Introduction | What is a personality disorder? | Narcissistic Personality Disorder
How to recognize a narcissist | Traits discussed | "Now We Are Six" | "It's a Good Life"
What's normal? | Further reading | Attachment | Narcissus in art | Aftermath | Beyond | Music
Almost Perfect, by Alice Adams [Gold Medal, 1994].
This is a novel I bought off the paperback rack at Safeway three or four years ago. I've seen a few reviews of this book and have yet to see a reviewer recognize that the character, Richard Fallon, is a narcissist, so I wrote a brief review for Amazon to put online. I can't recommend this novel for pleasure reading, but it gives a lot of insight into narcissistic thinking. I found it profoundly sad and alarming; if you care about a narcissist, you probably will, too.
Your Six-Year-Old: Loving and Defiant, by Louise Bates Ames and Frances L. Ilg [Dell Trade Paperback, 1981].
One of the series from Gesell Institute of Human Development, this book was recommended by a mother who said, "The hardest time with my daughter was when she was right around six. She reminded me so much of my impossible mother that I almost panicked. But this book calmed me down by explaining that the things that scared me so much are normal and temporary for kids this age. Now I think that Mom got stuck at the level of a six-year-old in a lot of ways." Most kids this age are a real handful. It's typical for them to be dramatically ambivalent towards their mothers, ardent adoration alternating abruptly with furiously defiant, "I hate you." "But Mother is by no means his only problem. The consensus is that somewhere around Five-and-a-half to Six years of age many children's behavior takes a marked turn for the worse in many directions."(p. 4) [If you've ever held a party for six-year-olds, Chapter Eight, "The Six-Year-Old Party," is worth the price of the book.]
The Journals of John Cheever, [Ballantine, 1993].
I read the excerpts that were published in a series in The New Yorker in early 1993, and have not read the book. I had admired some of Cheever's stories, but I read the journals because I was curious about the inner life of a highly intelligent, creative, and articulate alcoholic. I learned something about that, but I was alarmed to find Cheever so much like some people I knew and, at one point, he records having been diagnosed as a narcissist. I can't really recommend Cheever's journals for pleasure reading, but you can find out a whole lot about how a narcissist thinks about himself (grandiosely and almost exclusively) and others (only when he absolutely has to).
Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life, by Susan Forward with Craig Buck [Bantam, 1990].
Amazon has several good reviews online. This book is about how NOT to remain permanently maimed by parental abuse -- verbal, emotional, physical, sexual.
Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists in Their Struggle for Self, by Elan Golomb [Quill, 1995].
Amazon has a good review online. This book is about the struggle narcissists' children have coming to a realistic self-valuation. Golomb notes in passing that, whenever the child of a narcissist emerges relatively unscathed, to look for art as the route of psychic self-rescue. The unhappy testimony is that narcissists' self-hatred is so deep and incorrigible that they find it impossible to love or respect anyone who had the bad taste to pick them for parents. For a young adult struggling to come to terms with a cold and cruel parent, this book could be helpful and comforting.
Individuation and Narcissism: The Psychology of Self in Jung and Kohut, by Mario Jacoby [Routledge, 1992].
(Amazon has this book's title slightly wrong). Jacoby is director of the Jung Institute in Zurich. The book considers narcissism from literary, historical, and psychological perspectives, and is well worth reading for itself, even if you're not trying to figure out how to cope with a narcissist in your life. Jacoby offers thoughtful, empathic, subtle, and complex reflections and observations on theories of self, comparing Freud and Jung and developments since F&J; who we are, how we become ourselves, how we come to terms with transpersonal forces.
Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity for Love, by Robert Karen [Oxford University Press, 1998].
This is a lovely, moving book, strongly recommended to anyone who is a parent or has a parent. [This means you.] The book surveys the history of attachment theory and research, especially the work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Karen also gives thoughtful consideration to the ways in which adults can repair or remedy the unhappy effects of insecure early relationships. Extensive bibliography.
Narcissism : Denial of the True Self, by Alexander Lowen, M.D. [Touchstone Books, 1997].
This book was originally published in 1985. It is the best introductory book I know of for general readers. I like Lowen's books. He's humane and down-to-earth and writes clearly. Lowen discusses the narcissist's emotional numbness and its function as emotional self-preservation. He was quite optimistic about treatment possibilities when he wrote this book. I've never heard of anyone who tried Lowen's course of therapeutic body work to resuscitate numbed emotions, but few clinicians today share his (1985) optimism about healing narcissism.
Prisoners of Childhood: The Drama of the Gifted Child and the Search for the True Self, by Alice Miller [Basic Books, 1996].
(When Basic Books first published this one in 1981, the 118-page paperback was $5.95 and had the subtitle "How Narcissistic Parents Form and Deform the Emotional Lives of Their Talented Children.") Talented, in Miller's sense, means psychologically talented -- i.e., alert and sensitive. Miller stresses that the depression and lack of vitality that plague many gifted people can be solved only by mourning for what they never got as children.If your mother was a narcissist, READ THIS BOOK. It can change your life. Then read Karen's Becoming Attached also reviewed on this page.
