Group Narcissism

By Abel Merawi

Group-NarcissismOctober 16, 2020 ( -- It is customary to cite some Greek literature to shade light on many issues. The reason has to do with their genius in employing artistic creativity to show profound universal aspects of the human condition. I too will use the following Greek legend to exemplify the central idea. Once lived a lad named Narcissus. He was at the prime of his life with unparalleled beauty that captured the heart of every girl. But that was not all, the beautiful maiden goddess named Echo, was also hopelessly in love with him. But the heart of Narcissus was filled with vanity to the point of rejecting even the love of a goddess. Echo found the rejection unbearable and died of a broken heart. Nemesis, the goddess of divine retribution and vengeance, witnessed this and sought revenge. Nemesis punished Narcissus by making him fall desperately in love with the reflection of himself in a lake. Upon seeing his own reflection, Narcissus admired his own beauty. He wanted to embrace his own reflection; in his attempt, he fell into the lake and drowned.

The Greeks were warning all of us through Narcissus. They cautioned us against extreme self-love and self-indulgence, which is bound to end in the destruction of ourselves and others. The word ‘narcissism’ is believed to originate from this Greek legend. Simply defined, narcissism is exaggerated self-adoration and self-glorification. Narcissism is not limited to individuals but is also extends to groups. In the name of nationality, religion, race, gender, ideology, etc., we form groups. As our groundless love and devotion to a group grows, our narcissistic attitude increases with it. Consequently, we conceive the group as an extension of ourselves and devoutly give ourselves to it.   

Now that we have a fair portrait of narcissism, let us proceed to a detailed analysis of group narcissism. For the most part, I will rely on the psychologist, Erich Fromm in his brilliant work, The Heart of Man (1964). This issue is vital because narcissism is insanity in the individual but mistaken for greatness in a group. The combination of personal and group narcissism, Fromm argues, “explains the power and the irrationality of all national, racial, religious and political fanaticism.” Just as a narcissist believes in personal greatness and superiority, we find a similar belief in a group as we glorify everything about it.

Recognizing narcissism is the first step to escape and alter it. One feature of narcissism we ought to recognize is, as Fromm puts it, “lack of objectivity and rational judgment.” A narcissistic group idolize the group only because it is theirs. The life of its members is devoid of reason. In the case of national narcissism, we find citizens who are proud of their country not because of some accomplishment but just because it is their country. The standup comedian George Carlin, best described this situation with reference to America. Carlin shows how expressions such as ‘Proud of being American’ and ‘God bless America’ are empty and irrational. Pride is reserved for accomplishment; but being happy is enough for membership by birth. To say ‘God bless America’ is the same as saying God has a favorite nation that he loves more than other nations. This pride and favoritism is also evident in many nations, including Ethiopia. More specifically in Ethiopia, thanks to our ‘ethnic championing’ politicians, we are proud more of our ethnic background. It is common to hear some self-appointed narcissist proclaim to be the protector of an ethnic group. Then follows senseless articulations to glorify the greatness of one’s ethnicity. Virtues such as love and justice are wished solely for a single group. The whole narrative rests on narcissistic feeling, lacking in rationality. This leads to another element we should recognize.

The other dominant feature is taking some object or idea as the symbol for ‘self-image’. The narcissistic person may attach it to a specific aspect of life such as personal knowledge or one’s house and other objects. In the case of groups, this self-image is commonly attached to a narcissist leader. Fromm explains, “The leader is then admired by the group which projects its narcissism onto him. … Personalities who as individuals are particularly narcissistic are the most qualified to fulfill this function.” Hitler is a textbook example of such leaders who aroused national narcissism in the German people. For the members, an attack on the leader is synonymous to a personal injury.

