Children Protecting a Mentally Ill Parent

July, 2016

The family systems dynamics of dealing with a mentally ill parent are on full display. That’s how and why Donald’s Trump’s high achieving children over compensate for their father’s acting out. They swoop in to protect him, trying to regain control, putting pressure on him to pick a sensible path.

What’s clear is that they’ve been doing this most of their lives. That’s why they’re so good at it. But it may not be enough in this highly charged world of national politics.

Early in the campaign season, I noticed his erratic behavior. There are now a multitude of examples all with an eerie sameness. On this particular night, he began his rally with a few pieces of paper in his hand. No doubt given to him by his campaign handlers hoping to keep him on track.

These talking points were, within minutes, thrown aside leading to his rambling from one topic to another. He never finished a complete sentence before galloping off to another subject with arms swinging wildly and voice wobbling. He’s imploding, I thought.

This was all too familiar. In my working life, I was a licensed social worker and therapist. I kept the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) on my desk or in a nearby bookshelf throughout my thirty–five year career. When a therapist, I always worked under the supervision of an MD or PhD for billing purposes and learned very well the long and complex road to diagnosing a personality disorder.

Please note that everything I’m saying about him is presumptive. There has been no diagnose of this individual and there probably won’t be. Personality disorders are especially difficult, both for the clinician and for the patient. Research is still out on the causes but studies point to a combination of genetics, childhood trauma or verbal abuse and negative peer influence.

A general definition of a personality disorder is “an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture.”  What the textbooks call these “maladaptive behaviors” are deeply embedded into the personality of the individual.

Which explains why Trump seems stuck in a whirl of repetitive and unproductive behaviors. He knows no other way. Sees no other solution. Habitually reverting to old and time tested patterns of behavior have, let’s face it, rewarded him many times. Evidenced by his wealth.  And he’s not the only one. All you have to do is Google ”famous people with personality disorder.” You’ll be surprised. Or maybe not.

Very early in the campaign season, it wasn’t difficult to spot the obvious signs of his narcissism. Features of this personality disorder include: grandiosity, arrogance, lack of empathy, needing excessive attention, being exploitive, feeling entitled.

Add to that, the recent revelation by a journalist (Tony Schwartz, in New Yorker magazine) who is finally saying what he’d discovered. Schwartz followed Trump around for eighteen months then ghost wrote The Art of the Deal. As a result of getting to know him so well, Schwartz calls him a black hole, someone without a soul. I’m sure he isn’t trying to be poetic though his comments are sobering.

Schwartz goes on to call him a sociopath. This is an outdated term but its features are now found in the DSM’s diagnostic criteria for anti-social personality disorder. Those traits include: deceitfulness, impulsivity, lack of remorse, aggressiveness, and reckless disregard for the safety of self or others.

Here may be an individual with two full blown personality disorders.  And while his narcissistic features and his antisocial traits seem to be what we see day in and day out, there has been no definitive diagnosis. Which is why such silence from the psychiatric community. And there won’t and can’t be any official labeling until Trump enters into therapy.

The key to treatment for personality disorder is that the patient continues with the same therapist throughout so that these patterns can be fully analyzed and addressed. Its hard to imagine Trump admitting he might have a problem or might need some help in improving his communication or decision making?  That’s why personality disorders are so hard to treat and why the success rate is so low.

So don’t be surprised at the next spewing of hateful rhetoric, the next demonstration of lack of empathy or his angry diatribe about how he’s being mistreated. Trump will be acting the same way. Until election day. Now I’m the poet!

His campaign handlers will continue to justify his erratic behavior (“He was being sarcastic”).  His VP pick will be expected to “smooth out his edges” and rationalize his gaffs. His children will play out that very important role of the caretaker. News pundits will gleefully revel in the daily newsbytes that build their ratings. Hopefully, voters will come to understand what they’re dealing with before it’s too late.



2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Diana Schramer
    Aug 02, 2016 @ 13:36:34

    What a powerful, informative, and insightful post, Karin. Thank you for so eloquently describing and explaining what we are, sadly, experiencing in our current political theater with the Republican nominee. I, too, pray the electorate takes heed and wises up before it’s too late.



  2. Linda Dean
    Aug 02, 2016 @ 14:08:41




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