Friday, December 5, 2014

Upcoming Presentations - 2015


Wednesday, January 14, 2015 1pm-2:30pm

ICP New York Trauma Studies Cooperative

Presentation: The Relational System of the Traumatizing Narcissist

Trauma Studies Cooperative

  • The Trauma Studies Cooperative meets on alternate Wednesdays at ICP from 1:00-2:30pm. It is a continuation of the original group that began meeting after 9/11 and was the inspiration for the Trauma Studies Center.
  • The Trauma Studies Cooperative:
    • Invites speakers on a variety of topics of interest to those in the trauma field.
    • Studies pertinent material and theories as a group
    • Provides for community and support for this difficult work
    • Offers innovative models of treatment
  • The Trauma Studies Cooperative is open to all mental health professionals with an interest in understanding or treating trauma. Participation is by request. Regular attendance is encouraged in order to maintain group cohesiveness.
  • For 2013-2014 the Trauma Studies Cooperative presents the Dissociative Aspects of Trauma
    • The first meeting of the year will be September 25, 2013 at ICP.
    • This year’s lineup of presenters will focus on the history, theory, causes, manifestations, and treatment of dissociation in its many forms.
    • This year’s presenters include Elizabeth Howell, PhD;  Margaret Hainer, LCSW; Susan Dowell, LCSW; Rebeca Gonzalez, Psy.D; Lydia Denton, LCSW; and Na’ama Yehuda, MSC, SLP and others TBA.

  • To join the Trauma Study Cooperative please contact Huong Phan, Trauma Administrator at 212-333-3444 ext.114 or

Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015  10am - 1pm

Traumatic Narcissism and Couples

The Training Institute for Mental Health

Information:  212.627.8181

115 West 27th St.

New York NY 10001

APRIL 9-11, 2015

2015 CAPS International Conference


Wellness, Mindfulness, Prevention & Self-Care

 “Surviving Traumatic Narcissism: From Subjugation to Emancipation”

Panel Discussion 

Date and time to be announced

Conference Brochure:

June 11, 2015

SUNY Upstate Medical University  and the APsaA Affiliated Study Group in Syracuse.

Grand Rounds and Workshop

Information:  Contact Lynn Storman at

June 25 - June 28 , 2015

IARPP Conference 2015, Toronto

The Relational Pulse: Controversies, Caricatures and Clinical Wisdom

Paper Presentaion on Traumatic Narcissism, date and time to be announced

Intercontinental Toronto Centre
Toronto, Canada


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Burning Out

I recently spoke with a man who had received a prestigious promotion not too long ago, who needed help to see that he was pushing himself way too hard.  This man, Ben, defines himself as being a leader in a helping profession, even though that is not exactly typical of how this particular kind of work would be described.  Making his job about helping others is part of how he pushes himself, which couldn't be more admirable - except there are some pitfalls, and some unconscious motivations for him and for many like him, that it would be good to recognize. 

1. Superhero complex.  Ben grew up in a family where his father had a rage problem, a rage that sometimes became violent with Ben and his siblings, and with Ben's mother.  Ben grew as an adolescent to be a very large, imposing man - and he began to take it on himself to save his mother by getting in between her and his father.  He eventually won that battle, but it did not erase the years that he felt small and helpless against his out of control, raging father.  Ben's expectation of himself that he be all things to all people, that no amount of work is too much, amounts to a wish to save the world - which is what a small frightened boy might wish in the face of a terrifying father.  There are many other scenarios that could lead a child to develop the superhero fantasy, too many to go into here.  Ben and those of us like him have to realize that no matter how much we push ourselves, we cannot single handedly "save the world."  Ben needs to take the pressure off himself and be realistic about what he can achieve.

2.  Self-care is selfish.  Because of this credo, Ben doesn't stop to eat meals, he stays at work far longer and later than others, and when he comes home, he's got a wife and 2 kids that he's too exhausted to deal with  - and he takes out his frustration on them.  Helpers in any profession will burn out if they cannot recognize how important it is to take care of themselves.  Having a can do attitude may bring recognition and appreciation, but when it is taken too far, it becomes a kind of martyrdom, a self-sacrifice that is self-defeating.  Ben can keep up a good front at the office, but he loses it at home.  His work is supposed to support his good, healthy, happy life with his family, not destroy it.  Without careful, committed attention to self-care, people burn out.

