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Boris Johnson - And How to Disarm a Narcissist

04/07/2016 08:55

It seems like every day in the UK brings another stunning surprise as the shock waves of the EU referendum blast through our society. This week's news that Boris Johnson won't be standing as replacement to David Cameron has shocked as many people as the actual result did - many simply can't understand it.

It doesn't surprise me though. Understanding what lies behind what to normal people seems such unfathomable and bizarre behaviour actually provides the means to disarm other similar reckless leaders currently vying for the public's approval - notably Donald Trump.

I have been studying two different kinds of leadership in the ascendance: Authentic Leadership and Narcissistic Leadership. Johnson's behaviour is consistent with the latter.

Narcissistic leadership is destructive. It is narcissism that drives dictatorships. It was narcissism that fuelled the maniacs behind the global financial crisis. And so it is with Johnson. Having gone about the job of convincing a good chunk of the British public leaving the EU is a good thing, and triggering a cataclysmic series of events, he has back-pedalled with the courage of a school bully who has been caught out. He hopes looking bashful and saying sorry will get him off the hook.

It is easy get swept away in the craziness and cravenness of his behaviour, but this plays to one of the key defence techniques of the narcissist- creating confusion and distraction, a sulphurus vapour trail to cover their tracks. What is more useful is to understand what drives it, to disarm the narcissist before they cause massive damage, be it in government, business or personal relationships.

Narcissists need what psychologists call, "narcissistic supply". They need adoration and adulation, and it doesn't matter where it comes from. Narcissists need their supply like vampires need blood, without it they whither and die. They will say anything to keep it coming.

This is why Boris plays the fool. This is why Trump plays the hard man. Their ridiculous hair is their brand, their means to draw more attention. To ensure their narcissistic supply they use a technique called, "love bombing" - something both Trump and Johnson have been using in their campaigns.

Love bombing differs from normal politics. The narcissist has no real beliefs, they tell people what they want to hear. The technique works well on unhappy and needy people who feel left out and undervalued. Narcissists have a predatory instinct for neediness. They say what they know will make these people feel loved. Such is the neediness of the people, and the relief of having their fears acknowledged, that any rational thinking goes out of the window.

This is how narcissistic CEOs beguile shareholders and investors. And this is what swayed a large chunk of people to vote Leave. Johnson and his people said whatever was needed to make a disenfranchised part of the population feel appreciated and valued, anything to get their love and adulation. The problem came when they won. Because then it suddenly became clear that a lot of what they had been saying wasn't true and the whole house of cards collapsed.

But the narcissist has an Achilles heel - they have no ability to deal with criticism from those who provided them with their narcissist supply. As soon as the supply chain is broken, the narcissist cuts and runs with all the desperation of an addict needing a fix. This is where Johnson is heading. We can expect to see him on a TV game show or any place where he can again play the fool.

What we can learn from the post-Brexit shambles is the means to stop a narcissist before they can wreak damage is to cut their supply. Pay no attention to them, get them out of the papers, stop falling for their clowning and showboating. This requires what can seem like counterintuitive behaviour - don't protest at their rallies, don't post things about him because at the end of the day what they crave is legitimacy.

We live in an era that requires strong and responsive leadership - not crazy makers and showoffs. Our mistake with Johnson, Farage, Trump and all the chronically narcissistic leaders to come, is we indulge them.

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