Review of The Sin of Omission: Narcissist Cologne Creator’s Book Revealing How Narcissism Fragmented Her Family
Recently, I shared news about one of the more clever products that I’ve seen in a while – Narcissist cologne made by Kim Taylor. At that time, I shared that Kim is not only a purveyor of a scent that subtly reminds us of the importance of justice and reciprocity, but that she distributes that scent through her company, the name of which also embodies those values – Fair Play Products.
In addition, Kim is a writer whose bio states that she is a “former professor of languages” who was a Fulbright Scholar.
So I was quite curious when Kim let me know that she had written a new book dealing with the topic of narcissism and related themes about which we both feel strongly and was kind enough to send me a copy.
Things started off well very early on – in fact, before I even opened the envelope containing the book. Why? Check out this return address label that greeted me.
You can think and write about these issues for a long time before you come across something like that. It just reminded me all over again of how clever and insightful Kim’s work around these issues can be.
Then I opened the package to reveal the book and its title, The Sin of Omission.
This just continued the great start because this title reflects an aspect of ponerology that I have long felt it is important to emphasize. Those with reduced empathy can surely actively cause a great deal of harm. But, boy are they often also talented at strategically employing negligence to deviously enable suffering to arise while maintaining plausible deniability.
There are non-actions which, though most would deem them unethical, are nonetheless not illegal. Those who wish to do harm can engage – or, perhaps better said, willfully fail to engage – in them and rarely be held to account. They are the moral loopholes that empathy-reduced people masterfully and frequently exploit. Their existence is a problem that has long haunted me.
That haunting goes back even to my childhood. Agatha Christie’s famous novel Ten Little Indians tells the story of how a number of people who took advantage of these types of loopholes, causing suffering for which they had never been held responsible, were finally brought to a form of justice. I was assigned to read the book in middle school and, even at that young age, my life experience had already primed me in such a way that it hit me like a ton of bricks because I recognized so keenly and felt so strongly about this theme of people getting away with terribly unethical “sins of omission.”
Apparently many others also recognize and feel strongly about this theme because Ten Little Indians, which was first published under the title And Then There Were None, is one of the six best-selling single-volume books of all time, along with iconic works like A Tale of Two Cities, The Lord of the Rings, The Little Prince and The Hobbit.
Also, shortly before receiving Kim’s book in the mail, I had read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. I wasn’t a big fan of most of it, but there was one quote in it about which I felt strongly enough to copy it down. It was the one where the Roman Emperor says:
“Very often an unjust act is done by not doing something, not only by doing something.”
Then I looked at the print-out of a blog post regarding the book which Kim had included in the package. It said:
“There is another ‘N’ word that is often associated with hate and conflict. But this word is not about race or class. This word has no social or economic boundaries.”
What a brilliant way of making the point that the word “narcissism,” which should be a well-understood household term, viewed as quite important and relevant because of how much damage the trait can cause in a family or any other system, instead often goes barely noticed or discussed. One mention of the better-known “N word” can end relationships and careers (and, ironically, it may well be that narcissism itself drives some of the people that do hatefully utter it.) But a lifetime of actually living out this “N word” often goes unrecognized or even rewarded.
I have long been emphasizing that divisions based on race, class, gender and other more superficial categories serve to distract us terribly from focusing on the far more important division in humanity between those with and without a significant level of conscience.
I then checked out the back of the book itself, which describes it as “An eye opening portrayal of family conflict, based on the author’s personal experiences growing up in a dysfunctional family.” While many people interested in ponerology focus on the social and political levels, most of us first experience harmful behavior in our families. Some, unfortunately, experience it there to a significant degree. I suspect that if you surveyed the growing community of those who have been drawn to ponerologic topics, you would find that, for many, the threads of that attraction can be traced directly back to personal family dynamics.
So, basically, before opening her book, I had the idea that it would boil down to Taylor revealing, in a sense, how her interest in the impact of and optimal responses to the harmful influence of those with reduced empathy is rooted in her own childhood experience. Specifically, I expected that she would delve into the lessons she learned about how such people insidiously operate, harming others through “crimes of omission” that are much easier to keep hidden than “crimes of commission.”
Then, I glanced at the table of contents, which lists the titles of the book’s ten chapters. Every single one of the chapter titles was either curiosity-piquing, quirky or both. They all grabbed my attention and made me eager to delve into Taylor’s world.
And so I began reading.
