which impel those writers to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all writers should have an equal chance to find readers. That their successes or failures should be dependent upon their own actions and their own choices. That they should be paid fairly for their work. That they should have control over the works they produce. That they should have immediate and accurate access to their sales data. That they should be paid promptly. That they should not be restricted from reaching those who may enjoy their work. That whenever a publisher or retailer becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of Authors to abolish all connections with the offending parties.

The history of the legacy publishing industry is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over writers. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

They have given us take-it-or-leave-it, one-sided, unconscionable contracts.
They have failed to adequately market works they have acquired.
They have artificially inflated the price of ebooks.
They have refused to negotiate better ebook royalties for authors.
They have forced unnecessary editing changes on authors.
They have forced unnecessary title changes on authors.
They have forced crappy covers on authors.
They have refused to exploit rights they own.
They have refused to return rights they aren’t properly exploiting.
They take far too long to bring acquired works to market.
They take far too long to pay writers advances and royalties.
Their royalty statements are opaque, out-of-date, and inaccurate.
They orphan authors.
They orphan books.
They refuse to treat authors as equals, let alone with a reasonable measure of fairness.
They make mistakes and take no responsibility for those mistakes.
For every hope they nurture, they unnecessarily neglect and destroy countless others.
They have made accessories of the authors’ ostensible representative organization, the quisling Authors Guild, and are served, too, by the misleadingly named Association of Authors’ Representatives.
They have failed to honor promises made.
They have failed to honor their own onerous contract terms.
They’ve failed the vast majority of authors, period.

This blog has documented nearly every stage of these Oppressions, and in many cases offered solutions to publishers, and has been answered with only silence and derision.

But that’s okay. Because now authors have a choice.

We shall never be taken advantage of again. We shall not support any publisher or retailer that continues the abuses listed above. And we demand to share in the rewards we’ve busted our asses for.

In other news, the subscription reading service a la Netflix is popping up everywhere: Scribd and Oyster have already been active, and Amazon is in test phases. For c. $10 a month you can read umlimited numbers of works from their catalog, a good deal for avid readers, and catalogs are growing more extensive. Amazon’s new service is most fully described by GigaOm:

So far, the differences appear to be that Kindle Unlimited has no Big Five titles and Kindle Unlimited includes audiobooks. One major difference is that Kindle Unlimited will likely be available through Kindle e-readers. That’s not true for Scribd or Oyster. And it would be a big reason for avid Kindle e-reader users to choose Kindle Unlimited rather than Scribd or Oyster: If they are already using their e-reader all the time anyway, and can now access more books through it via a subscription, that would be a big perk.

How do authors get paid?

It depends on who your publisher is. Publishers Lunch reported Wednesday (subscription required) that publishers participating “via direct agreement” — which appear to be Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Bloomsbury, Open Road and Workman, among others — will be paid an ebook’s wholesale price when a reader completes a certain percentage of the book. That’s the same way that Scribd and Oyster operate. Then there are those well-known “big” books also included in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, like the Harry Potter series and the Hunger Games trilogy: Amazon has a separate Harry Potter deal that presumably encompasses (or was changed to expand to) Kindle Unlimited as well, while in the case of the Hunger Games, according to PL, “Scholastic will get paid their full wholesale price every time one of their ebooks is opened by a Kindle Unlimited subscriber.”

If you’re a self-published author participating in KDP Select, however, it looks as if your book can be included without your explicit permission simply under the terms and conditions you already agreed to: According to one poster on the Kindle Boards, “Books in Select will automatically be enrolled. Like the KOLL you won’t be able to opt-out if you’re in Select. You will be payed [sic] if you someone reads 10% or more of your book. The payment will come out of the same KOLL fund, just as if it was a borrow.” That “same KOLL fund” is a set pool of money from which self-published authors are paid each time their book is borrowed. Its amount changes every month but in July the total fund was $1.2 million.

More on Writers, Novels, Amazon-Hachette

Amazon Hachette

Amazon Hachette

I wrote earlier about the underlying issues in the Amazon vs. Hachette dispute.

The New York Times has a good story by David Streitfeld on one author who has done well with Amazon’s relatively new publishing arm:

Vincent Zandri hails from the future. He is a novelist from the day after tomorrow, when Amazon has remade the worlds of writing, printing, selling and reading books so thoroughly that there is hardly anything left besides Amazon.

Mr. Zandri, an author of mystery and suspense tales, is published by Thomas & Mercer, one of Amazon Publishing’s many book imprints. He is edited by Amazon editors and promoted by Amazon publicists to Amazon customers, nearly all of whom read his books in electronic form on Amazon’s e-readers, Amazon’s tablets and, soon, Amazon’s phones.

His novels are not sold in bookstores, and rarely found in public libraries. His reviews are written by Amazon readers on the Amazon website. “Has a little bit of something for everyone,” one enthusiast exclaimed. “Heavy machinery, love, humor and mystery.” And his latest prize was an award from Amazon.

