The Mental (Un)health of World Leaders

Do We Dig Deeply Enough into the Mental Health of So-called Leaders? Why Not? “Qualified,” Should Also Mean Mentally Sound.

The Mental (Un)health of World Leaders
Photo by Edgar Serrano on Unsplash

(Disclaimer:  Dr. Victoria Sloan is quoted in this article. She states it would be a violation of her professional ethical standards to diagnose public figures she has not examined. She can indirectly assess actions in a framework of certain personality types).

As citizens of the world, are we fully investigating the mental states of those who want to rule? And who is “qualified” to determine the fates of thousands, if not millions of people?

Human history is littered with sick o’s (my term), allowed to lead. And the fact that they can talk or buy their way into leadership might be at the core of unending violence and unrest on the planet.

I believe it’s time to examine what fuels the minds of those who believe they have a right to take over the world. I think it is time to require comprehensive mental health evaluations for those who seek positions of power, locally, statewide, all levels. When we look at world leaders, even as lay people, we see devasting examples throughout history, in which the insane were in charge. If the criteria for public office or any position of power required a psychological battery of tests, maybe we could more effectively weed out those who pose a danger to us.

Frankly, the attack on Ukraine is gripping those of us with the ability to empathize with other humans---even those far away. Imagine your entire family forced to leave their homes at a moment’s notice. The things collected over time, the memories, the feeling of safety and stability---gone, because of one man’s view.

I called my therapist (yes, I have one), to learn from a psychological lens, about the traits of people who cause this level of destruction and seek control at all costs. Chicago native Dr. Victoria Sloan is a clinical psychologist, who treats children, adolescents, adults, couples, and families suffering from a wide range of psychological/ emotional difficulties. She practices in Texas and frequently serves as an expert witness in criminal, personal injury, and federal court cases locally and nationally. Dr. Sloan pointed to famed social psychologist Erich Fromm who first coined the term "malignant narcissism" in 1964. He described it as a "severe mental sickness" representing "the quintessence of evil.”  He characterized the condition as "the most severe pathology and the root of the most vicious destructiveness and inhumanity.”

She said that malignant narcissists exhibit a broad range of symptoms such as domineering, controlling, lacking empathy, self-serving, and cruel. They don’t do well in relationships because they are unable to participate in the give-and-take needed. “They have cognitive inflexibility and assume their beliefs are the gospel. They also exhibit paranoia, sadism and take intense pleasure from harming or humiliating others. When they are in positions of leadership, it is a nightmare.”

I am baffled by followers who would ignore these signs. Dr. Sloan said more work is needed in this area, but her belief is that most followers relate to the traits. They either share or buy into them. “You don’t follow someone you disagree with,” said Dr. Sloan.

In The Atlantic magazine, Scott Barry Kaufman refers to this as collective narcissism.… he is a cognitive scientist and humanistic psychologist and the founder and director of the Center for the Science of Human Potential.

“Collective narcissism is not simply tribalism. Humans are inherently tribal, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.. . .Collective narcissists, though, are often more focused on out-group prejudice than in-group loyalty. In its most extreme form, group narcissism can fuel political radicalism and potentially even violence. But in everyday settings, too, it can keep groups from listening to one another, and lead them to reduce people on the “other side” to one-dimensional characters.”

Where does it begin?

As with most psychological disorders, childhood. Psychologists investigate whether the person’s needs were met in infancy or childhood, were the parents cold and distant or loving and supportive? Did parents humiliate and degrade the child? It reminds me of the meme: Hurt people, hurt people. I guess that means these monsters are made, not born.

Unfortunately, they are who they are

Despite professional disagreements in psychology, Dr. Sloan said they all agree that malignant narcissists cannot be cured. The disorder is a permanent part of their makeup.

So how do we stop electing, hiring, marrying, or working for one?

The professionals say that a layperson can observe personality traits and tendencies over a continuum. If the behavior persists, it’s irreversible.

But I’d like to take it a step further. If someone can impact loss of life, the environment, or the access to liberties, why not be subjected to a battery of tests to let us know if you are a malignant narcissist who will get jollies out of destroying the world.

We are all a bit broken, none of us is perfect, but the deeply disturbed can be credited with causing irreparable harm to others.

Myra Jolivet is a storyteller. First a TV news anchor and reporter. Then came PR work and consulting. That's where she is today - banging her head against the wall - trying to help CEOs and political candidates tell their stories well. Myra writes a series of murder mysteries She was a kid with an imaginary friend. That says it all.