Friday, February 29, 2008

The Credibility of What You Hear about NPD

I promised a survey of reasons and sources for skepticism about official doctrine on NPD. It is online now at The Credibility of What You Hear about NPD.

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Is this how a person with NPD acts?

I finally found something I've been looking for for a long time - a university teaching video I once stumbled upon that is supposed to show students how to recognize a patient with Narcissististic Personality Disorder.

You'll find it near the bottom of this page. Click the "Narcissistic Personality Disorder 5 min" link near the bottom under the videos produced by Dr. Donald Fidler at West Virginia University. This link brings up a download window. Save the download to your desktop, and then run it. (You need Windows Media Player to view the video.)

What do you think? My first impression was that it was good that Fidler used a female actor, because that works against the sexual bias in diagnosis.

But viewing this video was all downhill from there.

First, the acting of a real narcissist is vastly better than the terrible overacting in this video.

Second, I kept waiting for a red flag. But there is really only one - when she pulls an abrupt face-change at the therapist and rudely asks if he always has that stonface.

That was a perfect example of how narcissists try to manipulate your reaction to them. If they aren't getting the look they want from you, they abruptly change personas and try another act. Often shock tactics like this.

That's a red flag because normal people just don't do that.

But the rest of this is nothing but a snobby debutant act. I'm sorry, but that isn't a PERSONALITY DISORDER.

Yes, envy comes through and some projection (when she accuses her college friends of being the ones who cared about nothing but clothes and money). But neither of these traits rises above the level of what you can find in normal (if neurotic) people = to the level of a serious pathology here.

If her envy had shown malignance in, say, some desire to get someone else fired or by some shocking slander, it would display the narcissistic lack of empathy and malignance that exploits others like objects to trash for the narcissist's aggrandizement. THAT would set off the alarm bells.

And if she had projected in the very act - like say, if while manipulating the therapist with her "stoneface" attack, she had added that he was trying to manipulate her - THAT bizarre projection would set off the alarm bells.

And yes she does expect her therapist to automatically comply with her highness' wishes. But we don't see that till she says, "You aren't going to change [the appointment]? A real narcissist wouldn't have asked "Can we change the appointment?" She would have said something like, "We'll have to change our appointment next week because I...." And she wouldn't have accepted him putting her off about it. She would have stopped that conversation dead in its tracks till he promised to change the appointment or she stormed out of the room (uttering some threat of complaining to his superiors).

So this portrayal is sorely lacking. This woman is just obnoxious and ridiculous. If this is what students in psychology are being taught to expect in someone with NPD, it's no wonder they don't seem to take NPD seriously.

What's more, this portrayal of a narcissist is just a stupid stereotype. Not accurate in 99 cases out of 100 I bet.

An act like this might be narcissistically successful in some circles in flouncy Manhattan, Hollywood or Paris, but not on Planet Earth. I have never known a narcissist who came off as flagrantly stuck up like this. (They behave that way only when showing contempt for someone they are abusing behind closed doors.) Presumably that's because people would laugh out loud at any such person here in Middle America (outside of the mad university town of Madison, that is). Every narcissist I have known puts on false modesty. They clamor for admiration between the lines, subtly. Not in the bawdy manner this actor does.

As Joanna Ashumn writes:

Some narcissists are flamboyantly boastful and self-aggrandizing, but many are inconspicuous in public, saving their conceit and autocratic opinions for their nearest and dearest.

And the therapist keeps asking her about her feelings. Duh!

What's more, this actor doesn't respond at all the way a real malignant narcissist would. Her first answer is the most off-base when she actually replies, "I feel...cut off." Give me a break!

This must be the fruit of just reading a lot of scholarly theoretical essays and having almost no real experience with narcissists.

Joanna Ashmun describes it best, I think.

From my personal experience, and from what I've seen in the clinical literature, narcissists don't talk about their inner life -- memories, dreams, reflections -- much at all. They rarely recount dreams. They seem not to make typical memory associations -- i.e., in the way one thing leads to another, "That reminds me of something that happened when I was...of something I read...of something somebody said...." They don't tell how they learned something about themselves or the world. They don't share their thoughts or feelings or dreams. They don't say, "I have an idea and need some help," or "There's something I've always wanted to do...did you ever want to do that?" They do not discuss how they've overcome difficulties they've encountered or continuing problems that they're trying to solve (beyond trying to get someone else to do what they want). They often say that they don't remember things from the past, such as childhood events, their schooldays or old friends, and it seems to me that they really don't most of the time.

Elsewhere, however, she does mention that occasionally a narcissist surprises you with a very detailed account from memory. I have seen this too. It can happen on a safe subject for the narcissist, like with something that happened before you were born, something no one can contradict him on. If, say, you ask him a very specific question about something that happened 50 years ago, he will capture your complete attention with a very detailed reply. (Made up as he goes along?)

But don't ask him a general question like, say, about what life was like back then on the farm. He will just gape at you as if your words are Greek to him. He has no idea what you want to know. That would be a story. He has nothing but still pictures.


Narcissists don't volunteer the usual personal information about themselves, so they may seem secretive or perhaps unusually reserved or very jealous of their privacy. All these things are true, but with the special narcissistic twist that, first, their real life isn't interesting to them so it doesn't occur to them that it would be interesting to anyone else and, second, since they have not yet been transfigured into the Star of the Universe, they're ashamed of their real life. They feel that their jobs, their friends and families, their homes and possessions aren't good enough for them, they deserve better.

Narcissists not only don't recognize the feelings and autonomy of others, they don't recognize their own feelings as their own. Their feelings are sort of like the weather, atmospheric, acts of God. The narcissistic think that everyone's having the same feeling as they are.

So, if this video is representative of what students in psychology are being taught about NPD, it's no wonder so many narcissists go undetected. No wonder there is such a high rate of misdiagnosis.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Credibility of the APA

One reason why comments have been moderated so quickly lately is that I have been online a lot, reading up on the literature to improve the part of Website on the research about NPD with more quotes and sources. You can already see some of these additional quotes and sources online in the Chapter on "What Is NPD?" under "Classification & Diagnosis," Characteristics of NPD," "prevalence of NPD," and "Are NPD and Psychopathy the Same?"

The great thing about the hypertext of the Internet is, of course, that by searching & surfing you find more and more of what you're looking for. I hit the jackpot.

Update: The rest of this post has been transfered to the Main Website The Credibility of What You Hear about NPD. (I eliminate here on the blog to avoid duplicate content appearing in the search engines.)

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Monday, February 25, 2008

UPDATE: More on How Brains Get Different

UPDATE: To answer questions that natually arise from my last post.

By the way, no two brains are the same. Each has developed somewhat differently. I have a different set of experiences stored in memory (by residual transmitter substance in the gaps between brain cells) than you. I think differently than you. So if you look close enough, you will detect slight differences in how our brains have developed. But you must look very close to see those differences, because they are almost invisible to current technology.

In the case of psychopaths, the differences are startling, largely because activity in emotional centers has been so repressed that these areas are a good deal less developed than they would be in my brain or yours. This explains why you and I would experience empathy at the heartrending sight of child blown up by terrorists, while the psychopath would feel nothing and just think, "What's it to me?" If you habitually refuse to relate to suffering humanity, never allowing yourself to feel pity, it gets to be a habit, and your brain will show the effect of this habit in its less-developed emotional centers.

In fact, that is no surpise. What IS surprising is that that the DIFFERENCE of development in these centers of a psychopath's brain is so far out of the normal range. To the point of virtually no emotional involvement at all. This amounts to a fundamentally different WAY of thinking, doesn't it? What Dr. Robert Hare calls a different thinking "strategy." But it stands to reason: you'd have to think this way to do the terrible things a psychopath does. Otherwise you couldn't: your human feelings would "weaken" you, so that you couldn't be so cruel.

This needn't be damage or malfunction of any sort. It could very well be a kind of perverted "natural learning." Actually, to be more precise, a kind of "natural anti-learning" = "resistence to learning empathy." Note that children are not born with it: they LEARN it.

If you are interested in the subject and care to translate from "learning how to hit a tennis forehand" to "learning how to be brutal," you can see these two lessons on my tennis tips and instruction website: Learning How to Play Tennis and Dynamic Balance. Just keep in mind that these two kinds of learning occur in different areas. Your forehand is coordinated in the cerebellum, and your emotions register in different centers. Nonetheless, the process of natural learning is the same throughout the brain, because brain cells (no matter which transmitter substance they use) all work the same way.

