How Do You Deal with a Narcissist?
Carol Shumate, April 16, 2014
Jung noted that “every calling or profession … has its own characteristic persona” (1983, p. 416). In this issue, Kiley Laughlin writes about his struggles as an introverted soldier in the U.S. Army, with its extraverted persona; and Mary Anne Sutherland suggests that often the greatest challenge for so-called “learning-challenged” children is simply that they don’t fit society’s preconceived persona of ‘the good student.’ But those who accept that they don’t fit with cultural expectations may be psychologically better off than those who adapt by identifying with the persona. As Daryl Sharp observes, “by rewarding a particular persona, the outside world invites identification with it. Money, respect and power come to those who can perform single-mindedly and well in a social role” (1991, p. 98).
Those who identify with the persona risk becoming narcissistic, a term that has gained currency among corporate psychologists and organizational consultants to describe a growing phenomenon in executive circles. In this use of the term, the “narcissist” is someone who becomes so enamored with the two-dimensional reflection of her self –the executive title, the corner office, the ego-wall of awards, etc.– that she embraces this persona representation as her true self, and inflicts this narrow way of being upon the world around her (since it is, by definition, “the manner [s]he assumes on dealing with the world”) (Jung, 1989). Some of the most difficult people to deal with are extraordinarily competent but refuse to share power or flex to consider other perspectives, and so become obstructionists in contemporary society. Numerous studies have corroborated this trend in modern corporations, finding “a disproportional number of narcissistic individuals [in] executive leadership positions” (Kearney, 2010, p. 1).
Psychologist and coach Bruce Gregory observed that we can identify such individuals by their constant use of the personal pronoun “I” and that, “If a person listens carefully to another’s use of ‘I’ one can detect the grandiosity inside, the part speaking for the whole” (1999). That “part speaking for the whole” is often the superior function. There could be many other type dynamics contributing to a narcissistic personality, such as an identification with the tertiary function or Puer Aeternus archetype, or an inflation of the auxiliary or Parental function. But in Psychological Types Jung specifically focuses on the superior function as a source of problems, as when an individual “identifies completely with [the superior] function and denies the relevance of the other inferior functions” (para. 109). So without getting into a DSM diagnosis of narcissism we can begin by discussing this one possible typological expression of it: the over-dependence on the superior function, or identification with the Hero archetype that can carry it.
Jung noted the power such archetypal possession can confer, using the example of Hitler, when he said, “Identification with an archetypal figure lend[s] almost superhuman force to the ordinary man” (1936, para. 1333). This is why society often colludes in keeping individuals with inflated, heroic, dominant-function personas in power.
The following characteristics of this kind of personality have been documented:
- Insatiable need for self-esteem support: “The narcissist requires a steady stream of self-image reinforcement” (Hambrick & Chatterjee, 2006, p. 9). “Narcissists … want to have control over what others see” (McNeely, p 80).
- Grandiosity: “The child … demands … an echo to and participation in the narcissistic-exhibitionistic manifestations of the grandiose self” (Kohut, 1971, p. 107).
- Exaggerated sense of power: “Megalomania: an over-estimation of the power of their wishes and mental acts” (Freud, 1914, p. 75).
- Perfectionism: “The unrelenting demand for perfection … is necessary to the narcissism if the grandiosity and illusion of omnipotence [are] to be maintained” (Gregory, 1999, n.p.).
- Impaired perception: “The narcissist cannot see well at a distance or peripherally. … Being so concerned at keeping the false image intact, the narcissist cannot risk looking away or getting lost in paying attention to another” (McNeely, p. 80).
- Rage: “Those who are in the grip of narcissistic rage show a total lack of empathy … [and] can thus become extremely dangerous if they gain power and influence” (Jacoby, p. 173).
- Paranoia: “A person with foresight but without emotional intelligence is vulnerable to paranoia because he lacks a sense of other people’s intentions” (Maccoby, 2001, p. 60).
- Changing goals: Lubit (2004) and Kearney (2010, pp. 7-8) say that the unrelenting need to boost self-esteem leads to rapidly changing course corrections and an inability to follow through on any single project.
Questions for Readers
Have you ever encountered such a person? Have you known people who seem wedded to their persona, or to the dominant function, in an inflated or grandiose way? What is the typological way to deal with the poisonous effects of such typological one-sidedness? How can type help us and how can we help others deal with narcissistic personalities? Do you have any strategies, insights, or type tips to share?
Freud, S. (1914). On narcissism. In J. Strachey (Ed. & Trans.), The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 14).
Gregory, B. (1999). The impact of narcissism on leadership and sustainability. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace. Retrieved from http://ceres.ca.gov/tcsf/pathways/chapter12.html#introduction.
Hambrick, D. C. & Chatterjee, A. (2006). It’s all about me: Narcissistic CEOs and their effects on company strategy and performance [Monograph].
Jacoby, M. (1985/1990). Individuation and narcissism: The psychology of the self in Jung and Kohut. Trans. M. Gubitz & F. O’Kane. London: Routledge Kegan Paul.
Jung, C. G. (1923/1971). Psychological types. In H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, & W. McGuire (Eds.), The collected works of C.G. Jung (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.) (2nd ed., Vol. 6). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1936/1977). Psychology and national problems. The symbolic life: Miscellaneous writings. Adler, G. & Hull, R. F. C. (Eds., Trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1961/1989). Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York, NY: Vintage Books.
Kearney, K. S. (2010). Grappling with the gods: Reflections for coaches of the narcissistic leader. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, February, 8(1), 1-13.
Kohut, H. (1971). The analysis of the self. New York, NY: International Universities Press.
Lubit, R. (2004). Coping with toxic managers, subordinates … and other difficult people. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Maccoby, M. (2001). Successful leaders employ strategic intelligence. Research Technology
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McNeely, D. A. (1996). Mercury rising: Women, evil, and the Trickster gods. Woodstock, CT: Spring Publications.
Sharp, D. (1991). Jung lexicon. Toronto: Inner City Books.
Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, The Portrait’s Box (c. 1506-1510). Courtesy: Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.