ME has spent most of his retirement from service to the United States studying, thinking, and writing about the country he served.
What Is Narcissism?
We are all narcissists, to a certain extent. For our own mental health, we all need to be somewhat narcissistic. So what is narcissism, really?
One definition says narcissism is:
"excessive interest in or admiration of oneself and one's physical appearance.synonyms:vanity, self-love, self-admiration, self-adulation, self-absorption, self-obsession, conceit, self-conceit, self-centeredness, self-regard, egotism, egoism, egocentricity, egomania."
In psychology, it is:
selfishness, involving a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.
Psychoanalysis might say narcissism is:
self-centeredness arising from failure to distinguish the self from external objects, either in very young babies or as a feature of mental disorder.
Hey, you might say, that isn't me! And you would be wrong, more or less. The words used sound terrible, at least to me, but to some degree, we all show some of these traits. In my opinion, if somebody has a close fit with these characteristics, they would be falling on the top end of the scale.
It is also true that narcissism is not an illness or a diagnosis; neither is being a narcissist. In fact, we need to feel good about ourselves to be healthy, maybe even a little bit more than what we deserve. So, if we measure narcissism on a scale of 1 to 10, the vast majority of people would fall between 4 to 6.
The closer you get to 1 or to 10, the chances increase that you will have social problems as a result. If you score 1, you have a very low opinion of yourself; at 5, you have a healthy amount of ego-boosting narcissism; but at a 9, you are back in deep trouble because you think so highly of yourself, it can cause serious problems with your relationship with the outside world.
If you are old enough, you might remember President Richard Nixon—he was a very high scoring narcissist. His behavior was so abnormal, according to Craig Malkin, Ph.D., a contributor to Dr. Bandy Lee's The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, it resulted in him being thought to have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is a real psychological diagnosis.
Malkin goes into quite a bit of detail describing Nixon's "eccentricities" before concluding:
"Nixon's story, as fascinating as it is terrifying, tells us a good deal about the relationship between personality and politics. What's most surprising about Nixon is the fact that his apparently contradictory character appears to be rather unremarkable among politicians. That is, Nixon displayed a combination of intense ambition, grandiosity, arrogance, entitlement, subterfuge, and self-importance that appears to have been common in the Oval Office throughout history. Nixon was a narcissist."
That is true, but what set Nixon apart from many others is the severity of his narcissism.
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A healthy amount of narcissism is actually good for us. We are happier, more optimistic, and more consistently self-confident. High amounts of narcissism lead to bragging, boasting, insulting (to make themselves feel good), abusing positions of power, behaving unethically, cheating on taxes, extra-marital affairs, and so on.
So when does the double-edged sword of narcissism turn dangerous? It turns on, as it turns out, on whether or not the narcissism is high enough to count as an illness.
Does Donald Trump Have Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
The conclusion in this section is that he is a pathological narcissist, most probably such that he has Narcissistic Personality Disorder! Let's consider the following examples of abnormal narcissism in Trump.
- "I'll be the best jobs president God ever created."
- "Only I can fix it."
- "It's in my blood. I'm smart."
- "Rosie O'Donnell is a fat Pig."
- Meryl Streep is "one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood."
- Trump accused Arnold Schwarzenegger of killing Trump's show Celebrity Apprentice.
- The principal topic he had his press secretary focus on was the false narrative that his inaugural crowd size was the biggest ever.
- In describing the district of a black Congressman who challenged him, the President of the United States tweeted that Baltimore was "disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.”
Another indication of Trump's very strong narcissism is his addiction, yes addiction, to "size"; size matters very much to Trump, much more so that than your average Joe. If you read back about Trump's history, everything about him must be the biggest ever, the most ever, the prettiest ever, and so on. I guess this wouldn't be so bad—if it were true, but it rarely is.
This fascination with size became evident the day he became president with his fixation on the size of his inaugural crowd. He proclaimed it was the largest inaugural crowd ever when it wasn't. He even had his press secretary, as one of his first official pronouncements, lie about the crowd size. He repeated these lies regarding his rally crowd sizes even to this day.
