The Narcissism of Donald Trump

Self-regarding public figures have always been with us.  Self-effacement, restraint and empathy normally do not mix with high ambition.  Ambition – in one form or another, for self or cause– is a requisite for accessing the corridors of power.  The narcissist is different.  The true narcissist is a readily identifiable personality type, one of the most clearly etched in clinical psychology.[1]  Fairly common in the general population, they have been extremely rare in the political realm.  The constant, intense scrutiny that office holders receive, along with the built-in structural constraints, reduce the latitude for inner driven behavior that is compulsive for a narcissist.

Today, things have changed.  Full blown narcissists are found at the apex of authority.  Marginal cases are even more numerous.  That observed phenomenon is our point of reference.  My thesis, in this essay, is that there exist singular features of contemporary society in the ‘West’ that are permissive of the narcissistic leader.  Indeed, there is a certain affinity.  An ancillary proposition is that their conduct in office strengthens those social attributes.  In so doing, the political culture becomes progressively more congenial to the attitudes and conduct associated with narcissism.[2]

What/who is a narcissist?

In analytical terms, a narcissistic personality is typified by a core self that is overwhelmingly self-referential rather than being defined through contact with the world around it.  Consequently, the superego is weak and experienced as illegitimate. It may have some abstract claim on behavior, thanks to natural conditioning, but it is felt as something to be manipulated to serve the endless need for enhancement of self-esteem.  The narcissistic self is engaged in a constant struggle for self-confirmation.  That becomes the compelling, overriding goal of life whatever pursuits the narcissist undertakes, whatever prosaic gratifications he seeks, whatever the social circumstances in which he finds itself.  With a grandiose sense of self-importance, he feels a powerful entitlement to admiration and special treatment.

The narcissist is incapable of critical self-reflection.  The only errors admitted are tactical ones, things that fell short in failing to bring the outer world into conformity to demands of the self.   Above all there is the demand that the individual be allowed to do whatever he pleases at all times without restraint or criticism or punishment.  Everything is interpreted, judged and explained on that basis.  Unaccommodating persons are ‘punitive,’ places and circumstances that do not give approval are to be avoided.  The burden of remedying these intolerable things is placed on any person bound to the narcissist – political aide, subordinate, or an uncritically adoring public – as well as family members.  When they fail to do so, they are the target of angry frustration, at times rage attacks.

Narcissists live their lives to the pulse of any inner beat: I need, I want, I need, I want.  Empathy is foreign to narcissists. They have neither the capacity nor the inclination to relate to others except at a very superficial level.   Attentiveness to the feelings and emotions of others risks subordinating the imperial self to someone else.  Lights flash and bugles sound whenever that threat looms. Avoidance behavior is companion to a total lack of self-understanding.   Consequently, that results in a constant tension as the narcissistic self, always on guard, struggles to protect the sanctuary while carrying on social discourse.

The narcissist’s need for praise is insatiable.  While others are not looked to for legitimation, the outside world’s continual confirmation of the narcissistic self’s uniqueness is vital.  That leads to compulsive testing to reassure oneself that others will approve, bestow favors and praise even where there is no compensation. Indeed, some persons are cultivated as ‘suppliers’ for that very reason. Spouses especially. Some others are kept at a distance because they expect compensation or emotional reciprocation.  Thus, an entourage of some sort becomes important not just for the standard flattery but for their repeated testimony that they will be there however they are treated.

Courtiers perform this function better than strong willed persons. Moreover, hyper-sensitivity to criticism places premiums on the narcissist’s surrounding himself with sycophants.  Persons of an independent bent and/orstrong views are a direct threat to defensive strategies of ‘self’ protection.  Those types are also unlikely to provide the routine adulation and approval that the narcissistic-leader needs.  Too, they will be less sensitive to the premiums he places on the psychological mediating of relations with the outside world.  The loyalty demanded is not just to the person’s policies and politics but to a demanding narcissistic self in itself.

Narcissists fish for compliments.  They need people who offer them, especially without solicitation.  They often do so with great charm.  Money and power substitute the power of coercion, intimidation and implicit threat.