Those who write about ponerologic topics, even though I believe many, if not most, of us have both academic and personal interest in them, seem to fall into two rough categories:
- Those who write very openly about their own personal experiences involving the influence of those with low empathy and conscience
- Those who, even if they have been personally affected by the influence of those with low empathy and conscience, choose to keep their personal stories – especially the specific names and behaviors of other people they know – private, sticking with writing about ponerology from a more general perspective
The Sin of Omission proves Kim Taylor to fall decidedly in the former category. And how.
The book tells the story of her narcissistic brother, Tim, her enabling father and family system and the damage and pain that emerges from this mix. But it doesn’t just tell the story. It airs the family’s dirty laundry in the most open way. In this book, Taylor vents to the world the kind of frustration that most people in these situations save for their diaries or their close friends.
Just as one example of how personal the book gets:
There is one point at which Taylor explains that there is a letter she has wanted to send to her mother-in-law regarding her brother and his wife, but that she has not sent it because she feels too uncomfortable. So what has she done? Instead, she has published the letter in the book.
This level of openness led to mixed feelings for me.
On one hand, I felt almost uncomfortable with it. The book is so revealing that I wondered if the motive behind its writing might be something like revenge through exposure. And, as we’ll discuss at the end of this piece, there is some reason to consider that – perhaps even justly – it is.
On the other hand, I was also able to view her openness as an attempt at several worthwhile goals:
- Catharsis – Short of any effective way to find justice, and realizing that we are “only as sick as our secrets,” the book may serve as a way to at least express mourning, convey a visceral sense of how dramatic, chaotic and painful the drama of a dysfunctional family touched by personality disorders can be, and have her story actually witnessed. I imagine embodying her experiences and putting them out into the world in this book is a weight off Taylor’s chest.
- Understanding – The writing of the book may be part of Kim’s process of seeking answers. As I read, I could just feel her struggling with the painful questions that gnaw at many people of healthy conscience who find themselves in such a system.
- Why does the narcissist act this way?
- Why are others enabling the narcissist and suppressing attempts to restrain their abuses rather than aiding and comforting their victims?
- How did these people become the type of people who would be willing and able to play these roles?
- Helping Others – The book is a cautionary tale.
Exploring the Dynamics of Reduced Empathy and Affected Family Systems
In The Sin of Omission, Kim Taylor touches on or delves into a number of aspects of conditions of reduced empathy and the workings of families in which a member has one. Those who have been in such a situation may relate to many of them.
Manipulative Tactics & Con Artistry
Kim explains some of the “tricks of the trade” that the empathy-reduced person uses to manipulate those around them. One entire chapter is devoted to talking about the time her brother fell victim to an even more skilled scammer than himself. She uses that story to branch out into a broader discussion of con artistry in general.
This discussion is based on her own research on the subject. I found this to exemplify a pattern I’ve noticed. It seems like often, once a victim of a pathological person or system comes to see through the veil of ponerologic conditions, they work to become expert on subjects related to con artistry so as to be able to protect themselves from being duped again. They may even take great pride in their newfound savvy and ability to detect deception and teach others to do so.
Jekyll and Hyde
Taylor offers the phrase “street angel, house devil,” one that her mother used, as a way of conveying how those with pathologies of conscience can charm so many people in the outside world who never see the abusive, cruel sides of them that they so openly display at home.
Vulnerabilities of the Codependent
She discusses the kinds of wounds and defense mechanisms that those with reduced empathy exploit in vulnerable codependent types of people.
The Generational Ripple Effect of Abuse & Neglect
One of the main themes of this book is how one sin – even a sin of omission – can have a deep impact, setting the stage for dysfunction to flourish for generations to come.
We often hear about how personality disorders themselves result from this generational process. But here Taylor focuses on how the aforementioned wounds and defense mechanisms that underlie the enabling behaviors of the other people around the personality-disordered person also result from this same process.
Early in the book, she tells the tale of her widower grandfather’s abandonment of his children – including her father – during the Great Depression. She goes on to reveal how this first sin facilitated a chain reaction of others, like the one carried out by a priest at the orphanage to which her abandoned father was relegated – a supposedly highly moral man – that shattered her father’s self-esteem forever. She speculates on how these early experiences of loss, abuse and neglect led her father to project his own need for care, driving him to compensate by fervently caring for others, especially the very types of people who would take advantage of him – people like his own exploitative brother and Kim’s narcissistic brother, his son.
“Was it his experience at the orphanage of overdiscipline and physical abuse that made him too tolerant of a son whose behavior throughout life would be far too risk-taking for his own good? If there is a tragic flaw in all of this, that is certainly it. The orphanage might be the reason behind dad’s inability to correct a son whose narcissism ruled him.”
She contrasts her own early experience learning about the concept of reciprocity with her father’s lack of insight into its importance and compliance to those who manipulated him as a result.
