Friday, June 15, 2007

A Narcissist's Error Tactics

If you play tennis, you've probably heard of Bill Tilden. There are some things he wrote that I think are enlightening about narcissists.

He was, without a doubt, one of the greatest tennis players that ever lived. But he also thought he was the greatest writer. His writing is pretentious and stilted. And I have a feeling that he didn't like being edited. He got a couple tennis books published, but novel after novel was rejected. He wasted all the money he won at tennis writing and producing plays that he starred in. He was born William Tatum Tilden Junior, but the moment he reached legal age, changed his name to William Tatum Tilden II.

Get it?

Here is what another famous tennis player, George Lott, later wrote about the earthshaking phenomenon of Bill Tilden entering a room of other tennis VIPs:

Immediately there was a feeling of awe, as though you were in the presence of royalty. The atmosphere became charged and there was almost a sensation of lightness when he left. You felt completely dominated and you heaved a sigh of relief for not having ventured an opinion of any sort.

Can you imagine that? These are other successful and famous people, completely dominated by Tilden's imperiousness! So much for the theory that you have to be a doormat to get walked on by someone like this.

Tilden was legendary for toying with opponents to defeat them in a humiliating way. He wrote:

I may sound unsporting when I claim that the primary object of tennis is to break up your opponent's game, but it is my honest belief that no man is defeated until his game is crushed, or at least weakened.

Correction, Billy Boy, it wasn't their game you were out to crush. Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, and Roger Federer don't do that to low-ranked players they can defeat in straight sets. They just win the match. They don't try to make the other guy feel like you-know-what. In other words, they have self respect, so they don't HAVE TO disrespect other people. In fact, Roger Federer is on record with a remark to that effect:

I never play that my opponent looks stupid. I think that is wrong. I have too much respect for every opponent I play.

Oops, almost forgot. Women weren't good enough for Tilden. He preferred the company of famous, successful men. And he went to prison twice for molesting teenage boys.

The point here is that, with a narcissist, it's never what it's about: it's always about his or her ego. These tennis matches weren't about the trophy. They were about Tilden's ego. He wasn't out to just win. He had to crush his opponent, both morally and materially. He had to come out looking like a god compared to that other guy, so he had to psychologically tear his opponent down to the ground.

Narcissists are often very successful competitors. And that should be no surprise, since they get enough practice at competition. In every human interaction, they are competing with the other party. They are playing games.

Tilden's tennis advice wasn't very good except in one area: the use of psychological warfare in tennis. He broke new ground in that area, and I don't think anyone has surpassed him since.

His aim was to upset his opponent's poise:

Nothing so upsets a man's mental and physical poise as to be continually lead into error.

He didn't just lead people into error on the tennis court. Remember what George Lott said above. Anything you said about anything in Tilden's presence was likely to be the wrong thing.

I once saw a hilarious and yet frightening example of this, myself. It was at a staff meeting and the narcissistic boss asked for people's opinion about something. Thud. Nobody was stupid enough to venture one.

So, Boss called on the worst mental prostitute I have ever known and required him to state his opinion on the matter. Monty Python's Flying Circus has nothing on this episode. Employee literally laid out over the table top, taking a long slow stretch (as if to seem "relaxed") - palms up - toward Boss as he babbled incoherently, hemming and hawing and sounding like he was getting pretty uncomfortable straddling that fence — leaning this way and that, looking for signs from Boss for which was the right opinion to have. At first Boss just tortured him by giving no clue while employee tested the quicksand first on one side of the fence, then the other.

Alas! How would Employee know which opinon was the one that would be "looked favorably upon?"

So Employee finally had to guess. Then suddenly Boss gave a clue. ZAP - onto that side of the fence Employee jumped. Then Boss said, "On the other hand...." ZAP - back to the other side he jumped. I'm not kidding: this went on for several minutes.

Picture it: this guy was laid out prostrate over that table top, arms outstretched, palms up, to his boss, and FLOPPING from one side to the other and back again every time Boss interrupted his babbling to flip-flop him with a mere disapproving look, a "What?" or a "Do you mean...?"

It was the most masterful juggling act I've ever seen. Both Employee and his opinion rolled from side to side and back again, on cue, every time Boss interjected a clue that it was the wrong one. Thus Boss 'continually lead the man into error,' just as Tilden did.

Boss interjected these conflicting don't-go-there clues faster and faster till he had Employee literally flopping back and forth like a fish out of water. I could still hear his elbows thumping the tabletop as I headed for bathroom to collapse and laugh myself to tears.

This is why narcissists play God by judging everything you do, say, think, or feel. They want to make you feel like you have done something wrong. They are deliberately arbitrary and unpredictable in their judgements to keep you off balance and, like George Lott, afraid to venture ANY opinion on ANYthing, for fear that it will be the wrong one. It's a game to destroy your poise.

Once you lose your poise, you're done for. Tilden again:

I have often seen players collapse in a match after they have netted or driven out a crucial point which they should have won.

Yes, then you start acting as inept as you feel. In other words, by making you feel like an inept fool, they make you perform like one. It's a kind of black magic.

The aim of Error Tactics, then, is to demoralize us.

First, don't allow a narcissist to relate to you as your judge. You can confront any attempt to do so. But you don't have to. You can just non-respond to it. In other words, act as though the narcissist didn't say the judgemental thing they just said. Change the subject. Walk out of the room. You are taking away their mirror. Then they can't see the image they're projecting in it. That is very unsettling to a narcissist. Really. Since they identify with that mirage, by making it disappear you give them an existential problem!

