Malignant Narcissism and Epochal Change

Malignant Narcissism and Epochal Change

by

Howard Adelman

We are in the process of an epochal change. Narcissism, as indicated throughout the world, is on the march and in many places – Turkey, Russia, and now the U.S. Malignant narcissists (MNs) occupy the highest political positions in the land and threaten to do so in many other places, facilitated by minor non-malignant narcissists who already dominate the corridors of power. The new media somehow have helped dismantle the institutional intellectual checks that worked and were designed to keep such personalities away from the apex of power. When the personality who occupies the top political office in the land and the centre of political authority, when the self-centredness that was supposed to be the essential character of the economic order – though it was really not – becomes the predominant trait envisaged as dominating all orders, then the seeds of rot and disorder have invaded the central hub to allow destructiveness rather than constructivism to become the order of the day.

Narcissists love themselves more than anything, and malignant narcissists love only themselves or those considered to be reflections of themselves. All energy is expended in self-confirmation rather than in efforts to understand and comprehend the mysteries of the universe. Immune to falsifiability, MNs disparage science, the essence of which is a willingness to be open to self-criticism and critical self-reflection. The MN is very capable of pivoting and tactically adjusting to setbacks, but will never admit that the initiative of the Executive Order on migration was just a terrible and inept expression of governance. An MN not only dislikes restraints and government rules to protect the citizenry in the economic sphere, but he expands this dictum into a transcendental principle of understanding altogether. A new executive order on migration will be written and issued to get around the obstacles, but these are not regarded as constitutional limits on actions, but as barriers to be crushed in due time.

If the empath is inherently shy and is embarrassed by praise, the MN cannot live without it. The thirst for accolades is insatiable in proportion to the distance of any personality traits or accomplishments from deserving such praise. While empaths seek solitude to restore their equanimity, MNs need to surround themselves with courtiers, supplicants and sycophants who are loyal, not to any idea or ideal, but to The Donald.

But what about friends. Brian Mulroney, once Prime Minister of Canada, is a friend of Donald Trump. Whatever his failings as a blowhard, Mulroney was not a self-serving malignant narcissist. Self-serving perhaps, so when I first met him, within 30 seconds he had sized me up and, having determined I was of no use to him, abruptly terminated our contact. The Donald would not have needed that initial handshake to even make such a determination.

Further, an ordinary egocentric character like Mulroney could still bestow US$5 million on Nelson Mandela of the ANC after he was freed from years in prison. An extraordinary person like Brian Mulroney was also one of the rare statesmen who, without fanfare, was the only world leader we knew who wrote two, not just one, letter to President Habyarimana of Rwanda urging him to retreat from the persecution of Tutsis. So why and how could Mulroney be friends with Trump?

Bob Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, is another personal friend of Donald Trump. By virtually all accounts, Kraft is a fair and generous man, highly successful and well loved and respected. During Super Bowl week, he explained his friendship with Donald Trump. “When [Kraft’s wife] Myra died [in 2011], Melania [Trump] and Donald came up to the funeral in our synagogue, then they came for memorial week to visit with me. Then he called me once a week for the whole year, the most depressing year of my life when I was down and out. He called me every week to see how I was doing, invited me to things, tried to lift my spirits. He was one of five or six people that were like that. I remember that.”

This is not a false memory. This is true. And there are many other such testimonies of individuals who have remained loyal to Donald Trump in spite of what they regard as his eccentricities, his bad taste and his often oafish and insensitive behaviour. Further, Trump offers these loyalists, these Red Tories, reasons to identify with his political platform. Kraft said of DT’s planned remake of America’s inner cities: “Working class people and lower income people, we have to help more. They’ve gotten hurt over the last decade a lot. We have to create jobs and a vibrant economy that helps those communities throughout America. I really believe and hope that the new administration is going to do that.”

Kraft is not an empath. He is just a very successful good-hearted citizen who cannot recognize a practiced manipulator for what he is. Kraft can evidently not pick up false empathy, empathy which is practiced as a craft rather than as an expression of the inner soul. The reality is that Trump populates his universe with worshippers, courtiers and billionaires, the later as the necessary icing on the cake to ensure that he can bathe in the shadow of another’s celebrity at the same time as he demands, as he needs, their acceptance and applause. When he interviewed billionaires for important positions in his cabinet, the ultimate selection criterion was not whether their policies were in accord with his or, when different, could be well-defended, but whether they would truly and fully acknowledge DT as leader of the pack.

