Why Narcissists Cheat on their Spouses, Commit Adultery and have Extramarital Affairs and Liaisons

Narcissists cheat on their spouses, commit adultery and have extramarital affairs and liaisons for a variety of reasons which reflect disparate psychodynamic processes:
1. In the quest for narcissistic supply, the somatic narcissist resorts to serial sexual conquests.
2. Narcissists are easily bored (they have a low boredom threshold) and they have a low tolerance for boredom. Sexual dalliances alleviate this nagging and frustrating ennui.
3. Narcissists maintain an island and focus of stability in their life, but all the other dimensions of their existence are chaotic, unstable, and unpredictable. This “twister” formation serves many emotional needs which I expound upon elsewhere. Thus, a narcissist may be a model employee and pursue a career path over decades even as he cheats on his wife and fritters their savings away.
4. Narcissists feel superior and important and so entitled to be above the law and to engage in behaviors that are frowned upon and considered socially unacceptable in others. They reject and vehemently resent all limitations and conditions placed upon them by their partners. They act on their impulses and desires unencumbered by social conventions and strictures.
5. Marriage, monogamy, and child-bearing and rearing are common activities that characterize the average person. The narcissist feels robbed of his uniqueness by these pursuits and coerced into the relationship and into roles – such as a husband and a father – that reduce him to the lowest of common denominators. This narcissistic injury leads him to rebel and reassert his superiority and specialness by maintaining extramarital affairs.
6. Narcissists are control freaks. Having a relationship implies a give-and-take and a train of compromises which the narcissist acutely interprets to mean a loss of control over his life. To reassert control, the narcissist initiates other relationships in which he dictates the terms of engagement (love affairs).
7. Narcissists are terrified of intimacy. Their behavior is best characterized as an approach-avoidance repetition complex. Adultery is an excellent tool in the attempt to retard intimacy and resort to a less threatening mode of interaction.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of narcissists, loosely corresponding to the two categories mentioned in the question: the somatic narcissist and the cerebral narcissist.

Narcissists are misogynists. They hold women in contempt, they loathe and fear them. They seek to torment and frustrate them (either by debasing them sexually – or by withholding sex from them). They harbor ambiguous feelings towards the sexual act.

The somatic narcissist uses sex to “conquer” and “secure” new sources of narcissistic supply. Consequently, the somatic rarely gets emotionally-involved with his “targets”. His is a mechanical act, devoid of intimacy and commitment. The cerebral narcissist feels that sex is demeaning and degrading. Acting on one’s sex drive is a primitive, basic, and common impulse. The cerebral narcissist convinces himself that he is above all that, endowed as he is with superior intelligence and superhuman self-control.

Still, sex for both types of narcissists is an instrument designed to increase the number of Sources of Narcissistic Supply. If it happens to be the most efficient weapon in the narcissist’s arsenal, he makes profligate use of it. In other words: if the narcissist cannot obtain adoration, admiration, approval, applause, or any other kind of attention by other means (e.g., intellectually) – he resorts to sex.

He then become a satyr (or a nymphomaniac): indiscriminately engages in sex with multiple partners. His sex partners are considered by him to be objects – sources of Narcissistic Supply. It is through the processes of successful seduction and sexual conquest that the narcissist derives his badly needed narcissistic “fix”.

The narcissist is likely to perfect his techniques of courting and regard his sexual exploits as a form of art. He usually exposes this side of him – in great detail – to others, to an audience, expecting to win their approval and admiration. Because the Narcissistic Supply in his case is in the very act of conquest and (what he perceives to be) subordination – the narcissist is forced to hop from one partner to another.

Some narcissists prefer “complicated” situations. If men – they prefer virgins, married women, frigid or lesbian women, etc. The more “difficult” the target – the more rewarding the narcissistic outcome. Such a narcissist may be married, but he does not regard his extra-marital affairs as either immoral or a breach of any explicit or implicit contract between him and his spouse.

He keeps explaining to anyone who cares to listen that his other sexual partners are nothing to him, meaningless, that he is merely taking advantage of them and that they do not constitute a threat and should not be taken seriously by his spouse. In his mind a clear separation exists between the honest “woman of his life” (really, a saint) and the whores that he is having sex with.

With the exception of the meaningful women in his life, he tends to view all females in a bad light. His behaviour, thus, achieves a dual purpose: securing Narcissistic Supply, on the one hand – and re-enacting old, unresolved conflicts and traumas (abandonment by Primary Objects and the Oedipal conflict, for instance).

When inevitably abandoned by his spouse – the narcissist is veritably shocked and hurt. This is the sort of crisis, which might drive him to psychotherapy. Still, deep inside, he feels compelled to continue to pursue precisely the same path. His abandonment is cathartic, purifying. Following a period of deep depression and suicidal ideation – the narcissist is likely to feel cleansed, invigorated, unshackled, ready for the next round of hunting.

But there is another type of narcissist. He also has bouts of sexual hyperactivity in which he trades sexual partners and tends to regard them as objects. However, with him, this is a secondary behaviour. It appears mainly after major narcissistic traumas and crises.

A painful divorce, a devastating personal financial upheaval – and this type of narcissist adopts the view that the “old” (intellectual) solutions do not work anymore. He frantically gropes and searches for new ways to attract attention, to restore his False Ego (=his grandiosity) and to secure a subsistence level of Narcissistic Supply.

Sex is handy and is a great source of the right kind of supply: it is immediate, sexual partners are interchangeable, the solution is comprehensive (it encompasses all the aspects of the narcissist’s being), natural, highly charged, adventurous, and pleasurable. Thus, following a life crisis, the cerebral narcissist is likely to be deeply involved in sexual activities – very frequently and almost to the exclusion of all other matters.

However, as the memories of the crisis fade, as the narcissistic wounds heal, as the Narcissistic Cycle re-commences and the balance is restored – this second type of narcissist reveals his true colours. He abruptly loses interest in sex and in all his sexual partners. The frequency of his sexual activities deteriorates from a few times a day – to a few times a year. He reverts to intellectual pursuits, sports, politics, voluntary activities – anything but sex.

This kind of narcissist is afraid of encounters with the opposite sex and is even more afraid of emotional involvement or commitment that he fancies himself prone to develop following a sexual encounter. In general, such a narcissist withdraws not only sexually – but also emotionally. If married – he loses all overt interest in his spouse, sexual or otherwise. He confines himself to his world and makes sure that he is sufficiently busy to preclude any interaction with his nearest (and supposedly dearest).

He becomes completely immersed in “big projects”, lifelong plans, a vision, or a cause – all very rewarding narcissistically and all very demanding and time consuming. In such circumstances, sex inevitably becomes an obligation, a necessity, or a maintenance chore reluctantly undertaken to preserve his sources of supply (his family or household).

The cerebral narcissist does not enjoy sex and by far prefers masturbation or “objective”, emotionless sex, like going to prostitutes. Actually, he uses his mate or spouse as an “alibi”, a shield against the attentions of other women, an insurance policy which preserves his virile image while making it socially and morally commendable for him to avoid any intimate or sexual contact with others.

Ostentatiously ignoring women other than his wife (a form of aggression) he feels righteous in saying: “I am a faithful husband”. At the same time, he feels hostility towards his spouse for ostensibly preventing him from freely expressing his sexuality, for isolating him from carnal pleasures.

The narcissist’s thwarted logic goes something like this: “I am married/attached to this woman. Therefore, I am not allowed to be in any form of contact with other women which might be interpreted as more than casual or businesslike. This is why I refrain from having anything to do with women – because I am being faithful, as opposed to most other immoral men.

However, I do not like this situation. I envy my free peers. They can have as much sex and romance as they want to – while I am confined to this marriage, chained by my wife, my freedom curbed. I am angry at her and I will punish her by abstaining from having sex with her.”

Thus frustrated, the narcissist minimises all manner of intercourse with his close circle (spouse, children, parents, siblings, very intimate friends): sexual, verbal, or emotional. He limits himself to the rawest exchanges of information and isolates himself socially.

His reclusion insures against a future hurt and avoids the intimacy that he so dreads. But, again, this way he also secures abandonment and the replay of old, unresolved, conflicts. Finally, he really is left alone by everyone, with no Secondary Sources of Supply.

In his quest to find new sources, he again embarks on ego-mending bouts of sex, followed by the selection of a spouse or a mate (a Secondary Narcissistic Supply Source). Then the cycle re-commence: a sharp drop in sexual activity, emotional absence and cruel detachment leading to abandonment.

The second type of narcissist is mostly sexually loyal to his spouse. He alternates between what appears to be hyper-sexuality and asexuality (really, forcefully repressed sexuality). In the second phase, he feels no sexual urges, bar the most basic. He is, therefore, not compelled to “cheat” upon his mate, betray her, or violate the marital vows. He is much more interested in preventing a worrisome dwindling of the kind of Narcissistic Supply that really matters. Sex, he says to himself, contentedly, is for those who can do no better.

Somatic narcissists tend to verbal exhibitionism. They tend to brag in graphic details about their conquests and exploits. In extreme cases, they might introduce “live witnesses” and revert to total, classical exhibitionism. This sits well with their tendency to “objectify” their sexual partners, to engage in emotionally-neutral sex (group sex, for instance) and to indulge in autoerotic sex.

The exhibitionist sees himself reflected in the eyes of the beholders. This constitutes the main sexual stimulus, this is what turns him on. This outside “look” is also what defines the narcissist. There is bound to be a connection. One (the exhibitionist) may be the culmination, the “pure case” of the other (the narcissist).

Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye
And all my soul and all my every part;
And for this sin there is no remedy,
It is so grounded inward in my heart.
Methinks no face so gracious is as mine,
No shape so true, no truth of such account;
And for myself mine own worth do define,
As I all other in all worths surmount.
But when my glass shows me myself indeed,
Beated and chopp’d with tann’d antiquity,
Mine own self-love quite contrary I read;
Self so self-loving were iniquity.
‘Tis thee, myself, that for myself I praise,
Painting my age with beauty of thy days.

(Sonnet 62, William Shakespeare)

Transformations of Aggression

Prone to magical thinking, the narcissist is deeply convinced of the transcendental meaning of his life. He fervently believes in his own uniqueness and “mission”. He constantly searches for clues regarding the hidden – though inevitable – meaning of his personal life. The narcissist is forever a “public persona”, even when alone, in the confines of his bedroom. His every move, his every act, his every decision and every scribbling is of momentous consequence. The narcissist often documents his life with vigil, for the benefit of future biographers. His every utterance and shred of correspondence are carefully orchestrated as befitting a historical figure of import.

