Opinion: A 2-year-old hiding behind the uniform and the medals

U.S. General David Petraeus, with his wife Holly seated behind him.

All leader hierarchies are a honey pot for narcissism — excessive vanity and self-centeredness. This is equally true in the military as it is in the corporate or political world. Why would a successful and popular military leader risk everything? Not because he needed the sex. The world is asking how could he be that stupid? Narcissists are not motivated the same way as balanced ordinary people.

What makes pathological narcissistic leaders difficult to understand is that we can’t see they are in the middle of a life and death struggle to maintain a false self-image.

How does that false self-image develop? One important source of pathological narcissism can be found along the road to maturity. At a certain stage, children discover their own will power by challenging their parents. If good parenting does not help the child to balance its will, they grow up with a secret sense of entitlement. When this child becomes an adult that sense of entitlement can survive as a very childish part of the personality — a self-image built on the false belief they really are that important.

And where does the bad judgement come from? After all, narcissists all seem to be intelligent and mature — at least on the surface. Someone appointed as head of the CIA would have to present pretty well to those making the decision. The problem is that people appointing leaders aren’t able to see the whole picture, they don’t know there is a 2-year-old hiding behind the impressive uniform and the medals.

So how could such a seemingly powerful person be foolish enough to squander everything for the short lived pleasure of an extramarital affair? Well, not because it was cool or exciting, but because he desperately needs it. If a narcissist is unable to get their narcissistic fuel, which is the attention and adulation of others, they end up depressed, feeling worthless and lonely, thus making their actions into a life-and-death struggle to maintain a flawed identity. What makes narcissistic leaders dangerous is that they are not motivated by work and love. They will do anything to keep their self-image intact, to feed their sense of entitlement.

— Mats and Karin Eriksson are the authors of The Salamander Club. More information about their book and their work can be found at www.salamanderclub.com

Metro does not endorse the opinions of the author, or any opinions expressed on its pages. Opposing viewpoints are welcome. Send 100-word submissions to letters@metro.us.


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