Narcissistic Mothers and Their Children

Interview granted to Samantha Cleaver for YourTango.com

Q. What are some common ways that a mother’s narcissism can affect her daughter’s relationships?

A. Depends on how narcissistic the mother is. Narcissistic parents fail to recognize and accept the personal autonomy and boundaries of their offspring. They treat them as instruments of gratification or extensions of themselves. Their love is conditioned on the “performance” of their children and on how well they cater to the needs, wishes, and priorities of the parent.

Consequently, narcissistic parents oscillate between clingy emotional blackmail when they seek the child’s attention, adulation, and compliance (known as “narcissistic supply”) and steely devaluation and silent treatment when they wish to punish the child for refusing to toe the line.

Such inconstancy and unpredictability render the child insecure and codependent. When in relationships as adults, these children feel that they have to “earn” each and every morsel of love; that they will be instantly and facilely abandoned if they “underperform”; that their primary role is to “take care” of their spouse, mate, partner, or friend; and that they are less important, less endowed, less skilled, and less deserving than their significant others.

Q. What are the top concerns when daughters of narcissistic mothers start relationships? When their relationships move
forward? When their relationships end?

A. Children of narcissistic parents are ill-adapted; their personality is rigid and they are prone to deploy psychological defense mechanisms. Consequently, they display the same behaviors throughout the relationship, from start to finish and irrespective of changing circumstances.

As adults, offspring of narcissists tend to perpetuate the pathological primary relationship (with their narcissistic parents). They depend on other people for their emotional gratification and the performance of Ego or daily functions. They are needy,  demanding, and submissive. They fear abandonment, cling and display immature behaviours in their effort to maintain the “relationship” with their companion or mate upon whom they depend. No matter what abuse is inflicted upon them – they remain in the relationship. By eagerly becoming victims, codependents seek to control their abusers.

Some of them end up as inverted narcissists.

Also called “covert narcissist”, this is a co-dependent who depends exclusively on narcissists (narcissist-co-dependent). If you are living with a narcissist, have a relationship with one, if you are married to one, if you are working with a narcissist, etc. – it does NOT mean that you are an inverted narcissist.

To “qualify” as an inverted narcissist, you must CRAVE to be in a relationship with a narcissist, regardless of any abuse inflicted on you by him/her. You must ACTIVELY seek relationships with narcissists and ONLY with narcissists, no matter what your (bitter and traumatic) past experience has been. You must feel EMPTY and UNHAPPY in relationships with ANY OTHER kind of person. Only then, and if you satisfy the other diagnostic criteria of a Dependent Personality Disorder, can you be safely labelled an “inverted narcissist”.

A small minority end up being counterdependent and narcissistic, emulating and imitating their parents traits and conduct. The emotions of these children of narcissists emotions and needs are buried under “scar tissue” which had formed, coalesced, and hardened during years of one form of abuse or another. Grandiosity, a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and overweening haughtiness usually hide gnawing insecurity and a fluctuating sense of self-worth.

Counterdependents are contumacious (reject and despise authority), fiercely independent, controlling, self-centered, and aggressive. They fear intimacy and are locked into cycles of hesitant approach followed by avoidance of commitment. They are “lone wolves” and bad team players.

Counterdependence is a reaction formation. The counterdependent dreads his own weaknesses. He seeks to overcome them by projecting an image of omnipotence, omniscience, success, self-sufficiency, and superiority.

Q. How do narcissistic mothers interfere (or get involved) with their daughters’ love/dating lives? How does this compare to typical mothers?

A. The narcissistic mother is a control freak and does not easily relinquish good and reliable sources of “narcissistic supply” (admiration, adulation, attention of any kind). It is the role of her children to replenish this supply, the children owe it to her. To make sure that the child does not develop boundaries, and does not become independent, or autonomous, the narcissistic parent micromanages the child’s life and encourages dependent and infantile behaviors in her offspring.

Such a parent bribes the child (by offering free lodging or financial support or “help” with daily tasks) or emotionally blackmails the child (by constantly demanding help and imposing chores, claiming to be ill or disabled) or even threatens the child (for instance: to disinherit her if she does not comply with the parent’s wishes). The narcissistic mother also does her best to scare away anyone who may upset this symbiotic relationship or otherwise threaten the delicate, unspoken contract. She sabotages any budding relationship her child develops with lies, deceit, and scorn.

Q. Are there any statistics that you know of that would shed light on how many people are dealing with either narcissism or a parent with narcissism?

A. According to the DSM IV-TR, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is diagnosed in between 2% and 16% of the population in clinical settings (between 0.5-1% of the general population). The DSM-IV-TR proceeds to tell us that most narcissists (50-75% of all patients) are men.

“The lifetime prevalence rate of NPD is approximately 0.5-1 percent; however, the estimated prevalence in clinical settings is approximately 2-16 percent. Almost 75 percent of individuals diagnosed with NPD are male (APA, DSM IV-TR 2000).”

From the Abstract of Psychotherapeutic Assessment and Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorder By Robert C. Schwartz,Ph.D., DAPA and Shannon D. Smith, Ph.D., DAPA (American Psychotherapy Association, Article #3004 Annals July/August 2002)

Narcissistic Injury, Narcissistic Wound, and Narcissistic Scar

Narcissistic Injury

An occasional or circumstantial threat (real or imagined) to the narcissist’s grandiose and fantastic self-perception (False Self) as perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, and entitled to special treatment and recognition, regardless of his actual accomplishments (or lack thereof).

Narcissistic Wound

A repeated or recurrent identical or similar threat (real or imagined) to the narcissist’s grandiose and fantastic self-perception (False Self) as perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, and entitled to special treatment and recognition, regardless of his actual accomplishments (or lack thereof).

Narcissistic Scar

A repeated or recurrent psychological defence against a narcissistic wound. Such a narcissistic defence is intended to sustain and preserve the narcissist’s grandiose and fantastic self-perception (False Self) as perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, and entitled to special treatment and recognition, regardless of his actual accomplishments (or lack thereof).

Narcissists invariably react with narcissistic rage to narcissistic injury.

These two terms bear clarification (also see note):

Narcissistic Injury

Any threat (real or imagined) to the narcissist’s grandiose and fantastic self-perception (False Self) as perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, and entitled to special treatment and recognition, regardless of his actual accomplishments (or lack thereof).

The narcissist actively solicits Narcissistic Supply adulation, compliments, admiration, subservience, attention, being feared from others in order to sustain his fragile and dysfunctional Ego. Thus, he constantly courts possible rejection, criticism, disagreement, and even mockery.

The narcissist is, therefore, dependent on other people. He is aware of the risks associated with such all-pervasive and essential dependence. He resents his weakness and dreads possible disruptions in the flow of his drug: Narcissistic Supply. He is caught between the rock of his habit and the hard place of his frustration. No wonder he is prone to raging, lashing and acting out, and to pathological, all-consuming envy (all expressions of pent-up aggression).

The narcissist’s thinking is magical. In his own mind, the narcissist is brilliant, perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, and unique. Compliments and observations that accord with this inflated self-image (“The False Self“) are taken for granted and as a matter of course.

Having anticipated the praise as fully justified and in accordance with (his) “reality”, the narcissist feels that his traits, behavior, and “accomplishments” have made the accolades and kudos happen, have generated them, and have brought them into being. He “annexes” positive input and feels, irrationally, that its source is internal, not external; that it is emanating from inside himself, not from outside, independent sources. He, therefore, takes positive narcissistic supply lightly.

