4 August 2018
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) involves a distorted self-image and is a psychological disorder, with moral implications. It affects approximately 1% of the population, with a greater prevalence in men. Historically we have often seen it in men in leadership positions. Their emotions can be unstable and intense; and they display excessive concerns about personal prestige and power, stressing personal “greatness.” They also tend to lack compassion, have an exaggerated sense of superiority, and enjoy bullying people. Nothing Christian in such behavior. The Gospel is good news. Not fake news propaganda.
Below are some of the most common characteristics of people with a narcissistic personality disorder life orientation:
1 They have an insatiable appetite for the attention of others, by claiming to be the smartest, the most popular, and the most loved.
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.
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. 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. They use women as playthings and brag about their sexual exploits in immature and adolescent boyish fashion.
8. Whatever they crave or yearn for must be “the best” because they are the best and deserve the best.
9. They clandestinely or openly take advantage of others so they can move forward in life and/or get what they want, with no remorse toward the ones stepped on, used, and abused.
10. Narcissists are toxic people. They are proudly self-obsessed, arrogant, tough-minded bullies, and immature people lacking healthy emotions.
What to do?
People with NPD need help. Psychotherapy. For many, 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 an NPD person when he was pastor of a nearby parish. The situation went from annoying to bad then to very bad. Eventually the parish council, with abundant documented evidence about his erratic behavior and psychological disorder, told the local bishop that the pastor was “very unwell” and had to go. Within a few days, a healthy “pastoral change” was made. Change is possible when conscientious and courageous people work together.
I suspect one could make a list of famous people with NPD. Reflecting, as an old historian, on Western European history, I think immediately about people like Henry VIII, Napoleon, Generalissimo Franco, and Hitler of course. In the church I think of men like Pope Pius IX (1792 – 1878). “Pio Nono” was pope for more than 31 years. He started out good but then regressed. Loss of papal influence and power, and then the the loss of the Papal States twisted his brain. He could not make the papacy great again. He was the last Pope-King before the Catholic Church’s broad temporal power was swept away. He became the quintessence of ecclesiastical obscurantism and intransigence. He is famous for papal infallibility (personal papal power) and his 1864 “Syllabus of Errors” : a strong condemnation of liberalism, modernism, and separation of church and state. (He also supported President Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy in the US American Civil War.)
In contemporary political life there are also people with NPD. Vladimir Putin is just one key example.
NPD is a pressing contemporary challenge. People who recognize this disorder in political and religious leaders need to deal with the problem constructively and effectively. The clock is ticking.
As the Spanish-born, US American/European philosopher and novelist George Santayana (1863 – 1952) said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”