The occasional Trumpology series of columns are informed by my 40 years of experience as a clinical social worker and psychotherapist and my understanding of psychiatric diagnosis, psychology, and psychopathology as applied to Donald Trump who I consider to be a sadistic impulsive malignant narcissist.
If you Google Trump and pathological liar you will find numerous articles explaining the evidence to support the claim that he is a pathological liar. The Washington Post undertook the tedious but useful task of determining the veracity of his words and the count is now over 4,000 lies. They recently introduced a new category, the Bottomless Pinocchio.
The original Pinocchio is more like Trump than the sympathetic Disney version:
“Pinocchio’s bad behavior, rather than being charming or endearing, is meant to serve as a warning. Collodi originally intended the story, which was first published in 1881, to be a tragedy. It concluded with the puppet’s execution. Pinocchio’s enemies, the Fox and the Cat, bind his arms, pass a noose around his throat, and hang him from the branch of an oak tree.” (Wikipedia)
Clinically, Trump’s persistent lying does not make him a pathological liar. It makes him a persistent liar, but pathological lying has a different meaning.
Trump, in the medical and psychiatric sense, does suffer from a mixture of symptoms when, taken together, add up to psychopathology as described in the “bible” of the mental health profession, the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic nd Statistical Manual (current edition DSM-5). Anyone can look up narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder and go over the indications to make these diagnoses and apply them to Trump. The diagnosis that fits him to a “t” isn’t in the DSM-5 but many clinicians, myself included, think it applies to Trump. This is malignant narcissism.
Pathological lying which is also called pseudologia fantastica and mythomania is, (as per Wikipedia) “a behavior of habitual or compulsive lying. It was first described in the medical literature in 1891 by Anton Delbrueck. Although it is a controversial topic, pathological lying has been defined as ‘falsification entirely disproportionate to any discernible end in view, may be extensive and very complicated, and may manifest over a period of years or even a lifetime’ ” (my emphasis added)
The reason Trump does not meet the criteria to be diagnosed as suffering from this disorder is emphasized in bold above. It is that most of his lies always serve a purpose. They range from self-aggrandizement (the size of his inauguration audience for example) to political (starting his run for president with two whoppers, the birther lie and the lie that rapists and criminals were flooding across our southern border) to the current flurry of lies which are attempts to save himself from impeachment or indictment, falsely accusing special counsel Mueller of having conflicts of interest and the staff led by the longtime Republican of being “angry Democrats” for example.
If Trump ever believes his lies this is symptomatic of a delusional disorder. That would mean that at least at times he is psychotic, indeed a troubling thought.
However it is more likely that his lies fit into the behavior repertoire of someone who is an anti-social personality, or to use the older and more common term, a sociopath.
Consider that lying is an aspect of anti-social personality:
- a. Manipulativeness: Frequent use of subterfuge to influence or control others; use of seduction, charm, glibness, or ingratiation to achieve one’s ends.
- b. Deceitfulness: Dishonesty and fraudulence; misrepresentation of self; embellishment or fabrication when relating events.
…and that lack of guilt is another characteristic of the disorder:
- c. Callousness: Lack of concern for feelings or problems of others; lack of guilt or remorse about the negative or harmful effects of one’s actions on others; aggression; sadism as well as anger being a response to minor slights:
- d. Hostility: Persistent or frequent angry feelings; anger or irritability in response to minor slights and insults; mean, nasty, or vengeful behavior.
- There are many kinds of criminals. Think of a few television villains (I contend Tony Soprano doesn’t fit, for example) and see how many meet the DSM-5 criteria for anti-social personality. You will find that some do and some don’t.
- Then consider Donald Trump.
You be the judge.
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