‘This Is Not the Way Everybody Behaves.’ How Adam Neumann’s Over-the-Top Style Built WeWork.

The skills that helped fuel We Co.’s breakneck growth are piling up as potential liabilities as the company prepares to go public

Adam Neumann was flying high. Literally.

His office-rental giant WeWork was months away from being valued at $47 billion. Revenue was doubling annually. And Mr. Neumann was zipping across the Atlantic Ocean in a Gulfstream G650 private jet with friends last summer, smoking marijuana.

After the group landed in Israel and left the plane, the flight crew found a sizable chunk of the drug stuffed in a cereal box for the return flight, according to people familiar with the incident. The jet’s owner, upset and fearing repercussions of trans-border marijuana transport, recalled the plane, leaving Mr. Neumann to find his own way back to New York, these people said.

Since Mr. Neumann co-founded WeWork—recently renamed We Co.—with Miguel McKelvey nine years ago, he has led with unusual exuberance and excess. His combination of entrepreneurial vision, personal charisma and brash risk-taking helped the company surpass $2 billion in annual revenue, and made it the country’s most valuable startup.

Now many of the same qualities that helped fuel his company’s breakneck growth in the private market are piling up as potential liabilities as the company prepares to go public—helmed by a CEO who looks little like a typical public-company chief.

Mr. Neumann muses about the implausible:

  • becoming leader of the world,
  • living forever,
  • amassing more than $1 trillion in wealth.

Partying has long been a feature of his work life, heavy on the tequila.

Public investors are increasingly skeptical of the formula that has worked for Mr. Neumann so far: his pitch that We is far more than a real-estate company. With its rapid growth and use of technology, he argued, the company deserves rich valuations normally reserved for tech companies.

Instead, many potential investors now see a fast-growing office subleasing company with losses of more than $1.6 billion last year.

Since We filed the prospectus for its initial public offering last month, it has been besieged with criticism over its governance, business model and ability to turn a profit. It is now expecting an IPO valuation as low as a third of the $47 billion sticker price it garnered in a January funding round—a drop without recent precedent. This week, We postponed the offering until October at the earliest.

Wall Street and Silicon Valley investors have been dismayed by the number of potential conflicts of interest disclosed in the “S-1” IPO prospectus, including Mr. Neumann leasing properties he owns back to the company and borrowing heavily against his stock. Even some of We’s private investors said they were angered to learn that an entity Mr. Neumann controls sold the rights to the word “We” to the company for almost $6 million—before public pressure led him to unwind the deal.

“This is not the way everybody behaves,” said Dick Costolo, former CEO of Twitter Inc., who led the company through one of the larger tech IPOs of the past decade. “The degree of self-dealing in the S-1 is so egregious, and it comes at a time when you’ve got regulators and politicians and folks across the country looking out at Silicon Valley and wondering if there’s the appropriate level of self-awareness.”

Given the prominence of the IPO, he added, “that is a big problem.”

Mr. Neumann, 40, declined to comment through a spokesman, who cited rules surrounding the planned IPO. Mr. Neumann told We employees Tuesday the process had been humbling and he would learn from it, say people who heard him. We executives have previously said he is strongly devoted to the company, and many of his personal transactions were made with the company’s best interests at heart.

This account is based on interviews with current and former employees, investors and friends who interacted with Mr. Neumann as he built We.

For startup investors, the 6-foot-5 Mr. Neumann has always had the qualities they crave in Silicon Valley founders, despite being based in New York. He is intensely ambitious and a masterful storyteller with a magnetic personality who can inspire and sell.

Raised in Israel on a kibbutz, Mr. Neumann moved to the U.S. when he was 22, where he attended Baruch College and tried to start businesses. One was a collapsible heel on women’s shoes that didn’t get off the ground. Working out of his Tribeca apartment, he started Krawlers, which sought to make baby clothes with knee pads to make crawling more comfortable. The slogan, he has said: “Just because they don’t tell you, doesn’t mean they don’t hurt.” It never gained traction.

He and Mr. McKelvey started a small co-working space on the side during the recession that followed the financial crisis and were amazed by the demand.

By 2010, they had started WeWork, with essentially the same core business model that exists today: They lease an office long-term, renovate it to make it hip and inviting, and sublease smaller desks and offices short-term.

Early on, Mr. Neumann painted a picture of how WeWork was connecting entrepreneurs and others who in the past would have worked from home or in coffee shops; how the company would bring a new way of working to a changing world.

The founders planned for the “We” brand to expand beyond office space into other categories such as housing and finance. Mr. Neumann ramped up its image as a tech company as it grew.

It introduced a mobile app for network members, meant to facilitate a “physical social network.” The company emphasized its data and how it was using artificial intelligence to glean insights about buildings.

Past funders and employees tell stories of how an animated Mr. Neumann convinced them within minutes to believe in the company’s epic future.

“When I met him, after a couple of minutes, I wanted to invest,” said Joey Low, whose Star Farm Ventures put money into the company in 2013 and multiple subsequent funding rounds. “He was hungry for success—that was for sure.”

Even former executives who disliked Mr. Neumann give him credit for an extraordinary ability to motivate employees and push the company.

