July 30, 2013

Extraordinary, Productive and Exaggerated Narcissism: the Twilight between Healthy and Pathological

Louis Antoine de Gontaut-Biron 1757

Included in this article are links to Ronningstam's description of "extraordinary narcissism" and Maccoby's "productive narcissism." They seem to be one and the same although I cannot say whether or not they'd agree with my comparison. There's not much literature for me to go on so I'm kinda wingin' it here, folks. Tell me what you think.

Extraordinary Narcissism
“Extraordinary narcissism is associated with genuine ability, an understandably--even justifiably--high self-regard, and largely adaptive functioning." ~Caroline Logan

Productive Narcissism
"A narcissist may be either productive or unproductive. The difference is that the most productive narcissists, the ones who do change our world, have the charisma and drive to convince others to buy in to their vision or embrace a common purpose. They communicate a sense of meaning that inspires others to follow them, whereas the unproductive types retreat into their own world and blame others for their isolation." ~Michael Maccoby

Ever know one of those extraordinary/productive narcissists up close and personal? Maybe not, yet their celebrated media presence shapes everyone's lives in subtle and destructive ways: the way we measure ourselves, the way others perceive us, how we perceive and measure others. For example, tell your friends that after an honest self-appraisal, you decided to turn down the job promotion because you couldn't handle any more stress. Your job was affecting your relationships. Without even thinking, they'll say, "Oprah had a terrible childhood and look what she did with her life! Stop giving yourself excuses! You can do it!" Then as if comparing your fair-to-middling life to Oprah's bigger-than-life life weren't enough to make ya feel like a loser, your friend rambles off a list of famous people growing up on the streets, eating out of garbage cans, living in public restrooms, walking sixty miles to the nearest log-cabin school and they didn't let real-and-true obstacles like that hinder their success. They didn't go bawling their heads off to therapists when their toast fell butter side down. NO! They asserted themselves, set their sights on winning, and crawled to the top of Bunker Hill where they promptly installed WiFi to broadcast their victory.

Ordinary people are subjected to ridiculous comparisons and expectations in an image-saturated culture. American media is rife with Horatio Alger stories appealing to our Inner Wishers (the magical child) while undermining our general-state-of-happiness. When extraordinary narcissism is promoted as success because self-promoters self-promote, ordinary people feel like putzes for being contented with their simple lives. What is wrong with me that I don't have a desire to reach for the stars? I've actually asked myself that question numerous times. I'll bet many of you have, too. We've been groomed to define success in materialistic terms while lip-syncing discourse on the meaning and purpose of life, a predictable outcome when role models are Bunker Hillers.

Peacock Profile by Edgar Maxence
On a personal note, being a stay-at-home mother in the 70's was intermittently insulting, but it was still considered an occupation tho' a dubious one considering my destiny. Today, young women are compared to extraordinary narcissists as role models with accusations-posing-as-encouragement like this comment: "She's a Mom and she's on the cover of TIME Magazine so what's your problem turning down a job promotion! Step Up Sistah!" Which reminds me of a very successful neighbor who was raising nine children, volunteering her free time to charities.  She had a spotless house with spit-polished children and she didn't struggle keeping her weight down. Her secret? A maid, a cook and a nanny. "I just LOVE having babies!" she said as I excused myself to fix beans and weenies for my two kids. She ended her visit, "Birth control should be illegal!" Uh-huh. Shall we talk about her extraordinary narcissism, her lack of empathy, her failure to recognize privilege? (Not that she triggered my ordinary narcissism or anything.) Or how about the fact that she was married to a sensitive psychologist and I was married to a jerk?

What we fail to notice is that people like Oprah are geniuses and and the vast majority of us AREN'T. I also believe an element of luck provides extraordinary opportunities and extraordinary support, although narcissists usually attribute success to themselves  because of their extraordinary self-focus: their positive thoughts, powerful intentions, and other rubbishy self-admiration. In other words, people's negative thoughts,  weak-minded intentions and lack of self-admiration is why they're still in the same town they grew up in with nothing to show for themselves besides a modest home, a happy kitty, dearly beloved friends and family.

Another reason extraordinary/productive narcissists can be breathtakingly self-congratulatory is because in spite of their heralded VISION, narcissists don't see the little people contributing to their success. They don't intentionally deny other people's contributions. Narcissists literally don't notice other people's contributions or the privileges they've had that other people didn't. When your hard work and loyal support isn't recognized, well...just remember it ain't personal. Nails in ladders are to be expected and should never stick out lest they prick the narcissist's Achilles heel on his/her climb to extraordinary success.

So what is Extraordinary Narcissism and Do We Want It?

This simplified continuum shows the twilight space between healthy and pathological narcissism. (I'm working on a graph and will post it soon. I've been saying that for two years.):

Healthy narcissism---Extraordinary/Productive Narcissism---Pathological narcissism
“Extraordinary narcissism is associated with genuine ability, an understandably--even justifiably--high self-regard, and largely adaptive functioning. Self-esteem and affect are mostly regulated and interpersonal relationships are on the whole acceptable although they may demonstrate more change, conflict and drama than generally featured in those whose narcissism is within normal limits. However, the risk of infringing the rights of others in pursuit of the individual’s own achievements, interests, desires and rights is elevated in those with extraordinary levels of narcissism.” ~Caroline Logan in Personality, Personality Disorder and Violence: an Evidence Based Approach (page 89)
Here is it again in case you skimmed that paragraph: "interpersonal relationships are on the whole acceptable although they may demonstrate more change, conflict and drama than generally featured in those whose narcissism is within normal limits. However, the risk of infringing the rights of others in pursuit of the individual's own achievements, interests, desires and rights is elevated in those with extraordinary levels of narcissism."

