Commentaries on Events in Our Society That Are Related to Anger, Abuse, and Violence
- The OJ Melodrama Draws Attention From The Real Victims (June 1994)
- Where Are We Headed? (March 1996)
- A Double Standard for Violence? (December 1997)
- The Loss of A True Leader (October 2002)
- A "Blast From the Past" (June 2006)
- A Little Less Violence, Please! (November 2007)
- The Shame-Blame Game (November 2011)
- Just Another Senseless Shooting In Our Country (June 2017)
- Donald J. Trump: A Classic Portrait of an Angry, Controlling, and Abusive Man Who Has Absolutely No Desire to Change (October 2018)
- A Shameful Display From Some Minnesota Congressmen and Their Republican Colleagues in the US House of Representatives (December 2020)
- Donald J. Trump: A President of the United States Who Has Been Imprisoned by the Toxic Shame that is an Integral and Corrosive Part of His Personality and Everything That He Says and Does (January 20, 2021)
The OJ Simpson Melodrama Draws Attention From The Real Victims
by David J. Decker, MA, LP
The week that the "OJ spectacle" began, a man completed our domestic abuse program. He had been in this therapy group close to 30 weeks. He had been violent and abusive with his wife and others for 30+ years.
In his final assessment of the progress he has made over the past seven and one-half months, he voiced his gratitude that he had become involved with the program (he was not court-ordered). He also mentioned that he had seen news accounts of the deaths of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman, a male companion who was with her at the time, at her home and was not at all surprised.
Months before, in one of the group's educational units on male socialization and how men learn to be controlling, abusive, and violent, he had read a newspaper article about OJ Simpson's brutal assault on his wife on New Year's Day in 1989. Statements by OJ and his attorney in this article offered the same sorts of well-worn excuses and rationalizations that I have heard from many of the abusive men with whom I have worked over the past 10 years. In a classic example of minimizing the domestic abuse, his attorney stated, "O.J. and Nicole were in an argument that 'got out of hand,' but neither party intended any harm to come to the other. Their marriage has been and continues to be strong." OJ commented, "My wife and I had a fight, that's it. We put it behind us."
He pleaded "no contest" to this beating and was not arrested again despite the fact that police were called to their home at least eight other times. His "consequence" for this single arrest was "telephone counseling," an apparently brief and meaningless intervention that had little or no positive effect on his deep-seated controlling and abusive attitudes and behaviors. Now, four and one-half years later, two people are dead, brutally murdered. OJ, the football hero, movie star, and successful businessman, has been charged with the crime.
What amazes me, however, is the huge outpouring of sympathy and support for OJ at this time and our national obsession with his every word, thought, and movement. Hundreds of fans, packing highway overpasses and waving and "urging him on" in his nationally televised "chase" on the highways in Los Angeles. Then there were the fans gathering at his home and erecting a "shrine" to him and wishing him well.
Where in this whole spectacle is a sense of anger and outrage that his abuse was allowed to continue long after that January 1989 beating that came to the attention of the national press? Where is the acknowledgement that he received no significant consequences, including no jail time that might serve as a message that violence, even when perpetrated by a wealthy and famous superstar, is not okay; and no meaningful therapeutic interventions that might have helped him address and change the controlling and abusive attitudes and behavior that appear to have led to these vicious slayings.
Why does it seem so difficult to see the real victims in this whole drama, the two human beings who have been murdered, the families of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman, and the two young children who will carry the legacy of this atrocity to their graves?
When will we as a culture decide that "enough is enough?" When will be decide that the violence needs to stop and that the controlling attitudes that many males hold about their female partners need to change? Batterers do, in fact, "intend" to do harm to their victims. They do not batter because they "love their partners too much." They are not "out of control." They do make clear choices. And their choices involve intending to dominate and control their partners, sometimes at any price.
Marriages where battering is occurring are not "strong." It is an unending nightmare for the women who are being victimized. And, unfortunately for Nicole, that distant New Year's eve "fight" was not "behind" them. It was only a small step in a long process that escalated and continued over the years until it ultimately led to her death at the hands of the man who claimed that he loved her.
Where Are We Headed?
by David J. Decker, MA, LP
First we had OJ. He was indicted for the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a friend of hers, Ronald Goldman. He was found not guilty last fall. More recently, OJ has made statements that he never hit his wife and that pictures of her bruised and battered face actually reflected her attempts to "pick at her pimples." Now, we have a new example of our society's attitude toward domestic abuse as the Warren Moon trial has drawn to a close. Moon was found not guilty of perpetrating misdemeanor assault. His wife, Felicia, served as his staunchest ally in the courtroom and ended up taking full responsibility for all the violence that occurred last July 18.
All of this can be very confusing. At least it was to one of the clients in a domestic abuse group that I was facilitating last month. He is a man in his 30's who came to our clinic with an extensive history of emotional, verbal, and physical abuse toward his wife of five years. He has been in our program for the past six months. He brought a local newspaper to group and, in his "check out" at the end of the group time, asked if other group members had heard about Moon's acquittal. He felt disgusted and disheartened by the verdict, clearly recognized the domestic abuse dynamics that were occurring, and said with a hint of both anger and sadness in his voice, "Well, I guess if you're rich and famous, the same rules don't apply."
This is not a man who is court-ordered to our program as a result of a domestic assault prosecution. Rather, he made the decision, albeit with pressure from his wife, to pursue domestic abuse counseling. He has made significant progress in acknowledging, taking responsibility for, and beginning to change his controlling and abusive attitudes and behaviors. But this has come only after a hard look at himself, his wife, and the culture in which he lives. It has also involved his being willing to learn some new ways to handle his disrespectful and explosive anger and his desire to control his partner. Why do we get the sense that Warren Moon hasn't done that and probably never will?
The pattern that the OJ and Warren Moon situations represent reflect an increasingly disturbing trend in our society. When Moon's violence last summer first came to light, he stated emphatically, "It was not a case of domestic violence. It was a domestic dispute." Granted, he later moved in a somewhat more positive direction at a news conference when he said, "I made a tremendous mistake. I take full responsibility for it."
But, what happened to this "full responsibility" during the actual trial? From the beginning of his trial, the defense strategy hinged on targeting his wife as the real "culprit" in this "domestic dispute" and the other violence that had occurred over the years in their marriage with one another. And she cooperated fully. She testified convincingly that, in fact, she was the one who started the "dispute" and that she was the one to blame. She even conjectured that it was her long acrylic fingernails that had most likely created the bruises and scratches on her own throat, neck, and shoulders. She was angered on the witness stand by the notion that what had happened was "wife beating" despite reporting to police immediately after the abusive incident that she had been struck in the head and choked to the point of near-unconsciousness by her husband.
Moon continued this line of testimony when he stated that "she went kind of ballistic" and contended that he "was only trying to calm her down," "get her under control," and that he "just wanted her to shut up." Those are very similar statements to those I frequently hear from men when they first arrive at our clinic. What did it take for Moon to "get her under control?" Only grabbing her around the neck and choking her to the point where she nearly passed out.
Felicia is convinced, and says, that "women do have rage." She plans to begin speaking about this issue rather than focusing on domestic abuse as she has in the past. And I certainly wouldn't argue with her about the idea that women can be angry. Women may feel rage about living in relationships with partners and in a culture where they often feel controlled, demeaned, harassed, intimidated, and frightened. Or their rage may have to do with many other factors, including a woman's own upbringing.
Of course women can be rageful, hurtful, disrespectful, explosive, and abusive in their relationships with partners. And their anger and abusive behavior need to be addressed directly, as they are in our clinic's women's program. There, women also have the opportunity to learn new and more effective ways to handle this anger. It is not "okay" for women to be abusive and violent either. Women's violence is also against the law. But this really isn't the point of what has transpired recently in the Moon trial.
Women becoming abusive and violent does not mean that we as men then have a "right" to respond with violence of our own to "calm them down." When we as men make the decision (and it is a clear choice) to "up the ante" to use physical force with our partners, in the vast majority of cases, we will then be completely "in charge." Men's violence is truly different from women's. Because of size (Moon was 210 pound and a professional football player; his wife weighed 120 pounds: sounds like a bit of a "mismatch"), musculature, hormones, and acculturation, we are going to be able to dominate a physical struggle. This was vividly demonstrated as the Moons' incident progressed. His wife was no longer "ballistic" when he stooped over her with his hands around her neck as she lay on the floor. That's an effective way to get her to shut up. And it worked.
Moon's attorney said in closing arguments that "(Moon) did not intend to cause these injuries... and he was not aware he was was causing injuries to her and consciously disregarding them and going on." That's the problem with violence. Once a decision is made to perpetrate physical abuse, it can end anywhere...even in death, as it does for 1400-1500 women each year at the hands of their partners according to FBI statistics.
Especially distressing in this entire process were some of the reactions of the jurors in the case. One juror, a nurse, stated "I'm sure all of us have some violence in our marriages that just hasn't come out." Another argued "(this) case was not spousal abuse...There were just some little scratches...He didn't beat her." Are we now as a culture moving toward acceptance of "some violence" and "some little scratches" in our relationships with partners?
I feel saddest of all for their young son, Jeffrey, who made the 911 call and told police that "my daddy is going to hit my mommy. Please hurry." This little boy thought his mother was in real and imminent danger (and, in fact, she was). This little boy was there and saw what was happening. Seven-year-old boys don't capriciously call the police to report concerns about their parents' behavior. Jeffrey was terrified for his "mommy," his "daddy," and himself. The twelve adults on the jury dismissed his fear and his reality.
What truly terrifies me is to think that we, as a culture, seem to be moving backward in many respects, but especially regarding violence in the home. It wasn't so very long ago when English common law gave a man, as the head of the household, "the right, nay even the obligation, to chastise his woman, his children, and his servants" (in any manner that he saw a "appropriate"). I don't much like the idea of returning to that way of looking at things. The thought of "a little violence" in my home or anyone else's doesn't sit all that well with me. How does it sound to you?
A Double Standard for Violence?
by David J. Decker, MA, LP
As a psychologist who has worked with issues related to anger, domestic abuse, and violence over the past 15+ years, I have been following recent events in the National Basketball Association with interest and concern. In a practice on December 1, guard Latrell Sprewell of the Golden State Warriors, a three-time all-star and the team's leading scorer, started the current "brouhaha" by choking and threatening to kill his coach, P.J. Carlesimo. As if this wasn't enough, Sprewell then came back 20 minutes later and threw a punch at his coach, landing a glancing blow to Carlisimo's neck.
What was particularly surprising and gratifying to me, however, was the response of the team and the league to this brutish behavior. Initially, Sprewell was suspended by the Warriors for at least ten games without pay. The team then made the courageous decision to void his 32 million dollar contract, the first time this had happened for "insubordination" in NBA history. The league then followed up with their own well-deserved consequence for Sprewell, ruling that he was banned from the entire league for one year, knowing full well that there would be plenty of teams who would jump at the opportunity to sign him despite his violence, all in the name of winning. In addition, Converse, a shoe company, decided to drop Sprewell from a lucrative contract as a spokesperson for their products.
Sprewell's first public response the incident was to say that he made a "mistake," but he refused to apologize to Carlesimo, justifying his attack by claiming that he was "provoked" by the coach's "verbal abuse." Eventually, he got around to apologizing to Carlesimo more than a week after the incident and saying, "I know this conduct is not appropriate in society or in professional sports."
