Author: B. Ashley
Copyrighted Opinion-based Material
A dangerous psychological undertow may be fueling the Donald Trump frenzy. Based on numerous articles, books, and online resources that describe sociopathic behavior, one has to ask: “Is Donald Trump a sociopath?”
This writing consolidates much of what I have read on sociopathy, and relates it back to my deep concern that Donald Trump may be a sociopath. It also aims to provide education on sociopathy, and incite public analysis about the possible drivers behind Trump’s peculiar behavior. In my opinion, understanding sociopathy establishes a framework to appraise the Trump phenomenon, as well as many people who run amok in society in general. The article is primarily set up in mock interview style to address a number of questions people could have when introduced to this topic.
Before reading this article, I highly recommend reading or listening to the first chapter of Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Martha Stout’s highly-touted book, The Sociopath Next Door, as a primer. It was written in 2005, and contains depictions so consistent with the current Trump spectacle, that it is both startling and sobering. I believe information she covers in this first chapter, alone, is enough to make a reasonable person completely reassess everything previously thought about Donald Trump, and recognize what appears to be a precarious con job at hand. It also gives powerful insight into the personality pathology that drives maladaptive behavior such as terrorism and criminality, in addition to con artistry (here is the link).
A Primer On Sociopaths
Ordinary and unsuspecting people, of every intellectual and educational level, can easily and commonly confuse sociopathic symptoms with charisma, and positive leadership characteristics. People can also be fooled by a sociopath’s shrewd ability to make them feel understood and valued, and subsequently misinterpret the ensuing relationship as authentic. Sociopaths’ abnormal mental faculties cause them to ignore social norms, speak without filters, and tell outlandish tales as effortlessly and automatically as breathing. They tend to have intense, egomaniacal personalities that give the impression of strength and confidence (real or perceived), both qualities that cause susceptible people to believe in them and line up like sheep. Despite their popular stereotype as deranged criminals, they can also be smart, capable, and professional.
A masterful sociopath will “blend-in” to those uninformed about the condition, while purposefully causing havoc directly or from the shadows – all with a smile. He (or she) is ice-veined, because he secretly operates without the burden of conscience or guilt (as Dr. Stout so eloquently describes). He stealthily acts on compulsion to manipulate and dominate others for a crude sense of narcissistic fulfilment. A sociopath is driven to be the master-puppeteer, making use of, and often victimizing, unsuspecting individuals, groups, or societies.
A Personal Background: What caused my interest in this odd topic?
Over the last couple of years, I have had a disturbing experience with a neighbor. I witnessed him harass, sabotage, tell numerous lies and preposterous stories, threaten people for incoherent reasons, provoke people, and even show subtly violent tendencies. Upon personally witnessing him during acts of hurtful aggression, each time, he had a bizarre look of utter amusement on his face, accompanied with a twisted laughter. Other neighbors had complained to me, offended about snide remarks he had made to them for no apparent reason. One of them worked with the mentally ill, and once told me he suspected that he was a psychopath, before I even knew what the word meant. At the time, I thought nothing of my neighbor’s hunch, due to my complete ignorance of sociopathy / psychopathy. I witnessed him attempt an intentionally brutal blow at someone during a sporting event (he hid it as part of play), and it could have been injurious. When asked about it, he admitted to it, and said that he “does not aim for the head.” Another neighbor once confronted him about why he refused to apologize about some harassing acts, and I was told that he replied, “I rarely apologize… In fact, I intended to do those things, so I am not going to apologize because that wouldn’t be sincere. What I will do, is look the person in the eye, and tell him that I’m going to stop f****** with him.” He has a pattern of offensiveness toward people, with no sense of responsibility, no guilt, no remorse, and no shame. It was as though he felt entitled to hurt others, and stop when he wanted to.
