Narcissist: Fake it Till You Make It

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited

Why do some narcissists end up being over-achievers, pillars of the community, and accomplished professionals – while their brethren fade into obscurity, having done little of note with their lives?

There seem to be two types of narcissists: those who derive ample narcissistic supply from mere appearances (“Potemkin narcissists”) and those whose narcissistic supply consists of doing substantial deeds, of acting as change-agents, of making a difference, and of creating and producing things of value. The former type aim for celebrity (defined as “being famous for being famous”) and the fostering and promulgation of an “empty brand” (name recognition without commensurate real-life accomplishments). In contradistinction, narcissists of substance strive for meaningful careers, albeit in the limelight.

We find Potemkin narcissists with empty brands in politics (the “Being There Syndrome” manifested in the likes of Obama, Palin, and Putin); in the media (where, for example, compulsively self-promoting physicists like Kaku or even Hawking are worshipped as transformative geniuses even though they are credited with a mere single, esoteric, and marginal contribution to physics, decades ago); in business (e.g. Donald Trump, or the infamous “empty suits”); and in entertainment (Paris Hilton, the Kardashians).

To create the empty brand, the narcissist cultivates a following with his alleged distinct character traits, looks, behavioral modes, daring audacity, and even shallowness (presenting his facade as proof that he is “a common man or woman, a typical member of the crowd”). He transforms himself into a fantastically grandiose cartoon, a caricature of the unfulfilled dreams, hopes, and wishes of his acolytes.

The Potemkin Narcissist accomplishes the impossible: he resonates with the shortcomings, losses, and failures of his obsequious “constituencies” or rapt audience even as he simultaneously ostentatiously flaunts his flamboyance, riches, and glamorous, meticulously documented life. This paradoxical admixture imbues his proponents, fans, followers, adherents, and admirers with hope: “We are so alike! If he made it, then, surely, so can I!” TV reality show programs like “The Apprentice” or “American Idol” capture this yearning for a breakthrough, a deus ex machina resolution and solution to the dreariness, shabbiness, and miserable hopelessness of the average spectator’s life. As the late lamented Bruno Bettelheim noted, these are the very same elements that make up great fairy tales like Cinderella or Red Riding Hood.

The celebrity narcissist has a short attention span. He rapidly cycles between the idealization and devaluation of ideas, ventures, places, and people. This renders him unfit for team work. Though energetic and manic, he is indolent: he prefers the path of least resistance and adheres to shoddy standards of production. His lack of work ethic can partly be attributed to his overpowering sense of entitlement and to his magical thinking, both of which give rise to unrealistic expectations of effortless outcomes.

The life of the celebrity narcissist is chaotic and characterized by inconsistency and by a dire lack of long-term planning and commitment. He is not really interested in people (except in their roles as instruments of instant gratification and sources of narcissistic supply). His learning and affected erudition are designed solely to impress and are, therefore, shallow and anecdotal. His actions are not geared towards creating works of lasting value, effecting change, or making a difference. All he cares about is attention: provoking and garnering it in copious quantities. The celebrity narcissist is, therefore, not above confabulating, plagiarizing, outright crime, and otherwise using short-cuts to obtain his fix.

The other strain of narcissist, the career narcissist, is very concerned with leaving his mark and stamp on the world. He feels a calling, often of cosmic significance. He is busy reforming his environment, transforming his milieu, making a difference, and producing and creating an oeuvre of standing value. His is a grandiose idée fixe which he cathexes. To scale these lofty self-imputed peaks and to realize his goals, the career narcissist acts with unswerving passion and commitment. He plans and inexorably and ruthlessly implements his schemes and stratagems, a workaholic in pursuit of glory and fame.

The career narcissist does not recoil from cutting the odd corner, proffering the occasional confabulation, or absconding with the fruits of someone else’s labor. But while these amount to the entire arsenal and the exclusive modus operandi of the celebrity narcissist, they are auxiliary as far as the career narcissist is concerned. His main weapon is toil.

The career narcissist is a natural-born leader. When not a guru at the center of a cult, he operates as the first among equals in a team. This is where the differences between the celebrity narcissist and the career narcissist are most pronounced: the relationships maintained by the former are manipulative, exploitative, and ephemeral. The career narcissist, by comparison, is willing and able to negotiate, compromise, give-and-take, motivate others, induce loyalty, forge alliances and coalitions and benefit from these in the long-term. It is this capacity to network that guarantees him a place in the common memory and an abiding reputation among his peers.

Not unexpectedly, the communication styles of these two types of narcissists are completely different. The Potemkin narcissist is sensitive to form, protocol, decorum, and etiquette. He is hypervigilant, constantly on the lookout for signs of disrespect, insults, and slights. He reacts with unbridled rage to any hint of disregard, disagreement, or criticism. The narcissist of appearances is vindictive, holds grudges, and obsessive-compulsive in his reactions to such misconduct and awelessness. In contrast, the narcissist of substance tends to focus on content rather than delivery. He is pragmatic and willing to compromise and reach a consensus. He does not take everything personally and to heart. He bears no grudges and is, usually, not vindictive (though he may be decisive or even punitive).
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Author Bio

Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction.
He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.
Visit Sam’s Web site at http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com

President Trump

By Sam Vaknin
Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited

Laymen confuse “narcissistic style” with “narcissistic personality disorder”. Many politicians have a narcissistic style: narcissistic traits and behaviors that may amount to a narcissistic personality. They are vain, self-centered, haughty, bombastic, and infantile. Narcissistic Personality Disorder in general and “malignant narcissism” in particular are an entirely different ballgame. It’s like the difference between a social drinker and an alcoholic.

