Malignant Narcissism: Does the President Really Have It?

Recently, public figures have said President Trump was a “con man,” “had malignant narcissism” and George Conway tweeted the cover of the DSM-5 and told people to look at “narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder.”  

When Massachusetts governor, William Weld, was exploring running against the president as a Republican, in part because of Trump’s “malignant narcissism”1  I wanted to educate the public on what EXACTLY that means.  And really look at how one can determine whether President Trump suffers from this disorder.

This brought about the idea for my article posted on Psychology Today:

Malignant Narcissism: Does the President Really Have It?*



Walls, Wars and Parades: Understanding Narcissistic Leaders

walls with grafitti

©2019 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.   WALLS:  Dividing people into winners and losers.WARS:  Highly defensive, the slightest criticism may send them into battle.PARADES:  Demands excessive doses of admiration and takes credit for what others have done.   A bio/psycho/social theory of why their patterns of behavior are predictable. It may be a narcissistic supervisor, business owner or political leader, but the basic patterns of their behavior can actually be quite predictable. Of course, these personality types exist on a continuum from narcissistic traits (which may be mildly annoying to those around them) to narcissistic personality disorder (social impairment without self-reflection or behavior change) to malignant narcissism (a cruel and sadistic combination with antisocial personality disorder). I have observed all of these personalities in dysfunctional families, legal cases, workplace conflicts and business disputes. The Basic Pattern Not all narcissists desire to be leaders. Many are simply self-absorbed, brag a lot and may primarily sabotage themselves without self-awareness. But when narcissists desire to be leaders, it is often to fulfill personality-based goals which may have little to do with their job descriptions. Instead of focusing on leading a successful enterprise and motivating others, they are preoccupied with three basic drives: 1) being seen as very superior, 2) expanding their own power and 3) being admired by all. Walls: For this reason, much of their efforts go into dividing people into winners and losers, with those below them being berated as losers and those above them being charmed as winners. (Think of this as “kicking down” and “kissing up.”) Of course, as time goes by, they attempt to scramble higher and higher by walking on the winners who helped them up and who they now view as losers. In a sense, they arrogantly erect walls (mostly verbal, but sometimes physical) between themselves and those who are “beneath” them. To convince themselves of their own greatness, they have to constantly insult others (their Targets of Blame). Wars: They are also highly defensive, so that the slightest criticism may send them into battle as they try to prove that they are really superior and that their critics are really inferior. They see all relationships as inherently adversarial and therefore are ready to go to war (verbally or otherwise) at the drop of a hat. This can totally distract them from the work at hand, but they can’t help themselves. They are constantly rebounding from one “crisis” to the next, even though these are mostly self-inflicted. Yet they pride themselves on how powerful and superior they are, so that they are almost eager to pick a fight just to prove how great they are or to move up the organizational ladder. Parades: Lastly, this basic leadership pattern includes demands for excessive doses of admiration. They are driven to get compliments for themselves, if possible by impressing other high-status people, but often by demanding deep respect from the same people they have been insulting. They take credit for what others have done and deny responsibility for their own mistakes. They are constantly fighting to overcome their own “narcissistic injuries” (when their imperfections are exposed) by attacking those who don’t admire them enough.  They are constantly seeking trophies that they can show off to others and pushing for public displays of affection for themselves, such as parties (or parades). Child Abuse Theory Why would someone behave like this, often to their own detriment? The leading theory is that they were abused as a child, or had an insecure attachment in early childhood. Growing up, the person tries to overcompensate for being belittled and powerless by creating a superior “false self” that he or she presents to the public as particularly talented and special. Of course, this false self keeps having narcissistic injuries, so the person tries harder and harder to prove how superior he or she is. But it’s a vicious cycle because it can’t get resolved by proving superiority. It gets resolved, if at all, by healing the abusive past, learning to accept one’s ordinary place in real life, realizing that setbacks are normal, and experiencing empathy for simply being a person. These learnings can happen in therapy, but few narcissists are willing to go. Entitlement Theory Another theory is that the child grew up in an indulgent family environment, which taught superiority on a daily basis. Rather than being abused, the person had no limits and their needs and wants were eagerly met. They expect to be indulged as an adult, by their partner, their boss and their community. Wannabe King Theory My theory is that many leaders with narcissistic personality disorder are that way because of heredity. I have worked with many families with several children who are quite different, even though they were raised in the same household in the same basic way. Yet, one of them has this personality disorder and the others don’t. Often there’s no abuse history or a minor abuse history. Yet the person grows up with the same full-blown Walls-Wars-and-Parades mentality. I believe that this personality “disorder” may be in the human gene pool because it was once very functional. These patterns of behavior could be holdovers from ancient times in a very specific way. They are what I call Wannabe Kings. In ancient times, narcissistic leaders often arose because they were very adversarial and took power and held onto it. At first, village chieftains were at the top of the village social hierarchy. They organized the village to feed itself, get along and also to protect itself from outsiders. Narcissists are good at getting people together and sweeping them up in their grandiose schemes. Over time, as humans grew in numbers, village chieftains were replaced by more powerful leaders, eventually kings and occasionally queens. For protection, ancient kingdoms had to have walls. They kept out the dangerous enemies who would try to attack them and take over the kingdom. These leaders were also constantly at war, both to protect themselves and to expand their kingdoms. Lastly, in order to show the king’s power and the people’s love, they would have parades. This constant pattern of kingly behavior seems very

