Wednesday, February 14, 2007

An Illness or a Summation of Choices?

More and more frequently, I see or read or hear something that makes me wonder whether the notion that NPD (and psychopathy) is an illness (in the usual sense of the word) is just wrong, if these people aren't just bad.

Some things about them are so strange and abnormal (anti-normal actually) that your first thought is mental illness. But if these are just ingrained thought patterns and behavior patterns, that mind could be functioning properly.

What if some people just decide at an early age to live life the OTHER way? That is, by cheating. By faking it. What if they decide that only saps play by the rules in a game fixed for cheaters to win?

Research on psychopaths in prisons has amply demonstrated that they don't necessarily come from abusive homes. Some come from wonderful homes. What's more, even in those bad homes narcissists and psychopaths have come from, other children grew up to be normal, decent people.

So, maybe an abusive parent merely sets a bad example that a kid without scruples might learn from.

And I see clearly how each step down that wrong road drives one further. Bob Dylan was wrong when he sang that people just do whatever they want and then repent. They never repent. They'd rather die and go to hell than repent.

Here's just one example. Say that you're a narcissist who has been going around telling a vicious lie about a co-worker. How can you repent? Let's make it too easy on you. Let's you don't even have to make reparations by repairing that person's good name. Let's say that all you must do is just stop slandering him. Okay?

But can you? Can you stop telling this lie? What will happen if you do? What will happen if people you're with start talking about this terrible thing you told them about this person? What are you going to do? All of a sudden act like you don't believe that story about him?

You can't do that, can you? To do so would expose you for lying in the first place. So, to keep your past sin covered up, you keep committing it = keep talking and acting as though your lie is true.

In other words, you can't repent: you have to keep right on slandering the victim.

And that's just one example of what narcissists do that you can bet they will never repent = stop doing. Indeed, when people do real damage with their words and deeds, it takes great courage to repent because they have incurred liability for the damages.

Oooh, liability. Bob Dylan is right when he sings that something for nothing is everybody's plan. Innocence must be free of charge or people don't want it.

Few have what it takes to repent anything more serious than a few harsh words. So imagine how hard it would be for a narcissist to go straight? Like Macbeth, they are soon too deep in blood to turn their lives around.

And sometimes I wonder if a narcissist isn't just somebody who reached that point at a young age. Someone who has done things so bad that they could not even bear to take a look inside to face what they have done and see what they have become.

I don't know really. But I often wonder. That part of it is still a mystery to me.

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15 Comments:

At 8:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

kathy - maybe that's why me and my N are at such a stand off. i treat him like he doesn't exist (because i do just need some distance to sort) and he "acts" like he's just as innocent as can be. we both are being soooo stubborn. it's gotta be killing our kids.something has to change because we are setting a pathetic model for our kids. we are going to start having trouble with them soon. the younger one is starting to act out a little already.
i know i've been hurt by him. and he knows i am on to him. now we are both just waiting for the other one to make the wrong first move. it's disgusting.
i'm sure he concocted a false life to get thru his childhood.it did suck in his eyes. and it was messed up. "someone who has done things so bad that they could not even bear to take a look inside to face what they have done and see what they have become". what could a kid- a child- "do" that was so wrong? most people couldn't think of a thing. but we all know that this kind of thinking goes on in their minds. my N years ago used to tell me he was a monster of some kind. of course i told him he wasn't. i didn't see one. but it was weird how long he talked like that. the kid in him must have thought so!! that went on for quite a while. (NOW i see a monster of some kind.) maybe his childhood is back somehow. sometimes i am tempted to poke at this to see what happens. but i really am not qualified to deal with this! jt

 
At 8:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the total sum of a person is a lie then repentance means death.

Pam

p.s. Naricissists come from all kinds of homes and remember it wasn't that long ago that psychiatry assigned that true disease to a schitzoid mother. Sometimes, there really is no other person to blame for the evil that resides in someone but the one in whom it resides. No matter the cause, they are the only ones who can take responsibility for themselves and try to change.