Narcissists seek out the rich and other celebrities.  Those persons represent the success they have striven for.  Its achievement now creates the opportunity not only to socialize with them but to receive deference from them.

A billionaire like Trump seeks out the company of other billionaires, for they are the sole persons qualified to respect fully his success and to applaud it. The world that counts is the world of celebrity in its many variations.  MONEY  is the ultimate measure of self. Riches and celebrity status are intensely craved because they provide what is most keenly wanted. – prestige and, above all, control.  Now Trump is able to command whatever it is he wants, including evading anything unwelcome – the narcissist’s Shangri-La. 

Temper tantrums are another symptomatic trait of the narcissistic personality.  They may be uninhibitedly public, as in the case of Bill Clinton, or reserved for private occasions where there is active fear of turning the outside world hostile.  They stem from frustration created by the tension between the ever vigilant self and an environment that, even for public figures, is not always fully accommodating.  The precipitating factor might be utterly banal: estimations of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration. Here’s an account:

“Trump had just returned to the White House on Saturday from his final inauguration event, a tranquil interfaith prayer service, when the flashes of anger began to build. He turned on the television to see a jarring juxtaposition — massive demonstrations around the globe protesting his day-old presidency and footage of the sparser crowd at his inauguration, with large patches of white empty space on the Mall. Trump grew increasingly and visibly enraged.

Pundits were dissing his turnout. The National Park Service had retweeted a photo unfavorably comparing the size of his inauguration crowd with the one that attended Barack Obama’s swearing-in ceremony in 2009. Trump’s advisers suggested that he could push back in a simple tweet. But Trump was adamant, aides said. Over the objections of his aides and advisers — who urged him to focus on policy and the broader goals of his presidency — the new president issued a decree: He wanted a fiery public response, and he wanted it to come from his press secretary.”

Fury at being thwarted bespeaks an ingrained sense of entitlement.  In inter-personal encounters, a narcissist normally benefits from emotional ‘escalation dominance.’  That is to say, as the storm of conflict intensifies, he is less sensitive to either the indecency of what is being said or its consequences.  That places the onus on the interlocutor to exercise restraint for fear of the very things to which an enraged narcissist has become oblivious.

Of course, this is not always possible when acting in an official capacity.  Therefore, the suppressed grievance, or the attenuated reaction to it, may be stored up for displacement onto others who are more vulnerable. We should be clear that these individuals are not simply bad tempered.[3]  That is fairly common.  It is the rage, an intense emotional outburst disproportionate to its catalyst, that fits the profile of the narcissist.  That these outbursts never happen in delicate diplomatic encounters or on  formal occasions attests to the narcissist’s ability to exercise a modicum of control over his emotions and conduct.  It could be that there is an element of self-selection at work.  That is to say, a narcissist who finds it impossible to impose that measure of constraint on himself will not go far in a public career.  As has been observed, “though overweening ambition and confidence lead to high achievement, performance may be disrupted due to intolerance of criticism.”

This raises the intriguing question of how a narcissist deals with another narcissist of roughly equal standing – or simply a garden variety ego-maniac with a reckless streak. Such an encounter in more likely to occur internationally than domestically. The Middle East is populated by quite a number of reckless ego-maniacs: Erdogan, Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed – not to mention Bakr al-Baghdadi. Will Trump enjoy psychological escalation dominance in encounters with this lot? There is no clear answer.

What can be said is the following. The narcissist dreads situations where his supreme self is challenged or threatened – or its vulnerability exposed. That leads him to steer clear of persons who may do any of these things. That is not easy when coping with other heads of government. It does suggest prudence in avoiding face-to-face meetings wherever possible. Dread also can motivate the narcissist to maintain distance by downplaying the other person’s importance. That is difficult to achieve, of course, where encounters are inescapable and/or where the narcissist has staked out a firm position whose abandonment would strike a crushing blow to his exalted sense of self.

Maniacs do often have a sensitive awareness of each other. Remember the Hitler-Stalin relationship. Both were psychotic – the one a butcher (probably a schizophrenic with sadistic tendencies), the other a classic paranoid. Yet, Stalin had great respect for Hitler and even expected him to keep his word on implementation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – as Stalin himself meticulously did. That led the master of the Kremlin to make the near fatal mistake of discounting multiple reports of an imminent German attack in June 1941.

