Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Ed Miliband is about to give Labour the shock of its life (Daily Telegraph)

After his successful conference speech, the Labour leader is planning to get tough with his party, says Mary Riddell.

2. At last! A minister stands up to Uncle Sam (Daily Mail)

It is not every day one can say that a senior minister has acted bravely and done the right thing, writes Stephen Glover.

3. Theresa May has set an uneasy precedent (Daily Telegraph)

May described the McKinnon affair as 'exceptional', notes a Telegraph leader. But it would be no surprise if its implications return to haunt future occupants of her post.

4. Voting yes will create a new Scotland (Guardian)

Independence will allow a proud country to take its seat at the top table, and on its own terms, says Alex Salmond.

5. The fund warns and encourages (Financial Times)

It is essential for the eurozone and the world that it sustains a healthy level of demand, writes Martin Wolf.

6. My son Gary McKinnon has won justice at last (Guardian)

Theresa May's decision not to extradite Gary to the US on computer hacking charges is a victory for common sense, says Janis Sharp.

7. 140 reasons why politicians are out of touch (Times) (£)

They may not control the message, but MPs can still meet voters on the digital doorstep, writes Alastair Campbell.

8. Pro-choice – but not so pro-debate, it seems (Independent)

Those who argue for a 12 week limit for abortions don't deserve such a hate-filled response, says Christina Patterson. There's logic on their side, too.

9. It's drugs politics, not drugs policy, that needs an inquiry (Guardian)

The sanity of politicians in opposition turns into the darkest taboo in power, writes Simon Jenkins. This is the greatest failure of modern statecraft.

 

10. Peace prize sets off an unseemly scuffle (Financial Times)

Who will accept the award – and who will deliver the Nobel lecture, asks Peter Spiegel.

 

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I am special and I am worthless: inside the mind of a narcissist

There's been a lot of discussion about narcissists this week. But what does the term actually mean?

Since the rise of Donald Trump, the term “narcissistic” has been cropping up with great regularity in certain sections of the media, including the pages of this journal. I wouldn’t want to comment about an individual I’ve never met, but I thought it would be interesting to look at the troubling psychological health problem of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

People with NPD (which is estimated to affect about 1 per cent of the population) have a characteristic set of personality traits. First, they have a deeply held sense of specialness and entitlement. Male NPD sufferers frequently present as highly egotistical, with an unshakeable sense of their superiority and importance; female sufferers commonly present as eternal victims on whom the world repeatedly inflicts terrible injustices. In both cases, the affected person believes he or she is deserving of privileged treatment, and expects it as a right from those around them.

Second, NPD sufferers have little or no capacity for empathy, and usually relate to other people as objects (as opposed to thinking, feeling beings) whose sole function is to meet the narcissist’s need for special treatment and admiration – known as “supply”. In order to recruit supply, NPD sufferers become highly skilled at manipulating people’s perceptions of them, acting out what is called a “false self” – the glittering high achiever, the indefatigable do-gooder, the pitiable victim.

The third characteristic is termed “splitting”, where the world is experienced in terms of two rigid categories – either Good or Bad – with no areas of grey. As long as others are meeting the narcissist’s need for supply, they are Good, and they find themselves idealised and showered with reciprocal positive affirmation – a process called “love-bombing”. However, if someone criticises or questions the narcissist’s false self, that person becomes Bad, and is subjected to implacable hostility.

It is not known for certain what triggers the disorder. There is likely to be a genetic component, but in many cases early life experiences are the primary cause. Narcissism is a natural phase of child development (as the parents of many teenagers will testify) and its persistence as adult NPD frequently reflects chronic trauma during childhood. Paradoxically for a condition that often manifests as apparent egotism, all NPD sufferers have virtually non-existent self-esteem. This may arise from ongoing emotional neglect on the part of parents or caregivers, or from sustained psychological or sexual abuse.

The common factor is a failure in the development of a healthy sense of self-worth. It is likely that narcissism becomes entrenched as a defence against the deep-seated shame associated with these experiences of being unworthy and valueless.

When surrounded by supply, the NPD sufferer can anaesthetise this horrible sense of shame with the waves of positive regard washing over them. Equally, when another person destabilises that supply (by criticising or questioning the narcissist’s false self) this is highly threatening, and the NPD sufferer will go to practically any lengths to prevent a destabiliser adversely influencing other people’s perceptions of the narcissist.

One of the many tragic aspects of NPD is the invariable lack of insight. A narcissist’s experience of the world is essentially: “I am special; some people love me for this, and are Good; some people hate me for it, and are Bad.” If people with NPD do present to health services, it is usually because of the negative impacts Bad people are having on their life, rather than because they are able to recognise that they have a psychological health problem.

Far more commonly, health professionals end up helping those who have had the misfortune to enter into a supply relationship with an NPD sufferer. Narcissism is one of the most frequent factors in intimate partner and child abuse, as well as workplace bullying. The narcissist depends on the positive affirmation of others to neutralise their own sense of unworthiness. They use others to shore themselves up, and lash out at those who threaten this precarious balance. And they leave a trail of damaged people in their wake. 

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times