He forgoes many conventions of the standard, buttoned-up CEO. He pushed for rowdy parties in the early days. He often walks barefoot around the office. In an earlier office, he blared songs by pop-star Rihanna while a trainer held a punching bag for him, and then walked around afterward while still sweaty from the exertion.

Like some high-profile CEOs in tech, he hopes to live forever, according to three people who heard him say this, and has invested in life-extension startup Life Biosciences LLC.

It says its mission is “to create a future where age-related decline is not a fact of life.”

As WeWork grew, Mr. Neumann took on ever more investment, bringing in tens of millions of dollars from venture capitalists, then hundreds of millions from mutual funds T. Rowe Price and Fidelity Investments. Crucially, he secured full control of the company in 2014 when investor demand was high—getting shares with 10 times the votes of others.

Ultimately he found a kindred spirit in Masayoshi Son, CEO of SoftBank Group Corp., who, like Mr. Neumann, is a risk-taker who respects giant bets. Mr. Son, a telecom veteran who raised the world’s largest tech fund in 2017, met Mr. Neumann in India in 2016 and pondered an investment.

SoftBank first committed $3.1 billion in new funding in 2017. Mr. Neumann has told others that Mr. Son appreciated how he was crazy—but thought that he needed to be crazier. A SoftBank spokeswoman declined to comment.

Many former employees said they didn’t always know how seriously to take some of Mr. Neumann’s pronouncements. Early on, he would throw out seemingly random ideas, like adding a pool in the basement of the company’s headquarters or starting an airline.

He told at least one person directly that his ambitions included becoming Israel’s prime minister. More recently, he said that if he ran for anything, it would be president of the world, according to another person who spoke with him.

“The influence and impact that we are going to have on this Earth is going to be so big,” he said last year at a “summer camp” southeast of London, where the company’s staff were all flown for a music festival-like event. One day, he proposed, the company could “solve the problem of children without parents,” and from there go onto other causes such as eradicating world hunger.

Alcohol flowed in great quantities; bartenders handed out free rosé by the bottle. Employees from around the globe posed for photos with the CEO. Some seminars had a spiritual component, including one with holistic health expert Deepak Chopra, who advocates regular meditation and yoga.

Mr. Neumann has told several people over the past two years that a personal goal is to become the world’s first trillionaire.

He relishes trips in private jets. Last year, We bought one for more than $60 million, people familiar with the sale said. Mr. Neumann has borrowed more than $740 million against his stock and has sold multiple hundred million dollars of shares, people familiar with those sales say, eliciting widespread criticism from analysts and Silicon Valley investors. These share sales weren’t disclosed in the IPO prospectus.

In a 2015 investment round, Mr. Neumann sold tens of millions of dollars of shares. Soon after, the company launched a buyback program offering to purchase employees’ shares too. But the company gave employees a different arrangement, giving them a payout per share worth substantially less than what Mr. Neumann was paid, people familiar with the sale said. Mr. Neumann’s sale wasn’t publicized within the company.

We executives have said the buyback price couldn’t be higher for tax reasons. More recent stock sales have been more equitable.

A recent change to the company’s corporate structure puts Mr. Neumann and a group of executives in a position to have a lower tax rate on some of their stock compensation than the rest of the employees in the company. We said the new structure was created in part to make it easier to expand into new businesses beyond co-working, according to IPO filings.

In private, Mr. Neumann often talks about the company’s valuation, according to people involved with the conversations. He has insisted that We’s valuation will eventually be many times what it was earlier this year, when it reached $47 billion, the people said.

For Mr. Neumann and the investors, the premise has always been that the market would look at We as more than real estate. The high valuation—twice that of United Airlines Holdings Inc. —has enabled the company to continue to raise money to fund new desks and offices and keep growing, even as losses persisted.

He has created a distinct culture in his mold. T-shirts and signs sport slogans such as “hustle harder” and “Thank God it’s Monday.” Employees are often big company boosters, creating a work-hard, play-hard office, with a millennial hipster vibe.

Alcohol has been a big part of the culture, particularly in We’s first half-decade. Mr. Neumann has told people he likes how it brings people together, and tequila, his favorite, flows freely. Executive retreats sport numerous cases of Don Julio 1942, with a retail price of more than $110 a bottle, and pours sometimes start in the morning.

A few weeks after Mr. Neumann fired 7% of the staff in 2016, he somberly addressed the issue at an evening all-hands meeting at headquarters, telling attendees the move was tough but necessary to cut costs, and the company would be better because of it.

Then employees carrying trays of plastic shot glasses filled with tequila came into the room, followed by toasts and drinks.

Soon after, Darryl McDaniels of hip-hop group Run-DMC entered the room, embraced Mr. Neumann and played a set for the staff. Workers danced to the 1980s hit “It’s Tricky” as the tequila trays made more rounds; some others, still focused on the firings, say they were stunned and confused.

Mr. Neumann also enjoys marijuana, his friends and former executives say. As with the Israel trip, multiple people who have been on planes with him say he often smokes while airborne.

Much of this culture has been pared back as the company has matured. The summer camp was canceled this year.

Mr. Neumann has mellowed some too, friends say. He sometimes stays away from alcohol for weeks or months at a time, and raucous parties are less frequent. His wife, Rebekah Neumann, has helped pare back the partying, former executives say.