That is why money matters. That is why glitter matters. That is why gold matters. They are, for a malignant narcissist, the ultimate symbol of success – not academy awards or honorary doctorates, but money. DT has the Midas touch, the golden touch precisely because he cannot really touch or be touched as I noted in an earlier blog discussing Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book XI. What I did not write is that Midas had been very generous and kind to the drunken poet, Silenus. Midas entertained him, wined and dined him and extended to him an unprecedented 10 days of hospitality to an otherwise fall-down-dead-drunk. When Dionysus offered to reward Midas for his generosity and granted him one wish, that wish was that everything he touched should turn to gold, including the presidency of the United States of America. The roses in his huge garden lost their suppleness, their colour and their velvet feel as they turned to gold upon his touch.

And when his daughter came to weep about what had happened to the roses, as in one of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s stories, when Midas went to touch his daughter, she too turned to gold. Donald Trump has five children. Some evidently keep their distance or, as much as possible, are kept at a distance. But the three oldest have been converted to the belief that the pursuit of gold is the highest achievement, even though there is no evidence, however accomplished Ivanka Trump may be, that they possess the Midas touch. Trump’s children are props for him, to be cited and used as testaments, for one, to his lack of anti-Semitism. They are the only courtiers he can trust.

But they dare not disabuse him of his deep conviction that he got the most electoral votes ever, that larger crowds attended his inauguration compared to that of any other president-elect. He could not stand, he could not tolerate a blatant visual image that Barack Obama in 2009 had attracted much larger crowds than he had. He had a fit, a temper tantrum, and berated The National Park Commission for issuing false images and pictures. Most of all, he took to task the media with their fact-checking and continual replay of the pictures that told more than a thousand words. The replays only made Trump more furious and he declared open warfare on the false, on the lying, media – with the exception of the small number of TV stations that continued to pour accolades on Donald Trump without reserve.

Most of all, in the central focus on themselves as the reference point for not simply assessing value, but for establishing himself as the ultimate value, Donald Trump offers no praise of past history or even acknowledges it or the institutions developed by that history to protect against the exercise of power by a narcissist. In that sense, he is akin to the empath, but with this major difference. The empath can see and foresee. The Donald can and must play and replay. The more nostalgic, the more comforting, the less challenging, the more often it is replayed. On 20 January 2017 began the first day of the New Common Era and the beginning of draining the swamp into which DT had thrown all of history.

In both the film The Arrival and in the world of Trump, history is problematized. However, whereas in the movie time can run backwards as well as forwards, in the Trump world, linear time is deconstructed into recurring existential moments to create a repeated existential presence, an image of action more akin to the hell Sisyphus suffers in rolling the boulder up the hill, only to have it roll down the next day, making it necessary to repeat the action. Only in this ultimate inversion, this state of hell is depicted by Trumpists as the other side of the Pearly Gates.

Frenetic in motion and in speech, Trump cannot and will not sit still. Most of all, he has to restore his energy as he feeds on the applause of the crowd. But what happens as the applause begins to die out. Desperately, he will search for more rallies in an attempt to still the discontent within. We now live in this inverted world and have passed irredeemably into a new epoch. How can we cope?

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Malignant Narcissism and Empaths

Malignant Narcissism and Empaths

by

Howard Adelman

The list of characteristics described below have many similarities to the ones published by the DSM describing the symptoms of narcissism as a mental disorder and to the depictions in Michael Brenner’s email on the subject, but the organization and sometimes the emphasis is somewhat different. My concern is less with the person afflicted with the condition – I contend that he is a lost cause – but with those caught up in the mass psychosis stimulated and reinforced by the condition. I want to make clear how the skills of persuasion can or cannot be used to penetrate the minds of those caught up in the madness – including my own – and to peel them away from an obsession with the narcissist towards a greater concern with the damage done and how to deal with it. I want to pull away from the very narcissist who would colonize my mind and my attention yet not ignore the individual who inserted into a presidential executive order, not what the president in his legal capacity is allowed by law to do, but the “I” who will absolutely permit or deny.

Let me begin with contrasting the characteristics of a malignant narcissist with those of an empath, the latter clearly not a mental disorder though often regarded by others as strange or alien. The characteristics of the latter are probably rarer than that of the malignant narcissist, but just as readily recognizable. In the Denis Villeneuve’s film, The Arrival, based on Ted Chiang’s inventive “Story of Your Life” and a script by Eric Heisserer, Louise (played by Amy Adams), a professor of linguistics, is an empath of an extreme order, capable of anticipating even more than just picking up another’s feelings; she is able to adumbrate the future. That is why her daughter has the name, Hannah, which is a palindrome spelled the same forward or backward. Louise is the real alien in the movie. (As a side note, the film was made in Montreal and used two McGill professors as consultants for the linguistic issues in the film – Jessica Coon and Morgan Sonderegger.)

