The Dual Role of the Narcissist’s False Self

Question:

Why does the narcissist conjure up another Self? Why not simply transform his True Self into a False one?

Answer:

We often marvel at the discrepancy between the private and public lives of our idols: celebrities, statesmen, stars, writers, and other accomplished figures. It is as though they have two personalities, two selves: the “true” one which they reserve for their nearest and dearest and the “fake” or “false” or “concocted” one which they flaunt in public.

In contrast, the narcissist has no private life, no true self, no domain reserved exclusively for his nearest and dearest. His life is a spectacle, with free access to all, constantly on display, garnering narcissistic supply from his audience. In the theatre that is the narcissist’s life, the actor is irrelevant. Only the show goes on.

Once formed and functioning, the False Self stifles the growth of the True Self and paralyses it. Henceforth, the True Self is virtually non-existent and plays no role (active or passive) in the conscious life of the narcissist. It is difficult to “resuscitate” it, even with psychotherapy.

This substitution is not only a question of alienation, as Horney observed. She said that because the Idealised (=False) Self sets impossible goals to the narcissist, the results are frustration and self hate which grow with every setback or failure. But the constant sadistic judgement, the self-berating, the suicidal ideation emanate from the narcissist’s idealised, sadistic, Superego regardless of the existence or functioning of a False Self.

There is no conflict between the True Self and the False Self.

First, the True Self is much too weak to do battle with the overbearing False. Second, the False Self is adaptive (though maladaptive). It helps the True Self to cope with the world. Without the False Self, the True Self would be subjected to so much hurt that it will disintegrate. This happens to narcissists who go through a life crisis: their False Ego becomes dysfunctional and they experience a harrowing feeling of annulment.

The False Self has many functions. The two most important are:

  1. It serves as a decoy, it “attracts the fire”. It is a proxy for the True Self. It is tough as nails and can absorb any amount of pain, hurt and negative emotions. By inventing it, the child develops immunity to the indifference, manipulation, sadism, smothering, or exploitation – in short: to the abuse – inflicted on him by his parents (or by other Primary Objects in his life). It is a cloak, protecting him, rendering him invisible and omnipotent at the same time.
  1. The False Self is misrepresented by the narcissist as his True Self. The narcissist is saying, in effect: “I am not who you think I am. I am someone else. I am this (False) Self. Therefore, I deserve a better, painless, more considerate treatment.” The False Self, thus, is a contraption intended to alter other people’s behaviour and attitude towards the narcissist.

These roles are crucial to survival and to the proper psychological functioning of the narcissist. The False Self is by far more important to the narcissist than his dilapidated, dysfunctional, True Self.

The two Selves are not part of a continuum, as the neo-Freudians postulated. Healthy people do not have a False Self which differs from its pathological equivalent in that it is more realistic and closer to the True Self.

It is true that even healthy people have a mask [Guffman], or a persona [Jung] which they consciously present to the world. But these are a far cry from the False Self, which is mostly subconscious, depends on outside feedback, and is compulsive.

The False Self is an adaptive reaction to pathological circumstances. But its dynamics make it predominate, devour the psyche and prey upon both the True Self. Thus, it prevents the efficient, flexible functioning of the personality as a whole.

That the narcissist possesses a prominent False Self as well as a suppressed and dilapidated True Self is common knowledge. Yet, how intertwined and inseparable are these two? Do they interact? How do they influence each other? And what behaviours can be attributed squarely to one or the other of these protagonists? Moreover, does the False Self assume traits and attributes of the True Self in order to deceive the world?

Let’s start by referring to an oft-occurring question:

Why are narcissists not prone to suicide?

The simple answer is that they died a long time ago. Narcissists are the true zombies of the world.

Many scholars and therapists tried to grapple with the void at the core of the narcissist. The common view is that the remnants of the True Self are so ossified, shredded, cowed into submission and repressed – that, for all practical purposes, the True Self is dysfunctional and useless. In treating the narcissist, the therapist often tries to construct and nurture a completely new healthy self, rather than build upon the distorted wreckage strewn across the narcissist’s psyche.

But what of the rare glimpses of True Self oft reported by those who interact with the narcissist?

Pathological narcissism is frequently comorbid with other disorders. The narcissistic spectrum is made up of gradations and shades of narcissism. Narcissistic traits or style or even personality (overlay) often attach to other disorders (co-morbidity). A person may well appear to be a full-fledged narcissist – may well appear to be suffering from the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) – but is not, in the strict, psychiatric, sense of the word. In such people, the True Self is still there and is sometimes observable.

In a full-fledged narcissist, the False Self imitates the True Self.

To do so artfully, it deploys two mechanisms:

Re-Interpretation

It causes the narcissist to re-interpret certain emotions and reactions in a flattering, socially acceptable, light. The narcissist may, for instance, interpret fear as compassion. If the narcissist hurts someone he fears (e.g., an authority figure), he may feel bad afterwards and interpret his discomfort as empathy and compassion. To be afraid is humiliating – to be compassionate is commendable and earns the narcissist social commendation and understanding (narcissistic supply).

Emulation

The narcissist is possessed of an uncanny ability to psychologically penetrate others. Often, this gift is abused and put at the service of the narcissist’s control freakery and sadism. The narcissist uses it liberally to annihilate the natural defences of his victims by faking empathy.

