Trump’s latest whopper is that he never met his newly appointed acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker.
Trump has been called a pathological liar. The technical name for this is pseudologia fantastica which Wikipedia describes is a behavior of habitual or compulsive lying. Although it is a controversial topic, pathological lying has been defined as “falsification entirely disproportionate to any discernible end in view, may be extensive and very complicated, and may manifest over a period of years or even a lifetime”. Clinicians have speculated over whether Trump knows he is lying at the time or believes the lies as he tell them (See wishful thinking syndrome below). Let’s look at that from a mental illness perspective.
There are alternate explanations for Trump’s blatant lying besides his knowing he can get away with this with his base. He knows that at least some members of his MAGA cult know he is lying and that they don’t care. This “merely” makes him a craven opportunistic immoral liar.
The other possibilities all require a working knowledge of psychiatric diagnosis.
1) Dissociative disorder (previously called multiple personality disorder)
This is a disorder where a person has what are called alters which are personalities with their own unique characteristics and memories. The disorder is marked by amnesia so when one or another alter personality is in control some or all of the others have amnesia for what has transpired. Thus, if Trump has two personalities, Donald and Donnie, Donald may have met with Whitaker and Donnie didn’t. Thus when Donnie was asked if he ever met him he’d be telling the truth as he knew it when saying he hadn’t.
2) Delusionals, prevalent in certain kinds of psychosis.
A delusion is a false belief. For example, they can be that you are Jesus or that aliens are communicating with you though your television set. People with delusions believe them and cannot be talked out of them even when shown compelling evidence that what they believe is not true.
3) Memory disorder
This diagnosis is generally made by a neurologist. It could be due to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
4) Wishful thinking disorder
This isn’t an officially recognized psychiatric disorder. However, wishful thinking can be seen as a clinical syndrome associated with other disorders. Wikipedia describes it as the formation of beliefs and making decisions according to what might be pleasing to imagine instead of by appealing to evidence, rationality, or reality.
As a psychotherapist who considers Trump as meeting the criteria for being a malignant narcissist, the hypothetical combination of extreme narcissism with aspects of anti-social personality disorder, when it come to his outrageous lying I think the explanation is a combination of being unfazed in playing to his crowds by spinning self-aggrandizing or fear mongering lies, and have a touch of wishful thinking disorder.
Hal Brown, MSW, is a retired psychotherapist and mental health center director.
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