People of the Lie, by M. Scott Peck [Touchstone Press, 1997].
I haven't read most of Peck's books, just this one and The Road Less Travelled. I first read this one quite a few years ago, and it's the one that clicked with me on the effects of narcissist parents on their children -- i.e., the one that made "narcissism" more than a theoretical concept by connecting it to my personal experience. It is about good and evil, particularly in the context of the damage some parents are willing to inflict on their children rather than change their selfish ways. Peck makes the point that love is not only a feeling, but also a pattern of conduct and that we can choose to act in loving ways even when we've temporarily "lost that lovin' feeling." In short, that love is made by loving activity.
Disorders of Narcissism: Diagnostic, Clinical, and Empirical Implications, edited by Elsa F. Ronningstam, Ph.D. [American Psychiatric Press, Inc., 1998].
This is a collection of papers by experts. I found it disappointingly uninformative, and even naive in some places, as if most authors had little experience of how pathological narcissists behave outside the clinical setting, though Robert Hare, on p.419, advises against relying on self-reports in assessing narcissism. But these papers make clear that diagnostic standards are controversial and debated rather than clear and definite, for those interested in how one diagnosis is chosen over another. The book is expensive, and I can't recommend it for general readers, though it might be worth looking into if you can get it through your library. Bibliography.
Narcissism and Character Transformation : The Psychology of Narcissistic Character Disorders, by Nathan Schwartz-Salant [Inner City Books, 1982].
Schwartz-Salant, a Jungian analyst, is one of the few clinical writers who gives the impression of having had actual everyday experience with narcissists on the hoof. I can't recommend this book for general readers, but if you have some Jungian background or are feeling adventurous, you may find it very stimulating. I have a pretty heavy-duty Jungian background, and I found it to be pages and pages of confusing obscurity interspersed with paragraphs of riveting clarity -- and, like all good Jungian work, this book is psychoactive, so use it with care.
When You and Your Mother Can't Be Friends: Resolving the Most Complicated Relationship of Your Life, by Victoria Secunda [Delta, 1990].
This book was recommended by a reader of these pages, and I thank her. It is about relationships between mothers and daughters, but I think it might be helpful to men as well. Based on research and interviews with many women, the author describes five patterns of destructive mothering, including the narcissistic "Avenger," and five patterns of daughters' adaptations to mothers they can't be friends with. Helpful suggestions for evaluating your options, from reconciliation to "divorce." Bibliography.
The Custom of the Country, by Edith Wharton [Penguin, 1990].
Edith Wharton demonstrated great insight into a narcissistic personality in this 1913 novel about a restless, impulsive, extravagant, discontented young woman for whom getting what she wants only leads to more dissatisfaction, for every improvement in her social status and lifestyle only teaches her about more things to want. The beautiful Undine Spragg persuades her indulgent and newly rich parents to move from Apex City, somewhere in the Midwest, to New York so that Undine can pursue her social ambitions. She marries into an "old New York" family of high status and is almost immediately disappointed because her new husband, Ralph Marvell, wants to spend time alone with her instead of going out shopping and partying all the time. Ralph disappoints her because he isn't rich enough to support her in the style to which she'd like to become accustomed, and she flirts with a richer man, a society rake whom she eventually scares off, though not before she has divorced Ralph. She kicks around Europe without much to do and not nearly as much money as she wants until she badgers a French aristocrat into marrying her -- only to find out that her count spends 10 months of the year in the country with his pious mother and other relatives and that he prefers to spend his money on improving his farms than on keeping Undine up to the minute on Paris fashions. She divorces him, too, in order to marry Elmer Moffatt, a man she's known since Apex days, who is now a railroad billionaire. The end of the book finds Undine married to the richest man in America and still not satisfied, telling her husband that if he had a spark of ambition he could easily become an ambassador.
   He laughed and thrust his thumbs in his waistcoat armholes with the gesture she disliked. "As it happens, it's about the one thing I couldn't."
   "You couldn't? Why not?"
   "Because you're divorced. They won't have divorced Ambassadresses."

The novel is often described as a satire, and is unfortunately burdened by grotesque names for several characters, but it seems pretty realistic to me -- bearing in mind that I have no experience with dashing over to Paris for a few weeks to tone up my nerves for the Newport season!! I felt I learned from this novel, especially about the dynamics of narcissists' chronic discontent (and also quite a bit about divorce in the early years of the 20th century).
Introduction | What is a personality disorder? | Narcissistic Personality Disorder
How to recognize a narcissist | Traits discussed | "Now We Are Six" | "It's a Good Life"
What's normal? | Further reading | Attachment | Narcissus in art | Aftermath | Beyond | Music
Feel free to drop me a note with questions or comments.
©1998, 1999, 2000 by Joanna M. Ashmun.