Friday, 17 February 2017

If the Narcisstic Personality Disorder cap fits...

Since the rise of Donald Trump, the term “narcissistic” has been cropping up with boring regularity. As for most people, I have a superficial understanding of what it means, so it was interesting to read in this week's edition of the New Statesman, a piece by Dr Phil Whittaker, the resident medic. In this he looks at what he describes as 'the troubling psychological health problem of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)'. People with NPD, he writes, have (the following) characteristic set of personality traits. 

First, they have a deeply held sense of specialness and entitlement. Male NPD sufferers frequently present as highly egotistical, with an unshakeable sense of their superiority and importance. The affected person believes he is deserving of privileged treatment and expects it as a right from those around them.

Second, NPD sufferers have little or no capacity for empathy, and usually relate to other people as objects (as opposed to thinking, feeling beings) whose sole function is to meet the narcissist’s need for special treatment and admiration – known as “supply”. In order to recruit supply, NPD sufferers become highly skilled at manipulating people’s perceptions of them, acting out what is called a “false self” – the glittering high achiever, the indefatigable do-gooder, the pitiable victim. When surrounded by supply, the NPD sufferer relishes the waves of positive regard washing over them. Equally, when another person destabilises that supply (by criticising or questioning the narcissist’s false self) this is highly threatening, and the NPD sufferer will go to practically any lengths to prevent a destabiliser adversely influencing other people’s perceptions of the narcissist.

The third characteristic is termed “splitting”, where the world is experienced in terms of two rigid categories – either Good or Bad – with no areas of grey. As long as others are meeting the narcissist’s need for supply, they are Good, and they find themselves idealised and showered with reciprocal positive affirmation – a process called “love-bombing”. However, if someone criticises or questions the narcissist’s false self, that person becomes Bad, and is subjected to implacable hostility.

One of the many troublesome aspects of NPD is the invariable lack of insight. A narcissist’s experience of the world is essentially: “I am special; some people love me for this, and are Good; some people hate me for it, and are Bad.” Not uncommonly, health professionals end up helping those who have had the misfortune to enter into a supply relationship with an NPD sufferer. Narcissism is one of the most frequent factors in intimate partner and child abuse, as well as workplace bullying. The narcissist depends on the positive affirmation of others. They use others to shore themselves up and lash out at those who threaten this precarious balance. And they leave a trail of damaged people in their wake.

And having read what Phil Whittaker had to say, I watched some of the rather bizarre press conference DJT gave yesterday through this prism. Try it yourself and listen carefully to the language he uses. It fits. It's certainly not for me to make any medical diagnosis but...omg! It occurs to me that many governments around the world are employing psychologists to analyse each and every performance by DJT. "Tell us", the leaders ask, "how do we deal with a person with these personality traits?". Perhaps Mother Theresa had already had this advice when she scuttled off to the White House last month? Perhaps she had been told that the very best way to get on the good side of a narcissist is to massage the ego? And what better way to do this than with the extravagant pomp and circumstance of a full blown State Visit? Perhaps we've all underestimated her: not arse licking or brown nosing, just plain psychology. Nice one, Mother T.


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