Last time we unveiled the disturbing psychology of narcissism; in this episode we explore some vivid historical examples and what we can all learn from them. From Joseph Stalin to attention-crazed nuns, the inner world of the narcissist is brought to life in alarming technicolour.
But that’s just one side of the coin. This chapter of Robert Greene’s incredible The Laws of Human Nature is ultimately about cultivating empathy: the ability to understand other people’s emotional worlds, and our own into the bargain.
Empathy takes us back to our favourite Law of Power: Always Say Less Than Necessary. Because, put simply, when we speak less we learn more. It’s time to become a constant anthropologist: to observe, to learn, and to gather data before we make our own moves.
Robert calls for us to stop trying to steal the spotlight and instead learn to fine-tune our innate human ability to read other people’s emotions. If we cultivate ‘visceral empathy’, we can look beneath the surface and into body language and unconscious facial expressions. Where are they coming from? Behind their words, what are they really communicating?
After all, when we screw up, we tend to blame circumstances and external factors; when other people screw up, we tend to blame some perceived flaw in their character… So what would happen if we were to give them the same indulgence?
Which brings us to the problem of preconceived notions – racism, xenophobia, sexism, and more. Until we identify these prejudices in ourselves, we destroy our ability to connect with and understand other people. On the other hand, Andrea seems to have the opposite problem: of too often assuming everyone he meets is going to be lovely…
In this episode, we discover that total control narcissists are astonishingly empathic, but in their hands this becomes a tool of power and manipulation.
We explore the world of the theatrical narcissist – the people who crave attention and who will always try to create more drama to ensure they get their fix. (This is also a mask commonly used by Social Justice Warriors and moralisers of all stripes.)
And then there’s the narcissistic couple – where the relationship itself becomes a nexus of narcissism. This makes for some uncomfortable reflections on one of Jon’s past relationships, and the moment when empathy collapsed…
- Lessons from relationship expert Esther Perel
- What does racism even mean today?
- The power of unconditional love
- More reasons to avoid Brian Rose (as if you needed more)
- The genius of Ernest Henry Shackleton
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