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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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

1 COMMENT

  1. ADDENDUM (About psychology, not about Trump)

    Trump doesn’t have true multiple personalities though he acts as if he does. He appears to have aspects of the other three disorders I listed.

    Trump does have a personality disorder that will prove to be one for the textbooks because it is so unusual. Read about the disorder that many mental therapists like Dr. John Gartner and I think he does have here: “Trump’s sadistic, malignant narcisism” here: https://www.capitolhillblue.com/node/73978

    This comment has nothing to do with Trump. It is for readers who are interested in psychology and multiple personality. It’s a story I call

    “MPD and Me”

    I treated several clients with what is now called dissociative disorder (multiple personality disorder at the time) with intensive therapy, always with a female co-therapist, with several sessions a week. We had one client who became so suicidal (one of her alters wanted he to kill herself) she had to be in a psychiatric hospital where sessions were video taped in the hospital TV studio. The sessions were viewed by disbelieving staff who then had to question their own (wrong) disgnosis of her as schizophrenic.

    I learned how the amnesia functions and how each alter personality can come across as a complete personality. They perceive themselves this way. When certain personalities are in control others may have amnesia for what happened. There are almost always dominant personalities who don’t have amnesia, even though they not be in control much of the time. They can exercise control whenever they believe they need to.

    We had to begin each session with the question “who is here now?” That’s because while sometime we could guess by their facial expressions, and what they were wearing, or if even if they were wearing prescription glssses (alters sometimes have diffierent visual acuity), we couldn’t tell for sure.

    Dissociative identity disorder almost always is caused by severe childhood abuse, usually sexual abuse. Often these alters identify with the person who abused the client. They are the most dangerous because they can harm another alter not realizing the body they injure they also inhabit. Other alters were formed to protect the client from memories of the abuse.

    My experiences were in the late 1970s when the psychology community thought MPD was extremely rare. This was before the “names” in MPD who followed Cornelia B. Wilbur, MD (the book about her client “Sybil” was published in 1973) showed the disorder was much more pprevalent than originally thought. The prolific Richard Kluft, Greaves, Braun, Lowenstein, etc. began writing papers, books, and doing seminars, and publishing their own journal “Dissociation” in the early 1980s (now called Journal of Trauma & Dissociation).

    Working with multiples convinced me more than anything everything else Freud’s writing enlightmented me about, the mind was INCREDIBLY complex and the unconscious worked in AMAZING ways

    Love him or hate him, Trump is a study in the very most abnormal abnormal psychology, and our way of life and the lives of many people depend on decisions he makes which are driven by psychopathology.

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