There are many speculations out there regarding the current president’s psychological state. Some type him as a narcissist, and many others as either a sociopath or a psychopath.[i] I cannot assert my own assumption on his psychology with conviction, as I have never been that interested in Donald Trump as a person. Although he became a famous real-estate tycoon in the 1980’s, giving interviews on Opera, Letterman, and Larry King, and continued this fame mainly by co-authoring a book, The Art of the Deal (1987) and hosting a reality TV show, The Apprentice (2004-2015), the first concrete memory I have of his existence is from July or August[ii] of 2015, when I read a magazine article about his campaign for president. This incited my curiosity, so I did some internet investigating in which- due to his huckster knack for simple, provoking language and indifferent, self-absorbed facial expressions- I concluded something similar to the following: “Oh shit, we have to be careful how we handle this.”
Since then, I- along with many others- have been exposed to his behavioral patterns. His actions revolve around curating an inflated image of himself, and when that image is challenged- despite logic and reason- he lashes out in ways that aren’t in his best interest. These public rages (which often occur on Twitter) could be a curated act on the president’s part, but it is likely that Trump is unable to hide the shame and anger he feels when his actions are rebuked and his public image derided. As this is not the mark of a psychopath or sociopath (who remain unfazed by shame and derision, unless their perceived power is threatened) it seems that we have at best an underdeveloped narcissist or at worst an impeccably aware psychopath who is shamelessly playing the fool as the United States leading figurehead.[iii]
If Trump is the former, his lack of awareness is in our favor. Despite having a genius command of sale-language,[iv] he is not intelligent nor self-aware enough to have provoked such fear in the general public. His impulsive, uninformed decision making- if left unchecked- and his ability to coddle white nationalism is dangerous, but his need for praise and attention and his desire to publicize his thoughts and actions make it unlikely that he could effectively plan a covert and ferocious attack. Overall, it is how we have reacted to his presidency that should be feared. For Trump, his primary- maybe only- focus is to be in the spotlight. And we, in our obsession with clickbait and sensational news, have (in our own state of unawareness) given this to him.
However, I don’t want this essay to be another exposition on the president. There is plenty of other content you can consume regarding his psychological state. What I do want to discuss is the psychopathic personality. We continue to live in a world that promulgates the success of such individuals, and in order to change this reality it would help if we could have a comfortable discourse concerning the powerful nature of a well-developed psychopath.
So what is a psychopaths most powerful quality? And what is it that makes them more dangerous and successful than someone who exhibits only narcissistic traits?
It could be my personal opinion, but I would argue that successful psychopaths gain their immense power by honing their antisocial characteristics. A narcissist, being overly reliant on public opinion, is inherently beholden to others. But a psychopath- who displays narcissistic traits primarily due to an inherent lack of empathy- do not care about their public image insofar as it is viewed as dominant. This trait not only makes it natural for them to act alone and in accordance with their pragmatic interests, but it also provides them with uncanny insight into their behavior and the behavior of those around them.
In order to eliminate confusion amongst the psychologist readers, we should first distinguish between the psychological terms antisocial and asocial. Antisocial doesn’t refer to a tendency to be alone, but rather a tendency to shun and antagonize social norms as well as manipulate and harm one’s environment for the purpose of amusement or personal gain. An asocial is someone who avoids socialization or lacks the motivation to socialize and- therefore- often interacts in an inconsiderate or hostile nature towards others. This behavior is used to describe people with anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, or autism, but- interestingly enough- not psychopaths.
However, the terminology above is both too broad and too limiting. In antisocials and asocials, there is a tendency to relate to others in a differing manner, making common social interaction less rewarding for the individual and thus inciting a preference for seclusion or lone action. For the remainder of this article, I will use the term asocial to mean the following traits: preference for solitude and individual initiative, a lack of connection with group mentality, and an uncanny ability to analyze themselves, others, and society due to their outside perspective on human socialization.
What many fail to realize is that the traits mentioned above are also common in what is considered to be the psychopaths foil: the empath.
But let us discuss the psychopath first.
The solitude of a psychopath differs from the solitude of an intuitive empath or an introspective introvert. Psychopaths rely on their external environment for diversion, and are thus contingent upon others. Perhaps due to their low general levels of dopamine, but exaggerated response to dopamine when engaged in risk-and-reward behavior, a psychopath’s drive to socialize occurs either as a response to their pervasive sense of boredom or as a means to achieve success, power, and social dominance. However, even when they surround themselves with others, they continue to feel a sense of isolation as they cannot and do not care to relate to others or even to themselves as an individual. This lack of identity and empathy is something that aids a psychopath, as it allows them to become whoever they want and do whatever they want whenever they want without consequence or contradiction to an internal ideology.[v]
To put it in blunt terms, a psychopath goes through life in constant need for the stimulation that others with a developed sense of empathy and personhood can feel on a daily basis. This is why they go to extreme measures in creating chaotic environments, as that is the only manner in which they can derive any sort of feeling. Along with their apathy towards others, they learn from an early age that normal positive socialization is not enough of a reward, and often become asocial and lonely as a consequence, within their own presence and the presence of others.
