Narcissists Hate You Because You Are a Threat to Their Social Rank, Not to Their Self-Esteem

Narcissists tend to be thin-skinned people who throw tantrums over minor or even imaginary slights. Some psychologists make the absurd argument that the narcissist’s childish behavior is the result of low self-esteem. Yet the word narcissism means that the person’s self-esteem is ridiculously high. You cannot be narcissistic and have low self-esteem at the same time, just as you cannot have a fever (high body temperature) and hypothermia (low body temperature) at the same time. So why might someone with ridiculously high self-esteem be so touchy? As I explain in my book Don’t Feed the Narcissists! The Mythology and Science of Mental Health, narcissists are secure in their self-concept but not in their social rank. Narcissists have ridiculously high self-esteem. For this reason, narcissists feel that they are entitled to a much higher social rank than reasonable people are willing to grant to them. Narcissists often notice that other people do not worship them as much as the narcissists worship themselves. As a result, narcissists feel that they are being unfairly disrespected and unfairly deprived of the things they richly deserve.

Narcissists think that they are great. They want to be regarded as superheroes, or at least as supervillains. Like the supervillains in comic books, narcissists often want to surround themselves with minions. Minions are the servile underlings of a powerful person. Minions can provide many valuable services to their leader. The most valued of these services is the display of submission. These displays of submission are called narcissistic goods or narcissistic supply. To an intelligent and reasonable person, the minions may seem like boot-lickers or toadies whose praise is meaningless. Yet to a narcissist, even ridiculous praise means something important: it is a show of submission. By providing narcissistic supply, minions show that they know their place, which is beneath the narcissist in the pecking order. By reinforcing the narcissist’s sense of superiority, minions help to reinforce the narcissist’s narcissism.

Narcissists crave narcissistic supply, but they hate any kind of feedback that is less than worshipful. Like Snow White’s Evil Stepmother, narcissists want continual reassurance that they are the fairest of them all. Unfortunately, someone who outshines the narcissist in any way poses a challenge to the narcissist’s superiority. This perceived challenge is called narcissistic injury. To neutralize this threat, the narcissist may become aggressive. The aggression is called narcissistic rage. Narcissistic rage is the underlying motivation for many kinds of bad behavior, from ordinary rudeness to mass murder.

Since narcissists are overly ambitious, overconfident people, they can cause serious problems at work. Many people find the narcissist’s confidence appealing. As a result, many narcissists get promoted ahead of more-competent yet humble people. For this reason, narcissists are often given positions that they cannot handle. Often, the narcissists end up managing people who are more capable than they are. Narcissists who achieve some sort of management position tend to seek out minions who will give them endless narcissistic supply. Anyone who causes narcissistic injury, such as by outshining the narcissist in any way, will then become the target of the narcissist’s rage. For this reason, narcissistic managers tend to become bullies, and they tend to attack the best and brightest of their coworkers and subordinates.

Narcissists make bad managers. Narcissists are far more concerned about their rank within the hierarchy than about the achievements of their team within the organization. For this reason, narcissistic managers often make it impossible for their best and brightest subordinates to achieve anything of importance. As a result, their team suffers. If upper management does not correct this problem, the organization itself may ultimately fail.
Narcissistic rage often leads to a problem that I call the Paradox of Narcissism. Narcissists rage because they are struggling to occupy a high social rank. Yet their tactics are often so childish or obnoxious that the narcissists end up losing other people’s respect. To get other people to admire them, they must give up some of their self-worship.

For the people who are within the narcissist’s orbit, the narcissist’s aggressive tendencies pose a dilemma. A dilemma is a choice between two equally bad options. The classic example was being faced by a wild bull. If you tried too hard to avoid one of the bull’s horns, you would get stuck by the other horn. If you oppose the narcissistic in any way, you may become a target of narcissistic rage. Yet if you reliably appease the narcissist, then you will become a minion in a society that is being run by a mentally ill person who is concerned about nothing but his or her own inflated ego. Neither of those choices is acceptable. The only acceptable option is to avoid the bull altogether. If you are a sane and decent person, you cannot win by entering into a power struggle with an insane person with an unhealthy need to win pointless dominance games. Instead, the best strategy is to spot this problem from a distance and to avoid it whenever possible.