Glue that in your Abuse Notebook.

Extraordinary narcissism doesn't mean narcissists are exceptionally healthy and confident. It means their narcissism is exaggerated without being pathological. Think of extraordinary narcissism as an exaggerated personality. Take any trait, behavior, or feeling and put a plus sign on it like heightened entitlement+, heightened exhibitionism+, heightened individuality+ and there you have it: celebrity role models. If normal narcissism is defined as healthy self-love, then extraordinary narcissism would be exaggerated self-love+, leaving little room for loving others. This makes it easier to understand why people are hurt by extraordinary/productive narcissists who do not qualify for a NPD. The wounds can be significant+ for children raised by extraordinary narcissists.

Most of us are ambitious. We work hard achieving our goals, putting time and effort into refining our skills while also meeting social and family responsibilities. We struggle, at least I DO, balancing my desires and needs, with other people's desires and needs, often sacrificing a little bit of my narcissism, thus making more room for loving others. An exaggeration of narcissism heightening self-love, would foster exploitation, infringing on other people's rights. Especially children's right to be loved, not acquired.

"Whoever loves," Freud said, "becomes humble. Those who love have, so to speak, pawned a part of their narcissism."

For the nerdy folks reading my blog, you might be interested in this description of Extraordinary Narcissism by Dr. Elsa Ronningstam in her book, Identifying and Understanding the Narcissistic Personality (pages 72-73): 
Self Esteem Regulation: Heightened self-confidence and self-worth, sense of invulnerability;  Capacity for unusual risk taking and decision making, and to integrate unusual ideas, ideals and goals into real achievements or creative accomplishments 
Affect Regulation: Exceptional capacity to feel certain feelings related to tasks or goals 
Interpersonal Relationships: Heightened entitlement, ability to feel that one deserves extraordinary circumstances or endowments, ability to take on exceptional roles and tasks; Heightened exhibitionism, potentials for leadership, charisma and capacity to conceptualize and embody ideas or mission in relationship to others; Exceptional capacity for devotion 
Superego Regulation: Superego regulation with exceptional ideals, high and unusual standards for performance and achievement, unusual sense of responsibility and commitment to a specific task or role (pages 72-73)
For the most part, narcissism is equated with pathology so it seems contradictory when extraordinary/productive narcissists don't undermine themselves, aren't impulsive and rash, bounce back from failures, stay married and keep their jobs and don't dominate people getting in the way of "their" success. When most people think of narcissism, they associate it with the myth of Sisyphus, pushing boulders up a hill only to have them roll backwards, destroying everything achieved; and the cycle continues. That's pathological narcissism. It's the NPD. Grandiosity may have propelled them up the hill, but it's also their undoing.

Vrai Vanity by Katrina Rhodes

Productive Narcissists I have Known and Loved
"I overheard a conversation between a productive narcissist who is known for his tremendous work output and a colleague; the narcissist was ticking off the many projects he had undertaken recently, to which the colleague said, "Wow, no rest for the weary." The narcissist looked at him and said, absolutely straight-faced, "Why would you ever rest from what you love?" ~Michael Maccoby
Extraordinary narcissists accomplish things average people never will because we won't get up at 3:00 a.m. for two hours of make-up then hair dressing to be on camera by six. We won't promote ourselves at other people's expense. Our conscience won't let us make choices productive narcissists make ten times an hour a hundred and seventy times a day. Yet in the background of our ordinary lives and ordinary morality, hums the persistent cultural message to manifest our destiny, to reach for the stars, to achieve our dreams, to BE productive narcissists. Of course, this message contradicts the values we purport to cherish. Little things like the golden rule; the eight precepts; the ten commandments; loving our neighbors as ourselves. Communal values.

Productive narcissists are visionary leaders with indefatigable tenacity and certainty, appearing to be Bigger than Life. We allow them to get away with things we deem unethical, immoral. Before we even realize what's happened, we've 'normalized' their behavior, mimicking what we see in the media because they've become our role models. (This IS the nugget gleaned from The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Culture is Seducing Americans).

But you know what? Productive/extraordinary narcissists rise to the top by doing things ordinary folks wouldn't, absolving themselves of responsibilities ordinary people can't, putting themselves first,  their goals as the highest priority (for everyone--even their children) and then, after garnering a sizable audience, teaching self-actualization courses to the unwary ordinary. (please don't send hate mail. It hurts my feelings).

