By Buz Whelan
Few personality types can be more destructive to a Home Owners’ Association than the individual suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). The characteristics of the condition virtually guarantee anti-social behavior of a persistent and pervasive nature. Like a dog with a valued bone, they will pursue their goals, however unrealistic, over great periods of time, often decades. No matter how often they are defeated in the short term, they will persevere. All entreaties from the mainstream to join in cooperative behaviors will fail. And because their goals and fantasies are unrealistic, they will ever be chasing them.
The NPD sufferer is not to be confused with every seeker of attention at important meetings. Lots of folks with transient complaints or weak egos may pop up with inappropriate comments, but these can usually be treated with patience and even humor. The individual of which we write is a far different animal.
Here are the principal characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder:
- Love of self/great self-interest
- Preoccupation with success and power
- Attention seeking
- Boasting or bragging about one’s own achievements often
- Exaggeration of abilities and achievements
- Having unrealistic goals
- Fantasies of success beyond what is likely or possible
- Hypersensitivity to possible slights and insults from others, usually coupled with aggressive or angry responses
- Arrogant behavior
- Belief in one’s own uniqueness/entitlement to special treatment
- Difficulty in understanding another’s emotions or perspective (lack of empathy)
In addition to the characteristics listed above one might add a lack of humor, especially of the self-deprecating nature. However overblown the self-image of the NPD sufferer may seem to be it is much too fragile to tolerate even good-natured teasing if it is at his/her expense. A dour scowl is the most common expression exhibited, and what laughter there is usually is the result of schadenfreude, the joy one might experience at the misfortune or embarrassment of a perceived rival or enemy.
I would add, somewhat parenthetically, that matching 3 or 4 of these listed characteristics would be cause for suspicion. Matching 5 or more might be considered a diagnosis.
For purposes of this essay, we’ll refer to the sufferer of Narcissistic Personality Disorder as NPD and use the male pronoun for reference. And while NPD is more prevalent in males, it is not exclusive to the gender.
Recognizing the long-term behavior of the NPD:
Shortly after joining the HOA, or after a change in life status such as entering retirement, the NPD will become active in the association. He will join one or more committees and spend some time ‘learning the ropes.’ Before long, possibly less than a year, he will begin dissenting at meetings. As he becomes more and more comfortable in the dissenter role, he will become more vocal and louder. Often, after feeling he has made a particularly insightful objection, he will laugh at his own accomplishment, searching the room for approval. It is during this period that his adolescent ‘rescue fantasies’ will begin to take shape in his own mind. He will envision an association in disarray, with himself striding forward to take charge and bring order out of the chaos. The association newsletter or newspaper will trumpet his triumph. Perhaps down the line even a statue will be in order; remember, this is an adolescent fantasy, not a realistic one.
As time goes on, he will begin attracting disaffected others as a powerful magnet attracts iron filings. Those who perceive themselves to have been wronged or unfairly ignored by the association, failed candidates, and otherwise disgraced members will find in him a willing champion, and he, in them, a needed army. It’s a symbiosis made in Hell. The bonds will be powerful.
In order to create the conditions requiring his rescue, he will go on a years-long campaign against the association governors, whoever they may be. He will find himself at war with every change of leadership. He will trash, or attempt to trash, every major meeting. He will rail against any move toward progress. Since accomplishment of others is a detriment to him, he will attempt to undermine any new initiative. Proposed solutions to common association problems will always be too expensive or not comprehensive enough, and he will declare this loudly. No plans will ever be complete enough to satisfy the NPD, and his complaints of this will become a common rant. At meetings, he will be cheered on by his army of malcontents, and he will draw strength from this.
The NPD is given away by his own demands. He will never assist in improving conditions. He will accept only full power. Sharing power and credit are antithetical to his ultimate goal. Unless and until all his conditions are met, he will continue to disrupt and obstruct.
How does an HOA deal with such an individual? The first necessity is strong leadership. Attempting to placate the NPD only reinforces his negative behaviors. He must be dealt with firmly and publicly. Public humiliation is Kryptonite to the NPD. As shown in the list of characteristics, hypersensitivity to slights, such as criticism, provoke exaggerated negative responses, but to avoid criticizing him is a mistake and plays into the NPD’s hands. Bad behavior must never be tolerated, or it will be reinforced. When it occurs at important meetings, it must be rebuked, quickly and decisively. While that may not be sufficient, it is necessary. To allow meetings to be hijacked by an NPD is to become an accomplice. No chairperson or board member should ever allow that.
While there is no simple solution to the NPD, good governance is the best long-term answer. Honesty with the membership, inclusivity, above-reproach behavior by directors, and always keeping the best interests of the association at the fore make the rants of the NPD ever more pathetic to the observer. It’s well to remember that even the crying infant goes to sleep if ignored long enough.