Sep 13

When Narcissism a Trait, Not Necessarily Disorder

Narcissism is an inflated sense of self. It is thinking that you are better than you actually are. It is a complicated trait with lots of different correlates to it, but it does include things like seeking fame, attention, vanity, and so on. However, its main characteristic is its self-centeredness. Jean M. Twenge (via Mutual Responsibility)

Several notable books, one brand new, take on the type of narcissism that is not necessarily a personality disorder but actually a relatively common personality trait.

I. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (2009) by Drs. Jean M. Twenge, W. Keith Campbell 

The authors address such questions as, how is narcissism not just high self-esteem? One main difference, they say, is that narcissists lack the ability or interest in nurturing their relationships.

Mutual Responsibility quotes Twenge on other “signs of narcissism”:

  • Overconfidence
  • Being delusional about one’s own greatness
  • Over-optimism
  • Taking too many risks
  • An inflated, unrealistic sense of self
  • Alienation from other people
  • Entitlement, the expectation of having things handed to you without much effort
  • Not caring about others.

II. Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad–and Surprising Good–About Feeling Special (2015) by Craig Malkin

Rethinking Narcissism is about de-pathologizing the term. “The truth is,” states the book blurb, “that narcissists (all of us) fall on a spectrum somewhere between utter selflessness on the one side, and arrogance and grandiosity on the other. A healthy middle exhibits a strong sense of self. On the far end lies sociopathy.”

Find out where you stand by taking a brief test that’s available on psychologist Malkin’s website. Your results will provide an assessment of your degree of echoismhealthy narcissism, and extreme narcissism.

(When people have “echoism,” according to Dr. Malkin, they are “so fearful of attention or acknowledgment that they often seem to have no voice at all.”)

By the way, psychologist Leon F. Seltzer (Psychology Today) says the longer book version of Malkin’s self-test is “alone worth the price of the book.” (He also highly recommends Rethinking Narcissism as a whole.)

III. Everyday Narcissism: Yours, Mine, and Ours by Nancy Van Dyken (September 12, 2017)

In an interview with Psychology Today, author Van Dyken defines “everyday narcissism” as “a low-grade, garden-variety form of narcissism that most of us struggle with, often on a daily basis.” Reports Publishers Weekly, “everyday narcissism” includes “the resulting passivity, inability to discuss emotion, and self-denial” that arises from being taught certain myths from an early age.

These five myths have been typically handed down from one generation to another and are as follows:

  • We are responsible for—and have the power to control—how other people feel and behave.
  • Other people are responsible for—and have the power to control—the way we feel and behave.
  • The needs and wants of other people are more important than our own.
  • Following the rules is also more important than addressing our needs and feelings.
  • We are not lovable as we are; we can only become lovable through what we do and say.

One of Van Dyken’s various recommendations is to learn how to say no, which in her work as a therapist is “one of the hardest pieces of homework I give to people.” Her advice will go something like this: “I’d like you to say ‘no, that won’t work for me’ three times this week.” As she recently related to Mike Zimmerman, tonic.vice.com, “It might take someone 3 months to learn how to do that.”

Sep 11

Top Self Development Books: Recent Poll Results

What is the best self development book you’ve ever read and why is it different from the rest?

This is the question that was posed to me and many others recently by SelfDevelopmentSecrets.com. And now the results are available here—but if you’re not up just yet for perusing the lengthy list, the following may be helpful.

Picked by the 200-plus polled “influencers” in highest numbers are the following:

Not only is there a fuller “bests” list on the selfdevelopmentsecrets.com link, further downward is each contributor’s name and his/her more detailed response.

Here’s the paragraph I submitted:

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott is the only self-help book I’ve read on repeat. Those interested in self-development who have little or no interest in learning about writing needn’t be put off by that part of the title, as Bird by Bird has so much else to say about how to take things a step at a time and how to eschew perfectionism and generally how to be in the world, and author Lamott does this without being preachy or clinical or annoying. Lamott writes in such a clear, humorous, self-effacing style you just feel like she’s your friend who cares about your well-being.

In a previous Minding Therapy post (2012) I excerpted part of the introduction to Bird by Bird, worth repeating here:

E.L. Doctorow once said that ‘writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard…
…(T)hirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’

For extra measure, a few favorite quotes from Bird by Bird:

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people…I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.

If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.

You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. The rational mind doesn’t nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.

Sep 08

Women’s Friendships: As Parsed by Deborah Tannen

Having a friend means feeling less alone in the world. Deborah Tannen, You’re the Only One I Can Tell

Deborah Tannen‘s new book You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships reports on interviews she conducted with 80 diverse women from ages 9 to 97.

