Extracts from Malignant Self Love : Narcissism Revisited
by Prof Sam Vaknin PhD
Narcissus Publications Imprint Prague & Skopje 2007 ISBN: 9989-929-06-8
Personality, Character & Temperament: The Habit of Identity
In a famous experiment, students were asked to take a lemon home and to get used to it. Three days later, they were able to single out “their” lemon from a pile of rather similar ones. They seemed to have bonded. Is this the true meaning of love, bonding, coupling? Do we simply get used to other human beings, pets, or objects?
Habit forming in humans is reflexive. We change ourselves and our environment in order to attain maximum comfort and well being. It is the effort that goes into these adaptive processes that forms a habit. The habit is intended to prevent us from constant experimenting and risk taking. The greater our well being, the better we function and the longer we survive.
Actually, when we get used to something or to someone – we get used to ourselves. In the object of the habit we see a part of our history, all the time and effort we had put into it. It is an encapsulated version of our acts, intentions, emotions and reactions. It is a mirror reflecting that part in us which formed the habit in the first place. Hence, the feeling of comfort: we really feel comfortable with our own selves through the agency of our habitual objects.
Because of this, we tend to confuse habits with identity. When asked WHO they are, most people resort to communicating their habits. They describe their work, their loved ones, their pets, their hobbies, or their material possessions. Yet, surely, all of these do not constitute identity! Removing them does not change who we are. They are habits and they make people comfortable and relaxed. But they are not part of one’s identity in the truest, deepest sense.
Still, it is this simple mechanism of deception that binds people together. A mother feels that her offspring are part of her identity because she is so used to them that her well-being depends on their existence and availability. Thus, any threat to her children is perceived by her as a threat to her own Self. Her reaction is, therefore, strong and enduring and can be recurrently elicited.
The truth, of course, is that her children ARE a part of her identity in a superficial manner. Removing them will make her a different person, but only in the shallow, phenomenological sense of the word. Her deep-set, true identity will not change as a result.
But what is this kernel of identity that I am referring to? This immutable entity which is who we are and what we are and which, ostensibly, is not influenced by the death of our loved ones? What can resist the breakdown of habits that die hard?
It is our personality. This elusive, loosely interconnected, interacting, pattern of reactions to our changing environment. Like the Brain, it is difficult to define or to capture. Like the Soul, many believe that it does not exist, that it is a fictitious convention.
Yet, we know that we do have a personality. We feel it, we experience it. It sometimes encourages us to do things – at other times, it prevents us from doing them. It can be supple or rigid, benign or malignant, open or closed. Its power lies in its networked looseness. It is able to combine, recombine and permute in hundreds of unforeseeable ways. It metamorphoses and the constancy of these changes is what gives us a sense of identity.
Actually, when the personality is rigid to the point of being unable to change in reaction to shifting circumstances – we say that it is DISORDERED.
One has a PERSONALITY DISORDER when one’s habits substitute for one’s identity.
Such a person identifies himself with his environment, taking behavioural, emotional and cognitive cues exclusively from it. His inner world is, so to speak, vacated, his True Self merely an apparition.
Such a person is incapable of loving and of living. He is incapable of loving because to love another one must first love oneself. And, in the absence of a Self that is impossible. And, in the long-term, he is incapable of living because life is a struggle towards multiple goals, a striving, a drive at something. In other words: life is change.
He who cannot change, does not live.
What is Personality and What is Normal?
In their opus magnum “Personality Disorders in Modern Life”, Theodore Millon and Roger Davis define personality as:
Millon, Theodore. Personality Disorders in Modern Life. New York, John Wiley and Sons, 2000
“A complex pattern of deeply embedded psychological characteristics that are expressed automatically in almost every area of psychological functioning.” [p. 2]
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)) IV-TR , published by the American Psychiatric Association, defines personality traits as:
“Enduring patterns of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and oneself that are exhibited in a wide range of social and personal contexts.” [p. 686]
Laymen often confuse and confute “personality” with “character” and “temperament”.
Our temperament is the biological-genetic template that interacts with our environment.
Our temperament is a set of in-built dispositions we are born with. It is mostly unalterable (though recent studies demonstrate that the brain is far more plastic and elastic than we thought).
In other words, our temperament is our nature.
Our character is largely the outcome of the process of socialisation, the acts and imprints of our environment and nurture on our psyche during the formative years (0-6 years and in adolescence).
Our character is the set of all acquired characteristics we posses, often judged in a cultural-social context.
Sometimes the interplay of all these factors results in an abnormal personality.
Personality Disorders are dysfunctions of our whole identity, tears in the fabric of who we are. They are all-pervasive because our personality is ubiquitous and permeates each and every one of our mental cells.
In the background lurks the question: what constitutes normal behaviour? Who is normal?
There is the statistical response: the average and the common are normal. But it is an unsatisfactory and incomplete answer. Conforming to social edicts and mores does not guarantee normalcy.
Think about anomic societies and periods of history such as Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia. Model citizens in these hellish environments were the criminal and the sadist.
Rather than look to the outside for a clear definition, many mental health professionals ask: is the patient functioning and happy (ego-syntonic)? If he or she is both then all is well and normal. Abnormal traits, behaviours, and personalities are, therefore defined as those traits, behaviours, and personalities that are dysfunctional and cause subjective distress.
But, of course, this definition falls flat on its face at the slightest scrutiny. Many evidently mentally ill people are rather happy and reasonably functional.
Some scholars reject the concept of “normalcy” altogether. The anti-psychiatry movement object to the medicalisation and pathologisation of whole swathes of human conduct.
Others prefer to study the disorders themselves rather to “go metaphysical” by trying to distinguish them from an imaginary and ideal state of being “mentally healthy”.
I subscribe to the later approach. I much prefer to delve into the phenomenology of mental health disorders: their traits, characteristics, and impact on others.
What is Pathological Narcissism?
Pathological narcissism is a life-long pattern of traits and behaviours which signify infatuation and obsession with one’s self to the exclusion of all others and the egotistic and ruthless pursuit of one’s gratification, dominance and ambition.
As distinct from healthy narcissism which we all possess, pathological narcissism is maladaptive, rigid, persisting, and causes significant distress, and functional impairment.
Pathological narcissism was first described in detail by Freud in his essay “On Narcissism” .
Other major contributors to the study of narcissism are: Melanie Klein, Karen Horney, Franz Kohut, Otto Kernberg, Theodore Millon, Elsa Roningstam, J.G. Gunderson and Robert Hare.
What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)?
The Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a form of pathological narcissism. It is a Cluster B (dramatic, emotional, or erratic) Personality Disorder. Other Cluster B personality disorders are the Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), the Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD), and the Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD). The Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) first appeared as a mental health diagnosis in the DSM-III-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) in 1980.
The Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is not a new psychological construct. In previous centuries it was called “egotism” or “megalomania”. It is an extreme form of pathological narcissism.
The more pathological form of narcissism – the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) – was defined in successive versions of the American DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual published by the American Psychiatric Association) and the international ICD (International Classification of Diseases, published by the World Health Organisation).
It is useful to scrutinise these geological layers of clinical observations and their interpretation.
In 1977 the DSM-III Diagnostic Criteria included:
1 An inflated valuation of oneself (exaggeration of talents and achievements, demonstration of presumptuous self-confidence);
2 Interpersonal exploitation (uses others to satisfy his needs and desires, expects preferential treatment without undertaking mutual commitments);
3 Possesses expansive imagination (externalises immature and non-regimented fantasies, “prevaricates to redeem self- illusions”);
4 Displays supercilious imperturbability (except when the narcissistic confidence is shaken), nonchalant, unimpressed and cold-blooded;
5 Defective social conscience (rebels against the conventions of common social existence, does not value personal integrity and the rights of other people).
