Thursday, November 02, 2006

Recognizing Narcissism In Action

When the narcissistic defense is operating in an interpersonal or group setting, the grandiose part does not show its face in public. In public it presents a front of patience, congeniality, and confident reasonableness. However, beneath the surface it is supremely smug and superior. It is confident it can deceive the "fools" or their objective it is committed to blocking, while maintaining its own control and dominance over either the rules, and/or the flow of events.

It is critical to understand that the narcissistic defense is addicted to power and control. It, the defense, and they, the people who are controlled and possessed by the defense, must have power. The addict in the private sector gains power by instantaneously gratifying his needs through drugs, alcohol, sex, or gambling. The addict, or the person or group dominated by the narcissist, gains and holds power by dominating and controlling the flow of information, the rules, and the processes for participating in life.

One of the best places to spot narcissism, unfortunately, is at the top of a company or a public organization. The narcissism can be detected by being sensitive to resistance from the top. The top, or the person or persons at the top, will resist efforts toward change in process or structure. The resistance is communicated through a variety of techniques: always needing more information, appearing confused or having a lack of clarity; excuses; premeditated "blowups" or other distractions from whatever the issues being considered. A common example is as follows: a position needs to be filled in order for an important project to move forward. The boss, preferring control over progress and efficiency, delays and delays the hiring of the new executive, consistently finding something wrong with either the candidates or the search firm.

Another common sign of narcissism is the experience of pressure. This pressure comes from the unrelenting demand for perfection which is necessary to the narcissism if the grandiosity and illusion of omnipotence is to be maintained. The employee or group member will feel pressure either to conform, or to continue producing until exhaustion. The pressure is unpleasant and contains the negative expectation that people can't meet objectives through their own resources and cooperative participation without pressure from above. It devalues pride of accomplishment, commitment, and capacity to follow through and complete tasks.

When narcissism perceives that it could lose control of a situation or process, it often feels threatened. The grandiosity's sense of omnipotence is being threatened. When this happens, narcissism's response can be one of character assassination of those who are threatening its objectives. The presence of character assassination is another way of detecting the presence of narcissism.

There is another important way to recognize narcissism. Narcissism is often contained in language through the use of "I". If a person listens carefully to another's use of "I" one can detect the grandiosity inside, the part speaking for the whole.

Bruce Gregory, Ph.D