Update: Aug. 13, 2016
Trump is a narcissist. I’m no psychiatric professional, but diagnosing Trump as a narcissist takes no more expertise than diagnosing a guy who dresses as Scarlet O’Hara and talks to himself while he wanders through Times Square with a dead goose strapped to his head as “nuts.” Hal Brown argues at the Daily Kos that reviewing the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) , applying them to Trump and suggesting that having certain of them to the level he does precludes him from being fit to be president isn’t unethical at all. Brown, who is a clinician, cites two typical description of the disorder:
It doesn’t take Sigmund Freud to read these and immediately think “Trump.” The Goldwater Rule has the perverse result of leaving a diagnosis of the obvious to amateurs (like me) and precluding trained professional from confirming it. Voters who are completely unfamiliar with the disorder need to understand and think about it when someone like Trump is nearing the levers of power. Brown insists that a mental health professional not flagging the problem when they see strong evidence that someone is dangerous may be unethical.
.On the other hand, I am troubled where Brown’s way leads. Most professional organizations are dominated by Democrats, which means the members are likely to be biased. Thus there is a greater likelihood that the force of medical expertise will be used as a partisan weapon, though Brown writes as if that isn’t even an issue. Of course it’s an issue. Why, for example, wasn’t there any need to remind members of the American Psychiatric Association about the Goldwater Rule when Barack Obama was first running for President? He is certainly not a poster child for Narcissistic Personality Disorder like Trump, but he display a lot of the traits. Also, though Brown doesn’t acknowledge this either, many U.S. Presidents, good, bad and great, have scored high on the narcissism scale. A psychiatric professional pronouncing Trump or any candidate as a narcissist is likely to be simplified by the news media and the public into a simple “he’s crazy,” with crazy equaling “dangerous.”
I read an opinion piece on CNN, Stop Calling Trump Crazy, the premise of which is that speculating about Trump’s psychiatric diagnosis stigmatizes those who do struggle with mental illness.
With what seems to be increasing frequency, each time Trump does something objectionable, too many of his opponents want to blame mental illness as a way to erode his electoral chances. Yet characterizing Trump as "crazy" relies on the stigma of psychiatric disabilities to make a point.
There are many grounds on which to criticize Donald Trump and to argue against his candidacy. But his mental health should not be one of them, because it's a strategy that appeals to bigotry.
I disagree. I don’t think reviewing the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and applying them to Trump and suggesting that having certain of them, to the level he does, precludes him from being fit to be president stigmatizes anyone with any psychiatric disorder including NPD.
Simply put, narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others.
But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that's vulnerable to the slightest criticism. (Mayo Clinic
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a disorder that is characterized by a long-standing pattern of grandiosity (either in fantasy or actual behavior), an overwhelming need for admiration, and usually a complete lack of empathy toward others.
People with this disorder often believe they are of primary importance in everybody’s life or to anyone they meet. While this pattern of behavior may be appropriate for a king in 16th Century England, it is generally considered inappropriate for most ordinary people today. ( Psych Central
Psychology professor Dan McAdams (read his CV), whose cover article in The Atlantic has made him a go-to person on TV talk shows. He refuses to diagnose Trump writing in The Guardian as his reason "I am not a clinician, and for me, medical labels affixed from afar provide little by way of insight into the structure and the meaning of a person’s life." He still addresses his temperament and says that he shows a combination of traits he’s never seen in a candidate.
I am (or was) a clinician whose job included diagnosing and treating psychiatric disorders. While making a diagnosis of a public figure is somewhat controversial, and some here have commented that doing so is unethical, others have said that a mental health professional not doing so when they see strong evidence that someone is dangerous would be unethical.
While I agree that applying a medical label to someone provides "little by way of insight into the structure and the meaning of a person’s life” my purpose isn’t to have an existential understanding of Trump.
McAdams also said (I can’t find the reference) that he’s received criticism from other psychologists for not making a diagnosis, so he knows very well that he’s taking a less controversial position than he could. Of course, he’s as capable as any other mental health professional (and lay people as well) of plugging all the behaviors we’ve seen in Trump into the psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5).
This is what McAdams wrote in his most recent article about Trump, published today in The Guardian:
I recently wrote an extended psychological commentary on the life of Donald Trump. Rather than a clinical/psychiatric assessment, the profile drew upon scientific research in personality and social psychology. I scrupulously avoided diagnostic categories and attributions about mental health and fitness, for two reasons: (1) I am not a clinician, and (2) for me, medical labels affixed from afar provide little by way of insight into the structure and the meaning of a person’s life. My aim instead was to make psychological sense of Donald Trump’s life and personality, drawing upon some of the best ideas and research findings to be found in psychological science today.
First, Trump’s temperament profile – high extraversion and low agreeableness – derives much of its power from an underlying impulsivity laced with anger.
Second, Trump’s impulsive temperament style dovetails with his central life goal – the narcissistic aim of promoting Donald Trump.
In keeping with the narcissism, Trump finds it especially difficult to ignore his impulses and consider the exigencies of situations when he perceives a threat to the self.
Finally, there is Donald Trump’s philosophy of life, spelled out first in The Art of the Deal. It is a matter of principle for Donald Trump that when you are attacked, you hit back harder.
Donald Trump is trapped by an angry, impulsive temperament that precludes his stepping away from the moment to survey what the situation demands of him. The trap tightens when the moment brings forth an insult to the self, no matter how trifling. And even when Donald Trump is able to emancipate himself from the moment and consider a situation from a more reasoned perspective, his philosophy of life manages only to reinforce his traits and his goals, imploring him to fight back ferociously, no matter how sympathetic or how tiny the opponent may be.
This is what McAdam’s told the Chicago Tribune:
“[I was] trying to describe what this man is fundamentally about psychologically without resorting to diagnosis,” said the author, Dan McAdams, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University where he is also the director of the Foley Center for the Study of Lives. “Trying to be objective, trying to be dispassionate, and try to use principles from personality and developmental psychology to apply, to understand who he is and what he’s about.”
Note he is stating that he is using principles from personality and developmental psychology. This is different from using principles from what is often called abnormal psychology or the study of psychopathology. He goes on:
‘…..What's behind the mask of Donald Trump?’
“That was hard to find. I spent a lot of time talking about the role: how he is as an actor, his high extroversion, his social dominance, his very low agreeableness.”
McAdams said when you look behind this so-called mask, you find a story about winning.
“I think it’s the motto of his life story: to win, to drive hard, to be number one,” he said. “I think he wants to win this election, but I’m not sure that he really wants to be president.”
McAdams says Trump’s combination of extreme extroversion and very low agreeableness does not look like a recipe for presidential success when you compare his traits to those of past presidents. But, he says the findings aren’t inherently negative.
“In terms of the personality, you could argue, ‘Yeah, low agreeableness, maybe that’s a good thing because then you don’t get swayed when you’re doing negotiations, you don’t get swayed by sentimentality,’” McAdams said. “So you could put a positive spin on this. I don’t want to suggest that it’s necessarily negative.
Please take the poll and elaborate on your answer in the comments.
Comments are closed on this story.