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Most scams, such as sub-prime mortgages and email scams, victimize adults. But custody scams victimize children. When government fails to protect children it throws open the doors to private contractors—lawyers and clinicians—who enrich themselves at the expense of children. (More about this child and the mother who tried to protect her appears below.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Narcissism Epidemic:Living in the Age of Entitlement by Jean M. Twenge, PhD and W. Keith Campbell, PhD

This book review by Anne Grant originally appeared in the Providence Journal on Sunday, May 3, 2009.

Two psychology professors offer evidence that self-absorption in our culture has reached epidemic proportions. Grandiose symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, first described in 1971, are becoming the norm for a growing number of Americans. Perhaps the book arrives just in time to help those tumbling from great heights to rethink their values.

The authors do not make partisan accusations. (Left-wingers might point to capitalism’s ubiquitous commercials, right-wingers might blame civil rights movements.) They refute the myth that self-impressed people have a competitive edge. Research shows that long-term corporate health is more likely to follow a humble, steady CEO than the smartest guys at Enron, who cooked their books, convinced others of their genius, and created a wasteland.

Over three decades, the self-esteem movement has produced more failure than success in our schools, with chilling tragedies. Twenge and Campbell pile up proof this is a problem, from the cruel profanity of cyber chit-chat to crazed killers announcing their giftedness before shooting their way to immortality. None of it is pretty.

They trace the voracious appetite for articles on self-esteem in academic journals since the 1960s: Only recently have researchers seemed to notice the growing worm of narcissism that has done great damage, often with psychologists’ help.

I hope this book will open the door to more systemic analysis. For example, here and abroad, professional associations of psychologists have criticized their own colleagues who feed the epidemic in custody courts rampant with narcissism — bombastic judges, strutting lawyers, batterers demanding their children with help from psychological “experts” handsomely paid to sway opinions.

Perhaps psychologists can offer some critique of their profession when it encourages the wounded to indulge their fantasies and flaunt their power with no regard for the damage they cause.

Maybe psychology cannot treat this epidemic. The authors’ slender remedies seem hopelessly mired in homo sapiens, as if humanity were indeed the center of the universe. Self-examination, new parenting models, and a few promising school programs will not turn the tide of entitlement.

Swimming in a sewer, we lose our sense of awe. When I finished the book, I wanted to plunge into some stunning documentary with naturalist David Attenborough, full of facts, astounding photography, mesmerizing music, produced by humans, yes, but happily not those engrossed in contemplating themselves. When the social sciences discover that we are merely one small part of a truly awesome cosmos, they may find the humility that brings respite from this tsunami of self-indulgence.

Blog Archive

About the mother and child pictured at the top

On February 21, 1992, Rhode Island Family Court's Chief Judge Jeremiah Jeremiah gave this two-year-old to the sole custody and possession of her father despite his history of domestic violence and failure to pay child support. The father, a police officer, brought false charges against his ex-wife, first saying she was a drug addict. (Twenty-two random tests proved she was not.) Then he had her arrested for bank fraud, then for filing a false report, then for sexual abuse, then for kidnapping. None of his charges stuck.

The child remained with her father and stepmother until 2003, when, at 14, she finally realized that her mother had not been a drug addict. The teenager persuaded Judge Stephen Capineri to let her return to her mother. There she began working on the painful issues of lifelong coercion and deception--a tangled knot of guilt and rage. Most painful has been her father’s continuing refusal to let her visit two dearly loved half-sisters, whom she has not seen since 2003.

She is one of countless children in Rhode Island subjected to severe emotional and physical trauma by Family Court when it helps abusive parents to maintain control over their families after divorce. When she turned 18 in 2007, she gave the Parenting Project permission to publish her picture on behalf of all children who have been held hostage by Rhode Island custody scams.

We are using this blog to provide links to stories that will help concerned people, including government officials, become aware of this form of child abuse and legal abuse. We must work together to improve the courts' ability to recognize the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in victims of domestic abuse who are trying to protect their children.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are looking for the story of the removal of "Molly and Sara," please visit

About the Author and the Cause

Parenting Project is a volunteer community service begun in 1996 at Mathewson Street United Methodist Church, Providence, RI, to focus on the needs of children at risk in Family Court custody cases. Our goal is to make Rhode Island's child protective system more effective, transparent, and accountable.

The Parenting Project coordinator, Anne Grant, a retired minister and former executive director of Rhode Island's largest shelter for battered women and their children, researches and writes about official actions that endanger children and the parents who try to protect them. She wrote a chapter on Rhode Island in Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody: Legal Strategies and Policy Issues, ed. Mo Therese Hannah, PhD, and Barry Goldstein, JD (Civic Research Institute, 2010).

Comments and corrections on anything written here may be sent in an email with no attachments to

Find out more about the crisis in custody courts here: provides forensic resources to end violence against women

about domestic violence in hague custody cases:

more about domestic violence in law enforcement: