Watching a journalist interview Donald Trump is a lesson in psychology, regardless of your political viewpoint. Trump exhibits a complete lack of accountability for his behaviors, the key attribute of what I call “Other-Blamers” in my new “Self-Acceptance Psychology.” Because he is filled with self-shame and feelings of inadequacy, he has learned to develop some successful ways of managing (avoiding) additional shame.
One tactic of Other-Blamers is what I like to call “zigzag” arguing — a visual description that helps people recognize it when it shows up.
Other-Blamers like Trump have great difficulty admitting they are wrong or acquiescing to any fault. So when challenged with an irrefutable fact, they change the subject. They zig-zag to Topic 2 with such speed, ease and poise that the questioner is often pulled unwittingly right along in this scheme. Suddenly the argument is about Topic 2, rather than Topic 1. Success for the Other-Blamer! He gets to distract from his real misbehavior and escapes from the shaming experience of being held accountable. Sometimes this zigzagging can go on for dozens of topics.
I am amazed at the number of national journalists who do not recognize this behavior and do not immediately stop the zig and address it: “No, we’re not going to talk about Topic 2. I asked you about Topic 1. Why did you do Topic 1?” And when Trump or any Other-Blamer inevitably changes the topic again, the questioner should doggedly but calmly return to Topic 1 and point out the zigzag behavior directly: “I notice you changed the subject — again. It seems you are uncomfortable addressing Topic 1. We need to address Topic 1, so that’s what you’re going to do.”
Many submissive, placating people come into therapy feeling they are “crazy” and taking on all the fault for relationship problems. These “Self-Blamers” are clearly in relationship with an “Other-Blamer” who blames, makes excuses for his behavior, deflects, denies, and zigzags, to the point where the partner loses a sense of reality and starts to assume she is the one who is incorrect, at fault, and even a bit nuts.
I personally experienced this deflect and distract style of arguing hundreds of times with my second husband, so I know it can be quite confusing. I was left emotionally exhausted and bewildered after many arguments, and my Self-Blaming patterns became more entrenched. My father and sister also have excellent skills at Other-Blaming and zigzag arguing, so I experienced this behavior throughout my childhood and early adulthood.
As I have experienced, the lack of any factual basis to their arguments does not stop Other-Blamers. This can be disturbing to many people who do like to base their arguments on some sort of reality! Don’t be unhinged by the lies. Recognize that this lack of factual basis is exactly the problem — and then address it.
In therapy, I educate the Self-Blamers on the behavior of the Other-Blamer, especially the tactic of zigzag arguing. It takes mindfulness, calm and self-discipline not to get pulled down the rabbit hole of zigzag arguing. But it can be very productive — although the Other-Blamer will not like it one bit. That strategy has served him very well throughout his life and he will not enjoy being called out on his behavior.
As is proven on TV news on a daily basis, Trump behaves this way very, very frequently. But I suspect he also behaves this way in personal and business relationships. His extreme feelings of inadequacy mean that he is unable and unwilling to be humble, accountable, and admit fault, even when the facts all say he is wrong.
The key to fixing this behavior is to develop self-acceptance, so that you can tolerate shame in a healthy manner without Other-Blaming tactics.