From a pragmatic standpoint an ‘amount’ of narcissism is necessary for being successful as it is for living. What is imperative to understand, is that our now president appears to have a definable mental illness that appears to manifest as a narcissistic personality disorder with sociopathy.
This primitive form of narcissism is by definition an intractable and realistically untreatable mental illness that even under the most ideal of clinical circumstances is only manageable at best. In Mr. Trump’s case it is manifest in apparently shady business dealings and in politically oppressive ways. However, the etiology is not business per se or political by nature but rather psychological. What we see manifest in individuals who are primitively bound within this commingled pathological structure takes on the following dynamics:
Sociopathic narcissism is not a diagnosis that is mysterious or one that looks like magical realism. Rather, like most clinical processes it has a relatively well defined structure (within having almost a complete lack of intrapsychic structure) and is also relatively predictable, once the individual has revealed enough of how their sociopathic narcissistic dynamics manifest. First, as we have seen demonstrated repeatedly, and using Mr. Trump as an example, narcissists seek out others who will behave in an obsequious manner, not just while in their physical presence but also who will parrot their projections while out of their physical presence.
In clinical circles that possess a familiarity of sociopathic narcissistic personalities, there is a slang that refers to those who encircle a sociopathic narcissist, particularly one with power, as ‘pandering whores.’ The term is clearly derogatory, particularly for those who seek to achieve secondary gain from riding the coattails of a sociopathic narcissistic individual or those who also manifest the same psychological structure, but have not been able to, if you will, get the traction to achieve the ‘greatness’ or notoriety of the one that they cling too. In essence, they become ‘great’ only in the shadow of the one they bark for.
A primary source of anxiety that lives within the sociopathic narcissist is a terror of ruinous disillusionment which would ultimately terminate in a catastrophic exposure of what is in essence a fraudulent existence. As the risk of exposure intensifies, be it in a dyad or more macro group structures, their intrapsychic constellation becomes increasing more fragile and their manifest behaviour becomes more erratic.
It is here that we can now begin to explore how projective-identification is an integral aspect to the sociopathic narcissist. Projective-identification can be understood as the process of consciously or unconsciously interlacing affectively charged psychic residue (introjects of a malignant nature) and their accompanying behaviors with counter-resonating, introjectively identified psychic material that already exists within a host and is primed to be collectively echoed. In other words, projective-identification is the implanting of emotionally charged psychological residue into another introjectively fertile person or collective body, and importantly so, whose own counter-resonating introjective residue already exists within.
The sociopathic narcissist does not deliberately put themselves in front of those who will challenge them nor will they place themselves in social settings where they are going to be collectively challenged. Examine the confusion that reigned when Trump kept going back to what was referred to as ‘his base’ and relatively rarely ever going beyond that concentric circle of ‘support.’ He was going back as much to ‘re-inflate’ as he was to continue to propagate his ideology. On 17 February 2017 Trump held an ‘impromptu’ rally (even though he was well into his first month as president.) Again, the coverage took the position that he was again, “Going back to his base.” And again, this not only dilutes how one of Trump’s pathological ilk structurally operates, it also fails to understand the deeply inherent danger that is posed by what may best be understood as a communicable psychological virus.
Extrapolating the projective-identification of sociopathic narcissist to the sociopolitical understanding of Hegel’s Master-Slave Dialectic (Herrschaft und Knechtschaft), (which is more properly translated from German as Lordship and Bondage,) one can begin to decipher a more complex appraisal. In the devolution of the dialectic, the collective surrogates become mercenaries of a solicitous political ideologue(s) that ultimately involve what we may refer to as ‘switch-selling’. This is where their constellation of propositions are directed toward the disenfranchised, desperate or greedy and allege for example to ‘take back’ or ‘bring forth’ change (usually ill-defined and nonspecific, but always anger-laden) to a retrospective make-believe time or time set-forth in a foreordination of prophecies. Yet, neither can ever be reached, for the congregate or collective en masse can ultimately never be permitted to exist outside of the retrospective or foreordinated strife.
