Last week the US Government only narrowly avoided another global financial crisis after resolving the recent political stand off in Washington. Numerous commentators have attributed this almost catastrophe to the narcissistic attitudes of the Republicans with their attempts to undercut Obamacare.
Plus last night I caught a replay of an old Channel 4 documentary on Wikileaks (check it out here -it's available to watch for a limited time). As you can imagine this documentary centres around the enigmatic, controversial figure of Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange. Watching this struck me that Assange appears to demonstrate a great deal of narcissistic qualities.
This got me thinking of Assange's character and what narcissism is in general.
Narcissism for dummies
Narcissism originated from the Greek myth of Narcissus who fell in love with his own image in a pool of water, after rejecting the various attempts at attraction by the nymph, Echo.
The key traits of a narcissist include:
- Self focus in inter-personal communications
- Lack of empathy
- Problem with distinguishing self from others
- Denial of remorse or gratitude
- Over-exaggerating their achievements
- Hypersensitivity to insults, be it real or imagined
- Vulnerable to shame rather than guilt
- Haughty body language
Psychologist Sandy Hotchkiss identified "seven deadly sins" of narcissism:
- Magical thinking
- Bad boundaries
Most of us have some of these traits in a diluted format, but 1% of the population develop narcissism in a pathological form, called narcissistic personality disorder.
The causes of narcissism are not widely known but research suggests these factors can play a role:
- Severe emotional abuse in childhood
- Unpredictable care giving by parents
- Excessive praise or excessive criticism by parents
- Used by parents to regulate their own self esteem
- Overindulgence in childhood
Major trauma in childhood (e.g. separation from parents) can cause the narcissist to become emotionally frozen and often their emotional age, as an adult, will correlate back to the time of the trauma. As protection against further trauma, the narcissist will create a fake persona to act as a barrier.
Hotchkiss explains that narcissists see other people as extensions of themselves and not as separate people. Other people exist to meet their needs or they just don't exist at all.Those who supply the narcissistic extension are expected to live up to the expectations of being the narcissist themselves.
Dr Otto Kernberg explains that a narcissist uses splitting as a mode of defence to combat the conflict between the real self and the idolised self. The parts of the self which are deemed unacceptable (i.e. they don't meet the expectations of the idolised self), are repressed and projected onto external objects (e.g. other people).
Here's a quick quiz you can take to see if you display narcissistic traits (if you dare)! (I've done it for myself and was quite surprised that my results were of a similar level to slightly narcissistic celebrities!...something for my therapy maybe)!
Julian Assange and narcissism
- When he was cooperating with the Guardian and other papers, he dramatically dismissed the New York Times when they didn't play by his rules, so he saw things in black and white, right or wrong (this is an example of splitting).
- Plus Assange couldn't see the issue with leaving the names of local informants in the military cables unredacted, compared to the journalists who saw that these people could be put in immediate danger. Assange's attitude was that if they were supporting the allied forces, then they deserved to die. Again this shows very black and white thinking with no flexibility and also demonstrates a complete lack of empathy or concern for others.
- Assange has also shown a lack of empathy for the apparent main Wikileaks source, Bradley Manning, currently serving time in US prison. When Manning was first arrested, some Wikileak colleagues suggested that they stop leaking any further information in order to protect Manning from any further harm. Assange disagreed and dismissed those who challenged him and continued to publish the data.
- He displays grandiose thinking for example in the film regarding Wikileaks "We Steal Secrets" (the trailer is here, its a great film!) he demanded £1 million to appear in the film, which the film maker refused. Also his time in the Ecuadorian embassy has cost the public a great deal of money (a reported £3.8 million has been spent by the Met Police).
- Assange apparently refused to return to Sweden to submit to an AIDS test in relation to 2 women he slept with. This refusal caused the women to seek legal remedy hence the charges of rape brought against Assange. His arrogance has caused his ultimate downfall and for him to be hauled up in the Ecuadorian embassy for the last few years.
- His mother appears to be over protective of him, despite him being 42 years old. His mother recently reported to the press that she fears for his health as he is not getting enough sunshine while he is stuck in the embassy (he's been there for over 500 days). This hints towards perhaps how his mother perceives her son and perhaps how his childhood may have been.
- In the film on Wikileaks, it is commented how Assange has entwined his legal case against him for rape into the Wikileak cause for freedom of information. Not only does this encourage further support from him (as if he is being persecuted for his work on leaking and not in reality his casual sexual liaisons) but also shows how for him there is no distinction between the two, he IS wikileaks.
Wonder if you spot any narcissists in your life?
Till next month,