How Systemic Enabling Amplifies Consequences
Kim mentions that not only did her father’s projection lead him to be compliant, but it led him to expect others to be so, as well. As a result of such a dynamic, much of the rest of the family joins in with the enabling. In her case, her mother discouraged any criticism, preferring to “keep the peace.” One of her younger brothers, who also had a vulnerable personality, became prey, at times, to the con artistry.
Eventually, any healthy limits keeping the personality-disordered person in check are discouraged and shut down. For example, Kim’s maternal grandfather tried to step in and correct Tim’s behavior for his own good and that of society. But rather than gratitude, her family responded by undermining his efforts.
It is at this point that the disordered behavior can really go off the rails.
Blocking of Family Intimacy
When some family members deny and refuse to address another family member’s personality disorder, this creates an inevitable tension and distance between them and the ones who are conscious about it. Kim talks about how the atmosphere surrounding her disordered brother prevented her from having a closer relationship with her father and, worse, how she blamed herself for that. She explains that “When one party shuts down or shuts a door because that person is not able to deal with truth and openness, it is frustrating for the other.” And in the letter to her mother-in-law she says, “It is a shame…when families end up fragmented because of one person’s disorders.”
The Extra Pain of Family Crises
Kim talks about the terrible experience of having to handle her father’s death and the decisions associated with it and its aftermath while dealing with such a difficult family system.
“Water to a Fish”
Taylor describes a key phenomenon – that, no matter how extreme, the dysfunction of our family systems often remains invisible to us when we are young since it is all we know. It is only later that life may somehow help us gain perspective and, when it does, it comes as an epiphany.
The Sickly Intriguing Nature of These Patterns
The book discusses, and, indeed, exhibits, how narcissistic-codependent types of relationships play out in toxic, yet fascinating, patterns. Once one finally does recognize them, it can become almost an obsession to study them, and it can prove difficult to look away.
Connection to Similar Patterns on Higher Social Levels
In Political Ponerology, Andrew M. Lobaczewski starts by explaining how those with pathologies of conscience can take over nations. He then goes on to show how similar, mutually reinforcing patterns play out as families and communities are corrupted, as well.
In The Sin of Omission, Taylor works in the other direction. After focusing on the patterns within her family in depth, she touches on how these mirror patterns of dependency and unsustainability at higher levels. For instance, on page 18, she states:
“It is much like the ongoing bail-out situation related to economic crisis in the U.S. and elsewhere.”
Comparison to the Work of Barbara Oakley
Given the topic and approach of the book, I couldn’t help but compare The Sin of Omission to the work of another author that is very significant to me.
One of the most important books I’ve ever read is Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend by Barbara Oakley. Oakley, like Taylor, is a writer on the topic of pathologies of conscience who, as the full title of that book suggests, also opens up in her writing in a very personal way about her own family issues. In Evil Genes, she share stories of and examines her experience in a family that included a sister who she describes as exhibiting a combination of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and psychopathy as a means by which to consider these and related conditions. The Sin of Omission, full of stories about Taylor’s brother’s behavior and how the rest of the family responded and was affected, is in this tradition to some extent.
Oakley’s next work – Cold-Blooded Kindness: Neuroquirks of a Codependent Killer, or Just Give Me a Shot at Loving You, Dear, and Other Reflections on Helping That Hurts – focused on the flip side of the exploitative relationship, what she calls pathological altruism. (She also edited this well-received scholarly book explicitly about that subject.) And The Sin of Omission, as much as it is about narcissists themselves, is also a book about this crucial complementary aspect of the dysfunctional cycle. For, though she never uses and may not even be familiar with the term, Taylor’s thesis is that her father’s treatment in the orphanage transformed him into a pathological altruist, all too eager to extend himself in support of narcissistic manipulators and exploiters. She also explains how her own husband has kept her from falling into what she calls the “trap of ‘empathy’” of which narcissists take advantage.
However, while they share much in these ways, there are also some differences between Taylor’s work in this book and Oakley’s.
- Oakley uses her personal family stories as jumping off points from which to delve very deeply into the hard science behind conditions of reduced empathy and conscience. Taylor doesn’t delve into the science very much at all, sticking primarily with the personal perspective. When she does veer off a bit, it’s to discuss something more humanities-oriented, like how narcissism has served as an archetype of evil in religious and historical representations, not to consider the relevant scientific evidence and research.
- That first difference has implications for the philosophical angle taken. The scientific emphasis leads Oakley to focus more on the genetic, neurological and other biological aspects of these disorders. The Sin of Omission focuses more on the influence of childrearing. I have little doubt that both authors realize the importance of both of these angles and their interconnection. But, nonetheless, they come at this subject matter differently.
