Life Health & Wellbeing

Saturday 21 October 2017

Fashionable politicians and lazy narcissism labels

Canadian President Justin Trudeau
Canadian President Justin Trudeau

Patricia Casey

There are a bunch of words that have a specific meaning in psychiatry but are also in common use in general parlance. In the latter setting, they are used inaccurately, lazily and sometimes, demeaningly. These include "schizophrenic", "obsessing", "depression", "psycho" and the latest, "narcissistic". This term is used to describe people who are attention-seeking.

It has been used, most notably, in recent months to describe US President Donald Trump - but Barack Obama did not escape the epithet either.

Many pages have been devoted to using this label to justify identifying Trump as mentally ill and unfit for the presidency.

Meanwhile, just a few weeks ago, Leo Varadkar was described as a narcissist in an Irish Independent column.

An Italian psychiatrist, Dr Adriano Segatori, has described President Emmanuel Macron of France in similar terms, while Justin Trudeau was reported as showing signs of narcissism when he went across the floor in the Canadian House of Commons and took the opposition whip by the arm to speed up a vote on assisted suicide and then escorted the whip back to his seat.

Some might say that such a trait is essential in the leader of any country since it will bestow on them the abundant self-confidence necessary to withstand opposition and public criticism.

Mind you, the sayings and antics of some of these men are definitely unusual and eccentric. Obama spoke of his election as "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal" and "a light will shine down from somewhere, it will light upon you, you will experience and epiphany and you will say to yourself 'I have to vote for Barack.'"

Macron dispensed with the president's traditional Bastille Day television interview because his thoughts were described by him as "too complex" for such a question-and- answer session.

Trump has been called a narcissist because he takes umbrage so easily and is said to have a "fragile ego" that psychoanalysts believe underpins narcissism; and of course, he wrestled with a CNN microphone!

Trudeau has a fondness for quirky socks. At a recent gay pride march, he provocatively wore socks emblazoned with "Eid Mubarak" honouring the religious Muslim holiday to mark the end of Ramadan. A few weeks earlier, he donned mismatched Star Wars socks depicting R2-D2 and C-3PO when he met Enda Kenny on May 4 in Montreal. It happened to be International Star Wars day.

And not to be outdone, Leo Varadkar turned up to meet Trudeau last week in Dublin in Canadian-themed Mountie and maple leaf covered red socks.

On this occasion, Trudeau wore grey striped socks, one shade of grey exactly matching his suit - nothing like Sock Wars to convince the people that the leader of their country will fight hard to realise their deepest needs and aspirations. Is any of this indicative of the mental illness that is called narcissism?

Sure, these men are egotistical, adolescent-like and attention-grabbing. They are frivolous and some would say demean the office of leader. But narcissistic personality disorder as a clinical condition? No.

Narcissistic personality disorder is defined as "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 ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that's vulnerable to the slightest criticism."

It has always been a controversial diagnosis and while the American classification of psychiatric disorders includes it, the World Health Organization International Classification of Diseases, used throughout Europe, does not, because it is argued that the features of this overlap with other types of personality disorder also.

Even in the US, there are many who question the recognition of narcissistic personality disorder as a mental disorder. I have never made the diagnosis.

So, these men do not have a recognised mental illness, but they still have to win the respect of the public who voted for them.

Grandiose self-promotion, immature sartorial games and expressions of their intellectual superiority will not endear them to the men and women on the street and in the fields.

And when the next election comes around, unless they do better than attracting eye catching headlines the voting public will "sock it" to them.

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