Interview with Tim Hall - Excerpts Part 41
Excerpts from the Archives of the Narcissism List Part 41
- Interview with Tim Hall, published by New York Press
- Interview granted to The Modern Author
1. Interview with Tim Hall, published by New York Press, February 12, 2003
The edited interview appeared here - http://www.nypress.com/16/7/news&columns/feature.cfm
Q: I'm very interested in the concept of corporate narcissism. Many companies are successful without also engaging in criminal behaviour. In your opinion, how much of the recent wave of business scandals in the U.S. is attributable to a corporate "culture of narcissism," and how much to a number of very misguided - and possibly narcissistic - individuals?
A: The "few rotten apples" theory ignores the fact that affairs like Enron and World.com were not isolated incidents - nor were they conducted conspiratorially and surreptitiously. What is now conveniently labeled "misconduct" was an open secret. Information - albeit often relegated to footnotes - was available. The charismatic malignant narcissists who headed these corporation were cheered on by investors, small and institutional alike. Their grandiose fantasies were construed as visionary. Their sense of entitlement - never commensurate with their actual achievements - was tolerated forgivingly. Their blatant exploitation of co-workers and stakeholders was part of the ethos of the virile Anglo-Saxon, natural selection, can-do, dare-do, version of capitalism. Everyone colluded in this mass psychosis. There are no victims here - only scapegoats.
Q: This relates to my first question. In the late 1990s you couldn't swing a dead cat on lower Broadway without hitting a dozen Internet "visionaries," touting companies which then went bankrupt. These individuals seemed to literally come out of nowhere--suddenly everybody was a Genius with a Big Idea. Again, I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on whether certain business cycles (like the Internet boom) actually create Narcissists, or simply attract numbers of pre-existing Narcissists, looking for quick and easy wealth.
A: The latter. Pathological (or malignant) narcissism is the outcome of a confluence of an appropriate genetic predisposition and early childhood abuse by role models, caretakers, or peers. It is ubiquitous because every human being - regardless of the nature of his society and culture - develops healthy narcissism early in life. Healthy narcissism is rendered pathological by abuse - and abuse, alas, is a universal human behaviour. By "abuse" I mean any refusal to acknowledge the emerging boundaries of the individual. Thus, smothering, doting, and excessive expectations are as abusive as beating and incest.
Pathological narcissism, though, can be latent and induced to emerge (to out) by what I call "collective narcissism". The WAY pathological narcissism manifests and is experienced is dependent on the particulars of societies and cultures. In some cultures, it is encouraged, in others suppressed. In collectivist societies, it may be projected onto the collective, in individualistic societies, it is an individual's trait. Families, businesses, industries, organizations, ethnic groups, churches, and even whole nations can be safely described as "narcissistic" or "pathologically self-absorbed".
The longer the association, or affiliation of the members - the more cohesive and conformist the inner dynamics of the group, the more shared are its grandiose fantasies ("the vision thing"), the more persecutory, or numerous its enemies, the more misunderstood and exclusionary it feels, the more intensive the physical and emotional experiences of its members. The stronger the bonding myth - the more rigorous the common pathology.
Such an all-pervasive and extensive malaise manifests itself in the behavior of each and every member. It is a defining - though often implicit or underlying - mental structure. It has explanatory and predictive powers. It is recurrent and invariable - a pattern of conduct melded with distorted cognition and stunted emotions. And it is often vehemently denied.
Q: What steps might a corporation take to protect it from being ruined by this kind of narcissistic contagion?
A: The first - and most obvious - step is screening. Mental health management is often considered a low organizational priority - frequently with calamitous outcomes. Employees on all levels - especially the upper echelons - should be tested periodically and regularly by professional diagnosticians for personality disorders. Those who test positive should be sacked. There is no way of containing narcissism. It is contagious - weaker people tend to emulate narcissists, stronger ones tend to adopt narcissistic behaviors in order to fend off the narcissist's unwelcome attentions and overweening demands.