Was “William Shakespeare” an Italian Jewish Woman?

William Shakespeare was the greatest English playwright, and one of the greatest English poets. Yet since the 19th century, many people have doubted that William Shakespeare, an actor from Stratford-upon-Avon, could actually have written the plays and poetry attributed to him. How could a man of limited education suddenly drop his Warwickshire accent and start writing highly sophisticated poems and plays, peppered with puns in Hebrew and Italian and references to hundreds of literary works? On the other hand, an educated woman of Italian and Jewish ancestry could have written like that. As it turns out, the man who was in charge of the entertainments in Queen Elizabeth’s court had a mistress who met that description. Her name was Emilia Bassano (later, Emilia Lanier).

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Does Cognitive Therapy Work?

Cognitive therapy is a form of psychotherapy in which the therapist tries to teach the patient to think more rationally. In mild to moderate cases of depression, cognitive therapy seems to work as well as antidepressant medication. Yet like any other form of psychotherapy, cognitive therapy seems to be less effective for people with more serious mental illnesses. These findings would come as no surprise to an ancient Greek or Roman physician. Cognitive therapy is really just coaching in logical thinking. Ancient Greeks and Roman philosophers believed that logical thinking is an art that can be cultivated. However, they also recognized that some people have medical problems that make it difficult or impossible to think logically. In Roman law, a person would not be held legally responsible for an act that was committed when he was not in control of his mind (non compos mentis).

Cognitive therapy seems to be useful for people with mild to moderate mental illnesses. I suspect that it may also be beneficial for people who are not regarded as mentally ill. Cognitive therapy is actually a form of remedial education (i.e., it teaches people things that they should already have learned). Cognitive therapy teaches some of the skills in logical thinking that should have been taught in junior high and high school. I suspect that cognitive therapy could become even more effective if it involved a more systematic approach to teaching logic.

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What the Dog “Saint” Teaches Us About Plausible Deniability and Child Murder

From the Middle Ages up to the 1930s, many Catholics revered a dog named Guinefort as a saint who protected infants. Parents would leave a sickly baby overnight at the shrine of “Saint” Guinefort. As a result, the baby usually died of exposure. Of course, some babies did not die so easily. As a result, many parents believed that evil spirits had stolen their baby, leaving an evil changeling in its place. These parents might then go to the dog’s shrine to perform dangerous rituals on the changeling, to persuade the evil spirits to return their healthy child. As a result, the “changeling” usually died. The purpose of these rituals was for parents to rid themselves of a burdensome child, but in a way that would absolve them of guilt and that would not cause them to lose social standing.

Modern-day people might be shocked at such barbaric superstitions. Yet these practices reflect a sense of morality. The parents, who were often on the edge of starvation themselves, wanted to rid themselves of a burdensome child whom nobody else wanted. Even today, many people in India and China kill their infant daughters, or allow them to starve to death, because it is uneconomical to rear daughters. If a child died during a religious ritual, the death was God’s will. The parents can then deny that they were to blame.

In the Middle Ages, there were no effective contraceptives. Nor was there a welfare state to provide healthcare and other kinds of support to the parents of sick children. Yet the parents did not want to bear the guilt and shame of killing their child or allowing their child to die of neglect. Instead, they performed a ritual that felt as if they were doing something to help the child. Today, parents can achieve the same effect by choosing faith healing instead of modern medicine for a sick child who has become too much for them to bear.

Saint” Guinefort was a greyhound. His life story is a variation on the classic tale of the Brahmin and the Mongoose. This story is classified as type 178A in the Aarne-Thompson system of classifying folktales. The gist of the story is that someone rashly killed a faithful animal after jumping to the false conclusion that the animal had killed a child, when the animal had actually protected the child by killing a venomous snake. In ancient India, the faithful animal was a mongoose. In the European versions of the tale, the faithful animal is usually a hound. “Saint” Guinefort supposedly killed a snake that was threatening a baby. Guinefort was then supposedly killed by his owner, a knight who lived in a castle near Lyon, in France. Overcome by remorse, the knight then buried Guinefort and set up a shrine on his grave.

