Thursday, September 07, 2006

Conceptual Clarity

While looking for links to resources for the abused, I sutmbled across an interesting article entitled Conceptual Clarity: The difference between moral and strategic behavior in understanding the perpetrator of domestic violence (a 4-page PDF document) by David J.H. Garvin, the Program Director of Alternatives to Domestic Agression, a program of Catholic Relief Services in Michigan.

You can see the article here or here.

It isn't about NPD per se, but the points he makes apply 100% to abusers suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Frankly, I bet his ideas are politically incorrect enough that only the Catholic Relief Services would tolerate them. They understand that some people are just, well . . . BAD.


I noticed the failure to grasp this in the comments at The Happy Feminist. Some of those commenters just didn't get it. They acted like NPD is just a kind of quirkiness. I suppose this stems from the idiotic notion that it's okay not to tell people you love them if that's hard for you -- they must assume that you do and that poor, poor you just finds it hard to say so. Baloney, if you can't say you love someone, you don't love them. Period. When they are your own children, the only sensible thing for them to assume is that you are a pathetic excuse for a human being, incapable of love.

Good people are NOT incapable of love. Only a heart of malice is.

Dante remarked at the same inability of humanism, or pure philosophy, to grasp the fact that some folks need no motive other than pure, unadulterated malice to do what they do. He shows this by telling of how Virgil was completely perplexed by the Harpies at the Gates of Nether Hell. It took a man of religion to to show him that "They just did that because they hate everybody, not because they had any sane reason for doing such a thing."

Garvin points out, much more aptly than I have, that abusers do what they for RESULTS. Period. They disregard the morality of what they do. He puts their attitude this way: "I want what I want, and I want it now." No other consideration is worthy of weight in their choices. To hell with whether getting it is right or wrong. To hell with the consequences to you. (Just like a three-year-old.)

For example, one may believe the answer is an anger control problem. Saying that a batterer has an anger control problem is like saying Lucciano Pavorotti needs vocal lessons. Batterers use their anger instrumentally and strategically. If a situation calls for the effective use of anger, the batter will summon his anger to do the job. The batterer may, just as effectively use his sorrow, sadness or shame to also be an effective and coercive means to establish maintain or regain control. Simply stated, battering is purposeful, instrumental and strategic behavior designed to bring about a result.


It is my opinion that battering is 100% premeditated. Consider that there are two “types” of premeditation. One that would meet the legal definition of premeditation and the other, a logical and cognitive and behavioral understanding. In the case of the former one could posit that your reading of this article was to gain a better understanding into the dynamics of the batterer and that you are reading this article, not “by accident”. The second understanding of premeditation entails an understanding of “patterned behavior.” Patterned behavior is that which we have done with enough frequency, that we have now become proficient at it and no longer necessitates the focus and attention, which it once did. An example of this could be as simple as tying ones shoes.

I have tried to say the same thing, but I didn't achieve this degree of clarity. From early childhood, narcissists learn that certain behaviors get them what they want. It takes no Einstein: a two-year-old learns that throwing a fit will get him what he wants! Narcissists and other bullies CHOOSE to never grow beyond that and consider other aspects of the choices they make -- like...

Will it hurt that person for me to do this?
Will it be moral for me to do this?
What might the future consequences be if I anger this person by doing this?
Will it be good for the company's business?
Will it be good for my child's mental health?

None of that matters to these grown brats!

Their choices are as simple as can be: Will doing this get me what I
want right now? If so, then I'll do it. No matter what.

In other words, their choices are binary decisions, like a computer's. It takes no thinking at all for them to make such a decision. That's why they are so impulsive and machinelike. That's why their behaviors are such knee-jerk reactions.

In everything you or I do, we consider maybe three or four or even more things before making the decision of how to react to a stimulus -- even in the space of the few seconds we have to respond to another person in conversation. But narcissists have only one thing to consider: Will it get me what I want right now? or not?

So, they aren't as smart as they seem: they're just experienced manipulators making binary decisions like a computer does.

And most of their behaviors are pure habit or conditioned reflex, like tying your shoes. Which means they have practiced a certain type of reaction so much that they automatically react that way to a certain type of thing, without needing to think at all about it anymore. For example, tell them to stop treating treating you like dirt. They long ago learned that to get you to shut up they should whine, "WAAH! Get off my back!" So, when you tell them to quit treating you like dirt, it's automatic, like pushing the buttons on a Chatty Cathy doll.

But that's only because this blowback-in-your-face reaction works: it crams your words back down your throat. So, it has become a habit for the narcissist to do that, like tying his shoes. Not an accident. Not something he can't control. Just a damned habit.