The narcissist treats disharmonious input – criticism, or disagreement, or data that negate the his self-perception – completely differently. He accords a far greater weight to these types of countervailing, challenging, and destabilizing information because they are felt by him to be “more real” and coming verily from the outside. Obviously, the narcissist cannot cast himself as the cause and source of opprobrium, castigation, and mockery.

This sourcing and weighing asymmetry is the reason for the narcissist’s disproportionate reactions to perceived insults. He simply takes them as more “real” and more “serious”. The narcissist is constantly on the lookout for slights. He is hypervigilant. He perceives every disagreement as criticism and every critical remark as complete and humiliating rejection: nothing short of a threat. Gradually, his mind turns into a chaotic battlefield of paranoia and ideas of reference.

Most narcissists react defensively. They become conspicuously indignant, aggressive, and cold. They detach emotionally for fear of yet another (narcissistic) injury. They devalue the person who made the disparaging remark, the critical comment, the unflattering observation, the innocuous joke at the narcissist’s expense.

By holding the critic in contempt, by diminishing the stature of the discordant conversant – the narcissist minimises the impact of the disagreement or criticism on himself. This is a defence mechanism known as cognitive dissonance.

Narcissistic Rage

Narcissists can be imperturbable, resilient to stress, and sangfroid. Narcissistic rage is not a reaction to stress it is a reaction to a perceived slight, insult, criticism, or disagreement (in other words, to narcissistic injury). It is intense and disproportional to the “offence”.

Raging narcissists usually perceive their reaction to have been triggered by an intentional provocation with a hostile purpose. Their targets, on the other hand, invariably regard raging narcissists as incoherent, unjust, and arbitrary.

Narcissistic rage should not be confused with anger, though they have many things in common.

It is not clear whether action diminishes anger or anger is used up in action but anger in healthy persons is diminished through action and expression. It is an aversive, unpleasant emotion. It is intended to generate action in order to reduce frustration. Anger is coupled with physiological arousal.

Another enigma is:

Do we become angry because we say that we are angry, thus identifying the anger and capturing it – or do we say that we are angry because we are angry to begin with?

Anger is provoked by adverse treatment, deliberately or unintentionally inflicted. Such treatment must violate either prevailing conventions regarding social interactions or some otherwise a deeply ingrained sense of what is fair and what is just. The judgement of fairness or justice is a cognitive function impaired in the narcissist.

Anger is induced by numerous factors. It is almost a universal reaction. Any threat to one’s welfare (physical, emotional, social, financial, or mental) is met with anger. So are threats to one’s affiliates, nearest, dearest, nation, favourite football club, pet and so on. The territory of anger includes not only the angry person himself, but also his real and perceived environment and social milieu.

Threats are not the only situations to incite anger. Anger is also the reaction to injustice (perceived or real), to disagreements, and to inconvenience (discomfort) caused by dysfunction.

Still, all manner of angry people narcissists or not suffer from a cognitive deficit and are worried and anxious. They are unable to conceptualise, to design effective strategies, and to execute them. They dedicate all their attention to the here and now and ignore the future consequences of their actions. Recent events are judged more relevant and weighted more heavily than any earlier ones. Anger impairs cognition, including the proper perception of time and space.

In all people, narcissists and normal, anger is associated with a suspension of empathy. Irritated people cannot empathise. Actually, “counter-empathy” develops in a state of aggravated anger. The faculties of judgement and risk evaluation are also altered by anger. Later provocative acts are judged to be more serious than earlier ones – just by “virtue” of their chronological position.

Yet, normal anger results in taking some action regarding the source of frustration (or, at the very least, the planning or contemplation of such action). In contrast, pathological rage is mostly directed at oneself, displaced, or even lacks a target altogether.

Narcissists often vent their anger at “insignificant” people. They yell at a waitress, berate a taxi driver, or publicly chide an underling. Alternatively, they sulk, feel anhedonic or pathologically bored, drink, or do drugs – all forms of self-directed aggression.

From time to time, no longer able to pretend and to suppress their rage, they have it out with the real source of their anger. Then they lose all vestiges of self-control and rave like lunatics. They shout incoherently, make absurd accusations, distort facts, and air long-suppressed grievances, allegations and suspicions.

These episodes are followed by periods of saccharine sentimentality and excessive flattering and submissiveness towards the victim of the latest rage attack. Driven by the mortal fear of being abandoned or ignored, the narcissist repulsively debases and demeans himself.

Most narcissists are prone to be angry. Their anger is always sudden, raging, frightening and without an apparent provocation by an outside agent. It would seem that narcissists are in a CONSTANT state of rage, which is effectively controlled most of the time. It manifests itself only when the narcissist’s defences are down, incapacitated, or adversely affected by circumstances, inner or external.

Pathological anger is neither coherent, not externally induced. It emanates from the inside and it is diffuse, directed at the “world” and at “injustice” in general. The narcissist is capable of identifying the IMMEDIATE cause of his fury. Still, upon closer scrutiny, the cause is likely to be found lacking and the anger excessive, disproportionate, and incoherent.

It might be more accurate to say that the narcissist is expressing (and experiencing) TWO layers of anger, simultaneously and always. The first layer, of superficial ire, is indeed directed at an identified target, the alleged cause of the eruption. The second layer, however, incorporates the narcissist’s self-aimed wrath.

Narcissistic rage has two forms:

I. Explosive – The narcissist flares up, attacks everyone in his immediate vicinity, causes damage to objects or people, and is verbally and psychologically abusive.

II. Pernicious or Passive-Aggressive (P/A) – The narcissist sulks, gives the silent treatment, and is plotting how to punish the transgressor and put her in her proper place. These narcissists are vindictive and often become stalkers. They harass and haunt the objects of their frustration. They sabotage and damage the work and possessions of people whom they regard to be the sources of their mounting wrath.

Founding Fathers and The Character of States

Even mega-states are typically founded by a small nucleus of pioneers, visionaries, and activists. The United States is a relatively recent example. The character of the collective of Founding Fathers has a profound effect on the nature of the polity that they create: nations spawned by warriors tend to be belligerent and to nurture and cherish military might throughout their history (e.g., Rome); When traders and businessman establish a country, it is likely to cultivate capitalistic values and thrive on commerce and shipping (e.g., Netherlands); The denizens of countries formed by lawyers are likely to be litigious.

 

The influence of the Founding Fathers does not wane with time. On the very contrary: the mold that they have forged for their successors tends to rigidify and be sanctified. It is buttressed by an appropriate ethos, code of conduct, and set of values. Subsequent and massive waves of immigrants conform with these norms and adapt themselves to local traditions, lores, and mores.

 

Back to the United States:

 

Thinkers and scholars as diverse as Christopher Lasch in “The Cultural Narcissist” and Theodore Millon in “Personality Disorders of Everyday Life” have singled out the United States as the quintessential narcissistic society.

 

The “American Dream” in itself is benign. It involves materialistic self-realization, the belief in the ideal of equal opportunities and equal access to the system, and in just rewards for hard work, merit, and natural gifts. But the Dream has been rendered nightmarish by the confluence with America’s narcissistic traits.

 

America’s internal ethos is universally-accepted by all Americans. It incorporates the American Dream and the conviction that America stands for everything that is good and right. Consequently, as the reification of goodness, the United States is in constant battle with evil and its ever-changing demonic emissaries – from Hitler to Saddam Hussein.

