Have you ever been drawn like a magnet to a person because of their charm or charisma, only to learn later that the person is self-centered, emotionally or physically abusive, vindictive, and possibly dangerous? Did you ever wonder why so many of us (including myself at some points in my life) find or have found narcissists incredibly attractive? And when you observe this attraction happening to someone else in your family or social circle, do you think: “Are they out of their mind?”
Narcissists thrive on attention. They are empty vessels with no inner compass, no true character, possess no self-esteem based on self-awareness, and no ability to feel empathy for others or shame. In a nutshell, the narcissist has no integrity, because he or she is no one without your constant support and admiration. This bad boyfriend or girlfriend feeds on your energy, on your love, and yet (at first), he or she seems so powerful, so much bigger than life than anyone else around you. You put him up on a pedestal, and he thrives looking down at you. She is a magnet for attention, and you feel thrilled being seen with her. And when he or she has taken all that can be taken from you and walks away without a backward glance, you wonder about your own self worth and what happened. How could I have given all of my power and energy to this person, you wonder, feeling crushed, drained, betrayed.
Today in America, we are observing this same phenomenon on a collective level in our 2016 presidential race for the nomination on both the Democratic and Republican tickets. We have a bad boyfriend running for the Republican nomination: Donald Trump. And a bad girlfriend running for the Democratic ticket: Hillary Clinton. The position of President of the United States is obviously a position of great power as well as responsibility. A narcissist requires constant attention, approval, and power. Winning is more important than anything, and both these candidates constantly change their positions in order to court public opinion and approval. Neither have any integrity, yet, in a bizarre twist, hardly anyone seems to care. Make America Great Again? Really? What does that even mean? And what would happen if we elect a bad boyfriend or girlfriend to office?
Donald Trump does not compromise; he is autocratic. I would anticipate his behavior to resemble Russian president Vladimir Putin. He can crush his opponents and uses intimidation and reprisals to control opposition. When he fails, he doesn’t take responsibility. He blames circumstances outside of himself. Or he blames us. Do we want to elect through the democratic process a dictator in order to support his personal need for power? Do we realize what would happen if we elect a malignant narcissist who is unpredictable and without conscience to the highest office in our country? While many Americans are riding on the irrational high that comes with being seen with a “sexy (I put these words in quotes, because to me Donald Trump is a dangerous clown), we run the risk of putting our individual and collective well-being in great danger. Like the bad boyfriend, Donald Trump does not care about us, he does not care about the future of our jobs, our children, our environment. He is not about rebuilding infrastructures, creating or maintaining delicate ties with other nations, ensuring that ordinary Americans enjoy a good quality of life by promoting workers rights and benefits, small businesses, or using our tax dollars to make quality education and health care affordable.
Do you want an unpredictable and controlling boyfriend to live with you and run your life? He will take away your personal freedoms and drain you of your energy and joy. You will be left feeling empty and betrayed.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, while experienced in the political realm, promotes herself as being the person who can handle any situation. She says that she is kind, that she cares about people. And the only reason she is saying this is because she thinks that this is what people want to hear. This is a different form of narcissism. Hillary, like Donald, constantly changes her political views and positions to follow the constantly changing desires of public opinion. She is a chameleon and a liar, but for some reason, she continues to draw in many Democrats, who feel she is more qualified than Bernie Sanders, who has lifelong experience in the political realm. According to many, Sanders is a “pie-in-the-sky” dreamer, whose ideas are impossible to realize. And why do we prefer to give up the necessary fights for justice, clean air and water, the need to rebuild our infrastructures, social equality, equal pay, quality education and health care…everything that is worth fighting for, in exchange for the status quo? Why is it practical to put our trust in a liar because that liar has experience?
Have you ever been in a relationship with a woman (or man) who claims they will make your life better, who courts you and tries to please you…and then, when you are committed to the relationship, seems to morph into an entirely different person? A presidential campaign is a form of courtship with important consequences. The candidates are courting our votes by either seduction and by showing us their “best selves”. In fact, both Hillary and Donald’s flaws are right there, out in the open. The red flags are waving and flashing. Some of us can’t believe that so many Americans are out of their right mind, blindly following the Pied Piper down the road to certain death.
And why are bad boyfriends and girlfriends so much more attractive than good people, people who have integrity, who are responsible and trustworthy? The immature person is drawn to someone who seems to be powerful and in control. The mature boyfriend wants a real relationship. He wants you to own your own life and to take responsibility for yourself. He wants to meet you as an equal. To the immature person, the good boyfriend or girlfriend is boring and predictable, while the bad boyfriend is exciting. That high comes from the draw of being able to give up your own power and put it into that powerful person’s hands. That person is going to solve all of your problems and give you a fabulous life. In their company, you are suddenly powerful and desirable too. You begin to live as an extension of that powerful person, and you don’t mind not having any power of your own any more.
When you feel as if you don’t have power in your own life, and that you are not master of your own ship, then you are more likely to look outside of yourself for solutions to your problems. When you lack sufficient self awareness and do not know your own strengths and limitations, and when you are not capable of taking responsibility for your own life as it is, with its struggles and triumphs, it is impossible to make good and responsible decisions. In the immature person’s frame of mind, it is easy and seductive to blame others for our problems as much as it is easy and seductive to seek out leaders or partners who can solve those problems for us. In this frame of mind, the bad boyfriend or girlfriend is the answer to all of our problems. He or she represents power, lets us remain irresponsible, and passive as children. The price to pay is giving up our freedom and giving up responsibility for ourselves, our choices, our word. This is why the bad boyfriend or girlfriend is so dangerous.
True democracy requires that we participate actively in the political process as citizens. We can choose to give up our power, our freedom of choice, willingly with out vote. But then we will no longer have a democracy. We will have voted for dictatorship. Over the last forty years, wealthy billionaires have taken over America, threatening democracy and taking away the voice of the people by manipulating our elected officials to cater to their needs and to grow their wealth exponentially. If we want a good boyfriend or girlfriend in office, we have to grow up as a people. We have to take responsibility for our choices. We have to remain active and vigilant at all times. We can’t give up our power, nor should a good candidate have any desire for us to do so. That is the political revolution of which Bernie Sanders speaks. He is speaking to us as adults. And some of us have a lot of work to do. We need to grow up and realize that if we don’t, our children won’t have a future to which they can look forward. Our planet needs our active and concerted efforts to combat global warming. Our children need us to fight for their future by insisting that our food and water systems be completely revamped. They need us to fight for them by demanding quality affordable health care and education. We, the people, do have power. We should not give it away.
Narcissists can be attractive and charming. They can also be very harmful. They don’t care about us. Instead of pouring our adoration into an empty vessel, let’s grow up and choose a candidate who is fully engaged in true leadership. Someone who cares about us and about our country. Someone who will listen attentively to our concerns and work with us to bring about the needed changes. Democracy requires maturity, and mature people recognize bad boyfriends and girlfriends from far away. Mature people accept their responsibilities and know that a good relationship, like a working democracy, requires attention, hard work, and devotion to maintaining communication. Together we can build a great America, but we have to grow up as a nation and realize that with freedom comes great responsibility.