And don't make the mistake of thinking that everything we learn can be blamed on some "teacher," like an abusive parent. Indeed, an abusive parent WILL serve as an example. But so does the other parent, and the child can choose between these two ways of life. (I did!) In fact, we teach OURSELVES the lion's share of what we learn in life. We can choose to win "the game of life" by cheating, or we can choose to be someone we can bear to see in a real mirror - one that doesn't lie like a narcissist's warped mirrors lie. This could very well be why many psychopaths come from good homes.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

How Do Brains Get Different?

How on earth does one "demonize" a psychopath?

If 20 times a day you think, "I love milk and all the milk in the world belongs to me," the little pathway of connecting brain cells that lights up to think that thought dumps transmitter substance into those connections 20 times a day.

The amount of this chemical builds up, because it is being added to faster than it degrades. This is called MEMORY. It's what we LEARN with.

Keep thinking 20 times a day, every day, "I love milk and all the milk in the world belongs to me."

There will soon be so much transmitter substance between the connections along that pathway that it will take almost nothing to stimulate that thought.

In other words, every time you see something white, it could make you think that thought. In other other words, the connections get touchy. See what I mean? You are acquiring a habit.

There gets to be so much of that transmitter substance in that area that it spreads out, touching other brain cells and stimulating them to grow connections to the brain cells in that pathway.

Those connections are gray matter. The more gray matter in an area, the more developed it is. The more sophisticated it is. The more marvellous things it can do because of the complicated network of connections (like in a computer's motherboard or CPU).

Now even thoughts or sensations on parallel tracks can stimulate the thought "I love milk and all the milk in the world belongs to me."

So, let's take a picture of your brain.

Oh how horrible! It's different than a normal person's brain. It is more "developed" in that area (= has more gray matter/connections).

Now we know why you gotta have all the milk in the world: your brain is malfunctioning.


Your brain isn't the cause of your need for all the milk in the world. Your need for all the milk in the world is the cause of your brain being different.

In other words, your habit of deliberately twisted thinking is what makes you need all the milk in the world every time you see something white.

It's supposed to work that way. If it didn't, you'd still be thinking at the level of a 2 or 3 year old. You wouldn't be able to learn anything. You'd never make the connections between related ideas. You'd never get an idea from another idea. In short, you would be about brain dead.

And guess what? If, while you're killing people to take away all their milk, you are repressing your human sensibilities, willfully not allowing yourself to feel any pity for them, forcing yourself to think instead in terms of cold-blooded logic "What is someone else's suffering to me?" - if you do that, the part of the brain that houses your human sensibilities won't get used much.

So, there will be little or no transmitter substance remaining in the connections along those pathways. So, there will be very few connections emmanating from that area. So, it will have little gray matter. So, it will be rare that anything you experience arrouses any empathy or sympathy or even feeling there. So, your emotional life will be impoverished and you won't experience the full range of human feelings because almost no stimulus will be strong enough to make those nerve cells fire. That's because they'll have to to misfire maybe a thousand times before enough transmitter substance builds up in the gaps to make the next brain cell along that pathway go off.

You'd probably have to deeply contemplate an experience (much like mystics contemplate, say, the five wounds of the Christ) to get any strong feeling.

Then we will say, "Oh, your brain is different from a normal person's! This area (the amygdala) is different than a normal person's brain. It isn't as developed. That's why you need all the milk in the world."


There. This is one possible explanation for why psychopaths' brains are different. That's truth, pure logic. You can't argue with it.

It is also the most likely explanation. No, I didn't say that this surely IS the explanation: I said that this is probably the explanation.

And it is unbelievable that any highly educated expert doesn't know that.

This is why I object to experts lying by ommission when they fail to mention this possibility, pretending instead that it has been proved that brain damage or malfunction causes psychopathy. It not only has NOT been proved, there is no evidence to support that (mere) hypothesis.

And I am suspicious of the fact that these are the same voices who have been fighting off the growing body of research on psychopathy for the last 30 years. The same voices that blame everything on social ills, like poverty, bad parents, and the like. No amount of scientific evidence shakes this article of their faith. They make the psychopath the victim and society the culprit. In other words, they somehow manage to claim that nobody is bad and that everybody is bad in the same breath. They seize upon every half-baked hypothesis that comes along and never bother to test any of them! Like this one and the hypothesis that NPD is genetically caused.

I say, "If you really think so, then conduct CONTROLLED experiments and STATISTICALLY VALID studies to prove it." You know, try scientific method.

In short, we just don't know for sure yet why psychopaths' brains are different. But if you're going to lean, you SHOULD lean the other way, towards the explanation I gave above. Why?

Because I wasn't just guessing. We KNOW that brain development does occur just that way. That we have proof of.

So which way to lean? Towards a cherished-myth preserving guess? Or towards a known way that something like this could happen?

What if this is true? What if the brain differences in psychopaths are just the tracks left behind of their own willfully twisted thinking? What does that mean?

It means that this is probably why psychopaths (and maybe other malignant narcissists as well) are so impervious to treament, and it doesn't bode well for a cure any time soon. It means that they think in a fundamentally different way than the rest of us do. And that this is a deeply, deeply ingrained habit. Not good news.

But it doesn't mean that they have any "disease" or "injury" in the normal sense of the word. It doesn't mean that they don't act out of malice.

And, since a habit is just a habit, like an addicition, it doesn't mean that they can't control themselves and aren't responsible for what they do.

Indeed, these brain differences explain only the emotional sterilty that makes them able to do such cruel things without a twinge of humanity. But ENABLING isn't CAUSING.

There is no part of the brain actually moving them like a robot to attack any victim that crosses their sights. THAT is wholly voluntary behavior.

See update with additional info here.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

What happens on their end of your interaction with a narcissist - Part 3

Last time I attempted to explain why narcissists interract with other people the way normal people interact with a mirror.

That's an abstract analogy that often goes over people's heads. But it's a fact with tremendous implications.

For example, let's say that you are a person with poor posture. Do you let that show before a mirror? No! Before a mirror you straighten up, don't you? Is that image of yourself you're projecting the truth then? Is that the real you? Of course not! The real you slouches. But so what? You're just posing before a mirror. The object isn't to show the real you: the object is to make your reflection as flattering as possible.

In interracting with you, a narcissist isn't expressing herself: since everything she does is solely for effect, truth is irrelevant.

To her, that is.

In fact, to be more precise, we don't interract with a mirror: we interact with our reflection in a mirror. Similarly, a narcissist isn't really interacting with you, she is interacting with her reflection in your behavior toward her. She's trying to adjust it, period.

In other words, she's trying to manipulate your behavior toward her.

Not just some of the time — all the time. In other words, you needn't be talking about her and trying to get through to her, trying to reason with her. You might be talking about the Mideast Crisis, your family budget, your kids, the garden, a customer satisfaction survey, what you had for lunch — anything. She isn't interested in any of it. She pays no attention to anything but the look on your face, the tone of your voice, your posture, gestures, and other things in your behavior that reflect (on) her. She just says or does whatever it takes to adjust those aspects of your behavior = to adjust her image in that mirror.

Typically, narcissists do this by showing disapproval of whatever you say to manipulate you into a posture that seeks their approval. For, that reflects on them as superior to you. Get it?

Hence the fact that narcissists are notoriously disagreeable people. That disagreeableness isn't genuine: it's just a ploy to manipulate you.

So, there you are, expressing yourself to a narcissist, and none of it is getting through. She ain't (all) there. She's reacting to some ghost. A ghost of herself reflected in your attitude.

Of course, she'd rather you shut up about the Mideast Crisis and just hang on her every word while she talks about herself ;-) And she will try to manipulate you into doing so by acting bored and cross if you don't. Like a Hollywood star, she expects you to reflect (on) her as being very, very important. She accomplishes the semblance of this by getting you to silently pay attention to her as if consumed with interest in every stupid thing she says and every minute and mundane detail of her daily life.

(Note the irony: who's the real bore?)

