A couple days ago, I was thinking about an old acquaintance, whom I have known for a very long time. He had sent a personal “email update” telling me all the great things HE has been doing. He never asked how my wife or I am doing, in these Corona days, which was typical. His whole life has been an unbroken narration of “I, Myself, and Me.”
Long ago I realized that my “friend” suffers from advanced NPD: Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
NPD is anchored in a distorted self-image and is a psychological disorder, quite often with moral implications. It affects a small but significant part of the population, with a greater prevalence in men. Historically we have often seen it in men in leadership positions. Some of his current far-right critics accuse Pope Francis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. With all due respect, I think it was more obvious in the narcissism and grandiosity of his two immediate predecessors Benedict and John Paul — but that’s a hot potato and a discussion for another time…History is a complex affair and people are complex beings….
NPD is a personal disorder but, like the Corona virus, it affects groups and group behavior as well. Some call it tribal NPD. I call it hate group NPD.
It is rather easy to pull down controversial memorials, like those of slave-traders and Confederate generals. Mending the world that constructed them is much more difficult. The emotions of NPD people are unstable and intense. They relish displays and symbols of group prestige and power. NPD people also tend to lack compassion; and the have an exaggerated sense of superiority, and enjoy bullying and denigrating people.
Below are some of the most common life characteristics of people with a narcissistic personality disorder:
1 NPD people have an insatiable appetite for the attention of others, by claiming to be the smartest, the most popular, and the most loved. In fact they value style over substance.
2. They exaggerate, fabricate or simply lie about achievements, talents, and importance.
3. They take advantage of others to achieve a personal goal, without regret or conscience. They value power more than policy….
4. They create facts or simply re-shape the truth to mislead, confuse, and control people. Their focus is not reality news but propaganda. Any media coverage unfavorable to them is rejected as part of a fake news “hoax” against them. Their’s is paranoia prioritized.
5. They lack empathy, or the ability to understand the feelings of others. They disregard, joke about, or demean others’ feelings.
6. They react to criticism by denigrating their critics in racist and xenophobic diatribes.Their toxic rhetoric and propaganda stimulate and support hate groups and racist movements.
7. NPD people are toxic people: proudly self-obsessed, arrogant, and tough-minded bullies.
What to do?
People with NPD need help. Psychotherapy can help some… For most, however, the disorder lasts a lifetime. Nevertheless, THEY still have moral responsibilities toward other people and within the institutions in which they operate. One cannot excuse their behavior.
People who are victimized by people with NPD, or who are alarmed by the power and negative influence of people with NPD, need to network and collaborate in curtailing their power and influence.
I first encountered a seriously ill NPD person when he was pastor of a nearby parish. Eventually the parish council, with abundant documented evidence about his erratic, disordered, and dangerous behavior, informed the local bishop that the pastor had to go! Within a few days, a healthy “pastoral change” was made. Change is possible when conscientious and courageous people work together.
People who recognize this disorder in political and religious leaders need to deal with the problem constructively and effectively. We can make a change….The clock is ticking.