Rethinking Narcissism | Craig Malkin

Summary of: Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad—and Surprising Good—About Feeling Special
By: Craig Malkin


In ‘Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad-and Surprising Good-About Feeling Special,’ author Craig Malkin offers a fresh perspective on a characteristic that has been widely misunderstood. This book summary delves into the origins of narcissism, its varying degrees and forms, and how it impacts our lives and relationships. By imagining a spectrum of personality traits, readers gain insight into healthy levels of self-love and the effects of extremes on both the individual and their connections to others. This summary also explores the role of nature and nurture in the development of our self-image and provides practical strategies for dealing with those exhibiting narcissistic behavior.

Love Yourself: The Psychology of Narcissism

The concept of self-love and narcissism has been a topic of debate since ancient times. Aristotle believed that the good man should love himself the most, while Buddha thought it best to love others. However, it wasn’t until the early twentieth century that Sigmund Freud introduced the term “narcissism.” According to Freud, self-love is a healthy and necessary step in our development as it allows us to discover our own importance and reach out to others. In contrast, Freud viewed human nature as being driven by aggressive and sexual instincts. Decades later, Heinz Kohut theorized that narcissism is central to human development and is necessary for the formation of a healthy self-image. Kohut believed that the love, admiration, and consolation of those around us make us feel special, allowing us to grow into confident, self-loving individuals.

The Narcissism Spectrum

Humans are not simply good or evil; they are a mix of strengths and weaknesses. Assessing an individual’s character requires avoiding black-and-white thinking. A spectrum is a useful tool to understand narcissism. At one end of the spectrum is abstinence, at zero, and addiction at ten. A person living at zero denies their desire to feel special, while those at ten live in constant need of validation, becoming arrogant and pushing people away. Individuals living between two and three may occasionally feel the need to feel special, while those at seven and eight find it challenging to manage their need to feel special, being quite selfish. Those living between four and six are moderately stable, but those who are a five on the spectrum enjoy the best of both worlds, acting on their desires to be successful without being consumed by them and putting their own needs aside when others seek support. The key is moderation, but is it truly attainable?

The Many Faces of Narcissism

Narcissism is not a fixed trait, and it comes in various forms. This summary explores extroverted, introverted,
and communal narcissists and how they differ from each other. The summary also establishes the necessity of narcissism in adolescent development as it gives young adults self-esteem to navigate the world.

Nature and Nutritions of Narcissism

Our genes and upbringing affect our tendency towards narcissism and self-love. Our biological programming possesses behavioral tendencies, including narcissism, which can be nurtured or hindered by our parents. Jean’s parents’ constant reminders caused her to cease dreaming as she yearned for her parents’ love. In contrast, Chad’s parent’s constant praise made him vain, arrogant, deeply sad, and isolated. Most people living with a three on the narcissism spectrum struggle like Jean, while those living with seven or eight on that spectrum end up like Chad. Therefore, we need to understand that we have a part in how we turn out, and our caregivers should nurture us with the right love and emotions.

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