Helicopter Parenting: Why Are You Doing It?

This excellent infographic addresses the very real epidemic of helicopter parenting. I see this regularly in therapy sessions with children, especially teens and young adults. They often arrive with “depression” or over-regulated emotions, a lack of emotional resilience and a lack of problem-solving skills. They are often apparently helpless, leaning on their parents to sit with them to do homework for hours every night or give them specific directions on how to do chores — even up until they are in the late teens! Some never get jobs or learn how to drive until they are forced to when they leave the house. But some are also angry and rebellious toward parents. 

What is going on with these teen behaviors, but also — why do parents helicopter?

Certainly, parents state they are over-involved due to fear and an attempt to keep children safe. Good luck with that. No amount of over-protectiveness is going to guarantee that your child is not a victim of a random act of God or an accident. But your over-worrying is absolutely going to affect your child’s emotional, social and intellectual functioning well into adulthood, as the graphic points out.

The main reason many parents worry is largely due to shame. Yes, shame. The biggest fear is usually about a child’s grades and sport performance. Parents are afraid the child will “fail”  — get a B on a test (!) or not make the cheer team (!). And then the parent will “look bad” (be ashamed).

As the graphic mentioned, it is a parent’s “ego” that is getting in the way of healthy parenting. This leads children to intuitively sense that the parent’s emotional needs come first. The result is a child who turns off her intuition, self-care, and self-awareness, leading to emotional over-regulation or “depression,” but also anxiety. Low self-worth can also result, because a child senses that her needs are not paramount to the parent. 

A longer-term result is also that children learn that failure is unacceptable. They watch parents who are unable to tolerate shame and learn to model that behavior as well.

Two responses can occur, which I outline in Self-Acceptance Psychology as Counterproductive Shame Management Strategies. One type of child becomes a Self-Blamer, internalizing messages of inadequacy and becoming self-loathing, perfectionistic and over-achieving. Another type of child becomes an Other-Blamer, externalizing messages of shame and inadequacy by lashing out at others and exhibiting a lack of accountability.  Some kids also grow up to be Blame Avoiders, isolating from social contact and becoming loners. 

Parents: Truly examine why you are overly fearful about your child and whether this is helpful. The goal of parenting is to work yourself out of job, not become enmeshed with your child so that he or she is unable to function as an adult. If you want your child to grow into a competent, fearless, confident adult, you must back away from involvement in age appropriate ways. 

This can mean:

  • stop asking about grades and homework and stop checking them on the online portal
  • stop doing homework
  • stop reminding about chores or personal hygiene
  • stop bailing a child out by doing chores when they forget or running home to pick up forgotten homework or sports uniforms and delivering them to the school
  • stop negotiating with children over major family rules
  • stop stating your fears and worries out loud
  • stop offering your opinions and plans for the child’s future
  • stop intervening in interactions with teachers, coaches
  • stop getting involved in managing or problem solving with the child’s peer or dating relationships 

I could go on and on, but you get the point. While emotional attunement and connection is vital to healthy parent relationships with children, it is also healthy to have a distance when it comes to micro-managing behaviors, especially in the teen years. 

By micro-managing you are not allowing a child to fail — one of the best ways to learn by experience we know of. I always say:  Your child is going to learn to be accountable someday. It’s WAAAY better to have them learn this lesson when they are young, rather than as an adult. It’s much better for them to fail an algebra test because they didn’t study and learn that lesson, then to get fired from a job because they didn’t work hard. Or worse yet, learn accountability with a trip to jail.

You helicoptering them does not let them learn the lesson of accountability and shame tolerance — essential for healthy emotional and social functioning. 

Trump is Psychologically Unfit for Office

As a psychotherapist, I watched in dismay as Donald Trump won the presidential election. His psychological problems seemed so obvious. His flagrant insecurity was exposed with each bragging Tweet, his rampant sociopathic bullying was on view at every rally, and his narcissistic entitlement and greed had been on display for decades.

While many believe mental health professionals should not speak out in this manner, I actually believe the opposite. We must speak out. President-elect Donald J. Trump is psychologically unfit for the office he is about to assume.

Many have used labels such as ‘narcissist’ or ‘sociopath’ to describe Trump. But you do not need to understand those terms or be a psychologist to assess that Trump lacks the emotional stability to hold what is often considered the toughest job in the world. We all have the skills to make a common-sense judgment about human behavior, character and morals. This should not be solely the domain of psychologists, psychiatrists or other professionals.

I prefer to use the term “Other-Blamer” to describe Trump, which is a term used in Self-Acceptance Psychology.

Trump exhibits severe Other-Blaming behavior, which at its core is a lack of accountability. Other-Blamers have low self-worth, which makes them hypersensitive to being shamed. They then react impulsively, punitively and petulantly toward those who shame them. 

The brains of Other-Blamers are essentially hijacked by their fear or survival emotions when they suspect they might be criticized, corrected or embarrassed. Because of the severe “fight-or-flight” reaction, the thinking or cognitive functioning of their brain goes off line to some degree. 

In extreme cases, as with Trump, this means that they will be nearly always impulsive and reactive, rather than thoughtful and deliberate. This is exactly the opposite of the behaviors we expect of our highest executive. 

Other-Blamers have difficulty being empathic, compassionate, kind, or even aware of the needs of others. 

Their goal in life is to avoid being shamed; they cannot be concerned about others. They are in an existential emotional struggle to protect their fragile self-image. In one of these emotional panics, Trump may have great difficulty considering acting in ways that serve his constituents. We see this when he Tweets false statements that are likely to incite fear and spread lies. His goal is merely to feel better about himself in that moment. He is not concerned about the long-term effect on the country.

While Trump may not have conscious intentions to harm the country, his unstable emotional state, character and personality may have that effect.

I believe that the presidential electors must consider Trump’s psychological stability when voting on December 19. The Constitution requires that they consider whether a candidate is unfit. Fundamentally, character, morals and emotional intelligence must be considered when we select a leader. These are skills that will come into play no matter what policy decisions or situations face a president. I believe we need a president who is emotionally balanced, self-aware, and able to regulate his or her emotions so that policy choices are based not on emotional self-preservation in the moment, but on the long-term needs of the country and world.

I also believe that at this crucial juncture in the nation’s history, mental health professionals must speak up about Trump’s psychological functioning. This is no longer just a political issue, but perhaps an issue of safety for millions of people, the stability of this country, and for the long-term health of our planet.

Trump and His Followers: A Mutual Admiration Society of Deeply Troubled Psyches

Self-Acceptance Psychology™ Book CoverFollowers of Donald J. Trump often exclaim they like him because “he says it like it is“ and he is against “political correctness.” Certainly the content of Trump’s outspokenness confirms this, as his statements during the campaign were often bigoted, incited hate and violence, and blatantly false. There was little correctness, political or otherwise. 

Since Trump’s ranting was so politically, culturally and morally extreme, many question why tens of millions of American were so enamored that they could also overlook Trump’s obvious inadequacies in qualifications, intellect, moral judgment, temperament, and emotional fitness. Voters were even willing to disregard the fact that many psychologists and those familiar with Trump described him as a “narcissist”  or even as a “sociopath.”

These traditional psychological diagnoses certainly seem to fit Trump, with their descriptions of behaviors that include violations of social and legal norms, greed, extreme self-absorption, bullying, impetuousness, grandiosity, lack of empathy, and feelings of entitlement.

Some pundits have stated GOP voters wanted “change” so badly they were willing to tolerate Trump’s egregious behaviors and beliefs. They say he championed issues rural white voters were concerned about, such as job losses to globalization and immigration. 