In ancient Greece and Rome, it was accepted practice for unhealthy or simply unwanted babies to be left outdoors somewhere, to freeze or starve to death or to be eaten by wild animals. This practice was called exposure. In Italy, it gave rise to the surname Esposito, which meant “exposed one.” This surname was given to abandoned children whose parentage was unknown. The French equivalent is Trouvé, which means “found.”

The Roman Catholic Church disapproved of nonhuman “saints” and actively suppressed the cult of “Saint” Guinefort. Yet it created institutions that serve the same deadly purpose as the dog-saint’s shrine. The Church created foundling homes, which were institutions that offered a safe and often anonymous way for a parent to drop off an unwanted infant. Some of these institutions had a “foundling wheel,” which was a hatch where people could drop off an infant anonymously. Yet the foundling homes were not a safe haven for the unwanted babies. In some of these institutions, 80% or even 100% of the children died, sometimes as a result of simple starvation. In other words, the Church did not want you to allow your baby to die of neglect at a pagan shrine. Instead, it wanted you to give your child to the Church, so the nuns could allow your child to die of neglect. Many of these dead children were even denied a Christian burial.

The foundling homes actually ended up causing the birth of even more unwanted babies. When a woman gave up her newborn, she stopped breast-feeding. As a result, she quickly became fertile again. The result was often yet another unwanted child.

To stop this slaughter of the innocents, you must improve women’s rights, such as by eliminating the dowry system in India. As long as people view daughters as a burden, rather than a blessing, the lives of baby girls will be in danger. You must also give poor women access to effective birth control. Starting in 2009, the state-run Colorado Family Planning Initiative began making some highly effective but expensive contraceptives (IUDs and implantable birth control) available for free or for a low cost. As a result, births to teen mothers in Colorado dropped by 40%, and the number of abortions in Colorado dropped by 35%. Second, you must ensure that families have access to healthcare. Ideally, healthcare should be provided free at the point of service to the patient, as it has been in Britain since 1948. Third, you must ensure that your state has an effective system of child protection. When a family decides to allow a burdensome sickly child to die of neglect disguised as faith healing, the state can take over medical guardianship of the child or even take the burdensome child off the family’s hands.

Are You a Vampire Slayer or a Vengeance Demon?

On the surface, Joss Whedon’s television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a satire of horror movies. Vampire movies typically show pretty young women, and especially dumb blondes, as helpless victims who must rely on other people to save them. In contrast, Buffy (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar) was a pretty and smart blond teenage girl who saved the world, a lot. Like many other satires, the series was intended as meaningful entertainment. It provides useful lessons in how to grow up, how to manage anger, and how to atone for your sins. In the show, Buffy literally slew demons. Yet those demons were also metaphors for the kinds of problems that each of us must solve as we grow up. Nevertheless, there was one important demon whom Buffy was reluctant to slay: a vengeance demon named Anyanka. (Emma Caulfield did such a brilliant job in her role as Anyanka that she became a series regular.)

The contrast between Buffy and Anyanka is a sly way of teaching people the proper use of anger. A vampire slayer, such as Buffy, needs to harness her anger to give her the strength she needs for slaying demons, to protect the powerless from suffering and untimely death. In contrast, a vengeance demon, such as Anyanka, inflicts suffering and untimely death on someone who has made a powerless person angry. Vengeance is a bad thing because it increases the amount of suffering in the world. In the Buffyverse, vengeance fantasies are a vice of the weak and immature, and vengeance is something that pleases only the lower beings.

Vengeance demons are personifications of wrath, which stems from anger. Anger is the emotion that you feel when someone or something is preventing you from getting what you want. Anger gives you the energy to struggle to overcome obstacles. Uncontrolled anger can lead to wrath. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the neutral act of anger becomes the sin of wrath when the anger is directed against an innocent person, when the anger is unduly strong or long-lasting, or when the angry person wants to inflict excessive punishment.

