Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Is Donald Trump a Destructive Narcissist psychologically driven to destroy people, organizations and societies?

I list 35 traits in this article exhibited by destructive narcissistic political leaders that predispose them to do great harm.  Trump exhibits almost all of these traits.  The list is at the end of the article if you are familiar with narcissism, you can scrooll down to view them.  Otherwise, here is a little background.

 Narcissism has to do with the child’s development of a sense of self-esteem during the formative stages of life  when children seek a secure base from which they can explore the world.  According to the theory, our psychological defense to being small, helpless, and dependent during infancy and early childhood is to view ourselves as the center of the universe and to view our parents, especially our mothers, as obedient servants there to satisfy all our needs. 

 We look to our parents’ reactions, and especially our mother’s reactions, for testimony that we are admired, valued, worthy of love, and the special object we think we are.  In effect, our first mirror of ourselves is in our mother’s eyes.  The natural reaction of most parents is to engage in constructive mirroring by reacting to us in ways that are positive, empathic, and accepting.  Simultaneously, we do a little mirroring of our own.  Our parents look to our reaction to their mirroring as proof of their good parenting.  Such mirroring enables the child to develop a grandiose sense of self that is necessary for ambition and self-esteem and that is a normal narcissistic stage of life.  As time goes by, of course, most of us encounter the reality that we are not the center of the universe and that our fantasies of omnipotence and strength are just that--fantasies.  Likewise, our parents cease to view us as their mirror and confirmation of their self-value.

Narcissistic deprivation occurs when the mirroring we so desperately need early in life does not occur or is inadequate.  In such cases, the person is stuck at an infantile stage of development.  His sense of self is undeveloped.  He is, in effect, “mirror hungry” with an insatiable desire for admiration, for exhibiting himself to the world, and for securing power.  The natural outlet is to become a leader, particularly a charismatic leader who can bask in the devotion of his followers.  

That’s not always a bad thing.  Narcissists can become effective leaders.  John Kennedy, Franklin D, Roosevelt, and Lyndon B, Johnson have all been described as having a narcissistic hunger for public approval. 

On the positive side, narcissism is an asset that enables the “mirror hungry” person to rise in organizations, society, and politics.  It is not hard to see why such people are generally so successful.  After all, they:

  • Exhibit high levels of self-confidence that most people equate with competence.
  • Have an infectious enthusiasm.
  • Have an unrelenting drive for power.
  • Are good at office politics.
  • Are frequently charming.
  • Build large numbers of quick, albeit superficial relationships.
  • Are able to make quick decisions with seeming ease.
  • Have Machiavellian “street smarts” when it comes to getting their way. 
  • Are ready, willing, and able to make whatever personal sacrifices are necessary to gain prominence and position.
  • It is only to be expected that many narcissistic people, with their need for power, prestige, and glamour, eventually end up in leadership positions.  Their sense of drama, their ability to manipulate others, their knack for establishing quick, superficial relationships serve them well in organizational life.


Taken to a certain degree, these narcissistic traits can be valuable. Yet, as Manfred Kets de Vries, author of Leaders, Fools and Imposters, has said, “Narcissism is a strange thing, a double-edged sword.  Having either too much or too little of it can throw a person off balance.  The same traits that can serve the narcissistic leader well can also become destructive.

  • Self-confidence can become grandstanding.
  • The pursuit of power can become a race to be run and won at all costs.
  • Relationship building can become the exploitation of others.
  • The easy charm can become crass manipulation.”

See Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, Leaders, Fools, and Imposters: Essays on the Psychology of Leadership (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993), p. 33.

Destructive narcissists can do a lot of damage to people, organizations and societies.  

 In my book, Won’t Get Fooled Again, I list 35 traits that have been identified by various researchers that indicate a person is a destructive narcissist.  They are:


1.     Exaggerates his achievements and talents, is boastful and pretentious.

2.     Believes he is “special” and often misunderstood except by other people with special talents or high status.

3.     Devalues the contribution of others.

4.     Fantasizes about success, power, and her own brilliance; compares himself with famous and/or privileged people.

5.     Demands constant attention and adoration.

6.     Expects favorable treatment in any situation.

7.     Expects automatic compliance with his wishes.

8.     Speaks frequently of himself; constantly uses the word “I.”

9.     Takes advantage of others to achieve his ends.

10.  Is unwilling or unable to empathize with the feelings and needs of others.

11.  Is impatient with others who talk about their problems and needs rather than his.

12.  Is emotionally cold and lacks interest in other’s needs; is oblivious to how his behavior and remarks may inflict damage on others.

13.  Is often envious of others and/or believes others are envious of him.

14.  In public presents himself as patient, congenial, and confident.  In private is smug, arrogant, haughty, snobbish, disdainful, and patronizing to subordinates and servants.

15.  Exhibits highly exaggerated self-confidence can do no wrong.

16.  Has an unrelenting demand for perfection.

17.  Is emotionally volatile.

18.  Bullies and abuses those who work for him, intimidates others to get his way.  

19.  Exploits his power and position to achieve personal goals.

20.  Ignores or denies reality.

21.  Has difficulty adjusting to growing old or losing his former mental and physical superiority.

22.  Is obsessed with attaining power and influence.

23.  Is addicted to control.

24.  Distrusts others.

25.  Becomes paranoid when he senses danger or dissent.

26.  Has frequent mood swings that greatly impact the quality of his decisions.

27.  Takes too much or too little risk when making decisions.

28.  Attacks those who question or criticize his decisions.

29.  Prefers to surround himself with an unquestioning loyal and uncritical staff.

30.  Exploits others; forms relationships and romantic attachments only with those he feels will advance his goals and self-esteem.

31.  Has trouble working in a team.

32.  Refuses to share credit or take the blame.

33.  Is excessively confrontational when others deliberately or accidentally threaten his self-esteem.

34.  Overworks and underpraises staff.

35.  Has difficulty in retaining highly qualified staff.


Donald Trump exhibits just about ALL of these traits.  He is a destructive narcissist psychologically driven to do harm.  The longer he is in office, the more harm he will do.  


For more on narcissism and political leadership see: Joseph H. Boyett, Won’t Get Fooled Again: A Voter’s Guide to Seeing Through the Lies, Getting Past the Propaganda, and Choosing the Best Leaders, pp.41-42 ( AMACOM, 2008.) Available from AMAZON.

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