This grandiose background leads to an exaggerated sense of entitlement. The narcissist feels that he is worthy of special and immediate treatment by the most qualified. His time is too precious to be wasted by bureaucratic trifles, misunderstandings, underlings, and social conventions. His mission is urgent. Other people are expected both to share the narcissist’s self-assessment – and to behave accordingly: to accommodate his needs, instantly comply with his wishes, and succumb to his whims.

But the world does not always accommodate, comply, and succumb. It often resists the wishes of the narcissist, mocks his comportment, or, worst of all, ignores him. The narcissist reacts to this with a cycle of frustration and aggression.

Still, it is not always possible to express naked aggression. Many cultures frown on directness and encourage white lies – or outright deception – in order to avoid or mitigate conflict. “Straight talk” may be dangerous, or counterproductive, or plain silly. Even the narcissist cannot attack his boss, or a policeman, or the neighbourhood bully with impunity.

So, the narcissist’s aggression wears many forms. The narcissist suddenly becomes brutally “honest”, or bitingly “humorous”, or smotheringly “helpful”, or sexually “experimental”, or socially “reclusive”, or behaviourally “different”, or find yet another way to express his scathing and repressed hostility. He often labels such thinly disguised aggression: “tough love”.

The narcissist’s favourite sadistic cocktail is brutal honesty coupled with “helpful advice” and “concern” for the welfare of the person attacked. The narcissist blurts out – often unprovoked – hurtful observations. These statements are invariably couched in a socially impeccable context. Akin to “anger management”, the sadistic narcissist also requires “truth management” to teach him how to contain his impulsive and offensive “honesty” and “directness”.

For instance, “Do you know you have a bad breath? You will be much more popular if you treated it”, “You are really too fat, you should take care of yourself, you are not young, you know, who knows what this is doing to your heart”, “These clothes do not complement you. Let me give you the name of my tailor…”, “You are behaving very strangely lately, I think that talk therapy combined with medication may do wonders”, and so on.

The misanthropic and schizoid narcissist at once becomes sociable and friendly when he spots an opportunity to hurt or to avenge. He then resorts to humour – black, thwarted, poignant, biting, sharpened and agonizing. Thinly disguises barbs follow thinly disguised threats cloaked in “jokes” or “humorous anecdotes”.

Another favourite trick is to harp on the insecurities, fears, weaknesses, and deficiencies of the target of aggression. If married to a jealous spouse, the narcissist  emphasizes his newfound promiscuity and need to experiment sexually. If his business partner has been traumatized by a previous insolvency, the narcissist berates him for being too cautious or insufficiently entrepreneurial while forcing the partnership to assume outlandish and speculative business risks. If co-habiting with a gregarious mate, the narcissist acts the recluse, the hermit, the social misfit, or the misunderstood visionary – thus forcing the partner to give up her social life.

The narcissist is seething with enmity and venom. He is a receptacle of unbridled hatred, animosity, and hostility. When he can, the narcissist often turns to physical violence. But the non-physical manifestations of his pent-up bile are even more terrifying, more all-pervasive, and more lasting. Beware of narcissists bearing gifts. They are bound to explode in your faces, or poison you. The narcissist hates you wholeheartedly and thoroughly simply because you are. Remembering this has a survival value.

Also Read

Narcissists and Mood Disorders

The Intermittent Explosive Narcissist (Narcissistic Injury and Rage)

Narcissists, Disagreements and Criticism

Violent, Vindictive, Sadistic, and Psychopathic Narcissists

Vanity Publishing will Rescue the Print Media

The circulation of print magazines has declined precipitously in the last few years. This dissolution of subscriber bases has accelerated dramatically as economic recession set in. But a diminishing wealth effect is only partly to blame. The managements of printed periodicals – from dailies to quarterlies – failed miserably to grasp the Internet’s potential and potential threat. They were fooled by the lack of friendly and cheap e-reading devices into believing that old habits die hard. They do – but magazine reading is not habit forming. Readers’ loyalties are fickle and shift according to content and price. The Web offers cornucopian and niche-targeted content free of charge or very cheaply. This is hard to beat and is getting harder by the day as natural selection among dot.bombs spares only quality content providers.

Still, the print media rely on a defunct business model: ad-financed content aggregation. Content producers (known as journalists or reporters) are paid for their professional work (their writings). Editors then assemble this output and homogenize it. Finally, these articles and op-ed pieces find their predestined place in rigid, spatially-delimited rubrics in the paper or magazine. Both pillars of this strategy are crumbling: advertising dollars have shifted decisively “below the line” (into word-of-mouth and loyalty campaigns, for instance) and content is now prodigiously produced by prolific bloggers and what CNN calls iReporters. Vanity online publishing trumped traditional print publishing.

The print media should jump on the wagon: they should solicit contributions from citizen journalists, bloggers, i-reporters, and e-columnists. These content providers are likely to be satisfied with a mere byline for their remuneration (seeing their name in print!) Having thus cut their costs by leveraging the public’s vanity, newspapers and magazines will be able to concentrate on customer relations (via their internet properties and social networking tools) and on what they do best: coherent aggregation, contextual commentary, and communal branding.

Outside the box, there are other solutions and models.

Consider Ploughshares, the Literary Journal.

It is a venerable, not for profit, print journal published by Emerson College, now marking its 37th anniversary. A few years ago, it inaugurated its web sibling. The project consumed three years and $125,000 (a grant from the Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds). Every title Ploughshares has ever published was indexed (over 18,000 journal pages digitized). In all, the “website offers free access to over 3,500 poems and short stories from past and current issues”.

The more than 2000 (!) authors ever published in Ploughshares maintain a personal web pages comprising biographical notes, press releases, new books and events announcements and links to other web sites. This is the Yahoo! formula. Content generated by the authors has thus transformed Ploughshares into a leading literary portal.

But Ploughshares did not stop at this standard features. A “bookshelf” links to book reviews contributed online (and augmented by the magazine’s own prestigious offerings). An annotated bookstore is just a step away (though Ploughshares’ web site does not include one hitherto). The next best thing is a rights-management application used by the journal’s authors to grant online publishing permissions for their work to third parties.

No print literary magazine can beat this one stop shop. So, how can print publications defend themselves?

By being creative and by not conceding defeat is how.

Consider WuliWeb’s example of thinking outside the printed box. Its timing was bad – immediately preceding the bursting of the dot.com bubble. But, the idea was sound.

Wuliweb (owned by AirClic) is a simple online application which enables its users to “send, save and share material from print publications”. Participating magazines and newspapers print “WuliCodes” on their (physical) pages and WuliWeb subscribers barcode-scan, or manually enter them into their online “Content Manager” via keyboard, PDA, pager, cell phone, or fixed phone (using a PIN). The service is free (paid for by the magazine publishers and advertisers) and, according to WuliWeb, offers these advantages to its users:

“Once you choose to use WuliWeb’s free service, you will no longer have to laboriously ‘tear and share’ print articles or ads that you want to archive or share with colleagues or friends. You will be able to store material sourced from print publications permanently in your own secure, electronic files, and you can share this material instantly with any number of people. Magazine and Newspaper Publishers will now have the ability to distribute their online content more widely and to offer a richer experience to their readers. Advertisers will be able to deploy dynamic and media-rich content to attract and convert customers, and will be able to communicate more completely with their customers.”

Links to the shared material are stored in WuliWeb’s central database and users gain access to them by signing up for a (free) WuliWeb account. Thus, the user’s mailbox is unencumbered by huge downloads. Moreover, WuliWeb allows for a keywords-based search of articles saved.

Perhaps the only serious drawback is that WuliWeb provides its users only with LINKS to content stored on publishers’ web sites. It is a directory service – not a full text database. This creates dependence. Links may get broken. Whole web sites vanish. Magazines and their publishers go under. All the more reason for publishers to revive this service and make it their own.

Swine Flu as a Conspiracy

The Internet has rendered global gossip that in previous epochs would have remained local. It also allowed rumour-mongers to leverage traditional and trusted means of communication – texts and images – to lend credence to the most outlandish claims. Some bloggers and posters have not flinched from doctoring photos and video clips. Still, the most efficient method of disseminating disinformation and tall tales in the wild is via text.

In May 2009, as swine flu was surging through the dilapidated shanties of Mexico, I received a mass-distribution letter from someone claiming to have worked at the National Institutes of Health in Virology: “I worked in the Laboratory of Structural Biology Research under the NIAMS division of NIH from 2002 – 2004.” Atypically, the source provided a name, an e-mail address, and a phone number. He stated that the newly-minted pandemic was the outcome of a “recombinant virus has been unleashed upon mankind” by a surrealistic coalition: “the Executive Branch of our (USA) government, the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as Baxter Pharmaceutical”, the latter being “involved in international biological weapons programs.” The media was lying blatantly about the number of casualties.

The e-mail letter cautioned against “a martial law type scenario” in which the government will “ban public gatherings, enforce travel restrictions … forced vaccination or forced quarantine.” He advised people to hoard food, obtain N95 or P100 masks, and “Have a means of self-defense”. Tamiflu and, more generally, neuraminidase inhibitors are not effective, he warned. Instead, he recommended organic food (including garlic), drops of Colloidal Silver Hydrosol, Atomic (nascent) iodine, Allicin, Medical Grade, and NAC (N-acetyl-cysteine).

Blaming government and the pharmaceutical industry for instigating the very diseases they are trying to contain and counter is old hat. It is founded on the dubious assertion of cui bono: pandemics are worth anywhere from 8 to 18 billion USD is extra annual income from the enhanced sales of vaccines, anti-virals, antibiotics, wipes, masks, sanitizers, and the like. That’s a drop in the industry’s bucket (close to 1 trillion USD in sales last year), yet it comes handy in times of economic slowdown. Luckily for the drug-makers, most major epidemics and pandemics have occurred during recessions, perfectly timed to shore their balance sheets.

