Donald J. Trump is obviously living with some significant psychological disabilities. It’s too easy to criticize people with disabilities, as he as sadly demonstrated to us. He’s appears to be incapable of empathy or moral leadership. It’s our job to add those ingredients to the mix in the conversations about him and his Presidency. If we follow his example and give him a taste of his own medicine, we are fighting fire with fire and taking the low road. That can only backfire on us and add fuel to his raging fire.
In this essay, I’ll show you how to empathize with one of his disabilities and provide some moral leadership in conversations where you can take the high road. I realize this may be a very big ask if he offends you, upsets you or infuriates you with his conduct and verbiage. I also realize this may be too much to ask if you share in his psychological condition or milder versions of it.
It appears to me that Donald J. Trump suffers from an anxiety disorder that uses “paranoid delusions” to cope with unwanted circumstances. He relies on these fantasies often. For him they are a solution to several hidden problems that are not going away in his psyche. For starters, here are a few examples of the paranoid delusions he has found comforting:
- Barrack Obama is not an American citizen
- Crowds in New Jersey cheered when the twin towers fell on 9/11
- Mexico will pay for the wall along the southern border
- The murder rate and unemployment rate are climbing
- Millions of undocumented immigrants gave Hillary the bigger popular vote illegally
- My electoral college victory was the largest since Ronald Reagan
- Photos were altered to make my inauguration crowds look smaller than they were
- George Soros paid all the marchers (in 670 US cities and 70 countries) the day after my inauguration
- There are many more terrorist incidents occurring than those covered by the press
- Paid protesters were disrupting all the Town Hall gatherings during the Congressional Recess
- Lots of bad people are crossing the borders every day that we don’t have a travel ban in place and a wall to stop them
- President Obama is a bad person who ordered a wiretap on the lines in Trump Tower just before my election victory
It may be hard to imagine how he could be comforted by telling himself these delusions. They are not comforting for most people in this country and around the world. However, some members of his base and the Alt Right movement share his anxiety disorder and take comfort in the reorientation these delusions provide. Earning others’ respect or building more trust are not on the menu. It does not matter to them if these claims have no basis in fact. Desperate times internally call for these desperate delusions.
We don’t need to know the exact nature of their internal events to empathize with their use of delusions. It’s enough to realize how paranoid delusions could make sense to some troubled states of mind. Here are four sudden changes in mental state that can take comfort in paranoid delusions.
- If the bottom suddenly dropped out of your self confidence, you might be feeling like an insignificant nobody. You would suddenly experience being very vulnerable to any remarks that exposed your inferiority and worthlessness. You could be feeling very fragile and extremely wary of getting shattered again. You might even start believing this setback keeps happening to you because you deserve it and you can never escape it even if you tried.
- If your mood was suddenly overwhelmed by an onrush of hatred, intolerance and disgust, you would be feeling out of control. You might be wondering what got into you and what brought that on. You would be finding that it was difficult or even impossible to get back to your previous mood. You might imagine that you had flipped your lid without a way to get a grip on emotions. You could easily be thinking the only way to get some relief would be an outburst, eruption or explosion of your inner turmoil
- If your outlook suddenly become apprehensive, you might become very suspicious, vigilant and even vindictive. You could not be sure about anything that was hidden, covered-up or said in secret. Trusted confidents might suddenly become suspected as saboteurs of your reputation and endeavors. Conspiracies against you would suddenly seem more likely. You could be feel glad you suddenly got spooked to snap you out of your over-confident outlook.
- If your memories suddenly dwelled on your troubled past, you might start replaying your past. What happened to you seems so easy to obsess upon and impossible to forget. You would be repeatedly scanning for clues you missed and comments you misinterpreted at the time. You could experience being possessed by your recollections and obsessed with them never happening to you again. You could be feeling like an idiot to have been suckered into that situation or feeling singled out to have gotten victimized that way.
Any of these changes in mental state produces excessive anxiety. The imagination scrambles to make sense of the staggering agitation. No rational explanations, reasoned arguments or practical advice puts the mind at ease. It takes something extreme to match the mood. Paranoid delusions work really well when the mind get this troubled.
Moral leadership for these people reduces their anxiety without colluding with their delusions. It helps them to know they are not alone while they are feeling singled out and persecuted. It helps to remind them of other situations where they have been undoubtably confident, resourceful and valuable to others. It helps them to notice the shift in their mood while you’re giving them a listen, a show of respect and a word of encouragement. This high road is easy to take once you have a more empathy for their mental states and a better read of their resulting situation.