Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Narcissists are more like machines than geniuses.

I have mistaken a narcissist for a "wizard of human nature." At least, that's what I called him when I saw how masterfully he manipulated people. He could spot good faith, or one of the seven deadly sins, in someone a block away. Methodically, he avoided the former like the plague and lured his prey by tantalizing them with bait for the latter. He could inseminate almost anyone's head with any idea he wanted and make them think it was their own. I had to constantly pinch myself, and in the end I swore that he could have made some folks think they saw him fly a broom.

Even more scary, he could then make them think a contrary thing tomorrow and the first thing again the day after! In other words, he could mess with people's minds like their skulls were full of cottage cheese he was mushing up by hand. He literally drove some folks crazy, apparently just for the hell of it.

Narcissists, like psychopaths are frightfully manipulative. They often surprise you with how quickly they see through people. They are cynics.

But I now think they don't come by these qualities the way a normal person would.

Through experience with a phonies, a normal person may learn the hard way to detect a charade in any act put on a little too thick. Through disillusionment about the human race, a normal person may become a cynic. An intelligent person who becomes a student of human nature could depict it as well as William Shakespeare does. Theoretically he could use this knowledge to plot how to manipulate people.

But a narcissist doesn't acquire those skills this way.

Narcissists say and do everything for effect. So, for example, when a narcissist is talking to to you, she isn't saying what she thinks. She is saying what she thinks will draw the reaction she wants from you. She is absorbed in that reaction.

So, while you are thinking about the subject at hand and many other things, she is focused on one thing only - your facial expressions and other reactions to her. That's her reflected image, and like Narcissus, she is fixated on admiring it 100% of the time.

As a consequence, narcissists are extremely observant of people's reactions to things. And from a very young age. They learn by trial and error what kinds of behaviors by them elicit the kind of reaction they want from others.

This is exactly the way an infant learns to manipulate, as Mark Twain explains in this humorous piece on how children learn to throw temper tantrums to manipulate you:

I do not remember my first lie, it is too far back; but I remember my second one very well. I was nine days old at the time, and had noticed that if a pin was sticking in me and I advertised it in the usual fashion, I was lovingly petted and coddled and pitied in a most agreeable way and got a ration between meals besides. It was human nature to want to get these riches, and I fell. I lied about the pin — advertising one when there wasn't any. You would have done it; George Washington did it, anybody would have done it. During the first half of my life I never knew a child that was able to rise above that temptation and keep from telling that lie.

Now, if an infant can learn how to manipulate us with this trick, think what a six-year-old or an 18-year-old or a 30-year-old can.

You might call this formular behavior. By trial and error, they learn some rules. The rules go like this: To get a "y" kind of reaction, do an "x" kind of behavior or To get a "y" kind of reaction, say an "x" kind of thing.

They don't figure the formulas out, they simply DISCOVER them by noticing that a certain type of behavior always elicits a particular type of reaction from people. Then they acquire these stock behaviors as habits, simply because they pay very, very close attention to people's reaction to everything they say and do.

Normal people don't, so normal people never learn these formulas. What's more, normal people don't do everything soley for effect. They are considering the matter at hand. The morality of their behavior is usually a consideration. Future consequences are a consideration. The good of the other party is often a consideration. So, behavior is complicated in normal people, who weigh many factors in the choices they make.

Narcissists don't. All that matters is what they want to see reflected in your reaction right now. Nothing else is any consideration.

So, narcissists are more like machines than geniuses.
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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Perfect Crime

If you are reading this, the chances are that someone or something has given you a clue that you might find the key to a profound mystery in a mental illness known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Maybe it was only yesterday. If so, you are probably still reeling from the discovery that you weren't imagining things, that something is wrong with a certain person in your life, and that your experience with him or her isn't unique.

Maybe all your life they've made you feel like a tethered bird, never allowed to feel good about yourself. Or maybe you have a sense of foreboding that comes through in bad dreams because it seems that this person, for no known reason, is out to get you.

But who would believe it? You yourself can't believe it. You've had to keep pinching yourself, because Why would anyone do that? Especially this person. And why would he or she do that to you? It defies reason.

Which makes it the perfect crime = the one no one believes. Because it goes against nature. And because it has no possible motive.

Yet, when you think twice, it's stupid to doubt that such things happen. The daily news proves that they do. For we could ask the old Why-would-anyone-do-that? question about every rape, every random murder, every child molestation, every random act of vandalism.

They are abundant proof of the FACT that some people need no motive. They act out of pure malice. They do it just to do it.

In fact, jurisprudence has long recognized the motive of pure malice.

Some people hurt you because hurting others makes them feel good. It makes them feel good in the same way that eating makes a starving person feel good. It makes them feel good in the same way that a narcotic makes a person in pain feel good.

Just as hungry people like eating and just as pained people like taking narcotics, they like hurting you.

They need to hurt you. Just as a hungry person needs food and a person in pain needs a narcotic. That's what you are to them, food, as to a vampire, or a punching bag to transfer their pain to.

For, they are predators.

So, they don't dare feel anything for you. No matter who you are - son, daughter, mother, father, brother, sister, husband, wife, best friend, benefactor, savior - no matter who you are they feel nothing for you.

It's a life or death matter: no predator dares feel anything for their prey; if they did, they couldn't survive, because they couldn't bear to do what they do to their prey.

So, they turn off their sensibilities and make light of it. What they do to you is just nothing…to them.

Why do they target those who least deserve it? Because those who least deserve it are the easiest prey. They are the least suspecting, the most trusting, the most vulnerable. Every predator targets easy prey.

Predators are in a class by themselves among the mentally ill. And they will be the first to tell you so.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

How the children of narcissists get conditioned to tolerate narcissists

Many people don't understand how the children of narcissists get conditioned to tolerate narcissists. Here is one scenario that can explain some cases.

Let's say, for example, you have a family of four. One parent is a narcissist. His narcissistic abuse of the more vulnerable child makes her a budding narcissist too.

The other parent, the normal parent, will be driven to deal with the situation in a way that does serious harm. Without intending to, of course.

The problem is that she can't change her husband. She can't even reason with him. Because he is a big, irrational baby.

For example, what if she tells him not to lash out viciously at the kids for trying to get his attention or for some minor imperfection of behavior? What if she tells him that he's hurting the kids' feelings and that he must pay some attention to them, must stop treating them like insignificant flies on the wall by burying his attention in the newspaper, a radio talk show, or the TV and acting as though they aren't there?

Since, he's a narcissist, he will bawl, "WAAAH!" (as if imitating HER as the big baby in the house), and whine, "Get off my back!"

End of story. Nothing less than forcing him to behave at gunpoint will work with a narcissist. You cannot reason with one, because all you get is a blowback of irrationality like that to silence you.

In fact, she soon learns that trying to get him to treat the kids better backfires. His reaction is to get in her face by immediately abusing them worse to train her not to try to protect them.

So, what is she going to do? She has but one stick - leaving him. She draws red lines and lets him know that she will leave him if he crosses one. Typically, the red lines are at physically beating the kids or committing adultery.

He doesn't want to lose his mamma and sources of NS, so he stays back of those red lines. But every day, in every way, he abuses everyone to his heart's content in every other way he can.

In other words, he runs amok just this side of those red lines.

So, what is she going to do? She is normal, so she can't stand his constant uproars. She is normal, so she can't stand to see him lash out viciously at her three- and four-year-olds. She is normal, so she want peace and happiness in her home.

Or at least the semblance of it.

She can't control this wild man. He can't control himself. But guess what? She can control his victims.

No misstep = no uproar. No complaint = no abuse. Get it?

His VICTIMS are the ones she can control. The children. So she deals with the problem by controlling the victims instead of the abuser. In fact, this is why people always blame the victim of a bully = because the bully is wild and the victim ain't.

So, if you can't get the abuser to stop, make the victim stop complaining. Expect perfect behavior of the children so that he doesn't go off at them. Tell them they want too much when they ask for his attention. Instill the belief in them that they have nothing better coming from him, that things are as they should be. All in the name of "peace."

Now, of course this is wrong, because if you instill the belief in children that they have no attention, affection, or praise coming, you instill in them the belief they are unworthy of it. Indeed, they see other kids and the narcissist getting plenty of this good stuff. But THEY, they alone, don't deserve any.

Now before you go condemning her, remember that he is abusing her too. He very likely has her on the edge of a nervous breakdown early in the marriage when she discovers what kind of father her very young children have. She will see how he is hurting their tender little hearts at such a tender age and be beside herself with fear at what this might do to them. Plus, she wants peace. So she goes into denial.

And when one of the children starts showing signs of narcissism, flying into rages at the other, pretty much the same thing happens. At the first sign that something is seriously wrong with that child (such as shocking violence or diabolical behavior), she goes into denial. Because of course she suspects that she is partly to blame for not getting her children away from this man.

She wants peace from those uproars too. So the normal child gets told that he must control the narcissistic sibling's fits by never "being" the kind of person who sets his sister off.