The later DSM-IV-TR published in 2000 defined Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as
“an all-pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration or adulation and lack of empathy, usually beginning by early adulthood and present in various contexts”
such as family life and work.
Five or more of the DSM’s nine diagnostic criteria (as modified by Vaknin) needed to be met for a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) to be rendered:
1 Feels grandiose and self-important (e.g., exaggerates accomplishments, talents, skills, contacts, and personality traits to the point of lying, demands to be recognised as superior without commensurate achievements);
2 Is obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power or omnipotence, unequalled brilliance (the cerebral narcissist), bodily beauty or sexual performance (the somatic narcissist), or ideal, everlasting, all-conquering love or passion;
3 Firmly convinced that he or she is unique and, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high-status people (or institutions);
4 Requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation – or, failing that, wishes to be feared and to be notorious (Narcissistic Supply);
5 Feels entitled. Demands automatic and full compliance with his or her unreasonable expectations for special and favourable priority treatment;
6 Is “interpersonally exploitative”, i.e., uses others to achieve his or her own ends;
7 Devoid of empathy. Is unable or unwilling to identify with, acknowledge, or accept the feelings, needs, preferences, priorities, and choices of others;
8 Constantly envious of others and seeks to hurt or destroy the objects of his or her frustration. Suffers from persecutory (paranoid) delusions as he or she believes that they feel the same about him or her and are likely to act similarly;
9 Behaves arrogantly and haughtily. Feels superior, omnipotent, omniscient, invincible, immune, “above the law”, and omnipresent (magical thinking). Rages when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted by people he or she considers inferior to him or her and unworthy.
What is the difference between healthy narcissism and the pathological kind?
Luckily for us, we are all narcissists to some degree. But healthy narcissism is adaptive, flexible, empathic, causes elation and joy (happiness), and helps us to function.
Pathological narcissism is maladaptive, rigid, persisting and causes significant distress and functional impairment.
“Normal” people adapt to their environment – both human and natural.
“Abnormal” ones try to adapt their environment – both human and natural – to their idiosyncratic needs/profile.
If they succeed, their environment, both human (society) and natural is pathologised [meaning “regarded or treated as psychologically abnormal”].
Is pathological narcissism a blessing or a malediction?
The answer is: it depends. Healthy narcissism is a mature, balanced love of oneself coupled with a stable sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Healthy narcissism implies knowledge of one’s boundaries and a proportionate and realistic appraisal of one’s achievements and traits.
Pathological narcissism is wrongly described as too much healthy narcissism (or too much self- esteem). Yet, these are two absolutely unrelated phenomena which, regrettably, came to bear the same name. Confusing pathological narcissism with healthy self-esteem betrays a fundamental ignorance of both.
Pathological narcissism involves an impaired, dysfunctional, immature (True) Self coupled with a compensatory fiction (the False Self). The sick narcissist’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem derive entirely from audience feedback.
The narcissist has no self-esteem or self-worth of his own (no such ego functions). In the absence of observers, the narcissist shrivels to non-existence and feels dead. Hence the narcissist’s preying habits in his constant pursuit of Narcissistic Supply. Pathological narcissism is an addictive behaviour.
Still, dysfunctions are reactions to abnormal environments and situations (e.g., abuse, trauma, smothering, etc.).
Paradoxically, his dysfunction allows the narcissist to function. It compensates for his lacks, deficits, and deficiencies by exaggerating certain tendencies and traits. It is like the overdeveloped tactile sense of a blind person. In short: pathological narcissism is a result of over-sensitivity, the repression of overwhelming memories and experiences, and the suppression of inordinately strong negative feelings (e.g., hurt, envy, anger, or humiliation).
That the narcissist functions at all is because of his pathology and thanks to it. The alternative is complete decompensation and integration.
In time, the narcissist learns how to leverage his pathology, how to use it to his advantage, how to deploy it in order to maximise benefits and utilities – in other words, how to transform his curse into a blessing.
Narcissists are obsessed with delusions of fantastic grandeur and superiority. As a result they are very competitive. They are strongly compelled – where others are merely motivated.
They are driven, relentless, tireless, and ruthless. They often make it to the top. But even when they do not, they strive and fight and learn and climb and create and think and devise and design and conspire. Faced with a challenge, they are likely to do better than non-narcissists.
Yet, we often find that narcissists abandon their efforts in mid-stream, give up, vanish, lose interest, devalue former pursuits, or slump. Why is that?
Coping with a challenge, even with a guaranteed eventual triumph is meaningless in the absence of onlookers. The narcissist needs an audience to applaud, affirm, recoil, approve, admire, adore, fear, or even detest him. He craves the attention and depends on the Narcissistic Supply only others can provide. The narcissist derives sustenance only from the outside – his emotional innards are hollow and moribund.
The narcissist’s enhanced performance is predicated on the existence of a challenge (real or imaginary) and of an audience.
The narcissist is [often] portrayed as a monster, a ruthless and exploitative person. Yet, inside, the narcissist suffers from a chronic lack of confidence and is fundamentally dissatisfied.
On the outside, the narcissist may appear to be labile [moody] and unstable. But, this does not capture the barren landscape of misery and fears that is his soul. His brazen and reckless behaviour covers up for a depressive, anxious interior.
He exploits people, sometimes unintentionally, but always ruthlessly and mercilessly. He uses them to obtain confirmation of the accuracy of his grandiose self-portrait.
The narcissist is usually above treatment. He knows best. He feels superior to his therapist in particular and to the science of psychology in general. He seeks treatment only following a major life crisis, which directly threatens his projected and perceived image. Even then he only wishes to restore the previous balance.
Therapy sessions with the narcissist resemble a battlefield. He is aloof and distanced, demonstrates his superiority in a myriad ways, resents what he perceives to be an intrusion on his innermost sanctum.
He is offended by any hint regarding defects or dysfunctions in his personality or in his behaviour. A narcissist is a narcissist is a narcissist – even when he asks for help with his world and worldview shattered.
The narcissist feels entitled. He feels it is his right – due to his intellectual or physical superiority – to lead a thrilling, rewarding, kaleidoscopic life. He wants to force life itself, or at least people around him, to yield to his wishes and needs, supreme among them the need for stimulating variety.
The narcissist makes clear that he should not be bothered with trivial pursuits – these lowly functions are best assigned to the less gifted.
Entitlement is sometimes justified in a Picasso or an Einstein. But few narcissists are either. Their achievements are grotesquely incommensurate with their overwhelming sense of entitlement and with their grandiose self-image.
Of course, this overpowering sense of superiority often serves to mask and compensate for a cancerous complex of inferiority. Moreover, the narcissist infects others with his projected grandiosity and their feedback constitutes the edifice upon which he constructs his self-esteem. He regulates his sense of self-worth by rigidly insisting that he is above the madding crowd while deriving his Narcissistic Supply from the very people he holds in deep contempt.
The Soul of a Narcissist
We all love ourselves. That seems to be such an instinctively true statement that we do not bother to examine it more thoroughly. In our daily affairs – in love, in business, in other areas of life – we act on this premise. Yet, upon closer inspection, it looks shakier.
Some people explicitly state that they do not love themselves at all (they are ego-dystonic). Others confine their lack of self-love to certain of their traits, to their personal history, or to some of their behaviour patterns. Yet others feel content with who they are and with what they are doing (ego-syntonic).
But one group of people seems distinct in its mental constitution – narcissists.