3.  If I make one mistake, nothing else I ever did matters.  Ben erases all his accomplishments the minute he discovers any mistake, of any magnitude, that he's made.  So he's always pushing himself back to square one.  Pride and self-confidence don't accumulate enough to ward off the constant fear of not doing something right.  The link to his childhood shows up in this trait - the fantasy that if he does everything right, his father won't be angry and violent.  For Ben to feel like a failure because of any mistake, or to fear that he will be perceived as a failure by others, is truly unreal.  Rationally he knows this; but the fear is not rational, it's phobic.  It's based in personal history that formed early in his development - and this history lives on and gets restimulated when he feels the least bit out of control.  Only by properly valuing and holding on to his positive accomplishments can he diminish his fear of error and tolerate his imperfection.  To negate all the good because there is any bit of bad is another express route to burn out.

 All hard working people who care about what they do are vulnerable to burn out - no matter what the occupation.  The three pitfalls above are good to keep in mind - and of course there are plenty more.  Some jobs are impossibly demanding, that's true.  But often, it's our own impossible demands of ourselves that is the bigger problem.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Upcoming Presentations This Fall

Dan Shaw will present this fall at several venues on the subject of his book, “Traumatic Narcissisism: Relational Systems of Subjugation.”
On Sunday, October 12th, he will present to the New York State Society of Clinical Social Workers (NYSSCSW) in New York City. This will be a brunch presentation with discussion from the audience.  The program begins at 12:30; location in NYC to be announced.  Check the Events Calendar at
On Saturday, November 8th, Shaw will present at theInstitute for Contemporary Psychoanalysis (ICP) in New York, along with Shelly Rosen, a director of the Trauma Studies Program at ICP; and speakers who are former cult members.  The program will address the issue of traumatic abuse in cults.  Shaw will discuss his concept of the relational system of the traumatizing narcissist in the context of cults; and describe post-cult trauma and its treatment.   Details of this program are still being finalized.  Refer to the ICP website, at, as more information becomes available.
And on Saturday, Nov. 15th, Shaw will present to theTampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society (TBPS) in Tampa, Florida, from 8:15 am to 4:30 pm.  This workshop will review the concepts of traumatic narcissism developed in Shaw’s book, and will include a clinical presentation by a Tampa Bay Society participant, which Shaw will discuss with the participants. Visit for further details.
Shaw locates the roots of narcissism in relational trauma, and describes the relational dynamics of the traumatizing narcissist.  He details the traumatizing narcissist’s need to subjugate his (or her) objects by destabilizing and invalidating the object’s subjectivity.  By establishing hegemony for his subjectivity, suppressing his object’s capacity for developing good enough subjectivity, and trapping the object in the sado-masochistic binary, the traumatizing narcissist maintains the narcissistic delusion of omnipotence. Shaw’s work on “traumatic narcissism” has been widely acclaimed by colleagues and lay readers alike.  

Friday, July 4, 2014


A patient I see told me recently about a video talk, by Simon Sinek, which describes "why leaders eat last." It's an excellent talk, you can watch it online. The piece of Sinek's idea that I want to riff on here is about what makes a person strong. It's that strong people care about and seek to promote the well being, the strength and the safety of others.

This point was brought home to me recently by a patient I see who grew up in Vermont, where her father built a successful company. Sarah described how he personally hands each employee their bonus checks each year; how he personally delivers each of them a Thanksgiving turkey; how if he learns that an employee who has become ill can't afford to do some needed repairs on his house, he sends workers over to take care of it.

And then Sarah compares her memories of her dad with her job in New York City, in a giant corporation, where the charismatic, high level boss she works for, whom she has slaved for for almost 3 years, turns on her and throws her under the bus, blaming her to the HR department for an error that wasn't her fault. It is so hard for her to grasp that this boss, a woman she has idealized, looked up to, and given her all for, could have another side to her - a ruthless, selfish side that could so easily betray someone who had been so loyal.

Sarah is very smart, but she is not used to the cutthroat corporate culture of New York City. The boss she thought of as such a strong, powerful woman, spent most of her day on the phone, dealing with her delinquent children, or with her divorce, haggling over expensive purchases, getting massages and visiting the hair salon, disguising her expenditures so she could charge them to the company, and so on. When she did turn her attention to work, it was usually to berate all the hard work being done by her underlings.
It isn't so hard to become enthralled by these personalities - the film The Devil Wears Prada did a good job of depicting that dynamic. These are people, men or women, with intelligence, talent, and charisma. But most importantly, they have an unshakably high opinion of themselves - and whatever lies they have to tell themselves to maintain that hyper self-idealization, they tell them readily.