Narcissistic behaviour - bullying, stalking, harassment, criminal predilections - should be proscribed and punished severely. Management should be attuned to warning signs - such as a persistent and recurrent inability to get along with all co-workers, a domineering sense of entitlement, unrealistic and grandiose fantasies, requiring excessive attention, responding with rage to criticism, or disagreement, excessive and destructive envy, exploitativeness, lack of empathy. Pathological narcissism rarely manifests in a first encounter - but is invariably revealed later on.
Q: The latest web craze is blogging. Some of these sites are focused on external subjects, like politics or technology, but the majority of them are online diaries wherein the owners attempt to self-mythologize the most mundane aspects of their existence. Are weblogs becoming the latest form of collective narcissism?
A: It depends on the blogger and the content of the blog. Not every act of self-centredness is narcissistic. A modicum of self-love, self-esteem and a sense of self-worth are all healthy. Pathological narcissism is rigorously defined. The narcissist feels grandiose and self-important (e.g., exaggerates achievements and
talents to the point of lying, demands to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements). He (most narcissists are men) is obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power, or omnipotence, unequalled brilliance (the cerebral narcissist), bodily beauty or sexual performance (the somatic narcissist), or ideal, everlasting, all-conquering love or passion.
The narcissist is firmly convinced that he or she is unique and, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high-status people (or institutions). He requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation - or, failing that, wishes to be feared and to be notorious (narcissistic supply).
The narcissist feels entitled. He expects unreasonable, or special and favorable priority treatment. He demands automatic and full compliance with his expectations, is "interpersonally exploitative", i.e., uses others to achieve his or her own ends, is devoid of empathy. The narcissist is unable or unwilling to identify with or acknowledge the feelings and needs of others. He is constantly envious of others and believes that they feel the same about him or her. He exhibits arrogant, haughty behaviors, or attitudes coupled with rage when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted.
Q: Would you say the Catholic Church is suffering from a kind of collective narcissism, given its history of protecting child molesters?
A: No, I would say that it is showing the same sense of self-preservation and Mob-like clubbiness that has characterized its history. The doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope, the Church's claim to possess privileged knowledge and unique access to the Creator, its pronounced lack of empathy for the victims of its misconduct, its self-righteous conviction, its belief that it is above human laws, its rigidity and so on - are all narcissistic traits and behavior patterns. But, to my mind, as an organization, it has crossed the line between pathological narcissism and psychopathy long ago. But then, I am a Jew and, therefore, somewhat biased.
Q: In an interview on healthyplace.com, in response to a question about how to reason and negotiate with a narcissist, you said, "That's a tough one. The narcissist is autistic." That interested me because I had just been reading about Asperger's Disorder, which is considered to be a form of high-functioning autism, and in some ways the symptoms are similar to NPD. Can you explain in some more detail about what you meant? Are you aware of any research linking AS with NPD?
A: People suffering from Asperger's Disorder lack empathy, are sensitive to the point of paranoid ideation, and are rigid with some obsessive-compulsive behaviours - all features of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. As a result, their social skills are impaired and their social interactions thwarted. The presenting symptoms of both disorders are very similar. It is easy to misinterpret the Asperger's body language as haughtiness, for instance. Still, scholars today regard Asperger as part of a "schizoid spectrum" in common with the Schizoid Personality Disorder rather than the Narcissistic one.
Q: On your site, you say that a Narcissist can change his behaviour, but usually only after his world is in shambles. Further, even if he does change his behaviour, he cannot heal. This reminded me of the "bottoming-out" process that many drug addicts and alcoholics must go through before they will seek help. Likewise, 12-step movements assert that no addict is ever "cured." Can the philosophies of AA be successfully applied to the narcissist, or help in understanding narcissism?
A: The narcissist is addicted to a drug - his "narcissistic supply". He craves and relentlessly and ruthlessly pursues attention. In the absence of positive attention - adulation, admiration, affirmation, applause, fame, or celebrity - the narcissist makes do with the negative kind (notoriety, infamy). The dynamics of the narcissistic disorder, therefore, closely resemble the psychological dimensions of drug addiction, including the "bottoming-out" that you mentioned. I believe that the treatment modalities preferred by AA, Weight Watchers and 12 step programs should prove applicable to the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Perhaps it is time to establish Narcissists Anonymous.
Q: Is the narcissist unwilling to change, or unable to change?
