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Dealing with Crazy

Given the speeches, tweets, and cabinet picks of Donald Trump since the election, one thing has become very clear: we are in for a whole lot of crazy.

This term may not sit well with many people, especially those in the psychiatric field. Though it does appear that Trump himself has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), a diagnosis from afar is rarely accurate or even reasonable. Furthermore, much of the damage we can expect in the coming years comes from those he has surrounded himself with. Many are also crazy. There may be schizophrenia, bipolar, psychopathic tendencies, NPD, or simply substance abuse in play for any of these actors.

So throw away the DSM V. We are dealing with people who have their own version of reality, and that is the point. This is about coping with crazy, regardless of where it comes from.

It was a documentary. Things were that nuts - and more.

It was a documentary. Things were that nuts – and more.

Personally, I have a lot of experience with crazy in my life. My high tolerance for it is without any doubt my greatest source of trouble. I grew up in Miami in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which is resume enough for dealing with crazy. Since that time, however, my outgoing and gentle perspective in the world has clearly been read as if the word SUCKER was stenciled on my forehead. I eagerly listen to crazy people, which is really all they ever want in this world.

In short, I attract crazy like cowpuckey attracts flies. Judge me how you like.

The first rule for people with alternative versions of reality is that deep down they know that they are crazy. They often seek out each other and avoid reality-based people. Even if their personal versions of reality do not quite line up, they willingly overlook that at first to form a bond with anyone else who is similarly squelched by the real world or at least listens to them.

Those with NPD are often the most aggressive, seeking out other narcissists. This goes some distance towards explaining many of the cabinet picks so far.

Narcissism is essentially normal in today's America.

Narcissism is essentially normal in today’s America.

Naturally, the relationship between them cannot last. Competing opinions about reality will always come into conflict eventually, usually with a huge blowup. It may be verbal or it may be physical, but we can be sure of one thing when the conflict finally erupts – no one who is sane will take either side. It may be tempting to favor one crazy over another for some kind of short term political gain, but it won’t be worth it.

It is critical that those of us who are reality based remain firmly anchored.

When such eruptions start to mark the tenure of a Trump administration, sane people need to do everything they can to support each other. We will need to keep each other from diving into these conflicts, usually by asserting first principles and pointing out obvious craziness. It is critical to remember that reality is going to need its acolytes and supporters as much as they need reality. No matter how the press blows up with a huge debate over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, the sane need to stay out of it in order to remain sane.

There will be a price to pay, however. In an insane world, the sane appear insane.

Ingrid Bergman in George Cukor's Gaslight (1944).

Ingrid Bergman in George Cukor’s Gaslight (1944).

As time progresses, we will all start to question ourselves. This is a somewhat deliberate part of the process known as “gaslighting”. That technique is named for the 1944 film with Ingrid Bergman in which the victim is systematically made to doubt her own sanity. Gaslighting is more than just common among those with NPD – it is essentially an impulse. They may not even realize that they are doing it as they work to get control over someone or, for that matter, a nation. To them, it’s just a game that occupies time and space in their version of reality.

Another important characteristic of crazies is that as they victimize the world around them they begin to believe that they are the ones being victimized. It’s called “projection”.  What is important is that they absorb the damage they have done to everyone else and claim it was done to them. This appears to justify their increasingly desperate spiral of sadism and control.

This is not an act, either. They really believe they are the victims.

We have already seen this among the most vocal supporters of Trump, in that they claim that their lashing out against the world is justified as a rebellion against their victimization. This makes them the heroes in their own dramas, empowering them to be more and more bold with time. We must expect that the wave of crazies striking out at otherwise vulnerable people will not only continue, but accelerate. Where they are likely to eventually turn on each other, this may take a long time and many people are likely to be killed and injured.

We must at all times protect the vulnerable, including the old, the different, and the outspoken.

We must at all times protect the vulnerable, including the old, the different, and the outspoken.

Reality based people must at all times protect the vulnerable. We must speak out and act quickly to stop violence and humiliation, knowing that allowing it to happen only fuels the spiral. This is an imperative that is worth rehearsing – what will you do if you see someone being threatened or verbally harassed? Are you ready to do your part?

This naturally brings us to the question of engagement with crazies, or having something resembling a normal conversation. While it is critical to put boundaries on them and stop them from going after the vulnerable, day to day life must be spent avoiding them. They crave attention for their alternative reality because deep inside they know it is wrong. Their life is often absorbed by the need to “prove” that their alternative reality is correct because this is the only thing that will push aside the horrors of reality itself.

Do not engage the crazies unless you have to.

Alec Baldwin as Trump on SNL. It clearly hits a nerve.

Alec Baldwin as Trump on SNL. It clearly hits a nerve.

This is going to be impossible with the President, of course, so we have to develop strategies. This is where my experience falls apart because I have to admit I am a good avoider when I need to be. What I can tell you is that crazies are usually enraged when they are being mocked and satirized. Saturday Night Live and similar shows seem to be special sore spots for Trump, for example. Jokes about tiny hands only go so far – it is critical to be razor sharp and cutting into the heart of where the alternative reality meets actual reality. That’s the place where crazies naturally find the most conflict and the part of their lives they are least willing to face.

Above all else, don’t give in to the crazy. Support your reality based friends and never give up.

We are due for a lot of this over the next four years coming from nearly everyone at the top of our government. Stay focused, stay calm, and stay sane. We can and must survive this. We can and must protect those who are vulnerable. Be sharp and do not engage unless it is clear you have to – and then act decisively and quickly with as much command as you can muster. Lives will be in the balance, yes, as will our precious freedom.

While these are all important, sanity is going to be even more precious and more precarious. Trust me on this. Stand up for it at any chance you can above and beyond all else.

17 thoughts on “Dealing with Crazy

  1. Thank you for your insight! To protect our rights, we do have to engage, of course. The tendency to avoid conflict does not serve us well when it comes to the constant vigilance that is the price of liberty. We have to give feedback to our government. However, we have to be smart about the way we give feedback. Your point is well taken about Trump’s response to criticism.

    • Avoidance isn’t going to work, no. But I think we can pick our battles and ignore the crazy diversionary ones carefully. That’s what I would advise.
      How effective will it be? We will have to see. We’re going to be picking up new skills here.

  2. This is a valuable piece. Few are willing to address the prevalence and consequences of mental illness in the powerful.
    Erik, I incline to suggest that a sort of “counterfactualism” has become increasingly evident in the US Government. Bush II sees various perverted excuses for invading other countries. Obama personally runs murder campaigns, bombs numerous countries, with cover from his Nobel Peace Prize. Fascism in Europe and North America is driven by resentment of refugees who are mostly fleeing violence inflicted directly or indirectly by the US in the first place. We “can’t afford” universal health care because we are spending the money on wars instead. I do not understand well the connections between individual insanity and collective insanity, but feel there must be a close one, each feeding on the other…..

    • There is no doubt that some of this crazy has infiltrated our “leadership” for decades. Some of it we can see and already know how to combat. The intensity is going to go way up, however. And let’s not forget how much we have been losing this War on Reality.

  3. This may be good advise for surviving but I don’t see how we’ll get anything done. And if they do repeal Obamacare and privatize Medicare there will be a lot of people literally dying. I don’t see how this really helps all that much but it may be all we have to look forward to.

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