Unconscious Trump

Trump’s Tower of Vulnerability – Part 2

Having documented Trump’s conscious goals, self-image, and expectations of others, the profiler is ready to dig deeper. When conscious beliefs and behavior are contradictory, self-defeating, or excessively emotional, rational explanations at the conscious level, citing logic and cost-benefit calculations, are inadequate. The profiler must necessarily turn to the unconscious, where the target’s inaccessible drives, needs, biases,  wounds, and fears operate to direct and shape their conscious choices, actions, and sense of self.

A basic principle of psychological profiling is this: the extent to which a target is unaware of, or in denial about, the true motivations underlying his behavior, the more predictable he is, and the more he can be manipulated by others who understand those motivations better than he does himself.

The first clue an experienced profiler will observe in Donald Trump is the high degree of consistency in his behavior, even when that behavior is self-defeating. This characteristic has been documented over and over again during the election campaign, often leading commentators to speculate that Trump might actually want to lose the election, since no other rational explanation could possibly account for his behavior. But to anyone well-versed in human psychology – and unfortunately, most members of the media are not – a different explanation is obvious. Trump’s behavior is driven by unconscious needs that override and dominate his rational thinking and  conscious choices.

The search for underlying motivators of behavior begins with an effort at triangulation. The profiler looks for dominant behavioral patterns that are otherwise difficult to explain and searches for a possible common source of all these behaviors. With Trump, four dominant behaviors stand out:

All these behaviors stand out as abnormal in both their frequency in Trump’s behavioral repertoire and their intensity. Can profilers find a single driving force that underlies them all?

There is one likely psychological source: Donald Trump’s exceptional level of narcissism. Although this trait has been noted a few times in the media (e.g., here, here, and here), observers have been reluctant to identify it as a fact, in part because psychological and psychiatric professionals are ethically bound not to diagnose patients they haven’t examined, and of course not to do so in public. So Trump has gotten a bit of a pass on this subject, at least at the superficial level at which the media has explored it.

Profilers are not bound by any such restrictions. If a hypothesized psychological disposition leads to good behavioral predictions and identifies ways in which a target can be manipulated, it is treated as a given until evidence proves otherwise.

It is a near certainty that every psychological profile of Donald Trump will begin with the assumption that he suffers from the psychological syndrome called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Unlike many more devastating psychiatric conditions, narcissism is not necessarily socially debilitating. Indeed, some forms of narcissism are considered “high functioning,” and have been associated with attributes of leadership and financial success. However, narcissists tend to be terrible at interpersonal relations and self-control.

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), NPD is defined by the presence of at least five of nine symptoms:

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance
  • A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • A belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
  • A need for excessive admiration
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Interpersonally exploitative behavior
  • Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her
  • A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes

When profilers look at Trump’s dominant behavioral propensities for attention and admiration-seeking, bullying, lying, and revenge-seeking, they can identify a common cause in his narcissism. Indeed, Trump’s signature behaviors provide compelling evidence of all nine symptoms of NPD.

Attention and admiration-seeking: Narcissists first and foremost demand to be the center of attention and an object of admiration.  Without constant attention and expressions of admiration they have no way to confirm their inflated sense of self-importance and success. Only through the spotlight of attention can they receive the flow of admiration to which they feel they are entitled. If they perceive others to be getting more attention than themselves, this can trigger disproportionately hostile or aggressive reactions to “bring down” the usurper.

Bullying, insulting, and demeaning: Narcissists exploit others to get what they want. Because they have little empathic understanding of other people’s feelings and concerns, narcissists believe they have a right (possibly even an obligation) to bully, insult, or demean people who are necessarily inferior to them. Also, such behaviors reinforce their need to feel special and above all others, while at the same time providing an outlet for arrogant and haughty behaviors.

Lying: To maintain their sense of grandiosity and self-importance, narcissists must win every argument and dominate every interaction. If lying helps further those goals, it is just another self-serving tactic to be used. Narcissists have a very weak sense of right and wrong – basically, what benefits them is right, what hinders them or benefits others at their expense is wrong. They also tend to view the world with a very short time frame, so often fail to consider the possible consequences of lying. Indeed, if lying does not hinder the pursuit of their immediate goals, or better yet facilitates that pursuit, they are likely to increase both the frequency and the extremity of their lies.

Revenge-seeking: Because maintaining a manufactured illusion of superiority and entitlement is difficult in the real world, narcissists constantly face challenges to their exaggerated sense of self. Any personal slight or disobedience, even if unintentional, is seen as a threat that must be aggressively eliminated. As a result, narcissists are often extremely preoccupied with plans and fantasies to punish those who cross or contradict them. If the narcissist happens to have the capability to act on such fantasies, as Trump does, they will spend considerable time and effort engaging in revenge-seeking actions that appear to others as futile and self-defeating.

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