Abusive Parents Create Abusive Children

As I’ve written in Part 1 and Part 2 of this review, and in numerous other blogs, Other-Blamers are essentially abusive partners who engage in relationships with antisocial emotions and traits of self-interest, rather than prosocial traits of love, kindness, care and cooperation. Other-Blamers create more Other-Blamers, as I’ll explain in this blog. 

The poor shame tolerance at the core of Other-Blamer behavior leads to a lack of accountability that leads to antisocial behaviors. This pattern created an entire Trump family of sociopaths who abused those around them in ways great and small. This abuse was evident in Fred Trump, who first established an abusive relationship with his wife. It is notable that Fred scooped up his wife when she was barely 18 years old, living in poverty, a newly arrived undocumented immigrant from Scotland, who was working as a maid. In classic abusive behavior, he targeted and preyed on a weak, helpless, dependent woman who would not have the power to question or challenge him, especially in paternalistic 1940s America. This certainly played out in how they parented, where he was the dominant decision maker and his wife, called “Gam” by the grandchildren, had no power as a parent — because she had no power starting the relationship. 

Mary Trump narrates several incidents of obviously abusive behavior among family members.  While Fred was not violent with the children, his ongoing emotional abuse took the form of sadistic cruelty and humiliation, playing favorites, emotional distancing, and blatant rejection. As an adult, Freddy brandished a gun at his wife while in a drunken rage. Maryanne married David, an alcoholic failure of a man who could never hold a job and under functioned throughout his life — a classic form of low-functioning Other-Blamer. David also physically and emotionally abused Maryanne. Mary tells the story of her grandmother making roast beef instead of the traditional turkey for Christmas one year and Donald and his brother Robert repeatedly criticizing Gam throughout the dinner for it, and their mother sat with her head bowed and hands in her lap passively taking the verbal dressing down. 

Non-loving and abusive personalities are formed, of course, in homes where they do not experience love and warmth, and may even experience hate and cruelty. 

Mary does an admirable job of describing a key concept in psychology called attachment theory and highlighting how this affected her father, aunts and uncles. “If we’re lucky, we have, as infants and toddlers, at least one emotionally available parent who consistently fulfills our needs and responds to our desires for attention. Being held and comforted, having our feelings acknowledged and our upsets soothed are all critical for the healthy development of young children. This kind of attention creates a sense of safety and security that ultimately allows us to explore the world around us without excessive fear or unmanageable anxiety because we know we can count on the bedrock support of at least one caregiver.

“Mirroring, the process through which an attuned parent reflects, processes, and then gives back to the baby the baby’s own feelings, is another crucial part of a young child’s development. Without mirroring, children are denied crucial information both about how their minds work and about how to understand the world. Just as a secure attachment to a primary caregiver can lead to higher levels of emotional intelligence, mirroring is the root of empathy.” (p. 23)

Unfortunately, Donald’s mother was a form of covert, weak and self-absorbed narcissist who could not provide secure attachment, emotional warmth or mirroring: “She was the kind of mother who used her children to comfort herself rather than comforting them. She attended to them when it was convenient for her, not when they needed her to. Often unstable and needy, prone to self-pity and flights of martyrdom, she frequently put herself first. Especially when it came to her sons, she acted as if there were nothing she could do for them.” (p. 23) 

Mary was also frequently absent due to health problems, most notably when Donald was nine months old, a key age for learning social and emotional skills and bonding with the mother. Fred’s cold and distant parenting style exacerbated Mary’s absences for the children.

“Child abuse is, in some sense, the experience of ‘too much’ or ‘not enough.’ Donald directly experienced the ‘not enough’ in the loss of connection to his mother at a crucial developmental stage, which was deeply traumatic. Without warning, his needs weren’t being met, and his fears and longings went unsoothed. Having been abandoned by his mother for at least a year, and having his father fail not only to meet his needs but to make him feel safe or loved, valued or mirrored, Donald suffered deprivations that would scar him for life.” (p. 26)

“While Mary was needy, Fred seemed to have no emotional needs at all. In fact, he was a high-functioning sociopath.” (p. 24)

Fred’s cold, rejecting, self-absorbed, workaholic personality meant that “For Donald and Robert, ‘needing’ became equated with humiliation, despair, and hopelessness.” (p. 25)

