Review of How to Handle a Narcissist by Theresa Jackson

During the course of my career as a psychologist I found narcissists to be my most difficult clients. As a result, I was interested to see what Theresa Jackson had to say about the matter.

She describes narcissistic personality disorder as “characterized by a haughty sense of superiority, an inflated sense of importance and a deep need for admiration.” People with this disorder put their needs and desires first and do not usually concern themselves with the needs of other people other than as a way to benefit themselves.

In contrast to narcissistic personality disorder, she discusses narcissism as a range of characteristics on which we all fit from unhealthy to healthy. She presents some narcissistic traits as positive or healthy such as “self enhancement.” She sees people toward the healthy end as still being able to appreciate others’ feelings and needs.

She offers a scale on which you can rate the narcissist in your life or yourself on a series of forty criteria. These traits are then sorted into positive and negative ones. The author sees healthy narcissistic traits as including being self confidence, being charismatic and appreciating their own talents, and showing leadership and inspiration of others.

She describes extreme narcissists as showing the above negative traits as well as being threatened and jealous of those with whom they see themselves in competition. They tend to dominate, or discount their rivals as they seek praise and recognition and feel at least slighted if not outrage if their do not get the praise they feel is their right.

She goes on to describe a long list of ways to avoid being overcome by extreme narcissists. She writes about how to limit their dominance of relationships and how to deal with them without allowing them to control you and draw you into their web. She also discusses ways of interacting with them without arousing their least favorable characteristics.

She adds near the end that you should not expect narcissists to change. She sees change as possible but not very likely. This is not a task to be undertaken in the course of everyday relationships.

I found this an informative and interesting book. Yet I find it hard to view what she views as positive narcissistic traits as really being narcissistic. What she refers to here are self confidence and leadership. I agree that these are positive traits. Yet if they are not accompanied by the negative traits, then I would not consider them as narcissistic. I think it confuses the issue to try to consider some traits as healthy narcissism. They seem better seen as positive personality traits without the label of narcissism which to me is a negative term.

Still I think this book gives a good understanding of narcissistic personality disorder and shares some helpful strategies for how to avoid those who carry the label and how to interact with them without harm to you.