Elizabeth Mika is one of the 27 mental health professionals who contributed to the bestselling book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. She is a psychologist who writes about narcissism, psychopathy and authoritarianism (specifically Donald Trump’s authoritarianism) on her Medium blog. I follow her on Twitter (she’s under @yourauntemma if you want to follow her too) because I never want to miss one of her articles. The other day, she tweeted this in reference to the many pleas to “remember the Holocaust”:
Unless we teach about the conscience-impairing character defects, like psychopathy & narcissism, shared by genocidal leaders & their followers, these calls for remembrance will remain hollow.
She’s absolutely right. Even though the Cluster B personality disorders, specifically those in the Dark Triad — Narcissistic Personality Disorder, psychopathy (Antisocial Personality Disorder), and malignant narcissism (a combination of both disorders with paranoid traits) — are getting a lot more attention than they used to, they still don’t get nearly enough. There are a few terms formerly confined to the narcissistic abuse community such as “gaslighting” and “blame shifting” that have recently become household words since Trump took office, but if you try to talk about narcissistic or antisocial personality disorder or malignant narcissism with most people you will still usually get a blank stare, especially if you try to talk about it in regard to the dangers these disorders pose to us all when a world leader is most likely afflicted with one or more of them.
Until — and if — the general public receives education in how these personality disorders work and how to recognize them, people will still fall prey to the phony charm and false promises of a narcissist in their personal lives, staying with friends and family members who are psychologically destroying them. But even worse than that, people will still believe the lies and promises of con-men like Donald Trump or Adolf Hitler. They will keep trying to find the goodness that must exist under all the flash and bluster, even though in all likelihood, there is nothing hiding under the mask but a black void of hate and fear.
Hitler rose to power because he promised to “make Germany great again.” He promised jobs, a thriving economy, and a better life for all Germans, and people believed him, at least at first. Later, when the deportations and roundups began, and militarized police began knocking on doors late at night, people may have begun to suspect Hitler was dangerous, but they still wanted to believe he was what Germany needed, so they told themselves what he was doing wasn’t really that bad or even was necessary (but well-meaning). This is called “normalization” and it happens both in countries and in families headed by a malignant narcissist. When there are too many outrages, people can’t process them normally, and things that were once seen as outrageous or shocking begin to seem normal. As the dividing line between what is “normal” and what is “not normal” continues to shift, more and more “not normal” behavior is tolerated. This is how a psychopathic or narcissistic leader conditions average, non-sociopathic people to accept the unthinkable. It takes time, but eventually even genocide begins to be seen as acceptable or at least doesn’t raise any eyebrows.
Leaders with malignant narcissism and/or psychopathy tend to be very charismatic and forceful. They seem extremely confident and this makes people trust them. They say things like, “I alone can fix it” (this is always a red flag) or “I am all you need.” They make lofty and unrealistic promises. They brag about past accomplishments and exaggerate what they have accomplished (which often wasn’t much). They take credit for things others have done. Whenever they are found to be lacking, or when they are called out for their lies and hypocrisy, they will never accept that blame and will either deny their wrongdoing, or blame it on someone else. They never apologize.
They may seem to care about you, but they don’t, for they have no empathy. They see everything in black and white. They are blind to nuance in others. You are not a person to a narcissistic or psychopathic leader: if you are not useful to them in some way (if you are useful they will shower you with praise — in relationships this is called “love-bombing”), then you are the enemy. And when you become an enemy, you are fair game for vengeance. These people believe in revenge and “getting back at” their perceived enemies.
They speak in superlatives. What they have done is always the best, the biggest, the most, the greatest. They had the biggest crowd at their inauguration, they have created the most jobs, and they are the most beloved or respected leader in the entire world or even in all of history. If their lies or misdeeds are pointed out to them, they become enraged. Sometimes this rage manifests as self pity, and their self pity is as grandiose as their self-aggrandizement. When they think they’ve been wronged, no one else has ever been so wronged or so mistreated as they have been! They turn self pity into another contest of superlatives: Trump whining to a group of Boy Scouts about how he was the most misunderstood and poorly treated politician in American history!
If they have deemed you an enemy (which doesn’t take a lot — you need only disagree with them to be devalued), you are the worst person on the face of the planet and have no redeeming qualities. You will be devalued and called hurtful names, and that’s just for starters. Leaders with malignant narcissism are very paranoid and always suspect others — often their political rivals or people who merely disagree with them, but have no ill intentions — of plotting against them, talking badly about them, or trying to destroy them or take away their power. They pre-emptively fight back by attempting to discredit, dehumanize, or destroy their rivals or perceived enemies.
These kinds of leaders (who are almost always male) are fixated on toxic masculinity. They admire and emulate those who they see as “strong.” Thus, they glorify war, forceful oppression, abuse of power, police brutality, and total control. They value authoritarianism much more highly than democracy, which requires cooperation and some semblance of empathy. They look down on higher values like compassion, humility, forgiveness, or love as “weak” or “feminine.” They also like to “punch down” — which means enacting draconian policies or shifting blame onto the most vulnerable or the weakest. It’s schoolyard bully behavior writ large. They hate anything they see as soft or vulnerable or “weak” because they are so afraid of their own vulnerabilities. Deep inside, they have little to no self esteem and hate themselves, though they will not ever admit it and may not even be aware of it. They puff themselves up to mask their own feelings of worthlessness.
Because these kinds of leaders can initially convince people they are strong and powerful and can fix every problem themselves, and because they seem so confident in their ability to do so, people continue to be duped by them and believe the lies they tell. They ignore the red flags (which includes making lofty promises and saying “they alone” can fix things), because they have not been educated in what to look for.
If awareness and education about NPD, malignant narcissism, and psychopathy were more widespread (perhaps it should even be a required part of school curriculums), people would learn how to recognize the red flags and avoid such people in their personal lives — and avoid voting for leaders who have these traits. As long as people remain ignorant about the red flags of these personality disorders, we will still be vulnerable to electing sociopathic, dangerous leaders and being taken in by dangerous people in our personal lives. We will still find ourselves under the thrall of people and leaders who see us as nothing but marks.
All that being said, there has been more awareness about this problem since at least the 1990s. I wrote about the history of narcissism/narcissistic abuse awareness over the decades in this two part post — please give it a read!
So things are better than they’ve ever been, but we still have a long way to go. If there was enough awareness, we would not be in danger of repeating what happened during the Holocaust.