Saturday, May 2, 2015

A diagnosis in search of a patient

Today, this column will embark on another publishing experiment. We will tee off from a diagnosis of a personality disorder that I received from a source. You the reader will play the role of doctor or psychologist. And I will be just an observer.
About a century ago, in 1921, Luigi Pirandello, the Italian dramatist and novelist who was awarded the 1934 Nobel Prize for literature, unveiled a new play titled Six Characters in Search of an Author, which critics regard as a forerunner of the Theater of the Absurd.
The play is a parody of theatrical conventions at the time. It depicts a theatrical troupe that plans to rehearse a play. As the title suggests, the characters offer a play-in-the-making. Their attempt to generate a play, based on a sketch that a writer had made before abandoning the project, is judged unsatisfactory. Without a literary text, the theater rejects them. That is their tragedy.
Letter from Anonymous
I thought of Pirandello’s play while pondering what to do with another epistle sent me by Reader Anonymous. As readers will remember, I allowed him to occupy this space almost two weeks ago (“Aquino all branding and no substance,” Times, 16 April 2015), which drew a lot of comment.
His new letter concerns an intriguing subject: “narcissistic personality disorder.” More suggestive than explicit, he hints at its possible relevance to politics and leadership in the country today.
Taking a leaf from Pirandello, I highlight his epistle here as “a diagnosis in search of a patient.”
I thought it would be an interesting exercise, if I engage readers in picking a public personality or patient who fits the psychological profile.
The patient could be anyone from anywhere. He can be a figure in national politics and government today. He can be one of our country’s billionaires, or a boss in the organization you work for. The patient could even be in your own home or family. You the reader must decide.
Leaders and personality disorder
Anonymous got his ideas from the work of the Israeli author Sam Vankin, who wrote Leaders and Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Not surprisingly, Vankin himself has been diagnosed as a narcissist. The disorder is recognized in psychology and psychiatry today.
The excerpt from Vankin’s book quoted by Anonymous reads:
“The lack of empathy, the aloofness, the disdain, the sense of entitlement, the constricted sense of humor, the unequal treatment and the paranoia – all render the narcissist a social misfit. Give him power and he becomes a dangerous liability as he feeds his insatiable need for self-aggrandizement and wholesale admiration, in order to compensate for his inner insecurities and failings.
No narcissistic leader has ever put his country first, but they do put the country at risk, of chaos, disunity, and dysfunction. A web which the vindictive narcissist is happy to weave, and a game he sadistically enjoys….
The narcissist is perceived to be asocial at best and, often, antisocial. This, perhaps, is the strongest presenting symptom. One feels ill at ease in the presence of a narcissist for no apparent reason, but probably because he fails to secure the sympathy of others, a sympathy he is never ready, willing, or able to reciprocate. Lack of empathy colors his world and dictates his actions.
The narcissist often lives an isolated life, safe in his cocoon, with few friends or interests. The public image of the narcissistic leader is nearly always diametrically opposed to his secret world (whether that be inhabited by demons, drinking, damsels, or even darker pursuits)…
The malignant narcissist invents and then projects a false, fictitious, self for the world to fear, or to admire. He maintains a tenuous grasp on reality to start with and this is further exacerbated by the trappings of power.
The narcissist’s grandiose self-delusions and fantasies of omnipotence and omniscience are supported by real life authority and the narcissist’s predilection to surround himself with obsequious sycophants.
The narcissist’s personality is so precariously balanced that he cannot tolerate even a hint of criticism and disagreement. Most narcissists are paranoid and suffer from ideas of reference (the delusion that they are being mocked or discussed when they are not). Thus, narcissists often regard themselves as “victims of persecution”…
The narcissistic leader is monstrously hypocritical, talking of sacrificing his life and denying himself so that he can help his people, but such noble sentiments have little bearing in reality and are purely part of the image building….
In short: narcissistic leadership is about theater, not about life. To enjoy the spectacle (and be subsumed by it), the leader demands the suspension of judgment, depersonalization, and de-realization.
Narcissistic leadership often positions itself as a rebellion against the “old ways” – against the hegemonic culture, the upper classes, the established religions, the superpowers, the corrupt order, but it is all a facade…
The narcissistic leader prefers the sparkle and glamour of well-orchestrated illusions to the tedium and method of real accomplishments. His reign is all smoke and mirrors, devoid of substance, consisting of mere appearances and mass delusions. Spin, propaganda, and diversions are all key tools to maintain the illusion.
In the aftermath of his regime – the narcissistic leader having died, been deposed, or voted out of office – it all unravels. The tireless and constant prestidigitation ceases and the entire edifice crumbles. The image of courage, strength, sacrifice etc is stripped away to reveal the truth, and a weak and despised individual.
What looked like an economic miracle turns out to have been a fraud-laced bubble….
His mask really falls when the narcissist has become convinced that the very people he purported to speak for, his constituency, his grassroots fans, the prime sources of his narcissistic supply – have turned against him…
The “small people”, the “rank and file”, the “loyal soldiers” of the narcissist – his flock, his nation, his employees – they pay the price.
The disillusionment and disenchantment of followers is agonizing…Feelings of shame and guilt engulf the erstwhile followers of the narcissistic leader.
This is his sole legacy: a massive post-traumatic stress disorder.
The script has been performed many times. It always ends as a tragedy with the leading characters often becoming comedic in their flight from reality, and in their desperation to create a fantasy legacy in the final act.”
Like fitting cinderella’s slipper
Now, our little exercise transforms like Cinderella’s tale into a search for a foot that will fit the slipper. We now search for a character or patient who fits the diagnosis.
Anonymous says it’s “no surprise that, in a country famed for its narcissism, narcissistic politicians abound, and that beauty queens become natural ‘publicity bedfellows,’ or that there is an incestuous relationship between politics and entertainment. All that matters is an audience and adulation, usually accompanied by a Peter Pan syndrome. (Chiz Escudero is a prime example).”
Who could be Cinderella in our little exercise? Who possesses the quirks and tics that fit Vankin’s psychological profile?
I report, you decide, dear reader.

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