Apr 06

“Fragile Bully (…Narcissism in the Age of Trump)”

The archetypal narcissist is a crazymaker, at once needy and aggressive, desperate
for love and yet rejecting of it, fragile child and bully. Laurie Helgoe, Fragile Bully

Psychologist Laurie Helgoe, who previously wrote Introvert Power, also has some important things to say in her 2019 Fragile Bully: Understanding Our Destructive Affair With Narcissism in the Age of Trump. In this book she explains how to disengage from people in your lives who display Trump-like behavior.

First, more about the term “fragile bully” from Kenneth N. Levy, PhD: It’s about “…the paradoxical dynamic of narcissism—that the grandiosity and surrounding bravado belies an underlying fragility and brittleness.”

A key statement from Helgoe: “When I talk to clients, friends, and family members who are trying to exit a destructive dance [around a narcissist], two consistent themes emerge: feelings of failure for being unable to fix the fragile bully, and feelings of shame for staying in the dance.”

So, how does one reconcile this dance? Knowledge and advice can be found within the following quotes I’ve selected from a resource on Helgoe’s website:

With severe personality disorders such as borderline and narcissistic personality disorders, it is often the people in the lives of the affected person who suffer. So we can often sense we are dealing with a narcissist by the feelings he or she arouses in us.

Narcissistic characteristics such as grandiosity and a sense of entitlement tend to elicit aggressive feelings—a desire to put the narcissist in his or her place. The narcissist’s lack of empathy may elicit extreme frustration. And on the flip side, the narcissist’s focus on his or her fragility can leave others feeling trapped—trying to “fix” the narcissist so that he or she can be more available. People are also drawn in by the narcissist’s charisma or fragility, gaining a sense of importance by being in the shared spotlight or by the promise of being the fragile narcissist’s savior.

The fragile-bully dynamic leaves loved ones with nowhere to turn: defend yourself, and the partner feels victimized; distance yourself, and the partner feels abandoned; express an independent thought, and the narcissist feels threatened. The unwritten contract is to empty yourself and keep dancing in step with the narcissist’s needs, even when those needs hurt you.

Developing empathy for oneself is crucial to the process of healing and emancipation. It’s also important to make room for the grief of ending a relationship—even a destructive one. The grief may have more to do with disappointment that you were unable to “fix” the narcissist or that you invested so much in a relationship that turned on you.

Narcissism sets up a “you versus me” dynamic, so breaking that dynamic is key. “You are important to me” statements combined with what Craig Malkin calls “empathy prompts”—“I feel/need/want,” help empower the self-absorbed to be cognizant and supportive of the loved one. If such efforts—which may be better accomplished with the help of a therapist—do not work, this may be a sign that the capacity for empathy is just not there.

Jun 18

High-Conflict Politicians Should Never Be Elected

The historical and present-day examples generally all show the same characteristics of how high-conflict politicians get elected: seductive personalities, high-emotion media, fantasy crisis triad, and splitting the voters into four groups who fight with each other. Until enough voters recognize these patterns of behavior, voters around the world will continue to elect high-conflict politicians who are narcissistic and sociopathic. Bill Eddy, Psychology Today

According to Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq., our country’s current president is just one example of known high-conflict politicians (HCP’s), i.e., leaders with “traits of narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial (i.e., sociopathic) personality disorder, or both.” Eddy, an expert on high-conflict personalities and the author of the newly released Why We Elect Narcissists and Sociopaths―and How We Can Stop, also highlights Hitler, Stalin, Nixon, Putin, and several others.

Four main reasons we sometimes wind up electing narcissists and sociopaths are laid out in Eddy’s recent Psychology Today post. Below are excerpts from his material:

  1. They have seductive personalities: “…(M)ost people miss the simple early warning signs of these high-conflict politicians (HCPs): 1) Preoccupied with blaming others; 2) Lots of all-or-nothing thinking; 3) Unmanaged or intense emotions; 4) Extreme behavior or threats.”
  2. “…(P)eople with extreme personalities will get the most attention” from the High-Emotion Media.
  3. The Fantasy Crisis Triad: What these HCPs convey is that “1) There’s a terrible crisis threatening us all; 2) It’s caused by an evil villain—an individual or group; and 3) An incredible hero is needed—typically an exciting outsider—who will quickly slay the villain(s) and solve the crisis with easy all-or-nothing solutions. The fantasy hero is the HCP who couldn’t get elected if it was based on skills, so they have to create or declare a crisis in order to get everyone thinking about the fantasy crisis triad rather than analyzing real abilities.”
  4. 4-Way Voter Split: Groups of Loving Loyalists, Riled-Up Resisters, Mild Moderates, and Disenchanted Dropouts typically form in relation to the HCP candidate—with the loyalists and moderates providing enough support to overcome the resisters and non-voters.

