Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Narcissists give new meaning to the term "attention deficit"

Here is a good example of one of the strange things I have noted in narcissists. This is an example of one I know but very seldom run in to or talk with. Nonetheless, whenever there is a close encounter, it is always of "The Third Kind" ;-)

Over the years, this person has often told me that she can never remember how to spell the word maybe.

"Well, uh, it's just may and be put together."

"Yes, I know, but that's logical and I can never remember whether this is one of the words spelled logically or not."

"Well, uh, how else would you spell it?"

"M-E-B-A-Y."

"Well, uh, that would be pronounced ME-bay."

She hasn't even heard that, because she's talking over you, breathlessly gallivanting off onto another subject.

Time and time and time again. It's deja vu. No matter how many times you tell her that maybe is just may and be put together to mean the same thing as "may be." Though she has an advanced degree and teaches science, you'd need a battering ram to get that through her head.

Because she can't hear you. It's like a kind of autism.

By the same token, numberless times over the years, this woman has referred to my book and web domain by the wrong name.

"No, it isn't 'Operations Doubles,' it's 'Operation Doubles.'"

"Yeah, like I said, 'Operations Doubles.'

"No! Can't you hear the difference? 'OperaTION Doubles.'"

But she hasn't heard that, because she's talking over you, breathlessly gallivanting off onto another subject.

I long ago gave up trying to correct her.

But then one day she forced me to keep trying to correct her. How? By sitting at her computer, calling me up, and asking me to spell the URL to her over the phone. O my God, don't ever try to spell out your URL to a narcissist over the phone!

She's asking you to spell it to her, but her communication blocking reflexes are kicking in to make her keep butting in on you so you can't!

The result was like Monty Python's Flying Circus. I swear that she imagined she heard every conceivable spelling but the one I gave her. It is very unlike me to get impatient with people who seem to be trying, but it was so exasperating that I surprised myself by yelling at her to shut up and listen.

Not that it did any good.

Now she had a problem with the word doubles too. Though a tennis player herself, she seemed to think that the name of this website on tennis doubles would be named "Operations Double."

"No. It's about tennis. (Sarcastically) You know, tennis - tennis singles and tennis doubles. DouBLES. So it just makes sense that the website would be called 'Operation DouBLES,' right?"

But she hasn't heard that, because she's talking over you, frustratedly telling you to just spell it to her again.

For decades, this type of behavior in narcissists I have known mystified me. But over time, I began to see what the problem is.

They have a deeply ingrained mental habit of filtering out everything but the kind of information they want - their own reflected grandiose image - in their interactions with people. This goes further than 'selective memory." This is "selective consciousness."

Like Narcissus here. He's blocking out everything but the image of himself being reflected by his interaction with Echo.

Remember that you are bug in his esteem, unworthy of more attention than a fly on the wall. To give you any would pain him as a terrible comedown.

So he CAN'T pay attention to others, even when he wants to. At least not to those others that he is deeply invested in looking down on.

But our brains LEARN what kinds of information we pay no attention to. They learn to filter it from consciousness automatically. This is why when you first move to a neighborhood with a railroad crossing, the trains drive you nuts. But soon, you don't even hear the noise of the passing trains anymore (unless they happen to drown out some sound you are trying to listen to).

The same thing seems to have happened to the older narcissists I have known. I think their lifelong habit of filtering out all but what what they want to see in that mirror trains their brain too well.

They can't pay attention to anything. (Sometimes I wonder if they don't actually have a phobia of paying attention.) They are stuck in fantasy, unable to step out of The Looking Glass while at work and in other places where they need to tend to daily affairs and pass for normal.

This starts to really show in their fifties, when people outside their family start noticing that something is wrong with them.

I suspect that in the comments we'll soon see other examples of the same thing.

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26 Comments:

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Stephanie said...

"O my God, don't ever try to spell out your URL to a narcissist over the phone!" LOL!!!! Kathy, you've brightened my day. And if you hadn't identified the woman as a science teacher, I'd be saying, "Oh you've MET my parents, then."

If I gave all the examples of "deafness" you'd need to start a new website! That used to be my ongoing recurring nightmare - that she wasn't listening. I accused her of it directly once, when I was a teenager. "You're refusing to understand me - on purpose!"

I think I'm starting to see why her reaction was not distress. In fact, she was not a little smug when I said that to her. (bleh .... I feel a little ill right now) I've thought for a long time that it was about "power" - power she feels when she can get any kind of a rise out of someone else - especially her kids. But now, after reading here for awhile, I think it was rewarding to be accused of deliberate deafness. I think it was a correct diagnosis - and she knew she was doing it right!

