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Faculty & Research


The Narcissistic Trainwreck

Working Paper
In the context of narcissistic behavior, this article starts by exploring the role of mirroring in human history. It is pointed out that staring at our own image in the mirror is a means of personal assurance of the self, an activity that starts at a very early age. Furthermore, it is also suggested that mirrors allow us to see ourselves as others see us, making them highly effective tools for introspection and self-reflection. Given the nature of mirroring, the article also touches on the theme of the double. What’s noted is that the concept of the doppelgänger can be viewed as an exploration of two sides of the same personality, presented as opposites and reflecting the complex divisions or contradictions that can exist within one individual. But it is also suggested that looking at our shadow side can be a great way to shine a light on those parts of ourselves that need healing and improvement. In this context, it is pointed out that only when these qualities are repressed or denied that they become labelled as negative or shadowy. The article also contains a lengthy discussion of narcissistic behavior. A differentiation is made between constructive and destructive narcissism. Also, the concept of echoism is introduced. Here, it is suggested that on a spectrum of grandstanding, echoism would be at one end and narcissism at the other. Furthermore, what is also made clear is that narcissistic behavior should be seen as a survival mechanism. Narcissists spend an enormous amount of energy supporting and maintaining a completely fake self to compensate for a deep, dark, cold inner void. Also, in the context of narcissism, observations are made about leader-follower dynamics. Here, mirroring and idealizing transference reactions will be par for the course. Due to these false attributions, this transferential interplay can create highly destructive behavior, as the narcissistic leader shifts the gears into overdrive while drunk on power. Finally, it is noted that in contemporary society, narcissistic behavior has become part of the new world order. Social media has provided the means to fall even harder in love with our own image. Our projected self can now be reflected back in a digital mirror and shared with the world via the Internet. However, what’s also pointed out is how in our drive to project ourselves on social platforms, we have become disconnected from the traditions that formed the bedrock of our human experience. Thus, ironically, while the world is more connected than ever before, feelings of loneliness and alienation have never been so widespread.

Distinguished Clinical Professor of Leadership Development and Organizational Change