There has been a great deal of interest in ‘narcissistic personality disorder” as a result of Donald Trump’s campaign to win the Republican presidential nomination contest. So it is surprising that there has been so little apparent analysis of Trump’s candidacy in these terms.
It seems clear that Trump has decided – in his mind – that he is seeking something to which he feels already entitled. He is, in his mind, already Presidential. This political contest is only about removing obstacles to the perfect union with the nation’s voters which he already sees in his mind.
When I began to analyze the Republican primary nomination contest in terms of the marital relationship of narcissists (there being many articles about ‘divorcing a narcissist’), a lot of things began to fall into place.
If you think of Trump’s own perceived relationship with US citizens as being like the spouse of a narcissist, then anyone in the way of the relationship is a target to be either charmed or attacked, depending on their behaviour.
“Disagreeing with the narcissist releases a floodgate of hostility,” says one New York Times blog post. “You aren’t supposed to have an opinion of your own. The narcissist is a master at turning the tables. ‘I never said that. You’re much too sensitive. Everyone says you’re crazy and mean.’ When you try to set limits or to defend yourself, the narcissist stockpiles your grievances to throw at you during a later date.”
Think, for example, of when Jeb Bush tried to confront Trump during one of the debates – and the sheer nastiness that this evoked from Trump. Or when Hillary Clinton, or Megyn Kelly of Fox News, called Trump out on his self-evident sexism.
This dark side emerges only after the narcissist has charmed a woman into marriage. From the same New York Times article :
“They come into the relationship with this charming and very seductive beginning. But that turns into emotional warfare. Narcissists are people who lack empathy, who are not accountable for their behavior. They set up their world so it’s about themselves. They exploit others for their own gain. If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, you eventually discover you are there to revolve around them and to serve them. You can only imagine the shock that happens for people when they get seduced into something they think is the best thing that ever happened to them and it turns into this kind of relationship.”
There don’t seem to be many effective ways to deal with someone whose world revolves entirely around themselves, whether in a marital relationship or in business or politics. Almost anything I have read about dealing with this kind of narcissist – sometimes called ‘malignant narcissism” or ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ – sounds almost helpless – more about how to manage the person’s behaviour or how to respond to the environment that person creates than to change that behaviour. Much like the Republican party establishment sounds in trying to deal with Trump’s ever more outrageous behaviour.
Behaving according to an agreed set of rules, written or unwritten, requires one to see that there are rules – or that those rules apply to the person in question. This is not how narcissists see the world.
The most specific kind of advice about narcissists seems to be focused on how to divorce a narcissist. And this is interesting, because as you read about how the Republican Party – and other candidates – are trying to deal with Trump, the frustration and lack of effective ways to manage his behaviour sounds a lot like the conversation wives of narcissists must have with their therapists.
They want out of the relationship because it is damaging them and their children (read Party and voters), but getting out will cause even more damage. It is – for the spouse, just as for the GOP – a ‘lose-lose’ proposition.
Wives of narcissists go into marriage with a certain picture of the relationship; so too did other Republicans go into the contest for the US presidency with a picture of how the process should operate. By the time they discover the true nature of that relationship – which is set on the narcissist’s terms – they discover that the narcissist has rewritten the rule book, and they are far behind the proverbial eight ball..
And when they finally try to share their story with family and friends, they often find that it is hard to convince them of the problem because the narcissist seems so outwardly charming and successful and their story so much more powerful than that told by their spouse. The problem looks entirely different when you are on the inside, than it does from the outside.
In the case of Trump’s candidacy, the media seems to serve as a stand-in for ‘family and friends’. He manages them by trying to charm them, even as he controls their access. If they write critical stories, or dispute his stories, he bullies them by mocking personal attributes, or (in one case) by billing them for a flight he had invited them on as part of doing a story.
You can hear the frustration of ex-wives (or the victims of schoolyard bullies) in the complaints that ‘fact checking” Trump has no effect on his behaviour. Just as the narcissist controls how the marriage is seen from outside, Trump is able to use social media – most specifically Twitter – to manage his own public image, forcing the media to respond to that image. When it comes to extricating one’s self from a relationship with a malignant narcissist, the results sound more like scorched earth warfare than about any normal kind of human relationship.
Spouses of narcissists, say commenters, often come to the point of divorce because they want to protect their children. But the narcissist turns the children (read – voters, or maybe the country) into bargaining chips during protracted and expensive ‘scorched earth’ battles that go on and on, drawing in lawyers and judges as part of the narcissist’s cast of background actors.
So I have been wondering – what will Trump do if he loses some of the upcoming primaries, in Iowa and New Hampshire. Cruz seems to be leading in Iowa’s Republican caucuses these days, and just yesterday, Trump began musing about whether Cruz is really eligible, given that he was born in Canada – known in US political circles as the ‘birther’ strategy. Cruz has declined every invitation to attack Trump (and appears, by all I have read, to be as narcissistic as Trump) – but that doesn’t seem to matter.
If you think about it in terms of separation and divorce, who will he turn on if he doesn’t achieve the goal he already sees clearly in his mind. Is he likely to turn on the voter who is rejecting him? Is he likely to turn on the media for distorting his message? Is he likely to turn on the GOP and the other candidates, including whichever one wins the GOP primary? Safe to say that it’s not likely to end well.