Most people in the neighborhood were not witnesses to his malevolent behavioral pattern. They knew he was a little odd, but did not suspect any causative condition other than eccentricity (in fact, recently, a former neighbor unaware of his overall nature just described him as “a kook” to me). Non-witnesses tended to reflexively dismiss that something was not right about him, and thought he was “an okay” person, as I was once told when raising my concerns with a neighbor. After all, he looked like a normal guy, held down a job, was smart, charismatic, and often afforded complements and gifts – especially when getting to know you. It was as if he knew what to say to make people feel valued, and exuded a sense of alpha-male leadership and confidence. His quirky comments and sharp wit were strangely colorful, often livened neighborhood gatherings, and contributed to his popularity among some.
He also seemed to best influence a small pack of neighbors who, oddly, seemed unaffected by his outlandish and often hurtful behavior. They remained indifferent when he violated or threatened others, and even made dismissive excuses for his conduct many times. It seemed as if nothing he did could trigger red flags to them, that something dark might be driving the behavior. I had multiple at-length discussions about the bizarre and hurtful behavior with one of them, only to be met with denials and apathy about what was clearly, and repeatedly observable. It was also extremely rare to see him socializing with anyone outside of the pack, unless at least one of the members was present. He seemed virtually friendless and disconnected to the broader neighborhood, except by extension of the pack.
Why I Decided to Write
By happenstance, I became aware that experts describe my neighbor’s behavioral patterns (only a sample of offenses was referred to above) as consistent with that of an undiagnosed narcissistic sociopath. Considering myself both a victim and a witness, I found the situation personally frightening, and yet, strangely fascinating. After coming to this realization, I later began to notice that the 2016 republican presidential campaign oddly seemed to parallel the neighborhood goings-on. It was as if my neighbor and the small group of lookers-the-other-way were a microcosm of Trump and his followers. I began to wonder if a sociopath, when introduced into a population, will inevitably attract and lead some oddly tolerant people, and predictably cause mayhem beyond and/or within the group.
After researching a great many articles, videos, blogs, and Dr. Stout’s leading book about sociopathy, I learned about a condition called Anti-Social Personality Disorder (“ASPD” is the umbrella term often associated with sociopaths, psychopaths, and narcissists). In turn, that led me to notice that leading presidential candidate Donald Trump’s behavior appears to align with the disorder – and I found out that I am hardly alone with this conclusion. A growing number of articles by respectable sources are supporting the same point (or similar points), all while this perspective gets little significant media coverage.
I decided to write this piece for two reasons. First, after my experience with my neighbor, I wanted to increase awareness about sociopathy. I have learned that commonly (much more than thought) ordinary and unsuspecting people encounter sociopaths in their families, jobs, neighborhoods and other places, and suffer in confusion while a person runs amok in their lives. Knowing the warning signs of an undiagnosed sociopath establishes a framework to process aggressive behavior, and having this potential explanation for a person’s confounding hostility can put victims in a better position to understand and manage the situation. Decoding this behavior also significantly reduces the intense frustration that naturally occurs when falsely assuming that a normal person is choosing to behave badly. A sociopath simply does not process life along the same guidelines as a normal person. He does not have the same controls.
Secondly, if Donald Trump is in fact, a sociopath, this country faces dangerous electoral possibilities, and I view injecting this topic into political discourse as service to country that I cannot stand idly by and ignore. He appears to be escaping appropriate media scrutiny, as many appear oblivious to the possible cause of his outlandish behavior. People (media included) are seemingly dismissing Trump’s behavior as plain ole’ rich-guy eccentricity, when it could be due to something much more serious.
If Donald Trump’s behavior is sociopathic, without question, this situation is the biggest story in politics that no one is talking about. The best and the brightest in the media appear not to have the proper perspective to appraise the phenomenon, and could be failing to connect the dots.
What gives me the right to discuss this topic as a layman?
I fully recognize that I have no certifications to perform psychological evaluation. However, I can read, and I can pay attention to the copious resources produced by experts and regular people having experience with sociopaths, and arrive at a consolidated viewpoint.