There is some evidence that extraordinary, productive narcissists do not experience the same sadness, anger, shame and rejection other people do. As most of us know from first-hand experience, pathological narcissists are hostile to perceived insults, even the hint of criticism. I think extraordinary and productive narcissists react too, but not self-destructively. Do they have better impulse control? A moral anchor stabilizing them? Maybe schema therapy? ha! What I'm suspecting is that they're better manipulators with extraordinary skills of persuasion--convincing people that hurting them was for their own good. 
"Anyone who has big dreams and the daring to go after them, is bound to fail at one time or another. It's how a person reacts to failure that differentiates the productive personality from the unproductive one...productive narcissists refuse to acknowledge or even register their defeats." ~Michael Maccoby
I remember a productive narcissist who was a friend for many years. I admired this CEO's sense of humor even though he'd fall asleep at the dinner table if you weren't very entertaining that evening. During a turbulent downturn, the stock in his company dropped precipitously and he laughed about the "F-U" hate mail he'd received from investors, insulting mail that woulda turned most people into withering crybabies. He took it all in stride without going off the rails (although in hindsight, there was an air of contempt in trivializing people's concerns). Even if his company were dealing with problems striking fear in the heart of his investors, he refused to acknowledge defeat. He said he knew what he was doing and investors could go to hell if they didn't trust his business decisions.

See what I mean? The problems he faced would keep people awake at night, worrying about the impact of their decisions on other  people. They'd be anxious about employees' pensions---the pressure would overwhelm them. So I get it. I get that we need extraordinary narcissists with such unshakable faith in themselves that they can direct companies keeping ordinary people employed with excellent benefits. But if we really need productive narcissists heading our organizations, what is OUR responsibility for holding them accountable? For countering the risks extraordinary narcissists are prone to make? As we've witnessed in the recent financial robbery, narcissists won't limit themselves. They'll go as far as they're allowed to go because they are uber-entitled. Because they are uber-special.
"The danger is that narcissism can turn unproductive when, lacking self-knowledge and restraining anchors, narcissists become unrealistic dreamers. They nurture grand schemes and harbor the illusion that only circumstances or enemies block their success. This tendency towards grandiosity and distrust is Achilles' heel of narcissism. Because of it, even brilliant narcissists can come under suspicion for self-involvement, unpredictability and---in extreme cases---paranoia. It is easy to see why narcissistic leadership doesn't always mean successful leadership." ~Michael Macoby, Harvard Review

We read about narcissists wondering where the line between narcissistic traits (normal) and a narcissistic personality disorder (pathological) might be. We want answers. People identify with the emotional and psychological damage caused by narcissistic relationships, but the criteria for a NPD doesn't fit. They can't put a pathological template on the high-functioning narcissist who maintains a job, doesn't leave a trail of broken relationships, is hard-working, loyal to his/her commitments, by all measures: extraordinary and productive. My main argument today is that while we use the NPD label to describe a range of narcissistic traits, patterns and behaviors, the person(s) we're describing may not fit criteria for a clinical NPD. That does not mean in any way whatsoever, that being raised by extraordinary/productive narcissists won't cause emotional, psychological and spiritual wounds. Children suffer when they are second-place to the parental need for admiration and power. Children suffer when agentic values are exaggerated.

I think the concept of extraordinary/productive narcissism might help us understand the "invalidation" children of narcissists experience. When asked about their family-of-origin, many ACoNs say their parents were not abusive, that people admired their parents and their family b-u-t, there's a few things that bother them, could we talk? I think this happens because had their parents been obviously ill or "broken" (as is often the case with pathological narcissists), their children wouldn't be as self-doubting, self-blaming, and confused as adults. Even though it's painful growing up with a parent who has a mental illness, the child's perceptions and feelings aren't invalidated by other adults. People agree their childhood must have been difficult and aren't they doing marvelously considering what they've been through! People would not be saying how lucky they were, what pillars of society their parents were.

Thinking about Ronningstam's description of extraordinary narcissism and Maccoby's productive narcissism may be the closest explanation we have for growing up in families that were not, according to clinical psychologists, pathological. Creating a twilight space for exaggerated narcissism may address the hurtful impact of "shiny apple" families.

Hugs all,

The Narcissistic Continuum: The Fruit of the Narcissist's Loins

The Narcissistic Continuum: Nation Tunes in To See Which Sociopath More Likeable This Time 


Narcissistic Leaders: the Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons by Michael Maccoby published in Harvard Business Review 

Identifying and Understanding the Narcissistic Personality by Elsa Ronningstam, Ph.D. 2005

"Narcissism" by Caroline Logan in Personality, Personality Disorder and Violence: an Evidence Based Approach, edited by Mary McMurran & Richard Howard 


  1. Great post CZ! But now....time for the Quibbler! I just re-read your post, and the comment thread, "Normal or Yucky Narcissism?'
    The issues that came up in that post, and the exchange of comments that followed, express some of the points I wanted to make here. I still think there's more categorizing than actually fits my FOO, or, say, my "friend" who is behaving badly toward his wife.

