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Steve Jobs, iNarcissist December 12, 2011

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Steve Jobs was obsessed with beauty. He was a perfectionist who did not suffer fools. He could be a tyrannical boss who brought out the best in some, while humiliating others deemed less worthy. He could be incredibly charming. More frequently, he could be a pompous ass given to fits of crying when he didn’t get his way. Yes, he changed the world. But make no mistake, Steve Jobs was a classic narcissist.

I was surprised when I read The Limits of Magical Thinking, an otherwise insightful article by Maureen Dowd, and there was no mention of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). She had read the Walter Isaacson biography. There’s one mention of him suffering from possible mild bi-polarity. Hello? How could she have not seen the red flags?

I have to admit was a bit perplexed when I heard Jobs had asked Walter Isaacson to write his biography so his children might better know him and why he often wasn’t there for them.

I bought the book the day it was released, so I, too, might better know Steve Jobs. I’m an avid Apple consumer, dare I say devotee. Upon learning of his death, I wrote Steve Jobs – The Real Big Apple  as a tribute.  But, I have to admit that my knowledge about Steve Jobs as a person was sketchy. What can I say? I must have been busy breastfeeding and changing diapers when he was on the cover of TIME. And speaking of covers, Steve Jobs personally approved the cover design for his biography. (He was a control freak to the end.)

It’s been a while since I parted with $32 for a hardcover book, so as I was reading, I hesitated marking up the book. But after the umpteenth reference to his ability to “manipulate” others, I pulled out a pencil. The book now looks like a dot-to-dot drawing. If you connect them, you have yourself a world-class narcissist, albeit an extremely productive one.

Most telling was Jobs’ relationship with Tina Redse which ran hot and cold for five years. After one argument, she scrawled “Neglect is a form of abuse,” on the wall to his bedroom. According to Isaacson, “She was entranced by him, but she was also baffled by how uncaring he could be. She would later recall how incredibly painful it was to be in love with someone so self-centered. Caring deeply about someone who seemed incapable of caring was a particular kind of hell that she wouldn’t wish on anyone, she said.”

It was only after they broke up that Redse helped found OpenMind, a mental health resource network in California. She read about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and realized that Jobs met the criteria – perfectly. “It fits so well and explained so much of what we had struggled with, that I realized expecting him to be nicer or less self-centered was like expecting a blind man to see,” she said. “It also explained some of the choices he’d made about his daughter Lisa (born out of wedlock just like Jobs was) at that time. I think the issue is empathy – the capacity for empathy is lacking.”

Even as Jobs contemplated marrying his wife Laurene, he still had not decided if he was going to put all of his apples in one basket. (Sorry, that’s one pun I couldn’t resist!) He asked friends who they thought was more beautiful, Tina or Laurene. What’s funny is Tina was so not available at that point.

Though married for 20 years, I believe that Steve Jobs’ “Ideal Love” was not his wife, Laurene, but Apple, the baby he’d created back in that garage with Steve Wozniak. Laurene was obviously a strong woman with a life of her own. She makes brief cameos in his biography always playing the consummate nurturer. At one point, she and one of their daughters appear in beekeepers suits. She was obviously warm and giving and made up for his physical and emotional absence. It’s an all too familiar dynamic.

If you’ve had a close encounter with a narcissist, you’ll see red flags everywhere in the book. The only difference between your garden variety narcissist and Steve Jobs is that his magical thinking served him well, at least in business. He was a millionaire at 25. Imagine how that fueled his NPD? Though he walked around barefoot, he still couldn’t walk on water though there are those who would argue that I’m wrong. Since first writing this, I’ve read Was Steve Jobs’ Narcissism Justified? on the Psychology Today site. It’s an excellent read. If the jury was out in regards to Jobs’ narcissism, it’s now IN.

I found Walter Isaacson’s biography to be an interesting read. But will his book help Jobs’ children better understand their father? I think not. Steve Jobs remains an emotional enigma even in death.

I came across another great article Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons by Michael Maccoby and originally published in the Harvard Business Review. Very interesting reading indeed.

One more thing…This post was written on my beloved MacBook, the photo was taken with my iPhone, and as I write this I’m listening to music on my iPod. Oh, the iRony.