 
At 11:09 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

Children do terrible things. Like calling the puppy offering a treat and then kicking it to death. That is no less hateful for a child to do than an adult.

Beating up a toddler and going around telling everyone that your older sister did it so that Mom likes you better.

Telling everyone at school that your mother beats you or sleeps around to get attention and sympathy and special treatment.

These are abysmal acts, and young, very young children do things like this. In fact torturing animals is common, and it is no minor matter. That is hatred of innocence = the pure will to evil, which normal children just don't do.

Just the bullying kids do at school will knock the stomach out of you if you see and overhear it.

There was an old movie called "The Bad Seed" or "The Chirlden's Hour" that showed a budding psychopath as a seeming sweet little girl who just destroyed people for the hell of of it, even driving one to suicide. That's a hard truth, but it is true. As children narcsiists have done things like this to improve their image and vaunt themselves on others.

 
At 6:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kathy, I'm sure you have read Scott Peck's 'Children of the Lie', in which he suggests that narcissists are evil rather than sick and that they choose the path of evil. He suggests that we become good or bad by a serious of choices, one decent action making another easier and more likely - and the reverse of course.
I've come across quite a few horrible children but in every case where I knew something of the family background, this same background has seemed to be the root of the problem. Alice Miller says that the reason some people survive childhood trauma and grow into mentally healthy adults, while others don't, is that the healthy survivors had, in their environment, what she calls a 'helping witness', someone who knew what was going on. This might be one reason why people from apparently similar backgrounds turn out so differently.

 
At 9:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

kathy,yea, i guess i am familiar with some of that stuff. maybe my N is hiding something that he did. i know he felt picked on and maybe even somewhat persecuted at times, but i did only hear his side of the stories. i always got the idea he didn't really outwardly do anything to warrant his treatment(well, i still believe that part) but also that he didn't really retaliate. hmmm. maybe he did. or maybe he stuffed the rage and indignation and has just been seething all this time. either way- not cool! jt

 
At 9:47 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

Actually, I haven't gotten round to reading that book yet, but I have heard of it and the ideas in it. Now you hear more and more people asking the question, even leading authorities in psychopathy. I don't know. Ns certainly don't experience things normally. An example of what I mean is feeling attacked by your wanting some affection. But I do see how that bizarre affect could be nothing but the result of twisted thinking. Deeply ingrained twisted thinking so habitual that it is like a knee jerk reaction.

Twisted thinking is bad for mental health but by itself it isn't disease. Indeed, even normal people think twistedly - whenever they want to rationalize or project something. But they aren't stuck in that mode and aren't so astronomically childish about it.

I view children as gradually attaining more and more responsibility for their own actions. So, if a 7 year old tortures an animal I don't say he didn't know any better. If he didn't, it never would have entered his head to hurt that innocent being.

 
At 10:02 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

jt, I had a similar experience. The N had talked the same way. From what you knew at the time, it sounded like she was exaggerating how badly she had treated others.

But then one day I found out the shocking truth. What she had done was unbelievable. Just unthinkable. Unforgiveable. Her vague mysterious "confessions" weren't exaggerating it at all. In fact I think she did it like a kid who goes to confession saying, "Bless me Father for I have sinned. I stole a pack of gum from the candy store." Then walks out with "technical" (but invalid) absolution for robbing the bank too. A child/N thinks that way. This "confession" just made the people she had damaged, the same people she was now parasitizing even more trusting = vulnerable to her predations.

 
At 10:15 AM, Anonymous gh said...

Another possibility that occurred to me is that the N may not truly have done anything unforgiveable as a child, but was convinced that he did. Victims of emotional abuse can often come to believe that what their abuser says about them is true, even when it's not. So the little pre-N hears day after day that he's a selfish, viciosu, worthless little monster, believes it, and spends a lifetime trying to cover up a "truth" that really isn't.

