Book Summaries Psychology

Law 2: Transform Self-Love into Empathy (The Laws of Human Nature)

Law 2: Transform Self-Love into Empathy (The Laws of Human Nature) 1
Joseph Stalin and Sergey Kirov, 1926, photogravure, published in Joseph Stalin: A Short Biography (Moscow, 1949)

The Law of Narcissism

In this chapter, Greene tells us about the different types of narcissism that exist, and how to identify the chronic narcissists who will try to exploit you. First, it is important to acknowledge that narcissism is a quality we all share. After-all, we are social creatures, and earning the attention and approval of others is of paramount importance to us. Often, people will do anything to get attention, they will commit crime or attempt suicide. There are few things more psychologically damaging or more depressing than the feeling that you do not matter, that nobody cares about your existence.

But the problem is that since everyone wants attention, you are always competing for it. And if you try too hard to get attention, people will get repulsed by you and back off. We crave attention, but we cannot rely too strongly on others for validation – it is too risky. Therefore it is important to construct a self – that is, an identity that we can turn back to, a way of experiencing and thinking about the world. When external validation is not present, we can retreat back into ourselves, and experience self-love and validation from within. This is the idea of self-esteem.

To understand what this concept of the self is, it is useful to look at cases where it doesn’t exist. A good example is the deep narcissist. Our parents shape the way we think about the world, our upbringing leads to the formation of critical ideas about the self. A child who is not encouraged by his parents to build an independent self will suffer later in life in one way, but the same child will suffer in another way if his parents abandon him as a child. In both cases, the parents are deeply narcissistic. Being overinvolved in your child’s life or abandoning them are both manifestations of the same kind of pathology.

When it comes to other people in their lives, deep narcissists have an unusual relationship that is hard for us to understand. They tend to see others as extensions of themselves, what is known as self-objects. People exist as instruments for attention and validation. Their desire is to control them like they control their own arm or leg. In a relationship, they will slowly make the partner cut off contact with friends—there must be no competition for attention.

Having a relationship with a deep narcissist is unsatisfying. Everything is about them; your considerations and needs are not important. They see you as a means for their ends. Deep narcissists are easily triggered by the slightest comment, they are quick to take offense. Some deep narcissists can become very successful founders of companies or CEO’s, their charm and wit can persuade others into joining them, but eventually, things will disintegrate into chaos. They will feel the need to be involved in everything, and this need for complete control will push them to break things and not build them.

The Functional Narcissist

The functional narcissist, or what most people are, is self-absorbed, but does have self-love. Ironically, narcissism has come to mean self-love but is precisely the lack of self-love that causes them to fall into themselves so completely. Since functional narcissists are not constantly insecure (because of their self-love), they can turn their attention to external projects and accomplish great things.

There are three things we should learn about narcissism. One is to identify the deeply narcissistic type. Even though they are a minority, encountering one will have a severely damaging effect on your life. More than that, they are often highly charismatic, they can capture you with their energy and draw you into their plans. But remember that they only want to exploit you to accomplish their goals, they have no sense of loyalty towards you.

Second, we must acknowledge that we too are narcissists. The worst kind of narcissist is the one who fails to deny his own narcissism and criticizes others for their narcissism.

Third, we must transition into a healthy narcissist where we do not easily get affected by people’s comments or criticisms. To recover quickly from them. To realize our limitations and laugh at them instead of letting them dominate our attention. And finally, to become more empathetic towards other people, to understand their emotions and to better be able to read and understand them.


Joseph Stalin was a deep narcissist. In the beginning of his career, he had many friends. His personality was infectious, he joked and sang, and he had many friends. A cult was built around him. Whenever someone would part company with him, he would wrap his arms around their shoulders intimately. People felt a deep affinity with Stalin, but behind this graceful demeanour was a dark side. One of his close friends, Kirov, who used to be great company once proved his loyalty by telling Stalin some bad news. People were conspiring against him and they wanted Kirov as their leader. Stalin thanked Kirov profusely. But after that day, their relationship was never the same. Stalin could not accept that he was this unpopular, and worse, that someone more popular than himself was a close friend! His affairs with others went downhill from there, despite Kirov’s attempts at alleviating the situation by constantly mentioning Stalin in his speeches.

Kirov was killed not long after, and while there was no proof that it was Stalin, it is likely that he did not try to stop it from happening. His other friends were also killed. He grew suspicious of everyone around him.

Stalin managed to build his career because he was highly sensitive and attuned to other’s feelings. It is not that the narcissist cannot feel what others are feeling, it is that they can often feel it too much, since they are personally so affected by the slightest trigger. They learn to sense the same inclinations in others, and this makes others comfortable in their company. But this will only happen while things are going well, before their vicious streaks appear to the surface.

Read The Laws of Human Nature

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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