America the abused

  • President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable on school choice in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Monday, Dec. 9. AP PHOTO/Evan Vucci

Published: 12/16/2020 4:33:28 PM

Right after the election of 2016, worried clients told me they were feeling acute anxiety from results that thwarted their expectations. This would pass, I reassured them.

Four years later I see the situation differently.

It’s hard to imagine a president more mean-spirited and vindictive, grandiose yet paranoid, infantile, and utterly incompetent. Yet somehow it feels very familiar. Sadly, to anyone who’s been in a relationship with a narcissist, it is. Even if the narcissist sitting at the breakfast table is only a pale shadow of Donald Trump, lacking his power and money as well as the depth of his pathology, the outlines are the same: the intense neediness, with ready anger when perceived needs are not met; the scapegoating of others and evasion of responsibility; the demands for unconditional love or loyalty, off which the neediness feeds. As Mary Trump put it when she wrote her psychological exegesis of Uncle Donald, there’s too much and never enough at the same time.

A narcissist is an emotional black hole, sucking energy from those around. Trump’s force field seems to have been too great not only for his staff, who pretty up polling data and Covid deaths so as not to incur his wrath, but also for most of the Republican Party.

Another psychologist, Elizabeth Mika, clearly foresaw what Trump’s presidency would be like, that he wouldn’t grow into the job and become someone worthy of respect and admiration but rather would continue on an ever more destructive trajectory. That’s understandable given that narcissists have the emotional age of a toddler in the Terrible Twos, according to the writer Sam Vaknin, who’s studied the subject closely. There’s no capability for maturation or self-reflection: what the narcissist learns from experience is only to demand more.

Narcissism — and particularly malignant narcissism as manifested in Trump — is a personality disorder, a defect in development that cannot be cured by talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or any pharmaceutical known to man. It’s baked in. Those unfortunate enough to fall within the gravitational sphere of a malignant narcissist will no doubt need therapy themselves, but they cannot change the narcissist.

The problem is that virtually the entire nation has been pulled into Trump’s gravity field these past four years. We endured his delusions, his tantrums, his constant conspiracy theories, his gaslighting, his savage attacks on those who disagree with him, his undercutting of norms and institutions dear to us, his negligence when it came to protecting us from enemies abroad or a deadly virus at home.

Our situation is not unlike that of someone married to a narcissist. In short, we’ve been abused for the past four years. It may take awhile for some to realize that their sensations of anger, frustration, and helplessness are akin to those of an emotionally battered spouse. They are.

Narcissism induces a toxic co-dependency: the abuser’s needs are always front and center, while the abusee, seduced at first by neediness disguised as love, then overwhelmed by it, is forever striving to meet those needs. Seen through this prism, it makes horrifying sense that Trump’s supporters would vote (and behave) against their own interests. They draw their significance from his need for adulation; they bask in the glory of his grandiose delusions; their self-important is tethered to his.

Many years ago, when it finally penetrated the fog of my own self-deception that my then-husband was a narcissist, I divorced him and moved well away. As anyone who’s been through a divorce can tell you, once the elation of decoupling is past, there’s likely to be depression as you try to fathom what happened and how you were conned.

I keep that experience in mind as I wait to see what our national awakening will look like.

Dale C. Moss is a historian, homeopath, and organic farmer who lives in Buckland.

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