If you have obstacles that you cannot overcome, your anger may become chronic. Often, if you are struggling against a more powerful person, that more powerful person will usually win. Because you lack the power to prevail against that person, you may remain angry with him or her for a long time. That chronic anger directed at a more powerful person is called resentment. When people are consumed with resentment, they may fantasize about harming the powerful person who is thwarting their plans. Thus, resentment is a symptom of weakness.

In the Buffyverse, vengeance demons are resentful people who are drawn to other resentful people. Anyanka sought out women who were angry at their unfaithful boyfriends and husbands. (Viewers eventually learn that Anyanka’s heart was broken by her unfaithful lover.) Another vengeance demon, Halfrek, sought out children who were angry at their neglectful parents. (As Anyanka explains, Halfrek has “daddy issues.”) If a vengeance demon succeeds in getting a resentful person to express an evil fantasy in the form of a wish, the vengeance demon grants the wish. As a result, the amount of suffering in the world increases. Even the resentful person is horrified by the results.

To succeed in slaying her demons, Buffy needs her anger. Anger strengthens her in her nightly combat against the forces of darkness, which serve as metaphors for the problems that adults must face. Yet Buffy must not be overwhelmed by her anger. A vampire slayer is supposed to slay demons. However, she must not squander her energy by beating the demons into a pulp first. As Buffy’s “watcher” Rupert Giles explained, a slayer must efficiently plunge her stake into each vampire’s heart and then move on to the next. Also, Buffy is a slayer, not a killer. Slayer power is to be used only against demons, never against human beings. That is why Buffy never seeks vengeance against another human being, unless she has unwittingly been reduced to an ape-like “Cave-Buffy” (with bad hair!) by a villain’s evil magic. Vengeance fantasies are for the weak and primitive. Buffy, as a true hero, cannot exact vengeance unless her moral sense has been disabled.

To teach us that the desire for vengeance is understandable but unwise, Joss Whedon makes his vengeance demons comical. Buffy’s watcher, who serves as a metaphor for the intellect, manages to transform Anyanka from a powerful vengeance demon into a petulant, socially clumsy, narcissistic teenage girl. As Anyanka explained it, “For a thousand years I wielded the powers of The Wish. I brought ruin to the heads of unfaithful men. I brought forth destruction and chaos for the pleasure of the lower beings. I was feared and worshipped across the mortal globe. And now I’m stuck at Sunnydale High. Mortal. Child. And I’m flunking math.” In the vengeance demon’s fantasies, her acts of vengeance cause others to fear and worship her. However, an application of the intellect reveals that she is pitiful because she lacks the skills for solving her problems. Anyanka does not recognize her immaturity. In her mind, she is an old soul—a thousand years old. Yet in the real world, she is a child—not even old enough to buy beer in California.

In Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff series Angel, Joss Whedon used supernatural motifs as metaphors for moral concepts. Demons represent the animalistic or at least uncivilized aspects of human nature. For example, a werewolf is a human being who is periodically overwhelmed by the animal side of his or her nature. Likewise, the soul represents the conscience. Before a person can become a vampire, their soul must leave their body. Because vampires have no soul (i.e., no conscience), they can steal and torture and kill without remorse. If a vampire’s soul were somehow restored, the vampire would become disabled by feelings of guilt and remorse.

Guilt is the feeling that one has wronged someone. Remorse is anger at oneself for having wronged someone. Once a vampire regains his soul, he starts working on his redemption. To redeem something means to make it acceptable. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, a vampire-with-a-soul is used as a metaphor for a recovering alcoholic. Like an ensouled vampire, recovering alcoholics must struggle against the temptation to resume drinking. Recovering alcoholics must also work on repairing the relationships that they have damaged in their quest for self-gratification.

Do vengeance demons have souls? Fans are divided on that question, which is never explicitly addressed in the series. My guess is that vengeance demons do have a soul, but that their soul has been stunted and distorted by resentment. Vengeance demons feel that they are motivated by a sense of right and wrong. (Halfrek prefers to be called a “justice demon.”) Yet vengeance demons lack a true understanding of the difference between right and wrong. Vengeance demons never right wrongs. Instead, they merely add more suffering to the world. Vengeance demons turn the familiar world into a hell dimension.