And the appearance of that is all she cares about, because she needs nothing but your silence to to support her delusion that she is so fascinating that you really are consumed with interest in every stupid thing she says. Yawn, sigh - there in the Land of Pretend she will unsee and unhear you do that. Put the phone down and do your dishes, speaking "Uh-huh" into it periodically. She will be completely satisfied, because that's all she needs to pretend that she's so grand that even her chatter is fascinating to mere mortals like you.

Indeed, what child needs a real car to pretend that he is driving a race car or a real gun to pretend that he is being a soldier? An overturned bicycle or a baseball bat held backward will do. Such is the power of a childish imagination and magical thinking.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, 'It's a terrible death, to be bored to death by a narcissist's talk.' If their empty life doesn't supply a grocery list and a list of this morning's errands to bore you with, they relentlessly steer the conversation to a subject you can't contribute to. Like the husband who goes on endlessly about car engines to a wife who doesn't know the difference between a distributer cap and a transmission. If that won't make you shut up and just listen (thus seeming to reflect an image of them as fascinating), narcissists get exhibitionistic. Like the Hollywood star on a late night talk show, who appears in a wild outfit and spouts every outrageous thing that enters her head, just to grab and hold the audience's attention.

This vain folly is more than a bore. It is another fact with tremendous implications.

In identifying with her reflected image in your reaction to her, the narcissist is identifying with a mere caricature of herself. A work of art, a figment of her imagination . . . there behind the Looking Glass.

She is living in a world fiction there. Which is why virtually nothing she tells you is true, at least not in the details, which she edits on the fly to reflect on her as flatteringly as possible.

Again, like a little child pretending that he is Superman.

And don't jump to the conclusion that a flattering reflection must be that of her as a good person. What it must be is grand. So, admiration isn't the only thing she loves to see in you. Shame before her is something else she loves to see in you, because it reflects on her as superior to you. The most flattering reflection of all is that of being powerful. Therefore, if you are someone she can treat like dirt, look out. Because you are just a mirror.

You must never forget this. Not for one moment. Every time you are face to face with a narcissist, all she's doing is manipulating the look on your face. She just says and does whatever it takes to put shame there. Or whatever it takes to put admiration there. Or whatever it takes to put sympathy there. And so forth.

Yes, even if you're her therapist and she's on your couch!

Don't assume that she cares about her SELF. How could she? She doesn't identify with her SELF: she identifies with her IMAGE, so all she cares about is that MIRAGE.

Therefore, even if you have caught her red-handed doing something despicable, or if she has been dragged into marriage counselling before you, the whole time she is doing nothing manipulating you for the best reflection she can get. Period. Usually one of sympathy for poor-little-her that blames the victim.

To that end, she rewards you for every right thing you say, for every bit of "understanding" you show. She gives you what you want when you do that and witholds what you want when you look favorably on her victim instead. So, if you're a bystander who wants to feel like a good person or a therapist who wants to feel like you're competent and getting anywhere with her, you had better ante-up what she wants. Get it, doggie?

She doesn't even see your face, just the look on it. That's because no one looks at a mirror; people look only at their reflection in a mirror. And that's what the narcissist is doing. That's why narcissists are notorious for not recognizing the faces of people they know, even members of their own family, when they meet them in an unusual place, such as on the street or in the grocery store.

So, you never connect with a narcissist. YOU are not even there to a narcissist. She isn't interacting with you: she's interacting with herself, with her reflected image in you. Because you are just a mirror.

Yell if you want. But that won't get her attention. She will just yell louder to drown you out. She will throw up all kinds of other flak too — anything to block you out. It's a distraction from the only thing she has eyes for: her reflected image in your reaction to her.

In other words, both your attention and her attention must always be all on her. She's desperate to have and keep it that way.

So, narcissism is all about attention, and she's gotta have it all. Her life is but a game of monopoly for it all.

What are you trying to discuss with her? Don't bother. Because, no matter what it is, she couldn't care less about it. She has a knee-jerk reflex to seize every opportunity to create a glorified reflection of herself in a mirror, and that's all her one-track mind cares about.

Is she after an admiring look from you today? Then she is just playing you for one. If that requires her to be a Republican, she'll be a Republican. If that requires her to be a Democrat, she'll be a Democrat. And if she finds that she guessed wrong, she can switch political parties in two seconds flat.

She loves her reflection in your look when she has made you feel inferior to her. That is why she manages to work a put-down into everything she says and does.

Because you are just a mirror. And her image is all that matters to her.

That's all there is to narcissists. They are that shallow.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

What happens on their end of your interaction with a narcissist - Part 2

Continued from the previous post, which ended with the point that narcissists identify with their image instead of their true, inner selves.

An image has but virtual reality. It is but a representation of something, a thing that may, or may not, be real. Your image is a work of art that you carve out by the impression you make on others.

In other words, she identifies with her image as her self. But where is it? It is but an apparition that she can see (can know, connect with, relate to) only as her reflection in the behavior of others. How's that for an identity crisis?

This is why NPD is aptly characterized as a "disorder of the self."

We all need constant contact with our self. That's where our center of consciousness resides. Within. That's where we experience our existence.

Unless we're a narcissist, that is. I don't know about you, but it gives me the creeps to just imagine becoming something outside myself, a mere picture out there in the ether that appears momentarily, now and then, as my reflection in the mirror of someone else's face.

I'd be desperately busy making mirrors reflect me back at me, wouldn't you? And I'd be permanently focused on my reflection in those mirrors, wouldn't you? For, that would be the only way to keep that "me" in seeming existence.

Failure to would be a kind of death, wouldn't it?

Spooky. In other words, this absurd and childish misidentification game that narcissists recklessly and stubbornly play with their minds creates a mental virus of illogic that runs afoul of the deepest, subconscious, inexorable instinct for survival.

Therefore, it misfires to make them desperate to keep that mere image, that mere apparition, that mirage, that nothing in existence. As desperate as you or I would be to save ourselves in a life-threatening situation.

This is why in interacting with a narcissist, you are never really communicating with him or her. The narcissist isn't interacting with you. She's interacting with her own reflected image in your behavior. That's because, while she has your attention, your behavior is a reaction to her. It reflects (on) her.

So, your attention is like a mirror aimed at her. Unfortunately, unlike a real mirror, you can shift your attention wherever you please, and you call for attention in return.

That won't do. That doesn't solve her existential problem. To be, in the ever-present tense, she needs your attention fixed on her, and she needs her attention fixed on her reflection in that mirror.

Indeed, who pays any attention to a mirror? We pay attention only to our image in a mirror.

Who expresses themselves to a mirror? She does what anyone does before a mirror. She just poses. She tidies her hair. She puts on a becoming face and strikes a flattering pose. The purpose of everything she says and does is to create the most flattering reflection possible.

Of what consideration is the truth in that act? She isn't expressing herself: since everything she does is solely for effect, truth is irrelevant.

In identifying with her reflected image in your reaction to her, she is identifying with a mere caricature of herself. A work of art, a figment of her imagination . . . there behind the Looking Glass.

She is living in a world fiction there. Which is why virtually nothing she tells you is true, at least not in the details, which she edits on the fly to reflect on her as flatteringly as possible.

Like a little child pretending that he is Superman. Can you discuss Saturday afternoon chores with him while he's behind the Looking Glass there in the Land of Pretend?

You can't connect with him there, can you?

Fortunately, a child normally snaps out of it when Mother calls that lunch is ready. But a narcissist is permanently stuck in the Land of Pretend.

Even if she happens to be on a therapist's couch. And it's about time ALL therapists wise up and admit that.

To be continued...

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

What happens on their end of your interaction with a narcissist

Understanding what makes narcissists tick is difficult, because it's counterintuitive. But it does make sense. The problem is that normal people make incorrect assumptions about narcissists and end up scratching their heads.

The key to understanding is knowing what happens on their end of your interaction with a narcissist. It is vastly different from what happens on your end. But you have no way of knowing that.

When we interact with others, we are expressing ourselves. We are expressing what is within us. Our inner selves. The closer (more trusting) our relationship with that other person, the more openly and honestly we express ourselves.

We aren't blind, of course, so we do see the effect our words and actions are having on that other person. This feedback influences our choice of words and actions (e.g., causing us to explain further or be more tactful, perhaps), but that is all. It doesn't dictate them.

This is because we all naturally yearn to freely express ourselves. This is human nature. We assume it operates in the person we are interacting with (a mistake when that other person is a narcissist).

