Politics and the Narcissist’s Disdain

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Rampant narcissism undermines the prospects for genuineness and civility in our political discourse and helps desensitize us to the character disturbance which often lies behind narcissistic behavior.

I wrote in “The Narcissist’s Disdain” about narcissistic individuals having an inherent disdain for others. Seeing themselves as “special” and superior, they have little positive regard for those they perceive as inferior to them in some way. And while it’s generally hard for narcissists to hide their disdain, how unabashedly overt they are in displaying it varies.

Some narcissists are subtle in the way they put down or discount people, but others — especially those narcissists of the more “grandiose” (i.e., character disturbed) type — don’t particularly bother to hide their disdain. They may have as little shame as they do empathy, so they’re just as comfortable hyperbolically extolling themselves as they are ruthlessly trashing the image or the character of others. “Vulnerable” narcissists care what you think of them, so as self-centered as they can be, they don’t want to tarnish the image they strive so hard to promote by seeming too callous or indifferent. But it’s very different for grandiose narcissists. In their minds, they already know how great they are and whether you recognize it or not means little to them. Their disdain for others runs deep and they make no apologies for it. They’re often not satisfied simply to have you believe in their specialness or greatness. They also don’t just want your admiration or adulation. They may try to get you to go beyond merely revering them and want you to share their contempt for their rivals. This makes them look even better by contrast — that is, if you’re not completely revolted by what often comes across as a sophomoric insistence on constant comparison.

Many have witnessed the seemingly relentless trading of insults by some political candidates in the current US primary election season. The amount of narcissism on display has been and rightfully ought to be unnerving to many. But perhaps the greatest tragedy for society is how accustomed the public has become to such behavior and also how desensitized many have become to the character disturbance behind the behavior. Many have come to the point where they no longer expect much better — which is perhaps one of the reasons things haven’t become much better. Sadly, some even find a twisted sort of delight (and possibly, vicarious satisfaction) in siding with those they have chosen for their champion as those champions demean and degrade their opponents. Ours is an age of widespread character dysfunction, and it’s the prevalence of character disturbance — especially narcissism — that has done so much damage to the prospects for genuineness and civility in our political discourse.

There’s a question which all too many many folks have asked themselves as they reached the point of exasperation in their relationship with a disturbed character: “How did it come to this?” They muse, “what is it that allows a person to be so insensitive, so uncaring, so shamelessly willing to hurt, so remorseless?” Many also ask how we got to this point as a society, where it’s so commonplace for folks to engage in all sorts of banal behavior and then act as though nothing of consequence has happened.

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Dr. Kathryn Armistead and I have been putting the finishing touches on a new book designed to follow up on the answers we provided in our last one to these questions about how things have become the way they are. We lay out what we sincerely believe we must do to reverse the trend of increasing character erosion. The book will take an in-depth look at the learning axioms I have sometimes referred to as the 10 commandments of sound character development — key life lessons that have to be mastered in one’s personal development to emerge an appropriately caring, responsible individual. They’re lessons that were taught to me by the hundreds of individuals of troubled character with whom I’ve worked over the years. They’re not just lessons children and adolescents have to master to enter adulthood as persons of good character. They’re also lessons which troubled adults need to re-visit and commit themselves to more ardently and deeply learning if they’re to develop greater personal integrity. The book, which I consider to be one of the more essential books I’ve written, will debut this summer; I’ll likely have more to say about it in the weeks ahead.

For more on this topic, see two of my earlier books and also my introduction to types of narcissism:

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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