By Prasad Mohotti –
George Orwell said in his famous novel, Animal Farm “that all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’’, this is relevant not only during the Stalin’s period in Russia, but to any person who tries to control others by political or any other means.
In the human kingdom, some have leadership qualities in their personality. Others feel comfortable, to be guided by a leader.
Politicians as a group, usually have strong desire for leadership. Politicians always try to convince fellow human beings that they can do a better job than others.
This raises the question: Are politicians a special breed of Homo sapiens? Are they behaviorally different from ordinary people you meet in the street or work place? The answer to this question is,” yes”
Sociologists and psychologists believe that certain personality types are more common among leaders, especially among political leaders.
It is a common belief among sociologists and psychologists, that most politicians have some degree of “excessive self-love” which is called Narcissism. The term ‘narcissism,’ stems from Greek mythology, where Narcissus, the hunter who fell in love with his own reflection in the water. Narcissus was unable to leave the beauty of his own reflection, ultimately Narcissus drowned due to excessive self-love. The core features of Narcissistic personality is that, they have excessive preoccupation with their own success, power and brilliance coupled with a singular lack of empathy for others.
Dr. Pepper Schwartz, a sociologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, shed more light on this. He questioned: “How many of us would have the desire, much less the ability, to promote ourselves ceaselessly? You have to do that as a politician. It’s an amazing level of self-love … and a need for affirmation. Politicians always have to make others believe that they could do a better job than others.
What is personality of a person?
In psychology, personality is defined as a long standing pattern of, thinking, feeling and way of relating to others. Every person has a unique manner of thinking, feeling and pattern of relating to the others. Those three characteristics make us a unique individual.
Severe and dysfunctional personality causes distress to either themselves or people around them they are called Personality Disorders.
However, there is a large percentage of people with mild forms personality features that is not prominent enough to cause a personality disorder. This are called “a personality traits.”
As an example, it is not uncommon to find people who are more shy and anxious than others. The latter may be suffering from mild form of “anxious avoidant personality Disorder”. You may come across a person who is a perfectionist, he or she could be having mild form of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder” (obsessive compulsive traits). In fact, people with such personality traits are in general high achievers. Good examples are individuals with obsessional traits because they want to do things perfectly.
Mahinda Rajapaksa’ Personality
Mahinda Rajapaksa is undoubtedly the most charismatic leader in the recent political landscape of Sri Lanka. He is fiercely ambitious, determined and a master of political Machiavellianism. At one stage, a survey done by Colombo University revealed that he is the most popular leader in recent Sri Lankan history. What is special about this human being call Mahinda Rajapaksa?
In this article I like to highlight some distinctive personality traits of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
When one closely observe former president Mahanadi Rajapaksa’s behavior, thinking pattern and interaction with others, it is obvious that he shows some features of narcissistic traits.
According to Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of American Psychiatric Association (DSM) Narcissistic personality disorder can be diagnosed if someone met at least five of the following criteria
1. Has a grandiose sense of self –importance (e.g., exaggerated achievements and talents, expected to be recognized as superior).
2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success,power, brilliance ,beauty or ideal love
3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique can only be understood by or should associate with ,other special or high status people (or institutions)
4. Requires excessive admiration.
5. Has strong sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectation.
6. Interpersonally exploitative, i.e., take advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.
7. Lacks empathy, is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and need of others
8. Is often envious of others or believe that others are envious of him or her
9. Show arrogant, haughty behavior or attitudes
Research evidence shows that the percentage of people who have fully- blown Narcissistic Personality Disorders in society can vary from 1% to 6%. However, there is a much higher percentage of people in who suffer from mild forms of Narcissism call ‘Narcissistic Traits”. Having Narssissitc Traits does not imply that the affected person has a mental disorder or disability. Some of them could be high achievers and doing high profile jobs, like business leaders and academics in Universities.
It is of interest that few traits of Narcissism can be beneficial and it is call healthy Narcissism. However, most people with narcissistic tendencies experience negative emotions like, frustration, rage, anger and depression. The latter perceive the world somewhat different to others. So that it creates “thinking errors” which are called cognitive errors in psychology. People with narcissistic tendencies make a number of thinking errors especially when they are faced with crises or when they are in situations that don’t bring forth checking and balancing mechanisms.
Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love
Mahinda Rajapaksa seems to have a grandiose sense of self –importance. He seems to have a preoccupation with the fantasies of power, success and beauty.
He seemed to be convinced that he was born to govern the country as long as he lived. In order to maintain power, he brought in the 18th Amendment to the constitution, which in fact was counter- progressive for the country due its inherent risk of leading to constitutional dictatorship.
The fantasy of having power and success undoubtedly worked for Mahinda Rajapaksa and perhaps for the country for a period of time.