When does this narcissism turn dangerous, turn pathological? It turns to the dark side:
"When people become so addicted to feeling special that, just like with any drug, they'll do anything to get their "high," including lie, steal, cheat, betray, and even hurt those closest to them." (Craig Malkin, PH.D. The Dangerous Mind of Donald Trump, p. 57)
This kind of behavior is around a 9 or 10 on our narcissism spectrum. When you reach this level, you are in the realm of a real psychological disorder known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
You can find a detailed description of NPD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) or my article Does Donald Trump Have a Dangerous Form of Mental Illness? But Dr. Malkin offers this simple guide:
"People with NPD have a strong need, in every area of their life, to be treated as if they are special. To those with NPD, other people are simply mirrors, useful only insofar as they reflect back the special view of themselves they so desperately long to see. If that means making others look bad by comparison - say by ruining their reputation at work - so be it. Because life is a constant competition, they're also usually riddled with envy over what other people seem to have. And they'll let you know it. At the hear of pathological narcissism, or NPD, is what I call the Triple E:
- Entitlement, acting as if the world and other people owe them and should bend to their will
- Exploitation, using the people around them to make themselves feel special, no matter what the emotional or even physical cost to others (battering away at their self-esteem or running them into the ground with late-night projects)
- Empathy-impairment, neglecting and ignoring the needs and feelings of others, even those closest to them, because their own need to feel special is all that matters."
I would argue (as does Dr. Bandy Lee) that for a person as public as Donald Trump is, and who has as long a written, audio, and visual record as Donald Trump has, one doesn't need to have in-depth face-to-face therapy sessions to make a reasonable assessment of whether a person has NPD. Simple observation is enough.
Is Donald Trump a Pathological Narcissist?
I will go out on a limb here and say that the consensus of the health professional community is decidedly, YES!
Consider this description of narcissists who are exploitative and feel very entitled. Again from Dr. Malkin, p. 58:
"Exploitation and entitlement are linked to just about every troubling behavior pathological narcissists demonstrate: aggression when their ego is threatened, infidelity, vindictiveness, extreme envy, boasting, name-dropping, denial of any problems or wrongdoing - even workplace sabotage. ... pathological narcissism often blends with psychopathy, a patter of remorseless lies and manipulation. Psychopaths may carry on affairs, embezzle funds, ruin your reputation, and still greet you with a smile, without feeling any guilt, shame, or sadness."
When NPD and psychopathy join forces, you end up with malignant narcissism. You know who is suspected of having been or is being one? Adolf Hitler, and Trump's heroes Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin—murderers all and proud of it. Is Trump such a person? Probably not; we hope not. But is Donald Trump nevertheless dangerous? Because he holds the position of President of the United States—most likely. If Trump hadn't been elected, he would probably be more like Steve Jobs of Apple who also exhibited NPD but was nevertheless incredibly successful, just extremely disliked. But Trump was elected and holds the fate of a nation in his very shaky hands.
An example of this difference that Malkin used is this. When Steve Jobs called another CEO "a piece of shit", there is not much consequence. But when Trump called Kim, a murderous dictator, "very dumb", nuclear war could happen—a much different and dangerous outcome. And as we have seen, Trump has no problem calling anybody names, be they other foreign leaders or opposing politicians. There is no difference to him.
Consider these characteristics in Trump:
- Aggression: Apparently the singer-actress Cher was not complimentary about Trump. In Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success by Michael D'Antonio, Trump bragged, after saying she said “some nasty shit” about him, that he tweeted “I knocked the shit out of her and she never said a thing about me after that.”
- Vindictiveness: Recently Trump ordered the Navy to rescind an award they had just given to the military prosecution team because, as he tweeted, “Not only did they lose the case, they had difficulty with respect to information that may have been obtained from opposing lawyers and for giving immunity in a totally incompetent fashion.” - Trump was a fan of the Navy Seal who was charged with murder.
- Extreme Envy: An example of this is when Trump said, about the murderous dictator Kim Jung-un, "He’s the head of a country, and I mean he’s the strong head. Don’t let anyone think anything different. He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”
- Boasting: During his acceptance speech for the Republican nomination Trump infamously said, about making America great again—"Only I Can Do It."
- Denial of Wrong-doing: Trump's personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, confessed to paying hush money to two women who said they had affairs with Trump—at the direction of Donald Trump himself; this was a violation of campaign finance laws because its purpose was not to embarrass Trump a month before the election. Trump was an unindicted co-conspirator based on Cohen's testimony and other physical evidence. Trump, even though the evidence is overwhelming, denies this.
