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Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I agree with you, although I also think that most people incline more toward reassuring security than toward disconcerting freedom (see Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor). But I also think this is a common spiritual need, and it distinguishes leadership from management.

For any position beyond middle administration, management is necessary (competence first) but not sufficient; most people want (need?) a leader they can idealize to some degree. As you suggest, such idealization becomes problematic when it diverges too much from reality.

But sometimes it doesn't--people who idealized Washington or Lincoln or FDR in their times turned out to be largely justified. Obama's problem (and I'm sure he's aware of it, since he's perfect) is that in terms of idealization potential, it will be very hard if not impossible for him to be a better acting President than he was a candidate. Did he peak too early?



Thanks for furthering the discussion. I agree entirely. This was intended as a cautionary comment. As Goldberg suggests, we do need heroes--we need to imbue relationships with a certain amount of fantasy merger with the perfect object. Healthy, crucial attachments depend for survival on this idealizing capacity. And, to lead effectively, leaders must also mobilize idealization (Your distinction between leadership and management is interesting and relevant here). And, as you suggest, the problem occurs when preserving the idealization becomes the psychic priority at any cost.

Right now, Obama is in the honeymoon position with his supporters and this is where he needs to be. But, effective leadership in the long run doesn't require blind adoration. It requires idealization tempered both by patient realism and accountable leadership.

I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. I was planning to write at least a couple more posts on idealization, but I don't like to commit too far ahead with my blog.

BTW, you can embed code for a link to your blog Ars Psychiatrica or fill in the url space when you post. Nothin wrong with a little self promotion.

spent a couple of days thinking about issues very nearly related to this. We are on vacation this week and I have had a lot of time to wander and think.

My thoughts, though, have been more along the lines of how various personality types will respond to the idealized one becoming more human. The narcissist idealizes in an inward direction. The admired one is admired because they are imagined to be perfect enough to never fail. And when they do they are nothing to the narcissist. They never ever deserved their admiration. But they can regain their admired place if they offer the narcissist enough praise/ attention in compensation for failing.

The borderline will of course come and go but as long as the loved/hated object of admiration isn't going to abandon them then the game can go on. But the ways that they can imagine abandonment and threats of abandonment are legion. When dealing with an admired political leader I suspect that there is no way to count them.

etc. etc.

how this all plays out on the national stage is a bit beyond me. It could be argued that the television talking heads may tend toward narcissism. Political followers may tend toward dependence. Many Americans have borderline tendencies.


Not sure how to think it out all of the way, but I am as hesitant to predict that all voters will react in certain ways as I am that all clients will. We have to consider their personality leanings and structure and etc.

Would be curious to hear your thoughts on such. Glad to see this post here.

Is it because they denied so much of the reality to maintain the idealization that they destroyed all bridges back to a more realistic assessment?

Jonathan Freedlander sees the denial continuing. He's isn't the first to notice the similarities between Tory denail and Republican denial:

For the Tories, the cataclysm came 11 years ago when Tony Blair buried them in a landslide. Since then, they have suffered two more general election defeats, enduring their longest spell in the parliamentary wilderness since the mid-19th century.

What might panicked Republicans learn from the Tory experience? That apparently the first response to electoral disaster is denial.

oops, denial, not denail. I don't know what that could mean, but please don't interpret Doc.


Thanks for your thoughts. I do plan to say more on this subject, but I won't have much free time over the next couple of days.


Don't worry. Sometimes a typhoid is just a typo.

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