I had what can only be described as an ‘incident’ happen in the last two to three weeks. To be honest, what I realized was something very simple, that may not be a shocker for many people. For me it was an “Ah Ha” moment. However what occurred revealed larger issues and I think it may be worthwhile to share this story and to offer up some personal insight into a larger cultural critique of Narcissistic Abuse Support Groups. It really is something very simple and it really should be discussed more openly.
I joined a Facebook support group for survivors of Narcissistic Abuse a month ago. My ex boyfriend is a recovered addict and our relationship was unhealthy and dysfunctional. He exhibited some traits that were comparable to descriptions of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and reading a book on the topic several months ago allowed me to put some of his behaviors in perspective and validated my feelings about how his behaviors were unethical and emotionally abusive.
However, I had pinpointed a handful of dysfunctional behaviors in a recovering addict. I am not a mental health professional and was not comfortable pinning the label of a full blown personality disorder on him given that there were other possible answers just to make me feel better. I have 17 years in alternative health and a BS in Interdisciplinary Studies with a Health and Business concentration. So I am already familiar with the professional and personal concept of scope of practice from that standpoint, which means you don’t practice what you aren’t licensed to do! Simple.
I joined a Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Group on Facebook and the same week I joined at least 12 other groups. One of these other groups is a Skeptics group that posts news stories from all over the web that promote pseudo science and conspiracy theory. Sometimes people make fun of it and sometimes they deconstruct the argument. But essentially everyone posts information that counters the conspiracy narrative or undermines the pseudo science in question.
Within that group someone found an article on a conspiracy theory forum that specifically mentions this Facebook skeptic’s group BY NAME and theorizes that this group of which I am a member, are PAID GOVRNMENT SHILLS, deliberately infiltrating their groups for nefarious purposes. The accusation goes beyond simple internet Trolling. Needless to say the skeptic’s group laughed and blew it off. In the time I have been a member of that group I have not read or seen ONE example of anyone posting a story about Trolling a Conspiracy Group or posting on their pages. As far as I know, that group finds examples of pseudo science and conspiracy from around the web and discusses it in private, as befits appropriate behavior on the World Wide Web, which it can be argued, is the only true Democracy America has.
That said, when I saw this story of defamation, it made me think of the book by Christopher Lash, Culture of Narcissism and I paused to wonder if I really wanted to add to all the negativity by participating in criticism. I am bi polar and right now is not the best time for me personally to engage with hot button issues. I was second guessing my decision to have joined the skeptic group at that point since the focus is on cultural criticism by average folks not all of whom appreciate academics or the challenges of psychologists or their profession. So while discussion of politics in the Narcissistic Abuse Support Groups is usually VERY LIMITED or officially not permitted by all groups in order to keep conversation focused on the healing process, I wanted to get some feedback. I posted a link to the conspiracy article and told the group about what had happened.
I mentioned the book by Christopher Lasch which has been around for over 20 years and is considered a milestone text and asked those members of the Narcissistic Survivors group about their thoughts on the matter. To me it was just a way to illustrate a question but for me, there was an insight of some kind trying to emerge and I was struggling with it. This is what happened: people seemed to feel threated and were reluctant to get involved in discussing the topic. Automatically people seemed to be suspicious of me and why I brought it up. The implication was that by brining it up, I was undermining the healing process in some way and causing people to not feel safe to express themselves. I responded to comments three or four times and had to reassure those who did choose to comment that I was not trying to be disruptive. The example I used brought out real sensitivities in people. My responses to begin with tried to err on the side of caution and for a day or two the thread was dropped and nothing else was said. I stopped thinking about it because I wasn’t getting any feed back from the group. Then a few days later two or three different ladies chimed in and expressed views in support of the conspiracy narrative. One lady said she wouldn’t be surprised if the skeptic group was on a government payroll and another lady seemed to be so sensitive to the idea that having brought this question up was somehow an attack that she commented ‘for the sake of everyone feeling safe let’s stick to our own personal experiences.’ I can’t remember what my original reply to that comment was but she spoke again and with an attitude that appalled me brought up the following and described them as examples of GLOBAL NARCISSISM. Obamacare, GMO’s and Chemtrails. These are examples of Global Narcissism in her view.
