Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Narcissistic Pursuit of Perfection

The Narcissistic Pursuit of Perfection

Arnold Rothstein

ISBN-10: 0823681572
ISBN-13: 978-0823681570


This book straddles the divide between textbook and a self-help tome. It is full with analyses of cases - from the literary to the real and will, probably, be of value mostly to therapists. Its main subject is the narcissist's self-destruction in its attempt at perfection. There are a few types of narcissistic self-destructive and self defeating behaviours. The Self-Punishing, Guilt-Purging Behaviours are intended to inflict punishment and to provide the punished party with a feeling of instant relief. This is very reminiscent of a compulsive-ritualistic behavior. The person harbors guilt. It could be an "ancient" guilt, a "sexual" guilt (Freud), or a "social" guilt. He internalized and introjected voices of meaningful others that consistently and convincingly and from positions of authority informed him that he is no good, guilty, deserving of punishment or retaliation, corrupt. His life is thus transformed into an on-going trial. The constancy of this trial, the never adjourning tribunal IS the punishment. It is Kafka's "trial": meaningless, undecipherable, never-ending, leading to no verdict, subject to mysterious and fluid laws and presided by capricious judges. Then there are the Extracting Behaviours. People with Personality Disorders (PDs) are very afraid of real, mature, intimacy. Intimacy is formed not only within a couple, but also in a workplace, in a neighbourhood, with friends, while collaborating on a project. Intimacy is another word for emotional involvement, which is the result of interactions in constant and predictable (safe) proximity. PDs interpret intimacy (not DEPENDENCE, but intimacy) as strangulation, the snuffing of freedom, death in installments. They are terrorized by it. The self-destructive and self-defeating acts are intended to dismantle the very foundation of a successful relationship, a career, a project, or a friendship. NPDs (narcissists), for instance, feel elated and relieved after they unshackle these "chains". They feel they broke a siege, that they are liberated, free at last. Last, but not rare, there are the Default Behaviours. We are all afraid of new situations, new possibilities, new challenges, new circumstances and new demands. Being healthy, being successful, getting married, becoming a mother, or someone's boss - are often abrupt breaks with the past. Some self-defeating behaviors are intended to preserve the past, to restore it, to protect it from the winds of change, to inertially avoid opportunities. Sam Vaknin, author of "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited".

have read this book, and know this Psychoanalyst. This book embodys much of his day-to day thinking and actual technique, and contains both some very interesting clinical vignettes, and also an underlying message: that Narcissistic behavior is ultimately self-defeating for the analysand's life project -- a very difficult concept to get through to patients/psychotherapy clients, particularly in a culture tht continues to worhship and encourage narcissistic pursuits, at all costs, and despite all the warnings of therapists, history, and the great religions. I heartily recommend this text as an adjunct to the more turgidly written, abstract tomes in the field, such as Kernberg's "Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism", for the former's more experiental approach to understanding and managing esentially the same spectrum of personality conditions. Reading Rothstein, one gets it, recognizes the subjects as dysfunctional, but recognizable, and somewhat familiar
beings at that. A Kerbergian read of the same clincial personalities regards them as "narcisstic aliens" whose psychodynamic structure, and whose formative psychodynamics are unlike anyone "we" know... Kernberg's hypotheses are academic and cerebral achievmnts, to be applauded, for sure, but Rothstein's treatise on the same patients is more understandable, accessable, and hopefully theraputically useful. A very good book.

This book was suggested to me as a more reader-friendly look at narcissistic personality disorder. Unfortunately the author's high-flown textbook language often mired me in words more than ideas. Nonetheless, there is some interesting analysis given to such works as Tolstoy's Anna Karenina...among many others.