Narcissism and self-destruction

As my readers know, I am fascinated by the issue of power and the way that it can corrupt many of those who possess it. The problem seems particularly acute among those who have plotted and schemed their way up from the bottom of an institution to wrest power from those at the top. We see examples of this right through history. The greatest tyrants have often been those who have worked the hardest to obtain power. This past week, I could not bring myself to watch the inauguration of President Trump. There was indeed something fairly nauseating in the sentiments expressed in his inaugural speech. Every indication was given that his grab for supreme power over the greatest country in the world was at one level an exercise in self-gratification. There was a total absence of any generosity towards others. This was no appreciation expressed towards those who had managed the government of the country over the past years. Also, the nations of the world which do not serve the narrow interests of the United States were apparently outside his interest or concern. He seemed like an individual who is unable to show any empathy or outreach towards people who are different from himself. Such a combination of traits suggests what we have discussed before, that he is probably someone with a full-blown narcissistic disorder.

It is not my intention to rehearse again all the characteristics of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder and the way that they seem to describe Trump. This we have done this already in a previous post. Here I want to remind my reader of two indicators of narcissism on display in the past few days. The typical sufferer of this disorder will have an inordinate appetite for flattery alongside an extreme sensitivity to criticism. Perhaps appetite is the wrong word because the need to hear affirming and comforting words from others is insatiable. When such flattery and affirmation is in any way challenged or queried, the sufferer will often react with what is called ‘narcissistic rage’. Even in the two days since the inauguration on Friday, we have seen the press attacked with vehemence. What was their crime? They had the temerity to publish estimates of the numbers of people in Washington supporting Trump. These estimates suggested that far fewer people were prepared to take the trouble to come to the capital to express their support than were present for the protests on the following day. The way that the Trump transition team felt the need to react so violently over this news suggest that they were gripped with a childish tantrum.

We can detect in the way that President Trump has dealt with any form of criticism over the past few weeks that he is thin-skinned to say the least. This hypersensitivity may well prove to be an Achilles heel in his administration. It takes a great deal of energy to respond to every perceived slight, especially if these criticisms have the effect of provoking irrational rage every time. An individual who cannot ever rise above any criticism, especially the President of the United States, will soon begin to look ridiculous. Do they really need to try and respond to every perceived criticism? Although President Trump has been given a massive amount of power in his present post, his power does not include the right to supress every unfavourable comment. The cry ‘fake news’ will eventually become a completely meaningless slogan if it is used each time some story appears which does not have presidential approval. After only two days of the presidential reign we have already begun to disbelieve official denials, just as people ceased to believe in the boy that cried ‘wolf’. We all know what happened in that story.

The nature of the narcissistic disorder suggests that the presidential period of office by Donald Trump may not be very long. Presidential power to control opposition forces, whether political or from the media, will weaken over time if the narcissistic defensive behaviour is seen to be unreasonable. A democratic society will not tolerate unbridled power or the suppression of truth for a long period. There may well be popularity in the short term but eventually there has to be a reaction against the constant refrain of ‘fake news’. Quite apart from whether the stated policies of Trump are right or not, there is the glaring issue of his total inexperience in political life and in foreign affairs. Objectively one would like to see someone with so little experience showing a little humility when taking up an office of such massive responsibility. In fact, what we do see is bluster and grandiose confidence. I am reminded of the coming into power of the Emperor Caligula in 37 A.D. He arrived in power with the goodwill of the Roman mob and he held on to this for a time by buying their goodwill. It did not take him long to empty the Roman treasury in providing free food and extravagant games to retain their loyalty. Such popularity and adulation eventually went to his head and he demanded that he be treated as a God. In the end his enjoyment of absolute power and the satiation of every human appetite resulted in a coup. He was struck down by members of the Praetorian Guard whose job it had been to guard him. Caligula represents the ultimate exemplar in history of what power can do a human being, even to the point of driving someone mad.