Garvin also attacks the common fallacy of citing an abuser's childhood and other "factors" as excuses or causes for what he does. I have noticed this too. In every list of risk factors for domestic violence, you have two kinds of items: legitimate ones that indicate how near to crossing that line the abuser may be and illegitimate ones that merely indicate the ability or opportunity to overpower someone.

Both get smushed together in people's heads as CAUSES of domestic violence. Sorry, but access to guns does not cause domestic homicide any more that access to cars causes reckless homicide by driving while intoxicated. If we muddle such things as fuzzy CAUSES, then just being a man is a cause of violence, so we should view all men with suspicion. Or just being bigger than whomever you're mad at is a cause, so we should view the large with suspicion. Or just living in the same town or state is a CAUSE. All these "FACTORS" aren't factors at all. And we could list a million of them, so why do people with Big-Brother type agendas always list only a certain few of their favorites?

Garvin also shows why having a personality disorder is no excuse. Here's the paper. If you left-click that link, it will open in your browser. If you right-click it, you can choose "Save target as..." in the popup menu to download it.
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At 4:00 AM, Anonymous The Happy Feminist said...

One of the things I am loving about this site and others I have read about NPD is that they have been validating my sense, dating back to when I was 7 years old that I have been dealing with evil -- evil with a capital E -- a fact to which everyone around me seemed oblivious.

At 1:52 PM, Anonymous The Happy Feminist said...

As you know, I have only newly discovered the existence of NPD. And gosh I am getting confused over a lot of these issues.

My attitude towards my narcissist father when I was growing up was sheer hatred and anger. In fact, his history of childhood abuse made me even more angry at him. He used to recount the lurid details of his childhood abuse at great length. His histrionic recounting of his experience angered me because I felt he should have known better than to turn around and inflict the same kind of abuse on me.

But reading about NPD over the last few days, I am starting to feel a little sorry for him, or at least sorry for the little kid he once was who had no choice but to develop this wretchedly disordered personality in order to survive. So it's a conundrum -- because he had no choice but to develop the way he did during his years of extreme youth and trauma, but OF COURSE he has had choices and the ability to behave differently during his adult years.

Compassion is an important value to me but my father really strains my ability to exercise it. And I am trying to figure out what role it ought to have in my relation to him. I kind of like the idea of holding him at arms length and sort of pitying him from a distance.

I posted some more muddled thoughts. My name links directly to the newest post. Again thanks for this wonderful site. My head hurts . . .

At 1:53 PM, Blogger Kathy K said...

I hear you. What does it take to make people notice what's plain as the nose on your face? = the glaring will to evil in this, the malignance. Sometimes I have all I can do to NOT to get sarcastic with such obtuseness.

At 8:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to echo HF on the dichotomy between pitying what what the narcissist who he is and yet the need to maybe not hate him but protect yourself from him. Since those of us who aren't N have some capacity for empathy, it seems it would almost be letting them win if we shut off that empathy entirely and failed to pity/grieve/empathize with the trauma that created them. But I guess it's the pity from a distance that's the key. No need to waste your energy hating them, but certainly critical to get yourself (emotionally, physically, or both) to a place of safety. Pity them, but don't let them within 100 yeards!

At 11:07 PM, Blogger Kathy K said...

I wrote somewhere on the main site that I feel strongly for the little abused child deep down inside the narcissist. No HUMAN being could fail to. That's the real thing, the real person. If you have known a narcissist all their lives and witnessed the abuse, you can't help but feel tremendous sorrow for him or her. I mean heartrending sorrow!

But it's like a grief for the dead. Sorrow for the death of a murderered brother or sister. For, even the intimates of an N almost never connect with him or her.

It's as though the mirage, the false, disordered personality, the demon inside, ate him or her.

Only VERY rarely, during a moment of vulneranility, does that real person, still a little child, appear like a glimpse of a ghost in that house.

In a way, you are dealing with a split personality -- two people in one house. The false one, the monster, has taken over and blocks access to the real person. The false one is just a con job, pure smoke and mirrors.

Unfortunately, it's the only one you can relate to, except in those rare instances I mentioned, when the face of a child appears in a window to let you know he's still there, a prisoner in his own house. Otherwise, you can't get through: the monster is all there is; there's essentially nothing left of the real person anymore.

As for hate, that word means different things to different people. Many use it as meaning nothing but strong emotion. Emotions pass.

Leaving NOTHING, no feeling whatsoever for the narcissist. That's worse than antipathy. That's for those unworthy of strong emotion.