You're right, Mr. Sprewell, it's not okay to assault someone else. In fact, there's an epidemic of violence that plagues our society today. Domestic abuse is rampant, violence related to "road rage" incidents is escalating, workplace assaults occur more and more frequently, and we also have the old standard, murders, rapes, and muggings that are simply part of the nation's crime statistics.
How we respond to Sprewell's violence, in the context of all the societal violence, is an important issue. Now the focus of this assault has been shifted to the "punishment" he is to receive. Surrounded by a legal team at his public "apology," Sprewell stated that he wasn't given "due process." And, some of his peers, led by Charles Barkley, the Houston Rockets forward who is also not a stranger to assaultive episodes in public, are considering a boycott of this season's all-star game or the world championships next summer.
The message is loud and clear. "We as professional basketball players are 'different' from everyone else. We don't have to play by the same set of rules that other people do. We make a lot of money, we're famous, we're popular, and we're entitled to do whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it."
This sense of entitlement has always been a part of the angry and violent men with whom I have worked in therapy. They always, at least in the beginning, find a way to justify or explain away what they have said and done. The victim of their attack "wouldn't stop nagging me," "cut me off on the highway," or "'dissed' me at the party." The other person "provoked" them. That's supposed to make the violence understandable and, in some very real ways, "okay." That was the first strategy that Sprewell tried. Fortunately, up to this point, it hasn't worked too well.
But what if it does mean to our society if this strategy does work, and Sprewell becomes the "real victim" in this episode? What messages are we giving to other people in this society who feel entitled to control a situation they don't like with violence, especially the young people who buy the Converse shoes that Sprewell used to promote? How many of us could physically assault our bosses at work and remain employed because we said we were "provoked" by them? How many of us could be violent with anyone in a public setting and not get arrested and experience legal consequences as a result of the violence? The issue of the illegality of what he did isn't even getting addressed in the current furor.
These are the sorts of questions that are absolutely critical to ponder and, hopefully, ultimately answer. The reality is that consequences are one of the most important factors in helping angry, abusive, and violent people begin to realize that disrespectful and abusive behavior will not be tolerated. Very few of the hundreds of men with whom I have worked came to therapy "because I knew there was a problem and I really wanted to do something about it." The vast majority come because someone else pointed out the problem to them. It might be a spouse, it might be an employer, or it might be the court system. Someone gave them the strong message that their behavior needed to change. And, for those who really make the effort needed to change how they experience and express their anger, this starts the change process.
I hope the team and the league hold their ground. I hope the arbitration hearing reinforces their stand. There are plenty of examples where those with money, notoriety, and power "beat the system" and are held to a set of standards that are very different from the rest of us. Let's not let it happen this time around. Let's communicate clearly to Sprewell and others that violence is not okay and won't be tolerated. What a surprising and positive message for professional sports to be sending to our society.
The Loss Of A True Leader In Our Country
by David J. Decker, MA, LP
Minnesota, our nation, and our world lost an outstanding leader and human being in the small plane crash that killed Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife and daughter, three campaign aides, and the plane's two pilots. But it seems more personal to me. The wrenching reality is that I lost a friend on Friday.
I didn't know Paul Wellstone personally. I never met him face-to-face although I was fortunate to meet his wife, Sheila, in my work as a psychologist related to her efforts to address the issue of domestic violence. But from everything I have heard in the news reports of his death and life, and from everything I knew about him related to the reasons that I strongly supported him as Minnesota's senator for the past 12 years, this was an extraordinary man.
This is a time in our history when cynicism and fear abound. It has become crystal clear that terrorists and murderous snipers, greedy and dishonest corporate executives, selfish and self-absorbed multimillion-dollar athletes and entertainers, and slick and unprincipled politicians and leaders have very little regard for those of us struggling to live our everyday lives. Yet, in the midst of all this, Paul Wellstone seemed to be a breath of fresh air, a man who, at his core, really did care very deeply about the people around him.
He worked with untiring zeal for the principles and beliefs that he felt were important to our society. His unbridled and infectious enthusiasm and optimism to change the things about this nation that he felt were wrong and unfair and to do this with a smile and a laugh and a hug were unusual, refreshing, and courageous. And all this was done in the shadow of his personal medical problems that most likely would have slowed or stopped even the strongest among us.
He leaves a legacy of honesty, integrity, genuineness, energy, passion and commitment that make him a role model and a hero at a time when genuine heroes are few and far between. Thank you, Paul Wellstone, for your efforts to make our state, our country, and the world a better place for everyone, no matter what their station in life. I (and our country) will miss you!
A "Blast From The Past"
by David J. Decker, MA, LP
The men in the domestic abuse group that I facilitated were incredulous. Several had seen an article in the local newspaper the previous day about a "brand new" mental illness called Intermittent Explosive Disorder. One of the men stated his interpretation of what he had read when he said, "I guess they're telling us that we aren't really responsible anymore for our angry and abusive behavior."
Most of these men have been in the domestic abuse program for anywhere between six and twelve months (the program can last up to 60 sessions and more). What they had been learning since their first intake session was that they were, in fact, making clear choices anytime they became abusive with their partners, their children, at work, and when they were driving (although they may not have been very aware of these choices in the past prior to coming to therapy). They were surprised that someone (i.e. some highly esteemed educational institutions) seemed to be offering them a "way out" when they were learning and finally truly understanding and accepting that they were, in reality, completely responsible for the frightening and sometimes horrific decisions they had made in the past to be abusive with those around them.
Sadly, I wasn't as surprised as they were that researchers at Harvard and the University of Chicago had decided to resurrect a "mental illness" diagnosis that has been with us for decades. As a psychologist who has been working with anger, abuse, and control issues since 1985, leading batterers' groups, and, in addition, counseling thousands of angry men and women in workshop and therapy settings, I remember that diagnosis from the time I first started working in this field.
In fact, I used this diagnosis briefly early in my career to try to understand what was happening in domestic abuse and road rage situations. I quickly started to have misgivings about using it, however, because it didn't make much sense in terms of the actual people with whom I was working. After my clients had begun a counseling process, the vast majority of them became much more clear about how they escalated in the situations they described and how they had made decisions throughout that escalation process. They were not "out of control," which is a major criterion of this diagnosis as it appears in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the "bible" for psychologists and psychiatrists in attempting to describe what they see in their clients.
One of the assignments in the domestic abuse group asks men to go through what is described as an Abuse Inventory, in which they write out and present a history of all their threatening and abusive behavior toward others. On scores of occasions, when men were describing violent incidents with partners which often involved grabbing, pushing, and slapping, I have asked them, in the midst of their presentation, "Why didn't you just haul off and punch her in the face as hard as you could." To that question, they have, to a man, stopped "dead in their tracks," looked at me, and responded, "If I had done that, I could have really hurt her." This has provided, time after time, crystal clear evidence to me (and to the men themselves) that, even in the midst of the rage they are experiencing and what they researchers call "uncontrollable anger attacks," these men were acutely aware of what they were doing and had drawn "lines in the sand," beyond which they would not cross. This has also included situations where men threatened their partners with weapons but did not actually use them and perpetrated even more serious violence toward their. partners (which has included occasions of actually using weapons). Even men who murder their girlfriends and wives often take very clear steps and make clear choices to reach that ultimate horror.
Much has been done over the past two decades to help men and women understand how they reach the point of acting out their anger in hurtful and destructive ways. It is truly disturbing to me, as a professional, that some people are attempting to "turn back the clock" to the time when domestic abusers, road ragers, and angry people in general were "out of control" and "didn't know what they were doing." Our society does not need more "victims" (of their brain chemistry, their upbringing as children, the culture in which they were raised, our historical legacy of victimizing women or anything else).
We sat in the group and talked about the article for several minutes. I felt grateful that these men, at least, did not appear to subscribe to what seemed to be the gist of the research and the information presented in the article. They understand themselves and their anger and abuse issues far better than the researchers seemed to really give them credit for. Their lives and the lives of their partners and children have the potential to be significantly better and more healthy as a result of their learning about the decisions and choices they are making that bring them to their ultimate abusive and violent actions.
A Little Less Violence, Please!
By David J. Decker, MA, LP
It was with consternation and just a wee bit of despair that I picked up my hometown newspaper on the Saturday before Thanksgiving to find the front page covered with "vital" information about a relatively new phenomenon called "mixed martial arts." With the headline screaming out, "The Baddest Sport In America," this form of sport fighting combining boxing, wrestling, kick boxing, jujitsu, and other martial arts is our country's "fastest-growing professional sport" according to the article. It is currently experiencing huge popularity among many of our citizens, especially males between the ages of 18 and 49, notably labeled by the newspaper as advertising's "golden-goose demographic."
I think that we are still engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a battle against global terrorism, a presidential campaign that is heating up, a national health care fiasco that continues to plague our society, the current housing crisis, the prospect of global warming, an ever-increasing gap between the "rich" and the rest of us, and volunteer efforts like Habitat for Humanity and other truly noble endeavors undertaken to improve the condition of humankind. But I guess that these "secondary" issues that affect our country and the rest of the world are probably not as important to the general public according to the notoriety afforded to this new "sport" by the editors of the paper.
This newspaper that I usually read had decided to highlight on its front page, for three consecutive days, a tale of grown men and women perpetrating significant violence against each other toward the goals of becoming famous, making money, and "being the best." I guess there are no other sections in this newspaper where they could have placed these stories.
As a psychologist who has been working with issues related to violence perpetrated by men (and, at times, women) in family and other settings for over 25 years, this was especially disturbing to me. You see, I have actually been trying for a long time to decrease the level of violence in a variety of places in our society.
Part of my current volunteer time is spent visiting nursing homes with my therapy dog, Nikko. In a visit to one such facility on the third day that these articles appeared, one resident, a former corporate executive at 3M in his 80's, expressed his disgust about the "brawling" and violence that the articles seem to glorify. I could only nod in agreement as he expressed his concerns.
I myself have come upon this form of "sport" at times while surfing channels on my own TV. These men and women may indeed be "finely tuned athletes." But to the "untrained" eye (including myself and probably most of the population), what I have seen looks disturbingly like what many of my clients have described in detail over the years when discussing incidents where they have perpetrated violence at home, in bars, in their neighborhoods, at sporting events, and in road rage incidents.
The combatants in these televised contests throw punches, kicks, elbows, and knees, all in the hope of knocking out their opponent or forcing the other person to "submit" with what is called the "rear naked choke." Ironically, this is not all that different from the goals in domestic abuse or any other physical altercation that occurs between two people. I guess there are rules in these MMA matches but it can be hard to figure out exactly what they are as you watch the "mayhem," blood, and injury on the screen.
When will we have enough of violence in this culture? I can only scratch my head and wonder. I will continue to work in my small corner of the universe to try to stem the tide of destruction that abuse and violence create in the family, in our communities, and in the world-at-large. But it seems that there are a myriad of influences including, as the newspaper put it, this "violent and bloody sport," that teach boys and girls and men and women that violence is an effective way to be successful and to feel good about themelves. I sometimes imagine myself, working with violent people in my office on a daily basis, simply treading water and waiting for the deluge of violence to overwhelm me and the rest of our society.
Our current president has, at times, called for "regime change" in other countries across the globe when he doesn't like what they are doing. Maybe it is now time in my own little sphere of influence to call for "subscription change" when I don't like what my hometown newspaper apparently views as the priorities that we ought to be reading about and attending to.