Re: "People of the Lie" -- I haven't read it yet either, but my N has been walking around demonstratively reading it lately. It's bizarre, as I really don't see him struggling to come to terms with any evil within himself. My guess is that after his narcissism was raised in counseling he probably started to find ways to project that onto me (like everything else... ) and is reading it to convince himself of how evil I am. But maybe that's just paranoid.

 
At 10:28 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

Forgot to mention that, in the few cases I personally know enough about, there was abuse by an almost certainly narcissistic parent.

Yet when a researcher as careful as Dr. Robert Hare finds otherwise in study after study of psychopaths in prison, I must allow that small sampling of humanity isn't strong enough evidence to doubt this research.

My best guess is that the abuse is a kind that can be known by only those inimately involved with a family - as in the example on the Main Site of the man who viciously snarled at his three-year-old every time she tried to get his attention during the only time (the Sunday afternoon football game) he would even be in the same room with her.

If you saw that you knew how serious that was and how that could make her an N. Considering the contemptuous disregard she got from her father the rest of the time, that was such child abuse as he should have been thrown in jail for.

But I wonder. Would stuff like this come out in a questionaire you give prison inmates? I doubt it. They themselves probably don't know that it is what prompted them to become the way they are.

So I lean toward agreeing with you - that there always is abuse. But Hare's work demands that we question that.

We also must guard against making a logical error. I made it above when I said that this treatment could have "made" this child an N. Wrong. This treatment was but a temptation. Her choices throughout life are what "made" her what she is.

You know, free will.

Even as children, we are not robots whose buttons are pushed by mere temptation. Some children choose to deal with it one way, others choose to deal with it another way and become like their demon.

 
At 10:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think there is a one size fits all scenario. I think it is probably a combination of genetics, abuse or trauma, and choice.

There are measurable instances as in Ferrel children where extreme abuse can cause changes in the brain and lasting damage. There was the case of a girl in CA in the 70's who's father had allowed no one else in the family to talk to and the family kept her in her room until she was 13. Her life consisted of getting up in the morning and being strapped to a potty chair where she was also fed and then being put back to bed. Images of her brain showed whole areas that had atrophied and died. For instance, she was able to learn words but no longer had the ability to form those words in to language or any ability to communicate with others. This can also explain such things as an abused person not being able to feel empathy. I also think this could happen by choice as in someone who was emotionally abused to the point of not feeling by making the choice not to feel so as to avoid abuse at a very early age.

On the other hand, my dad is a text book case narcissist but my grandparents, his parents are probably the reason that I was able to survive him. They were wonderful people and I can't imagine them hurting my dad that way. He did have some physical trauma, polio and I'm sure he was teased by other children because of his handicap. Also, with my son. My husband and I weren't perfect parents, we made mistakes, but we have always tried to be accountable for our mistakes and make things right with our kids. We certainly never subjected our children to purposeful abuse. My youngest did have trauma in his teens and our psychologist says that the trauma he suffered then was enough to cement what was already an inborn tendency. It is mine and my husbands responsibility in that we were responsible to protect him even if he was making choices that made it near impossible for us to do so. And even though he was traumatized by persons older than he, which I consider abuse, he did choose his way into the situation. Even if his condition is our fault, his only hope is to take responsibility for himself and choose his way out.

I have beat myself up over this and if I were a narcissistic mom, I don't think it would bother me and the same goes for my husband. Why is it that when someone does evil, we try to lay blame at every doorstep but that of the evildoer? I don't think that helps them at all.

Pam

 
At 5:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for correcting my misquotation of the title of 'People of the Lie' as 'Children of the Lie'.
I read this book a long time ago and consider it must-read material on the subject of narcissism.
Scott Peck sees malignant narcissists as people who misplace the locus of evil - they think it lies outside, in other people, because they can't bear to look inside themselves. They are finger-pointers.
I lent this book to my narcissist sister-in-law, the daughter of a narcissist mother, and, having read it, she immediately started pointing the finger at the old man who was her mother's genuinely helpful companion. (This sounds like what is happening with gh's N, who is currently flaunting the book.) BTW, I didn't know either of these women were narcissists at the time.
Like you, Kathy, Scott Peck thinks it's about free will and personal choice. These people choose the wrong path - consistently. And it's the consistency that makes them evil. We all behave badly from time to time, but for the narcissist it's a way of life.