According to the legend of Narcissus, this Greek boy fell in love with his own reflection in a pond. In a way, this amply sums up the nature of his namesakes: narcissists. The mythological Narcissus rejected the advances of the nymph Echo and was punished by the goddess Nemesis. He was consigned to pine away as he fell in love with his own reflection – exactly as Echo had pined away for him. How apt. Narcissists are punished by echoes and reflections of their problematic personalities up to this very day.
Narcissists are said to be in love with themselves.
But this is a fallacy. Narcissus is not in love with HIMSELF. He is in love with his REFLECTION.
There is a major difference between one’s True Self and Reflected-Self.
Loving your True Self is healthy, adaptive, and functional. Loving a reflection has two major drawbacks:
1 One depends on the existence and availability of the reflection to produce the emotion of self-love.
2 The absence of a “compass”, an “objective and realistic yardstick”, by which to judge the authenticity of the reflection. In other words, it is impossible to tell whether the reflection is true to reality and, if so, to what extent.
The popular misconception is that narcissists love themselves. In reality, they direct their love at other people’s impressions of them. He who loves only impressions is incapable of loving people, himself included.
But the narcissist does possess the in-bred desire to love and to be loved. If he cannot love himself, he must love his reflection. But to love his reflection, it must be loveable. Thus, driven by the insatiable urge to love (which we all possess), the narcissist is preoccupied with projecting a loveable image, albeit compatible with his self-image (the way he “sees” himself).
The narcissist maintains this projected image and invests resources and energy in it, sometimes depleting him to the point of rendering him vulnerable to external threats
But the most important characteristic of the narcissist’s projected image is its lovability.
To a narcissist, love is interchangeable with other emotions, such as awe, respect, admiration, attention, or even being feared (collectively known as Narcissistic Supply).
Thus, to him, a projected image, which provokes these reactions in others, is both “loveable and loved”. It also feels like self-love.
The more successful this projected image (or series of successive images) is in generating Narcissistic Supply (NS), the more the narcissist becomes divorced from his True Self and married to the image.
I am not saying that the narcissist does not have a central nucleus (a “self”). All I am saying is that he prefers his image – with which he identifies unreservedly – to his True Self.
The True Self becomes serf to the Image. The narcissist, therefore, is not selfish because his True Self is paralysed and subordinate.
The narcissist is not attuned exclusively to his needs. On the contrary: he ignores them because many of them conflict with his ostensible omnipotence and omniscience. He does not put himself first – he puts his self last. He caters to the needs and wishes of everyone around him because he craves their love and admiration. It is through their reactions that he acquires a sense of distinct self. In many ways he annuls himself only to re-invent himself through the look of others. The narcissist is the person most insensitive to his true needs.
The narcissist drains himself of mental energy in this process. This is why he has none left to dedicate to others. This fact, as well as his inability to love human beings in their many dimensions and facets, ultimately transform him into a recluse. He guards its territory jealously and fiercely. He protects what he perceives to constitute his independence.
Why should people indulge the narcissist?
And what is the “evolutionary”, survival value of preferring one kind of love (directed at an image) to another (directed at one’s self)?
These questions torment the narcissist. His convoluted mind comes up with the most elaborate contraptions in lieu of answers.
Why should people indulge the narcissist, divert time and energy, give him attention, love and adulation? The narcissist’s answer is simple: because he is entitled to it. He feels that he deserves whatever he succeeds to extract from others and much more besides. Actually, he feels betrayed, discriminated against and underprivileged because he believes that he is not being treated fairly, that he should get more than he does.
There is a discrepancy between his infinite certainty that his is a special status which renders him worthy of recurrent praise and adoration, replete with special benefits and prerogatives and the actual state of his affairs.
To the narcissist, his uniqueness is bestowed upon him not by virtue of his achievements, but merely because he exists.
The narcissist’s deems his mere existence as sufficiently unique to warrant the kind of treatment that he expects to get from the world. This is the paradox, which haunts the narcissist: he derives his sense of uniqueness from the very fact that he exists and he derives his sense of existence from his belief that he is unique.
Clinical data show that there is rarely any realistic basis for these grandiose notions of greatness and uniqueness.
Some narcissists are high achievers with proven track records. Some of them are pillars of their communities. Mostly, they are dynamic and successful. Still, they are ridiculously pompous and inflated personalities, bordering on the farcical and provoking resentment.
The narcissist is forced to use other people in order to feel that he exists. It is trough their eyes and through their behaviour that he obtains proof of his uniqueness and grandeur. He is a habitual “people-junkie”. With time, he comes to regard those around him as mere instruments of gratification, as two-dimensional cartoon figures with negligible lines in the script of his magnificent life.
He becomes unscrupulous, never bothered by the constant exploitation of his milieu, indifferent to the consequences of his actions, to the damage and the pain that he inflicts on others and even to the social condemnation and sanctions that he often has to endure.
When a person persists in a dysfunctional, maladaptive or plain useless behaviour despite grave repercussions to himself and to others, we say that his acts are compulsive. The narcissist is compulsive in his pursuit of Narcissistic Supply. This linkage between narcissism and obsessive-compulsive disorders sheds light on the mechanisms of the narcissistic psyche.
The narcissist does not suffer from a faulty sense of causation. He is not oblivious to the likely outcomes of his actions and to the price he may have to pay. But he doesn’t care.
A personality whose very existence is a derivative of its reflection in other people’s minds is perilously dependent on these people’s perceptions. They are the Sources of Narcissistic Supply (NS).
Criticism and disapproval are interpreted by the narcissist as a sadistic withholding of said supply and as a direct threat to the narcissist’s mental house of cards.
The narcissist lives in a world of all or nothing, of a constant “to be or not be”. Every discussion that he holds, every glance of every passer-by reaffirm his existence or cast it in doubt. This is why the reactions of the narcissist seem so disproportionate: he reacts to what he perceives to be a danger to the very cohesion of his self. Thus, every minor disagreement with a Source of Narcissistic Supply – another person – is interpreted as a threat to the narcissist’s very self-worth.
This is such a crucial matter, that the narcissist cannot take chances. He would rather be mistaken then remain without Narcissistic Supply. He would rather discern disapproval and unjustified criticism where there are none then face the consequences of being caught off-guard.
The narcissist has to condition his human environment to refrain from expressing criticism and disapproval of him or of his actions and decisions. He has to teach people around him that these provoke him into frightful fits of temper and rage attacks and turn him into a constantly cantankerous and irascible person. His exaggerated reactions constitute a punishment for their inconsiderateness and their ignorance of his true psychological state.
The narcissist blames others for his behaviour, accuses them of provoking him into his temper tantrums and believes firmly that “they” should be punished for their “misbehaviour”.
Apologies – unless accompanied by verbal or other humiliation – are not enough. The fuel of the narcissist’s rage is spent mainly on vitriolic verbal send-offs directed at the (often imaginary) perpetrator of the (oft innocuous) offence.
The narcissist – wittingly or not – utilises people to buttress his self-image and to regulate his sense of self-worth. As long and in as much as they are instrumental in achieving these goals, he holds them in high regard, they are valuable to him. He sees them only through this lens. This is a result of his inability to love others: he lacks empathy, he thinks utility, and, thus, he reduces others to mere instruments.
If they cease to “function”, if, no matter how inadvertently, they cause him to doubt his illusory, half-baked, self-esteem, they are subjected to a reign of terror. The narcissist then proceeds to hurt these “insubordinates”. He belittles and humiliates them. He displays aggression and violence in myriad forms.
His behaviour metamorphoses, kaleidoscopically, from over-valuing (idealising) the useful person to a severe devaluation of same. The narcissist abhors, almost physiologically, people judged by him to be “useless”.