The Shame-Blame Game
by David J. Decker, MA, LP
As a psychologist who has worked with the issue of domestic abuse since the mid-1980's, I very much appreciated columnist Gail Rosenblum's perspective in one of our local newspapers on Viking Chris Cook's recent felony domestic assault charge on Sunday. As she aptly noted, it is very easy, in that situation, to make a "rush to judgment," apply the "blame game," and simply write Cook off as "just another one of those 'bad guys'" who do this sort of thing.
But, in fact, the situation is much more complex. The shame she discusses does not just involve what we do to abusive men when they are arrested for domestic violence. It is also what they do to themselves, long before they ever come to the attention of the legal authorities. We rightly have concerns about how domestic abuse affects children in families where this is occurring today. But people rarely think about where current abusers learned to look at their partners and the world around them in the skewed way that leads to controlling and abusive behavior. It's probably no surprise that they learned it in their childhood, from their families and from the culture-at-large.
Abusers don't just experience shame in the present related to their violent behavior and the consequences it brings. In reality, the vast majority of abusive men developed their own shame through witnessing or experiencing abuse in childhood homes where they grew up; they were the children we worried about 20 or 30 or 40 years ago.
Shame underlies all abusive behavior and is a powerful feeling of inadequacy, powerlessness, and unworthiness, literally "a hole in the heart," that develops in childhood and takes on a life of its own, creating a destructive "life script" that damages the person himself and everyone around him who tries to be close to him. If we are truly going to intervene in domestic violence, this is one of the core issues in treatment that needs to be identified and addressed.
This does not mean that abusive men should simply be "let off the hook" regarding legal and other consequences. Their shame, depression, anxiety, adult Attention Deficit Disorder, or anger are not excuses to justify violent actions. Assault committed toward other human beings, whether they are family members or strangers, is illegal, and it should be. Generally, consequences of some sort are the initial motivator that brings men into my office to look at their abuse. But consequences alone will not bring about real and lasting change. Getting arrested may, for some, stop the violent behavior temporarily, but it is unlikely to address the controlling attitudes and other forms of abusive behavior that ultimately have the potential to fuel an escalation to violence.
Effective domestic abuse programs treat men as people, not merely as objects of scorn and derision (which only adds more shame to the bucket of shame they already carry around with them). Important elements of these programs include things like the following:
1) recognizing what controlling and abusive behavior is and working hard to intervene in the attitudes and behaviors that are part of it;
2) creating awareness of his internal emotional process and how he is reacting to people and situations around him;
3) understanding that he is continually making clear choices about what he does (and that he can make better choices than he has been making up until now);
4) accepting full and complete responsibility for his controlling and abusive behavior and for the impact it has on those around him;
5) addressing historical and cultural issues related to abusive and violent behavior;
6) opening himself to experiencing emotions besides anger (especially the "softer" and more vulnerable ones) and learning to share them honestly and respectfully with other people;
7) recognizing his shame and victimization in childhood and understanding how these relate to his own abuse and violence in the present; and,
8) working at raising his self-esteem and increasing his empathy and compassion for his partner and others.
Real change is possible when it involves more than the "shame-blame game." Abusive and violent men can actually change when there are programs designed to help them do this and if they are willing to make the commitment to themselves and the people they love to work hard at changing the parts of themselves that have been hurtful and destructive in their lives. It is well worth the effort!
Just Another Senseless Shooting In Our Country
by David J. Decker, MA, LP
Sadly, we here in the United States have just experienced another horrendous shooting incident when Republican congress members, their staff, and security were targeted by a man at a park in Alexandria, VA. The Republicans were practicing for the annual charity baseball game between Republicans and Democrats that was to be played the next day. Allegedly, the shooter asked a Republican congressman who had already been at the baseball practice and was leaving the scene whether the participants were Republicans or Democrats before he started his shooting rampage.
As a psychologist who has worked with anger, abuse, and violence issues for over 30 years, this incident was deeply disturbing to me. But, at the same time, I also reflected back on a Republican presidential candidate who, at a rally on January 24, 2016, told his crowd of supporters, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue (in New York City) and shoot someone and I wouldn't lose any voters." I would probably be labeled as "politically correct" by the person who uttered these ridiculous sentiments, but I don't think it is such a good idea to talk about perpetrating violence (very similar to what actually happened with the Republican congressmen) even if it's just bluster, "macho" bravado, or a "joke."
Violence is not funny and "violent talk" (even though it may be protected by the First Amendment, with a few exceptions) is not helpful in having a constructive dialogue about anything, including the many difficult and contentious issues that now divide this wonderful country of ours. Physical violence in the home begins with demeaning and derogatory comments, put-downs and name-calling, swearing and cursing, and verbal threats. Words are powerful and important and have an impact, in the family and in the broader culture.
Also interesting to me was the powerful condemnation of the shooter by Bernie Sanders on the Senate floor (the shooter was alleged to have been a Sanders supporter and volunteer in the 2016 Democratic primary). This stood in stark contrast to another incident by that same Republican presidential candidate in a primary contest who told a crowd after one of his supporters had just "sucker-punched" a protester at a rally that he would "look into paying" for the assailant's legal fees.
That Republican candidate just happens to be the President of the United States at this point in our history. He is, whether he takes it seriously or not, a role model for his "base," the rest of the country, and the world-at-large. If we as a society are truly going to effectively intervene in the abuse and violence that plagues our country and the world in which we live, we need to think about our words and our actions and how these can contribute to or decrease the potential for violence to occur. And actually, when you come to think about it, hopefully this will include the man who currently occupies the Oval Office as well.
Donald J. Trump: A Classic Portrait of an Angry, Controlling, and Abusive Man Who Has Absolutely No Desire to Change
By David J. Decker, MA, LP
I was deeply disappointed (and a bit frightened as well) when Donald J. Trump became the 45th president of the United States in November 2016. My fear about this outcome had a great deal to do with Trump's long history (including during the campaign itself) of angry, disrespectful, and abusive attitudes and behaviors which appear to be "hard-wired" into who he is as a human being. I am a psychologist who has worked with angry and abusive men (and some women) since 1985. I have written two books on domestic abuse and one on anger management. For over 30 years, I led domestic abuse groups for men who have been abusive with their partners. It has been very disturbing to see his behavior from his bully pulpit (literally) manifested in all its glory.
Trump attempts to justify all these sorts of behaviors by saying things like he "is not going to be politically correct," that he "is going to tell it like it is," and that these are just examples of his right to "free speech." He's certainly accurate in stating that many of his attitudes and behaviors are not politically correct. Trump has been called sexist, misogynistic, racist, and xenophobic by many. And all of those labels appear to describe many of his words and actions. But there is another label that may be the foundation for all of those. In the end, Trump, from my perspective, seems to be a man who is simply angry, controlling, and abusive. The sorts of comments he often makes and the actions he takes are cruel, mean-spirited, harsh, vulgar, condescending, disrespectful, and, ultimately, abusive.
I thought about writing this commentary shortly after he was elected to the presidency, but I sincerely hoped that he would rise to the occasion and change who he had been over the course of his life. Sadly, he has been completely unwilling or unable to do this. Instead, he has brought a heightened level of uncivil discourse and overtly abusive behavior to the the presidency that has rarely, if ever, existed in my lifetime. He actually appears to revel in his ability to do this. Various aides and supporters of his have described him as a "counter-puncher," enthusiastic in his willingness to sink to any level to hurt, punish, demean, humiliate, intimidate, and control anyone who has the audacity to disagree with him and see the world differently from the way he perceives it to be.
Sadly, for us as Americans, Trump fits into a number of specific categories of abusive behavior that are part of the work I have done since I began to see angry and abusive clients. The first of these is emotional abuse. This is defined as using behavioral or non-verbal actions to hurt, punish, demean, humiliate, intimidate, or control partners or other people. It includes mocking or mimicking others, using a sarcastic and dismissive tone of voice, sneering at or acting disgusted and contemptuous with others, and yelling or screaming. We saw a clear example of this when Trump mocked Serge Kovaleski, a journalist, at a campaign rally where he flailed his arms and made distorted facial expressions to insult Kovaleski. Kovaleski is a person who has who arthrogryposis (a congenital disorder) and who had apparently written something that Trump did not like about the then-presidential candidate. Another more recent example is the dismissive tone of voice he used at a recent presidential rally to describe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's testimony to the Judicial Committee of the Senate. He blatantly mocked her difficulty recalling specifics details related to her allegations of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh, a Supreme Court nominee. Kavanaugh was eventually allowed to assume a seat on the Supreme Court after a contentious struggle between members on the committee and Kavanaugh's angry, paranoid, and highly partisan rant on his final day of testimony. Ironically, Kavanaugh seemed to be taking a page from Trump's playbook. This fiasco only divided our parties and our nation even further, giving Trump another win, the only thing that he really seems to value.
A second category of abuse that Trump has perpetrated continually, through his infamous tweets and his uttered statements, is verbal abuse. Verbal abuse is defined as using words and statements to hurt, punish, demean, humiliate, intimidate, and control. This includes ridiculing and belittling put-downs and insults; derisive and hostile name-calling; harsh, cruel, and condescending labels and judgments; swearing and cursing; and blaming others "when things go wrong." There are examples aplenty when it comes to what Trump likes to communicate about other people.
…He called Mexicans "drug dealers, criminals, and rapists" at the outset of his presidential campaign.
…He used derisive labels and judgments with his primary foes and other politicians including "Lyin' Ted (Cruz);""Crooked Hillary (Clinton);""Crazy" Joe Biden; and "Low Energy Jeb Bush."
…He called Rosie O'Donnell "disgusting, both inside and out" and stated, "If you take a look at her, she's a slob."
…He said that no one would vote for primary rival Carly Fiorina because of her facial features, commenting, "Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?"
…He called Megyn Kelly "a bimbo" and said that her direct questioning of him about his abusive statements relating to women in the primary debate she hosted was a result of her menstruating ("You could see blood coming out of her eyes; blood coming out of her wherever").
…He called Mika Brzezinski, co-host of the "Morning Joe" show, "low IQ Crazy Mika."
…He called NFL players who kneeled during the national anthem, "sons of bitches" and said, "they should be fired."
…He repeatedly mocked Senator Elizabeth Warren by calling her "Pocahontas."
…He has called the news media "Fake News," "the enemy of the people," and "lunatics."
…He referred to African countries as "shitholes."
…He referred to Attorney General Jeff Sessions as "Mister Magoo," a bumbling cartoon character from the 1940's.
…He referred to Rod Rosenstein, his Deputy Attorney General as "Mr. Peepers," a character from a 1950's sitcom.
…He called Stormy Daniels, an adult film actress and one of the many women with whom he has allegedly had sex outside his marriages, "Horseface,"
…He has called multiple women over the years, "fat," "pigs," "dogs,""slobs," "pieces of ass," and "disgusting animals."
A third category of abuse that Trump has frequently used involves threats (both violent and non-violent). This is defined as communicating an intention to do something that is designed to create emotional distress, indecision, insecurity, and fear in other people or to somehow control their behavior or the situation. Examples once again abound in Trump's communications and actions.
…He threatened to sue all the women who made sexual misconduct allegations against him prior to the 2016 election.
…He directed threats toward protestors at his campaign rallies where he proclaimed, "I'd like to punch him in the face."
…He threatened (both before and after the election) to investigate and jail Hillary Clinton for her alleged misdeeds, best represented by his own statements and his partisan crowds screaming the words "Lock her up" at his rallies.