We find the other feature when this self-image of the narcissist is attacked even rationally, and the usual response is rage close to insanity. By referring to violent reactions of people when symbols like flags or leaders are attacked, Fromm argues, “Revenge, individual and national, is often based on wounded narcissism and on the need to “cure” the wound by the annihilation of the offender.” We need not look any further than the violent reaction of enticed followers, when their leaders are imprisoned without examining the facts. As Fromm explains, “By the very nature of the narcissistic orientation, it prevents one – to the extent to which it exists – from seeing reality as it is, that is, objectively; in other words, it restricts reason.” For adherent and narcissistic followers, be it in religious or political situations, the reason behind any action is not examined. Something is valued because it is part of us, but not for its actual worth.

The narcissistic group’s tendency is often perceived as a natural law, and it is high times that we find solutions to it. It is difficult to find specific solutions to every manifestation, but we have a solution that can serve as the foundation. Fromm superbly states, “Only if man can do away with the illusion of his indestructible ego, only if he can drop it together with all other objects of his greed, only then can he be open to the world and fully related to it.” When translated into practice, it means the glorification of human achievements by transcending national barriers. It also means unity to better ‘the human condition’ that is threatened by plagues and hunger.

The communal aspect of humans began as a clan and gradually reached the level of a nation. Sadly, we assumed the nation as the biggest entity and stop expanding. To continue the advancement, education can play a decisive role. We must start teaching a world history that praises the accomplishments that originated from any nation. In reality, the fruitful endeavor of the any individual is a testament to human greatness through ingenuity. Furthermore, we currently have a chance to fight our common enemy that appears as the COVID-19 plague. I believe we now have a chance to stand in global solidarity in fighting coronavirus, which can also help us see a world without the veil of group narcissism. Let us not forget: we belong to the same species and the ultimate goal is human progress. As Erich Fromm firmly states, “The full maturity of man is achieved by his complete emergence from narcissism, both individual and group narcissism.”


Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for He can be reached through this form.

Other articles by Abel Merawi:

Segregated Justice


Free but in Chain, Part IV: Personal Bondage

Free but in Chain. Part III: Economic Bondage

Free but in Chain. Part II: Social Bondage

Free but in Chain. Part I: Bondage of Worldview

Unemployment and Economic Growth in Ethiopia

The Underestimated Human Ignorance

Is America the Land of Freedom? (Part II)

Is America the Land of Freedom? (Part I)

Capitalism Becoming an Impediment to Morality

Ketman: Living in Disguise to Gain Acceptance

The System and the 'Criminal'

Trust as an Economic Force

Do You Trust the Government?

Our Online World

Fame Mistaken for Expertise

The Heavy Burden of Healthcare Workers

A Time to Reflect

The Plague by Albert Camus: Fiction Becomes Reality!

History of Pandemics in Ethiopia

Human Struggle Against Pandemics: Historical Perspective

Crisis Profiteers

You Can Make a Difference

Rule of Law for a Free Society


The Origins of Law

Determinants of Market Value: Part II

Determinants of Market Value: Part I

Your life Matters Too

Manifestations of Artistic Expression

Achievements vs Natural Accidents

The Grip of Sacrifice

Injustice is Never Justifiable

Education Demands of the Future

Job Security, Life and the Unpredictable Future

The Shift From Racism to Culturism

Sacrificing Meaning for Power?

Culture and Market Forces

Intersubjective Reality

Seeking Cosmic Justice

National Myths: Makers and Destroyers of Nations

Are We Truly Free?

Maturity: The Prerequisite to Freedom and Democracy

Loyalty to Truth, Not to Group

The Value of Work

The Flaws with Ethiopian Political System

Intellectuals and the People

Where Are Our Pathfinders?

The Allegory of the Cave and Its Lessons to Leaders

The Truth Behind Humanity

The Seven Virtues

The Seven Deadly Sins

What is the right thing to do?

Building National Identity

Adey Abeba and the Spirit of Change

Mob Violence

Living the Truth as a Human Being

Hubris - The Tragedy of Not Learning from Others

The Era of Group Mentality: Us vs Them

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