Mahinda Rajapaksa had the ability to convince the entire community and the military the war was winnable. By that time, people were tired of the disruptions, deaths, fear and, most importantly, uncertainty caused the by 30- year- long war. Sri Lankan’s were emotionally and physically drained because of the war. They were looking for a ‘King Dutugemunu” to rescue them, as we read in our school books as children. This was most of the Sinhalese fantasy during that hopeless period.
I think, the grandeur- fantasy of success in the leader’s mind was projected to the people who were well receptive to such a fantasy. Fusion of fantasies of both the leader and his people became a reality at Nandikadal lagoon. Since then he became divine and invincible. This fantasy still remains alive and active in most of the people of country.
His political opponents may have different opinions about his contribution to the victory, but I think this psychological phenomena of transferring his fantasy to the Sinhala community seems to be a major factor of winning the war. This is still unshakable in most people in the country whether they are educated or not. Fantasies are so powerful however much we physically and intellectually grow up. We still have unconscious rescue- fantasy expectations form our parents.
However there is a flip side of having a preoccupation with fantasies, if it continues to influence our behavior without conscious awareness, this eventually leads to loss of touch with reality.
We all have conscious or subconscious fantasies. Most of what we have achieved in our late lives had been a fantasy in the past. It is important to have fantasies that is usually an underlying drive for our ambitions and motivations.
A psychologically balanced person usually “check mates” his fantasies. This is done by reality testing through self-analysis or by other’s judgments through interaction. This reality testing prevents us from excessive preoccupation with fantasies and losing touch with reality
It is understandable according to his personality why he has a strong desire for mega projects such as the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport, Mahinda Rajapaksa Harbor and Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket ground. It is apparent that a grandeur fantasy has taken precedence over the economic or environmental consideration of those projects. Hambantota and Monaragala depend on agriculture and these districts mark the highest index of poverty. This is how the personality of a leader could cause huge damage to the nation unless there is a system to check and balance.
Conflicts with the UN and Western countries
Diplomatic relationship with the West and Europe seem to be another area that the former government made a big blunder. The reality is Western countries supported the war. It was was more profitable for them to open up the market for trade to the north with a resolution of the war. On the other hand, main political streams of some of those countries did not want to lose the sizable Tamil vote base. If Sri Lanka acted more diplomatically by understanding this reality, the war crime allegation could have been managed without much damage. Unfortunately, due to excessive grandeur- fantasy, arrogance and a feeling of invincibility by the head of the government, unnecessary damage to Sri Lanka’s reputation resulted.
Usually people with narcissistic personality structures have a basic thinking error, namely they think that they are special and capable of achieving their fantasies. Also they believe that they are invincible.
When a politician loses touch with reality, the decisions he makes could be detrimental to that individual or his political movement. However the whole country can suffer as it equally affects his or her judgment in making decisions.
It seems Mahinda Rajapaksa lost touch with reality during the latter part of his government.
The psychological perspective of understanding the decision to hold the presidential election two years before the scheduled time, seems to be due to a thinking error (cognitive error). Besides that, Mahinda Rajapaksa always had a good track record in the art of politics. Despite this, it does not explain that decision which cost him greatly.
Mahinda always presents himself as a physically strong man. He wants to make sure that his media image was that of a physically strong man with a well -built body and flamboyant outfits. He changed the culture of taking photograph by politicians with library backdrops. The image he wanted to present is of him playing rugby with young buys, working on tread- mills or jogging in a track suit. His political campaigns usually revolved around his grandiose self-identity and abilities, than around policies and visionary Ideas.
A makeup artist who served for 3 previous presidents at the Temple Trees, once told a newspaper that Mahinda Rajapaksa was the president most concerned about his appearance among all previous presidents. So appearance and beauty seems to be highly valued by him. In combination of other features this confirms a narcissistic tendency in his personality.
Why does a Narssissitc person put up a grandeur façade? The psychological explanation is that a grandeur façade is an unconscious mechanism to cover his weak and fragile ego.
A person with a weak ego has limited capacity to reflect on him or herself. Their grandeur self-image would not allow them to be self-critical and learn from their mistakes, because such action is unbearable to a fragile ego.
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s response behavior to his unexpected electoral defeat is noteworthy in that he never accepted his defeat and instead claimed it a conspiracy. Mahinda Rajapaksa has never stated, that as a political party leader, he had any reasons for the failure for his campaign. Any other leader or political party would complete a self-analysis, and find causes for the drawback.
Need for excessive admiration
A person with a Narcissistic personality requires excessive admiration. Mahinda Rajapaksa thrived on others’ admiration of his grandeur .This could be observed when Jackson Anthony stated that he is related to Lord Buddha. The Former president visibly became elated, any other person with logical and rational thinking would probably feel embarrassed by that comment.
The Former president did not hesitate to reward the young armature singer who sang the song “Maharajaneni” with not only money but even named a street in her honor.
Because of their tendency to defend fragile egos, people with such personalities often tend to listen only to peers and supporters who do “lip service”.