The sales or profits of drug-makers not involved in the swine flu panic (such as Pfizer) actually went down in the third quarter of 2009 as opposed to the revenues and net income of those who were. Novartis expects to make an extra 400-700 million USD in the last quarter of 2009 and first quarter of 2010. Sanofi-Aventis has sold a mere 120 million worth of swine flu related goods, but this will shoot up to 1 billion in the six months to March 2010. Similarly, While Astra-Zeneca’s tally is a meagre 152 million USD, yet it constitutes 2% of its growth and one third of its sales in the USA. It foresees another 300 million USD in revenues. Finally, GlaxoSmithKline has pushed whopping 1.6 billion USD worth of swine flu vaccine out the door plus an extra 250 million USD in related products till end-September 2009. Pandemics are good for business, no two ways about it.

The aura of the pharmaceutical industry is such that people seamlessly lump it together with weapons manufacturers, the CIA, Big Tobacco, and other usual culprits and suspects. Drug manufacturers’ advertising budgets are huge and may exert disproportionate influence on editorial decisions in the print media. Pharma companies are big contributors to campaign coffers and can and do bend politicians’ ears in times of need. There is a thinly-veiled revolving door between underpaid and over-worked bureaucrats in regulatory agencies and the plush offices of the ostensibly regulated. Academic studies are often funded by the industry. People naturally are suspicious and apprehensive of this confluence of power, money, and access. Recent scandals at the FDA (America’s much-vaunted and hitherto-venerated Food and Drug Administration) did not help matters.

The truth is that pharmaceutical companies are very reluctant to develop vaccines, or to cope with pandemics, whose sufferers are often the indigent inhabitants of developing and poor countries. To amortize their huge sunk costs (mainly in research and development) they resort to supply-side and demand-side measures.

On the demand side, they often insist on advance market commitments: guaranteed purchases by governments, universities, and NGOs. They also enjoy tax credits and breaks, grants, and awards. Differential pricing is used to skew decision-making and re-allocate the economic resources of the governments of impoverished countries in favour of purchasing larger quantities of products such as vaccines. On the supply side, they create artificial scarcity by patenting the processes that are involved in the production of vaccines and drugs; by licencing technologies only to a handful of carefully-placed factories; and by producing under the maximum capacity so as to induce rationing within tight release and delivery schedules (which, in itself, induces panic).

Still, collude as they may in profiteering, governments and the pharma industry do not create new diseases, spread them, or sustain them. This job is best left to the poor and the ignorant whose living conditions encourage cross-species infections and whose superstitions foment hysteria every time a new strain of virus is discovered. You can count on them to render the rich drug-manufacturer even richer every single time.

The Economics of Conspiracy Theories

Barry Chamish is convinced that Shimon Peres, Israel’s wily old statesman, ordered the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, back in 1995, in collaboration with the French. He points to apparent tampering with evidence. The blood-stained song sheet in Mr. Rabin’s pocket lost its bullet hole between the night of the murder and the present.

The murderer, Yigal Amir, should have been immediately recognized by Rabin’s bodyguards. He has publicly attacked his query before. Israel’s fierce and fearsome internal security service, the Shabak, had moles and agents provocateurs among the plotters. Chamish published a book about the affair. He travels and lectures widely, presumably for a fee.

Chamish’s paranoia-larded prose is not unique. The transcripts of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s inquisitions are no less outlandish. But it was the murder of John F. Kennedy, America’s youthful president, that ushered in a golden age of conspiracy theories.

The distrust of appearances and official versions was further enhanced by the Watergate scandal in 1973-4. Conspiracies and urban legends offer meaning and purposefulness in a capricious, kaleidoscopic, maddeningly ambiguous, and cruel world. They empower their otherwise helpless and terrified believers.

New Order one world government, Zionist and Jewish cabals, Catholic, black, yellow, or red subversion, the machinations attributed to the freemasons and the illuminati – all flourished yet again from the 1970’s onwards. Paranoid speculations reached frenzied nadirs following the deaths of celebrities, such as “Princess Di”. Books like “The Da Vinci Code” (which deals with an improbable Catholic conspiracy to erase from history the true facts about the fate of Jesus) sell millions of copies worldwide.

Tony Blair, Britain’s ever righteous prime minister denounced the “Diana Death Industry”. He was referring to the tomes and films which exploited the wild rumors surrounding the fatal car crash in Paris in 1997. The Princess, her boyfriend Dodi al-Fayed, heir to a fortune, as well as their allegedly inebriated driver were killed in the accident.

Among the exploiters were “The Times” of London which promptly published a serialized book by Time magazine reports. Britain’s TV networks, led by Live TV, capitalized on comments made by al-Fayed’s father to the “Mirror” alleging foul play.

But there is more to conspiracy theories than mass psychology. It is also big business. Voluntary associations such as the Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society are past their heyday. But they still gross many millions of dollars a year.

The monthly “Fortean Times” is the leading brand in “strange phenomena and experiences, curiosities, prodigies and portents”. It is widely available on both sides of the Atlantic. In its 29 years of existence it has covered the bizarre, the macabre, and the ominous with panache and open-mindedness.

It is named after Charles Fort who compiled unexplained mysteries from the scientific literature of his age (he died in 1932). He published four bestsellers in his lifetime and lived to see “Fortean societies” established in many countries.

A 12 months subscription to “Fortean Times” costs c. $45. With a circulation of  60,000, the magazine was able to spin off “Fortean Television” – a TV show on Britain’s Channel Four. Its reputation was further enhanced when it was credited with inspiring the TV hit series X-Files and The Sixth Sense.

“Lobster Magazine” – a bi-annual publication – is more modest at $15 a year. It is far more “academic” looking and it sells CD ROM compilations of its articles at between $80 (for individuals) and $160 (for institutions and organizations) a piece. It also makes back copies of its issues available.

Its editor, Robin Ramsay, said in a lecture delivered to the “Unconvention 96”, organized by the “Fortean Times”:

“Conspiracy theories certainly are sexy at the moment … I’ve been contacted by five or six TV companies in the past six months – two last week – all interested in making programmes about conspiracy theories. I even got a call from the Big Breakfast Show, from a researcher who had no idea who I was, asking me if I’d like to appear on it … These days we’ve got conspiracy theories everywhere; and about almost everything.”

But these two publications are the tip of a gigantic and ever-growing iceberg. “Fortean Times” reviews, month in and month out, books, PC games, movies, and software concerned with its subject matter. There is an average of 8 items per issue with a median price of $20 per item.

There are more than 186,600 Web sites dedicated to conspiracy theories in Google’s database of 3 billion pages. The “conspiracy theories” category in the Open Directory Project, a Web directory edited by volunteers, contains hundreds of entries.

There are 1077 titles about conspiracies listed in Amazon and another 12078 in its individually-operated ZShops. A new (1996) edition of the century-old anti-Semitic propaganda pamphlet faked by the Czarist secret service, “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion”, is available through Amazon. Its sales rank is a respectable 64,000 – out of more than 2 million titles stocked by the online bookseller.

In a disclaimer, Amazon states:

“The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion is classified under “controversial knowledge” in our store, along with books about UFOs, demonic possession, and all manner of conspiracy theories.”

Yet, cinema and TV did more to propagate modern nightmares than all the books combined. The Internet is starting to have a similar impact compounded by its networking capabilities and by its environment of simulated reality – “cyberspace”. In his tome, “Enemies Within: The Culture of Conspiracy in Modern America”, Robert Alan Goldberg comes close to regarding the paranoid mode of thinking as a manifestation of mainstream American culture.

According to the Internet Movie Database, the first 50 all time hits include at least one “straight” conspiracy theory movie (in the 13th place) – “Men in Black” with $587 million in box office receipts. JFK (in the 193rd place) grossed another $205 million. At least ten other films among the first 50 revolve around a conspiracy theory disguised as science fiction or fantasy. “The Matrix” – in the 28th place – took in $456 million. “The Fugitive” closes the list with $357 million. This is not counting “serial” movies such as James Bond, the reification of paranoia shaken and stirred.

X-files is to television what “Men in Black” is to cinema. According to “Advertising Age”, at its peak, in 1998, a 30 seconds spot on the show cost $330,000 and each chapter raked in $5 million in ad revenues. Ad prices declined to $225,000 per spot two years later, according to CMR Business to Business.

Still, in its January 1998 issue, “Fortune” claimed that “X-Files” (by then a five year old phenomenon) garnered Fox TV well over half a billion dollars in revenues. This was before the eponymous feature film was released. Even at the end of 2000, the show was regularly being watched by 12.4 million households – compared to 22.7 million viewers in 1998. But X-files was only the latest, and the most successful, of a line of similar TV shows, notably “The Prisoner” in the 1960’s.

It is impossible to tell how many people feed off the paranoid frenzy of the lunatic fringe. I found more than 3000 lecturers on these subjects listed by the Google search engine alone. Even assuming a conservative schedule of one lecture a month with a modest fee of $250 per appearance – we are talking about an industry of c. $10 million.

Collective paranoia has been boosted by the Internet. Consider the computer game “Majestic” by Electronic Arts. It is an interactive and immersive game, suffused with the penumbral  and the surreal. It is a Web reincarnation of the borderlands and the twilight zone – centered around a nefarious and lethal government conspiracy. It invades the players’ reality – the game leaves them mysterious messages and “tips” by phone, fax, instant messaging, and e-mail. A typical round lasts 6 months and costs $10 a month.

Neil Young, the game’s 31-years old, British-born, producer told Salon.com recently:

“… The concept of blurring the lines between fact and fiction, specifically around conspiracies. I found myself on a Web site for the conspiracy theory radio show by Art Bell … the Internet is such a fabulous medium to blur those lines between fact and fiction and conspiracy, because you begin to make connections between things. It’s a natural human reaction – we connect these dots around our fears. Especially on the Internet, which is so conspiracy-friendly. That was what was so interesting about the game; you couldn’t tell whether the sites you were visiting were Majestic-created or normal Web sites…”

Majestic creates almost 30 primary Web sites per episode. It has dozens of “bio” sites and hundreds of Web sites created by fans and linked to the main conspiracy threads. The imaginary gaming firm at the core of its plots, “Amin-X”, has often been confused with the real thing. It even won the E3 Critics Award for best original product…

Conspiracy theories have pervaded every facet of our modern life. A.H. Barbee describes in “Making Money the Telefunding Way” (published on the Web site of the Institute for First Amendment Studies) how conspiracy theorists make use of non-profit “para-churches”.

