The psychology of narcissism and why all bullies are narcissists

Len Brown won’t quit, neither will Rob Ford. In both case both men have acted in an appalling fashion.

In Brown’s case he is getting off scot-free with a weak and compliant media. Rob Ford is more dogged in the face of an incredulous and questioning media. The two examples are similar and yet contrasting.

Both cases though highlight extreme narcissism and bullying behaviour.

In an earlier article for The Atlantic, I discussed the psychology of narcissism through a profile of Lance Armstrong, highlighting a similar winner-loser dynamic inherent in narcissistic relations. “The narcissist lives in a world populated by two classes of people, the winners and the losers. His constant aim in life is to prove he’s a winner and to triumph over the losers.” I described narcissistic winning as a psychological strategy for off-loading unconscious shame, a heavily repressed sense of internal inferiority: You’re the loser, not me. The narcissist therefore needs and depends upon identified losers in order to carry his shame, thereby shoring up his defensive sense of self. 

Bullies and narcissists thus follow similar psychological strategies for building and defending their identities. In fact, rather than viewing them as distinct psychological entities, it makes more sense to see their interconnection: All bullies are narcissists, with an inflated sense of self-importance and a marked lack of empathy for their victims’ suffering, while many narcissists turn out to be powerful bullies. In defending his winner-status against detractors, for example, Lance Armstrong made extensive use of the legal system and his access to media in order to bully and intimate anyone who challenged him.

In particular, he tried to destroy their reputations. He referred to former soigneur Emma O’Reilly as a “whore” and an “alcoholic” in public statements after she admitted witnessing his use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs. On more than one occasion, he has publically referred to Betsy Andreu, wife of former teammate Frankie Andreu, as a “crazy bitch”; her mistake was admitting she’d overheard Armstrong tell his oncologist that he had used a long-list of PEDs. To shore up his winner status, Armstrong wanted to make his detractors appear like contemptible losers; he tried to turn public opinion against them, enlisting the support of his many fans.

Borwn did this when confronted…throwing his mistress to the hungry wolves of the media, same with the messenger. More of that is likely to play out this weekend, and it is all designed to continue to bully and smear the messenger.

This of course also sounds like someone else who acts in this way…using courts, and government authorities to bully people who wish to tell the truth about him into silence. There are many people in the business world who are the same. They think they have a reputation beyond reproach when in fact they are nothing more than narcissistic psychopaths intent on playing with their victims.

Narcissism is of course closely related with psychopathy. There is one in particular that I can think of who would classed as an Unprincipled narcissist.


THANK YOU for being a subscriber. Because of you Whaleoil is going from strength to strength. It is a little known fact that Whaleoil subscribers are better in bed, good looking and highly intelligent. Sometimes all at once! Please Click Here Now to subscribe to an ad-free Whaleoil.

  • Toryboy

    I suppose you sort of expect people to defend themselves; few are honourable or dignified to say – “opps, you got me! I shall now throw a lifetime of ambition away and slink into ignominy. Goodbye.”

    • Bad__Cat

      I can tell you, learning to openly admit whenever you are wrong is such a wonderful thing. You no longer have to defend the indefensible, and almost always takes the wind out of the other person’s sails.

      It helps if you are older, and can admit to having a memory loss or a “grey moment”. It embarrasses people :)

      • Toryboy

        I always diffuse these sorts of things my claiming it was “just my little joke”

  • nudgy

    Wasn’t narcissism originally known as MEGAlomania?

  • dilligaf2013

    Pants Down Brown will continue to be the cause of utter embarrassment to us and refuse to resign, even if he has been found to have breached the council code of ethics.
    Wonder when the EY report will be released – it was supposed to have been presented yesterday.

    • Toryboy

      Perhaps Len forgot to email over the result of the investigation in time?

      (hint: Len’s investigation into his own behaviour exonerates him completely)

  • Reid

    When you have narcissism as heavily as Brown does it becomes dangerous to the individual because all of their thinking and all of their plans are demarcated along the win|lose paradigm and things like honesty and integrity are sidelined in favour of whether or not they contribute to the win|lose line.

    They have no values to anchor them in other words meaning they will do anything, sacrifice anyone in order not to become (what they see in their own mind as) a loser. These are the very people about whom it is said are willing to sell their own grandmother down the river without a paddle if it’ll help them to get ahead (i.e. not feel like a loser). And these people have spent their whole life living this paradigm, they don’t know any other and they think it works because its bought them to the place they’re currently at so they will not change. Often they’ve become so lost they don’t even see it’s wrong.

    Of course when you have a politician with this condition it becomes a danger not just to himself but also to others who depend on him to conduct himself with honesty and integrity. And that’s always been the point of this whole issue for me. Since day one of the revelations which critically, detailed the way he acted in his own office, at his own desk, in his bathroom at home before coming to work, and in other ways, the narcissism of the man was written for me in flaming letters a million feet high. For me, it’s never been about having an affair per se, it’s always for me, been about the way he conducted himself during it and also afterward, which to me has simply confirmed the diagnosis.

    You don’t have to be a trained psychologist to see this, you simply need to be a student of life. The journalists who refuse to recognise this clear and present trait in Brown clearly don’t have this natural curiosity of what makes people tick for they clearly think it is only a mere affair, nothing more to see here. Which makes one wonder whether they’re properly qualified to do their job and how many other times they’ve had the wool pulled over their eyes simply because the subject of their enquiry happens to represent a political perspective that coincides with their own.

    • Lonnie12

      Spot on Reid and especially with his conduct after. Continually minimizing, not genuinely owning his part and fobbing off questions. And yes being a student of life and for myself as a counsellor I had predicted and seen his narcissism grow to dangerous levels. To me he has always been questionable when he was Mayor of Manukau (my area) and more proof is how having a life threatening event like his heart attack a few years did nothing to contain his ego like it usually does with most people. :)

  • patrickstarr

    A very good article, and Auckland Council has a culture of bullying,
    Im reminded of their senior manager; John Dragicevich who made the headlines a couple of years ago for extreme bullying but kept his job.
    A text book Unprincipled narcissist

    • ratmuncher

      So does the herald

  • Ronnie Chow

    It was precisely that evening in Lodi that I came to believe in myself as an unusual person and became consumed with the ambition to do the great things that until then had been but a fantasy.”

    Napoleon Bonaparte, “Thoughts”

  • ratmuncher

    Narcissistic and bullying – sounds like Campbell live.

  • grumpy

    Roger Sutton????

  • philbest

    Is a certain callousness about the cost of housing as the result of certain kinds of urban planning, part of this narcissism? Including the infliction of tiny apartments on people, still at gouging prices? Hong Kong is the Lefty elitist sadist Len’s “favourite city”, after all.

  • Gravyman

    Or maybe Len’s frontal lobes don’t work too well? Not an excuse but maybe an explanation for his post heart attack behaviour.