As a layman, I invite subject-matter experts to agree or disagree with the Trump/sociopathy proposition, including dissecting whether Trump is simply a classic narcissist, some other type of sociopath, psychopath, some combination of the above, or none of the above. Also, I recognize that laymen should never attempt to diagnose a mental illness, but one can learn how to spot whether a person appears to fit the bill of an undiagnosed sociopath. As with my neighbor, that is also my belief about Trump. I am in no way claiming with certainty that Trump is a sociopath. This entire writing reflects my strong speculation that that is the case. The remainder of this document is also arguably over-populated with links for sourcing, however, I decided to maintain those links to support the stated viewpoints.
Trained in sociopathy or not, I can state one certainty: If there is a debate about whether a person is a narcissist or a sociopath (or any of the related personality disorders), there is much cause for alarm if you are within that person’s sphere of influence. The stakes are even higher if the questioned individual is in contention to lead the free world.
Is it Sociopath or Psychopath?
The line between “sociopaths” and “psychopaths” is blurry based on topic experts’ varying positions. Both fall under the ASPD spectrum, and their delineations (or lack thereof) seem to be debatable depending on points-of-view from various respected sources. Some say that the two are just manifestations of the same condition, while others describe clear differences. I have read that the names for the same condition have simply evolved, whereas sociopath is the new psychopath, and ASPD has become the new sociopath. Finally, many consider the psychopath to be more business-like than the sociopath in acting out the same disorder. As a layman, I would not attempt to distinguish the two. I simply lump anyone showing an ASPD pattern into one of the names, as many experts do. For me, that name is “sociopath.”
What about the narcissist?
Donald Trump is very frequently referred to as a narcissist. While narcissism accompanies the sociopath, a person could have narcissistic personality disorder without being a sociopath. Nonetheless, narcissists can be dangerous on several fronts. Usually, they engage in social, emotional and psychological aggression, but can also be violent. Like the sociopath, they lack empathy, and can therefore lack restraint controls while they hurt or manipulate others to feel dominant. A narcissist is popularly thought of as a person who is simply “full of themselves,” or “vein.” However, a true narcissist is someone much more complex, and a person who may be quite unsafe to be around.
Why should I care about sociopathy?
If you feel you’ve never had the unfortunate experience of crossing paths with a sociopath, don’t be so sure. According to Dr. Stout, as many as 1 in 25 people have a sociopathic personality. That means there is a good chance that you have dealt with, are dealing with, or will deal with one or more of these people from time to time in your life. Odds are strong that you know at least one, right now. One could be your neighbor, your cousin, your boss, or your spouse. A sociopath might even be someone who you believe is a fantastic person, because you are enchanted by his charm, charisma, and the way he connects with you. As long as you do not get in his way or become a “perceived” threat to him, or he feels you are useful to him, this person may be incredibly nice to you – indefinitely. However, you are flirting with danger by embracing this kind of individual. I have seen first-hand, that a person with sociopathic behavioral patterns can begin making threats and even become aggressive toward people for incoherent and/or benign reasons. You do not really know what will set a sociopath off, or what harm he may be capable of doing when set off. For this reason, it is important to distance yourself as possible once you observe a contact consistently displaying sociopathic warning signs.
In my opinion, my neighbor appears to fit the bill for an undiagnosed sociopath, as outlined by Dr. Stout and multiple other resources. On advice of research, I simply cut communication with him, and he, for the most part, eventually disengaged. In described sociopathic fashion, when I occasionally see him around the neighborhood, he sometimes attempts to be conversational, behaving completely as though none of his violations against me ever happened. Nevertheless, I continue to ignore him. When he wants something from me on occasion, he will leave me a voicemail, but I simply do not respond. If I saw him tomorrow, he would behave as if it were just another day with me, and without any regard to the awkwardness of my obvious and complete avoidance of him.
