Love Lessons

Everything you need to know about love and sex.

Why Sarah Palin Facinates (and Horrifies) Me

The Narcissistic Woman

Whenever I get a surge of anger just thinking about someone, I know that my reaction is not all about them. I know there must be something in me that this person threatens and exhumes, perhaps from childhood- or perhaps from right now. So when I think of Sarah Palin and immediately get that visceral reaction, I know it's not just because she's a Republican. I would not have voted for John McCain even if he'd had a better running mate- but I don't get angry just thinking about him. So Sarah Palin's got my attention in a different way.

Having noodled this reaction for awhile, I have come to the conclusion that it's her extreme narcissism that gets to me. It also occurs to me that I am particularly galled by it because this expression of dizzyingly undeserved self love is expressed by a woman, and not a man. Presently, I am co-authoring a book on Narcissistic Men, and this is a typology that I recognize and understand... it is the man who is a "Captain of the Universe" enabled in his imperiousness and willfulness by fawning subordinates and dazzled women. I could go on, but you know the type. They are usually attractive, bright and often charming people-as long as they are getting their own way. If they get thwarted- they are a nasty bit of business.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

I know women are not immune from this disease, but I am always startled when I see it. After all, most little girls, including myself, were told to be nice, play fair, and support others. Even those of us who rebelled and went after our own best interests usually retain some of the "people pleasing" aspects of our early childhood personality. When you see a woman who appears to have no desire to please others, unless she is benefits from her actions, it is a bit breathtaking.

So Sarah leaves me quite breathless. She is grandiose, high maintenance and extremely selfish and therefore deluded about her qualifications. She is used to charming the socks off of most people (and especially men), and she has a certain contempt for everyone as a result of getting away with it a lot of the time. Her speech about "Not being a quitter" just because she was deserting the governor's office in mid-term, was a miracle of contempt for her audience. Her desire to stay on the road and in the spotlight without consideration for her large young family, a special needs baby and a teenage mother of her grandchild, is ambition without the slightest nod to other's needs. She is as ruthlessly self-indulgent and narcissistic as any man ever born. She reconfigures my previous thinking about gender and narcissism.

By what's my personal with this? I suppose as a feminist, I have always felt that ambition and a certain amount of narcissism were necessary tools for women to make their way in the world. I applaud most women who work hard, share parenting, and reach for the stars. I have never thought about what it looks like, however, when there is no responsibility to anyone else, when ambition is unfettered by other values of caretaking - to a family- or to a constituency. Taking a look at the end of the continuum of self love and self aggrandizement has been a sobering experience. It is a revision - a reminder that the balanced life includes a critical evaluation of the self, some humility, and some sacrifice and service.

Sarah Palin gets to me. I wish she would get to everyone who sees her- the fact that she has even one acolyte scares the hell out of me. And it's really not about her politics at this point. I am just scared by someone who has no capacity to love or give or understand her own limitations. I hope she is leaving office to make a lot of cash to spend on even more expensive clothes and other stuff. I dread the possibility that she might be leaving because she has a yen to become an even more powerful national figure. I can only hope that if that is the case, her mangled thinking and her mangled language will not hide the clearest thing about her- she doesn't give a damn about anyone but herself.

Pepper Schwartz is Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle.

more...

Subscribe to Love Lessons

Current Issue

Dreams of Glory

Daydreaming: How the best ideas emerge from the ether.