Photo Credit: Jan Marshall

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Comments»

1. Catherine Sherman - December 12, 2011

I’ve on the waiting list for the book at the library, so I’m glad you gave me a preview. Of all of the reviews, I’ve read about Isaacson’s book and the articles I’ve read about Jobs himself, I think yours really captures what everyone else just danced around. The man was a Narcissist! People still don’t get what that is.

I don’t have any iProducts, so I hadn’t pay much attention to Jobs except for the periodic reports of his illness and really didn’t read much about him until he died. We’ll see how the company prospers now that he’s gone. He cheated co-founder Steve Wozniak in the beginning, and yet somehow Wozniak stayed with him and remained a friend.

Jobs’ wife is described as a Superwoman who was supportive, which makes sense. I’m sure he felt that he deserved nothing less, a woman who could do anything but seemed to do mostly what he wanted.

I look forward to reading Isaacson’s biography. Thanks for another great post!

Cathy,
Yes, he cheated Woz over a very trivial amount but never owned up to it. For those who know a thing or two about narcissism, it reads like a case study. A, Jan

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2. tlfortune - December 12, 2011

Steve Jobs was a businessman, first & foremost. The fact that he was likely NPD shouldn’t come as a revelation or a shock- it’s the perfect pairing, big-biz leader & NPD…

He also had a very refined sense of aesthetics & that showed in his products. This will be his legacy, I think, even more than his running of Apple.

His treatment of his family? Well, again, typical NPD- no time for much except themselves. The wife/GF’s were adults who at least had the chance to walk away- I feel more for the kids. They may have wealth, but we all know what growing up with an NPD can do to you…Good luck to them…

Tlfortune,
Yes, you’re right on every count. In the article I linked to about narcissistic leaders, you realize how narcissism can make someone more productive in the business arena. And dang, if I don’t love the esthetics of my Apple products. Someone donated an old Mac to my classroom. I called it “the baseball computer” because it sits on a half sphere. It’s got an adjustable screen that’s perfect for my students. In the book, I learned its design was inspired by the sunflowers that Laurene grew in the garden. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why the on/off button was way around toward the back. After reading the book, I figured out that most likely it was put there so it didn’t mar the esthetic of the design. Jan

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3. Anne @ The Frump Factor - December 12, 2011

I must confess that I know very little about NPD. As a layperson with little knowledge of psychology, though, I often find myself puzzled by how our society lauds prominent people whose behaviors seem dysfunctional to me — and whose treatment of others seems positively abusive. Do you think society rewards narcissists? Do you think that many “great leaders” have psychological disorders? (And forgive me if this question is glib or naive or un-answerable!)

Anne,
Not to be glib, but YES and YES. And I’m afraid it’s always been so. If you read “Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons,” the article I linked to, you’ll realize just how common this is – and why. Jan

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4. Tim Bradley - December 12, 2011

Isn’t writing a blog kind of a narcissistic thing to do?

Tim,
It depends. Is writing a book a narcissistic thing to do? With the publishing industry in shambles, I know many writers who hone their writing skills through blogging. (Hint, hint!) I suppose doing anything for an audience has an element of narcissism involved. Even more so when you’re writing exclusively about your life and posting pictures of yourself. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I love to wake up and see that people from four continents read my blog during the night. The other day I finally had a hit from Iceland. It made my day! But many of the hits are from people desperately looking for information on narcissism. I remember being in that state of mind, so I’m glad to be of some help.

FYI: I’m constantly amazed by people on facebook who post constant status updates, as though I really cared that they were at 24-Hour Fitness.

I suggest you read “Narcissists Can Be Identified by Their Facebook Accounts.” Jan

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Tim - December 13, 2011

Excellent article. Thanks for the referral. Also recommend from the same site (www.science20.com) “Pedantic Semantic: Or, I Do Not Think This Word Means What You Think It Does.”
Tim

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5. CZBZ - December 13, 2011

Hi Jan!

I have not read this book though several people mentioned it to me. They’ve asked if Steve Jobs was a narcissist, to which I had no answer. Now they can read your article because you brought up important points that the average reader might miss if they didn’t know about ‘narcissistic personalities.’

I really enjoyed your review, your research, and your diagnosis. Thank you!

