Imagine — if you can — not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern for the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members. Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken … You can do anything at all, and still your strange advantage over the majority of people, who are kept in line by their consciences, will most likely remain undiscovered. How will you live your life? What will you do with your huge and secret advantage?
— Martha Stout, The Sociopath Next Door
How will you live your life? What will you do with your huge and secret advantage? You know the answers to these rhetorical questions.
Everyone knows at least one malignant narcissist. It could be a family member, a colleague, a client, or a boss. (Hopefully, not a spouse or a friend. If it is, you should part ways sooner rather than later. Life is short!) They are everywhere, including in the education industry. Some are straight out of central casting, the smart asses and wise guys, while others are less colorful. Yet others are plain vanilla.
I wrote an article a few months ago about the man who plays the part of the US “president”in a B-movie entitled View From Vietnam: COVID-19 Reminds the World That Trump Has No Clothes. Indulge me while I quote from the beginning because this is where I describe the condition of malignant narcissism based on the work of a psychologist who taught at Johns Hopkins University for almost 30 years (my bold).
In his 2018 book, Rocket Man: Nuclear Madness and the Mind of Donald Trump, John Gartner, Ph.D., a psychologist who taught at Johns Hopkins University Medical School for nearly three decades, claims that Trump has malignant narcissism, a condition that “combines narcissism with paranoia, sociopathy, and sadism. When combined, this perfect storm of psychopathology defines the ‘quintessence of evil,’ according to (Erich) Fromm, the closest thing psychiatry has to describing a true human monster.“
Some examples related to Trump’s malignant narcissism, according to Gartner, are: 1) he knows “more about everything than anyone” and “has empathy for no one but himself.” 2) paranoia (“his demonization of the press, minorities, immigrants, and anyone who disagrees with him, are all signs of paranoia”); 3) sociopathy (“a diagnosis that describes people who constantly lie, violate norms and laws, exploit other people, and show no remorse”); and 4) sadism (“He takes gleeful pleasure in harming and humiliating other people. …undoubtedly the most prolific cyberbully in history.”)
Here’s how a Mayo Clinic faculty member describes the DSM-5 diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder: “A mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
Without naming names, I can think of a number of people whose paths have crossed mine over the years who fit this description to a T. In fact, some of them remind me a lot of Donald Trump. Just as it is for the malignant narcissist-in-chief, cheating is a way of life for them.
In her new book Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, Mary Trump, the president’s niece and a clinical psychologist, discusses the destruction and downward spiral of her father, Fred Trump, at the hands of his father and her grandfather, Fred, noting that “The only reason Donald escaped the same fate is that his personality served his father’s purpose. That’s what sociopaths do: they co-opt others and use them toward their own ends–ruthlessly and efficiently, with no tolerance for dissent or resistance.”
Donald Trump is living proof that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. This self-published May 2020 article The Psychopath in Chief by Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal also offers valuable insights into the psyche of this particular type of human monster.
Malignant Narcissists in the Profession
While their politics, net worth, and the amount of power they wield may differ, they have these traits in common: 1) white; 2) male; and 3) wealthy. Sound familiar? They were born with a golden spoon in their gaping maws and grew up thinking the world revolved them, knowing it was their oyster. They are used to getting what they want and lash out at others when they don’t. They don’t hesitate to lie to discredit or threaten people, including with legal action, just like the one-time hotel and casino boss in the White House. They shamelessly engage in bullying, including the online variety, that can even include threats of offline physical violence. (They are likely to “outsource” the latter so as not to dirty their little hands.)
Hit the Bullies Hard. Where It Hurts.
Cyberbullying is probably their preferred MO because they can play keyboard warrior. In other words, courage isn’t exactly one of their strong suits, meaning their bark is worse than their bite. That is their Achilles’ heel.
My advice to colleagues who encounter these people with fragile self-esteem is to collect evidence of their bullying. One advantage you have over malignant narcissists is that they are impulsive and arrogant, believing that no one can hold them accountable for the abuse they heap upon their fellow human beings and the intimidation they routinely dish out. (Save the offending emails, chats, and social media posts.) When the moment is right, when they least expect it, spill the beans with the appropriate parties. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t be afraid. Take action. The veneer appears strong but the substance is weak and the interior hollow. In most cases, they will fold like a house of cards.
If you’re reading this and have the feeling I’m talking about YOU, maybe the shoe fits, so wear it but not with pride in your dark, cold, and shriveled-up heart. Wait for the other shoe to drop. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Someone once told me karma’s a bitch…
If you’ve been victimized by one of these “human monsters” and need advice, drop me a line either via comment (which I won’t post) or email.
Shalom (שלום), MAA