Unpicking the British Cult of Narcissism

Originally published at: https://robwatsonmedia.net/unpicking-the-british-cult-of-narcissism/

It is a truism that in politics, the people get the leaders that 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 reality! Watching the political scene over the last decade or so, any sane person would only surmise that the English electorate have become a narcissistic cult with a desire for amelioration based on an egocentric self-inflation and 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 public praise that they believe they are due, they turn on you. You end up savaged as they tear your esteem into shards. All and any perceived slights become targeted back at you, as a magnification of the flaws of your character, and not theirs.

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 to direct the attention of 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 individuals 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, could potentially be subject to manipulation by others. We would be dangerously malleable and plastic in the hands of the narcissist, in the way that dupes are suckers to the con! But we are not incapable of discernment 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 a core set of values, other than their abiding self-regard, that is capable of directing them when times are difficult. If they are in a difficult situation, they will deflect, blame others, and seek to distract attention by creating dramas that come from nowhere. They aim to draw all attention to them, 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 them.

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 only concern is ‘brand-me’! Our politics is decided as a game between PR agencies. Our politics is broken into faction 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 a summation 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, fighting to convince us that the 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 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. Instead, are 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 manipulation. Why is it that we always have to pay for things and do the work, while the narcissists get to take all the plaudits and the rewards? Why is it that we struggle to survive with little recognition for our contribution, while the narcissists take all the glory and all the benefits? Why is our society and economy dysfunctional? At some point, the victim of the narcissist wakes up and wants answers.

Here’s my prediction. If you want to get ahead in British politics in the coming decades, go and do a trauma-informed therapy course because what the English electorate is going to need in the coming months and years is a non-judgemental therapist. There are many people who will be looking for a way to work through their pain, their feeling of entrapment, and their self-disgust that they were so easily manipulated by a group of chancers and sociopaths who understood their desires, and manipulated them for their own ends.

It will be a mistake to redirect this pain inwards, and take on the burden of guilt, or to deflect this on to others, and seek to create enemies. Instead, we need to work through what got us into this situation in the first place, and to achieve that we are going to have to take a long, hard look at ourselves, have uncomfortable conversations, and learn to recognise that we have no easy answers any more, despite what we’ve been promised.