Ms. Neumann, a first cousin of actress and wellness guru Gwyneth Paltrow, has said she and Mr. Neumann clicked when they first met, when Mr. Neumann was broke and struggling to make a business.

“It felt like time stopped,” she told a podcast interviewer last year. “I just knew he was the man that was, hopefully, going to help save the world.

Mr. Neumann and his wife, Rebekah Neumann, in 2018. PHOTO: EVAN AGOSTINI/INVISION/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Former employees who worked with her say she pushes to infuse spiritualism in We—which has a mission statement to “elevate the world’s consciousness”—and enjoys broad autonomy at the company. She is the chief brand officer and head of WeGrow—the private company’s preschool and elementary school that costs up to $42,000 a year and is open to anyone. She is an important counsel for Mr. Neumann, and he has told staff they often make decisions together.

The two split time between some of their many homes—they have at least five—including a 60-acre Tudor-style estate north of New York City. They have told staff they started WeGrow after they were dissatisfied with schooling options for their five children.

The two have committed giving $1 billion to charity over the next decade.

Ms. Neumann had been slated to play a large role in choosing Mr. Neumann’s successor if he were ever incapacitated, but was recently removed from that position amid pushback from investors.

Both Neumanns could be impulsive at times, former executives say. Ms. Neumann has ordered multiple employees fired after meeting them for just minutes, telling staff she didn’t like their energy. She and Mr. Neumann have sent maintenance and IT staff to their homes to fix various items.

When Mr. Neumann announced in July 2018 via video call from Israel that the company was banning meat, executives in New York were caught off guard. With little explanation from Mr. Neumann, a group huddled to determine a rationale—they settled on sustainability—and the mechanics of what would be banned and how.

They determined employees couldn’t expense meals with meat, but they could eat it in company offices, so long as the company didn’t pay. Former employees say they have since seen Mr. Neumann eat meat.

He previously has instructed staff to fire 20% of employees a year, bemoaning the number of “B” players hired amid rapid growth. Managers were unable to hit the target even when they included attrition.

Still, former executives believe his outlandish targets for items such as reducing construction costs have forced better results than more realistic goals—and are a driver of the company’s continued growth.

That growth has remained remarkably consistent, roughly doubling every year for most of We’s history, and remains the main selling point to investors.

“This guy is pushing hard, but he’s all in,” said John Caddedu, managing director at early We investor DAG Ventures. Building something as big as We, he said, “requires extraordinary devotion and focus and will and a lot of the things that throw some people off.”

Mr. Neumann had been expecting the revenue growth rate would also be well received by the public markets. Companies such as Netflix Inc. and Amazon.comInc. were growing at slower rates nearly a decade in, though they were losing far less money.

Instead, after the IPO prospectus was released in mid-August, the company became the butt of jokes in Silicon Valley and among Wall Street crowds. Analysts and competitors critiqued its lack of detail around the economics of its offices. Corporate governance proponents were aghast at the long list of potential conflicts. Some observers noted the irony of personally profiting off the trademark for the word “we.”

Years leading a private company left Mr. Neumann unprepared for the negative reaction, people familiar with the IPO discussions have said. Every time he raised money—often at in-person meetings where check-writers could see Mr. Neumann’s charm—the valuation went up, money rolled in, and the business expanded.

Some investors said when they raised concerns about Mr. Neumann’s self-dealings, he brushed the issues aside. Despite We’s growing size, its losses have been increasing at the same rate as revenue, creating a constant need for fresh investments. That is contrary to earlier projections from Mr. Neumann, who said the company wouldn’t need more money.

Meanwhile, numerous other business lines, including a residential arm, a gym and an office design and management arm, have all been scaled back or failed to deliver the high profit margins once expected, people familiar with the businesses said.

In a videoconference with the whole company Tuesday, Mr. Neumann, dressed uncharacteristically in a gray suit and a white button-down shirt, told the staff it has “played the private market game to perfection,” listeners said.

As for the public markets, he said, the company was still learning the rules of the game.

Steve Bannon Is a Fan of Italy’s Donald Trump

He’s crisscrossing Europe because he believes it’s a bellwether for the United States. The scary thing is he could be right.

MILAN — Italy is a political laboratory. During the Cold War, the question was whether the United States could keep the Communists from power. Then Italy produced Silvio Berlusconi and scandal-ridden showman politics long before the United States elected Donald Trump. Now, on the eve of European Parliament elections likely to result in a rightist lurch, it has an anti-immigrant, populist government whose strongman, Matteo Salvini, known to his followers as “the Captain,” is the Continent’s most seductive exponent of the new illiberalism.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, has been close to Salvini for a while. That’s no surprise. Bannon is the foremost theorist and propagator of the global nationalist, anti-establishment backlash. He’s Trotsky to the Populist International. He sensed the disease eating at Western democracies — a globalized elite’s abandonment of the working class and the hinterland — before anyone. He spurred a revolt to make the invisible citizen visible and to save Western manufacturing jobs from what he calls the Chinese “totalitarian economic hegemon.”

Now Bannon is crisscrossing Europe ahead of the elections, held Thursday through next Sunday. He’s in Berlin one day, Paris the next. As he explained during several recent conversations and a meeting in New York, he believes that “Europe is six months to a year ahead of the United States on everything.” As with Brexit’s foreshadowing of Trump’s election, a victory for the right in Europe “will energize our base for 2020.” The notion of Wisconsin galvanized by Brussels may seem far-fetched, but then so did a President Trump.

