Why are sociopaths charismatic

Personality psychology - Charismatic, jovial, unscrupulous: Donald Trump

Since Donald Trump was elected the most powerful man in the world, nothing in politics has been the same as it used to be. Reliability has become a foreign concept, and no foreign policy strategy can be identified. Many people wonder if the man is still normal. A psychology professor from Dresden reflects on the lively debate about the personality of the president in the United States for the DNN.

The common man would say: “Trump? The guy is crazy! ”What does the specialist say?

Prof. Daniel Leising: I am neither a psychiatrist nor a psychotherapist, but primarily deal with such things scientifically. I don't think Trump is crazy. From my point of view, it just violates the usual norms of human coexistence every now and then. But that alone does not justify a diagnosis of the disease. There is, however, a lively debate in the United States about the personality of the president. In this context, in addition to “narcissism”, there are also terms such as “pathological lying”, “sociopathy” or “psychopathy”, of which the last three in particular all describe relatively similar things.

What, for example, characterize so-called “psychopaths”?

Psychopaths do not feel obliged to social standards, but usually want to achieve direct benefits for themselves, which is not infrequently done at the expense of others. They find nothing in manipulating, pressuring and deceiving others when it serves their own ends. You can imagine it in a way that these people subjectively think they are constantly fighting over who can outdo the other, no matter by what means. There is an impressive lack of conscience, but at the same time a charming and jovial facade is often maintained relatively successfully. Most lay people probably think of a psychopath as something like a mad serial killer, but that is not how the term is used in psychology. Violence is not necessarily one of them.

The diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders on the subject of “narcissistic personality disorder”: How many criteria can be assigned to the behavior of the president? Source: Graphic: Archive

What do you mean by “unscrupulousness”?

Most of us carry around something that Freud would have called a “super-ego”: an entity that helps us to distinguish right from wrong in a moral sense. There are things that you just don't usually do to others. A psychopath, on the other hand, really doesn't know what's wrong with taking advantage of others or betraying them when it is useful to them.

Isn't it dangerous to diagnose a person remotely?

As far as I know, Trump has not yet made official diagnoses, and that would only be possible if someone were formally commissioned to do so. Because something like this can easily be misused for political purposes, the American Society for Psychiatry, for example, rightly has a rule that forbids public diagnosis. On the other hand, psychiatrists there repeatedly speak out on the topic of Trump and refer, for example, to their obligation to warn their fellow citizens if a person poses an acute danger from their point of view - diagnosis or not. A Yale psychiatrist even organized a conference on the subject and said something like, "Why should we keep silent about the very subject we understand most about?"

"Before Trump, I didn't know how important a well-functioning, free press is."

On what basis are such judgments made?

Based on current events and what has been documented about Trump for decades: interviews, testimonies, files, inconsistencies in statements by the president himself, etc. You don't have to meet him personally to form an opinion on the president's personality . Most diagnostic decisions that are made in connection with court hearings, for example, can probably be based on a less extensive database.

Can the president be held back by democratic structures?

I think so. In my opinion, democratic structures can often help prevent worse things from happening. Before Trump, for example, I didn't even know how important a well-functioning, free press is. In such a heated political climate as is currently the case in the USA, however, it is all the more important to check carefully which statements are true and which are not. If there were no sufficiently stable democratic structures and institutions in the USA, we might be somewhere else now.

Aren't there very many psychopaths in the world?

No. Their share is at most a few percent of the population. But when they come to power it often becomes very difficult. In the past, research on psychopathy focused primarily on prisoners. Recently, however, the so-called “successful psychopaths” have come more into focus. If someone does not have the usual inhibitions about certain "antisocial" behaviors, that is simply a certain competitive advantage. They simply have more room for maneuver, and psychopaths can sometimes even end up in the boardroom. At the same time, the impulsiveness and overconfidence of these people is often a disadvantage in the long term, and then leads to them being retired at some point.

Would a figure like Donald Trump have a majority in Germany?

Trump wasn't even able to win a majority in America. Competitor Hillary Clinton had 2.7 million votes more than him. In Germany it would have been even more difficult for Trump. There is a much more homogeneous liberal culture here than in the US.

Isn't Trump so disturbing for us perhaps because he is doing what he announced in the election campaign?

Rather, I have the impression that it has largely failed politically so far. The Republicans basically "allowed" him to get through a single project - tax reform, which benefits many Republican financiers directly. But that's about it.

Doesn't everyone have a little psychopath around them?

As always, it's a question of dosage. A little recklessness and a sense of power can sometimes be quite helpful in life. But in the end most people are mostly honest and cooperative. For someone with pronounced psychopathic traits, the opposite is the case: betraying others is the norm.

American journalists have counted Trump's lies in the first ten months of the presidency (red line). Trump lied more than Obama in his entire term in office (blue line). Source: Graphic: Archive

Can employees of psychopathic bosses do something?

In positions of power such people often cause a lot of harm, especially at the interpersonal level. If someone in the executive suite behaves so unethically, the others in the organization must above all create transparency about it: intensively exchange ideas with one another, support one another and possibly also go public. Most of all, psychopaths' strategies work as long as they go undetected, and victims think they are the only ones who suffer. Transparency helps because most people do have a conscience and do not want to accept obvious grievances. But you have to be prepared for violent reactions. It therefore also needs a willingness to fight.

Can psychology prevent psychopaths from being in positions of power?

I clearly see the responsibility of psychology to develop effective strategies so that such people no longer easily get into positions of power or can be removed from such positions more easily.

Noted by Thomas Baumann-Hartwig

Notated by Thomas Baumann-Hartwig