    There are narcissists who are high on the "sensitivity" scale (Covert Narc), my mother would score off the charts on both that scale and the NPI scale. She has fantasies of greatness (maybe Oprah will interview her, etc), and spends her life marketing herself and her self-published self-help crap. But the world has NOT beat a path to her door. She also has many friends--although most of those are probably superficial, a few go way back. She "presents" very well, acts like a truly caring person interested in others. It is an act, though. I can't use the term "extraordinary" or "productive" about her narcissism. Nor can I use "Disorder" IT that word has to mean someone who destroys or ruins every relationship in her life. My mother manages to get along with my sisters (who enable her) just fine. Same thing with my father. He's not a Master of the Universe. A relatively garden variety former CEO, who thinks he's more important than he is, and has lots of enablers around him. Where do people like this fit into these different categories? There is so much "smearing" or graying of shades; also, some narcissists are more so with certain people than with others. I tend to think of NPD not as a medical diagnostic but a characterological assessment. ONe that only doctors BELIEVE they can make, but as we all know, doctors get to treat only the tip of the iceberg with NPD. The vast majority of them will never seek treatment because THEIR lives feel just fine, thank you. It's their victims who seek treatment (or not. who just adapt and suffer). So I would say, for myself, that only a victim who is well-educated in the different theories and descriptions of narrative, who has closely observed someone with Narcissistic Character Disorder for a long time, can "accurately" make that "diagnosis." Notice I'm putting 'scare' quotes around words that medicalize narcissism. I just don't think we can fit all the different forms it takes into all categories. Some people are the victims of those who DO fit the criteria fully. Others have narcissistic parents or spouses who are capable of charming the pants off the rest of the world, while being horrible to their kids or spouses. It's SO much harder for, say, the black sheep who has seen through the Narc, when s/he is isolated in that view by siblings. How do we "diagnose" then? What categories fit then?

    I guess I think that this is such an extremely tricky disorder that its topography has too much variation to reliably categorize, certainly by the medical establishment, which frankly doesn't have a clue about all the permutations you and others here write about. There is a basic fractal repetition, beneath that variation, though: a person who always prioritizes themself no matter what; who fakes normal emotions; who lacks empathy; who envies and aggress out of that envy, etc etc. So I can't use a term like "extraordinary or productive" narcissist when it comes to my parents. I can only use "effective or functional" narcissist. I wouldn't use the word narcissist for someone, such as myself, who has some narcissistic tendencies (which I'm working on reducing. Age helps); only would use it if I think it runs through everything a person does. Anyway, what think you? love CS


    1. Our conversation on another thread inspired this post, CS. For future reference, this is the link for "Do Not Tell Someone You Care About, They're a Narcissist" (I don't know how to hyperlink or if its even possible in the comment section):


      I also came across a conversation we had about "Characterological Predispositions" after reading your comment. That article is located here:


      I would love to create some kind of template allowing people to understand differences between normal and pathological narcissism. I've written posts on about every degree of narcissism there is and even though I wrote 'em, I can't quite pull everything together. That's probably because I forget what I've written such as the recent situation with Alex Cameron. I was reading along thinking, "wow...kinda sounds familiar." LOL

      You, on the other hand, have an amazing ability to see the broader picture and the details, recognizing patterns. I am grateful you were willing to read this post and offer your quibbling since I could surely use some help!

      I'm not proposing my graphs, templates and ideas be adopted for the DSM 5.1 or any other addition to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I'm just a curious lady who for some reason, is fascinated about degrees and variations of narcissism. Probably because I understand it from my own experience---the trap of perfection (self-deception) and the freedom of being imperfect, good-enough, ordinary. It's been a life journey and sad I am that my partner (that Rat Bazturd guy) couldn't make it with me.

      Sometimes that's how it is. One partner is able to mature her narcissism and the other partner can't and that is how life is. Not Fair.

      I'm gonna post this comment since once again, I've rambled into the thickets. Then I'll come back and comment on productive narcissism and the DNP (destructive narcissistic patterns).


    2. It would be great if a psychologist stumbled into this commentary and set the record straight. There very well could be a 'continuum' out there in ProfessionalVille that I do not have access to. Until then, I'll keep my thinking cap on since most people don't have the luxury of reading as many books as I do. And also, most people are not surrounded by narcissistic family members they cannot walk away from.

      Well yea...we could walk away from everyone---like head straight for the Pacific Ocean and keep going until we're all alone on an island somewhere: no Ns, no Ps, no Cluster Bs...just yourself and the coconut trees.

      I am reading another distinction in your comment: characterological "style" versus a Medical Condition or Personality Disorder.

      There's a Narcissistic Style, a Narcissistic Personality that is not diagnosed as pathological and does not come to clinical attention. Then there's the NPD which IS a mental disorder that can be life-threatening (suicidal behavior). Some research suggests there's also a connection to violent aggression.

      Non-clinical narcissism would be defined as a characterological or personality style. Someone would have Destructive Narcissistic Patterns and still be considered Non-clinical. Only when narcissism became pathological would it be considered a "medical condition" or mental illness.

      Is that correct, anyone have input on that?

      I have hesitated referring to anyone as a "malignant narcissist" or NPD unless they conformed to DSM criteria which is based on pathological behaviors, thoughts and feelings.

      If someone does not 'fit' existing criteria, they might be co-morbid with other disorders, especially BPD and AsPD (as Ronningstam points out in her book). This could account for varying descriptions among people writing about narcissism. One person is seeing BPD traits; another is seeing AsPD. And some (such as myself) are seeing a mix of Bipolar Disorder and NPD. We are all writing about narcissism but everyone's understanding is skewed by their personal experience.

      You will see when you read through Ronningstam's book that psychologists ARE "onto" everything people like ourselves are writing about. The everyday average therapist might not be knowledgeable and he or she might have traditional training that underestimates the severity of a narcissistic personality. But experts on narcissism, like Ronningstam who has edited another book on narcissism, grasp not only the significant pain other people express but the many variations and difficulty of diagnosing pathological narcissism. That's my take-away from Ronningstam's writing.

