The Obama Syndrome?

Psychological disorders are nothing to laugh at.  People with phobias, for instance, truly suffer from them, whether they are Trypanophobia (the fear of injections), Pteromerhanophobia (the fear of flying), Ochlophobia (the fear of crowds or mobs), Ceraunophobia (the fear of thunder and lightning) or claustrophobia (the fear of small, enclosed spaces).

Many people have mild phobias.  Personally, I'm not a big fan of heights, but that discomfort doesn't incapacitate me, while there are other people for whom such disorders are chronic and crippling.

There are eating disorders.  There are behavior disorders.  There are all sorts of psychological flaws in the human psyche.  All are real and not imagined and every one inflicts real suffering on those afflicted.

But at what point does a disorder become a danger to the person suffering it, or worse, a danger to those around them?

The question relates to our president.  Now in the spirit of full disclosure, I am not a trained psychologist or psychiatrist, but I have taken a college level course or two.  As in every Psych 101 course, I, like every student in the class, was convinced that I suffered whatever aberration was being discussed that day.  So, as I say, I am not an expert.  But also like most people who have taken an introductory psychology course, some things stuck with me, most probably because they were so unusual.

That being said, many writers have used the "narcissist" when describing the President's personality.  Not a particularly obscure disorder unless carried to the "danger to self or others" degree. Until the individual gets to that point the disorder simply is an annoying trait, and most of us have known people who are narcissists or perhaps are related to such a person or even dated someone like that at one time or another.

But there are two other disorders that are closely related to narcissism:  Munchausen Syndrome, particularly the sub-type pseudologia fantastica, and Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP).  From what I've read, these two disorders appear to be narcissism on steroids.

Pseudologia fantastica is apparent when the patient (for lack of a better term) displays a compulsion to create innumerable fantastic stories, at the center of which the patient is always shown in a heroic light.  The patient will apparently create these stories that have at their heart a kernel of truth, and embroider them outrageously to show that they are brave, heroic, irreplaceable and so on. 

In a very mild form, this might even be just a case of "resume enhancement" that is seen day after day in almost every business, or listening to a guy in a bar after a few brews telling you how he actually "won the big game" with very little help from his high-school teammates.  It happens.  It's annoying.  It's usually harmless. 

Of course, it's usually considered harmless unless the patient is "enhancing" his resume in order to become president of the United States.

Many others have looked at the validity of stories told in President Obama's memoirs, Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope, and found that kernel of truth.  They also found truckloads of fabrication and embroidery.  Even that erstwhile defender of all things progressive, The New York Times, has written in a review of David Maraniss' book (who incidentally is an employee of the other über-progressive east coast newspaper, The Washington Post) that admittedly there are significant differences between reality as we know it, and the reality that Barack Obama describes.  In the Times review, the author (Michael D. Shear) quotes Mr. Maraniss as saying:

... attributes some of the differences to the kind of family lore that is often exaggerated. He notes that the story about the death of Mr. Obama's step-grandfather - allegedly killed while fighting Dutch troops in Indonesia - was 'a concocted myth in almost all respects.' Mr. Maraniss writes that he died trying to hang drapes.

Exaggerated?  When is something that is "a concocted myth" classed as an exaggeration?  Sister Mary must have missed mentioning that when she was teaching about the Catholic ritual of confession for the forgiveness of sin while I was in grammar school. 

I can see how well that would go over when I told the priest in the confessional -- "Bless me Father, for I have not really sinned.  I didn't actually lie. I only created a 'concocted myth' ".

Yeah, I can see that selling like hotcakes.

This is the kind of exaggeration that seems to be typical of those suffering pseudologia fantastica, except that in this illustration, it is Barack Obama's memoir.  By association with his (composite?) step-grandfather, it is Obama himself who appears heroic by association.

Again, keep in mind, I am only making observations, not a diagnosis, or as a friend puts it, "I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'".

More disturbing is the second disorder.   Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP) is evidenced most commonly, according to the literature, among those who would be classified as "caregivers", such as nurses. 

The caregiver suffering MSBP will actually harm the person in their care so that they can then "heroically" save the dependent person and be acclaimed by all as a wonderful, truly epic hero.  Occasionally the person suffering MSBP goes too far and it costs the life of the child.

This is where a disorder becomes "a danger to others", whether the person suffering MSBP is harming an infant to gain acclaim or harming an entire nation. 

The behavior of the current resident of the Oval Office appears to be, in many respects, irrational and positively harmful to the United States.  If something is being done that is harmful to the person (or nation) for which the caregiver is responsible, and that caregiver has been told innumerable times that their behavior is potentially harmful, one must conclude that it is not being done by accident, or misunderstanding.

Once again, please keep in mind that I am only making observations, not a diagnosis, since I am clearly not qualified to do anything remotely like that.  I believe that someone who is reading this actually has the proper medical and psychiatric training to at least validate these observations, and offer a different explanation for behavior that certainly appears to be "a danger to others."  

If there are trained psychiatric professionals who read this, please share your expertise with the rest of us.  I, for one, would like some reassurance that I'm not living at the mercy of an individual who would be, in Rocky Balboa's classic phrase, "mentally irregular."

Jim Yardley is a retired financial controller for a variety of manufacturing firms.  Jim holds a B.S. and MBA from Marist College and is a Vietnam veteran and an independent voter.  Jim blogs at, or he can be contacted directly at