Sam Vaknin, Ph.D is the author of Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, and international affairs. He served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, Global Politician, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. Although not a mental health provider, Vaknin dedicated the last 12 years to the study of personality disorders in general and the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) in particular.
Vaknin’s article on Barack Obama and Narcissim is a very informative read.
Barack Obama appears to be a narcissist. Granted, only a qualified mental health diagnostician (which I am not) can determine whether someone suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and this, following lengthy tests and personal interviews. But, in the absence of access to Barack Obama, one has to rely on his overt performance and on testimonies by his closest, nearest and dearest. Narcissistic leaders are nefarious and their effects pernicious. They are subtle, refined, socially-adept, manipulative, possessed of thespian skills, and convincing. Both types equally lack empathy and are ruthless and relentless or driven.
Obama’s early life was decidedly chaotic and replete with traumatic and mentally bruising dislocations. Mixed-race marriages were even less common then. His parents went through a divorce when he was an infant (two years old). Obama saw his father only once again, before he died in a car accident. Then, his mother re-married and Obama had to relocate to Indonesia: a foreign land with a radically foreign culture, to be raised by a step-father. At the age of ten, he was whisked off to live with his maternal (white) grandparents. He saw his mother only intermittently in the following few years and then she vanished from his life in 1979. She died of cancer in 1995.
Pathological narcissism is a reaction to prolonged abuse and trauma in early childhood or early adolescence. The source of the abuse or trauma is immaterial: the perpetrators could be dysfunctional or absent parents, teachers, other adults, or peers.
The narcissist feels grandiose and self-important (e.g., exaggerates accomplishments, talents, skills, contacts, and personality traits to the point of lying, and demands to be recognised as superior without commensurate achievements. They are obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power or omnipotence, unequalled brilliance (the cerebral narcissist), bodily beauty or sexual performance (the somatic narcissist), or ideal, everlasting, all-conquering love or passion. They are firmly convinced that they are unique and, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high-status people (or institutions).
Narcissist requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation or, failing that, wishes to be feared and to be notorious (Narcissistic Supply). They feel entitled and demand automatic and full compliance with his or her unreasonable expectations for special and favourable priority treatment. Devoid of empathy narcissists are unable or unwilling to identify with, acknowledge, or accept the feelings, needs, preferences, priorities, and choices of others. They are constantly envious of others and seeks to hurt or destroy the objects of his or her frustration.
The narcissist behaves arrogantly and haughtily, feeling superior, omnipotent, omniscient, invincible, immune, “above the law”, and omnipresent (magical thinking), raging when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted by people he or she considers inferior to him or her and unworthy.
Narcissism is a defense mechanism whose role is to deflect hurt and trauma from the victim’s “True Self” into a “False Self” which is omnipotent, invulnerable, and omniscient. This False Self is then used by the narcissist to garner narcissistic supply from his human environment. Narcissistic supply is any form of attention, both positive and negative and it is instrumental in the regulation of the narcissist’s labile sense of self-worth.
Perhaps the most immediately evident trait of patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is their vulnerability to criticism and disagreement. Subject to negative input, real or imagined, even to a mild rebuke, a constructive suggestion, or an offer to help, they feel injured, humiliated and empty and they react with disdain (devaluation), rage, and defiance.
Many narcissists are over-achievers and ambitious. Some of them are even talented and skilled. But they are incapable of team work because they cannot tolerate setbacks. They are easily frustrated and demoralized and are unable to cope with disagreement and criticism. Though some narcissists have meteoric and inspiring careers, in the long-run, all of them find it difficult to maintain long-term professional achievements and the respect and appreciation of their peers. The narcissist’s fantastic grandiosity, frequently coupled with a hypomanic mood, is typically incommensurate with his or her real accomplishments (the “grandiosity gap”).
Obama displays the following behaviors, which are among the hallmarks of pathological narcissism:
- Subtly misrepresents facts and expediently and opportunistically shifts positions, views, opinions, and “ideals”.
- Ignores data that conflict with his fantasy world, or with his inflated and grandiose self-image.
- Feels that he is above the law, incl. and especially his own laws.
- Talks about himself in the 3rd person singular or uses the regal “we” and craves to be the exclusive center of attention, even adulation.
- Has a messianic-cosmic vision of himself and his life and his “mission”.
- Sets ever more complex rules in a convoluted world of grandiose fantasies with its own language (jargon).
- Displays false modesty and unctuous “folksiness” but unable to sustain these behaviors (the persona, or mask) for long. It slips and the true Obama is revealed: haughty, aloof, distant, and disdainful of simple folk and their lives.
- Sublimates aggression and holds grudges.
- Behaves as an eternal adolescent, in his choice of language, youthful image he projects, demands indulgence and feels entitled to special treatment, even though his objective accomplishments do not justify it).
Narcissists are an elusive breed, hard to spot, harder to pinpoint, impossible to capture. Even an experienced mental health diagnostician with unmitigated access to the record and to the person examined would find it fiendishly difficult to determine with any degree of certainty whether someone suffers from a full fledged Narcissistic Personality Disorder or merely possesses narcissistic traits, a narcissistic style, a personality structure (“character”), or a narcissistic “overlay” superimposed on another mental health problem.
Pathological narcissism is the art of deception. The narcissist projects a False Self and manages all his social interactions through this concocted fictional construct. The narcissist is shallow, a pond pretending to be an ocean. He likes to think of himself as a Renaissance man, a Jack of all trades. The narcissist never admits to ignorance in any field yet, typically, he is ignorant of them all.
You can read Dr. Vaknin’s article in full at the link provided above.