      Productive Narcissism, according to Maccoby, has a downside: unproductive narcissism. That might be akin to Dr. Nina Brown's theory on the Destructive Narcissistic Pattern. If I had room to extend the continuum/spectrum, it should be more or less like this:


      You might also be interested in this paper by Elsa Ronningstam titled, "Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Facing DSM-V":


      Take your time replying, CS. I know you're busy and your poor hands!!

    3. "The trap of perfection and the freedom of being imperfect", if you ever decide to write a book, CZ, that should make a great title ;) xx

    4. ha! I have a l-o-t of experience with 'getting over myself', such as expecting perfection to be protective OR achievable.

      But ya know, if I ever decided to write a book, the title would be: "How to Fall On Your Face without Hurting the People You Love."


    5. Hi CZ, I"m reading Ronningstam's book now; I find it extremely helpful having all the different clinical, psychiatric and professional approaches to narcissism collated and presented as she has done; I also find that I can see my NP in most of the different approaches she outlines; which means that even in competing theories there must be some kind of connecting thread, which she lays out. It's very "detached," yes; but nonetheless, it's useful reading for me. She does tend to downplay how rare it is that people with NPD, if they're not suicidal or medically compromised, present themselves for therapy. Partly because all they have to go on is what they "observe" in clinical studies, case studies, etc. Saving my hands a bit today, but wanted to let you know I've started in and am glad you brought it to my attention. I had not heard of her before your great post. love CS

    6. Ronningstam has been my number one "go to" book for understanding the narcissistic personality. She also edited a book titled "Disorders of Narcissism: Diagnostic, clinical, and Empirical Implication" if you're interested in theoretical essays by other clinicians (not just Ronningstam).

      I'd love to talk with you about book when you've finished reading it! I'll take it upstairs with me tonight and re-read the highlighted sections, the dog-eared pages, the sticky-noted paragraphs. It's a good book to review every now and then.

    7. Halfway through the Ronningstam and it's a great resource. I can see why it's your number one 'go to.' It's super clear, and she has so many passages that are just dead on. She also acknowledges how many variables can complicate straight up diagnoses; but her breakdown of categories and overlap is pristinely done.

  2. Brilliant post CZ. Simply brilliant. It has helped me to clarify some of the differences in "alleged Narcissists" I know ;) The paragraph that you quoted twice is paramount, I think, in understanding how these people operate and why they cause so much damage as they go about in their daily endeavours, even though they might not have set out intentionally to harm others.
    Another side of it I see (and that's the way I always felt both with my sister and Anton Ego) is that they just want you to be either a prop or the audience in their "play". As far as they're concerned, you are a tool who helps them get where they want to get to (wherever that might be) and they will walk over whatever "dead bodies" they have to to get there...

    "What I'm suspecting is that they're better manipulators with extraordinary skills of persuasion--convincing people that hurting them was for their own good." Yes, I have seen this in action many times. Interestingly BIL1, BIL2, Anton Ego and El Zorro, all work as SALESMEN.

    The 'shiny apple' post is very helpful too. I have always wondered why one of my friends who grew up with an alcoholic/psychopathic father has far less self-doubt and fewer issues than friends and myself who grew up in relatively stable and trouble-free ("shiny apple") families. But as you say, when the problem is so obvious to everyone -as it was in my friend's case (she moved out in her teens because her father used to threaten her and her brother with a chef's knife -he was a chef-), there is no invalidation, no second guessing reality, the facts are open and in full view and there's no doubt about them, whereas we spend a life time trying to work out what on earth is going on in OUR family who seems so normal from the outside...

    Once again, thank you so so much for taking the time to write all this and share it with us.


    Kara xx

    1. they just want you to be either a prop or the audience in their "play". As far as they're concerned, you are a tool who helps them get where they want to get to (wherever that might be) and they will walk over whatever "dead bodies" they have to to get there... " ~Kara

      Yes! Exactly! Depending on the degree to which they dehumanize other people, we might be mildly amused, slightly confused, or used and seriously abused. (I channel a little Muhammed Ali occasionally, bursting out in rhyme).

      With someone who might lean towards using other people as stage props because they're self-centered, we can just come right out and tell them, "I don't appreciate being treated like your personal cameraman." MOST people who aren't pathologically narcissistic, will 'catch themselves in the act' because they'll be sorry and remorseful and all those good feelings that lead to healthier relationships. Believe me, I'm so grateful people have confronted me because it's easy-so-easy to focus on ourselves, not thinking how other people feel when we don't keep our commitment (such as 'fixing dinner' because I'd rather keep doing whatever I'm doing).

      I had never given ANY thought to what a strength it is, being able to tolerate confrontation. This empowers our kids who won't be as reluctant to confront their future partners (when warranted) and it keeps us humble enough to love. (Now I'm channeling Freud.)

      "Now Mom, you committed to fixing dinner tonight so keep your promise...unless of course, you were making mjeddrah...in which case, keep typing."

      Back to the topic of extraordinary narcissism:

      Thinking about this piece, this degree of narcissism, cleared up the missing piece in my proposed continuum. I've been sitting with an idea for a graph intended of course for people like ourselves. Not psychologists. But something wasn't quite right and then Ronningstam's "extraordinary" narcissism popped into my head while corresponding on another thread. I pulled Maccoby's Productive Narcissist off my bookshelves and everything 'clicked'.

