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.”


13 thoughts on “NPD : A Personal Disorder — Our Moral Challenge

  1. Thank you for writing this. Even though I know that our brothers and sisters who support the current leader will not read this, and if they do, will not believe it, we need to say it as often as possible.

    1. I am going to post on Facebook so some others may see. Even if they reject the facts they will have read them. Planting seeds.

  2. Glad you used a pastor as an example…not a few use the law, canonical or their bishop’s policies. as a cover for their elitism and control..not unlike the pharisee’s of old…not to heal and remove burdens by service and solidarity, but hypocritically enforcing the rules and roles of an ecclesial system ..not hard for male celibates to enforce marital and gender discrimination laws and to feel superior….”Father knows best”? So trumpism light?

  3. You did a good job in describing NPD, Jack. NPD is considered to be the most “primitive” of the personality disorders because its psychological wounding is the earliest . The braggadocio is an attempt to undo the terror that the person is really a worthless pile of dirt. The ego is extremely fragile and the person lashes out viciously at anyone who challenges his/her perfection. A person with NPD is emotionally one year old. An infant. A very insecure infant who fears he/she is unloveable, and is enraged at any confirmation that this is the case. Tantrums and pouting and loyalty proofs are standard fare. It sends stabs of fear in my heart to know that 45 has this condition. The fate of the world is in the hands of a one-year-old. A one year old who does not yet even have a conscience.
    People with NPD are not amenable to psychotherapy. They do NOT want to be told that they are flawed and must change. They are perfect, and who is this stupid, ugly, etc., therapist to suggest otherwise?
    The ministry is a perfect career for a narcissist. They get to be the king wearing their gold robes in front of their adoring congregants. Thank God our current pope does not seem to have this affliction.


    He was spawned in an igloo homestead in the city,
    And all was well—I say it with no bitterness nor insincerity—
    For everything was just the way it was,
    The way it had to be, for all of us.
    The igloo house was cozy, the igloo life was sheltered,
    And nobody got burned, but freezer-burned.
    Who would have guessed it?
    The going-through of times and years was pleasant,
    And was steady,
    And I for one had no idea deadness settled in
    Fuming for its playtime, smoldering for life.

    Up sprang Narcissus, within the fleshy child
    Eating stacks of buttered toast, in morning or at night,
    Taking to himself mistakenly
    To break the fast from tenderness which he was unaware of.
    The supplements to feed the child who did not know he
    Hungered went to fat, not to his self that hungered,
    Hiding in its dark.

    Up sprang Narcissus, and he coached the boy in unassuming
    Gentleness. He made sure he was not heard,
    Just to make sure he was seen.
    Pleasing was the best thing he could do.
    Pleasing was the way to warm the
    Flameless hearth at Igloo House,
    Way into a home, way into a heart
    That couldn’t open of itself.
    It had been shut down years before,
    A place condemned and deemed not fit,
    And sure enough it lived out just that sentence,
    Where ever after nobody did fit.

    Up sprang Narcissus, in the child inside the
    Crisper, in the icebox, in the
    House of snow and ice, in Igloo House. . .
    And down the days and twilights of his days he
    Learned to stroke himself, til it became a
    Passion, then obsession,
    Lonely layering on sad, sadness layering on self, selfish layering
    On meek, to insulate from rages deep inside,
    The way the igloo insulates from cold.
    He came to know that ice made warmth for him.
    He did not feel the irony nor spot the contradiction.

    Many days have passed since Igloo House has passed,
    And many days are warm, outside of igloos.
    But many waves of cold have to be exorcised,
    And there are places deep inside where
    Bones feel cold as death.
    Narcissus blows his hoary breath across the
    Waste of wasted years,
    Still teaching how to save oneself with mirrors—
    A ruthless trick, the mirror just a wall, the vision only
    False, reflecting backwards.

    1. Very good presentation without emphasizing our obvious modern example! But add Pope Boniface VIII who insisted salvation depended on submission to the Roman Supreme Pontiff. It will be interesting to see when Putin and Trump might clash. It is interesting that Julius Caesar seems to have been free of this malady, however ambitious and gifted he was; he was truly a forgiving man (cf. Brutus). I wish your essay could get a bigger audience. It nails it.

  5. Very good presentation without emphasizing our obvious modern example! But add Pope Boniface VIII who insisted salvation depended on submission to the Roman Supreme Pontiff. It will be interesting to see when Putin and Trump might clash. It is interesting that Julius Caesar seems to have been free of this malady, however ambitious and gifted he was; he was truly a forgiving man (cf. Brutus). I wish your essay could get a bigger audience. It nails it.

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