On May 14 my open forum “Grandiosity In Office” was published, the first half of which listed statements and actions illustrating that “one of the striking characteristics of President Trump is grandiosity.” Then I asked readers to compare these with the symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
On June 7, this paper published a response to my forum by George R. Gallagher. I have never before responded in writing to a response to one of my letters, but it did not impugn my integrity or motives in the way some others have. It is hard to defend integrity and motives without getting defensive. Gallagher’s letter opens up the chance for respectful dialogue, and to clarify some things about “personality disorders.”
Gallagher graciously called my writing “a very interesting treatise on Trump’s psychological makeup,” and listed the six facets of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which I had listed, concluding: “He has just described Hillary Clinton perfectly.” But, just saying that about Clinton without giving any evidence — like the long list I had given about Trump — sounds too much like the “so’s your old man” response of our childhood, or the frequent “what about Hillary?” responses by Trump supporters on cable news. Perhaps specific statements and actions of Clinton’s that fit that diagnosis could be shown.
Gallagher ends with a provocative thought: “Might we just say that perhaps running for president requires a narcissistic personality? Of the 14 presidents in my lifetime, at least one-third have more than likely met these criteria.”
This gives me a chance to clarify “personality disorders” and “Narcissism.” Running for president probably does require a strong ego, self-confidence and perhaps some narcissistic personality traits; which might be seen in most of the 14 presidents Gallagher referenced — with strong exceptions for Carter, G.H.W. Bush, and perhaps Truman and Ford.
But “personality disorders” are different from just having certain personality traits. They involve “an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture” (DSM-V). The last sentence in my May 14 writing suggested this: “Trump’s statements may just seem quaint or weird, but they may be far more rooted in his personality — and less under his control — than we realize.”
Someone with full personality disorder (whether paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal, antisocial, borderline, histrionic, narcissistic, avoidant, dependent or obsessive-compulsive) has responses which seem off kilter and unpredictable from a rational view. Their words and deeds often get them in trouble. They leave you wondering: “why in the world would he or she say or do that? How does that help the situation — or even help them?” Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton may have come close to such a diagnosis in the self-destructive things they did; but none of them bragged and claimed to be the greatest (“very very smart, stable genius”) in many things, exaggerated crowd sizes, asked Cabinet members to praise them, made everything about himself or called critics nasty names even during solemn occasions.
Bill Faw lives in Rockingham County.