…He stated during the campaign that he could "stand in the middle of 5th Avenue" (in NYC) "and shoot someone and I wouldn't lose any voters."
…He made threats to rain down "fire and fury" (i.e. nuclear devastation) on North Korea, which was probably frightening not only to North Korea, but also to South Korea, the United States, and the rest of the world.
…He threatened to withdraw US troops from South Korea over trade issues.
…He threatened to release tapes of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey.
…He made threats to shut down the government in order to get his border wall built.
…He directed threats at the media about revoking broadcast licenses.
…He threatened to starve the Affordable Care Act unless Congress passed a replacement program to his liking.
…He directed threats at our country's business leaders about an import tax.
…He threatened to sue his former advisor, Steve Bannon, over Bannon's comments that appeared in the book Fire And Fury.
…He threatened to sue the NY Times for publishing the sexual misconduct allegations against him.
…He directed threats at European Union member countries and other allies about instituting tariffs.
…He made threats about the need for "some form of punishment" if a woman has an abortion.
Also similar to many controlling and abusive men, Trump generally fails to actually follow through with these threats in the hopes that the threats by themselves will allow him to intimidate the person or control the situation. In fact, he has not followed through with that threat to sue all the women who made sexual misconduct allegations against him.
Two other categories of abusive behavior that Trump has clearly demonstrated are physical and sexual abuse. Physical abuse can be defined as using using any physical actions or force to control a person or situation. This includes grabbing, pushing, wrestling with or restraining, and slapping or punching a partner or some other person. Sexual abuse can be defined as objectifying women and viewing them as beings who exist primarily to satisfy men's sexual needs and wants; any sexually inappropriate and disrespectful verbal statements and comments; having sexual affairs when a man is in a committed relationship with a woman; any physical or sexual touch that is forced on another person; or any non-consensual sexual act. Sexual abuse also often includes physically abusive actions. Many examples and allegations of these types of abuse (especially sexual abuse) can be found in Trump's life, including the following.
…In total, at least 19 women accusing Trump of sexual misconduct between the 1970's and 2013 which included allegations of ogling and leering at women; sexual harassment; grabbing, groping, and fondling; and sexual assault. Trump has categorically denied all of these allegations and calls all of the women making these allegations "liars."
…Ivana, Trump's first wife, alleged (from her 1990 divorce deposition in a 1993 book entitled Lost Tycoon by Harry Hurt III), that she had felt violated by Trump in a physical and sexual abusive encounter here she said that Trump attacked her after he had undergone a painful scalp reduction, done by a doctor recommended by her. She stated that he ripped her clothing, grabbed and pulled out a chunk of her hair, and forced his penis inside her for the first time in 16 months. She later commented that, "the love and tenderness that he normally exhibited towards me was absent."
…Jill Harth, in a 1997 lawsuit against Trump, alleged that Trump assaulted her several times, including in a 1992 visit to Mar-a-Lago dinner when Trump attempted to put his hands between her legs and at a 1993 contract-signing celebration where he pushed her against a wall and "had his hands all over me." She said that his actions were "unwanted and aggressive, very sexually aggressive."
…Summer Zervos, a contestant on the fifth season of Trump's reality TV show, The Apprentice, contacted Trump in 2007 about a job, and alleged that he was "sexually suggestive" during their meeting, and "kissed her open-mouthed, groped her breasts, and thrust his genitals on her."
…Trump bragged in an Access Hollywood recording , made public in October 2016 and originally shot in 2005, about forcibly kissing women and grabbing them in their genital areas. He stated that he was able to do this because he is a "star." He initially said that this was "just locker room talk" but later even tried to deny that what he had said was actually his voice.
…There have been numerous alleged affairs with other women when he was married, including:
…an affair with Marla Maples, who eventually became his second wife, during the time he was married to Ivana, news of which dominated the tabloids in the early 1990's;
…a sexual encounter with adult film actress Stormy Daniels (in July 2006), a year after he married Melania and within months of Melania giving birth to their son (Daniels was allegedly paid $130,000 to keep her from speaking about their sexual rendezvous just before the 2016 election);
…with Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who started an affair with Trump in June 2006 which allegedly continued for several months (her story was bought by American Media, a company that owns the National Enquirer, for $150,000 but then was not published, which is a common tactic used by media companies to "kill" a story).
…Trump was accused by several former Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageant contestants, both of which were part of the Miss Universe franchise, which he owned, of entering the dressing rooms in 1997, 2000, 2001, and 2006, and then staring at the young women who were partially or fully undressed. Trump stated in a Howard Stern Show in 2005 that he "could get away with things like that" because he was the owner of the franchise.
In addition to the specific examples of disrespectful and abusive behavior mentioned above, Trump also has many other clear similarities to the abusive men with whom I have worked in terms of his characteristics, attributes, attitudes, and behaviors. Many angry and abusive men manifest this kind of behavior in a variety of settings, most often at home but also in other parts of their lives. Trump has engaged in many angry, volatile, and explosive rants, both in public and allegedly "behind closed doors." His rants address a variety of topics and people, including the "Fake News" media; the women who accused him of sexual misconduct; his cabinet members, White House aides, and federal employees; and senators and representatives from both parties. These rants often occur when other people don't do what he believes they are supposed to do. In reality, these rants can happen with just about anyone who disagrees with him about anything. He appears to be an equal opportunity abuser.
One of the strong motivators and a first step in actually changing, for many abusive men, involves experiencing consequences (e.g. losing a job, losing relationships with partners through separation or divorce, losing time with his children, getting arrested, being incarcerated). Trump appears to have experienced no significant consequences that might have actually motivated him to look at this unhealthy and dysfunctional part of himself. When men do not experience consequences related to their angry and abusive behavior, they often believe that there is nothing wrong with what they are doing. He is currently on his third marriage but that fact doesn't seem to bother him at all.
Most angry and abusive men have a strong sense of entitlement, including a subset of this called "male entitlement." Trump appears to have an overwhelming sense of entitlement, probably related to his childhood and his upbringing, to his success in how he perceives that he has made his way in the world, and to all the money and material things he has accumulated over the course of his life. He also appears to feel a strong sense of male entitlement, which is defined as having an attitude that conveys male dominance, a general disrespect for women, and the idea that men are naturally and undeniably more capable and competent than women. This attitude can be represented by the statement, "I, as a man, have the right and even the responsibility to shape and control how my partner (and other women) think, feel, and act and to make her (them) into the person (people) I think she (they) should be."
This desire to control a partner and others underlies all disrespectful and abusive behavior. Trump articulated a classic example of this attitude in statements that childcare is women's work and definitely beneath him when he told Howard Stern in 2005, "I like kids. I mean, I won't do anything to take care of them. I'll supply the funds and she'll take care of the kids. It's not like I'm gonna be walking the kids down Central Park." In a 1994 interview, he seemed to be saying that his marriage with Ivana ended because she was too successful as a career woman: "You know…I don't want to sound too much like a chauvinist, but when I come home and dinner's not ready, I'll go through the roof, OK?"
Angry and abusive men have great difficulty taking responsibility for themselves, their words, and their actions and then making amends for their hurtful behaviors. Trump appears to have little interest in taking clear responsibility for himself, his statements, and his behaviors. He seems to constantly seek to blame others and to look for scapegoats for what he has said and done and what has happened around him. In addition, he seems to feel proud that he rarely, if ever, apologizes for things that he has said and done. His response to questions about this stance involves statements about his believing that "I don't do anything wrong." Other abusive men (and Trump) often use psychological defenses like denial (i.e. saying something didn't happen), minimizing (i.e. making something less than it really is), and justifying (i.e. making excuses for what they have said or done) to avoid taking clear responsibility for themselves and their actions. This, for many of my clients (and probably for Trump as well), has to do with the "win at all cost" mentality and a strong aversion to appearing vulnerable, "weak," or anything like the "losers" they seem to disdain.
Angry and abusive men tend to be narcissistic, self-absorbed, and self-centered in their way of looking at their partners, other people, and the world around them. Trump mirrors this same attitude with the exception, perhaps, of his children. For Trump, this has led directly to an inflated sense of self-esteem and an arrogant and grandiose presentation style with the idea that "the world revolves around him." If others do not treat him as he believes they should, accept and approve of him unconditionally, and agree with his every word and deed, he appears to take this very personally and react accordingly. This can lead directly to harsh, disrespectful, and abusive attitudes and behaviors. He appears to be completely lacking in genuine empathy for others, which flows out of this narcissistic attitude and makes his abusive behavior that much easier to perpetrate. And again, he feels completely justified in treating other people in this way. It seems that he is not plagued with feelings of guilt or remorse that might actually help him really look at what he is doing. This lack of empathy is an integral part of the mind set that many abusive men hold.
An interesting corollary to Trump's arrogance and grandiosity is the fact that, with many angry and abusive men, these attitudes are simply a facade that they carry with them to attempt to appear powerful, confident, and "in charge." In fact, after working with many professional and successful men, what I have come to see is that, underneath this facade, there exists an overwhelming sense of self-doubt, fear, and insecurity. The arrogance and grandiosity merely serve as a "cover" and a defense against these significantly more vulnerable feelings. In the end, men who truly feel good about themselves and experience a genuine sense of self-esteem do not have a need to become disrespectful and abusive in order to assume power and control over people and situations.
A final similarity between Trump and the men with whom I have worked has to do with the dishonesty with which he seems to approach almost any situation. Angry and abusive men often have great difficulty being honest about what they say and do with their partners and others. For Trump, if the facts do not fit with his life experience and his rigid way of viewing the world, he appears to have no difficulty creating his own set of facts to address whatever the issue happens to be. His aides have sometimes referred to to these as "alternative facts." This dishonesty he exhibits is also an attempt to create an "alternative reality" and it often ends up feeling intensely confusing and crazy-making to the person or people at whom it is directed.
There is a term called "gaslighting" in domestic abuse situations where the abusive man attempts to systematically manipulate a partner by creating in her a sense of doubt about her memories, her perceptions, and, sometimes, even her sanity. This term arose from a 1938 Patrick Hamilton play called Gaslight where a man attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane by manipulating their reality and insisting that she is mistaken, remembers events incorrectly, or is delusional when she attempts to identify the discrepancies she sees in what he is saying about her.
Trump appears to use this powerful mechanism in all sorts of situations, both as president and in his personal life. His statement that his administration "runs like a finely-tuned machine" flies in the face of numerous reports about the chaos and dysfunction in the White House. His constant denials about his alleged sexual affairs and the many sexual misconduct accusations leveled against him begin to sound hollow with the sheer number of events that have been reported.
I have the utmost respect and admiration for the men with whom I have worked who have been willing to address and work hard to change their controlling and abusive attitudes and behaviors. It is, in fact, a myth in our society that angry and abusive men (and women) can never change. But, the process of change is a difficult one and takes ongoing and sustained effort "one day at a time" for the rest of their lives. Angry, controlling, and abusive men can, in reality, change. This positive change, if it is made, can make an enormous difference in the man's life and in the lives of his partner, his children, and all the others in his life who interact with him.
Unfortunately, it's all too clear that Donald Trump's disrespectful and abusive words and actions don't seem to bother him much at all. He appears to have little concern about the impact of what he says and does on individual people, on our country, and on the larger world. In addition, it seems like he has little interest in changing this dysfunctional part of who he is and has been throughout his life. Why should he want to change, considering his over-inflated sense of self and his clear belief that he is a success and a real winner?
