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A Psychological Analysis of Donald Trump

Dr. Bilal Ghandour

Love him, hate him but can you feel sorry for him? Donald Trump’s personality analyzed

Ask anyone what they think of Donald Trump and you are almost guaranteed one of two instantaneous – almost reflexive – reactions: “He is great” (read: I admire his guts, love his strength and honesty) or “he is awful” (read: he is a disgusting, self-serving bigot and demagogue). Many a political figure has been controversial but none in recent history has polarized opinions as much as Mr. Trump. One obvious question is to ask why he triggers such opposing emotional reactions from folks. A less obvious – but more interesting query – is to wonder: Is there any way one can take on a nuanced position and say something like, ‘This man repulses me but I also feel sorry for him.’ As bizarre as it may initially appear, I would like to suggest it is perfectly tenable to hold such apparently contradicting positions about Mr. Trump. In order to do so, we must understand how personalities are formed and organized. More specifically, we need to analyze how particular patterns of character development lead to a personality one can feel both compassion for and be deeply disturbed by. It all depends on which aspect of self one chooses to focus on.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

One of the words most commonly thrown around to define Donald Trump’s personality is that he is a narcissist. A narcissist is someone who is intensely focused on themselves – often to the point of self-adoration – and belittles others. They spend an inordinate amount of time listing their accomplishments (as proof of their greatness) and it is impossible to have a balanced conversation with them as they invariably pay cursory or no attention to what you say. On the rare occasions they actually listen, it is because they are planning a strategy to redirect conversations back to them. There is no doubt about it: Mr. Trump is a textbook example of a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and psychologists will have no trouble diagnosing him with that condition. But saying someone has a personality disorder (narcissism or otherwise) tells us nothing about the cause for such development and the mechanism people use to maintain such traits. And this where it gets interesting.

It has been widely accepted that many psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia are conditions with a strong biological component. This means the genetic makeup of such individuals plays a critical role in the development of the disorder. This contrasts with personality disorders, characterized by traits that have been learned. In other words, personality disorders develop as a result of life experiences, not because of genetic vulnerability. It is of course very difficult to claim with certitude where those (negative) experiences originate from but we do know the nature of the relationship we have with important people in our lives dramatically shape our perception of the world and ourselves. If we have felt deep pain from improper or insufficient parenting, despair from romantic breakups or friendship betrayals, bitter disappointment from various life outcomes, there is little doubt that personality development will be significantly affected. Some of us may address issues successfully, adjust well, and be psychologically healthy. Others may have more trouble handling such pains and develop, as a result, a personality that goes round difficulties rather than face them. In other words, some personalities are structured and organized to avoid remembering – at all costs – troublesome feelings and emotional pain. If a person uses this strategy consistently and across the board, they are using a defense mechanism strategy. Let me explain further.

Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms are the mind’s powerful ability to protect itself by avoiding feelings of discomfort and anxiety and negative perceptions of self. You may recognize at least one of them: repression. This defense tactic is used to banish from conscious memory something too painful to remember. We hide uncomfortable and hurtful feelings from awareness; they still exist…but we can’t ‘see’ them. Think of it as clothes and belongings (memories, experiences) accumulated over years of life in a large suitcase. At the bottom of the suitcase lies old memories and experiences. If you keep accumulating stuff and pile them up in that suitcase, what lies at the top will begin hiding what is underneath. If you don’t shake the suitcase (i.e., discuss and address difficult memories) they can be forgotten. It is this motivation to bar from conscious awareness that is the defense mechanism.

Sigmund Freud may have had some outlandish ideas about sexuality but his genius was his ability to notice defense mechanisms. He identified many, including repression, which he considered most fundamental. There is also regression (going back to an infantile or younger stage in life to feel safer) and projection (blaming others for our own faults). With regards to Mr. Trump, there is one defense mechanism that fits him like a glove: reaction formation. His comments, behaviors and reactions are remarkably consistent with folks who use this strategy to defend themselves from uncomfortable feelings. So what is reaction formation and what is The Donald trying to defend himself from?? Read on.