In contrast to a psychopath, an empath has an increased sensitivity to dopamine. Normal situations, such as a crowded, noisy environment or being engaged in a group conversation for an extended period of time, can result in intense, crippling, fatigue. Furthermore, many relationships tend to feel superficial, draining, and chaotic due to societies general lack of self-awareness, issues with vulnerability and acceptance, and preference for stimulating environments. Therefore, like their psychopath counterparts, empaths have a tendency to be asocial in nature, as people and the outside world enact their dopamine receptors to the point where a typical social interaction is more draining than it is rewarding.
Carrying many psychopathic and empathetic traits is burdensome for the individual. The perfunctory nature of a nine-to-five career and the chaos of modern society can drain an empath to the point of depression, anxiety, lack of drive, and severe isolation. The structure, long-term planning, reciprocal relations, and banal lifestyle society requires for common success drives the psychopath to anarchic disruption in relationships, families, businesses, communities, countries, and- if possible- worldwide. Due to this, both empaths and psychopaths can experience difficulty in maintaining jobs and relationships, and the majority- since their high-cost-high-reward functioning is not adequately understood, accepted, or encouraged- often end up in a dire state. For a psychopath, this typically occurs at school age via miscreant behavior and juvenile incarceration; for an empath, this is often seen once the individual enters the workforce and- despite their potential- fails to thrive in a shallow labor market amongst the dense competition.
Yet, both psychopaths and empaths can thrive with the appropriate support. Psychopaths can become amazing surgeons, hired assassins, and federal agents, as they can operate under immense stress and for long hours without reacting to hunger, pain, discomfort, or drowsiness.[vi] They can also become amazing investigators, journalists, and logicians- using their uncanny rationalism for the greater good of humanity. Empaths can become great nurturers, leaders, philosophers, and artists, using their holistic knowledge of the proclivities, inclinations, and desires of humanity to incite positive change into existing structures that favor a calculated and cunning minority. But in order to become these successes, individuals of either temperament must use their asocial natures to cultivate the high rewards of their personalities.
And this brings me back to my initial argument: that the asocial nature of the psychopath and empath is what gives these personalities such power. Due to the lack of pleasure either receive in quotidian socializing, an individual with developed traits of psychopathy and empathy will spend time analyzing existing social structures and questioning how those structures were formed. This creates a sturdy individual as- whether from sensory logic or innate intuition- such a person has a strong hold on their strengths and weaknesses and the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents. Furthermore, their analytical and exterior perspective on societal formation allows them to develop a clear picture of a situation and the ability to alter or work within given circumstances to achieve an aim or goal. Thus, they have an uncanny capacity to understand human nature and pinpoint the root causes of societal issues.
In a society that often focuses on the particular, we limit our ability to understand the powerful essence of a condition in its entirety. We view psychopaths as fruitful and productive due to their logical capabilities, tunnel vision, manipulation, lack of reaction to pain and discomfort, resilience, and superficial charm. Those traits- although beneficial- are highly fallible when used against an intuitively aware opponent- such as the developed empath. In contrast, we esteem the empath for their mystical understanding of themselves, others, and the community as a whole, yet those traits seem highly fallible when used against a logical, sensory individual, such as the psychopath. However, it is when either nature uses their outside perspective on human socialization and combine this perspective with innate logic or empathy that they can induce massive change in the social sphere they influence; and it is this aspect of the emotional empath and logical psychopath that make their high-risk traits astoundingly rewarding.
Cultivating such a profound awareness is difficult for even the most developed of psychopaths and empaths. In fact, many psychopaths and empaths fail to achieve such a state due to the manner in which their egocentric or emotional centeredness impacts their ability to maintain an external perspective. However, it is this powerful awareness that the most notable influencers have acquired, and it should be discussed so that we can recognize the individuals who have cultivated it; encouraging those who use it for the positive, and opposing those who use it for the negative.
Regardless of our natural proclivities, we can all develop this powerful state of awareness. But in order to do so, we must first break away from communal bounds and view societal interaction from an external perspective, garnering a holistic view on the status of our community, country, and world order. And perhaps if we had such a community of self-aware individuals, we could effectively maintain a well-functioning society that works together for the collective good.
[i] Although they share similar traits, the major difference in the terminology is that a psychopath acquires these personality characteristics from birth due to abnormal cerebral wiring, whereas a sociopath acquires these traits through conditioning.
[ii] But likely July. (I can remember the room and my prone position on the bed at that time, and I normally don’t maintain concrete visual memories as I tend to sense my environment via thought, feeling, and sound.)
[iii] It should be noted that many former presidents of the United States exhibit narcissist, sociopathic, and psychopathic traits, as it is a job title that attracts such personalities and the political culture of the United States emboldens such traits. Furthermore, we must realize that unless the current societal structure is improved upon, such individuals will continue to hold the presidential office.
[iv] In order to understand the intelligence Trump has in sales-language, watch this video essay from Evan Puschak: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_aFo_BV-UzI&t=2s.
[v] Psychopaths are natural pragmatists and shit ideologues. (Although they can become founders or leaders of a religious or ideological sect for pragmatic reasons.)
[vi] Since psychopaths have low levels of dopamine and serotonin, they don’t have as strong a need to fulfill their basic needs, allowing them to maintain their focus on tasks despite their physical state. This is why they can exhibit intense self-control in certain instances, despite their proclivity towards addiction and indulgent behavior.