Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Narcissism and Diagnosis as political sport with Gabor Mate

Donald Trump, narcissism and diagnosis as political sport 

Special to The Globe and Mail

The consensus as to Donald Trump’s psychiatric issues is nearly unanimous. “Textbook narcissistic personality disorder,” according to clinical psychologists quoted In Vanity Fair, among many who have reached the same conclusion. Noting his motor mouth, chronic inability to pay attention and shockingly deficient impulse control, others diagnosed Trump as a severe case of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Tony Schwartz, Trump’s ghostwriter for his 1987 bestseller The Art of the Deal, reported that his client had no attention span and fidgeted “like a kindergartner who cannot sit still.”

Yet, while the various diagnoses with which he has been labeled may accurately describe his actions, attitudes, verbal patterns and mental states, they cannot explain them. As a stressed electorate tries to make sense of a campaign unlike any other, many people are asking themselves, what is the root of Trump’s bizarre displays?

What we perceive as the adult personality often reflects compensations a helpless child unwittingly adopted in order to survive. Such adaptations can become wired into the brain, persisting into adulthood. Underneath all psychiatric categories Trump manifests childhood trauma. His opponent Hillary Clinton evinces her own history of early suffering, even if milder and far more muted in its impact.

The ghostwriter Schwartz reports that Trump had no recollection of his youth.

There is always a reason for such amnesia. People have poor recall of their childhoods when they found reality so painful that their minds had to repress awareness and push memories into the unconscious. “I don’t like to analyze myself because I might not like what I see,” Trump admitted to a biographer.

According to biographers, Trump’s father was workaholic, ruthless, emotionally cold and authoritarian, a man who believed that life is a competition where the “killers” win. Donald’s elder brother drove himself into alcoholism, a common escape from pain, and to an early death. The younger, favoured child is now self-destructing on the world stage.

Lying is such an endemic aspect of his personality that he does so almost helplessly and reflexively. “Lying is second nature to him,” Tony Schwartz told The New Yorker “More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.”

How are such patterns compensations?  Not paying attention, tuning out, is a way of coping with stress or emotional hurt. Narcissistic obsession with the self compensates for a lack of nurturing care. Grandiosity covers a deeply negative sense of self-worth. Bullying hides an unconscious conviction of weakness. Lying becomes a mode of survival in a harsh environment. Misogyny is a son’s outwardly projected revenge on a mother who was unable to protect him.

Trump’s opponent also appears to have learned reality-denial at an early age. Her father, too, according to biographic reports, was harsh, verbally abusive, and dismissive of his daughter’s achievements. The opaque persona many now see as inauthentic would have developed as young Hillary Rodham’s protective shell. In an anecdote related by the former Secretary of State herself as an example of salutary character building, four-year-old Hillary runs into her home to escape neighbourhood bullies. “There is no room for cowards in this house,” says her mother, sending the child out into the street to face her tormentors.  The real message was: “Do not feel or show your pain. You are on your own.” Over six decades later the candidate hides her pneumonia even from her doctor and from those closest to her. Repeatedly she has overlooked her husband’s outlandish infidelities, defending him against disgrace— no doubt suppressing her own emotional turmoil in the process.

It is not surprising that when the Oxford University psychologist Kevin Dutton analyzed the candidates for Scientific American Mind, he scored both Trump and Clinton in the upper quintile of self-centered impulsivity and coldheartedness. Trump rated high on traits of psychopathy, between Idi Amin and Adolf Hitler.

We Canadians are no strangers to political leaders whose childhood suffering formed their personalities and infused their policies. The journalist and Stephen Harper biographer John Ibbitson characterized our former prime minister as “autocratic, secretive, and cruel.” A journalist described him as “chilly and inscrutable,” while his former chief of staff recalled him as “vindictive, prone to sudden eruptions of white-hot rage over meaningless trivia.” These traits, too, are uniformly markers of trauma. Unsurprisingly, Harper also resisted discussing his childhood.

No infant is born a bully, cruel or cold-hearted. Well-nurtured children mature naturally past infantile self-regard, develop impulse control and find empathy. They learn to feel and regulate their emotions. In the case of those who do not, there is pain they are unable or unwilling to confront. Their development was distorted.