Hugs,
CZ

p.s. @Macoby’s article refers to ‘nonclinical narcissism’, which is not a personality disorder. These are high-functioning narcissists. Like Steve Jobs. Comparing him to the narcissists in Macoby’s article was spot-on brilliant.

p.s. @Tim: writing a blog is a narcissistic thing to do. So is highlighting your hair, shaving, writing a resume, and offering your opinion. :-P

CZ,
Thanks for my first good laugh of the day.:) Jan

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6. HorrorFatale - December 14, 2011

This is an excellent post. I do believe he was a bit of a narcissist, but I think Jobs might have a had low grade Asperger’s syndromes as well. I too suffer from Asperger’s. And I think sometimes appearing emotionally aloof can come off as uncaring or as n. I think people misinterpret it that way. Basically sometimes, we don’t know or understand what we are “supposed” to be feeling. Or I might have NPD too. (See how I turned it in to being about me.) :D

Horrorfatale,
I’ve had five boys as students over the years who had Asperger’s. I have to say that not one of them had a mean bone in his body. But you’re right, they can appear aloof because they don’t know how they are supposed to respond. All of the boys I knew were incredibly bright, highly verbal, and gifted artists. I’d be interested to hear your take on Steve Jobs after you read the book. :) Jan

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7. HorrorFatale - December 14, 2011

** Or as narcisim, I meant in one of those sentences. LOL!

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8. HorrorFatale - December 14, 2011

narcissistic – wow

Haha! Sounds like you’ve had a day like I’ve had. >wink! Jan

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9. belle - January 22, 2012

Yup. I suspected he had NPD while reading Issacson’s book. Infact I spent my entire time reading the book, noting down each aspect of his life that gave away that he was a Narcissist.

One thing I wonder though, and perhaps you can share your thoughts on this. How do some Narcissists become so successful? How do they get away with abuse, neglect and indeed many more otherwise unacceptable behaviours?
Is it just luck? Or…is it a natural tendency of ordinary people to accept authority, the more abusive the authority, the safer we feel being under their wing?

Cheers,
‘belle’

Belle,
The link to the article, “Narcissistic Leaders – The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons” addresses many of the hows and the whys. Here in the U.S., the presidential primaries are underway. Argh! What a cast of characters! One political commentator said that voters will forgive a candidate’s lapses in moral judgement as long as he possess a VISION (whether it is delusional or not).

I do think you are right about most people accepting authority. I believe many are happy to let the person who is “most driven” do the driving while they simply go along for the ride. It’s so difficult to reason with these difficult personalities, that it becomes easier to give them more room. Anyone who has had dealings with a narcissist also knows how you begin to alter your own behavior so as not to set them off. Thanks for stopping by. :) Jan

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10. will79 - February 17, 2012

“Or I might have NPD too.”

Short answer: Anyone with a blog has NPD.

Will79,
Please read CZBZ’s response to the same question on this thread. Please reserve judgement until after you’ve read Steve Jobs’ biography. I’m an Apple person, so it was hard to read. Maybe you need to get a blog…. Jan

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elissestuart - February 18, 2012

“Anyone with a blog has NPD” …….
if that is the case then it is a pandemic…..:)
Judging by Jan’s blog – I am in good company.
ES

Gee ES,
We can live on our own planet (okay, it has to be MINE) and just blog to our hearts’ content. :) Jan

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11. Tim Bradley - February 18, 2012

For your dining and dancing pleasure (“from the Make Believe Ballroom, high atop the Hotel Continental…”), the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly (Feb. 24 cover date, Whitney H. cover), p. 79, there’s an article called “The Narcissist’s Playlist.”

Tim,
I’ll have to check this out. They do seem to work from the same Play Book. LOL. Jan