There is probably nothing meaner you can do to a narcissist than just act like he ain't there. I think it's the most potent negative reinforcement you can deliver. He will quickly learn that he gets it for trying to relate to you as your judge.

Second, remember your poise. It's all a game people play. Mind games. Which means it's nothing, because it's all in the head. So, just keep your poise.

In fact, there is some of this going on in the holier-than-thous who blame the victim and say your feelings are a sin, those who find a sin in everything you could do to protect yourself from abuse, those who say it would be a sin to divorce the narcissist or to strike back in any way. Why do they bestow their judgments on YOU and why are they so "understanding" about the ABUSER's conduct and feelings?

Because they can't make amoral HIM feel like he has done anything wrong. So, they pick on good people (= the victim) instead. They like being able to control you by passing judgment on your thoughts, words, deeds, and even feelings. It's a power play. A self-righteous power play.

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At 11:35 AM, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Amazing insight.

The secrets of psychological control is a complex one, yet it is something anyone can learn if they are truly motivated in it. Motivation such as the need to control others, is one such propellant.

At 12:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You said he went to prison twice for molesting teenage boys.I learned 2 years after Ibroke up with him that my N. had chosen a young man as his new prey and lover. Do they act the same with men and women ?

At 6:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 12:16 PM, Blogger ayomide said...

that is a funny story. I grew up with three narcissistics. My father created two, my older brothers. The youngest is more than the older, My mother rescued me from being that crazy. But as I got older and my mother got wiser we learned that they were narcissits. We read books on how to deal with them cause as you know they make you think you're crazy and I have learned that ignoring them ( when they say extremely crazy stuff) is the absolute best policy.
When I lived with my brother I had to explain to his girlfriend his problem cause she was crying to me on what she should do. I told her to leave him she doesn't have to put up with crazy only I have to because I am related to him. You know what she never heeded my advice. and still cries to this day. They have a on and off relationship. She can't trully wrap her mind around that he is narcissitic cause when he isn't so mean he is the nicest man in the world. HA.. but even then he is playing games and she doesn't even know it.

At 5:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's weird to watch once you know what it is. jt

At 8:11 PM, Blogger Lou Minatti said...

Tilden was also legendary for his B.O. Seriously! Read Hollywood Babylon. Tilden gets a full chapter.

At 8:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what is likely when two MN's get together? My X-MN wife looks like she's going to marry an MN on steroids. What's the consensus on the outcome? Kathy, your comment would be appreciated.


At 9:46 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

Lou, thanks! I never heard that before.

Anonymous, that's something I wonder about. Sam Vaknin has written that a "somatic" narcissisist and a "cerebral" one can get along, but I'm sure there's more to it than that. You'd think no town would be big enough for two narcissits, but seeing is believing otherwise!

I have seen several cases of two narcissists getting along excellently and working in cahoots.

I find this baffling, but maybe that's due to the usual mistake of forgetting how absolutely simple a narcissit's decisions are: "Will it get me what I want or not?"

Nothing else matters.

So, they don't seem to mind sharing glory with another narcissist they don't think they can dominate.

In other words, that NEED for all available attention isn't really a need: when they know they can't have it (because another N is around who is just as lowdown and dirty in competing for it). Then, and only then, they seem able to share.

This much I have seen: they know how to stroke each other. They know that the other has an assault weapon for a mouth, so they fear each other and wouldn't dream of abusing each other. (They target easy prey, not victims who might fight back.) Rather like two rattlesnakes in the same pit.

Sometimes joining forces is an advantage, and I think that's why they do it. I think they have an unspoken understanding: "I won't bite you if you don't bite me, and together we can ride roughshod over everybody else."

Or, "Together we can rule this place."

At 8:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ouch. maybe that's what is happening in my family as we start to part and my one daughter is being sucked on for supply. just like that vampire thing. he's turned her into one of him. me and her are having a hard time getting along and she makes me think of her father.
your last comment is exactly what seems to be happening to us! (ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch!)jt

At 10:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kathy, I have not been here for about a year or so, because not only have I moved completely on with my life (you can do it people! Kathy can help it happen!!!), but there is only so much of your brilliance one can read.
Fawn, fawn.
I would like to add to Kathy's assertion that ignoring these ass-clowns is the way to go: I live just a block or so from the piss-ant who abused me, and for the last two weeks, after never seeing him ever for three years, somehow or other I have walked past him, or seen him (see me) every day. For two weeks. No sh**...I believe in Higher Power, and I truly believe the sightings are "initiations" to test how much I have learned, how far I have come and my compassion. FOR MYSELF, basically. Anyhow. My reaction to seeing him? He's vapor.
Like vapor.
I do not flinch.
I literally, completely ignore him. Make no effort to even look the other way. Just walk my dog, enjoy the sunshine, and treat it like I am looking at vapor. He does not exist in my bandwidth of love vs. his bandwidth of fear, and for all I know he wouldn't even recognize ME, or even see me, because he is off in his own little world of grandiose perfection; better yet, I never had a face ANYWAY, so...;-)
I don't even get a twinge, a ghost of the former horrific pang of fear and rage that I once did.
Shine sweet freedom, shine a light on**, I am quoting a Mike McDonald song! It must be Canada day!
Love to you all, Kathy you deserve a sweet. Please keep writing!!!

At 11:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

when i talk to my local friends i have been trying to describe and heal the pain of seeing that i 'never had a face anyway'. it hurts to be invisible. but the more i ignore him then he seems fine with that- the more bitter i feel about "how hard i tried" but it's all part of the process.i'm having to unknow all i tried to believe about our marriage. it may have been better in the beginning but living with someone who twists their mind in that N direction is a losing situation. we are losing each other. only i care- he doesn't know to. jt


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