This capacity is coupled with the narcissist’s eerie ability to imitate emotions and their attendant behaviours (affect). The narcissist possesses “emotional resonance tables”. He keeps records of every action and reaction, every utterance and consequence, every datum provided by others regarding their state of mind and emotional make-up. From these, he then constructs a set of formulas, which often result in impeccably accurate renditions of emotional behaviour. This can be enormously deceiving.


Also Read

 The Stripped Ego

The Split Off Ego

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A Taxonomy of Political Conflict In Central and Eastern Europe

When the previous VMRO-DPMNE government of Macedonia came to power and I signed on as its economic advisor, I was asked by local journalists, with genuine amazement: “what are you doing with these villagers (seljaci)?” “Villagers” is just about the most pejorative word applied here to rivals and adversaries. In a Macedonian, the word evokes the image of uncouth, rough-hewn and yahoo usufructuaries.

Transition is a messy affair even in the best of times and the 1990s in Central and Eastern European (CEE) history have been by far the worst in the last 50 or so years. Politics mirrored this age of mayhem and upheaval. It unfolded along several axes of conflict:

The Rural versus the Urban

This is a maelstrom oft overlooked. The countries of CEE are manifestly rustic and dependent on the vapid effort, ignorant labour and dilapidated machinery that indigenously pass for agriculture. Urbanization – though in full force – is a relatively recent event. Scratch the veneer of a city-dweller and you are likely to find a full blooded yeoman. Employment is an oppidan phenomenon and immigrants flock to cities and stoke the virtuous cycle of job creation with their new demand. Only a war reverses this flow as people prefer the home grown vegetable to the soup-kitchen.

The demise of communism has demoted previously extolled workers, both industrial and agricultural. These rejects of a failed ideology, frustrated, angry and insistent – stand behind political parties and grassroots populist organizations from Russia to Poland and to the Balkan. Their natural and accosted enemies are the envied well-educated, the despised intellectuals, the self-proclaimed new elite, the foreigner, the minority, the rich. They are manipulated by their former masters cynically and by new masters naively and they are growing more powerful as the debacle that the transition process is unfurls.

See: Forward to the Past – Capitalism in Post-Communist Europe

The Young and the New versus the Old and the Tried

Perhaps nowhere in the world is the cult of youth more prominent than in these parts of the world. This is because nowhere in the world has the failure of previous generations been so utter. In the battle joined with the new and the untried, the old and tried and failed – fail yet again. Macedonia’s Minister of Finance is 30 years of age, its Prime Minister barely a few years older. This is the range of ages of senior politicians, managers, entrepreneurs and journalists across this region. Yet, this is far from a foregone conclusion. The inexperienced temerity of the young has landed them in some hot spots. Most of them are too identified with the pratfall of “reforms”. Age and experience reassert themselves and with them the disingenuous habits of the past. The young are in retreat and as revolutionaries age, they turn territorial and hidebound. Turf wars are likely to intensify rather then recede.

The Technocrats / Experts versus the Lobbyists

In the elysium of communism, managers were trained mostly to wheedle, lobby and to cadge. The fall of communism, the impoverishment of the state and its dependence on multilateral (and tightly supervised) financing, brought these skills into desuetude. This claque of suppliant supplicants suddenly had to trade their irenic and craven nature for the untoward and alert aggression that is capitalism. The many failed and in their stead a novel breed of predators emerged, fully armed with expertise, fully attuned to markets and to profits, fully enslaved to competition. In a rearguard skirmish, the old guard expropriated the decrepit assets of the dying system. But these “privatized” enterprises were soon taken over by foreign investors, or shut down. The old guard lost its capital – both pecuniary and political – decisively.

The Bureaucrats versus the Politicians

The distinction between an a-political civil service and its political – but, luckily, transient – masters has yet to permeate the post communist societies. Every appointment in the public sector, down to the most insignificant sinecure, is still politicized. But politicians – faced with the (mainly economic) disintegration of their countries, finally resorted to a cadre of young, foreign educated (or well travelled), dynamic and open minded bureaucrats. These are still a negligible minority but not for long. And as their power and ubiquity increase, so does their political prowess. A clash between the lugubrious and supernumerary class of professional politicians and the trenchant group of professional professionals is both inevitable and soon.

The Nationalists versus the Europeans

Villains of all stripes as well as outré fanatics constitute the malignant outer fringes of patriotism in CEE. No country is exempt and no minority absolved of their censorious rants and worse. From acts of vandalism to ethnic cleansing, the inimical spectrum of nationalism, a spectre of demented past and vicious future, hangs hazily above these lands. Its pull is strong, as portentous election results and sycophantic panegyrics to “strong men” and past dictators show. This tendency is balanced only by the strong urge to belong to Europe and to enjoy its auspices. This too is strong – witness the patience with which the interminable and arduous process of EU enlargement has been endured. But the outcome of this clash between parochial nationalism and Europeanism is far from certain (as Yugoslavia has demonstrated until recently and Belarus still does).