The rest of us tend to have more realistic views of ourselves. In fact, many people downplay or minimize their strengths. A patient I am getting to know tells me how desperately fragile she is. When I say something about how fragile she feels, she corrects me and says, "I don't FEEL fragile - I AM fragile." And yet, she has survived a terribly traumatic childhood to become a really excellent social worker, beloved by all her terribly troubled clients; a kind and devoted friend to many of those she knows who have become ill or suffered losses; and a loving wife who has managed some very difficult marital problems with real grace.

Another patient is going through a horrendous divorce, with his wife telling vicious lies about him to their children and all his friends, doing everything she can to ruin him in every way. And for a few weeks, he is stunned, shattered, and tearful, telling me how weak he feels. And yet, every move he makes to deal with his situation, every communication with his friends, colleagues and his children, is made with honor, dignity and honesty. And he remains completely present and expert at his extraordinarily difficult work, in spite of losing sleep and feeling too upset most of the time to eat.

Both these people, in my view, are strong people. There are times when they feel overwhelmed, exhausted, frightened, lonely - and weak. Their weaknesses - and we all have weaknesses - exist alongside their strengths.  Our strengths are not cancelled out by our weaknesses.  We just have to work harder to find our strengths, when our weaknesses are in the foreground.

Real strength is not measured by how much control a person has gained through domination, manipulation, and diminishing of others; or how manically one can deny vulnerability. Real strength is more about the ability to protect and care for those with less power; and to encourage and support others - whether family, children, colleagues or subordinates at work - to grow and develop to the fullness of their potential.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Reviews for "Traumatic Narcissism"

I am proud of and grateful for these wonderful reviews of my book, by some of the most distinguished psychoanalysts in the profession.

"This book belongs on my shelf between Leonard Shengold’s Soul Murder (Shengold, 1989) and Bernard Brandchaft’s pathological accommodation work (Brandchaft, Doctors, & Sorter, 2010). To these irreplaceable resources, Shaw adds not only his extensive studies of the precise mechanisms of soul destruction in cults and cult-like groups (such as allegedly therapeutic cults and the large group awareness trainings—LGATs) , as well as his own description of cult-like families ruled by traumatizing narcissists."
-Donna Orange, International Journal of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology

"Readers will be compelled by Daniel Shaw's differentiated and lucid account of relational trauma and non-recognition in the shaping of what has been called narcissism. The book's intelligent and compassionate portrayal of clinical dilemmas involved in working with those who have suffered in abusive subjugating relationships is ideal for students and advanced practitioners. Traumatic Narcissism offers an original and captivating analysis of the relational configurations and painful emotions that lead to and so often prevent emergence from submission. While his thinking is informed by a broad theoretical knowledge, equally impressive is Shaw's exemplary dedication to exploring how we can use our own experience and personal honesty in order to transcend shame and confront the pitfalls of being an analyst while still maintaining our focus on recognizing the patient." - Jessica Benjamin, author of Shadow of the Other
"Daniel Shaw has written a fascinating book that places his personal psychological journey in the well-researched context of his larger compelling theory of traumatic narcissism. Inspired by his own experience in a cult with a guru whom he eventually came to see as a traumatizing narcissist, and enlivened with numerous clinical case examples, this absorbing and far-ranging book traces the history of traumatic narcissism from ancient times to the vagaries of the current political scene." - Sheldon Bach, PhD, Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychology, NYU Post Doctorial Program in Psychoanalysis

"This book is a must-read for any of us who have worked with victims of traumatizing narcissists or been their victims ourselves. Whether drawing on his personal experience in the clinic and in cults, or analyzing literary productions and the inner worlds of their creators, Dan Shaw brings vividly to life the relational world of those bent on subjugating others -- and of those who have been subjugated by them. Not since Benjamin’s The Bonds of Love has there been such a powerful analysis of the psychic life of domination and submission, complemented by a moving account of the effect of analytic love. Perhaps only someone like Shaw, who has known firsthand the psychic effects and needs fulfilled by living in a world of traumatizing narcissists, could have provided such a compassionate and helpful guide for clinicians engaged in the painful work of helping those who have been drawn into the traumatizing narcissist’s relational system." Lynne Layton, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Institute for Psychoanalysis

"Daniel Shaw has written an astute, dramatic portrayal of the traumatizing narcissist’s subjugation and destruction of another’s subjectivity as it emerges in families, cult-like groups and even in the psychoanalytic profession itself. He boldly offers "analytic love" as the avenue of restoration of subjectivity. Professionals of all levels will be riveted as they expand their understanding of these phenomena." - James L. Fosshage, Ph.D., Clinical Professor of Psychology, New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis

