Tuesday, November 07, 2006

How to recognize a narcissist

One of the most obvious signs of a pathological personality is some behavior that stuns you. It stuns you because it is totally unexpected. It is some reaction to something that makes you have to pinch yourself.

By that I mean, it seems a reaction to SOMETHING OTHER than the thing that caused it. Almost as if that person was reacting to a different reality than you are conscious of.

For example, let's say you see two co-workers approach each other in the hall. One smiles and says "Hello" to the other. Instead of doing what you expect (smiling back and saying "Hello" back) the other worker stiffens, clenching his fists and fiercely glaring at his greeter, as though ready to fight off an attack.

That's what I mean by a "backwards" reaction to something. It shocks you. It perplexes you. It makes you pinch yourself. This reaction is the exact opposite of what you'd expect -- and in the extreme.

The second co-worker reacted hostily to an expression of goodwill. You wonder why. You wonder if perhaps the first co-worker was mocking him with the "hello," whether there isn't some bad blood between them. You may thus assume that the first co-worker was mocking him and just puts on a phony show of goodwill when others are around. But if eventually you learn that the second co-worker gives the same backwards reaction to other people for no known reason, you should not disregard the red flag in this behavior. It is an outward sign of a twisted mind. Don't blow it off.

Again, for example, a member of a group makes an announcement that he must leave, nearly breaking down into tears as he thus says his goodbye to this community he has belonged for 20 years. He hardly has "That's all" out of his mouth before everyone in the room is on their feet and hastening AWAY from him. There are two exits to the room, and they all rush toward the the same one, the one on the opposite end of the room from him. They all are laughing and talking loudly in a dozen conversations about everything BUT what just happened.

There is something wrong with those people. In fact, there is something radically wrong with that "community." It is a cult, not a community. And the members are not in their right minds. Their knives are in his back, and that's why they're behaving like Cains.

Again for example, employee starts flattering boss, kissing up, and boss somehow takes offense at some mysterious element in what employee said, lashing out and threatening employee that he will not tolerate "that." The facial expression and tone of voice are extremely vicious, as if intentionally overdone for effect.

Everyone who witnesses the boss' bizarre reaction is stunned, perplexed. And intimidated.

Typical narcissistic shock tactics. They disarm the victim and all the witnesses, who can do nothing but gape and wonder. Unable to make sense of it, people will act as though it didn't happen, but subconsciously they will remember to fear and suck up to this boss.

Now, it can sometimes be that there has been a misunderstanding. But if there's no possibility of that, you should never discount such an episode. Normal, mentally healthy people don't do stuff like that. It is always a sign that something is seriously wrong with that person. So, don't forget about it tomorrow, when he's Mr. Nice Guy again.

If you don't get and stay away from people and groups like that, you're tempting fate.

See also Perplexing Behavior.

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At 7:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think one of the reasons for the backwards behavior is that it calls attention to the N, and -- as we all know -- for an N getting attention is the name of the game. They do something wacky, and they get attention, and what's wackier than laughing when others cry, or attacking those who expect affection?

Now, they walk a fine line. If they are too outlandish, they become an object of ridicule, and that's aboslutely unacceptable in their book. So, they need to shock and put you off balance, but not enough that people laugh at them.

I recall when I was in high school with an N ex-friend, if I were at his house and someone called on the phone and asked for his mother, he'd burst out in fake sobs, "My mother is dead!" -- although she was standing right next to him. The effect on the caller was usually shock, but it certainly got the N the attention he craved.

I realize now that the N was playing the people around him -- if he shocked them, they gave him attention. It was like he pushed a button, and got the attention he wanted. He tried to change his tricks as he got older, but with less effectiveness -- as people became wise, and ultimately nobody wanted to play, be played, anymore.

At 10:47 PM, Blogger Kathy K said...

That isn't what I had in mind, but you bring up an interesting point. What you say squares with my own observation and understanding. So, I bet you're right - that it is sometimes just a way to really grab your attention.

