08/06/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Palin Leaves The Pool

Soon we will discover if Sarah Palin's shocking move to abruptly resign as governor of Alaska was for political or personal gain. Regardless of the answer, we can confirm that this decision is one of self-interest, not the dominion of a leader concerned with supporting and sustaining the people she represents.

In clinical language we refer to Palin's move as narcissistic -- self-promoting regardless of her impact on others. Like a true narcissist, Palin once again acted with a grandiose sense of self-importance, claiming that while she "promised efficiencies and effectiveness... that's not how I'm wired. I'm not wired to operate under the same old politics as usual." Correct, she's not. She, like most other narcissists, are above the standard for reasonable behavior, important enough that she gets to make her own rules -- rules that serve her, in spite of how they affect others. Palin categorizes herself as a maverick, thereby framing any of her actions in a positive light. But that needs to be questioned rather than merely accepted.

It is quintessential for a narcissist to be self-assured, and full of herself, and for that fullness to be filled with hot air, compensating for a deeper sense of shame. Yes, I know that it may seem difficult to comprehend how someone who seems so arrogantly confident can have an internal structure of insecurity and fear of being inadequate, but that's the way it is for those whose personas are built on distortion and illusion, on smoke and mirrors.

It is worth noting that Sarah delivered her news at the end of a week in which a Vanity Fair article reported about how several Republican advisors to Senator John McCain questioned her competency. Todd Purdum, author of the Vanity Fair article, reports that "several told him independently of one another that they had consulted the definition of 'narcissistic personality disorder' in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DMS IV) -- 'a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy'-- and thought it fit her perfectly."

"The persona that many narcissists present to the world often comes across to others as a "superiority complex," describes Sandy Hotchkiss, author of Why Is It Always About You? A mask of arrogance disguises the narcissist's deep sense of worthlessness. Often bossy, judgmental, perfectionistic, and power hungry, they strive to secure a status that will protect them against their personal defects. In asserting her plan to leave the governorship now, rather than wait out her term, Palin reaffirms her feeling of superiority, again under the auspices of being a maverick who gets to make her own rules. It doesn't matter that she is giving three weeks notice, what matters is that she is moving on -- to the beat of her own drummer -- maverick style.

What competent leader abandons the people who rely upon her? What kind of leader gives three weeks' notice before leaving a job at the top post? Palin said that she would "fight for all our children's future from outside the governor's office," while abandoning the children of Alaska without planning for her departure. As Hotchkiss so well describes, endemic to narcissists is "the motto that 'my feelings and thoughts are all that matter, and whatever I want, I should get.' Mutuality and reciprocity are entirely alien concepts, because others exist only to agree, obey, flatter, and comfort -- in short, to anticipate and meet my every need." The conviction of entitlement holds it all in place.

In the long run, Sarah Palin may secure her political base with hard-core conservatives who see her as a standard-bearer for their values, and she may even make an enormous amount of money as a talk show host or a public speaker. Regardless of her professional future, we need to be cautious and interpret her actions so that the public doesn't mistake them for authentic leadership.