 
At 5:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for correcting my misquotation of the title of 'People of the Lie' as 'Children of the Lie'.
I read this book a long time ago and consider it must-read material on the subject of narcissism.
Scott Peck sees malignant narcissists as people who misplace the locus of evil - they think it lies outside, in other people, because they can't bear to look inside themselves. They are finger-pointers.
I lent this book to my narcissist sister-in-law, the daughter of a narcissist mother, and, having read it, she immediately started pointing the finger at the old man who was her mother's genuinely helpful companion. (This sounds like what is happening with gh's N, who is currently flaunting the book.) BTW, I didn't know either of these women were narcissists at the time.
Like you, Kathy, Scott Peck thinks it's about free will and personal choice. These people choose the wrong path - consistently. And it's the consistency that makes them evil. We all behave badly from time to time, but for the narcissist it's a way of life.

 
At 7:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Both of my parents are narcissists. My brother became criminal and drug addicted by the age of 14 or so and interestingly enough, destroyed his memory.

"Alice Miller says that the reason some people survive childhood trauma and grow into mentally healthy adults, while others don't, is that the healthy survivors had, in their environment, what she calls a 'helping witness', someone who knew what was going on."

I truly believe this!!! For me, it was my dog. She would watch the goings on in my 'home' (term used loosely) and when the coast was clear always come to me and lick me and lick me and lick me. She would just stay with me and love me.

She was my witness and she did everything in her power to protect and comfort me. To me, she was my real mother.

My parents killed her at 9 years old. I mourn her to this day. I will love her forever!

 
At 10:37 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

That hit me where I live. I know of several instances of Ns killing a beloved pet. And people sympathize with this scum? I wouldn't be caught dead sympathizing with people like that.

 
At 1:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A couple of thoughts on my collective experience of MN's goes like this.

If I look deeply into the eyes of one who has proved themselves to be an honorable person, I get the sense that if I followed those eyes to the source of what they reflect and convey I would find many warm and loving places, some of which are memories of warmth, safeness, belonging and love.

When I look deeply into the eyes of a malignant N, when he/she has no other witnesses, it makes my blood run cold. Superficially, these eyes reflect a steely coldness for sure, but there is more than that. There is shallowness, a sort of simplicity very much like when I gaze into the eyes of those of a lizard or any other with a reptilian brain. Survival of the fittest and these eyes somehow assure me that they are the most fit, within this context. If I brave up the courage to explore a little deeper, my sense is of being swept up by a vortex that in turn whisks me into what I sense or see as a infinite abyss. It is not so much that it is black and dark in there, which it is, but rather it is an experience of the absence of light. Some might interpret this light as the absence of a connection to God (any higher power) or in fact, to their humanity, both of which I believe to be true. I also believe that a MN looks to consume the light of others, thinking that they will aquire light in the digestion of it.

As I look around in the absence of light, I sense nothing other than insatiable need. This place is a highly efficient mechanism to consume and absorb anything it can woo into its lair and to no avail. The more it eats, the hungrier it gets. You can sense that it wishes to suck the very essence out of its prey.

My theory about this comes from a MN going quite a bit out of its way to stage another attack, and another and another. I get this notion there is a deep hunger they are compelled to satisfy. With each new meal comes enhanced desperation and drive. The need, therefore, validates their assumed rights to meet their needs by any means possible. From here, it is all instinctive drive and calculation.

Am I sympathetic? NO. I have an intellectual sympathy for the damaged child that once was, but perhaps in having been denied humanity, he/she therefore, failed to develop the traits we deem to be human. What he/she has become is not the potential being that could have been, had circumstances have been different. Having worked with families for a couple of decades, I am always suspicious when people say, although I know genetically or whatever, it is possible, that “I do not understand this person. His/her family is so lovely.” I came from a family that probably looked lovely to the outside world too. Inside, to be sure was a suburb of Hell.