However, as a clinical psychologist, I would offer a completely different interpretation of this support for Trump. I will explain why he was so popular among certain voters, not because of a shared vision for the country, but because of a shared emotional and behavioral defect. And I will discuss the negative effect Trump and his followers will have on the psychological and cultural future of our country, and what, if anything, we can do about it. 

The Toxic Results of Shame Intolerance

Many people today, including those labeled as “narcissistic” or “sociopathic,” suffer from low self-worth or feelings of inadequacy. I describe the causes in detail in my book Self-Acceptance Psychology, but briefly: Negative self-image is largely due to exposure to harsh, judgmental, rejecting, or emotionally neglectful parents. It can also be caused by developmental trauma, such as abandonment through divorce or adoption, emotional or physical abuse, molestation, physical neglect, witnessing parental conflict, or parental psychological or substance abuse problems. The result is attachment insecurity, leading to poor social and emotional skills and difficulty establishing close, bonded relationships in adulthood. 

In essence, a child raised in a physical threatening or emotionally sterile environment responds in certain predictable, survival-oriented ways informed by biology and evolution. Because we all have a visceral need for love and belonging, a sense of being rejected can signal an emotional threat. It is natural to react with the “fight-or-flight” or fear response. Early emotional trauma, such as harsh criticism or lack of warmth from a parent, has a particularly heavy impact on a child’s social, emotional, and cognitive development. 

Based on these concepts and others, I have developed a new paradigm that offers a powerful explanation of human behavior called Self-Acceptance Psychology. 

Self-Acceptance Psychology states that early developmental trauma leads to low self-worth, lack of self-acceptance, and difficulty managing shaming experiences. As a result, people can adopt one of three Counterproductive Shame Management Strategies and these define essentially all unhealthy behaviors in relationships with self and others:

  • “Other-Blaming”
  • “Self-Blaming”
  • “Blame Avoiding” 

Self-Acceptance Psychology offers an evidence-based and logical alternative to traditional psychiatric categories such as “narcissistic personality disorder” and would labeled Trump and those like him as “Other-Blaming.” 

Other-Blamers lash out to forestall, defend against, or attack incoming criticism. Because of early experiences of being rejected and humiliated, they have high levels of internal self-judgment or self-doubt. These mind states developed in an attempt to fix the self, which was judged to be unworthy by parents, and to gain the acceptance of others. As a result of high internal levels of self-shaming, even minor feedback or correction can feel overwhelming.

The simple way to understand Counterproductive Shame Management Strategies is the answer to this question: How does a person handle criticism? 

The key behavior of “Other-Blamers” is lack of accountability. When feeling emotionally cornered and embarrassed, Other-Blamers find it difficult to admit to faults or mistakes, but instead makes excuses, rationalize, and blame others.

In contrast, those with healthy self-acceptance have accurate perceptions of messages from others, can tolerate shame, and have appropriate emotional and behavioral reactions. They can apologize gracefully and be accountable for their behaviors. 

Trump Followers Want What He Has: Impunity from Criticism

I postulate that many of Trump’s followers are also Other-Blamers, of course not all to his extreme level. With the Self-Acceptance Psychology paradigm in mind, it is easy to recognize that Trump’s outrageous outspokenness triggered a positive emotional response from fellow Other-Blamers in the American public.

Through the interpretation put forth by most pundits, Trump’s millions of followers appear to be blind to his obvious flaws. Instead, we can understand that it wasn’t that Trump’s followers didn’t recognize his character defects, it was that they instinctively recognized them and actually liked these aspect of his personality. 

His tendency to “say it like it is” had a magnetic pull for Other-Blamers, because they, too, desperately want to be able to spout off opinions and not be challenged or questioned. Just like Trump they hate being criticized because it brings on feelings of shame that seem unbearable. They roared their approval at rallies when Trump intimidated and dominated others to gain acquiesce and submission. Other-Blamers saw nothing wrong with Trump lashing out in a rage at a reporter or impulsively calling for violent protests. In fact, they applauded it.  This is exactly what they want to do in their lives. Trump’s supporters loved it when he refused to admit he was wrong, because they, too, do not like to be held accountable. In his entitlement, over-confidence and bloated ego, they saw themselves and felt vindicated. They could relate to his lack of accountability and fear of criticism and shame, because they suffered from these same traits. Seeing them in a successful billionaire, they concluded that these were not faults, but positive attributes. 

And the relationship was reciprocal. Because Trump and his Other-Blamer followers were simpatico, he could instinctively feed them exactly the messages to which they would react viscerally. 

Other-Blamers know a lot about fear, because they spend their lives in fear of being judged and found unworthy. Trump could channel their shared insecurities and speak directly to their deep fears of being passed over and made to feel unworthy — whether by women, minorities or the threat of foreign trade — just as he feels dread at being found out as “less than.” 

Commentators wondered how Trump could be so brazen in his errors in fact and judgment, yet his followers would not falter in their loyalty. Trump’s Other-Blaming followers would find criticizing him to be unfathomable, because they instinctively know that criticism is so deeply painful. They want to protect him from criticism, just as they long to be protected from it. 

Other-Blamers value loyalty — as in “you don’t challenge me and I won’t challenge you, because we both know how frightening that criticism would be.” This is how they can turn a blind eye to Trump’s faults. They, too, want to surround themselves with people who will ignore their faults, because hearing about a fault feels devastating to an Other-Blamer. 

Because Other-Blamers are uncomfortable with self-awareness and accountability, they are very well defended against hearing criticism of Trump, just as they are well defended against hearing criticism of themselves. 

In addition, they would not admit Trump had any faults because once these loyal followers chose Trump they were never going to doubt that decision. That would trigger feelings of self-doubt — that they had made an incorrect decision and had to walk it back.

And just as Trump’s followers ignored his immoral behavior, Trump ignored the outrageous behavior of his followers and egged it on, even inciting violence at his rallies. 

They were a mutual admiration society of deeply troubled psyches. 

Conversely, I also suspect that some Trump supporters were attracted to him because he is similar to Other-Blamers they experienced in their lives, such as a domineering or abusive parent. For this type of person, their developmental experience of relationship is an unhealthy connection with an Other-Blamer. As a result, Trump’s behavior seems normal and acceptable. They have come to believe that this behavior signals a “leader,” when it really exemplifies a deeply fearful, insecure person who has learned to mask his insecurity with braggadocio and bullying. Clinicians very often see this pattern in traumatized and submissive clients. 

Yet another group of people damaged by Other-Blamers experience a very different response. They sense that these predators are dangerous, are intuitively tuned in to their fear, and are deeply frightened. [http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/why-donald-trump-scares-you-so-much-and-why-it-matters

Many mental health clinicians have reported in the past few months about patients who recognize in Trump the predatory behaviors that they experienced at the hands of cruel parents, domestic abusers, molesters, and rapists. They are, with good reason, deeply fearful and re-traumatized. Many people since the election are reacting in very emotional ways, evidence of this accurate primal fear of the predator. 

Characteristics of Other-Blamers

Let’s take a deeper look how shame intolerance plays out in specific behaviors in Other-Blamers such as Trump. 

Lacking in accountability: Other-Blamers have very little capacity to admit fault, be remorseful, or apologize, because it would trigger shame. Other-Blamers often cannot admit they were at fault even if the facts are staring them squarely in the face. 

Definitions of “sociopaths” and “narcissists” include phrases such as “lacking in remorse, guilt or empathy for the impact of their behaviors on others.” While this is a true result, the cause is  a reluctance to apologize for bad behavior, something that would trigger shame. 

