Many were shocked when in a CBS News interview on July 14 President Donald Trump stated: “Well, I think we have a lot of foes. I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade.”
This is one of innumerable outright lies and diplomatic disasters by Trump, so it is no surprise to most of us, especially those of us in the mental health field. Some of us have been calling him dangerous for more than two years. Last year, a group of us banded together to write the bestseller “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Professionals Assess a President.”
Many different diagnostic labels have been affixed to Trump, including sociopathic, delusional, and malignant narcissist. Instead, I prefer to call him an Other-blamer, a term I use in my book Self-Acceptance Psychology. I believe “Other-blamer” more accurately describes what people like Trump do, giving us a better way to understand them. Briefly, Other-blamers have low self-worth. This makes them sensitive to shame, criticism or failure. They manage shame by shifting the blame to others and avoiding accountability.
This psychological juggling act forces them into a lot of very immoral and destructive behaviors.
As a survivor of abuse at the hands of an Other-blamer, I recognize very clear behaviors with Trump that are indicative of danger.
- Other-blamers misperceive threats and imagine, even to the point of delusion and paranoia, that others are disparaging them, embarrassing them or taking advantage of them. Just as Trump’s quote indicates, Other-blamers feel they are victims, are ganged up on and believe everyone is the enemy. Everyone could potentially shame or slight them, so they must be on guard at all times. I experienced this with my ex-husband who would get nervous before even attending a party because he was insecure and afraid others would judge him. He would then be sensitive to me “flirting” with someone. At home later he became enraged at his imagined embarrassment at my hands.
- Other-blamers are so paranoid they can adopt a victim mentality, which can also alternate with their self-aggrandizing tendencies. You can see this in Trump, when he positions issues and situations in dichotomous ways —“us against them”– with the U.S. cast as either “the greatest” or as being taken advantage of.
- Other-blamers are single-minded and have long memories about a perceived slight. For Trump at present that is trade on the international front. I saw this in my marriage, when my husband would hyper-focus on me talking to a male colleague at a party, ignoring the others I talked to or the fact that I was attentive to him. He would then perseverate and harangue me about “having an affair” for hours.
- Other-blamers are impulsive and over-reactive to threats. I always was very passive, kind and loving to my husband, yet when he was threatened by some imaginary slight, I became such a “foe” that he became enraged and assaulted me. These extreme reactions are the most dangerous aspect of Trump’s behavior, because he is very thin-skinned and if he feels insulted he may say or do something irrevocable. Many of his comments about our allies at the NATO summit, along with his unprovoked trade wars, are signs that he over-reacts to non-existent threats. You can even hear it in his very extreme language. He has, of course, sadistically disparaged everyone from Gold Star parents to world leaders to President Obama.
- Other-blamers have a black-and-white view of situations. They refuse to see logic or nuance. Trump has provided clear and extensive evidence that both his ignorance and this viewpoint combine to give him a dangerously simplified view of the world. Trump appears to only engage in distributive bargaining, which views negotiation as over a limited amount of goods, with one winner. Instead, world trade and diplomacy involve integrative bargaining, in which many trades or interactions occur over time and both partners can benefit.
The key to understanding Other-blamers is that they see others as threatening because they could criticize and shame them. They believe they must be on guard and “punch back 10 times as hard,” as Trump has often said.
We can understand that Other-blamers engage in these unhealthy behaviors because they feel inadequate and it feels more protective to view others as “the foe.” These defenses, learned in childhood, include using any tactic necessary: lying, self-aggrandizing, dominating, controlling, manipulating, name-calling, blame-shifting, and even assaulting and abusing.
Just as my then-husband came to view even a loving wife as a threat, Trump has come to view Canada, England and other allies as a danger. In reality, his fearful and reactive view of the world is the real danger to us all.
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