I did NOT handle the exchange well and tried to respond before I had thought thru what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. In the groups defense they did not respond to my reply.
The following is my criticism and my insight. This is what I would have liked to have said to the group and the point I would like to have made. It is relevant and presents a significant challenge to the pop culture pseudo science of ‘global narcissism’. From a scientific standpoint, I know I am right. From a personal stand point, this realization will inform my actions in the future. By presenting this criticism of the Narcissistic Abuse Support Groups currently operating and active online, be it on Facebook or via the websites and personal business related to the Self Help, Wellness and Alternative Health Industries, it is my hope that those who read this critique will take it seriously and will consider revising their practices in light of this simple and uncomplicated fact in whatever way they see fit.
There is an ethical problem with using a psychiatric illness to conduct a cultural critique. The claim and charge of Global Narcissism is predicated and based on a logically fallacy. When these arguments are presented about cultural narcissism, they take a SYMPTOM of narcissism, which is a lack of morality and empathy and then SUBTSTITUTE that symptom for the CAUSE. But wait! If you are like me, you overlooked it for years thinking it was JUST AN ANALOGY. The connection between mimesis and analogy notwithstanding, the idea of moral failure being a SOURCE of DISEASE is DIRECTLY related to EUGENICS. At this point, moral criticism is another matter and that is the core of Lasch’s work and critique in The Culture of Narcissism. For a larger political view of how this charge can be undermined, you need look no further than the derailing of the Anti War movement in the days after 911. Once again, the question of morality was subverted from serving the interests of homeostasis and turned toward serving the interests of mobocracy. Many adherents of the anti war crowd tried to blame religion and I remember distinctly Christian Islamic Dualism being called a culprit. For a moment however, let’s consider addiction. It used to be that addiction be it alcohol or drugs was considered a MORAL illness and a result of degenerative SOCIETAL elements within nature, that presupposed a direct connection between human beings and God. This idea was rejected by medically community supposedly in the 19th century. However, as the history of the 20th century has clearly demonstrated, many governments, including the United States institutionalized Eugenics and Eugenic programs and tried to orient them toward ‘natural health and wellness’.The Nazi’s didn’t just come to power and hoodwink a whole nation for nothing and they used pseudo science like this ROUTINELY for a reason. Nothing builds up community like shared narratives and ideas. This is what I encountered with the narcissism group that unwittingly is perpetuating this logical fallacy. But don’t take just my word for the fact that there is a larger issue with the way the term Narcissism and Narcissistic Abuse is bandied about by the culture at large. Here is a criticism of Lasch’s book that I picked up off Amazon.com:
3.0 out of 5 stars Great on observation, not so great on causes and cures, November 17, 2010
Clark L. Coleman
This review is from: The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (Paperback)
The ideal book of cultural criticism would accomplish three things: (1) Show us convincingly that there is a problem. (2) Diagnose the causes of the problem. (3) Recommend a credible cure for the problem. Lasch is excellent at the first goal, examining many areas of American culture in detail and showing the narcissistic common denominator of many social ills. His diagnosis of the problem, couched entirely in Freudian perspectives, is suspect in my opinion (details to follow). He does not attempt to prescribe any cures. Charitably, we could say that the book is large enough as it is and he had no room for prescription. I would give the book about 4-5 stars on achieving the first goal, about 2 stars on the second goal, none on the third goal.
The first major problem with Lasch’s diagnosis of the causes of our narcissism is that he makes it sound inevitable, implying (intentionally or not) that there is no cure. The trends of industrialization, growth in size of society and government, etc. are often described in terms that cause you to despair that we could ever reverse the negative effects. Even the trends that were consciously directed by the intellectual elite (e.g. feminism, sexual liberation) are described fatalistically; you cannot turn back the clock, the old ways are too abhorrent to want to restore them, etc.