These rapid alterations between absolute overvaluation (idealisation) and complete devaluation make long-term interpersonal relationships with the narcissist all but impossible.
The Narcissism of Differences Big and Small
Freud coined the phrase “narcissism of small differences” in a paper titled “The Taboo of Virginity” that he published in 1917. Referring to earlier work by British anthropologist Ernest Crawley, he said that we reserve our most virulent emotions – aggression, hatred, envy – towards those who resemble us the most. We feel threatened not by the Other with whom we have little in common – but by the “nearly-we”, who mirror and reflect us.
The “nearly-he” imperils the narcissist’s selfhood and challenges his uniqueness, perfection, and superiority: the fundaments of the narcissist’s sense of self-worth. It provokes in him primitive narcissistic defences and leads him to adopt desperate measures to protect, preserve, and restore his balance. I call it the Array of Gulliver Defence Mechanisms.
The very existence of the “nearly-he” constitutes a narcissistic injury. The narcissist feels humiliated, shamed, and embarrassed not to be unique after all and he reacts with envy and aggression towards this source of frustration.
In doing so, he resorts to splitting, projection, and Projective Identification. He attributes to other people personal traits that he dislikes in himself and he forces them to behave in conformity with his expectations.
In other words, the narcissist sees in others those parts of himself that he cannot countenance. He forces people around him to become him and to reflect his shameful behaviours, hidden fears, and forbidden wishes.
But how does the narcissist avoid the realisation that what he loudly decries and derides is actually part of him? By exaggerating, or even dreaming up and creatively inventing, differences between his qualities and conduct and other people’s. The more hostile he becomes towards the “nearly-he”, the easier it is to distinguish himself from “the Other”.
To maintain this differentiating aggression, the narcissist stokes the fires of hostility by obsessively and vengefully nurturing grudges and hurts (some of them imagined). He dwells on injustice and pain inflicted on him by these stereotypically “bad or unworthy” people. He devalues and dehumanises them and plots revenge to achieve closure. In the process, he indulges in grandiose fantasies, aimed to boost his feelings of omnipotence and magical immunity.
In the process of acquiring an adversary, the narcissist blocks out information that threatens to undermine his emerging self- perception as righteous and offended. He begins to base his whole identity on the brewing conflict which is by now a major preoccupation and a defining or even all-pervasive dimension of his existence.
Very much the same dynamic applies to coping with major differences between the narcissist and others. He emphasises the large disparities while transforming even the most minor ones into decisive and unbridgeable.
Other People’s Pain: Do narcissists actually enjoy the taunting, the sadistic behaviour, and the punishment that always follows?
Most narcissists enjoy an irrational and brief burst of relief after having suffered emotionally (“narcissistic injury”) or after having sustained a loss. It is a sense of freedom, which comes with being unshackled. Having lost everything, the narcissist often feels that he has found himself, that he has been re-born, that he has been charged with natal energy, able to take on new challenges and to explore new territories. This elation is so addictive, that the narcissist often seeks pain, humiliation, punishment, scorn, and contempt – as long as they are public and involve the attention of peers and superiors. Being penalised accords with the tormenting inner voices of the narcissist which keep telling him that he is bad, corrupt, and worthy of punishment.
This is the masochistic streak in the narcissist. But the narcissist is also a sadist, albeit an unusual one. The narcissist inflicts pain and abuse on others. He devalues Sources of Supply, callously and offhandedly abandons them, and discards people, places, partnerships, and friendships unhesitatingly. Some narcissists, though by no means the majority, actually ENJOY abusing, taunting, tormenting, and freakishly controlling others (“gaslighting”). But most of them do these things absentmindedly, automatically, and, often, even without good reason.
What is unusual about the narcissist’s sadistic behaviours – premeditated acts of tormenting others while enjoying their anguished reactions – is that they are goal orientated. “Pure” sadists have no goal in mind except the pursuit of pleasure: pain as an art form (remember the Marquis de Sade?). Conversely, the narcissist haunts and hunts his victims for a reason: he wants them to reflect his inner state. It is all part of a psychological defence mechanism called Projective Identification.
When the narcissist is angry, unhappy, disappointed, injured, or hurt, he feels unable to express his emotions sincerely and openly since to do so would be to admit his frailty, his neediness, and his weaknesses. He deplores his own humanity: his emotions, his vulnerability, his susceptibility, his gullibility, his inadequacies, and his failures. So, he makes use of other people to express his pain and his frustration, his pent up anger and his aggression.
He achieves this by mentally torturing other people to the point of madness, by driving them to violence, by forcing them to search for an outlet, for closure, and, sometimes, revenge. He causes people to lose their own character traits and adopt his own instead.
In reaction to his constant and well-targeted abuse, they become abusive, vengeful, ruthless, lacking empathy, obsessed, and aggressive. They mirror him faithfully and thus relieve him of the need to express himself directly.
Having constructed this hall of writhing human mirrors, the narcissist withdraws. His goal achieved, he lets go. As opposed to the sadist, he is not in it, indefinitely, for the pleasure. He abuses and traumatises, humiliates and abandons, discards and ignores, insults and provokes only for the purpose of purging his inner demons. By possessing others, he purifies himself, cathartically, and exorcises his demented self.
The narcissist does everything with one goal in mind: to attract Narcissistic Supply (attention).
Narcissism, Culture and Society
“It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness.”
[Sigmund Freud, Civilisation and its Discontents]
Can it be that a group of people are all narcissists?
In their book “Personality Disorders in Modern Life”, Theodore Millon and Roger Davis state, as a matter of fact, that pathological narcissism was the preserve of
“the royal and the wealthy” and that it “seems to have gained prominence only in the late twentieth century”.
Narcissism, according to them, may be associated with
“higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs… Individuals in less advantaged nations … are too busy trying (to survive) … to be arrogant and grandiose”.
They – like Christopher Lasch before them – attribute pathological narcissism to
“a society that stresses individualism and self-gratification at the expense of community, namely the United States”.
They assert that the disorder is more prevalent among certain professions with “star power” or respect.
“In an individualistic culture, the narcissist is ‘God’s gift to the world’. In a collectivist society, the narcissist is ‘God’s gift to the collective’.”
Millon quotes Warren and Caponi’s “The Role of Culture in the Development of Narcissistic Personality Disorders in America, Japan and Denmark”:
“Individualistic narcissistic structures of self-regard (in individualistic societies) … are rather self-contained and independent… (In collectivist cultures) narcissistic configurations of the we-self … denote self-esteem derived from strong identification with the reputation and honour of the family, groups, and others in hierarchical relationships.”
But Millon and Davis are wrong. Theirs is, indeed, the quintessential American point of view which lacks an intimate knowledge of other parts of the world.
Pathological narcissism is a ubiquitous phenomenon because every human being – regardless of the nature of his society and culture – develops healthy narcissism early in life.
Healthy narcissism is rendered pathological by abuse – and abuse, alas, is a universal human behaviour. By “abuse” we mean any refusal to acknowledge the emerging boundaries of the individual – smothering, doting, and excessive expectations are as abusive as beating and incest.
There are malignant narcissists among subsistence farmers in Africa, nomads in the Sinai desert, day labourers in East Europe, and intellectuals and socialites in Manhattan.
Malignant narcissism is all-pervasive and independent of culture and society.
It is true, though that the WAY pathological narcissism manifests and is experienced is dependent on the particulars of societies and cultures. In some cultures, it is encouraged, in others suppressed. In some societies it is channelled against minorities – in others it is tainted with paranoia. In collectivist societies, it may be projected onto the collective, in individualistic societies it is an individual’s trait.