Sociopaths (as the Grey Rock method suggests) need constant stimulation, and are crudely entertained by the emotional response they draw when they behave offensively. It is part of the disturbance. The intense emotional reaction, the ire they draw from people, produces “narcissistic supply,” a lusted-after feeling of superiority brought about by a sense of ability to manipulate others’ emotions, behavior and circumstances. They know how to get in a person’s gut, and which people (usually the empathic) are prime targets for the game. If a target stops supplying the reaction, a sociopath will tend to get bored and move on. Specialists say that no two of them are the same, however, so the way I managed my neighbor might not work with others. Breadth, depth, and intensity of sociopathic behavior can vary greatly from person to person. Many are the harmless-but-bothersome garden-variety, who’s worst injury will be to consistently try your last nerve given any opportunity (I suspect my neighbor is mostly in this category). At the far end of the spectrum are the deeply disturbed, who could also be violent. That leaves much room in the middle for moderate sociopaths who can cause a great deal of havoc in people’s lives. While most sociopaths are not violent, again, one never knows what might set one of them off to become dangerous. Learning to spot a sociopath could prove to be a valuable skill, as many people do not learn that they have been dealing with one until after some amount of avoidable turmoil.
Drill down a little more. So what’s a sociopath like?
A sociopath displays a narcissistic personality, and shows a noticeable lack of concern for the rights of others. Not only is there disregard for others’ rights, but also he (or she) displays a pattern of violating them without apparent guilt, remorse or shame – all with a full sense of entitlement to do so. Sociopaths are often (but not always) overt bullies, and the way they violate others can take on many forms, including, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, physical harm, sabotage, thievery, manipulation, and con artistry.
The woman who berated the waitress for no good reason, the financier who defrauded his clients of their precious savings, the person who felt no emotion as the guilty verdict was read, and the successful executive who sabotaged a colleague’s project to better position herself for a promotion, could all be sociopaths. The woman who calmly and deliberately took out a contract out on her husband for insurance money, and that slacking adult-dependent child in the basement who feels fully entitled to take liberties with the family resources – they could all be sociopaths too. By researching sociopathy, it becomes apparent that the estimated 4% of the population having the disorder impacts many ordinary people’s lives, with the psychological drivers often going undetected for years, or even indefinitely. Just think, almost 7 percent of the US population experiences depression, and there are drug advertisements for the condition everywhere. More than half as many are estimated to be sociopathic, and the general public hardly knows of the condition.
Many with this condition are on good behavior much of the time. They gain trust early-on by intentionally charming others with gifts, complements, and by keenly faking emotion and an ability to relate. Like a chameleon, if you discuss an aspect of your background, they have no trouble fabricating or exaggerating a matching story to create a connection. Once trust is gained, it becomes difficult for the trusting person to gauge that something might be wrong with the endearing friend if misbehavior occurs later. This is a kind of brainwashing, where the trusting person can become blinded to reality, and even “gaslighted.” Make no mistake however; a sociopath’s emotional range is too limited to actually feel authentic friendship. Sociopaths desire followers. They are predators, who can keenly sense which people to target with feigned affection, in their compulsion to become puppeteer to an individual, group, or society. Some victims eventually come to their senses, and realize they fell to a con job from the very beginning. Many other victims never come to their senses. Finally, skillful sociopaths can be subtle in the way that they damage others, sometimes doing it behind the scenes. They will charm the right people in an environment to inoculate themselves from victims’ complaints. Often, a protesting victim will find himself isolated, and looking like the fool when an adept sociopath has done his homework.
How would I know how to spot a sociopath?
Beyond crossing others’ boundaries, there are many other behavioral patterns that can point to a sociopathic personality. Again, laypeople cannot and should not attempt to diagnose a sociopath. However, there are ample resources to teach a person the condition’s tell-tale signs. The concern is greatest when a person’s behavior includes a preponderance of red flags.
The list below provides some behavioral markers known to be exhibited by sociopaths, with links to aligning behavior exhibited by Donald Trump. It is by-no-means a comprehensive checklist, but reflects some common themes found among many resources. Since no two sociopaths are the same, each one is capable of showing different warning signs.
- They have grandiose egos, and a high sense of entitlement.
- They do not conform to social norms or rules.
- They lie for the sake of lying. Often telling wildly distorted stories, cunning tales, and whoppers. When called out, they often double-down, and engage in more lies and verbal gymnastics for additional cover.