 
At 1:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh dont even get me started... but the other night i had to call my N because of confusion over something involving a few people. i asked him a very direct question which he answered. i asked him the next very direct simple question. he said what three times,even though he heard me. i simply repeated it word for word (dont take the bait) and when he figured out it was just a simple question that wasn't going to change he answered. then i asked him the third simple question and i had my answer. it alsways takes over a minute that would take anyone else 20 seconds. and the tone of voice...like i said don't get me started...jt

 
At 1:44 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

Don't you sometimes wonder if the experts know that narcisssists do these things? Here we are ... "Don't get me started!" and "Don't get me started!" about something they probably have no clue that narcissists do.

 
At 2:04 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

"Something Narcissists do" -- that made a light bulb go on for me.

There's a very specific kind of gloating facial expression - it's my foolproof clue, and it has never failed me. If a person EVER has that look cross his face - then I know who it is I'm dealing with.

Certain speech patterns, yes. A tone of voice, almost always. A stunningly intractable inability to carry on a conversation wherein the subject is not personal to them ... oh, yeah. But that face. The face gives it away every time.

I also stay far far away from anyone who allows that malicious rage thing to pass across their eyes. If you CAN do that, you will.

What I'm trying to say, Kathy, is that "experts" and all, classifications, vocabulary, studies, and data ... the key to the thing is to recognize what you're looking at, and believe the evidence of your own eyes. And then stop being okay with what's not okay. (Maybe that's the Expert's weak spot -- they study stuff until they're studying instead of reacting to it.)

 
At 2:09 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

By the way, about the "What-ing" you. Reminds me of a narcissist I used to know. He "whated" you like a broken record every time you tried to say ANYTHING to him. He couldn't let you succeed in communicating with him. Every single day. I dare say that just about anyone would take that about 999,999 times and then just snap. So, there ought to be a law designating that as a special case for justifiable homicide.

 
At 2:36 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Frustrating in the extreme ... yes. But I used to have a boss who taught me this: "I am not a jerk. I will do everything in my power to keep you from being a jerk. But if you insist on being a jerk, I am still not a jerk."

With the Narcissist or the Angry Man or the Woeful Wanda keeping a stiff upper lip and telling me all about it ... I disengage. Otherwise that other person has had the power to make me into a reflection of them. And isn't that a Narcissist's fondest dream?

 
At 4:30 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

That boss said he'd do what he could to keep you from being a jerk. He didn't say he'd act like you weren't being one. And getting angry isn't being a jerk. It's just a feeling. A natural feeling. You either are angry or you're not. You can pretend that you aren't if you are.

The pitfall is in thus letting them do that you. You in effect say, "It's okay to do that to me. I am not trying to discourage you in any way. I am not showing my displeasure in any way." It's a mockery. Ignoring it = allowing the N to do that to you erodes your self esteem.

Why? Because when you are the one doing it, you see that what you're doing is called "bending over for it." And you don't feel very proud of yourself for that. You suddenly see good, old fashioned anger in a different light. As one psychiatrist on the Web says, we often have a RESPONSIBITY to get angry.

But of course, no one wants to fight all the time, because that's bad too. Narcissists are impossible people. So, it's a catch-22. You either submit docilely to the abuse or you fight all the time. That's why you just simply have to get away from a narcissist.

 
At 4:39 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Oh, I'm agreeing with you. Disengaging means walking away - and what you do in that process depends on the situation, I'd think.

I'm not saying don't speak up. I'm saying don't stick around - because nobody has the power to fix the other guy. Stop trying to fix the other guy - that's what my boss was telling me back then.

 
At 7:27 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

"This starts to really show in their fifties, when people outside their family start noticing that something is wrong with them."

I'd really be interested in what you'd have to say about how this looks during different parts and seasons of a person's life.

 
At 8:26 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

"I'm saying don't stick around - because nobody has the power to fix the other guy. Stop trying to fix the other guy - that's what my boss was telling me back then."

Oh, now I see. Yes. One might as well put on a collar and give a narcissist a leash.

Also, the most satisfying and effective way to handle it that I've seen is to just take away their mirror when they're naughty. Instantly. You can't always do it, but I've seen it done well. The N starts and - BOOM - everyone is gone or pointedly acting like he suddenly turned invisible. That is true negative reinforcement for an N.

 
At 8:23 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

I think that Ns exploit a desire to fix them. They must think, "Oh, goody goody, she wants to fix me. This'll be fun! Every day will be April Fool's Day." It keeps you ATTACHED to them. That makes you the ideal prey = someone who can't or won't fight back and can't or won't get and stay away from them.

Which is to say, someone it's open season on!

They're like spiders, and this is the web they weave.

