Predatory narcissists were a focus for Erich Fromm, the psychotherapist and humanist who continues to influence public opinion with his well-considered and caring texts.

Daniel Shaw, LCSW - Advisory Board Member - Psychotherapist - New York, USAI’ve recently made the acquaintance of Dan Shaw, and I’m delighted to report that he is joining the Open Minds Advisory Board. Dan is a former member of a yoga cult who for some time has worked as a psychotherapist in New York. He is well known for the help he has given to former cult members over the years. He is also the author Traumatic Narcissism, a fine book, which is of particular use to therapists.

After an engaging Skype conversation, Dan sent me a couple of quotations from Erich Fromm which he finds particularly inspiring, and I want to share them. They come from The Heart of Man:

“Psychosis is a state of absolute narcissism, one in which the person has broken all connection with reality outside, and has made his own person the substitute for reality.  He is entirely filled with himself, he has become ‘god and the world’ to himself.”

Dan commented that after discussing many much less drastic ways in which narcissistic tendencies are found in more typical human behavior, Fromm returns to the extreme, or predatory narcissist, who maintains himself with delusional inflation, so desperately wards off the threat of deflation. The narcissist’s solution, according to Fromm, is:

“getting the consensus of [at least] one other person, and, if possible, in obtaining the consensus of millions.  The former case is that of a folie à deux (some marriages and friendships rest on this basis), while the latter is that of public figures who prevent the open outbreak of their potential psychosis by gaining the acclaim and consensus of millions of people. The best known example for this latter case is Hitler. Here was an extremely narcissistic person who probably could have suffered a manifest psychosis had he not succeeded in making millions believe in his own self-image, taking his grandiose fantasies regarding the millennium of the ‘Third Reich’ seriously, and even transforming reality in such a way that it seemed proved to his followers that he was right. (After he had failed he had to kill himself, since otherwise the collapse of his narcissistic image would have been truly unbearable) … From Caligula and Nero to Stalin and Hitler we see that their need to find believers, to transform reality so that it fits their narcissism, and to destroy all critics, is so intense and so desperate precisely because it is an attempt to prevent the outbreak of [their own] insanity. Paradoxically, the element of insanity in such leaders makes them also successful. It gives them that certainty and freedom from doubt which is so impressive to the average person”.

Dan calls such people “traumatizing narcissists”, and agrees broadly with our own definition of “predators“. In his book, he highlights the dangers of such predatory narcissists, in relationships and as leaders of dangerous groups. We shall be reviewing his insightful book in the near future.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Dan’s book? Do you have a story about predatory narcissists that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!