Friday, November 05, 2010


In comparing the differences in political styles that drive Barack Obama and Sarah Palin, Wretchard demonstrates beautifully the difference between healthy and unhealthy narcissism. Here is a taste, but read it all:
Sarah Palin may actually lack what it takes to be a successful president of the United States. She may not have what it takes to be a queen. But she has in abundance what Barack Obama, who styles himself a “community organizer,” notably lacks. Palin has the ability to generate leaders other than herself. That quality was in evidence in the recent campaign when she successfully encouraged others, some of whom had never been in public life before, to throw their hats in the ring and run for office. And many of them won. Writing in the National Review, Palin found satisfaction in the achievements of others. That is the key attribute of a real “community organizer,” while the supposed Alinskyite, who is actually nothing like a classic organizer, was struggling with little apparent success to get beyond his “gift”; to get beyond himself. Palin wrote:
In the coming weeks there will also be a debate about the viability of particular candidates. Anyone with the courage to throw his or her hat in the ring and stand up and be counted always has my respect. Some of them were stronger candidates than others, but they all had the courage to be “in the arena.” The second lesson of this election is one a number of the candidates had to learn to their cost: Fight back the lies immediately and consistently. Some candidates assumed that, once they received their party’s nomination, the conservative message would automatically carry the day. Unfortunately, political contests aren’t always about truth and justice. Powerful vested interests will combine to keep bad candidates in place and good candidates out of office. Once they let themselves be defined as “unfit” (decorated war hero Joe Miller) or “heartless” (pro-life, international women’s rights champion Carly Fiorina), good candidates often find it virtually impossible to get their message across. The moral of their stories: You must be prepared to fight for your right to be heard.

“Anyone with the courage to throw his or her hat in the ring and stand up and be counted always has my respect.” But that would mean rivals. It would mean peers. It might even mean, God forbid, that someone else might be greater than yourself. So you will never hear Barack Obama say anything like this, at least not in earnest. On the contrary, he demonstrated, in the last campaign, a serene willingness to sacrifice every other leader on the altar of the vision — not the modest ambitions, the secret dreams of the common herd, but the unutterable vision vouchsafed to him “through the red soil of Africa.” Sarah Palin may never be president; nor fit to be. But that is irrelevant. The real difference between the two competing visions is what question they answer to. For most Democrats the 2012 elections will be about re-electing Barack Obama. For most members of the Tea Party it will be about taking back America.

What we call narcissism is a normal part of every human being. Without narcissism, we are unable to feel good about either ourselves or other people. In the healthy adult, the excessively grandiose side of the self is tamed and harnessed to an appropriate set of ideals and values and is capable of perceiving others as separate sources of action, thought, and feeling.

A healthy self with appropriate levels of narcissism--or self love--has two fundamental and equally important parts:

(1) SELF-ESTEEM – or a sense that one has a right to life and success; ambition; a healthy exhibitionism and comfort with one’s body. This part of the self supplies the instinctual fuel for ambition and purpose; and for enjoyment of life’s activities.

Most people confuse "self-esteem" with what I have refered to as a "sense of self". It is the latter--not the former, that is so often screwed up in the angry, violent, grandiose, and generally narcissistic people in the world. If you have a healthy self", you are likely to have a healthy self-esteem--which is not the same at all as a high self-esteem.

The psychological defect that leads to so many problems is a defective or distorted sense of one's SELF. The excessive self-regard you see in a typical bully comes from a distortion of reality that person has with regard to their self. It was once widely believed that low self-esteem was a cause of violence--and you see that idea reflected today in the platitudes and rationalizations of terrorism-- but in reality, violent individuals, groups and nations think very well of themselves.

Do you really suppose that people like Ahmadinejad, Bin Laden or Kim Jong Il suffer from poor self-esteem? On the contrary. Exaggerated self-esteem is one of the hallmarks of a pathological narcissist or psychopath.

The pop-psychology that promulgates the widespread belief that it is mandatory that you always nurture a kid's self-esteem, neglects to mention that if the sense of self is already damaged, all you manage to do is to create a narcissist. Hence, we have today an entire self-estem industry that appears to be intent on creating as many narcissistic monsters as possibly by artificially inflating a child's self-worth without expecting them to actually achieve or do anything.

Of course children should be loved and cherished, but even they are smart enough to understand that when they are given an "award" for doing nothing; or when they play a team sport where everyone is proclaimed a "winner" no matter what the outcome, that something is very wrong. Rewarding them for a job well-done or being honest with them when it is not is essential feedback that helps them understand both their own capabilities and reality. Learning how to deal with failure is critical for gaining mastery over one's self and the outside world. Presenting someone a Nobel Prizes for never having done anything in the real world is somewhat delusional and likely to exaggerate their grandiosity rather than give them appropriate real world feedback. cannot, no matter how well-intentioned, make them appreciate who they really are.

We see people whose excessive self-admiration and sense of entitlement at all levels of society. It is particularly noticeable in the elites of Washington, Hollywood and Academia; many of whom alternate between acting out their narcissistically empowered superiority -- demanding to be noticed, admired and loved (by you); and playing the narcissistically empowered victim -- demanding their inalienable rights and priveleges (at your expense).

But the real victims of all the self-esteem hype are our children, because these foolish notions, without a scintilla of scientific evidence and only becaue it makes some people feel good about themselves, have become the pop psychology dogma of public policy in education.

A second important aspect of a healthy narcissism is the acquisition of:

(2) IDEALS– or, a belief in something outside the “self” that guides and gives meaning to one’s life. Having ideals make developing one’s goals in life possible. It is this part of the self that also makes healthy interpersonal relationships possible.