That assumption permits communication, the very stuff of human relations. How? By enabling us to trust that the vast majority of the information we are getting is accurate. For example, we assume that this other person is telling us the truth about the weather forecast or what he had for lunch. Correction: if he likes donuts and is on a diet, we may doubt him when he says he had a salad for lunch.

But notice that we assume honesty whenever there is no rational motive for dishonesty. This enables us to trust 99% of the information another person feeds us. It makes communication possible and the attempt to communicate worthwhile.

Imagine what the world would be like if we couldn't safely make this assumption. The entire planet would fall silent and all human relationships would dissolve. What a lonely world that would be!

Unfortunately, this is the situation when you are interacting with a narcissist. Virtually nothing he or she says is true. Even the look on their face is false.

That's because a narcissist isn't expressing herself. She can't, because she's hollow. There's no self inside her to express. Long ago she denied and walled-off her true self in a dungeon within, like Montresor walled up Fortunato in Edgar Allen Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado."

Instead she identifies with her image.

To be continued...

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Meet the Malignant Narcissist

I have never been a big fan of Edgar Allen Poe, but one of his stories grabbed me by the guts when I was but a teenager, and I have never forgotten it.

Meet the malignant narcissist in "The Cask of Amontillado."

THE thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. AT LENGTH I would be avenged; this was a point definitively settled -- but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish, but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.

It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued as was my wont, to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile NOW was at the thought of his immolation.

Read the rest.

Note: The motto "Nemo me impune lacessit" means "No one offends me with impunity."

A note about the reference to the Masons:

The significance is that both men were Catholic, and the Masons are a secret society that the Catholic Church does not permit its members to belong to. Therefore it was dangerous to admit you were a Mason in Italy at the time. Fortunato was thus foolhardy in revealing this about himself. Way too trusting. In addition, notice that he catches the narcissist in a lie about this but doesn't pay heed to his instincts. His tunnel vision for that promised cask of Amontillado makes him blow off this sign of bad faith. And that costs him his life.

Note: "In pace requiescat!" means "May he rest in peace!" an antiphon of the Requiem Mass.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A very hard fact to face

It seems to me that a malignant narcissist can't help his or her temptations, predatory urges. Maybe they are the fruit of a lifetime of twisted thinking and therefore the narcissist's own fault ultimately. Maybe not.

For example, if you are addicted to heroin, your desire for it today is the end of a path you chose to take and never repented from. We should understand how strong your temptation is, and we have no right getting up on a moral high horse with respect to you, because we don't have to resist such a strong temptation.

But that's where understanding ends. You COULD quit. Many people do! Look how many people quit smoking for the minor reason that it became politically incorrect. Millions quit drinking annually. Multitudes give up a drug habit. Often without treatment or any 12-step program. So your addiction is your fault.

Moreover, if for the money to get your next hit of heroin you murder somebody for the cash in their wallet, your temptation/addiction is no excuse.

You are responsible for your conduct. The same with a malignant narcissist. If you abuse someone for the high you get out of treating others like dirt, that addiction to the high is no excuse.

This is the egregious logical error narcissist sympathizers make: they regard the TEMPTATION to do something as an EXCUSE. Absurd. They regard the TEMPTATION to do something as acquitting the perpetrator of ILL WILL. Even more absurd. What cloudy thinking.

Indeed, malignant narcissists prove (a) that they know what they're doing and that it's wrong and (b) that they CAN resist the urge and thus control themselves. (If that isn't obvious to you, see the proof here.) They just don't. Think what that means.

What's more, those are the criteria for determining sanity. In other words, malignant narcissists are NOT insane and therefore ARE responsible for what they do. This is why they go to jail for crimes they commit, despite a diagnosis of NPD/psychopathy.

What does this mean? It means that it is dangerously naive to remain within arm's length of a malignant narcissist. Because of how that TEMPTS them, you might as well dangle yourself as bait before a predator. Only professionals, who are safe (as in a controlled psychiatric environment), should be messing with them. You cannot help them, because in you all they see is mouth-watering prey.

A very hard fact to face. A very, very hard fact to face.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Keep the Examples Coming

Just a reminder that everyday examples of narcissistic behavior are more than welcome in the comments. These examples "illustrate" what's going on in your relationship with a narcissist better than any amount of verbiage can. So, don't hesitate to offer your example, even if it would seem to be an exception to some rule of thumb or to contradict others' observations.

Usually that just serves as a reminder not to get intellectually lazy and start to think that a narcissist is just "somebody who does this or that." We see this in the difference between the narcissist who ignores his child and the one who dotes on that child 24-7 or the difference between the one who refuses to get her child medical medical care and the one who makes that child sick and takes him or her to doctors constantly. Different tactics to the same narcissistic end.

Often commentors say, "Your N does that too?" in utter amazement. Then they give their own example of a narcissist pulling the same stunt. As a result, we are all constantly amazed at how alike and predictable malignant narcissists are.

You learn a little and find out that you aren't the only one this happens to, that you aren't the only one with someone in your life who says and does such bizarre and unbelievable things. The anecdotal information you give adds to the body of knowledge about Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

The naivete of the average person makes us assume that we are dealing with merely scarred people of goodwill and thereby makes us dead meat for these predators. That has got to change.

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Acting Like It Didn't Happen

In the comments, I mentioned the chapter "Acting Like It Didn't Happen," and someone asked where it was. When I checked, I found that it wasn't listed in the site contents. But on checking further, I found that it was online, not that anyone could find it ;-)

You'll find it now in the contents under the heading "The Narcissist's Strategy," right after "Forcing Submission to Abuse."

A narcissist I knew cut other narcissists no slack.

One day she told me that many of the girls at the school she taught in let themselves be abused as sexual objects. She said they'd found graffitti in the boy's bathroom that gave intructions. Step 1 and Step 2 are too gross for me to relate, but Step 3 was "Then act like it didn't happen."

These are teenage boys smart enough to pull that stunt.

She snorted at this, and for good reason, because that is HER abuse MO.

Nor does she cut other narcissists any benefit of doubt about whether they know what they are doing. She says, "You are the easisest person in the world for you lie to" and that the only thing that matters is whether the perpetrator "SHOULD know the truth."

Well, a narcissist like her should know, right?

Indeed, because lying to yourself is just a second wrong that doesn't make you innocent of the first one.

Not that she knows any of this stuff when SHE is the abusive narcissist in question. Then she has eyes but doesn't see, ears but doesn't hear, and a mind but doesn't understand. Then wild horses couldn't make her quit acting like it didn't happen.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Are Narcissists Unable to Control Themselves?

If you know a malignant narcissist, you already know the answer to that question. Here's an example that fits their MO.

Narcissist walks into a room. There is a young, unmarried female colleague or his wife. He takes a quick glance around and sees that no one else is there. Then he abuses the woman, cruelly mocking her in some shocking way.

Several hours later, he enters the same room. There she is again. But this time a half-dozen other people are present as well. He goes up to her and accosts her in the friendliest tone, complimenting her on something and just really gobbing the make-up on his image.

There. That's dispensing with the gobbledygook of fuzzy abstractions and stating the proposition in concrete terms that even a professor of psychology can understand. The scenario I described above is the MO of the narcissist. It is common knowledge, and no one denies it.

Now, ask that question again: Are those poor, poor narcissists unable to control themselves?

And, by the way, what was that song and dance about them not "meaning" to hurt people?

If the narcissist resisted his predatory urges the second time, he could have resisted them the first time.

Reasonable people can and do disagree about many things, but this is not one of them. There is a definite right and wrong answer to this question, and only the willfully blind and irrational refuse to know that narcissists can and do control their behavior.

In fact, they calculate it.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Welcome to the Narcissist's World - Part 3

Welcome yet again to the narcissist's world - the wonderland Alice found herself in when she fell down a rabbit hole on a psychedelic trip. This is the third and last post in a series that gives a simple example of the games narcissists play.

Part 1
Part 2

Our hypothetical malignant narcissist is a woman named Jean. Jean exploits her interactions with a friend solely for attention. That is, she milks all the attention she can get during her phone chats with you, trying to deny you any of her attention in return. In other words, she's gotta have it all. And you are nothing but source for this tick to tap for it.