I had in mind a different situation though. One in which the N use shock tactics to disarm someone he or she suddenly attacks. In that case, it isn't so much to get attention as to disarm. You are caught so off-guard and perplexed that you offer no resistence. You know - win by "shock and awe."

Also, sometimes their backwards reactions are because of their strange feelings. They experience some things (like appealing for their love) as an attack on their image.

Nonetheless, I think you offer here another good explanation for why they do this sometimes.

At 1:10 PM, Blogger Kathy K said...

To whom it may concern: No anti-Americanism here. Get your own blog if you want to spout that, because I won't publish it. Apparantly some people just can't see the words that NARCISSISTS TEAR DOWN OTHERS by finding finding fault with them, duh. You know, envy. If that is too difficult to grasp, this site can't help you.

At 4:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frankly, my respect for you and your words has plummeted after you removed my comment. You cannot allow anyone to point out the obvious truths about the USA, or the rest of the world, for that matter, that I even posted links to. They were not my own personal opinions, but international surveys, for goodness sakes. I would examine yourslf to see why anything less than total adoration for the USA gets you so riled. My remarks were in no way persoal or derogatory to the USA. I even praised this site!

Grow up.

At 5:06 PM, Blogger Louise said...

IT'S KATHY BLOG. She can decide what gets posted and what doesn't. To announce what she's comfortable with is simply a courtesy and not a requirement as moderator.

We don't have to agree here (and frequently don't), but in 6 months, I have YET to see such a childish, useless and simply rude comment slung at her.

I've learned alot here, from Kathy and others, and appreciate the help and genuine concern shown. Many others do as well. There are plenty of other blogs devoted to world politics that would be a better forum for this sort of discussion.

At 11:48 AM, Anonymous Shona said...

Hey, anonymous,

That you would find your respect for Kathy as a person and her words plummeting because she won't host anti-American comments on her blog smacks of a very narcissistic view of the world. Your one post that was deleted was of such value that its erasure should cause you to discard everything that Kathy says? You have a high view of yourself. Seems that the one who needs to "grow up" would be you, dear. Adults don't go around with a sense of entitlement to have every word of theirs displayed anywhere they see fit.

In case it isn't obvious, this is Kathy's blog. She can delete any comment she finds offensive, or simply not constructive to the subject of her blog. Not being anti-American is no proof of a small mind. Your comment, posted after your original post was deleted, is an attempt to lessen Kathy in the eyes of others. It is a wee bit of slander. Again, it stinks a bit like narcissism. So you better put a lid on it before you completely discredit yourself.

Oops, too late. Good thing you posted anonymously.

At 12:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whether Bush is or isn't a narcissist -- which seems to be what trigered the dispute here -- isn't something any of us is likely to be able to determine with any true authority -- Rule #1 is that narcissists are generally quite good at covering their tracks, particularly when in the public eye. I agree that it is probably of little practical value to try to debate that based on how he conducts himself in front of the press or is reported to behave in private.

But to be fair, Kathy is the one who added world politics to the mix. When you publish a post critiquing as "idiots" those who believe Bush has narcissistic qualities and bashing the entirety of the French people, it seems to me you are inviting comment in response. Of course Kathy has the right to choose what does or doesn't get posted here -- but when an author takes a fairly aggressive position on Bush, the French, and world politics and then stifles dissenting comments, it is certainly understandable that some readers might lose a little respect.

That's a shame, because it detracts from the things this blog, and the comments, are especially good at -- illuminating the habits of narcissists and validating the experiences of their victims.

At 2:26 PM, Blogger Kathy K said...

I call your attention to the difference between attacking someone's character and defending it.

The latter may attack cherished beliefs, but it attacks no one.

It's a sad day when someone gets attacked for defending from attack the character of the American people or a human being like Mr. Bush.

We all know that NPD is not mere arrogance: it is arrogance in denial that must tear others down. So, people who accuse others of narcissim on the grounds of mere arrogance are missing the boat.

I also point out the difference between (a) attacking as agression and (b) defending someone by counter-attacking his attackers. To say that B is wrong is rather like saying it was wrong for, say, Ben Franklin or Jesus to point the accusing finger at the finger-pointers (the scribes and pharisees = the only people Jesus had a bad word for).