Yet, can families, organisations, ethnic groups, churches, and even whole nations be safely described as “narcissistic” or “pathologically self-absorbed”? Wouldn’t such generalisations be a trifle racist and more than a trifle wrong? The answer is: it depends.
Human collectives – states, firms, households, institutions, political parties, cliques, bands – acquire a life and a character all their own. The longer the association or affiliation of the members, the more cohesive and conformist the inner dynamics of the group, the more persecutory or numerous its enemies, the more intensive the physical and emotional experiences of the individuals it is comprised of, the stronger the bonds of locale, language, and history – the more rigorous might an assertion of a common pathology be.
Such an all-pervasive and extensive pathology manifests itself in the behaviour of each and every member. It is a defining – though often an implicit or underlying – mental structure. It has explanatory and predictive powers. It is recurrent and invariable: a pattern of conduct melded with distorted cognition and stunted emotions. And it is often vehemently denied.
A possible DSM-like list of criteria for Narcissistic Organisations or Groups
An all-pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration or adulation and lack of empathy, usually beginning at the group’s early history and present in various contexts. Persecution and abuse are often the causes – or at least the antecedents – of the pathology.
Five (or more) of the following criteria must be met:
1 The group as a whole, or members of the group – acting as such and by virtue of their association and affiliation with the group – feel grandiose and self-important (e.g., they exaggerate the group’s achievements and talents to the point of lying, demand to be recognised as superior simply for belonging to the group and without commensurate achievement).
2 The group as a whole, or members of the group – acting as
such and by virtue of their association and affiliation with the group – are obsessed with group fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power or omnipotence, unequalled brilliance, bodily beauty or performance, or ideal, everlasting, all- conquering ideals or political theories.
3 The group as a whole, or members of the group – acting as such and by virtue of their association and affiliation with the group – are firmly convinced that the group is unique and, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high- status groups (or institutions).
4 The group as a whole, or members of the group – acting as such and by virtue of their association and affiliation with the group – require excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation – or, failing that, wish to be feared and to be notorious (Narcissistic Supply).
5 The group as a whole, or members of the group – acting as such and by virtue of their association and affiliation with the group – feel entitled. They expect unreasonable or special and favourable priority treatment. They demand automatic and full compliance with expectations. They rarely accept responsibility for their actions (“alloplastic defences”). This often leads to anti-social behaviour, cover-ups, and criminal activities on a mass scale.
6 The group as a whole, or members of the group – acting as such and by virtue of their association and affiliation with the group – are “interpersonally exploitative”, i.e., use others to achieve their own ends. This often leads to anti-social behaviour, cover-ups, and criminal activities on a mass scale.
7 The group as a whole, or members of the group – acting as such and by virtue of their association and affiliation with the group – are devoid of empathy. They are unable or unwilling to identify with or acknowledge the feelings and needs of other groups. This often leads to anti-social behaviour, cover-ups, and criminal activities on a mass scale.
8 The group as a whole, or members of the group – acting as such and by virtue of their association and affiliation with the group – are constantly envious of others or believe that they are being equally envied. This often leads to anti-social behaviour, cover-ups, and criminal activities on a mass scale.
9 The group as a whole, or members of the group – acting as such and by virtue of their association and affiliation with the group – are arrogant and sport haughty behaviours or attitudes coupled with rage when frustrated, contradicted, punished, limited, or confronted. This often leads to anti-social behaviour, cover-ups, and criminal activities on a mass scale.
Extracted from Malignant Self Love : Narcissism Revisited by Prof Sam Vaknin PhD
Narcissus Publications Imprint Prague & Skopje 2007 ISBN: 9989-929-06-8
While many who have encountered narcissists in many walks of life may be able to identify with some or many of the nine DSM characteristics, especially when they have been recipients of their grandiosity and sense of entitlement, it may be much more difficult for those who are not psychiatrists, psychologists or psychoanalysts to comprehend that some of the most arrogant and conceited people they have ever met, may actually be deeply insecure with little or no self-esteem, quite the opposite of the public persona they display.
Indeed it may (initially) be difficult to comprehend that those arrogant individuals who
EXTERNALLY act in a “grandiose and self-important” manner, or even invent and “exaggerates their accomplishments, talents and skills”, are “firmly convinced that they are unique and special” to the extent that they “require excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation” or “failing that wish to be feared and to be notorious”, and feel so “entitled’ that they “demand automatic and full compliance with their unreasonable expectations for special and favourable priority treatment” and are “interpersonally exploitative, using others to achieve their own ends”
may actually be
INTERNALLY insecure, “envious of others”, “devoid of empathy” despite their apparent charisma, and with such an “impaired, dysfunctional, immature true self” that they need to imagine themselves as being better than they actually are, that they have “no self-esteem or self-worth of their own” to the extent that “in the absence of observers, the narcissist shrivels to non-existence and feels dead” given that “the sick narcissist’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem derive entirely from audience feedback”.
While their apparently supreme (external) confidence can succeed in hiding these inner insecurities, and their apparent Intelligence, Charisma and Eloquence masking their actual ICE-COLD nature, their challenging nature does become apparent to those in their inner circle in a wide variety of ways, especially when they totally overreact to even an iota of criticism yet thrive on criticising others, and engage in significant self-praise when they consider that others are insufficiency praising them, although they themselves struggle to praise others when most warranted and encourage others when this may be most required, two of the most essential components in the toolkit of the successful and respected manager and leader.
While the actual psychology explaining their peculiarities and insecurities will only be understood by a few, namely mental health professionals, one of the key arguments in my research into those I describe as “Disordered Leaders” who (mal) practice “Destructive Leadership”, is that is important that those who have no option but to interact with them recognise that they differ from the norm and hence need to be dealt with quite differently if any form of rational, sensible progress is to be permitted.
For instance (one of 100 suggestions on how to diminish the harm narcissistic leaders can cause), this can even involve suggesting the opposite of what the group believe needs to be done, given the Disordered Leader’s inability to take advice from others and their requirement to be seen to be “getting their own way”, quite inconsiderate of the consequences for others, or the entity which made the mistake of hiring or promoting them to positions they are incapable of carrying out in the manner expected of responsible managers and leaders.
Just like lacking the ability to learn from prior experiences is not a facet of life which most people are aware that a minority can lack, the same can apply to a CONSCIENCE, which Prof Robert D Hare refers to in his book “Without Conscience” as “the pesky inner voice that helps us to resist temptation and to feel guilty when we don’t.”
Indeed the absence of a conscience along with “unknowingly lacking a simple warmth, a capacity for true intimacy” contributes to what Prof Hervey Cleckley referred to in “The Mask of Sanity” as those so (perhaps unwittingly) afflicted being “profoundly limited in ability to participate seriously in the major aims of life.”
Psychologist Martha Stout in her book “The Sociopath Next Door” asserts that “1 in 25 ordinary Americans secretly has no conscience and can do anything at all without feeling guilty. Who is the devil you know?”
Stout suggests that “being devoid of conscience is impossible for most human beings to fantasise about… Not to care at all about the effects of our actions on society, on friends, on family, on our children? What on earth would that be like?…
Conscienceless people are nearly always invisible to us… Being natural actors, conscienceless people can make full use of social and professional roles… We believe promises from such people because we assign to the individual the integrity of the role itself.”
While “conscienceless people” may be a minority in society and their precise numbers may vary from society to society, depending on whether it is more individualistic or collective, because the very essence of their ‘being’ can be dominated by a perhaps exclusive pursuit of their self-interest to the detriment of all other factors, allied to the likelihood that they seek the most senior positions in the most lucrative industries, the influence of conscience and guilt-free people could transpire to be disproportionate and their role in ethically challenging situations deeply significant.