Equally disturbing about Trump's angry and abusive words and actions is that through them, he gives license to others in our society to be outwardly disrespectful and abusive themselves. This includes, most notably, the white nationalists, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, and the "alt-right." But this also includes other people who may not actually be part of these fringe hate movements, people who feel disenfranchised and angry themselves about their personal situations or about the direction our country is heading. Whether he likes it or not, Trump is a significant role model for how we as a nation discuss difficult issues, handle conflicts that arise, and resolve disagreements that exist between us. As an angry and abusive man himself, Trump sets an incredibly poor example for anyone who listens to or sees his abusive behavior.
In addition, it is also distressing to me why his colleagues in Congress and the Republican party, many of whom have been directly disrespected and abused by Trump, don't seem to care very much about his words and actions either. His words and actions are dramatically affecting the level of discourse in our politics and our country at the present time, and in the rest of the world as well. Trump's inflammatory rhetoric and abusive behavior are not healthy or helpful in addressing the many important issues that are absolutely critical to our nation and to the world around us. We desperately need a commander-in-chief, not an abuser-in-chief.
In the end, is this what we really want, need, and deserve as a nation? Is this the kind of man who should hold the most powerful position on earth, the Presidency of the United States? I guess these are the sorts of questions that "we the people" will need to answer for ourselves as we move forward in Trump's presidency. The elections in 2018 and 2020 will tell us a great deal about ourselves as a nation, that "shining city upon a hill whose beacon of light guides freedom-loving people everywhere" which Ronald Reagan envisioned and espoused. I hope and pray that we as a society decide that we have the right to expect much more from any person who is supposed to be the leader of the free world. I imagine we'll just have to wait and see what happens.
A Shameful Display From Some Minnesota Congressmen and Their Republican Colleagues in the US House of Representatives
by David J. Decker, MA, LP
I wanted to strongly underscore the Star-Tribune editorial and the letters to the editor that appeared in today's paper to offer some more commentary on the recent support by Congressmen Tom Emmer, Jim Hagedorn, and Pete Stauber for the incredibly baseless and frivolous Texas lawsuit that attempted to invalidate the election results in four other states and disenfranchise millions of voters in those localities. Their support was based on Donald Trump’s totally fabricated and unsubstantiated claims of "massive fraud" in the 2020 presidential election and these representatives from our state have proven that they have little or no respect for the basic principles of democracy that our country was founded on by the framers of the Constitution.
Nor do they appear to have any respect or concern for the many government employees, from the federal level on down to those who work for the states and cities, who did their jobs and did all they could to provide a safe and fair election in the midst of a horrific pandemic. Many of these workers have received threats, including death threats, for their willingness to simply do the tasks that they are expected to do. In essence, from my perspective, because of these representatives' decision to support this ridiculous lawsuit, they have completely abdicated any responsibility that they may have had, at one time, to support the basic principles of democracy.
I was raised in the southern Minnesota city of Rochester in the 1950's and 1960's. My father was a physician in that community. My parents were both Republicans and thus I was raised in a Republican family. I even made the decision to work for Barry Goldwater during the 1964 presidential election. In my family, I was taught to respect our political process, our Constitution, and our country.
I am extremely disappointed and dismayed that these politicians made this decision despite all the clear evidence to the contrary. There was no "rigged" election in 2020, no matter what Trump continues to proclaim. It appears that there is no longer an actual Republican party with ideals, principles, and integrity. These "esteemed" representatives, and their many colleagues in the House who agreed with them about this bogus lawsuit, have clearly demonstrated that they are no longer able, in any way, to adequately represent ALL their constituents. Rather, they are only interested in representing those who, like them, have very little interest in differing opinions and in the Constitution on which our country was founded. In reality, there no longer seems to be an actual Republican party, only those people who have acquiesced to becoming a part of the "Trump Cult" that has done as much as is humanly possible over the past four years to demean and destroy the fabric of this country that I respect and care about.
I also happen to be a psychologist who has worked with angry, controlling, and abusive men for over 35 years. Sadly, our current president is as bad (or worse) in those areas than many of the thousands of clients with whom I have worked over the years. Trump trumpets loudly that he is "telling it like it is" and is working to combat "political correctness." In reality, he is harsh, caustic, abrasive, disrespectful, hurtful, punishing, and ultimately abusive with many men and women, both his supporters and his perceived "enemies." He does this through his "tweets," his verbal statements, and his deplorable actions. These actions include his scores of lawsuits challenging the 2020 election that have been "thrown out" by the courts (which has included the Supreme Court) or simply withdrawn by his legal team because they had no merit whatsoever. What is especially discouraging is the fact that Trump has had absolutely no interest in looking at his destructive words and actions and working to change this dysfunctional and unhealthy part of who he has been throughout his presidency and his life.
I understand that these representatives probably have little interest in my thoughts or perspective (and the perspectives of anyone else who does not live in their districts). I strongly believe that they have lost any sense of integrity after this recent decision that they made to support Trump no matter what he attempts to do. But I do want to let these politicians know that, because of this issue, I will work hard to defeat any of them if they have any statewide political aspirations in the future.
Donald J. Trump: A President of the United States Who Has Been Imprisoned by the Toxic Shame that is an Integral and Corrosive Part of His Personality and Everything That He Says and Does
January 20, 2021
By David J. Decker, MA, LP
I had naively hoped that Donald Trump, after he was elected 45th President of the United States in 2016, might "rise to the occasion" and become a person who could handle the many overwhelming responsibilities of this critical position in our country and in the world. Sadly, for us as a nation and for us as a part of the global community, he did not do this (or even come close). After his defeat in the 2020 election, he essentially abdicated his responsibilities as President, often playing golf at one of his resorts, "holing up" in the White House (primarily by himself), fuming about the 2020 election he lost and how it was "stolen" from him, and appearing to have little interest in any of our country's critical issues, including the Coronavirus pandemic. Covid-19, up to this point, has been contracted by over 24,000,000 Americans and has killed over 400,000 of our fellow citizens (although Trump, of course, has referred to this death toll as "fake news").
His handling of this pandemic has been woefully inadequate from the beginning even though it is clear from Bob Woodward's tapes of conversations with Trump and his recent book about Trump entitled Rage that Trump was acutely aware of how dangerous the virus was. Trump's stated reason to Woodward for being dishonest with the American people was that he did not want to "panic" the country about the dangers of Covid-19. Trump has also done a poor job of moving the economy in a positive direction after it was completely shut down as a result of this devastating pandemic. And he has responded in a heartless and uncaring way to the deaths of black men and women at the hands of the police and others and to the multitude of protests that followed those deaths in the summer of 2020. But, in reality, this is not all that surprising.
Throughout his time as President of the United States and throughout his life as a real estate developer and "tycoon" and reality TV star, he has been angry, controlling, and abusive; he has been totally self-centered and self-absorbed; he has been arrogant, grandiose, and entitled; he has been called sexist, racist, anti-semitic, homophobic, and xenophobic; he has expressed clear autocratic and dictatorial impulses and desires; and he appears to have absolutely no genuine compassion or empathy for any other human being. He has been a supporter, protector, and an apologist for white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and violent domestic terrorist militia groups, arguing that there are "fine people on both sides" when these sorts of people held a rally in Charlottesville, VA, and one of those "fine people" drove his car into a crowd, killing a young woman. He also stated to his supporters at a rally held on January 6, 2021, that he "loved" the raucous crowd and that they were "very special." This actually occurred just prior to this domestic terrorist mob invading the Capitol, where five people died (including a Capitol police officer) and many more were injured. The rioters also threatened the lives of senators, representatives, and the Vice-President and his family and vandalized and stole items from a centerpiece of our American democracy. Finally, Trump is a consummate and serial liar with tens of thousands of documented falsehoods and still counting during his time prior to and throughout his presidency.
Many people wonder to themselves, "Why is he like this?" or "How can he possibly be the way that he is?" There can obviously be many reasons that he appears to be so unhealthy and dysfunctional. Some people would argue that he is simply shameless (he often appears to demonstrate this attitude through his words and actions) related to his arrogance, his self-absorption, and his total lack of empathy and compassion for other human beings. Trump wants to see himself and desperately wants others to view him as strong, confident, powerful, and in charge (i.e. as a "winner").. But I see him very differently from that. There is another possible explanation for who he is and how he behaves, which is a familiar one to me. It has to do with a concept called "toxic shame," which has been an integral part of my work as a psychologist for the past several decades. In fact, I have explored this type of shame in depth in two books that I have written. One is called Stopping the Violence, a domestic abuse group therapy program for abusive men, and another is entitled Embracing the Dark Side, an anger management workbook and program for both men and women.
Toxic shame is an intensely painful way of looking at ourselves, other people, and the world around us and a destructive and unhealthy way of living our lives that involves control, perfectionism, blame, reactivity, negativity, cynicism, despair, fear, emotional disconnection and, ultimately, paralysis and stagnation in our ongoing lives. It is an integral part of most, if not all, human dysfunction and misery. Shame is first created in us as children when we were hurt, wounded, and devalued by the important people in our early life (or when we saw this being done to others around us). This legacy of shame is added to by our own or others' shaming and unhealthy attitudes and behaviors during our adult life. Toxic shame is a painful and destructive "life script" written, directed, and produced for us when we were young by other people who did not have our best interests at heart. This life script clearly communicates to us that we (and others) are somehow defective, bad, flawed, unworthy, and never quite good enough.
Toxic shame is based on a set of unrealistic, distorted, and rigid core beliefs about ourselves, other people, and the world around us that came from our interactions with and the messages from the people who hurt and demeaned us and from those around us in our early life who impacted us in destructive ways. These powerful and toxic messages communicate:
...that we, as human beings, are incompetent, inadequate, powerless, unloveable, and, ultimately, completely alone; and
...that the world is a frightening, threatening, and dangerous place, where we cannot really trust anyone else and where we need to be constantly on guard to protect ourselves from being hurt, humiliated, demeaned, and shamed in the present.
These beliefs, for many people, create enormous stress and tension and the anger, anxiety, depression, and other emotional issues that can often accompany it.
When we experience and internalize others' shaming, punishing, and demeaning messages directed at us or at others around us as children (and, sometimes, later in our adult lives as well) this is called "direct shame." This direct shaming can be overt (outright disrespect and abuse) or covert (neglect, rejection, and abandonment). Trump saw his father direct these types of shame at his older brother Fred, Jr., which eventually led to his brother dying at age 42 from complications related to his alcoholism.
From these types of experiences, toxic shame is created and begins to grow into our vision of what life is intended to be.
Toxic shame can also arise from being thought of or treated as a little prince or a golden boy in our families of origin (this is called "entitlement shame"). This was something Trump apparently became in his father's eyes as he took over the role as heir apparent to his father's real estate business after his older brother, Fred Trump Jr., was dismissed and discarded by their father because he did not live up to their father's rigid, shaming, and unrealistic expectations.
Finally, toxic shame can be created by distorted cultural messages that we receive about what it is to be an important, successful, and worthwhile person; cross-generational shame that comes to us from family members who have lived before us and passed it on; and shaming attitudes and behaviors that we employ in our ongoing lives that only build on the legacy of shame that we have already received and felt as children which is called "sustained shame."
