15

Feb

2016

Narcissism, Politics and the 2016 US Election

Written by: Jerrold M. Post

 
Narcissus. Photo: Lorena Morales via Creative Commons.

Narcissus. Photo: Lorena Morales via Creative Commons.

In this age of narcissism, the proliferation of politicians with significant narcissistic personality features is dramatic. In his new book, Narcissism and Politics: Dreams of Glory, Jerrold Post systematically applies the understanding of narcissism to the world of politics.

 

“If one were to subtract from the ranks of political figures all those with significant narcissistic personality traits, those ranks would be perilously impoverished.” And the same can be said of contestants in the debates and the run-ups to the primaries for both Republicans and Democrats.  What is driving the candidates?  What is the self-concept of those striving to occupy the Oval Office, to become the most powerful leader in the free world?  Is this delusional madness, or does it reflect the wedding of abundant self-confidence, ambition and talent?

There is indeed a spectrum of narcissism, ranging from at the healthy end of the spectrum, with individuals with abundant self-esteem and ambition, to the Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the essential characteristic of which are described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association:

a grandiose sense of self-importance or uniqueness, e.g. exaggerations of achievements and talents, focus on the special nature of one’s problems; preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love; exhibitionistic need for constant attention and admiration; cool indifference or marked feelings of rage, inferiority, shame, humiliation, or emptiness in response to criticism, indifference of others, or defeat; and troubled interpersonal relationships, characterized by a lack of empathy, interpersonal exploitiveness, a sense of entitlement or expectation of special favors, and a tendency to fluctuate between extremes of idealization and devaluation. (American Psychiatric Association, 1980, p. 317)

Now the cynical political junky may say “Well, all politicians are like that.” But increasingly  in this age of Facebook and “selfies”, more than ten percent of the population demonstrate self-oriented narcissistic traits, to the point where they considered removing the narcissistic personality disorder from the DSM as  being now the norm.

What better arena for those seeking the limelight than the political arena? The task for the discerning voter is to discriminate between the narcissist who is running for egocentric reasons from the genuine public servant. For under the narcissist’s glittering surface is a well of insecurity. And in his never ending search to prove his adequacy are the seeds of public danger from his need to be perfect, his incapacity to accept constructive criticism, and his sense of specialness, entitlement, and exploitiveness.

In Narcissism and Politics: Dreams of Glory, the range of narcissistic personalities is reviewed descriptively, from malignant narcissism, as represented by Saddam Hussein, to healthy narcissists.   The family influences and other psychobiographic features which shape such personalities are discussed and illustrated with such examples as Woodrow Wilson, Mohandas Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, Fidel Castro and Adolf Hitler.  Particular attention is paid to mirror hungry and ideal hungry personalities, so richly represented among leaders and followers in charismatic leader–follower relationships. The disturbed interpersonal relationships are discussed at length, as is the capacity for narcissistic rage when dreams of glory are frustrated. Constructive criticism is difficult for the narcissistic leader to receive, with a tendency to surround himself with sycophants.  The impact of age and illness upon the decision making of narcissistic leaders is thoroughly considered.

In this remarkable political season, this guide to a thorough understanding of the vicissitudes of the narcissistic personality, a types so over-represented among political contenders, will be a valuable travel companion.

 

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About the Author: Jerrold M. Post

Dr. Jerrold M. Post is author of Narcissism and Politics (2015). He is Professor of Psychiatry, Political Psychology and International Affairs and director of the Political Psychology Program at The George Washington University. Dr. Post previously worked with the Central Intelligence Agency, where...

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