What is Donald Trump doing right now? He has not spoken in public for several days, though he and his wife posed for a Veterans Day photo-op at Arlington Cemetary. The White House is still barricaded within a “non-scalable” fence, similar to the one it erected when the president went into bunker mode in June. There are ominous firings within the Pentagon, lots of ALL-CAPS “tweets”, reports that Jared Kushner and other insiders have tried to talk him into conceding, and even one report that he is devouring fast food.
While we cannot read a person’s mind, mental health professionals have an excellent understanding of Donald Trump, thanks to the more abundant and higher-quality information available about him than almost any patient we have ever treated. Direct reports from close associates about their interactions with him, under sworn testimony, from the highest-order criminal investigations are just one example. Personal interviews are of little value at best and misleading at worst with the kind of pathology in Donald Trump.
Hell hath no fury like a pathological narcissist scorned.
Since dozens of mental health experts put together our bestselling public-service book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, at the start of this presidency, all our warnings have been realized, almost as if on schedule. We now feel the need to warn again—against his rage. We have done so before and were on the mark when we warned against what became a massacre of our Kurdish allies and the assassination of a top Iranian general, to the surprise even of Pentagon officials. We knew what the outcome of his disastrous mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic would become, before it happened, as our blow-by-blow account reveals. When we speak of his rage, we do not mean any garden-variety rage but the kind pathological narcissism portends, with any level of destruction.
First, there is an over-the-top pronouncement of his greatness. That there could be no possibility other than his winning this election may seem almost delusional, especially when he has been the cause of a quarter million deaths, a bankrupt nation, children in cages, and our endangered natural habitat. But his overinflated sense of self is meant to overcompensate for the level of emptiness, inadequacy, and worthlessness he feels inside.
Second, should any audience member retain his or her bearings and still question him, next comes the unloading of a colossal victimhood complex. He accuses Democrats of rigging the election, massive voter fraud, and conspiracy theories about how seemingly unrelated events were orchestrated to bring about his downfall.
And third, if the above two methods do not work, there follows predictable yet still shocking sadism. He would rather wreak havoc and revenge on the nation and the next administration than to allow them to succeed, all for having rebuffed him. Hell hath no fury like a pathological narcissist scorned.
Shame = Humiliation
The pathological narcissist is very sensitive to shame, which he perceives as humiliation: a blow to his self-image and a threat to what he believes himself entitled to, which is a status superior to all others. Democracy has no place in this world view. This sensitivity is the reason why he lashes out at those who appear to shame him in any way. His rage reactions are always disproportionate to “the offense.” In this case, the loss of election means he will hold a grudge and seek revenge till death, his own or his “offenders” or both, whichever comes first.
Shame is worse than death for a pathological narcissist, because it exposes some flaw in him, even if it is a natural human flaw. He will have many more serious shortcomings because of this shame intolerance, but then he must all the more insist he is perfect and surpasses everyone else. He must retain this grandiose delusion of superiority and perfection at all cost because this becomes all he has. His bigger than life persona hides an empty inner core, devoid of meaningful values and attachments. Exposure of any flaws in his pathological façade has the potential of collapsing and destroying him, at least in his mind, since there is nothing of substance to fall back on.
The rage with which a pathological narcissist reacts to shame or humiliation thus helps him to fight against this inner emptiness and easy depression, which he cannot tolerate. Deprived of the admiration and special treatment he believes he deserves—and this need is bottomless, as is his sense of entitlement—it does not take much to provoke it: a simple, neutral observation or even a well-expected electoral loss can unleash it like hellfire on an unsuspecting victim. This vehement defense against shame is a common cause of violence.
Shame intolerance is another reason why a pathological narcissist never takes responsibility for his behavior. Nothing is ever his fault, no matter how great a mess he creates. Responsibility and blame are for other people, as is any loss. Admitting his fault in any way creates a crack in his false façade, and that is a matter of life and death for him—psychically speaking.
Satisfaction Hurting Others
How do we know this is happening in him? We know from the way he humiliates others. He derives satisfaction from calling others “losers” and “suckers”, precisely to deny and to distance himself from the qualities he cannot stand. Humiliating other people is therefore one of the few pleasures in a pathological narcissist’s life—almost as good as “winning”.
Should the truth—those inconvenient facts about his life and his character—be revealed, there would be emotional annihilation. Therefore, it is nothing for a pathological narcissist to kill to protect his fragile ego from this unforgivable, to him, insult—that is, the truth. For this reason, we have said that the interregnum would be the most dangerous period of his presidency after an electoral loss. Over a month ago, more than 100 senior mental health experts went on video record to declare that Donald Trump is too psychologically dangerous and mentally unfit to qualify for the presidency or candidacy for reelection. Just a couple weeks ago, we held an emergency interdisciplinary conference, with top experts of all fields from around the country.
Narcissistic rage attacks can be deadly. We have seen it in the tragic instances of lethal domestic violence, where a narcissistically-injured spouse kills his wife over her efforts to leave him. We can also see it brazenly displayed in the lives of murderous tyrants, under whom those who dare give their “Dear Leader” honest feedback may pay for it with their lives. We cannot continue to ignore the fact that we may merely be in the calm before the storm.
Elizabeth Mika, M.A., L.C.P.C., is a clinical psychologist of Gifted Resources in Northern Illinois. Both she and Dr. Lee can be followed on Twitter: @YourAuntEmma and @BandyXLee1.