From what I've seen they tend to get worse as they age. For one thing, they seem to forget themselves and start going off at people outside their Pathological Space. For example, in the case of one old N I knew, during his last ten years or so, if you weren't his doctor or the owner of the tavern he visited every day, and if you weren't in the uniform of a police officer or the habit of a priest, you got no respect. It took signals that strong to make him keep Mr. Hyde out of sight and put on his sweet little old man mask. So he blew his cover a lot. He'd often forget himself and get a hit of his drug by treating others in public like he'd always treated his family in private. Older Ns seem to completely lose touch with reality so that they get lost in their own little world (a fantasy). Strange, as when he walks into a room and, out of the blue, says something to you that makes no sense out of the blue. It's obviously a line in the middle of some conversation he's been having with you in his mind. And the fits get so overtly infantile! Right down to the flailing arms, bawling tone, stamping feet, hands-over-the-ears, eyes-shut-tight, and exaggerated gestures of a cholicky infant or toddler throwing a whale of a temper tantrum. I figure that at this point their life has reach the height of the farce that it is, in an older N who thinks he's God thinking that this is the way a God behaves.

 
At 11:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, wow...yes.

It is VERY difficult when the N person is elderly and is actually physically endangering themselves, but will not hear anything anyone tells them about slowing down, holding onto the walking frame right, anything - even if repeated again and again and again - because they are always right and if anyone is telling them they're wrong...well, they didn't say that, did they?

I've had problems in the ADHD area myself (was put in remedial for being 'hyperactive', as they used to call ADHD, as a kid...have occasionally wondered if I might be mild Aspergers but nobody had heard of that back then). Having said that, I do at least realize when I'm not 'getting' stuff and make an effort to rectify it. I suspect an N simply wouldn't care because they INTEND to not 'get' stuff. (Or they start off that way, and then it just becomes second nature.)

And, oh, yes, it's all come out much more strongly in the last five to ten years with my N mother. Other family members have noticed how she acts, whereas when I was growing up I never thought it was her, I just thought there had to be something terribly wrong with ME, and other people were always 'Why can't you get on with her better?' Now I think they all KNOW pretty well why not. And I know that making me feel that way was all part of the game.

 
At 1:56 PM, Anonymous Nina said...

I think it's hard of rthem to listen even when they need to because their default mode is to talk at you.

Mine used to go and on- in the end he revealed the fact he didn;teven know I had a sibling...after a year of phone calls/emails every day. I don't think he knew much more than my name, and I am not kidding.

 
At 12:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kathy, your comment on aging Ns is so true. My N-mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's... but from suggestions I've gotten from doctors and other caregivers, she doesn't act like a normal Alzheimer's patient.

Her memory is sketchy, yes, and on bad days she hallucinates. Even at her worst, though, she knows a doll from a real baby. She cannot be distracted (unlike most Alzh. patients). Her universe is several degrees off true, but she still has one foot firmly in reality. If her hallucinations were fanfiction, they would be the ultimate Mary Sues: she is the center of the universe and everyone important recognizes this.

Maybe there is such a thing as Narcissistic dementia, where an aging brain gets so used to certain patterns of thoughts that an uncomfortable portion of reality is banished?

graylor

 
At 8:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i've complained to a few friends that my N will walk into the room, start to 'give his report' on what he did today often interrupting what may have been going on before he got there. it doesn't matter if he realizes it or not because it is just something he does. if i wait for him to finish i just pick up where things left off. it's part of his routine and thats just what hes going to do. i know he knows what manners are and i know he thinks they are preposterous- goof ball. he doesn't want to conform- to anyone. then he wonders why he doesn't get along. duh!? it is so just dumb. i cant let it bother me so much- but it makes me feel like i'm dying sometimes. BUT if i can just look at it like its his loss and let him float off in space eventually he will just cut himself off. hard to watch too- but i'm done being a life guard. let him get worst with age and let him alienate other people now too. it's not me!!!!i used to feel obligated as a wife, fellow parent and friend to 'help' him out with these 'skills' but am trying hard to just remember that he really does not deserve my friendship anymore. i goota just let it go. he's done too much to ruin it.
jt

 
At 9:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

something else kinda weird you might get a huh out of. back when he and i would still talk to each other- we often talked about him(go figure) and at one point in time he pondered if he may have ADD.i thought it kind of odd that he would say that of himself and just tucked it away not sure what to make of it.(it seemed like too negative a thing for him to admit or question) now since he never brought it up again or did anything to investigate it -it seems to me that it was a ploy to get attention. or maybe even to pave the way as a future 'excuse'.they are so goofy. especially once you take off the rose colored glasses.(by the way i do have compassion for people who truly have such conditions so please nobody ever take anything i say as a put down) jt

 
At 1:29 PM, Anonymous gh said...