A: The narcissist is unwilling to change because pathological narcissism has been an adaptive and efficient reaction to the narcissist's life circumstances. Wilhelm Reich called the amalgam of such defence mechanisms an "armor". It restricts one's freedom of movement - but keeps out hurt and threat. The narcissist overcomes adversity by pretending it is isn't there or by reinterpreting events and circumstances to conform to his grandiose and fantastic internal landscape of perfection, omnipotence and omniscience. his narcissism. All narcissists are dimly aware that something has gone awry early on in their lives. But none of them sees why he should replace an existence of splendor - albeit mostly imaginary - with the drabness of the quotidian. The precarious balance of his chaotic and primitive personality vitally depends on the maintenance and furtherance of
Q: What is your advice to somebody who might read this and think that they live or work with a narcissist? What's the first thing they should do?
A: The first and the last thing they should do is disengage. Run, abandon, vanish. Make no excuses. Narcissism is dangerous to your health.
Q: Do you still live in Skopje, Macedonia? Can you tell me a little about where you live, what it's like?
A: I am an Israeli by birth. Upon my release from prison at the end of 1996, I moved to live in Macedonia. With the exception of 1998-9, when I had to flee Macedonia due to political agitation against the incumbent government's corruption, I have lived in Skopje ever since.
Frozen at an early morning hour, the stony hands of the giant, cracked clock commemorate the horror. The earthquake that struck Skopje in 1963 has shattered not only its Byzantine decor, has demolished not merely the narrow passageways of its Ottoman past, has transformed not only its Habsburgian waterfront with its baroque National Theatre. The disastrous reconstruction, supervised by a Japanese architect, has robbed it of its soul. It has become a drab and sprawling socialist metropolis replete with monumentally vainglorious buildings, now falling into decrepitude and disrepair. The influx of destitute and simpleton villagers (which more than quintupled Skopje's population) was crammed by central planners with good intentions and avaricious nature into low-quality, hi-rise slums in newly constructed "settlements".
Skopje is a city of extremes. Its winter is harsh in shades of white and grey. Its summer is naked and steamy and effulgent. It pulses throughout the year in smoke-filled, foudroyant bars and dingy coffee-houses. Polydipsic youths in migratory skeins, eager to be noted by their peers, young women on the hunt, ageing man keen to be preyed upon, suburbanites in search of recognition, gold chained mobsters surrounded by flaxen voluptuousness - the cast of the watering holes of this potholed eruption of a city.
The trash seems never to be collected here, the streets are perilously punctured, policemen often substitute for dysfunctional traffic lights. The Macedonians drive like the Italians, gesture like the Jews, dream like the Russians, are obstinate like the Serbs, desirous like the French and hospitable like the Bedouins. It is a magical concoction, coated in the subversive patience and the aggressive passivity of the long oppressed. There is the wisdom of fear itself in the eyes of the 600,000 inhabitants of this landlocked, mountain-surrounded habitat. Never certain of their future, still grappling with their identity, an air of "carpe diem" with the most solemn religiosity of the devout.
The past lives on and flows into the present seamlessly. People recount the history of every stone, recite the antecedents of every man. They grieve together, rejoice in common and envy en masse. A single organism with many heads, it offers the comforts of assimilation and solidarity and the horrors of violated privacy and bigotry. The people of this conurbation may have left the village - but it never let them go. They are the opsimaths of urbanism. Their rural roots are everywhere: in the the division of the city into tight-knit, local-patriotic "settlements". In the traditional marriages and funerals. In the scarcity of divorces despite the desperate shortage in accommodation. In the asphyxiating but oddly reassuring familiarity of faces, places, behaviour and beliefs, superstitions, dreams and nightmares. Life in a distended tempo of birth and death and in between.
Skopje has it all - wide avenues with roaring traffic, the incommodious alleys of the Old Town, the proper castle ruins (the Kale). It has a Turkish Bridge, recently renovated out of its quaintness. It has a square with Art Nouveau building in sepia hues. An incongruent digital clock atop a regal edifice displayed the minutes to the millennium - and beyond. It has been violated by American commerce in the form of three McDonald restaurants which the locals proceeded cheerfully to transform into snug affairs. Stolid Greek supermarkets do not seem to disrupt the inveterate tranquility of neighbourhood small grocers and their coruscant congeries of variegated fruits and vegetables, spilling to the pavement.
