The Military Loves Narcissists

So I have a theory here… one that I cannot find a whole lot of existing research on. I’ve been brewing on this theory for some time and plan to start digging into it more thoroughly. The theory is that the Military loves Narcissists… and the Military makes Narcissists even worse.

I can remember chatting with our favorite Chaplin one day, and he told me that when he got out of the military he planned to write a book about how the Special Ops destroys Marriage. He said something along the lines of… “Think about it, we slap badges on these guys chest and tell them how special they are all the time. Then they go home and expect their spouses to treat them that special as well… they don’t think they have to be an equal partner in the marriage.” While I completely agree with the Chaplin… I think there is more to it, I think the Military targets people with certain personality disorders that create the right characteristics they need to have effective soldiers, and they makes the problem worse. Then they unleash these people on their spouses, families, and back into society.

So what do we know about Narcissists that make them ideal for the military, and even more specifically ideal for elite units of the military (Navy Seals, Green Berets, Delta, etc.)? Lets look at some of the DSM-5 criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

  • Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerating your achievements and talents
  • Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
  • Requiring constant admiration
  • Having a sense of entitlement
  • Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
  • Taking advantage of others to get what you want
  • Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Being envious of others and believing others envy you
  • Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner

The Military is seriously the perfect place for Narcissists. First of all, only .5% of Americans serve in the military at all… and Special Operations Units makeup only 5% of the total military. So when you make it to that level, you are in an extremely small and special group of elite individuals. In the military, everything is gauged on your rank… and your rank is proudly displayed on your chest so everyone knows exactly how important you are all the time. Elite units of the military have their own special ways of making you feel more important than everyone else. You get a special colored beret, a special tab on your uniform, a special uniform all together. Everyone knows that you are special. Then, when you achieve certain things, you are recognized with ribbons, medals, etc. which are also all proudly displayed on your chest for the world to see. You get a special ID, a special passport, you get to go on base where no ‘regular people’ can go. You are saluted, you are admired, you are thanked by random strangers for your service. Your lack of empathy can be a useful characteristic in dealing with war and the difficult decisions and actions that need to be taken to stay alive. Your arrogance helps you survive in difficult situations.

As I have looked deeper into this topic I have learned a few other startling things. First, I found an intriguing article linked below called “Personality Styles of Effective Soldiers” published by an Army Major in the Military Review. In this article they mentioned that what they classified as “Type B” personality clusters tend to be on the Narcissistic and slightly antisocial spectrums. He went on to explain that these personality types perform best out in war, often making good “War heroes” as they thrive on challenge and require constant stimulation. So it seems that at least one leader in the military has recognized that Narcissists work well in the military construct.

Then, I read a fascinating study that Dr. Morgan of Yale conducted on special operations soldiers undergoing stressful training. He studied their bodies physical reactions to stress and tracked heart rate, cortisol levels, and the amount of time it took them to get ‘back to normal’ after stress. He discovered that the soldiers that make it into special operations units have a different ‘normal’ state than other soldiers. Their chemical levels are different, they bounce back from stress quicker, and at normal states they have a more chemically and physically relaxed state than other soldiers. He also found that most of these men had experienced traumatic events as a child, and found that soldiers in special ops were more resilient and got that way from growing up amid serious threats. They responded to those threats with the attitude of “if I can survive this, I can do anything!”

This is interesting, because another thing that we know about narcissists is that they are made in childhood. Their narcissism develops as a survival tactic to dealing with childhood trauma, often being abandoned by one or both parents, experiencing physical abuse and other traumatic experiences. The Narcissist develops their ego as a form of protection and that ego is shaped, fed, and grows over the course of their lifetime.

What I am gathering so far is that Narcissists might develop chemical and physical reactions to stress due to the trauma they experience as children, which as adults helps serve them extremely well in the military. The military also recognizes that narcissistic personality traits make a good “war hero” style soldiers. Then, the construct of how the military operates is an ideal environment for a narcissist… they are elite, they are special, they are recognized all of the time for their accomplishments…. their ego is fed constantly.

As I mentioned before, this is just scratching the surface – but I wanted to start somewhere. I would love to hear from those of you who have experienced narcissists in the military and what your thoughts are around this. Please chime-in in the comments!