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12. Chris - March 13, 2012

Hallelujah! Thank you for exposing Jobs. i am currently listening to Job’s bio on audio book. By chapter 2 or 3, I seriously started to wonder if Jobs was a narcissist. By the 5th disc, I knew with certainty. Disc #5 starts out with employees sharing their encounters with Jobs in the workplace. Most telling trait…Jobs manipulating his employees. He knew how to keep them on edge. Employees stated they wanted his approval, worked toward getting it…& felt great when Jobs treated them well. But they could just as quickly fall out of his favor…and be subject to his ridicule and cruel treatment. Or Jobs may just chose to ignore an employee, treating them cooly & being aloof. As a result, this dynamic always kept them on guard. As a child of a narcissistic father, this struck a chord in me. The reaction from the employees (never knowing where you stood, always feeling uneasy…) was the same response I had as a child growing up in that environment. And if you showed confidence, especially in the face of one of his tyrannical rants, Jobs would back down…treat you better. How telling is that?! The narcissist wants to be in the company of the composed, confident one. The only difference between these baffled and bewildered employees in the book vs. adult children of narcissists are that the children of narcissists clearly understand what is going on. The employees in the book are still scratching their heads over this guy…was he really great? They argue he must be- he was such a brilliant visionary. And yes, they reason, he had his demons like all great charismatic leaders. This is how they attempt to make sense of his behavior- and so does the author, Isaacson. For those of us who know a narcissist when we see one- there is no trying to figure him out. Jobs suffered from NPD. How could Isaacson miss this? His book is deeply flawed now as a result.

Chris,
You have a unique perspective having had a narcissistic father. I can’t tell you how many people have told me about growing up with a narcissistic parent and walking on eggshells. Never knowing where you stand. Always hoping for approval or just validation. Always waiting. Hoping that you’ll be recognized for being….You.

I’m curious. You seem to imply that unlike the those bewildered employees who worked under Steve Jobs, the children of narcissists figure out what’s going on. If so, when did you figure this out?

When people believe someone is a “visionary,” they often excuse bad behavior as the dark side of genius. It’s like a Get Out of Jail Free card when there’s actually something more sinister in play that we need to be made aware of.
Jan

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13. Chris - March 13, 2012

yes. agree on the generally embraced notion that genius behavior must come with a dark side. jobs gets off the hook. and i meant to write… it’s ADULT children of narcissists (who have done the mental work) who can usually spot a narcissist early on. certainly didn’t mean to imply that the developing child would know. usually, the child is in a state of unease and uncertainty. it’s usually later in life, with proper intervention (as was in my case) that one is able to figure out what happened to his/her family and right the course. it is at that point – when a person becomes a good detector of NPD!!!

Chris,
Thanks the clarification. :) We have a therapist friend who grew up with a narcissistic father. He said people who put up with narcissists for any length of time usually had one in their family of origin and were conditioned by years of abuse. Unless someone seeks help and learns about NPD, they can spend their entire life trying to be recognized by someone who essentially doesn’t “see” them. You are fortunate in knowing the truth. And you’re also right in that once you do know the truth, it’s so much easier to spot these traits in others.
Jan

You

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14. Theodore - April 27, 2012

Jan, the quote above from you’re therapist friend who grew up with a narcissistic father is right on target. I come from a family like that and I can attest to the accuracy of that statement. This is why we need better education about these disorders. If I and my siblings had known about NPD, our lives would have been very different.

Theodore,
So sorry. No child should be subjected to this form of abuse. As a teacher, I DO see children whose parents have NO boundaries. They might not physically abuse their children, but it’s a form of child abuse IMO.

My sister-in-law married a narcissist and jumped through hoops for 14 years. Her father wasn’t one himself, but WAS emotionally distant. It was only in retrospect that I could understand why she stuck with her husband for so long. It was especially hard on her eight children. This all came to light after I wrote Close Encounter with a Narcissist. I was shocked when she told me that when she read what I wrote, she felt like I had been a fly on the wall during her marriage. Jan

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15. Fanny - May 15, 2012

After 8 yrs, I realised the man I was in love with could not help himself for being abusive because he is a narcissist. Once you realise it,it is not difficult to predict their behaviour nor identify another narcissist. Reading Steve jobs biography certainly highlights a lot of the common traits . He is not empathic, detached from his children etc . I believe he wanted to control information about him and that is the reason why he authorised his biography. Yes, narcissist can be closed to people that they think adore them like my bOy friend who was close to his sisters.
How much has Steve jobs given to charity unlike Bill Gates? With all his millions, he hardly came as a generous philanthropist unless of course he felt he had to .

Fanny,
Yes, once you know you’re dealing with a narcissist and how they roll, you can predict their behavior with uncanny accuracy. And we all know that Ns are major controllers, so only a Pulitzer Prize-winning author would do for Jobs who sought to control his legacy as well.
Jan

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