Ah, Stephanie! I know that "face" all too well. The "gloating" face when he's gotten away with something and the "little boy" face when he's trying to...

 
At 4:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow -- awesome post. My father acts exactly like what you describe, and so did my grandfather. I somehow never connected it to the narcissism and thought it was just more weirdness in my family, or some sort of premature senility.

-- The Happy Feminist

 
At 6:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found another trait of the "N" is a sort of "mind snatcher" (like a body snatcher). He will listen to your comments about a subject and then go use them(verbatim) in a conversation with someone else. He likes to appropriate your thoughts and opinions for himself. It's both amusing and infuriating at the same time. But I guess that he really has no thoughts of his own. Imitation is flattery except when others think that this a-hole actually has inelligent thoughts and observations. But they're not his own.
Abel

 
At 7:05 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Abel, that is too funny! Guess what I started calling my paternal and maternal units (and their parenting style) ... "Invasion of the Thoughty Snatchers" -- you'n'me, Abel. You'n'me.

And by the way, my parents really did okay when we were little. This issue sort of spread like The Blob as we got older and ended up having personalities, ideas, and agendas of our own. My other metaphor for the way it feels is "as if they were having a perfectly good tea party at the little table, and then all the dolls and stuffed animals came alive and walked away!" They're just so shocked and hurt by this!

 
At 5:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stephanie, that's great the "Thoughty Snacthers". Your analogy about the toys is right on. My sister was the first to feel the rejection when she became a "real" person with her own thoughts and opinions and a Life of her own. My "N" parents lost control of her and hated that fact. In their eyes You must always bow to them no matter what they say or do. Yep, the toys came to life, I'll be Woody, you be Jessie.
Abel

 
At 8:13 AM, Blogger Lynn said...

My N partner (who is 48) reckons he has ADD coz he knows he can never listen to anyone else's conversation for any length of time. The only conversation him and I have had with him in the last month where he has initiated it, made eye contact, got animated about it an carried it through was about that Australian Doctor who got arrested for connections to the London terrorism attack that was foiled.

Any other conversation about our lives or family or about 'us' never continues for more than 2 - 3 exchanges of sentences. If I start any conversation he's immediatelyt turned to watch TV or walked out of the room. And it's ALL THE TIME! You can tell it's just not normal 'rudeness', it's like an inbuilt radar - "Oh, it's YOU talking, therefore I'm not interested." Kind of thing.

Secondly, you can hardly ever have a conversation with them while driving, as they constantly butt in about other things, like "Oh, did you see that idiot?" And there's no point in having dinner or lunch out, as at least half the time he's focussed in on other people's conversations or butting in all the time about other people walking past, or overly engrossed about how long the food is taking to come and broods and WON'T talk.

It all boils down to one thing. They simply ain't interested in what it is you have to say. Unless they've brought the topic up and you MUST agree 100% with their political or religious view, they just ain't interested. In fact, thinking about it now while typing about it, I think they ONLY bring up conversations so you can affirm their superiority.

Totally painful.

 
At 5:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

lynn my N is like that too. jt

 
At 3:14 AM, Blogger gior said...

Frustrating you is the name of their game. The person you speak of is probably envious of your accomplishments and needs to make herself feel that she has the power over you. So she engages you to try and try to communicate something and she is not going to allow you the pleasure.

N's are not interested in anything that you may want to communicate. They don't want to be told anything because that would make you have the power and seem superior in their world. Now if you try and tell them anything you will be punished for having the audacity. One way they find very effective of getting to you is by frustrating you and humiliating you. It's not that they can't hear you...it's that they don't want to. Of course this repeated kind of behavior leads to ignorance.

After the first unsusecessful attempt at getting a point across...the best thing to do is change the subject or leave their presence...(hang up)...an even better solution. It does us no good to get caught up in their game and only serves to amuse them.

 
At 12:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No kidding on the filtering.

One of the Ns I was involved with? Is Seriously ADHD. And he just ignored everything that didn't suit him.

When I caught him you never saw any bend time like him. He, like all Ns, was furious his words weren't creating reality.

Of course once faced with something he wanted to FILTER(that he'd been committing a criminal act for over 4 years and getting away with it until then) what happened?

Come on, guess!

YUP - IT WAS PROJECTED/BLAMED on to me that I was smearing & defaming him and hurting his family.

::cue twilight zone music::

 
At 1:41 AM, Blogger jill said...

Unbelievable! I am understanding ALOT more now, and my "husband" is ALL that I am seeing here!! I wonder if his other wife knows this? Why the HEll did I not see it ???? Thankyou for the information.

 

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