The second major diagnosis problem is that Lasch does not perceive the irony (or hypocrisy) of condemning the ill effects of the modern therapeutic culture, brought about by all the social science pseudo-experts that he rips apart, while being totally absorbed in the language and perspective of Freudianism. The therapeutic culture came about because an older religious culture gave way to a secular psychological perspective from the late 19th century through the 20th century. I doubt that the cure is to be found if we continue to immerse ourselves in secular psychological thinking.
The third major diagnosis problem is that there is a more fundamental diagnosis of how we came to be so narcissistic. Rather than blaming a variety of economic, political, and social trends that cannot be reversed, the deficiency of modern Western societies lies in the loss of transcendence. With a lack of conviction in the eternal importance of each life, each aspect of life is hollowed out. Marriage was about propagating one’s faith, race, ethnicity, and family line; now, it is about chasing romantic happiness. Work was performed to support one’s family and perpetuate the civilization; now it is to make money for any purpose whatsoever, from supporting your family to enabling your consumerism. Numerous examples could be given. If there is no transcendence, no connection to the eternal, I am left with ME and my SELF and my desires. Narcissism is inevitable.
Lasch is a modern liberal who tears apart our culture because of the effects of liberal modernity, but who cannot bring himself to recommend the cures that are needed because the implication of his criticisms is that we must reject the modern, secular, anti-traditional, anti-transcendent culture and turn back the clock (horrors!) to earlier ways of living and thinking. After each criticism of how feminism has destroyed relations between the sexes, for example, he hastens to add that the old ways were certainly oppressive and terrible as well. In which case, what is left for the reader besides despair?
The book is worth reading for its description of the symptoms of our ills. Many observations provide insight into aspects of modern life that we might not realize differ so greatly from not so long ago (e.g. education, sports), depending on what you have read in these areas before this book. Be forewarned that when you finish, you will be full of criticism of our culture and will have been given little idea of where to go from there.
Note, that Narcissistic Abuse disproportionately affects WOMEN. Now I realize that by bringing up feminism, I am running the risk of being accused of narrowing this conversation down to a focus on WHITE WOMEN. And there is most certainly a reason for me doing so.
Currently, organizations are cropping up within the Wellness industry overnight and the current popular literature within the Spa and Wellness Industry is centered on research literacy and accountability not only for the Wellness and Spa Industries but also to provide an evidence basis for CAM (Complimentary and Alternative Medicine.) This is something I have come to accept as part and parcel of living life in a modern society that tries to balance the often opposing views of science, economics, holism and idealism. Now it is argued, usually by MEN in the field of Massage Therapy specifically, that this is happening in order to INSTITUTIONALIZE the PROCESS of cultural diffusion and TO CREATE and to develop and grow the alternative health and wellness INDUSTRY. This is INDIRECTLY related to the self help industry that carters to support groups like those for Narcissistic Abuse Survivors. The self help Industry props itself up by making scientific claims for their approaches to health, healing, and wellness and obviously would react negatively to any accusation they are promoting non science based information. They do this to avoid the social stigma of pseudo science that surrounds alternative health and wellness and complimentary and alternative medicine and typically I presume, this is also done to reach a larger audience. If the self help industry wants to position itself as supported by and promoting scientific values and to base it’s authority on science, what can or should be said about the absence of ethics exhibited by not only Narcissistic Abuse Support Groups who fail to warn new members about the pseudo scientific claims made in books like The Culture of Narcissism?