Polls indicate that Salvini’s League party, transformed from a northern secessionist movement into the national face of the xenophobic right, will get over 30 percent of the Italian vote, up from 6.2 percent in 2014. Anti-immigrant and Euroskeptic parties look set to make the greatest gains, taking as many as 35 percent of the seats in Parliament, which influences European Union policy for more than a half-billion people. In France, Marine Le Pen’s nationalists are running neck-and-neck with President Emmanuel Macron’s pro-Europe party. In Britain, Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party has leapt ahead of the center-right and center-left.

Salvini, whose party formed a government a year ago with the out-with-the-old-order Five Star Movement, is a central figure in this shift. The coalition buried mainstream parties. He is, Bannon told me, “the most important guy on the stage right now — he’s charismatic, plain-spoken, and he understands the machinery of government. His rallies are as intense as Trump’s. Italy is the center of politics — a country that has embraced nationalism against globalism, shattered the stereotypes, blown past the old paradigm of left and right.”

For all the upheaval, I found Italy intact, still tempering transactional modernity with humanity, still finding in beauty consolation for dysfunction. The new right has learned from the past. It does not disappear people. It does not do mass militarization. It’s subtler.

  • It scapegoats migrants,
  • instills fear,
  • glorifies an illusory past (what the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman called “retrotopia”),
  • exalts machismo,
  • mocks do-gooder liberalism and
  • turns the angry drumbeat of social media into its hypnotic minute-by-minute mass rally.

Salvini, the suave savior, is everywhere other than in his interior minister’s office at Rome’s Viminale Palace. He’s out at rallies or at the local cafe in his trademark blue “Italia” sweatshirt. He’s at village fairs and conventions. He’s posting on Facebook up to 30 times a day to his 3.7 million followers, more than any other European politician. (Macron has 2.6 million followers.) He’s burnishing the profile of the tough young pol (he’s 46) who

  • keeps migrants out,
  • loosens gun laws,
  • brandishes a sniper rifle and
  • winks at Fascism

all leavened with Mr.-Nice-Guy images of him sipping espresso or a Barolo.

His domination of the headlines is relentless. When, during my visit, a woman was gang raped near Viterbo, his call for “chemical castration” of the perpetrators led the news cycle for 24 hours. Like Trump, he’s a master of saying the unsayable to drown out the rest.

“I find Salvini repugnant, but he seems to have an incredible grip on society,” Nathalie Tocci, the director of Italy’s Institute of International Relations, told me. No wonder then that the European far-right has chosen Milan for its big pre-election rally, bringing together Salvini, Le Pen, Jörg Meuthen of the Alternative for Germany party and many other rightist figures.

A nationalist tide is still rising. “We need to mobilize,” Bannon told me. “This is not an era of persuasion, it’s an era of mobilization. People now move in tribes. Persuasion is highly overrated.

Bannon gives the impression of a man trying vainly to keep up with the intergalactic speed of his thoughts. Ideas cascade. He offered me a snap dissection of American politics: blue-collar families were suckers: their sons and daughters went off to die in unwon wars; their equity evaporated with the 2008 meltdown, destroyed by “financial weapons of mass destruction”; their jobs migrated to China. All that was needed was somebody to adopt a new vernacular, say to heck with all that, and promise to stop “unlimited illegal immigration” and restore American greatness. His name was Trump. The rest is history.

In Europe, Bannon said, the backlash brew included several of these same factors. The “centralized government of Europe” and its austerity measures, uncontrolled immigration and the sense of people in the provinces that they were “disposable” produced the Salvini phenomenon and its look-alikes across the Continent.

“In Macron’s vision of a United States of Europe, Italy is South Carolina to France’s North Carolina,” Bannon told me. “But Italy wants to be Italy. It does not want to be South Carolina. The European Union has to be a union of nations.”

The fact is Italy is Italy, unmistakably so, with its high unemployment, stagnation, archaic public administration and chasm between the prosperous north (which Salvini’s League once wanted to turn into a secessionist state called Padania) and the southern Mezzogiorno. Salvini’s coalition has done nothing to solve these problems even as it has

  • demonized immigrants,
  • attacked an independent judiciary and
  • extolled an “Italians first” nation.

A federal Europe remains a chimera, even if the euro crisis revealed the need for budgetary integration. Bannon’s vision of Brussels bureaucrats devouring national identity for breakfast is largely a straw-man argument, useful for making the European Union the focus of all 21st-century angst.

The union has delivered peace and stability. It’s the great miracle of the second half of the 20th century; no miracle ever marketed itself so badly. It has also suffered from ideological exhaustion, remoteness, division and the failure to agree on an effective shared immigration policy — opening the way for Salvini’s salvos to hit home in a country that is the first stop for many African migrants.

Salvini grew up in Milan in a middle-class family, dropped out of university, joined the League in its early days in the 1990s and was shaped by years working at Radio Padania where he would listen to Italians’ gripes. “What he heard was complaints about immigrants, Europe, the rich,” Emanuele Fiano, a center-left parliamentarian, told me. “He’s run with that and is now borderline dangerous.”