In attachment theory framing, Donald never learned to trust or depend on others. He did not came to believe that closeness in relationships mean safety and acceptance. “Donald knew instinctively, based on plenty of experience, that he would never be comforted or soothed… there would no point, then in acting needy.” He learned, instead, to act tough and deny his needs, especially because this was prized by his father. “Fred Trump came to validate, encourage, and champion the things about Donald that rendered him essentially unlovable and that were in part the direct result of Fred’s abuse.” (p. 27)

Fred went beyond coldness and ridiculed and questioned his children, creating feelings of low self-worth, humiliation, and self-doubt, that they learned to manage in unhealthy ways.

Mary writes that Fred denigrated her own father cruelly. However, it is unlikely that Fred saved his humiliations for only one child. It is more likely that each child’s temperament responded to this abuse in different ways. Freddy may have been by nature a kind and caring soul, who responded to his father’s rejection by striving harder and becoming self-critical, then abusing alcohol to try to escape from the barrage of self-abusive thoughts to which he subjected himself. Freddy became a Self-Blamer striving endlessly for perfection and acceptance. His sister, Elizabeth, became a Blame Avoider and retreated into a lonely, isolated, and powerless life. She is barely mentioned in the book and figures barely at all in the family dynamics. She never married or moved away, visited her parents every weekend, and continued to seek “Poppy’s” attention until her father died. 

Maryanne married an Other-Blamer just like her father, but one with no talent or ambition. As the eldest, but a girl, she was sidelined by Fred, although she later went to law school to have a career and escape her abusive marriage. She used her family connections and money to get a judgeship. 

Fred believed that there was one winner and all others were losers, and sharing and kindness were weakness, thereby teaching the children anti-social traits. The rules in the Trump home were: “be tough at all costs, lying is okay, admitting you’re wrong or apologizing is weakness.” These rules exemplify the Other-Blamer attitude to relationships and morals:  Avoid the feelings of shame and weakness by dominating and abusing others so that they cannot hold you accountable for your faults.   Donald learned that to cover for his low self-worth he exaggerated his strengths, accomplishments, and self-confidence, rather than engage with humility and temperance. 

Donald was also enabled by the media, the banks during his hyper-leveraging and building of three competing casinos in Atlantic City. “His exaggerated assessment of himself was simultaneously fueled and validated by banks that were throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at him and a media that lavished him with attention and unwarranted praise. The two combined rendered him blind to how dire his situation was… My grandfather’s myths about Donald were now being reinforced by the world at large…. He was both enabled by and dependent upon them, just as he had been upon Fred.” (p. 136)  


The children also learned that relationships are about unhealthy role reversals between parents and children. Donald’s mother was emotionally needy and demanding of her own emotional satisfaction, inverting the caregiving that should flow from parent to child. Fred is described as unfeeling, callous indifferent, controlling, rigid, and sexist, leaving his wife unsupported and disempowered. She may have had a tendency toward passivity and victimhood, but this may have been also learned or worsened during her marriage, as a supplicating, non-threatening approach to Fred might have been her solution to an untenable, abusive marriage. 

Fred’s dismissal and weakening of his wife as a co-parent meant that the children witnessed their father’s contempt for their mother and the strong-willed, like Donald, learned he did not have to listen to or respect his mother either. With Mary, “Donald disobeyed her at every turn. Any attempt to discipline by her was rebuffed. He talked back. He couldn’t ever admit he was wrong, he contradicted her even when she was right, and he refused to back down. Hew tormented his little brother and stole his toys, He refused to do his chores or anything else he was told to do. .. He was a slob who refused to pick up after himself.” Donald certainly had learned that his mother had no power, but these character traits are also the exact description of “Oppositional and Defiant Disorder,” a DSM diagnosis. This diagnosis, however, also exactly describes a child who is becoming an Other-Blamer. Even young children show signs that they cannot tolerate shame. When directed, disciplined or even guided by an adult, the child pushes back with defiance, because they already cannot tolerate the experience of feeling inferior — as if completing a chore was a sign of inferiority. 