She uses you as a mirror to admire her reflection in. She views these interactions with you – these phone conversations – as nothing but material for the work of fiction about her life that her whole life amounts to an act of composing.

Now, in Part 3 here, let's consider how these chats themselves become part of the story.

My experience, and what I've heard from others about their narcissists, makes me think that narcissists try to conceal from you what they are making out of these chats. But sooner or later, their delusion will leak through in something they say. For example, though she always calls you, she may talk as though you are the one calling her and warn you that she will be too busy for you tommorrow morning, so please don't try to call her then.

When Jean does let something bizarre like this slip, giving you evidence that she is halucinating, you will be shocked. You will have to pinch yourself. You will surely wonder which of you is crazy. For, you will discover that in the Jean's version of these chats, YOU are the one calling HER all the time, SHE is the one who can't get a word in edgewise, and YOU are the one who "needs someone to talk to."

How magnanimous of her to "be there for you."

See how that is just more of the same old same old? She is thus using these chats themselves as material in which to carve out a false image of herself - to fight off self-awareness of her own neediness. In other words, she's projecting her neediness off onto you and misappropriating to herself your gracious tolerance of her four-hour-long readings of My Life by Jean.

Even if she hasn't yet let the fiction going on in her head slip to you, you can check it out. Investigate. Find out from others what Jean says to them about her "relationship" with you. You'll discover that your phone chats with her are part of the work of fiction Jean composes as My Life by editing reality on the fly. In her story, you will be a rather pathetic character, a mere caricature of yourself, some poor wretch "who needs someone to talk to" that Jean so graciously listens to for hours on end.

Jean doesn't care what she does to your good name in falsifying hers. What's it to her?

The consequences to you are no consideration in her conduct, because she thinks that's what other people are there for – for her to use as one would use a mere object, like a tick uses a deer, a bee uses a flower, a wolf uses a sheep, a human uses livestock.

She can do that because she doesn't identify with human beings. She is a god who doesn't view us inferior beings as of her kind. How could she? She doesn't view herself as human. She doesn't identify with her true self. She identifies with a fictional character instead. A mere figment of the imagination, a mere reflection in the mirrors of people's faces. She desperately fights off any awareness of her true self and any empathy for you.

To pretend that you are the one who "needs someone to talk to," Jean game-plays to manipulate you into calling her. If necessary, she will initiate contact, showering attentions and flattery on you. But when she succeeds in getting you to call her regularly, she will suddenly stop calling you. The next thing you know, you sense the game-playing. She is denying you even the tiny bit of ego gratification that would come from HER ever condescending to call YOU.

Nonetheless, when you call her, you don't even get out your first sentence to state the reason for your call before she butts in and, assuming that it was just to hear all about her, Jean launches into the latest four-hour-long installment of My Life by Jean.

Jean is not your friend. Friendly relationships are mutual in that both parties to the relationship benefit. Your relationship isn't even commensal, in which the freeloader benefits but the host is unharmed. It is a wholly parasitic relationship, in which the parasite benefits at the host's expense.

That is why contact with narcissists (after they're done cultivating you as a source of narcissistic supply) makes you feel bad. You get no gratification, no gratification at all, ever, because a narcissist has gotta have it all and will compete to the death with you for every last drop of it.

And you can talk to them till you're blue in the face: they will NEVER give in and cut it out. Why? Because imagine what having to do that would do to their precious delusions. It would be an unbearably humiliating come-down for such gods as these. They'd rather die. Because narcissists are mental three-year-olds, thoroughly spoiled ones who will just "block the kick" by throwing a temper tantrum at you to have their way.

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Psychological Neoteny and NPD

Professor Bruce Charlton, of the School of Biology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, England, via Discovery News:

People such as academics, teachers, scientists and many other professionals are often strikingly immature outside of their strictly specialist competence in the sense of being unpredictable, unbalanced in priorities, and tending to overreact.

Like we hadn't noticed?

This phenomenon is called "psychological neoteny." A fancy name for pychological immaturity, the failure to ever form a "finished mind."

In its natural state, the human brain and mind naturally reach full development in the early twenties - after a person's education by his or her parents and society is complete and he or she is out on their own in the world.

This isn't to say that no subsequent changes take place in the brain: it changes throughout life. But normally, these later changes do not add to, or detract from, the brain's capabilities. Nor do they alter the established framework of the mind. Personality is fully formed, and personality disorder can no longer be aquired. Or, it seems, cured.

At that point, a normal person's mind becomes a garden, not wide open spaces anymore. A garden is a cultivated place with a wall around it. And gates. Not just any old seed that blows in on the wind is allowed to take root and grow there. In other words, this mature mind has gatekeepers at the eyes and ears that examine ideas before letting them in. These gatekeepers reject ideas that are illogical, ideas that cannot be true because they conflict with known facts and experience.

This is a stable, rational mind that isn't easy prey for every Pied Piper that comes along.

But think what a hindrance such a "finished" mind would be during a child's school years. The very process of education discourages the formation of a finished mind.

According to Charlton, it rewards "child-like flexibility of attitudes, behaviors and knowledge" and "requires a child-like stance of receptivity to new learning, and cognitive flexibility."

In other words, it works the mind into a very moldable mind, an easily educable one, an easily influenced one, one that seldom engages in critical thinking about what a trusted source of information says.

This is why I am always somewhat suspicious of a leader who targets the young. Yes, of course, it was the young students who cried out for democracy in China, and it is the young students crying out for freedom in Iran. The young happen to be right in those cases. But it was also the young students who ran after Adolph Hitler by the thousands, filling the streets as a major force in bringing him to power. The Taliban are the young. In fact, the word "taliban" means "student." The list of such examples of mislead herds of the young goes on and on. Communists throughout the world habitually exploit the gullibity of students to pour them by the hundreds of thousands into the streets as pseudo democracy - that is, "power to the people" rioting in the streets, OVERpowering the action of whole electorate in the voting booth.

The chief cuplret, according to Charlton is the "cognitive flexibility" of the unfinished (immature) mind.

"Cognitive flexibility" - typical academic fuzzy abstraction. It is being flexibile about what you know. Not a virtue.

It's the ability to know a thing one day and, at the drop of hat, without any deliberation, just unknow it the next. Presto chango, now you know something else, something contradictory, instead.

I once witnessed an amazing display of cognitive flexibility among a bunch of teachers (ducking a wildly swinging axe). Boss had a blast alternating between two conflicting versions of an event. Sure enough, immediately after he stated or implied Version B, there was no evidence to be found that any of these teachers had ever even heard of Version A, let alone had believed it. Two days later, he would then mess with their minds by switching back to Version A again. Immdeiately they had all always known this version of the truth and had never even heard of Version B. Cognitive flexibility.

This talent of cognitive flexibility is what makes young people (and immature people) so vulnerable to peer pressure.

Normally, in the classroom (or in any natural learning experience), cognitive flexibility is a good thing - so long as the information source is trustworthy. For example, until today, I may have had the wrong idea about viral replication in a host cell. Now the professor says something that contradicts what I thought about it. I will instantly erase my incorrect belief. The thought that he might be lying or fast-talking me never crosses my mind.

But what if he were a professor of the humanities instead? Should I trust him that much?

In either case, I am not a student anymore. So, I no longer have the intellectual habit of just swallowing whole whatever an "authority figure" says.

Even Charlton. He errs. Cognitive flexibility isn't used only to accept new ideas. It can just as well be used to cling to cherished myths in the face of proof that they are wrong.

For example, if you want to believe that 9/11 was an inside job, cognitive flexibility will let you fight off the truth by swallowing whole any illogic or even a false fact that yesterday you knew better than. Just erase what you knew yesterday and replace it with some claptrap about an oil pipeline in Afghanistan.

The result is believing people, no matter what they say, because of who they are, not because they have any real credibility or make any sense or state arguments that hold up under scrutiny. In other words, mix cognitive flexibility with a motive for intellectual disonesty and you have have a lethal drink.

Charlton and others who espouse this theory of psychological neoteny attribute it to higher education. And higher, higher education. And higher, higher, higher education viewed as a virtue for never ending. That is why, he says, psychological neoteny is characteristic of the highly educated. He claims that many never achieve mental adulthood. The results include a retention of child-like behaviors like slavishness to fashion/peer pressure as well as sensation seeking and novelty seeking behavior that prefers sensational and novel ideas to the obvious.

