Skip navigation Jump to main navigation

Applications for 2024 Columbia Summer Session programs are now open!

Close alert

Robert Klitzman on Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Donald Trump

Robert Klitzman, director of the Master of Science in Bioethics program, was interviewed by Bill Carroll of KFI am, one of the most listened-to radio stations in America, on the subjects of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

The professor explained that the disorder arises in "people who feel pretty badly about themselves, and their number one goal is to feel good about themselves." To this end, they seek power and constant attention and admiration from other people. This is also associated with a lack of empathy; "[narcissists] don't have the antennae to really pick up on the feelings of others and respond to those feelings," even though "they may appear to care about you and want what's best for you, but their goal is for you to do what they want." They can be very manipulative, said Klitzman. "They may be very smart at figuring out what you think you want" and using this to their advantage.

Klitzman also differentiated between the disorder and just narcissistic personality traits: "(NPD) gets in the way of functioning," whereas "many people have [narcissistic] traits," and they can be helpful in "believing in yourself and being motivated."

The professor also discussed recent claims in the media that presidential candidate Donald Trump has a form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, mentioning the ethical issues in such diagnoses. "As a psychiatrist, I can't offer a diagnosis for someone I haven't interviewed." He did mentioned that some past presidents (including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson) showed narcissistic traits, which can be helpful when a president needs to mobilize and persuade other people. But he explained that, in this case, too, the difference between personality traits and a personality disorder is important. "You need to believe in yourself, and narcissistic traits help with that, but of course you don't want them to be so extreme that [they disrupt functioning]."

Lastly, Klitzman talked about the narcissistic people we may encounter in our daily lives, and the difficulty in treating them. "They're not going to want psychotherapy, but you can try to manage them and try to make them realize that if they want to feel good about themselves and they want [to be admired by other people, managing their personality flaws] will in fact make them look good."

Read more about our Bioethics graduate program.