The Centralists versus the Regionalists

This is a pan-European variance. The centrifugal force of the century old nation state has weakened greatly and the centripetal energy of regions has increased. Such fragmentation is effected peacefully (USSR, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Yugoslavia and Macedonia) – or through war (Chechniya, the Yugoslav Wars of cessation including Kosovo). Minorities tend to concentrate and disrupt the continuity of otherwise homogenous states. Majorities do their damnedest to eradicate these discontinuities by various means – from assimilation to extermination. CEE is Africa at the heart of Europe. Arbitrary colonial-era borders cut across ethnic groups in historically-charged lands. Expect further eruptions.
See: The Minmaj Rule

These axes of tension, these funnels of frustration, these channels of violence will not deliquesce. They are the landscape of this wasteland as surely as its polluted rivers and ashen air. They pulsate with fear and hatred and self-interest. They seethe underground and dictate in their subversive manner the contours of this new creation, the post communist countries in transition. Ultimately, they will dictate the shape of things to come.

Narcissism in the Boardroom

The perpetrators of the recent spate of financial frauds in the USA acted with callous disregard for both their employees and shareholders – not to mention other stakeholders. Psychologists have often remote-diagnosed them as “malignant, pathological narcissists”.

Narcissists are driven by the need to uphold and maintain a false self – a concocted, grandiose, and demanding psychological construct typical of the narcissistic personality disorder. The false self is projected to the world in order to garner “narcissistic supply” – adulation, admiration, or even notoriety and infamy. Any kind of attention is usually deemed by narcissists to be preferable to obscurity.

The false self is suffused with fantasies of perfection, grandeur, brilliance, infallibility, immunity, significance, omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. To be a narcissist is to be convinced of a great, inevitable personal destiny. The narcissist is preoccupied with ideal love, the construction of brilliant, revolutionary scientific theories, the composition or authoring or painting of the greatest work of art, the founding of a new school of thought, the attainment of fabulous wealth, the reshaping of a nation or a conglomerate, and so on. The narcissist never sets realistic goals to himself. He is forever preoccupied with fantasies of uniqueness, record breaking, or breathtaking achievements. His verbosity reflects this propensity.

Reality is, naturally, quite different and this gives rise to a “grandiosity gap”. The demands of the false self are never satisfied by the narcissist’s accomplishments, standing, wealth, clout, sexual prowess, or knowledge. The narcissist’s grandiosity and sense of entitlement are equally incommensurate with his achievements.

To bridge the grandiosity gap, the malignant (pathological) narcissist resorts to shortcuts. These very often lead to fraud.

The narcissist cares only about appearances. What matters to him are the facade of wealth and its attendant social status and narcissistic supply. Witness the travestied extravagance of Tyco’s Denis Kozlowski. Media attention only exacerbates the narcissist’s addiction and makes it incumbent on him to go to ever-wilder extremes to secure uninterrupted supply from this source.

The narcissist lacks empathy – the ability to put himself in other people’s shoes. He does not recognize boundaries – personal, corporate, or legal. Everything and everyone are to him mere instruments, extensions, objects unconditionally and uncomplainingly available in his pursuit of narcissistic gratification.

This makes the narcissist perniciously exploitative. He uses, abuses, devalues, and discards even his nearest and dearest in the most chilling manner. The narcissist is utility- driven, obsessed with his overwhelming need to reduce his anxiety and regulate his labile sense of self-worth by securing a constant supply of his drug – attention. American executives acted without compunction when they raided their employees’ pension funds – as did Robert Maxwell a generation earlier in Britain.

The narcissist is convinced of his superiority – cerebral or physical. To his mind, he is a Gulliver hamstrung by a horde of narrow-minded and envious Lilliputians. The dotcom “new economy” was infested with “visionaries” with a contemptuous attitude towards the mundane: profits, business cycles, conservative economists, doubtful journalists, and cautious analysts.

Yet, deep inside, the narcissist is painfully aware of his addiction to others – their attention, admiration, applause, and affirmation. He despises himself for being thus dependent. He hates people the same way a drug addict hates his pusher. He wishes to “put them in their place”, humiliate them, demonstrate to them how inadequate and imperfect they are in comparison to his regal self and how little he craves or needs them.

The narcissist regards himself as one would an expensive present, a gift to his company, to his family, to his neighbours, to his colleagues, to his country. This firm conviction of his inflated importance makes him feel entitled to special treatment, special favors, special outcomes, concessions, subservience, immediate gratification, obsequiousness, and lenience. It also makes him feel immune to mortal laws and somehow divinely protected and insulated from the inevitable consequences of his deeds and misdeeds.

The self-destructive narcissist plays the role of the “bad guy” (or “bad girl”). But even this is within the traditional social roles cartoonishly exaggerated by the narcissist to attract attention. Men are likely to emphasise intellect, power, aggression, money, or social status. Narcissistic women are likely to emphasise body, looks, charm, sexuality, feminine “traits”, homemaking, children and childrearing.

Punishing the wayward narcissist is a veritable catch-22.

A jail term is useless as a deterrent if it only serves to focus attention on the narcissist. Being infamous is second best to being famous – and far preferable to being ignored. The only way to effectively punish a narcissist is to withhold narcissistic supply from him and thus to prevent him from becoming a notorious celebrity.