In an interview with Justin Caffier, Vice, Eddy explains why elected HCP leaders lack the ability to be effective in their positions.

They’re not good at working with other people. They also tend to not have patience. They don’t necessarily read a lot of history, a lot of analysis. They don’t like teamwork. HCPs don’t get along with a lot of people so they don’t have good information coming in, they don’t get challenged when they have a bad idea, and they promote their fantasy life onto the real world. So, they generally aren’t good problem solvers and narcissists in particular don’t have good problem-solving skills.

HCP personalities who run for major offices are actually “Wannabe Kings,” notes Eddy, who encourages readers of Why We Elect Narcissists and Sociopaths to learn how to never again fall under the spell of these dangerous and autocratic types.

As authoritarian expert Sarah Kendzior has repeatedly acknowledged via Tweets and elsewhere in the media: Once an autocrat gets in, it is very hard to get them out. Every day is damage done.

May 08

“Welcome to Me”: A Different Kind of Therapy for Borderline Personality

Kristen Wiig stars in the new indie dramedy Welcome to Me, written by Eliot Laurence and directed by Shira Piven. IMDB describes it as “(a) year in the life of Alice Klieg, a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder who wins Mega-millions, quits her meds and buys her own talk show.”

MORE ABOUT THE PLOT OF WELCOME TO ME

John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter:

Wiig’s Alice Klieg was diagnosed as a youth as a manic-depressive. While the diagnosis changed over the decades (her shrink, played by Tim Robbins, currently calls it Borderline Personality Disorder), Alice didn’t: Shelves of VHS tapes and a collection of ceramic swans attest to a lifelong fixation on a shallow sort of self-examination, the kind of hear-my-voice empowerment daytime TV was built on. When she wins an $86 million lottery, she seems less excited about the money than about the chance to read ‘a prepared statement’ about the story of her life to news cameras.

THE TRAILER

WHO IS ALICE?

Betsy SharkeyLos Angeles Times: “Her particular brand of disorder means she is, as the saying goes, honest to a fault. Sometimes, that means reminding a good friend of her teenage bikini phobia on national TV, at others, it’s more graphic — like when a sexual urge hits her. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen a lot. More common is her raw emotional vulnerability.”

Christopher Gray, Slant:  “Beneath her acts of character assassination, Piven and Wiig suggest a searching in Alice that makes her both palatable and sympathetic. (The film only seems to look down on her when using her penchant to mispronounce words as a crutch for additional, unnecessary laughs.)…Wiig affords Alice with an occasionally startling range of false confidence and emotional vulnerability…”

Justin Chang, Variety: “There’s no doubt that Alice is effectively enacting a very public, very expensive form of self-therapy, but what makes Piven’s sophomore directing effort…such an offbeat delight for much of its running time is the way it privileges comedy over catharsis…Alice isn’t a puzzle that needs solving — she’s more fun unsolved, frankly — and the filmmakers seem well aware that of all the things this woman may need, our sympathy isn’t one of them.”

HOW MENTAL ILLNESS IS PORTRAYED IN WELCOME TO ME

Justin Chang, Variety: On her TV show, Alice, among other kinds of kooky segments, “proves astoundingly articulate on the subject of her illness and her treatment; and watches in critical dismay while younger actresses re-enact formative/traumatic episodes from her life.”

Christopher Gray, Slant: “The film rejects a fawning (or even particularly detailed) account of mental illness in favor of a plunge into the deep end of Alice’s bottomless ego.”

John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter: “The film is in no rush to ask whether Alice’s tsunami of ego is eccentricity we can enjoy or a serious illness that merits our concern. Dr. Moffet regularly urges her to get back on her medication, but casting Robbins in the part is like a signal that we shouldn’t take his lefty nanny-state advice too seriously.”

OTHER CHARACTERS

Susan Wloszczyna, rogerebert.com:

While some fine performers like Jennifer Jason Leigh get lost in the shuffle, others manage to stand out: Tim Robbins as Alice’s long-suffering if naggy pill-pushing shrink; Linda Cardellini as her one and only friend; Wes Bentley as the on-air infomercial spokesman whose company produces Alice’s show and who becomes her lover; and James Marsden as his opportunistic brother who serves as the film’s Faye Dunaway counterpart as he encourages Alice’s crackpot decisions no matter the consequences.

Leave it to Joan Cusack—has she ever been less than terrific?—to be the one person to be able to divert our attention from Wiig as the show’s disgusted director who nevertheless occasionally engages in a lively on-air back and forth with Alice as a kind of unseen God-like persona from beyond.

