Another in my PSY-VU series, i.e. from a psychotherapist’s viewpoint.
Does Trump knowingly lie? Does he believe the lies he spins. Or, perhaps he wishes so hard that his lies are true that he believes them at the time he utters them. This is far more serious than the wishful thinking most people engage in.
If he knowingly lies and feels not a twinge of guilt then he is engaging in a reprehensible behavior for which there is no excuse. He can’t even make the excuse that he lies because he suffers from anti-social personality disorder, because despite the fact that some have called him a sociopath, he isn’t. He has some traits of sociopathy, the guilt free lying for example while being charming, but that doesn’t support the diagnosis.
His lying seems may be a defense mechanism used to protect a fragile self-concept from truths that contradict what he wants to believe.
I break down his lies into two rarely overlapping categories. The first doesn’t really impact on his fitness to be president. This are the lies of braggadocio: inflating his monetary worth, his business accomplishments, and so on. He has a lot of ego (self-image) invested in these lies as evidenced by how he lashes out at those who challenge him on them. For example, his war with fellow billionaire Mark Cuban.
The other lies are political. These are the lies reported on by many sources from the L.A. Times to Al Jazeera to the conservative National Review to websites from PolitFacts to Trump Lies.
These are the lies that should be judged as disqualifying for anyone holding the office of President of the United States. You know what they are.
What you or I can’t know is why he tell these lies. If you were hoping that I had some great psychological insight to this, I am sorry to disappoint you. I don’t. There’s nothing I can find in the psychiatric literature that helps explain Trump’s lying.
There’s no psychiatric diagnosis for this unless you count “trumpism” which comes from psychologist William Doherty’s Citizen Therapist Manifesto: (my emphasis added)
What is Trumpism?
Trumpism is an ideology, not an individual, and it may well endure and grow after the Presidential election even if Donald Trump is defeated. (Variants can be seen all over Europe.) Trumpism is a set of ideas about public life and a set of public practices characterized by:
- Scapegoating and banishing groups of people who are seen as threats, including immigrants and religious minorities.
- Degrading, ridiculing, and demeaning rivals and critics.
Fostering a cult of the Strong Man who:
- Appeals to fear and anger
- Promises to solve our problems if we just trust in him
- Reinvents history and has little concern for truth
Never apologizes or admits mistakes of consequence
- Sees no need for rational persuasion
- Subordinates women while claiming to idealize them
- Disdains public institutions like the courts when they are not subservient
- Champions national power over international law and respect for other nations
- Incites and excuses public violence by supporters
Doherty claims this isn’t a diagnosis, something he refuses to speculate on publicly. Instead he calls it an ideology — yet he names it “Trumpism” and under “Fostering a cult of The Strong Man” he is obviously describing Donald Trump. In fact, this list of Trump’s characteristics is so extreme that it actually goes beyond the most common diagnosis which is being suggested applies to Trump by laymen and those professionals willing to make an actual diagnosis, that of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)—
But here’s the puzzlement. Does extreme narcissism really account for pathological lying?
By now I expect most of you are familiar with the characteristics of NPD:
- Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
- Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
- Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
- Needing constant admiration from others
- Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
- Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
- Unwilling to empathize with others' feelings, wishes, or needs
- Intensely envious of others and the belief that others are equally envious of them
- Pompous and arrogant demeanor
The closest to a mention of lying in the description of those with NPD is here: “Associated symptoms: People with NPD tend to exaggerate their skills and accomplishments as well as their level of intimacy with people they consider to be high-status.” en.wikipedia.org/…
Okay, then what about the whole pathological liar accusations and descriptions we hear applied to Trump?
You may be surprised to learn that there’s no psychiatric diagnosis for this. This is from Psychiatric Times, 2008. “Pathological Lying: Symptom or Disease?” by Charles C. Dike, MD, MPH, MRCPsych
Pathological lying (PL) is a controversial topic. There is, as yet, no consensus in the psychiatric community on its definition, although there is general agreement on its core elements. PL is characterized by a long history (maybe lifelong) of frequent and repeated lying for which no apparent psychological motive or external benefit can be discerned. While ordinary lies are goal-directed and are told to obtain external benefit or to avoid punishment, pathological lies often appear purposeless. In some cases, they might be self-incriminating or damaging, which makes the behavior even more incomprehensible. Despite its relative obscurity, PL has been recognized and written about in the psychiatric literature for more than a century. The German physician, Anton Delbruck,1 is credited with being the first to describe the concept of PL. He observed that some of his patients told lies that were so abnormal and out of proportion that they deserved a special category. He sub-sequently described the lies as "pseu- dologia phantastica."
Isn’t it amazing that as recently as 2008 pathological lying was a controversial topic in the mental health field and there was no consensus as to whether it was a symptom or deserved a diagnostic category of its own?
According to Charles Dyke, here’s the controversy surrounding PL
The debate over the ability of pathological liars to recognize their lies as false has dogged this phenomenon for decades. Integral to the debate is the confusion emanating from questions about a pathological liar's ability to think logically. It has been observed that pathological liars believe their lies to the extent that the belief may be delusional. As a result, PL has been referred to as a "wish psychosis."1 Furthermore, PL has also been described as impulsive and unplanned.1 These observations have raised doubts about the pathological liar's ability to fully control his or her lying behavior. The relative purposelessness of the lies, including the intangible benefits of false accusations or self-incrimination, and the repetitive nature of the lies, despite negative consequences to the liar's reputation and livelihood, further encourage doubts about the liar's ability to control his behavior. On the other hand, it has been observed that vigorously and persistently challenging pathological liars may lead pathological liars to partially acknowledge their lies, an observation that suggests the presence of logical thinking. Such a presentation is consistent with a view of PL as a fantasy lie, a daydream communicated as reality, told solely for the liar's pleasure.
Although the fantasy lies may help the pathological liar escape from stress-ful life situations, or compensate for developmental traumas, there is evidence that individuals with PL show normal "guilty responses" when lying during a lie-detection test.7 It is perhaps an attempt at guilt reduction that motivates pathological liars to believe their lies, thereby creating a strange form of double bind.
The further observation that pathological liars usually have sound judgment in other matters and the observed association of PL with other criminal behavior in approximately half of the cases supports the notion of intact reality testing. The crimes associated with PL include theft, swindling, forgery, and plagiarism. It is worth noting, however, that some pathological liars are successful professionals without any public record of crime.
Now that I’ve explored what the mental health community thinks about Trump and lying, unfortunately I can’t come up with an answer to my initial questions. My mind is boggled.
Here’s a hard one. It’s not a quiz. You won’t be graded since I don’t know the answer.
Here’s a hard one. It’s not a quiz. You won’t be graded since I don’t know the answer.
I think Trump knowingly lies?
I think he believes the lies as he tells them?
I am as uncertain as you are.
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