TBI’s Collective Narcissism- Part of the Problem?

According to psychologists, all people have an element of narcissistic self-love. It dates from our early childhood days when we are highly egocentric and unaware of the needs and rights of others. In a healthy individual a little bit of narcissism helps them weather difficult life experiences, and is part of our defense systems, but in some people it can become pathological. In these deluded individuals, poor parenting and neglect means they never really progress this stage of “narcissistic self love” and they are like self-absorbed, oblivious six year old kids for life. Full-blown narcissists are actually suffering from a serious mental condition called NPD (narcissistic personality disorder). These people are highly toxic individuals who cause great emotional distress to those around them. Here are the main symptoms:

  • Expects to be recognized as superior and special, without superior accomplishments
  • Expects constant attention, admiration and positive reinforcement from others
  • Is preoccupied with thoughts and fantasies of great success, enormous attractiveness, power, intelligence
  • Lacks the ability to empathize with the feelings or desires of others
  • Is arrogant in attitudes and behavior
  • Tendency to fly into episodes of narcissistic rage when seriously challenged

For those of you who know Mariam Kartikatresni (The Former TBI Director- now going by varying different aliases (eg. Mariam Sukalaksana) and titles- eg. USG Director of Testing, for example) you cannot fail to recognize her in this description of the personality disorder.

Every time you met her she would boast of her Japanese mother (I’m not Indonesian, you know, I’m part Japanese), her brilliant choreography (“I studied Dance at university, you know,” she said to me once at a party at her house, and then busted some dance moves right in the middle of the room which were not exactly graceful considering her hefty weight), her trip to Zimbabwe, and her status as “The TBI Director”. She also routinely violated the rights of others. She would often turn up one and two hours late for meetings, viewing her time more important than that of other people. She would also scream at and belittle her subordinates whenever things went wrong at TBI. “Why hasn’t this been organised before?” she would scream, and everyone would be too scared to point out it was because of her own unprofessional conduct. She hadn’t told anyone to do it. It was an open secret in TBI that she was an egocentric nightmare and Indonesians used to warn each other not to become her direct report under any circumstances. One of our sources described working for her as “a nightmare of politics and back-stabbing.”

The gross narcissism of Mariam is one of the reasons TBI has performed so badly in recent years. She is in the position due to cronyism and vanity, not accomplishments. Her in-laws are on the board of USG. “Expects to be recognized as superior and special, without superior accomplishments“, fits her to tee. What is lesser known, however, is that there is a condition called “collective narcissism” where narcissism infects a whole in-group under a certain narcissistic leader and they all display many of these traits with respect to outsiders.

This over-inflated self-opinion is surely evident at TBI Head Office and it explains why they just don’t understand how they look to others. One of the TBI Bekasi teachers pointed this out very well when he wrote, “They seemed to have such a high opinion of themselves in the way they spoke of their school.” He is dead right, but it is clearly true that their performance has never matched the hype. They just aren’t anywhere near as special or “premium” (Mariam’s favorite word to describe TBI) as they think they are. Look at their hubristic mission statement to get an idea of what we mean. The first sentence alone will make the point adequately.

TBI’s mission is to be the best English language training provider in Indonesia and Southeast Asia by offering world class training and customer service.

The best. World class,  “Study with the best”. These are narcissistic terms based on dreams of grandeur and a highly unrealistic self-image. Look at that bunkum about “Southeast Asia” for example. After 28 years, they still haven’t managed to get to Bali, let alone Bangkok. They have long dreamed of regional conquest but they still have only one school off Java- the zombie school, TBI Medan. They fall so far short of their lofty goals because their goals are based in an unrealistic and, frankly, close-to-delusional assessment of their own abilities, reputation and skill set. And all of this fits perfectly with the description of one of the symptoms of narcissism.

Is preoccupied with thoughts and fantasies of great success, enormous attractiveness, power, intelligence.

The key word here, though, is “fantasies”. A school that has failed multiple times to open TBI Bali (it was due to open in 2012 and then again in 2013- remember the “job ads”) is conning itself. And that’s what narcissists do. They live in deluded fantasies about their own worth and achievements. Mariam has shaped this now ailing school in the image of her own pathological narcissism.

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