Unlike Harry Truman who placed a sign on his desk stating “The Buck Stops Here,” Trump appears to be completely lacking in accountability. This trait, not just his mammoth ego, is the defining characteristic that makes him fundamentally unsuited to the presidency. Balanced leaders can own their mistakes promptly and gracefully. 

Trump’s long-standing pattern of refusing to settle lawsuits, even when that may be the most cost-effective or suitable response, is an example of his inability to back down in an argument. He has had numerous occasions during the campaign when there is video evidence of his statements and he will vehemently deny his comments or change the subject. 

Excuses are an Other-Blamer’s default setting. Like a chess master, Other-Blamers will also set up excuses far in advance to forestall embarrassment. Trump’s premature allegations of a “rigged” election are an example of how he was afraid of a humiliating loss, so he seeded the ground with this excuse ahead of election day as a fallback position to cushion his fragile self-worth — “See, I didn’t lose. It was rigged.” 

Stubbornness, “black-and-white” thinking, a tenacious refusal to accept facts: Once an Other-Blamer states a belief, do not expect that they will change course easily. And if they do change course, do not expect them to admit that fact openly. 

Other-Blamers see the world through a very narrow field of their own unshakeable perception. Facts or other viewpoints are inconvenient truths they would prefer not to acknowledge because then they might be judged as wrong and incur shame. 

Once an Other-Blamer forms an opinion — say that global climate change is a hoax — they are not swayed by facts to the contrary. You may as well save your breath. The Other-Blamer is far more concerned with preventing his own psychic pain than knowing the truth about a situation.

Trump followers have a remarkable ability to believe only the “facts” that coincided with their preconceived world view. Known as confirmation bias, this is tendency to favor information that makes one feel good about oneself. This trait exists in all humans, but I contend that is much worse in Other-Blamers because of their poor shame tolerance. They desperately look outside themselves to gain facts, relationships, and experiences that do not challenge their current outlook. 

Lashing out at others, excessive blame of others for problems, impulsivity: Other-Blamers favor the “fight” response when threatened. They have learned that attacking others verbally or physically garners a submissive response from challengers. This protects the Other-Blamer from a shaming criticism or truth either now or in the future. Bluster, intimidation, and bullying are tactics they use to ensure a feeling of emotional safety.

Trump’s blatant bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia are all versions of an Other-Blamer’s desire to lash out and affix blame elsewhere —anywhere but near the Other-Blamer. Trump’s followers love having others to blame for their lot in life. They often literally lash out at others with aggressive, confrontational behaviors. 

Trump’s tendency to threaten to file lawsuits certainly fits a pattern of intimidating to get others to back down.

Opinionated: Because of their insecurity, Other-Blamers have a great need to appear all-knowing. This leads them to act imperiously, as if they understand every issue and know every answer. Complex or subtle issues — which are largely what a president will face — frustrate Other-Blamers who have a fear of appearing indecisive, weak, or uninformed. 

They have learned that stating an opinion loudly and confidently gets others to self-censor or acquiesce. 

Intolerant of dissent or criticism: It should go without saying that a leader should be open to nuanced thinking, the opinions of others, and challenges to his or her ideas. Trump’s inability to tolerate dissent is a likely reason many of his business ventures have failed. He was afraid to hear criticisms of his ideas, so he shut down realistic feedback that might have been helpful to their success.

Trump is well-known for having difficulty handling any type of challenging question. He changes the subject in illogical ways, as evidenced throughout the debates. He deflects by name calling and personally attacking his opponent (“nasty woman”) or lashing out in personal attacks at the questionerr

To Other-Blamers, almost any question is “nasty,” because to be challenged signals a possibility of being wrong or looking uninformed— a proposition loaded with the potential for shame. 

Values personal loyalty: Other-Blamers value loyalty among close associates and surround themselves with “yes men” who do not challenge them. Trump’s heavy reliance on his family are clear signs of this. His children are on his transition team. He has even had them sit in on early diplomatic meetings, which violates diplomatic security and protocol. He wants them to serve on his White House staff, which may violate regulations against nepotism. 

Trump supporters were also very loyal, despite his egregious behaviors. They were merely exhibiting the behavior that they, too, would like in their lives — to have their bad behavior tolerated by loyal and unquestioning followers. 

Fear-based behavior: Trump is notoriously thin-skinned, quick to anger, and impulsive. Author Tony Schwartz considered Trump to be “pathologically impulsive and self-centered.”  

Although they are clever at hiding it, Other-Blamers are highly fearful, on guard for incoming shaming messages. They have habituated their brain to view the world as threatening and attacking. This leads them to rely on the emotional “survival brain,” not the deliberative, logical cortex. The resulting elevated “fight-or-flight” reactivity leads to shame-driven anger that is volatile and irrational. A cycle then ensues: Living in a chronic fear state leads them to view the world as more threatening than it really is (negativity bias), triggering even more fear and reactivity. 

Fear is connected to anxiety-based behaviors, such as impulsivity, impetuousness, poor frustration tolerance, short attention span, and poor concentration, all of which Trump is well known for. 

Approval seeking: Lacking healthy self-acceptance and loaded with low self-worth, Other-Blamers need to gain attention and approval from others to feel good. Trump’s bragging and grandiosity are extreme and long-standing. Jane Mayer in The New Yorker noted that author Tony Schwartz “saw Trump as driven not by a pure love of dealmaking but by an insatiable hunger for ‘money, praise, and celebrity.’  … Schwartz told me that Trump’s need for attention is ‘completely compulsive.’”

The need for approval may drive Other-Blamers to form unhealthy coalitions with those who feed their need for approval. Some have surmised this is the reason for Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin. 

Emotionally healthy people do not seek the approval of others to fill an emotional void.

Lying and manipulativeness: “‘Lying is second nature to him,’ Schwartz said. ‘More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.’”

Lying is tied both to the need to exaggerate achievements to seek approval and to the need to deflect blame and shame. They become adept at twisting their responses, avoiding direct answers, and avoiding topics, all in the service of avoiding being held accountable.

Lying is second nature to Other-Blamers because they lie to themselves constantly. To routinely shift blame to others takes extremes of self-deception. 

Dominating others: Other-Blamers attempt to dominate others to keep criticism at bay and thereby forestall feelings of inadequacy. They try to control, manipulate, or intimidate others to set up relationships with people who will be submissive and will not challenge, correct, or blame them. Trump’s well-documented behaviors of bullying, demeaning, name calling and scapegoating exemplify this. Unfortunately, a leader who surrounds himself with submissive “yes men” is hardly likely to hear a balanced range of opinions and facts. 

Entitlement: Other-Blamers often fail to conform to social norms, will violate laws, and feel above the law. These behaviors also arise due to an inability to tolerate shame. Trump’s business dealings, allegedly fraudulent universities, and bankruptcies offer numerous examples. 

Yet rather than be contrite about his bankruptcies, Trump continues to brag about them.

An inability to be self-reflective, learn, or change: Extremely defensive Other-Blamers lack the emotional resources to feel guilt, shame, or embarrassment. These pro-social emotions were formed by evolution to help us learn from mistakes, admit fault, and change our bad behavior. Although shame feels uncomfortable to those who lack self-acceptance, that discomfort is designed to move us toward moral conduct. 

Other-Blamers experience an infinity loop of psychological problems that makes it difficult for them to self-correct. They learned early in childhood to manage feelings of overwhelming shame by off-loading it to others. They cannot bear the criticism of others. Over a lifetime of refusing to acknowledge fault, Other-Blamers spiral into a severe lack of self-awareness that makes it nearly impossible to address their personality and character flaws. 

Other-Blamers lack self-reflection because it might stir up feelings of inadequacy, which they avoid assiduously. If they took a good look at themselves they might find they were behaving inappropriately, which would feel shameful, so they avoid this self-awareness and accountability at all costs.