Given a sufficient amount of media exposure, book contracts, talk shows, lectures, and public attention – the narcissist may even consider the whole grisly affair to be emotionally rewarding. To the narcissist, freedom, wealth, social status, family, vocation – are all means to an end. And the end is attention. If he can secure attention by being the big bad wolf – the narcissist unhesitatingly transforms himself into one. Lord Archer, for instance, seems to be positively basking in the media circus provoked by his prison diaries.

The narcissist does not victimise, plunder, terrorise and abuse others in a cold, calculating manner. He does so offhandedly, as a manifestation of his genuine character. To be truly “guilty” one needs to intend, to deliberate, to contemplate one’s choices and then to choose one’s acts. The narcissist does none of these.

Thus, punishment breeds in him surprise, hurt and seething anger. The narcissist is stunned by society’s insistence that he should be held accountable for his deeds and penalized accordingly. He feels wronged, baffled, injured, the victim of bias, discrimination and injustice. He rebels and rages.

Depending upon the pervasiveness of his magical thinking, the narcissist may feel besieged by overwhelming powers, forces cosmic and intrinsically ominous. He may develop compulsive rites to fend off this “bad”, unwarranted, persecutory influences.

The narcissist, very much the infantile outcome of stunted personal development, engages in magical thinking. He feels omnipotent, that there is nothing he couldn’t do or achieve if only he sets his mind to it. He feels omniscient – he rarely admits to ignorance and regards his intuitions and intellect as founts of objective data.

Thus, narcissists are haughtily convinced that introspection is a more important and more efficient (not to mention easier to accomplish) method of obtaining knowledge than the systematic study of outside sources of information in accordance with strict and tedious curricula. Narcissists are “inspired” and they despise hamstrung technocrats.

To some extent, they feel omnipresent because they are either famous or about to become famous or because their product is selling or is being manufactured globally. Deeply immersed in their delusions of grandeur, they firmly believe that their acts have – or will have – a great influence not only on their firm, but on their country, or even on Mankind. Having mastered the manipulation of their human environment – they are convinced that they will always “get away with it”. They develop hubris and a false sense of immunity.

Narcissistic immunity is the (erroneous) feeling, harboured by the narcissist, that he is impervious to the consequences of his actions, that he will never be effected by the results of his own decisions, opinions, beliefs, deeds and misdeeds, acts, inaction, or membership of certain groups, that he is above reproach and punishment, that, magically, he is protected and will miraculously be saved at the last moment. Hence the audacity, simplicity, and transparency of some of the fraud and corporate looting in the 1990’s. Narcissists rarely bother to cover their traces, so great is their disdain and conviction that they are above mortal laws and wherewithal.

What are the sources of this unrealistic appraisal of situations and events?

The false self is a childish response to abuse and trauma. Abuse is not limited to sexual molestation or beatings. Smothering, doting, pampering, over-indulgence, treating the child as an extension of the parent, not respecting the child’s boundaries, and burdening the child with excessive expectations are also forms of abuse.

The child reacts by constructing false self that is possessed of everything it needs in order to prevail: unlimited and instantaneously available Harry Potter-like powers and wisdom. The false self, this Superman, is indifferent to abuse and punishment. This way, the child’s true self is shielded from the toddler’s harsh reality.

This artificial, maladaptive separation between a vulnerable (but not punishable) true self and a punishable (but invulnerable) false self is an effective mechanism. It isolates the child from the unjust, capricious, emotionally dangerous world that he occupies. But, at the same time, it fosters in him a false sense of “nothing can happen to me, because I am not here, I am not available to be punished, hence I am immune to punishment”.

The comfort of false immunity is also yielded by the narcissist’s sense of entitlement. In his grandiose delusions, the narcissist is sui generis, a gift to humanity, a precious, fragile, object. Moreover, the narcissist is convinced both that this uniqueness is immediately discernible – and that it gives him special rights. The narcissist feels that he is protected by some cosmological law pertaining to “endangered species”.

He is convinced that his future contribution to others – his firm, his country, humanity – should and does exempt him from the mundane: daily chores, boring jobs, recurrent tasks, personal exertion, orderly investment of resources and efforts, laws and regulations, social conventions, and so on.

The narcissist is entitled to a “special treatment”: high living standards, constant and immediate catering to his needs, the eradication of any friction with the humdrum and the routine, an all-engulfing absolution of his sins, fast track privileges (to higher education, or in his encounters with bureaucracies, for instance). Punishment, trusts the narcissist, is for ordinary people, where no great loss to humanity is involved.

Narcissists are possessed of inordinate abilities to charm, to convince, to seduce, and to persuade. Many of them are gifted orators and intellectually endowed. Many of them work in in politics, the media, fashion, show business, the arts, medicine, or business, and serve as religious leaders.

By virtue of their standing in the community, their charisma, or their ability to find the willing scapegoats, they do get exempted many times. Having recurrently “got away with it” – they develop a theory of personal immunity, founded upon some kind of societal and even cosmic “order” in which certain people are above punishment.

But there is a fourth, simpler, explanation. The narcissist lacks self-awareness. Divorced from his true self, unable to empathise (to understand what it is like to be someone else), unwilling to constrain his actions to cater to the feelings and needs of others – the narcissist is in a constant dreamlike state.

