UPDATE — June 6, 2018
Psychologist Dan McAdams wrote the cover story to this week’s issue of The Atlantic. For those who want to understand Trump the narcissist from a clinical perspective, this is must reading.
Dr. McAdams writes:
Mark Singer in the late 1990s when he was working on a profile of Trump for The New Yorker. Singer wondered what went through his mind when he was not playing the public role of Donald Trump. What are you thinking about, Singer asked him, when you are shaving in front of the mirror in the morning? Trump, Singer writes, appeared baffled. Hoping to uncover the man behind the actor’s mask, Singer tried a different tack:
“O.K., I guess I’m asking, do you consider yourself ideal company?”
“You really want to know what I consider ideal company?,” Trump replied. “A total piece of ass.”
I might have phrased Singer’s question this way: Who are you, Mr. Trump, when you are alone? Singer never got an answer, leaving him to conclude that the real-estate mogul who would become a reality-TV star and, after that, a leading candidate for president of the United States had managed to achieve something remarkable: “an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul.”
Trump as the penultimate narcissist presidential wannabe
Donald Trump’s narcissism has been the subject of many articles, by lay people and psychologists. The author notes that almost all presidents are to some degree narcissists. He uses the term “grandiose narcissists” to describe the most narcissistic. Lyndon Johnson tops the all-time list, others from modern times near the top of the list are FDR, JFK, Nixon, and Clinton. This is but a small part of what Dr. McAdams has to say:
Narcissus wanted, more than anything else, to love himself. People with strong narcissistic needs want to love themselves, and they desperately want others to love them too—or at least admire them, see them as brilliant and powerful and beautiful, even just see them, period. The fundamental life goal is to promote the greatness of the self, for all to see. “I’m the king of Palm Beach,” Trump told the journalist Timothy O’Brien for his 2005 book, TrumpNation. Celebrities and rich people “all come over” to Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s exclusive Palm Beach estate. “They all eat, they all love me, they all kiss my ass. And then they all leave and say, ‘Isn’t he horrible.’ But I’m the king.”
I wasn’t born when FDR was president, but clearly remember LBJ and the others topping the list. None of them come close to the level of narcissism of Donald J. Trump. Trump’s narcissism is so over-the-top no words in the thesaurus come close to describing how extreme it is.
Psychologist McAdams is a responsible writer. Not having interviewed Trump and having permission to publish his diagnostic impressions, he can only speculate based on the same observations everyone can make. There’s no doctor-patient confidentiality. Still, nowhere does he use the term “pathological narcissism.”
As a psychotherapist who has diagnosed mental disorders throughout my career, based on what I have observed of Trump, I would say that he has many traits associated with pathological narcissism, i.e, narcissistic personality disorder as defined in the current APA Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Note that virtually all people with diagnosable personality disorders don’t think there’s anything wrong with them.
Dr. McAdam’s concludes:
Who, really, is Donald Trump? What’s behind the actor’s mask? I can discern little more than narcissistic motivations and a complementary personal narrative about winning at any cost. It is as if Trump has invested so much of himself in developing and refining his socially dominant role that he has nothing left over to create a meaningful story for his life, or for the nation. It is always Donald Trump playing Donald Trump, fighting to win, but never knowing why.
What does this all add up to me? Simply stated, Trump’s slogan may be “Make America Great Again” but what his behavior resoundingly says is “Make Trump Greater Than Trump Already Is.”
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