Egomania: An Adaptive and Necessary Illness for Politicians

Egomania, though not listed as an official psychiatric diagnosis in the American Psychiatric Association’s most current Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (DSM-IVTR), seems to have become an increasingly prevalent disorder – Especially among people in the entertainment industry and those in public/political life.

Simply defined, Egomania is an obsessive (driven, constant and uncontrollable) preoccupation with the self. Persons with Egomania essentially see themselves as being at the center of the universe. Most egomaniacs suffer from delusions of personal greatness that cover over deeper feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. Everything is to, from, for and about them.

It is important to note that this ‘world view’ is entirely normative … in two year old children. In adults, it tends to be rather obnoxious and repugnant. It is somewhat surprising, therefore, that so many of the people we pay to watch or vote for have a big dose of easily identified Egomania.

Why would we be so prone to accept this otherwise off-putting quality in the people we elect to represent us? One possible explanation comes immediately to mind. Many people in the general population have reservations about themselves. Perhaps we are drawn to people who seem to be (or at least present themselves as being) more self-assured. People who seem more capable, more assured and assuring, more in control and consistently authoritative may appeal to the electorate as they often do to the movie-going public.

From a more specifically clinical point of view, the diagnosis closest to describing the general view of egomania is a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. No matter what we call it, the person to whom either of these terms is applied is most often experienced as being intolerably self-centered. When it is someone acting for a living, audiences tend not to care. They are more concerned with the performance than with the reality of who the actor is. Might the same be true of our view of politicians?

Arguably, may people are more concerned with an elected person’s performance in office than they are with the specific minutia of their personal characteristics. So long as they get ‘the job’ done, who cares whether or not they are egomaniacs?

We probably need to care more about this than we, as an electorate, seem to.

It is not illogical to suggest that for a person to run for elective office – especially one at the National level – there needs to be more than an average amount of confidence and sense of personal power. Glancing over the landscape of the past half-century, it is difficult to identify Presidents, Senators or Congresspersons who did not, under even cursory examination, meet many of the criteria for establishing the diagnosis if a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. How could someone not afflicted with a substantial dose of Egomania ever consider themselves to be worthy of being elected to such an office? The roles, their responsibilities, trappings and perquisites tend to attract such people. They may not always be the ‘best’ that we have, but their egos are never significantly deficient!

Thus, our culture seems to require some egomaniacs. To entertain us and to lead us. It is probably not a coincidence that many entertainers have found their way into major political jobs. At least three Governors (two California and one Minnesota), a good many Senators and Congresspersons and at least one U.S. President bear witness to this phenomenon. There have been too many mayors, councilpersons and State Legislators to enumerate here.

Egomania may always be personally repugnant but is sometimes tolerated and even valued, especially by people at the other end of the spectrum. They entertain and lead us but from a point of view that is powerfully and indelibly self-serving. Sadly but predictably, egomania does not favor either major political party. It is born in and fed by ambition and ambition has no real alliance or commitment beyond itself.

When it comes to electing people, the old saying pertains more often than not: “Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.”

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