Ken Page L.C.S.W.

Finding Love

How to Identify and Avoid Toxic People, via Trump's Tweets

Using our president's tweets to protect our personal lives.

Posted May 06, 2017

Toxic relationships ravage lives, families, and communities. The more we learn to recognize them—and admit our susceptibility—the safer our lives become. Now everyone has textbook examples of the key warning signs of a toxic person—illustrated in often garish color through President Trump's tweets.

In my work as a psychotherapist specializing in intimacy and relationships, and in my own life journey, I've learned that one of the greatest forecasters of a happy life is the ability to surround ourselves with loving, compassionate, generous people who appreciate us (albeit imperfectly!) for who we are.

I've also seen that the reverse is true: the more we surround ourselves with unempathic, self-involved, manipulative people, the more painful our lives become. Often, these toxic people win us over. Many are remarkably seductive and charismatic. We are drawn to them through our insecurities, and by our need for validation, comfort, protection, approval and connection. Like a child holding tight to a jagged shard of colored glass, we fight against relinquishing these unhealthy relationships because we are entranced by the beauty, possibility, or power of our objects of desire. How do we break the spell of these relationships? There's only one way:  becoming more and more conscious of  the unhealthy dynamics we sense but are afraid to admit to ourselves. The more we open our eyes, the less we will feel inclined to stay in these relationships. 

No matter what we feel about Trump's politics, there is no question that he consistently exhibits these toxic traits. Therefore, we can use his behaviors as primary-color illustrations of exactly what to avoid in our relationships. 

It's not that some other politicians, Democrat and Republican, don't have toxic personalities; it's simply that our president is willing to reveal his toxic traits in an almost gloating way. This allows us to see toxic behaviors in a much clearer light, because almost nothing is hidden.

As a whole, these traits shatter the possibility of healthy alliance, disintegrate trust, and foment hatred. It would be disingenuous to pretend that this does not terrify me as I reflect upon their impact on our country and the world.

Each of four major warning signs described below is illustrated by an actual tweet from our president. Don't expect to see behaviors this extreme in your interactions with others. Even in milder forms, these traits are still profoundly destructive. 


Abusive behavior is one of the hallmark traits of the toxic personality. Lack of empathy and relentless self-involvement here join together, allowing the toxic personal to be cruel and contemptuous, and to inflict damage with little or no concern for the devastation it creates in the lives of others. Countless lives have been scarred and destroyed by these attributes. The next two tweets are filled with verbal contempt and abuse; the third portrays a gloating fantasy of violence against the media: 

1) "I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came…

2) to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!"

Trump, D. {realDonaldTrump}. (2017, June 29). {Tweet}
Trump, D. {realDonaldTrump}. (2017, June 29). {Tweet}

3) #FraudNewsCNN #FNN

Trump, D. {realDonaldTrump}  (2017, July 2). {Tweet}


One of the most stark attributes of toxic personalities is a lack of empathy. “Special people” matter; the rest of the world, not so much. The pain of others might elicit passing concern or interest, but that passing empathy doesn’t stick long enough to significantly affect one’s choices. Quickly, the focus reverts to the only thing that matters: how does this benefit or serve me? All of us have gaps in our capacity for empathy, but when this problem is hardwired into our personality, the pain and hurt it causes can be extreme.

For example, Nykea Aldridge, cousin of NBA superstar Dwyane Wade, was shot and killed while pushing her baby in a stroller. Donald Trump responded to this tragic event with this tweet, revealing the relentless self-involvement which usually accompanies a profound lack of empathy:

Dwyane Wade's cousin was just shot and killed walking her baby in Chicago. Just what I have been saying. African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP! 

Trump, D. {realDonaldTrump}. (2016, August 27). {Tweet}


Gaslighting It is a powerful tool in the hands of abusers and toxic people. Through this technique, the perpetrator withholds information, or gives false information with the intent of confusing, creating anxiety and doubt, and damaging another's sense of reality. It is a conscious or semi-conscious manipulation which attempts to destabilize another person in order to achieve one's ends. Gaslighting involves telling a lie or backing an untruth without regard for how that can undermine another's’ perception of reality.

Gaslighters will often try to remove and distance us from our sources of information so that we become more dependent on their version of truth:

“Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting.”

Trump, D. {realDonaldTrump}. (2017, February 6). {Tweet}


One of the most telling signs of a toxic person is his or her relentless need to be superior. To know more, to be stronger, smarter, better--and to make sure that everyone knows. Equality, parity, and shared empowerment are anathema to the toxic person. There is only one comfortable position: on top. In addition to being grating and unpleasant, this trait is profoundly damaging, because it requires that others feel inadequate in order for the toxic person to feel superior: 

After 200 days, rarely has any Administration achieved what we have achieved..not even close! Don't believe the Fake News Suppression Polls!

Trump, D. {realDonaldTrump}. (2017, August 8). {Tweet}

Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest-and you all know it! Please don't feel so stupid or insecure,it's not your fault

Trump, D. {realDonaldTrump}. (2013, May 8). {Tweet}

All of us—yes, all of us—are susceptible to the toxic effects of these behaviors from the people we associate with. They damage our sense of self-worth. They make us feel unbalanced, unsafe, unseen. They make us feel angry and bitter and they often incite the desire for revenge; a desire which makes us like ourselves less. These behaviors are nothing less than emotional abuse. If your partner or loved one engages in them, speak with him, explain the pain it causes, and explain in no uncertain terms that such behavior is unacceptable to you. If the other person doesn't stop this behavior, and in many cases, even if she does--my suggestion is simple: Get away while you can. It will only get worse. It will come out during conflicts. It will come out with the people you love. Agonizingly, if you have children, it will begin to poison their lives. 

The ability to recognize these behaviors is the first and perhaps most important tool in our journey to build a happy life. If we can learn to spot toxicity from Trump's words and actions, we will have wrested something profoundly positive from the arms of a deeply troubling period in our country's history.

© Ken Page, LCSW 2017. All rights reserved.

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