      It's very very helpful to get feedback from people who've known (and usually 'loved') an productive narcissist or two. We may know on an intuitive level that we are replaceable, chess pieces on their gameboard, but they're never overtly abusive in any measurable way. That kind of neglect or maybe objectification is a better word, leads to self-doubt and self-blame. When we cannot "see" a reason for feeling the way we do and we don't have any knowledge about narcissism, we go inside ourselves for cause. AT least that's how I've been in the past..."It must be ME because gosh, she's hilarious and fun to be with!" Then we wonder why we feel empty inside after the thoroughly entertaining conversation...Actually now that I'm typing, people like that made me 'feel' invisible even if they were looking at me the whole time. Ever know someone like that?


    2. Yes, I'm afraid I do know people like that. It's just like you've described it: that feeling of emptiness after having spent time with them doing something that, in theory -or on paper, sounded like fun, and thinking something must be wrong with me...

      How are you getting on with the chart? I can't wait to see it :)


    3. Yaya! Another nerdie-type friend who's excited about a narcissism graph!! It's nice to know I'm not alone in this world. ha!

      My nephew fell at work today and fractured his back (he'll be okay!) but I'll be his nursemaid for the next two weeks. That means either: 1) I'll be preoccupied and unable to finish the graph; 2) I'll have free time to finesse the graph since we're stuck in the house and can't go anywhere.

      He is in a lot of pain but the doctor said his fractures (four) shouldn't result in a disability (thank goodness, since my nephew works in construction).


    4. This is such scary news about that fall; he is so lucky there was no skull or brain injury (thank god for 'hardhats'). I hope others will help you be nursemaid--his injuries sounded pretty extensive to me, and he will need help moving around. Don't want you throwing your back out again (you just got over last week's spasm!). I finally took on the task, immensely depressing, of typing out my mother's handwritten letter from 2010. It's up on CS. God it was awful typing it but I'm glad it's done and eager to hear what people see in it that I may have missed. She's the biggest depressogen in my life, by far. To communicate endlessly and get nowhere.

    5. So sorry to hear about your nephew's fall. Hope he'll get better soon.

      Lots of love,

      Kara xx

  3. Hi guys, first, i agree with Kara, it is a brilliant post. Second, i think the idea of co-morbidity with other disorders seems so true. My mother's narcissism also manifests through histrionicism; or it did until she found an identity she wanted to market for herself--advice guru. I think now she's passing herself off as some kind of life coach. She "tried on" all kinds of personae, not in the way young people do until they find themselves, but all through middle age, until she started an all out process of revising her history (and by extension, trying to revise everyone else's, esp mine). Kara, the "shiny apple" phenom does seem perfectly applicable to people who work in sales. Not all of them! (some readers may also!) My sisters both are salespeople--one sells snake oil, the other has a job as sales manager for an IT company. The sister who sells snake oil has the same surface "hustle" personality that my mother does. It's all about appearances and coaching and attitude and brittle chipperness.

    CZ, you've forgotten more about narcissism in its variations than I will ever learn, so I can't offer any "help" pulling it all together, god knows. The more I learn the more amorphous it becomes. Since the culture has become massively narcissistic over the last twenty-five years, I try to look way back at my FOO to trace behavior and affect patterns that were present as far back as I can remember. Those are the threads I tend to try to pull forward into the present, since those are the base weave of my NM and NF's personalities. The rest is top stitch and embroidery.

    1. I appreciate people's feedback, even criticism. This proposed template I'm working on is only for self-help people like ourselves. There's enough information on the web and in bookstores now that people might be confused and overwhelmed!

      I am worried about a couple of things now that narcissism is out-of-the-closet: 1) people will see pathological narcissists everywhere; 2) people won't see pathological narcissists anywhere.

      I hope my graph helps direct people towards appropriate information and support without suggesting it's anything other than a self-help graph for self-help people. (I've been on the web long enough to know what to expect when putting something like this 'out there'.) I appreciate my friends' support.

      "The sister who sells snake oil has the same surface "hustle" personality that my mother does. It's all about appearances and coaching and attitude and brittle chipperness." ~CS

      THAT was a perfect description, CS! Brittle chipperness. It's pretty obvious when someone's trying TOO hard to follow Cialdini's rules for successful marketplace persuasion. It's much much easier to SPOT the 'brittle chipperness' on the internet than face-to-face, although I'm pretty disgusted by the whole "chipper dipper" industry and have little to no tolerance for it anymore.

      When a supposed professional and respectable websites use NLP to "hypnotize" people into buying their products (you can spot those sites by their long, rambling sales pitch (validated by increased sales the longer you read), they lose their credibility WITH ME. But that's because I've informed myself---maybe we can talk about NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) when I get going on cults?

      Your recent descriptions of your mother are completing the picture and it's not hard to see her plagiarizing her own daughter in order to sell a few books. She was probably VERY confident in her persuasive skills and covert manipulations, thus over-predicted her ability to navigate her little Ninas, Pintas, and Santa Marias through a storm.

      Like other people writing about their narcissistic mothers, she saw herself as the Queen Bee. You threw a monkey wrench in her plans---refusing to do along with her orchestration so its really no surprise she had to 'get you back' (get even).