However, what does comes to fruition, often too late, is that the alleged deal which is a derivative of the postulates of the projective-identification that is put forth by the ideologues is substituted with the longitudinal delivery of an inferior set of substrates, with a denial of access to formerly promised projections.
A constellation of Ideologues are the ones who serve primarily as a masthead, accoutered with projective promises that “You too can be like me,” the Lord. And in their representation of the ones that they often times clandestinely serve as advocates for, the hawking of the verbal missives are characterized by purple prose – where the delivery becomes the message and the meaning is obscured by an excessive and often outlandish use of adjectives, adverbs and metaphors as well as untraceable declarations of theories based upon an ill-gotten distortion of facts.
Further, in addition to the purple prose, the oratory is bombastic and blistering, intended to shut down opposition and also to inflict damage. Eliciting not only a defensive posture but ultimately to induce impotence. This was characteristic of Fascist Germany. A careful reading of Mein Kampf reveals these strikingly similar dynamics as do the surviving speeches delivered by Adolph Hitler. ‘Eein volk, ein reich, ein führer,’ is not only applicable to Fascist Germany. Examine Trump’s emissary, Stephen Miller, stating that Trump’s “National security actions of the president will not be questioned.”
This structural dynamic becomes apparent when one observes any attempts at systematic annihilation of forward intellection with an expressed desire to stagnate the evolution of ideas and behaviour while willfully confounding the meaning of stagnation with liberation.
As is historically demonstrated time and again with any form of despotism, a critical aspect to incorporate into our understanding is the necessity of destroying the current and historical order as well as a concentrating of power over the public and domestic domain into the hands of a few, while creating and maintaining a trompe l’oeil that there is a wider distribution of power and voice, which factually does not exist. Not to be redundant, however, the destruction of not only free flowing and free form thought is essential to the despotic devolution, as is a comprehensive understanding of how projective-identification is inherent in this process.
If the sociopathic narcissist engages with another or a group where they are challenged, they will often create an illusion of interest, in terms of what the other may be saying or expressing. The reason for doing this is to reduce the threat that is being experienced within the context of the dynamic. It is this feigning or a posturing that disarms the other. When the other is disarmed the ascending threat experienced by the sociopathic narcissist descends, his experience of losing control is now thwarted. The other is bought off with an appearance of genuineness and even apparent concern/understanding. Denial, distortion and lying are de rigueur for a sociopathic narcissist to function in the world. There is never an apology, there is never guilt and there is never remorse.
However, the sociopathic narcissist just doesn’t deny, distort and lie for the sole purpose of denying, distorting and lying, rather they utilize these linguistic dissimulations to create confusion and therefore cause one to question one’s very reality. If they were to apologize, experience guilt or remorse then the projective-identification dynamic would have failed and they would have to reclaim what they were no longer able to control.
The recent narcissistic injury that Trump appeared to manifest regarding the number of people at the inauguration is an obvious example. Clearly reality dictates that one photograph shows vastly more people at the 2009 inauguration of Barrack Obama than it does at the Trump inauguration. However, this is simply too much of a narcissistic injury/insult for Trump to contain internally. Here he is, the ‘TRUMP’ and he was upstaged by a ‘black man who is not really a citizen of the United States and was born in Kenya and who TRUMP had ‘proof’ that his Hawaiian Birth certificate had been altered and was phony…’ Trump responds with ‘Tweets’ that question the veracity of the photos and s that the photos really do show more on his side than on President Obama’s side.
This is not just a challenge but also an attempt to once again alter the perceptions of reality by setting up a scenario where one, in order to believe TRUMP, has to question their very perceptual reality. However, they are from a projective-identification not relying on their perceptions, which have for all practical purposes become psychically debilitated, but rather on the reality now defined by an external source, in this case, Trump.