The perpetually educated make wide-open-mindedness a virtue. A wide-open mind is boundless wild spaces - not a garden - where anything blowing in the wind can take root and grow. Apparantly even the wildest, common sense defying ideas.

Obviously, malignant narcissists have a terminal case of cognitive flexibility, but my point here is a question: Does psychological neoteny partly explain the behavior of academia and the mental healthcare establishment?

Like children, they get mad at people who don't buy what they are selling about NPD and psychopathy. They overreact, getting all upset and worried, worried, worried about what they view as the wrongthinking of others. (They seem to view disagreeing with them as far more evil than anything the narcissist does.) They try to control/suppress this heresy. You can see this on message boards and blogs. As I've said before, many will try to tell you that, though you've lived with a narcissist for 20 years, or though you ARE a narcissist, you know nothing about NPD. Absurd. They are so far gone they will tell you that you aren't "qualified" to say anything about it based on your experiences with narcissists.

Passing over the suppression of information and violence to free speech in that, how childish can people get? That's like covering your little ears and stamping your little foot and screaming bloody murder to silence anyone saying anything you don't want them to. Only spoiled brats must make it sound evil to disagree with them. Psychological neoteny.

What "qualifies" them to know about NPD? Book learning, period.

The clinical literature on NPD is highly theoretical, abstract, and general, with sparse case material, suggesting that clinical writers have little experience with narcissism in the flesh.

Exactly. That ain't science. That's conjecture, speculation - and by people with little experience of narcissism in the flesh. In other words, this so-called "clinical literature" is basically just glorified essays based almost entirely on the reading of other glorified essays.

That kind of information isn't superior to firsthand observation and direct knowledge in everyday experience with narcissists - it's INFERIOR. Its sole value is in the ideas it may come up with - which are nothing until scientifically tested.

Worse, what does pass for "research" and "statistics" is so illegitimate that much of it smells like a deliberate attempt to confuse and decieve. By that I mean that experts just don't make the gross mistakes these so-called authorities make.(See The Credibility of Authority for a little enlightment on how little credibility this establishment has on NPD.) For example, they seize upon a logical-error ridden essay with its never-tested hypothesis speculating about the mental health of European royals back to the 12th century as worthy of their general acceptance of this untested hypothsis that NPD is genetically inherited. Experts can't honestly be that stupid, and honest experts would have surveyed the children of narcissists to test this hypothesis long ago by now. So, this is just cognitive flexibility like that oil pipeline in Afghanistan - swallow whole ANYTHING to support your cherished myth in the face of real evidence against it. Similarly they seize upon brain differences in psychopaths as if they don't know that that there are two possible explanations for it: the more likely one they betray no awareness of, and the LEAST likely one they all "know." Again, cognitive flexibility to produce bogus "facts" that shore up a cherished myth.

I don't want to give the impression that all academics and clinicians are so in need of therapy themselves. Indeed, their greatest critics come from among their own ranks. From among their own ranks come the studies that prove how unreliable their explanations, diagnoses, treatment, and "estimates" are.

But their better lights get ignored by the politically correct majority. Research proves that their therapy anti-works, but they won't admit that and quit it. Childishly narcissistic. Research proves that their "blame-it-all-on-society-and-poverty-and-feel-sorry-for-the-abuser" theory couldn't be more wrong (at least in the case of NPD and psychopathy), but they won't know that, either. Childishly narcissistic. For decades they have stubbornly refused to hear those who point out that their reliance on the self-reports of pathological liars is "problematic" = stupid.

Indeed, they don't ANSWER the objections to their view of NPD; they just try to silence those objections. And they seem to be the only ones incapable of understanding what that means.

What's more, how do they attempt to silence those objections? By demonizing anyone who dares to state them - all in the name of saying that it's evil to say that psychopaths and other narcissists act out of malice. And they seem to be the only ones incapable of recognizing such eggbeater logic when they commit it.

They should remember that their job is to ADVANCE knowledge (just a suggestion ;-). If they pause a moment to see and hear themselves, they might notice that they are treating those who do advance knowledge exactly the way the Church treated Galileo.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Welcome to the Narcissist's World - Part 2

Welcome again to the narcissist's world - the wonderland Alice found herself in when she fell down a rabbit hole on a psychedelic trip.

This is the second in a series of posts that gives a simple example of the games narcissists play. (If you haven't read that last post, you really should read it before continuing with this one.) In this case, our hypothetical malignant narcissist is named Jean. In the last post I explained how Jean will use interactions with a friend she has casual contact with, often in telephone chats.

That's because Jean has absolutely no interest in her friend. She simply needs attention, a mirror to admire her reflection in. She views these interactions – these phone conversations – as nothing but material for the work of fiction about her life that her whole life amounts to an act of composing.

So, let's say that you are the friend. You think you are having a normal conversation with a real friend. That would be a two-way street in which people sharing a friendly relationship/connection establish and strengthen their relationship/connection by communicating.

But Jean is no more interested in communicating with you than she is interested in communicating with a mirror she is just posing in.

That ain't communication. The intercourse is all one-way. You are just a mirror, a sounding board. By bouncing her false image off you, she makes it appear as a virtual reality.

Therefore, when you say, "Hello, Jean, how are you?" you might as well say, "Hey, Jean, let's play Pretend that you are that figment of your imagination you identify with."

Off she goes in flights of fancy to carve out that false image of herself that she identifies with. Because that's what she views her interactions with others as – just chances to make that false self appear in a mirror.

You are just that necessary mirror, a sounding board. That's what she needs you for and uses you for. (And that's why you can't get in a word edgewise, why she immediately gets bored if you try to talk about your life.)

Off she goes in "Author Mode" creating a new scene in her autobiographical work of fiction that she identifies with as My Life. It is a delusion that she fights off the truth with.

Like all mortal creators, she can't make something out of nothing, so the material she uses is reality – morphed and falsified on the fly in any way she pleases.

This is why the lying of narcissists is so bizarre that it makes you pinch yourself. Occasionally you catch them in lies that there was no conceivable motive for them to tell. We are dead meat for such lies, because normal people don't tell them.

But guess what? If you check out everything a narcissist says, you will discover that virtually nothing they have ever told is true! Nothing. At the least, virtually everything they tell you is distorted or falsified in some of the details.

Yes, we can detect a reason in most of the lies we catch narcissists in, but not all. That is, usually we can see a motive to aggrandize themselves in a narcissist's lie. But some of their lying is absolutely baffling. As Joanna Ashmun writes, their lying "can be trivial (e.g., about what they want for lunch) or it can be serious (e.g., about whether or not they love you)". The trivial nature of many of their lies, and the recklessness with which they contradict themselves, has convinced me that narcissists lie on whim, often revising reality just to make it more colorful than the plain old truth.

Just like a novelist would. Such are their flights of fancy. Just like a little child's.

Why? Because it's fun I suppose. If you ever sat down to write fiction, you know what I mean. It's a blast. The most fun I ever had was in writing a story about a one-woman mob who, during the advent of World War II, carried out a paid-for hit on a black African archbishop penitently on his knees in the Chapel of St. Mary Magdelene in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Wow! What a blast I had on those flights of fancy in my imagination. It was a flowing fountain of cool and intriguing ideas that riveted the reader to my story, sucking him or her wholly into it.

But that's a fiction writer's job. Jean thinks it's her job when she's talking to her friend on the phone. Like a child playing Pretend.

For example, one narcissist I know embellishes the characters she gives to the other people in the story of her life. Like a novelist, she always paints them as a cartoon (a flat character - that is, a mere caricature, not a real character - drawn without depth) that she spices up with some purely imaginary eccentricity.

It reminds me of the advice James Frey gives novelists to make such a flat (and therefore unreal) character a little "wacky." Why? Because you make the character a mere cartoon so he or she doesn't distract attention from the star of the show, but if you make a cartoon too dull, you lose the realism that makes your story believable. Therefore, you color your cartoon characters by making them a bit odd and thus more seemingly real = not a robot.

So, I think it's for this verisimilitude that a narcissist colors the cartoon she draws of a friend she talks about by giving that friend a brother who is a drug dealer being surveilled by the FBI. That gets your attention, doesn't it? The men she hires to do her yard work and snow removal are "retarded," because kindly her "takes on people like that." How magnanimous of her.