They deploy television, radio, and direct mail to raise billions of dollars from their followers through “telefunding”. Under section 170 of the IRS code, they are tax-exempt and not obliged even to report their income. The Federal Trade commission estimates that 10% of the $143 billion donated to charity each year may be solicited fraudulently.

Lawyers represent victims of the Gulf Syndrome for hefty sums. Agencies in the USA debug bodies – they “remove” brain  “implants” clandestinely placed by the CIA during the Cold War. They charge thousands of dollars a pop. Cranks and whackos – many of them religious fundamentalists – use inexpensive desktop publishing technology to issue scaremongering newsletters (remember Mel Gibson in the movie “Conspiracy Theory”?).

Tabloids and talk shows – the only source of information for nine tenths of the American population – propagate these “news”. Museums – the UFO museum in New Mexico or the Kennedy Assassination museum in Dallas, for instance – immortalize them. Memorabilia are sold through auction sites and auction houses for thousands of dollars an item.

Numerous products were adversely affected by conspiratorial smear campaigns. In his book “How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where it Comes From”, Daniel Pipes describes how the sales of Tropical Fantasy plummeted by 70% following widely circulated rumors about the sterilizing substances it allegedly contained –  put there by the KKK. Other brands suffered a similar fate: Kool and Uptown cigarettes, Troop Sport clothing, Church’s Fried Chicken, and Snapple soft drinks.

It all looks like one giant conspiracy to me. Now, here’s one theory worth pondering…

Seven Concepts in Derivatives

The implosion of the markets in some complex derivatives in 2007-9 drew attention to this obscure corner of the financial realm. Derivatives are nothing new. They consist of the transfer of risk to third parties and the creation of a strong correlation or linkage between the prices of one or more underlying assets and the derivative contract or instrument itself. Thus, whenever guarantors sign on a loan or credit agreement, they, in effect, are creating a derivative contract. Similarly, insurance policies can be construed as derivatives as well as options, futures, and forward contracts.

There are two types of risk: specific to the firm or sector and systemic, usually the outcome of an external shock to the entire economy. Derivatives aim to mitigate risks, but what they actually do is concentrate them in the hands of a few major players. Risk markets encourage the transmission of financial contagion across borders and continents, exactly as do international trade and foreign investment (both direct and portfolio, or “hot money”). Indeed, liquidity: the uninterrupted availability of buyers and sellers in relevant marketplaces factors in the valuation of derivatives. In a way liquidity is another name for the solvency of markets.

The value of derivatives reflects mainly the specific risk with a touch of systemic risk added (measured via value-at-risk, or VAR models). It takes into account the solvency of issuers and traders of both the derivatives and of the the underlying securities or assets (known as “counterparty risk”). The simplest measure of solvency is the capital to debt ratio (“capital adequacy” and debt service measures). Earnings are also important: both historical and projected. High or rising earnings guarantee the wherewithal to pay at a future date. Debt to capital (or to earnings, or to net income, or to assets) ratios are basic gauges of leverage or gearing. A high leverage translates to an increased risk of default on financial obligations, such as the ones represented by derivative contracts. Worse

Still, it is not easy to evaluate a firm (especially in the financial services sector). There is no agreement on how to put a number to intangibles such as brand names, networks of clients and suppliers (loyalty), and intellectual property and, on the other side of the ledger, how to estimate contingent and off-balance-sheet liabilities (such as derivatives). Whether one is an issuer or a buyer, accounting standards (such as the IAS or FASB) are fuzzy on how to incorporate derivatives in financial statements. Primitive, automatic, supposedly pre-emptive mechanisms for the management of the risk of default, such as margin calls (a requirement to add fresh capital as losses mount on a position) often run into difficulties as gearing skyrockets and with it a commensurate counterparty risk. Put simply: margin calls are useless post-facto, when the issuer of a derivative, or its buyer (speculator or hedger) have gone insolvent owing to a high leverage or to losses incurred elsewhere.

There is also the question of recourse, or who owns what and who owes what to whom and when. Securitization has led to the emergence of spliced, diced, and sliced derivative instruments whose origin is obscured in pools of primary and secondary and even tertiary securities. Often, the same asset gives rise to conflicting claims by the holders of a bewildering zoo of derivative contracts which were supposed to function as clear conduits, but whose passthrough mechanisms were far from unambiguous or unequivocal. This intentional fuzziness prevented the formation of clearing and settlement houses or systems, exchanges, or even registries, akin to the ones used in the stock markets. The lack of transparency in the derivatives markets was deliberate, aimed at fostering insider advantages in a “shadow system” with “dark pools”.

Conflicts of interest were thus swept under a carpet of complexity and obscurity. Financial firms traded nostro (for their own accounts) and against their clients. Preferential customers received benefits that were denied their less privileged brethren. Accounting rules were abused to engender the appearance of health where rot and decay have long set in (for instance, high default swap rates – indicating imminent collapse – allowed firms to book lower loan loss provisions and show higher profitability!) Agents (executives and traders) ran amok, blindly robbing shareholders in a perfect illustration of the Agency Problem (or agent-principal conundrum).

A pervasive lack of disclosure allowed a culture of insider trading to flourish. Auditors were compromised by huge fees. They could not afford to lose the bigger clients, which often constituted the bulk of their practice. Rating agencies – whose fees were doled out by the very firms and issuers they were supposed to evaluate professionally and without prejudice – proved to be venal and their work disastrously misleading. The name of the game was asymmetric information: a rapacious elite amplified the inefficiencies of the market to indulge in arbitrage and rake in baroque personal profits.

Regulatory and supervision authorities were helpless to prevent the slide along the slippery slope into mayhem: they suffer from inefficiencies, the inevitable outcomes of overlapping jurisdictions; inherent conflicts of remit (for instance, central banks clashed with bank supervisors over whether asset bubbles should be deflated and the stability of the financial system thus threatened); a revolving door syndrome (regulators became banking and Wall Street executives and vice versa); deficient training; and a lack of supra-national coordination and exchange of information.

None of these pernicious facts was a secret. Everyone treated the derivatives markets as glorified gambling dens. Losses were expected and a Ponzi scheme fatalism prevailed long before the cash dried out in 2007. The lack of trust that manifested later and the resultant lack of liquidity were no surprise (though the financial community feigned a collective shock).

Also Read

Models of Stock Valuation

The Due Diligence Process

Financial Investor, Strategic Investor

The Myth of the Earnings Yield

The Friendly Trend – Technical vs. Fundamental Analysis

The Roller Coaster Market – On Volatility and Risk

The Bursting Asset Bubbles

The Future of the SEC – Interview with Gary Goodenow

Portfolio Management Theory and Technical Analysis Lecture Notes

PCL-R (Psychopathy Checklist Revised) Test: What’s Wrong with Psychological Tests

The second edition of the PCL-R test, originally designed by the controversial maverick Canadian criminologist Robert Hare in 1980 and again in 1991, contains 20 items designed to rate symptoms which are common among psychopaths in forensic populations (such as prison inmates or child molesters). It is designed to cover the major psychopathic traits and behaviours: callous, selfish, remorseless use of others (Factor 1), chronically unstable and antisocial lifestyle (Factor 2), interpersonal and affective deficits, an impulsive lifestyle and antisocial behaviour.

The twenty traits assessed by the PCL-R score are: glib and superficial charm; grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self; need for stimulation; pathological lying; cunning and manipulativeness; lack of remorse or guilt; shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness); callousness and lack of empathy; parasitic lifestyle; poor behavioral controls; sexual promiscuity; early behavior problems; lack of realistic long-term goals; impulsivity; irresponsibility; failure to accept responsibility for own actions; many short-term marital relationships; juvenile delinquency; revocation of conditional release; and criminal versatility.

Psychopaths score between 30 and 40. Normal people score between 0 and 5. But Hare himself was known to label as psychopaths people with a score as low as 13. The PCL-R is, therefore, an art rather than science and is leaves much to the personal impressions of those who administer it.

The PCL-R is based on a structured interview and collateral data gathered from family, friends, and colleagues and from documents. The questions comprising the structured interview are so transparent and self-evident that it is easy to lie one’s way through the test and completely skew its results. Moreover, scoring by the diagnostician is highly subjective (which is why the DSM and the ICD stick to observable behaviours in its criteria for Antisocial or Dissocial Personality Disorder).

The hope is that information gathered outside the scope of the structured interview will serve to rectify such potential abuse, diagnostic bias, and manipulation by both testee and tester. The PCL-R, in other words, relies on the truthfulness of responses provided by notorious liars (psychopaths) and on the biased memories of multiple witnesses, all of them close to the psychopath and with an axe to grind.

The PCL-R is not the only bad apple in an otherwise healthy crop. Psychological tests are far from scientifically rigorous.

Personality assessment is perhaps more an art form than a science. In an attempt to render it as objective and standardized as possible, generations of clinicians came up with psychological tests and structured interviews. These are administered under similar conditions and use identical stimuli to elicit information from respondents. Thus, any disparity in the responses of the subjects can and is attributed to the idiosyncrasies of their personalities.

Moreover, most tests restrict the repertory of permitted of answers. “True” or “false” are the only allowed reactions to the questions in the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory II (MMPI-2), for instance. Scoring or keying the results is also an automatic process wherein all “true” responses get one or more points on one or more scales and all “false” responses get none.

This limits the involvement of the diagnostician to the interpretation of the test results (the scale scores). Admittedly, interpretation is arguably more important than data gathering. Thus, inevitably biased human input cannot and is not avoided in the process of personality assessment and evaluation. But its pernicious effect is somewhat reined in by the systematic and impartial nature of the underlying instruments (tests).

Still, rather than rely on one questionnaire and its interpretation, most practitioners administer to the same subject a battery of tests and structured interviews. These often vary in important aspects: their response formats, stimuli, procedures of administration, and scoring methodology. Moreover, in order to establish a test’s reliability, many diagnosticians administer it repeatedly over time to the same client. If the interpreted results are more or less the same, the test is said to be reliable.

The outcomes of various tests must fit in with each other. Put together, they must provide a consistent and coherent picture. If one test yields readings that are constantly at odds with the conclusions of other questionnaires or interviews, it may not be valid. In other words, it may not be measuring what it claims to be measuring.

