Palin’s Mental Meltdown
Honestly, I’m shocked. I wouldn’t even know where to begin speculating. And I mean that quite literally. Do you start speculating in terms of politics? Or in terms of arm-chair psychologizing? I’d lean toward the latter (as useless as it may be), given that the former really gets you nowhere. Unless she’s being blackmailed out of office, I don’t see any political upside to such erratic behavior. So, that leaves us with the psychologizing…
Apropos of the recent Vanity Fair article on Palin, we could look at the diagnostic criteria of narcissistic personality disorder:
DSM IV-TR criteria
A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
- has a grandiose sense of self-importance
- is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love (megalomania)
- believes that he or she is “special” and can only be understood by, or should associate with, people (or institutions) who are also “special” or of high status.
- requires excessive admiration
- has a sense of entitlement
- is interpersonally exploitative
- lacks empathy
- is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
- shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
I’d say the public record gives us at least seven out of nine — and I’m being pretty generous not checking off No. 2, given that she wants to be president. But therein, I think, lies the problem with this armchair diagnosis. Have we ever had a president who didn’t meet at least a decent number of these criteria? (Let’s look at Obama: he’s the change he’s been looking for; he’s written two memoirs at an extremely young age; he’s thrown plenty of allies under the bus on his way to the top; he thought he should be president after a couple years in the Senate… etc.)
The concept that hits me more directly between the eyes when it comes to Palin: self-esteem.
She strikes me a bit like a child of mediocre intelligence who’s been told she’s a genius. While boosting one’s self-esteem is often thought to be a good thing, it’s also been shown to have plenty of negative consequences. As one study found, telling a child that he or she is “clever,” before asking him or her to perform a task, “caused them to become to be more distressed when they encounter failure and lead them to chose easier tasks afterwards.” And the negative effects of self-esteem boosting are all the more dangerous the more decoupled they are from actual ability. As another study puts it: “indiscriminate praise might just as easily promote narcissism, with its less desirable consequences.”
So, yes, there’s a narcissism problem here. But, again, anyone who thinks he or she should be president is more often than not going to be a narcissistic bastard. The problem is when you think you’re brilliant, when you are, in fact, no such thing.
And so, having been told that she’s a genius politician and the cure to all of America’s ills and the should-be next President of the United States of America, Palin finds she’s unable even to function as governor of a relatively small state. She gets frustrated, angry, distressed. She goes so far as to actually quit the task at hand. And it seems she’s planning to go on to what she considers an easier task afterward: Working for her idea of change outside of government (though, God knows what that will mean).
Is it the end of her political career? High self-esteem is far from being a detriment to political candidates. In fact, this study found that people are more likely to vote for a candidate perceived as having high self-esteem.
The catch for Palin: The exception is with women politicians, where high self-esteem can be seen as a drawback. (I’m not saying it’s fair, but it’s what the study found.)
We already saw that Palin is too pretty for politics. Maybe she’s also too conceited.
And, of course, we shouldn’t neglect the possibility that she’s just too goddamned batshit insane.