In contrast, wise leaders are very self-aware, able to hear about their faults, and learn from their mistakes.

Trump’s Effect on Our National Psychological Health

I believe that a Trump presidency is not just a political problem, but a sign of a worrying trend in our moral behavior, cultural stability, and psychological fitness as a nation. Just as Other-Blaming parents produce Other-Blaming children, we will soon have an emotionally immature president who is setting the moral and emotional tone of the country.

The fundamental problem with a Trump presidency is not merely that his uninformed, impulsive decision-making will lead to policies that will harm us. It is that his character defect of Other-Blaming will also normalize this behavior in others and encourage its full expression among those who may have been held in check by past expectations of socially accepted behavior. If the uptick in racial violence is an indicator, he has given his Other-Blaming followers a big green light to act out. 

I am concerned that a Trump presidency may lead to an increase in the severity or frequency of expression of Other-Blaming behaviors, which will have a very negative effect on individual relationships and our entire society and culture. I would not be surprised if domestic violence, child abuse, and racial assaults increase. 

Other-Blamers have a tremendous negative impact of the emotional health of everyone they come in contact with. Other-Blamers are the root cause of most of the relationship difficulties people experience. (Aided to some degree by the deferential behaviors of Self-Blamers and Blame Avoiders they interact with.)

Despite their toxic behavior, Other-Blamers rarely show up in therapy because of their aversion to the shaming experience of self-awareness and accountability. But they certainly are the subject of therapy quite often. As a clinical psychologist, I see the victims of Other-Blamers in my therapy office every day. The damage caused by Other-Blamers is significant, including high-conflict marriages, estranged families, inappropriate parenting, criminal behavior, substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, emotional abuse, and a general under-functioning in life.

Under the reign of an Other-Blamer president, fact-based civil discourse, compromise, and fair play may also suffer — as they have already been wounded by the GOP’s behavior in recent decades. It seems as if the ability to be accountable is a fading attribute today. Long gone is The Greatest Generation’s selfless sacrifice, responsibility, and humility.

Additional Causes of Other-Blaming Behavior

Trump is not the only one to blame for this concerning trend toward lack of accountability.

Much has been written about the fact-free zone that is social media and how this impacted the election. The wild west environment of social media fostered and empowered Other-Blamers. It allowed Other-Blamers to ignore facts and bully others with impunity. They banded together and gained group affirmation for saying what was once impermissible to say. 

Other-Blamers are kept in check by prompt, calm, assertive boundary setting and enforcement of social norms. But without these influences, Other-Blamers grow in cohesiveness, which leads to boldness and presumption of power. Other-Blamers will take as much ground as they can get. So they need boundaries and filters, such as traditional journalism, to reign them in. 

Briefly, other causes of the trend to increased Other-Blaming that must be addressed are:

  • our national deficit in emotional intelligence and psychological awareness 
  • parenting that is shame-based or permissive and does not hold children accountable
  • an over-emphasis on individualism that leads to a loss of healthy national collectivism and cohesion

What Can We All Do? 

Prior to this election, most people believed a president should be a moral figurehead, as well as a political and governmental leader. His or her behavior should be representative of our highest aspirational values, beliefs, and cultural norms.

It is clear to most thoughtful people that Trump’s behavior does not reflect the highest ideals held dear by our nation. 

Yet Trump is now communicating to millions that immoral behavior is acceptable. 

Behaviors are a moral choice. If a politician spouts hateful, divisive, bigoted speech, then society has a right to judge that as immoral. If a politician advocates for war crimes and violation of international treaties, that should be judged as immoral. If a politician lies repeatedly and is unapologetic, that is immoral.

We must, as a country, address the behavior of Trump and his followers directly and immediately. We must refuse to be silent about Other-Blaming behavior, because silence empowers. We must not back down from this moral discussion. We must all, on a daily basis, firmly hold people accountable for their Other-Blaming behaviors — even if they become uncomfortable at this experience.

Unfortunately, now that millions of Other-Blamers have been encouraged to misbehave, it may be difficult to get that genie back in the bottle. 

However, we must remember that Other-Blamers intimidate, gaslight, and shame others to get them to experience self-doubt and become submissive. We must not fall victim to this scenario. 

Mental Health Professionals Must Speak Up

For several decades, in collusion with pharmaceutical companies, psychiatrists have propagated the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as an immutable source of truth about “mental disorders.”

They have fabricated and promoted a theory of “mental illness” based on alleged and scientifically unproven “brain disease.” Yet these supposed diseases are nothing more than emotions and thoughts that result in behaviors. (These ideas have been widely discussed in many books by authors such as Robert Whitaker and Peter Breggin, on anti-psychiatry websites, and are summarized in Self-Acceptance Psychology.) 

The disease model has elevated mental health professionals into a false position of sagacity with the supposed ability to “diagnose” these imaginary “mental illnesses.” By claiming sole right to assess and diagnose those with things like “personality disorders,” it has led to the public abdicating its right and ability to judge some people as plainly behaving in inappropriate ways. 

Any one of the general public is fully capable of judging whether a person’s behaviors are socially or morally acceptable. One does not need a 900-page manual and years of training to do so. As psychiatrist Matthew Goldenberg writes: “You Don’t Need a Psychiatrist to Know There Is Something Wrong With Donald Trump.”   

Many people react to Trump with a natural fearful response.  Mental health professionals should not deny this accurate and intuitive reaction by refusing to discuss it. I spend much of my time in therapy sessions getting passive Self-Blamers and Blame Avoiders to accurately read and respond to their emotions and intuitions and set boundaries in relationships with Other-Blamers. I believe psychologists and others should encourage people to honor their justified threat-based reactions to Trump. Fear gives us motivation to act in our own self-protection. 

There are some psychologists who believe they should not “diagnose from afar” without personally interviewing or assessing an individual. That assumes that the DSM “diagnostic categories” are some mystical code that only mental health professionals can understand. If we strip away the voodoo of Latinate names, numeric codes, and arbitrary symptom lists, anyone can look at a person’s long-term behaviors and use their intelligence, observation skills, intuition, and common sense to judge whether that person is emotionally healthy. 

Trump has a 50-year public record of his behaviors, statements, and emotional reactions to assess. Based on these very obvious facts I do not believe mental health professionals — or any member of the public — should withhold judgment about his fitness for office. In fact, it could be considered immoral to be silent about them, given the possibility for harm that may result from that silence. 

In the past, mental health professionals have also avoided criticizing people with these character flaws because they felt as if it was “shaming” and because the Other-Blamers would over-react. However, if we recognize that these behaviors are not a “mental disorder,” but just behavioral choices, it would be inappropriate not to address them. 

I believe that mental health professionals must begin to view behaviors in some part as moral choices. Rather than continuing to label “narcissism” and “sociopathy” as “mental illnesses,” psychologists must reframe them as emotional and behavioral problems that can be managed by the individual and hold the individual accountable. Certainly we can be compassionate as to the causes of a person’s emotional difficulties, but to ignore the broad and deep implications for Other-Blaming behavior will only encourage more of the same. 

This behavior has always been damaging on an individual level — and is now damaging at a national level. Dr. Alan J. Lipman has written about Trump: “He is a candidate with the potential to bring a democratic republic down with him.”

At this crucial juncture in our nation’s history, mental health professionals must speak up loudly and often. This is no longer just a political issue but an issue of safety for perhaps millions of people and for the long-term health of our planet. 

