Theatre and NPD

Posted on 17 August 2018

The US currently has a president with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Three fields of work particularly attract people with NPD: media, politics, and of all things…charity/causes. These are places where people, who demand all attention be focussed on them, can achieve steady ego-supply. In theatre we already have a term for this: Diva. It gets laughed off, but can be incredibly toxic. Sometimes it devolves into sexual abuse.

These people are deeply manipulative and at one moment make you feel like the most amazing person in the world (lovebombing) and the next moment make you feel utterly worthless and insecure (gaslighting). They will subtly recruit people to do their manipulation for them (flying monkeys). They will also find ways to isolate you and turn others opinions against you (triangulation).

As much as 6% of the general population may have NPD. (Please understand that simply being narcissistic is not exactly the same.) When you think that most people have at least 300 friends on Facebook, we are all likely to vaguely know at least one or two narcissists, and probably worse for all my friends given the circles I frequent.

People with NPD are often charming and charismatic: butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. It is easy to be fooled by them, and it is not your fault if you are. If you unmask them, they will try to destroy you. For theatre directors a troubling part of your job is trying to weed these people out before they become a member of your production. Once they are in your production, you may find yourself in the unpleasant circumstances of having to delicately weed them out, so they do not damage your other performers. I don’t think there is any way out without getting burned.

I’ve had to learn how to steel myself with the nerve to simply close a production if someone too toxic has invaded the group. It’s not worth the damage these people can do, and I have the responsibility of looking out for those I bring in. The show does not have to go on, even though it is extremely painful having to drop a project. I regret some of the times I did not just close.

We are about to hit Fringe Festival season. If you have gotten yourself tangled with an NPD performer and you feel trapped, hurt, fearful, and like no one would believe you, I believe you. If you feel like they are about to destroy your reputation and your career, find people who know you well to hold your hand and do not worry too much about what other people are saying about you. The NPD will gossip, you just keep showing the world you are a lovely person and eventually anyone worth their salt will recognise it was just gossip.

Take care. The world needs all the sensitive, insightful artists it can get. Don’t let anyone crush your creative soul.

Lots of love,

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