Review of Richard Wood’s A Study of Malignant Narcissism: Personal and Professional Insights (London: Routledge, 2023), ISBN 978-1-032-16059-7, pages i-xvi, 212, paperback, $39.95.

Richard Wood writes “Though we may think of ourselves as mostly intrepid explorers of our psyches, many of us continue to

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find a trip through our own interiors to be a very aversive and dangerous endeavor” (p. 189). Yet in A Study of Malignant Narcissism: Personal and Professional Insights, he does just that, traveling into his fears, becoming an intrepid explorer of his psyche, and inviting the reader to do the same. Through deeply personal experiences, he explores the professional, academic, and political manifestations of malignant narcissism, calling this psychological disorder “the most destructive form of human personality.” His multidetermined knowledge of malignant narcissism offers a comprehensive overview useful to both mental health professionals and society at large at this fragile time in our history.

Reflecting pools between puddles of mud describes the complex terrain of Wood’s book both psychologically and intellectually. It is tragic, enlightening, and well-written, as well as, at times, emotionally difficult to get through, reminding me of the continual importance of the ability to embrace opposing feelings simultaneously.

He writes with a sensitivity and openness that invites the reader to vicariously experience what his life living with a malignant narcissist felt like. The difficulty I had in reading the book seems to have mirrored the author’s admitted difficulty he had in writing the book as he recounts the horrors of the unwelcoming world he grew up in. For example, I found myself recoiling at the author’s admissions of animal cruelty, learned from his cruel father, while empathizing with his curiosity about why he lacked empathy at that point in his life.

The book is a veritable inventory of dark self-states: aggrieved, accusatory, aggrandized, cruel, contemptuous, compulsive, demeaning, exploitative, envious, invasive, indignant, intransigent, intimidating, intolerant, misanthropic, predatory, rapacious, remorseless, and transgressive. These words describe the malignant narcissism of his father, a “hoary wrath holder,” “beset by unbearable vulnerabilities, intractable cynicism, and disabled empathy.” They also resonate with uncanny accuracy to the current political landscape, leaving me in awe of the author’s (and the nations’) capacity to endure.

The political timeliness of the book is worth noting. The reader is repeatedly reminded of the eroding spirit of a nation damaged by Trump and company as Trump’s pathology continues to cast a pall across our country and the world. Plus, the American

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Psychiatric Association has said it is unethical for its members to diagnose someone you have not worked with directly. Wood makes a compelling case to do just this, enumerating the endless relational dynamics and potential consequences of living under the rule of a malignant narcissist. I found myself, at times, imagining this book as a movie, specifically an R-rated psychological thriller.

By Wood’s own admission, he couldn’t find the “human parts” of his parents; his mother would disappear for months at a time to the Virgin Islands, leaving him alone with his father. This book is partly about how Wood found the human parts in himself. It is his humanity that makes the subject matter of the book digestible and in that way useful. In light of his evolved insights, learned empathy, and extensive understanding of his depraved childhood environment, Wood was not only able to survive but live to tell his tale with compassion and an incisive voice, turning his pain into productivity.

As he tells us, the only time his father would let his guard down, making him approachable as a parental figure, was as a storyteller. In these times he became a role model, setting the stage for the author to learn how to tell his own story and along the way develop his abiding interest in the stories of others, becoming not only a writer but a psychoanalytic psychologist as well.

Wood talks about hating himself and hating his father for despising him. He believes that hating his father gave him important insights, allowing him to better understand his father and develop a degree of compassion along the way. This compassion helped to moderate the level of toxicity in his own system. Sometimes, for some people, the harder they have to go up against another’s rigid, dysfunctional defensive structures, the stronger the will to not only survive but also thrive can become.

The relentless toxicity of the subject matter is also mitigated with a scholarly, comprehensive literature review of malignant narcissism. The extent of his review underscores the importance of growing intellectually when compromised emotionally. Worth noting, Wood holds Eric Fromm as “the most intricate, nuanced elaborator” on the subject.

As much as the book has to say on the subject, I am also left with how much more there is to say. The book demonstrates the results of a painstaking process of gathering knowledge, both personal and professional. However, the process does not necessarily

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lead to knowing. Importantly, Wood considers his many insights regarding malignant narcissism only “approximations.”

To paraphrase John Steinbeck, we never really know who we are and how we came to be that way. As analysts, we certainly try to find out. Richard Wood makes a serious effort to find out who he is, uncovering and considering his truth and leaving us a roadmap for finding ours. Along the way, he shines a very bright light on the dangerous space malignant narcissists can take up in our lives, whether personally, professionally, and/or politically.

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Ona Lindquist

Ona Lindquist, LCSW, is a psychoanalyst and senior supervisor in private practice in Brooklyn, NY. She is the author of “One Glorious Noise: how the voice of Bruce Springsteen entered my consulting room”; “A Barter To Be: a psychoanalysis in art and verse” (2018);Swimming in Space: fragments of a therapy in verse” (2015); and “What a Blackbird Told Me is Real and Alive” (2011). She may be reached at .

How to Cite This:

Lindquist, O. (2023). A perilous journey. Review of the book A Study of Malignant Narcissism: Personal and Professional Insights, by Richard Wood (2022). Clio’s Psyche, 29(3), 378-381.

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