By attracting only those who do “lip service” he alienates himself from those who honestly and genuinely advise or constructively criticize him. People who were close to him often observed that Mahinda Rajapaksa was blindly following cronies and corrupted people. This has led to his downfall. The real “blindness” here, in my understanding, is “unconscious mind”.
Persons with this kind of personality expect especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with their expectations. If they perceive otherwise, they act angrily and would not hesitate to take revenge. This psychological process was evident when he sacked the Chief Justice in a disgraceful manner, which created a black mark in the history of Sri Lankan judiciary. Another example was the uncivilized treatment of the former army commander. Both incidents negatively affected his later political aspirations. A shrewd politician like Mahinda Rajapaksa would not have taken such a decision if he was aware of his own psychological vulnerabilities.
A person with Narcissistic traits reacts angrily when they perceive even slightest negative remark. They often perceive constructive criticisms as a personal insult. The reason for this anger and rage is that the fragile ego is unable to bear it up. In psychology this is called “Narcissistic Injury “.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is a politician who has a great sense of feel about the underlying currents of political movements. He was very patient until his time came. However when it concerns human interactions he tends to be impulsive and exhibit anger and rage. People who closely associated with former president often commented on his short -temperedness. He reportedly lashed out towards his colleagues, irrespective of the person or the context.
Narcissistic politicians seek out for gatherings to boost their self-esteem. They always like to be in the media lime light. Despite their bravado, people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder require a lot of admiration from other people in order to bolster their own fragile self-esteem. They can be quite manipulative in extracting the necessary attention from those people around them.
In psychology this is called ‘’ Narcissistic Supply”. They need people more than people need them. This is why former president Mahinda Rajapaksha reached out for people at his Carlton house even following a long and restless night on Election Day.
Psychologically this was how he managed the trauma of ‘’ loss to his grandiosity” following unexpected defeat on Jan 8th 2015. When a person is deprived of internal self-soothing capacity and self-reflection, he needs to look at his own reflection of “grandiose self”’ on the people who are around him.
If someone else was faced with this kind of situation, he or she would go home, spend some time with family and friends or take a break for a few days. But Mahinda Rajapaksha immediately sought out for his “Narcissistic supply”
We have seen people from all over the country visit Rajapaksa at Medamulana Walawwa, but actually he himself facilitated this as it was a need for “Narcissistic Supply”. He will most probably stop entertaining people at Medamulna Walawwa in the near future when his supporters organize massive rallies for him. Those larger Narcissistic Supplies for him will most probably stop the “medamulana pilgrimage”
They are usually interpersonally exploitative.
There is a saying that if someone talked to him once, he or she got attached to him for rest of their life. Undoubtedly, Mahinda Rajapaksha is a charismatic and sociable person. However, when it comes to human interaction he seems to be great manipulator of human relationships around him.
As an example, Former Chief justice Sarath N Silva who read the Hodi Potha to Namal on his reading ceremony, was dumped when he came to power. The same was the fate of Mangala Samaraweera who did all the ground work for his victory of the presidential election. This happened to most other SLFP stalwarts. Then his most trusted men were bought from UNP and other parties paying large amounts of money or other perks. Mahinda Rajakpaksha knew what sort of incentive was needed for each person.
Unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance.
They also have a strong sense of entitlement, often thinking that they are invincible.
Another example is taking over of Air Lanka from Emirates. Sri Lankan airline was making profits when it was managed by the Emirates airline.
Former president had a strong sense of entitlement, consequently he requested the airline to vacate some seats to accommodate his huge delegations on state visits. When they courteously refused his request, former president had reportedly became angry and abusive towards the airline staff. This outburst of anger could be due the perception that it was a great insult to his sense of grandeur. He, later, did not renew the airline’s contract in 2010 and appointed his brother-in-law as the Chairmen Sri Lankan Airline. Since then, Sri Lankan Airline has incurred huge debts to the country. This is how the maladaptive thinking pattern of a leader could be at times, detrimental to a whole nation.
Lack of empathy and inability to understand other’s feelings
Lack of empathy is á feature of Narssissitc personality, empathy is ability be sensitive to the feelings of others. His political opponents were highly critical of the way Mahinda Rajapaksa treated former Army commander and former Chief Justice. It is not my intention to comment about the legality or fairness of those procedures.
What was noticed during that time was his behavior of not showing any empathy towards them. If he could have shown some respect and empathy towards Shirani Bandaranayke and Sarath Fonseka it would have been of political advantage for him. In my opinion, an inherent difficulty of showing empathy together with inflated self-esteem seemed to affect his judgements in dealing with those cases.
As it is mentioned above, former president’s grandeur- self has worked for him at certain stages until he started to lose his touch with reality. The Personality style of Mahinda Rajapaksa has served the country at a decisive time to the end the longest war in South Asia. Unfortunately, the country also lost some golden opportunities due negative personality characteristics of the former president. However, he will be living in at least some peoples’ fantasy “as rescuer of the nation,” irrespective of good or bad he has done.