People who attack the character of others, have no right to crybaby when counter-attacked in defense of that other. Hence my crack about the Bush bashers and the French, who pride themselves in projecting their arrogance and narcissism on us in their virulent and world-famous anti-Americanism.

Actually, that crack about the French does call for an answer from anyone who wishes to DEFEND them.

But nothing I said calls for ATTACKS of Mr. Bush.

Especially baseless ones: under those ground rules, anybody can call anybody anything. Only one person stated a REASON for calling him a narcissist.

But I don't want to slander any identifiable individual here. I know that the whole world does it in the case of Mr. Bush. But he is a human being, too.

And it offends no one to say that I know this battered man is not a bad person.

As I added though, there's no sense arguing that. If a fraction of the allegations are sincere, he must now be impeached, because his accusers are now in the majority. So, we shall just have to wait and see whether they produce sufficient evidence and arguments to back up their accusations or not.

At 3:04 PM, Blogger Kathy K said...

2 Corrections:

In my comment above I forgot to mention that the post in question was misrepresented by the previous anonymous. It is not "critiquing as "idiots" those who believe Bush has narcissistic qualities."

I don't know Anonymous got that. If you read the post, it sharply criticzes those who have written books spreading this belief.

In other words, it attacks people who have made money publically attacking Mr. Bush's character.

So it is false to say that anybody who believes that stuff was attacked.

Also, the line in my comment above that reads

"But nothing I said calls for ATTACKS of Mr. Bush"

should read

But nothing I said calls for ATTACKS of Mr. Bush or the American people.

At 3:19 PM, Anonymous patti said...

I was googling the topic "avoiding eye contact", and would like to comment on the page of this website that discusses "avoiding eye contact" as a trait of narcissism.

I think the explanation on this site is limited and needs to be addressed. I personally have this problem in particular with one person to whom I'm extremely attracted. He's also married to someone else. I cannot look at him in close quarters because when I do, I can't help but love him and I can't have him, so it hurts to look at him. So if I run into him unexpectedly, I find myself looking down, or down and away.

I've found another explanation for avoiding eye contact in Wikipedia, which I believe is more appropriate for cases such as mine.

"In Islam, Muslims must lower their gaze and try not to focus on the opposite sex's faces and eyes after the initial first eye contact, other than their legitimate partners or family members, in order to avoid potential unwanted desires (See References). Lustful glances to those of the opposite sex, young or adult, are also prohibited. This means that eye contact between any man and woman is allowed only for a second or two. This is a must in most Islamic schools, with some exceptions depending on the case, like when teaching, testifying, or looking at a girl for marriage. If allowed, it is only allowed under the general rule: "No-Desire", clean eye-contact. Otherwise, it is not allowed, and considered "adultery of the eyes."

In many cultures it is respectful not to look the dominant person in the eye, but in Western culture this can be interpreted as being "shifty-eyed", and the person judged badly because "he wouldn't look me in the eye"[9]."

I am of Asian descent, and have also been told (whether or not you believe in this sort of thing) that in my last life I was a Muslim male, so I have this tendency culturally engrained in me.

To not acknowlege cultural differences as a possible explanation for one's lack of eye contact is an error, in my opinion, and one which westerners, even professionally trained therapists, do not fully understand.

With this information I hope you will consider modifying this discussion on your website.

At 3:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kathy, you allowed my comment on Bush and the death penalty to stay and I appreciate that. I wanted to clarify that it was a story that gave me pause, but in no way qualifies me to make a remote diagnosis obviously. I'm sorry for the animosity because your website and blog have helped me a lot.

I think that I did read your post saying that people who wrote books calling Bush an N, and misunderstood it to mean that we shouldn't criticize him. My mistake--I should read a little closer and not jump to conclusions.

For what it's worth the Democrats have said over and over that they're not interested in impeachment. So we'll see.