Narcissists (people with a full-fledged personality disorder) are positively dangerous: they are delusional, their thinking is clouded by grandiose fantasies, they are vindictive, contemptuous, aggressive, destructive, bullying, sadistic, and have no self-awareness. They are not curious and vehemently and sometimes violently reject any criticism, suggestion, or disagreement. They lack empathy and they exploit people, having objectified and abused them.

One more thing: it is common practice to evaluate someone’s mental health not having interviewed him or her and without administering psychological tests. Mental health evaluation (as distinct from a proper diagnosis) does not require physical access to the evaluated person. The CIA has an entire department dedicated to the psychological profiling of world leaders (read Jerrold Post’s analysis of Saddam Hussein, now available online – or the OSS psych-profile of Adolf Hitler). The FBI uses psychiatrists to construct psychological profiles of serial killers and terrorists. Scholars habitually publish “remote diagnoses” of public personalities in weighty and venerable academic journals. It is common practice!

Evaluating the mental health of a public figure requires an inordinate amount of research. Over the past 5 years, I have watched well over 600 hours of Trump in various settings and read everything he has written and was quoted as saying. I have no such in-depth acquaintance with the other candidates except Clinton.

Trump is a malignant narcissist. This view is shared by dozens of mental health professionals who went on public record with their analyses of his mental infirmity. He is dangerous, antisocial, destructive, vindictive, sadistic, and hypervigilant (paranoid and hypersensitive). He tends to cast himself as a belligerent martyr: the self-sacrificial victim of a vast conspiracy of the establishment, in a David vs. Goliath confrontational morality play.

Clinton strikes me as somewhat psychopathic: she is a pathological liar, a rank manipulator, a confabulator, and is exploitative and dysempathic. But, she is far less likely to implode and self-destruct than Trump. While she is far from an optimal choice for any public office, she is no way near as ominous as Trump.

Trump is so unfit to be President that I am not sure where to start. But here are a few issues that are likely to raise their collective ugly heads even in the first weeks of a Trump presidency:

Trump regards himself as omniscient, an authority on anything and everything, from aesthetics to ethics. He, therefore, lacks intellectual curiosity and regards outside advice as both superfluous and injurious (because it implies that he is less than perfect). He is likely to surround himself with timid yesmen and sycophantic acolytes and generate an impregnable echo chamber rather than a council of wise men and women.

Trump’s grasp of nuanced reality, weak as it already is, is likely to deteriorate further to the point of paranoid psychosis. Faced with opposition, however tenuous, he is likely to react by scapegoating and by inciting street or state violence against targeted groups. Trump is the state, so his enemies (anyone who as much as voices doubt or disagrees with him) is, by definition, an enemy of the state.

Owing to his self-perceived innate superiority, Trump regards himself as above and transcending laws made by lesser mortals. Laws are meant to trap and ensnare giants like him, to drag him down to the pedestrian level of mediocrity. He plays by the rules only when and if they accord with his predilections and self-interest.

Like all narcissists, Trump believes that he is universally loved, adored, and admired. He attributes this ostensible (and utterly delusional) blanket approbation to his effusive charm and irresistibility. He is firmly convinced that he can motivate people to transgress against their own moral convictions and to break the law, if necessary, just by the sheer force of his monumental personality. Trump idealizes and then rapidly devalues people, collectives, and institutions. Trump is in sempiternal flux: he is inconstant in his judgements, opinions, views, and fleeting attachments.

Trump is intellectually lazy, so he is a firm adherent of shortcuts and of “fake it till you make it”. It is a dangerous approach that led him to botch numerous business deals and inflict untold damage and suffering on thousands of people.

Trump is authoritarian in the worst sense of the word. In his disordered, chaotic mind, he is infallible (incapable of erring), omnipotent (can achieve anything if he just sets his mind to it), and omniscient (needs to learn nothing as he is the fount of all true, intuitive knowledge). This precludes any proper team work, orderly governance, institutional capacity, flow of authority and responsibility, and just plain structure. Trump is an artist, led by inconsistent and intermittent inspiration, not by reliable, old-fashioned perspiration. He is not a self-made man, but a self-conjured caricature of a self-made man. Trump is guided by his alleged inner divine wisdom. He is a malevolent guru and cult leader, not a politician or a statesman.

Ironically, Trump’s much trumpeted grandiosity is fragile because it is based on delusional and fantastic assumptions of perfection and intellectual brilliance which are hard to defend. Hence Trump’s relentless and compulsive pursuit of affirmation and adulation. He needs to be constantly idolized just to feel half human. Criticism and disagreement, however minor and well-intentioned, are perceived as unmitigated threats to the precarious house of cards that is Trump’s personality. Consequently, Trump is sadistically vindictive, aiming not just to counter such countervailing opinions regarding his Godlike status, but to deter and intimidate future critics.

Finally, aiming to disavow his own fragility and the indisputable fact that his public persona is nothing but a fabrication, Trump ostentatiously and volubly abhors and berates the weak, the meek, “losers”, “haters” (of which is a prime example), the disabled, women, minorities, and anyone else who might remind him by their very existence of how far from perfect and brilliant he is. The public Trump is about hatred, resentment, rage, envy, and other negative emotions because he is mercilessly driven by these very demons internally. Trump’s quotidien existence is a Kafkaesque trial in which he stands accused of being a mere, average, not-too-bright, mortal and is constantly found wanting and guilty as charged. His entire life is a desperate, last ditch attempt to prove wrong the prosecution in this never-ending courtroom drama.

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Author Bio

Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction.
He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.
Visit Sam’s Web site at http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com