Book Review: The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists by Eleanor D. Payson


The Wizard of Oz is a great metaphor to help us recognize a narcissist.  It sticks in my mind and helps me instantly recognize when I’m in the company of a narcissist (wizard) who is about to suck me into another quixotic quest down the yellow brick road of empty promises: 

Dorothy believes that the Wizard is the only one who has the power to help her, and she embarks on one elaborate adventure after another to find favor and win his approval. 

However, by the end of the book, I realized Eleanor D. Payson’s marketing strategy for The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists:  Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love, and Family was more solid than the content of her book.   I recommend it highly if you need to learn how to timely recognize a person with a malignant (deadly) narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).  After reading the book, I realized most abusive people have a malignant NPD. 

The book, unfortunately, is light on coping skills. 


Mr. Wrong’s Mask of Mr. Perfect 

People with a NPD wear a mask.  They are the proverbial guys who are “too good to be true.”  Ms. Payson explains: 

. . .the nightmare side of these relationships is usually a private one, a nightmare that can only be stopped by receiving outside validation from a credible person who can offer a counterweight to the blame and criticism you are experiencing in the relationship.  The NPD person’s ability to project his problems onto you is so powerful, you have come to believe that you are the one with the problems. . .your self-esteem in full retreat. 

. . .the NPD person will blame everyone else. . .rather than acknowledge that he has a signficiant problem. 

. . .the deep and severe distrubance of an NPD person is primarily seen in the pain he or she inflicts on others. 

. . .the narcissist is never the person he appears to be in the public sphere. 

Been there?  Me too.  Ms. Payson explains how we get sucked in: 

. . .the narcissist has assessed, with considerable skill, the vulnerabilities of another person. . .effectively manipulates. . . 

. . .the narcissist feels obliged to continually let people know how they should be doing things and to correct their actions. . .self-righteous attitude. . .relentless drive for perfection. . .inability to recognize your achievements. . .unless he can take credit. 

. . .unable to recognize your basic human rights of respect and consideration. . . 

Your first real evidence of the degree of unhealthy narcissism will most likely occur when you either decline a request or assert a need of your own. . .unrelenting tendency to feel that his needs and/or circumstances are more special, more unique, or more important than yours. 

Tornado to Oz

The need for power and control, sense of entitlement, and lack of respect for boundaries are aspects of NPD.  Sound familiar?  They are also characteristics of an abusive person.  After someone with NPD has seduced us, we often feel like a tornado transported us to Oz:

. . .the NPD individual may respond only to your admiration and support causing you to invest more energy in these behaviors. . .no idea where you stand. . .no real feedback. . .aloof and indifferent. . .need to pursue him. . .please him. . .go out of your way to win his approval. . .until the relationship is progresively on the NPD person’s terms.

. . .they inevitably render you increasingly unable to take care of your own needs and interests. . .neutralize your power by intimidating and devaluing you. . .attitude of contempt. . .potential for sabotage. 

. . .survival is coming down to him or you. . .

On the one hand, Ms. Payson recognizes a narcissist’s penchant for retaliation.  But, she seems to think all we need to do is assert ourselves.  Right.

In Chapters 4 and 5, Ms. Payson gives an excellent portrayal of how we are groomed by narcissistic parents to become the ideal mate for someone with a NPD.  It helped me appreciate that my familial experiences were typical for the child who is the target of narcissistic parents’ abuse.  When we become adults, we are vulnerable to:

. . .gaining your sense of self through your ability to support and be an indispensable part of another person’s world. . .a worthy mirror. . .someone who inspires and elevates your compulsion to nurture ~ a partner who gives purpose to your mission to give. . .

You may feel a terrible shock as you see the dark side of your partner’s defenses and his need to flee from the threat of intimacy.

. .  .your NPD partner demands more, and you sacrifice more. . .going through life on an emotional starvation diet. . .