 

There is no national consensus about America’s external ethos. Some Americans are isolationists, others interventionists. Both groups are hypervigilant, paranoid, and self-righteous – but isolationists are introverted and schizoid. Theirs is  siege mentality. Interventionists are missionary. They feel omnipotent and invincible. They are extroverted and psychopathic.

 

 

 

 

This pathology can be traced back and attributed to a confluence of historical events and processes, the equivalents of trauma and abuse in an individual’s early childhood.

 

The United States of America started out as a series of loosely connected, remote, savage, and negligible colonial outposts. The denizens of these settlements were former victims of religious persecution, indentured servants, lapsed nobility, and other refugees. Their Declaration of Independence reads like a maudlin list of grievances coupled with desperate protestations of love and loyalty to their abuser, the King of Britain.

 

The inhabitants of the colonies defended against their perceived helplessness and very real inferiority with compensatory, imagined, and feigned superiority and fantasies of omnipotence. Victims frequently internalize their abusers and themselves become bullies. Hence the rough, immutable kernel of American narcissism.

 

The United States was (until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s) and still is, in some important respects, a pre-Enlightenment, white supremacist society. It is rife with superstition, prejudice, conspicuous religiosity, intolerance, philistinism, and lack of social solidarity. Its religiosity is overt, aggressive, virulent and ubiquitous. It is replete with an eschatology, which involves a changing cast of demonized “enemies”, both political and cultural.

 

The Civil War was fought between 2 America’s: the South, a perverted rendition of Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, and the North, a harbinger of modern, multicultural immigrant societies. The North and the American Dream prevailed, the slaves were freed, and the Southern way of life, that of “gentlemen with leisure”, was replaced by a workaholic society where everyone is a slave to money and leisure is an ever rarer commodity.

 

Americans’ religion is a manifestation of their “Chosen People Syndrome”. They are missionary, messianic, zealous, fanatical, and nauseatingly self-righteous, bigoted, and hypocritical. This is especially discernible in the double-speak and double-standard that underlies American foreign policy.

 

American altruism is misanthropic and compulsive. They often give merely in order to control, manipulate, and sadistically humiliate the recipients.

 

Narcissism is frequently comorbid with paranoia. Americans cultivate and nurture a siege mentality which leads to violent acting out and unbridled jingoism. Their persecutory delusions sit well with their adherence to social Darwinism (natural selection of the fittest, let the weaker fall by the wayside, might is right, etc.).

 

Consequently, the United States always finds itself in company with the least palatable regimes in the world: together with Nazi Germany it had a working eugenics program (the 1935 anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws and the Nazi sterilization law were modeled after American anti-miscegenation and sterilization statutes), together with the likes of Saudi Arabia it executes its prisoners, it was the last developed nation to abolish slavery, alone with South Africa it had instituted official apartheid in a vast swathe of its territory.

 

Add to this volatile mix an ethos of malignant individualism, racism both latent and overt, a trampling, “no holds barred” ambitiousness, competitiveness, frontier violence-based morality, and proud simple-mindedness – and an ominous portrait of the United States as a deeply disturbed polity emerges.

 


Also Read

 

Islam and Liberalism

 

Narcissistic Collectives

 

The Cultural Narcissist

 

The Roots of anti-Americanism

 

And Then There Were Too Many

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

European Banks Threatened by Identity Theft

European banks, from Sweden to Austria, are likely to face, in the near future, an unprecedented wave of attempts at identity theft. Hackers from Latvia to Ukraine and from Serbia to Bulgaria are now targeting financial institutions. The global crisis has added to the rows of unemployed former spies, laid-off bankers, and computer programmers. Networks of secret agents, knowledgeable financiers, and computer-savvy criminals have sprung all over Eastern and Central Europe and the Balkans.
 
How can Europe’s banks defend themselves?
 
1. By assigning account or relationship managers to all business accounts and individual accounts above a certain size. This is the practice in private banking and investment banking, but it has yet to spread to retail. A one-on-one line of communication between client and specific bank officer places an insurmountable obstacle in front of hackers and criminals.
 
2. Banks should allow their clients to “block” their accounts at no charge to the client. Account blockage means that all transfers from the account require the confirmation and approval of one or two specific bank officers who know the client personally. Thus, even if a hacker or a criminal were to succeed to effect a transfer of funds, such illicit and damaging activity could be blocked by the bank.
 
3. Banks should ignore and disallow instructions in the account received by e-mail. E-mail communication is amenable to spoofing, hijacking, hacking, and other forms of impersonation. Even Web-based e-mail services such as Gmail are highly insecure, especially over wireless networks.
 
4. Instructions by fax should be accepted only after the client provided, verbally, a one time code (see below).
 
5. Verbal communication should be conducted via mobile phones, not fixed or land lines. The mobile phone’s SIM card guarantees the identity of the specific device used and allows for tracing in case a crime has been committed. On many networks the communication flow is encrypted. Man-in-the-middle attacks and interception are more difficult with cell phones.
 
Online Banking Safeguards

All of Europe’s major banks offer to their customers financial services and products through the Internet. But there’s a problem: computer security. To withstand the coordinated onslaught of hackers and cyber-criminals, who are constantly trying to empty the bank accounts of their victims, online banking Websites must incorporate many defensive safety features. These render the entire experience cumbersome and complicated and deter the vast majority of clients.

Generally speaking, European banks are far safer than American ones as far as online banking and their online presence go. The list below is short and by no means exhaustive and is based on a study conducted at the University of Michigan by Atul Prakash, a professor in the department of electrical engineering and computer science, and two doctoral students, Laura Falk and Kevin Borders:

1. All the pages of the bank’s Website must use SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) and TLS encryption technologies. In the Internet Explorer Web browser, a small, yellow padlock icon appears at the bottom or the top of the page when such encryption is available. It prevents hackers from tapping into the exchange of information between the user’s computer and the bank’s servers and routers. Most browsers now offer also a wide variety of anti-phishing protections.

2. Users should not use their computer keyboard to type in passwords. Many computers are infected with keyloggers: small software applications that monitor the user’s typing and pass on the information to networks of criminals. Instead, the bank should provide a “virtual keyboard” (a tiny on-screen graphic that looks like a keyboard). Users can then click their mouse and press the various “keys” of the virtual keyboard to form the password. Some banks use Java “sandboxing” and virtualization technologies in order to isolate the online banking session from the user’s potentially-infected browser or computer.

3. The banking Website should not re-direct the user to other domains or sites (which potentially are not as secure).

4. The bank should insist on strong passwords: minimum five characters, allowing combinations of numerals and letters, including capitalized ones. Few banks adhere to this rule, though. Many of them allow passwords with only 4-5 numerals.

5. The bank should never send any information pertaining to the account – especially not passwords – via e-mail. Many European banks violate this cardinal rule by sending a staggering amount of information about the account via email, including account numbers, balances, movements, and ownership.

6. The bank should insist on “two-factor authentication”. The user would need a username and password to access the Website. But, to transact in the account, he would make use of one time “tokens” (codes). Each user should be equipped with printed lists of such codes or with a special device that generates them. They can also receive the codes via SMS. The codes are used to transfer money, change the password, change the limit of withdrawal, give instructions regarding securities and deposits, etc.

Dreams of Mental Illness

A Dream (Night of May 8/9, 2009)

Throughout my dream life, Nazism (the regime, its operatives, and its visual manifestations) represented my mental health disorder, the rot that is my being.

In my dream, a squadron of high-ranking Nazis invades my rented apartment with the aim of confiscating my collections (mainly books I had packed in cardboard boxes and stashed in what passed for storage space in my real abode in Israel many years ago). The physical premises in the dream are a combination between my parents’ house and the apartment I shared with my first wife. In other words: they represent the entirety of my life.