 

Sources and Additional Info:

Personality Styles of Effective Soldiers
The styles seen in abundance among the career military, therefore, are mainly representatives from clusters B and C. Psychologists would tend to label cluster Bs as mildly Antisocial or Narcissistic. Type B: Adventuresome, Imaginative, Innovative, Daring, Decisive. Destruction of personnel and equipment, even enemy equipment and personnel, is somewhat antisocial. To plan the ultimate defeat of an entire army or nation on the battlefield requires at least a dose of narcissism. Therefore, those personality attributes that make for a war hero are primarily from cluster B. These people do not function as well in garrison such individuals thrive on challenge and require constant stimulation.

A Mind To Survive
Dr. Morgan of Yale studied a number of soldiers in the infantry and special Ops. They discovered that the men who make it to Special Ops have a different chemical reaction to stress than others. They have more of a chemical called neuropeptide-Y (NPY) which essentially brings their cortisol stress levels back to normal at a faster rate than others. He also discovered that the individuals who made it to Special Ops had likely responded to childhood trauma different from others. He found that in Special Ops “Those who had grown up amid serious threats were more resilient.” 

An examination of narcissistic personality traits as seen in a military population.
Various studies examining the prevalence of personality disorders in civilian inpatient and outpatient populations have consistently found narcissistic personality disorder to be one of the least common. In striking contrast to this, a recently published study showed narcissistic personality features to be among the most common personality features in a military outpatient clinic population. This paper examines several possible explanations for this finding. This surprisingly high relative incidence of narcissistic personality features may be related to a self-selection bias on the part of persons choosing a military career. Narcissistic personality traits may confer adaptive advantage in certain military professional roles. Kohut’s theory of specific transference requirements in individuals with narcissistic character structure serves as a useful explanatory model for these findings.

35 thoughts on “The Military Loves Narcissists

  1. This is interesting. It’s now making me look at almost all the men in my family. I can see especially in one of my step brothers very narcissistic qualities. Even the other brothers say he acts like he’s better than everyone else. He thinks he’s above the law. The military definitely helped feed his ego. My stepfather is a “my way or the highway” kind of guy and provokes fear even in his grandkids. My mother worships him and does whatever he says because he commands respect from everyone around him. Needless to say I’m the black sheep of the family because I don’t conform. I respect him to a certain extent. I’m going to read into this further! Thanks for this!!

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      1. My X boyfriend was an Army Ranger.
        ( oh and played college football) . I did not know him till after he left the Army. He is a very accomplished man. A Narcissistic no doubt. I realized how his ego needed to be fed. Everything was about HIM! How great he looks ( he does) the looong war stories all about him. I believe being a Ranger fed his narcissism . Everything filled a need for him.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is fascinating! Loser never served in the armed forces nor did his daddy. I asked him once what he would do if he had to go to Vietnam. First, he said he would go to Canada. Then he said if he had to go, he would go as a high-ranking officer.
    Well, slap those stars on his chest! Everything you have described here is exactly the way Loser is….minus the service. He would have been perfect. Had he served, he would have probably taken credit for “winning the war” we lost.
    Wow. This really does make you take a second look at these people, doesn’t it?

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    1. I know, it feels like I just put some important pieces together in my own story, and I am sure it is relevant for others! I know that Narcissists come in many shapes and sizes so I could totally see one opting for Canada over putting himself in harms way, haha. 🙂

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  3. I’ve had numerous family members and friends in the military including my dad, my grandpa, and my cousin and I don’t think they are narcissistic. Hoowwwwever, when I was a military spouse a lot of the guys were assholes. You could just see how they thought they were God’s gift to earth. I could totally see that happening. I don’t think my ex was a narcissist because he hated himself but he would use the military a lot as a way to say he was better than me. Always talking lowly of civilians and military wives and I see a lot of military men do that. He would say he protected the country and I would amount to nothing.

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    1. Brittany, you make a good point here – TONS of military members look down upon the spouses, there is even an instagram for “dependapotumuses” which are fat dependents who live off of their military spouses and don’t do anything else. Its like this weird sub-culture of thinking spouses are worthless! It takes a lot of freaking work to support someone in the military (even without the personality disorders!)

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      1. Oh yeah! It was something my ex and his friends constantly made jokes about. Military life is hard! Then with how you have your sponsor and don’t really have an identity since you use your sponsor’s ssn for everything makes it even easier to abuse.

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  4. This is fascinating. I’m not sure if STBX is a narcissist but he definitely has a lot of those traits. He was also in the military and also has now decided he suffers from PTSD. I say now because we were married for over 20 years. He never mentioned PTSD until American Sniper came out.