This oddity may derive from the experience of living outside the norm – leading to an uncommonly acute awareness of aberrant others. An instinctive sensitivity to threat posed by a similarly unmoored personality could heighten that instinctive reaction.

Narcissists typically have no sense of history.  This is true both in the conventional sense of past events and in the personalized sense of being unmindful to what they did and said earlier. Remembrance of things past can be an unwelcome restraint. Studied ignorance is an emotional ally. The narcissist is by nature an existentialist.  For that approach offers the maximum freedom to do whatever the need of the emotional moment is, and to avoid doing anything that is uncomfortable or inconvenient.  That makes a narcissist uninterested in precedent, in the norms observed by others, in lessons as to what falls within the realm of the impossible, the painful, the costly.  Inattentiveness to how one’s behavior registers on others similarly increases freedom.  The narcissist just does not care – unless there is a clear utilitarian interest in caring.  Repetition of pet themes – grievances, complaints, judgments, wants – evinces how they are woven into the fabric of the narcissistic personality.  The impulse to express them follows.  The past as void removes any inhibition on reiteration, the past as inventory of slights and grievances is kept readily available to add fuel to the ever burning fire of narcissistic self glorification. 

Frenetic movement is a feature of the narcissistic personality.  He is always in motion, unable to stay long in one place – mentally or physically.  This can lead to unplanned movement that works against the reaching of self-declared ends.  Indeed, the impulse not to be held to account adds to the tendency toward kaleidoscopic or free associative thinking and speaking, and vice-versa.  Restless shifts from one topic to another in conversation or action is a related trait of the narcissist.  They tend to be hyperactive physically and to find it hard to sustain concentration mentally.  Whatever passes to the forefront of the mind presumptively has claim to immediate expression. That imperative self never accepts ‘no’ or ‘not now’ – not even from the conscious mind.  Hence, narcissists tend to be at once disorganized and controlling.  The former holds except where cultural background has so strongly devalued disorder as to make them compulsive about formal arrangement of things, schedules and the logical articulation of ideas.

A prime example was provided by the Trump’s visit to the CIA on the day after his Inauguration. Standing before the votive memorial to Agency martyrs, he began a salute to them – and to the CIA – only to break off in mid-sentence to vent again his obsession about the size of the crowd on the Mall. He never returned to his abruptly halted eulogy.  That is why policy-making in the White House these days resembles an octopus struggling to put on a pair of mismatched socks (to use Chas Freeman’s metaphor).

Here we witness the extreme reluctance to rein in the narcissistic impulse so as to be free to say whatever comes to mind and to follow through with some sort of action – however brief its half-life. This pattern has the further virtue of tolerating its rejection.  For the extinguished initiative can be written off merely as the child of impetuousness whose meaning was momentary and subjective – however intense feelings about it were at that moment. As to Trump:

+ He is forever impatient…he eats and drinks quickly.  He is in perpetual motion, for him immobility is death.  He oscillates between discipline and diabolical energy. The author of his autobiography has revealed that he has an attention span of 2 – 3 minutes

+ He sees life as a competition with time

+ He has no close friends; displays the least possible rapport with others.

+ He abhors monotony and constancy, equating them, in his mind, with death. He seeks upheaval, drama, and change – but only when they conform to his plans, designs, and views of the world and of himself. The narcissist’s instinctive tendency to avoid fixity is reinforced by the practical interest in not being pinned down.

+ Thus, he does not encourage growth in his nearest and dearest. By monopolizing their lives, he also reduces them to mere objects, props in the exciting drama of his life.  A variant of the basic narcissist type likewise rages at any sign of rebellion and disagreement – whether from opponents, the media, or foreign leaders.

+ He seeks to animate others with his demented energy, grandiose plans, and megalomaniacal projects. An adrenaline junkie, his world is a whirlwind of comings and goings, reunions and separations, loves and hates, vocations adopted and discarded, schemes erected and dismantled, enemies turned friends and vice versa. His Universe is equally a theatre, but a more ferocious and chaotic one.[4]

A narcissist is like a child in his frenetic restlessness.  It is a form of ‘primitivization,’ as Eric Hoffer has called it.[5]  “By plunging into ceaseless action and hustling,” the person never matures.  “People in a hurry can neither grow nor decay; they are preserved in a state of perpetual puerility.”[6]  Narcissists neither want nor expect ever to grow up.