As they roam my home, fingering objects and evaluating them, I desperately try to explain to the them that I have abstained from other expenses to be able to afford my prized possessions. They ignore my pleas as they boisterously participate in the hustle and bustle, climbing up and down stairs and calling to each other. It then occurs to me that I envy Hitler who remains untouchable despite his vast library. Despite the dire circumstances, I am still hopeful that my things will be returned to me, unmolested, once the misunderstanding that is at the base of these ominous proceedings is cleared up.

Thus, even in my dream, I realize how my disease is set dead against everything I love and cherish: my privacy, my person, my learning, and the accumulated goods that make an existence. My narcissism is all-pervasive, hideously energetic, tyrannical, and unfair. It is a malignant manifestation of my self-destructive and self-defeating urges.

A senior Nazi orders me to join an SS doctor-officer in his rounds as he compiles an inventory of tangibles in the neighborhood. There are two of us detailed to this ostensibly pedestrian mission: myself and a street-wise and resourceful child whose face I never see, but whose presence is clear. His cheer and acumen immediately render him my competitor. It is clear that only one of us will survive.

This impish child is my True Self and to outlive my disorder (my Nazi tormentors), I have to eliminate him. The only way to come on top is to demonstrate to our indifferent slavemaster how profoundly and overwhelmingly more intelligent I am. I want to make it worth the SS officer’s while to keep me alive, even as he sacrifices my co-worker. In other words: terrified by my sickness, I choose to become the False Self.

I have a stomach-churning four-pronged epiphany right there and then: (1) This ordeal is not going to end soon; (2) I have to make it to the end of the War (another 2 years, as the dream inexplicably takes place in 1943); (3) As death is administered randomly and off-handedly by the Nazis, my chances to survive are not good; (4) I am ill-equipped to cope in an environment that values practical, or somatic skills above intellectual achievements and capacities.

The three of us proceed from one backyard to another, taking stock of all the physical objects in them. As we progress, I commit a mistake and the SS man notices it. Endowed with the gifts of gab and blarney, I assure him that it was intentional and that he has nothing to worry about, he can leave it all to me. “If this happens again, feel free to torture me!” – I protest to his bemusement. He seems skeptical, but doesn’t put a bullet through the back of my skull, as I dreaded he would.

The tour ends at a familiar site: the lane of semi-detacheds, among which is my grandparents’. The entire row of dilapidated houses (in reality, long demolished) is enclosed within a wire fence. The objects strewn in the weed-grown backyards are borrowed from my childhood. The door to my grandparents’ unit is ajar. The great commotion inside indicates that this is the Headquarters of the Nazis (read: where my disease originated). My streetwise and resourceful colleague enters it and at first I can hear his voice, but then it ceases. I know that he is dead.

The SS-officer turns to me and says: “It’s time to complete the ethics chapter of our report”. I seethe inside: “The hypocrite! What do the Nazis have to do with ethics?” Something in me, a sliver of sanity, rebels against the inane demands of my disorder and is revolted by its confabulated fakery. I flip through the notepad that we have used to take the inventory and mutely indicate that it has run out of empty pages. The officer dives into an inner vest pocket and emerges with a cheap, blue plastic-bound diary. He searches for an empty leaf. As he turns the pages, I notice handwritten comments about the genocidal activities of various “gangs”.

Next I know, the SS doctor is holding a baby in his arms, examining it in a clinically-aloof but thorough manner. The boy is deformed: the skin on the right side of his face is covered with a patchwork of purplish scales; his lips are bumpy; his eyes wander aimlessly, unfocused and dim.

The doctor takes meticulous notes and then rises from his crouch, the baby cooing, still in his embrace. He enters my grandparents’ house, I hear a shot and the baby’s pale body is hurled on top of a heap of still corpses in the garden.

Two Dreams (Night of November 6/7, 2006)

I dreamt that I am a child. I am surrounded by family members who pay scant attention to me. They go about their bustling daily lives and I merely exist on the fringes of their awareness. Suddenly I notice a pure white bird, a cross between a seagull and a quail or a magpie. It is strutting on a cabinet shelf, turning itself into an impeccably shaped ball and rolling with brio among the statuettes and vases. I finally succeed to draw attention to myself by pointing to this magical bird and its nigh-impossible exploits. The fowl does nothing of value or utility – but it still garners narcissistic supply for me. This bird is my pathological narcissism.

Seamlessly and gradually, the bird metamorphoses into a swallow – plain, grey, small, and inconspicuous. Still, it is far more clever and useful than its erstwhile transformation. It fulfills functions: it cleans the house, it turns electrical appliances on and off, it even communicates, perhaps via telepathy.

Despite the fact that the sparrow – the drab adult incarnation of the flamboyant seagull-quail – is helpful and charitable, the adults around me reject it cruelly and consign it to the weather-beaten porch, behind a glass partition. The swallow is baffled; why is it being so punished? It tries to prove its merit by sweeping clean with a broom the entire balcony. To no avail.

I point out to the adults how incredible this tiny bird is and how productive. “See how it has scrubbed the verandah sparkling shine!” – I implore. But they are uninterested. I stare at my hyper-intelligent bird, deeply pained and sad. I know that I will never ever have a bird like this again: so clever, so industrious, so functional. I can communicate with it from now on only through a glass darkly. And one day she surely would be gone.

When narcissists grow old, society forces them to let go of major facets of their hitherto unbridled pathological narcissism. This coerced transfiguration makes them very sad, angry and bitter. Narcissists find it difficult to give up their narcissism. They are shocked by the fact that they no are no longer able to attract attention and adulation to themselves (to their magic birds). They then realize that their True Self (the child) is immature and helpless and their False Self (the bird) is a social outcast.

In my second dream, there was a black kid. He inhabited a tiny cubicle, crammed to the ceiling with books, amongst them, prominently displayed, my tome, “Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited”. This leads me to believe that this child is I, the author. But why black? And why a child? I am a white, middle-aged male.

Blacks were discriminated against, excommunicated, and persecuted throughout their sad history as slaves in the Americas and as natives under colonial administrations. I feel like that: a freak, shunned by one and all and victimized by “normal people“. My True Self (that does the dreaming) is an immature child.

The child is despondent and depressed. He shuts himself in his room and refuses to eat or drink and, most alarmingly, won’t even touch his precious books. A procession of adults gently force themselves into his living space in order to cheer him up. Among them is a white cheerleader (adolescent girl), beating a drum and blowing a trumpet and a colored magician with a top hat. They represent my defense mechanisms: narcissism (the cheerleader) and magical thinking (the magician).

The child in the dream is instantly reassured and uplifted by their presence. He says to himself: How wonderful for any kid to be surrounded by such support and love. My defense mechanisms, including my pathological narcissism, keep me alive. I need them in order to survive and function. By ignoring them or trying to suppress them, I place myself at risk.

The Sad Dreams of the Narcissst

I dream of my childhood. And in my dreams we are again one big unhappy family. I sob in my dreams, I never do when I am awake. When I am awake, I am dry, I am hollow, mechanically bent upon the maximization of Narcissistic Supply. When asleep, I am sad. The all-pervasive, engulfing melancholy of somnolence. I wake up sinking, converging on a black hole of screams and pain. I withdraw in horror. I don’t want to go there. I cannot go there.

People often mistake depression for emotion. They say: “But you are sad” and they mean: “But you are human”, “But you have emotions”. And this is wrong.

