Mar 20

Is Your Boss a Narcissist? (Kinda Like Miranda Priestly?)

Is your boss a narcissist? Well, does his or her behavior resemble that of fashion magazine editor Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), the demonic boss in The Devil Wears Prada (2006)? Because almost everyone seems to believe she’s a really good example of a narcissist.

Marco R. della Cava, USA Today, writes about asking Dr. Paul Babiak, co-author of Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, about the Priestly character“As the ability to diagnose psychopathic behavior has improved, we find there are more women who fit this profile,” he states.

Or perhaps she’s a psychopathic narcissist? A narcissistic psychopath? A psychopath who’s also a narcissist? This sort of parsing is precisely what the DSM folks were getting at with their thoughts about eliminating NPD in the next edition—and placing it instead under Antisocial/Psychopathic Personality Disorder. But this has been dismissed for now.

(Charles Zanor reported on this for the New York Times in his aptly titled “A Fate That Narcissists Will Hate: Being Ignored.”)

But, do we really care that much about how to diagnose Miranda Priestly? We just don’t want her as our boss.

Andrea, Anne Hathaway‘s character, does, of course, wind up experiencing the misfortune of getting hired after all. And of course is wildly mistreated by boss Priestley.

If you are unlucky enough to have a boss who’s a bully or a manipulator or a puppetmaster, these just happen to be the three types of psychopaths Babiak and Hare, authors of Snakes in Suits, believe exist. Constructive advice is provided in the book about how to deal with them.

Mar 19

“Horrible Bosses”: Is Your Boss a Psychopath Like Dave Harken?

Listen to me, you stupid little runt. I OWN YOU. You’re my BITCH! So don’t walk around here thinking you have free will because you DON’T. I can break you anytime I want! Dave Harken, boss portrayed by Kevin Spacey in Horrible Bosses

It’s Monday morning. Do you know if your boss is a psychopath?

Well, first, do you even know what a psychopath is? I for one have not always been sure. It’s a term too loosely thrown around.

If you look for it in the DSM, it’s currently hidden within Antisocial Personality Disorder. Wait until 2013, though, and word is that you just might find it as Antisocial/Psychopathic Personality Disorder. Maybe. We don’t know yet for sure.

And now I will proceed to list all the traits that define psychopathic personality disorder…

Not. It’s so much more fun to illustrate with an example.

When the movie Horrible Bosses came out last year, management coach Phil Hayes reportedly stated that “by far the most realistic” portrayal of a bad boss in the film was Kevin Spacey‘s character, Dave Harken. Harken is “a psychopath who likes nothing more than tormenting his employees.” (Source: Laura BarnettThe Guardian.)

Before going any further, let’s meet Harken. View the movie trailer below to catch glimpses of such horrible behavior as Harken tricking an employee (played by Jason Bateman) into working hard for a deserved promotion–and then yanking it out from under him:

So, then, what is a psychopath? Writer Kevin Voigt cites Clive Boddy, author of Corporate Psychopaths: Organizational Destroyers (2011), as stating: “Psychopaths are great bullies. They are cunning and manipulative, and great at engineering situations. Although they don’t have emotions themselves, they can create emotional situations. The rest of us don’t even realize we’re being manipulated until it’s too late.”

Chances are better than you might think that you have a boss who is one. Voigt reports on a 2010 study that “found about 4% of senior managers displayed psychopathic tendencies, up from the 1% that researchers say could normally be found in society.” That’s one in 25, by the way.

Voigt also provides a relevant quiz developed by psychologists Robert Hare and Paul Babiak, authors of Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work (2007). Take the quiz. Read the books. Maybe you’ll figure out if your boss is one of these dreaded types. Or maybe you already know.

Below is another brief example of Harken’s psychopathy:

Is it any wonder that the black-comedy cinematic solution becomes joining forces with other mistreated employees of “horrible bosses” to do them all in?

Special note: Such behavior is not condoned by this blog. Or by Gam-Gam.

Mar 16

“By Blood: A Novel” About a Stranger Overhearing Therapy

By Blood: A Novel is a recently published work of fiction by Ellen Ullman about therapy. So far, it’s been getting good press.

The narrator, a “disgraced” professor in 1970’s San Francisco, happens to rent an office next to that of Dr. Dora Schussler, a therapist. He finds out that he can hear everything that goes on in Dr. Schussler’s sessions with one particular client–the one who doesn’t like the noise machine to be on.

He becomes fascinated with this client, a young lesbian who’s addressing her status as an adoptee. “The thrill for him, though, isn’t sexual. He’s invested in the patient realizing that it doesn’t matter who her birthparents are because it’s better to let the mystery be, to be free to forge your own identity rather than have that identity tied to parental behavior”(Newsday).

He overhears not only the client’s secrets but also the therapist’s dictation of notes about this client. Not just her clinical observations, mind you; apparently there’s some pretty significant countertransference going on.

Reviewer Parul Sehgal of the New York Times points out that Ullman’s book “…features a triangle so odd and improbable, it’s almost a riddle. Explain how a man can become fixated on two women without (a) seeing them, or (b) being seen by them.” Further insights from this review:

…this book, which leans so heavily on dialogue, isn’t merely about voices; it’s about speech, about how we use language to conceal what we mean, as all language is code…

Our narrator, hanging on every word of his beloved patient’s story, is rendered bodiless, only a pair of ears in a dark room. In the next office, the psychotherapist wheedles admissions from the patient. The patient wrests secrets from her mother. It is as Irvin Yalom (himself a psychotherapist) said: we are compulsive ‘meaning-seeking creatures.’