Self-Care Is Vital

The greatest value of reading Ms. Payson’s book for me was that I now have a good grasp of the dynamics of narcissism.  I understand now why I often feel “so many narcissists. . .so little time.”  The wild reality is that people with NPD don’t seek therapy. . .they drive us to the couch. . .tell us we have a problem because we don’t like being treated like we don’t exist.

Self-care feels weird.  Yet, I think step one for those of us who had narcissistic parents is to realize we are God’s children.  We have a right to be here.  We have a right to our own space.  We have a right to have our needs met.  And, we deserve to be treated with respect.

Next:  Review of Freeing Yourself from the NarcIssist in Your Life by Linda Martinez-Lewi.

8 responses to “Book Review: The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists by Eleanor D. Payson

  1. This is an excellent book. I highly recommend it. It helped me see what was happening and stop it by setting boundaries and refusing “play” in his games.

  2. Jen,

    I agree. Narcissism is at the heart of abusive relationships. And, it is a supreme challenge to deal with a narcissist and to extricate ourselves from their lives with the least amount of harm to ourselves.

    Good luck,
    Anne Caroline

  3. Dear Anne,

    I am a lady based in the london who has only recently extricated herself physically from a dangerous, Coercive, highly abusive 25 year relationship with my husband and his in laws. I come from an overtly aggressive family and married into a covertly abusive family of highly covert narcissists.
    I was in a refuge with my child but found myself completely destroyed in family court due to the fact that the years of abuse have taken a huge toll on my psychological health which my ex partner used. He then was awarded custody of our child based on my past mental health. I have spent years being gaslighted and having breakdowns and when I did finally realise that something was not right my ex partner had made himself look highly credible and sympathetic and I like the character of the wife in gaslight. Every day I and my child are subjected to highly premeditated coercive control, high surveillance, sometimes stalking, using institutions to affect my reputation and ability to seek help and support. I have read books by authors such as George Simon but what I feel I need help with are strategies on how to deal with the covert narcissist whose highly clingy because myself and my son are his public facade of the caring husband and caring father. We also provide him with ways to access other vulnerable people e.g. Other famillies or lonely people and I want this to stop. As you have written and what many professionals miss is that these people can be highly dangerous -once they are offended they plot the most cruel, drawn out types of retaliation and revenge and generally most people like myself don’t see it coming as my husband has literally mastered the art of ingratiation and looking and acting like a harmless fool which he is not at all. The mistake I’ve made and the challenge for me is how to find away to get this monster out of my life for good whilst not being a door mat but also being mindful that his ego is so fragile that anything will be taken as a deliberate insult-literally anything can trigger him and he enjoys making people feel afraid. As my ex has been able to use services like the police, social services, mental health services (my psychiatrist believes my ex is lovely and she refuses to accept my accounts of domestic abuse telling me she will see me as unwell if I say that about my husband ), my sons schools have been against me because the lady teachers think my husband is attractive and a gentle giant -As he’s able to manipulate people he feels and acts ever more full of his own power to manipulate so many people and this really has put me in a highly dangerous position in terms of protecting me and my son. I feel that if I speak out or try to get help once my ex starts crying in public I have no chance-the stereotype of the crying gentle giant is terrifying for me to watch him act out. I am also very afraid now that he has started to gaslight my son who is a very young teen and is showing that he does not want to be in his father’s space and also the years of abuse that we’ve both suffered are taking their toll on my child who is very emotionally traumatised as well. I hope you can help. I hope you can help i am due in family court some time soon and I’m absolutely terrified. I’m also terrified to go through the divorce and finances as everything is a huge trigger for his rage.

    I also need help to get away from my inlaws who are all just as highly full of rage-especially my mother in law whose just as frightening as her son in terms of her ability to use psychological tactics and her social position to intimidate, coerce and harm me and my child in order that we keep quiet and don’t expose that there is anything wrong in their family.

    Many thanks for reading

  4. This is the most moving comment I’ve received. My first suggestion is that you kick your psychiatrist to the curb. If she thinks your ex is a “lovely” person, she is clearly incompetent.

