Lance Armstrong May Be A Narcissist, But We Made Him A Hero

Lance-Armstrong-denies-pic-jpgLike a lot of people, I brought into the Lance Armstrong hype way before the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency implemented him. To me, even back then, wearing the Livestrong bracelets was not so much about supporting Lance Armstrong, but for fighting cancer and challenges everywhere.

A lot of people I talk to who supported Armstrong and believed him when he said he was being singled-out, are angry and many are destroying their Livestrong bracelets.

If you look at those bracelets as supporting Lance Armstrong, then I understand that, but everything is about perception and I think those bracelets and the good his foundation has done can’t be torn apart by his wrong doings.

What does bother me is that he apparently lied so many times, adamantly about his use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). I read in some reports that he threatened to ruin peoples lives, including his masseuse if she didn’t help keep his secrets.

When I watch the many video tapes of Armstrong vehemently denying his use of PEDs, even as the evidence against him mounted up, I started seeing a different side of him.

He no longer was the pristine character I and many others had mad him out to be, but that is our fault. We made him out to be better than he really was.

Once I really started to see Lance Armstrong and not his accomplishments and charisma, I started to see a very egotistical person with clear signs of a narcissistic personality.

I saw a man who was drunk with power. Here was a man who had done more for cancer research and awareness than anyone I can think of and yet cheated in the Tour de France and continued to lie about it for years despite the evidence.

He used his charisma to raise millions of dollars for cancer research, while at the same time cheating and dominating at the sport that made him famous.

Many people in history with narcissistic personalities were charismatic and often started off as good before turning bad, such as Adolf Hitler, Fidel Castro and Jim Jones. There are many present day examples as well, just look around and you’ll start to notice them.

People with narcissistic personalities have big egos that create a need for importance and are often driven to success.

That doesn’t make them all bad people. All of us can be a bit narcissistic at times, but people with narcissistic personalities tend to take it to  the point where they can’t recognize when they are wrong or need help because they think they have no flaws and they don’t take personal responsibility.

Lance’s narcissistic personality made it hard for him to take responsibility for his actions and also made him think that he was smarter than everyone else. Even in the face of undeniable evidence, he still tried to hold on to his heroic facade.

The problem is, as people we usually like to characterize people as all  “good” or all  “bad”, but humans are complex beings with the ability to be both good and bad. When we put someone on a pedestal, only admiring their good side, we are quickly disappointed and hurt when they show us their not so good side, which all of us have to some extent.

A couple of years ago, a pastor here in Orlando who had a past history of drug abuse and sexual defiance, became very charismatic, successful and popular in the community, growing his congregation into tens of thousands, at multiple services at multiple churches and nationally televised.

He was outspoken and passionate about uplifting communities, staying away from drugs and challenging men to be men. People flocked to him and his church and clung to him as if he were the perfect example of a good man and a Christian.

Imagine everyone’s shock when he was found dead in a New York city hotel of “natural causes” with a white powdery substance in his position.

Many people believe the pastor died of a drug over dose, but his congregation and family refused to believe it and til this day his family is fighting to keep  his official cause of death sealed. They had made this man out to be a hero, to be perfect, just as many had did with Lance Armstrong, and they didn’t want to tarnish his reputation.

As humans we like to root for people, to champion people and  make heroes out of athletes, celebrities, and sometimes people in our communities like religious leaders, and it’s easy to get disillusioned and forget that they are all just people just like us.

I’m not angry with Lance, after all, he is just human, just a man who made some bad decisions along with some great ones including helping raise awareness and research for cancer. I just hope that he will come completely clean and allow us to get to know all of him without the hero facade.

This will require him taking personal responsibility for his past mistakes however, something that is difficult for people with a narcissistic personality to do. The world and I will be watching.

**edit: I wrote this post before I saw his interview with Oprah and walked away from that interview more convinced that Lance Armstrong is a narcissist. In the interview he often spoke in the third person, as if it wasn’t really him being interviewed. He often seemed rather cold, detached and guarded despite this being a “tell all” interview. He touched his face a lot, which is a form of body language known as “The Mouth Guard” which is a sign that someone is unsure if what they are saying is really the truth, or consciously or unconsciously they know that what they are saying is a lie. Maybe Lance wasn’t totally lying, but he was not being completely, totally honest. Still, I think the good his Livestrong foundation has done is much bigger than one person.

Observing Body Language: A Quick Glimpse Into One Patient

I have a patient who is emotionally unstable, at times unpredictable and erratic. She suffers from depression, mostly due to tragic events that have happened in her past including a family history of drug abuse, sexual abuse and incest.

She holds tightly onto her tragic past, often choosing to become a victim, rather than a survivor or a thriver.

Because she carries around all this emotional baggage that she refuses to deal with and start letting go, mostly because she is comfortable in the role of playing the victim where everyone is to blame for all of her problems except her, she often feels miserable, cuts her self and can not enjoy the present, because she is stuck in the past.

She also always carries around an over sized book bag stuffed with books so heavy that when she walks, she has to walk hunched over, although she has a locker. She also carries around even more books, usually books she checked out from the library in her hand, yet doesn’t read any of them.

I think subconsciously  she just likes carrying things around.

The other day when talking to her, I told her that I was worried about her posture and asked if there was a way she could minimize the amount of stuff she carried in her book bag and in her hands.

I gave her a task to try to de-clutter herself so that she didn’t have to carry so much stuff around.

And then it hit me, the way she was carrying so much stuff physically, reflected how she was carrying around so much baggage emotionally, and the way she walked, hunched over, head down, slow as if she was carrying the world on her shoulders, was exactly how she was feeling inside.

Her outside appearance and body language were representative of her emotional and mental states. This isn’t uncommon, we all due this to some extent, but hers was a prime example.

Amy Cuddy did a great Ted Talks lecture on body language where she discussed how when we carry ourselves (or sit) in certain postures, it no only affects our mood, but also our hormones, raising or decreasing testosterone and cortisol.

I can only imagine how this girl, walking around all the time, hunched over, looking small, is making her feel inadequate and disconsolate. I am wondering if I can get her to improve her posture, will that also improve her mood.

Now I am sure there is a fancy psychological term for this that is eluding me right now, but I found that insight fascinating and wondered if I could get her to stop carrying so much junk on her persons, would she start letting go of some of that emotional baggage that is holding her down as well.

So far, she has been resistant to letting go of some of her physical baggage just like she has been very resistant in letting go of some of her emotional baggage, but I will keep working with her.

It’s important that we pay attention to our body language. It’s something as a psychotherapist I do all the time, pay attention to other people’s body language, and if you have 20 mins, it’s worth listening to Amy Cuddy drive home the importance of body language and how changing it can affect your mood.