The danger is not exit from the European Union — the government has come to its senses over that — or some Fascist reincarnation. It’s what Fabrizio Barca, a former minister for territorial cohesion, called the “Orbanization of the country,” in a reference to Viktor Orban, the right-wing Hungarian leader. In other words, insidious domination through the evisceration of independent checks and balances, leading Salvini to the kind of stranglehold on power enjoyed by Orban (with a pat on the back from Trump) or by Vladimir Putin. “The European Union has been ineffective against Orban,” Barca noted. Worse, it has been feckless.

Another threat, as in Trump’s United States, is of moral collapse. “I am not a Fascist but. …” is a phrase increasingly heard in Italy, with some positive judgment on Mussolini to round off the sentence. Salvini, in the judgment of Claudio Gatti, whose book “The Demons of Salvini” was just published in Italian, is “post-Fascist” — he refines many of its methods for a 21st-century audience.

Barca told me the abandonment of rural areas — the closing of small hospitals, marginal train lines, high schools — lay behind Salvini’s rise. Almost 65 percent of Italian land and perhaps 25 percent of its population have been affected by these cuts. “Rural areas and the peripheries, the places where people feel like nobody, are home to the League and Five Star,” he said. To the people there, Salvini declares: I will defend you. He does not offer a dream. He offers protection — mainly against the concocted threat of migrants, whose numbers were in fact plummeting before he took office because of an agreement reached with Libya.

The great task before the parties of the center-left and center-right that will most likely be battered in this election is to reconnect. They must restore a sense of recognition to the forgotten of globalization. Pedro Sánchez, the socialist Spanish prime minister, just won an important electoral victory after pushing through a 22 percent rise in the minimum wage, the largest in Spain in 40 years. There’s a lesson there. The nationalist backlash is powerful, but pro-European liberal sentiment is still stronger. If European elections feel more important, it’s also because European identity is growing.

As for the curiously prescient Italian political laboratory, Bannon is investing in it. He’s established an “Academy for the Judeo-Christian West” in a 13th-century monastery outside Rome. Its courses, he told me, will include “history, aesthetics and just plain instruction in how to get stuff done, including facing up to pressure, mock TV interviews with someone from CNN or The Guardian ripping your face off.”

Bannon described himself as an admirer of George Soros — “his methods, not his ideology” — and the way Soros had built up “cadres” throughout Europe. The monastery is the nationalist response to Soros’s liberalism. There’s a war of ideas going on in Italy and the United States. To shun the fight is to lose it. I am firmly in the liberal camp, but to win it helps to know and strive to understand one’s adversary.

Narcissism and Its Discontents | Ramani Durvasula | TEDxSedona

Narcissism has not only become a normalized social condition, it is increasingly being incentivized. The framework of narcissism with the central pillars of lack of empathy, entitlement, grandiosity, superficiality, anger, rage, arrogance, and shallow emotion is a manifestation of pathological insecurity – an insecurity that is experienced at both the individual and societal level. The paradox is that we value these patterns – and venerate them through social media, mainstream media, and consumerism, they represent a fast-track to financial and professional success. These traits are endemic in political, corporate, academic, and media leaders. There are few lives which are not personally touched by narcissists – be it your spouse, partner, parent, child, colleague, boss, friend, sibling, or neighbor. Whether societally or individually, the toxic wave of narcissism, entitlement, and pathological insecurity is harming us all. The enticements of charm, charisma, confidence, and success can draw us in or blind us to the damaging truths of narcissism. The invalidation inherent in these relationships infects those are in them with self-doubt, despair, confusion, anxiety, depression and the chronic feeling of being “not enough,” all of which make it so difficult to step away and set boundaries. The illusion of hope and the fantasy of redemption can result in years of second chances for narcissists, and despondency when change never comes. It’s time for a wake-up call. Health and wellness campaigns preach avoidance of unhealthy foods, sedentary lifestyles, tobacco, drugs, alcohol, but rarely preach avoidance of unhealthy or toxic people. Yet the health benefits of removing toxic people from a life may have a far greater benefit to both physical and psychological health than going to the gym. We need to learn to be better gatekeepers for our minds, bodies, and souls. Instead of habituating to the global shift of validating narcissism and other toxic patterns, it’s time to understand it and take our lives back. Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Santa Monica and Sherman Oaks, CA and Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, where she was named Outstanding Professor in 2012. She is also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

today I am going to talk about the most
overused misunderstood problematic words
of our time a phenomenon a word that is
shaping all of our destinies that word
is narcissism narcissism is a word that
is being used to understand bad behavior
everywhere in national leaders in heads
of state heads of corporations fancy
academic types athletes celebrities we
actually no longer recoil at their
grandiosity their entitlement and their
incivility in fact too many people award
them grudging admiration for their
successes and that grants permission to
everyone to replicate these abusive
patterns of behavior with impunity now
things got confusing when people started
using narcissism as a clinical term it
became a way of medicalizing bad
behavior it’s actually not a diagnostic
term narcissistic personality disorder
is a diagnosis but it’s pretty rare
because these folks don’t show up to be
diagnosed anyhow so narcissism is in
fact a personality pattern it’s a sort
of way of relating to the world it’s an
adjective to describe their style much
like you could describe someone as
agreeable or stubborn or introverted
some of these patterns are valued by
society and others aren’t and the fact
is most people don’t receive being
called narcissistic as a compliment it’s
just however a descriptive term and no
matter how much we turn our noses up at
it paradoxically as a society we reward
it dr. Alan Francis was one of the
architects of the diagnosis of
narcissistic personality disorder and he
argues that we actually give badly
behaved jerks and out when we call it a
diagnosis if a person is a jerk then
they’re a jerk disliking a pattern of
behavior doesn’t make it a mental
illness that so-called jerk has to be
experiencing problems in their lives
and for their narcissism to actually be
considered a diagnosis
so if we were to cobble together all the
various things that make up narcissism
we land on a very uncomfortable summit
narcissism is comprised of certain
pillars as I call them