The fact that those apparently lacking in the emotions which most people possess (and may take for granted) have been shown to so readily and perhaps unwittingly engage in high levels of pathological lying and deceit, cunning manipulation and egocentric, callous and impulsive behaviour, characterised by a lack of responsibility, empathy and remorse, are also well versed in using their charm, confidence, arrogance, eloquence and acting ability to hide their true traits even from experienced psychiatrists and psychologists (at least in the short-term) poses many implications for not only the direction of business ethics research but also the co-operative and harmonious operations of all societal organisations, not least businesses.
As also does what Stout describes as “their preference for risky situations and choices, and their ability to convince others to take risks along with them”, given what is known to be their inability to experience fear or anxiety in the manner that most people can (due to a dysfunction in and between areas of the brain including the Amygdala and regions of the PreFrontal Cortex or PFC and Nucleus Accumbens, neural regions also associated with moral decision-making), which allows them to behave in a fear-inducing manner which many others in society just could not do, and certainly not as a matter of course.
Indeed those seeming to lack a “sense of what may be wrong” may well have “something wrong” with them, even if many (due to know fault of their own) fail to appreciate what this may be – a “Personality Disorder” – which (for the moment anyway) can appear to be one of the world’s best kept secrets.
Perhaps because of a general lack of awareness of what constitutes a “Personality Disorder”, somehow many others in society (initially) continue to fall for what this research refers to as their “ICE characteristics” of “Intelligence, Charisma and Eloquence”.
This can be despite:
- their (possibly delusional yet clever) words lacking any connection with real intent, action or even reality,
- their charm transpiring to be skin-deep, grandiose, insincere and perhaps even insecure, especially when their extraordinary DISLOYALTY to anyone but themselves surfaces, and when
- their intelligence transpires to lack any semblance of a genuinely emotional element or interest in anything or anyone but themselves,
given their fundamentally “ICE-cold” nature, lack of warm, caring, sharing emotions and anything passing as EMPATHY, which permits them to act in a quite “RUTH-LESS” manner, which actually translates as “sympathy-free”, not known to be that which most people best respond to.
As far as leadership is concerned, all the intelligence in the world is of little or no value, if none of it is emotional.
Reading about the true mindset of those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, let alone the even more extreme and damaging mind of the Psychopath, from those with significant expertise in these fields, such as the extracts included in this section of http://www.eben.ie, confirms the necessity for many more in society to learn how to better IDENTIFY these people in advance AND DENY them the positions of responsibility they can only abuse, being “consistently irresponsible”, and also IDENTIFY AND DIMINISH the degree of harm they can do if already holding positions of responsibility and authority over others.
Why do we continue to trust those with responsibility for the lives and emotions of others, who cannot even seem to manage their own?
The combative history of human nature throughout the centuries of conflict both within and between tribes, nations and organisations, including the numbers of businesses which failed to survive even a single generation, especially following a change of leadership, indeed groups of any nature which far too rapidly resorted to conflict rather than discussion, negotiation and compromise, would suggest that global society needs to learn how to identify “Disordered Leaders”, with no genuine interest in anyone other then themselves and who much prefer “win-lose” to “win-win”, in advance of trusting them with responsible roles which their extraordinary degree of self-centred irresponsibility, callous coldness and deep untrustworthiness should disqualify them from even consideration for.
As these often “hidden people” are believed by those most expert in this field to be “found in every race, culture, society and walk of life” (Hare), one of the most critical matters to appreciate is that as “disordered people”
see things differently,
experience people differently,
perceive many matters differently,
speak differently and indeed
inhabit a quite different world from most others in society,
it is imperative that they be recognised by others as being different from the norm and hence be dealt with significantly differently.
Indeed neuroscientific research suggests that one of the reasons they behave differently from society’s norm is that their brains differ from the norm.
At its most basic, Society Needs leaders who are fundamentally agreeable rather than disagreeable and committed to peacemaking rather than troublemaking, motivated to contributing to improving the happiness and welfare of others, and most certainly not those who pretend to be interested in others (when this suits their self-interest) but can covertly be at their happiest making others unhappy and even be unhappy seeing and making others happy, needing to disturb co-operative harmony by some manner of disagreement, conflict or discouragement, including downright humiliation, especially when their belittling and demotivation is undertaken in the company of others, sometimes mistakenly associated with “strong leadership” although quite the opposite of the “motivating people to achieve common goals” expected of leaders in any role in society.
Those with an emotional vacuum, cold, callous and ruth-less (meaning compassion-free) rather than warm, welcoming with an abundance of empathy and emotional intelligence, who can feel better from making others feel bad, could not be more inappropriate for supervisory, managerial and leadership positions, yet it is such people who are consistently chosen for such roles throughout global society.
The fact that the most “ruth-less” (meaning sympathy-free) have been shown to so readily and perhaps unwittingly and naturally engage in high levels of pathological lying and deceit, cunning manipulation and egocentric, callous and impulsive behaviour, characterised by a consistent lack of responsibility, empathy, kindness, remorse and conscience, are also well versed in using their charm, confidence, eloquence and arrogance to hide their true traits even from experienced psychologists, poses many challenges for global society, and has done for millennia, especially when they believe themselves to be “normal” and see nothing wrong with words and deeds which many other people wouldn’t or couldn’t even countenance.
Astute and “Constructive Leaders” well recognise that fear, intimidation and humiliation are invalid implements in their motivational toolkit, even if “Destructive Leaders” use them to damage other people.
With “Constructive Leaders” often seeking no personal acclaim and passing credit to successes to others, while accepting responsibility for the failings of those they lead, and “Destructive Leaders” taking credit for the achievements of others while blaming and “putting down” others for their own failings, ultimately it becomes apparent that there is no humiliation in humility nor humility in humiliation.
At its most basic, “Disordered Leaders” (not shown to be short of self-belief) have no qualms whatsoever telling everyone that they are Michelin Star chefs when they can’t even boil an egg, have won Wimbledon and the Masters when they wouldn’t know how to hold a tennis racquet or golf club, or have won many Formula 1 Grand prix… when in “reality” (not their forte) they may not even have passed their driving test.
Indeed given their “inability to learn from prior experiences” they may not even be able to change gear from the only way they know of behaving and interacting with others (“my way or no way”).
This (extraordinary) inability leads them to make mistake after mistake, then repeat them time after time again as if it were for the first time. Yet this inability is unlikely to be known to many non-psychologists given that most people assume that most other people are actually capable of learning from their prior experiences, especially mistakes.
Even if everyone else is capable of repeating their mistakes, at least they recognise them as being errors and are unlikely to keep persisting in doing something avoidable which does not benefit or flatter them. This though os not an ability which some “Disordered Leaders” possess. For those in their inner circle, everyday can be “Groundhog Day”.
This is one of the many matters which exasperate others who simply believe that they are being “stubborn’, especially when they find it difficult to be compliant with the suggestions of others (even when demonstrably the right thing to do) and prefer to DO THE OPPOSITE of what others recommend (even when demonstrably the wrong thing to do).
Indeed for some in society, the question needs to be asked whether self-interest is a rational choice or a “state of mind”, a cognitive prerogative which appears to impulsively over-ride all other mental processes, irrespective of the consequences for other people, the entity (mis) led and (extraordinarily) even themselves?
