Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dangerous Immaturity

In his book Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President, psychiatrist and professor Justin Frank paints a frightening picture of an emotionally immature man so overwhelmed by anxiety that he is willing to do anything to keep it at bay. The president’s coping mechanisms include maintaining an oversimplified view of the world, sadistically harming others, self-medication (first with alcohol, then religion), and dishonesty. The causes are many, beginning with inadequate nurturing from his mother as an infant, a family tradition of avoiding (rather than dealing with and growing from) emotional pain, and ADHD. Our president’s unresolved issues go a long way toward explaining his irrational and destructive behavior, the consequences of which have harmed our country and the world in a multitude of ways.

Frank’s discussion suggests that emotional immaturity may be responsible for much of the objectifying of people behind acts of evil. This involves externalizing one’s own capacity for harm; labeling others as “bad” while the self remains “good” without acknowledging that good and bad resides in all of us, with the bad needing to be managed internally. If you don’t know and respect yourself, you are incapable of knowing and respecting others.

The people who continue to support the president’s destructive policies and false ideas about the world may share one or more of his problems. If so, it may be next to impossible to reason with them until their emotional issues are addressed; otherwise, the added information could simply overload their limited tolerance of complexity.

It seems clear, given our recent experience, that psychological screening should be involved in selecting someone who has power of many others (especially the power to make or enforce laws). Someone whose emotional state enables them to act above the law, instead of respecting it and the people it applies to, should never be elected into any office of responsibility.

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