Where is love in all this? Where is the commitment to the loved one’s welfare, the discipline, the extension of oneself to incorporate the beloved, the mutual emotional development? Nowhere to be seen. The narcissist’s “love” is hate and fear disguised – fear of losing control and hatred of the very people his precariously balanced personality so depends on. The narcissist is egotistically committed only to his own well-being. To him, the objects of his “love” are interchangeable and inferior.


Life and the world are experienced and understood episodically by the narcissist.  Connections over time are sloughed over.  Even trying to do so carries constraints insofar as you are bound to a process, mental or political, that by its nature imposes behavioral constraints.  Better to stick to short term actions that are more accommodating to impulse and half-backed ideas.  Better convenient half-measures than more deliberative full measures.  This is the reification of Husserl’s phenomenological universe.[7]  Each thought, each act is felt as being discrete.  Moreover, it is the subjective experience of each episode that predominates in awareness.  Nothing has high value or meaning in itself – it must be assigned by the sovereign self.  Society is little more than a myriad of kaleidoscopic occurrences as portrayed in post-modern literature.  There is no coherent composition or narrative, reality is depicted as jagged shards.

The narcissist who enters public life has something of the obermensch, superman, in him.  Callousness toward the fate of others, associates or constituents, keeps enervating emotions under control.  There may be a cost to such callousness. An up to date public relations machine can go a long ways toward offsetting the cost as evinced time after time during the 18 month campaign..  The obermensch syndrome also reveals itself in actions that proclaim the narcissist is above and unconstrained by convention.  Getting away with it surely provided at least as much satisfaction as the illicit act itself.


Lying comes as naturally to a narcissist as eating or sleeping.

Trump: Our immigration policy has favored Muslims at the expense of Christians.

He is aware that there is more than one way to lie; and that there are a thousand ways to be untruthful.  The narcissist is ready to employ them all, without shying away from the bald faced lie. Comprehending how the narcissist relates to truth and falsity begins with the cardinal factor that the distinction is of marginal concern to him.  It is not a primary guide for orienting either thinking or behavior.  Beyond the basic recognition of incontrovertible realities that all must observe in order to survive, it is the plasticity of reality that is at once principle and goal.  Life’s imperative is to find ways of making others pliable or, if necessary insulating oneself from them and their influence.  Each narcissist is the self-appointed gatekeeper to reality; deciding what is, what happened, what did not happen, how it happened, whether important or not, who is who.

That attitude now has been codified by the White House in the doctrine of Alternative Facts.

Trump makes not the slightest concession to the truth on these matters either while in office or since leaving it. Thereby, the narcissistic liar meets the truth challenged, and memory challenged political culture.  Being a narcissist means that you never have to say ‘I’m sorry.’

Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love is another feature of the narcissistic personality.  He believes that fulfilled dreams are not only realizable, but due him.  Narcissists experience life as a continual internal dialogue with a sole theme: how is the self faring in its encounter with the world.  The self is engaged in an endless campaign of coping to secure the primacy and protection of the self.  In any thought, in any expression, the only operative word is ‘I.’ Talk is exclusively of and about themselves – whatever the nominal topic of discourse.

It is pointless to speak of conviction in reference to a narcissist.  A narcissist has opinions, attitudes, dispositions.  He cannot have enduring convictions since that would mean locking himself into a fixed position.

One last point. Narcissists rarely crack up. They have an uncanny instinct for pulling back at the brink to which their reckless behavior has brought them. That same survival instinct probably explains why they are in no sense suicidal. Just when you think of telephoning for the men in the white coats, they resume a measure of ‘normal’ behavior. One would expect that some of the crazy things they do would provoke a punch in the face (literal or figurative). Indeed, such an encounter would produce a salutary effect on both the narcissistic and those he encounters. In the case of a President, though, that also could be quite dangerous.