Mar 19

“Oz Great and Powerful” As Narcissist In Growth Process

Today’s number one box-office hit Oz the Great and Powerful is a “prequel” to the classic The Wizard of Oz. It’s about how the Wizard actually gets to Oz in the first place.

In clinical social worker Eleanor Payson‘s book The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love, and Family (2002), she “illustrates how Dorothy’s journey captures all the seductive illusions and challenges that occur when we encounter the narcissist.”

The following excerpt from the first chapter of Payson’s book describes some of the signs of NPD, or narcissistic personality disorder:

Unhealthy narcissism is occurring when an individual excessively pursues admiration, attention, status, understanding, support, money, power, control, or perfection in some form. It also means that the NPD person is not able to recognize, other than superficially, the feelings and needs of others. The rules of reciprocity are not operating in the relationship. This is not to say that NPD individuals don’t often shower others with attention, gifts, or favors. Indeed, they often do. But the ultimate goal is always for some kind of return. The giving may be to foster a certain image or an overall feeling of indebtedness in you, such as an IOU note to be called in at some other time. You, of course, would rather believe you received the gift because you are cared for and valued.

A passage from Payson’s book that further describes how the narcissist uses manipulation to get his or her needs met:

The narcissist has learned that other people do not always do his bidding or meet his demands in the way he expects. He has, therefore, developed manipulation skills, sometimes deceitful, to achieve his goals. Sometimes these skills are a highly developed ability to charm and bring others under his spell or influence.

Other times, he may be exceptionally good at using intimidation, power plays, or intellectual prowess. Yet another style is the martyr manipulation of using helplessness, obligation, or guilt. In many ways, the narcissist has assessed, with considerable skill, the vulnerabilities of another person. He then effectively manipulates this person until he achieves his desired outcome.

The Wizard in Oz the Great and Powerful

As played by James Franco, Wizard-to-be Oscar Diggs is a magician from Kansas who wants to be not a “good man” but “a great man.” Unfortunately, Franco’s performance and/or suitability for the role has been widely criticized.

Yes, Some Viewers Do Indeed Find the Narcissism

IGN: “Diggs is a dangerously irresponsible narcissist at the start of the film and his journey is to become a leader that the people of Oz can believe in. It is less about him being powerful, or great as he imagined greatness to be (full of pomp and fame), and more about him being man enough to give the citizens of Oz the confidence to fight for themselves.”

1amgeek: “Oz the magician is a con-man who has tangoed with one too many women in his time, which has put him on the run, landing him smack dab in the middle of Oz, a land which just so conveniently is named after him. Oz The Great and Powerful follows this man’s journey from narcissistic ninny to the good man he never thought he was.”

It’s been suggested by some that Diggs’s less appealing traits are more tolerable by the end because of his eventual growth into a somewhat better human being.

Dec 21

“Young Adult”: Emotionally Stunted Alcoholic Narcissist

Over the weekend I saw the new movie Young Adult, a comedy/drama starring Charlize Theron, and featuring the same combo of writer and director, Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman, behind the success of Juno (2007).

Since seeing it, I read an article by Dan Persons, film journalist, and liked what he had to say regarding the release of this film during the holiday season:

Bless screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman their twisted, little hearts. In a season rife with people bettering themselves through moody introspection, they introduce us to Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), author of young adult novels and a woman who looks within and comes away with all the wrong lessons.

Young Adult isn’t season-specific, but it does serve as a healthy counterbalance to all that holiday growth and belonging…

Theron’s character Mavis, as described by critic Christy Lemire (Boston.com), is “an anti-heroine who makes no apologies for her deplorable behavior.” In addition, she’s depressed and knocks back hard liquor like there’s no tomorrow—and it clearly isn’t doing her any favors. And, with an unhealthy megadose of narcissism, her main quest in life, at the age of 37, is to bulldoze her way back into the arms of her old high school boyfriend—who’s now happily married with a newborn.

In the end, although very impressed with Theron’s acting, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the overall story. Yes, it had held my interest. But…

A few hours later, though, it caught up to me, and I found myself thinking more about the meaning and impact of Young Adult. As Robert Levin, The Atlantic, concludes: “It trades in discomfort and unease, not catharsis. That’s an achievement worthy of admiration, if you can endure it.”

And Roger Eberts sentiments also come close to my own feelings: “As I absorbed it, I realized what a fearless character study it is. That sometimes it’s funny doesn’t hurt.”

I would add, though, that the character is so damaged that some of those so-called funny moments—the ones that produced laughter from the people around us while my partner and I looked at each other questioningly—also do hurt.