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.
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.
narcissistic personality disorder narcissism