OPINION: Why narcissistic political leaders are also paranoid

Robert Labayen

Posted at Aug 12 2020 11:42 PM

Narcissism often comes bundled with paranoia. When a leader is paranoid, a lot of people get punished.

How narcissists become leaders

In a previous article, I already mentioned that a study by Ohio University has found that narcissists appear leader-like. It concluded that “when a group is without a leader, you can often count on a narcissist to take charge.” Surrounding people misconstrue it as a good leadership quality.

To be fair, some narcissists become good leaders. But the study said there are those who "are overconfident in their own abilities…but they don’t necessarily become better leaders.” They think they are good, they make people believe they are good, but they can be terrible at handling things. The incompetence of both Hitler and Mao Zedong led to the death of millions.

Psychologist Leon F. Seltzer wrote that narcissists are attracted to politics because “What typically drives them is a lust for power, prestige, status, and authority.” These “objects of admiration” would “provide them with compelling evidence to confirm their sense of superiority to others--probably their most coveted need of all.”

Why are they paranoid?

Sam Vankin, editor-in-chief of the Global Politician website, said that a narcissist believes that he has “a pivotal role in the scheme of things” that’s why he thinks people are out to get him. His “paranoid delusions are always “grandiose”, “cosmic”, or historical.

They are suspicious even of people around them. These could be their rivals or close associates. Maybe because he knows that like him, people are capable of betrayal, deception and violence.

Joseph Stalin ordered the execution of the very people he collaborated with on his rise to power. He was so paranoid that he had the curtains in his office building cut eighteen inches above the floor to make sure there’s no assassin behind them.

Kim Jong-Un of North Korea believed that someone will blow his plane up. He always traveled by train even on very long distances.

Why People Suffer 

Joe Navarro was a former FBI specialist who spent forty years apprehending and studying people with personality disorders. He reported that a narcissist “has an exaggerated sense of privilege that allows him to bend rules and break laws.” His observation is very similar to Seltzer’s comment that because of their “exaggerated sense of entitlement,” they think they deserve to game the system, and “they’re inclined to believe they can get away with most anything.”

Sam Vankin warns that when adoration of the leader is in short supply, the narcissist thinks he is allowed to “provoke people to pay attention to him by misbehaving or behaving oddly.”

Odd behavior is indeed a common thing with narcissists. Navarro said that the narcissist always has an “angry reaction to minor slights --seems to always have an ax to grind.” When criticized, he “tends to lash out with anger or rage.” Navarro also describes the narcissist as a “wound collector” which is someone “constantly looking for and ruminating on social slights and grievances, which he never forgets.”

They hate critics

Being vain, they don’t want anyone to tarnish their image. Vladimir Putin forced the network owners to sell to the government. Now, the Russian government controls more than 90% of the media. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela had several tv and radio stations shut down. J.J. Rawlings, Ghana’s ruler from 1981 to 2001, stifled the supply of paper so that no one could publish bad things about him. Navarro asserted the narcissist sees those who disagree with him as "enemies."

This article is not meant to put down all politicians. There are good politicians, too. The good ones are not paranoid but are also scared that offended parties may deprive them of perks or votes. The fear notwithstanding, they stand up for the people.

Read:

Grandiosity and Intimacy: The Roots of Paranoia by Sam Vankin in the Healthy Place website

Living with The Paranoid Narcissist by Joe Navarro in the Psychology Today website

Narcissistic People More Likely to Emerge as Leaders by the Ohio State University in the Science Daily website

Narcissistic Personality Disorder by Clayton Geoffrey

Narcissism: Why It’s So Rampant in Politics by Leon F. Seltzer in the Psychology Today website

Pathological power: the danger of governments led by narcissists and psychopaths by Steve Taylor in The Conversation website

The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith

The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy by William J. Dobson

Tyrannical Minds: Psychological Profiling, Narcissism, and Dictatorship by Dean A. Haycock

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Robert Labayen spent 22 years in advertising prior to joining ABS-CBN in 2004. He was VP-Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi and Executive Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson, two of the country's leading ad agencies. He is currently the Head of Creative Communications Management at ABS-CBN. His job involves inspiring people to be their best. He is a writer, painter and songwriter.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.