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Lance Armstrong: Narcissist or “Optimist”?

Lance ArmstrongThat’s what he called himself in the second installment of his Oprah interview: an optimist.  He said constitutionally, he’s built like his mother to look forward and not talk about the past.  And I suppose that’s what keeps a lot of narcissists out of therapy.  They just keep moving forward, leaving the wreckage of other people in the dust, devoid of self-reflection.

Interestingly, Lance himself said that he has been in therapy only sporadically, when he needs to be in continuously.  You can say that again.

The first half of the Oprah interview revealed a man incapable of true contrition, and to me, it’s because he seemed incapable of real empathy.  The absence of empathy is a cornerstone of narcissism, as well as its twin, sociopathy, something that is also in evidence in the pattern of Lance’s ruthless campaign against those who spoke out (truthfully) against him.

He admitted to bullying people, but didn’t look like he had any emotional connection to that statement.  He’d merely been “trying to control the narrative.”  In order to do that, he then admitted to suing so many people he wasn’t even entirely certain he could name them all.  He destroyed many people so that he could remain unsullied.  So that he could protect his reputation.

That’s another sign of his rampant narcissism: controlling the narrative–which is one of making yourself look superior to others–at all costs.  He wanted to preserve public opinion even as he hurt those closest to him, people he then branded as traitors.  In his personal narrative, they had betrayed him.  Because he’s not built to look back or to think deeply about others.  He trains to move forward.

Amazingly, he didn’t seem to think deeply even about his own children or the collateral damage they might become.  In the second half of his interview, he finally broke down, and it was while talking about how he had to confess to his 13-year-old son.  He told his son that he had lied, and his son should no longer bear the burden of defending him.

But Lance gave his son, gave all his five children, that burden to carry for years, on into the future as they attempt to make sense of their father’s disgrace, and grapple with his character.  Lance was so sure that he could control the narrative, so willing to annihilate to do so, that he appeared not to think about the possible consequences to his children, and the risk he was taking with their lives.

Most significantly, I noticed that even when Lance got emotional talking about his son, he never said anything about the example he has set for his children: what he taught them about the world and about integrity and about how we should and shouldn’t treat people.

What struck me, in that moment of Lance’s emotion, was that he was still not feeling the cost to his son; he was feeling the cost for himself.  He was having to face the relational consequence of his actions, and perhaps his fear that his children would see him as flawed.  But lucky for him, his son, his staunchest defender, immediately said, “Sure, Dad, no problem, I love you.”

And that, in its way, is troubling, too.  Was his son as dismissive of what Lance has done to other people, as Lance seems to be himself?  After all, Lance is now conducting his apology tour, but with a visible absence of contrition.

He destroyed people’s reputations and livelihoods.  He betrayed the ideals of his foundation (a foundation that now appears to have been more about feeding his personal ego than helping others, as he could have come clean a long time ago and bowed out and thus, ensured the continued success of their mission.)  He betrayed his children.

And in part 2, the more remorseful chapter of his interview, he still came back to himself: Others, he said, are serving a light sentence, while he got the ban for life.  “A death sentence,” he called it.  He doesn’t think that’s fair.

But is he doing this interview as a way to lift the lifetime ban? No, he says.  It’s for his children.  He’s “gotta get this right for them.”  The naivete and the hubris of thinking that he can do that with an Oprah interview is staggering.  To me, that’s fully florid narcissism. But then, one woman’s narcissism is another man’s optimism.

Oh, and what is Lance’s son supposed to say if any kids bring this up?  “Do not defend me,” Lance says, “just say, ‘Hey, my dad said he was sorry.'”  And clearly, that should take care of all of it.

Cyclist photo available from Shutterstock

Lance Armstrong: Narcissist or “Optimist”?

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2013). Lance Armstrong: Narcissist or “Optimist”?. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 20, 2019, from


Last updated: 19 Jan 2013
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