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  5. One of my husband’s friends is in the special forces and is also what I would call a classic narcissist. He was with his girlfriend for 10 years, and then started seeing other women whilst in Afghanistan. He broke it off with her before getting married and was still stringing her along, living with her, telling her he loved her and she was the one for him, whilst sleeping with 2 other women. He became a compulsive liar and control freak and was lying to all 3 women. I supported his ex girlfriend in leaving him and moving out of his flat.He is a very charming guy and I know the type very well, as he is similar to my ex’s. His mother and sister are narcissistic and his father abandoned him when he was only 3. My husband doesn’t seem him much anymore, luckily.

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  6. As someone who went through the same thing you are also going through, with the same kind of man, I can tell you from experience, ( I am also military and have spent most of my career in the SOF environment doing my job) that it is a permissable environment. Where men with Type A personalities and their senses of worth and accomplishment is applauded…daily. They will call each other good guys..because so and so is a MFF JM (military free fall jump master), but at the same time we will know he has a girlfriend and kids in another country, while he has a wife and children here in the states. This kind of behavior is like being a legend to these men. They will quickly ignore the fact that someone is breaking the military law by behaving this way, but the second someone else does it, say a girlfriend or wife has had enough and leaves the relationship and starts a new one, that woman is blacklisted as disloyal and a cheater..while no one will bat an eye at the military man who is cheating outside his zipcode (so that makes it ok to them..ha ha ha..they all laugh about it…what goes TDY stays TDY..hahahaha)….I could write a book, seriously, on all the ways these guys get away with it, and how all these women have no clue, but the mens coworkers know…their bosses know…everyone knows…and no one does a thing…because he is an operator..and a good guy because he wears a green beret….

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    1. Jessica, YES! I have heard and seen many of the same things you describe here. I had a strange glimpse into their world because I wasn’t really friends with any of the wives, but I spent a lot of time with the guys. I heard so many stories about second families… or about how ‘the best part of a deployment was not having to wear condoms’ and then there were the poor women who were given STD’s by their husbands and then accused of cheating. It is all messed up. I became good friends with our Chaplin while there and he actually told me that he had never ever seen such marital dysfunction until he went SF. Its crazy!

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      1. Hi! I am currently living with a military member who is a narcissist, which led me to google this topic. I knew there had to be a strong correlation. My husband admits he doesn’t care anything about serving his country and all that its about the admiration he receives from those outside the military. He drinks 365 days a year and drives and no one will pull him over because he is “in the army” so he gets special treatment. He bullies and makes fun of anyone he views not up to level of perfection. Even me. I am 5’3″ and weigh 106 lbs an he tells me I am fat and ugly. He is driving me crazy!

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  7. I’ve recently learned I’m the one who created my narcissistic son. He’s a Marine Corps officer and we’re estranged. I haven’t seen my grandchildren in over 3 years. I don’t even have their address. I thought the corps created my son but research says I must bear the burden but can blame the corps for making it worse. I was a single mom
    and did the best I could. I apologize and pray for his subordinates.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Eileen, I am so sorry to hear that, I can imagine that must feel terrible for you. From what I know about Narcissism and my experience with my Ex, I think it is probably fair to say that your son’s father was ‘responsible’ for making him that way not you. The trauma that Narcissist’s experience when they are children are usually a result of feeling abandoned by one or both parents… so if you are the parent that was there and present it was probably nothing that you did.

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  8. Thank you for taking the time to shed light on a very hard topic to discuss. I am the founder of Healing Household 6: a nonprofit organization designed to assist military caregivers with domestic violence. We hear these types of traits far too often from our clients in regards to their spouses. Please keep digging!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Lisa, I thought I was going crazy until I came across this sight. I am shaking as I type this. I met an army ranger while hiking the Appalachian Trail; he was the most charming man I had ever met. I mean he was perfect in every way and felt truly blessed. He asked me if I wanted to travel the country with him in his rv about 2 weeks after meeting him-he told me I was his soulmate. I felt the same way. Things started to change however after a few months: he had temper tantrums over nothing, he would start insane arguments that I didn,t even know how to participate in, he started to get physical with me, he took off on me for periods of time with no contacting me. this last time, 2 weeks ago he flew into a rage and he put his hand over my mouth and nose; I couldn’t breath. he let me go then grabbed me by the throat and choked me. then he released me. I got on my bicycle . he drove past me. all my things were thrown out of rv. I was in a remote section of Ocala, fl. He dumped me like a piece of trash-no money-no food after 2 years. 1 hour before this he told me that he adored me. this is going to sound strange but I waited for him to come back for 11 days=he did’t. I still love him. I still can’t make of this accept to think that he has 2 personalities. I am afraid of him and I love him. What is he?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ramona, I am so sorry to hear that you are going through this. I am not sure exactly what is going on with the man you mention, but regardless it sounds like you are in a very unhealthy situation. Please surround yourself with friends and family and start talking about the things you’ve been through. I understand how it feels to be in love with someone who is horrible for you and it takes some time to work through that. Your best bet is to find other people who really actually care about your well-being and listen to their advice. ❤

