Saturday, September 16, 2017
Donald Trump and the Inflamed Inner World
What is known as psychopathology can be understood in terms of the degree of separation between internal and external worlds.
Oddly, we humans live in parallel universes.
On one level, we live out an internal drama based on biological propensities and early childhood experiences. It is, in truth, a drama. It consists of images of self and other, often in dynamic conflict with one another.
Some sport highly critical internal figures; some sport highly admiring ones. We tend to either pick people to comport with our internal dramas. Alternatively, we try to influence those who hap into our lives to behave according to the way we unconsciously want them to.
On another level, we walk through life engaged in a real external, social environment. We have friends, lovers, family. We engage with co-workers and bosses. We have interpersonal relationships.
Ideally, the inner drama and the world of our interpersonal relationships sync with one another.
But not always.
If you consider schizophrenia—almost certainly an organic brain disease—the gap between inner and outer can be immense.
Many persons with schizophrenia hold delusional beliefs, usually persecutory. They fear their food and beverages are poisoned; they believe the FBI taps their phones and listens to their conversations.
Others developed distorted internal dramas due to traumatic experiences. Women sexually abused by men during childhood often have difficulty trusting men when they mature. They distance themselves due to the distrust; sometimes they choose abusive men, unwittingly repeating the pattern.
(This is not because they “enjoy” it or do not see the error of their ways. It is usually because they unconsciously see the repetition as familiar, as a type of home.)
Of course, I oversimplify to make a point.
The variations are, in truth, endless. However, the gap between inner lives and the external world remains a useful marker of the degree of psychological disturbance.
Reality is, in many ways, a form of conventionality. If you cannot conform, it is difficult to function. Here is an example of the interplay:
A person with a highly paranoid internal world gets a new job at an IT company. He is assigned to enhance a new cyber-security protocol. Initially, his co-workers and supervisor greet him with kindness.
Within a few weeks, though, they notice him behaving strangely. He avoids contact with his peers during breaks. He brings his own lunch, and eats alone. He keeps to himself—but to excess. Soon, coworkers notice him behaving in this fashion. They gossip about him. At some point, he observes this, causing him to withdraw further into himself and heightening his sense of suspicion.
Here, the field-like nature of human interaction becomes evident. The intimate, parallel relationship between inner and outer worlds emerges. Because of the paranoid streak, the unfortunate man looks for evidence of being judged critically. He need not look far. His inner world contaminates the outer, and the outer mathematically confirms the inner.
And so on.
And so on.
As I have noted in prior posts, the US President, Donald Trump, offers examples of such a split on a daily basis.
Just a few days ago, another terrorist attack occurred in London. The assailant left a home-made bomb on a subway. Within a few hours of the attack, Trump tweeted this:
Another attack in London by a loser terrorist.These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!
Notice the disturbing gap between external reality and Trump’s inner world.
Trump authored the tweet, within hours of the attack, without any knowledge of its nature. It had not yet been determined it was terrorism; worse, his tweet suggests failure by British law enforcement and counter-terrorism officials—a completely unfounded charge.
As many have noted, Trump lacks any coherent anti-terrorism policy himself. Many key US State Department posts remain unfilled. No evidence exists of a comprehensive and thoughtful plan to deal with terrorism, North Korea, or any other significant looming threat.
Trump impulsively reacts to his inner drama, without pause or censorship. It is reflexive. It lacks filtering through his own aides, not to mention other levels of government (or even other parts of his own mind).
In the example of the paranoid IT person, the inner-outer gap affects the sad employee and, perhaps, his coworkers and the company that employed him.
In the case of Trump, the inner-outer gap affects, well, all of us.
And, not just we US citizens. His tweet angered Prime Minister Theresa May. She correctly asserted it was unhelpful for anyone to speculate about a terrorist incident when an investigation had just begun. After Trump was briefed about the attack, he telephoned Ms. May and offered condolences.
But, of course, he did not apologize.
Why should he?
Like the paranoid man, Trump lives in a world excessively influenced by his inner drama.
Last June, Trump similarly criticized London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan. That time, he misconstrued Mr. Khan’s words. In March, his press secretary of the week, Sean Spicer, repeated allegations that a British intelligence agency had wiretapped Trump Tower. British authorities dismissed the claim as “utterly ridiculous.”
Trump’s behavior offers me a means of explaining the idea of a small universal truth, namely that the gap between anyone’s internal drama and the external world spells trouble.
Unlike any of us whose internal dramas taint our relations with others, Trump’s have global implications. Hilary Clinton speculates, according to in an interview aired on NPR this morning, that he is being “played” by world leaders like Putin and Jung-un.
It is entirely possible.
Here is how it would work:
Since Trump seems entirely self-involved, and reactive to any threats to his inflated self-image, most persons with greater inner-outer world consistency understand how to manipulate him. They flatter him. They create splits between him and others.
It is already happening.
Interestingly, Trump likely idealizes world leaders like Putin and Jong-un. They are both autocrats. They run their countries with iron fists. They waste no time dealing with the normal checks and balances of a social democratic government.
The envy Trump must feel!
Alas, the problem is significant in cases like the paranoid IT worker.
When the situation involves the leader of the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth, it is nothing less than catastrophic.
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