Toxic shame becomes our way of looking at ourselves, other people, and the larger world. It also creates, for some people, a strong need to defend against and "cover over" this intense insecurity and self- doubt by becoming arrogant, grandiose, and entitled, responding to other peope and the world around them with bluster and bravado. This latter idea appears to be what has happened with Donald Trump's attempt to deal with the shame he seems to have experienced as a child and throughout his adult life. In this regard, it has been enlightening to read what Mary Trump, his niece (and the daughter of Fred Jr.), who is also a psychologist, has written in her 2020 book about Trump and their family, Too Much And Never Enough, How My Family Created The World's Most Dangerous Man.
I am not an expert on Donald Trump, his childhood, and his family experiences as his niece is, but I can look at some important markers of toxic shame and how they appear to fit into Trump's past and current ways of looking at and engaging with the world around him. To begin to look at how Trump seems to struggle with the issues discussed above, it is helpful to review the shame-based rules which are the hallmarks of the existence of toxic shame. The rules that are discussed below are common to all shame-based people and systems.
All organizations and people have rules. Having rules helps things run more smoothly in our lives. Unfortunately, the rules of shame-based systems and shame-based people are rigid, unrealistic, and destructive, and become the credo by which members of the system strive to function and survive. They become the stage directions for their own self-destructive "life script." It is also through these rules that others who come into contact with the shame-based person begin to take on and live out the toxic shame in their own lives. These rules are communicated both through what is said and how the shame-based person acts.
The rules in a shame-based system arise from an intense inner feeling of fear, self-doubt, anxiety, and insecurity no matter how the shame-based presents himself to the outside world. People who are shame-based fear that, without living by the rigid and unrealistic rules discussed below, their entire world will simply fall apart. They also fear that they will be rejected, abandoned, and disapproved of by others if they don't play out the roles that these rules specify that they are supposed to embrace. Just think about why Trump so deeply seems to love those huge rallies where he can bask in the adulation of his many followers, committing to multiple rallies with few masks and no social distancing in the last few weeks of the 2020 presidential campaign despite the Covid-19 rampaging through our country.
Shame-based people (and Trump) use these rules to try to experience some sense of power, safety, control, and predictability in an otherwise chaotic and frightening inner world. But in the process of providing some temporary relief and stability, these rules only solidify the shameful feelings within them and actually make that internal fear and insecurity even worse. Since the rules are ultimately impossible to live by, the system always breaks down and, in fact, generates more feelings of shame, insecurity, and defectiveness for them and everyone around them because of that breakdown.
At this point, let's do some thinking and talking about the shame "rules" that follow and see which ones seem to fit for Donald Trump in the way that he appears to view himself, other people, and the world around him. These rules can also be thought of as the characteristics and attributes of the shame- based person. There is overlap between the rules but they are helpful in creating a picture of how shame- based people and systems actually function. There are a multitude of examples of how Trump lives by these shame-based rules. I will offer a few examples of his attitudes and behaviors and how they are related to the rules I will be discussing below.
The first rule is: Be Totally In Control of Yourself and Everyone and Everything Around You. Shame-based people are taught that it is absolutely necessary to be completely in charge of all their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This rule also means that the shame-based person needs to be completely in control of the people around him and the situations in which he finds himself. This intense need to be in control is the cornerstone of a shame-based person and system. This attempt to control may be motivated by a primitive drive for power and domination (as it often appears with Trump), but it may also be simply motivated by a desire to achieve some sense of safety, stability, and predictability in a frightening, chaotic, unmanageable, and unpredictable world. An example of control would be expecting others to do what you want them to do and expecting that they will see the world in exactly the same way that you see it. Many controlling people tend to be bullies and threaten and pressure others to do what they desire to have happen.
Donald Trump certainly fits this profile throughout his life and his presidency. One only needs to think about all the lawsuits that Trump has filed to try to bend others to his will, including those related to the 2020 election. Interestingly, more recently he has no longer needed fixers like attorneys Roy Cohn and Michael Cohen. As President, he began to believe that he could use the United States Justice Department and Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr to do his bidding in his attempts to control, intimidate, and bully others. And, sadly, Sessions and Barr were actually very willing to do that for him. He also has threatened numerous other lawsuits, for example against all the women prior to the 2016 election who alleged that he had sexually assaulted and abused them. Interestingly and not surprisingly, he never filed any of those lawsuits.
Another classic example of Trump's controlling nature is his total and unequivocal hostile takeover of the Republican party in his 2016 campaign for the presidency. This is a political party which, in the past, was a party of ideals, genuine convictions, real values, and a sense of integrity. That time is now long gone. There was significant opposition to Trump from a variety of members of the Republican party when he first announced that he was running for the presidency. But, as he turned the primary debates into a reality TV show starring "the Donald," abusing opposing candidates across the board, Republicans learned that they had better "toe the line" or face Trump's angry and hostile outbursts and retaliation. It was almost as if he became a cult leader whose word was to be final and unchallenged. His cult followers went along with anything that he said or did. There were a few exceptions to this selling out process (e.g. Representative Liz Cheney, but Trump worked hard to undermine anyone who criticized or disagreed with him, leading to a number of Republicans who had the courage to stand up to him being defeated in primary contests with candidates Trump preferred and supported because they agreed with him.
He won the presidency in 2016 by defeating Hillary Clinton in the electoral college but he lost the popular vote by 3,000,000 voters. He disputed this fact, setting up a short-lived commission to investigate the election "fraud," which was quickly disbanded after no election irregularities were found. But, to Trump, his loss in the popular vote was probably a clear indication, to him that he was, in fact, a "loser," which was anathema to both his father (who apparently gave him the message that there are only "winners" and "losers" in life) and to Trump himself. After this occurred, to the surprise of many, all of the clear and well-founded opposition to him within the Republican party during the primary seemed to wither away. In fact, the Republicans in Congress and those he appointed to positions in his administration became lapdogs and sycophants who would do almost anything to avoid crossing Trump or his positions. They were apparently fearful about experiencing his wrath through his continuing tweets, verbal statements, or threats to support Republican candidates who more closely aligned with his unhealthy and shame-based way of looking at the world.
Trump has proudly described himself as the "law and order president" in his response to the protests in many cities in 2020 related to the killings of black men and women at the hands of the police and others. He sent unidentifiable federal agents to Portland, Oregon, to address the protests there, only creating more chaos for the governor of Oregon and the mayor of Portland, who requested that these agents leave. He appeared to have little or no empathy or compassion for the African-American people who have died at the hands of police and others, but feels that it is vital, at this point in our nation's history, to assert absolute control over the people who are concerned about these deaths. He threatened to "send in more federal agents to other cities" if the "Democrat mayors and governors" do not respond to the Black Lives Matter protests in the way he viewed as appropriate and necessary. He believed that it was critical to "crack down hard" on the "thugs" and "looters," which are two of the labels he has applied to these mostly peaceful protesters. Interestingly, his law and order pronouncements are especially ironic since, near the end of his presidency, he pardoned four Blackwater contractors who massacred civilians (including two children) in Iraq and he pardoned three corrupt former Republican Congressmen who were his supporters. He also pardoned numerous other political operatives and cronies whom he believed supported him in various ways in his 2016 campaign and throughout his administration.
This all-consuming need to be in control of himself and everything around him is a hallmark of Trump's presidency and his life. Trump pressured the governors of states to re-open as fast as possible which had led to significant spikes in the Covid-19 pandemic in numerous states. He also threatened to withhold funding from the schools if they did not re-open with in-person learning in the fall of 2020 as the pandemic continued unabated. Trump has claimed that he had absolute immunity from any legal issues that arise during his time that he has served as president but, unfortunately for Trump, the Supreme Court, in a recent decision, said that this was not the case and that no person, not even the president, is "above the law."
His controlling attitudes and behaviors continued unabated after his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden. He created a legal team headed by Rudy Guiliani, his most recent legal fixer, to dispute the election's results. He also invited legislators from various states to the White House to try to talk them into overturning the elections in their states and to refuse to certify that Biden had actually won the electors from those states. Trump and his legal team filed scores of lawsuits challenging the 2020 election results. All of these were "thrown out" by the courts (including the Supreme Court) or simply withdrawn by his legal team because they had no merit whatsoever. A clear example of Trump's intense desire to control came when there were allegations of a contentious and heated meeting in the Oval Office in December 2020 when there was an actual discussion about the idea of instituting martial law in our country to overturn the election results. Another example of Trump's obsession to try to control others relates to an audiotape of an hour-long phone call with the Georgia Secretary of State in January 2021 where Trump demanded that this official recalculate the vote totals and "find votes" for him to change the results of the Georgia election, an incredibly egregious abuse of his power as President.
Trump's last ditch effort to attempt to assert his control involved his pressuring and cajoling his Vice-President, Mike Pence, to overturn the official counting of the electoral college votes in a joint session of Congress on January 6, 2021, where there was to be an formal declaration of the electoral college vote. Thankfully, Pence refused to comply with Trump's unconstitutional demand and Joe Biden's win in the presidential election of 2020 was affirmed late that night. Sadly for our country, this process of counting the electoral votes that day was interrupted and violated by a mob of rioters and domestic terrorists, "egged on" by Trump and his political lackeys, who attempted to take over the Capitol Building, smashing windows, breaking down doors, vandalizing offices, and occupying areas of the Capitol until law enforcement intervened and drove them out.
A second rule in a shame-based system is: Be Perfect and Expect (and Sometimes, When Necessary, Even Demand) Perfection From Others. A shame-based person is taught that he and others must always be correct, do what's right, never make mistakes, and be "on top of everything going on" in their lives. This rule imposes a strict requirement that they have to rigidly comply with and live up to some sort of perfectionistic image of the way people and the world around them are supposed to be (according to the shame-based person). It is then expected that this facade (which will be discussed in more detail below) will be presented to the outside world as a valid representation of the way things really are (e.g. with them and with their family, friends, and others).
This image includes an intense fear about acknowledging any problems or difficulties because doing so would communicate to others that they are, in fact, flawed, defective, and deficient as human beings (that "loser" label again) and would simply invite more shame from the outside (or within their own thought process). This powerful need to live behind this flawless and perfectionistic facade significantly decreases the ability to be fully human, with all the faults, frailties, and shortcomings that all of us have. This rule also includes having no empathy for others since the shame-based person has no ability or willingness to recognize the humanness or imperfection in themselves. A strong organizing principle of this rule is to live up to certain stereotyped notions, values, and expectations of the dominant and popular culture and of the families where they were raised. Trying to be perfect creates enormous stress and tension in the shame-based person's life and, in the end, he (and others) are never truly able to actually be that perfect person that he thinks everyone is supposed to be. This need for perfection also means that the shame-based person is completely unwilling to take any responsibility for his words, actions, misdeeds, and mistakes or to apologize for anything that is cruel, disrespectful, or hurtful to others. Trump clearly appears to have great difficulty taking any kind of responsibility for his actions and he rarely, if ever, has apologized for anything he has said or done.
Trump is a master at inflating himself and everything that he does. His belief that he and his administration have "done great" with the pandemic is a clear example of this dysfunctional attitude. He also expects perfection from those around him, which means that those in Congress or those who work for him are expected to make excuses and cover for his obnoxious words and actions and for his incredibly poor performance as our president. Trump demands loyalty from everyone around him and it is assumed that they will toe the party line which relates to his being the leader of that Trump cult. In essence, he views himself and everything that he does as perfect. If this were not the case, he would not be the "winner" whom he desperately wants to be.
