C’mon, I had to pipe in! So it’s all over the news that Donald Trump used charity money to buy a 6-foot-tall portrait of himself. Now, did he do it? Don’t know. But what we do know is that the man has, and I repeat, a 6-foot-tall portrait of himself somewhere on his property that surely costed a pretty penny! Ladies and gents, as a psychologist, I couldn’t let this slide. So here is my humble, “irrelevant,” Canadian-born-psychologist’s opinion.
Let’s conduct a little psychological experiment. I want you to please think about how you would feel in the presence of a life-size portrait of yourself. …and let’s pretend no one else in the world has seen it. It’s just you in a room with a life-size portrait of yourself. How do you feel? What does that portrait mean to you? Because there are an abundance of possible answers, I have chosen to focus on possible responses as they relate to social psychology and self-esteem: low self-esteem, healthy self-esteem, and fragile self-esteem.
Likely Responses of Individuals with Low Self-Esteem (LSE)
First, let me just say that feeling uncomfortable gazing upon a life-size portrait of yourself is completely understandable. Individuals with LSE would take it a bit further to look at the portrait in horror. They would heavily criticize multiple features and that’s only after they found a way to accept that something like this was even created. Even if this portrait was a gift created out of admiration by an outsider, this individual would not be very accepting, understanding, or receiving of this grandiose gift. They would not even believe that issuing the words “thank you” made sense since this gift was so extravagant and excessive. The discomfort experienced by a LSE individual would be severe and significant. Moreover, the portrait would amplify failures, short-comings, and incompetence among LSE individuals and would be a reminder of their perceived unworthiness and lack of value.
Likely Responses of Individuals with Healthy Self-Esteem (HSE)
In all fairness, a life-size portrait of oneself is an excessive and grandiose thing to behold. While individuals with HSE won’t severely criticize it and scrutinize it, they would acknowledge the fact that it was unnecessary. The positive and negative opinions about the portrait will be more balanced than those of LSE individuals, however the level of neutrality would be higher since the existence of this portrait would be seen as needless to individuals with HSE. The portrait would not symbolize or amplify failure, nor would it represent greatness or success. It would be seen simply, as a superfluous thing, upon which self-esteem was not dependent.
Likely Responses of Individuals with Fragile Self-Esteem (FSE)
Now, what about individuals with fragile self-esteem? First off, let me say that FSE can be found in anyone. Even individuals who are (by convention), powerful, successful, rich, and/or beautiful, etc., can have a very delicate and instable self-esteem. The origin of FSE can usually be traced back to experiences of the past that left emotional and psychological scars and wounds. Perhaps, father was critical and perfectionistic with harshly unrealistic standards or perhaps romantic lovers were just never all that interested in you outside of your money. Either way, the cause of one’s FSE is psychologically legitimate and sometimes heartbreaking to discover. When an individual with FSE looks upon a life-size self-portrait, old wounds of not feeling good enough are temporarily mended. The portrait symbolizes their greatness, success, entitlement, self-importance, validated admiration, brilliance, beauty, and uniqueness. Reaching within oneself to find goodness, worthiness, and value is not possible because, put simply, they are absent! In other words, this person’s true core beliefs about self are not favorable or self-loving. They were, instead, forged by internalized negative experiences from more vulnerable and impressionable times. Things like a beholding a life-size self-portrait can seem pleasing and satisfying and helpful in “licking” these wounds clean but it is a temporarily solution that will fade quickly. Now, working to heal these wounds is possible but it requires good long-term therapy or psychoanalysis.
I don’t think I need to remain politically correct here, do I? Donald Trump’s seemingly narcissistic behaviors are all related to a very fragile self-esteem that originated during impressionable times. I cannot ethically and responsibly diagnose anyone who I do not treat, so all readers should take this with a grain of salt, but I think it’s clear that the only way to make anything “great again,” is to start with yourself. Old wounds are not that far behind us and they, clearly, come back to bite us in the ass…often.