    I know from personal experience that it is damned difficult to find a therapist who knows how to deal effectively with a narcissist. Quite frankly, I think the issue scares the hell out of most of them.

    While it isn’t easy to ignore a narcissist, I think this is the best strategy to retain our sanity. The best decision I ever made was to live MY life on MY terms. Yes, it irritated the hell out of him. Yes, I’ve paid heavy prices. How do I cope? I periodically Google him hoping to read his obituary.

    As for your child, my current theory is to prevail to your in-laws’ unspoken desire to have a “do-over.” While they would probably prefer torture to admitting that they did a lousy job with their son, they are very likely painfully aware of their failure. It isn’t easy, but I would try my best to focus totally on your child’s best interests. Ignore your ex. You can’t and won’t change him. The only thing you can do is to try to give your child terrific guidance without saying out loud that your child got an ass for a father. Set your boundaries. Don’t tolerate disrespect.

    In closing, I hope you will focus on your own future. What do YOU want? Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love is a remarkable map for getting back to ourselves after a relationship with a toxic narcissist. Alas, her second marriage ended in divorce, but she experienced a lot of joy in the meantime and is having phenomenal career success. I find tremendous solace and guidance in the memoirs of people who have walked in my shoes. No one has all the answers, but I have cobbled together a life that works for me. It isn’t the life I’d hoped to have back in the day, but I am ecstatic EVERY day that I am free.

    When I learn something that works, I write about it here. You are a phenomenal writer which indicates you are able to think clearly. Trust yourself. My sense is that you know what you want to do. Do it.

