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Narcissism: what Donald Trump can teach us

Updated on July 5, 2016

Dealing with narcissists isn’t always easy, but perhaps we can learn something through the phenomenon that is ‘Donald Trump’.

Psychological disorder?

It is quite striking to see how self-absorbed the late Republican presidential candidate really is; it was almost remarkable to see how quickly he was labeled a “narcissist” by not only the American people, but the European people as well before and during the US presidential elections. While Donald Trump has never been diagnosed with a disorder, a handful of psychologists seem to agree that his behavior aligns with certain traits of narcissism, more specifically that of the ‘mask model narcissism’.

As the name suggests, these narcissists use their behavior to disguise exactly the opposite, namely a deep sense of uncertainty and lack of confidence. In fact, it is the most painful form of narcissism. There is an extreme need for approval from other individuals in daily situations; for the person suffering from said psychological disorder, the amount of admirers will never be enough.

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Is narcissism genetic?

After all, narcissists are everywhere and interaction with one isn’t convenient or easy. Certain studies indicate that narcissism is approximately 64 to 77% hereditary, but there is also the necessity of the "right" environment for narccissism to manifest itself. However, this does not imply there is such a thing as a “narcissism gene”, a so-called locus of DNA transmitted from generation to generation. Frankly, narcissism is but a small flame fueled by experiences, burning in each and one of us.

On the other hand, more recent studies indicate that narcissistic personality disorders stems from a combination of factors, such as social interactions with caregivers (from birth), biological vulnerability and psychological factors that involve temperament.

Youth without empathy

However, the ‘mask model narcissism’ is a completely different matter. This particular disorder was described in the early 30s by Austrian psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut, who attributes the aforementioned form of narcissism to a neglected childhood, in which parents show little empathy towards their children. “This individual will constantly seek confirmation of an idealized image of itself”, says Kohut.

In a 2008 study in the journal Social and Personality Psychology Compass, lead by psychologist Jennifer Bosson from the University of South Florida, the ‘power’ aspect as well as the ‘painful’ aspect of the mask model. “The mask provides an answer t the question why narcissists behave the way they behave”, says Bosson. “Narcissists glorify themselves, manipulate and minimize, because deep down, they have an aversion to himself.”

As with addiction, psychologists oftentimes cooperate with the patient’s family as opposed to solely the patient. Both addicts as narcissists generally don’t recognize their individual problems; if they do, however, it could dramatically improve their lives.

Give compliments

In the majority of cases, partners, colleagues and family of the individual suffering from mask model narcissism must find a way to deal with the condition. The first step is empathy: one should understand that the person who seems to feel better than anyone else at first sight, actually feels inferior.

Secondly, try to praise whenever possible, but also openly criticize when appropriate. This responds to the needs of the narcissist. Balancing both facets of this 'treatment' will simultaneously urge the narcissist to display more reasonable behavior.

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