“Before directing the lightning in the sky, we must first harness the storms in our own hearts.”
—from Rasur by Roberto Brenes Mesen
As America’s fascination with Donald Trump continues to mystify me and many others across the globe, I believe I have a heightened sensitivity to his shenanigans and rhetoric, because I have struggled mightily to break free from toxic narcissists and unhealthy relationships. It’s a little like the smoker who has kicked a noxious 10-year habit. Daily, I am mindful about elevating my consciousness to recognize these insidious hooks — toning my exit muscle.
Narcissists are not intrinsically evil — as many contend, but they have developed hard-wired coping behaviors to compensate for their own deeply damaged psyches and false selves. On one level, my heart breaks for them and I do feel empathy ― even for those who have caused me such profound pain. Thankfully, I have learned that I am not responsible for their harsh judgments. I am only responsible for my response to them. There is absolutely no “fixing,” “repairing,” “convincing,” or “cajoling” these people. They are who they are. That is it. The healing journey is stepping away from the tango.
Narcissists seduce, ingratiate, self-aggrandize, manipulate, denigrate and exploit, because they are desperate to neutralize their own shame ― and they have limited capacity to access their authentic inner selves. Indeed, individuals with Narcissist Personality Disorder are perpetually looking for affirmation of an idealized, flamboyant, yet fragile, sense of self.
Et tu, Mr. President?
From a purely clinical perspective, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5 criteria) Narcissistic Personality Disorder is signified by satisfying 5 of 9 of the following standards (American Psychiatric Association, 2013):
- A grandiose logic of self-importance
- A fixation with fantasies of infinite success, control, brilliance, beauty or idyllic love
- A credence that he or she is extraordinary and exceptional and can only be understood by, or should connect with, other extraordinary or important people or institutions
- A desire for unwarranted admiration
- A sense of entitlement
- Interpersonally oppressive behavior
- No form of empathy
- Resentment of others or a conviction that others are resentful of him or her
- A display of egotistical and conceited behaviors or attitudes
Philosopher and teacher Deepak Chopra said this recently:
“But in reality Trump isn’t bizarre or anomalous. He stands for something universal, something right before our eyes. It’s an aspect of the human psyche that we feel embarrassed and ashamed of, which makes it our collective secret. Going back a century in the field of depth psychology, the secret side of human nature acquired a special name: the shadow.”
The coping mask of the narcissist is an amalgam of arrogance, entitlement and pretentiousness. He or she often professes to know all the answers to all the questions ― while monopolizing all the conversations. A narcissist may become indignant at the drop of hat ― or belittle anyone in any role if he does not receive the service or treatment expected. I witnessed this countless times in relationship with narcissists, but I always thought things would eventually get better somehow.
Finally, the reality kicked in. Having been the frequent recipient of this vitriol, I now know this comes from unresolved anger — often unconscious. A narcissistic reacts abruptly with rage or contempt to feel superior. And he can’t stand any perception of criticism. He may even abandon you ― anytime, anywhere. I know.
But, as narcissistic abuse recovery expert Melanie Tonia Evans insists, focusing on the NARC does not help or heal us. There is no cheese down that hole. Therefore, we can analyze Donald Trump all day long, but the more we try to inspect, explain and prescribe, the more deeply we become hooked. That’s the painful irony. It becomes an excruciating no-win scenario.
“It’s like trying to wrestle an ape,” says Evans. “Impossible.” And the real reason we do it is because we are trying to soothe our own unhealed wounds by somehow fixing and placating the narcissist. We are assuaging our own concealed feelings of inadequacy, pain and unworthiness. His grandiose promises attract us like the circus coming to town ― filling the darkness of our hearts momentarily with sparkles of light, some cotton candy and cheesy spectacle, but as when the circus leaves town, it also leaves us desolate, depleted and feeling a little sick.
He tells us just what we want to hear ― and then, he turns on a dime and crushes us to the mat. In Trump’s case, he calls someone “an idiot,” the world “a mess,” or mocks a disabled reporter. This pumps up his ego and self-esteem. It becomes a seductive, unending cycle ― until we decide the healing must happen inside ourselves. Evans calls this the “Thriver Model.”
That’s just what we must do as a nation.
We must face the deepest unresolved traumas of our early and recent history ― racism issues that have festered since the days of slavery, institutionalized inequality, fraying of the middle class, lethal police culture, gun violence, and the list goes on . . . we must heal them from within. Individually, we must feel better about ourselves; love ourselves and each other deeply and truly — so we are not prey to the brittle, smarmy, sanctimonious charlatans.
Trumping Survival Programs
Melanie Tonia Evans says the purpose of any relationship is to reflect back and trigger unhealed parts to help us evolve and grow ― individually and collectively. With a narcissist, this opportunity is amplified and intensified, because he or she eventually obliterates our fragile survival programs. But in a sense, this is a gift, because we can take the wake-up call as an invitation to heal what is broken in ourselves. We have the power to become whole, productive suppliers of our own support, vitality and affirmation. We do not need to look externally for validation or worth.
When we deny, disown and mask the most vulnerable parts of ourselves to ourselves ― all the fears and pains, our abuse radar does not operate effectively. This leaves us out of alignment with our true selves ― and exceptionally needy. We are unconsciously replaying tapes from our families of origin, and in the case of the election, the early and recent years of our adolescent nation. So, we need to get real.
We are not inextricably attached to this difficult person. We do not need to make this relationship work to survive. We do not need Trump to take us to some sort of vague “great place.”
It’s time to wake up, America! It’s an inside job.