How to Deal with a Narcissist

By: Jane Honoroff

Those of you who know me will not be surprised that my own political views are on the opposite end of the spectrum from our new President’s.

I’ve been thinking and thinking and thinking about how to hold on to the values that our new President seems determined to dismantle—from civil liberties to respectful, good faith negotiations, to integrity and honesty in the way people should treat each other.  And I’ve been trying to figure out how those of us who see this administration as the complete antithesis of these values need to find a way to take political action that will be effective.  Then this morning I had an epiphany.  

There are two things that narcissists can’t tolerate.  One is evidence that they are not the center of the universe and that people don’t like or respect them.  The other is the idea that they are, in fact, not special or different from many other people who came before them or are around today.  Normalizing their experience is seen by a narcissist as denying their uniqueness and it drives them crazy. 

In my work at TMG, as a psychotherapist, and as a consultant to Greater Boston Legal Services, I call on my skills and knowledge of mental health to enable me to better understand what makes people tick. This understanding then gives me an approach -- whether or not I like, respect or agree with them --  to more effectively interact with them and perhaps influence their own attitudes and behavior. Understanding the impact of narcissism as an underpinning for much of what we are seeing in the early days of this administration may provide some useful insights.

For example, I believe it begins to explain why in his first day in office as President of the United States, Donald Trump could not focus on his job but only on the numbers of women, men and children who marched in protest. He couldn’t tolerate and accept the FACT that more people filled the Washington mall on the day of the march than filled the same space on his inauguration day.  And he couldn’t stop himself from falsely, “shamefully aggrandizing himself” as John Brennan said, while standing in front of a CIA wall honoring those who gave their lives to protect this country.  Because in true narcissistic fashion everything is all about him and only him.

So with these narcissistic reactions operating in a way that Donald Trump can’t control, it seems to me that those who oppose this president need to focus their protest with an eye toward these realities.  That means, one, continuing to unrelentingly exposing him to the “huge” numbers of people who will reject him and his policies.  And two, dig deep historically and in our present world to remind him regularly that he is in no way unique.  That many have gone before him with the same instincts and temporarily succeeded in convincing people that they alone have the answer to very complicated political problems.   That, in truth, he is just another grandiose man who needs to believe that he is special and adored.