Why Trump's Presidency HORRIFIES People From Dysfunctional Families

Photo: weheartit
Why Trump's presidency unsettles

I have heard from many who grew up with dysfunction, abuse, or narcissistic control how upset they feel by Donald Trump's election.

As one person told me, "It feels like a nightmare. An egomaniac who cares little for my welfare is taking over my country and there is nothing I can do about it. I feel like I did as a kid when my autocratic dad had total control over all of us."

Another said, "It’s like my family’s dysfunctional drama is being played out in the entire nation. I have a sick feeling about the next four years."

Part of what may be upsetting to those from dysfunctional families, or who have endured unhealthy adult relationships, is that Trump campaigned with divisive tactics and half-truths yet he was rewarded with the world’s most powerful job.

If you’ve suffered at the hands of a self-absorbed parent or coercive partner, the rewarding of dysfunctional behavior on a national level can be galling beyond words.

Trump’s election has raised anxiety among many. Reports during and after the election found feelings of trauma.

Alarm has risen among women, Muslims, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, school children, immigrants, and LGBT youth.

For Americans who have never experienced a close relationship with someone who has a bullying relationship style, Trump’s actions may be baffling. Yet if your parent or partner lied, demanded attention, lacked empathy, or rarely took responsibility for his or her actions, Trump’s behaviors may seem eerily familiar.

Those raised in dysfunctional or narcissistic families may feel a sense of déjà vu that riles up long-dormant or still-active issues.


If you’re feeling anxious or despondent, remember: Emotions are messengers.

The opportunity is to decode the message. Read a Salon article about why your feelings may make sense.

Some writers have suggested that President-elect Trump may have narcissistic personality disorder, even including three Harvard and UCSF-affiliated psychiatrists who asked President Obama to facilitate a psychiatric exam of Trump.

RELATED: 5 Lessons Donald Trump Taught Me About Being A Better Man

Without conducting a thorough clinical assessment, neither I nor any therapist can ethically diagnose another person. I cannot know what is in Donald Trump’s heart and mind.

My observations are based on his public statements and actions, which necessarily give only a partial view of any individual.

But I can talk about observable behavior. Many of Trump’s actions parallel behaviors used by people in dysfunctional relationships.

For example:

Such tactics yield powerful benefits to the user. Vindictiveness can intimidate others from speaking up. Demanding approval can lead others to put their own needs last.

Blaming and denying responsibility puts others on the defensive. Cultivating an aura of superiority may lead others to second-guess their innate instincts. An "Us vs. Them" mentality isolates people from information that might lead them to question the leader.

Scapegoating embroils group members and keeps the leader above the fray. Changeability and shaming can keep people off-balance and in the dark.

Scapegoating embroils group members and keeps the leader above the fray. Changeability and shaming can keep people off-balance and in the dark.

Despite the anxiety sparked by Trump’s election, living through past dysfunctional behavior in your family or other relationships may offer a silver lining.

The perspectives and experiences that helped you cope in past relationships can empower you as well as help others who may be mystified or anxious. So what can you do?

1. Recognize and call out dysfunctional behavior


Perspective brings power. Some thought-provoking takes on our incoming president:

2. Honor your values


Trump appears to promote conflict, a win-lose model, and self-aggrandizement. His alternating wheedling and bullying have hijacked our national dialogue.

Over time we risk becoming inured to how extreme such actions are. One way to combat this erosion is to reject any dialogue that carries you away from yourself and instead return to your deepest values — perhaps compassion — win solutions, or pursuing a higher purpose.

New York Times columnist Charles Blow writes about not going silently into the night.

RELATED: 5 Things Dads Can Do TODAY To Counteract Donald Trump’s Sexism

3. Take action


To avoid feeling helpless or hopeless — particularly if that was a predominant experience in your family or other significant relationship — take actions that empower you. Some suggestions:

Regardless of whom you supported this election, one truth remains: In our democratic system, the president works for us, governing only with our permission, not the other way around. Read Evan McMullin’s New York Times column.

© 2017 by Dan Neuharth, PhD LMFT

This article was originally published at Psychcentral. Reprinted with permission from the author.