    Wishing you all the very best,

  5. Hello Anne Caroline,

    So pleased to hear from you and so appreciative. I hope that it’s ok to share some more with you and to impose upon you for some more advice. Firstly thank you for all you wrote back I was amazed at your ability to intuit so much from my message about me as a person. I hope it’s ok to tell you a little bit more and to ask your thoughts. My problem at the moment centres around my mental health. I have had 6 breakdowns since I became married. The psychological tactics used by my ex and his family have been gradual and subtle and then after the birth of my child they all became very overtly aggressive. This seems to have been because from a very early stage my husband had some purpose for marrying me which had nothing to with love or even liking-something I didn’t know. For the whole two weeks of honeymoon he barely spoke to me nor were we intimidate -his choice. I started to realise over time that perhaps there was something about his orientation and his ability to be intimate with adults that he was hiding and was problematic. My sister in law confided in me that she remembered that their father had sexually abused her as a toddler and when she’d told her mother her mother was filled with rage at her. Her father is now dead so I don’t know the truth of this. Their father himself was severely emotionally and physically abused and neglected by his father and my mother in law by her mother. Up until this point I had no idea that there had been abuse in my husbands family he’d never said a thing and had painted his mother and father as saintly stoic people. Then later my brother in law had confided that their mother had been physically violent to them at times. I was shocked as I had thought that they were the perfect English family and that my family was the one that been unhealthy. Over time my husband started to reveal very little bits, he’d say that he’d left home in his twenties because if he hadn’t he would have committed suicide. When I met him the first thing I noticed was his lack of knowledge about personal hygiene and presentation because I’d experienced neglect at times after my own mother died and my dad fell into a deep depression I thought I’d met a kindred spirit but even then his lack of hygeiene when I met him and he was 27 should have been a red flag for me. Socially he was intense and awkward one minute then almost vain and letcherous the next minute. He told me very sketchy and odd details about previous relationships with women where the woman was always painted as cold and critical and I felt sorry for him and it was not my place to. He told me that I was the first woman he’d slept with but now something in the story doesn’t ring true but we did have problems connecting intimately. He just refused all intimacy and when I tried to make things romantic it was almost as if he started to view me with contempt and almost revulsion as if once I’d slept with him and supported him he’d received some kind of self validation and then he literally behaved like an outraged innocent if I ever I tried to get close. The intimacy was awkward and strange and I just couldn’t work out what felt so worrying and a bit scary about it all. There was something a bit Norman Bates about him and his siblings and their mother. A deep dislike , fear and yet massive dependency on her and within the family his brothers too and his sister all had eating disorders and problems forming adult relationships especially intimate ones. They all seemed to have learned the same tactics, present like a harmless victim to an empathic extrovert then do things so that the new partner felt obliged to you or responsible for you in some way then with a combination of emotional blackmail and subtle covert and overt coercive control you’d find yourself in a relationship that felt like a psychological nightmare-a terrible trap. Luckily most of their partners left early on but I stayed because I didn’t want to take on another relationship in those days when there was so much worry over AIDS and not being faithful-I told myself that marriage was something you worked on but slowly over time I started to realise not only had my husband come from a family of darkness and secrets there was something about his own sexuality that he hid and that he sought gratification for my clandestine means. I knew he always had fetishes for women dressed in leather but then I caught him like many men looking at pornography and using this instead of working on our own intimate relationship. He revelled in his ability to reject me and to find some kind of kudus in being able to buy pornography with beautiful women who were on display for him. He became more secretive and at one point I suspected he may go to massage parlours but I was never sure. The oddest thing I saw was that he started to buy himself adult toys. But even more worrying for me was when I started to notice that he seemed to take a big interest in the social world of teenagers and children, especially tom boy looking girls and young boys and men. It’s a wife’s sixth sense when you know something doesn’t make sense but you can’t work out what it is. I then started to notice that whenever my husband was around children even in public he’d have this weird habit of putting his hands in his pockets and over time I started to notice something concerning about this. He would move his hands as if he were having a man itch in broad daylight in places there were kids but as I started to study him it looked like he was actually watching young people and fondling himself. But like most people when you see something like this you think you’ve misread it. Then I started to notice as well little things about him that had always been different so I have some gay friends and over time I started to realise that my husband might be gay or bisexual as well but today I think it’s less to do with orientation then to do with his abuse in childhood and also his need for some kind of validation and control. I don’t know if his years of feeling rejected by women and his mother’s infantilisation of all her adult children is the problem, whatever it was he seemed to get a sexual thrill from having control in some way over vulnerable people, usually teen girls, young men, adult men and boys. Then finally after I had a child there were at Leary on two occasions when my husband was acting out in a way that I found concerning with my child -there were two investigations but as the child was so young there was no disclosure. By this time too I’d also started to experience horrendous psychological abuse, financial abuse, constant surveillance, monitoring and slow isolation