Many people would argue that politicians are in a cut-throat profession, and sometimes lie or stretch the truth to get ahead or save their necks. History is littered with examples of that kind of behavior. However, a sociopath’s situation is different. Sociopaths do not merely tell lies to escape trouble or other purposes on occasion. Sociopaths tell lies seemingly for the sake of lying. The lies appear pathological. Donald Trump appears to tell lies almost continuously, and compulsively. “Trump makes Four-Pinocchio statements over and over again, even though fact checkers have demonstrated them to be false” according to a recent article in the Washington Post. “Sociopathic liars” are described as compulsive liars, who routinely deceive others to achieve goals.
- They do not admit to being wrong because they feel that they are never wrong.
- They have a very limited range of emotion, although they are keen on faking emotion to relate to and manipulate others. They are not easily startled, and can maintain uninterrupted eye contact when normal people would find it uncomfortable. Most importantly, they lack empathy, shame and remorse.
- They have an irrational fixation on winning, domination, and manipulating others.
A covetous sociopath is described as someone who envies or lusts to win or possess another’s qualities (looks, a personality, a mate, an award or promotion, money, a sports victory, etc…) so much, that he will resort to deceit to get them. When this individual cannot win or possess those qualities, he takes as much pleasure from being able to successfully thwart his perceived competition, even if from the sidelines. Many times the victim will have no idea that he was targeted. I believe that if Trump loses the nomination or general election, he could possibly go to great lengths to position himself as someone who did not lose. There could be lawsuits, and wild claims of collusion against him, and strong attempts to besmirch the power-brokers, winners or even voters.
- They refuse to acknowledge responsibility or apologize for hurting others.
- They are masterful at “flipping the script.”
As one of many examples, in 2011 Trump failed to prove president Obama was foreign-born after claiming his investigators had found “absolutely unbelievable” information. He later re-positioned himself as successful by merely taking credit for getting the white house to produce a birth certificate. No “unbelievable” information has come forth to date.
- They possess an extremely fragile self-esteem underneath their public persona. Criticizing them, especially in front of their perceived followers, creates a condition called “narcissistic injury,” and will be met with irrational anger and often disproportionate retaliation. Trump seems to cleverly position this response as “counter- punching.”
- They play the victim when they are the obvious aggressor. According to Dr. Stout, “playing the pity card” is one of the top and most surprising traits of a sociopath. Again, Trump’s often stated counter-puncher position maintains that when someone attacks him, he hits back “10 times harder.” That philosophy is a form of playing the victim, gains him attention, and justifies abuse of others.
- It is difficult-to-impossible to reason with them, no matter how outlandish their propositions. When called out, they, again,double-down on the irrational because they are never wrong.
- They tend to travel in packs, and can draw a following, but have almost no actual, meaningful friends.
- After violating others, they expect people to behave as if there was no violation, and as if everything is normal.
- They tend to have low impulse-control. They might decide to attack on impulse, but can wait patiently for weeks, months, or longer, before they actually strike. If they feel you violated them (even if you were not an aggressor), they never forget.
- They enjoy a crude sense of entertainment from manipulating others, or when followers express allegiance. Trump seems to bask in delight when getting crowds to show allegiance in call-and-response.
What’s at the center of this deviant behavior?
According to Dr. Stout and others, a sociopath’s limited emotional range, most importantly includes lack of conscience. Conscience is a burden that serves a positive purpose in humans, who are arguably principally motivated by self-interest. It is a regulator chip that kicks in to stop us from going too far. Imagine being a healthy 30-year-old jockeying for position to be the last person onto a packed subway car. You are in a rush, but so is everyone around you. You and another 30-year-old have a chance to step in. Do you? In a rush circumstance, most people would probably say yes. Now what if that person, were 40? 50? 60? 90? Perhaps the person has a disability or is expecting? For most people, that regulator chip would kick in at some point on the spectrum. Conscience would cause you to yield the space because you would feel badly about causing burden to someone who you perceive as vulnerable – or – because you would feel badly about being seen causing that burden (conscience is not necessarily linked to morality). In either case, conscience stops you from harming another. Empathy and social filters cause you not to barge forward. A sociopath lacks empathy, and social filters, because he has no conscience. He feels entitled to the space, and there will be no remorse, guilt or shame for taking it by hook or by crook.