One day I encountered a HUGE snapping turtle too far from water to get away. I had stopped on a Highway to move him/her off which I did. I sat with this turtle for about an hour each gazing into the other's eyes. I talked to him the whole while. Not once did try to leave. Not once did he retreat into his shell and not once did he act aggressively even though I was well within range of a lunge. This guy was as big as a snapping turtle can get. His legs were as large as my forearms. Eventually I said my goodbyes and wished him well. I thanked him for the experience and we both went our ways. I got in my car and he turned and moved away from the road. This animal has a reptilian brain, which is totally about survival. I was not a threat to this survival. I had a similar experience with a bear in the woods the other day.

This turtle, or bear, for whatever reason, did not view me as a threat to its survival. They had no reason to attack and did not. In the same situation, NM’s would never miss the chance unless they were on their way to a buffet and in comparison, I was a mere tidbit and time was of the essence. I was vulnerable. Perhaps he/she might consider dropping by on the way back for a little dessert.

I have witnessed acts by MN's. They do their torture, the police show up. The three who were victims are shaking, crying, devastated while the MN is sitting just as cool as a cucumber, charismatically lying to the police, and offering cups of tea and of course giving them his undivided attention. I had the opportunity over a couple of weeks to observe the mother of this adult MN. Sweet, religious, educated, pillars of the community... and to test a feeling, I came up with a little something to say that might provoke her only if she were a MN and would not have if she were not. I saw a transformation that was unbelievable. The eyes changed, I glimpsed the abyss within and heard it in her tone of voice. As others came into the room, I smiled at her, thanked her for the information and never saw her again. I sometimes wonder if she wondered exactly what information I had given her. I don’t think so.

Another theory... when a NM intuits, and they do, that another has seen their true nature, they can expect to be annihilated by whatever combination of means unless one exits the stage.

I am circling back now to the reptilian brain... I found the following excerpts from an article interesting...In terms of brain development and imprinting given that I found a MN as the mother of the MN that was causing me problems. I wonder about arrested development not far from the reptilian brain and imprinting at the limbic stage of development.


From an interview with Clotaire Rapaille from PBS website. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/persuaders/interviews/rapaille.html

I don't care what you're going to tell me intellectually. I don't care. Give me the reptilian. Why? Because the reptilian always wins.


How did you get started in this field?

Originally I'm a child psychiatrist. I used to work with autistic children, children that don't speak, and I was just trying to find a cure. I made several little discoveries of the way the brain functions at the time. For example, these children are usually quite intelligent -- some kind of "intelligent." I don't know if you remember Rain Man, that [in the Dustin Hoffman character] Rain Man you had this kind of computer intelligence, but they have a little problem with emotions.

One of my discoveries was that in order to create the first imprint of a word -- when you learn a word, whatever it is, "coffee," "love," "mother," there is always a first time. There's a first time to learn everything. The first time you understand, you imprint the meaning of this word; you create a mental connection that you're going to keep using the rest of your life. And to create this mental connection, you need some emotions. Without emotion, there is no production of neurotransmitters in the brain, and you don't create the connection. So actually every word has a mental highway. I call that a code, an unconscious code in the brain. ...

...Part of my work was in Switzerland, and I was working with children trying to learn French, Italian or German. And my second discovery at the time was that there's a different imprint for these different cultures. What I discovered was that the code for each culture was different. ...

And so I was lecturing at Geneva University, and one of my students asked his father to come to my lecture. And at the end of the lecture the father told me, "You know, doctor, I have a client for you." And I said, "Is it a little boy, little girl, doesn't speak?" [He said], "No, no, this is Nestlé." And I was very surprised. I say: "Nestlé? What can I do for Nestlé?" "Well, we try to sell instant coffee to the Japanese, and obviously we might have the wrong code, because we're not very successful." Today, more than 30 years later, it sounds obvious, but at the time they were trying to get Japanese people to switch from tea to coffee. And of course when you know that there's a very strong imprint of tea in Japan -- it's almost a religious dimension there -- you cannot really have a strategy to get them switch from tea to coffee.