True, depression is a big component in a narcissist’s emotional make-up. But it mostly has to do with the absence of Narcissistic Supply.

It mostly has to do with nostalgia to more plentiful days, full of adoration and attention and applause. It mostly occurs after the narcissist has depleted his Secondary Source of Narcissistic Supply (spouse, mate, girlfriend, colleagues) for a “replay” of his days of glory. Some narcissists even cry – but they cry exclusively for themselves and for their lost paradise. And they do so conspicuously and publicly – to attract attention.

The narcissist is a human pendulum hanging by the thread of the void that is his False Self. He swings between brutal and vicious abrasiveness – and mellifluous, saccharine sentimentality. It is all a simulacrum. A verisimilitude. A facsimile. Enough to fool the casual observer. Enough to extract the drug – other people’s glances – the reflection that sustains this house of cards somehow.

But the stronger and more rigid the defences – and nothing is more resilient than narcissism – the bigger and deeper the hurt they aim to compensate for.

One’s narcissism stands in direct relation to the seething abyss and the devouring vacuum that one harbours in one’s True Self.

I know it’s there. I catch glimpses of it when I am tired, when I hear music, when reminded of an old friend, a scene, a sight, a smell. I know it is awake when I am asleep. I know that it subsists of pain – diffuse and inescapable. I know my sadness. I have lived with it and I have encountered it full force.

Perhaps I choose narcissism, as I have been “accused”. And if I do, it is a rational choice of self-preservation and survival. The paradox is that being a self-loathing narcissist may be the only act of self-love I have ever committed.

The Narcissist’s Clarion Call

Background

This dream was related to me by a male, 46 years old, who claims to be in the throes of a major personal transformation. Whether he is a narcissist (as he believes himself to be) or not is quite irrelevant. Narcissism is a language. A person can choose to express himself in it, even if he is not possessed by the disorder. The dreamer made this choice.

Henceforth, I will treat him as a narcissist, though insufficient information renders a “real” diagnosis impossible. Moreover, the subject feels that he is confronting his disorder and that this could be a significant turning point on his way to being healed. It is in this context that this dream should be interpreted. Evidently, if he chose to write to me, he is very preoccupied with his internal processes. There is every reason to believe that such conscious content invaded his dream.

The Dream

“I was in a run-down restaurant/bar with two friends sitting at a table in a large open area with a few other tables and a bar. I did not like the music or the smoky atmosphere or other customers or greasy food, but we were travelling and were hungry and it was open and the only place we could find.

There was a woman with other people at a table about 10 feet in front of me that I found attractive, and noticed she was noticing me as well. There was also another woman with other people at a table about 30 feet to my right, old with heavy make-up and poorly dyed hair, loud, obnoxious, drunk who noticed me. She started saying negative things to me, and I tried to ignore her. She just got louder and more derogatory, with horrible rude and jabbing comments. I tried to ignore her, but my other friends looked at me with raised eyebrows, as if to ask: ‘How much more are you going to take before you stand up for yourself?’ I felt sick to my stomach, and did not want to confront her, but everyone in the place was now noticing her confrontation of me, and she was almost screaming at me. I couldn’t believe no one was telling her to stop it, to be civil, to be nice.

I finally looked over at her and raised my voice and told her to shut up. She looked at me and seemed to get even angrier, and then looked at her plate and picked up a piece of food and threw it at me! I couldn’t believe it. I told her I wasn’t going to take one more thing, and to stop it now or I would call the police. She got up, walked towards me, picking up a plate of popcorn from another table, and upended it flat upon the top of my head. I stood up and said: ‘That’s it! That’s assault! You’re going to jail!’ and went to the cash register area by the door and called the police.

The police instantly appeared and took her away, with her resisting arrest the whole time. I sat down and someone at the table next to me said: ‘Now you can open up the dam gate.’ I said: ‘What?’, and he explained how the woman was actually pretty powerful and owned a dam and had shut the gate down years ago, but that now she was locked up we could go open it up.

We piled into a truck and I was led into a cavernous room and shown a small room with a glass wall in it and a big wheel, a control valve. I was told that I could turn it whenever I wanted. So I started to turn it and the water started flowing. I could easily see it through the glass, and the level on the glass rose higher the more I turned the wheel. Soon there was a torrent, and it was thrilling. I had never seen such an incredible roar of water. It was like the Niagara falls flowing through the huge room. I got frightened along with being thrilled, but discovered I could lessen the water with the valve if it got to be too much. It went on for a long time, and we whooped and laughed and felt so excited. Finally, the water grew less no matter how wide I opened the valve, and it reached a steady flow.

I noticed the pretty woman from the grill way across the huge area, and she seemed to be looking for someone. I hoped it was me. I opened the door, and went out to go meet her. On the way out, I got grease on my hand, and picked up a rag on the table to wipe it off. The rag had even more grease on it, and so now my hands were completely covered in grease. I picked up another rag on top of a box, and there were wet spark plugs stuck with globs of grease to the underside of the rag, lined up in order as if they used to be in an engine and someone stuck them in this order on purpose, and some of it got on my clothes. The guys with me laughed and I laughed with them, but I left without going to meet the woman, and we went back to the grill.

I found myself in a tiny room with a table in it and a picture window looking out into the area where everyone was sitting and eating. The door was open into a back hallway. I started to go out, but a man was coming into the room. For some reason he frightened me, and I backed up. However, he was robot-like, and walked to the window and looked out to the dining area, making no indication that he even noticed me, and stared blandly at the people having fun. I left and went out into the dining area. I noticed everyone staring at me in an unfriendly way. I started for the exit, but one of the policemen who had arrested the woman from the night before was off-duty in plain clothes and grabbed my arm and twisted me around and shoved me face down on a table. He told me that what I did to the woman was wrong, and that no one liked me because of it. He said that just because I had the law on my side and was in the right didn’t mean anyone would like me. He said if I was smart I would leave town. Others were around me and spit on me.

He let me go, and I left. I was driving in a car alone out of town. I didn’t know what became of the friends I was with. I felt both elated and ashamed at the same time, crying and laughing at the same time, and had no idea where to go and what I was doing.”

The Interpretation

As the dream unfolds, the subject is with two friends. These friends vanish towards the end of the dream and he doesn’t seem to find this worrisome. “I didn’t know what became of the friends I was with.” This is a strange way to treat one’s friends. It seems that we are dealing not with three dimensional, full-blown, flesh and blood friends but with FRIENDLY MENTAL FUNCTIONS. Indeed, they are the ones who encourage the subject to react to the old woman’s antics. “How much more are you going to take before you stand up for yourself?” – they ask him, cunningly. All the other people present at the bar-restaurant do not even bother to tell the woman “to stop, to be civil, to be nice”. This eerie silence contributes to the subject’s reaction of disbelief that mushrooms throughout this nightmare. At first, he tries to emulate their behaviour and to ignore the woman himself. She says negative things about him, goes louder and more derogatory, horribly rude and jabbing and he still tries to ignore her. When his friends push him to react: “I felt sick to my stomach and did not want to confront her.” He finally does confront her because “everyone was noticing” as she was almost screaming at him.