- Oakley’s books are quite long and dense. The Sin of Omission is a short 67 pages and can easily be read in one sitting.
- Oakley’s writing is of extremely high quality. The Sin of Omission is not nearly as eloquent in style.
- Oakley’s writing is highly-structured and well-organized. The Sin of Omission is rambling and sometimes even chaotic.
I make this last point not simply to put down Taylor’s book. For the rambling, perhaps, is appropriate here, serving, intentionally or not, a purpose. It matches the emotional tone of that the book conveys.
While Oakley examines her family history in Evil Genes, Taylor, in this book, expresses the frustration and anger of being stuck in her family in a more visceral way. Oakley explains, seeming, for the most part, to have come to terms with her experience and to be writing as she looks back at it with perspective. Taylor rants, pouring out the exasperation generated by a seemingly never-ending ordeal of having to put up with what she aptly calls an “upside down relationship.” It is not always coherent, not always linear, not always structured or organized. But this is because it is not just a writing, but a release of grief. For she appears, as she writes, to still be in the throes of that grief and it comes across as anger and depression in search of acceptance.
So while The Sin of Omission will not win a Nobel Prize in Literature, if you have any experience with situations like Taylor’s or want to gain some insight into how devastating such situations can be, you can get a sense of it through her writing.
Both Oakley’s and Taylor’s perspectives, though different, offer something valuable that can help others.
Broadening the Perspective
Another interesting thing about Taylor’s version of her story is that it shows how the particular way that we come into contact with and are affected by certain issues can color how we view them and shape the conclusions we draw about them. As a result of her specific experiences, Taylor expresses a couple of conclusions that she has reached that I’d like to put into a broader perspective.
Parent/Child Personality-Disordered/Enabler Orientations
It’s clear that Taylor recognizes the ethical loophole upon which Ten Little Indians was based and that has haunted me for so many years. At one point she says:
“There are crimes that occur that are punishable by law and then there are crimes on a smaller scale not punishable by law but nonetheless unethical. They are committed against our families, our friends, our neighbors, our colleagues, our brothers and sisters…”
But then she finishes that quote with…
“…and especially grievous from a standpoint of moral values are those that dishonor our mothers and our fathers.”
I found it striking that she never so explicitly addressed the case that many other people experience in which a disordered parent abuses, exploits or neglects the children. I think many would say that that case is even more grievous than when a disordered child dishonors the parents, who are at least adults and better equipped to protect themselves from and withstand such behavior.
In fact, when I first heard about her book, I simply assumed the story would be about a narcissistic parent that hurt her. I was actually surprised to find that it was primarily about a narcissistic sibling who hurt her parents. This is also a worthwhile story to tell. But Taylor seems to believe the latter is the more archetypal story from which to draw lessons.
Each of our experiences colors what we see as most grievous. Taylor watched painfully as her parents were manipulated and she generalized from that experience. But it can be just as painful and damaging, if not worse, when the parent is the disordered person rather than the enabler.
The Range of Empathy-Reducing Conditions
Often, people are first affected by or learn about one particular empathy-reducing condition and then, since the various conditions with this effect can look alike, begin labeling all empathy-reduced people with that one condition. I wonder if this happened to Taylor. Perhaps, having first become familiar with narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), and not having necessarily studied related conditions, she conflates all empathy-reducing conditions under the rubric of narcissism.
As I read, I frequently wondered if the brother being described as a narcissist is actually a psychopath. There are a number of signs that point to this possibility, including the stark terms in which Taylor describes her brother’s “evil,” not the least part of which is his markedly parasitic lifestyle, one of the hallmarks of psychopathy tested for as part of Factor 2 of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist. At one point, she compares him to Bernie Madoff, claiming that Madoff represents the epitome of narcissism. But many actually believe that Madoff, while certainly a narcissistic person, is actually a prime example of white-collar psychopathy.
We obviously cannot diagnose her brother on the basis of just the stories in this book. But it is worth considering that not all people of low conscience have NPD. Some have Borderline Personality Disorder. Some are psychopaths. A proper diagnosis is important because these disorders, while overlapping in some ways, are also, in other ways, quite different.
There is actually one place in which Taylor does consider another diagnosis for her brother. In the letter to her mother-in-law she speculates that he may be bipolar. But she never mentions the possibility of him having one of the other empathy-reducing conditions besides narcissism. And she never really mentions psychopathy at all.