      This is where people MIGHT make mistakes viewing extraordinary/productive narcissism as harmless. Exaggerated narcissism means putting a plus sign on the normal desire for revenge+. She may not have come after you like a banshee (Oh, the horror stories of women with NPD + BPD), but she certainly "got even." That she can justify sacrificing her daughter and still prance and dance herself around as if she were excused from Ordinary-Morality, puts her on the pathological scale. You may never have seen that side of your mother until you held her accountable for HER self-professed relationship guru skills.

      I think if someone cannot even get along with her daughter, she's cannot call herself a relationship expert. Only HUBRIS would allow her to do such a thing. Well, maybe hubris, a lack of self-awareness and no insight whatso-freaking-ever. I also think that unless your mother has extraordinary charisma and a public relations manager, readers will "see through her" pretenses---like seeing through the shallow end of a swimming pool.

      p.s. No offense intended in writing about your mother, whom I do not know but have a fairly good sense of her personality style.


    2. Hey, keep it up you aint gonna offend me about ET. She's not selling a whole lot of books, I don't imagine; she tried offering seminars but no one enrolled. My sister (snake oil) suggested she run ads saying "sold out" when they didn't enroll.
      It's sickening. She also said "you have nothing to teach me about parenting or family." One of my former grad students told me "your children are the ONLY ones who can teach you about parenting and family." xoxox CS

    3. Running ads saying "sold out" when nobody enrolled? This is the kind of marketing people are taught and then we wonder why we're losing our 'integrity'. Everything is about self-promotion...and it's sickening.

      I love what your grad student said: "your children are the only ones who can teach you about parenting and family." Yup. My kids taught me to go to the bookstore and get some help. ha! Luckily, your mother's book wasn't on the shelves yet.;-P

    4. ps Hubris is the perfect word. It's always been there. She's always thought herself an extraordinary person. She used to say, in a kind of breathless voice, ALL the time: "I don't know yet what I'm meant to do; but I'm waiting for it to reveal itself to me. EST, Course in Miracles, Crystals, BULLSHIT. And now the hubris. I do think she knew there would be blowback with the plagiarism. She turned down communication stream to drip drop in the month that led to my finally calling her out on it. And tried to sneak the book out w/o my even knowing about it. Beeaaaatch. She's the kind of person who IS trying to sell products. Pamphlets and cliched workbooks disguised as "from the heart" advice life coaching books. Once she mailed me a letter, in an envelope she'd customized for her (fictional) "company." After the title: "Empowering women through Education." It should have read "Marketing myself through Bullshit." Then she had to chuck the envelopes when she learned there's an actual foundation (Jill Biden is involved) with that logo. Jeeeezzzuuusss.

    5. Tell me about it. It was my sister's idea, to run ads for the seminar with a kind of ghostbuster bullseye saying "Sold Out." My mother told me about this gleefully. Then she'd cry to me about why no one is enrolling in her seminars. "People just aren't ready to hear what I'm trying to teach them," she'd weep bitterly. Meanwhile, I'm thinking "people aren't willing to shell out $$ for someone with no credentials, when there are others who really DO have the training and bona fides who are offering something even better." Of course, I'd nod in agreement. Until one day, about seven years ago, I said "hey Mom, instead of crying about your seminars not enrolling, why don't you write the material up in a book? That way you're not just waiting for people to come to you." She took me up on it. Without any acknowledgement of course!!

    6. ps Now picture me with my Daffy Duck imitation: she'sth desthpicable

    7. I'm sure she saw herself as a guru and expected people to line up at the doors. That doesn't mean she might not be a fantastic speaker with lots of good things to say; but it's like she "skipped" the hard part earning her credentials. Even slogging along teaching someone else's program would have given her enough credibility to start her own program.

    8. She's not a fantastic speaker. :-)
      Teaching someone else's program would've been admitting someone else HAD a program.

  4. Morning CZ, how is your nephew's pain this morning? Is he able to walk around at all? Keep your friends posted, here or elsewhere, becuz we worry about our friend in the apron. Sending love to you and your household. CS

    1. Hi CZ, how's nephew doing? btw, Ronningstam's book is giving me the first truly lucid mirror into my own narc fleas that I've had yet. I'm making connections left and right. Maybe the timing was just right, who knows? But her sections on affect dysregulation, and especially regarding reactivity to slights, is speaking to me. This is my biggest flea, as you know, given my background; what I"m learning, is that this flea has the potential to be its own entire area of narcissism. Important to realize. Really important. I'm really grateful you wrote this column. love CS

    2. Hi CS,

      My nephew is doing as well as can be expected, thanks for asking (and I'm getting some much-needed exercise carrying food up and down the stairs, ha!)

      I'm so GLAD you appreciate Ronningstam's book. I referred this book to forum members many years ago and learned a valuable lesson. The lesson is: just cuz I like a book, doesn't mean other folks will. ha! Ronningstam's research was MORE information than most people cared to read and a couple of folks thought it was "irrelevant" to recovery---an unnecessary exercise in mental masturbation. I could go on and on with people's reactions, most of which were valid criticisms!

      But since you're rather "nerdish" yourself (grin) and you value academic/clinical research even more than myself I'd reckon, I dared recommend Ronningstam's book knowing you wouldn't call me to task for dwelling in an ivory tower.

