Narcissism and “malignant naricssism”….

In 1905 a young woman named Belle was hired by J. P. Morgan to be his private librarian. Almost single-handedly she shaped his huge collection of rare books and art into the world-renowned Pierpont Morgan Library. Belle had a passion for rare books, and constantly consulted with world experts in the field.

One of the men who helped her most was Bernard Berenson, a major American art historian who developed techniques for detecting fraudulent imitations of the great Renaissance painters. Although he was a highly reputable art critic whose opinion was much-sought after, yet in his personal life, he was a narcissist.

He carried on an affair with Belle, romantic at first and afterwards platonic, from her early twenties until her death, but was married the whole time. He had many other affairs throughout his lifetime and did not keep any of it secret from his wife. She stuck with him through thick and thin, even when it came to having one of his favorite “girlfriends” live with them in their villa in Italy. She devoted herself to accommodating his narcissism in order to facilitate his career.

In some ways Berenson was quite like George Geftakys. He was vain, controlling, very extravagant, extremely self-preoccupied. He needed constant narcissistic supply. He carried on theatrically over every illness, real or imagined. He was prone to rages when things didn’t go his way, and his wife and everyone in the house walked on eggshells to avoid setting him off.

But there was a major difference. Berenson had real expertise in his field. He was not a faker, and his reputation required him to have integrity in his business dealings. He was apparently not quite one of the “people of the lie.” He seems to have been a very narcissistic person who never completely crossed the line into what Scott Peck terms “malignant narcissism”.

This helps me get a better perspective on George. We know he was hypocrite, falsely claiming deep spirituality and knowledge of God. He ensnared women by lies and deception. He was manipulative in ways that were intentionally destructive, physically, mentally, and spiritually. The contrast with Bernard Berenson points up that G. Geftakys’s narcissism was of a more malignant variety.

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Margaret Irons and her husband Steve and three children were in the Fullerton Geftakys Assembly for twenty years. We left in March, 1990. We are still recovering and learning in Orange County, CA.

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