Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the USA

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

What to do when your home country fits all the criteria in the DSM-5 for Narcissistic Personality Disorder? That’s a tough one. If a nation can allow corporations to be persons, I think it is only fair that the nation itself be subject to the same mental scrutiny that a person behaving in a deranged manner would be exposed to. What makes a healthy person? What makes a healthy nation? These are questions that need to be considered to avoid the kind of destruction that typically comes from narcissistic injury and the subsequent lashing out that follows when a narcissist no longer gets his or her way.

There are nine basic criteria used to diagnose the personality disorder, and I would argue that the United States currently meets all of them. Let’s have a look:

1. A grandiose sense of importance. “American Exceptionalism”–need I say more? To even coin such a phrase is almost breathtakingly deluded, especially when the actions simply do not line up in a manner to deserve such praise. Talk about participation trophies. So like the narcissistic individual, the nation views itself above and beyond all others, setting itself up to be the judge, jury, and executioner of the planet (this goes for other nations as well as other species that occupy the planet with us). Climate change? Who cares when you are “exceptional”. Only the little people care about wet-bulb temperatures.

2. A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success and power. The US preoccupation is not one that considers important goals such as the well-being of its citizens, no, the preoccupation is that of being so strong militarily that no heed is to be given to the objections of others, even if they are well-reasoned and humanitarian. It’s all about utilizing the lion’s share of the yearly budget on a military far beyond anything that resembles self-defense. So yes, I think we can check off this box as well on the criteria.

3. A belief that they are special in such a way that only other high-status peoples or institutions can understand them. Shall we go into the toxic friendship/narcissistic professional courtesy that is the relationship with Israel? Americans love to root for the underdog in movies but when push comes to shove in the global sphere, they almost always back those with power. In much the same way, the predominant Christian flavored religions give lip service to the downtrodden, but almost never do anything but find fault in those who are not powerful in their life situation. The pathology of the leaders is felt deep down, oozing to the citizens as well.

4. A need for excessive admiration. Oh, my how this one enrages when this need is not met. This is a nation that renamed French Fries due to perceived slights from France. Much like an aging diva, the US demands all to admire her obviously crypt-like face instead of aging into a place of wisdom and grace. No, the US claws and rages if it isn’t viewed favorably as it demands the mirror on the wall slather on compliments. You are supposed to say thank you as the boot comes down on your face (and also compliment the boot).

5. A sense of entitlement. One very specific example would be how the nation has literally been built up on stolen land, by stolen people as well as immigrants from nations likely insecure due to US policies. But the entitlement runs deep, and no clear nod to those realities is made. The White House was built by slaves with men occupying it who raped their slaves. Yet we are not to mention these demonstrable truths, because…..entitlement.

6. Interpersonally exploitative behavior. Yes, pay your taxes, we in the government will decide that we would like to use it to fund global non-stop wars and genocides. But you….no health care, no college without debt trapping….just vote. Oh, and when you do vote, we won’t do what you want, even if it is something with broad bipartisan support. If you had a friend like this, would you do anything but run away from them?

7. A lack of empathy. Oh, my—where to start with this one? A nation that has even its “liberal” media such as The Atlantic running articles giving ways it is legal to murder children in war? A nation that has no overall broad sense of need to assuage the misery of so many of its own citizens living on the streets? A nation that just takes it for granted that all of these hideous and human contrived systems are to be accepted? Sounds like an empathy deficit to me, if not an entirely lacking notion of what empathy even is.

8. An envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her. “They hate us for our freedoms”. Enough said.

9. Arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes. I think the best way to exemplify this is the manner that shows that war crimes are those committed by other nations, not the US or its pal Israel. It’s a wholesale denial of reality to say war crimes are not happening with the weapons (white phosphorus etc.) supplied by our nation. But the sheer arrogance exhibited by our press secretaries in particular, is absolutely amazing. It’s as if you have a teenager that puts on lipstick while driving drunk, runs over kids and then says “Did not!” when you have 7 video cameras that caught it on film.

So those are your criteria for the DSM-5. I don’t know that you need to hit on all of them to get an NPD diagnosis landed on your ass, but I’d say the US handily hits each and every one– hard and without nuance.

So the next question is….what do you do about this? In a family or relationship situation many recommend a “no contact” with those with NPD because it is simply not a disorder that can be cured according to many. The only way is to save yourself. We have seen this in the actions of unprecedented numbers of Americans leaving (or expressing a desire to leave) the country. It’s ironic that a nation so hostile to: insert immigrant of the day is now harboring so many with a wish to leave. I’d say this is people trying to go “no contact” with the narcissist whether they know it or not. Sadly, this is not feasible and the influence of the narcissist is wide. It’s not a broad solution unless another planet opens up and invites us (and of course they’d need to filter out the sickos—not seeing this one happening no matter how many UAPs float around in our skies).

In a family situation, often a narcissist breeds a sense of futility and depression in the other family members. They steal the oxygen from the room and it becomes difficult to even think clearly. I believe this is where we are at right now with our government being so thick with the disorder. As a way of feeling powerful, the worst narcissistic traits are often emulated, and I think this is what we are seeing in the MAGA movement. It’s a predictable response to powerlessness coming from those who perhaps already have an inherent lack of empathy. They will align with toxicity to feel less vulnerable.

Perhaps the main takeaway from this is to realize that when viewing the behavior of the narcissist, you can’t look at it with your own normally functioning sense of empathy. You are viewing the behaviors of something alien to what most of us have going on internally. Often the most hideous policy is not accidental, but very much to be expected from an institution that checks off every criteria that would cause us to label an individual with a serious personality disorder. It’s on us to continue to refuse to normalize this pathology and to dig in as voices for empathy because we truly are looking at a serious mental disorder being manifest when we look at our government. NPD! NPD! NPD!

Kathleen Wallace writes out of the US Midwest. Her writing is collected on her Substack page.