A political leader in denial of his trauma may be so little able to bear his core pain, fear and weakness that he will identify with the powerful, disdain and attack the vulnerable. Or, behind a false persona, she vows to support the downtrodden while kowtowing to the rich and dominant.

What does it say about our society that such deeply troubled individuals frequently rise to the top ruling circles, attaining wealth and power and even the admiration of millions?

We need not be perplexed that a Donald Trump can vie for the presidency of the most powerful nation on Earth. We live in a culture where many people are hurt and, like the leaders they idolize, insulated against reality. Trauma is so commonplace that its manifestations have become the norm.

People who are anxious, fearful and aggrieved may be unable to recognize the flaws In those seeking power. They mistake desperate ambition for determination, see grandiosity as authority, paranoia as security, seductiveness as charm, dogmatism as decisiveness, selfishness as economic wisdom, manipulation as political savvy, lack of principles as flexibility. Trauma-induced defences such as venal dishonesty and aggressive self-promotion often lead to success.

The flaws of our leaders perfectly mirror the emotional underdevelopment of the society that elevates them to power.

This originally appeared in The Globe and Mail.

  • C.W.
    October 15, 2016 at 4:26 PM

    First impression: hurt people will hurt people….
    “The flaws of our leaders perfectly mirror the emotional underdevelopment of the society that elevates them to power.” I thought this line was both profound and disturbing. Who knows, maybe it’s about time to put our country on “the couch?”

  • Steve Sweeney-Turner
    October 16, 2016 at 10:55 AM 
    Here’s my personal psychosis – an uncontrollable impulse to correct minor textual errors!
    “People are anxious, fearful and aggrieved may be unable to recognize the flaws In those seeking power.”
    -should read –
    “People [who] are anxious, fearful and aggrieved may be unable to recognize the flaws [in] those seeking power.”

    Great post, though!
  • candida jones
    October 16, 2016 at 6:45 PM
    I concur. I have looked at the ADHD, the complex trauma, the adult children of alcoholism issues and come to a similar conclusion. It is NO choice for us down here in the land plastered with red, white and blue. Help!
  • Joan Dearing Heiting
    October 17, 2016 at 7:15 PM
    Well written. Insightful and spot on.
  • Joan Dearing Heiting
    October 17, 2016 at 7:15 PM
    Well written. Insightful and spot on.
  • Gui Mansilla
    October 23, 2016 at 11:13 AM 
    This article brilliantly unpacks some of the most widely overlooked psychological reality of our times and lets us all see that the emperor clearly has no cloak.

    Trauma (in childhood and beyond) is so widespread in our times that it is time we look into approach it like an epidemic and use esucational and preventive measures in schools, work places and all major institutions so they provide front line support for those suffering it and ways to prevent it for those that has not suffer it yet.

    A world where we heal trauma and prevent it actively will be a far better world for us and most importantly for the next 7 generations.

    Thanks Dr Mate for this piece!!
  • Alexi
    October 23, 2016 at 2:23 PM 
    Very interesting and explains a lot. Most often, those who aspire to great political power are those least qualified to lead in a positive direction. Very sad.
  • Scott
    November 3, 2016 at 8:23 PM 
    The over-riding question for me is: how did such a large number of voters become convinced that the U.S. economy is failing, unemployment is rampant, that the country is in a steep decline – internally and globally, that Hillary Clinton is the devil incarnate and that Donald J. Trump is the Messiah?

    I suspect it’s a form of mass hypnosis promulgated over the years by right wing radio and TV personalities, some who are so extreme they make Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Ira Levin seem angelic. When voters rely on these people exclusively as their single source of information, they become brainwashed and unable to consider a different opinion, much less undeniable fact.

    Donald Trump is completely incapable of handling the responsibilities of the Presidency and he doesn’t have the attention span to handle the learning curve he will have to face if he were to be elected, which begs the question: Who will be Trump’s Dick Cheney?
  • Jedi
    November 8, 2016 at 11:27 AM
    “The flaws of our leaders perfectly mirror the emotional underdevelopment of the society that elevates them to power.”