After Anyanka was turned back into a human being, Buffy saw no need to slay her. Buffy even allowed Anyanka to become part of her inner circle of friends (the Scooby Gang). As Anyanka become increasingly human, she even proves her worth in the fight against evil. Anyanka has poor skills when it comes to interacting with normal human beings. As we eventually see, this is the problem that caused the initial resentment that led to her becoming a vengeance demon. Nevertheless, Anya has some skills in magic and a lot of useful knowledge about demons and hell dimensions. Anya often helps Buffy by using magic or by providing important pieces of information at just the right time. Nevertheless, Buffy makes it clear that if Anyanka gets back into the vengeance game, Buffy will have to slay her.

In the Buffyverse, immortality serves as a metaphor for the failure to grow up. Vampires do not age. Neither do vengeance demons. Anyanka is a thousand years old. Halfrek is at least a hundred and fifty years old. The fact that these characters remain unchanged as time passes is a metaphorical representation of their arrested emotional, moral, and social development. Vengeance demons are like spoiled children who feel that their anger gives them license to hurt others. In contrast, Buffy is so busy saving the world that she has no time to nurse petty grievances. Thus, Buffy the Vampire Slayer poses a vital question: Are you a vengeance demon or a vampire slayer? Are you an inept, childish person who would like to use your anger as an excuse to add to the world’s suffering? Or are you a hero who uses your anger constructively in your selfless mission to save the world?

Photo by RavenU

In Peer Review, We Need More Natural Intelligence

The human beings who review articles for scientific journals sometimes reject good articles for stupid reasons. A computer can automatically reject an article for stupid reasons much more quickly and efficiently than a human being can. Thus, artificial intelligence could amplify the natural stupidity that often plagues the review process.

Rather than spending less time on the peer review process, by allowing a machine to do their thinking for them, editors should devote more time and more thought to the review process. In particular, editors should critically review the reviewers’ reviews and should take authors’ rebuttals seriously.

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When Narcissists Kill

I just binge-watched some episodes of the television series Forensic Files. The purpose of that long-running series is to show how forensic science has been used to solve murder cases. However, nearly every episode also serves as a documentary about narcissism. Narcissism is an inflated self-esteem that leads people to expect admiration and special treatment. It is one of three bad personality traits (the Dark Triad) that often give rise to bad behaviors, including murder. The other two traits of the Dark Triad are psychopathy (callous disregard for other people’s feelings) and Machiavellianism (a desire to manipulate and control other people).

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Star Trek’s Real Mission: To Teach Us How Civilized Adults Make Decisions

In the opening credits to the original Star Trek series, Captain James T. Kirk tells us that the United Starship Enterprise’s five-year mission is “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” This implies that the main theme of the show is exploration. Yet the crew of the Enterprise often go to familiar places, including 20th century Earth. Nevertheless, every episode deals with another important theme: how civilized adults make good decisions, while uncivilized or immature people usually make bad ones.

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Why Ambitious People Should Watch Ricky Gervais in The Office

An ambitious person is someone who wants to rise socially. Ambitious people want the power, property, and prestige that go along with being in a higher social rank. Ricky Gervais’s character David Brent, from the BBC television series The Office and the movie Life on the Road, is ambitious. In The Office, Brent wanted other people to look up to him as a philosopher and an inspiring leader, to like him as a friend, and to laugh at his jokes. In Life on the Road, Brent pursues his dream of being a successful singer/songwriter. Yet Brent did a poor job as the manager of the sales office of a paper company, and his music career is going nowhere. Psychiatrists have a word to describe people who are trying to occupy a higher social rank than other people think they deserve: narcissist. By studying David Brent’s failures, you can figure out how to succeed. I explain this in more detail in my book Don’t Feed the Narcissists! The Mythology and Science of Mental Health.

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Don’t Let Narcissists Destroy Your Company From Within

Narcissists are people who have an inflated self-esteem. Narcissists feel that they are entitled to the power, prestige, and property that go along with high social rank. Unfortunately, they lack the intelligence, the social skills, and maybe even the work ethic to earn the rank that they desire, or to handle the responsibilities that go along with that rank. In a business setting, narcissists can create problems when they are promoted to a position that is higher than they can handle.

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