Why do I speak about the political events of America in this blog? First of all, it is of great interest to observe the dynamics of power working themselves out in the context of a great nation. In the second place, there is the telling parallel with the role taken by many religious leaders within their congregations. We have claimed that an infallible Bible often allows a minister or pastor to exercise unlimited power within a congregation. The craving for ultimate authority, even if on a smaller scale, seems to possess some who lead Christian congregations. We must hope that every exercise of power, whether of a great nation or in a small Christian congregation, is always met with effective checks and balances. As we have seen narcissism, the self-inflation of an individual seeking to be important and beyond contradiction, affects individuals in both politics and religion. We can at least be grateful that recognising this particular personality disorder is far more prevalent now than even 20 years ago. This blog identifies President Trump as a sufferer alongside many Christian pastors. Narcissists exercise their power in a way that is oppressive and self-serving. Humility, the readiness to serve and learn from others, is far more the mark of a Christian approach to authority and power. Perhaps we can hope that this presidency will be of short duration and that American system will indeed frustrate the narcissistic tantrums of a man like Trump. From the evidence presented so far, Trump appears to have few of the qualities that we would associate with successful or lasting political leadership.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

10 thoughts on “Narcissism and self-destruction

  1. How telling that Trump identified his favourite Bible verse as “an eye for an eye”. One of a rather small number of verses that Jesus specifically told us to set aside. Such considerations don’t seem likely to concern his Christian Right supporters. Nor the Orwellian re-branding of his team’s lies about the inauguration crowds as “alternative facts”. Although in general psychiatrists don’t sanction diagnosing people from a distance, I really can’t help feeling you’ve hit the nail on the head. This is small consolation for us!

  2. It is yet to be seen what President Trump’s time in office may or may not achieve.

    As with selective use of scripture, selective use of so called facts bother me.
    Can anyone explain to me why Mr Trump has come in for so much hate? He was against the Iraq war; President Bush sent thousands of young Americans to their deaths?
    Just enquiring,


  3. Have a look at what I said on October 17th to know what I, for one, think about him. The narcissist, as I think him to be, will never be alert to the human needs around him. Ultimately everything is done for his own interests. The poor, the marginalised and those who thought they could obtain some recognition by voting for a ‘strong man’ will be eventually crushed by the juggernaut of one who appears totally self-absorbed and obsessed by money and and power. In this sense he is like the worst kind of cult leader.

  4. Chris, I think another reason many people are so against Trump is because he lies about so much. There is no evidence from the time of the Iraq War showing that he was against it. The only record of him saying anything about it is on a radio show just before the invasion, when he said words to the effect of “I guess I support it”. Later he decided he was against the war, when it was going badly. Now he says he was against it from the start. Most politicians seem to lie and get caught out, but he is different because of how often he lies, how big the lies are and how he never admits fault, even when proved to have lied.

  5. I feel the herding instinct at work here. In order to believe anything in America you have to trust the media. Trump has said that the media is corrupt. The media is celebrity lead in America; also we have ample evidence in this country that the media/ newspapers are corrupt. (The Sun Newspaper and Hillsborough?).

    The lower working class in this country have been shit upon from a great height, the media telling lies about everything from the Miners strike to how union support will over – empower them. If I was living in America and had been disempowered to the extent that the working poor in America have been, maybe I’d have voted for him.

    “The first causality of war is truth”

    The media is a supermarket, believe what you want, Facts are atomic.

    1. Hi, Chris, it’s lovely to see you posting again. And Happy New Year to you both.
      Having said that, I fear that the herd instinct it what is keeping his supporters together. I agree that Trump has appealed to their dislike of the corruption in politics. Fair enough. But unfortunately, he has been caught out lying loads of times. He has even said he didn’t say something, when there are recordings of him doing so! And this business of the numbers of people at events. Again, there are pictures. It’s not invented, he just doesn’t like it! So he shouts and says anyone who disagrees with him is a liar. You can’t keep doing that. He’ll get an ulcer! Let’s hope he takes advice. Otherwise he could easily start Armageddon.

    2. Chris, I agree with you about a lot of the media being dishonest and churning out rubbish (not all the media though – there’s good and bad like in everything else). You’re also right about people being disempowered by a system that is often stacked against them. I just wanted to chip in because I think Trump gets away with some outrageous lies – like the Iraq War one – simply because he tells so many…

      Also, whilst I take your point on the many social/economic problems you describe, the idea that a narcissistic, deceitful celebrity who was born into vast wealth is the man to fix them… well, it doesn’t convince me. Not saying it convinces you either – but it’s worrying how many are taken in.

  6. Well, from the point of view of people like me and working people over there, his time will come and go. His time in office will be criticised and praised at the end, and the music will go round and round. The differing sides will sell newspapers and build media careers. All the former Presidents had deep personality faults, I don’t know about Armageddon but I do know the working poor, America will never let Jerusalem be built for them, more chance of finding a snowflake in Hell.

  7. Final point David. This type of discussion is always top down. The ‘Toppers’ will always win! but, it should trouble us all (Especially ‘Christians’), that in relation to the disempowered, no one ever gets the maximin ammount of information to compute. “Show me someone who is not a Parasite, and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him!”

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