The fact that Louise is a linguist is not accidental, and not simply because of the function she plays in translating an alien language into our own. She is a linguist because she is totally attuned to the logic of grammar, of syntax. Language is inherently interactive. And alien languages can only be deciphered as children do by starting small with the ordinary rather than grandiloquent statements. She can decipher coherent patterns of thought where others read only chaos and still others use language as only a chaotic representation of their own internal souls. Linguistic self-indulgence is the use of speech, broken sentences and fractured thoughts, diversions, excursions and free associations, to reveal internal incoherence and absence of both reflection within and an ability to reflect the conversations of others. Such an individual is indifferent to established customs and norms for the preservation of coherent communication.

Donald Trump is the alien in all our lives who has totally dispensed with the “grammar of hard thinking” in preference to using speech as a mode of self-reference and self-preservation. He uses language to impress himself on others and to inflate himself among others. Impression, however, is not communication. His is a malignant and dangerous presence and precisely the kind of person who would have attempted to blow the aliens from another part of the universe up even though they demonstrated no evil intent and even though they self-evidently belonged to a civilization far superior to our own.

Words lose their meaning – “false facts” is an inherently contradictory phrase. If something is false, it is not a fact, and if something is a fact, it is not false. Words also lose their contact with reality, so any word can mean just what you want it to mean disregarding customary or traditional use. Those who speak the language of “false” or “alternative” facts would confound coherence and logic in favour of sheer nonsense. While humans still converse through the medium of language and words, the medium disintegrates before our ears in favour of noise and grunts of affirmation or shouts of “Arrest her.”

Reality becomes totally plastic in the process. In fact, reality is reduced to process. The distinction between the virtual and the actual world gets lost.  Since a malignant narcissist is the gatekeeper of his own reality without balance and certainly without any checks, he alone is entitled to determine what is true and what is false so that anything he dislikes and would challenge his mental portrait is a disturbance. Such assertions are banned as false facts and relegated to the recycling bin. It does not matter who did what; there is virtually no accountability. There is no need to decide what happened since the fault is in asking the question not the failure to offer an answer. And it is impertinent to ask why something happened since the ultimate answer is always because that is what The Donald wanted. Donald Trump truly lives in a world that is both truth-challenged and memory-challenged where all norms of measuring truth have been discarded.

In contrast, the aliens are represented as communicating through visual images, the logic of which Louise has the task of deciphering. However, those images on the glass barrier between the aliens and humans seem clearly to be reproductions of the representation of the nerve patterns of hubs in our brains and suggest a mode of communication that can dispense with the mediation of language. Just as some estimate that we have twelve main mental hubs, the aliens land twelve “spaceships” – really timeships – from twenty-five hundred years hence – at twelve different places on earth. I was sure the landing places formed a pattern, but as far as I can recall, the movie never revealed that pattern though the window drawings were broken down into twelve elements.

My concern here is not with the movie, but with the character of Louise who stands out in such stark contrast to that of Donald Trump. Whereas Amy Adam’s character is tremulous, soft, quiet and inviting, that of Donald Trump is hard, bombastic and repulsive. Whereas Donald’s world is made up of enemies and allies, and the greatest enemy is characterized by those committed to communication – the media – the world Louise encounters is one that is grasped through networking rather than through the barrel of a gun sight or a piece of artillery.

That is why The Arrival has very little action and virtually no violence. The Arrival is the story of reason and thought dominating fear and violent action. The Arrival is the story of feeling in tune with thought rather than radically separated from it. The Arrival is the story of female sensibility and reason winning over male schizophrenia. The Arrival is the story of integration rather than differentiation and specialization, of dynamic interaction rather than either/or thinking, of connecting various specialized faculties, whether seeing, hearing, language use and conceptualization as well as feelings.

The tone of Louise is always modulated and lacks any of the immoderate hysteria of that of Donald Trump with his broken sentences, fragmented thoughts, eruptions and disruptions, with the eternal recurrence of self-reference. Louise explicitly and directly feels and experiences the emotions of another, even of the supposed “aliens” or heptapods on the other side of a glass barrier. Louise is so clearly claustrophobic and cannot stand the “space suits” or contamination protection outfits that the military insist she wear. She strips that costume off at the first opportunity so she can come closer to her own thoughts and feelings as well as that of the aliens.

