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I was attracted to the book, as any potential reader might be, because of its catchy title: Coping with Infuriating, Mean, Critical People -- Oh, do I know so many of them! I thought I had come across a book that would, as the title suggests, teach me how to cope with these people. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The reason this was not the case is to be found in the subtitle: The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern. That is, the book actually teaches us how to cope with people who exhibit the so-called destructive narcissistic pattern; such people tend to be infuriating, mean, and critical. However, not all infuriating, mean, and critical people can be said to exhibit the destructive narcissistic pattern; there are a myriad of other reasons why people might possess those nasty traits. Thus, the catchy title is evidently overbroad, and consequently somewhat misrepresentative of the book's actual scope and content.
The author or publisher may find the term "misrepresentative" far too strong. They may argue that, after all, the subtitle is there to narrow or define the wide scope implied through the main title. This is a plausible argument, but it itself grants that the subtitle is thus absolutely essential to the title in order for the title not to be misleading for potential readers. And this, precisely, is the main problem: the subtitle is toned down on the spine of the book cover; it is toned way down on the front cover; and, it is not even present on the first title page within the book. I am not at all suggesting that the playing down of the subtitle is evidence of deliberate misrepresentation on the part of the publisher. Far from it. But I am stating that I was indeed misled by the title, and, generalizing from there, that the title is in fact somewhat misleading.
But enough about that. There still may be plenty of interest in the topic that the book does cover, that is, coping with the people who exhibit the destructive narcissistic pattern, or DNP. Let us first address what the author means by DNP.
DNP is not a full-fledged psychological disorder or syndrome (it does not appear in the DSM-IV, for example), but rather a pattern of behavior. It is not defined by one particular trait, but rather by a cluster of likely characteristics. The author provides the following list as indicative characteristics of a DNP (24-25):
- Extensions of self and boundaries
- Lack of empathy
- The impoverished self
- Shallow emotions
The destructive narcissist need not exhibit all ten of these traits in order to exhibit a DNP, and people may exhibit some or even several of these traits without necessarily being a destructive narcissist. This makes it particularly difficult to know whether we even ought to conclude that a person exhibits a DNP, not to mention figuring out how to cope with him or her. Thus, over half the book (chapters 1-5) is devoted to exhaustively defining, describing, and explaining the nature and effects of a DNP, including several rating scales/questionnaires, as well as copious examples and anecdotes -- all this as preparatory to the task of learning how to deal with destructive narcissists (chapters 6-9). The rating scales consist of a series of questions that you should answer with the potential DNP person's behavior in mind. The author then provides you with an explanation for how to tally up the score derived from your answers at the end, et voila, you have a good basis upon which to decide what sort of person you are really dealing with. The rating scales include: Perception of Attitudes and Behavior Scale Related to a Destructive Narcissistic Pattern (6); Lingering Grandiosity Scale (64); Admiration-Seeking Behavior Scale (70); and, Center of Attention Rating Scale (78). It's quite fun to run oneself through the grinder and find out just how grandiose or admiration-seeking one really is.
Speaking of turning the scales to oneself, one of the most interesting aspects of the book is how the author concentrates on the reader's need to turn his or her attention inward, as an essential ingredient to coping with the DNP of others. Since the destructive narcissist is unlikely to change him or herself, and since, at any rate, it is highly unlikely that we can do anything to force a change in his or her behavior, it becomes necessary that we look at our own behavior, at the reactions evoked in us by the actions of a person exhibiting DNP. Our own behavior, reactions, feelings are far more pliable for us than those of others. As the author writes, "it becomes empowering to realize that there are actions you can take that will help to reduce or eliminate negative effects [of the DNP] on you" (ix).
The nine chapters that constitute the body of the work are preceded by a very brief, three-paragraph Preface, where the author explains why she is bringing out another book on the topic after her earlier assay on the subject, very appropriately entitled The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern (1998), and succeeded by an even shorter Bibliography, with only four entries not written by the author herself, which serves to illustrate just how little treatment the topic of DNP has received by psychologists and researchers.
What one gleans from the body of the work as well as from the front and back matter is that the author, Nina Brown, is clearly the authority on the DNP. Thus, if you have to interact regularly with someone you suspect may exhibit DNP, then this is without a doubt the book you should read for help. If, however, you are seeking for help in coping with infuriating, mean, and critical people in general, then carry on searching, because that is not the subject of the book under review.
© 2007 Aakash Singh
Aakash Singh (Reader in Philosophy, University of Delhi, South Campus)