When I caught on to this gratuitous lying, I started checking out all the tales she had told me about others in the story of her life, and I found that all these quirky details are pure made-up fiction about those people.

So, you can imagine how inaccurate what Jean says to others about YOU is. This is one big reason why it is dangerous to have anything to do with a narcissist. You and your precious reputation are nothing but fodder to a malignant narcissist for their Fiction Making Machine.

Again, callous is as callous does.

Ashmun again:

The simplest everyday way that narcissists show their exaggerated sense of self-importance is by talking about family, work, life in general as if there is nobody else in the picture. Whatever they may be doing, in their own view, they are the star, and they give the impression that they are bearing heroic responsibility for their family or department or company, that they have to take care of everything because their spouses or co-workers are undependable, uncooperative, or otherwise unfit. They ignore or denigrate the abilities and contributions of others and complain that they receive no help at all; they may inspire your sympathy or admiration for their stoicism in the face of hardship or unstinting self-sacrifice for the good of (undeserving) others.

That will be all you get out of your phone conversation with Jean. In other words, all you get is USED as a reflective surface for her to bounce all this crap off of. Because she isn't talking with you or to you - she is just talking AT you.

You might as well not even be there. Set the phone down next to a tape recorder that says, "Uh-huh" periodically. Jean will be perfectly satisfied.

To be continued...

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Welcome to the Narcissist's World

In the next two or three posts, I will give an example of the kind of games narcissists play. In this one, the narcissist uses interactions with a friend whom he or she has casual contact with, usually in chats over the telephone.

Let's call our malignant narcissist Jean.

Jean doesn't view that friend as a normal person would. In fact, Jean has no real human relationship with that friend, only the semblance of one. She has zero interest in that friend as a person. As is often said, narcissists view all others as objects, tools. But that's an abstraction. What does it mean?

The closest analogy I can think of is this. Jean views these interactions – these phone conversations – as material for the work of fiction about her life that her whole life amounts to an act of composing.

If that sounds strange, remember that we all organize memory into an internal narrative about our life. It's just our way of filing away and archiving a coherent report of our history that becomes "our past."

I have known several narcissists so closely for so long that my experience convinces me that this normal process has gone haywire in narcissists. They aren't doing this to archive yesterday's affairs; they are doing this with life on the fly. Worse, they have utter contempt for truth. In other words, their internal narrative ain't history – it's fiction.

By Magical Thinking, it becomes "their" truth.

Jean's friend thinks they are close friends and thus believes that she is important to Jean. Wrong. To Jean this friend is but a walk-on, a character with a bit part in a story all about Jean. So, Jean views that friend the same way a novelist views the minor characters he creates in a story about the main character, the hero.

When you think about it, you can see that this is a twisted view with serious implications.

A storyteller designs, creates, and uses these "extras" as tools. For example, in Hamlet, Laertes exists only to show how noble Hamlet is, by serving as a foil to him in every way. King Claudius exists only to show how great Hamlet is by being his mighty antagonist. The Player who weeps for Hecuba is a tool to provide an opportunity to show us how empathic Hamlet is. The Clown digging Ophelia's grave is a tool to provide an opportunity to show us how easy-going and naturally fearful of death Hamlet is.

In other words, these other characters don't exist for their own sakes in Shakespeare's mind. They exist to reflect the noble and tragic glory of his hero, Hamlet. They supply actions for Prince Hamlet to react to, thus revealing him to us.

Note that some of these characters are major characters, not mere walk-ons, and that a storyteller like Shakespeare does paint on them a character with depth, a human character. Laertes and Claudius are interesting. They have feelings and motivations. But minor characters don't get that treatment. They are painted with mere caricatures, flat cartoons, without depth. Since they have but bit parts, utilitarian parts, it would be a distraction (upstaging Hamlet), to highlight their caricatures in a way that gives them a personality.

But a narcissist like Jean has only her hero, Jean, and a lot of minor characters in her story. No one else must be interesting and thus distract ATTENTION from her in this story.

As I have said before, what narcissists DON'T know about significant others in their life is amazing and diagnostic. A narcissist can know you for 20 years and not know you at all. Jean doesn't know whether you are honest or a liar, excitable or tranquil. She may not know how to spell your name. If she sees you outside the usual setting, she may not even recognize your face!

That's how disinterested in you she is. Her need to look down on others by paying anti-attention to them as beneath her notice has relegated you to the background of the sights and sounds in her life.

You are but a manikin this storyteller paints a caricature on. Her purpose isn't to see you as you are: it is to design you the way a fiction writer designs minor characters – to reflect the glory of Jean in a story all about Jean.

You can test this. Find out a narcissist's depiction of you. You get hints of the picture they have of you in what they say and how they treat and react to you. Be prepared for a stupefying shock. Find out how the narcissist depicts you to others. I guarantee that you won't recognize yourself. The narcissist's depiction of you bears no resemblance to reality.

She just makes it up according to her whim and fancy as she goes along. And, being the author of this work of fiction, she can change it overnight. Which explains why you often see a narcissist's opinion of someone go upside-down overnight. That's what an editor's pen can do to a work of fiction.

Narcissists' cavalier attitude in doing this is breathtaking. They paint mud on you with all the whimisical delight of a child painting a coloring book. They are artists, you see. Like children crying, "Look Ma! See what a brilliant masterpiece I drew?"

Callous is what callous does.

In fact, the narcissist's depiction of you will be downright ironic in certain particulars. Your good qualities will all have been painted over with the semblance of their opposite. That's because a narcissist must be better than you, so she must paint over any shiny spot in your image that diminishes the glow of her glory, especially one that serves as a foil to any blemish in her character. For example, your generosity makes her stinginess more noticeable by contrast, so she must pull the switcheroo with these character traits in her depiction of herself and you.

In other words, she is composing her My Life by filtering and editing reality on the fly as the material to base this work of fiction on. That's how she denies what she really is and identifies with her false self, a work of art, instead.

She must, for to be a narcissist is to be someone who cannot bear to know themselves. Therefore, when self-awareness frequently and persistently surfaces to consciousness on them, despite their best efforts to keep it repressed, narcissists start contemplating suicide. (See the chapter entitled "What's In There" in the book.)

One more tremendously important thing. Note that, in your personal narrative, you relate to the other people in the story of your life as Hamlet relates to the other characters in the story of his. But a narcissist relates to the other people in the story of her life as the author (Shakespeare) relates to the mere fictional characters he has created to tell the story of Hamlet's life.

Weird. Very, very weird.

So, welcome to the narcissist's world - the wonderland Alice found herself in when she fell down a rabbit hole on a psychedelic trip.

To be continued...

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Religion and Victimhood

A footnote on the last post.

Religion, especially Christianity, can be sharply criticized for making us feel that we must put up with abuse. That we must forgive even ongoing and unrepented offenses = that we must dociley submit to abuse. As though there is some virtue in victimhood.

Back when I was a Catholic, I was amazed at the disconnect between the actual theology and what we hear in the preaching, whether from the pulpet or from "religious" people telling us what we should do and how we should feel.

For the most part, the actual theology is enlightening and sensible. But on the lips of preachers it gets warped, almost beyond recognition in places. And it DEFIES common sense.

In my opinion, whenever it is being promulgated for show, watch out. That show is either to sell it or to sell the preacher. In that case, what matters is what seems. Not truth and reality.

I discovered Christian theology upon reading Dante's Divine Comedy. That piqued my interest in this fascinating body of thought, so I made it my business to find out what my relgion actually taught.

It was nothing like what I heard on Sunday. For the most part, what we hear on Sunday from the majority of preachers is half-baked. It betrays an amazing lack of understanding. A childish lack of depth in understanding. The result is a picture of Jesus as some long-suffering wimp who chose to sacrifice himself to abuse and whom we're supposed to emulate.

But show me a parable of his that says so. Those parables are nothing but brilliant studies in practical common sense, so where did all that anti-common-sense stuff come from?

Sell copy is just sell copy. It must never tax the prospective customer with the need to think. And religion put on for show is shallow as a puddle too.

In fact, if you check it out, you'll find much preaching today contradicts established doctrine and what people like St. Augustan, St. Thomas Aquinas, and even Jesus himself said. Unfortunately, few know enough about their religion to notice that these days.