People who have healthy levels of empathy and are not extreme Other-Blamers have great difficulty comprehending the motivations of these deeply troubled people. But once you understand the paradigm that an Other-Blamer has great fear of being shamed, the pattern of traits and reactive behaviors will become obvious. And the danger from Trump’s extreme Other-Blaming will also become obvious.  

Remember that Other-Blamers have difficulty being empathic, compassionate, or even aware of the needs of others. Their goal in life is to avoid being shamed; they cannot be concerned about others. They are in an existential emotional struggle to protect their fragile self-image. 

All his life Trump’s behavior has been extremely self-centered — meaning he will do anything in his power to avoid being blamed or shamed. In his emotional panic, he will have great difficulty considering acting in ways that serve his constituents. While Trump may not have conscious intentions to harm the country, his unstable emotional mind state, character, and personality will almost certainly lead him in that direction. 

I believe we need a leader of the United States of America who is emotionally balanced, self-aware, self-accepting, and able to regulate his or her emotions so that policy choices are based not on emotional self-preservation in the moment, but on the long-term needs of the country and world. 

For an in-depth look at these concepts and a downloadable book, go to www.SelfAcceptancePsychology.com.

Bi-Polar Disorder: Not a Disease, Just “Fight-or-Flight” 

I heard an NPR Snap Judgment segment today called “Crash and Burn” that exposed the complete fallacy of the current psychiatric diagnosis system enshrined in the DSM-5 or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It was a classic case of what is wrong with psychiatry today.crashandburn-banner-sm

The segment told the story of Jared Dillian, a fast-rising “stud ETF trader” on Wall Street who was making 10,000 trades in a day and at times winning and losing a half-million dollars in a single trade. He sometimes made trades with all 150 people on the trading floor watching him and waiting for the result. 

As you can imagine, his job involved extreme daily pressure. The words he used were telling, figuratively evoking the “fight-or-flight” nature of his existence: “Every day was like going to war, going into battle,” “in the middle of crossfire,” and “I’ve gotten my head caved in so many times over the years.”

As a result, he described being combative, furious, losing his temper, screaming, getting enraged, and flipping out. All these phrases and more were used in just a 15-minute radio segment. He broke phones and computers and pounded on his desk regularly. Would the word “fight” describe these behaviors? 

At night he would go home, drink and watch TV to try to relax and shut down after that high-level survival existence.

After years of this stress, he started to struggle to get out of bed or go to work — giving up or “folding,” is also part of the “fight-or-flight” process. 

He then became paranoid about being investigated by the FBI for a small trade made months previously. He felt as if people were watching him, he lost 40 pounds, and was “living in this fear and terror all the time.” He started behaving irrationally and erratically, such as eating a cold can of beans for lunch.

Paranoia is a normal reaction to the fear response. If you are living in a forest with bears, it makes sense to be on the lookout for bears. This survival reaction is smart, until it gets overused and becomes paranoia — hyper vigilance or being on alert for threats that do not exist.

Then one day Jared became paralyzed by fear — the “freeze” response of the “fight-or-flight” parasympathetic system. 

He knew that something was wrong, but unfortunately he went to a psychiatrist who sent him to a hospital. They diagnosed him as “bipolar,” gave him prescriptions, and sent him home. 

The psychiatrist and the hospital staff were merely looking at symptoms and checked enough boxes to get him labeled “bi-polar.” Yet where was the consideration of this person’s environment — his extremely high-stress job? How can psychiatry continue to ignore the very obvious signs of fear or stress that Jared exhibited? Why are medications the go-to solution for what is merely a normal emotional reaction to fear? 

In essence — why is fear labeled a mental illness?

This person’s behavior was not some pre-existing “disease” or neurochemical imbalance somehow showing up out of the blue. 

Jared’s fear response was being triggered over and over again every day and he had no place to escape to seek relief. So he reacted as could be expected — with impulsivity, anger, violent acting out, irritability, fatigue, avoidance of the stressful situation, and hyper-vigilance.

These are normal reactions, not a disease or mental disorder. 

As evidence of this, what did Jared do when he was in the hospital? He slept for 24 hours straight and then was much calmer the three weeks he was in the hospital. He credited the medications. I would credit not working in an insanely stressful job. 

The DSM assumes that human emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are influenced by some sort of imagined diseases of the brain. It largely fails to take into account any psychosocial situations that might affect a person — such as a job that throws a person into extreme fear responses possibly hundreds of times a day. 

Jared’s job stress would have been the first thing I would have keyed in on if I were assessing him. The first assessment guideline in Self-Acceptance Psychology is: How does the person assess and respond to fear? Is the person hyper-vigilant to fear? Is he hyper-reactivity to fear?

Jared’s response was not hyper-vigilant or hyper-reactive but the situation was so high-stress that it made him have a strong fear-based reaction. 

As I note in Self-Acceptance Psychology, “bi-polar disorder” is merely the “fight-or-flight” response system being turned on high due to chronic stress or trauma. The person cycles through various stages of the response — “fight” responses of anger and pounding on desks,” “fold” responses of laying in bed instead of working, “freeze” responses of being paralyzed with fear,  and “flight” responses of avoidance of stressful situations and paranoia or hyper-vigilance. 

Join the revolution against the DSM and fake diagnoses such as “bi-polar disorder!” Read Self-Acceptance Psychology.

Workaholic? Stressed by work? You may be lacking in self-acceptance.

Do you work long past quitting time or answer emails on the weekend? Or worry a lot about work even when you are not on the job?

Now, certainly it is important to perform well at work. Losing a job is serious stuff. But scratch the surface of these behaviors and many people report excessive worrying about how they are perceived at their job. 

They may put in long hours hoping to get a bit of praise from a boss or client. Or they may labor diligently to avoid making a mistake and earning a reprimand.

Certainly, good quality workmanship is not a negative. But this striving for approval or avoidance of disapproval can be seen as an effort to avoid experiencing shame. This may indicate a lack of self-acceptance and the poor shame tolerance that results. 

If you are overly focused on gaining a feeling of approval from your work environment, it may be that you are overly needy for that approval because you are not giving it to yourself. You may be seeking emotional fulfillment and validation through work, rather than through interpersonal relationships — where you should be seeking it. 

I experienced this myself in an interesting fashion. Before I was a psychologist, I was a freelance journalist. This job had many benefits, such as working from home, not having a boss, and flexible hours. 

But one downside was the nearly complete lack of feedback from clients. Once I wrote something I rarely heard much about any reaction. And despite being very independent and not a needy type of person, I believe this weighed on me — largely because I was lacking in self-acceptance at that time in my life. As a result, I felt slightly resentful or easily irritated by clients for very little reason. 

Once I gained self-acceptance, these experiences completely changed. 

I had the same irritating experiences and unresponsive clients, but I enjoyed my job much more. The only thing that had changed was my ability to give myself approval and compassion. So I was no longer looking externally for that validation. I did not rely on my job for a feeling of emotional satisfaction and connection. I had connected with myself in a healthy way. 

I knew I was a good person, irrespective of my performance on a project for a client. I did not hope for that positive feedback to affirm my self-worth. 

I see this issue arise with couples. Let’s say the husband may be a workaholic. The result? The relationship becomes distant and lacking in warmth. But it is more than just his long hours or his head in his laptop. He is looking outside the relationship for emotional connection and “intimacy,” rather than toward his wife. She senses this disconnection and distance and feels hurt and unimportant to him. 

Learning self-acceptance and mindfulness is the way forward to an improved balance in life, improved relationships, and reduced work “stress.”

Workaholic? Stressed by work? You may be lacking in self-acceptance.

Do you work long past quitting time or answer emails on the weekend? Or worry a lot about work even when you are not on the job?

