Who’da thunk that narcissism would be a trending topic these days? And specifically a condition known as “Narcissistic Personality Disorder?”
This talk about NPD has come to pass because many in the mental health community are raising serious questions about the psychological fitness of one of the leading candidates this year for President of the United States.
More than a few clinicians have pointed out that this candidate’s behavior appears to fit all nine criteria of NPD in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association. (Psychiatric professionals are admonished to not deliver a definitive diagnosis of an individual from a distance, but happily I'm under no such restriction!)
Because we often use the term narcissism in a humorous context—e.g., to tease someone who is overly "image conscious"—it’s easy to miss the fact that true narcissism is a legitimate social disorder, and sometimes overlaps with other serious disorders. Folks with NPD can display, among other things, a disturbing lack of empathy for others. (Check out the nine criteria for NPD here.)
I’ve had some experience dealing with rock & roll celebrities who exhibit some narcissistic behaviors. But with a few exceptions those who seem so full of themselves on stage are quite the opposite in private. (I’ve written here and here about the extroverted behavior of many rock stars who are introverts when the spotlight is off.) A strong ego is necessary to sustain the public scrutiny that accompanies success, but that doesn't equate to narcissism.
What about business leaders? I’ve reported previously about claims (mostly tongue in cheek) that businesses are full of psychopathic bosses. But are there senior executives with narcissistic disorders?
In my 30+ years of consulting and coaching in large and mid-size companies, I haven’t seen any organizational leader up close who fits the criteria. And given the screening—and the 360-degree feedback—that most senior managers receive while slowly ascending the corporate ladder, it’s hard for me to believe that leaders in a large corporation could hide their mental illness from colleagues and superiors, year after year.
But a small business owner, entrepreneur, or developer—who is used to running the show and may have never answered to a boss, board, or stockholder—is potentially a different story. A narcissistic pathology in that situation could go unchecked indefinitely.
Who would point out to him (and it's usually a "him") his grandiose feelings of self-importance or sense of entitlement or lack of empathy or willingness to exploit others? And if that leader also showed a preference for authoritarian behavior—and, for instance, enjoyed firing people who didn't give him what he needed—who would dare challenge him? Such a leader might never have to look in the mirror. Except to admire himself.
In the case of this Presidential candidate, the whole world is watching. But not with admiration.