Healing America: What Can Be Done?

© 2012 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. and Don Saposnek, PhD Now that the election is over, many people are asking for our opinion of what should be done to avoid future “high-conflict” elections, since we wrote about this problem in our book, Splitting America. Now is the time to prevent such hostility from occurring in the future, and to avoid the billions of dollars in cost for mostly negative advertising and the unnecessary great division of our country. Here are a few thoughts, which we explain in greater detail in the last chapter of our book. 1.  For politicians: They need to learn how to discuss issues and respond to personal attacks without firing personal attacks back. It can be done. We have seen it work in high conflict family court cases and in workplace and business disputes. You can be assertive about your ideas and about the problems in the proposals of others, without having to make it personal. Politicians repeatedly believe they have only two choices: be passive, or be nasty. However, a third choice gets lots of respect: being assertive about your proposal and explanation of what works and what doesn’t – without being personal. A good example would be Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic Convention; he personally attacked no one but, instead, explained the issues more clearly than any other politician this year – and he received the most respect for doing so. 2. For us as individuals: We need to practice Empathy, Attention and Respect (E.A.R.) with those who disagree with us. We need to practice writing emails, Facebook postings and letters that are Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm (BIFF). In other words, we need to practice more self-restraint than blaming comments. We need to take responsibility for problem-solving and recognize the benefits of multiple points of view and multiple proposals for solving problems. As we explain in our book, we don’t need polarization, we need “polarity management,” which is a process of balancing and integrating opposing points of view, rather than trying to eliminate the “other.”  We need to focus on building long-term relationships, rather than just strive for short-term problem solving. 3. For society: We need to: 1) reinstate reasonable restraints on election behavior – including reversing the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision, limiting contributions to negative ads, and disclosing who is funding them; and 2) elect people who can collaborate and mediate to solve problems. Maybe it’s time for more collaborative professionals and mediators to run for office.  Any volunteers out there? For the next blog, it is time to move on to other conflict resolution topics! Best wishes, Bill and Don Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people. About Don Saposnek Donald T. Saposnek, Ph.D. is a clinical-child psychologist, child custody mediator and family therapist in private practice for over 40 years, and is a national and international trainer of mediation and child development.  For the past 35 years, he has been teaching on the psychology faculty at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and is Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University School of Law’s Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution.  He is the author of the classic book, Mediating Child Custody Disputes and has published extensively in the professional literature on child custody and child psychology.  He serves on the editorial boards of the Family Court Review and Conflict Resolution Quarterly journals and is the editor of the international Academy of Professional Family Mediators’ The Professional Family Mediator.  As director of Family Mediation Service of Santa Cruz, he managed the family court services for 17 years and has mediated nearly 5,000 child custody disputes in both the public and private sectors since 1977.  For more information about Don Saposnek, please visit: