Narcissistic origami bird science commentary

narcissistic personality disorder

Politicians can be narcissistic, and so can the organizations they manage.
by T Nelson


narcissistic personality disorder

On the Internet, no one can tell whether you're a dolphin or a porpoise
by T Nelson

Many people have speculated that some of our current politicians may suffer from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). But NPD is not confined to politicians or even people. Organizations can also be narcissistic, arrogant, or sociopathic.

The fundamental characteristic of narcissists is their ability to manipulate people. Unlike sociopaths, the goal of the narcissist is to feel special and admired. This stems from a deep sense of insecurity.

What is NPD ?

The DSM calls NPD “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy” and sets eight criteria:

  1. Sense of self-importance and grandiose fantasies.
  2. Belief in being special, brilliant, and unique.
  3. Need for admiring attention.
  4. Sense of entitlement.
  5. Exploitative, taking advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.
  6. Arrogance and haughtiness (aloofness) and strong reactions to criticism.
  7. Lack of empathy.
  8. Envy of others or belief that others envy them.

Because these traits create friction with others, narcissists may try to disguise them. For example, they may feign empathy or pretend to be humble and fallible. But because their goal is to be perceived otherwise, they will sabotage their own pretentions, making it clear that their empathy is fake.

A narcissistic leader makes decisions not for the well-being of the organization, but to improve his own personal feelings about himself. Anyone who opposes him therefore threatens his entire identity and self-worth. The narcissist will stop at nothing to eliminate this threat, because his entire ego structure is at stake.

NPD shares many traits with antisocial personality disorder, including grandiose fantasies, feelings of invulnerability, a need for admiring attention, sense of entitlement, enviousness, and strong reaction to criticism.

Qualities like sensitivity to criticism, ragefulness, and entitlement are also found in borderline personality disorder. A narcissist can also be exhibitionistic, dramatic, and exhibit seductive behavior in order to attract admiring attention.

What is the difference between narcissists and antisocial personalities?

Narcissists are very similar to sociopaths, who are people with antisocial personality disorder (APD). Both types lie without guilt and have little empathy. Both are highly skilled at being charming and feigning empathy in order to exploit others. But they differ in the reason for the behavior. The sociopath is oriented toward gaining advantage over others, while the narcissist is trying to bolster his or her feelings of worthiness and importance.

For example, both types may sabotage the work of their employees or business associates. But they do it for different reasons. The sociopath is seeking personal gain. The narcissist wants to prove that he is better or smarter than his employees.


Perhaps the trait that most distinguishes narcissists is their difficulty with self-awareness and self-disclosure. Narcissists do not realize they are exploiting and manipulating people, because they are unable to recognize the true feelings of others. They may believe, for instance, that rage and anger directed against them are the result of envy toward them.

To protect their feelings of self-aggrandizement, narcissists will lie shamelessly, but often do not realize they are lying. A person who lies to others will also lie to himself. So the narcissist may sincerely believe they said X, Y, or Z if believing it exonerates them from wrongdoing. A narcissist might make claims to have expertise or skill well beyond his or her actual knowledge. But unlike an ordinary liar, the narcissist truly believes he or she is telling the truth.

That's the difference between a sociopath and a narcissist. Sociopaths lie because they just don't care about others: to them, people are just means to an end. The narcissist creates a reality-distortion field, and tries to extend this bubble of unreality around others.

Effect on other people

People often unthinkingly accept others' opinions of themselves as accurate. So the narcissist may convince many people, at least at first, that he is indeed important, smart, and unique, especially when he talks of his supposed achievements in a field with which the listeners are unfamiliar.

But eventually, they realize they've been deceived. The narcissist leaves behind a trail of people who hate him for deceiving them and wasting their time and energy. It can be especially infuriating to employees who know their narcissist boss is lying, yet dare not contradict him.

The narcissistic leader's subjects have been described as being "sucked dry of positive self-experience" [2]. A narcissistic leader leaves a legacy of wrecked careers, bungled foreign policy, misspent money, and, if the narcissist is a government leader, a shattered society whose members mistrust each other as much as they mistrust the leader. A neurotic or sociopathic government is no fun to live under.

Ronningstam [4] says that pathological narcissists have five distinguishing traits:

And no, Ronningstam is not the kid who gets my coffee. That psychiatrist joke is very, very old and not funny any more. Von Ronningsberg is the kid who gets my coffee. Von Ronningsberg's theory is totally different—something to do with chemtrails.

Institutional Narcissism

Institutions obey the same psychodynamic principles as individuals, so organizations, like people, can also have personality disorders. In fact, a government or corporation can be more narcissistic or sociopathic than any of its members, because organizations have less influence on each other than individuals do, so there is less opportunity for self-correction.

Arrogant organization disorder is characterized by a failure of an organization to learn and adapt [2]. Unwilling to allow information to penetrate and flow within the organization, because they already know all there is to know about everything important, the leaders are shocked when their arrogance plows the organization into the ground.

In narcissistic organization disorder, the goal is to elevate organizational self-esteem at all costs, so lying and avoidance of unpleasant realities are prevalent. Members of such an organization have to be extremely careful about what they say. Because lying is so prevalent, they also become mistrustful of each other.

According to Godkin and Allcorn [2] (the guys who deliver my donuts), pathologically narcissistic institutions have eleven features in common:

It could be said that this is frighteningly accurate description of our current government.

How to tell if you have narcissistic personality disorder

Taking a cue from Jeff Foxworthy, here are some tips that you can use to find out if you have narcissistic personality disorder.


Most psychiatric disorders aren't diseases in any meaningful sense, so there is no sense in which they can be “cured.” Whether they stem from parental failings [3], traumatic experiences, or fundamental personality flaws, they are only patterns of behavior. Overcoming them requires effort. Like alcoholism, the first step is recognizing that there is a problem.

This is very difficult for the narcissist, because narcissism is their defense mechanism. The narcissist will say or do anything to prevent a return of those childhood feelings of being despised and worthless. If the narcissists' delusions of adequacy are destroyed, they would be emotionally unable to cope, and they may even commit suicide.

More often, however, setbacks are easily rationalized as the understandable results of others' envy of the narcissist's wonderfulness. Thus, even if his actions result in disaster, he or she invariably attributes it to the failings of others, never his own. This is bad enough in a spouse or employer. It can be catastrophic in a political leader. But then, for politicians, creating catastrophes is their job.

Recognizing the problem is like a Get Out Of Jail Free card. If you believe you might have narcissistic personality disorder, it's a sign that you can escape from this destructive behavior pattern.

If you succeed, the greatest benefit will be that the people around you will stop wanting to strangle you with their bare hands. Not only could that save your life, you'd be doing them a big favor, and they might even conclude that you really are wonderful. Or, at the very least, less of an asshole than before.


[1] Ronningstam E: Identifying and Understanding the Narcissistic Personality. New York: Oxford University Press; 2008
[2] Godkin L, Allcorn S (2009). Institutional narcissism, arrogant organization disorder and interruptions in organizational learning. The Learning Organization 16(1) 40-57.
[3] Horney K (1950). Neurosis and Human Growth. W.W. Norton, New York, NY.
[4] Ronningstam E (2005). Identifying and understanding the Narcissistic Personality. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

See also:

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Women and Math — Part 1

Stress and Reproductive Fertility

Book Reviews

Books by Thomas S. Szasz

Neuropathology Books

The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder
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feb 14, 2014


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