What it will take for Trump to concede, according to a psychologist who specializes in narcissism
- About a week after the 2020 Presidential election was called in Joe Biden's favor, President Trump has yet to concede, an unprecedented but characteristic action.
- A psychologist told Insider people with traits of narcissism, displayed by Trump, make admitting defeat feel like "an existential death" that's intolerable.
- To concede the election, Trump's close comrades would need to affirm his false beliefs about voter fraud while also making the shame of not conceding worse than the shame of losing.
- If and when he does recognize his loss, Trump will frame it as a win, the psychologist predicted, saying, for example, he's glad he doesn't have to waste more time pandering to the fake media or deep state.
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The votes have been counted, accusations of a fraudulent election have been proven baseless, and Republicans are increasingly encouraging President Donald Trump to accept defeat and move on.
And yet, a week after Business Insider and Decision Desk HQ called Biden the winner of the 2020 presidential election, and six days after all other major news networks — including former Trump favorite Fox News — did the same, Trump has yet to concede.
But while that's unprecedented, it's not uncharacteristic. In fact, it's exactly what clinical psychologist Ramini Durvasula expected, given the president's personality type, which mental-health experts have long identified as textbook narcissism.
Durvasula, a narcissism expert, talked to Insider about what would need to happen, from a psychological perspective, for Trump to accept defeat — something he doesn't have to do before being removed from office. "He will step down at some point," Druvasula said, "but it won't be because of logical reasons."
Admitting defeat goes against what makes a narcissist a narcissist
Among various behavioral patterns, narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by an exaggerated sense of importance; an expectation to be recognized as superior regardless of achievements; and preoccupation with fantasies about success, power, and brilliance.
In other words, accepting failure goes against every grain in a narcissist's body and mind. It's like telling someone with depression to just "cheer up."
"To [Trump,] losing is a literally an existential death," Durvasula said. "Nobody likes to lose, but for him it's like the air is getting sucked out of his lungs. He cannot tolerate it."
For partners of people with narcissistic personality disorder, this must-win attitude can play out in day-to-day squabbles. "You'd think your marital argument is like an argument in front of the Supreme Court," said Durvasula, who works with such couples and wrote the 2019 book, "Don't You Know Who I Am?: How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility."
Narcissists, she added, "are willing to break someone's heart to win."
Trump's close comrades need to validate him to ease the blow
Showing Trump facts doesn't work. Letting him control the narrative does.
But while in the past he's been able to spin negative story lines to appease himself and his supporters — saying, for instance, that his history of bankruptcy is really an indication of his brilliant business chops — "in a zero-sum game like an election, you win or you lose," Durvasula said. "That's a lot harder for him."
Still, he'll find a way, especially if his close comrades remind him of his wins, like that more than 70 million Americans are on his side, and reframe the outcome into other wins, like saying he can use the four years to watch Biden fail and prepare for an epic comeback in 2024, Durvasula said.
She likened these hypothetical conversations to soothing a child who's lost a soccer game: "Hey sweetie, you've got another chance."
Though it wouldn't be good for democracy, validating Trump's false belief that it was a fraudulent election would help him back down too. "All the people who've always been out to get you may have won this battle," Durvasula said she imagines the people he trusts telling him, "but they're not going to win the war."
The shame of appearing to be a sore loser would have to outweigh the shame of losing
Trump won't concede because he lost, or because it's the right thing for democracy, the country, and the world, Durvasula said. He won't even concede because politicians close to him will benefit from being released to pursue their own careers in a post-Trump-presidency world.
Nor will he concede out of concern for his legacy, even though his Republican (and other) predecessors have shown that graceful departures are lauded for decades, even centuries, to come.
"Not only does he not understand his own motivations," Durvasula said, "he doesn't understand the ramifications of his behavior."
Trump, then, will only concede if and when the shame of losing is outweighed by the shame of other people — that is, other people he trusts, not the "fake news" — mocking him for not accepting his fate, Durvasula predicts.
"It becomes a sort of balancing act: He can't look bad through losing, but at some point there will be an inflection or tipping point whereby it will look more bad if he doesn't step away," she said.
At that point, Trump will once again spin the narrative to align with his own self-image, Durvasula suspects.
"He will likely thumb his nose at it all and say he's glad he doesn't have to waste more time trying to appeal to the 'deep state' or 'fake news' or the 'weak liberals' or whatever insult du jour he comes up with, and that he made the nation great and it will be sad to see it not be great," she said.
"And then, he will quickly build another structure in his life to ensure the validation supply is steady — whatever that looks like."
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