A woman reader mildly reproached me by posing this question:
“If Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had no qualms in pointing to President Benigno Aquino 3rd as the head of state who held up the traditional leaders’ photo-taking at the ASEAN summit in Malaysia, why did you refrain from saying outright that President Aquino may have a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) as described in your column?” (“A Diagnosis in search of a patient,” Manila Times, 28 April 2015).
Last Tuesday, April 28, Prime Minister Lee posted a photo on his Facebook page that showed him and his fellow Asean leaders excluding Aquino lining up for the traditional leaders’ picture. He said: “Waiting to take the traditional leaders’ photo, but someone’s missing. #guesswho?”. It’s not known what the other leaders did to express their annoyance.
To address the reader’s question, I will answer politely as follows:
“Madame, Mr. Lee is an Asean head of state, and he was among those who were inexcusably held up by the absent or tardy Filipino leader. He knew what he was talking about when he complained on his Facebook page.
“As for my recent column, I will say in defense that I am not a psychologist and not a psychiatrist who can confidently judge that President Aquino in his actions and behavior in office has exhibited the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder.
“While many readers were uniformly of the belief that Aquino fits the diagnosis, I am bound by the ethics of journalism to root my conclusions and observations on solid ground.”
A subject veiled in secrecy
Finally, I am not unmindful of the point made by other readers, that we Filipinos have been exercised no end these past few years by the riddle of what is wrong with our president.
Some thought Fr. Jaime Bulatao’s brief psychological profile on Aquino at the Ateneo told a big and unfinished story. Alas, the Jesuits locked up the secret in their vaults. I’ve also read the speculation that Aquino could be autistic. And then there was that speculation that he may have Asperger’s syndrome.
All of which came to nothing, because the Palace and people who should know (Cabinet members, PNoy’s doctors, presidential aides) will absolutely not tell us anything, even if there is a constitutional provision requiring periodic reporting on the president’s health, presumably including his mental health.
In the view of some friends and readers, with which I am in agreement, NPD could be by far the most spot-on diagnosis of BS Aquino.
Researching NPD in the Internet
Since the publication of the column, I have done more research on NPD. I plan to visit next week one Filipino psychiatrist to get an account of the disorder from the trenches.
The Internet, it turns out, is a mine of information on the disorder. There’s a very informative Wikipedia article on NPD, which includes links to other articles that the reader can study. There are other articles on NPD, some of which are too technical for my amateurish curiosity.
I will only summarize here some of the key information contained in the Wikipedia articles on personality disorders in general and narcissistic personality disorder in particular.
Personality disorders are conditions in which an individual differs significantly from an average person, in terms of how they think, perceive, feel or relate to others.
Changes in how a person feels and distorted beliefs about other people can lead to odd behavior, which can be distressing and may upset others.
Several different types of personality disorder are recognized. They have been broadly grouped into three clusters – A, B or C.
Narcissistic personality disorder
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a Cluster B personality disorder in which a person is excessively preoccupied with personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity, is mentally unable to see the destructive damage they are causing to themselves and to others in the process. It is estimated that this condition affects one percent of the population in the United States.
First formulated in 1968, NPD was historically called megalomania, and is a form of severe egocentrism.
People who are diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder are characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance. They have a sense of entitlement and demonstrate grandiosity in their beliefs and behavior. They have a strong need for admiration, but lack feelings of empathy.
History of the malady
The use of the term “narcissism” to describe excessive vanity and self-centeredness predates by many years the modern medical classification of narcissistic personality disorder. The condition was named after Narcissus, a mythological Greek youth who became infatuated with his own reflection in a lake. He did not realize at first that it was his own reflection, but when he did, he died out of grief for having fallen in love with someone that did not exist outside of himself.
The term “narcissistic personality structure” was introduced by Kernberg in 1967 and “narcissistic personality disorder” was first proposed by Heinz Kohut in 1968.
Therapy for NPD
People rarely seek treatment for NPD. This is partly because NPD sufferers deny they have a problem. Most, if not all, cannot see the destructive damage they cause to themselves and to others and usually only seek treatment at the insistence of relatives and friends.
Psychotherapy is used to treat NPD. Unconscious fears of exposure or inadequacy often cause defensive disdain of therapeutic processes.
Therapy is not one hundred percent effective because patients receive feedback poorly and defensively.
Not a futile exercise
Trying to determine whether President Aquino has NPD or not is a worthy endeavor. He will surely not submit to examination by a psychiatrist, let alone to being psychoanalyzed on a couch,
Nevertheless, a full review of President Aquino’s acts as president and behavior in office should be attempted because it will yield invaluable insights on the personality of the man who holds the nation’s life in his hands.
Aquino’s first year alone in the Presidency was filled to overflowing by his quirks, to wit;
1. His refusal to be sworn in by then Supreme Court Chief Justie Renato Corona, and his relentless campaign to shame Corona into resigning.
2. His erratic handling of the Luneta hostage-taking crisis and refusal to apologize to the Hong Kong government.
3. His hysterical claims against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and his foolish claim that she left nothing in the national treasury.
4. His decision to underspend and impound parts of the budget.
The disorder was manifest from the start.
I believe that narcissistic personality disorder could be as revealing of President Aquino as astrology was of Ronald Reagan at the White House.
But with this difference. Despite astrology, Reagan proved to be a strong president. He brought down the Berlin Wall and bankrupted the Soviet Union.
In our case, we still must wonder where Aquino’s quirks and tics will take us – God knows where.