We know Trump’s politics: the law of the jungle. In his get-rich, self-help, self-homage book Think Big, he writes: “The world is a vicious and brutal place. We think we’re civilised. In truth, it’s a cruel world and people are ruthless. They act nice to your face, but underneath they’re out to kill you.” Poverty is regarded as a moral failure—if you were foolish enough not to have been born with a wealthy property developer as a parent, as Trump was, well, that’s your problem; you are one of life’s “losers” (a favourite Trump word). Trump’s would be a government by the rich for the rich.
What of the man himself? To be near him—as I was last summer when I interviewed him in Trump Tower for a magazine article—is to sit in a wind tunnel of self-promotion; a nonstop volley of bluster, salesmanship and foghorn declarations of greatness. A favourite tactic is to cite “unnamed sources” who affirm his brilliance; another is simply to offer self-serving statements of grandiosity that just aren’t true. Surely he doth protest too much. We might conclude that, like so many narcissists, he must be compensating for some chronic, deep-rooted insecurity. Or is it all just an act, the perpetuation of a rather cartoonish public image, a kind of parody of tycoonery that he plays up to and makes fun of even, all in the interests of notoriety and maximizing the bottom line?
Narcissists don’t often voluntarily seek counselling as that would imply they were less than perfect. In many ways, Trump is the exact opposite of a typical client, who might be unsure, lacking in confidence, anxious, emotional, low in energy, afraid, highly sensitive, guilty, socially awkward, and so on. So can we learn anything from Trump? Might looking at someone on the far, opposite, extreme end of a spectrum from where we are perhaps move us towards some kind of healthier position in the middle; some kind of balance? I’m not saying we should be like Trump—far from it—but sometimes we could all use just a little bit of what he has. And sometimes lessons come from unexpected quarters (the Dalai Lama said our enemies are our best teachers).
• Consider a different narrative. A few years ago, a young up-and-coming American golf pro called Natalie Gulbis told an interviewer that she’d been dumped by Ben Roethlisberger, the Super Bowl quarterback. A little while later, she met Trump, who scolded her. “I never want to read that again,” he said. “From now on, I want to read that you dumped him. You don't get dumped.” It may not be exactly true, but just thinking about things in a different way can be empowering and break us free from our relentlessly punitive internal dialogue, which plays in our heads constantly like a broken record. A CBT therapist might encourage you to challenge your “negative automatic thoughts” (“he dumped me—I’m worthless”). Trump, unerringly a believer in “positive thinking,” replaces them with the opposite extreme, relentlessly positive automatic thoughts (“I dumped him—he’s worthless”). These are just as distorted; in his book The Art of the Deal, he calls this “truthful hyperbole . . . an innocent form of exaggeration.” Whatever you tell yourself about your life, your relationships, you, how about playing with some different interpretations and then settling on something in the middle? These are called alternative balanced thoughts (“it didn’t work out but we’re both moving on”).
• Don’t let anyone intimidate you. Trump can walk into a meeting, appear on TV, make a presentation to thousands of people and not be in the slightest bit nervous. Few of us have such ice-cold blood running through our veins, nor would we want to, but being able to feel like you have every right to be on this earth, to think what you think, do what you do and be who are, without apology, is something we can all achieve—regardless of who you are, what you’ve done, or how you feel about yourself. In fact, someone can only take that away from us if we let them (as Eleanor Roosevelt said: “No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent”). “Don’t let people push you around,” advises Trump in Think Big.
• Act now, think later. If you think about a good idea for long enough, it’s possible to turn it into a bad idea. Worrying about all the things that could go wrong before you’ve even taken the first step, all the barriers you might encounter along the way, can be paralysing. It’s a much bigger barrier than the actual barriers themselves, which may turn out to not be there, or not that bad, or useful, changing your direction in an interesting way and teaching you something. Clients will sometimes speak of their big plans “next year” or “after my mother dies” or “when the kids are grown up.” We tell ourselves that when the planets are all aligned, then I’ll take that courageous step. But our “conditions” ensure it never happens. We make ever-more detailed plans as a defence against acting on them.
How about just doing it, starting today? That’s what Trump does. He gets things done. “Do not wait around for the ‘right time’ or until you are perfect,” he writes in Think Big. “It will never happen. Start right away. You will learn more from doing than you would learn from anything else.” If you still don’t do it, maybe you might allow for the possibility that actually you don’t really want to and, with relief, give it up.
You don’t have to be anything like Donald Trump (really, it’s better that you’re not). You don’t have to “think big.” But telling better stories about yourself, taking your rightful place in the world and among your fellow humans, and acting rather than endlessly cogitating, will all help you become somebody much more important than Trump: you.