If you follow the model of Abraham Maslow which is a common model in the Wellness community, human growth and development is on a continuum based on actualizing needs. Commonly in promoting wellness and health paradigms predicated on Behavior Change, Process Philosophy is employed and this philosophical approach to health and wellness is popularized in the literature as a sort of journey to wholeness. This is the kind of model both the self help industry and the larger wellness and alternative medicine Industries employ. Based on this model of behavior change, also embedded deeply in recovery movements for substance abuse, change must come from within to be effective. If the self help industry and allied support groups for SERIOUS psychiatric disorders do not rid themselves of literature and concepts that promote logical fallacies and police themselves, who will? That change has to begin at the grass roots level with individual approaches taken by individual support groups who will then recognize that there is a CHOICE about how to go about structuring the healing journey, and rather than continue to use a logical fallacy to create the illusion of safety, to facilitate the empowerment of their individual group members to come to their own conclusions about the ‘teachings’ of self help gurus who promote pseudo science and ideas like ‘global narcissism’. In a diverse global society, managed, and dominated by materialism and the economic imperative, the fact that Narcissistic abuse predominately affects women more so then men, the fact that women can be Narcissist as well, should not be overlooked. Are women truly helping women, including ethnic minority women who it can be argued have more difficult challenges than their white counterparts, receiving the help they need to make informed decisions about their healing journey when the existence of logical fallacies in the self help community are not pointed out?
It really is simple. It’s not a big deal. Provide the information. Include it in the files section of Support Group Pages and Websites. Show a little respect for the diversity of religious beliefs in an increasingly globalized world by not minimizing the value of faith by confusing religious ideas and views of health with modern science. Let people form their own opinions and conclusions on the subject.
If the pseudo science contained in the idea of ‘global narcissism’ is not addressed at the grass roots level by the support groups themselves, and if anyone attempts to ‘force’ change on the self help industry the absence of ethical accountability and ethical use of science information can not be relied on to police itself this calls into question the integrity of current alliances of numerous related industries. And yes, it can be said, that this approach to addressing the problem is based on both a mainstream interpretation of responsible and healthy Democracy.
What is the alternative and is there one? I am not a self help author. I am a massage therapist by trade/profession, I do have a degree, I am currently a student in higher education working on a Master’s degree. I am not an authority on this subject. But I do have enough experience professionally, and enough faith in myself, and the path I have walked, and the things I have witnessed and seen, to speak up and out.
Human beings are inquisitive creatures and we take in and process new information all the time. This is how we learn and grow. As our stockpile of information grows the ideas and concepts we choose to spend time developing undergo the process of change. Everyone’s learning curve and how people arrive at similar conclusions is always a unique and individual process. The views presented by the members of the Narcissistic Abuse Survivors Group are not unique to them, they are not uncommon and the impulse to get involved and to interact with society based on the premise of preventing abuse or injustice is always a matter for each individual to decide for themselves. Choosing one’s politics, making choices about what causes or issues to support or oppose is significant and always a matter of individual conscience. Anything that violates that process should be done away with. I feel passionately about that. With knowledge comes responsibility.
Logical fallacies represent a slippery ethical slope and are not permitted in philosophy and science. The existence of Eugenics and the history of the failed attempts by world governments to create utopia’s that historically promoted a health paradigms that presupposed a moral failure was the ORIGIN of disease are typically considered treasonous in modern society. Science has been deployed by modern governments with the intention of erecting barriers that in theory will protect us from ourselves. Or so we like to think. Often this issue expresses itself in movements and calls for greater freedom and democracy. Resistance to oppression of dissent. The idealistic amongst us, flanked by those who are spiritual but not religious, along with adherents of world religions accept the uneasy truce that substitutes science for faith in light of the horrors and human disasters that occurred alongside utopian nation building efforts in the 20th century. Regardless of anyone’s politics, suspicions, or personal narratives about the existence of conspiracy theories, one thing we can all count on and agree on is the sanctity of the human mind and the resilience of the human spirit.
ORGANIZED conspiracy to use and abuse, mistreat and enslave the masses, and in doing so, can lead to the creation of a scapegoat that can be laid at the door of spiritual teachers and given the nature of the global economy that may be just another abuse of non western people, ideology and beliefs and this time it will be perpetuated by those who claim to follow them and to adhere to non western value systems. At some point, it’s going to backfire. What will the consequences be culturally?