To the narcissist, his life is unreal, like watching an autonomously unfolding movie. The narcissist is a mere spectator, mildly interested, greatly entertained at times. He does not “own” his actions. He, therefore, cannot understand why he should be punished and when he is, he feels grossly wronged.

So convinced is the narcissist that he is destined to great things – that he refuses to accept setbacks, failures and punishments. He regards them as temporary, as the outcomes of someone else’s errors, as part of the future mythology of his rise to power/brilliance/wealth/ideal love, etc. Being punished is a diversion of his precious energy and resources from the all-important task of fulfilling his mission in life.

The narcissist is pathologically envious of people and believes that they are equally envious of him. He is paranoid, on guard, ready to fend off an imminent attack. A punishment to the narcissist is a major surprise and a nuisance but it also validates his suspicion that he is being persecuted. It proves to him that strong forces are arrayed against him.

He tells himself that people, envious of his achievements and humiliated by them, are out to get him. He constitutes a threat to the accepted order. When required to pay for his misdeeds, the narcissist is always disdainful and bitter and feels misunderstood by his inferiors.

Cooked books, corporate fraud, bending the (GAAP or other) rules, sweeping problems under the carpet, over-promising, making grandiose claims (the “vision thing”) – are hallmarks of a narcissist in action. When social cues and norms encourage such behaviour rather than inhibit it – in other words, when such behaviour elicits abundant narcissistic supply – the pattern is reinforced and become entrenched and rigid. Even when circumstances change, the narcissist finds it difficult to adapt, shed his routines, and replace them with new ones. He is trapped in his past success. He becomes a swindler.

But pathological narcissism is not an isolated phenomenon. It is embedded in our contemporary culture. The West’s is a narcissistic civilization. It upholds narcissistic values and penalizes alternative value-systems. From an early age, children are taught to avoid self-criticism, to deceive themselves regarding their capacities and attainments, to feel entitled, and to exploit others.

As Lilian Katz observed in her important paper, “Distinctions between Self-Esteem and Narcissism: Implications for Practice”, published by the Educational Resources Information Center, the line between enhancing self-esteem and fostering narcissism is often blurred by educators and parents.

Both Christopher Lasch in “The Culture of Narcissism” and Theodore Millon in his books about personality disorders, singled out American society as narcissistic. Litigiousness may be the flip side of an inane sense of entitlement. Consumerism is built on this common and communal lie of “I can do anything I want and possess everything I desire if I only apply myself to it” and on the pathological envy it fosters.

Not surprisingly, narcissistic disorders are more common among men than among women. This may be because narcissism conforms to masculine social mores and to the prevailing ethos of capitalism. Ambition, achievements, hierarchy, ruthlessness, drive – are both social values and narcissistic male traits. Social thinkers like the aforementioned Lasch speculated that modern American culture – a self-centred one – increases the rate of incidence of the narcissistic personality disorder.

Otto Kernberg, a notable scholar of personality disorders, confirmed Lasch’s intuition: “Society can make serious psychological abnormalities, which already exist in some percentage of the population, seem to be at least superficially appropriate.”

In their book “Personality Disorders in Modern Life”, Theodore Millon and Roger Davis state, as a matter of fact, that pathological narcissism was once the preserve of “the royal and the wealthy” and that it “seems to have gained prominence only in the late twentieth century”. Narcissism, according to them, may be associated with “higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs … Individuals in less advantaged nations .. are too busy trying (to survive) … to be arrogant and grandiose”.

They – like Lasch before them – attribute pathological narcissism to “a society that stresses individualism and self-gratification at the expense of community, namely the United States.” They assert that the disorder is more prevalent among certain professions with “star power” or respect. “In an individualistic culture, the narcissist is ‘God’s gift to the world’. In a collectivist society, the narcissist is ‘God’s gift to the collective.”

Millon quotes Warren and Caponi’s “The Role of Culture in the Development of Narcissistic Personality Disorders in America, Japan and Denmark”:

“Individualistic narcissistic structures of self-regard (in individualistic societies) … are rather self-contained and independent … (In collectivist cultures) narcissistic configurations of the we-self … denote self-esteem derived from strong identification with the reputation and honor of the family, groups, and others in hierarchical relationships.”

Still, there are malignant narcissists among subsistence farmers in Africa, nomads in the Sinai desert, day laborers in east Europe, and intellectuals and socialites in Manhattan. Malignant narcissism is all-pervasive and independent of culture and society. It is true, though, that the way pathological narcissism manifests and is experienced is dependent on the particulars of societies and cultures.

In some cultures, it is encouraged, in others suppressed. In some societies it is channeled against minorities – in others it is tainted with paranoia. In collectivist societies, it may be projected onto the collective, in individualistic societies, it is an individual’s trait.

Yet, can families, organizations, ethnic groups, churches, and even whole nations be safely described as “narcissistic” or “pathologically self-absorbed”? Can we talk about a “corporate culture of narcissism”?

Human collectives – states, firms, households, institutions, political parties, cliques, bands – acquire a life and a character all their own. The longer the association or affiliation of the members, the more cohesive and conformist the inner dynamics of the group, the more persecutory or numerous its enemies, competitors, or adversaries, the more intensive the physical and emotional experiences of the individuals it is comprised of, the stronger the bonds of locale, language, and history – the more rigorous might an assertion of a common pathology be.

