Psychiatrists fear the toll of America’s narcissism

Melissa Huggins asks psychiatrist Stephen Buser a question. Photo by Nick Baynard
Melissa Huggins asks psychiatrist Stephen Buser a question. Photo by Nick Baynard.

Nick Baynard
A&F Staff Writer
nbaynard@unca.edu

The audience nods in assent as local psychiatrists, Leonard Cruz and Stephen Buser, address their misgivings about the current state of affairs regarding the American political arena at UNC Asheville’s campus.

Their presentation called A Clear and Present Danger: Narcissism in the Era of Trump shares its name with Cruz and Buser’s recently released book, which was co-authored by 16 other professionals in various academic fields.

UNCA humanities lecturer John McClain submitted a chapter on Italian fascism and Mussolini’s knack for innovating the visual symbolism associated with fascism.

Buser and Cruz are careful to stress, despite the provocative, Trump-inspired title, the real theme of the book and presentation is narcissism, even though the message was all too clear that the authors view Trump as an unprecedentedly dangerous presidential prospect.

The speakers also mentioned mental health experts, such as themselves, are legally barred from diagnosing an individual they have never examined with a mental disorder of any kind.

“It seems odd to me that people in the mental health field should be silenced on the matter and I have a personal gripe with it,” Cruz said. “We were very careful about this, nobody in the book was allowed to make a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but we do speak a lot about some of the traits.”

According to Buser, there are nine behavioral traits that characterize a true narcissus, but an individual needs only to exhibit five of the nine traits to warrant a diagnosis.

“Most of these criterion are internal, meaning that you would really have to get inside their thought process to diagnose them,” Buser said. “He could be projecting a persona of narcissism while being a humble man on the inside, but it’s hard to believe that.”

Buser also touched on the belief, which he and other members of his field subscribe to, that a whole culture can have a complex.

“Complexes are charged sets of feelings in the psyche that are around an issue,” Buser said. “Just as people have individual, personal complexes, many of us believe that an entire nation can have a collective complex that can lead to unusual behavior.”

Cruz and Buser alike express their shared fear the Trump campaign is able to tap into a set of fears and unspoken thoughts they dubbed the “Trump Complex.”

“Not that he consciously set forth to find a complex like this and engage it, but somehow he was in tune with these deep fears, anxieties and anger,” Buser said. “He was able to unleash this complex in an unconscious way.”

Cruz speculates the growing trend of self promotion through selfies and personal YouTube channels could be somehow connected to the Trump phenomenon.

“I’m not saying that every selfie is a narcissistic act,” Cruz said. “Apparently, there is an app where you can make a selfie out of other selfies and I said, ‘It’s like a meta-level of confusing self-absorption.’”

Within Cruz’s remarks on the chapter that he contributed to the book, he mentions we all experience some feelings of inferiority in life and we can take several paths to deal with this problem and some ways are better than others.

“You can become inflated with yourself,” Cruz said. “You become brutish, imposing and self-absorbed.”

According to UNCA staff members who organized the event, because of the partisan nature of the presentation, it was very difficult to find sponsors and several people were concerned about the safety of having an event like this here.

“It was suggested that we have security for the talk,” said Pamela Laughon, department chair of psychology. “It’s strange for a college campus to feel like they have to protect themselves like that.”

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