Thus, a test quantifying one’s grandiosity must conform to the scores of tests which measure reluctance to admit failings or propensity to present a socially desirable and inflated facade (“False Self”). If a grandiosity test is positively related to irrelevant, conceptually independent traits, such as intelligence or depression, it does not render it valid.

Most tests are either objective or projective. The psychologist George Kelly offered this tongue-in-cheek definition of both in a 1958 article titled “Man’s construction of his alternatives” (included in the book “The Assessment of Human Motives”, edited by G.Lindzey):

“When the subject is asked to guess what the examiner is thinking, we call it an objective test; when the examiner tries to guess what the subject is thinking, we call it a projective device.”

The scoring of objective tests is computerized (no human input). Examples of such standardized instruments include the MMPI-II, the California Psychological Inventory (CPI), and the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory II. Of course, a human finally gleans the meaning of the data gathered by these questionnaires. Interpretation ultimately depends on the knowledge, training, experience, skills, and natural gifts of the therapist or diagnostician.

Projective tests are far less structured and thus a lot more ambiguous. As L. K.Frank observed in a 1939 article titled “Projective methods for the study of personality”:

“(The patient’s responses to such tests are projections of his) way of seeing life, his meanings, signficances, patterns, and especially his feelings.”

In projective tests, the responses are not constrained and scoring is done exclusively by humans and involves judgment (and, thus, a modicum of bias). Clinicians rarely agree on the same interpretation and often use competing methods of scoring, yielding disparate results. The diagnostician’s personality comes into prominent play. The best known of these “tests” is the Rorschach set of inkblots.

Here are a few examples:

I. MMPI-2 Test

The MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory), composed by Hathaway (a psychologist) and McKinley (a physician) is the outcome of decades of research into personality disorders. The revised version, the MMPI-2 was published in 1989 but was received cautiously. MMPI-2 changed the scoring method and some of the normative data. It was, therefore, hard to compare it to its much hallowed (and oft validated) predecessor.

The MMPI-2 is made of 567 binary (true or false) items (questions). Each item requires the subject to respond: “This is true (or false) as applied to me”. There are no “correct” answers. The test booklet allows the diagnostician to provide a rough assessment of the patient (the “basic scales”) based on the first 370 queries (though it is recommended to administer all of 567 of them).

Based on numerous studies, the items are arranged in scales. The responses are compared to answers provided by “control subjects”. The scales allow the diagnostician to identify traits and mental health problems based on these comparisons. In other words, there are no answers that are “typical to paranoid or narcissistic or antisocial patients”. There are only responses that deviate from an overall statistical pattern and conform to the reaction patterns of other patients with similar scores. The nature of the deviation determines the patient’s traits and tendencies – but not his or her diagnosis!

The interpreted outcomes of the MMPI-2 are phrased thus: “The test results place subject X in this group of patients who, statistically-speaking, reacted similarly. The test results also set subject X apart from these groups of people who, statistically-speaking, responded differently”. The test results would never say: “Subject X suffers from (this or that) mental health problem”.

There are three validity scales and ten clinical ones in the original MMPI-2, but other scholars derived hundreds of additional scales. For instance: to help in diagnosing personality disorders, most diagnosticians use either the MMPI-I with the Morey-Waugh-Blashfield scales in conjunction with the Wiggins content scales – or (more rarely) the MMPI-2 updated to include the Colligan-Morey-Offord scales.

The validity scales indicate whether the patient responded truthfully and accurately or was trying to manipulate the test. They pick up patterns. Some patients want to appear normal (or abnormal) and consistently choose what they believe are the “correct” answers. This kind of behavior triggers the validity scales. These are so sensitive that they can indicate whether the subject lost his or her place on the answer sheet and was responding randomly! The validity scales also alert the diagnostician to problems in reading comprehension and other inconsistencies in response patterns.

The clinical scales are dimensional (though not multiphasic as the test’s misleading name implies). They measure hypochondriasis, depression, hysteria, psychopathic deviation, masculinity-femininity, paranoia, psychasthenia, schizophrenia, hypomania, and social introversion. There are also scales for alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and personality disorders.

The interpretation of the MMPI-2 is now fully computerized. The computer is fed with the patients’ age, sex, educational level, and marital status and does the rest. Still, many scholars have criticized the scoring of the MMPI-2.


The third edition of this popular test, the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI-III), has been published in 1996. With 175 items, it is much shorter and simpler to administer and to interpret than the MMPI-II. The MCMI-III diagnoses personality disorders and Axis I disorders but not other mental health problems. The inventory is based on Millon’s suggested multiaxial model in which long-term characteristics and traits interact with clinical symptoms.

The questions in the MCMI-III reflect the diagnostic criteria of the DSM. Millon himself gives this example (Millon and Davis, Personality Disorders in Modern Life, 2000, pp. 83-84):

“… (T)he first criterion from the DSM-IV dependent personality disorder reads ‘Has difficulty making everyday decisions without an excessive amount of advice and reassurance from others,’ and its parallel MCMI-III item reads ‘People can easily change my ideas, even if I thought my mind was made up.'”

The MCMI-III consists of 24 clinical scales and 3 modifier scales. The modifier scales serve to identify Disclosure (a tendency to hide a pathology or to exaggerate it), Desirability (a bias towards socially desirable responses), and Debasement (endorsing only responses that are highly suggestive of pathology). Next, the Clinical Personality Patterns (scales) which represent mild to moderate pathologies of personality, are: Schizoid, Avoidant, Depressive, Dependent, Histrionic, Narcissistic, Antisocial, Aggressive (Sadistic), Compulsive, Negativistic, and Masochistic. Millon considers only the Schizotypal, Borderline, and Paranoid to be severe personality pathologies and dedicates the next three scales to them.

The last ten scales are dedicated to Axis I and other clinical syndromes: Anxiety Disorder, Somatoform Disorder, Bipolar Manic Disorder, Dysthymic Disorder, Alcohol Dependence, Drug Dependence, Posttraumatic Stress, Thought Disorder, Major Depression, and Delusional Disorder.

Scoring is easy and runs from 0 to 115 per each scale, with 85 and above signifying a pathology. The configuration of the results of all 24 scales provides serious and reliable insights into the tested subject.

Critics of the MCMI-III point to its oversimplification of complex cognitive and emotional processes, its over-reliance on a model of human psychology and behavior that is far from proven and not in the mainstream (Millon’s multiaxial model), and its susceptibility to bias in the interpretative phase.

III. Rorschach Inkblot Test

The Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach developed a set of inkblots to test subjects in his clinical research. In a 1921 monograph (published in English in 1942 and 1951), Rorschach postulated that the blots evoke consistent and similar responses in groups patients. Only ten of the original inkblots are currently in diagnostic use. It was John Exner who systematized the administration and scoring of the test, combining the best of several systems in use at the time (e.g., Beck, Kloper, Rapaport, Singer).

The Rorschach inkblots are ambiguous forms, printed on 18X24 cm. cards, in both black and white and color. Their very ambiguity provokes free associations in the test subject. The diagnostician stimulates the formation of these flights of fantasy by asking questions such as “What is this? What might this be?”. S/he then proceed to record, verbatim, the patient’s responses as well as the inkblot’s spatial position and orientation. An example of such record would read: “Card V upside down, child sitting on a porch and crying, waiting for his mother to return.”

Having gone through the entire deck, the examiner than proceeds to read aloud the responses while asking the patient to explain, in each and every case, why s/he chose to interpret the card the way s/he did. “What in card V prompted you to think of an abandoned child?”. At this phase, the patient is allowed to add details and expand upon his or her original answer. Again, everything is noted and the subject is asked to explain what is the card or in his previous response gave birth to the added details.

Scoring the Rorschach test is a demanding task. Inevitably, due to its “literary” nature, there is no uniform, automated scoring system.

IV. TAT Diagnostic Test

The Thematic Appreciation Test (TAT) is similar to the Rorschach inkblot test. Subjects are shown pictures and asked to tell a story based on what they see. Both these projective assessment tools elicit important information about underlying psychological fears and needs. The TAT was developed in 1935 by Morgan and Murray. Ironically, it was initially used in a study of normal personalities done at Harvard Psychological Clinic.

The test comprises 31 cards. One card is blank and the other thirty include blurred but emotionally powerful (or even disturbing) photographs and drawings. Originally, Murray came up with only 20 cards which he divided to three groups: B (to be shown to Boys Only), G (Girls Only) and M-or-F (both sexes).

The cards expound on universal themes. Card 2, for instance, depicts a country scene. A man is toiling in the background, tilling the field; a woman partly obscures him, carrying books; an old woman stands idly by and watches them both. Card 3BM is dominated by a couch against which is propped a little boy, his head resting on his right arm, a revolver by his side, on the floor.

Card 6GF again features a sofa. A young woman occupies it. Her attention is riveted by a pipe-smoking older man who is talking to her. She is looking back at him over her shoulder, so we don’t have a clear view of her face. Another generic young woman appears in card 12F. But this time, she is juxtaposed against a mildly menacing, grimacing old woman, whose head is covered with a shawl. Men and boys seem to be permanently stressed and dysphoric in the TAT. Card 13MF, for instance, shows a young lad, his lowered head buried in his arm. A woman is bedridden across the room.

With the advent of objective tests, such as the MMPI and the MCMI, projective tests such as the TAT have lost their clout and luster. Today, the TAT is administered infrequently. Modern examiners use 20 cards or less and select them according to their “intuition” as to the patient’s problem areas. In other words, the diagnostician first decides what may be wrong with the patient and only then chooses which cards will be shown in the test! Administered this way, the TAT tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy and of little diagnostic value.

The patient’s reactions (in the form of brief narratives) are recorded by the tester verbatim. Some examiners prompt the patient to describe the aftermath or outcomes of the stories, but this is a controversial practice.

The TAT is scored and interpreted simultaneously. Murray suggested to identify the hero of each narrative (the figure representing the patient); the inner states and needs of the patient, derived from his or her choices of activities or gratifications; what Murray calls the “press”, the hero’s environment which imposes constraints on the hero’s needs and operations; and the thema, or the motivations developed by the hero in response to all of the above.

Clearly, the TAT is open to almost any interpretative system which emphasizes inner states, motivations, and needs. Indeed, many schools of psychology have their own TAT exegetic schemes. Thus, the TAT may be teaching us more about psychology and psychologists than it does about their patients!

