Posted by: drrozkaplan | September 14, 2010

Making Noise

Last night we had an unusually rousing discussion during writing workshop.  Ordinarily, we spend almost all of our time writing, reading, and critiquing each others’ work.  But yesterday brought the first meeting after summer break, so there was no manuscript to discuss.  We did our usual impromptu writing exercise at the beginning, and then had some open discussion time.  Since my book just came out, that was the ‘big news’ of the evening.  We started talking about process and perseverence, and our group facilitator commented that I’d had perseverence, especially after ‘some bad experiences’ early on in looking for a publisher.  Of course, this led to someone else asking what she meant, so I told my sob story:  when my agent’s first round of send-outs to trade publishers wasn’t successful,  I spoke with the director of a well-regarded university press.  She took an interest, and sent the manuscript out for 2 peer reviews, as is the custom with academic publishers.  Since she was not working through my agent, she sent one of the reviews directly to me, explaining that it was this review that was causing her to have to take a pass on my book.  The review was damning, and not in an ordinary, ‘the writing is not as strong as I’d hoped’ kind of way.  No, this was much more personal.  The reviewer, an academic physician, called me narcissistic, and said that (s)he could not see how the book could be helpful to patients or other doctors for a variety of reasons, including that my suggestions for  changing practice style were unrealistic for most physicians.  I put the manuscript away in a drawer for a long time at that point, feeling ashamed and embarrassed.  Had it not been for my writing workshop, it would still be in that drawer.

That story started our conversation about narcissism and self-promotion.  Another writer in the group has been having a related struggle.  She is an extremely bright and experienced teacher, and she dared to speak out about something related to the Philadelphia school system (take a look at her  recent blog entries- and the related news stories that quoted her!).  She is clearly very well qualified to voice an opinion on such matters.  In fact, I can’t think of anyone more qualified.  And yet, she received derogatory comments on her blog post, accusing her of ‘being on her high horse’ and being ‘self-promoting’ by writing down her thoughts.  Like me, her first instinct was to shut up, stop writing, and hide. 

Why is it that we are so horrified by being called ‘self-promoting’ or ‘narcissistic’?  Unfortunately, I think part of it is a female thing.  We aren’t supposed to like ourselves that much, think that highly of ourselves, feel that it’s okay to make noise, take up space, speak our minds.  We wondered last night if men would be as upset by someone commenting that they ‘loved themselves’ as we are.  Of course, everyone is an individual, but we came to the conclusion that the average man would not be as upset as the average woman. 

 For me, being narcissistic has such awful implications.  I was taught, both openly and tacitly, that I am here on earth to serve others, to help others, to make others happy and healthy and comfortable, even if I have to do it at my own expense sometimes.  It’s taken many years, lots of thought, and plenty of therapy, to get to a point of believing that I count, too.  So taking up extra room, making a SPECTACLE of myself, putting my OPINIONS out there…well, I could easily be convinced that I should be ashamed of myself  for that.  Facts are different.  If I were just writing facts, like in a research paper, that would be okay, because I’d just be the vehicle.  But opinions and creative material-well, who do I think I am?

That’s how our discussion went last night.  At the time I got that damning review, all I could think was, ‘that reviewer is correct- I have no business writing about these things.’  But that really makes no sense.  After all, I was the person who had the experiences I wrote about.  And I wrote about an illness I knew just about everything about, and I’m a physician  to boot.  Perhaps that review was more about the reviewer’s desire not to hear what I had to say,than with the content of the book.  It seems like calling women ‘narcissistic’ or ‘self-aggrandizing’ is actually a great way to shut them up.  I’m glad it didn’t work in the end.  And I know that after last night, Marsha will be banging away on her keyboard, too.  She’s not about to shut up, either, just because someone doesn’t want to hear her truth.



  1. Oh, Dr. Kaplan… I’m so glad you were convinced that your words have meaning and value to the broader world. I said most of what I had to say in my review comment earlier. I suspect some amount of jealousy in the reviewer you described that I can only qualify as “malicious”. Not everyone can take such an honest and open look at themselves– you don’t glorify your role at all, you talk about both the times you pushed to be there for your patients, and the times when privately you were falling apart. There is both strength and generosity in doing that. It lets patients know that it’s OK to advocate for their own health, and it lets other doctors know that they need to take care of themselves. Your book was just a continuation of the ways that you already care for, serve, and help others feel better. Hardly what I would call narsicisstic… maybe I’m biased because I knew you once, and suspect you haven’t much changed since then… but then, I don’t write false praise– if I didn’t believe what I posted, I just wouldn’t have posted at all. Congrats. So… when can we expect another book :-) (Kidding… sort of!)

  2. I read this blog as a result of Marsha Pincus’ Facebook note.

    I coach people who are looking for jobs. It’s so much harder for the women to clearly state what they have accomplished. It strikes me that men state things in a factual way and we accept it, but women don’t want to seem to be bragging.

    Whenever you put any information in a public forum, you will receive criticism. You have to get a very thick skin, not be emotional about it, just learn from it if there is a point and if there isn’t – blow it off!

    Best of luck with your book.

    • I think you are so right! We are so afraid of seeming self-aggrandizing, even if what we are saying is true. It is hard to grow a thicker skin- hopefully it comes with practice and time.

  3. Bravo, Roz. A certain degree of “narcissism” is necessary for survival, and certainly men don’t hesitate to put it to good use to promote themselves, so there is no reason why we shouldn’t as well.


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