The subject emerges as the plaything of others. A woman screams at him and debases him, friends prod him to react, and motivated by “everyone” he does react. His actions and reactions are determined by input from the outside. He expects others to do for him the things that he finds unpleasant to do by himself (to tell the woman to stop, for instance). His feeling of entitlement (“I deserve this special treatment, others should take care of my affairs”) and his magical thinking (“If I want something to happen, it surely will”) are so strong – that he is stunned when people do not do his (silent) bidding. This dependence on others is multi-faceted. They mirror the subject to himself. He modifies his behaviour, forms expectations, gets disbelievingly disappointed, punishes and rewards himself and takes behavioural cues from them (“The guys with me laughed and I laughed with them”). When confronted with someone who does not notice him, he describes him as robot-like and is frightened by him. The word “look” disproportionately recurs throughout the text. In one of the main scenes, his confrontation with the rude, ugly woman, both parties do not do anything without first “looking” at each other. He looks at her before he raises his voice and tells her to shut up. She looks at him and gets angrier.

The dream opens in a “run down” restaurant/bar with the wrong kind of music and of customers, a smoky atmosphere and greasy food. The subject and his friends were travelling and hungry and the restaurant was the only open place. The subject takes great pains to justify his (lack of) choice. He does not want us to believe that he is the type of person to willingly patronise such a restaurant. What we think about him is very important to him. Our look still tends to define him. Throughout the text, he goes on to explain, justify, excuse, reason and persuade us. Then, he suddenly stops. This is a crucial turning point.

It is reasonable to assume that the subject is relating to his personal Odyssey. At the end of his dream, he continues his travels, continues his life “ashamed and elated at the same time”. We are ashamed when our sense of propriety is offended and we are elated when it is reaffirmed. How can these contradictory feelings coexist? This is what the dream is about: the battle between what the subject has been taught to regard as true and proper, the “shoulds” and the “oughts” of his life, usually the result of overly strict upbringing – and what he feels is good for him. These two do not overlap and they foster in the subject a sense of escalating conflict, enacted before us. The first domain is embedded in his Superego (to borrow Freud’s quasi-literary metaphor). Critical voices constantly resound in his mind, an uproarious opprobrium, sadistic criticism, destructive chastising, uneven and unfair comparisons to unattainable ideals and goals. On the other hand, the powers of life are reawakening in him with the ripening and maturation of his personality. He vaguely realises what he missed and misses, he regrets it, and he wants out of his virtual prison. In response, his disorder feels threatened and flexes its tormenting muscles, a giant awakened, Atlas shrugged. The subject wants to be less rigid, more spontaneous, more vivacious, less sad, less defined by the gaze of others, and more hopeful. His disorder dictates rigidity, emotional absence, automatism, fear and loathing, self-flagellation, dependence on Narcissistic Supply, a False Self. The subject does not like his current locus in life: it is dingy, it is downtrodden, it is shabby, and inhabited by vulgar, ugly people, the music is wrong, it is fogged by smoke, polluted. Yet, even while there, he knows that there are alternatives, that there is hope: a young, attractive lady, mutual signalling. And she is closer to him (10 feet) than the old, ugly woman of his past (30 feet). His dream will not bring them together, but he feels no sorrow. He leaves, laughing with the guys, to revisit his previous haunt. He owes this to himself. Then he continues his life.

He finds himself, in the middle of the road of life, in the ugly place that is his soul. The young woman is only a promise. There is another woman “old, with heavy make-up, poorly dyed hair, loud, obnoxious, drunk”. This is his mental disorder. It can scarcely sustain the deception. Its make-up is heavy, its hair dyed poorly, its mood a result of intoxication. It could well be the False Self or the Superego, but I rather think it is the whole sick personality. She notices him, she berates him with derogatory remarks, she screams at him. The subject realises that his disorder is not friendly, that it seeks to humiliate him, it is out to degrade and destroy him. It gets violent, it hurls food at him, it buries him under a dish of popcorn (a cinema theatre metaphor?). The war is out in the open. The fake coalition, which glued the shaky structures of the fragile personality together, exists no longer. Notice that the subject does not recall what insults and pejorative remarks were directed at him. He deletes all the expletives because they really do not matter. The enemy is vile and ignoble and will make use and excuse of any weakness, mistake and doubt to crack the defence set up by the subject’s budding healthier mental structures (the young woman). The end justifies all means and it is the subject’s end that is sought. There is no self-hate more insidious and pernicious than the narcissist’s.

But, to fight his illness, the subject still resorts to old solutions, to old habits and to old behaviour patterns. He calls the police because they represent the Law and What Is Right. It is through the rigid, unflinching, framework of a legal system that he hopes to suppress what he regards as the unruly behaviour of his disorder. Only at the end of his dream he comes to realise his mistake: “He said that just because I had the law on my side and I was in the right didn’t mean that anyone would like me.” The Police (who appear instantly because they were always present) arrest the woman, but their sympathy is with her. His true aides can be found only among the customers of the restaurant/bar, whom he found not to his liking (“I did not like … the other customers…”). It is someone in the next table who tells him about the dam. The way to health is through enemy territory, information about healing can be gotten only from the sickness itself. The subject must leverage his own disorder to disown it.

The dam is a potent symbol in this dream. It represents all the repressed emotions, the now forgotten traumas, the suppressed drives and wishes, fears and hopes. It is a natural element, primordial and powerful. And it is dammed by the disorder (the vulgar, now-imprisoned, lady). It is up to him to open the dam. No one will do it for him: “Now YOU can open the dam gate.” The powerful woman is no more, she owned the dam and guarded its gates for many years ago. This is a sad passage about the subject’s inability to communicate with himself, to experience his feelings unmediated, to let go. When he does finally encounter the water (his emotions), they are safely contained behind glass, visible but described in a kind of scientific manner (“the level on the glass rose higher the more I turned the wheel”) and absolutely controlled by the subject (using a valve). The language chosen is detached and cold, protective. The subject must have been emotionally overwhelmed but his sentences are borrowed from the texts of laboratory reports and travel guides (“Niagara Falls”). The very existence of the dam comes as a surprise to him. “I said: What?, and he explained.”

Still, this is nothing short of a revolution. It is the first time that the subject acknowledges that there is something hidden behind a dam in his brain (“cavernous room”) and that it is entirely up to him to release it (“I was told that I could turn it whenever I wanted”). Instead of turning around and running in panic, the subject turns the wheel (it is a control valve, he hurries to explain to us, the dream must be seen to obey the rules of logic and of nature). He describes the result of his first encounter with his long repressed emotions as “thrilling”, “incredible” “roar(ing)”, “torrent(ial)”. It did frighten him but he wisely learned to make use of the valve and to regulate the flow of his emotions to accord with his emotional capacity. And what were his reactions? “Whooped”, “laughed”, “excited”. Finally, the flow became steady and independent of the valve. There was no need to regulate the water anymore. There was no threat. The subject learned to live with his emotions. He even diverted his attention to the attractive, young woman, who reappeared and seemed to be looking for someone (he hoped it was for him).

But, the woman belonged to another time, to another place and there was no turning back. The subject had yet to learn this final lesson. His past was dead, the old defence mechanisms unable to provide him with the comfort and illusory protection that he hitherto enjoyed. He had to move on, to another plane of existence. But it is hard to bid farewell to part of you, to metamorphesise, to disappear in one sense and reappear in another. A break in one’s consciousness and existence is traumatic no matter how well controlled, well intentioned and beneficial.

