heart-741510__340Who’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.

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  1. There are numerous businessmen I've known in the entertainment field who strike me as certifiably narcissistic. Most of them work for themselves - agents and so forth. Some lawyers too.

    National politics seems to draw some of the worst. Trump isn't alone. But narcissism aside, he has less of a grasp on reality than any major candidate for US President in the last century.

    1. We'd have to go back to Andrew Jackson. But I don't think Jackson was that unmoored.

      It's ASTONISHING to me that it's taken a year for the US electorate to begin to recognize that something is "off" with this fella. But from the first time I saw him on TV—20 or 25 years ago—I realized that someone who always has to look so successful, who never admits mistakes, who can't be seen as vulnerable, etc., is protecting something. Why would anyone be so hellbent on proving he's the epitome of strength and success unless he inwardly feels the opposite? The silver lining here may be a demonstration — for the whole world to see — that one's public "presentation" (especially when it takes cartoon form) is so often the inverse of what one secretly (and often unconsciously) believes. In effect, his candidacy has been Psych 101 for anyone paying attention. Hopefully he won't have a serious meltdown as he is forced to face some uncomfortable truths about himself.

      1. There isn't a single day that goes by when he doesn't provide further evidence for his mental instability. Still he maintains a devoted following. It's a damning report card on the nation's political awareness.

        1. Art, the percent of the population who supports him certainly gets a low grade on their civics awareness (and their most basic understanding of how the government operates) but even more so for their psychological awareness.

          I know dozens of mental health professionals, yet I don't know ONE who thinks he's playing with a full deck. A Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not trivial stuff for anyone in any profession, let alone the leader of the free world.

          For those who doubt he has this condition, maybe they'd like to tell me which one of the nine criteria for NPD does he NOT meet?

          1. On a talk show this morning one national reporter pointed out that Trump's career has been about proving he's not a loser. But if he continues his present course he could become one of the biggest losers at the ballot box in American history.

    1. I've never gotten close enough to Kanye — or watched him intently enough over the years — to have an informed opinion on that. Of course not everyone with a big ego who sometimes acts like a jerk is a narcissist. There are very specific criteria for this personality disorder.

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