The arrival of a new president also signifies the arrival of a new personality in the White House. Lincoln, witty and honest. Wilson, dispassionate and pragmatic. Obama, charming and sensible. Trump, some may argue, is a completely different breed. He’s unfiltered. He speaks what’s on his mind. And he is always determined to be right, truth or not. Regardless of how the American people view this behavior, Trump’s resolve and self-confidence is undeniable. Psychologists and media outlets such as “The Atlantic” have been quick to point out that Trump’s infatuation with himself is a symptom of an actual disorder: narcissistic personality disorder. Yet these labels may have surfaced out of rage and discontent with the president, begging a critical question: are these statements qualified?
According to the DSM-IV, which is used to diagnose mental disorders, narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, lack of empathy and presents itself in a variety of contexts.” Furthermore, common symptoms include the common belief that one is superior or unique, the inflation of one’s accomplishments and abilities, and the belief that those who associate with one are special. Trump’s public appearance certainly has parallels with the DSM-IV definition of narcissistic personality disorder: he claims to have won the electoral by a landslide, despite several independent findings refuting such claims. He exaggerated the size of his inaugural crowd, while photographs suggest precisely otherwise. And then there is Trump’s persistent use of superlatives such as “greatest” and “best” to describe his family and aids. He has also barred media outlets who ask unfavorable questions from certain press conferences, as he did on Feb. 24 to news agencies including CNN and the New York Times.
However, it’s undeniable that such a definition is fairly broad in today’s social context. In an individualistic society, something as mundane as a football player’s celebratory dance could easily fall under such a definition. According to Marriage and Family Therapist Richard Prinz, it’s dangerous to ascribe a label to people, particularly when taken out of context.
“Once you put a label on something, it sticks,” Prinz said. “And I think if we do that with mental issues, sometimes it’s helpful to some people, but other people feel stigmatized and people will look at them differently.”
Prinz says that creating a label for somebody, a heavy label of “narcissist” at that, puts him or her into a small box, and suggests that he or she isn’t capable of anything else because of a mental disorder. It doesn’t give people a chance and draws attention away from their positive aspects.
After all, the process of diagnosing mental disorders is not as simple as listening to a person speak. It takes a combination of reports from several sources and is based on extensive observation of the patient. Without meeting the patient one-on-one, it is disrespectful, as Prinz describes it, to draw a conclusion about one’s mental state. It’s also difficult to distinguish Trump from average Americans simply because he was not raised in an average household. Trump was raised with money, and entered the real estate business with the support of his father. Therefore, Trump’s personality and that of “typical” Americans isn’t necessarily an apples-to-apples comparison. Prinz thinks this could be an explanation for Donald Trump’s lack of empathy.
“He’s been privileged and entitled, and he’s a white male,” Prinz said. “So there’s a lot of things in this culture, from the get-go, that put him in a powerful position. In that position, people can feel entitled and not empathetic.”
It’s also impossible to tell whether or not Donald Trump is putting on a show or if he truly believes in his words, or as Prinz, calls it, “crazy like a fox or just crazy.” After all, Donald Trump is playing the game of politics, a game which can oftentimes blur the line between a politician’s personal beliefs and what beliefs garner the most votes.
All things considered, even a president with narcissistic personality disorder isn’t inherently bad. Trump appears to have empathy for the working class, with his promises to bring manufacturing back to the United States. Ultimately labels are just words placed on people, and it’s more important to focus on the content of people’s’ character than place them into a box. Perhaps this rings particularly true for the President of the United States.
“When you’re president you’ve got the target on you,” Prinz said. “You’re a public figure, you’re in a position of power, people like you or don’t like you.”