The Psychotic Spiral
Dr. Malkin reminds us on page 61 that "If we wish to preserve the safety of our country and the world, we have to remain vigilant to the signs of the psychotic spiral in pathologically narcissistic leaders." He then lists them (remember, this book was published in 2017):
- Increasing Paranoia: These people hate to admit feeling scared, insecure, unsure of themselves. This results in not trusting people to support them. "They don't even like people knowing they're upset (except over feeling attacked)." Pathological narcissists "Project"; they "imagine the danger they feel inside themselves is coming from the outside."
- Impaired Judgment: Here we see "increasing thought-disorder"; their vision, if they have any, becomes cloudier. When such a person sees things as they wish to see them, not as they are, they ignore "crucial information, brute facts. and harsh realities." When pathological narcissistic leaders "feel like they are falling apart inside", they display power and superiority to other nations.
- Volatile Decision Making: This leads inevitably to reactive and ill-conceived plans. All that matters is whatever action they take leads to preserving their perceived special status. After that, "reality, circumstance, and facts cease to matter."
- Gaslighting: A frequent tactic of those with NPD. What it means is that the person employing this tactic is trying to make others believe something that is not true (his inaugural crowd was bigger). They want the target to believe they are "crazy" and not the one with NPD.
Let's consider some of Donald Trump's most recent problematic actions.
- In July, Trump when on a racist twitter rampage, first attacking four progressive Representatives, all women of color. He told them "to go back to where they came from", thinking none of them were native Americans. That is a well-practiced racial trope. Here is the problem, three of the women were born in America and the fourth came to America at 12 and was naturalized. So they did go back—to their home districts and talked about Trump's racism. He attacked them because they questioned him.
- He then went after one of the most respected black representatives in the House, Elijah Cummings, of Baltimore. Cummings chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee which is looking into various questionable aspects of Trump's behavior. In addition to attacking Cummings personally, he went after his home town of Baltimore, tweeting "... As proven last week during a Congressional tour, the Border is clean, efficient & well run, (it isn't) just very crowded. Cumming District is a disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess." Reading this kind of stuff makes you forget the writer is the President of the United States. Both of these examples, which are becoming more and more frequent, show, to me at least, an increasing degree of Increasing Paranoia.
- Probably the most striking example of Impaired Judgement is Trump's continued love affair with the murderous dictator, Kim Jong-un. He has excused every instance of Kim's breaking his word with Trump including resuming short-range missile tests. Trump is so deluded with his own negotiating prowess that he doesn't see that he has failed with each attempt.
- Just the other day, Trump decided to nominate, without vetting, a right-wing partisan Representative to replace Sen. Dan Coats as the Director of Nation Intelligence; the most important job in the intelligence community. Not only did his pick, Rep John Ratcliff, have no intelligence experience, but he also lied on his official bio about having "caught" a bunch of terrorists (he caught none). Trump was forced to withdraw consideration within days. This is just the latest example of Volatile Decision Making.
- One of Trump's more memorable gaslighting statements is the much-repeated “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not happening" when speaking of mainstream media. He is telling Americans not to believe what the media is reporting to them and ONLY believe what he, Trump, tells them is true.
It Is Up to You
It is up to the individual reader to assess whether what they observe in Donald Trump's behavior, his spoken and written word, his body language whether he fits what Dr. Malkin is describing to us.
But keep in mind, the people contributing to The Dangerous Mind of Donald Trump are people already trained to provide functional and risk assessments based entirely on observation. Some of these are forensic psychiatrists and psychologists well suited to do what the defenders of Donald Trump say they cannot. Others have long, distinguished records and experience in the mental health field and they make no bones about what they think is wrong with Donald Trump.
- Malignant Narcissism: Does the President Really Have It? | Psychology Today
There has been a lot of discussion about the president's behavior and mental state. Does he have malignant narcissism? And does it matter?
- A Psychologist Analyzes Donald Trump’s Personality - The Atlantic
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
- Is Donald Trump Actually a Narcissist? Therapists Weigh In! | Vanity Fair
As his presidential campaign trundles forward, millions of sane Americans are wondering: What exactly is wrong with this strange individual? Now, we have an answer.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2019 Scott Belford