Claire Underwood From Netflix’s House of Cards: Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Last month I used the character of Frank Underwood as a “case study” to illustrate the misunderstood psychiatric diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder, and many of you asked: Well, what about his wife, Claire?

Good question!  You asked, and so today I will do my best to  answer.

 

SPOILER ALERT: For those of you who have not been on a streaming binge and watched all of Season 2 yet, consider yourself warned. 

 

Image: Netflix

Image: Netflix

Clinical lore would certainly support that Claire, herself, must have a personality disorder of some kind – a sort of fatal attraction, where a couple is drawn to each other because there is something in their personality patterns which is complementary and reciprocal.

She does appear to have mastered the art of turning a blind eye to Frank’s more antisocial exploits.  She is a highly intelligent woman, and she must have some inkling that her husband may be involved in the death of Zoe Barnes and Peter Russo.  But if she has an inkling, she does not show it.

Claire, from what we know, does not engage in outright antisocial behavior.  Unlike Frank, she has not murdered anyone and we have not seen her engage in very reckless or impulsive outbursts.

However, she rarely shows emotion—her smiles seem fake, her laugh empty, and her expressions are bland.  She is more restrained and guarded than Frank, and she does not reveal her inner thoughts to the viewer the way Frank does so it is much harder to know what could be going on in her mind.

Still, I think I have seen enough to venture forth with an assertion that she may have a Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

 

What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

 

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of 9 criteria.

 

Below are the five criteria that I think apply to Claire:

 

1) Has a sense of entitlement (i.e. unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations)

 

Image: Netflix

Image: Netflix

She expected Galloway to take the blame for the photos that were leaked and eventually claim it was all a “publicity stunt,” thus ruining his own reputation and image.  She expressed no regret that her ex-lover was cornered into having to do this, on her behalf, and no remorse that it almost ruined his life and his relationship with his fiancé. She was entitled to this act because she is “special” and expects that people will “fall on their swords” for her.

 

2) Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e. takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends)

 

Claire manipulates the first lady, Tricia Walker, into believing Christina (a White House aide) is interested in the president. She pretends to be a friend, wangles her way into becoming the first lady’s confidant, and persuades her to enter couples therapy with the president.  All of this is actually part of an elaborate plan to help Frank take the President down so that he can become president and she (Claire) can usurp Tricia as first lady.

Another example: Claire is pressured by the media into revealing that she once had an abortion, but she lies and states that the unborn child was a result of rape (presumably to save political face).  Again, she shows no remorse about her lie and instead profits from it, gaining much sympathy and public support.

 

3) Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

 

Image: Netflix

Image: Netflix

This was best seen in the way Claire deals with her former employee Gillian Cole’s threat of a lawsuit –  she pulls a few strings and threatens the life of Gillian’s unborn baby.  In fact, in addition to the obvious lack of empathy was the simmering rage she had toward Gillian for daring to cross her.  Again, entitlement, narcissistic rage, and a lack of empathy would explain that evil threat she made, to Gillian’s face, about the baby.

 

4) Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

 

I think part of the reason Claire was so angry at Gillian was because, deep down, she was envious of her pregnancy.  We know that, in parallel, Claire is consulting a doctor about becoming pregnant and is told that her chances are slim.  This is such a narcissistic injury to Claire that she directs her rage at Gillian.  I don’t think she was even consciously aware of how envious she is of Gillian for being pregnant.

Another example would be the look on her face when Galloway indicates he is madly in love with his fiancé and wishes to make a life with her.  For a second her face darkens – a flash of jealous rage – which then translates to indifference and almost pleasure at his eventual public humiliation.

 

5) Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes 

 

Image: Netflix

Image: Netflix

Correct me if I am wrong, but Claire just does not appear to be that warm or genuine and has an almost untouchable air about her. Furthermore, we only ever see her with people who work for her (i.e. have less power than her) or with people more powerful than her (i.e. whose power she wants for herself). Other than Frank, where are her equals? Her oldest friends and colleagues? Her family? People who might not be influenced by her title or power?