In winter, the light in Skopje is diaphanous and lambent. In summer, tis strong and all-pervasive. Like some coquettish woman, the city changes mantles of orange autumn leaves and the green foliage of summer. Its pure white heart of snow often is hardened into grey and traitorous sleet. It is a fickle mistress, now pouring rain, now drizzle, now simmering sun. The snowy mountain caps watch patiently her vicissitudes. Her inhabitants drive out to ski on slopes, to bathe in lakes, to climb to sacred sites. It gives them nothing but congestion and foul atmosphere and yet they love her dearly. The Macedonian is the peripatetic patriot - forever shuttling between his residence abroad and his true and only home. Between him and his land is an incestuous relationship, a love affair unbroken, a covenant handed down the generations. Landscapes of infancy imprinted that provoke an almost Pavolvian reaction of return.
Skopje has known many molesters. It has been traversed by every major army in European history and then by some. Occupying a vital crossroad, it is a layer cake of cultures and ethnicities. To the Macedonians, the future is always portentous, ringing with the ominousness of the past. The tension is great and palpable, a pressure cooker close to bursting. The river Vardar divides increasingly Albanian neighbourhoods (Butel, Cair, Shuto Orizari) from Macedonian (non-Muslim) ones. Albanians have also moved from the villages in the periphery encircling Skopje into hitherto "Macedonian" neighbourhoods (like Karpos and the Centre). The Romas have their own ghetto called "Shutka" (in Shuto Orizari), rumoured to be the biggest such community in Europe. The city has been also "invaded" (as its Macedonian citizens experience it) by Bosnian Muslims. Gradually, as friction mounts, segregation increases. Macedonians move out of apartment blocks and neighbourhoods populated by Albanians. This inner migration bodes ill for future integration. There is no inter-marriage to speak of, educational facilities are ethnically-pure and the conflict in Kosovo with its attendant "Great Albania" rumblings has only exacerbated a stressed and anxious history.
It is here, above ground, that the next earthquake awaits, along the inter-ethnic fault lines. Strained to the point of snapping by a KFOR-induced culture shock, by the vituperative animosity between the coalition and opposition parties, by European-record unemployment and poverty (Albania is the poorest, by official measures) - the scene is set for an eruption. Peaceful by long and harsh conditioning, the Macedonians withdraw and nurture a siege mentality. The city is boisterous, its natives felicitously facetious, its commerce flourishing. It is transmogrified by Greek and Bulgarian investors into a Balkan business hub. But under this shimmering facade, a great furnace of resentment and frustration spews out the venom of intolerance. One impolitic move, one unkind remark, one wrong motion - and it will boil over to the detriment of one and all.
Dame Rebecca West was here, in Skopje (Skoplje, as she spells it) about 60 years ago. She wrote:
"This (Macedonian) woman (in the Orthodox church) had suffered more than most other human beings, she and her forebears. A competent observer of this countryside has said that every single person born in it before the Great War (and quite a number who were born after it) has faced the prospect of violent death at least once in his or her life. She had been born during the calamitous end of Turkish maladministration, with its cycles of insurrection and massacre and its social chaos. If her own village had not been murdered, she had, certainly, heard of many that had and had never had any guarantee that hers would not some day share the same fate... and there was always extreme poverty. She had had far less of anything, of personal possessions, of security, of care in childbirth than any Western woman can imagine. But she had two possessions that any Western woman might envy. She had strength, the terrible stony strength of Macedonia; she was begotten and born of stocks who could mock all bullets save those which went through the heart, who could outlive the winters when they were driven into the mountains, who could survive malaria and plague, who could reach old age on a diet of bread and paprika. And cupped in her destitution as in the hollow of a boulder there are the last drops of the Byzantine tradition."
Q: Your book, "Malignant Self-Love - Narcissism Revisited" is a consistent high-seller on the Barnes & Noble website. Do you know how many copies are currently in print?
A: Yes, I do but it is a commercial secret, I am afraid.
Q: Is the book being used in any colleges or coursework to your knowledge?