  • lack of empathy
  • grandiosity
  • entitlement
  • superficiality
    admiration and
  • validation seeking
  • hypersensitivity rage and a
  • tendency to manipulate and exploit people

it’s confusing because they’re simultaneously
under responsive they tend to be
emotionally aloof cold and distant but
then they’re hyper responsive they have
hair-trigger temper that set off like
that when their fragile egos get
threatened so narcissism however I
believe is synonymous with pathological
insecurity the key to understanding the
narcissist is that they feel constantly
unstable and empty their grandiosity is
actually an immature defense against
these threats to them their sense of
self and they’re desperate for the world
to keep validating them on their good
days they look happy they’re great
they’re grandiose but on the bad days
the facade crumbles quickly and we see
disproportionate rage shame and
vindictiveness I became interested in
narcissism through a couple of different
pathways but the most striking was the
fact that more and more clients were
coming into my office and talking about
relationships in which their partners
treated them with utter disregard
indifference coldness they lacked
empathy they would question their
reality they would lie to them at times
they were unfaithful they were
inconsistent and no matter what they
tried with their partner it didn’t get
better at the same time I started
working with more narcissistic clients
and would you know nothing we tried
really made things better in fact they
just remain difficult people and I don’t
think I’m not bad a therapist so it was
clear that these relationships were
being kept in place simultaneously by
hope and fear hope that someday it would
get better if they kept trying harder
but fear that if they left these
relationships they would be alone
forever without
partner or even without a mother and
some of them had the fear that maybe
this is as good as it gets the world has
become more insecure and the reasons for
that are varied galip’s annual global
emotions report said that in 2017 was
the most miserable in about a decade the
report indicated that sadness anger
worry stress and physical pain were more
frequently endorsed last year than in
the ten years prior
now Gallup speculated on a variety of
reasons for this but let’s pitfall for a
minute could it be that this increase in
misery could reflect the increase in
insecurity incivility and tolerance of
narcissism our world supports the
increasing insecurity in our world and
the platforms that capitalize on it such
as consumerism have created optimal
fertile ground for narcissism to
incubate and proliferate when human
value is driven entirely by external
incentives such as success then
qualities such as empathy do not have a
fighting chance because we no longer
value them and they’re no longer
valuable so why do we get pulled into
these relationships
we’re not flocking to narcissism because
we love emotional coldness or
invalidation or shallow people
we’re drawn in because narcissism is
seductive I call it the three C’s of narcissism