Reaction Formation

Reaction formation is a fascinating strategy because it flies in the face of logic. It is the expression of feelings towards an event, a situation or something about ourselves that is the opposite of what we truly feel. It is the person who condemns the drama on a reality TV shows when they secretly revel in it, it is the person who thinks drug addicts should face the harshest punishment when they are addicted themselves, it is the person vehemently defending heterosexual values because they are afraid of their own homosexuality (think Chris Cooper playing Colonel Frank Fitts in American Beauty and the many priests who used religion as a cover for sexually abusing children). While it is hard to know for certain if one is defending a position sincerely or because of anxiety from expressing the opposite view, there is one characteristic of reaction formation that often gives it away: the excessive need to prove one’s point and the inflexibility of the position. In Mr. Trump’s case, any attack on him results in an immediate reaction from his part to remind everyone how great he is. He is quick to deny his failures, never admits wrongdoings and attacks anyone who criticizes his business record and his….hands. Yes his hands. And if someone says he has small hands (as presidential candidate Marco Rubio commented and insinuating he has a small ‘something else’) then you are attacking his physical greatness or prowess. Now think about it: what political candidate, what person who runs for the highest office in the US feels the need to justify the size of his hands at the very beginning of a political debate? Donald Trump. What person needs to exhibit his steaks, water, magazines and discuss how great they all are at a press conference following a primary win? Donald Trump. What man denies having been bankrupt four times and say ‘he just used what the law allowed him to do?” Donald Trump. His painstaking and excessive need to justify he is an amazing man leads us to wonder: does he really think he is, or is he hiding deep insecurities about his competence?

To answer this question, we get to the most interesting part of Trump’s personality. It is one thing to explain why you think you are ‘the greatest’ and it is another to lie to prove it. Faking reality, unconsciously or otherwise, is the glue of a defense mechanism. Lying is a powerful method to deny personal feelings of weakness, fraudulence or incompetence. In two separate public appearances (once following a primary victory and another at a recent debate) Trump lied.

  • Lie # 1: He displayed steaks he claimed were his – as you would display a product for an infomercial – to prove his business was thriving. In reality, the steaks he displayed were not his (they belonged to another meat company – Bush Brothers) as Trump Steaks are no longer produced. And when reporters tried to verify the packaging brand Trump’s team quickly put them away.
  • Lie # 2: He states never having heard anyone say anything negative about the size of his hands. Quoting him: “I never heard this one before…everyone says ‘Donald, you have beautiful hands’.” In reality, Donald’s hands have been ridiculed before. In fact, they have been ridiculed for decades. Here is the story behind lie # 2 and how his attempts to prove he has ‘beautiful hands’ lies at the heart of Mr. Trump’s personality insecurities.

In 1988, a New York-based satirical magazine began publishing a series of articles to poke fun at Mr. Trump. The authors of the articles called him the ‘short-fingered vulgarian.’ Over the course of eight years they published a dozen articles on the short-fingered vulgarian. How do we know Trump knew of them? Over and over again, he sent them pictures of his hands as evidence they were not small. In other words, he was excessive and relentless in proving they were not short – behavior in line with reaction formation. What is remarkable is he has not stopped trying to prove his point, almost 30 years later. The founder of the Magazine Spy, Graydon Carter, is quoted from the website vox.com, commenting on how he continues, to this day, to receive correspondence from Trump: “There is always a photo of him – generally a tear sheet from a magazine. On all of them he has circled his hand in gold Sharpie in a valiant effort to highlight the length of his fingers.”