As for Trump, a reasonable forecast is that he will not stay the course. As the failures and retaliatory insults mount, he may bail out – quit and pass the baton to Pence. That conforms to the survival instinct kicking in to protect that Holy of Holies – the narcissistic Self.

To identify Trump as a clinical narcissist is to open two bigger questions. One, why is it that Americans selected him as their ruler when it was manifest that they were putting their crazy Uncle Harry in the Oval Office? Two, why do so many (including critics) continue to treat his as ‘ordinary’ despite his erratic behavior and surrounding himself with people who resemble the troupe of weirdos with whom Uncle Harry hung out on the park benches on sunny days?

That leads us to a consideration of exactly what it is about contemporary political culture that makes it so amenable to the narcissist.    

The Virtual & The Actual

The public narcissist’s ability to be a viable figure is crucially dependent on blurring actual reality and virtual reality.  It is indispensable for the narcissist’s incessant adjustment of the lens through which the self perceives the world around it.  A hard reality resistant to manipulation does not easily accommodate that demanding self’s needs for praise and approval.   A malleable reality does.  Malleability has plural meanings: primarily, a society’s susceptibility to having its perceptions of all matters social, including its collective self, shaped and reshaped by manipulated stimuli.  Those stimuli are less significant as events in themselves than the way those events are packaged and interpreted, i.e. thereby, the meanings that are given them.  Some of that packaging, interpretation and ascription of meaning is done calculatingly.  That was egregiously the case in regard to the Bush administration’s masterful exploitation of 9/11.  At other times, the agent can be the media that herd-like adopt and transmit a conception of reality that fits certain myths, imagery, plots, and symbols.

Some of the collective response to stimulus can be self-generated as uniform social personalities, who share a world-view, respond in similar ways to an event.  The event can be a ‘soft’ event associated with the arrival of a new, or relatively new personality on the scene.  The manner by which a reaction to such   is formed approximates the response to any other celebrity, especially entertainment celebrities.   The reaction to the new products Barack Obama or Sarah Palin surely is better understood in these terms than in terms of considered appraisal of what they have to say about the issues of the day.

Egoism is not a peculiar feature of our times, of course. The narcissistic public personality does not have a monopoly on egoism. The same holds for rampant ambition.  Vanity is a natural accompaniment.  Think of Jefferson, Reagan, Custer, Teddy Roosevelt, Disraeli, de Gaulle.  None was a narcissist.  Their inflated egos were not part of a pathological personality.  Reflection on who they were and how they behaved leads to another instructive contrast: their grip on reality and how they related to the world differs from that of many of today’s public figures.  Whatever their misperceptions, some quite pronounced, one does not observe the routine blurring of the virtual and the actual that is the hallmark of contemporary life.  To live in a fictive world, or perhaps we should call it ‘actual-fiction,’ is natural and normal for the clinical narcissist.  It unnaturally has become a more generalizable trait currently.

“Every one rushes everywhere and into the future, because no one wants to face one’s own inner self” – Montaigne

Narcissists are not cognizant of the basic distinction between motion and action.  The same can be said for the political culture generally.  It is a feature of public life nowadays. A permissive factor is the weakening of consequences from baneful behavior.  The less we fear chastisement and retribution, the more self-indulgent we are.  Systemic forgiveness for mistakes and failures makes us cavalier about how we conduct ourselves.  Motion is easier than directed action.  It also is easier for the casual observer to respond to motion than to make a critical analysis of action.  Actor and observer are complicit in this sense.  So it is for public figures and commentators.  This is one reason why politics increasingly resembles the world of entertainment and fashion.  It is the culture of celebrity that prevails.

The symptoms of celebrity politics include: the eclipse of content by form; the associated obsession with process; the transposition of a ‘game’ model on serious matters; the reduction of policy debates to an interplay of personalities; the denigration of experience and/or expertise;  viewing experience as time served rather than as a performance record; a tolerance for murky language.  The last is deserving of greater attention.  There is a direct correlation between clarity of thought and clarity of expression.  The influence works both ways.  Not only cannot I be articulate without a coherent thought pattern, but sloppy speech encourages sloppy thinking. If one receives no cues from one’s listeners, mental self-indulgence is a temptation.  We are losing the grammar of hard thinking.

