On Narcissistic Self-Promotion

A while back, I wrote a post worrying over the difference between pride and narcissistic self-display. I’ve since made peace with this issue and feel comfortable expressing my feelings of pride in accomplishment, sharing my joy with friends and family members eager to rejoice along with me. I’ve also been helped by a recent example of another author who better demonstrates the true nature of narcissistic self-promotion.

I received a review copy of Alexandra Jamieson’s new book Women, Food, and Desire, and read it with great interest. Advance word suggested it would touch upon food cravings as partly defensive in nature – that is, the ways we eat to avoid dealing with some unacknowledged psychic pain. I address the defensive use of eating in my own book, Why Do I Do That?, so Jamieson’s book naturally appealed to me.

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Triggered by Shame

Due to chronic lower back pain, caused mostly by spending too much time seated at my desk and staring at a computer screen, I decided to enroll in a four-week yoga workshop designed for people with similar issues. Like many of you, I’ve spent lots of time attending group physical fitness classes of different kinds over the course of my life. Though I don’t overtly show it, I become highly competitive when I find myself in such groups. Even before I attended the first class, I was wondering if I would feel the same way in yoga, to which I am a newcomer.

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Appearing in the “Newspaper of Record”

NYT In April when visiting New York City, we had dinner one night with our friend Reed Birney, an actor whose scarily good performance in Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina last season won him a Tony award nomination and a Drama Desk award for Best Featured Actor in a play (House of Cards fans: he also has a recurring role in that series as Rep. Donald Blythe). At dinner, Reed was talking about a 2013 article in the New York Times that dramatically elevated his public profile.

Unlike most of the actors he knew in his youth, Reed did not leave for Hollywood but remained in New York. While he has played many small parts in episodic television, he has spent most of his career as a stage actor appearing in Off Broadway productions, unknown to most people outside the theater world. Then came the lengthy New York Times article that profiled his career and celebrated his return to Broadway, after more than 30 years, in a revival of William Inge’s play Picnic. He was back on Broadway last season in Casa Valentina.

At dinner, Reed was talking about the sense of validation he felt, being profiled in what he referred to as “the newspaper of record.” The phrase stuck with me and I’ve thought of it often since April. For people of our generation – those of us with an interest in ideas, culture, and art – the New York Times speaks with unparalleled authority. To the writers I know, having a book reviewed by the Times is among the highest honors we can imagine. Composers and visual artists probably feel the same way, and not only because these reviews can make or break you. In an era where Facebook and Twitter allow everyone to become a short-form critic with a platform, the NYT gives us thoughtful reviewers whose informed opinions go deeper. When theater critic Ben Brantley has something to say about a new play, it’s most definitely worth listening to.

Writers whose work I admire regularly contribute to the NYT. Articles by Daphne Merkin and Andrew Solomon (author of Far from the Tree) often appear in its pages. Most recently, Ms. Merkin contributed an essay to the paper’s Couch feature, a part of the Opinion section that explores psychotherapy from the point of view of both clients and therapists. Her essay described the way she evoked laughter from her various therapists over the years and made me wonder if any of them were familiar with the concept of resistance. It also made me wonder, at the urging of friends, whether I should try submitting my own contribution to Couch.

I did. And it has been accepted. My essay now appears here in the online version of the New York Times. A shorter version will also run tomorrow in the print edition. Although my editor at the NYT assured me that “the vast majority” of readers will access it online, the experience of having an op-ed in the Sunday edition of the New York Times, print version, means much more to me.

None of my achievements these last few years has been quite so deeply satisfying, although selling The Narcissist You Know to Touchstone Books came close, and I suspect that seeing the book in print when it’s released this summer will be even more gratifying. In many ways, blogging and self-publishing have made me independent: I don’t need anyone in a position of authority – those people I think of as the “gatekeepers” – to validate my work, because readers who visit my blog and buy my books do that directly. I relish this independence but at the same time, if I’m honest with myself and not playing the sour grapes game, I admit that I still crave validation.

And now, like my friend Reed, I have it. I feel deeply validated by appearing in the newspaper of record. I hope you’ll read my essay, share it with others, and leave a comment if you’re so inclined.

Second Thoughts on Sliding Scale Payment

While having coffee last week with my friends Christina and Peter, fellow writers from my Thursday afternoon group, we were discussing how a young philanthropist here in Chapel Hill had helped raise funds to rebuild a beauty salon burned during the riots in Ferguson. The young man’s efforts struck me as very personal: he did not donate or solicit money from others for a general fund or cause; instead, he worked on behalf of one particular individual, the salon owner. This prompted me to wonder whether millenials as a whole feel less comfortable than their parents donating to big faceless organizations like the Red Cross and want instead to feel a more immediate connection to the object of their generosity.

A little research the next day confirmed my suspicion. I found several articles discussing a major shift in the patterns of charitable giving, including this one from NRP where a young philanthropist described a pervasive attitude he had encountered among his peers.”They all said, ‘I don’t trust charities. I don’t give. I believe these charities are just these black holes. I don’t even know how much money would actually go to the people who I’m trying to help.'”

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The Role of Intuition (ESP?) in Psychotherapy


While working on an article about virtual psychotherapy for The Atlantic, I began to think about the role of intuition in the work we therapists do: how it functions and what enables us to understand the way a client is feeling without being told. In part, we’re responding to visual cues. Even when clients are silent, we may “pick up” on their feeling states by reading their facial expressions and body language, often without knowing that we’re doing it. When I first began working by Skype, I was relieved to find that my intuition continued to function via video camera and screen.

Another word for intuition in this case would be empathy. When I work by Skype, I’m able to empathize with clients who may be thousands of miles away, thanks to a high definition picture that allows me to absorb the non-verbal cues contained in their posture and facial expressions. But might there something else involved? Is it possible – bear with me! – that a kind of extra-sensory perception is at work?

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