A: None whatsoever. No self-respecting - and, more often than not, narcissistic - academic would admit to learning anything from a self-confessed narcissist and ex-con with no institutional affiliation. Academe's resistance to field work is coupled with a patronizing, navel-gazing, self-satisfied and autistic attitude. There are precious few mental health professionals who possess a real and profound grasp of narcissism - or who peruse the archives of my discussion lists - the record of interactions among thousands of narcissists and their victims and an invaluable, unique, resource. would readily admit to such deficiency. Very few bother to visit and
Q: Do you have any plans to come to the U.S. for any lectures or readings?
A: I would love to - but was never invited by anyone.
Q: What I found most fascinating about the book was not only the subject matter, but the style of writing and the intensely personal twist you bring to a subject that is usually treated in dry, impenetrable academic/psychiatric jargon. To me, your book is not only an essential primer on Narcissism, but it ranks as one of the great works of confessional literature. Have others noted the purely literary qualities of the book, apart from the clinical/psychological aspect?
A: I am flattered but beg to disagree. The book's literary qualities are, at best, questionable. My best writing is political (see, for instance, my articles in Central Europe Review) and economic (my articles published by United Press International-UPI). My poetry, I believe, is good as is my online journal. But my other work is verbose and convoluted. Luckily for my publisher, there is nothing that comes remotely close to it in scope and - this being a first hand account and a distillation of six years of correspondence with thousands of people - in penetration and accuracy.
Q: In the wake of these business scandals, the concept of narcissism seems to be appearing in the media more and more. Have you seen increased interest in your work in the past year or so?
A: Interest in narcissism has exploded after the bursting of the dot.com bubble in early 2000. My Web sites have hitherto garnered more than 4 million page views and are currently running at 15,000 page views per day. There are 4000 members in my various mailing lists. It is impossible to avoid my work when one queries a search engine, such as Google, or a human-edited directory such as the Open Directory Today, seven of every ten Web sites which deal with the issue mirror my content - including all the major ones. Phrases I have either coined or helped disseminate widely are routinely used by the profession and in the media, both print and electronic. My book, as you yourself have noted, is a bestseller in Barnesandnoble.com
Yet, hard to believe as this may sound, in six years of activity which touched the lives of hundreds of thousands, frequently in transforming ways, I have been interviewed only once by the major media (the New York Times last year). It is as if I did not exist. I am embittered and feel disenfranchised.
The amazing thing is that thousands of journalists and media people all over the world have been exposed to my work. Barely three or four of them - yourself included - have offered to write about it.
Q: Going back to the concept of 12-step programs and NPD, there's a saying in AA that "self-esteem is built by doing esteemable acts." Through your work and writing you have helped a great many people. Do you ever have moments where you feel genuinely good about yourself for helping others?
A: Yes, but the way a narcissist would. I enjoy my power to affect other people's lives, the narcissistic supply they provide me with and the attention this brings. Hence my consternation at the scant media attention I am getting.
Q: Regarding your own experience with NPD: with such a poor prognosis for sufferers, aren't you at least beating the odds when it comes to NPD? Would you say you are winning the battle, if not the war?
A: Undoubtedly, I have succeeded to harness the usually destructive power of narcissism and apply it productively for the common benefit of everyone involved. But it is still narcissism. I am still - exclusively - after narcissistic supply. I am as grandiose, as exploitative, as lacking empathy as I ever was. I feel as entitled as I ever did. I fly into rages, idealize and devalue and, in general, exhibit the full spectrum of narcissistic behaviors. Narcissism is a dynamic. Its outcomes can be either socially acceptable or condemnable - but the underlying corrosive phenomenon is the same. One cannot heal merely by cognitively accepting that one is diseased. The assimilation of such an insight requires an emotional complement, an investment of feelings and humility. I lack these.
I once wrote in "The Malignant Optimism of the Abused":
"I often come across sad examples of the powers of self-delusion that the narcissist provokes in his victims. It is what I call "malignant optimism". People refuse to believe that some questions are unsolvable, some diseases incurable, some disasters inevitable. They see a sign of hope in every fluctuation. They read meaning and patterns into every random occurrence, utterance, or slip. They are deceived by their own pressing need to believe in the ultimate victory of good over evil, health over sickness, order over disorder. Life appears otherwise so meaningless, so unjust and so arbitrary... So, they impose upon it a design, progress, aims, and paths. This is magical thinking."