"Dan Shaw's fine study of what he calls "traumatic narcissism" explores the toxic forms of self-involvement in areas as diverse as the life of Eugene O'Neill, a number of his patients, and in his own experience with a guru. Shaw is at his best, however, exploring some of the dark corners of the cultic world of psychoanalysis itself. He holds a mirror up to those who claim the authority of self-understanding. Not all reflect well. Wisely, for all the anger and despair in this book, Shaw ends in hope that is cautious but authentic." - Charles B. Strozier, an historian at the City University of New York and a practicing psychoanalyst

Friday, May 30, 2014


I'm no theologian.  I'm a non-sectarian spiritual humanist, on the verge of atheism but not quite there. I carry no card.  But my ears pricked up the other day when I heard Brian Lehrer on WNYC interviewing a retired religious, Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has just had his book on "mercy" translated into English.  Pope Francis recently said that he deeply admired the book, and it's creating quite a buzz in the religious-lit world.  Not having read it yet, I want to talk about mercy anyway.  I want to talk about mercy as it pertains to us, religious or not, living in the here and now. 
In my psychotherapy practice, one of the things I encounter over and over is a person who has suffered a fair amount, sometimes greatly, who nevertheless seems to be unmerciful about herself (or himself).  "Why am I such an idiot," they say, or, "I'm so sick of myself," or "You must get sick of hearing people whine all day." 

Actually, most people I speak with are not whining.  They are actually suffering.  They feel stuck in anxiety and depression; they feel stuck in anger; stuck in relationships that don't feel good and bring too much unhappiness.  Some people feel stuck about the past, about mistakes they made, or wounds that were inflicted on them.  And as they speak about these things, in a process that is meant to help them sort it out and lift them up, they instead collapse into self-loathing, self-condemnation.  They show no mercy on themselves. 

I usually ask, "Does that help you get unstuck?" If I'm not waiting for them to answer, I'll add,
"Because it looks to me like your self-condemnation keeps you in a vicious circle.  You try to figure out what you need to be able to move forward, so you talk about the problem.  And as you talk about it, your self-directed condemnation mounts." 

"I'm just an idiot, I'm sick of hearing myself say the same thing over and over." 

"So the process of making sense of things, feeling supported to change, to understand, to heal and grow comes to a halt, because it becomes more important to abuse yourself.  How did abuse become your preference?"  (Not an easy question to answer, but a crucial one.  I'll save some possible answers for a future column.  What do you think an answer might be?)

Another angle:  some people can't stop condemning others, like their spouse, or child, or parent.  I've seen many couples where one, husband or wife, is angry about every single thing the partner does and doesn't do.  That person, the angry one, doesn't realize that he is filled with anxiety, doesn't know what to do with it, and takes it out as anger on those closest to him.  Spouse, kids, etc. 

Chances are, he grew up in a home where someone constantly blamed someone else for their anger, their unhappiness.  Anger and unhappiness do get triggered by other people, of course.  But the anger and the unhappiness is within us.  The other person isn't forcing us to be abusively angry.  That anger is our own responsibility, and expressing it constructively, in a dialogue that can be reconciling, is an option.

But mercy is not optional.  Without mercy, there is only begrudging, resenting, blaming - either the self or the other.  What is mercy?  It is, to paraphrase the Oxford English Dictionary, compassion and forgiveness shown to someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm.  Begrudging, resenting and blaming says, to the self or to the other, "you are bad, you're no good, you're shameful and unloveable."  Mercy says, "I don't want to inflict pain.  You're human, I'm human, and you/I deserve compassion and forgiveness simply because we are human." 

Yes, there is a time, and a need, for anger to be expressed between intimates.  The absence of willingness to fight often signals indifference, even contempt.  But if mercy is not also present, there is no moving forward.  This is nothing new. As the Old Testament states,  "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other." Psalms, 85:10.  To which I say, Amen. 

Daniel Shaw LCSW practices psychotherapy in Nyack and in New York City.  His book, Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation is published by Routledge.  E-mail Dan at,or visit 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Next public appearance: Thursday, April 24, 2014

Meet the Author: Daniel Shaw LCSW
Thursday, April 24, 2014, 1-1:50pm
Spring Meeting of Division 39 of the American Psychological Association
Central Park East Room, Sheraton Times Square Hotel
Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation, published by Routledge
by Daniel Shaw, L.C.S.W
For conference information, go to