...Trump and his convulsive effect on America’s national conversation are giving politics a prominence on the psychologist’s couch not seen since the months after 9/11...The American Psychiatric Association in a May survey found that 39 percent of people said their anxiety level had risen over the previous year—and 56 percent were either “extremely anxious” or “somewhat anxious about “the impact of politics on daily life.” A 2017 study found two-thirds of Americans’ see the nation’s future as a “very or somewhat significant source of stress.”
For two years or more, commentators have been cross-referencing observations of presidential behavior with the official APA Diagnostic and Statistical Manual’s definition of narcissistic personality disorder...the view of some psychological experts...is that Trump has been cultivating, adapting and prospering from his distinctive brand of provocation, brinkmanship and self-drama for the past 72 years. What we’re seeing is merely the president’s own definition of normal. It is only the audience that finds the performance disorienting.
Jennifer Panning, a psychologist from Evanston, Illinois, calls the phenomenon “Trump Anxiety Disorder.” ...the disorder is marked by such symptoms as “increased worry, obsessive thought patterns, muscle tension and obsessive preoccupation with the news.”...A study from the market research firm Galileo also found that, in the first 100 days after Trump’s election, 40 percent of people said they “can no longer have open and honest conversations with some friends or family members.” Nearly a quarter of respondents said their political views have hurt their personal relationships.
Some of the explanation for Trump’s effect lies not just in psychology but in political theory. In countries like the United Kingdom, the head of state (the queen) and the head of government (the prime minister) are separate roles. In the United States they are one. In an era of media saturation presidents tend to be omnipresent figures. And even polarizing figures like Bill Clinton after the Oklahoma City bombing or George W. Bush after 9/11 served as national consolers—suggesting the way people subconsciously assign an almost parental role to the presidency.
Trump’s relentless self-aggrandizement, under this interpretation, makes him less a national father than adolescent at large...So now, the ‘father figure’ is a bully, is an authoritarian who doesn’t believe in studying and doing homework...Rather than reassurance] he creates uncertainty...Conservatives are hurting, too...they feel they don’t have permission to share their real views, or they feel conflicted because they agree with things that the president is doing but they’re uncomfortable with his language and tactics.
Nearly every interview with psychologists returned to the theme of “gaslighting”—the ability of manipulative people to make those around them question their mental grip...Trump daily goes to war on behalf of his own factual universe, with what conservative commentator George F. Will this week called “breezy indifference to reality.”...Gaslighting is essentially a tactic used by abusive personalities to make the abused person feel as though they’re not experiencing reality, or that it’s made up or false...The only reality one can trust is one that is defined by the abuser. Trump does this on a daily basis—he lies, uses ambiguities, demonizes the press. It’s a macroscopic version of an abusive relationship.
...today’s political conditions are ripe to send people of all partisan, ideological and cultural stripes to the emotional edge. “Human beings hate two things,” said Michael Dulchin, a New York psychiatrist who has seen Trump anxiety in his practice. One is “to look to the future and think you don’t have enough energy to succeed and live up to your expectations. The other is to not be able to predict the environment.” Put these together, he said, and the psychological result is virtually inevitable: “Anxiety and depression.”