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Mon Jan 28, 2013, 10:35 PM

"How Aggressive Narcissism Explains Lance Armstrong"

How Aggressive Narcissism Explains Lance Armstrong

Joseph Burgo, PhD at the Atlantic



The narcissist lives in a world populated by two classes of people, the winners and the losers. His constant aim in life is to prove he's a winner and to triumph over the losers. In the competitive cycling world of Armstrong's era, winning depended upon the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Right or wrong, you couldn't win the Tour de France as a clean rider. The psychological need to win, to escape the painful sense of inner defect or inferiority (shame) over-powered all other considerations. In terms of his psychological needs, the morality of his actions was irrelevant, not even a consideration.

To win represents a triumphant victory over shame, while to lose is contemptible. In the victory speech he gave after his seventh Tour de France victory, you can hear the contempt in his voice: "For the people that don't believe in cycling, the cynics and the skeptics, I'm sorry for you, I'm sorry you can't dream big. And I'm sorry you don't believe in miracles." He might as well have said, I feel sorry for you losers. It made no difference that this was in fact no miracle but rather a chemically-enhanced performance engineered by Dr. Michele Ferrari. The only thing that mattered was victory.

The narcissist craves admiration, of course. It serves as an antidote to the unconscious feelings of shame and unworthiness. Millions of adoring fans fed Armstrong's need to believe that he was someone very special. Even more than a winner, he was becoming a hero to millions of people around the world: cancer survivor, humanitarian, a model of bravery and perseverance. They praised and idealized him. Armstrong carefully cultivated this image. His philanthropy has no doubt done genuine good, but in light of the recent revelations, you have to wonder how much the charity aspect mattered, and how much he relied upon LiveStrong to bolster his public image and further the winning narrative.

When the narcissist feels his idealized self-image to be threatened, he may go on the attack to defend it. Hundreds of women have responded to the post on my Web site about The Vindictive Narcissist, sharing their stories of ex-husbands who devoted great amounts of energy and money, often involving protracted legal action, to destroy the reputations of former wives who left them. Revelations from the USADA's reasoned decision, along with the accounts of former friends and teammates who were threatened, sued and driven from the sport by Armstrong tell a similar story. The narcissist experiences a challenge to his or her self-image as a vicious attack and will respond in kind.


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