Although the broader topic is communication in women’s friendships, some of the subtopics covered are as follows:

  • closeness
  • listening effectively
  • support
  • similarities to romance
  • ghosting

To read more about closeness in women’s friendships, check out Tannen’s recent New York Magazine piece. An excerpt:

To some women, ‘close’ meant a relationship where they saw their friends often; to others, closeness meant always picking things up as if no time had passed, even if they got together infrequently. Most often, though, it referred to the types of conversations they had, and the bond those conversations helped to create. Conversation, I found, typically plays a central role in women’s friendships, an avalanche of talk that can make those friendships as complicated as they are deeply gratifying.

One type of conversation is “troubles talk,” as linguists call conversation about worries. Which isn’t highly satisfying if your friend doesn’t actually know how to listen, “an act that’s more complex than just showing interest in what you’re saying. Close friends understand your words in the way that you meant them — and, most rewarding of all, give you the sense that they understand you.”

On the other hand, many friends measure the comfort level in their bond by the ability not to have to talk. Or by the level of support they receive when truly in need. Tannen states (New York Times), “Nearly everyone who told me how important friends were said that some who came through were not the ones they’d expected to. But the flip side of that coin can be among the harshest blows when illness strikes: the disappointment when friends you thought you could depend on let you down.”

Interestingly, women’s friendships can be as intense as romantic relationships. Megan Garber, The Atlantic, reviewing You’re the Only One I Can Tell:

…Friendships, like romance, can be fraught because of the same interplay between confidence and confusion that can make romance both exciting and, occasionally, excruciating…The love in the platonic relationships Tannen describes, just like their romantic counterparts, can be passionate, and comforting, and life-defining, and occasionally heart-breaking.
And also: confusing. A recurrent theme…is the extent to which misunderstandings can both complicate friendship and, in the rough manner of romance, make it more exciting…

As with romance, friends too can be ghosted when things go awry, Tannen points out in a recent Time article:

Why cut someone off without saying why? For one thing, explaining opens a conversation, implying you want to work things out, which you don’t. But there’s another reason, too. Many of us find it hard to say anything negative outright, so we swallow our hurt—until it chokes us. Ghosting means still not saying anything negative.

And sometimes friends are ghosted because of a third party’s interference. For instance, “When young adults live with parents or guardians, the adults may demand a cutoff, because they disapprove of a friend, or — though they probably don’t think of it that way — because they envy the attachment and feel displaced by it.”

In conclusion, “Tannen’s book comes at a time when our friendships are challenged daily in new and ghastly ways, thanks in large part to the use of various social media and texting,” Julie Klam (Washington Post) points out. “At a time when the messages we give and get have so many more ways to be misconstrued and potentially damaging, a book that takes apart our language becomes almost vital to our survival as friends.”

Sep 06

Men’s Friendships: Important, Sometimes Neglected

How men’s friendships develop has roots earlier in life, and teenage boys are observed to struggle, states Janet Olsen, Michigan State University Extension. She cites Niobe Way, author of  Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection (2011), who indicates that some of their obstacles “include cultural messages and norms about masculinity that begin to play a larger role during early adolescence in how boys view both themselves and each other.”

Boys report that they risk being labeled as ‘girly,’ ‘gay’ or ‘childish’ if they express a desire for close relationships with other boys and if they share vulnerable feelings with them. Boys also struggle with cultural norms about maturity as they move through adolescence. This is in response to messages that boys and men are supposed to be self-sufficient, independent, stoic and able to take care of themselves – as opposed to having characteristics that reflect community, connections to others, caring and empathy.

And thus boys become men and continue to face such challenges—but most do have friends. Geoffrey Greifs book Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships (2008) proposes, in fact, that there are four different types of men’s friendshipsmust, trust, just, and rust:

  1. must friend—the best friend and confidant.
  2. trust friend—less close than a must but liked and trusted.
  3. Just friends—casual acquaintances.
  4. Rust friends—go way back and whether or not they have regular contact, they can readily pick up wherever they left off.

Another typology, based on various studies, is the Male Deficit Model (Daniel Duane, HuffPost). This one includes convenience friends, mentor friends, and activity friends. And, “The theory holds that men tend to drift apart whenever the shared convenience, mentorship, or activity ends.”

Men’s friendships, furthermore, may have an increased tendency to crumble in mid-life, as Billy Baker‘s viral Boston Globe article from last March showed. “The biggest threat facing middle-age men isn’t smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness,” states Baker. “As men grow older, they tend to let their friendships lapse. But there’s still time to do something about it.”

Similarly, research by Robert Garfield, author of Breaking the Male Code: Unlocking the Power of Friendship (2015), and his associates has revealed that men don’t always maintain their same-sex friendships—but that over 60 percent wish they had them.

What does Garfield believe can men do to overcome the “guy code” in order to forge and keep better friendships? How can they break “free from the societal and gendered traps he calls ‘dementors,’ such as brutal machismo and homophobia” (Publishers Weekly)?