from my family and any other sources of suopport. My husband would hide the huge salary he was getting and I’d get by on my disability money with my son. He would lavish himself with expensive computers and cars but would become enraged if we had to buy groceries or school uniforms. When he depleted his funds he would then act aggressively towards me and my son and give his mother the impression that I was a gold digger. I never saw his money and ever house we ever sold he’d keep the proceeds and would never want me to know exactly what it was spent on. The isolation and my famillies lack of support, my siblings and the vindictiveness of my husband and his mother became too much and I started to experience mental illness. My husband would lock me out if the house when he was angry and I couldn’t access my home or my child. On four occasions when I tried to leave him he became violent then would call the police or mental health services in the middle of the street and the services would then treat me as if I want well and he’d be laughing behind my back or the back of the officer. There were times when I’d be sepetated from my child for a mont st a time -when I sent my husband divorce papers he’d refuse to sign them refusing to be ever left. When I finally managed to return home my son would look neglected, terrified and clearly something had been going on. I later realised that for every imagines slight or any offence that my husband felt from anyone -for every penny he spent on either myself or my son he’d retaliate covertly at first. I had no idea. My son would return from my mother in laws st times and he’d have a bruised face and I wouldn’t know or couldn’t get him to say what happened. I think my mother in law may have hit him but I’m not sure. But defintely if I ever went out which was very rare my husband would be enraged in the house with my son and I had no idea that had been going on covertly behind my back. Once I too started to have breakdowns and my father died my husband and his family became more obviously cruel to me and my son until in 2015 my husband threatened me with a drill and a knife at one point then a scissors. Also again he was displaying some odd seemingly sexually weird behaviours in front of my child which I walked in on but could never quite get to the bottom off and as by now I didn’t feel publically credible because of my own mental breakdowns and my past attempts to tell authorities I managed to finally get myself and my son to safety in a ladies refuge. But during a weekend visit with my sister who I thought I could trust she took my son back to his father without my permission meaning that she compromised the location of the refuge and I had to leave. I became homeless as my council wouldn’t give me housing and I tried to return to the family home which I co own and my husband had changed all the locks. He the took me to court and inspite of the fact that we had been in refuge my son was given to him and I instead was given supervised access unless we could agree otherwise.
    I became Street homeless and separated from my son for a year and half and during this time my husband gloated. He then rented out our house then moved my son to my mother in laws in London age is now ageing and has a very dirty home now with terrible disrepair and she has animals who are not cared for and the house smells horrendous. My son then ran away at the end of last term saying he couldn’t cope anymore. Because my husband had also kept my son off school -the school contacted him about educational welfare and this was the first time that the authorities had ever looked at my husband. He became very afraid of the scrutiny and then by coincidence I managed to find somewhere to live via an old landlady who took me in even though I was on benefits which made my husband even more enraged as he’d wanted me to remain homeless. But then with the scrutiny on him my husband agreed that my child could come and live with me. However since my son moved in with me in August the constant calls, texts, tearfulness, wanting to meet daily then every weekend then giving both my son and I either the silent treatment or barbed comments and intimidation for the duration my son is not returning his contact and only wants to see him if I’m there -he doesn’t want any contact with him at all but my husband is using and trying to build a case of parental alienation -which I’m not doing. So every ineradtion every day is about him
    Trying to get control back. He is now trying to influence the student mentor my son has at school and also the perceptions of staff so that my son will not feel comfortable reaching out for support or getting counselling. My husband has also started turning up wherever I am, trying to get volunteering work in the same place where I have advocacy. Appearing at places my son will be with friends and turning up at my doctors surgery and when as I mentioned I finally disclosed all this to my psychiatric team plus the years of financial abuse they are unwilling to accept my disclosures saying my husband seems lovely and if I say he’s abusive to me they will think I’m unwell as they can’t imagine he’d be unkind to me. This is not only patronising at dangerous but puts both me and my son at risk as I feel I can’t get support because a lot of weight is put on the views of psychiatrists and this can influence family court process and even my ability to get social services support but I’m worried to try and change my psychiatrist too she is very egotistical and also very Coercive in our meetings and I’d feel my asking to change her as a personal affront and I’m not sure if this could backfire as she may then see me as being unwell or hostile. I feel backed into a corner worried that my husband is being access and control by services to gaslight both me and my son when we try to access support.
    As things stand today he’s acting like the father’s for justice type-you know the men who cry a lot and everyone says he loves them so much but it’s not the case -he harms us in the same way that some people abuse pets-he objectifies us and makes us the centre of his facade to the world. The fact that he’s afraid of adult intimacy. He is highly jealous, envies and competitive and I do believe with is strange sexual acting out too he’s terrified of the mask coming off but now I feel trapped by the family dynamics in both famillies and also by all the social institutions who uphold and are beguiled my men who can act like the new man, alpha male and seemingly emotional to the outside world but suffocatingly dishonest, deceptive, immature and unwilling to let go because of his desperate need to control his image.

