Recently, President Trump’s son, Eric gave an interview with conservative radio talk show host Joe Pags. The interview quickly devolved into Eric bashing liberals and the media as he discussed what he perceived to be unfair attacks levied against his father. And in the midst of trying to elicit sympathy from the audience, Eric flippantly suggested the negativity his father is experiencing could lead into depression and suicide
“If they weren’t talking about you, you wouldn’t be doing something right and it’s important to keep it in context,” he said. "Otherwise quite frankly you’d probably end up killing yourself out of depression. But he’s doing a great job."
It is unfortunate that Eric Trump lazily brought up the very serious issue of suicide in such a politically motivated way, because it shows his ignorance on the issue and a total lack of understanding of who his father truly is. Eric believes the negativity directed towards his father could lead a normal person to depression and suicide. His father is certainly not normal, but not for the reasons he believes.
As a Master’s level mental health clinician, my training has me wondering how unhappy Donald Trump’s childhood must have been. I couldn’t help but think of the study on adverse childhood experiences that shows how various forms of neglect and abuse can have lifelong impact on a person’s life, and how John Bowlby’s attachment theory describes how the lack of nurturing, security and connectedness could lead to future difficulties in relationships. We know Donald Trump grew up in a home of material comfort and wealth created by his father, but we can only speculate on the inner workings of his household. But it is fair to believe that whatever happened, it contributed to the development of a man who has little empathy and compassion for others. Trump is a man who has spent most of his adult life ruining or bankrupting things he’s put his hands on, and has become an expert at bringing out the worst in others throughout his business and political career.
When it comes to suicide, I doubt Eric knew these sobering statistics and facts. Suicide is a voluntary decision to take one’s life and it is the 10th ranked cause of death in the United States. The Center for Disease Control reports 42,000 people committed suicide in 2016 and over 383,000 people visited emergency rooms across the country resulting from an attempted suicide. Another sobering way of looking at these statistics is to know a person successfully commits suicide every 13 minutes (you can go here for more helpful facts about suicide).
Eric’s comments ignored the complexity, the pain and finality of suicide, and we should not allow his feeble attempt to exonerate his father to distract us from the bigger concern regarding Donald Trump’s mental state. Donald Trump’s deep insecurities are manifesting themselves in front of the world, and the impact they will ultimately have on the country are profound.
Edwin Shneidman in his seminal book:“The Suicidal Mind” believes the person who commits suicide comes from frustrated psychological needs of loneliness, disappointment and poor self-concept resulting in unbearable pain and feeling the only means of escape is death. A better way of understanding Trump though, is through the lens of a malignant narcissist. Dr. Sam Vaknin shares great insight into Trump’s defining characteristics as a malignant narcissist, discussing his hypersensitivity, hypervigilance and perceived omniscience. Other highlights include Trump’s lack of intellectual curiosity, sadistically vindictive behavior and authoritative tendencies.
Trump appears to be a man constantly in need of adult adulation to feel good about himself. His probable narcissism finds comfort in berating others (minorities, women, disabled journalists etc.) as his perception of self must be distanced to those his personality perceives as weak.
Trump’s probable narcissism will never find blame in himself for predicaments and circumstances that he created. But as Dr. Vaknin points out, the very nature of narcissism goes against the act of suicide. There may be suicidal ideations, fantasy or depression in times of crisis or humiliation, but ultimately the malignant narcissist will find ways to replenish the need for approval in life. In Trump’s case, it is loyal, cult like followers that will never leave him. It will be access to TV, whether he’s impeached or not.
Eric Trump will likely remain in denial about his father. For many of us, it is clear that Donald Trump is a functionally illiterate, authoritarian, white supremacist with extreme narcissistic tendencies. From a professional point of view, I’ll continue to believe that Donald Trump loves the idea of himself too much to ever commit suicide. For Trump, suicide would be the ultimate “loser” act ever to be done by a human being. Nevertheless, suicide is not a joking matter. I wish Eric Trump knew that.