Societal Consequences of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Saturday, March 14, 2009
posted by admin

In his first speech to a joint session of Congress, President Obama clearly articulated the grave issues that define our time and a bold vision for addressing them. Subsequently, he presented his 2010 budget proposal in which he specified appropriate priorities for translating his vision into reality. In a very short time in office, Mr. Obama has defined the “change we need” and presented a coherent strategy for achieving it. Bravo! Now comes the hard part.

In order to make his vision a reality, Mr. Obama must lead the change he seeks by creating a culture defined by a new set of values. This will require redefining capitalism, not just economically through government bailouts, but behaviorally. The cultural norms embraced by capitalism, and ardently supported by the Bush administration, must be rejected in favor of a more inclusive, sustainable paradigm.

The first responsibility of any leader is creating a sustainable, constructive organizational culture. In the case of the President, his leadership extends to the culture at large. His actions inform our collective commitment to a set of behavioral norms which in turn, are rewarded and consequently, sustained by his policies.

In order to appreciate the enormity of the challenge Mr. Obama faces, consider the behavioral norms that our leaders on Wall Street and in Washington have promoted and reinforced recently and their relevance in creating the challenges we face. For perspective, consider the following behaviors as they relate to these leaders:

  1. 1.  Having a grandiose sense of self importance;

  2. 2.  Being preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success and power;

  3. 3.  Believing that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special  or high-status people;

  4. 4.  Requiring excessive admiration;

  5. 5.  Having a sense of entitlement;

  6. 6.  Being interpersonally exploitative;

  7. 7.  Lacking empathy; being unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others;

  8. 8.  Being envious of others or believing that others are envious of them; and

  9. 9.  Showing arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

Sound familiar? Certainly, one recognizes these behaviors have become alarmingly “normal” among leaders of our major institutions including CEOs of failed companies and on Capitol Hill. They serve to explain the difficulties we face as a culture and as a country. The “American Way” has become unsustainable due to these dysfunctional leadership behaviors and the cultural norms they have created and reinforced.

Now, consider the following: The nine behaviors above not only describe the leadership styles of Wall Street and Washington that have brought us to this day of reckoning. They also are the nine symptoms of “Narcissistic Personality Disorder,” as stated in the “Diagnostic Criteria from DSM – IV,” the diagnostic manual of mental disorders used by the American Psychiatric Association. In order to “qualify” for the diagnosis of “Narcissistic Personality Disorder,” one needs to exhibit five or more of these symptoms. Certainly, our leaders have adequately demonstrated their qualifications in this regard.

The “change we need” is more than economic — it is emotional. It will require our leaders to have the courage and humility to undergo the critical self examination necessary to envision a sustainable new capitalism capable of shaping a new world. Toward this end, collaboration must supersede competition and partisanship in order to create a climate that can produce solutions sufficiently inclusive to ultimately succeed. We are intelligent enough to do this. The real question is: Are we emotionally intelligent enough to do this?

 

 

 

Tom Saavedra, Ph.D., has been a licensed mental health counselor since 1983 and a leadership and organizational development consultant since 1985. He founded Becoming Unlimited in 1996 in Tampa, Florida and can be reached at 813-416-4680 and www.becomingunlimited.com.

 

 

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