Thanks to Tsara Shelton for help with transcript editing.
Rob: Welcome to Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show WNJC 1360 AM out of Washington Township reaching Metro Philly and South Jersey. Sponsored by opednews.com. My guest tonight is Daniel Shaw. Daniel Shaw LCSW is a psychoanalytically trained psychotherapist practicing in NY City and Nyack, NY. He is a training analyst, teacher and supervisor of analytic candidates at the National Institute for the Psychotherapies in NY City. I've brought him on to the Bottom-up Radio show because he's written a book, Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation, which I believe helps us to better understand two of the major topics I cover-- top-down domination and the effects of psychopaths and related pathological people on our culture and on individuals. His website is danielshawlcsw.com. Welcome to the show Dan.
DS: Thank you Rob, nice to be here.
Rob: So let's get started with the basics. What is narcissism? And why call it traumatic narcissism instead of malignant narcissism as others have described it?
DS: Okay, good question. Well let's start with narcissism. In the psycho analytic world which is where narcissism first was introduced by Freud you know, over a hundred years ago by now. The narcissism has come to stand for a lot of things. If you talk about a person's healthy narcissism you're talking about their self-esteem and whether it's strong enough for them to be somewhat perseverant and able to be productive and creative. When we commonly speak of narcissism, I think what we really mean by it is vanity, self-centeredness, ego mania. Now that is one way of thinking about narcissism and it's valid, but the psychoanalytic way of thinking about it makes it more complicated. What it suggests is that grandiosity and exhibitionism is a natural developmental stage that you can see in your kids. You know my kids, I've got the little girl that wanted to be this ballerina or gymnasts. And I had the little boy that wanted to be Tarzan, like in the Disney version. So of course they go around showing off and acting out and, it's cute. It's their grandiose and exhibitionistic tendencies. It's when these tendencies get responded to inefficiently and with hostility or with suppression that the tendency to want to dominate and control gets stronger and stronger. And that happens developmentally. And then when we see that in adults we're seeing narcissism as it's come to be known more popularly. We're seeing that show off, vain, self-centered, all about me kind of attitude. And for the most part I would say that this is prevalent in a fairly broad way. You know most people will say they've worked with somebody, had a boss that was like that or dated somebody who was like that. Right? Why I've called it traumatic is because I've wanted to isolate and really talk about a deeper and more malignant kind of narcissist. Now you mention that previously there's been a term, malignant narcissism, right. I believe Eric Fromm probably introduced that somewhere in the 60's. And Eric Fromm was a psychoanalyst and a psychologist. Very interested in authoritarianism. You know, he came from the Frankfort school of critical theory. He developed his own ideas and his very popular books back in the 60's and 70's. And malignant narcissism for him stood for how to, well basically it was a way for him to explain dictators, tyrants, political insanely tyrannical people like Stalin, Hitler, and so on. And of course he saw all of that unfold in his lifetime during World War Two and after. So malignant narcissists would be leaders, in many cases leaders of nations, who sought to conquer and dominate and control and, of course, pillage and plunder other nations. And on a more micro level, the malignant narcissist could be a boss, could be a family member, could be a friend or a lover, or a partner. So I come in and I talk about traumatic narcissism. The reason for that, I'm sorry to be long winded but I hope that answers the question thoroughly enough. The reason I'm calling it traumatic narcissism is that I want to emphasis that there are victims of these narcissists on many levels. From the microcosm to the macrocosm. Whether it's a child being brought up by a parent who's traumatizing and narcissistic, or whether it's people living in the country ruled by a traumatizing narcissist. And those people, for example, live in North Korea. So you know, it goes the whole spectrum of human experience. It's possible to experience this kind of trauma at the hands of certain kinds of narcissists. And what I'm talking about as traumatic is subjugation, to put it most simply. And by subjugation I'm specifically referring, in this case, to a psycho- psychological kind of subjugation. Subjugation that means that a person's unique subjectivity is attacked. It's attacked and diminished and weakened so that the attacker can replace it with their own subjectivity. This, the attacker doesn't want anybody else to have their own point of view because they only want their point of view to be the valid one. And if they need to attack and destroy others to get them to submit, to be subjugated, they will do so. So you see this kind of traumatizing narcissist. Well my personal experience of this was most vivid for me during the time that I followed a guru whom I no longer follow and haven't for about twenty years. And, well that's a whole other story we can get into. So I hope that sets the stage for the, kind of spells out the basics.
Rob: Okay. So you use the term subjectivity and in your book you talk about intersubjectivity. It's an important concept in your model, can you describe it in a little more detail?
DS: Oh, yeah sure. I think of subjectivity as a way of describing the experience of being a subject. You know we can experience ourselves as our own self or we can experience ourselves as the object of another. So most of us are familiar with the idea of objectification. Certainly feminism has brought a great deal of attention to the way that women are objectified. Made into shiny attractive objects almost like commodities. Well, not just women but men can do very much the same. We can objectify ourselves. We can, or we can be objectified. And I don't just mean sexualized. It's much broader than that. For example, many people are familiar with Alice Miller's book, The Drama of the Gifted Child. She spells it out pretty well, that a narcissistic parent uses their child as their object. They want that child to gratify them. And they want to punish the child for developing their own sense of self, because it doesn't cater to them, the parent, the narcissist parent. So that child is made to experience herself as the object of the parent. She is meant to be the object of the parent's desires and needs and expectations. And if she fails to live up to the parent's need for gratification, she is punished. So her subjectivity is what gets punished. Her selfness, her being her own self. So that's what I mean by subjectivity. Subjectivity is the experience of having your own point of view. Of being a sense, of having a sense of yourself as a person in your own right and not as somebody owned by or objectified by somebody else. Now, intersubjectivity describes in the model I use a particular way of being in relationship. This is a model developed most fully by the psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin. In the, in intersubjective relatedness, two people are relating to each other as separate individual people. They are not trying to dominate and control each other. Or one is not submitting to the other's domination. They are meeting each other as equals, as separate individual subjects who then can negotiate difference and sameness in a respectful way. Another way to think about that is the I-thou relationship that Martin Buber spoke of. There are many other thinkers who look at this kind of relationship, subject to subject. I am a separate subject in my own right and so are you and we're going to interact and relate, keeping that in mind. Now the lack of intersubjectivity in relationships is, as I see it, a failure of intersubjectivity, a breakdown of relatedness in the sense of subject to object. And here somebody has to hold the hot potato and be the object of the other. In relationships you might see this as a battle, a power struggle where one person is trying to get the other person to submit to them and it goes up and down like a see-saw. First you're up, then you're down. But there's only two positions there, there's only up or down. There can't be a third way in which there's equal equality and democracy in the relationship. So naturally in a country like North Korea let's say, that's a good example, it's the most horrifying example we have on the planet I guess, although there are of course many others. You know, there is a whole society meant to be subjugated to the leadership and in the particular leader who, of course, comprises a body of elites. And they are meant to feel themselves to be the object of that person. That leader in that country is the only self that's legitimate. Everybody else's self needs to comply and submit to that one. And that makes them the object of the leader. Okay, so I hope that makes sense. It's important to me because I had to struggle with understanding the relationship I had gotten into when I followed a guru in which I completely subjugated myself. And of course I was invited to do so by the guru in this group. And so were all the followers. So I had to figure out what had happened to me. Well I, one way that's helped me to understand it, is to see that I had tried to make myself the perfect object for this guru so that I would be approved of, I would feel legitimate. I had given them all legitimacy and them the power to.
Rob: We're going to get into that, but I wanted to take it a little slower there.
DS: Okay, Rob, no problem.