And how can one empathize with someone who has no empathy? Empathy is that emotion that makes us show humanity to others, to treat them like a fellow human being even if they happen to be an enemy. But how one can relate humanly to someone who isn't human?

I agree with Dante on this: humanity flourishes in witholding it from the inhuman = those who treat human beings with inhumanity.

Treating others inhumanly, like a brute beast, is not human. To treat such brutality as human is an insult to the entire human race. It degrades humanity by counting inhumanity as "human."

It is NOT human. That's why Virgil bawled Dante out for shedding tears for the twisted.

The inhuman (those without empathy) choose to not be human. They choose to be subhuman. Their choice.

There are consequences to that choice.

So humanity is inappropriate for them, for to treat them like human beings when they refuse to be human beings is as absurd as to treat a crocodile like a human being. Indeed, to sympathize with them would be as inapproprorpriate as sympathizing with that mythological entity known as the Devil. (A Christian Babptismal promise: "Do you promise to hate/reject Satan and all his evil works?") It's wrong to sympathize with the pure will to evil, with those who like hurting others. The lions share of the people we have in prison aren't that bad. They committed their crimes for understandable reasons, not just to make themselves feel good by hurting the innocent and vulnerable.

That's sick. And sympathizing with the mentality of the wantonly cruel and inhuman is an added offense to their HUMAN victims.

As a verb, hate it's simply the opposite of love: it's rejection as opposed to embracing; repulsion rather than attraction. Quite appropriate for narcissists, I think.

Yet we shall always be torn. Because there IS inside that poor little abused child. So our humanity and sympathy for him or her gets confused with our cold-blooded rejection of the monster that ate him or her. No wonder we feel on the horns of a dilemma.

But that's not our fault. It's the narcissist's fault. By identifying with his image, he has created this bizarre situation.

At 9:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, thank you for your web site, it's been invaluable for me.

Another example of an early case study in Narcissism must be Will Shakespeare's Othello, the character Iago is an NPD personified. From "... Iago cites suspicion that his wife has been unfaithful to him with Othello or bitterness that Othello passed him over for a big promotion but many interpretations of the play include the idea that Iago is a representation of the devil.".
Together with his need to tear down anyone and everyone better than himself while still being seen by others as "honest Iago".

At 9:26 PM, Anonymous GH said...

Puglette -- that's kind of funny, the mimicking your exact wording about violation of trust. A couple months ago, I suggested to my husband that his depression plus anxiety symptoms sounded alot like a PSA I heard on the radio about bipolar disease. (I'm curious -- is there any link between bipolar and NPD?) A couple weeks later, he's telling the marriage counselor that he thinks I "cycle." (The counselor found it rather curious that, in nearly a year of joint counseling, that was the first time he ever mentioned thhinking I had any sort of problem.) Not sure I've gotten enough distance to find his lack of creativity amusing yet, but it's a little easier to see the humor in your situation with your sis.

Pure textbook projection -- so lacking in subtlety that you can't call it anything but pathetic. But when you are the target of it, it's hard to just laugh it off and recognize it as the farce it is -- because you're always wondering whom he's told what and what it is they are going to believe.

At 11:59 PM, Blogger Kathy K said...

Ha! They ARE all the same. I mean, I already knew that, but it still never ceases to amaze me. I've noticed the same thing. They use the same exact words right back to you.

Original thinkers, aren't they?

At 9:13 AM, Blogger Kathy K said...

Yes, Shakespeare's Iago in "Othello" stands apart from all his other villains as chilling. It's amazing how well Shakepeare understood people. Iago is the spitting image of a narcissist, with absolutely no human feeling for others at all. The character of Iago is so well drawn that Shakespeare opens the play with him. He is that interesting. And he is the prime mover of all that destruction.

At 9:16 AM, Anonymous GH said...

Such awesome comments here! Thansk for thhe forum and the guidance Kathy. Puglette, I am so grateful for the reminder that parents raise future adults by the example of how they live their own lives.

I am divorcing my narcissistic spouse and struggle with much angst over the effect a divorce (and the eventual custody battle that I can't even begin to imagine) will have on her. Then I think of my mom, who has been unable to leave my narcissistic dad (yeah, a little insight into how I ended up here!) and I know the best thing I can do for my daughter is show her that there is strength in recognizing and walking away from a damaging environment -- and hopefully break the cycle so she doesn't wind up married to a narcissist herself one day!!

This site and this discussion have done so much to increase understanding and I am convinced that understanding breeds hope. God, it feels good to have hope again. =)

At 4:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your original link to the article - Conceptual Clarity - leads to a damaged or unfound file, here is another link -


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