The Khan Paradox: Narcissism, Exclusionism, and Shared Psychosis

How a leader used his problems to become a leading political figure

PTI chief Imran Khan’s transition from a cricketer to a leading political figure was a significant turn. With the PTI’s core tenets revolving around anti-corruption and socio-economic justice, Khan effectively portrayed himself as an agent of change. His populist approach attracted a massive following, especially among the youth, who saw in him the promise of a ‘Naya Pakistan’, or a new Pakistan. His brand of politics is characterized by staunch nationalism, progressive socio-economic policies, and a pledge to combat corruption.

Dr. Abid Qaiyum Suleri’s article in the press presents a thought-provoking analysis of protests and their underlying dynamics. In response to it, this aims to provide a comprehensive review and analysis, especially on ‘shared psychosis theory.’

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Shared psychosis theory, also known as folie à deux, posits that individuals can adopt delusions or irrational beliefs through close association with someone who already has a psychotic disorder. In the context of politics, this theory suggests that political leaders such as Imran Khan can influence the beliefs and perceptions of their followers, potentially leading to shared delusions or distorted views.

The shared psychosis theory becomes particularly interesting when applied to the context of Imran Khan’s political career. Khan’s promise of radical change has created an impassioned and devoted following. His anti-corruption narrative, commitment to justice, and dream of a ‘Naya Pakistan’ have become deeply ingrained in the psyche of his followers.

His rhetoric is powerful and infectious, causing his followers to identify closely with his values and vision. His narrative has become their narrative; his vision, their vision. This phenomenon can be closely compared to the concept of shared psychosis. The shared psychosis theory could also potentially explain the polarizing views of Imran Khan among the Pakistani populace. His followers passionately defend his policies and decisions, attributing any failure to external elements or the corrupt system he is trying to reform. Conversely, his view is that promises are delusions, considering his governance as ill-prepared and naive.

Recent political dynamics paint a complex picture of Imran Khan’s leadership, particularly highlighting his allegedly narcissistic politics and an exclusionist approach that have been sources of contention in Pakistan’s current political climate.

Narcissism, at its core, is characterized by an excessive self-focus, a grandiose view of one’s own abilities, and a persistent need for admiration. These traits appear to manifest in Khan’s political practices, and such a style of leadership often leads to an echo chamber where dissent is silenced, and only those agreeing with the leader’s perspective find favor.

While Imran Khan rose to power with a promising agenda, his political journey stirred considerable controversy. His alleged narcissistic tendencies and exclusionist practices, as well as his purportedly militant approach of directly naming and criticizing leaders, have drawn both attention and criticism.

Alongside narcissism, Khan has been accused of an exclusionist political approach. Exclusionism in politics refers to a strategy or practice that purposely sidelines certain groups or individuals from political processes or decision-making. This, in essence, goes against the principle of inclusive politics.

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Moreover, Khan’s alleged propensity to publicly call out leaders by name could be seen as a manifestation of both his reported narcissism and exclusionism. By doing so, he potentially belittles and marginalizes those with differing perspectives while promoting his own viewpoint as superior. Such behavior might reflect an aspect of militant politics, given the confrontational and combative nature of such tactics.

In the wake of Imran Khan’s arrest on May 9, Pakistan witnessed an outpouring of support for the embattled politician, culminating in protests and attacks orchestrated by his fervent supporters. The dramatic rise in unrest from Khan’s backers, particularly the supporters of his political party, presents a striking example of how Khan’s militant politics has left a profound impact on the nation’s political landscape.

Following Khan’s arrest on corruption charges, thousands of PTI supporters took to the streets in protest. The demonstrations, in some cases, devolved into violent confrontations, resulting in attacks on military installations. This surge in violence points to a disturbing trend among Khan’s supporters, who appear to be mirroring his confrontational political style. This is precisely where the concerns about Khan’s militant politics come into focus.

Imran Khan’s speeches often reveal a distinct narrative that showcases a clear ‘Us versus Them’ schema, which he skillfully employs in his anti-Islamophobia arguments. However, a closer look suggests that Khan could be using this serious issue not just as a means to fight for justice but also as a tool for political maneuvering and personal benefit.

In the world of politics, the ability to construct and communicate a compelling narrative can be a powerful weapon. Khan seems to be adept at this, using strategies such as generalization, victimization, polarization and counterfactuality, to accentuate the divide between Muslims and the rest of the world. This deliberate framing not only raises awareness about the very real issue of Islamophobia but also galvanizes his supporters and strengthens his political standing.

While Imran Khan rose to power with a promising agenda, his political journey stirred considerable controversy. His alleged narcissistic tendencies and exclusionist practices, as well as his purportedly militant approach of directly naming and criticizing leaders, have drawn both attention and criticism.

Dr Sahibzada Muhammad Usman
Dr Sahibzada Muhammad Usman
The writer is a Research Scholar and Academic; PhD in Political Science at the University of Pisa, Italy. He has published 30 research articles in international journals


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