They drive their entities (businesses, governmental, educational, sporting, religious and indeed all areas of human activity) at full speed, taking short-cuts only they can see down cul-de sacs or one-way streets in the opposite direction from everyone else, accelerating through red lights and pedestrian crossings in uniquely designed vehicles from a specialist “megalomania” manufacturer whose initially apparently exciting and dynamic (but ultimately disappointing and over-rated) model range includes “selfish, difficult and proud” (offering personalised registration plates “SDP 001”), “delusional”, “impulsive”, “deceitful”, “combative”, “maladaptive”, “irresponsible”, “tactless”, “warmonger”, “motor mouth” and (their best sellers) “untrustworthy” and “troublemaker”, with their recently revamped top model now renamed from “parallel world” to “paranoid” and its supercharger replaced by a self-charging hybrid which seamlessly switches between “apparently normal”, “shallow charm” , “deeply divisive” and “dangerously destructive” modes, without any apparent warning to passengers, other road users and often even the “SDP” driver themselves, especially owners of the exclusive “impulsive” model.
All versions of these “special purpose vehicles” feature tunnel vision (with no need for windscreen-wipers), darkened windows so no-one else can look in and understand who (or what) is driving, if anyone actually is, lacking a reverse gear, neutral, park, mirrors, brakes, bumpers/fenders, warning lights, indicators (allowing the drivers to change lanes without advance notice), adaptive cruise control (as their drivers are “maladaptive”), with the optional “emotional heater” stuck on cold, typically driven by the most dangerous drivers on the (overheating) planet at night with no lights on, ignoring the warnings of their far more astute and emotionally intelligent passengers and driving instructors (before they are consigned to the boot/trunk for their disagreement and criticism), which inspires “Disordered Leaders” to do the opposite of what their advisers suggest while severely criticising their character, often quite fictitiously, for the sheer thrill of the experience, totally unconcerned whether they crash and burn the entity they were mistakenly trusted with leading, once they “get their own way” and “win at all costs”, which can be significant for all others involved.
Although the “Disordered Leaders” regularly tell people loudly (indeed anyone who will listen, as they like talking about themselves, their favourite person) they have won many grand-prix and are multiple world champions, they probably haven’t even passed their driving test or rules of the road, given that the only rules they adhere to are their own, typified by “me first”. They may even have failed their test many times, as they do the people and organisations which trust them to provide responsible leadership, which they are innately incapable of providing.
When others realise what a mistake they have made in appointing them, they can cause even more damage when there appears to be no limit to the extent they will go to maintain their power, which they see as their personal entitlement.
The only “crock of gold” they become associated with is the signifiant “golden handshake” they extract from those far more responsible people who cannot wait to be rid of them so they can begin to pick ip the pieces after their destructive tenure.
After wrecking one entity, “Disordered Leaders” can move on to cause initially quite subtle and then increasingly more covert havoc elsewhere, appearing at first to have many of the the right credentials although this transpires to be a sham, given that their greatest talent is acting, deceiving, manipulating and fiction-spinning, while pretending to be competent, responsible, rational, truthful and normal, which they totally believe themselves, although no-one else who has experienced their relationship-damaging, trust-destroying, reputation-impairing, self-centred, emotionally labile and delusionally “Destructive Leadership” would or could concur.
Throughout human history society seems to have mistaken confidence, charm, arrogance and apparent intelligence, displayed by way of eloquent “talk of integrity”, for strength of character, and misinterpreted intimidatory traits for strength of leadership, when in reality such fundamentally weak and perhaps childlike bullies may possess neither good character nor genuine managerial or leadership ability.
Intimidation and aggression produce fear, anxiety and discouragement, which prevent our minds from thinking positively and creatively.
Neuroscientists explain that when people are satisfied, content and indeed happy, they avail of one set of brain regions which allows them to be at their best and most creative, seeking cooperation and wanting to fully engage, while when they are scared, fearful or unhappy, they avail of a different and rival set of brain regions (only one of which can appear to be active at any given time) more likely to bring out the worst in them, the response triggered when they are disrespected rather than encouraged by others.
Hence the importance of leaders and managers behaving in a predominantly positive manner – cajoling, encouraging, motivating and even inspiring those they have responsibility for, even when they have not quite performed to their potential, which those with ample “emotional intelligence” are often very well equipped to both realise and practice.
Yet those who put-down, humiliate, disrespect and bully others can somehow be associated with “strength” rather than “weakness” of both leadership and character, perhaps even a “PERSONALITY DISORDER”.
Extraordinarily we trust the coldest and most self-centred people possible – expert actors but ultimately lacking any genuine interest in other people at all, indeed in anyone but themselves, whose often considerable charm is skin deep and lacking any sincerity, whose eloquence can hide a fundamental disconnect between words, deeds, promises and subsequent actions, whose often ample intelligence is misused, being cunningly calculating, self-centred and anything but emotional, indeed those lacking the core essence of humanity, perhaps amongst the most irresponsible people on earth – with responsibility for the lives of employees, volunteers and citizens throughout global society when they hold positions of power, which they inevitably can only abuse as they prioritise competition and conflict over co-operation, disharmony over harmony and themselves over everyone and anything else.
That is why at the US IVBEC business ethics conference, held in Dublin in October 2019, I proposed that the steps the rest of society needs to take to protect itself from such leaders include:
- IDENTIFY these abnormal people, by way of their own behaviour, “Destructive Leadership”, as being different from the norm,
- STOP them achieving positions of influence & responsibility throughout global society, or if already in situ
- LEARN how to behave differently towards them (“denying narcissistic supply”),
- ADAPT to (not) respond to their sometimes extraordinary actions & reactions (evident due to their “maladaptive” inflexibility),
- MINIMISE the damage & havoc they will inevitably create, and preferably replace them with far more responsible people who do meet the “Constructive Leadership” criteria, knowing they will “do whatever it takes” and go to any lengths to maintain the power they should never have been trusted with in the first place.
When salient advice to those who have to deal with such people includes:
- BELIEVE THE OPPOSITE of what they say, as they can be deeply deceitful, take pleasure in lying, do not mind when they are caught doing so and may not even realise they are lying;
- DO THE OPPOSITE of what they want, as this can often be the wrong thing for the wrong reasons, more likely to achieve personal satisfaction than be “the right thing” for the group they mis-lead;
- ADVISE THEM THE OPPOSITE of what you want them to do, as being “perversity personified” they don’t like taking advice and will tend to do the opposite of what others ask them to do, “contrary” by nature;
- NEVER CRITICISE THEM as, despite being masters at dishing out criticism and many other forms of rebuke and disrespect to others, they can’t deal with an iota of criticism themselves, and are likely to over react to any (real or imagined) in a totally disproportionate, angry and even “histrionic” manner; so in such scenarios others learn to SAY NOTHING their “Disordered Leader” could find the opportunity to disagree with, let alone critique, or indeed anything they may perceive to be anyone doubting their undoubted (in their own mind) “brilliance”;
- Others learn to PRAISE THEM PROFUSELY as not only do they need, seek and crave praise, and can tend to praise themselves when others fail to do so, yet find it hard to genuinely praise others, especially when most warranted, which also contributes to “sycophantic” behaviour amongst followers and nominal “management team” members; praising in an insincere manner is usually to gain some advantage but in this case it can be to avoid rebuke or worse, potentially being excluded or fired for the crime of proffering a different suggestion or opinion from that of their “Disordered Leader”, in such cases why bother with having a “management team” at all – except to do what they are told?
