Posted by: George | August 6, 2016

Trump and Narcissism

When Todd Purdum was researching his Vanity Fair postmortem on Sarah Palin’s performance in the 2008 election, he kept encountering the issue of narcissism:

More than once in my travels in Alaska, people brought up, without prompting, the question of Palin’s extravagant self-regard. Several told me, independently of one another, that they had consulted the definition of “narcissistic personality disorder” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—“a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy”—and thought it fit her perfectly.

Here we go again. Palin is more or less gone, but we have Trump. Once again people are consulting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and wondering if Trump’s erratic behavior fits the definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I’ll save you some time. To earn the label narcissist, an individual needs to have five or more of the following traits:

           Has a grandiose sense of self-importance.

           Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.

           Believes that he or she is “special” and unique.

           Requires excessive admiration.

           Has a sense of entitlement.

           Is interpersonally exploitative.

           Lacks empathy.

           Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her.

           Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

Okay, I am going to go out on a limb here and say that this list of traits fits Trump pretty well. I am pretty sure he has at least five of these. He might just run the table.

What the list doesn’t convey, though, is the extent to which narcissists structure their entire environment to maintain their inflated sense of self. They bully and intimidate those who disagree with them, and they expect family and close associates to match their mood. When they are intoxicated with their own glory, others must be just as giddy. They are skilled at keeping any doubts from rising into consciousness.

While Trump has been in the public eye for a long time, he is now moving through an even more complex environment, one that is more difficult to control. He has just finished what has to be one of the worst weeks of any presidential candidate—ever. He has even fallen behind Clinton is Georgia. That’s really bad news. Pundits are wondering if the election is already over. Republican leaders are talking about doing an intervention. Good luck with that.

Is Trump a narcissist? At this point, this is not a particularly interesting question—or one that deserves serious discussion. A more interesting question is, What happens to a narcissist who suffers so much criticism and faces so many personal disasters that he can no longer control his environment and, ultimately, his inflated sense of self? In other words, How does a narcissist act when he is in a state of collapse?

The one thing that the narcissist will not do is admit that he was in over his head, that he made mistakes, or that he is responsible. There have been some ugly moments in the Trump campaign. If, however, his poll numbers keep dropping, he will need to amp up what most of us consider his worse traits in a desperate attempt to keep his ego inflated. See Leon F. Seltzer’s “What Really Makes Narcissists Tick?” (Psychology Today Blog, July 28, 2015).

 It’s going to get ugly. Expect to hear more about the system being rigged. Expect to see staff fired. Expect to see staff quit. Expect paranoia. Expect anger. At lot of intense anger.

More troubling, we will likely see similar behavior from serious Trump supporters.

We might find ourselves being a little nostalgic for Sarah Palin.




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