    They indeed mirror this underdevelopment, but they, society, us dispossessed souls, do not elevate those exaggerated versions of this collective hurt when we are born into a deeply historically embedded doctrinal system that not only maintains that hurt but which seeks to hurt those very minds and bodies that believe they have elevated that so called leader or ruler, or any hierarchy, that promises to take away our pains. Sociopathy at any age prays on hurt, and Power is very familiar with this age old tool.

    Sorry, Gabor, I just wanted to expand on your last sentence. I’m with you, man!
    From a dyslexic guy (52) who probably has ADD like yourself.
  • Mimi kennedy
    November 14, 2016 at 3:20 PM 
    Mass hypnosis was the goal of media in order to sustain itself. It lives by taking our attention and re-directing our subconscious desires to acquiring whatever requires us to spend some money. This “The Economy” became the American idol we are enlisted to sustain under threat of being declared subversive enemies of the state. Love of country, will to live and help others, too, is basic. These things have been exploited for profit by the kind of mass hypnosis, discussed here, which was idolized as Successful business communication. So many of my peers went to Business School

    Who could have been teachers. So many after them majored in Communications and learned only how to participate in hypnotizing. We cannot blame one another. But we can resist-and look into our own childhood pain. And learn to listen instead of narrating these group myths. Recognize! I love Dr Matte and his work. I’m gladdened to find this sent to me this morning.
  • Ren Koi
    November 17, 2016 at 9:13 AM 
  • Mika Antero Kumpulainen
    November 19, 2016 at 4:01 PM
    A good read, thank you for the clarifying remarks.

    Also Gabor, i heard you went to The Temple of the Way of Light and did something or with Ibogaine. If true I haven’t been able to find anything on it, maybe for reasons. I’m very interested on what i could learn from what would’ve come from that. I’ve been 2 of your lectures, one in Barrie and another hosted by i think Marylou in Toronto. Watched every talk you’ve done that i could find on various video sites.

    Might as here why not :\

    • Mika Antero Kumpulainen
      November 19, 2016 at 4:02 PM
  • Diane Lovelady
    December 11, 2016 at 5:01 PM 
    Dr. Gabor has hit upon the truths in our modern society! I have too been damaged, but just recently at 55 have been able to see the issues with our world! America and the entire war is in perilous times! I have only heard of you this week from a post on social media! I am also ordering or obtaining a copy of every book you have been a part of! You have stated the: problems , WHAT The reasons , WHY

    The solution, HOW. I have began to see your insights myself and find myself being a kinder , more helpful, more feelings if self worth and joy gratitude and love of all creatures human or animal! More urgently the powers we allow to oversee the masses don’t want to fix the problems! They can’t do it on their own we all need cooperation and acceptance of each other’s faults and weakness as well as our own, personally! The immediate threat to our society is the destruction of humanity on Mother Earth for we came from her and without her we can no longer exist! If we don’t come together as a planet to save it WE will all perish! No one wins! We don’t have a reset button on the earth which sustains us! We can wake up and take action immediately now or not! We are now asking the human race to look at evidence of the dying planet! The balance can be stopped with us all working together! Our only hope at survival is in our hands we will either fight and make a difference or turn our head, deny, and do nothing! As trying to be part of the solution we concentrate trying to send the message try to educate, share knowledge, use or intelligence we possess and the technology that began this process to heal instead of harm! I totally am concerned and frightened over the violations of all human rights, no one has a right to harm another in deed or word! From the native Americans, protecting the water to the radical islamists who are perpetuating atrocities against mankind in the name of a RELIGION and power play! We as humans are all different, just as in nature there all forms and species we are alive but separate unique! An amazingly powerful force! Anything done with hate malice, control or negative energy will return the same back! There is a cycle to our existance on this earth in the body we were born with! Dr. Gabon has captured the essence of our root problem or dis-ease mentally, physically and literally in our planet! We need to come together to make a change ! May you all receive the love, healing and respect we all deserve! Pass along to make a difference !

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