The other night while dining with friends, I was asked for my professional opinion as to the mental health of our President. My response was not very professional as I responded “I think he is nuts!” There is a caveat, especially important in our business, that one must carefully consider any pre-determined bias before rendering a diagnosis, and my response suggests that I had violated that rule.
In retrospect, I realize that my friend was asking for a less flippant answer to his question. Anyone who owns a TV (or uses Twitter) would probably agree that Mr. Trump’s behavior is different from what we are accustomed to seeing in our politicians. His detractors suggest this is evidence of significant mental disorder while his supporters applaud him for being earthy and “unconventional.”
I have previously written (click this link to read that post from 2016) about Mr. Trump in not very flattering terms concerning his mental status, and the non-position taken by the American Psychiatric Association of which I am a lifetime member. Those mental health professionals who insist that Trump is mentally impaired and therefore unfit to hold office in most cases make a case for the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. After the conversation with my friend, it occurred to me that most people might be unfamiliar with what signs and symptoms might lead to such an impression
In the first place, it may be helpful to explain what we in the shrink business mean by the term personality disorder as people sometimes overuse a term and its true meaning from a psychiatric standpoint gets watered down (for example: a person who might say upon having a bad day or disappointing day, “I’m so depressed” when in reality they aren’t clinically depressed, just a little down).
Personality Disorders | Definition by Psychiatrists
The general criteria listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM which is now in its fifth edition. The definition of personality disorder as summarized in DSM IV is “an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture” (not caused by such things as drug abuse, or other medical problems). Unfortunately, for me the criteria as listed in DSM V are more complex, and since I am a simple-minded person I will stick with DSM IV in my discussion (but perhaps more to the point I am reluctant to invest a hundred bucks in another 900 page dust collector for my bookshelf). In either case, it is clear that those who suffer from a personality disorder are very different.
Signs & Symptoms of Personality Disorders
Signs of personality disorders characteristically have been present for long periods usually from childhood. These patients are difficult to treat. Although some psychotropic medications may be helpful, the gold standard remains long-term intensive psychotherapy, a commodity which is in short supply these days. The symptoms usually serve a protective function. Consequently, patients in treatment have difficulty giving them up. An even bigger problem is that in many cases people who need treatment most are those lacking in insight. Consequently, they are convinced there is nothing wrong with them. This is especially true in cases of narcissistic and sociopathic personality disorders. They believe they are perfect in every way so why in the world would they need a psychiatrist?
Narcissism | Signs | Symptoms | Cause
The term narcissism is from the Greek myth about Narcissus who fell in love with his image while gazing into a pool of water. This did not work out too well for him for he eventually committed suicide when he realized his true love was himself. A bit of narcissism is not a bad thing…as a matter of fact most therapists would probably report that low self-esteem is one of the most common problems they see and that they spend a great deal effort trying to help their patients learn to like themselves. But as with most things in life, it is the extremes which cause us problems. We all know people who are arrogant and self-centered, but those with a narcissistic personality disorder take that to the level where their self-image is so far removed from reality that it approaches the delusional.
He/she of the narcissistic personality disorder is the master of the superlative. He is never simply good at something, he is the best. Others are not bad, they are the worst. Everything in life is measured against the perfection that only he possesses. The need to maintain this distorted image of himself dominates his life and leaves no time to consider the needs of others. He is convinced he is special, and deserves special treatment. He courts admiration or subservience in relationships, and is pathologically intolerant of criticism. This preoccupation with self, frequently distorts perceptions and may affect judgement.
As with many mental health problems, the causation is up for grabs. There may be some abnormality of brain function, environmental factors, or both. Some postulate that excessive adoration by parents is the cause, while others feel the opposite, namely that excessive criticism is the culprit. Whatever the cause, most agree that such extremes of narcissism serve the purpose of protecting a very fragile ego. His need for attention is never satisfied. Indeed, the tenacity with which the narcissist holds onto and nurtures these false opinions of himself leads one to suspect an underlying desperation at the core of his being. The most readable synopsis of narcissistic personality symptoms I have found lie in a pamphlet distributed by the Mayo Clinic as follows:
- They have a sense of entitlement and require constant excessive admiration
- Have an exaggerated sense of self importance
- Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
- Exaggerate achievements and talents
- Preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
- Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people
- Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior
- Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations
- Take advantage of others to get what they want
- Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
- Be envious of others and believe others envy them
- Behave in an arrogant or haughty manner, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious
- Insist on having the best of everything (for instance the best building, golf course, yacht, wife, etc.–the examples are my words NOT Mayo Clinic’s example–they used car and office)
Narcissism & Trump
So, there you have it – all you need to make a diagnosis. You Trump watchers have certainly observed enough behaviors to decide if the shoe fits. If you conclude that the diagnosis of Personality Disorder fits, you should be concerned as to the fitness of POTUS to handle the job. Those so diagnosed are prone to react in irrational ways when their distorted view of themselves is threatened and consequently are very sensitive to any kind of criticism, often reacting with over-the-top rages. Mistakes are never acknowledged for to do so would shatter the myth of their perfection. They react poorly to stress and to change, and there is no doubt that POTUS must be under mountains of stress considering all the investigations currently underway with many of his former supporters on their way to jail.
While in the midst of writing this, I was directed by one of the friends I mentioned in my opening statement to a YouTube presentation by John Gartner, a Ph.D. psychologist at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Gartner is convinced that Trump is demented. Gartner is adamant in his diagnosis and convinced that he should be removed from office. In spite of Gartner’s intensely verbalized political views, he does make a good case for an Alzheimer’s type dementia. However, I believe the evidence he presents is not unusual for one afflicted with a narcissistic personality disorder who is under threat of losing that shield, which protects him from facing the reality of his deficiencies.
Narcissism Exposed (“s#@t hits the fan” time)
As I have mentioned in previous blogs, my major concern is that the current investigations will turn up things which he will not be able to deflect with his usual strategies of denounce, deflect, or deny. Recently, he has seemed less rational with a 2- hour long rant at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and the strange attempts to demonize John McCain months after his death. In the so-called Twitter storm from last week, he seems enraged at everyone within range. It appears that his only respite is the campaign rallies at which he is able to bask in the attention accorded him, confirming to him that he really is “The Greatest.”
Some say our President is “crazy like a fox”. It is true that he has turned self-promotion into a very successful career, even becoming the world’s most powerful man. Those same talents have served the additional function of satisfying insatiable ego needs. I believe that Trump’s narcissism governs every aspect of his life, and explains the “crazy” things he does and says. I believe that he is psychologically vulnerable and likely to demonstrate irrational and impulsive behaviors if his defenses are destroyed. With that in mind, I hope all these investigations do not burst the President’s fragile ego for that could be disastrous.
Editor’s Note: I was slow on the editing of Eshrink’s post and so much has happened since he originally wrote this article. The Attorney General released a 4-page summary of the Mueller Report on a Sunday while many of us were watching our brackets bust during the NCAA basketball tournament. I kept asking why the full report wasn’t being released to the public (the taxpayers paid for it, as POTUS continues to remind us in the context of money wasted) or at least released to Congress (it seems Nancy Pelosi wonders that, too.) However, Eshrink’s post about Narcissistic Personality made me think maybe the inner circle knows more than we think about the stability of POTUS and his psychological vulnerability that could lead to an even worse outcome. History will tell the tale… I’m sure those working inside the Oval Office will have plenty of great material for books once this crazy time in our republic’s history is behind us–if the Republic survives that is. God Bless America. We need all the help we can get!