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Confessions of a Narcissist
Bill Benda, MD, Associate Editor

had an interesting online conversation with my old

friend, Bill Manahan, a few weeks ago. For those of
you in Siberia who may not have heard of him, Bill has
been as instrumental as any human in the birth and
nurturing of the integrative movement, in a founding
father sort of way. The thing is, you will not see his name
and picture touting a latest book or new line of supplements,
(although Bills Botanicals has a nice ring to it), because
Dr Manahan is perhaps the least ego-driven individual
within our field. In fact, in my experience, he has never
uttered a negative word about anyone, a nice counterpoint
to this bimonthly column.
Anyway, during our talk, he asked a question that
has been sticking in my mind ever since: Are the holistic
doctors and others becoming as self-centered as those in
the regular medical system? After pondering this query
for the past couple of months, my conclusion is no, we
arent becoming like our allopathic brethren from an ego
standpointbecause we are and have always been as ego
driven as anyone out there. For goodness sake, we all
came up through one or another orthodox system, having
gone through education and training in some standardized
way. And we all choose how we practice based on the
needs of our individualized egos.
I am a perfect case in point. I wish I could say I left my
Big Sur home in 1998 for the University of Arizonas
Program in Integrative Medicine for altruistic reasons, but
the fact is I did it for meto escape the pummeling of the
emergency room, to learn something new besides the
latest drug profile or ACLS standards, and to see my name
in print (1 of 3 isnt bad). I believe we all make such
decisions for ourselves first and not for any lofty aspiration,
such as saving the world. We do it to save ourselves.
Which is as it should be. We cannot help anyone else,
really, unless we are healthy from an ego perspective.
Physician, first heal thyself, and then love thy neighbor.
But Dr Manahans question was more about narcissism
than simple human nature, and I will confess that while in
Arizona, I became caught up in that particular whirlpool
for a number of years, given the countrys sudden interest
in Andy Weils new endeavor, until reality brought me
down to Earth, hard. And on my way up, and back down,


Integrative Medicine Vol. 14, No. 6 December 2015

I saw many like myself, wide-eyed narcissi at book

signings and television interviews surrendering to the
sweet lure of self-importance. It is human nature, and we
all succumb from time to time.
The problem arises when such internal beliefs become
external ideology. We have seen this happen within
various religions throughout history (think crusades and
inquisitions), and I see health care and its representative
professions in the same light. You see, from a gestalt
perspective, health care and spirituality have kindred
goalsJesus, Muhammad, the Buddha (who weren't
Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist, by the way), and all
prophets have instructed us that caring for our fellow
human, specifically those unable to care for themselves, is
our prime devotional duty. It is only when man-made
religions, and health care professions, claim themselves
The One True that trouble arises.
It simply is not within the human condition to
understand either a perfect God or a perfect way to care
for another. But imperfect and limited as we may be, we
must still choose some foundational principles from
which to practice. Some choose pharmaceuticals and
surgery. Some choose botanicals and nutrition. Some
needles and homeopathic remedies. And it is in this choice
that narcissism often finds fertile ground, and as we begin
to believe our particular way superior, we begin to
denigrate other paths. My conventional profession has
done it to others throughout the 20th century, which in
turn have been taking their revenge. As a matter of fact,
MD bashing would be a prime event in the Integrative
Which brings me back to myself (narcissist that I am),
and Dr Manahans question. I wandered into integrative
medicine because I was seeking a new doctrine from which
to practice, one that would fulfill the needs of my patients
but especially my own. And, yes, I did for a time get lost in
the belief that I was an important part of a new ideology,
until the aforementioned reality stepped in. And I learned
that the real danger of ego is not falling in love with our face
on a magazine cover, or convention brochure, or pool of
water, but in the belief that our way is the best way.
Because its not.