“Life in the House made all the children in one way or another uncomfortable with emotions, either expressing them or being confronted with them” (p. 43) — another example of Other-blaming behavior. Other-Blamers dislike “emotions,” but, in actuality, they dislike the emotion of shame. They dislike others expressing facts and opinions that differ from theirs, because they might be held accountable for their behavior and “shamed.” So avoidance of difficult conversations often becomes a hallmark of narcissistic and abusive households run by Other-blamers like Fred Trump. Donald learned these lessons very well. Donald learned to assiduously avoid humiliation, but also wield it as a weapon against others in belittling name-calling (“Crooked Hillary”).

Fred humiliated his wife and the older children in front of others so they learned how to use shame as a weapon in relationships: Donald learned to humiliate others and fear humiliation. This is how Other-blamers create fears and shame in others, and this is how future generations of Other-Blamers are created.

Fred also liked that Donald was aggressive and fearless, never asking for permission and never holding himself accountable — likely because Fred had these same characteristics. 


“Ideally, the rules at home reflect the rules of society, so when children go out into the world, they generally know how to behave. When kids go to school, they’re supposed to know that they shouldn’t take other children’s toys and they’re not supposed to hit or tease other children. Donald didn’t understand any of that because the rules in the House, at least as they applied to the boys — be tough at all costs, lying is okay, admitting you’re wrong or apologizing is weakness — clashed with the rules he encountered at school.” (p. 43) It also appears that Donald’s mother either directly supported these rules or indirectly did not oppose them, as she likely had very little power in the home. In 1950s gender roles, probably worsened by Fred’s misogyny, Mary was hands-off with disciplining the boys. Even at seven years old Donald regularly exhibited anti-social behaviors, for example sadistically torturing his younger brother and yet Mary did nothing to discipline him, instead punished Robert. 

Fred’s control and dominance created four children who were whiny layabouts and helplessly dependent on him, rather than the “killers” that he wanted. Of course, he also created a fifth child — Donald — who was exactly the domineering sociopath that Fred was. Elizabeth, Freddy and Maryanne (for the early part of her life) did not strike out on their own in any substantial ways, depended on Fred’s financial support, and did not question the family dynamics in any way. They whined and complained about their supposedly dire circumstances, but did nothing to change them other than passively wait for bailouts from their wealthy parents. 

Mary writes that her aunts and uncles feared her grandfather — but they were adults. Their fear was that they would be cut out of his will, indicative of their greed.

The family’s inability to hold people accountable is very evident in a story about the time Donald schemed to change his father’s will so that Donald would be the trustee and his siblings would be at his mercy. The scheme failed when Fred discovered it, and Fred then rewrote his will to specifically give each of his four surviving children equal shares of his estate. Yet despite Donald’s betrayal, the siblings “still got together every holiday as though nothing had happened.” The siblings had learned that one doesn’t hold one’s family members responsible for their bad behavior — even if that behavior would have robbed them of tens of millions of dollars. 

Even Elizabeth, the shy, mild-mannered middle daughter, appears to have sociopathic traits. In one of the only stories about her, Mary, now an adult, describes Elizabeth handing her a boxed Timex watch. Elizabeth calmly stated it had been a Christmas gift to Mary when she was 10, but Liz had stolen it because “you were too young to have something that nice. So I took it.” 

This book is the story of parents who created a family of individuals with no kindness, who were self-serving to the end. “It is an epic tragedy of parental failure that my uncle does not understand that he or anybody else has intrinsic worth.” (p. 210)

Gam exhibited an Other-Blamer’s ability to vindictively cut off disloyal people who challenge them. When Mary and her brother decided to sue to get their share of Fred Trump’s estate, Gam called Mary to cruelly tell her, “Do you know what your father was worth when he died? A whole lot of nothing.” Gam then cut off her relationship to her grandchildren completely. Their father was not mentioned in her obituary or eulogies. And Gam cut her grandchildren out of her will completely.

This book is the story of parents who created a family of individuals with no kindness, who were self-serving to the end. “It is an epic tragedy of parental failure that my uncle does not understand that he or anybody else has intrinsic worth.” (p. 210)

This is the perfect formula for creating a malignant narcissist, sociopath or extreme Other-Blamer. These two narcissistic and self-absorbed parents, both of them emotionally distant, raised up the man who is now considered the most dangerous person on the planet. 

Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this extended review and blog.

Share this post!