Mother doesn't have to come out and literally TELL the normal child that he is the one to blame. That message comes through loud and clear without ever needing to say it out loud and literally. The normal parent doesn't have to come right out and tell the children that they must make sure Mommy isn't troubled by anything = that they are a troublesome burden on Mommy if they make a mistake, complain about anything, or make anyone mad at them.

That child will grow up conditioned to think that the greatest sin is having anybody commit one against you.

That child has no idea that all families aren't like his, that he has grown up in a home where two people belonged in a psych ward.

When that child becomes an adult and goes out into the world, he will tolerate narcissists, because he has been conditioned to. The double-standard is so deeply ingrained that this child thinks, "Some people are just that way." To be a good person, you must tolerate whatever treatment they feel like dishing out to you.

Nonetheless, I'm not at all sure that this makes the child more likely to marry a narcissist. Perhaps in some cases it does. But I think this upbringing makes it just as likely that the child will never marry. For example, if you're a woman whose father is a narcissist, what have you seen in marriage that you would want? Nothing. But you've seen a lot you want to avoid!

What does all this mean? It means that you must seriously consider getting very young children away from a narcissistic spouse. And, if you can't or decide not to for some reason, you must make sure not to fall into this trap.

The main thing is NOT to go into denial. Consider and be aware of the effect it tends to have on your children's psyche. Counter that effect. Make sure the normal child never feels responsible for something no one can control = the narcissist's wild behavior.

Children are amazingly resilient. If the normal parent relates appropriately to them and really makes the effort to compensate, it makes a huge difference. Kids catch on to things at a much earlier age than we realize.

They know Daddy isn't satisfied with them. Make sure they learn that it's due to Daddy's defect, not theirs. Yes, that will sadden them and perhaps make them feel cheated. But it won't damage them. Similarly, it's sad to know that your Daddy doesn't care about you. But it's torture to be subjected to conditional love, tantalized forever with cruel hope that you can somehow MAKE him like you if you just keep trying hard enough.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Taking Warning Signs Seriously

In my last post, I mentioned a glaring sign of narcissism, or at least of some serious mental problem. It's one you can't miss. It jumps out at you.

But it doesn't happen every day. You may know a person casually for years without ever seeing them react to something in such an off-the-wall way.

Also, when we do observe such behavior in others, because it seems like something that couldn't really have happened, we tend to mentally turn our backs on it and act like it didn't happen.

That's a big mistake. At the very least, tuck the memory away for future reference. Don't just blow it off. You may think that some misunderstanding you're unaware of is possible that could explain it. Fine. In fact it's good to be skeptical and not jump to conclusions about people. Just don't blow off strange behavior.

The best mental health advice I ever saw (sorry I can't remember what website it's on) is to just stay away from mentally unhealthy people.

That's a bit simplistic, because we can't just abandon people we're bound to in some way. Besides, since we understand family members so well, there is no risk in closeness to one who may be mentally ill - unless they're a predator, like a narcissist. On the other hand, since a working relationship is so limited, there is also nothing to worry about in a strictly working relationship with someone like this - again, unless they're a predator.

But we sure don't need purely social friendships with people who may be mentally ill. We don't know them that well, often not nearly as well as we think we do. What goes on in their heads is a mystery to us. So, it's best to keep the relationship with that person cordial but at arm's length.

And, if you suspect that he or she is a predator, it's best to stay far away.


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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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Monday, November 06, 2006

Missing the Boat About What Malignant Narcissism Is

One problem with social workers diagnosing and treating NPD is the culture of social work. It is almost like a creed: There are no bad people, just misunderstood people. People are the product of their environment; they are abusers by accident because of being abused in childhood. The poor things don't mean to hurt people - they just can't control their anger. They are poor victims we should feel sorry for.

This attitude is not only wrong; it's condescending as hell.

In Conceptual Clarity, I pointed out one social worker's effort to correct this misconception about batterers. It links to a paper by David Garvin, a social worker for the Catholic Relief Services. He tries valiantly to make the point that "saying that a batterer has an anger control problem is like saying Lucciano Pavorotti needs vocal lessons." The batterer's anger is no accident. It's a tool. He summons it (or any emotion) as a "coercive means establish and maintain or regain control" of other people. His anger is premeditated, in other words, an act.

How can we know this for sure? Because he can turn it on and off like a light switch. You can't do that with genuine anger: it needs time to warm up and cool down. Take a narcissist who flies into a narcissistic rage. It always explodes suddenly, without warning and for no understandable reason, taking you by surprise. If you move forward, instead of back, and rage right back in his or her face, presto chango ... rage off. The Transfiguration has occurred. Standing before you is a meek and suddenly reasonable little child who wouldn't hurt a fly and is wondering why you're being so mean.