    Sorry I’ve written so much but I really wanted you to know what I’m dealing with and if you have any more ideas on how I can get some support out of the problems I’m experiencing with the mental health system which are keeping me feeling trapped and which I’m not sure won’t hinder me in family court again and how to safeguard my sons world so that my husband is not able to control my sons access to support at school.
    Very lastly thank you for mentioning my writing my father was a journalist and I always wanted to follow in his line of work and I have been looking for grants to see if I can get funding to do a course to hear you encourage me is a big deal as I’ve wandered for a long time if I have any talent in this area.

    I hope we can keep in touch as you have so much experience and resources that were amazing to find. I’d like to send you my email address privately but I’m not sure how to do this and if you’d be amenable to that but please don’t worry if that’s not appropriate. I’m in a very upsetting situation where my husband is trying ever psychological ploy to intimate my son to either being alone with him or not getting support and it’s so scary to watch and have to assert myself but at the moment my husband is trying to play my mental health and now my sons saying there must be something wrong if we are not wanting to be with and unfortunately my siblings, his family and the mental health services here are giving him the credibility and this makes me very very vulnerable.

    Thank you for reading

  6. Unfortunately, due to ill health and lack of resources, I’m not able to work with individuals. Everything that I know is on my website, and I encourage you to dig into it.

    Please take the time to read your comment again. Notice how much you invested in your ex-husband’s complex mental health issues. If your therapist can’t see he’s one fucked up dude, she’s either not paying attention or is horridly incompetent. Yes, he’s probably gay. Yes, you should be concerned (for your son and his friends) that he might be a pedophile. Yes, you need to have “the talk” with him about sexual boundaries. Yes, you will need to give your son extra instruction and guidance on hygiene. You know all this.

    Your ex-husbands mental issues belong to HIM.

    Your focus needs to be concentrated on your son’s best interests and your own future. Unfortunately, the courts are slow to intervene and require an insane amount of evidence. Don’t get me started on this issue. Although I was licensed to practice law in two states ~ maybe because I was licensed to practice law in two states, a courtroom is the LAST place I would go to try to resolve custody issues. There’s no way in hell that I would roll the dice on my child’s future. I would do whatever I needed to do to achieve an out-of-court settlement. I don’t trust the court system, and I sure as hell don’t trust most judges.

    Further, I don’t have a lot of faith in the shelter system. The best help I’ve gotten has come from other survivors who have walked in my shoes. But, I’ve been on my own most of the time. I started this blog because I realized that most of us are on our own to do the best we know how to do. 3/4 of a million visitors later, I’m convinced you and I aren’t alone in the challenges we face.

    Now, I’d like you to notice how little you invested in your own dreams and aspirations in your comment. This is typical in the transition from survival to thriving. We need to switch gears from investing EVERYTHING we’ve got in a narcissist while our own needs never make it to the top of our own priority list.

    You live in England. Obviously, you know about J.K. Rowling. She was walking in your shoes before she decamped to a coffee shop to start scribbling. Now, she’s a billionaire. I wrote a post about her which I hope will inspire you to pursue your own writing dreams:

    Even if it is just five minutes, invest in yourself and your aspirations before you do anything for anyone else. Do this EVERY day.

    When we are isolated as you are, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to write in a journal. I’ve written posts about my own journals and encourage you to give it a try. You are a smart person, and I am very confident that you know exactly what you need to do. You merely need the courage to DO it. Your journal can serve as your own very best friend: YOU.

    Please know that I’ll be sitting on your shoulder as you write, and I’ll be whacking you upside the head if you dare to even think of writing one word about your ex-husband. I know it is hard to shut that off. Oh, how I know. But, it is your life now. You are free of him, and I can guarantee you that your future will be far brighter than it would have been if you had remained in your marriage.

    When you review the list of survivors who are making a difference, you will probably notice that a significant number of them found fame and fortune via writing.

    If you have questions about any of my posts, I will happy to respond. This way your business won’t be consolidated in one spot. My only request is that you use more paragraphs. One very long paragraph is hard to read and digest.

    Wishing you all the best,

  7. Caroline sending you a very big hug for your wonderful last reply it has really touched me a great deal.

    I was thinking the same thing about the court system myself.

    Thanks too for your insight into how little time I’ve had or given to my life. I’m going to keep reading your blog and read about JK Rowling et al. Im so glad I’ve found you and know I’m not the only one.

    Big hugs

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