Such an all-pervasive and extensive pathology manifests itself in the behavior of each and every member. It is a defining – though often implicit or underlying – mental structure. It has explanatory and predictive powers. It is recurrent and invariable – a pattern of conduct melding distorted cognition and stunted emotions. And it is often vehemently denied.


Also Read

National Post Interview

The Labours of the Narcissist

The Narcissist in the Workplace

The Professions of the Narcissist

Narcissists in Positions of Authority

Narcissists in the Workplace Chat Transcript

Bully at Work – Interview with Tim Field

Open Site Workplace Violence

Narcissistic Leaders

The Psychology of Corporations and Corporate Officers

Pathological Narcissism – A Dysfunction or a Blessing?

The Narcissist’s Confabulated Life

The Entitlement of Routine

Interviews and Articles in the Media

Narcissistic Confinement

Psychopaths in Suits

Workplace Bullying

New Narc City

Bully Online

Bully at Work

In 1994 Tim Field was bullied out of his job as a Customer Services Manager which resulted in a stress breakdown. Turning his experience to good use he set up the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line in 1996 and his web site Bully Online in 1997 since which time he has worked on over 5000 cases worldwide. He now lectures widely as well as writing and publishing books on bullying and psychiatric injury. He holds two honorary doctorates for his work on identifying and dealing with bullying. He is the Webmaster of Bully Online.

Question: What is workplace bullying?

Answer: Workplace bullying is persistent, unwelcome, intrusive behaviour of one or more individuals whose actions prevent others from fulfilling their duties.

Question: How is it different to adopting disciplinarian measures, maintaining strict supervision, or oversight?

Answer: The purpose of bullying is to hide the inadequacy of the bully and has nothing to do with “management” or the achievement of tasks. Bullies project their inadequacies onto others to distract and divert attention away from the inadequacies. In most cases of workplace bullying reported to the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line, the bully is a serial bully who has a history of conflict with staff. The bullying that one sees is often also the tip of an iceberg of wrongdoing which may include misappropriation of budgets, harassment, discrimination, as well as breaches of rules, regulations, professional codes of conduct and health and safety practices.

Question: Should it be distinguished from harassment (including sexual harassment), or stalking?

Answer: Bullying is, I believe, the underlying behavior and thus the common denominator of harassment, discrimination, stalking and abuse. What varies is the focus for expression of the behavior. For instance, a harasser or discriminator focuses on race or gender or disability.

Bullies focus on competence and popularity which at present are not covered by employment legislation.

Bullies seethe with resentment and anger and the conduits for release of this inner anger are jealousy and envy which explains why bullies pick on employees who are good at their job and popular with people. Being emotionally immature, bullies crave attention and become resentful when others get more attention for their competence and achievements than themselves.

Question: What is the profile of the typical bully?

Answer: Over 90% of the cases reported to the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line involve a serial bully who can be recognised by their behaviour profile which includes compulsive lying, a Jekyll and Hyde nature, an unusually high verbal facility, charm and a considerable capacity to deceive, an arrested level of emotional development, and a compulsive need to control. The serial bully rarely commits a physical assault or an arrestable offence, preferring instead to remain within the realms of psychological violence and non-arrestable offences.

Question: What are bullying’s typical outcomes?

Answer: In the majority of cases, the target of bullying is eliminated through forced resignation, unfair dismissal, or early or ill- health retirement whilst the bully is promoted. After a short interval of between 2-14 days, the bully selects another target and the cycle restarts. Sometimes another target is selected before the current target is eliminated.

Question: Can you provide us with some statistics? How often does bullying occur? How many people are affected?

Answer: Surveys of bullying in the UK indicate that between 12-50% of the workforce experience bullying. Statistics from the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line reveal that around 20% of cases are from the education sector, 12% are from healthcare, 10% are from social services, and around 6% from the voluntary / charity / not-for-profit sector.

After that, calls come from all sectors both public and private, with finance, media, police, postal workers and other government employees featuring prominently. Enquiries from outside the UK (notably USA, Canada, Australia and Ireland) show similar patterns with the caring professions topping the list of bullied workers.

Question: Could you estimate the economic effects of workplace bullying – costs to employers (firms), employees, law enforcement agencies, the courts, the government, etc.?

Answer: Bullying is one of the major causes of stress, and the cost of stress to UK plc is thought to be between £5-12 billion (US$7-17 billion). When all the direct, indirect and consequential costs of bullying are taken into account, the cost to UK plc (taxpayers and shareholders) could be in excess of £30 billion (US$44 billion), equivalent to around £1,000 hidden tax per working adult per year. Employers do not account for the cost of bullying and its consequences, therefore the figures never appear on balance sheets.

Employees have to work twice as hard to overcome the serial bully’s inefficiency and dysfunction which can spread through an organisation like a cancer.

Because of its subtle nature, bullying can be difficult to recognise, but the consequences are easy to spot: excessive workloads, lack of support, a climate of fear, and high levels of insecurity.

The effects on health include, amongst other things, chronic fatigue, damage to the immune system, reactive depression, and suicide.

