Behaving like an asshole in the face of defeat is a fairly common phenomenon: First you lose, then you hate yourself for losing, and finally, said hate manifests itself in a knee-jerk reaction of table-flipping, Monopoly board-hurling dickishness that forever saddles you with the dreaded label of “sore loser.”
But in a post-2016 election world, victory, too, is a ripe opportunity to react like a giant cockbag — we’re living in sore winner’s reality here, as exemplified by Donald Trump’s baseless voter fraud claims directly after he won the presidency.
Still, while currently distressingly visible, the notion of a sore winner is hardly a new one. It’s a classically loathsome character trait, and one that more traditional democratic world leaders have tended to avoid by erring on the side of humility after a big win. “Gergen cited Winston Churchill’s maxim: ‘In Victory: Magnanimity,’” writes John Baldoni in Forbes, quoting CNN’s senior political analyst David Gergen who, in turn, was commenting on President Obama’s re-election in 2012. Baldoni goes on to suggest that Churchill’s advice is good for any executive who ends up on the winning side of an argument. “It resonates strong character, but it also sends a signal to the team that the past is the past and the future belongs to those who work together,” writes Baldoni.
Psychotherapist Allen Wagner tells me that what drives the reaction of a sore winner isn’t much different to what drives a sore loser. “It’s all about what the competition means to them,” says Wagner of sore losers. “It’s not about hitting a personal milestone, it’s not about them failing — it’s all about how others perceived their failure.” And in the case of a sore winner, their self-esteem is so low that the win isn’t even what’s driving them. Instead, says Allen, sore winners draw their satisfaction from someone else losing. “They draw success as a direct product of someone else’s failure,” he explains, using the metaphor of a cup with no bottom to better explain this point. “Whatever good that comes in, isn’t held,” says Wagner. “So there’s a constant yearning for more that just pours right out.”
If this is a trait you possess — and wish you didn’t — there are a couple of ways to treat the emptiness and low self-esteem that drives it. Allen suggests competing against yourself rather than measuring your success against another person’s. “The best athletes are really competing against themselves,” he says. “They put pressure on themselves to outperform their previous performances.” Alternatively, try to be objective about your accomplishments. “Sometimes in life you may deliver a five or a six out of ten, but that’s not a zero,” says Allen.
Unfortunately, his advice may not be useful for the current sore winner-in-chief. “When I work with little kids, the younger they are, the more you can change these attitudes or values they have about certain things,” Allen explains. “But the older we get, the more we build up complicated defensive mechanisms to protect ourselves with.”
With this in mind, he’s fairly pessimistic about changing the attitude of the 72-year-old president. “To think that you’re going to give Donald Trump insight and that he’s going to suddenly change and see things differently is highly unlikely,” admits Allen.