      Until a few prominent social psychologists started writing about narcissism as dimensional and 'normal', I had the Clinical definition figured out pretty well. Narcissism is a complex topic and while layfolk (like myself) are frequently criticized for ATTEMPTING to understand something as complicated as NPD, I believe this is a foolish and proprietary notion. Everyone has narcissistic behaviors that thwart the relationships we yearn to create/maintain so leaving research and explanations and understanding up to the professional community is just downright stupid. And arrogant on the part of the psychologist's contempt for layfolk and layfolk's refusal to examine their own behaviors that might (just "might") be causing problems for other people (and themselves).

      P.S. I got out my old graph from 2010 and added "Extraordinary/Productive Narcissism" which was the missing element. I'll finish it soon and post it on my blog. I had intended creating an information depot of sorts on webofnarcissism.com but will likely scrap that project. Psychologists and therapists have responded to public demands and they're now providing much-needed information and support to the general public. People like myself "helped" as much as we could until professionals got up to speed. At least that's how I'm seeing things today.

      Sending some love your way,

    3. Yeah, I'm a big time nerd. :-) Looking forward to that graph! watch those steps or soon you'll be running up and down the bleachers at the stadium. Your nephew is lucky to be getting such TLC day in and out. love CS

    4. Sung to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy:

      I'm just waiting on a newwww graph,
      Posted by my friend CZ...
      A real smart lady with a master brain,
      Making a new graph to seeeeee....
      Dooon't know why it isn't up yet,
      Buuut I know it's coming soon.

      CZBZ has a graph she's workin like a MoFo,
      This nerd is eager like a loon.

    5. Wassamatta U? Don't like my song? Not a Jimmy Cagney fan?

      me neither. xoxox CS

    6. ha! I not only liked your song exaggeratedly-with-a-plus, I loved your song! We had a drop-in visitor with only a couple hours notice which meant vacuuming and changing bed sheets and running to the grocery store and all the things we do when someone stays overnight! I'm finally back in my office!

      As far as the graph goes? It's almost finished. I don't know why it's taking so long getting this thing on the blog. It's one thing after another and before you know what's happened, it's been a year. Or two. Or three. haha!

      Hope you enjoyed the Labor Day week-end, CS!


    7. Yeah well for every erudite affectation I have, I can always muster my inner village-idiot! I did have a good weekend, hope you enjoyed your visitor!

  5. Hi CZ, here's an interesting article I got from your link below, Mad in America, on narrative, language, and the linguistic impoverishment of the DSM-5:


    You'll find it interesting. xx CS

    1. I will read this in the morning...thanks for the tip!

  6. Great post! My only comment is this:
    Productive Narcissism
    "A narcissist may be either productive or unproductive. The difference is that the most productive narcissists, the ones who do change our world, have the charisma and drive to convince others to buy in to their vision or embrace a common purpose. They communicate a sense of meaning that inspires others to follow them, whereas the unproductive types retreat into their own world and blame others for their isolation." ~Michael Maccoby"

    A 'fling' I couldn't shake for over a year is the former, and my mother and ex-husband are the latter....?!? So I get it!!

    1. Hi Paulette!

      It's baffling when someone maintains a consistently positive self no matter what crimes and misdemeanors they've committed. The situations we assume will teach them a little humility, never do. They remain as certain as ever, as dedicated to their 'vision' as ever. However, we never get emotionally close to these people, they remain enigmatic. Fun to be with but there's not a whole lot of depth to their emotions. I'm thinking a lot of politicians fall into this group.

      And then we have the "unproductive narcissists", the ones whose narcissism fails them. They go from King-of-the-World to A-Victim-of-Life and anyone else they can blame. ha!

      Thanks for stopping by!


  7. Hi CZ! I've had some very recent experience with a 'productive narcissist' who is running for political office here. She's ALWAYS running for some political office, term after term. And IF she wins, they fear giving her the keys to the bathroom. she is a political joke here.

    She came for coffee last week, and for some unknown reason, she only did this because she thinks I have more political power here on this side of town than I do....I have retreated from all public life and don't want any power. Period. She lied to my face on a number of things, and had no problems doing so, though I knew the truth because 4 years ago she sat here and told me what she was going to do. "Oh, someone was really spinning my views."

    LOL! Narcissists rarely take credit for anything, especially when they can blame 'others'.

    But I knew her (sort of...over 20 years...) and she sent me some God-Awful paragraphs for me to work into a blog entry. They were terrible. She presented herself as a Nazi-Valkyre. Not that she realized it, but the narcissism, the ego, the 'consistantly positive self' was entrenched to such an extent, that it made me gag. I wrote back and immediately told her that I WOULDN'T use this campaign garbage, and she really should reconsider what she was putting out there about herself. Hah!

    She asked me for copy of my blog entry...the stupid cow was too lazy to go to my blog and read. I refused.

    I think these 1% ers are so lazy, so used to other people doing things for them, that if they could they would hire a person to wipe their butts.

    This is a middle aged woman who is very wealthy and she just perpetually runs for any position...dog catcher will be next. It's all about the gaze of the public turning her way, and frankly??? There is no substance to her campaign 'promises' at all. All wind. She has no humility at all. She drives and older car in our neighborhoods (not rich...poor and working class) when she wants our votes, but I am told by her neighbor she has a new Mercedes in her garage. LOL!

    And her campaign promises haven't changed at all in 20 years. She is like a broken record. It's all ego and opportunism.

    Lady Nyo


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