Unpicking the British Cult of Narcissism

It is a truism in politics that the people get the leaders they deserve. This must mean that the British people – well, the English at most – are a bunch of delusional narcissists who have no idea that their inflated egos do not accord with the reality of their circumstances! Watching the political scene over the last decade or so, any sane person could only surmise that the English electorate have become a narcissistic cult with a desire for self-amelioration, based on an egocentric sense of self-inflation and self-aggrandisement.

I’ve worked with, and for, a number of narcissists and sociopaths over the years. They beguile you. They dazzle you with the strength of the personality. They hypnotise you with the gleam of their teeth! And yet, when you think independently of them, and don’t act in accord with their self-regard, or show an adequate display of fidelity, and shower them with public praise, which they assume they are due, they turn on you. You end up savaged as they tear your esteem into shards. A narcissist and sociopath instinctively knows your weaknesses and zones in on them. All and any perceived slights they hold, however misplaced, are reflected and amplified back at you. Narcissists instinctively magnify your flaws of character, and not their own.

You know you are in the presence of a narcissist when you walk into a room, and somehow it is all about them. Their psychodrama is the dominant force in the room. Like Jupiter, we are pulled into the orbit of the second-biggest ego in the room. Though the narcissist never understands that they will never be primarily positioned at the centre of this dynamic, where they can direct the attention away from everyone else in this solar system of personalities, egos and delusions. Carl Jung warns us against the danger of ego inflation, when he says

“An inflated consciousness is always egocentric and conscious of nothing but its own existence. It is incapable of learning from the past, incapable of understanding contemporary events, and incapable of drawing the right conclusions about the future. It is hypnotised by itself and therefore cannot be argued with. It inevitably dooms itself to calamities that must strike it dead. Paradoxically enough, inflation is a regression of consciousness into unconsciousness” (‘Epilogue’ CW 12, par 563).

We are often led to believe that narcissism is the product of the dysfunctional or corrupted individual, particularly those people who have suffered damage or hurt at some point in their development. But this is only sometimes the case. Perfectly well-adjusted and healthy individuals can develop a narcissistic complex. Freud erroneously entwined narcissism with the myth of Narcissus, the son of a God who fell in love with his own reflection in the water. And while there is some truth in Freud’s depiction of this psychological dynamic, it does not explain how we each regulate our individual and collective ego-regard in a healthy way. As Jung explains

[Inflation] should not be interpreted as… conscious self-aggrandisement. Such is far from being the rule. In general we are not directly conscious of this condition at all, but can at best infer its existence indirectly from the symptoms. These include the reactions of our immediate environment. Inflation magnifies the blind spot in the eye” (‘The Self’, CW 9ii par 44).

For example, anyone who lacks self-regard, what many call self-esteem, can potentially be subject to manipulation by others. We are at risk of being dangerously malleable and plastic in the hands of the narcissist if we are not careful. At times, we act like dupes who are suckers to the con! But we are not incapable of moral discernment and ethical judgement when it comes to other people’s motives. We can sense when someone is acting out of utter self-regard, and we can sense when people are acting because of mutual empathy. We can work out the difference, but many people choose not to exercise this faculty.

The narcissists that I’ve known over the years are typically hollow. They lack any core values, other than their abiding self-regard. This means that sociopaths and narcissists have no touchstone set of values that are capable of directing them when times are difficult. If they are in a trying situation, they will deflect and blame others. They do this by continually seeking to distract attention by creating dramas that come from nowhere. They aim to draw all attention to themselves, like a passing squall on a summer’s day. Calm, peace and balance are anathema to a narcissist. If we are quiet, then we are not paying enough attention to our narcissistic colleagues.

The reason that I feel that these narcissistic and ego-inflated traits have now become endemic in our politics, is because they have also become endemic in our culture. Social media is awash with influencers and personalities. Schools and universities churn out business minded consumers, whose primary concern is ‘brand-me’! Our politics has mostly become a game between competing PR agencies. Our politics is broken into factions who compete to convince the public who will be the most effective at reflecting the desires of the electorate back on themselves.

Rather than being the product of a tough process, where the character of individuals is tested and proved, our political process has become a contest between one group of narcissists and egotists and another. Each fighting to convince us that the other competing group of narcissists and egotist should not be in office. These people have little regard for the practice and practicalities of governance. Competence is therefore a distraction from the process of distracting people! The idea that politics can make people’s live better, in a society that is fit for the future, is incomprehensible to these bullshitters. Instead, our politics is full of people who are only capable of doing one thing: telling people what they think they want to hear.

Yet, at some point, the narcissist’s prey becomes weary of the continual parade of errors, deflections and failures. Their incompetence as manipulators itself becomes the story. Why is it that we, the victims of these chancers, always have to pay for things and do the work, while the narcissists get to take the plaudits and the rewards? Why do we struggle to survive and pay our way, with little recognition for our contribution, while the narcissists take the glory and the benefits of the system? Feathering their own nest is a common trait of the narcissist, and is what often brings them down when they get caught with their hands in the till or the snout in the trough! At what point do people stop listening to these delusional distractions and figure out that our society and economy has become dysfunctional to the point beyond repair because of their narcissistically driven incompetence? Why are some people duped so easily when they are promised that everything will be wonderful, when we know that it won’t? At some point, the victim of the narcissist wakes up and wants answers.

So, here’s my prediction. If you want to get ahead in British politics in the coming years, go and study a trauma-informed therapy course. What the English electorate is going to need in the future is a non-judgemental therapist. There are many people who will be looking to work through their pain, their feeling of entrapment, and their feelings of self-disgust. Many people are going to start to wonder why they were so easily manipulated by a group of chancers and sociopaths, who understood their desires, but ruthlessly manipulated them for their own ends.

It will be a mistake to redirect this pain inwards, and nor should we expect individuals to take the sole responsibility and the burden of guilt. There is plenty of blame to go around. This is a shared problem. Our media, our businesses, our schools and universities, have each been complicit in different ways, as they have gone with the flow of this narcissistic culture. It will likewise be wrong to deflect this pain on to others, by seeking to create enemies, such as those within and those without.

Instead, we need to work out what got us into this situation in the first place, and learn how this happened. We are going to have to take a long, hard look at ourselves. We’ll need to have uncomfortable conversations with one another, and accept that, as has been well established over time, there are no easy answers to our problems. Ahead of us, then, is the hard work of self-examination, with a long-term commitment to learning and developing our collective sense of self-awareness. The lesson of our times? There might be a cake, but someone has to make it, and someone has to pay for it. So, despite what some believed they were promised, and let themselves dream was possible, we can’t have our cake and eat it.

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