An Immature Mind? The Debate Performance by Donald J. Trump

10/06/2016 06:33 pm ET

There was a child on the stage with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at last week’s debate at Hofstra University. The narcissistic tendencies of Donald J. Trump have been discussed and debated by several sources throughout the current campaign. People described as narcissistic are often self-absorbed, view themselves as superior to others, and display a persistent lack of empathy.

In addition, narcissists show extreme arrogance and an air of disdain toward others/competitors. Evidence suggests that narcissism serves to protect hidden feelings of low self-worth. Further, mental health providers suggest such individuals, like many past and current dictators, risk "narcissistic injuries" to their sense of self when other people do not share their view of self superiority to the point that they often angrily dismiss, ignore, or lie to prevent ego injury. They begin to claim that they have been treated “bad” or “not nice” and “unfairly.” What the viewers saw last Monday evening was the mind of a child in full ego “survival mode” within the body of a 70-year old man. This was most notable in the later stages of the 90-minute debate.

The immature narcissistic mind seeks out compliments, praise, deference, attention, and some sense of fear from those around him. On the other hand, challenges and criticisms are met with a defensive posture in less extreme cases and full-on rage when the ego attacks are more substantial. All efforts are made to protect the fragile ego or sense of self including devaluing, insulting, or wishing harm on the source of the criticism. This includes maintaining one's stance in the face of contradictory evidence. We have seen several examples of this in the last week: - A narcissist would hide his questionable tax returns to maintain his portrayal as a successful entrepreneur - A narcissist would attack an opponent's marital record despite having a long history of marital problems himself - A narcissist would criticize the sexual exploits of others to deflect from the attention brought to his own scandalous, video-archived "amorous" activities - A narcissist would "fat shame" and ridicule the looks of others when he himself is nothing more than an overweight, bald man with a surgically-anchored comb over...

Psychologists who have studied narcissism through the years, including Sigmund Freud, have suggested that narcissism stems from a form of arrested ego development. According to Heinz Kohut, we are all born with a “healthy” sense of narcissism because for a good part of our early development, we ARE the center of the universe. With healthy development, a person learns to understand what others are feeling, to have strong positive emotions for others (termed objects in psychoanalytic terms), and to place their Self in the context of other people and the extended world.

Narcissists, with their immature minds, will turn affections inward, and create a reality in which they remain at the center in a position of being all-seeing, all-knowing, and in far more control of events than they actually have in reality. The reasons for this type of arrested ego or self-development have been the subject of a considerable amount of study and the contributing factors may have to do with the environment in which one was raised and their individual personality/demeanor/disposition. Simply put, Mr. Trump is not all-knowing and often speaks within realms of which he has NO authority.

Just this week, he claimed that stronger military Veterans and Service members do not develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following combat trauma. This is NOT the case. PTSD affects all branches of service, officers and enlisted men and women, often in a manner that differs from person to person. Our best evidence to date is that one's personal risk for PTSD is based on a number of complex factors including environmental and genomic factors. Any attempt to characterize sufferers of PTSD by Mr. Trump is inappropriate and way out of his realm. These new lies come as no surprise, though.

Last Monday night, we witnessed a physically mature man lie repeatedly in the face of contradicting evidence, persistently interrupt both the moderator and the only other speaker on the stage (who happened to be female), claim credit for events that he had little or no direct control over, consistently fidget, make rude and annoyed facial expressions, provide “on the fly” statements and remarks with no empirical basis, and almost immediately blame a “defective” microphone when criticisms began to trickle in from various online and in-person sources.

At one point during the debate, Secretary Clinton appeared to be speaking to Mr. Trump in a tone of voice often reserved for mothers speaking to impudent children and suggested that the Republican candidate “lives in [his] own reality.” Similar to a young child, Mr. Trump also showed a marked lack of impulse control such as when he claimed paying no taxes “makes me smart” and that Rosie O’Donnell “deserved” the harsh verbal treatment he previously unleashed on her. The root cause for this child-like lack of impulse control can be debated, however, one interpretation is that this was the work of a vulnerable, fragile ego in survival mode and laid bare in front of millions…a dreaded scenario for the narcissist at risk of ego injury.

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