Power and Dominance

Nothing disturbs Mr. Trump more than someone questioning his power and dominance. This is because there is a deeply hidden part of Trump that doesn’t think he is great. And if we were to imagine, just for the sake of the argument, that he agrees to therapy and receives psychological treatment then we may be able to reach into to the bottom of that suitcase. And based on the arguments set forth in this article, I argue we will find a very insecure child hiding somewhere. It is that Trump you can feel sorry for. But that part is so hidden from his own and anyone’s awareness that it is almost impossible for anyone to see. And when his comments continue to be demeaning, have a disturbing flavor of cruelty, racism, and misogyny, it is no surprise that many despise the man. After all, that is the part he has chosen to expose to the world and himself.

 

MORE ON DONALD TRUMP

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Understanding Donald Trump’s Narcissism

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About the author

Dr. Bilal Ghandour

Dr. Bilal Ghandour

Bilal Ghandour is a multi-lingual psychologist, a professor of psychology a competitive golfer, and a radio broadcaster. He loves to write on any topic remotely relevant to psychology and reads weird books such as why some cultures can’t change their pooping habits and why zombies are very common in Haiti. He hates Wednesdays, Brussel sprouts, and the phrase ‘it is what it is.’

33 Comments

  • This is the best analysis I have seen yet that describes Trump’s behavior and personality. As a psychotherapist, I concur with your assessment of Trump. If the general public were more educated about mental health issues, they might recognize that Trump is not mentally well or fit to be President. As it stands, he is losing miserably and his narcissism is becoming his achilles heel.

  • Clinton would defeat Trump among women by a margin similar to … actually, there’s no good comparison, since no candidate has won a presidential election by more than 26 percentage points since the popular vote became a widespread means of voting in 1824

    • A factual and detailed explanation of mental disorders that obviously fit Donald Trump like a glove to even the casual observer, and the only retort that can be given by a supporter is “horse shit”. That pretty much sums up the mentality of his support.

      Trump gives these people license to let their baser instincts run wild. Don’t like women, immigrants, minorities, muslims, gays, or some other group that irrationally threatens you? Just say whatever hateful thing you’ve been bottling up for years because it’s gotta be ok, right? If the President of the United States can say it, it’s got to be allowed for you to.

      This is called regression folks, and we might not be able to put the evil genie back in it’s bottle. A truly sad time for this country and the world in general right now.

      • I agree wholeheartedly. Too many things are amiss with that ‘man’ …

        He so craves attention from his mommy and daddy that he just never grew up into a fully actualized decent human being.

        He’s now got at least 2 countries under his belt that purchased his brand.

        The US Government is paying him to be president and he’s spending more time and energy on his own businesses.

        Why is the US Government footing the bills for his sons to travel to foreign countries to see the Trump Brand?

  • Rigged election coup de grace..He knew he had that covered..so his early argument of such could not be argued..Crazy dude. DJ Trump

  • Very well conceived! The charismatic quality of this personality and who it attracts and how it gains power, is what is most disconcerting. Witness the horrific figures who have come into power and the damage done….. We have a lot of work to do….. following quote from “THE ART OF WAR”, ancient Chinese text.

    “So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be put at risk even in a hundred battles.
    If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
    If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.”

  • This is a very concise and well written article. I agree with all its content. It never ceases to surprise me the little knowledge the public have about mental illness in this country. Regarding Trump, I believe that he may also have a diagnosis on Axis I. But, it is harder to say anything for sure without more information at this moment.

    • Thank you very much Elisa! I agree there may also be Axis I stuff but I am not confident enough to suggest that with the information I have about him. As psychologists who write articles about popular individuals with mental health struggles, we are often accused of being armchair psychologists or diagnose without enough information. This is not really true because, in private practice, many diagnose individuals after just a 50 minute meeting (some psychiatrists will diagnose someone after 20 minutes). And with the wealth of information we have about Trump’s personality we have a lot to work with. I believe that in the years and decades to come he will be in all psychology textbooks as a classic case of narcissism.

  • Ok, I was thinking he might be somewhat Paranoid Schizophrenic. So what are the best ways to deal with him or anyone like this.