So, our hero goes back to visit his former self. He is warned: it is not with clean hands that he proceeds. They get greasier the more he tries to clean them. Even his clothes are affected. Rags, wet (useless) spark plugs, the ephemeral images of a former engine all star in this episode. Those are passages worth quoting (in parentheses my comments):

“I noticed the pretty woman from the grill (=from my past) way across the huge area (=my brain), and she seemed to be looking for someone. I hoped it was me. I opened the door, and went out to go meet her (=back to my past). On the way out, I got grease on my hand (=dirt, warning), and picked up a rag on the table to wipe it off. The rag had even more grease on it (=no way to disguise the wrong move, the potentially disastrous decision), and so now my hands were completely covered in grease (=dire warning). I picked up another rag on top of a box, and there were wet (=dead) spark plugs stuck with globs of grease to the underside of the rag, lined up in order as if they used to be in an engine (=an image of something long gone) and someone stuck them in this order on purpose, and some of it got on my clothes. The guys with me laughed and I laughed with them (=he laughed because of peer pressure, not because he really felt like it), but I left without going to meet the woman, and we went back to the grill (=to the scene of his battle with his mental disorder).”

But, he goes on to the grill, where it all started, this undefined and untitled chain of events that changed his life. This time, he is not allowed to enter, only to observe from a tiny room. Actually, he does not exist there anymore. The man that enters his observation post, does not even see him or notice him. There are grounds to believe that the man who thus entered was the previous, sick version of the subject himself. The subject was frightened and backed up. The robot-like person (?) looked through the window, stared blandly at people having fun. The subject then proceeded to commit the error of revisiting his past, the restaurant. Inevitably, the very people that he debunked and deserted (the elements of his mental disorder, the diseased occupants of his mind) were hostile. The policeman, this time off duty (=not representing the Law) assaults him and advises him to leave. Others spit on him. This is reminiscent of a religious ritual of ex-communication. Spinoza was spat on in a synagogue, judged to have committed in heresy. This reveals the religious (or ideological) dimension of mental disorders. Not unlike religion, they have their own catechism, compulsive rituals, set of rigid beliefs and “adherents” (mental constructs) motivated by fear and prejudice. Mental disorders are churches. They employ institutions of inquisition and punish heretical views with a severity befitting the darkest ages.

But these people, this setting, exert no more power over him. He is free to go. There is no turning back now, all bridges burnt, all doors shut firmly, he is a persona non grata in his former disordered psyche. The traveller resumes his travels, not knowing where to go and what he is doing. But he is laughing and crying and ashamed and elated. In other words, he, finally, after many years, experiences emotions. On his way to the horizon, the dream leaves the subject with a promise, veiled as a threat “If you were smart you would leave town.” If you know what is good for you, you will get healthy. And the subject seems to be doing just that.


Also Read

 Metaphors of the Mind

The Dialogue of Dreams

Treatment Modalities and Psychotherapies

The Dethroning of Man in the Western Worldview

Whatever its faults, religion is anthropocentric while science isn’t (though, for public relations considerations, it claims to be). Thus, when the Copernican revolution dethroned Earth and Man as the twin centers of God’s Universe it also dispensed with the individual as an organizing principle and exegetic lens. This was only the first step in a long march and it was followed by similar developments in a variety of fields of human knowledge and endeavor.

Consider technology, for instance. Mass industrial production helped rid the world of goods customized by artisans to the idiosyncratic specifications of their clients. It gave rise to impersonal multinationals, rendering their individual employees, suppliers, and customers mere cogs in the machine. These oversized behemoths of finance, manufacturing, and commerce dictated the terms of the marketplace by aggregating demand and supply, trampling over cultural, social, and personal differences, values, and preference. Man was taken out of the economic game, his relationships with other actors irreparably vitiated.

Science provided the justification for such anomic conduct by pitting “objective” facts versus subjective observers. The former were “good” and valuable, the latter to be summarily dispensed with, lest they “contaminate” the data by introducing prejudice and bias into the “scientific method”. The Humanities and Social Sciences felt compelled to follow suit and imitate and emulate the exact sciences because that’s where the money was in research grants and because these branches of human inquiry were more prestigious.

In the dismal science, Economics, real-life Man, replete with emotions and irrational expectations and choices was replaced by a figmentary concoction: “Rational Man”, a bloodless, lifeless, faceless “person” who maximizes profits and optimizes utility and has no feelings, either negative or positive. Man’s behavior, Man’s predilections, Man’s tendency to err, to misjudge, to prejudge, and to distort reality were all ignored, to the detriment of economists and their clients alike.

Similarly, historians switched from the agglomeration and recounting of the stories of individuals to the study of impersonal historical forces, akin to physics’ natural forces. Even individual change agents and leaders were treated as inevitable products of their milieu and, so, completely predictable and replaceable.

In politics, history’s immature sister, mass movements, culminating in ochlocracies, nanny states, authoritarian regimes, or even “democracies“, have rendered the individual invisible and immaterial, a kind of raw material at the service of larger, overwhelming, and more important social, cultural, and political processes.

Finally, psychology stepped in and provided mechanistic models of personality and human behavior that suspiciously resembled the tenets and constructs of reductionism in the natural sciences. From psychoanalysis to behaviorism, Man was transformed into a mere lab statistic or guinea pig. Later on, a variety of personality traits, predispositions, and propensities were pathologized and medicalized in the “science” of psychiatry. Man was reduced to a heap of biochemicals coupled with a list of diagnoses. This followed in the footsteps of modern medicine, which regards its patients not as distinct, unique, holistic entities, but as diffuse bundles of organs and disorders.

The first signs of backlash against the elimination of Man from the West’s worldview appeared in the early 20th century: on the one hand, a revival of the occult and the esoteric and, on the other hand, Quantum Mechanics and its counterintuitive universe. The Copenhagen Interpretation suggested that the Observer actually creates the Universe by making decisions at the micro level of reality. This came close to dispensing with science’s false duality: the distinction between observer and observed.

Still, physicists recoiled and introduced alternative interpretations of the world which, though outlandish (multiverses and strings) and unfalsifiable, had the “advantage” of removing Man from the scientific picture of the world and of restoring scientific “objectivity”.

At the same time, artists throughout the world rebelled and transited from an observer-less, human-free realism or naturalism to highly subjective and personalized modes of expression. In this new environment, the artist’s inner landscape and private language outweighed any need for “scientific” exactitude and authenticity. Impressionism, surrealism, expressionism, and the abstract schools emphasized the individual creator. Art, in all its forms, strove to represent and capture the mind and soul and psyche of the artist.

In Economics, the rise of the behavioral school heralded the Return of Man to the center of attention, concern, and study. The Man of Behavioral Economics is far closer to its namesake in the real world: he is gullible and biased, irrational and greedy, panicky and easily influenced, sinful and altruistic.

Religion has also undergone a change of heart. Evangelical revivalists emphasize the one-on-one personal connection between the faithful and their God even as Islamic militants encourage martyrdom as a form of self-assertion. Religions are gradually shedding institutional rigidities and hyperstructures and leveraging technology to communicate directly with their flocks and parishes and congregations. The individual is once more celebrated.

But, it was technology that gave rise to the greatest hope for the Restoration of Man to his rightful place at the center of creation. The Internet is a manifestation of this rebellious reformation: it empowers its users and allows them to fully express their individuality, in full sight of the entire world; it removes layers of agents, intermediaries, and gatekeepers; and it encourages the Little Man to dream and to act on his or her dreams. The decentralized technology of the Network and the invention of the hyperlink allow users to wield the kind of power hitherto reserved only to those who sought to disenfranchise, neutralize, manipulate, interpellate, and subjugate them.

The Britannica 2010 Victorious?

October, 2010

With the demise of Microsoft’s Encarta (it has been discontinued) and the tribulations of the Wikipedia (its rules have been revamped to resemble a traditional encyclopedia, alienating its contributors in the process), the Encyclopedia Britannica 2010 (established in 1768) may have won the battle of reference.