Importantly, Lack of conscience factors into the narcissistic sociopath’s narcissism. Without a conscience, the narcissist feels super-human (perhaps there is some truth to that). He feels more powerful because he can lie, fake friendships, bully, hurt, degrade, sabotage, or squash people like bugs without batting an eye, or raising his pulse. Behind the mask, he silently sees ordinary people as malleable weaklings, because they are bound by emotions that he does not have to answer to. This self-perception fuels the strongman aura — the alpha-figure pheromone that inspires so many individuals to see sociopaths as a special and different. Charismatic sociopaths often draw a following because they are presumed to be “tell it like it is, take no prisoners, get things done” kind of people, the kind who will shake things up, and the kind you want working for you. They are the kind many want to lead them in a scary world. Absence of conscience can lead to a demented kind of confidence, and confidence attracts people like nothing else.
So why do sociopaths seem to fly under-the-radar if they’re so deceitful?
Sociopaths go undetected for several reasons. For starters, most people have little or no knowledge of sociopathy to begin with, and are therefore not inclined to think that mental illness could be at the root of a person’s odd behavior. People also expect someone labeled a “sociopath” to be an overtly crazed individual. In reality, however, sociopaths do not have psychosis, unless another condition is also at play. They can hold jobs, get married and otherwise be functional in society, despite many of them having trouble with these social markers. They do not look any different than the average person, and can be quite clever at concealing their differences and aggression. In a 2010 Forbes article by Davia Temin, called “The Sociopath in the Office Next Door” she describes one as follows: “Attractive, well-spoken and suave, he says all the right things and makes all the right promises.”
Sociopaths are also commonly associated with TV serial killers, and thought only to be highly demented. Most sociopaths are, in fact, not violent, and serial killers represent only a far-fringe element. According to Little Do We Know: 5 Myths About Sociopathy, Debunked by M.E. Thomas (author of Confessions of a Sociopath):
“Only 20 percent of male and female prison inmates are sociopaths, although we are probably responsible for about half of serious crimes committed. Although sociopaths are more likely to be in prison than the average person, “psychopathy can and does occur in the absence of official criminal convictions, and many psychopathic individuals have no histories of violence,” according to psychologist and researcher Jennifer Skeem.”
The reason up to 1 in 5 incarcerated people, and up to 50% of serious criminals are sociopaths (and their recidivism rate is also double that of others), is because they have a much greater propensity to violate others. There is no conscience to regulate aggressive behavior, and there can be many triggers. They simply have little or no emotional connection with their actions’ impact, and can harm others without remorse. How many times has someone committed a heinous crime, all while having no prior criminal record, and with a host of friends and neighbors who never knew the person to be dangerous? One might hear those friends and neighbors describe the person as a “loaner” or somewhat “different,” but the real trouble with this person remained undetected until it was too late.
When one of these people moves into a neighborhood, starts a job in an office, or is otherwise introduced into a group or family, some level of mayhem will eventually develop. Many times, the person will leave disarray and damage in his wake, once finally out of the picture. To illustrate the wake of a sociopath, here is another excerpt from Davia’s article, about what happens when one becomes part of an office environment:
“Then things start to go off a bit. He starts blaming and humiliating individuals in public for mistakes they claim they did not make. He may target one or two individuals, or start playing team members against one another. Talk starts to turn sarcastic and hurtful. Jokes become nasty, profane and mean-spirited, while tempers begin to flare as shouting becomes more acceptable…” “Wherever he went, trouble followed, but he skirted just above the ethical line. And he was successful in what he did.”
If you ever figure out that you’ve unknowingly dealt with a sociopath at home, at work, or elsewhere, you will likely think to yourself, “I should have listened to my instincts. I suspected something was not right with that person, but I just couldn’t figure it out.”