Now, certainly it is important to perform well at work. Losing a job is serious stuff. But scratch the surface of these behaviors and may people report excessive worrying a lot about how they are perceived at their job. 

They may put in long hours hoping to get a bit of praise from a boss or client. Or they may labor diligently to avoid making a mistake and earning a reprimand.

Good quality workmanship is not a negative. But this striving for approval or avoidance of disapproval can be seen as an effort to avoid experiencing shame. This may indicate a lack of self-acceptance and the poor shame tolerance that results. 

If you are overly focused on gaining a feeling of approval from your work environment, it may be that you are overly needy for that approval because you are not giving it to yourself. You may be seeking emotional fulfillment and validation through work, rather than through interpersonal relationships — where you should be seeking it. 

I experienced this myself in an interesting fashion. Before I was a psychologist, I was a freelance journalist. This job had many benefits, such as working from home much of the time. But one downside was the nearly complete lack of feedback from clients. Once I wrote something I rarely heard much about any reaction. And despite being very independent and not a needy type of person, I believe this weighed on me — largely because I was lacking in self-acceptance at that time in my life. 

As a result, I felt slightly resentful or easily irritated by clients for very little reason. 

Once I gained self-acceptance, these experiences completely changed. I had the same irritating experiences and unresponsive clients, but I enjoyed my job much more. The only thing that had changed was my ability to give myself approval and compassion. So I was no longer looking externally for that validation. I did not rely on my job for a feeling of emotional satisfaction and  connection. I had connected with myself in a healthy way. I knew I was a good person, irrespective of my performance on a project for a client. I did not hope for that positive feedback to affirm my self-worth. 

I see this issue arise with couples. Let’s say the husband may be a workaholic. The result? The relationship becomes distant and lacking in warmth. But it is more than just his long hours or his head in his laptop. He is looking outside the relationship for emotional connection and “intimacy,” rather than toward his wife. She senses this disconnection and distance and feels hurt. 

Learning self-acceptance and mindfulness is the way forward to an improved balance in life, improved relationships, and reduced work “stress.”

Incongruent Emotions Harm Relationships

I recently saw a male client who was upset about his wife’s possible affair. She had been staying out drinking on weeknights until 1 am, leaving him with the kids. For years she had also been under-functioning in the home, so that he had to do most of the childcare and chores. He complained that she would leave her clothes on the floor all the time despite his requests not to, was constantly late for events, and was undependable in many ways.

I listened to his mouth and words make this list of complaints. He was tearful but tried not to cry  throughout the session. He seemed to be struggling to keep his emotions in check. Each time I ask him how he was feeling, he dismissed his emotions or changed the subject or said his wife is “not that bad” or “I don’t want to make it seem like she does this all the time.” 

It left me wondering: What are his real emotions, beliefs and thoughts? I’m sure if he observed himself neutrally, he would have had the same question. 

Looking at his tears, you might have suspected he was sad. Hearing his words, you might have guessed he was mildly angry. He said the situation was not that concerning to him, but then he would bring the same complaints up over and over again, so you might conclude he really was concerned about her behaviors. Add in his denials, changing opinions, and vague language and, overall, you would be very confused as to his real feelings and opinions. 

When a person has incongruent emotions — crying when he is angry — it is confusing. Both to a therapist and to his partner. As with a stoplight with both red and green lights lit, the partner does not know how to react. 

The human brain has a well-developed system for assessing emotions in other people. Our non-verbal skills evolved millions of years before our verbal skills did, so we are much faster and more competent at figuring out what is unsaid. 

But when the emotions and body language do not match the words, it leads to confusion at best, arguments and distancing at worse. 

People I call “Self-Blamers” in Self-Acceptance Psychology are the most likely to use an incongruent style of expressing themselves. They want to avoid conflict because they are eager for the other person to like them. Perhaps it is a style of communication they learned in childhood.  

They also dislike experiencing shame, so, in an empathic move, they also try to protect their partner from shaming experiences. So they placate and please in an attempt to decrease conflict. 

Or their partner may be an “Other-Blamer” who tends to lash out in anger at any form of criticism, no matter how accurate it is. So the Self-Blamer has learned to be tentative about his criticism, or has learned to moderate his critical words with placating, submissive crying and dissembling. 

Unfortunately, this pattern of communicating merely tells the Other-Blamer wife that she has succeeded in dominating her husband, succeeded in keeping him from shaming her, succeeded in keeping him from holding her accountable for her wrongful actions. His submissive style of communicating has alerted her that in some measure he is shouldering the blame for her behaviors. 

Ultimately, this pattern of communicating leads to distancing in the marriage. The husband learns it is futile to express his legitimate criticisms so he gives up caring and pulls away emotionally. 

The solution is prompt, direct, assertive communication with congruent emotions. If you are angry, be angry and use words, body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and emotions that express that. If you are sad, cry and express your hurt. But don’t use tears to placate a partner and avoid conflict when you are really just angry. 

My goal in therapy with this man, and others like him, is to encourage honest assessment of his own feelings and help him gain the assertiveness to express himself promptly and directly. I work to help him understand the roots of his fear of conflict in childhood and in his innate need for approval.  

Possibly, if he had better self-acceptance, his need to placate and please his wife would be reduced to a healthy level. His self-image would not depend on her approval. 

Benefits of Self-Acceptance Psychology in Therapy

Because of the simplicity of the Self-Acceptance Psychology paradigm, the model is very easy to implement when assessing and working with psychotherapy clients. Once a clinician understands the Five Causative Factors and Three Shame Management Strategies, the framework is a powerful tool toward personal growth. 

When clinicians privilege an understanding that shame is driving behaviors, they can maintain a compassionate stance toward clients. Even egregious behaviors, such as domestic violence, can be understood to be a distressed over-reaction to the shame of being rejected by a partner, likely stemming from insecure attachment with parents. 

When understanding, empathy, and compassion are at the root of the therapeutic relationship, the client can relax into a trusting stance and possibly be more forthcoming in therapy. Eventually, he may even be more trusting of himself, leading to a more honest and accepting relationship with himself. 

Therapeutic interventions focus on addressing shame, improving self-compassion, and managing cognitions that cause fear/anxiety. The result is that relationships with self and others improve.

Self-Acceptance Psychology offers numerous benefits, because it: 

  • explains human emotional, cognitive, and behavioral patterns as natural, predictable responses to real threats or perceived fears
  • normalizes and de-stigmatizes thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as adaptive and self-protective
  • improves the likelihood that clinicians will view clients as normal and not disordered
  • encourages client accountability
  • directly addresses the emotion (shame) and cognition (low self-worth) that lead to most “mental illnesses”
  • is based on common sense, facts, and scientific research, so is more accurate, valid, and reliable than the DSM
  • is a simple, transparent, and understandable conceptual framework accessible to clinicians and the public
  • uses behavioral explanations that lead directly to case formulation and to effective methods of therapeutic intervention and self-help
  • provides hope for permanent change through research-proven strategies of mindful self-compassion leading to self-acceptance
  • interventions are harmless, unlike medications, and provide hope for permanent change.

Most significantly for the public, Self-Acceptance Psychology will improve emotional understanding and acceptance of the self, leading to positive impacts on all aspects of a person’s life and relationships.

For a more in-depth explanation of Self-Acceptance Psychology concepts, purchase an 85-page PDF for $5.

Wisdom from Michael O’Keefe on Acting, Mindfulness … and Therapy

homeland_1000pxI almost didn’t read a blog by actor Michael O’Keefe , because I didn’t think I could relate to a comparison of acting and meditation. But I’m sure glad I did.
At first I just appreciated that it was a well-written, thoughtful, and fascinating take on how meditation helps an actor perform and be present.