The Encyclopedia Britannica 2010 Ultimate Edition (formerly “Student and Home Edition”) builds on the success of its completely revamped previous editions in 2006-9. The rate of innovation in the last four versions was impressive and welcome. It continues apace in this rendition with Britannica Biographies (Great Minds, Heroes and Villains, and Leaders), Classical Music (500 audio files arranged by composer), and a great Workspace for Project Management (a kind of friendly digital den). Six months of free access to the myriad riches of the Britannica Online complete the package.

The Britannica comes bundled with an atlas (close to 1800 maps linked to articles and 287 World Data Profiles of individual countries and territories); the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Thesaurus, augmented by a Spanish-English translation dictionary; classic articles from previous editions; twelve yearbooks (11,200 articles in total); an Interactive Timeline with 4000+ indexed timeline entries; a Research Organizer; and a Knowledge Navigator (called The Brain or BrainStormer). All told, it offers a directory of more than 166,000 reviewed and vetted links to online content.

In its new form the Britannica is user-friendly, with an A to Z Quick Search feature, monthly updates and the aforementioned 6 months of free access to its impressive powerhouse online Web site (more than 1 million additional articles and other items!).

The Britannica’s newest interface is even more intuitive and uncluttered than previously and is great fun to use. It offers morsels of knowledge, some of it date-specific, appetizingly presented through a ticker tape of visuals that leisurely scrolls across the bottom of the screen plus highly edifying interactive tours of articles and attendant media.

When you enter even the first few letters of a term in the search box, it offers various options and is persistent: no need to click on the toolbar’s “search” button every time you want to find something in this vast storehouse of knowledge. Moreover, the user can save search results onto handy “Virtual Notecards”. Whole articles can be copied onto the seemingly inexhaustible Workspace.

The new Britannica’s display is tab-based, avoiding the erstwhile confusing proliferation of windows with every move. Most importantly, articles appear in full, not in sections. This major improvement facilitates the finding of relevant keywords in and the printing of entire texts. These are only a few of the numerous alterations and enhancements.

Perhaps the most refreshing change is the Britannica’s Update Center. Dozens of monthly updates and new, timely articles are made available online (subject to free registration). A special button alerts the user when an entry in the base product has been updated.

Regrettably, the updates cannot be downloaded to the user’s computer or otherwise incorporated into the vast encyclopedia. Moreover, the product does not alert its user to the existence of completely new articles, only to updated ones. It takes a manual scan of the monthly lists to reveal newly added content.

Speaking of updates, one must not forget to dwell on the Britannica’s unequalled yearbooks. Each annual volume contains the year in events, scientific developments, and everything you wanted to know about the latest in any and every conceivable field of human endeavor, or Nature. About 11,200 articles culled from the last 12 editions buttress and update the Encyclopedia’s anyhow impressive offerings.

The Britannica provides considerably more text than any other extant traditional encyclopedia, print or digital (a total of 59 million words). But it has noticeably enhanced its non-textual content over the years (the 1994-7 editions had nothing or very little but words, words, and more words): it now boasts in excess of 30,000 images and illustrations (depending on the version) and 900 video and audio clips. This is not to mention the Britannica Classics: articles from Britannica’s most famous contributors: from Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein to Harry Houdini and from Marie Curie to Orville Wright.

The Britannica fully supports serious research. It is a sober assemblage of first-rate essays, up to date bibliographies, and relevant multimedia. It constitutes a desktop university library: thorough, well-researched, comprehensive, trustworthy.

The Britannica’s 84-107,000 articles (depending on the version) are long and thorough, supported by impressive bibliographies, and written by the best scholars in their respective fields. The company’s Editorial Board of Advisors reads like the who’s who of the global intellectual and scientific community.

The Britannica is an embarrassment of riches. Users often find the wealth and breadth of information daunting and data mining is fast becoming an art form. This is why the Britannica incorporated the BrainStormer to cope with this predicament. But an informal poll I conducted online shows that few know how to deploy it effectively.

The Britannica also sports Student and Elementary versions of its venerable flagship product, replete with a Homework Helpdesk, “how to” documents, and interactive games, activities, and math and science tutorials. Still, the Britannica is far better geared to tackle the information needs of adults and, even more so, professionals. It provides unequalled coverage of its topics.

Ironically, this is precisely why the market positioning of the Britannica’s Elementary and Student Encyclopedias is problematic: compared to the Wikipedia, the Britannica’s brand is distinctly adult and scholarly. The vacuum left by the Encarta (lamented) discontinuance, though, should make it easier to market the Student and Elementary versions (which are an integral part of the Ultimate Edition and not sold separately).

Still, the 2010 editions of both the Student and Elementary encyclopedias improve on the past in terms of both coverage and facilities: the Homework Helpdesk is a collection of useful homework resources including a video subject browse, online learning games and activities, online subject spotlights, and how-to documents on topics such as writing a book review. There are also Learning Games and Activities: hundreds of fun and interactive games and activities to help students with subjects like Math, Science, and Social Studies. Both versions are updated monthly with new online-only articles.

The current edition is fully integrated with the Internet. Apart from articles about new topics and personalities in the news, it offers additional and timely content and revisions on a dedicated Web site. The digital product includes a staggering number of links (165,808!) to third party content and articles on the Web. The GeoAnalyzer, which compares national statistical data and generates charts and graphs, is now Web-based and greatly enhanced.

The Britannica would do well to offer a browser add-on search bar and to integrate with desktop search tools from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others. Currently it offers search results through Google but this requires the user to install add-ons or plug-ins and to go through a convoluted rite of passage. A seamless experience is in the cards. Users must and will be able to ferret content from all over – their desktop, their encyclopedias, and the Web – using a single, intuitive interface.

Some minor gripes:

The atlas, dictionary, and thesaurus incorporated in the Britannica are still surprisingly outdated. Why not use a more current – and dynamically updated – offering? What about dictionaries for specialty terms (medical or computer glossaries, for instance)?

Despite considerable improvement over the previous edition, the Britannica still consumes (not to say hogs) computer resource far in excess of the official specifications. This makes it less suitable for installation on older PCs and on netbooks. If you own a machine with anything earlier than Pentium 4, less than 1 Gb RAM, and less than 10 Gb of really free space, the Britannica would be clunky at best.

But that’s it. Don’t think twice. Run to the closest retail outlet (or surf to the Britannica’s Web site) and purchase the 2010 edition now. It offers excellent value for money (less than $40, with a rebate). For less than the price of an antivirus software and for a fraction of the cost of Windows 7, you will significantly enhance your access to the sum total of human knowledge and wisdom.

DISCLOSURE The product was provided to the author at no cost.


Also Read:

The Britannica 2009

Microsoft’s Student with Encarta Premium 2009

Microsoft’s Encarta and MS Student 2008

The Britannica 2008

The Six Sins of the Wikipedia

Microsoft’s Encarta and MS Student 2007

The Britannica 2007 Opens to the Web

The Encyclopedia Britannica 2006

Interview with Tom Panelas

Battle of the Titans – Encarta vs. the Britannica

Microsoft Embraces the Web – Encarta and MS Student 2006

Old Reference Works Revived

Revolt of the Scholars

The Idea of Reference

The Future of the Book

The Kidnapping of Content

The Internet and the Library

The Future of Online Reference

Will Content Ever be Profitable?

The Disintermediation of Content

The Future of Electronic Publishing

Free Online Scholarship – Interview with Peter Suber