So I took a sabbatical, went to Japan, and discovered the code for coffee in Japan, shared that to the company, and they started implementing it immediately. My frustration working with autistic children was, I never got much results. It's just, unfortunately, very hard work, but you don't really get results. And I was becoming very frustrated that my American side -- I was already American, you know, in my mind -- wanted results. Then I went to Japan, worked with Nestlé, and [a] few months later, bang, got results. I say: "Wow, results already? Whoa." I never went back to psychiatry. I started my first company in Japan, then in Switzerland, in France and in America -- that's it.

What did your work for Nestlé look like?

It was really to tell them, for example, that the Japanese don't have a first imprint of coffee. What first imprint they have is tea. And so when you go into this category, in what we call taxonomy, mental taxonomy, it's like a mental category they have, and you cannot compete with this category. So you have to create the category. And so we started, for example, with a dessert for children with a taste of coffee. We created an imprint of the taste of coffee. And then we acknowledge the Japanese want to do one thing at a time, and the Swiss understood that very well. They start with this kind of a product. They start selling coffee, but through dessert, things that were sweet, get the people accustomed to the taste of coffee, and after that they followed the generations. And when they were teenagers they start selling coffee, and first there was coffee with milk at the beginning, and then they went to coffee, and now they have a big market for coffee in Japan.

Do these imprints have to happen as a child?

Well, yes. They don't have to, but if you don't have an imprint when you are a child, and if you get the first imprint later -- for example, I'm trying to speak English, but my first imprint of language was French, because I was born during the war in France. When I start learning English it was later. I was already also grown up, so I will never have the same imprints with English that I have with French. Most of the time, when children don't learn a foreign language before they are 7, they always have some kind of an accent. The brain is very available if you want at an early age to create this mental connection.

When we [are] born, we have the reptilian brain. The reptilian brain is there already. It's part of survival; it's breathing, eating, going to the bathroom. Then, in relationship with the mother, we develop the second brain, which is the limbic brain -- emotions -- and these emotions vary from one culture to another. In the relationship with your mother, you're going to imprint, make mental connection about what means love, what means mother, what means being fed, what means a home, what means all the things that are very basic for survival. [These] are transmitted by the mother to you, and you create this mental connection in the brain -- like a reference system, if you want, that you keep using. After a while, this system becomes unconscious. You do not even think about it. You know "Oh, this is a house; of course this is a house." Well, for a lot of people around the world, this is not a house. A house might be a tent or made of ice or whatever, but this is not their reference system. It might be different for others.

Then, after 7, we have in place the cortex. The cortex is the last part of the brain that we develop, and that's what we suppose to be "intelligent." We are scientists, you know -- numbers and stuff like that. Now, what is interesting is the cortex, we [are] kind of aware of that. We try to be intelligent, but the reptilian [part] we are not very much aware of it, and the limbic is more or less completely unconscious.

These levels are very different from one culture to another. Some cultures are very reptilian, which means very basic instinct. ...

End of quotes from interview.

Of interest to me…

• Care and feeding of the developing MN?
• A MN as a culture of One?
• The effectiveness of MN techniques in developing new markets


The above are passing thoughts about the care and feeding of a developing MN. It also mentions a bit on how Nestle developed their market for coffee in Japan. Think about the wooing process of the MN. God knows none of us needed a MN in our lives. However, we thought we did. We just did not know what we were getting. Given literature on teas, coffee and health the Japanese really did not need coffee either. They have been taught/manipulated into thinking that they do. The MN’s in my life put a great deal of effort into teaching me that I needed them, until my own brain, complete with limbic system and cortex, realized that I did not. Until a person deeply understands the nature of NM, they believe they do. They underestimate their true nature. Its easy to do.

 

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