  • I was leaning towards Paranoid Schizophrenia till this well constructed article. So now, how does one deal with these sorts of individuals.

  • This explains so much! Thank you for putting this all into perspective, and yes, I have moved beyond my hatred for him. Now, I have nothing but pity for him.

  • This article confirms that an extremely psychologically flawed person has been elected US President. It is a pitiful, but true, and quite apparent fact. Many pray that he will be impeached and removed from office. If that should occur, his replacement would be even more frightening. As with Cheney, Pence is knowledgeable, but also cunning, calculating and very patient.

    Meanwhile, Trump’s “handlers” are keeping him stroked with flattery and stoked with “alternate facts” to infuriate him into spontaneous rants that totally gratify his followers. If Pence should replace Trump, he would likely dispose of the entire crude RJT crew and replace it with an even more nefarious faction. Living in Indiana, I have seen Pence in action – quiet, unctuous, and deliberate.

    I know that I must stop feeling so helpless against the evil insanity of the current government. I haven’t yet determined how to proceed with that goal in mind, but I will not just shrug my shoulders and sigh: “Oh well, there’s always next time.” We all must pay close attention to the machinations currently under way. It’s not the time to pull up the covers and wait for spring.

  • Great reading. Excellent disgonis. Pathological lier should have been mentioned. He is slowly cooking his own goose. ….that impeachment can’t happen soon enough…

  • Great assessment of this man with a very damaged personality. One can only imagine how much anger would spew forth if he ever laid on a couch with a shrink for a psychoanalysis. I bet you would find that one or both of his parents was abusive, which has caused him to repress his past and reinvent himself as an indestructible and invincible. We are witnessing deep seated pathology here.

  • Bilal – wonderful and compassionate assessment. Unfortunately, many Americans that follow Trump also believe that analysis is voodoo-nonsense. Sad, yet true.

    I would suspect that Trump would respond to your article by stating you are a terrible golfer and have really low ratings for your radio broadcast show. Another sad, yet probably true thing.

    I am happy to see many psychologists and psychiatrists coming out to explain NPD, not simply from the staring in adoration at your reflection in the water, but the deeper, more troubling elements of the disorder and how it can negatively effect some many. No one with NPD should be a ruler of any country – period.

    Best to you!

  • Trump, in my opinion is cray cray! I love the phrase “it is what it is” because my life seems to be just that… with that being said, in my next life I am not coming back. Just saying..

  • I think this is way too complicated. Trump exhibits to a T all the characteristics of one addicted to cocaine or another stimulant. We see it all the time in the field.

  • LOL The President is a classic ESTP as written thoughtfully in this recap http://www.personalitypathways.com/article/trump-mbti-type.html

    He has a track record of success mixed in with just enough personal and business failure that shows he’s a fighter with an inner logical decisionmaking prowess to make up for some over the top “highenergy” outbursts. He’ll have the ability to be a truly great President, with the risk he will create too much conflict by being too honest and trying to do too much.

    The matchbook emotional outbursts in here are much more laughable and crazy than anything we’ve seen out of our President. Grow up and stop making fools out of yourselves. Once you calm down maybe you can learn something.

    • MAGA – you still thinking he’d be “a truly great president?” hahahhahahahahhaa!! The only thing any of us could learn fro Donald Trump is the fine art of pathological lying.

  • Nothing, absolutely nothing about lower case trump is of value as a successful human being. Nothing.

    Sad that he was allowed to run and then was elected – shows how our education system has failed so many citizens of this country.

    Even more disturbing is that now he shows himself even more to be a very sick man and he is still not questioned, stopped, or impeached.

  • In addition to the narcistic traits which are discussed here, I also want to draw attention to Mr Trump’s tendency to repeat or echo himself. This condition in extreme form is called palilalia. For example: America is great, great, just really great. Palialia can be neurologically harmless but also occurs in conditions involving damage of part of the brain.

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