For example, take the Christian teaching that punishing an innocent scapegoat for our sins saves us from them. That's what Christianity on this point has been reduced to - a sound bite, the buzzword that "punishing the innocent scapegoat has saved us from our sins."

But how? How could that be, of all things, God's justice? What kind of god would consider that justice? It's a travesty of justice that dooms those who commit it and saves only those so shamed by it that they stop committing it.

Understanding that would require some explaining and mature thinking, but marketers know better than to try to sell anything that way: so it's easier just to believe the doctrine backwards instead.

Similarly, when did "God forgive them" come to mean "I forgive them"? Likewise, how is God praised and honored by your letting others trash what he has made? Didn't he make you too? Then how is he praised or honored by your letting a narcissist trash you?

Common sense, common sense, common sense has gone out the window and virtually made the ultimate good, justice, an evil thing in the heads of the simple-minded. This HURTS the victims of narcissists.

And recent scholarly research on the oldest extant scriptural documents (including the NT), when they were actually written, how apocryphal they all are, how frequently the passages contradict each other, how many passages have gone through so many translations of translations of ancient language that they now amount to gibberish, how often and by how many hands they have been edited over time - all this should sink in already. Where in the Bible does the Bible claim to be authored by God?

Result? Which blurb do you cherry-pick when trying to sound holy? "An eye for an eye" or "Turn the other cheek"?

As a consequence, many victims of narcissists become embittered at religion because of how it made them feel morally obligated to submit to abuse = to give the narcissist permission to abuse them. So, whose side is religion on? Self-righteous holier-than-thous sound holy by using religion to pile on the victim playing the part of Job's Comforters and denying the victim's right to do anything to make the abuser stop it. Anything. They even make it sound evil for the victim to just abandon or divorce the abuser! In other words, they use religion to commit the Sin of Sodom = making the victim bend over for abuse.

In a way, it's a bad rap, because Christian theology isn't really that ridiculous. In fact, even I will say that there is much truth and wisdom in it. But what preachers and holier-than-thous make of it - THAT is a different matter. THAT is garbage.

Then religious leaders wonder why they lose adherants. The blame is not with "society these days." The blame is with THEM. They should do something about the warping of the message, because it's their own fault people find it unacceptable and turn away.

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The Narcissist's Game Playing

I'd hate to admit how long it took me to learn to trust my instincts. If you sense that someone is playing games with you, they are.

In some settings, of course, game-playing is appropriate. For example, in tennis, to pressure an opposing server, I will sometimes step up to play the return of serve from well inside the baseline. I am playing a mind game. I am telling the server that I eat power serves for lunch.

Of course, in a tennis match, I am competing with that other party. But I don't compete with the other party in every daily interaction I have with other people. That would be inappropriate, especially with the members of my immediate familiy and my friends and teammates and co-workers.

But narcissists do.

I think this is because they are never being themselves. Since they don't identify with their true inner selves, how could they ever just be themselves?

Instead, they are Narcissus, transfixed by their reflected image in the mirror of your face. Just posing before that mirror. Their reflection in it is what they identify with. And they pose so as to make it as grandiose as possible.

That's all that's really going on in your interactions with a narcissist.

For example, if you say "hello" to a normal person under normal circumstances, he will say "hello" back. What will a narcissist do? How will he play this interaction to aggrandize his image?

Often, in certain settings, such as the workplace, the narcissist has the gall to refuse to even look at or answer you, treating you as beneath his notice, even as contemptible.

You wonder what you did to make him mad at you, because a normal person would do that only if you did something awful to insult him. Or if he THOUGHT you had done some such thing. So, you wonder what terrible lie someone has told him about you.

If this is happening to you, consider another possibility - that he is not a normal person, but rather a narcissist.

A narcissist isn't a normal person acting on normal human premises. He refuses to say "hello" back just to make you out as unworthy of that consideration from him, to make you out as dirt beneath his feet. He's taking advantage of this opportunity to pose in a mirror, pretending grandeur with respect to you. He acts out the part of a god who feels insulted by an unworthy bug like you expecting his majesty's attention.

It's all part of the play going on in his childish mind, a work of fiction about himself in which he is the star of a show all about him. (Little children do the same thing in their fantasies.) He IDENTIFIES with the fictional character he creates in that mirror.

You have but a bit part in this show. You exist to reflect his greatness in your interactions with him, period.

Notice that the narcissist is essentially an author of fiction in which the hero is always some idealized version of himself. He edits reality on the fly to compose this work of fiction. It's how he supports his delusions of grandeur.

For example, take any everyday human interaction, even such a simple one as when you say, "Excuse me, may I borrow your pen for a moment?"

The damned narcissist will not just let it be about that pen. She's gotta exploit this interraction to play games with you. Quick, imagine that you're her: how do you play this to aggrandize yourself?

A normal person will weigh several considerations. She'll consider whether she can spare the pen for a moment. She'll consider the fact that you'll think she's a jerk if she doesn't hand it over. And she'll consider the future trouble an unfriendly relationship with you could cause her. She may consider why you never have a pen with you and why you never return one you borrow. Or she may be delighted to do you this favor because you have done her favors and she likes you. In any case, the last thing on a normal person's mind is the opportunity to play this interaction as a power play.

But that's all that's ever on a narcissist's mind. She doesn't like anyone. She doesn't care about being liked (just admired, feared, favored). She doesn't care about getting along with people. She is no more capable of considering the future consequences of her actions than any other three-year-old. Even the business at hand is no consideration to her. A thing is never about whatever it's about. It's always all about her ego instead, period.

So, she plays everything you say or do in a game to gratify her ego at your ego's expense.

Therefore, in one way or another, her answer to your request to borrow her pen is going to make you feel like two cents waiting for change. Count on it. Every single time.

Suck, suck, suck ... like a parasite. Like a hookworm infection, constantly bleeding you drop by drop. It adds up.

"How do you like the turkey and dressing?"
Quick, narc, how do you play this to aggrandize yourself?

"Which of these two business models do you think is best?"
Quick, narc, how do you play this to aggrandize yourself?

"I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to offend you."
Quick, narc, how do you play this to aggrandize yourself (some more)?

There's no end it. It's exasperting because it IS experating. You never get through that brick wall a narcissist throws up to bounce back everything you say or do as a flattering reflection on him- or her-self. One that denies you one bit of gratification and sucks every bit of gratification in the transaction to herself. (See the book The Games People Play by Eric Berne.)

No communication ever gets through that wall. There is never any human connection. No meeting of the minds. Just this constant play off everything you say or do in a narcissist's infernal, eternal, infantile game-playing.

Normal people have self-respect. So, from an early age on, your first thought is to rise above this childishness. You couldn't bear to stoop to such silly competeing for vanities.

Right. But the mistake we often make is to think that "rising above it" means "taking it."

When you do that, you are allowing yourself to be used.

That's enabling. Does that do the narcissist any good?

Does that do yourself any good?

The ego is not an evil thing. Nature has instilled us with this aspect of our personality because it is highly adaptive. It houses the healthy narcissism responsible for our self-love and instinct for self-preservation. If we allow it to be turned traitor against ourselves though, it becomes our own worst enemy, the Enemy Within.

You can't let a parasite like a narcissist constantly bleed it without that happening. This is a narcissist's way of dumping his or her own ego problems on YOU. The narc is transfering his or her own shame and self-hatred to you, like as in a bad-blood transfusion.

Don't allow it. I'd hate to have to admit how long it took me to realize that I can't expect myself to be unharmed by it. Note the narcissism in THAT!!!

I am just a human being. I am not invincible. I can and will eventually be harmed by this constant bloodletting. No shame in acknowledging that, just appropriate modesty.

We all need a world in which "I'm okay, and you're okay." But narcissists deny you that. They impose a world in which they're perfect and you're hopelessly defective.

So, now, when I sense that someone is using me - using me as a mirror for that - I take that mirror away. They don't get to interract with me at all.

In theory, it's simple to deny your presence to a narcissist who abuses it. In practice, however, it sometimes gets complicated, because the situation doesn't always allow you to physically remove yourself from a narcissist's Pathological Space. Then you must analyze the situation and find working ways to deny them interaction.

But be sure to deny them inappropriate interaction with you. Don't allow it and then just IGNORE the put-down you get.

Doing that just gives them permission to use you. And giving others permission to use you will destroy your self-respect.

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