Excessive grandiosity is one reaction to the gross imperfection of one's parents or the key adults in one's life. A second, and equally important reaction to the imperfection of the parents are the phenomena of narcissistic awe and narcissistic idealism

Excessive narcissistic idealism--like excessive grandiosity-- is a compensatory mechanism that develops when an idealized person (such as a Parent) fails to live up to expectations (which inevitably occurs). Not able to adequately deal with this truth, the self immediately transfers its idealization to a new object of adoration. Rage at the imperfections of the idealized person is kept at bay by focusing on the new person who now receives the excessive awe or admiration withdrawn from the previous object. A healthy narcissism can only be developed if the child is able to appreciate that people do not have to be perfect, but can be "good enough" and are worthy of love despite imperfection (just as they, themselves are worthy of love despite their own imperfections).

Every therapist has had the "pleasure" of being the recipient of both Narcissistic Rage and Narcissistic Awe and this situation is referred to as “splitting”. The patient either sees you as All Good or All Bad, but never as simply a good-enough person who makes mistakes. Indeed, every parent experiences this with the adolescent child who usually come to the realization that their parents are not perfect (surprise!). The adolescent then searches to find someone who can fill that empty need. These days, their idealization (idolization) falls onto icons of the popular culture--music or sports stars. Eventually they get over these kinds of infatuations as they further mature and are able to tolerate the imperfections within themselves and others.

Narcissistic "awe" or idealsm in its extreme form can be expressed as bizarre mystical feelings; hyper-religious awe or hyper-religiosity in general; as obsessive love; as total immersion in a cult or belief system—all of these behaviors can compensate for the fear that one is forever separated from that “perfect” Other.

Remember, we are not talking about appropriate admiration for someone, but an over-idealization that essentially treats the person as a “god” rather than a typical human being with imperfections and flaws.

Unhealthy narcissists in the grip of either narcissistic rage or awe are unable to accept the reality that people can have both good and bad qualities co-existing inside them. Neither do they see other people as acting separately from their own wishes, feelings or desires.

Much of the evil that humans do to each other comes as a result of narcissistic rage and/or narcissistic idealism (and they are found often oscillating back and forth in the unhealthy narcissist). In the former case, we hear about or know individuals who manipulate, control, subjugate, hurt or kill others and they are able to do this because they do not consider other people as human or separate from their own self; or because they are so enraged and grandiose they are not capable of empathy.

We see stories of this happening all the time on the news, frequently exclaiming, "How could someone do that?" The ex-boyfriend who cannot accept that the woman has dared to withdraw her love and so must kill her (and often himself); the serial killer who does not experience others as really human. The pedophile who abuses then murders his child victim. Every petty criminal who believes implicitly that his feelings and desires are paramount and justify his behavior.

A second type of evil is more subtle, and it comes from the unhealthy idealistic narcissist. This narcissist also does not see other people as individuals; and instead sees them only as fodder for the expression of an IDEAL or as pawns for an Omnipotent Object (e.g., a dictator). People with idealizing narcissism completely reject the needs of the individual and enslave him or her to their IDEAL. Eventually, the enslavement--whether religious or secular--snuffs out human ambition, confidence, energy and self-esteem. These "do-gooders" cause considerable human misery and their ideologies can lead to genocidal practices and unbelievable atrocities on a grand scale, all in the name of the IDEAL or GOD.

Needless to say, both the development of normal self-esteem as well as the ability to have appropriate ideals and admiration for others are essential to psychological health. When one aspect develops at the expense of the other it has grave consequences--both for the individual and society.

One could say that the entire psychological process of maturation is one in which the child is able to form a cohesive sense of himself AND at the same time appreciate the separateness of Mother and Father --and by extension, all other people. When this process is achieved, true empathy and benevolence toward others is possible, as is a healthy and realistic appreciation for one's own worth and capabiities.

In Wretchard's comparison of Barack Obama and Sarah Palin we see the essentials of how all this plays out in different political personalities. As I noted earlier, there are certain professions that require a lot of narcissism to be successful--and politics is foremost among them.

So, how do you tell the difference between your ordinary run-of-th-mill politician and one whose self-aggrandizement and obliviousness to others brands him or her as a malignant, or unhealthy narcissist? Here's a clue:
"I think that, over the course of two years we were so busy and so focused on getting a bunch of stuff done that, we stopped paying attention to the fact that leadership isn’t just legislation. That it’s a matter of persuading people. And giving them confidence and bringing them together. And setting a tone,” Mr. Obama told 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft in an exclusive interview set to air Sunday.
“Making an argument that people can understand,” Mr. Obama continued, “I think that we haven’t always been successful at that. And I take personal responsibility for that. And it’s something that I’ve got to examine carefully … as I go forward.”

Or, as Ace aptly translates:
Poor Obama, so much greatness wasted on a country whose people are too stupid to understand the arguments he's been making. Sure you showed some promise by electing him in the first place but since then, you've really let him down.

Fortunately for you, Obama's awesomeness will now enable him to spend more time explaining why he's right and you're wrong. He's a giver, even to those not worthy of his gifts.

Apparently he was so busy legislating over the last two years he only had time to appear on about 75% of TV and radio show on the schedule over the last two years. He even popped up on broadcasts like the Super Bowl. But now he's not going to be so much of a communications slacker, he's really going to get out there and make sure you understand how wrong you were to reject his huge and ineffective spending programs. Those 54 speeches he gave on health care? Not nearly enough for you rubes to understand, so get ready for more!

You think America voted for policy changes on Tuesday? You poor deluded fool. Don't worry, Obama is going to spend the next two years making sure you understand why that's wrong. He'll lift you out of the mud of ignorance you are wallowing in....after all, that's what God-Kings do.

You see, God-Kings generally don't do very well where there is freedom and democracy; and when they reach power under such circumstances, their agenda is always--always-- directed at decreasing both.

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