By the way, while researching this novel I came across a wonderful post from a NY Times blog that picks “the sentence of the week.” Ullman’s novel takes a runner-up position with the following: “Can you imagine how impossible it is to be a happy person if your mother thinks your smile is disgusting?”

Another incidental aside: the winning sentence is also interesting. From Margalit Fox’s obituary of real-life adventurer John Fairfax:  “At 20, he attempted suicide-by-jaguar.”

Anyway, back to By Blood, here are a couple more reviews to possibly whet your appetite:

Kirkus Reviews: “…(a) first-rate literary thriller of compelling psychological and philosophical depth.”

Minna Proctor, NPR Books:”… it’s irresistible — twisty-turny, insightful, revelatory — funny when it’s tragic, and complicated when it’s funny.”

Mar 15

“Pariah”: A Black Tomboy Lesbian Tries to Be Herself

Like the film Tomboy, another 2011 film, Pariah, features a young girl not easily accepted for who she is: a tomboy who’s a lesbian who’s black. The film’s tagline: Who do you become when you can’t be yourself? As stated by Adam Serwer in Mother Jones:

Alike is stuck being neither what other people want her to be nor who she wishes she was—which, in a broad sense, is exactly what adolescence is…Alike is not coming to terms with being a lesbian—the world is coming to terms with her being lesbian.

Writer-director Dee Rees based this story on her own experiences coming out as gay.

John AndersonNewsday: “The gay coming-of-age story’s been done, but ‘Pariah’ has something fresh to say, largely about the knotty complexities of love, and how they might keep someone in the closet: How badly do you need to be free, to hurt the people you love?”

Adepero Oduye portrays Alike (pronounced “ah-LEE-kay”), a 17-year-old living in Brooklyn who has conservative parents—a mom who’s devoutly Christian (Kim Wayans) and a dad (Charles Parnell) who’s a police detective.

As is often the case with tomboys, her parents have some issues about Alike’s presentation to the world, manifested in her choice of clothing, for example. Her mom argues with Alike about her choices; her dad is concerned with how she looks to his guy friends.

The struggles go deeper than this, of course. According to reviewer Gary Thompson, Philadelphia Inquirer:

Part of what makes ‘Pariah’ exceptional is its skill at mapping family dynamics. Alike knows her parents have a fraught marriage (there are hints that dad’s having an affair), and she knows her sexuality is one of several explosive situations that threaten family stability.

Oduye, actually 33 years old (!), told interviewer Judy Sloane ( how the cast prepared for portraying the family issues:

We didn’t have any rehearsals, but we did a mock therapy session. Dee brought in a therapist friend and we did an improv. That was the only thing we had in terms of rehearsal and I think that was the first day I met her. That mock therapy session informed us a lot because so much stuff came out. And we just threw ourselves into the world of our characters…

Below is the trailer:

Amy Biancolli, San Francisco Chronicle: “The film benefits most of all from Rees’ careful screenplay, which dances that shifting line between fear and emergent hope. One of Alike’s poems says it best: ‘Even breaking is opening. And I am broken. I am open.'”

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “‘Pariah’ feels a lot like life, at its most confusing, contradictory and exhilarating.”

James Rocchi, MSN Movies: “‘Pariah’ plays like a longer, more complex addendum to the recent It Gets Better campaign aimed at sending messages of survival and strength to gay and lesbian teens: Yes, Rees and her cast say, it does get better, but not for a while, and not without cost.”

Mar 14

“Tomboy”: A 10-Year-Old Girl Not Committed to Her Birth Sex

In the French movie Tomboy (2011), directed by Céline Sciamma, a 10-year-old girl named Laure (Zoé Héran) moves into a new neighborhood one summer and, only among her peers, pretends to be a boy named Mikael.

Sciamma has said that she sees the film as portraying “a child’s first real life experiment with gender.” My source? Skip the Makeup, a blog that discusses transgender issues as portrayed in film and other media. The same post also states that Sciamma used the English term “tomboy” for the title because the French term would be “garçon manqué”—which interprets as “failed boy,” a meaning she didn’t want to convey.

Much of what we see in the film is the day-to-day life of Laure at home with her younger sister and her parents—a loving family—who don’t at first know about her other identity. This alternates with us seeing Mikael at play, trying to fit in with his new friends. Significant anxiety is generated in us as we watch—we’re afraid of various things that may go terribly wrong if/when he/she gets “caught” by the other kids.

You can view the trailer below:

Skip the Makeup describes what’s likely to be the developmental process of a kid like Laure/Mikael:

For most 10-year olds, it’s not an either/or situation (even if it is for many trans kids) and no matter what the identity is, it might be years before the parents will even permit them to go in any direction away from the mainstream. Mostly, I left the film with a profound sadness thinking about what the main character will go through when puberty starts next year. Not that it’s a carefree summer by a long shot but, basically, it’s all going to go downhill from here.

Here are a few of the reviews I appreciated reading after seeing this film:

Melissa AndersonVillage Voice:Tomboy astutely explores the freedom, however brief, of being untethered to the highly rule-bound world of gender codes.”

Roger Ebert:Tomboy is tender and affectionate. It shows us Laure/Mikael in an adventure that may be forgotten in adulthood or may form her adulthood. There is no conscious agenda in view. There is just a tomboy. Not everyone needs to be slammed into a category and locked there.”

Jennie PunterGlobe and Mail: “Tomboy reveals a side of pre-adolescence rarely (if ever) depicted on the big screen, yet it never feels like a curiosity piece, nor is Laure (Zoé Héran), the titular character, portrayed as an outsider from a troubled home.”

Find out if it’s playing in your area—it’s definitely worth seeing.