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Kevin J. O'Toole, the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is a former New Jersey State Senator. (Photo: Kevin J. O'Toole.)

The O’Toole Chronicles: Situational Narcissist

By Kevin O'Toole, October 25 2022 12:01 am

I read an interesting article over the weekend.  In that article the term “Situational Narcissist” was defined and that term stuck in my head for some reason. Perhaps it was because prior to reading that article, I never heard the term.  I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame.

In the political world, we can all agree that the word narcissist is akin to the word politician. I asked a leading political consultant the other day about narcissism and politics and the consultant responded in a flat tone: “everyone in this business of ours is a narcissist, some more than others, and there is no denying it.” Case seemingly closed but let’s explore.

In general terms, Narcissist Personality Disorder (NPD), or narcissism, is usually characterized by a need for constant attention, adulation, and admiration, while suffering from lack of deep meaningful personal relationships. The other marker of this sickness is a complete lack of empathy and is found combined with other psychiatric disorders.

Sound like anyone you know?

Borrowing from some noted experts in this field, I offer the generally accepted symptoms of narcissism.

  • Grandiosity – an exaggerated sense of self-importance and feeling superior to others and possessing this need to special treatment;
  • Excessive need of attention – must be center of attention and need to monopolize every conversation;
  • Superficial relationships – relationships based on how it can help the narcissist and only valued to extent it is beneficial;
  • Complete lack of empathy – extraordinarily restricted ability to care about others;
  • Entitlement – enough is never enough, more is always expected and gratitude for help is never afforded;
  • Jealousy – extreme and unnatural jealously of others, even loved ones who helped along the way;
  • Arrogance – a general predisposition that they are the best and brightest and it is their world and we are all spectators;
  • Emptiness – when praise and attention aren’t found, depression and boredom seep in; and
  • Life transitions – very difficult to maintain any long-term connective relationships with family, work or education.

The above is a group of phrases that many smart people agree compose the core of a world class narcissist.

This brings me to the point of this “Freudian” like column. What in the world is a Situational Narcissist?

The so-called Acquired Situational Narcissism (ASN) is a behavior that is obtained AFTER becoming successful or popular. There is a body of work regarding narcissism that suggests that ASN descends upon a once seemingly normal well behaved individual when some status or promotion has been obtained or acquired.

Let’s look at a few examples:

  • A once normal athlete who makes All-State suddenly becomes boastful and arrogant;
  • A candidate wins an election and begins to believe his/her own press;
  • A person gets a promotion and becomes egotistical and entitled; or
  • A once poor individual becomes wealthy and shows shame or contempt for the poor.

Since most readers swim in those waters constantly, I focus the last part of this column on the candidate who wins the election.

How many of us know a person who wins an election for council, mayor, county commissioner, state or federal office, and quickly transform that once beautiful, promising, thoughtful and talented candidate into a boastful, conceited, entitled know-it-all who becomes insufferable almost overnight?

We hear often that elections have consequences — and they do. The untold consequences for many is that Situational Narcissism infects many elected officials and it is nearly impossible to cure. Therapy probably wouldn’t work; maybe the only cure comes by way of a humbling, usually inflicted after a loss of an election.

My hope in this column is that if you take a moment of self-reflection and identify yourself as having changed because of the title in front of your name, there’s hope for you yet. Maybe you can dial it down a bit. Maybe you can make some changes to your demeanor.

To be clear, self-confidence is a good thing. You can lose an election, still be self-confident and have friends. If you’re labeled a narcissist, chances are after you lose an election the title isn’t the only thing gone from your life.

Just some food for thought.

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