In public discourse, this has a number of detrimental effects. One is that speech becomes more a mode of self-affirmation than communication.  It is the flow of words, the impression they create, that counts.  Content is secondary.  (We recognize this pattern from the standard American dinner party of six professionals where there habitually are four conversations going on simultaneously). Words are liable to be just another form of motion divorced from action; in this sense, the action of intelligent exchange.  A second effect is that words and phrases acquire great elasticity.  ‘Bipartisanship’ or ‘change’ are examples.  They can be applied and reapplied without seeming as retreads since their initial meaning was obscure. Yet another effect is that the ability to speak articulately in and of itself is interpreted as evidence of deep thinking and acuity.  The Obama phenomenon is the outstanding case in point.

It is this fuzziness of people’s cognitive maps of the world, ever shifting in and out of focus with the new image never quite the same as the old one, that results in malleability.  Ignorance and mental laxity are what underlie it.  The less conscious our understanding of what is, and of how it happened, the blurrier is the cognitive map.  The weaker our grip on how things interact, the less power we have to understand our circumstances.  The more we devalue knowledge and conscious understanding, the less inclined we are to make the effort required in order to gain intellectual mastery.  Ignorance and superficial understanding, furthermore, leave us bereft of reference points for making sense of events, ideas and persons.  Deliberation thereby becomes difficult – if not impossible. The inability to deliberate, in turn, gives rise to the indulgent sentiment that serious thinking does not make a difference.  It is conveniently claimed that it leads as readily to mistaken conclusions and poor judgment as do ‘gut’ reactions.

The neglect of history serves well this mindset – or, more accurately, feeling-set.  By living in the existential present, one is unencumbered by familiarity of the past.  Logically, an awareness of history can provide mental shortcuts, e.g. reasoning by analogy, to understanding the present.  It is an oddity of contemporary popular democracies, the United States being the outstanding instance, that it is not seen as such by the overwhelming majority. Seemingly, that knowledge is rather felt to be an impediment to the free expression of instinctive or fashionable feelings.

Our public life is rife with self-justifications for studied inattentiveness and a lazy mind.  In politics, people take comfort from the moronic affirmation that “they are all alike, it makes no difference who wins.”  Even the shallowest awareness of what has been happening in the United States should disabuse one of that notion.  Yet it persists because convenience – of time, of energy expended, of attention – overrides all else.  Then there is the precept of popular democracy, especially deep rooted in the United States, that no one is better than anyone else, that ultimate truth resides in the sentiments of the egalitarian mass.  To accept the value of exerting oneself mentally, to invest the necessary time, is to admit that there are things and persons that are not comprehensible through popular effusions.

In America, cognitive dissonance among those with some awareness of the national predicament is handled not by resolution, but rather through coping mechanisms for living with inconsistencies that are kept below a certain pain threshold. That artless strategy has proven viable in part because Americans, beguiled by their leaders and the country’s entire political class, have learned to live in a virtual reality.  The actual and the imagined have become fused so that the former has no clear precedence in its hold on the individual and collective mind.  The mythic and the real are interchangeable.  This is a hallmark trait of the narcissistic personality.  Corporate narcissistic personalities do not exist.   But widespread predispositions to this type of basic confusion do exist.  They are accentuated by dissonant conditions that make escapism attractive.  Moreover, a collectivity of the self-worshipful militates toward the same outcome. In America today, a vague patriotism, itself an abstracted form of national self-worship, is the only sealant that bonds otherwise separate egoists.  Its effect is made all the more powerful by the common experience of being accessories to the shameful acts of their government at home and abroad.

Living in a state of phasing in and out of two worlds, the virtual and the actual, is made all the easier by leaders who are themselves narcissists, or self- indulgent egoists with related behavioral patterns.  The O will wreak permanent damage on an already debilitated body politic.  In the process, the American peoples’ already shaky hold on the truth has been weakened.  As has been said in another context, “his own grip on truth or falsity is so fluid, so subservient to his desires, that it matters little to him what is true and what is false; so he is able to act as if something is true if that serves his purposes best.  Belief has become a creature of his will: he will treat an unfounded suspicion as if it were a Cartesian certainty.  He has contempt for people who are candid and trusting, who can respect the truth.”   The latter, in any event, were thin on the ground before this act in the American national drama began; now, they are on the point of extinction.

