Clinton, Shame and Narcissism: Destroying the Eyes of the World
The narcissistic personality has several core problems, all involving dysregulation of one sort or another. First, they are subject to wide mood swings, the reason being that their mood regulation is not internalized but is dependent upon external circumstances. Circumstances good, mood good. But if circumstances turn bad, than their mood will become poopy very quickly, as is true of my 17 month old. In his case, it is entirely developmentally appropriate. However, it’s a little frightening imagining him carrying around the nuclear football when he hasn't gotten his way.
The adult narcissist has a specific difficulty auto-regulating shame, the “keystone” affect of their disorder. It is unconscious and therefore unrecognized, or only dimly so. Narcissists are quite brittle, the reason being that they attempt to bypass their shame by erecting a facade of grandiosity. But when the grandiosity is poked or prodded, the narcissist will bristle. He might well accuse you of having a “little smirk” on your face or being part of a right-wing conspiracy after making some innocent comment that threatens their grandiosity, as Chris Wallace discovered on Sunday.
Narcissism is not a monolithic condition, but is actually situated along a spectrum from mild to severe. However, the most severe narcissists can often appear to be the most outwardly accomplished. One of the reasons for this is that the more severe the narcissism, the more driven they are to accomplish something in accordance with their grandiosity.
(As an aside, this is why it is generally a mistake to elect someone president who desperately wishes to be president, such as LBJ, Nixon, Al Gore, Clinton. Our better presidents could take it or leave it, because they already had satisfying lives and were capable of generating meaning from within--Truman, Eisenhower, Reagan, Bush.)
There are two main classes of narcissism, an egotistical, Clintonian type, and a dissociative type. See if this does not ring a bell: the egotistical (also described as the “oblivious”) type is self-absorbed, arrogant, unabashedly self-aggrandizing, attention demanding, and seemingly shameless.
But underneath the smooth and competent facade, these individuals show a preponderance of shame over guilt, the latter of which is much more healthy. For example, in response to Wallace’s question about Clinton's well known failures to take terrorism seriously, a non-narcissist would simply have said, “hey, my bad. I was like everybody else. Before 9-11, I didn’t take al Qaeda seriously, and I’m really sorry about that now. Let's just be thankful my successor is nothing like me.”
But for a narcissist, this kind of guilt instantly descends into shame, which cannot be tolerated. The EJECT SHAME NOW button has been pushed--therefore, the finger in the face and the shrill accusations of unfairness and right wing conspiracies. We saw the same desperate pattern a few weeks ago with the 9-11 movie. We will continue to see it as long as Clinton takes breath, or until he finally realizes that he doesn't have a pale and pudgy legacy to stand on.
As another aside, does this not demonstrate the systematic bias of the left wing MSMistry of Truth? Bush and Rumsfeld and Rice have to deal with these kinds of questions from the press constantly, but when liberals interview Clinton, it’s like a warm bath. He relies upon the liberal media to mirror his grandiosity, and they do a fine job of it. He simply does not know how to deal with tough questioning, both because he’s never had to and because he falls apart unless he has a ready lie at his disposal to ward off both the questioner, and more importantly, his shame.
The narcissistic personality is known to experience rage in reaction to a narcissistic injury--or even the threat of an injury. Clinton, of course, is famous for his infantile “purple fits” of shame-rage, which are not to be confused with manly aggression or assertiveness. Rather, it is the weak man’s imitation of a strong man. It is the same weakness and vanity that caused Clinton to govern by poll rather than principle (and to govern his private life by pole rather than principle).
Speaking of which, awhile back, Ann Coulter took some heat for suggesting that Clinton was not our first black president but our first gay president. This comment is very easy to misunderstand, but there is no reason for homosexuals to be offended by it. Most insightful homosexuals are aware of the fact that there is a substantial segment of male homosexuals who unconsciously feel an absence of masculine power, so they engage in compulsive sexual activity in order to try to appropriate and internalize the masculinity of the anonymous partner.
Naturally the compulsion doesn’t work, which is why it must be acted out again and again. Clinton’s well-chronicled sexual compulsion and subsequent inability to separate crotch and state must be understood in this light, as a blind attempt to gain the spurious sense of masculinity that he lacks. Apparently it hasn't succeeded yet (hey, here's a free tip--next time don't marry a castrating phallic mother. That goes for all my readers).
While on the topic of sexually confused narcissists and their mothers, the history of the egotistical type narcissist will not infrequently involve a seductive type of “wooing” mothering that resembles love, but actually stems from the mother’s own emotional needs. According to Allen Schore, “this type of ‘psychotoxic’ maternal care is the diametrical opposite of emotional deprivation, namely a surfeit, an overdose of affective stimulation,” which is generally more aversive and harmful than understimulation.
Another analyst notes that these individuals are often reared “by ‘adoring,’ doting, narcissistically disturbed parents who have objectified the child and through their adoring gaze have projected onto the child aspects of their own idealized self; these parents have not only failed to find adequate support for the child’s true sense of self but have also failed to provide enough realistic positive and negative evaluation to support some degree of tension between the actual and the idealized self.” Such parenting may outwardly look like a generous gift, but as they say, “yes, Santa Claus, there is a Virginia.”
*All quotes taken from Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self: The Neurobiology of Emotional Development.