Trump actually appears to be enamored with the word perfect itself. He has used this frequently to describe who he is and what he has done as president, saying that he is the "perfect president." He also repeatedly described his phone call with the president of Ukraine as "perfect" (which eventually led to his initial impeachment in the House of Representatives for obstruction of Congress and abuse of power). In addition, he has talked about police chokeholds as "so innocent and so perfect."
A third shame-based rule is: Blame Someone (Either Yourself Or Others) or Something Whenever Anything Goes Wrong in Your Life or Around You. Shame-based people are taught that, if something doesn't happen as they think it should, they need to assess blame, either toward themselves or someone else, and then punish the offender. It doesn't take much thought to figure out which role Trump prefers and takes on in his own life. He is our Blamer-in-Chief. Blame tends to get activated in the shame-based system when the control and perfection rules break down, as they always do. The shame- based system focuses on WHO did the misdeed rather than on HOW the issue can be effectively addressed and remedied. This intense need to find fault means that the shame-based person is continually split into two parts: the JUDGE and the OFFENDER. Every problem situation is viewed as an opportunity to reject and condemn others (or yourself, although this is certainly not a part of Trump's make-up) for anything that occurs. This way of looking at life leads to viewing others with a mindset of constant negativity, cynicism, judgment, and contempt.
Blaming is Trump's bottom-line credo, except that he is different from many shame-based people in that he never blames himself (or, in fact, takes any personal responsibility for anything that he has said or done). He only blames, judges, condemns, and demeans others. One way that he is very similar to other shame-based people is that he often takes on the victim role, frequently claiming that he is being persecuted by the media (which he refers to as "fake news"), in national polls about his poor performance (especially regarding the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2020 election), regarding some of the Supreme Court's decisions that have gone against him, and, in general, anyone disagreeing with him about anything that he says or does.
Trump has blatantly blamed China for the worldwide pandemic, glibly referring to Covid-19 as "the kung flu" and the "China virus," which led to verbal and physical attacks on Asian Americans in our country. Trump appeared to hope that this focus on China would allow him to avoid the responsibility for what has actually occurred with the virus in the United States. Trump has done nothing to spearhead a federal response to the pandemic, (with the possible exception of the development of a vaccine), sloughing off most of that responsibility to the states so that he will not be blamed for the disconnected and hapless federal response. Instead, he expects that the states and cities will be blamed by him and everyone else for what has occurred in the pandemic up to the present time. He has hoped that he would be "let off the hook" although, fortunately, this has not occurred. Trump also claimed the 20 million vaccinations would be done before the end of 2020. That didn't happen (fewer than 3 million vaccinations were actually administered through the end of December) and Trump, of course, is blaming the states and cities for the fact that this didn't occur.
The next two shame-based rules, which often coexist, are: Deny and Distort the Reality That Exists Around You. Shame-based people are taught early on in life to deny the existence and validity of emotions, especially the negative, uncomfortable, and vulnerable ones in themselves and others. Feelings like fear, disappointment, hurt, anxiety, and even sadness pose a significant threat to that perfectionistic image that they are supposed to project of "having it all together" and being totally self-sufficient and in charge of their lives and what happens around them. They are also taught to deny wants and needs so they don't dare ask directly for advice, assistance, or emotional support. In a shame-based system, asking directly for anything is just another sign of your own weakness, imperfection, and inability to take care of yourself. Finally, they are taught to deny responsibility for themselves and what they say and do (which relates to the blame rule discussed above) because, in a shame-based system, acknowledging mistakes and being accountable for them only leads to punishment, humiliation, and more shame. As a result, rigid roles consume their humanness and their identity and their interactions with others become empty, hollow, and distant with little room for uniqueness, spontaneity, compassion for others, and genuine emotional connection and intimacy.
In addition, shame-based people are taught that, when compulsive, irresponsible, or abusive behavior does occur that they should immediately use distortion to modify that behavior into something more "acceptable." Thus, the reality of the shaming event is minimized, justified, or normalized to excuse the hurtful or destructive actions. The goal in doing this is to assist the shame-based person in avoiding any responsibility for what has really occurred. This distortion process is also used to maintain the "status quo" in the shame-based system and to avoid positive change that might be triggered by openly discussing and understanding the real meaning of the shaming, abusive, or destructive behaviors. These confusing messages contribute to a crazy-making atmosphere where it becomes extremely difficult to identify what is actually happening in any given situation which then profoundly interferes with gaining an understanding of what reality actually is. The goal with these rules is to create a whole separate reality, one that has little to do with the reality that actually exists. Trump appears to be a "master" at doing this, believing that, if he repeats his lies over and over again, they will eventually be seen as "the truth" (as they often have been viewed by his supporters).
Trump has attempted, throughout his presidency, to create a completely separate reality, one that is very different from the reality that actually exists. This is what these two rules are all about. These rules have to do with Donald Trump's inability or unwillingness to be honest and speak the truth in his life or in his presidency. Trump has turned out to be a consummate liar, with tens of thousands of documented falsehoods from the 2016 primary to the present, denying and distorting the facts over and over again in his campaign to become president and during his presidency itself.
Early on (and on numerous occasions since that time), Trump has proclaimed that the coronavirus would, one day, just "miraculously disappear" (it hasn't). He also said that, with warmer weather, it would be gone. In reality, cases spiked significantly in warm weather states like Arizona, Texas, Florida, and California in the summer of 2020. Even at that point, he continued to say that Covid-19 "will just go away." He has said that the coronavirus is "just like the flu" (it isn't). He has commented that "99% of the coronavirus cases are totally harmless" (a bit difficult to fathom since hundreds of thousands of Americans have died from Covid-19 and since the repercussions from having the virus for people who have recovered from it are not yet clearly understood. His lies about Covid-19 to the American public are particularly difficult to fathom due to his being very willing to acknowledge to reporter, Bob Woodward, in audiotapes Woodward used in writing his recent book about Trump that the virus was, in fact, easily transmitted and very deadly.
In addition, from early on, he touted hydroxychloraquine as a medication that would effectively treat the coronavirus (stating that he actually took it as a preventative measure and declaring, "what do you have to lose?"). He has often said that this is a helpful medication for Covid-19 even though there was no evidence that it was at all helpful and the physicians and scientists around him were clear that it could, in fact, be harmful and create cardiac problems for some people who took it. He told Americans that, perhaps, there was a way to inject or ingest bleach to combat the virus; actually, doing either of those would kill a human being. He has argued that the only reason we have more positive cases in our country is because we are doing more testing and that we need to slow the testing so the US will have fewer reported cases, a claim that no reputable scientist agrees with. He also stated that, early in the pandemic, that "anyone who wants a test can get one" when this was not true and is still not necessarily the case. He has promulgated the idea that "herd immunity" would come quickly and would eliminate the virus, with the support of Scott Atlas, a radiologist and a brief addition to his coronavirus task force, when no reputable scientist is in agreement with that assessment. More recently, he has declared on many occasions that we are "rounding the turn" on the virus despite the fact that, with colder weather, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths rose significantly in many parts of the country.
In response to concerns about the number of African-Americans killed by police during his term, he stated that "more whites than blacks are killed by police," not taking into account the actual number of white and black citizens in this country.
For months, he claimed that mail-in ballots would lead to massive fraud in the 2020 election although there is no evidence in the past or present that this has been or is the case. In fact, numerous "red" states had used mail-in ballots successfully for years. Interestingly, Trump mailed in his primary vote to Florida in 2020. Finally, he said that he was not losing to Joe Biden prior to the election and that any polls that indicated this were "fake" (just like the "fake news" he has railed against since he initially began his run for the presidency).
In the weeks following the election, after he had been soundly defeated both in the popular vote and in the electoral college, he proclaimed loudly that he, in fact, had won the election ("by a lot") when, in fact, he didn't. He then went on to talk about massive fraud in the election and how the election was "rigged," constantly repeating this massive lie so corrosive to our democracy for months. As a result of these ongoing lies he was telling, he refused to allow President-elect Biden and his team access to resources and information for several weeks that was critical in the transition to Biden becoming President.
Another example of Trump's denials and distortions have to do with his sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and sexual assaults of women who happened to be around him over the course of his life. Numerous women leveled these sorts of allegations at Trump, who has denied them all. A classic example of distortion regarding this issue involved the Access Hollywood videotape released just before the 2016 election, when he claimed that, because of who he was, he could "grab women by the pussy" but then dismissed and minimized this statement by saying it was "just locker room talk."
A final example of Trump's tendency to deny and distort reality relates to the disclosure of a massive cyberattack that was made public in December of 2020 and had been going on for at least nine months. Numerous credible sources in the intelligence community directly attributed this to Russia. Trump dismissed these voices and weakly argued that "maybe it was China." This is strikingly similar to his clear denial that Russia was involved with trying to influence the 2016 election that Trump won, fearing that his victory would be delegitimized. Interestingly, Trump has consistently cozied up to Vladimir Putin and refused to view Russia as the "bad actor" that it actually is in our world. In addition, he has regularly downplayed Russia's effort to create havoc in the United States and in the world-at-large.
Another shame-based rule is: Compare Yourself Continually to Other People. For shame-based people, part of the legacy of blame and fault-finding is a tendency to continually compare themselves to those around them. Everyone else becomes a competitor and they end up translating their own and others' normal and natural differentness into deficiency. For a shame-based person, it is not okay to be different from whatever that person believes is the "correct" way to be and to live. As a result, they either feel inferior, insecure, and shameful if they are not living up to these expectations; this is definitely not how Trump responds overtly to his shame. Or they feel superior, condescending, arrogant, and grandiose if they believe that others are not living up to these expectations; this is clearly Trump's attitude toward himself and toward life in general. This continual comparing process can be taught by both family and the larger culture. This rule is designed to demean anyone who is not able to live up to the shame- based system's rigid and unrealistic ideals of what people are supposed to be.
Trump can't seem to help himself in describing everything he does in superlatives. And he constantly compares himself to others, but only in the sense that he is much better than everyone else. He was taught to be and has clearly decided that he is a "winner" and that anyone who has a different opinion or perspective from his is a "loser."
Trump started this comparing process in the 2016 primary by saying that he was more honest than "Lyin' Ted Cruz," more animated than "low energy Jeb Bush," larger than "little Marco Rubio," more law-abiding than "crooked Hillary," and, in the 2020 election, more "wide awake" than "sleepy Joe Biden." His use of harsh and disrespectful labels to describe other human beings has been a continuous part of his campaigns and administration (and his entire life).
Trump claimed that he had the largest presidential inauguration crowd in history when photographs of the assembled crowd clearly indicated that he didn't. He frequently compares himself to past presidents and, of course, he is "the best of the best." Trump argued that he has "done more than any president in history" in his first term in office and that he has "created the greatest economy in the history of our country (and the world)."
He states that he has been right about Covid-19 more than anyone else and has also said that the United States has done better than any other country under his leadership regarding its response to the pandemic. In fact, there has been no effective federal response in addressing the virus with the possible exception of the development of the vaccines to treat it. When asked if would have done anything differently in his response to the pandemic, he declared, "not much," despite the fact that our country has become the world's most notorious coronavirus hot spot with many more positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths than any other nation and despite the fact that, during the fall of 2020, the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths rose dramatically and this rise has continued to the present.
In addition, he stated proudly that he has done more for the military than anyone else despite the fact that he has alienated many of his generals who initially came to work for him in his administration and who have since left and made very public statements about his utter incompetence as a leader. He allegedly referred to men and women who enter the military as "losers" and "suckers" because he believes that there is "nothing in it for them."
