Understanding Trump? Running Amok

Image by Liz West“Can he help himself?” a client asked.

There is an idea out there that because Trump has malignant narcissistic personality disorder, he is not fit for office.  Without a doubt the man has narcissistic personality disorder, but don't you think most titans of capitalism are similarly afflicted?  Are they not grandiose, entitled, arrogant, driven to dominate and inflate their status?  Do they not lack empathy?  Are they not interpersonally exploitative?   

But using a mental illness paradigm to describe the ugliest aspects of human nature undermines the purpose of mental medicine.  A diagnosis should be a heuristic label, a summary that suggests a treatment, so the use of a diagnosis as an insult impedes the healing of mental illness every time.  If we find a narcissistic quality in ourselves and insult ourselves about it, narcissism defends itself and gets worse.

What to do about narcissism varies according to what theory you prefer.  Some say the narcissist has never been truly heard, never understood from the inside, so their needs for external affirmation are insatiable.  Some say the narcissist suffers from a lack of limits.  Usually relationships provide an ample supply of limits, because people are actually limited.  Unfortunately, some situations trump normal limit setting.  For example, great wealth.  For example, being a white male in a culture that disproportionately empowers and values the white male.  For example, (not quite on the point of Trump, but still…) having mothers who believe their own needs are not important.

As I was working this out, I said aloud in conversation that Trump hadn’t been properly limited and a person trying to be open minded blurted out:  "You don’t know that!"  This phrase has caught on in the Zen community.  Of course we want to encourage don’t know mind, but I don’t need evidence from childhood to know that Trump has not been limited.  All the evidence is in what he has acquired. No one stopped him.  Our culture praised and admired him.

And the same could be said for all the people who acquired great wealth at the expense of the poor and vulnerable who could not stop them, and who were entirely supported by our greed-admiring culture and the government bodies that greed has purchased.

So let’s shift focus from Trump the man to Trump the Running Amok of Greed, Anger, and Ignorance.  I understand what greed feels like, but I've been stopped from sucking up resources that don't belong to me.  I understand what anger feels like, but I also experience love and respect, which stop me from doing great harm.  I understand that I am ignorant and so I encourage myself to learn from those who know what I don't.  

Let me be clear.  We can't heal Trump the man but we can stop Running Amok.  Reckon, Refuse, and Respond. Repeat.  

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Reader Comments (2)

I love the reminder that "A diagnosis should be a heuristic label, a summary that suggests a treatment. . ."
Wow. Yes, of course. It is the growing edge, the wake up label! Rather than the insult (directed inward or outward), it is the beginning of the next moment: how does this label help me, help you?
And then shift that, as Elena Yuuka does, to the whole system we're in and thus resistance, thus her R's: Reckon, Refuse, and Respond.

March 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPat O'Hara

I agree that to condemn Trump because of a diagnosis is unfair. I'm sure many of us who lead relatively decent lives can also be retrofitted with a psychiatric label. No doubt the lack of limits are a partial explanation for the disturbing Trump phenomenon. But all theories are only partially true. Where does his impulsivity come from? Why the stupidity and maliciousness of his lies-- that lack any plausibility? I Think the scariest element in the saga relates to how easily Trump fits into the contemporary zeitgeist. Why did so many people vote for such a mean, malicious man. Timothy Snyder's wonderful little book, "On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century" does an excellent job explaining where we go from here and why people may succumb to a despot.

April 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Denny

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