Finally, society-wide egoism in a culture of narcissism makes each of us the only valid point of reference from which to view and interpret anything in the public domain as well as in the private domain.   The prospect of being plucked from these reveries and dipped into a more demanding reality where performance expectations are of a different order is frightening; thus, the interest in perpetuating the present state of acquired narcissism and its pathological leader.

The Narcissist Credo:

“Faith is a myth and beliefs shift like mists on the shore; thoughts vanish; words, once pronounced, die; and the memory of yesterday is as shadowy as the hope of to-morrow…”.


1/ The American Psychiatric Association’s authoritative Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition DSM-IV-IR Classification offers a set of Diagnostic criteria for 301.81 Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  They can be summarized as follows;

Someone with Narcissistic Personality disorder (NPD) exhibits these traits:

+ grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be   recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

+ is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

+ believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

+ requires excessive admiration

+ has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

+ is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

+ lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

+ is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

+ shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

+ uses denial mechanism to downplay own inadequacies or failings

+ uses rationalization mechanism to justify self-centered behavior

See: Psychology Today; A Field Guide to Narcissism.


Studies and analyses of narcissism are extensive.  Among the noteworthy works are: Nestor, Paul G. Mental Disorder and Violence: Personality Dimensions and Clinical Features The American Journal of Psychiatry, 2002; 159:1973–1978 ;  Freud, Sigmund, On Narcissism: An Introduction, 1914 ;  Freud, Sigmund, Totem and Taboo, 1913;  Wilhelm Reich Character Analysis (1933) translated by Theodore P. Wolfe;  Personality and Personal Growth, edited by

Robert Frager and James Fadiman (Paris: 1998) ; Kohut, Heinz, The Analysis of the Self, 1971;

Kohut, Heinz, Forms and Transformations of Narcissism, 1966 ; Laura Stephens (April 18 2006). “Narcissistic Personality Disorder”. Psychology Today’s Diagnosis Dictionary. Psychology Today., American Handbook of Psychiatry. Two Volumes: Edited by Silvano Arieti, M.D. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1959. 2098. For a Jungian perspective, see Nathan Schwartz-Salant Narcissism and Character Transformation (Toronto: Inner City Books, 1982).

2/ “Acquired Situational Narcissism is a form of narcissism that develops in late adolescence or adulthood, brought on by wealth, fame and the other trappings of celebrity.” The term was coined by Robert B. Millman, professor of psychiatry at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

“ASN differs from conventional narcissism in that it develops after childhood and is triggered and supported by the celebrity-obsessed society: fans, assistants and tabloid media all play into the idea that the person really is vastly more important than other people, triggering a narcissistic problem that might have been only a tendency, or latent, and helping it to become a full-blown personality disorder.’

“In its presentation and symptoms, it is indistinguishable from narcissistic personality disorder, differing only in its late onset and its support by large numbers of others. The person with ASN may suffer from unstable relationships, substance abuse and erratic behaviour.”

3/ Kohut, Heinz (1972). Thoughts on narcissism and narcissistic rage. In The search for the self. (International Universities Press, 1972) Vol.2, pp. 615-658.

4/ Ibid pg. 177

5/ Eric Hoffer The Temper Of Our Time (New York: Harper & Row, 1964) pg.14

6/ Ibid

7/ Edmund Husserl The Idea of Inomonology (London: Springer, 1999).   Films that are broken into short fragments, only vaguely connected and in cloudy sequence, have become commonplace.  Maddening for someone of more conventional mind, they are entertaining to millions of viewers.  In this respect, film for the mass audience is catching up with painting and sculpture in enthroning an aesthetics at once disorderly and shallow.  It allows the viewer free rein to attach to it whatever feelings or thoughts from the wide range permitted by the indistinct object.  This is a general approximation of how the narcissist experiences the world.

Michael Brenner is a Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.