2. Interview granted to The Modern Author
The edited interview appeared here -
Q: Is this the only genre you write and if so have you ever been tempted to write something else (and what)?
A: I resist temptations poorly. Hence my varied portfolio: poetry, short fiction, nonfiction, political and economic articles, opinion columns and even mystery.
Q: What are the names/genres of your books? Where can they be found?
A: All my recent books - there are too many to enumerate here - can be found here: http://samvak.tripod.com/freebooks.html
Some of them can be freely downloaded - others must be purchased, I am afraid...
My Hebrew short fiction is available through here: http://samvak.tripod.com/sipurim.html
My poetry is here (warning: not for the squeamish!): http://samvak.tripod.com/contents.html
Older titles can be found or accessed through my biography page:
My United Press International (UPI) archive:http://vakninupi.cjb.net
Author archive of political columns in "Central Europe Review"
Q: Who/what influenced your writing?
A: In my youth I was swayed by authors such as Poe, Conan Doyle and other weavers of mystery and intrigue. I liked their baroque, Victorian style - penumbral and ponderous with a pathology lurking just beneath the surface.
My fiction, though, is post-modern: lean, amoral, documentary. My columns attempt to imitate the erudition and crispiness of The Economist - a tall order, admittedly.
Q: What is your favourite book?
A: By far, Alice in Wonderland. A prophetic tome which foretold the gathering storm of the 20th century: moral relativism, social disintegration, lethal authoritarianism, the absurd. A dark, haunting and disturbing masterpiece masterfully disguised as a nursery tale.
Q: Who is your favourite author?
A: A low-brow answer: Agatha Christie. The unwitting and morbidly fascinating chronicler of her own demise - the gradual fading of her milieu, her period, its mores and values, beliefs and superstitions, dreams and aspirations. The mirror of pre-Hitler Europe crack'd and then there were none. She was there, an indefatigable and uncannily observant documentarist of a dying era.
Q: Which book that you have written is your favourite?
A: My first book of short fiction - "Requesting my Loved One" (http://samvak.tripod.com/sipurim.html) - records the simultaneous processes of disintegration and self-revelation I experienced in jail. It is such an intensely intimate document that I dare not delve into now, years after it was published and won critical acclaim and awards.
But my favorite work is "After the Rain - How the West Lost the East" (http://samvak.tripod.com/after.html). It is an anthology of political jeremiads of biblical fury and imagery. I didn't know I had it in me.
Q: When did you start writing?
A: My parents bought me a blackboard and chalk when I was three. I could read a daily paper by the age of six. I never stopped since. I prefer reading and writing to absolutely any other experience, bar films.
Q: How long does it take you to write a book?
A: I write c. 4-6 pages daily. I produce a typical 240 pages book of political and economic commentary and researched articles every 3 months.
Q: What would you like to ask another author (and which author)?
A: I would like to ask the great Austrian and German novelists - Musil, Werfel, Mann, Kafka (and the quasi-Frenchman Proust) - how they sustained the effort? I could never compose a work of fiction longer than 10 pages. How does one avoid plodding and the inexorable waning of the characters? How is the reader kept riveted to the last page?
Q: What advice would you give for aspiring authors?
A: It's all about marketing. Network, self-promote, spread the word, give free copies and free copy, collaborate with fellow authors, be generous, be ubiquitous, put the Internet to good use.
Q: What would you like to get out of being an author and your work?
A: Above all, I would like to make a difference. "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited" has touched the lives of many and changed them for the better. This is the only thing that counts, to my mind.
Q: What message (if any) would you like readers to take from your writing?
A: It is all in your hands. What happens to you and the fate of others in entirely in your hands. You have the power to make a difference and to change things. Do it now.
next: Excerpts from the Archives of the Narcissism List Part 42
Staff, H. (2008, December 16). Interview with Tim Hall - Excerpts Part 41, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, March 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/personality-disorders/malignant-self-love/excerpts-from-the-archives-of-the-narcissism-list-part-41