Garfield encourages men to practice the Four C’s—“which include learning how to make good connections in close relationships, share heartfelt communication, develop a strong practice of commitment, and learn to manage conflict (Kirkus Reviews).

In a pertinent article (GoodMenProject.com) Garfield breaks this down as follows:

  1. Making Meaningful Connections: “Men are often more comfortable talking about surface issues, work-related concerns, or informational matters instead of discussing more personal issues…”
  2. Honing Your Communication Skills: “If your friendship is important, shouldn’t your guy friend be getting your best efforts at sharing your feelings and listening to them with empathy?…”
  3. Practicing Everyday Loyalty: “Your commitment to a friend is better demonstrated by staying in regular contact…”
  4. Learning Friendship First Aid: “No close relationship is immune to conflict. Men, nonetheless often try to ignore the tensions and hurt feelings between them…”

Commitment is also emphasized by Baker, by the way, who reports that psychiatrist Richard Schwartz (co-author of The Lonely American) “and others say the best way for men to forge and maintain friendships is through built-in regularity — something that is always on the schedule.”

Sep 01

Mental Health News You’ll Use: August 2017

From August, mental health news you’ll use:

I. Most Parents Would Support Teen Switching Gender. Randy Dotinga, Web MD

As in, based on an online survey, “more than half.” More specifically, “Women, college graduates and Northeast residents were slightly more likely than others to support kids who made this choice, according to the Harris Poll survey.”

II. New Research Confirms 9 Ways to Help Beat Dementia. Susan McQuillan, Psychology Today

“A report published in July 2017 by the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care reveals nine specific things you can do, right now, and even for your children, to help lower the risk or even help those who are already showing signs of dementia.” In brief:

  • Pursue education, especially in early years…
  • Participate in some sort of physical activity on a regular basis…
  • Maintain social contact as you age. Avoid isolation and loneliness…
  • Treat hearing loss. Even low levels of hearing loss have been found to contribute to cognitive decline.
  • Control hypertension. High blood pressure is a vascular risk factor associated with lower cognitive ability.
  • Avoid obesity, which can lead to diabetes and vascular disorders, which in turn lead to impaired cognition.
  • Quit smoking, if necessary. Smoking is linked to vascular heart disease, which can contribute to dementia, but cigarette smoke also contains neurotoxins, chemicals that can poison brain cells.
  • Resolve depression. Although there is debate as to whether depression is a symptom or a cause of dementia, there is evidence showing higher rates of dementia in those who experience depression in the ten years leading up to a diagnosis of dementia.
  • Maintain strict control of diabetes, if necessary. Problems with insulin delivery in the body may cause the brain to produce less insulin, which would interfere with the natural removal of amyloid, a sticky protein that can build up and become toxic to brain cells. Diabetes also causes inflammation and high blood glucose levels, both of which may contribute to decreased cognition.

III. It’s in the Deeds: What We Do Shapes Who We Are. Brian R. Little, The Guardian

There are personality traits that we “have,” says Professor Brian Little, and there are personality “doings” or projects.

A project is not a momentary act but typically a sequence of actions. In contrast with the stable traits that are freeze-frame shots of your personality, personal projects are moving pictures; their full meaning is not apparent until the entire sequence comes into view.
The greatest value in thinking of personality as ‘doing projects’ rather than ‘having traits’ is in three powerful words: potential for change. We can consciously choose and adapt our projects in ways that we cannot change our traits.

IV. Most People Are Ambivalent About Breaking Up Right Before They Do It. Cinnamon Janzer, The Cut

New research: “Most people…wanted to stick with their partner even as they wanted to cut ties at the same time.”

V. 10 Podcasts About Mental Health. Rachel Orr, The Lily

Most of the recommended podcast hosts mentioned below deal with their own mental health issues and care about yours:

  1. Crybabies with Susan Thyre and Susan Orlean (“things that make us cry”)
  2. Mentally Yours with Yvette Caster and Ellen Scott (“the weird thoughts in our minds”)
  3. The Dark Place with Joel Kutz (“depression, anxiety, trauma and mental illness”)
  4. The Struggle Bus with Katharine Heller and Sally Tamarkin (“candid advice to listener-submitted questions about family, friends, work, mental health and literally everything else”)
  5. Another Round with Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu (friends who “frequently talk about anxiety, depression and the tough aspects of going to therapy…”)
  6. Sounds Good with Branden Harvey (“inspiring conversations with optimists and world-changers about happiness, overcoming struggles and living a life of intentionality”)
  7. Talking in Circles with Laura Miller (“what the voices in [people’s] heads are like”)
  8. The Heart with Kaitlin Prest (“audio art project about intimacy and humanity”)
  9. The Hilarious World of Depression with John Moe (“fellow comedians who are willing to talk about depression”)
  10. The Mental Illness Happy Hour with Paul Gilmartin (“interviews fellow comedians, artists, friends and the occasional doctor about mental illness, trauma, addiction and negative thinking”)