What is it that prevents people from admitting mistakes, feeling superior to all those around them, feeling as if their actions are above the law, the inability to feel that their actions are responsible for someone else’s misery? We have all worked with people who have varying degrees of the unshakeable belief that they can do no wrong. In our incredibly complex world, there are leaders and professionals that are absolutely convinced that they understand how the world works and how to solve problems in spite of the fact that time after time they are proven wrong. (You can read more about this in our piece “The Illusion of Understanding.”)
In 2009, at the height of the financial crisis, many wall street CEOs were put under the spot light as the leaders of the largest financial firms were brought before congress for questioning. However, in spite of the damning evidence put before them concerning the damage inflicted on the economy and individuals by these firms, the leaders seemed to feel removed from any or all responsibility. An example of this was made during an interview with the Times of London, where Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs was quoted as saying that Goldman Sachs was merely “doing God’s work.” Obviously admitting to understanding the agenda of a higher power greater than ours and professing to be part of it immediately places you in an obviously very privileged position.
Though not officially labeled a personality disorder, the God Complex is very similar to the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The God Complex is a psychological illusion. The first person to use the term God Complex was Ernest Jones (1913–51). His description, at least in the contents page of Essays in Applied Psycho-Analysis, described the God Complex as belief that one is a god. It suggests a personality flaw in human beings, especially those with great power, who see themselves to be omniscient and omnipotent, and treat others as mere mortals. However, one does not have to be in a position of power to exhibit these traits. There are numerous examples of people displaying these personalities in the workplace which you have most likely encountered.
The God Complex tends to show up amongst a variety of professions, although, some professions are more likely to cause a God Complex than others, as they involve one person exerting a lot of influence on a large number of people. These professions include among others: Doctors, Politicians, Bureaucrats and Celebrities.
Research suggests that in the case of several people, the God Complex affected them AFTER being exposed to a lot of power over a period of time. Hence, it is likely that people get this complex after having spent a considerable amount of time in that particular profession. Once you know what this complex is, it is easier to understand why certain people behave the way they do although that doesn’t make them any easier to be around.
With his extreme narcissistic displays, Donald Trump has become the poster child for the God Complex. However, in this particular example, he demonstrated many of the traits associated with the complex well before becoming President. Rather than developing the complex, after having been in a position of power, it was his inflated view of himself that drove him to become President.
As President, Trump now finds himself in good company because in the world of politics the God Complex plays itself out each and every day. In fact, our current political and media culture can be seen as reinforcing the God Complex.
The question is how can problems be solved and solutions found when dealing with opponents that both display the God Complex? Neither side will think about backing down because they both feel superior to the other. The result is pretty much what we have seen play out in the arena of US politics. Rather than concentrating on what is good for the country, both sides are fighting to dismantle the other. It is a dangerous trait to have, as we have seen many nations brought down by leaders with an omnipresent display of the God Complex.
Here are a few extreme examples: Omar al-Bashir—Sudan, Kim Jong-il—North Korea, Robert Mugabe—Zimbabwe (recently dethroned), King Abdullah—Saudi Arabia, Seyed Ali Khamenei—Iran, Bashar al-Assad—Syria, and Nicolás Maduro – Venezuela.