The indirect costs of bullying include higher-than average staff turnover and sickness absence. Each of these incur consequential costs of staff cover, administration, loss of production and reduced productivity which are rarely recognised and even more rarely attributed to their cause. Absenteeism alone costs UK plc over £10 billion a year and stress is now officially the number one cause of sickness absence having taken over from the common cold. However, surveys suggest that at least 20% of employers still do not regard stress as a health and safety issue, instead preferring to see it as skiving and malingering.

The Bristol Stress and Health at Work Study published by the HSE in June 2000 revealed that 1 in 5 UK workers (around 5.5m) reported feeling extremely stressed at work. The main stress factors were having too much work and not being supported by managers. In November 2001 a study by Proudfoot Consulting revealed the cost of bad management, low employee morale and poorly-trained staff to British business at 117 lost working days a year. At 65%, bad management (often a euphemism for bullying) accounted for the biggest slice of unproductive days with low morale accounting for 17%. The study also suggested that in the UK 52% of all working time is spent unproductively compared to the European average of 43%.

The results of a three-year survey of British workers by the Gallup Organization published in October 2001 revealed that many employers are not getting the best from their employees. The most common response to questions such as “how engaged are your employees?” and “how effective is your leadership and management style?” and “how well are you capitalising on the talents, skills and knowledge of your people?” was an overwhelming “not very much”. The survey also found that the longer an employee stayed, the less engaged they became. The cost to UK plc of lost work days due to lack of engagement was estimated to be between £39-48 billion a year.

Question: What can be done to reduce workplace bullying? Are firms, the government, law enforcement agencies, the courts – aware of the problem and its magnitude? Are educational campaign effective? Did anti-bullying laws prove effective?

Answer: Most bullying is hierarchical and can be traced to the top or near the top. As bullying is often the visible tip of an iceberg of wrongdoing, denial is the most common strategy employed by toxic managements. Only Sweden has a law which specifically addresses bullying. Where no law exists, bullies feel free to bully. Whilst the law is not a solution, the presence of a law is an indication that society has made a judgement that the behaviour is no longer acceptable.

Awareness of bullying, and especially its seriousness, is still low throughout society. Bullying is not just “something children do in the playground”, it’s a lifetime behaviour on the same level as domestic violence, sexual harassment, and rape.

Bullying is a form of psychological and emotional rape because of its intrusive and violational nature.


Also Read

Narcissism in the Boardroom

The Labours of the Narcissist

The Narcissist in the Workplace

The Professions of the Narcissist

Narcissists in Positions of Authority

Narcissists in the Workplace Chat Transcript

Open Site Workplace Violence

Narcissistic Leaders

The Psychology of Corporations and Corporate Officers

Pathological Narcissism – A Dysfunction or a Blessing?

The Narcissist’s Confabulated Life

The Entitlement of Routine

Interviews and Articles in the Media

Narcissistic Confinement

Psychopaths in Suits

Workplace Bullying

New Narc City

Bully Online

Organ Trafficking in Eastern Europe

A kidney fetches $2700 in Turkey. According to the October 2002 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, this is a high price. An Indian or Iraqi kidney enriches its former owner by a mere $1000. Wealthy clients later pay for the rare organ up to $150,000.

CBS News aired, five years ago, a documentary, filmed by Antenna 3 of Spain, in which undercover reporters in Mexico were asked, by a priest acting as a middleman for a doctor, to pay close to 1 million dollars for a single kidney. An auction of a human kidney on eBay in February 2000 drew a bid of $100,000 before the company put a stop to it. Another auction in September 1999 drew $5.7 million – though, probably, merely as a prank.

Organ harvesting operations flourish in Turkey, in central Europe, mainly in the Czech Republic, and in the Caucasus, mainly in Georgia. They operate on Turkish, Moldovan, Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Romanian, Bosnian, Kosovar, Macedonian, Albanian and assorted east European donors.

They remove kidneys, lungs, pieces of liver, even corneas, bones, tendons, heart valves, skin and other sellable human bits. The organs are kept in cold storage and air lifted to illegal distribution centers in the United States, Germany, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, Israel, South Africa, and other rich, industrialized locales. It gives “brain drain” a new, spine chilling, meaning.

Organ trafficking has become an international trade. It involves Indian, Thai, Philippine, Brazilian, Turkish and Israeli doctors who scour the Balkan and other destitute regions for tissues. The Washington Post reported, in November 2002, that in a single village in Moldova, 14 out of 40 men were reduced by penury to selling body parts.

Four years ago, Moldova cut off the thriving baby adoption trade due to an – an unfounded – fear the toddlers were being dissected for spare organs. According to the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, the Romanians are investigating similar allegations in Israel and have withheld permission to adopt Romanian babies from dozens of eager and out of pocket couples. American authorities are scrutinizing a two year old Moldovan harvesting operation based in the United States.

Organ theft and trading in Ukraine is a smooth operation. According to news agencies, in August 2002, three Ukrainian doctors were charged in Lvov with trafficking in the organs of victims of road accidents. The doctors used helicopters to ferry kidneys and livers to colluding hospitals. They charged up to $19,000 per organ.

The West Australian daily surveyed in January 2002 the thriving organs business in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Sellers are offering their wares openly, through newspaper ads. Prices reach up to $68,000. Compared to an average monthly wage of less than $200, this is an unimaginable fortune.

