Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the White House

Full disclosure: I am not a psychiatrist.

But it doesn’t take a board certified psychiatrist to see ominous parallels between the behavior of the recently elected president of the United States and a mental illness known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

The Mayo Clinic describes NPD in the following way:

Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) which is a sort of “Bible” of psychiatric illness published by the American Psychiatric Association, lists several of the following criteria for NPD:

Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance

Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it

Exaggerating your achievements and talents

Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate

Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people

Requiring constant admiration

Having a sense of entitlement

Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations

Taking advantage of others to get what you want

Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others

Being envious of others and believing others envy you

Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner

Sound familiar?

Many Americans maintained that Trump would become “presidential” and change his tone once he assumed the responsibilities of the job; once he was sworn in. But that moment has come and gone. And we are left with a person who is all-consumed by the most significant issue facing the United States in decades: whether the crowd at his inauguration was larger than that of President Obama’s two inaugurations. (Requiring constant admiration, Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance, Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it, Exaggerating your achievements and talents). Anyone recall his taking issue with Marco Rubio’s taunt about his hand size?

This issue is so cardinal to Trump, that he attacked the press from CIA headquarters, and had his press secretary viciously and, with blatant lies, read a statement claiming that the press was lying on this matter. The same Trump, after incessantly attacking the CIA and US intelligence services for their analysis that Putin and the Russians interfered in the US elections, blamed the press the his “supposed” discord with the intelligence communities. Just a few days after comparing them to Nazi Germany. Why does he do this? Because this apparently undermines his sense of being admired for winning the election. There is no other reason for this behavior.

I could go on and on with countless examples. Unable to stomach criticism from anyone on any matter. Examples that fit every single one of the criteria listed above. And so blatant and clear, that it’s hard to imagine how those near him, those in the Republican party who willingly or unwillingly have come to support him, fail to see it.

Fail to see it? Of course they see it. Of course they know it. It is the elephant in the room. And while I hope that as a country we get through the next 4 years unscathed, if things devolve into chaos and trauma for this country, in the words of Emile Zola: J’accuse.

About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
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