However, I was also struck by how many of these thoughts could also be applied to being a psychotherapist — and being a better person!

Not that being a therapist is about acting, but O’Keefe’s observations are exact parallels to what I’ve experienced as a meditator and therapist. 

I became a therapist later in life after I gained self-acceptance and self-awareness. I think if I had been a therapist prior to this transformation, I would not have understood what he was talking about. 

I remember being in conversations with people when I was younger and compare that to my present experiences as a therapist. I don’t think I really experienced emotional attunement with others back then. 

That’s because I was so busy worrying about the other person liking me. Or I was judging and criticizing myself, or making judgments about the other person. I had no emotional bandwidth left for connecting with others.

With mindfulness and self-acceptance, those mental activities and the accompanying anxiety fall away, leaving me free to truly be with someone, whether in therapy or out. 

I really LOVED this very true O’Keefe wisdom: “The practice of self-observation and inquiry leads not only to an informed self but to a self that can be forgotten.”

Also: “…we begin to realize that nothing separates us from others, and the entire universe, but how we engage with ourselves.” This speaks to the Buddhist concept of common humanity. It also links that to mindfulness and self-acceptance). With self-acceptance we stop being both judge and criminal. We  integrate the self and lose the separation of self and self-hater. 

The following comment speaks to a self-accepting therapist’s ability to let go of her own worries, self-criticisms and need for acceptance to be fully empathic with another: “In order to get to this place you have to have the capacity to be not only your best self, but to forget that self entirely and momentarily become another.”

While the next quote is about acting, it sure applies to the need for therapists to be accepting, empathic, and supportive as they develop an alliance with clients: “What better way to ensure that than developing a mindfulness practice that allows you to include, embrace, and empower others while you work together?”

And: “Mindfulness allows us to take care of ourselves so thoroughly that we have no more need to be concerned about ourselves.”

This is essential for therapists, because if we are thinking about ourselves during therapy we are not fully present emotionally for the client. If I am consumed with thoughts of “Am I doing this right,” or “I shouldn’t have said that,” or “This guy is boring.” then I will be elsewhere cognitively and this is sensed intuitively by the client. 

I can personally attest to the change I experienced when I became mindful and self-accepting. I lost the tendency to be self-absorbed. This showed up in small ways — I didn’t worry so much about how I looked or what I said. 

But it also led to a subtle, but powerful, change that is difficult to describe. Because I was no longer worried about the need to gain approval from others, my anxiety decreased. I stopped constantly scanning the environment for the disapproval of others or looking for ways that I had screwed up.  Because I no longer had to protect my tender self-image from the opinions of others or from my own self-criticism, I was free to open up my intuition and emotional experience to include the needs of others. This is true compassion, not just a manipulative “people-pleasing” behavior. 

And O’Keefe’s final thought: “Being intimate with oneself, and others, is the key. It unlocks the gates of beauty, which can then flow freely through us, and the stories we long to tell.”

Why We Hesitate to Label Trump “Mentally Ill” 

thNOTE: This post does not reflect my political views, but is merely a discussion of Donald Trump’s personality. Some people believe psychologists should not “diagnose” celebrities or others without assessing in person. However, I do not believe there is such as thing as “mental illness”  that can be or needs to be “diagnosed.” Rather we all as humans can assess the behavior, character, morals, and personality of our fellow humans. This blog is doing just that. 

During this long, strange trip of a presidential campaign, Trump’s character and personality have  become more and more apparent. For years, Donald Trump’s behavior has been widely considered “narcissistic.” We even call him “The Donald” as a shorthand for his grandiosity.

However, articles pointing out these obvious traits are just becoming more common in the media.

Recently Trump has been called personality disordered in general.  Scott Barry Kaufman in Scientific American Mind says Trump’s real ambition is a search for “glory,” which tracks with the self-aggrandizement often associated with narcissists.  Trump’s co-author on “The Art of the Deal,” Tony Schwartz, called him a sociopath.

These traditional psychological diagnoses certainly fit Trump, with their descriptions of behaviors that include bullying, grandiosity, lack of empathy, and feelings of entitlement, among others.

But what took so long for these character flaws to be directly discussed, when Trump’s behaviors were so blatant for so long?

I believe this delay in stating the obvious about Trump points a spotlight on a fundamental failure of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The DSM-5 is the latest edition of psychiatry’s attempt to categorize and describe human behavior and define “mental disorders.” 

For decades pharmaceutical companies, supported by psychiatrists and their DSM, have spent billions of dollars on research and marketing campaigns to convince the world “mental illnesses” are supposedly biological diseases that need medications to be managed, but can never be “cured.” This hoax, completely unsupported by facts and research, has been so successful that it is now a culturally entrenched belief: “Anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder, ADHD, personality disorders, etc., are caused by a permanent imbalance in the neurotransmitters of the brain and must be treated with medicine.” 

Psychiatry’s insistence on calling human behaviors “illnesses” implies that there is a bright line between healthy and “ill,” when in reality there is no such thing. A growing number of mental health professionals and those harmed by the profession have spoken out against the DSM and psychiatry’s attempt to medicalize certain normal emotional and behavioral patterns. 

The DSM has many faults, which are further explained in my book Self-Acceptance Psychology and by numerous others. 

How Trump’s Behavior Highlights the Problems with the DSM and Psychiatry

Trump’s situation points out another major problem with the DSM. Its medicalized labeling system stigmatizes a person as “mentally ill.” Mental illness becomes an all-or-nothing construct. 

Additionally, the DSM has been made intentionally intimidating, with its complex descriptions and pseudo-medical and jargonized Latin naming system (dysthymia, schizoaffective, agoraphobia). People feel that as untrained medical professionals, they do not fully understand these terms and certainly cannot make that big of a call as to label someone “mentally ill.” Even if the behaviors are extreme and obvious, as they are with Trump.

It can become difficult to label someone as having “Narcissistic Personality Disorder,” because that seems like a big, shaming leap to take.

Instead, the public may avoid discussing the very clear facts about a person’s behavior and thereby lose an ability to recognize fully what is going on. As a result, very dysfunctional behavior goes unremarked upon until it reaches a level of severity that becomes untenable. 

What if the very construct of “mental illness” were exploded and we began to look at human behavior under a different framework? What if we had another system that could describe and identify behaviors and help us gain insight into the real reasons for those behaviors? 

Perhaps we could then address inappropriate behavior in a more timely and realistic manner. We wouldn’t ignore someone’s emotional and behavioral issues for fear of “diagnosing” them with an alleged medical disease that harshly labels and stigmatizes them.   

The Toxic Results of Shame Intolerance

Self-Acceptance Psychology explains that most “mental disorders” can be understood as natural and understandable results of common emotions, experiences and behavioral reactions. Whereas the DSM alleges that many human behaviors are the result of a “diseased brain,” most behavior actually makes perfect sense when understood through a paradigm that is based on well-researched and well-accepted psychological concepts.

Imagine a fictional child — let’s call him Don — who is raised by parents who are distant and cold. The father is a driven workaholic who is critical and over-focused on Don behaving correctly. The parents lack warmth and emotional expressiveness. Don is left alone a lot or with nannies. Perhaps his parents were preoccupied with their own problems with anxiety or depression. Perhaps they argued a lot or drank too much. All this leaves Don’s parents unable to connect emotionally to Don in a way that provides Don with healthy experiences of his own emotions and thoughts, and therefore of his very self. 

Understandably, Don never feels deeply accepted by his parents and fails to gain self-acceptance and self-awareness.

