The country's inflated sense of self-worth is beginning to look clinicalby Joris Luyendijk / October 13, 2016 / Leave a comment
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Rarely have Europeans, including this London-based Dutchman, been granted such deep insight into the darkest corners of the English psyche (I am going to leave out the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish). The charitable view is that many English people have a superiority complex that prevents them from being realistic about their country’s place in the world. As the Brexit saga drags on, one wonders if parts of the UK’s political and media establishment, if not the whole country, are not in fact in the grips of collective clinical narcissism.
Diverging slightly from its usage in popular culture, psychotherapists employ the concept of narcissism to describe people with an unstable sense of identity. Feelings of vulnerability, dependency and helplessness can overwhelm them and for this reason narcissists cling to notions of grandiosity. They cannot consider others except as instruments to be manipulated or enemies to be fought. Marked by a mixture of bravado and contempt for those perceived as weaker, narcissists cannot accept criticism and feel no interest in others—let alone empathy.
So let us map this on to the Brexit debate. Grandiosity came in two forms. For “Leave,” Britain is a great country and if things don’t feel that way it must be because of the European Union. Being special, other nations will rush to strike deals with the UK post-Brexit. The UK, being a very special country, needs the EU far less than vice versa so Europeans will give Britain a great deal, too.
“Remain” grandiosity was more implicit, but still there. The most revealing example was probably David Cameron’s threat in Brussels to back “Leave” in the referendum unless he got “a better deal for Britain.” This was reported not as blackmail but as a demand for “concessions.” The implication: its very membership is a favour granted by the UK to the EU.
This inflated sense of self was built on by the “Remain” camp when it began to argue that the UK should stay so it can run the EU. Gordon Brown wrote a book called Britain: Leading Not Leaving while Edward Lucas of the Economist let it be known that “Britain’s size, experience and friends make us the continent’s natural leader.” In this atmosphere it became very hard for Remainers to…