Politics is, in the case of Trump only a conduit to manifest his projective-identification. Trump in his attack on the media and a myriad of intelligence agencies again is not just attacking them, he is using his pulpit to influence and alter the others’ perception of what those agencies present, via projective-identification. When the end comes for Trump and those associated with him – and I believe he will ultimately self-defeat himself to the point of annihilation – he will first use the illusion of ‘alternative-facts’ as a way in pleading his case. He will also quickly abandon his solicitous surrogate mercenaries.
The sociopathic narcissist believes that they not only can but also have the right to exercise their imposition onto or into whoever they happen to desire at the time. Think of the Billy Bush tape and Trump’s uncensored statements about “grabbing their pussies…” The other, in this case his victims, ‘are lucky to have their pussies grabbed by me, there are many others who I wouldn’t waste my time on.’
The Tweeting allows Trump a way of expressing his narcissist wounding without direct challenge. This is a way in which he is able to rapidly discharge his narcissistic rage. The Tweeting also allows for a window of discovery as to how little ascension of narcissistically bound anxiety he is able to intrapsychically contain. Additionally, it is a way of maintaining control over those who he has successfully engaged within his web of projective-identifications.
A sociopathic narcissist has to have a defined enemy – without this he is nothing, as the enemy is the causative agent for his oppression or of those by which he is declaring himself the champion of. First an enemy or enemies must be d, think of the “radical Islamic terrorists” or the “Mexican rapists”; however, they will also almost always be amorphous – a collective body or race – culture, for Hitler Jews and those d “impure”. Secondly, after the declaration the enemy must be continually augmented – alternative facts – to continue with the ill-defining of those who are now clearly the enemy. Third, it is necessary to now receive narcissistic gratification from those collective projective bodies who identify with whoever the enemy is now defined as. With Trump’s obsession with the vast numbers at the rallies and of those who support him it becomes relatively obvious that he relies on these numbers not just for himself per se but rather for his pandering others to ensure that they continue to provide him with the sociopathic narcissistic reflections necessary for him to continue to manifest his primitive and profound narcissistic replenishing; it becomes a discharge – recharge synergistic dynamic. Once the equation is broken down it is relatively easy to envision not only the primitiveness of an individual of this psychic structure but also the fragility and dangerousness.
Trump will not and cannot change. Any change manifest would be strictly self-serving and short lived. Every thought, word, action, and deed runs through this psychologically pathological conduit. To ignore or remain ignorant of an understanding of how Trump’s sociopathic narcissism factors into and drives who he is and what he does will not just continue to result in mystifying confusion, but also make countless others vulnerable to his longitudinal destructiveness.
He does not self-perceive vulnerabilities of any type – when he is confronted by anything that remotely resembles ‘failure’ it will be construed to be the ‘fault’ of what or whoever he can target. And, revenge of some form he will seek. He also knows that most events don’t last long and that memories are relatively short, therefore he can build crisis upon crisis without ever having to be confronted by any one event or set of circumstances for very long.
One of the grave dangers of a sociopathic narcissist is that they are highly vulnerable to praise or what as children we often times call goading, which from an national security standpoint makes any country under the possession of a sociopathic narcissist highly vulnerable.
John C. Espy, PhD, LCSW, has been practicing psychotherapy and psychoanalysis for the past thirty-five years. He was supervised by R.D. Laing for many years and conducted a weekly supervision group with Sheldon Kopp. He has worked extensively in the area of primitive and psychotic personalities and has interviewed more than twenty serial murderers and pedophiles in the United States and Europe as part of his research on the manifestation of malignant projective-identification. His current practice primarily focuses on clinical and forensic consultation and long term treatment. He was previously a neurotoxicologist with NASA and has taught at numerous universities throughout the United States. Dr Espy is also a long standing member of the American Academy of Psychotherapists, the American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work and northwestern United States group moderator for the International Neuropsychoanalysis Society.
His books include Eat the Evidence (Karnac, 2014) and Clinical Dicta and Contra Dicta: The Therapy Process from Inside Out and Outside In (Karnac, 2016)