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  10. I too was involved intimately with a retired Marine. He was extremely narcissistic and sadistic simply because he could not control me to his specifications. Not realizing he had an agenda for first breaking up with me, I tried to maintain a friendship. His narcissism continued to the point that our dealing progressed to the level of psychological warfare. He had all this special training, of course, and I was in the dark trying to handle a horrific situation that I was lucky to escape with my mind in tact. You’re insight is most valid imo. I know a lot of people will not want to believe how malignant these cases can be, but anyone who has lived through this has gone to hell and back and is lucky to escape. Thanks for listen, and thanks for the support here.

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  11. Just found your blog–thank you for writing this. People need to know more about narcissistic personality disorder! I am married to one, a former Marine (sticking it out until son is out of school). But probably the most extreme narcissist I’ve ever encountered is the wife of a friend. She’s a former air force pilot and a textbook case. So yes, I agree that the military attracts this kind of personality and then develops it further. I don’t fault the military for that—I’m not sure how one could be a combat pilot or special forces and not have those traits just to survive. But they are kind of like human wrecking balls once they return to civilian life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jules, sorry to hear that you are experiencing this as well. I can definitely understand why the military is in need of this personality type for the job, I think the issue is the lack of support for family and post-military life for these personality types. Definitely human wrecking balls!! ❤

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  12. My stepson is a classic narcissist. He is 38 years old. I agree that a narcissist would love being in a prestigious position (like special forces, SEAL or a high ranking officer whom everyone has to salute) but it really doesn’t work well for a narcissist to be a grunt. The last thing a person with NPD would want is to feel like an indistinguishable grunt with no rank, no power, no prestige.

    Upon graduating high school, my stepson enlisted with the Coast Guard. He got through basic training barely, and very quickly realized that he hated being a grunt, hated being told what to do, hated being bossed around, hated having to get up at the crack of dawn, etc. He came up with a knee injury which he blamed on basic training but which I am sure he got from sports before ever enlisting. He milked it all the way to an honorable discharge and to this day he still gets around $400 a month for some sort of veterans disability and got all his college for free. To see his pro-military facebook posts about you’d think he single-handedly stormed the beaches at Normandy.

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  13. Hello,
    This article was helpful to me. The worst part of divorcing someone with these traits, is the severe mind games. It’s much worse than the physical abuse I suffered. My ex did so many mind games and I feel he learned a lot of what he did through the military. He called it “psych-ops.” My ex was special forces and he got a lot of special treatment in the Navy. They also did little to help me stop the abuse, which is why I had to get out.
    Please, continue to share any research you find on this topic.
    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Wow this was so useful to read. I had a terrible experience with a Narcissist vet recently and I was amazed at how calculated his efforts were to appear like a good, empathetic guy, when in fact he was the TOTAL opposite in just about every way possible. He served for 2 years and I think the way you talk about how the deeply ingrained hierarchy of the military just feeds into these needs for admiration, entitlement and superiority is so true. amongst many other things.

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  15. Thank you for the post. This really puts everything into perspective for me. I grew up with a dad and 2 uncles who were in the military. There was a military base in my home town with children of military families that I became friends with. One of my friends has a military husband. All of these people that I have encountered seemed to follow these narcissistic traits or have dealt with trauma due a military family member. The hierarchy that is heavily enforced carries into their civilian life which results in the suffering of others. Don’t get me wrong, it truly depends on the person and their upbringing-not EVERYONE in the military or who are affiliated with it are like this. However, there is enough evidence out there that shows consistent patterns of this behavior and for me, these patterns are all too common. The military even goes as far as to divide its members from people who are not affiliated with the military by referring to them as “civilians. In the eyes of the military, they are there to protect the civilians, portraying the non military as helpless….this is yet another example to make them feel powerful. I can honestly go on forever because this is an interesting topic that feels close to home with me.

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