This forms a relationship pattern Don then uses to construct a schema of his future adult relationships: “My parents did not love me and rejected me. Perhaps I am deeply unlovable. Perhaps I should be deeply unaccepting of myself. Other people also cannot be trusted to provide me emotional safety and acceptance. I’d better be on guard for being emotionally hurt, shamed and rejected.”

Maybe Don also experienced a trauma — say a beloved grandparent died when he was young, leaving him even more alone, or he was bullied or molested or witnessed a crime. This also taught Don to be on guard for his physical, social and emotional safety. 

All of these rejecting and fearful experiences led him to a feeling of low self-worth. 

As a result, he also developed a difficulty in tolerating the emotion of shame. Even as an adult, shaming experiences trigger his feelings of inadequacy. 

All humans learn ways to manage shame. Some can result in behaviors that the DSM labels as “mental disorders,” but which are, in fact, completely understandable as emotionally helpful and adaptive in childhood and on an individual level. However, these same behaviors can be very harmful in adult relationships and behaviors.

Self-Acceptance Psychology Explains Shame Management Strategies

Self-Acceptance Psychology, offers outlines three counterproductive shame management behaviors:

  • “Other-Blaming”
  • “Self-Blaming”
  • “Blame Avoiding” 

Self-Acceptance Psychology would identify Trump and those like him as “Other-Blaming.” 

The simple way to understand these behaviors is the answer to this question: How does the person handle criticism? 

The key behavior of “Other-Blamers” is lack of accountability. When criticized, they experience shame. When added to an existing low self-worth, the experience is so uncomfortable they respond in ways to reduce their fear and emotional distress.

Trump appears completely unable to admit to faults or mistakes, but instead makes excuses, rationalizes, and blames others. He cannot tolerate dissent

A child who learns to make excuses and blame others for his problems gains a feeling of self-protection and (false) self-worth from this practice. But in adulthood, these behaviors at the extreme turn into Donald Trump’s complete inability to be accountable. 

Underlying Trump’s narcissistic braggadocio, bullying and impulsivity is almost certainly a deep feeling of inadequacy or low self-worth. External criticism or humiliation can be overwhelming to those like Trump, leading to an inability to tolerate shame. 

So when he feels attacked he lashes back— such as personally attacking the parents of a Purple Heart winner. Then when called to account for his mistake, he is unable to admit he was wrong or stand down from his statements. 

In contrast, those with self-acceptance can tolerate shame, have accurate perceptions of critical messages from others, and have appropriate emotional and behavioral reactions. They can be accountable for their behaviors. 

Characteristics of Other-Blamers

Let’s take a more in-depth look how shame intolerance plays out for Trump and Other-Blamers. 

Other-Blamers lash out at others to prevent, defend against, or attack against criticism. This allows them to avoid experiencing additional shame.

Lacking in accountability: Other-Blamers have very little capacity to admit fault, be remorseful, or apologize. 

Unlike Harry Truman who placed a sign on his desk stating “The Buck Stops Here,” Trump appears to be completely lacking in accountability.  This trait, not just his mammoth ego, is the defining characteristic that makes him fundamentally unsuited to the presidency.

Intolerant of dissent or criticism, close-minded, opinionated, stubborn, “black-and-white” thinking: It should go without saying that a president should be open to nuanced thinking, the opinions of others, and challenges to his or her ideas.

However, because of their insecurity Other-Blamers have a great need to look smart and be correct. This leads them to act as if they understand every issue and know every answer. Complex or subtle issues — which are largely what a president will face — frustrate Other-Blamers who have a fear of appearing weak or unintelligent. 

I suspect that this characteristic is a major reason many of Trump’s business ventures have failed. He was afraid to hear criticisms of his ideas, so he shut down realistic feedback.

Trump is well-known for having difficulty handling questions. He often lashes out in personal attacks at the questioner, most notably denigrating Megyn Kelly. 

To Other-Blamers, almost any question is “nasty,” because to be challenged signals a possibility of being wrong or looking uninformed— a proposition loaded with the potential for shame. 

Fear-based behavior: Trump is notoriously thin-skinned, quick to anger, and impulsive. Tony Schwartz considered Trump to be “pathologically impulsive and self-centered.” 

Although they are clever at hiding it, Other-Blamers are highly fearful, on guard for incoming shaming messages. Other-Blamers rely on the emotional “survival brain,” not the deliberative, logical cortex. The resulting elevated “fight-or-flight” reactivity leads to shame-driven anger that is volatile and irrational. 

Fear also leads to anxiety-based behaviors, such as poor frustration tolerance, short attention span, and poor concentration, which Trump is well-known for. 

Approval seeking: Lacking healthy self-acceptance, Other-Blamers need to gain attention and approval from others to feel good. Trump’s bragging and grandiosity are extreme and long-standing. Jane Mayer in The New Yorker noted that Tony Schwartz “saw Trump as driven not by a pure love of dealmaking but by an insatiable hunger for ‘money, praise, and celebrity.’  … Schwartz told me that Trump’s need for attention is ‘completely compulsive.’”

But beyond this classic narcissistic behavior, the need for approval may drive Other-Blamers to form unhealthy coalitions with those who feed their need for approval. 

Emotionally healthy people do not seek the approval of others to fill an emotional void.

Lying: “‘Lying is second nature to him,’ Schwartz said. ‘More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.’”

Lying is tied to the need to exaggerate achievements to seek approval and to the need to deflect blame and shame. When caught in a lie, they lie some more. 

Deception is second nature to Other-Blamers because they lie to themselves constantly. To routinely shift blame to others takes extremes of self-deception. 

An inability to be self-reflective, learn or change: Extremely defensive Other-Blamers have learned to avoid, ignore and deny feelings of guilt, shame or embarrassment. These pro-social emotions were formed by evolution to help us learn from relationship mistakes, admit fault and change our bad behavior. Although shame feels uncomfortable, that discomfort is designed to move us toward moral conduct. 

Other-Blamers lack self-reflection because it might stir up feelings of inadequacy, which they assiduously avoid. This leaves them unlikely to change.

Wise leaders are very self-aware, able to hear about their faults, and learn from their mistakes. 

Dominating others: Other-Blamers try to dominate others to keep criticism at bay and thereby forestall feelings of inadequacy. They try to control, manipulate, or intimidate others to set up relationships with people who will be submissive and will not challenge, correct, or blame them. Trump’s well-documented behaviors of bullying, demeaning, name calling and scapegoating exemplify this. A leader who surrounds himself with submissive “yes men” is hardly likely to hear a balanced range of opinions and facts. 

Entitlement: Other-Blamers often fail to conform to social norms, will violate laws, and feel above the law. These behaviors also arise due to an inability to tolerate shame. Trump’s business dealings and bankruptcies offer numerous examples. Yet rather than be contrite about his bankruptcies, Trump continues to brag about them.

Let’s Throw Out the DSM

With its arbitrary and arcane categories such as “Bi-Polar Disorder II,” the DSM hinders our ability to educate the public about the real reasons for human behavior. 

Self-Acceptance Psychology, however, provides a more accessible paradigm that privileges an understanding of behavior as normal, natural, self-protective responses to life experiences. 

It is time we threw out the arcane and arbitrary DSM, with its false disease model of human behavior. It is time to adopt a more sensible, fact-based system that truly assists all of us in understanding all human behavior without the shaming, isolating psychiatric stigmas attached to the DSM.

Self-Acceptance Psychology also offers up a description of what healthy emotional and behavioral functioning is — which the DSM does not do. 

Using the presidential campaign as a template, it is clear that emotionally healthy leaders exhibit self-awareness, accountability, humility, thoughtfulness, equanimity, patience, an appropriate balance of deference and assertiveness, and compassion  — traits that derive from self-acceptance and good shame tolerance.