  1. charm
  2. charisma and
  3. confidence

that’s not to say that all charming and
charismatic people are narcissistic
however we do know that these traits are
so seductive that we get drawn in and
they can blind us to the more venomous
characteristics that are unfolding at
the same time such as entitlement
vindictiveness or lack of empathy so
then once a person is in a relationship
and it’s uncomfortable and is painful
why would they stay with a narcissist
all of us are vulnerable to those
narcissistic charms and in fact we may
be rendered even more vulnerable to
sticking around for the abuse by a
narcissist if we originated from family
systems in which the patterns of
narcissism were normalized such as
having a cold authoritarian
distant invalidating or abusive parents
our own insecurities render us
vulnerable and also less able to climb
out when the climate shifts from charm
and charisma to invalidation and abuse
most of us are great at giving second
chances and second chances are in fact
the accelerant for narcissism at all
levels when we are in a narcissistic
relationship we make excuses that’s just
how he is he didn’t really mean that she
means well ah that’s just her culture
and there’s the rub that’s how this
infectious virus of being in any form of
narcissistic relationship whether with
an individual or a family or a company
or a culture can slowly proliferate and
take over most of us issue second
chances with zeal our storytelling in
our culture is immersed in tales of hope
redemption and forgiveness and while
that’s all very healthy in the wrong
hands hope and forgiveness may not
represent an opportunity for growth or
change or restoration but rather
permission to just keep things going as
they are because with narcissists
forgiveness is interpreted as hey let’s
just keep the status quo have we created
a world in which narcissism as a pattern
as a personality is becoming necessary
to succeed in the new world order this
is where we hit a bit of a problematic
divide the very qualities associated
with material success are actually bad
for our health because while these
qualities may be festered and fostered
by our cultures and our schools and our
economies and our societies they are
never going to be good for our close
relationships and that doesn’t just mean
spouses and partners that means parents
children siblings extended family
friends colleagues narcissistic patterns
undercut the core of what’s necessary
for healthy relationships those things
include mutuality respect compassion
patience genuineness honesty and trust
things that are simply not possible with
the system or a person which is
narcissistic and it’s in that intimate
relationship space where we see the most
profound impacts of a narcissist what
did that be a spouse or a partner a
relationship with a narcissist is a
gradual indoctrination you slowly become
inured to their lack of empathy though
Tantrums their rage their insults and
their entitlement their lies and their
challenges to your reality they’re
insulting words slowly become your
self-talk and before you know it your
new mantra becomes I am not enough
anyone who’s had a narcissistic parent
will acknowledge that it shaped the arc
of their lives it instilled an
insecurity in a chronic jousting at
psychological windmills from an early
age narcissistic parents leave a legacy
including an inability to trust your own
instincts to safely enter close
relationships to trust your own
abilities and a lifetime can be spent
trying to gain the notice of the aloof
detached and disconnected parent the
proliferation of narcissism and
leadership in our culture governments
companies and world has made very
difficult workplaces the narcissistic
boss is the insecure tyrant
these are workplaces ruled by fear and
subterfuge abuse and vindictiveness
deceit and slippery ethics and in the
face of the me2 movement the top notes
of narcissism pervaded all of the
stories the entitled and untouchable
tyrant pillaging the workforce and in
most case with almost no consequences
the most painful realization is that
narcissistic patterns are just not that
amenable to change at a minimum for any
change to occur the narcissus has to
recognize the harmful pattern of their
behavior then they have to want to
change it and then they have to put in
the daily work of change there is a
small number of cases where that kind of
happened but under conditions of stress
and frustration the usual issues of Rage
will pop up the rubberband of
personality returns to its usual shape
and size
the small changes that could be made may
not be enough to make a close intimate
relationship sustainable and if somebody
is not willing to recognize that they
need to make changes because they’re
hurting other people there’s little
likelihood they will make a change but
there is a likelihood they will continue
to blame other people the world or you
for their bad behavior so that means
that the only remaining strategies are
to maintain your expectations and set
boundaries not to try to change that
person or waste hope on the possibility
of change but to recognize that this is
how it is and either accept it or slowly
step away from it now this is very
individual and it’s not always possible
if it’s your parents or your child who’s
narcissistic you may not be willing to
sever that tie finances culture children
or love can make walking away from a
marriage or a romantic relationship
seemingly impossible and that’s fine but
managing expectations on this pattern
can protect you from the downstream
effects of this ongoing abuse and allow
you to construct a more realistic
reality sadly most of us put 90 percent
of our hearts minds and souls into our
most dysfunctional unhealthy
invalidating relationships and save the
little bit that’s left for the people
who are good and kind to us it’s time we
flip this skewed calculus and start
giving the best of ourselves to our
healthy and reciprocal relationships and
really only give the bare minimum to the
relationships that really aren’t helping
us grow perhaps that’s a healthier way
of negotiating these treacherous waters
of narcissism without losing ourselves
in the depths of self-doubt and
self-criticism now this can be extended
to our thinking about the world at large
it can be small fixes such as turning
off the polarizing discourses we hear
and learning to measure our self-worth
and the worth of others with new metrics
of success

  • authenticity
  • compassion
  • kindness
  • and empathy

we can learn to
tend to our own gardens and not get
pulled into hostile interactions that
benefit no one so this begs a question
can there be happy endings or
narcissistic or
tagging istic personalities and cultures
are concerned I actually think there can
be the greatest challenge about happy
endings in real life is that they rarely
look like the ones we crafted when we’re
young and it’s easy to get stuck in our
own old narratives people who come from
narcissistic families may feel as though
they missed out on having a parent who
is an ally or a supporter even as they
go into adulthood people who married
narcissistic partners may find
themselves mired in a nightmare of
emotional abuse or simply finding that
they’re actually alone despite being
married few people write stories of
their lives that build in disappointment
I have found that survivors of all kinds
of narcissistic and antagonistic
relationships actually can and do have
happy endings they just don’t look like
they thought all of us are bigger than
this epidemic of narcissism any of us
can change that you are not enough
narrative that still resonates we can
repair it ourselves we can look at the
entitled shenanigans of people who
shriek don’t you know who I am and
realize that you don’t give a damn about
who they are where there are scars
beautiful things actually can spring
forth
khalil gibran writes out of suffering
have emerged the strongest Souls the
most massive characters are seared with
scars yes the world is in fact becoming
more narcissistic and insecure
don’t let the global epidemic of
incivility infect you inoculate yourself
find your communities find common ground
with other people instead of living in
polarization practice kindness and
empathy even when other people are not
choose your friends and your romances
with care every life story can be a
miracle or a tragedy it just depends on
how you write it
these days with the world in such
disarray anyone who is surviving with
their empathy unbroken their hearts
sound their integrity in place and
theirs
sense of humor intact is nothing short
of dauntless pushing back on narcissism
is a human rights issue all of us need
to stop giving permission to narcissism
and narcissists and start taking our
lives our souls and our world back thank you

Trump the Charismatic by Vincent Lloyd

After all, Trump clearly has something like charisma. According to the sociologist Max Weber, charismatic authority is found when norms derive from an individual perceived as having extraordinary characteristics rather than from tradition or from a codified legal system. Weber formulated his account of charisma by learning from his theologian colleagues studying the gifts of the Holy Spirit and applying their insights to the secular analysis of politics – even though the social scientists that now use charisma rarely consider the term’s religious origins.

