Dear NurSerial Readers,
This article could be construed as political. Fair enough, it’s an examination of the mental state of the President. Look further, however: It’s about the relationship between mental health and decision-making. Narcissism has got to be an incredibly painful condition to have or be around. The very nature of narcissism is that it distorts the perception of the person affected, often leading to false beliefs about elevated personal power and importance. People with narcissism can be easily offended and impulsively over-reactive to perceived slights.
This isn’t a good feature in a world leader.
Please read, think about and pass along.
Rosemary K.M. Sword and Philip Zimbardo, Ph.D
The Elephant in the Room: It’s time we talk about Donald Trump’s mental health.
Posted from Psychology Today.
“In late 2015, we commenced what would become an on-going conversation about then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s mental health. We were concerned that, given his “straightforward” or outsider presentation and charisma, he would appeal to people that were unaware of the dangers of his obvious narcissistic personality type, and the many offensive behaviors that accompany it. These behaviors include but are not limited to: condescension, gross exaggeration (lying), bullying, jealousy, fragile self-esteem, lack of compassion, and viewing the world as Us versus Them. Having observed the school-yard bully tactics Trump employed during a series of public debates as well as his boasting presentation during interviews, we felt it would be important to raise awareness about some of his behaviors. So in January 2016, we published Bullies: An Exploration Into Different Types of Bullies. Note: Our intention was to use a picture of Trump to make our point but were dissuaded due to the possibility of offending some of our Psychology Today readers, who are also his supporters, and so opted for a generic-looking meanie as our bully poster boy.
As Trump’s campaign gained momentum and his narcissism exploded, so did our courage. In March 2016 we published The Narcissistic Personality: How to Spot a Narcissist. In the article, we shared clinically documented narcissistic behaviors and hoped it would be easy for readers to see that Trump fit every single example. And this time we used his photo.
And then on January 31 of this year, Psychology Today’s Editorial Staff published Shrinks Battle Over Diagnosing Donald Trump: Chaos in the White House Fuels Discord Amongst the Experts. The article leads with a petition by author and psychologist John Gartner, Ph.D., declaring that Trump has “a serious mental illness that renders him psychologically incapable of competently discharging the duties of President of the United States.” Gartner is a former professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, currently in private practice in New York and Baltimore. To date, more than 26,000 psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals have signed the petition, which has no legal power but does drive home the point that these professionals are gravely concerned about the mental health of this president. But the point of this well-written article is highlighting the conflict going on within the mental health field: While some believe it is possible to diagnose through observation, some feel it is unethical and inappropriate to do so, while still others question whether or not psychology should be used to address issues of governance.
Duty to Warn
One journalist, Lawrence O’Donnell, has taken it upon himself to champion Gartner’s effort to help educate the public. Last week on O’Donnell’s program, The Last Word, Gartner along with Lance Dodes, M.D., a retired professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, appeared in a segment titled Mental Health Experts Say Donald Trump Is Unfit to Serve. Gartner contends that mental health professionals have a duty to warn the public of dangerous people in their midst. According to Gartner, mental health professionals can observe a person’s behavior and words, from afar, and diagnose him. He says that the idea of the psychiatric interview as the gold standard for assessment is not true, and adds that we have thousands of hours of Trump’s behavior in front of us. He continues, “As far as ethics go, I would argue with my colleagues that those who don’t speak out are being unethical. If we have knowledge and understanding about the unique danger that Donald Trump presents through our psychiatric training and we don’t say something about it, history is not going to judge us kindly.”
Dodes, adding the weight of his Harvard background, was asked by O’Donnell to watch and comment on a much-played video clip of Trump during a debate claiming he had lost hundreds of friends during the 9-11 World Trade Center disaster. Dodes’s replied that there are two pieces to Trump’s lying. First, he lies because of his sociopathic tendencies. “He lies in the way a person scams people, he’s trying to sell an idea or a product by telling you something that’s not true.” And then there is another type of lying that is more serious, his loose grip on reality. For example, he lies and has been told that what he says is not true, but he carries on with the lie. Dodes says that this indicates that he cannot accept an aspect of reality and therefore rejects it. His grasp on reality, and his attention to it, is loose. “This is an extremely dangerous trait in a president,” Dodes continues. “And that makes him unqualified.”
Both Gartner and Dodes agreed that as far as the depth of mental illness, this is the “worst case” scenario. Gartner adds: “”He’s just sane enough to ‘pass’ but is detached from reality.” So what is real for the President is fluid, meaning that it’s totally malleable. Combine this non-reality with paranoia, and at a hand’s reach within the nuclear codes, is troubling. ”He actually imagines he is under attack by people who are not actually attacking him,” says Gartner, then “you have a very dangerous combination of someone who can act on his paranoid fantasies in a way that can have catastrophic consequences.”The Elephant in the Room
O’Donnell was so fascinated by the topic that the following day, he interviewed author Lee Siegel. Siegel recently wrote an article, Avoiding Questions About Donald Trump’s Mental Health Is a Betrayal to Public Trust, for the Columbia Journalism Review. Dodes was, once again, part of that interview. While we won’t go into detail as we did above, it’s important for us to note that Siegel wrote: “Mental illness does not need to be professionally diagnosed. We don’t need to be told by a doctor that the guy coughing and sneezing at the other end of the train car is probably sick… When someone is compulsively lying, continuously contradicting himself, imploring the approval of people even as he is attacking them, exalting people one day and abusing and vilifying them the next, then the question of his mental state is moot. The safe thing to do is not just to stay away from him, but to keep him away from situations where he can do harm.” (Both of these enlightening segments can be viewed here.)
In Time Perspective Therapy Terms
Through our observations, we can see Trump as being an unconstrained present hedonist—living only in the present moment, saying whatever it takes to pump up his ego and assuage his inherent low self-esteem, without thought of past reality or potentially devastating future consequences. He is the poster boy for a time perspective that is totally unbalanced. Unfortunately, given his personality type, there is no hope of reversal and little hope for any meaningful improvement.
What can we do? Be observant. Be vigilant. Share this article to spread awareness. Write or call your elected government officials and state your concerns about Donald Trump’s mental health. And hope that with the backing of 26,000 mental health therapists (a number that grows every day as last month the number was 18,000) agreeing that he is mentally unfit to be President of the United States, that we will have a new, mentally fit president as soon as possible by some means of judicially appropriate political action.
No matter for whom you voted in this election, or if you didn’t vote, we the people (or at least the majority of Electoral Colleges in some red states) did this. We need to correct this threat to our ecology, our society, our international relations, and our world peace soon—before it’s too late.”
See: Time Perspective Therapy; The Time Cure; and The Time Paradox. Learn more about yourself and helpful ways to cope with life’s stress at Discoveraetas; watch The River of Time. See Phil Zimbardo’s Heroic Imagination Project.
Bullies, by Rose Sword and Phil Zimbardo, psychologytoday.com, January 2016. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-time-cure/201601/bullies.
The Narcissistic Personality, by Rose Sword and Phil Zimbardo, psychologytoday.com, March 2016. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-time-cure/201603/the-narcissistic-personality
Shrinks battle over diagnosing donald trump, psychologytoday.com, January 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brainstorm/201701/shrinks-battle-over-diagnosing-donald-trump
http://www.msnbc.com/the-last-word; search Mental Health Experts say Donald Trump is Unfit to Serve and Avoiding questions about Donald Trump’s mental health is a betrayal to public trust