Millions of families struggle with the types of issues that arise when members with certain empathy-reducing personality disorders generate destructive drama and other family members, or the family system overall, consistently enable them. Each has its own tale. But most of these tales will never be told, at least not publicly.
There is enormous discouraging pressure and stigma associated with exposing such family secrets. Derrick Jensen, another writer who very openly and powerfully exposes family secrets in his work, often quotes famed psychiatrist R.D. Laing’s three rule of a dysfunctional family:
- Rule A is Don’t.
- Rule A.1 is Rule A does not exist.
- Rule A.2 is Never discuss the existence or nonexistence of Rules A, A.1, or A.2.
For better or worse, Kim Taylor decided to break these rules and “spill the beans” to the world. Her personal frustrations, born of being the caring person – one whose very life has become committed to Fair Play – in a family affected by a highly-enabled narcissist have been published.
It is unnerving. The Sin of Omission reveals the kinds of family conversations that most people dwell on privately and never share with everybody else. The eighth chapter of the book is entitled “Those are the Sacrifices You Make for Family.” Often, secrecy is one of the ultimate sacrifices made in dysfunctional families.
But Taylor has refused to make that sacrifice anymore. She waited until her parents were gone to do so. But her brother, Tim, is still alive.
Yet, if we are ever to really see clearly what is happening in our culture and our systems, conversations like these will have to be exposed to disinfecting sunlight. We see it happening with leaks at other levels of human systems. And Taylor’s book is, in a sense, a whistleblower leak of her family secrets.
It is hard to know for sure what the truth is in situations like this. Family dynamics are complex and one is hesitant to make a final judgment without hearing everyone’s story. But, at the same time, this careful deliberative approach, if it leads to too great a hesitancy to make decisions, is something empathy-reduced people can sometimes exploit.
I cannot definitively say exactly what really happened in Taylor’s family. But I can confidently say that what she describes happens in families every day causing untold pain and suffering, often with the most undeserving suffering the most.
I loved the idea of Narcissist cologne and a company based on the concept of Fair Play. Having read Taylor’s book and been granted a view into her experience of her family, I now have a much better insight regarding why she became so personally passionate about these endeavors and the issues that they involve in the first place.
The motive behind this book, and perhaps much of Taylor’s life and work, became most clear to me when she explained:
“Tim’s anger was always turned outward rather than inward. He chose from among those closest to him as a target for this anger. More often than not, he chose to target me both verbally and physically. He saw me as a competitor. I was a threat to him because of my abilities and accomplishments.”
It is in light of a comment like this that the book could be interpreted as an attempt at revenge. But, if you really consider this statement, it is a deeply tragic one. You can empathize with Taylor’s agony at being a good kid, doing her best to be a caring person and, nonetheless, being abused by an envious Machiavellian sibling.
And, worse, hidden in those words, is the pain that inheres in the question “Why didn’t my parents protect me from him?” Her parents’ indulgence of their empathy-reduced son left their daughter vulnerable. This is the central recent sin of omission that we can trace all the way back to her grandfather’s original sin of abandoning his children. It is an archetypal example of how those of healthy conscience so often pay the price when those with pathologies of conscience are not held accountable or even identified as such. That rank injustice is what is so unconscionable to those who have a conscience to care.
As Kim says, “There is nothing like paying for others’ mistakes.”
The ultimate lesson of The Sin of Omission might be summed up when Taylor points out that children need a healthy balance of discipline and freedom and that that healthy balance must be determined not in a formulaic way, but taking into account a particular child’s ability to self-monitor. We must incorporate individual differences in these assessments. But, whether because an empathy-reduced parent cannot read and reflect back to a child properly or because an empathy-reduced child is not recognized and appropriately adjusted to by a misguided or naïve parent, this process too often fails. And, when it does, as Taylor’s book shows – cries out about, in fact – the ripple effect of suffering can be tremendous.
Would you like to help support us in bringing you more news and information like this?
Tags: agatha christie, andrew m. lobaczewski, barbara oakley, bernard madoff, borderline personality disorder, codependence, cold blooded kindness, con artistry, conscience, crimes of omission, deception, derrick jensen, empathy, enabling, ethics, evil genes, exploitation, fair play products, family systems, kim taylor, machiavellianism, manipulation, narcissism, narcissist cologne, narcissistic personality disorder, parenting, pathological altruism, political ponerology, ponerology, psychopathy, r.d. laing, ten little indians, the sin of omission
No Comments »
« Personal Experiences of Help and Harm Lead Georgetown Psychologist to Brain Study of Adolescents with Psychopathic Traits | Home | Anderson Cooper CNN Segments on Cleveland Abductor Ariel Castro Focus on & Educate About Psychopathy »