It’s good to feel good about yourself.
Clinical psychologist Malkin (Psychology/Harvard Medical School), contributor to popular magazines, the Huffington Post, NPR and Fox News, draws on decades of experience in his debut self-help book, focused on the problem of narcissism. That word, he says, is used so much that its meaning has become “alarmingly vague,” synonymous with selfishness and self-aggrandizement. Even among psychologists, the “slippery and amorphous” term can refer to “an obnoxious yet common personality trait or a rare and dangerous mental health disorder.” Malkin applies the term to a spectrum of traits, from benign to pathological, arguing that a little narcissism—a feeling of being special—is a good thing, leading to confidence, optimism, and sociability. Healthy narcissism, though, “boils down to striking the right balance,” and he focuses on how to achieve that balance in ourselves, friends, relatives, and children. As in most self-help books, this one provides an assessment questionnaire so readers can find their places on the Narcissism Spectrum: on the far left, individuals he calls echoists suffer from low self-esteem and tend to subjugate themselves to other people’s wishes; on the far right, extreme narcissists “see themselves as better than their partners (and most everyone else),” are often manipulative, insatiably seek approval, and seem “unemotional (apart from anger and thrill seeking).” “Narcissists and echoists are made, not born,” writes the author, justifying his advice about parenting: parents of echoists discourage their children’s pride and senses of accomplishment; parents of narcissists “often inflate their children’s achievements.” Parenting for healthy narcissism involves encouraging (but not requiring) dreams of greatness and fostering love and closeness. Lest readers worry that they won’t be able to identify a narcissist in their lives, Malkin provides five warning signs.
The author believes that anyone willing to change will be able to do so, and his reassuring tone and plethora of case histories offer considered advice and generous encouragement.