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Do Americans Talk Too Much About Donald Trump?


Supporters (L) of President Donald Trump argue with protesters demonstrating against him at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida, Nov. 16, 2016.
Do Americans Talk Too Much About Donald Trump?
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In the months before the 2016 presidential election in the United States, American psychologist Laurie Helgoe grew increasingly concerned. She worried a little about the campaigns. She worried more about the public’s reaction to them.

Americans’ comments on social media seemed to be filled with either extreme praise or extreme criticism, Helgoe told VOA in a telephone interview. Many of the comments focused especially on the personality of then-candidate Donald Trump. Helgoe observed that few people could let go of their strong feelings.

Helgoe was so worried that she wrote a book to help people deal with what she calls a “dangerous” situation in the U.S. today. The book is titled “Fragile Bully: Understanding Our Destructive Affair with Narcissism in the Age of Trump.” Helgoe is a professor at the Ross University School of Medicine in Barbados.

Are Americans more narcissistic than people from other countries?

A simple definition of the word “narcissism” is “self-interest” – doing and saying what is good for you.

Some self-interest is important, Helgoe notes. But someone who carries the idea too far may not be able to understand other people’s ideas or feelings. And someone who is very extreme may insist on keeping the attention on himself or herself at all times, then become hurt when criticized.

A simple definition of the word “narcissism” is “self-interest” – doing and saying what is good for you.

Helgoe notes that narcissism as a true mental disorder is rare. Instead, she says, levels of narcissism differ among people.

Levels may also differ from culture to culture. For example, she reports that in one study, American researchers joined with scientists from China, Turkey, Spain and the United Kingdom. They found that people in those countries believed Americans as a group were more narcissistic than people from their own countries.

Helgoe says the finding could suggest that parts of American culture urge people to be narcissistic. For example, the U.S. is a center for movies and television, so people who can pull attention to themselves are often seen as successful. And in general, Americans also believe standing out as an individual is good.

In brief, “narcissism sells, and it creates a following,” says Helgoe. Even if people dislike what he or she says, someone who can hold others’ attention has power.

How to deal with a narcissistic person

But narcissism can also be damaging, Helgoe warns, especially if it is extreme. She points to the origins of the word “narcissism.”

It comes from an ancient Greek story. In the story, a beautiful young man named Narcissus refuses the attention of a female spirit called Echo. Instead, Narcissus falls in love with an image of himself he sees in some water.

The two become trapped. Echo cannot speak her own words – instead, she can only repeat what Narcissus says. And Narcissus cannot move, even to eat or drink, because he does not want to stop looking at himself. In time, they both die.

The word 'narcissism' comes from an ancient Greek story. In the story, a beautiful young man named Narcissus refuses the attention of a female spirit called Echo. Instead, Narcissus falls in love with an image of himself he sees in some water.

This kind of damaging interaction can describe being in a relationship with an extreme narcissist, says Helgoe.

“It can feel like a dance… It sometimes feels like no matter how you respond, you are trapped,” she says.

She says people who are around extreme narcissists often feel deep anger, or rage, because they are dismissed. But when they fight the narcissist, the person claims she or he is the real victim.

Even those who accept an extreme narcissist are in a difficult position. They may enjoy the feelings of energy and power he or she brings. But they always risk being sent away.

In time, both those who resist and those who support an extreme narcissist may “become small,” Helgoe says. They may become extremely negative; they may feel helpless and pull away in sadness; or they may connect so strongly with the narcissist that they lose the ability to think for themselves. In all cases, they come to copy the narcissist, like Echo in the Greek story.

Public beware

Helgoe says she sees some of these problems in the U.S. today. Even though the title of her book includes the word “Trump,” she does not make any judgments about the U.S. president. Instead, she notes that ties are increasing among social media, politics and entertainment. As a result,

“The world is a more benign place than what it looks like in a narcissistic narrative,” Helgoe says. In other words, the world is gentler and safer than narcissists want you to believe. Do not fall for their stories.

people who can make others follow them, push for causes and create strong feelings are gaining power in American society. Their power can be a problem if they care more about their self-interest or self-image than about the needs of the community.

Helgoe warns that, in these situations, the public must be careful. She says people in a relationship with a narcissist can come to enjoy the strong feelings he or she creates. The feelings can act like a drug. Protecting your group can be fun. Deep anger can also be fun, Helgoe notes – and seeing someone with whom you are angry be punished can be really fun.

But the strong feelings hurt us, Helgoe says. They hurt our relationships with other people, and they hurt our own mental health. They also demand we spend a lot of time thinking about what Helgoe calls poisonous ideas.

She advises people who are around narcissists to soften their feelings a little bit. Do not give attention so easily to someone who wants only to “stir you up,” to affect you intensely.

“The world is a more benign place than what it looks like in a narcissistic narrative,” Helgoe says. In other words, the world is gentler and safer than narcissists want you to believe. Do not fall for their stories.

I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

Kelly Jean Kelly wrote this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

Editor's Note: The Ross University School of Medicine is in Barbados, not in the Bahamas as originally reported.

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Words in This Story

stand out - v. to be easily seen or noticed

entertainment - n. amusement or pleasure that comes from watching a performer, playing a game, etc.

benign - adj. gentle and kind

narrative - n. a story that is told or written

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