 

One last comment – in Season 2 Claire certainly comes across as more ruthless and power hungry than the Claire in Season 1—whether she is now showing her true colors and is dropping her facade or just becoming more lost in Frank’s world and hence looking more like him is unclear to me…

 

I suppose we will find out in Season 3!

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11 Responses to Claire Underwood From Netflix’s House of Cards: Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

  1. Amy Lobue says:

    I’ve only read this one article. It was fascinating, informative, and enlightening. I look forward to reading more of your articles! Your writing is a breath of fresh air.

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  2. Richards says:

    Well written and very informative article, Keep updating on such topics. thanks

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  3. Rusty says:

    Thanks for another insightful analysis. A lot of people have wondered about Claire’s brief crying spell after the first lady told Claire she is “a good person.” It almost seemed like a bit of conscience broke through. Then, when Frank seemed about to give up, she angrily told him she had “done her part” and expected him to follow through. I think she felt she’d made a personal sacrifice to get him this far and wasn’t about to have it all be for nothing. Some people have also suggested that her decision not to join Frank when he first stepped into the Oval Office indicated that she may have misgivings or guilt about how he got there. Could it be that Claire has flashes of conscience, and how does that fit with her overall diagnosis of NPD?

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    • Shaili Jain, MD says:

      thanks for your comments. I agree Claire most definately has flashes of conscience, and that is entirely possibly with those who have NPD. She is a very charming and (for many) very likeable person, people are drawn to her–i don’t think that would happen if she did not have moments when she could be insightful and genuinely vulnerable and appear to be very human. The issue is what is her predominant way of being in the world? that would determine the degree to which she has a full blown NP disorder versus traits.

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  4. Arabel M. says:

    While your piece on Frank Underwood sounded plausible, I have trouble with this one on Claire. She seems to be far more perceptive about herself and others than a person with NPD. She is capable of empathy and is interested in people, curious about them, even if she seems to make – and make again- a series of conscious decisions to harden herself, to be ruthless in her treatment of others in order to pursue her and Frank’s goal. She says at one stage that if she let everything that people said about her get under her skin, she would never leave the house. She also accepts time and time again that Frank comes first, even if she has her way of evening up the score. I would be interested in what you and other think.

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    • Shaili Jain, MD says:

      I don’t get the sense she has genuine empathy for people. She is interested in them to the degree of how they can be of service to her e.g. the woman veteran with the MST history. Again, like Frank, she is very “high functioning” i.e. intelligent, charming and very likeable but her ability to “switch it on” feels more fake; presenting a flase self and discomfort with being authentic. thanks for the comment!

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  5. LMSW says:

    I really like this write up! Two things I have to point out as a discrepancy that may influence your diagnosis (I feel she is also anti social personal disorder like Frank). One: the reveal about the abortion as a result of General was an opportunity to get retribution for what he had done to her. Claire Underwood saw an opportunity to save face but also gain a sense of justice or satisfaction knowing someone who had hurt her will be scorned. Two: Claire was only consulting with the fertility doctor to gain information about a potential weakness to exploit with Gillian. A lack of health insurance was a previous theme in the story line that allowed Claire power over Gillian to begin with.

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    • Shaili Jain, MD says:

      thanks so much for the feedback! Cluster B PD often overlap so it is very possible she could have traits for both NPD and ASPD.

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  6. Laura says:

    Well, i really liked your assertion of Claire’s character, I agree that she most definetly has a PD. But I agree with Arabel, to me she is capable of empaty, and there are some scenes where she tries to understand people around her, and where she seems afected by what people say about her and does have some regret about her actions. And I think you misinterpreted some of the scenes you mentioned as support.
    When Claire went to the fertility clinic, she didn’t go because she wanted to have kids on her own, she went because she wanted to find out want would happen if Gillian dind’t took the medicines, that the ensuranse provided to her.
    And the rape wasn’t a lie, Frank realised when they were at the award ceremony that he was supossed to give the man that raped Claire a medal hence his upburst, in that scene. Claire only used the truth to her advantage.
    other than that I guess narcistic personaity fits her profile. great job

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