When I first started to write about “oppositional defiance disorder” I was surprised as the amount of response I got. But then everyone insisted that it was an attribute of childhood and there was no such thing in adulthood.
But there is. Except that it gets different names. And here we are with a president who illustrates it every day. He is usually belligerent, has always been a bully, and if he is advised not to do something, with the consequences clearly explained, he goes right for it. It’s a compulsion, an obsession, much more than narcissism, possibly a death wish.
People who write about this have ideas about what causes it (DNA, childhood experience, role-models?), no one has much of an idea what to do to end it, and we can all recognize it around us, more and more. It seems to have something to do with bullying, something about lonesomeness (which is pretty sad), and yet a need to be a player, to even be in charge — to control or, more than that, dominate. Internet behavior.
It’s a behavior we admire in movies — the big alpha male who takes charge and saves everyone. The guy who gets obsessed with finding the killer of his wife. The pilot who refuses to give up on a airplane bound to crash. “Against all odds.” John Wayne, right? Some people only take this attitude in emergencies and DO try to save everyone. But someone like Trump is stuck, can’t leave it. The morality, the pride, the dedication to a larger cause, are all missing.
Somehow this is a behavior that is rooted deep, way below control by the prefrontal cortex, any moderating or “thinking.” Something maybe part of the first hominins — or maybe clear down in the ape brain. Maybe not. I don’t think it goes below that, because it seems to have a strong connection to the idea of family, generations inheriting over time as a way of preserving identity and wealth, staying on the throne, keeping the farm, being better than everyone else.
We have a strong tendency to think of behavior in terms of extremes because they are colorful and attract attention. But there is also a less noticeable motive for conflict-seeking behavior that is familiar to classroom teachers. It seems to be a need to stay connected to others, to keep others from leaving but at the same time to prevent being controlled or influenced by them. One might describe it as not trusting boundaries, being so amorphous that the edge has to be defined by pushing up against something else. On the national level that would be like Russia and North Korea always having to be pushing against the rest of the world.
Dementia just means that the machinery is stuck. The resulting content might be anything, but is likely to be what it always was from the beginning, just out of control. Maybe not quite psychotic, which is what psychiatrists treat, but more familiar to psychologists, who might frame the criteria as follows, things that lay folks could recognize.
Specific Symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder
▪ A pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior lasting at least 6 months, during which four (or more) of the following are present:
▪ often loses temper
▪ often argues with adults
▪ often actively defies or refuses to comply with adults’ requests or rules
▪ often deliberately annoys people
▪ often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
▪ is often touchy or easily annoyed by others
▪ is often angry and resentful
▪ is often spiteful or vindictive
▪ Note: Consider a criterion met only if the behavior occurs more frequently than is typically observed in individuals of comparable age and developmental level.
▪ The disturbance in behavior causes clinically significant impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning.
▪ The behaviors do not occur exclusively during the course of a psychotic or mood disorder (such as depression).
▪ Criteria are not met for conduct disorder, and, if the individual is age 18 years or older, criteria are not met for antisocial personality disorder.
Symptoms of Antisocial Personality Disorder
Antisocial personality disorder is diagnosed when a person’s pattern of antisocial behavior has occurred since age 15 (although only adults 18 years or older can be diagnosed with this disorder) and consists of the majority of these symptoms:
▪ Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest
▪ Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure
▪ Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead
▪ Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults
▪ Reckless disregard for safety of self or others
▪ Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations
▪ Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another
In a world where boundaries are increasingly recognized as constantly interacting and some are more like overlapping Venn diagrams than separated circles, a person or nation who defines itself by depending on authority figures to oppose it, must be overwhelmingly anxious in the times of “liberation” when everything is changing and freedom is the watchword. Now we have the means to see the most minute constituents of being itself. The patterns can get lost. We find out there’s no such thing as race and white supremacists often carry African genes. Not everyone is open to the ideas of fractals or algorithms — let alone a planet that is constantly transforming itself, which is not so hard to believe when the hurricanes hit.
The alternative to boundaries for people and nations is the idea of a central axis mundi that acts by attraction, that magnetically pulls people in and is rewarding enough to keep them in relationship. We haven’t been very good at that for a while. Our old center poles have fallen before the new ones have had a chance to rise up out of the ground immanentally, which is what the best ones do — without force. Often with a song. I say this to oppose the centripetal forces of fear and despair that pull us apart. I speak of “pole-dancing” to make you laugh. Think May Poles.