- Ensure the GREAT IDEA is seen to be theirs, otherwise it won’t be actioned, as they need to take credit for it and deny praise to those most responsible;
- BE PEACEMAKERS AND REMAIN CALM when they try to stir up trouble, saying and doing nothing in response to their regular provocations, not rising to the many challenges they pose, baits and traps they set, especially for those who do not yet appreciate they seem to thrive on disagreement, dissent and many forms of disharmony;
- BE TACTFUL AND KIND WHEN THEY ARE CRUEL AND UNCARING and (unlike them) hold no grudges or hatreds nor seek no revenge (even for trivia), as being “ruth-less” (meaning “sympathy-free”) and making others unhappy can seem to make them happy, while seeing others happy can make them unhappy, making them want to disturb whatever satisfaction and pleasure others are enjoying, although not always in their presence, when others have to be “on edge” and WALK ON EGGSHELLS, so they learn
- DO NOT DISTURB THOSE WHO MAY THEMSELVES BE DISTURBED, even if they believe their own behaviour is normal, there is nothing wrong with them at all, nor with their mindset, their way of thinking and the myriad of problems (including “interpersonal difficulties”) they cause and challenges they create are the fault of others, who they blame at every opportunity;
- PREDICT THE PREDICTABLE as although many believe their behaviour to be bizarre and abnormal (which it is), given that they can be “maladaptive” (inflexible), “labile” (moody) and fail to learn from their mistakes, over time those closest to them realise how predictable they can be and hence learn how to avoid whatever “triggers” their boorishness and necessity to control, which otherwise may be “uncontrollable”;
- DO NOT FEAR THOSE WHO DO NOT EXPERIENCE FEAR as when others realise they thrive on trouble, seek reward inconsiderate of risk, actively seek arguments and are not scared by confrontation (as they thrive on conflict which they prefer to cooperation and would rather see people “at each others’s throats” than getting on fine and collaborating well), they will no longer be scared by their antics and learn to expect their provocation, making it easier to “turn the other cheek”, do not respond and just say nothing and walk away from potential trouble, denying them “narcissistic supply” and the oxygen they need to “fuel their fires of dissent” and create the disorder, disharmony and even havoc they insatiably seek;
- DO NOT EXPECT THEM TO BE LOYAL as they are only capable of loyalty to themselves and, if the whim takes them, can be exceptionally disloyal even to their most patient, tactful and loyal followers, changing from (false) praise one day to the deepest and most savage form of “CHARACTER ASSASSINATION” the next, often quite deceitfully and “delusionally” given that they have a major problem separating fact from fiction, which is why not one word they utter can be believed, unless subsequently independently verified;
- REMAIN POSITIVE AND DO NOT EXPECT ENCOURAGEMENT as they thrive on many forms of negativity, criticism and even humiliation, in effect deep discouragement and demotivation, although encouragement and motivation are widely agreed to be amongst the most critical roles of leaders to achieve common goals, not just to satisfy the personal ambitions, whims and grudges of self-centred leaders;
- PUT THE ORGANISATION (OR NATION) FIRST and prioritise what may benefit the “stakeholders” such as customers, employees, suppliers, local communities, the environment (and citizens, all not just some), separating these from what may be mal-practices and policies more likely to personally benefit the finances, ego or pride of self-centred leaders or sometimes entire management teams;
- DO RIGHT WHEN THEY DO WRONG and appreciate “THERE IS NO RIGHT WAY TO DO A WRONG THING”, hence doing what the “Disordered Leader” cannot: safeguard the TRUST and REPUTATION others know to be important but they fail to appreciate, especially when they SEE NO WRONG in their own words and deeds, notably when these seem more focussed on rebuke, revenge, retaliation and their personal necessity to impulsively “get their own way” and “win at all costs, irrespective of the consequences”, not unlike the most troublesome of primary school children;
- The necessity for others to AVOID TROUBLE by being SYCOPHANTIC does not auger well for organisations making the best progress possible based on pooled ideas, informed discussion, healthy debate, rational decision making considerate of the interests and needs of the variety of “stakeholders” affected and how they may be impacted by the possible outcomes of their decisions, nor for the many forms of cooperation and collaboration required for sensible progress to follow; indeed it makes “management teams” almost redundant…
there is clearly something very wrong, especially in those who seem to lack an internal sense of wrong and whose “vision” is focussed not on the constructive and harmonious future of the entity (or any grouping in global society they mis-lead), rather on themselves and satisfying their self-interest, primarily considering issues from the perspective of “what’s in it for me?”
None of these are traits or behaviours which people would advocate in supervisors, team leaders or managers, so why can they be so prevalent with (fortunately only) a minority of “leaders” that many seem to accept them as being part and parcel of “senior management”?
None of these are acceptable. They never have been and they never will be.
Indeed they are indicative of one simple fact – the business, organisation, entity (or even nation) is being led (or mis-led) by the wrong person – more capable of doing harm than good, damaging rather than building relationships and more likely to (perhaps irreparably) impair trust and imperil reputation, especially when they prioritise themselves over those they are tasked with leading and fail to appreciate that this is not why they were trusted with such an onerous responsibility.
At the US IVBEC business ethics conference, held in Dublin in October 2019, I proposed an initial definition of a “Disordered Leader” for discussion and refinement:
“Someone trusted with supervisory, managerial or leadership responsibilities who, due to what may be indicative of a mental and/or personality disorder(s), could be considered to be incapable of consistently responsible, trustworthy, harmonious, prosocial and accountable management or leadership with integrity, including prioritising the interests of stakeholders other than themselves, especially when this may impede satisfying their self-interest.”
Extraordinarily many organisations, misled by their shallow charm, smart words and false promises, disconnected from reality or subsequent action, continue to trust the most untrustworthy and irresponsible people possible, those incapable of successfully managing even their own emotions, with responsibility for the lives, welfare and emotions of others.
Time and time again many entities, apparently in every nation and quite likely in every sector of society, continue to choose the wrong type of people to lead and manage them, sometimes even the most inappropriate possible, those with a Personality Disorder, knowledge of which would appear to be one of the world’s best kept secrets.
This is partly because most other people just don’t seem to know quite what to look for, including (a) how to identify those who may differ from the norm and ultimately be more “destructive” by nature and also (b) better appreciating the many merits in those who may not flaunt their own abilities yet transpire to be “constructive” and deeply responsible by nature.
Due to their “maladaptive” nature, including the inflexibility of their mindset, to those who understand them well, their apparently peculiar, irrational and bizarre behaviour, not focused on “doing the right thing” for the organisation (or nation) they mis-lead, becomes quite predictable, which means when their traits are more universally understood and appreciated (the primary goal of this research), they CAN be denied the power and influence they will inevitably mis-use, irrationally in a manner which they (perhaps delusionally) perceive to benefit themselves and facilitate satisfying their main goal and only true passion in life – their self-interest.
At the end of the day, it isn’t all about them, although they persist in thinking that it is.
While they believe themselves that they are the most extraordinarily talented person ever born, those who cross their paths and have no option but to work with or for them, wish and pray they never had been.
The safe functioning of global society including the responsible management and generally harmonious co-operation within and between organisations, founded to achieve common goals not satisfy the whims of “Disordered Leaders”, requires that those lacking the core essence of humanity should no longer be given the opportunity to allow their inhumanity to negatively impact on the lives of others, no matter the arena.
Appreciating that their conscience-free mind may be disordered, thinking “distorted” and emotional depth “shallow”, could be a critical first step on the road to progress, otherwise a frustratingly fruitless exercise.
Any attempts at trying to deal with them “normally” may well be doomed to failure.
Fortunately as they ARE IDENTIFIABLE, when others learn how to do so, prevention is preferable to the improbability of cure.
As far as leadership is concerned, all the intelligence in the world is of little or no value, if none of it is emotional.