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The time of narcissists


The rise of Donald Trump showed that the self-centered disorder in leaders has real consequences; Social networks have empowered citizens with that kind of fragile and toxic personality and are banishing serious debate

For some time now, a word that used to be specialized, or that was only part of the lexicon of certain professions, has been appearing in the press and in various speeches, as if it had suddenly discovered the pleasures of living outdoors.

The word is



We have seen it applied to Donald Trump, for example, and, since


is a noun, it has been accompanied by adjectives to better describe the former president:


is one of the most used.

I don't know when this word began to enter our everyday conversation, but I recently came across—it's the curse of those of us who hoard magazines—an article from

Vanity Fair

published back in the distant months of 2015, when the world was another partly because Donald Trump had not yet been elected.

In it, a group of psychologists and psychiatrists dared to issue their verdict for the first time: we were dealing with a textbook narcissist, an extreme case in a trade —that of politicians— of extreme cases, and the idea that a such a man coming to the presidency had to be cause for concern.

Everything in the article was alarming.

For George Simon, professor of seminars on manipulative behaviors, Trump was such a perfect narcissist that his public appearances were unbeatable as an illustration of the characteristics of this disorder;

if he didn't have Trump, Simon said, he would be forced to hire actors and draw cartoons.

Speaking of


, the constant bully behaviors and the tendency to humiliate the other that Trump had turned into a daily strategy, clinical psychologist Ben Michaelis made an accurate diagnosis.

"Narcissism is an extreme defense against one's own feelings of worthlessness," he said.

"Putting people down is actually part of a personality disorder."

Wendy Behary, who was listed in the article as the author of a study titled

Disarming the Narcissist

, spoke of the relationship narcissists have with the truth: “Narcissists are not necessarily liars, but they are notoriously uncomfortable with the truth.

Truth means the possibility of being ashamed.”

The shame caused by their shortcomings or their failures is what specialists call

the narcissistic wound


in Trump's case, the wound is the size of his ego.


Vanity Fair

article , I remember well, caused a predictable stir.

Giving such diagnoses broke with a precedent in American political life: the so-called "Goldwater rule."

In 1964, Fact


published a kind of survey in which psychiatrists gave their opinion on the psychological suitability of Senator Barry Goldwater, a presidential candidate.

The senator sued the magazine and won, and since then a taboo has been installed among mental health professionals, who stopped issuing diagnoses about politicians… until Trump came along, and the concern was too much to keep quiet.

Seven years after the article, everyone who has been half awake has been able to see the consequences of putting a narcissist in positions of power, since there are several and in several countries: where there is a Trump there is a Putin.

There is nothing new in the fact itself, of course: since Havelock Ellis identified it in the late 19th century, narcissism as a mental disorder has allowed us to better understand Hitler and Stalin,

But the diagnosis of narcissism is serious business, and the narcissist is a toxic person who does harm to those around them.

Well, in recent times we have used the same term to describe a very different phenomenon: the emergence in social networks of a new egocentrism that today seems to us to be a symptom of something else.

There is a false mirror


, Jia Tolentino's book, which explains it eloquently.

Trying there to analyze the phenomenon by which our activity on the Internet is usually limited to what is in accordance with our opinions and prejudices, Tolentino reaches this conclusion that seems unappealable to me: the problem with social networks as they are conceived is that they place personal identity at the center of the universe.

“It's as if we were put on a vantage point from which you can see the whole world,” he says, “and given binoculars that make everything look like our own reflection.

Through social media, many people have quickly come to view all new information as a kind of direct commentary on

who they are


I like that essay because Tolentino, apart from being a good essayist, is a


who is very active in social networks, with which she speaks or seems to speak from an authority that other skeptics do not have.

But anyone who has a clear eye, or who can go out and look at the world without those binoculars that distort everything, has recently realized that behind many of our contemporary entanglements lies the same cause: the hypertrophy of identities, which it also responds to its fragility or its uncertainty.


Run and Hide

, one of the smartest novels I've read in recent months, Pankaj Mishra puts a character (not very likable, by the way) to talk about these times when everyone has become a brand, and , therefore, in self-promoting.

“No one,” he says, “not even the richest and most beautiful and famous, is sure who he is, and everyone is fighting to be recognized in the social media attention economy.”

And this is a problem.

It is these too fragile and uncertain identities that have banished serious debate from so many places, even if it is sometimes angry and even hurtful, and have nullified the diversity of points of view when some seem scandalous or simply heterodox, and have replaced confrontation and conflict, so necessary and healthy in an open society, due to cancellation (another of the key words of our time) and the silencing of the contradictor: who ceases to be a contradictor, of course, to become a threat and an enemy.

These individuals demand that the entire world see them as they want to be seen, even if this requires the world to change its behavior, its opinions and its language;

have hypertrophied sensitivity,

and they have convinced themselves that caring for their emotions and protecting them from offenses should be the top priority for the entire world.

Offenses can be imaginary, that is, only exist in the mind of the offended;

but the offended party will continue to demand that they be respected at all costs, because they are his and for him they are real, and that is the only thing that matters.

One day we will know how to measure to what extent these distortions have affected our way of conversing, negotiating and, above all, our way of voting.

But if it is necessary to name the world accurately, we will have to agree that one thing is malignant narcissists of the Donald Trump type, whose pathologies and shortcomings (as anyone who has read Shakespeare knows) have a very real effect on our political lives, and another very different “narcissism”, between very large quotes, as a character trait of the virtual world.

Undoubtedly the two are connected by underground passages.

This too should be explored sometime.

Juan Gabriel Vásquez

is a writer.

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2023-01-19

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