Louise, given where she lives and how she responds to the mass and mob movements, is a moment of serenity in a sea of panic. And she flees the panic. She flees the crowd. She is an independent thinker and feeler. She does not feed off fear, but struggles to overcome it. Donald Trump, by contrast, loves mass rallies and mass events. He draws his energy from the masses instead of drawing out energy from an inner being to give to others.

The greatest difference, however, is with respect to truth and falsity. Louise knows when she is being handed “false news.” She knows when others have got it wrong and especially when they are lying. She is an empath. Donald Trump is a malignant narcissist who cannot even discern when he is telling a lie. “Look at the incident in Sweden last night,” he will shout out at his rally, even though no one can locate the incident to which he was referring. MN are the enemies of empaths. As Michael Brenner wrote, “Attentiveness to the feelings and emotions of others risks subordinating the imperial self to someone else.”

Donald Trump always reminds me of carnies I worked with and about whom I wrote an essay for my anthropology professor in first year university. When they told a story, the time references never made sense because the past experience in Windsor the year before or in London, Ontario last week were as real as the events the evening before and were woven together in an amalgam where it was almost impossible to separate fact and fiction.

The biggest difference between malignant narcissists and empaths is that the former suffer from a disorder, but have a disproportionate influence in this world, whereas the latter belong to a truly higher order of being, of thinking and of feeling, but are generally considered as aliens. If malignant narcissists are bottom feeders, empaths are givers. If a malignant narcissist loves discord, an empath is tuned into harmony. If malignant narcissists reject anything that will challenge their prior beliefs, empaths are open to the novel and the new. If malignant narcissists love the garish and the kitschy, an empath is entranced by true beauty, creativity and subtlety.

A malignant narcissist is obsessed with himself and evaluates everything in relationship to himself. An empath is attuned to the other and easily picks up otherwise ignored cues. An MN can be told a feeling, can have that feeling demonstrated before him, but will be blind and deaf in the face of it, as Donald Trump was to the Muslim couple whose son died fighting for America. An empath senses based on only the slightest cues. That is, of course, why The Donald can go on and on creating barriers to any unwanted incursions from what is going on around him while an empath is highly sensitive to negative vibes and disruptive environments. A negative environment can overwhelm an empath. A MN works to dominate and overwhelm his environment.

A MN seems to lack any intuition. When an ultra-orthodox reporter asked Donald Trump at his recent inchoate press conference about what he planned to do about the rising spate of anti-Semitic incidences in America, instead of treating this as a lob from a pro-Trump supporter, and even though he should have recognized him from their conversation the day before, Trump cut him off, ordered him to sit down and went on a diatribe on how he was the most non anti-Semitic person around. Trump cannot read a room or a person even when its stares him in the face. All conversation can only be excessively self-referential. But Trump can manipulate a room better than anyone as he picks up and plays on negative feelings and responds to and exaggerates fears.

And hopes. For everything he blesses is the best and the brightest, the most beautiful and the most wonderful, the most glittering and the most captivating, the most splendiferous and the most stupendous. Alternatively, it is trash, the worst treaty ever made, the worst medical plan ever introduced, the worst slums ever seen and experienced, the worst mess that any new president could inherit. There are only these two extreme poles. There is no middle ground.

Trump is said to have a thin skin since he allows satirical sketches and negative statements about himself to irritate him so much that he cannot help scratching. But I have learned that this is not because his skin is thin and he is sensitive to criticism, but because he has a very thick almost impenetrable skin, but nevertheless allows any minor irritant to become and be read as an overwhelming assault on his very being. Unlike an empath, a MN has the body armor of an armadillo. It should be no surprise that empaths dislike narcissists and malignant narcissists heap scorn and abuse on “feelies.” A MN would rather grab for the pussy of a woman than have her emotionally touch him; it is as much a defensive as an aggressive gesture.

Donald Trump has an attention span of 2-3 minutes. He has a hard time listening to others, let alone an intelligence briefing which is a distillation of enormous effort and analyses. He always knows better – better than the intellectuals, better than the scientists, better than the generals and better than the intelligence officers. An MN is almost incapable of listening since his own voice drowns out almost any intrusion through the senses. An MN is the precise opposite of an empath.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman