Narcissists have the ability to charmingly convince people of anything they want to convey. Their manner of speech, intertwined with shallow flattery and a flashy smile, is woven with truths, half-truths, and fiction. While this might gain media attention for the pure entertainment value and seemingly innocent, it does have the potential to cause harm on a large scale.
This concept is clearly demonstrated in the movie Denial which was released in September 2016. This true-life docudrama portrays the struggles of an American professor, Deborah E. Lipstadt, as she defends herself in a British court case. Her book on Holocaust deniers portrays people such as historian David Irving, who made false historical accusations that Hitler did not order the persecution and execution of millions of Jewish people during World War II. David Irving filed a lawsuit against Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books for defamation of character.
The movie portrayed David Irving as a narcissist (this is not an official diagnosis of the real person; rather it is an analysis of the character in the movie). For those who are unclear as to just how a narcissist manipulates and deceives, this movie describes it perfectly. The list of symptoms depicted includes:
- Need to be the center of attention: One of the opening scenes of the movie is David Irving interrupting Deborah Lipstadt while she is giving a lecture at a university about her new book. This grandstanding was then recorded by David Irving to be used on his website as a demonstration of her unwillingness to debate the facts of the Holocaust.
- Desire to be recognized as superior: The attorneys for Deborah Lipstadt suspected that David Irving had this desire and used it against him. In a pretrial discussion before the judge about whether to use a jury, the attorneys suggested that twelve common people would not be able to understand the intricacies of the case as clearly as the judge. David Irving agreed not to have a jury trial.
- Lack of empathy: In this case, the movie demonstrated all of the other characters as capable of empathy except for David Irving. This was especially true when several members of Deborah Lipstadt’s legal team visited the remains of the concentration camp in Auschwitz.
- Need for excessive admiration: Throughout the movie, David Irving dominated the media with his propaganda. At the advice of counsel, much to the dismay of Deborah Lipstadt, she remained silent until after the case was decided. The stark contrast only highlighted his showboating.
- Automatic compliance with expectations: (Movie spoiler alert!) In the end, David Irving loses his case, but that would not be apparent from his media interviews immediately following the ruling. Instead, he claims a victory and expects everyone around him to agree with his stance and perspective.
- Arrogance: Even the physical appearance of David Irving in the movie portrays an arrogant attitude through his puffed-up chest, raised chin, and downward gaze at others. When he speaks, it is clear he will only talk to those he believes are worthy of his attention, not anyone else.
- Takes advantage of others: This is the most disgusting aspect of the movie as it is evident that David Irving is blatantly taking advantage of the Jewish people’s suffering to gain self-promoting notoriety as a denier. This shameful display underscores the worst aspect of narcissism in the worst possible manner.
So to answer the question posed in the title, yes, a narcissist’s deception can be harmful to millions of people. It was for the family, friends, and survivors of the Holocaust. The portrait of David Irving in the movie Denial is such an example of lying and maliciously deceptive behavior characterized by the narcissist.