Methodologically, the scorer notes four items for each card:

I. Location – Which parts of the inkblot were singled out or emphasized in the subject’s responses. Did the patient refer to the whole blot, a detail (if so, was it a common or an unusual detail), or the white space.

II. Determinant – Does the blot resemble what the patient saw in it? Which parts of the blot correspond to the subject’s visual fantasy and narrative? Is it the blot’s form, movement, color, texture, dimensionality, shading, or symmetrical pairing?

III. Content – Which of Exner’s 27 content categories was selected by the patient (human figure, animal detail, blood, fire, sex, X-ray, and so on)?

IV. Popularity – The patient’s responses are compared to the overall distribution of answers among people tested hitherto. Statistically, certain cards are linked to specific images and plots. For example: card I often provokes associations of bats or butterflies. The sixth most popular response to card IV is “animal skin or human figure dressed in fur” and so on.

V. Organizational Activity – How coherent and organized is the patient’s narrative and how well does s/he link the various images together?

VI. Form Quality – How well does the patient’s “percept” fit with the blot? There are four grades from superior (+) through ordinary (0) and weak (w) to minus (-). Exner defined minus as:

“(T)he distorted, arbitrary, unrealistic use of form as related to the content offered, where an answer is imposed on the blot area with total, or near total, disregard for the structure of the area.”

The interpretation of the test relies on both the scores obtained and on what we know about mental health disorders. The test teaches the skilled diagnostician how the subject processes information and what is the structure and content of his internal world. These provide meaningful insights into the patient’s defenses, reality test, intelligence, fantasy life, and psychosexual make-up.

Still, the Rorschach test is highly subjective and depends inordinately on the skills and training of the diagnostician. It, therefore, cannot be used to reliably diagnose patients. It merely draws attention to the patients’ defenses and personal style.

V. Structured Interviews

The Structured Clinical Interview (SCID-II) was formulated in 1997 by First, Gibbon, Spitzer, Williams, and Benjamin. It closely follows the language of the DSM-IV Axis II Personality Disorders criteria. Consequently, there are 12 groups of questions corresponding to the 12 personality disorders. The scoring is equally simple: either the trait is absent, subthreshold, true, or there is “inadequate information to code”.

The feature that is unique to the SCID-II is that it can be administered to third parties (a spouse, an informant, a colleague) and still yield a strong diagnostic indication. The test incorporates probes (sort of “control” items) that help verify the presence of certain characteristics and behaviors. Another version of the SCID-II (comprising 119 questions) can also be self-administered. Most practitioners administer both the self-questionnaire and the standard test and use the former to screen for true answers in the latter.

The Structured Interview for Disorders of Personality (SIDP-IV) was composed by Pfohl, Blum and Zimmerman in 1997. Unlike the SCID-II, it also covers the self-defeating personality disorder from the DSM-III. The interview is conversational and the questions are divided into 10 topics such as Emotions or Interests and Activities. Succumbing to “industry” pressure, the authors also came up with a version of the SIDP-IV in which the questions are grouped by personality disorder. Subjects are encouraged to observe the “five year rule”:

“What you are like when you are your usual self … Behaviors. cognitions, and feelings that have predominated for most of the last five years are considered to be representative of your long-term personality functioning …”

The scoring is again simple. Items are either present, subthreshold, present, or strongly present.

VI. Disorder-specific Tests

There are dozens of psychological tests that are disorder-specific: they aim to diagnose specific personality disorders or relationship problems. Example: the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) which is used to diagnose the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

The Borderline Personality Organization Scale (BPO), designed in 1985, sorts the subject’s responses into 30 relevant scales. These indicates the existence of identity diffusion, primitive defenses, and deficient reality testing.

Other much-used tests include the Personality Diagnostic Questionnaire-IV, the Coolidge Axis II Inventory, the Personality Assessment Inventory (1992), the excellent, literature-based, Dimensional assessment of Personality Pathology, and the comprehensive Schedule of Nonadaptive and Adaptive Personality and Wisconsin Personality Disorders Inventory.

Having established the existence of a personality disorder, most diagnosticians proceed to administer other tests intended to reveal how the patient functions in relationships, copes with intimacy, and responds to triggers and life stresses.

The Relationship Styles Questionnaire (RSQ) (1994) contains 30 self-reported items and identifies distinct attachment styles (secure, fearful, preoccupied, and dismissing). The Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) (1979) is a standardized scale of the frequency and intensity of conflict resolution tactics and stratagems (both legitimate and abusive) used by the subject in various settings (usually in a couple).

The Multidimensional Anger Inventory (MAI) (1986) assesses the frequency of angry responses, their duration, magnitude, mode of expression, hostile outlook, and anger-provoking triggers.

Yet, even a complete battery of tests, administered by experienced professionals sometimes fails to identify abusers with personality disorders. Offenders are uncanny in their ability to deceive their evaluators.

APPENDIX: Common Problems with Psychological Laboratory Tests

Psychological laboratory tests suffer from a series of common philosophical, methodological, and design problems.

A. Philosophical and Design Aspects

  1. Ethical – Experiments involve the patient and others. To achieve results, the subjects have to be ignorant of the reasons for the experiments and their aims. Sometimes even the very performance of an experiment has to remain a secret (double blind experiments). Some experiments may involve unpleasant or even traumatic experiences. This is ethically unacceptable.
  1. The Psychological Uncertainty Principle – The initial state of a human subject in an experiment is usually fully established. But both treatment and experimentation influence the subject and render this knowledge irrelevant. The very processes of measurement and observation influence the human subject and transform him or her – as do life’s circumstances and vicissitudes.
  1. Uniqueness – Psychological experiments are, therefore, bound to be unique, unrepeatable, cannot be replicated elsewhere and at other times even when they are conducted with the SAME subjects. This is because the subjects are never the same due to the aforementioned psychological uncertainty principle. Repeating the experiments with other subjects adversely affects the scientific value of the results.
  1. The undergeneration of testable hypotheses – Psychology does not generate a sufficient number of hypotheses, which can be subjected to scientific testing. This has to do with the fabulous (=storytelling) nature of psychology. In a way, psychology has affinity with some private languages. It is a form of art and, as such, is self-sufficient and self-contained. If structural, internal constraints are met – a statement is deemed true even if it does not satisfy external scientific requirements.

B. Methodology

1. Many psychological lab tests are not blind. The experimenter is fully aware who among his subjects has the traits and behaviors that the test is supposed to identify and predict. This foreknowledge may give rise to experimenter effects and biases. Thus, when testing for the prevalence and intensity of fear conditioning among psychopaths (e.g., Birbaumer, 2005), the subjects were first diagnosed with psychopathy (using the PCL-R questionnaire) and only then underwent the experiment. Thus, we are left in the dark as to whether the test results (deficient fear conditioning) can actually predict or retrodict psychopathy (i.e., high PCL-R scores and typical life histories).

2. In many cases, the results can be linked to multiple causes. This gives rise to questionable cause fallacies in the interpretation of test outcomes. In the aforementioned example, the vanishingly low pain aversion of psychopaths may have more to do with peer-posturing  than with a high tolerance of pain: psychopaths may simply be too embarrassed to “succumb” to pain; any admission of vulnerability is perceived by them as a threat to an omnipotent and grandiose self-image that is sang-froid and, therefore, impervious to pain. It may also be connected to inappropriate affect.

3. Most psychological lab tests involve tiny samples (as few as 3 subjects!) and interrupted time series. The fewer the subjects, the more random and less significant are the results. Type III errors and issues pertaining to the processing of data garnered in interrupted time series are common.

4. The interpretation of test results often verges on metaphysics rather than science. Thus, the Birbaumer test established that subjects who scored high on the PCL-R have different patterns of skin conductance (sweating in anticipation of painful stimuli) and brain activity. It did not substantiate, let alone prove, the existence or absence of specific mental states or psychological constructs.

5. Most lab tests deal with tokens of certain types of phenomena. Again: the fear conditioning (anticipatory aversion) test pertains only to reactions in anticipation of an instance (token) of a certain type of pain. It does not necessarily apply to other types of pain or to other tokens of this type or any other type of pain.

6. Many psychological lab tests give rise to the petitio principii (begging the question) logical fallacy. Again, let us revisit Birbaumer’s test. It deals with people whose behavior is designated as “antisocial”. But what constitute antisocial traits and conduct? The answer is culture-bound. Not surprisingly, European psychopaths score far lower on the PCL-R than their American counterparts. The very validity of the construct “psychopath” is, therefore, in question: psychopathy seems to be merely what the PCL-R measures!

7. Finally, the “Clockwork Orange” objection: psychological lab tests have frequently been abused by reprehensible regimes for purposes of social control  and social engineering.

Obama’s Narcissism Made Worse in First Year in Office

Predictably, Barack Obama’s narcissistic behaviours grew worse and more visible during his first year in office. As I noted in a radio interview (an observation later picked up by George F. Will), Obama’s first person “pronoun density” has increased since his inauguration. Properly measured, first person pronoun density reflects the number of times a person substitutes first person pronouns for more appropriate third and other person pronouns. Thus, to say: “My country, right or wrong” is not indicative of a narcissistic self-preoccupation; but the sentence: “The Russians were afraid of me” is improper because, clearly, the Russians are not afraid of any single individual: they are afraid of what he or she represents. Thus, context counts. It is wrong to merely count the times Obama has used “I”, “my”, or “mine” in his speeches and utterances (as George F. Will did).

Obama’s pronoun density has doubled between January 20, 2009 and October 2009. It then subsided, though it is still about 50% over the level exhibited during his election campaign. This would seem to indicate that his pathological narcissism has been exacerbated in office as he was probably basking in media attention and the trappings of power. The backlash, such as it was, against several of his more egregious behaviours and faux-pas led him to modify his conduct and pay closer attention to his syntax and grammar: Obama is now acting modest. False modesty is another hallmark of raging, malignant narcissism.

Obama’s body language has become more pronounced and haughty while in office. For example: I measured the number of times he tilted his head upwards and in an angle during speeches and public appearances (literally gazing skywards and avoiding eye contact with his public). The frequency of this particular gesture increased dramatically (almost threefold!) this past year. It is part and parcel of the narcissist’s “haughty posture” and his attempt to project omniscience, vision, and a cosmic-messianic mission. Similarly telling gestures and postures have proliferated after Obama has assumed office.