If sociopaths are so precarious, how can some achieve such popularity and success?
Success blinds. It is incorrect to believe that a successful person cannot also be disturbed. A sociopath, in fact, has some emotional advantages in any hierarchical setting where sharp elbows and cut-throat behavior pays off. His success can have an intoxicating halo effect, and inoculate himself from observers’ instinctive suspicion that something might be wrong. Reality tells us otherwise. Even though sociopaths can be criminals, outcasts and layabouts, they generally have high intelligence, intense personalities, and charisma – traits that make them good at getting others to follow them, as a cult leader can. They often exude a natural-born leader personality, and can excel at certain professions, such as sales or politics, where rejection can be constant, but does not deject them. If someone does not support a sociopathic candidate, he will immediately dismiss the person as someone who “does not get it.” It will never be the sociopath’s fault in his own mind.
Who would follow a sociopath? Are certain people more inclined to become their side-kicks or cult members?
Some resources that suggest a specific personality type can pair well with a sociopath – the apath. Apaths are people who exhibit diminished empathy, and make attractive targets for sociopaths to charm. A sociopath knows the typical reaction to his obnoxious behavior, and occasionally, a witness (or even a victim) will respond with unusually high tolerance for it. This kind of person, who might otherwise be empathetic outside of the relationship with the sociopath, is ripe to become a “follower” in the sociopath’s eye. The sociopath will zero in with charm and charisma to establish a greater bond that strengthens the relationship. A charmed apath expresses little empathy for the sociopath’s victims’ suffering.
Reasons for the high tolerance can be many. A person may latch on to a sociopath’s charm out of a need to feel special, or due to vulnerabilities stemming from personal psychological issues, like depression. Sometimes an apath will find it more comfortable or convenient to play along with the sociopath, than to risk confronting him after beginning to observe odd behavior or hurtfulness toward others. An apath might also benefit from the sociopath’s leadership or deeds in some way.
A disaffected group or society’s mass desire for a sense of belonging to something great is also fertile ground for cult leadership. As extreme examples, think of Jim Jones’ and Charles Manson’s followers. Think of the infamous side-kicks of the beltway sniper, the Boston bomber, or even the woman who recently helped two murderers escape from prison in Upstate New York – all likely malleable individuals who succumbed to the psychological manipulation of sociopathic alpha males. History’s list of sociopathic leaders and their followers is long, and the number of not-so-famous leaders and followers is even longer (think of neighborhood bullies, petty criminal gangs, religious cults, and predatory businesses). Sometimes, after significant damage is done, apaths will eventually come to their senses. The epiphany might not occur, however, until a person is rotting in jail, or a country is smoldering in ashes (think of Nazi Germany).
Alright. Some people follow sociopaths, but do sociopaths follow anything?
Sociopaths are compelled to manipulate others to feel dominant, and society provides ample social, professional and criminal opportunities that can supply their narcissistic appetites. According to Roy Klabin’s article “10 Professions That Attract the Most Sociopaths:”
“It might surprise some to learn, however, that the vast majority of sociopaths aren’t killers lurking in the shadows. Most of them are walking around among us, immersed in careers that nurture their psychological traits, and in some cases even reward them.”
He shares author Kevin Dutton’s top 10 list of professions that sociopath’s seek: 1) CEO, 2) Lawyer, 3) Media, 4) Salesperson, 5) Surgeon, 6) Journalist, 7) Policeman, 8) Clergeyman, 9) Chef, and 10) Civil Servant. Regarding Civil Servants, Klabin states:
“Whether you’re a minor-level bureaucrat suffocating the masses in red tape protocol, a hair-piece smiling robot claiming to embody the American dream, or a hypocrite ranting about moral platitudes while keeping your gay sex slave locked in your closet — there’s always plenty of room for sociopaths in the political arena.”
There are many professions, such as law enforcement, that recognize their appeal to sociopaths, and other psychologically undesirable people. They perform psychological testing to eliminate or reduce recruits with these kinds of issues. However, there are many professions, and other pursuits that also draw those without empathy, and do not screen for them. A group like ISIS has no screens, and in fact, greatly benefits from these kinds of individuals. The screen for a democratic political system is simply the vote, but unfortunately, a shrewd sociopath is well-adapted to deceive voters all the way into office.