A few years ago he was reduced to returning bottles and cans for grocery money. Now his Amazon earnings pay for lengthy stays in Italy and Paris, as well as expeditions to the real Amazon. “I go wherever I want, do whatever I want and live however I want,” he said recently at a bar in Mill Valley, Calif., a San Francisco suburb where he was relaxing after a jaunt to Nepal.

Mr. Zandri, who 15 years ago had a $235,000 contract with a big New York house that went sour, has an answer.

“Everything Amazon has promised me, it has fulfilled — and more,” he said. “They ask: ‘Are you happy, Vince? We just want to see you writing books.’ That’s the major difference between corporate-driven Big Five publishers, where the writer is not the most important ingredient in the soup, and Amazon Publishing, which places its writers on a pedestal.”

Amazon believes that publishers take too much of the money in producing a book and add too little value. In traditional publishing, the highest royalty a writer could get was 15 percent of the book’s price. With e-books, the royalty is 25 percent of net revenue, but Amazon feels that is still not enough. Mr. Zandri gets 35 percent, and self-published writers who use Amazon’s platform get more.

In interviews, for the first time, executives from Amazon and Hachette explicitly described their positions.

“If you charge high e-book prices, ultimately what you’re doing is making a slow, painful slide to irrelevancy,” said Russell Grandinetti, Amazon’s senior vice president for Kindle. “You have to draw the box big. Books don’t just compete against books. Books compete against Candy Crush, Twitter, Facebook, streaming movies, newspapers you can read for free. It’s a new world. It’s so important not to simply build a moat around the industry the way it is now.”

Amazon favors a price of $9.99 for many e-book titles, while Hachette and other publishers want to charge more. Sixty percent of Hachette’s e-book sales in the United States occur on Amazon.

“For most books, $9.99 creates more total revenue than $14.99,” Mr. Grandinetti said. “That means $9.99 creates more total dollars to share with authors.”

From the point of view of legacy publishers, they have bought their oligopoly fair and square, and anything they can do to slow change which threatens to take control away from them is good. The 4-5 big publishing conglomerates control most print sales and distribution, which for blockbusters is still wildly profitable, and the complex legacy system with its agents, publishers, distributors, and bookstores is being eroded by lower-cost ebooks and authors-as-publishers. So while they lose some revenue by overpricing ebooks and stiff the authors of royalties, they delay the transition to the much lower cost structure of ebooks.

The gatekeeping function of legacy publishers will have to arise in some sort of online reviewing and quality screening function. Amazon reviews are now used for this for both Amazon and other sites (which don’t do enough volume to have any depth of reviews except for the biggest-selling books.) Amazon recently purchased Goodreads, which was an attempt at an independent user review site, so it still controls most online customer reviews.

Also amusing: The Many Good Reasons Not to Write a Novel.

Another good read: Mad Genius Club on declining author income vs. publisher profits.

The Hawking Index of Unread Blockbusters

Hawking Index of recent Political Bestsellers

Hawking Index of recent Political Bestsellers

Until now we only had anecdotal evidence that many “blockbuster” books pushed by media and reviewers went largely unread (the most famous past example was Gravity’s Rainbow, critically acclaimed literature that was so dense and bereft of compelling narrative that few purchasers actually finished it.)

But now we have the “Hawking Index,” named after Stephen Hawking for his Brief History of Time, also hugely recommended and rarely finished. While we have no way of knowing how many Major Books purchased in hardcover at bookstores end up as doorstops, we now have data from Amazon Kindle books, which make available on their Amazon pages the location and number of notations users make within the book; it turns out many books have notations near the beginning but few or none near the end, indicating users did not make it that far. Since many books do have notations to the end, we know it’s not just because readers get tired of annotating; they simply stop reading.

WaPo has a good story on this, adding Hillary Clinton’s latest as another much-purchased, rarely-finished book, to go along with Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century as a best-selling bust with readers:

The summer’s most-read book? Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch.” Least-read? Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” for which the notations only get about 2.4 percent of the way in.

So, naturally, we decided to apply this methodology to “Hard Choices” and other recent or comparable political books. And we have our own ranking, which we now present in order from estimated-least- to estimated-most-read.

1. “Hard Choices,” by Hillary Clinton. Hawking Index: 2.04 percent. Well, there you have it. The deepest into Hard Choices the popular highlights get is page 33, a quote about smart power. Three of the five most-popular highlights occur within the first 10 pages. We will note the same caveat that Ellenberg applies to Piketty. “Hard Choices” is fairly new, and fairly long. Still, though, one would think more people had made it past page 33.

The most popular quote? “Do all the good you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” Which, like several of the top quotes from the authors listed below, isn’t actually a quote from Hillary Clinton. Instead, it’s a mantra from her family’s Methodist faith.

I took a look at my own book and the highlights readers chose seem to indicate most readers read it all the way through — the two most popular:

Most of the trouble in relationships is about bad signaling and poor responses. (6 Highlighters)

A good partner is reliable and available to help on call, whenever possible; a good partner leaves his partner alone when help is not needed, staying quietly available behind the scenes…. (5 Highlighters)

…which I actually wrote, though some of the prettiest language highlighted by users is quoted from other books (where a thought was expressed so beautifully I could not improve upon it.)