Mental health professionals are ditching the long-held view that people who believe they are Napoleon are necessarily crazy. Such colorful individuals are actually quite normal, many shrinks now say – and if anyone needs medication, it’s family members who refuse to acknowledge that their relative is the 19th century French emperor!
“In the old days, people who believed themselves to be Napoleon Bonoparte were viewed as delusional, and were heavily medicated – often institutionalized,” explains leading psychiatrist Dr. Nolan E. Branks. “But our understanding of identity has evolved. If someone deeply believes himself to be a person, and has shown commitment to that belief over a period of many years, and cannot be dissuaded from that belief, he is that person for all intents and purposes.”
The same philosophy applies to individuals who self-identify as Jesus, Elvis, Teddy Roosevelt and other famous figures.
“Today we avoid using antiquated terms such as ‘really is,’ or ‘really isn’t,'” says Dr. Branks. “A person’s subjective sense of self — their true identity — may be quite different from the name arbitrarily assigned to them at birth.”
Family members and employers should be supportive and respectful of a person’s internal identity, and not object if the individual dresses in the French monarch’s signature two-cornered hat, poses with one hand in his vest, and constantly bemoans his short stature.
“It may be very stressful for some loved ones to ‘play along,’ as they see it,” Dr. Branks notes. “We often prescribe anti-anxiety meds for those who find it unnerving to address their family member as ‘Your Royal Highness’ and speak to them only in French.”
In extreme cases, in which distraught relatives continue for months to insist a person is not Napoleon, they may be diagnosed with dementophobia — an inordinate fear of craziness — and hospitalized until the condition subsides.
If you want to support a relative or co-worker who identifies as Napoleon, here, from experts, are 10 important do’s and don’ts:
• Address the person respectfully as “Sire,” or “Your Royal Highness.”
• Offer to reach for objects on high shelves, even if the person appears to be quite tall.
• Make disparaging remarks about the English.
• Give appropriate advice such as, “Maybe you should go over those Waterloo plans one last time.”
• Politely inquire about his wife Josephine.
• Play “gotcha” by quizzing the person about details of the Napoleonic Wars.
• Criticize the person’s French, even if he or she can’t speak the language at all but only talks with a bad French accent.
• Use the person’s birth name when introducing him at cocktail parties.
• Bring a cat around (since Napoleon suffered from ailurophobia).
• Speak fondly of the British royal family.
Copyright C. Michael Forsyth