Casual, cold-blooded, callousness is sociopathic behavior. Whether a person is a terrorist who kills for kicks under cover of religion, a politician lying to the masses to gain control of them, or just a neighborhood bully, society can accommodate these roles. Sociopaths appear to gravitate towards activities and professions where they can exert power over the helpless, the innocent, and the unsuspecting. Terrorist groups, illicit businesses, street gangs, cults, hate groups, and fascist political movements all represent platforms that can draw people who feel disenfranchised, angry and desperate, and are well-short on empathy. Examples are everywhere.
In my opinion, Donald Trump’s behavior arguably fits the profile of a sociopath, as described by numerous experts and other sources. With this premise in mind, I say to beware. Trump’s run for president could be the ultimate con job. The greatest hoodwink ever, for the greatest prize ever – domination of the world’s largest superpower.
Donald Trump appears not personally invested in much of what he’s selling, and could be seeking this ultimate worldly power to feed his own narcissism. If he is in fact a sociopath, then under the mask, he would view his supporters as no more than useful idiots – en masse. Many people are desperate enough to buy anything from an outsider, and apathetic enough to turn a blind eye to his shenanigans, because they feel disenfranchised, and want to belong to something great. For this reason, Trump’s campaign tagline (which he dubiously claims authorship of Regan’s campaign slogan) is ingenious in a Machiavellian sense, because it exploits this sentiment.
His followers are not splitting hairs on policy nuance. Underneath the political theatrics, Donald Trump’s followers are flocking to him mostly on big personality, and big promises. Behind those big promises is an offer to belong to something great, and a return to times thought by many as simpler and more comfortable. Those times are not coming back. The charisma, the strongman-characteristics, and the charm can be spell-binding to those hungry enough for change, and yearning to feel validated.
There are more and more articles accumulating on Donald Trump in association with the topic of mental illness, yet mainstream American political discourse does not include this important fact. The key questions to voters are: “Do you want a person who is questionably devoid of conscience and empathy, with a self-serving orientation and thirst to dominate others, to control war and peace matters?” and “Do you want someone with a penchant for outrageous, disrespectful and pathologically untruthful statements to represent the United States?”
Below is a final excerpt by Steve Becker’s (LCSW, and expert in narcissistic spectrum personality disorders) article “Unmasking the Psychopath “, to leave you with yet another specialist’s opinion on just who Donald Trump might be:
“What I’m thinking is, Trump really is quite psychopathic, not just the “narcissistic carnival act” I thought he was. Trump meets the criteria of the “charismatic psychopath…” “Now…I could be wrong about that. Maybe Trump really wants to be President and win this thing. But like all charismatic psychopaths, Trump strikes me as embracing and enjoying this “presidential run” as a “big game.” He seems to be enjoying the deployment and impact of his considerable manipulative powers with a perverse delight, perhaps even with a certain incredulity as he sees what he’s doing–even factoring in a malignant ego one would think would be unsurprised by any effect he could pull.”
In wondering about people who behave like my neighbor, and Trump, I believe a person who is truly good, does not normally show occasional patterns of cruelty. Yet, a person who is bad can easily show repeated goodness – especially when it buys the hearts and minds of the unsuspecting. An ego-maniacal person who seems to engage in repeated casual and unapologetic cold-bloodeddeness, and pathological lying, should engender suspicion of sociopathy.
After having read this article, I encourage you to investigate on your own, whether Trump’s behavior fits a sociopathic pattern. I believe it does, and that he will continue to act this way because he cannot escape who he is. If you think so, you must grasp the gravity of what it means to have a sociopath leading the country, making decisions for all of us, and representing us on the world stage. Would you be comfortable with a person without conscience, guilt or shame, and an addiction to manipulating others to feel dominant, as president of the United States?
What do you think?
Let’s get the discussion started.