Author: Meni Koutosimou
Psychologist – Phil to Post Graduate Mental Health Advisor
Post Graduate Degree on Psychiatry/Child Psychiatry
Doctor of Medicine at University of Ioannina
Post-Doc at University of Ioannina on Quality of Services

Since antiquity, the act of hubris has been inextricably connected with impertinence and arrogance. Nevertheless, the standards, causes and consequences of hubristic behavior have a pattern and a developmental sequence. In brief, the hero receives honor and glory due to some great achievement. And as he slowly becomes full of himself, he begins treating common people condescendingly and with contempt; believing he is capable of anything. His self-destruction is linked to his continuing wrongdoing and his punishment, which is personified by the goddess Nemesis, to his insolence to defy the Godly laws. The crossing of boundaries is taken for granted by the one committing hubris, as he identifies his power with that of the Gods’, who, on their part, do not accept his arrogance and punish him harshly.

Even though the motif of hubris is found in theatrical plays (e.g. Shakespeare’s ‘Coriolanus’) it is, however, primarily recognizable in the field of politics. As philosopher David Cooper describes, the person who commits hubris suffers from extreme self-confidence, defies authority, ignores warnings and advice, while considers himself to be the norm. In terms of political leaders though, my interest focuses on hubris as the outcome of their degree of intellectual incompetence, with the only difference from antiquity being that divine justice does not always follow.

Another thing I am interested in, from a professional perspective, is whether the hubristic behavior of politicians is related to specific personality types that are prone to behaviors of that kind, and vice versa; meaning, whether particular personality types have the tendency to engage in politics, or other similar fields. What I find even more interesting is the case of those politicians who started developing hubris immediately after their ascension to power.

Hubris Syndrome can describe the condition under which the person who acquires political power transgresses the limits of ethics. Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ successfully presents the transformation of this façade, and the crossing of limits to the extent of abusing every aspect of power. In other words, power has the ability to alter one’s mental state, something that is manifested in the form of hubristic behavior. As a disorder, the syndrome appears without an apparent physiological cause, and is characterized by a sum of indications or well-synchronized symptoms. On a behavioristic level, the symptoms appear during one’s remaining in power, whereas they usually abate after one’s loss of power. Getting an accurate diagnosis requires the co-existence of at least three of the following parameters:

  • Narcissistic tendencies; one considers the world as the arena into which s/he exercises their absolute power, seeks glory, and is not able to deal with whatever issues in a realistic/pragmatic and non- self-referential way.
  • Prefers those actions that present their image in a positive way.
  • Is preoccupied with his/her image and its impact on others.
  • Overemphasizes his/her achievements.
  • Identifies oneself with his/her choices in favor of the state and common good.
  • Tendency to use the majestic plural, and occasionally talk of themselves in the third person singular.
  • Overconfident of his own judgment, while ignoring the criticism and suggestions of others.
  • Characterized by excessive self-confidence; delusional omnipotence.
  • Believes s/he is accountable only to History and not to mundane people.
  • Has the unshakeable belief the court will vindicate him/her.
  • S/he is impulsive, restless, and inconsiderate.
  • Has no contact with reality.
  • Gets carried away by his/her wider vision, overlooking aspects such as whether his/her stance is applicable, and denying stubbornly to change their course of action.
  • Presents the so-called hubristic incompetence.

Medicine has not managed to pathologize the behavior in question yet; however, scientific fields such as Philosophy, Law and Psychology already inquire a definition… Selfishness and the obsession to rule have finally found their opponent, Nemesis.


DSM V, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, American Psychiatric Association, WHO, 2013.

DSM V, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, American Psychiatric Association, WHO, 2013.

Nassir Ghaemi. (2011). A First rate madness: Uncovering the Links between Leadership and Mental Illness, The Penguin Press, New York.

Title: Hubris Syndrome, or the Disorder/Disease of (Being in Position of) Power