Another sign of Obama’s growing malignant narcissism is his lowered Adversity Tolerance Threshold. I compared the number of times he snapped at critics and journalists during the election campaign and after he became President. The frequency of such temper tantrums has increased, though not drastically. Obama is still maintaining thespian self-control when it comes to the media and to his carefully-cultivated public image. Where he doesn’t bother anymore to project benevolence and maturity is with his staff: he is markedly and openly more aggressive and dismissive of his co-workers, underlings, crew, and team, clearly relishing his quasi-sadistic outbursts and their public verbal whipping.

In the following text, titled “Barack Obama – Narcissist or Merely Narcissistic?”, I was the first to suugest that Barack Obama may be suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD):

“Barack Obama appears to be a narcissist. Scroll down for a detailed treatment.

Granted, only a qualified mental health diagnostician can determine whether someone suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and this, following lengthy tests and personal interviews. Read the Disclaimer below. But, in the absence of access to Barack Obama, one has to rely on his overt performance and on testimonies by his closest, nearest and dearest.

Narcissistic leaders are nefarious and their effects pernicious. They are subtle, refined, socially-adept, manipulative, possessed of thespian skills, and convincing. Both types equally lack empathy and are ruthless and relentless or driven.

Perhaps it is time to require each candidate to high office in the USA to submit to a rigorous physical and mental checkup with the results made public.

I. Upbringing and Childhood

Obama’s early life was decidedly chaotic and replete with traumatic and mentally bruising dislocations. Mixed-race marriages were even less common then. His parents went through a divorce when he was an infant (two years old). Obama saw his father only once again, before he died in a car accident. Then, his mother re-married and Obama had to relocate to Indonesia: a foreign land with a radically foreign culture, to be raised by a step-father. At the age of ten, he was whisked off to live with his maternal (white) grandparents. He saw his mother only intermittently in the following few years and then she vanished from his life in 1979. She died of cancer in 1995.

Pathological narcissism is a reaction to prolonged abuse and trauma in early childhood or early adolescence. The source of the abuse or trauma is immaterial: the perpetrators could be dysfunctional or absent parents, teachers, other adults, or peers.

II. Behavior Patterns

The narcissist:

  • Feels grandiose and self-important (e.g., exaggerates accomplishments, talents, skills, contacts, and personality traits to the point of lying, demands to be recognised as superior without commensurate achievements);
  • Is obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power or omnipotence, unequalled brilliance (the cerebral narcissist), bodily beauty or sexual performance (the somatic narcissist), or ideal, everlasting, all-conquering love or passion;
  • Firmly convinced that he or she is unique and, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high-status people (or institutions);
  • Requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation – or, failing that, wishes to be feared and to be notorious (Narcissistic Supply);
  • Feels entitled. Demands automatic and full compliance with his or her unreasonable expectations for special and favourable priority treatment;
  • Is “interpersonally exploitative”, i.e., uses others to achieve his or her own ends;
  • Devoid of empathy. Is unable or unwilling to identify with, acknowledge, or accept the feelings, needs, preferences, priorities, and choices of others;
  • Constantly envious of others and seeks to hurt or destroy the objects of his or her frustration. Suffers from persecutory (paranoid) delusions as he or she believes that they feel the same about him or her and are likely to act similarly;
  • Behaves arrogantly and haughtily. Feels superior, omnipotent, omniscient, invincible, immune, “above the law”, and omnipresent (magical thinking). Rages when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted by people he or she considers inferior to him or her and unworthy.

Narcissism is a defense mechanism whose role is to deflect hurt and trauma from the victim’s “True Self” into a “False Self” which is omnipotent, invulnerable, and omniscient. This False Self is then used by the narcissist to garner narcissistic supply from his human environment. Narcissistic supply is any form of attention, both positive and negative and it is instrumental in the regulation of the narcissist’s labile sense of self-worth.

Perhaps the most immediately evident trait of patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is their vulnerability to criticism and disagreement. Subject to negative input, real or imagined, even to a mild rebuke, a constructive suggestion, or an offer to help, they feel injured, humiliated and empty and they react with disdain (devaluation), rage, and defiance.

From my book “Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited”:

“To avoid such intolerable pain, some patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) socially withdraw and feign false modesty and humility to mask their underlying grandiosity. Dysthymic and depressive disorders are common reactions to isolation and feelings of shame and inadequacy.”

Owing to their lack of empathy, disregard for others, exploitativeness, sense of entitlement, and constant need for attention (narcissistic supply), narcissists are rarely able to maintain functional and healthy interpersonal relationships.

Many narcissists are over-achievers and ambitious. Some of them are even talented and skilled. But they are incapable of team work because they cannot tolerate setbacks. They are easily frustrated and demoralized and are unable to cope with disagreement and criticism. Though some narcissists have meteoric and inspiring careers, in the long-run, all of them find it difficult to maintain long-term professional achievements and the respect and appreciation of their peers. The narcissist’s fantastic grandiosity, frequently coupled with a hypomanic mood, is typically incommensurate with his or her real accomplishments (the “grandiosity gap”).

An important distinction is between cerebral and somatic narcissists. The cerebrals derive their Narcissistic Supply from their intelligence or academic achievements and the somatics derive their Narcissistic Supply from their physique, exercise, physical or sexual prowess and romantic or physical “conquests”.

Another crucial division within the ranks of patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is between the classic variety (those who meet five of the nine diagnostic criteria included in the DSM), and the compensatory kind (their narcissism compensates for deep-set feelings of inferiority and lack of self-worth).

Obama displays the following behaviors, which are among the hallmarks of pathological narcissism:

  • Subtly misrepresents facts and expediently and opportunistically shifts positions, views, opinions, and “ideals” (e.g., about campaign finance, re-districting). These flip-flops do not cause him overt distress and are ego-syntonic (he feels justified in acting this way). Alternatively, refuses to commit to a standpoint and, in the process, evidences a lack of empathy.

    Ignores data that conflict with his fantasy world, or with his inflated and grandiose self-image. This has to do with magical thinking. Obama already sees himself as president because he is firmly convinced that his dreams, thoughts, and wishes affect reality. Additionally, he denies the gap between his fantasies and his modest or limited real-life achievements (for instance, in 12 years of academic career, he hasn’t published a single scholarly paper or book).

    Feels that he is above the law, incl. and especially his own laws.

    Talks about himself in the 3rd person singular or uses the regal “we” and craves to be the exclusive center of attention, even adulation

    Has a messianic-cosmic vision of himself and his life and his “mission”. Consequently, sets unrealistic goals within unrealistic timeframes.

    Sets ever more complex rules in a convoluted world of grandiose fantasies with its own language (jargon)

    Displays false modesty and unctuous “folksiness” but unable to sustain these behaviors (the persona, or mask) for long. It slips and the true Obama is revealed: haughty, aloof, distant, and disdainful of simple folk and their lives.

    Sublimates aggression and holds grudges.

    Behaves as an eternal adolescent (e.g., his choice of language, youthful image he projects, demands indulgence and feels entitled to special treatment, even though his objective accomplishments do not justify it).

III. Body Language

Many complain of the incredible deceptive powers of the narcissist. They find themselves involved with narcissists (emotionally, in business, or otherwise) before they have a chance to discover their true character. Shocked by the later revelation, they mourn their inability to separate from the narcissist and their gullibility.

Narcissists are an elusive breed, hard to spot, harder to pinpoint, impossible to capture. Even an experienced mental health diagnostician with unmitigated access to the record and to the person examined would find it fiendishly difficult to determine with any degree of certainty whether someone suffers from a full fledged Narcissistic Personality Disorder – or merely possesses narcissistic traits, a narcissistic style, a personality structure (“character”), or a narcissistic “overlay” superimposed on another mental health problem.

Moreover, it is important to distinguish between traits and behavior patterns that are independent of the patient’s cultural-social context (i.e., which are inherent, or idiosyncratic) – and reactive patterns, or conformity to cultural and social morals and norms. Reactions to severe life crises or circumstances are also often characterized by transient pathological narcissism, for instance (Ronningstam and Gunderson, 1996). But such reactions do not a narcissist make.

When a person belongs to a society or culture that has often been described as narcissistic by scholars (such as Theodore Millon) and social thinkers (e.g., Christopher Lasch) – how much of his behavior can be attributed to his milieu and which of his traits are really his?

The Narcissistic Personality Disorder is rigorously defined in the DSM IV-TR with a set of strict criteria and differential diagnoses.

Narcissism is regarded by many scholars to be an adaptative strategy (“healthy narcissism“). It is considered pathological in the clinical sense only when it becomes a rigid personality structure replete with a series of primitive defence mechanisms (such as splitting, projection, projective identification, or intellectualization) – and when it leads to dysfunctions in one or more areas of the patient’s life.

Pathological narcissism is the art of deception. The narcissist projects a False Self and manages all his social interactions through this concocted fictional construct.

When the narcissist reveals his true colors, it is usually far too late. His victims are unable to separate from him. They are frustrated by this acquired helplessness and angry at themselves for having they failed to see through the narcissist earlier on.

But the narcissist does emit subtle, almost subliminal, signals (“presenting symptoms”) even in a first or casual encounter. Compare the following list to Barack Obama’s body language during his public appearances.

These are:

“Haughty” body language – The narcissist adopts a physical posture which implies and exudes an air of superiority, seniority, hidden powers, mysteriousness, amused indifference, etc. Though the narcissist usually maintains sustained and piercing eye contact, he often refrains from physical proximity (he is “territorial”).

The narcissist takes part in social interactions – even mere banter – condescendingly, from a position of supremacy and faux “magnanimity and largesse”. But he rarely mingles socially and prefers to remain the “observer”, or the “lone wolf”.

Entitlement markers – The narcissist immediately asks for “special treatment” of some kind. Not to wait his turn, to have a longer or a shorter therapeutic session, to talk directly to authority figures (and not to their assistants or secretaries), to be granted special payment terms, to enjoy custom tailored arrangements – or to get served first.

The narcissist is the one who – vocally and demonstratively – demands the undivided attention of the head waiter in a restaurant, or monopolizes the hostess, or latches on to celebrities in a party. The narcissist reacts with rage and indignantly when denied his wishes and if treated equally with others whom he deems inferior.