That's proof that the rage is phony. Just a mask. Proof that raging is calculated, diabolical behavior. No accident. Nothing he can't control.

True, over the life of a person who has been pulling this stunt since he or she was seven years old, the rage tantrum act does become habitual. Habitually he reacts this way whenever you digress from his script. So, he needn't consciously think, "Okay, time to throw a rage tantrum at her." But a habit is still voluntary, purposeful, learned behavior, not something that happens by accident.

We have so many people pontificating on NPD who have completely missed the boat that there are books promulgating the theory that the American people are narcissistic. Duh! You cannot BE more wrong about something! Americans are the one people in the world who can't be narcissistic, because (a) we are no breed and never have been and (b) we have no nation to envy.

How can these authors be so far off? They are so ignorant about narcissism that they they think being exalted causes narcissism. Wrong. Being BROUGHT LOW causes narcissism. It's SHAME in denial, not high self esteem. It grandiosity, not greatness. These big mouths are oblivious to the malignance, the ill will, in NPD. They are so ignorant they don't know that narcissists go around tearing others down to exalt themselves. Try the French people, you idiots.

Similarly we have idiots diagnosing President Bush as a narcissist. That's ludicrous.

  • TEST: Put a narcissist in front of a crowd and he glows, milking all the attention and admiration he can get. Put President Bush in front of a crowd and he stammers, obviously uncomfortable (as most of us would be) at being the center of all that attention.
  • TEST: Put a narcissist in the presence of children and he acts like they aren't there, trying to keep all the attention on himself. Put President Bush in the presence of children and he forgets the cameras, bending down to give them all his attention.
  • TEST: President Bush is NOT the prominent politician with a legendary reputation for having a "terrible temper" and mysteriously flying into a rages at people and then acting the next day like nothing happened. No one has reported this red flag of narcissism in President Bush's behavior.
  • TEST: President Bush is NOT the politician with a history of grabbing media attention by making outrageous accusations that attack the character of opponents or whole groups of people.
  • TEST: President Bush is NOT a politician with a track record littered with instances of infidelity in every sense of the word. In fact, he has a reputation for the opposite.
President Bush is anything but glib. With him, like it or not, what you see is what you get. He has faults of course, but narcissism is definitely not one of them. In fact, his character is a FOIL to that of a narcissist. So, anyone who diagnoses him as a narcissist knows nothing about NPD.

Yes, politics attracts more than its share of narcissists. But those who diagnose President Bush as one should check out the profiles of some prominent Democrats for signs of NPD before opening their yaps. And, if they are determined to accuse only Republicans, they should at least aim at the right ones.

These are egregious errors in judgment. Ironic errors. In other words, they are not just a little off - they are 180 degrees off. They are the result of completely missing the boat about what malignant narcissism is.
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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Social Workers assess, diagnose and treat NPD?

I myself could probably diagnose your broken arm. But of course only an MD is allowed to diagnose or treat one. Only an MD can diagnose or treat a disease like diabetes or even one like fibromyalgia, which there is no reproducible medical test for. But guess who is out there disgnosing and treating mental illness like NPD. Not just psychiatrists, but also psychologists and even social workers!

No wonder!

The science of psychology amazes me yet again with practices that fall far short scientific standards. This is as ridiculous as estimating the prevalence of NPD from the numbers of people presenting themselves for treatment. As ridiculous as conducting "experiments" without controlling the variables.

Why are even mere social workers allowed to diagnose NPD? Is it because a diagnosis of mental illness is so much guesswork that no one can come along later and prove the diagnosis wrong?

To the contrary, precisely BECAUSE of that only a psychiatrist should be able to diagnose and treat the disease. He or she should monitor and supervise any additional treatment of other health-care providers like psychologists and social workers.

Sheesh. Indeed, if a social worker is good enough to diagnose and treat the disease, why isn't a social worker good enough to prescribe medication or put someone in the hospital? Give me a break.

So some snobby debutante walks in the door and gets diagnosed (perhaps without even knowing it) as suffereing from NPD, and then some malignant narcissist walks in the door and passes for normal.

So that's why malignant narcissists aren't malignant. There is no such thing as a bad person, you see. They are just suffering victims.

Not one thought in the do-gooder about the vast swath of pain and destruction that malignant narcissist is leaving in his or her wake.

Insurance companies are partly to blame. It's time they woke up and started calculating the cost of the collateral damage. They would find it much cheaper to fork over for a psychiatrist and quit forcing patients to see social workers instead.

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