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.