Trump indisputably flouts legal norms and traditions, and his oft-mentioned conflation of his self with his office suggests a view of authority as issuing from his person. But does he have extraordinary characteristics that resemble supernatural gifts? Obviously he thinks he possesses such characteristics:

  • he reports possessing “one of the greatest memories of all time,”
  • an IQ that is “one of the highest,”
  • the personality of a “very stable genius,”
  • a superior knowledge of the economy, the military, politics, and even the Bible, and of course
  • incomparable business acumen.

In a sense, an objective measure of extraordinary characteristics is irrelevant: charisma functions by fueling a narrative about the extraordinary. Trump indisputably flouts legal norms and traditions, and his oft-mentioned conflation of his self with his office suggests a view of authority as issuing from his person. But does he have extraordinary characteristics that resemble supernatural gifts? Obviously he thinks he possesses such characteristics: he reports possessing “one of the greatest memories of all time,” an IQ that is “one of the highest,” the personality of a “very stable genius,” a superior knowledge of the economy, the military, politics, and even the Bible, and of course incomparable business acumen. In a sense, an objective measure of extraordinary characteristics is irrelevant: charisma functions by fueling a narrative about the extraordinary. That narrative matters more than whether the snake-handler is occasionally bitten, the “healed” go back to their hospital beds, or the “tongues” spoken are gibberish.That narrative matters more than whether the snake-handler is occasionally bitten, the “healed” go back to their hospital beds, or the “tongues” spoken are gibberish.

When we think charisma in politics, we usually think eloquence, perhaps eloquence embodied: Franklin D. Roosevelt or Martin Luther King, Jr. or John F. Kennedy or Barack Obama. The rhetorical heights of their speeches have little in common with Trump’s boastful proclamations and tweeted jabs. However, charisma is always relative to a context. What appeared charismatic centuries ago, or decades ago, or, in our age of rapid media evolution, even a few years ago does not appear charismatic today. Just try teaching Cicero to college freshmen. Moreover, charisma is relative to a medium: the charismatic silent film actress could fall flat in the era of talkies, and what charisma looks like in a scripted drama of the 90s is quite different than that of today’s reality TV stars.

In short, when the relevant media are Twitter and cable news, not network television, presidential charisma looks quite different. Whether we like it or not, Trump has an extraordinary gift for expressing himself via tweet, a gift harnessed to secure his personal authority over against norms derived from tradition or bureaucracy. Charismatic Christianity, too, embraces the authority derived from extraordinary gifts over against institutional forms of Christianity or traditional religious norms. To staid Episcopalians or Catholics, charismatic Christians can appear ignorant, chaotic, and vulgar.

While charismatic Christians are now classed as a subset of evangelicals, a dialectic between charismatic moments and institutionalizing moments has long infused American Christianity, and American culture as a whole. The revivals that swept the nation in the early nineteenth century featured all sorts of strange, supernaturally-inspired responses: trances, uncontrollable laughing, barking like dogs, and running in circles. The spiritual energy expressed there would come to be institutionalized in what are now cornerstones of mainline Protestantism: the Methodist and Baptist churches. The hotbeds of religious charisma were, a few years later, centers of abolitionism, a movement pioneered by fringe activists and prophets like John Brown and Sojourner Truth that would eventually move to the center of American politics with the Emancipation Proclamation.

.. When we focus on charisma, Trump’s electoral success appears far less surprising. He defeated a candidate who lacked charisma and who was committed to the norms of the status quo. The narrative around Obama, especially in 2008, was also driven by charisma: an extraordinarily gifted man whose candidacy represented a turn against institutional norms through the symbolism of his blackness. George W. Bush had his own sort of charisma legible to those in Middle America in 2000, in stark contrast to Al Gore’s uninspired competence and embrace of bureaucracy. And there was Clinton and Reagan and Carter. Obviously American politics is more complex than such a story allows, but the impulse toward charismatic (even more than populist) politics is worth pondering, particularly when we attend to the ways that charisma looks quite different as contexts vary.

.. Once we understand political charisma as inextricable from religious charisma, we can access religious resources to make judgments about charisma. Charismatic Christians have thought long and hard about how to discern whether some extraordinary ability is a gift of the Holy Spirit or a gift of the Devil. Does a gift lift us up toward the true, the good, and the beautiful, giving us a new perspective on the ways the world is sinful? Or does that gift merely advance worldly interests? Further, charismatic Christianity at its best affirms that extraordinary gifts are available to all, and those who possess such gifts are charged with opening others to them. This charge, to evangelize, breaks boundaries of race, class, and gender.

The origins of modern charismatic Christianity are found in Los Angeles during the first years of the twentieth century. The black preacher William J. Seymour led the Azusa Street Revival where Christians who were white, Asian, Latino, and black, rich and poor, old and young spoke in tongues and witnessed miraculous healing. This does not sound like a Trump rally, but it also does not sound like a Bernie Sanders rally. It sounds more like Occupy Wall Street, like the Women’s March, like airport protests against the travel ban, like protests against racial profiling at a Philadelphia Starbucks. In grassroots social movements we find democratic charisma, not authoritarian charisma, not the Devil’s charisma. Discerning the difference is one of the fundamental challenges of American life.