Idealization or devaluation – The narcissist instantly idealizes or devalues his interlocutor. This depends on how the narcissist appraises the potential his converser has as a Narcissistic Supply Source. The narcissist flatters, adores, admires and applauds the “target” in an embarrassingly exaggerated and profuse manner – or sulks, abuses, and humiliates her.

Narcissists are polite only in the presence of a potential Supply Source. But they are unable to sustain even perfunctory civility and fast deteriorate to barbs and thinly-veiled hostility, to verbal or other violent displays of abuse, rage attacks, or cold detachment.

The “membership” posture – The narcissist always tries to “belong”. Yet, at the very same time, he maintains his stance as an outsider. The narcissist seeks to be admired for his ability to integrate and ingratiate himself without investing the efforts commensurate with such an undertaking.

For instance: if the narcissist talks to a psychologist, the narcissist first states emphatically that he never studied psychology. He then proceeds to make seemingly effortless use of obscure professional terms, thus demonstrating that he mastered the discipline all the same, as an autodidact – which proves that he is exceptionally intelligent or introspective.

In general, the narcissist always prefers show-off to substance. One of the most effective methods of exposing a narcissist is by trying to delve deeper. The narcissist is shallow, a pond pretending to be an ocean. He likes to think of himself as a Renaissance man, a Jack of all trades. The narcissist never admits to ignorance in any field – yet, typically, he is ignorant of them all. It is surprisingly easy to penetrate the gloss and the veneer of the narcissist’s self-proclaimed omniscience.

Bragging and false autobiographyThe narcissist brags incessantly. His speech is peppered with “I”, “my”, “myself”, and “mine”. He describes himself as intelligent, or rich, or modest, or intuitive, or creative – but always excessively, implausibly, and extraordinarily so.

The narcissist’s biography sounds unusually rich and complex. His achievements – incommensurate with his age, education, or renown. Yet, his actual condition is evidently and demonstrably incompatible with his claims. Very often, the narcissist lies or his fantasies are easily discernible. He always name-drops and appropriates other people’s experiences and accomplishments.

Emotion-free language – The narcissist likes to talk about himself and only about himself. He is not interested in others or what they have to say, unless they constitute potential Sources of Supply and in order to obtain said supply. He acts bored, disdainful, even angry, if he feels that they are intruding on his precious time and, thus, abusing him.

In general, the narcissist is very impatient, easily bored, with strong attention deficits – unless and until he is the topic of discussion. One can publicly dissect all aspects of the intimate life of a narcissist without repercussions, providing the discourse is not “emotionally tinted”.

If asked to relate directly to his emotions, the narcissist intellectualizes, rationalizes, speaks about himself in the third person and in a detached “scientific” tone or composes a narrative with a fictitious character in it, suspiciously autobiographical. Narcissists like to refer to themselves in mechanical terms, as efficient automata or machines.

Seriousness and sense of intrusion and coercion – The narcissist is dead serious about himself. He may possess a subtle, wry, and riotous sense of humor, scathing and cynical, but rarely is he self-deprecating. The narcissist regards himself as being on a constant mission, whose importance is cosmic and whose consequences are global. If a scientist – he is always in the throes of revolutionizing science. If a journalist – he is in the middle of the greatest story ever. If a novelist – he is on his way to a Booker or Nobel prize.

This self-misperception is not amenable to light-headedness or self-effacement. The narcissist is easily hurt and insulted (narcissistic injury). Even the most innocuous remarks or acts are interpreted by him as belittling, intruding, or coercive. His time is more valuable than others’ – therefore, it cannot be wasted on unimportant matters such as mere banter or going out for a walk.

Any suggested help, advice, or concerned inquiry are immediately cast by the narcissist as intentional humiliation, implying that the narcissist is in need of help and counsel and, thus, imperfect and less than omnipotent. Any attempt to set an agenda is, to the narcissist, an intimidating act of enslavement. In this sense, the narcissist is both schizoid and paranoid and often entertains ideas of reference.

These – the lack of empathy, the aloofness, the disdain, the sense of entitlement, the constricted sense of humor, the unequal treatment and the paranoia – render the narcissist a social misfit. The narcissist is able to provoke in his milieu, in his casual acquaintances, even in his psychotherapist, the strongest, most avid and furious hatred and revulsion. To his shock, indignation and consternation, he invariably induces in others unbridled aggression.

He 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. No matter how charming, intelligent, thought provoking, outgoing, easy going and social the narcissist is – he fails to secure the sympathy of others, a sympathy he is never ready, willing, or able to reciprocate.

IV. Narcissistic and psychopathic Leaders

The narcissistic or psychopathic leader is the culmination and reification of his period, culture, and civilization. He is likely to rise to prominence in narcissistic societies.

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 fosters and encourages a personality cult with all the hallmarks of an institutional religion: priesthood, rites, rituals, temples, worship, catechism, mythology. The leader is this religion’s ascetic saint. He monastically denies himself earthly pleasures (or so he claims) in order to be able to dedicate himself fully to his calling.

The narcissistic leader is a monstrously inverted Jesus, sacrificing his life and denying himself so that his people – or humanity at large – should benefit. By surpassing and suppressing his humanity, the narcissistic leader became a distorted version of Nietzsche’s “superman”.

But being a-human or super-human also means being a-sexual and a-moral.

In this restricted sense, narcissistic leaders are post-modernist and moral relativists. They project to the masses an androgynous figure and enhance it by engendering the adoration of nudity and all things “natural” – or by strongly repressing these feelings. But what they refer to as “nature” is not natural at all.

The narcissistic leader invariably proffers an aesthetic of decadence and evil carefully orchestrated and artificial – though it is not perceived this way by him or by his followers. Narcissistic leadership is about reproduced copies, not about originals. It is about the manipulation of symbols – not about veritable atavism or true conservatism.

In short: narcissistic leadership is about theatre, not about life. To enjoy the spectacle (and be subsumed by it), the leader demands the suspension of judgment, depersonalization, and de-realization. Catharsis is tantamount, in this narcissistic dramaturgy, to self-annulment.

Narcissism is nihilistic not only operationally, or ideologically. Its very language and narratives are nihilistic. Narcissism is conspicuous nihilism – and the cult’s leader serves as a role model, annihilating the Man, only to re-appear as a pre-ordained and irresistible force of nature.

Narcissistic leadership often poses as a rebellion against the “old ways” – against the hegemonic culture, the upper classes, the established religions, the superpowers, the corrupt order. Narcissistic movements are puerile, a reaction to narcissistic injuries inflicted upon a narcissistic (and rather psychopathic) toddler nation-state, or group, or upon the leader.

Minorities or “others” – often arbitrarily selected – constitute a perfect, easily identifiable, embodiment of all that is “wrong”. They are accused of being old, they are eerily disembodied, they are cosmopolitan, they are part of the establishment, they are “decadent”, they are hated on religious and socio-economic grounds, or because of their race, sexual orientation, origin … They are different, they are narcissistic (feel and act as morally superior), they are everywhere, they are defenceless, they are credulous, they are adaptable (and thus can be co-opted to collaborate in their own destruction). They are the perfect hate figure. Narcissists thrive on hatred and pathological envy.

This is precisely the source of the fascination with Hitler, diagnosed by Erich Fromm – together with Stalin – as a malignant narcissist. He was an inverted human. His unconscious was his conscious. He acted out our most repressed drives, fantasies, and wishes. He provides us with a glimpse of the horrors that lie beneath the veneer, the barbarians at our personal gates, and what it was like before we invented civilization. Hitler forced us all through a time warp and many did not emerge. He was not the devil. He was one of us. He was what Arendt aptly called the banality of evil. Just an ordinary, mentally disturbed, failure, a member of a mentally disturbed and failing nation, who lived through disturbed and failing times. He was the perfect mirror, a channel, a voice, and the very depth of our souls.

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 substances, consisting of mere appearances and mass delusions. 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. What looked like an economic miracle turns out to have been a fraud-laced bubble. Loosely-held empires disintegrate. Laboriously assembled business conglomerates go to pieces. “Earth shattering” and “revolutionary” scientific discoveries and theories are discredited. Social experiments end in mayhem.

It is important to understand that the use of violence must be ego-syntonic. It must accord with the self-image of the narcissist. It must abet and sustain his grandiose fantasies and feed his sense of entitlement. It must conform with the narcissistic narrative.

Thus, a narcissist who regards himself as the benefactor of the poor, a member of the common folk, the representative of the disenfranchised, the champion of the dispossessed against the corrupt elite – is highly unlikely to use violence at first.

The pacific mask crumbles 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. At first, in a desperate effort to maintain the fiction underlying his chaotic personality, the narcissist strives to explain away the sudden reversal of sentiment. “The people are being duped by (the media, big industry, the military, the elite, etc.)”, “they don’t really know what they are doing”, “following a rude awakening, they will revert to form”, etc.

When these flimsy attempts to patch a tattered personal mythology fail – the narcissist is injured. Narcissistic injury inevitably leads to narcissistic rage and to a terrifying display of unbridled aggression. The pent-up frustration and hurt translate into devaluation. That which was previously idealized – is now discarded with contempt and hatred.

This primitive defense mechanism is called “splitting”. To the narcissist, things and people are either entirely bad (evil) or entirely good. He projects onto others his own shortcomings and negative emotions, thus becoming a totally good object. A narcissistic leader is likely to justify the butchering of his own people by claiming that they intended to kill him, undo the revolution, devastate the economy, or the country, etc.

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 are agonizing. The process of reconstruction, of rising from the ashes, of overcoming the trauma of having been deceived, exploited and manipulated – is drawn-out. It is difficult to trust again, to have faith, to love, to be led, to collaborate. Feelings of shame and guilt engulf the erstwhile followers of the narcissist. This is his sole legacy: a massive post-traumatic stress disorder.


I am not a mental health professional. Still, I have dedicated the last 12 years to the study of personality disorders in general and the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) in particular. I have authored nine (9) books about these topics, one of which is a Barnes and Noble best-seller (“Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited”). My work is widely cited in scholarly tomes and publications and in the media. My books and the content of my Web site are based on correspondence since 1996 with hundreds of people suffering from the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (narcissists) and with thousands of their family members, friends, therapists, and colleagues.