I do feel personally hurt because of the war, because I don't feel I was told the truth when we went into it. But again, just feeling hurt doesn't mean I can know the character of someone I've never met. But these are highly emotional issues, and right or wrong many people feel let down and betrayed. That's why a lot of comments are extemely forceful I guess.

At 3:32 PM, Blogger Kathy K said...

"stifle dissenting comments"?

Don't you see the dissenting comments here?

See that what I have refused to publish are attacks on America and the American people. That is the right thing to do, not the wrong thing to do.

See that I also refuse to publish attacks on any individual. That too is the right, not wrong thing to do.

Note that my right to free speech guarantees me the freedom not be used as someone else's mouthpiece.

Therefore, I am the publisher here. I am "stiffling" no one by refusing to publish their words. Yet see that I have published comments against myself. I leave people to draw their own conclusions from that.

At 3:48 PM, Blogger Kathy K said...


Yes. Thank you. The moment I began reading your comment I saw what you are getting at. In fact, I used to teach Hmong refugees and had some training in this and similar elements of Asian culture.

Frankly, eye contact is somewhat over-rated in western culture. There is actually a difference between being "shifty-eyed" and "staring intrusively or insolently." Western culture seems more careful to avoid any semblance of the former and Asian culture seems more careful to avoid any semblance of the latter. Hence the customs differ and can be easily misinterpreted.

In that article, I was talking about people who refuse to even acknowledge your presence by acting as though you are not there. It's not the same thing as merely lowering or averting the eyes. It's refusing to even look at someone who's talking to you.

I will edit that article and make clear that I am NOT talking about mere shyness or a cultural show of respect.

At 8:39 AM, Blogger Fighter said...

Again - masterful post!!

FYI - the reason I said Bush is pathological comes from what I percieve as his wholly inappropriate reactions as well as the very compelling Dr. Frank's book Bush On The Couch

Kudos to you for another great piece of writing!

At 10:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is exactly...and I mean exactly what happened to me at the hands of the members of a rag-tag musical "business" comprised almost exclusively of cover-band narcissists. I was nothing but wonderful toward a particular group of fellow artists" (read: drunks) and meanwhile, their dealing with me were psychopathic, backwards, insanely twisted, and 100% cult-like. I called them a cult in my justified fury, publicly. It is my intent that these erstwhile colleagues learned from my rageful interpersonal manifestation of THEIR rage. Please Creation Law, what happened between us was not for nothing because I will not be UN-fantastic because jealous narcissists can't keep thier monkeys in the basket, at which point natrutally they will drool over the chance to say "I know her". Drug addicts. Give them a reason to get a hit, they will leave me alone. Insane people are cute when they're far away, rather like sheep. not so pretty close up.
No kidding, pack mentality. ANYTHING trying to exude generosity and camaraderie among the mediocre (and those who do the bare minimum craft because attention is attention and they just want applause), anything which carries light WILL be tested most severely with the toughest, most inhumane challeneges a soul can go through, but people, remember: that which does not kill you heals, and a lie STAYS a lie no matter how many times it is told, or how many gullible people believe it.
...and stay away from musicians.

At 3:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read the post about avoiding eye contact and would jsut like to share my experiences based on that.

I can't stand to look my mother in the eye. She's a raging N and has the most satanic gaze I ever saw on a human being. Nothing compares to being looked at the way she does. It's like being swallowed whole, or looking into a dark, empty abyss with an incredible gravitational pull.

When she looks at you, and you're looking at her, there's no soul-to soul connection. It's like, "What's the point of you?" Or when she's raging, there is such pure hatred, that I believe my life is in danger. It's like, for a moment, that abyss comes to life and sort of repudiates you so violently. It's like I can see someone else inside that deep blackhole, someone deeply evil who wants to wipe me out for whatever misdeed I committed.

I've even traced it to my fear of the dark (I'm 19). It's always been a bizarre fear when I walk into a dark room, that that demonic apparition from my mother's eyes will leap out at me and kill me. Even when I'm relatively calm or distracted, my hand always makes a lightning dash for the light switch. I know it sounds stupid, but it's been real enough for a long time.
The good news is that I'm conquering it. Sleeping with my cat helps. :-)


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