National health insurance schemes turn a blind eye. Israel’s participates in the costs of purchasing organs abroad, though only subject to rigorous vetting of the sources of the donation. Still, a May 2001 article in a the New York Times Magazine, quotes “the coordinator of kidney transplantation at Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem (as saying that) 60 of the 244 patients currently receiving post-transplant care purchased their new kidney from a stranger – just short of 25 percent of the patients at one of Israel’s largest medical centers participating in the organ business”.

Many Israelis – attempting to avoid scrutiny – travel to east Europe, accompanied by Israeli doctors, to perform the transplantation surgery. These junkets are euphemistically known as “transplant tourism”. Clinics have sprouted all over the benighted region. Israeli doctors have recently visited impoverished Macedonia, Bulgaria, Kosovo and Yugoslavia to discuss with local businessmen and doctors the setting up of kidney transplant clinics.

Such open involvement in what can be charitably described as a latter day slave trade gives rise to a new wave of thinly disguised anti-Semitism. The Ukrainian Echo, quoting the Ukrinform news agency, reported, on January 7, 2002, that, implausibly, a Ukrainian guest worker died in Tel-Aviv in mysterious circumstances and his heart was removed. The Interpol, according to the paper, is investigating this lurid affair.

According to scholars, reports of organ thefts and related abductions, mainly of children, have been rife in Poland and Russia at least since 1991. The buyers are supposed to be rich Arabs.

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, an anthropologist at the University of California at Berkeley and co-founder of Organs Watch, a research and documentation center, is also a member and co-author of the Bellagio Task Force Report on Transplantation, Bodily Integrity and the International Traffic in Organs. In a report presented in June 2001 to the House Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, she substantiated at least the nationality of the alleged buyers, though not the urban legends regarding organ theft:

“In the Middle East residents of the Gulf States (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Oman) have for many years traveled to India, the Philippines, and to Eastern Europe to purchase kidneys made scarce locally due to local fundamentalist Islamic teachings that allow organ transplantation (to save a life), but prohibit organ harvesting from brain-dead bodies.

Meanwhile, hundreds of kidney patients from Israel, which has its own well -developed, but under-used transplantation centers (due to ultra-orthodox Jewish reservations about brain death) travel in ‘transplant tourist’ junkets to Turkey, Moldova, Romania where desperate kidney sellers can be found, and to Russia where an excess of lucrative cadaveric organs are produced due to lax standards for designating brain death, and to South Africa where the amenities in transplantation clinics in private hospitals can resemble four star hotels.

We found in many countries – from Brazil and Argentina to India, Russia, Romania, Turkey to South Africa and parts of the United States – a kind of ‘apartheid medicine’ that divides the world into two distinctly different populations of ‘organs supplies’ and ‘organs receivers’.”

Russia, together with Estonia, China and Iraq, is, indeed, a major harvesting and trading centre. International news agencies described, five years ago, how a grandmother in Ryazan tried to sell her grandchild to a mediator. The boy was to be smuggled to the West and there dismembered for his organs. The uncle, who assisted in the matter, was supposed to collect $70,000 – a fortune in Russian terms.

When confronted by the European Union on this issue, Russia responded that it lacks the resources required to monitor organ donations. The Italian magazine, Happy Web, reports that organ trading has taken to the Internet. A simple query on the Google search engine yields thousands of Web sites purporting to sell various body parts – mostly kidneys – for up to $125,000. The sellers are Russian, Moldovan, Ukrainian and Romanian.

Scheper-Hughes, an avid opponent of legalizing any form of trade in organs, says that “in general, the movement and flow of living donor organs – mostly kidneys – is from South to North, from poor to rich, from black and brown to white, and from female to male bodies”.

Yet, in the summer of 2002, bowing to reality, the American Medical Association commissioned a study to examine the effects of paying for cadaveric organs would have on the current shortage. The 1984 National Organ Transplant Act that forbids such payments is also under attack. Bills to amend it were submitted recently by several Congressmen. These are steps in the right direction.

Organ trafficking is the outcome of the international ban on organ sales and live donor organs. But wherever there is demand there is a market. Excruciating poverty of potential donors, lengthening patient waiting lists and the better quality of organs harvested from live people make organ sales an irresistible proposition. The medical professions and authorities everywhere would do better to legalize and regulate the trade rather than transform it into a form of organized crime. The denizens of Moldova would surely appreciate it.


Also Read

The Greatest Savings Crisis in History

The Typology of Financial Scandals

The Bursting Asset Bubbles

(Case Studies: The Savings and Loans Crisis, Crash of 1929, British Real Estate)

The Shadowy World of International Finance

Hawala, or the Bank that Never Was

Money Laundering in a Changed World

The Varieties of Corruption

Corruption and Transparency

Straf – Corruption in CEE

The Criminality of Transition

The Kleptocracies of the East

The Enrons of the East

Bully at Work – Interview with Tim Field

The Economics of Conspiracy Theories

The Industrious Spies

The Business of Torture

Fimaco Wouldn’t Die – Russia’s Missing Billions

Treasure Island Revisited – Maritime Piracy

Begging Your Trust in Africa

Slush Funds