Trump has also boasted that he has done more for African-Americans than any other president (with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln) and, at the second presidential debate with Joe Biden, he declared that he was "the least racist person in the room" when many would clearly disagree with these assessments given his totally inadequate response to the protests related to the murders of black men and women in this country, often referring to the many peaceful protestors as "looters" and "rioters."
The next shame-based rule is: Think Only In Extremes. For a shame-based person, part of the legacy of comparing themselves to everyone else is viewing life and the world around themselves exclusively in extremes. Because things have to be a certain way in order for the world to be okay, there is only one "right" way to think, to feel, and to be. Or there is the other way, but that is the "wrong" way and that applies to anyone who disagrees with the shame-based person's perspective. People are either "good or bad." There is no middle ground that allows for the many variations that, in fact, exist in humankind and make us unique and different from one another. Situations, decisions, issues, values, and, even other people, are all "black and white." There are no shades of gray that even allow for the idea that there are differing perspectives and differing conclusions about a particular issue or for the infinite complexity of the human race.
As has been said before, Trump's world is divided into extremes: he believes that there are "winners" and there are "losers" in life (as he was taught by his father). Of course, he believes that he is a stellar example of one of those "winners." Winners are right; losers are wrong. Trump firmly believes that everything he does is right and that anyone who disagrees with him or views things differently from him is wrong. People are either loyal to him or they are disloyal. There are absolutely no shades of gray in his distorted vision of other people and the world around him.
Another shame-based rule is: Don't Be Open and Speak Honestly About Yourself, Other People, and What Happens In Your Life. As was mentioned above, shame-based people are taught that they should never identify and talk openly about shaming, irresponsible, compulsive, controlling, or abusive behavior. This rule also means that they should not talk honestly about what they think, feel, want, or need in the present. For a shame-based person, speaking honestly about what is actually going on is equated with "disloyalty" to the shame-based system or person (Trump certainly appears to view life this way). This rule is based on the belief that it is not safe to talk openly about what they see happening around them because it will only lead to punishment of some sort and to more shame for themselves or others. This "don't talk" rule, and the misplaced loyalty it generates, is probably the single most hindering factor in overcoming the destructive effects of shame. Secrets and dishonesty are always hallmarks of a shame-based person and a shame-based system, and that has been an important part of how Trump has lived his life. Without honest and open sharing, a clear understanding of reality can never truly be achieved.
Trump's lack of genuine compassion makes sense since empathy would make him look weak and inept because kindness and compassion were apparently viewed as signs of "weakness" in his family of origin. He has had great difficulty saying soothing and empathetic words to the victims of the virus and their families, to the black men and women killed by police officers and others and to their families who mourn them, or to the victims of natural or other catastrophes like hurricanes and wildfires, which have been rampant in the past few years. Another example of his absence of empathy has to do with his lack of any sort of response for several days to the riots at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and his unwillingness to fly the White House flag at half staff for several days after a Capitol police officer was murdered by the rioters.
The next two shame-based rules, which often work in tandem, are: Be Unpredictable and Unreliable in Your Relationships with Others and Don't Effectively Resolve Conflicts and Issues That Arise Between You and Others. Shame-based people are taught not to expect or to provide consistency and ongoing connection in relationships with partners, friends, family members, and others. Connection with other people is always tentative and very conditional. With these rules, they quickly learn that they can't count on others to be there for them unless they are the way those others want them to be. They also learn that others can't count on them unless those others live up to the unrealistic and rigid expectations that the shame-based person has for them. The implied threat here is that relationships are always in jeopardy and "up for grabs" and can be lost in an instant. This can lead to a confusing and frightening roller coaster of mood swings; irresponsible, compulsive, and disrespectful behavior that seems "to come out of nowhere;" and emotional over-reactions where they and others repeatedly disappear from their connections with absolutely no discussion or explanation. These interactions breed an intense and justifiable anxiety that there is always the possibility of being rejected and abandoned by those who are closest to them, a powerful fear for shame-based people.
Shame-based people are also taught to avoid completing interpersonal transactions with others and to avoid any meaningful sense of resolution whenever conflicts or issues do arise. The powerful message is to completely avoid any possible disagreement.
Trump has significant personal issues when it comes to his desire to have agreement, approval, and adulation from others at any price. He has a robust history as President of hiring qualified individuals and then ousting those same people because they do not agree with his perspective. He has done this with inspectors general, cabinet secretaries, justice department officials, chiefs of staff, and many others. From early on in the pandemic, Trump appeared to have significant conflict with Dr. Anthony Fauci, a real-life infectious disease expert, who was part of Trump's coronavirus task force and who rarely met personally with Trump for months and whom Trump has referred to as an "idiot" and a "disaster." Trump was also unhappy with another medical expert on the task force, Dr. Deborah Birx, and has referred to her as "pathetic" because she did not agree with him about issues related to Covid-19. Finally, after the rioters occupied the Capitol on January 6, Trump did not contact Vice-President Mike Pence, who was among those lawmakers trapped and threatened by the mob, and did not talk with him directly for several days after the attempted insurrection. Apparently, Trump was intensely frustrated that Pence was not willing to interfere with the electoral vote count that was being done by the Congress on that day.
These two rules build a reservoir of confusion, fear, anxiety, resentment, and mistrust that only creates more emotional distance and a profound lack of safety and trust in relationships and, unfortunately for all of us, in our country-at-large. The United States is, perhaps, more divided than at any time since the Civil War.
Another shame-based rule is: Don't Trust Yourself or Anyone Else In Your Life. For shame- based people, thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs are constantly discounted, minimized, rejected, and disqualified. They don't really ever have the opportunity to develop an internal sense of what feels "okay" and "not okay" to them. In short, they don't develop the ability to truly trust themselves. In a shame-based family, the very people who are supposed to be there to validate, nurture, and love them and to teach them how to effectively exist in the world and learn to trust themselves and others have betrayed and lied to them (in Trump's case, his father) about who they are as people and about the larger world around them. Other people become adversaries and enemies if they see things differently. This all too often gets transformed into the belief as an adult that no one, not even a life partner, family members, and friends can be trusted because they will undoubtedly eventually hurt and betray the shame-based person and lie to them in the same way that their parents or others did to them in their childhood. Thus they can't really trust anyone else either. Other people and the world around them become dangerous, threatening, and very frightening.
It clearly appears that Trump trusts no one. He is willing to allow people into his orbit only if they are completely loyal to him and devoted to his perspective, whatever that happens to be. For him, trust equals unquestioned loyalty and submission to him. There is no room for discussion, conflict, or disagreement. He has been very willing to "write people off" if they cross him in any way, as he has done with many people who have attempted to work with him in his administration, including the many people who have been mentioned previously.
A final shame-based rule is: Maintain a Rigid (and False) Facade That You Present To the World Around You. This last rule is the culmination of all the previous rules. It says that the shame- based person and everyone else need to hide their true selves—thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs and all the insecurity and self-doubt that is part of the human condition—and present an "acceptable" (but also a false) image about who they are to the rest of the world. This rule means that shame-based people don't even get to know who they actually are as they live out that destructive "life script" that someone else created for them. They believe that they need to act and to be the way that others think they are supposed to act and to be (whoever this happens to be, in Trump's case his father and his early fixer, Roy Cohn). And others need to be and to act the way that they think that these others (according to the shame-based person) are supposed to act and to be. A shame-based person needs to pretend and "live a lie" rather than truly getting to know himself and being genuine, real, authentic, and true to who they could be as a human being. This facade is a mask that they present to the world to try to survive and to get the approval and respect of those around them. Sadly, in the end, this never works effectively to to help them lead a happy, satisfying, and healthy life, but, for many shame-based people, this facade is the person they end up living and dying with.
Trump desperately wants to see himself and wants to be seen by everyone else as tough, strong, confident, powerful, a TV star, a successful businessman, a master dealmaker, a "winner," and completely in charge of everything that happens around him. He refused to wear a mask (for months) to protect others from the coronavirus as was recommended by his own coronavirus task force. Apparently he thought he would look "ridiculous" wearing one and he was fearful that the media would take pictures of him wearing one and then "make fun" of him. This behavior has encouraged his followers to do likewise, putting them and those around them at significant risk. One of his campaign supporters, Herman Kain, was present at his poorly-attended rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and ended up contracting the virus himself and subsequently dying soon after that rally. He also mocked Joe Biden for being responsible in the pandemic and actually wearing a mask to protect others and himself and actively promoting social distancing at the campaign events that Biden had scheduled. At the end of July, Trump finally made a statement that wearing masks was patriotic, but he still appeared to have great difficulty actually wearing one himself in public (or, probably, in private). At his many rallies before and after Trump himself contracted the coronavirus and in the last few weeks of the 2020 campaign, we saw him hold multiple rallies with thousands of his supporters and gatherings at the White House where his followers rarely wore masks and were unwilling to socially distance from one another. These created super-spreader events where Covid-19 infected even more Americans (still another clear indication of his irresponsibility and his lack of concern or empathy for the Americans he was supposed to be serving). After he recovered from his own bout with the virus, he stated that he felt "better than I have in 20 years" (this may actually be related to the steroid he was given as a part of his treatment regimen). He also declared that, because he had recovered from the virus with the assistance of his world-class medical treatment that most Americans cannot even receive, he might now be immune, which was just another marker, in his mind, of what an exceptional human being he happens to be.
If all these rules sound like they seem to jibe with who Donald Trump is and has been, they do. They are directly related to the "life script" that his father (and probably others around him) foisted on him as a child and as an adult. Trump is a deeply wounded individual with intense inner feelings of insecurity, self-doubt, and fear who spews his venom and his toxins from his unhealthy and dysfunctional mindset and lifestyle on everyone around him, including our country and the world-at-large. Trump will live and die by these shame-based rules since he has always been completely unwilling to truly look at himself and do anything different from what he was taught by his father and has done over the course of his entire life.
Trump is an abject failure as President of the United States, an abject failure in handling the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic issues related to it, and an abject failure in acknowledging and addressing systemic racism and the murders of black citizens in this country and in addressing the domestic terrorism and white supremacy that undermines our democracy at this point in history. Many people would also argue that he is an abject failure as a human being, given his apparent lack of the ability or the willingness to be genuine, empathetic, and honest. He appears to be a man without real lived values and without a any sense of personal integrity, character, and morality.
I do want to be crystal clear that this commentary and my discussion of what I believe to be Donald Trump's toxic shame is not intended in any way to be an excuse, a justification, or a rationalization for his incredibly destructive and hurtful attitudes and behaviors. I have worked with thousands of angry, controlling, and abusive men who had childhoods similar to and even much worse than Trump's as discussed in his niece's book about him. Despite this, many of these men I have seen in my practice were willing to take the risk to honestly look at themselves and work hard to change the toxic shame that created their unhealthy and disrespectful attitudes and behaviors. Trump has been completely unwilling to embark on a journey to actually address these critical issues at any point in his life.
Thankfully, the American people decided in November 2020 that we had had enough of this shame-based and deeply flawed individual who has occupied the "House" at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the past four excruciatingly long and painful years. It is apparent that, at least at this point, we as Americans have also had enough of the toxins he lives and breathes. His resounding defeat in the 2020 presidential election has given me and many others in our country and in the world a much more hopeful attitude about where our democratic nation can go from here.