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Jackson, K. (2017). Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation (2013) by Daniel Shaw, published by Routledge. Att: New Dir. in Psychother. Relat. Psychoanal., 11(2):174-179.

(2017). Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 11(2):174-179

Book Reviews

Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation (2013) by Daniel Shaw, published by Routledge

Review by:
Kathryn Jackson

This is a compelling and important book. Drawing on his own experience as a member of a cult as a young man, the author—Daniel Shaw—develops a concept of narcissism that is embedded within a relational matrix of domination and subjugation. This brings to mind the Hegelian master-slave relationship in which each can exist only in relation to the other. But the great achievement of this book is the way in which Shaw extends his insight and observation well beyond the devastating experience of cults. What he has discovered, in his years of practice as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, is that the very same dynamic processes and relational matrix that sustains cults is identical to what happens in many other contexts: for example, within couples, in families, and even within therapeutic relationships. He demonstrates the traumatic effect of these various narcissistic relationships that exactly emulates the relational tensions that are the essence of any cultic relationships. This transforms our clinical understanding of narcissism as the expression of a cult-like, traumatic dynamic between subjugation and domination.

The book reads like a story—a page-turner, as Shaw draws on his own experience, both clinical and personal, with verve and page-turning intensity.

He tells us a great story—but in doing so, he brings home his theoretical point.

Once Shaw had freed himself from the cult and began his training as a psychotherapist, he was able to see what was right in front of him but that he did not see: he and the other devotees had been subjected to ongoing and cumulative relational trauma at the hands of the leader who needed to dominate, subjugate, denigrate, humiliate, and undermine any sense of subjectivity in his followers. This relational vice, between domination and subjugation, defines traumatic narcissism.

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