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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At 9:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is interesting, because the N that I know has 2 lives - he keeps one hidden from the other, most of the time - and you are right, if he needs to he CAN behave.

The strange part for me though is the disconnect in him - the poorly behaved N and the well-behaved N seem to be disconnected from each other...and even the well-behaved N seems to have no morals or values by which to judge the other part of himself. He doesn't ever seem to say, " I behaved poorly". He can switch to behaving relatively ok ( even sweet and decent sometimes), but its not as if he could then say, 'oh I was behaving poorly just a second ago'. He would ask me in all honesty, 'what is it that you find so objectionable about my behaviour ?' - and I would be in such shock I couldn't even answer him right away.

Does anyone know what I am talking about at all ?

At 10:07 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

They revise history = he never behaved badly a moment ago. Narcissists will lie to about what they just said to you 2 seconds ago. They will lie to you about what you just said to them 2 seconds ago. If you contradict them with the truth, they will tell you you imagined it and are crazy. Right?

They will insist that up is down, right is left, or that the sky is purple if it suits them. That doesn't mean that they don't know the sky is blue. They just want to force you to act as though it's purple for them. See the chapter on their pathological lying.

At 10:45 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

See also the chapter on "Acting Like It Didn't Happen." Abuse, then act like it didn't happen: that's the MO. See the advantage in it?

Why do you assume that he asks you this "in all honesty"?

Liars are liars. See the chapter on how Ns become expert manipulators who even routinely manipulate and fool law enforcement and psychiatrists.

I guarantee that if he is a narcissist and you do the same thing back to him, he'll suddenly get it about what is so objectionable in it. He'll suddenly be capable of fine moral reasoning.

At 11:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"They will insist that up is down, right is left, or that the sky is purple if it suits them. That doesn't mean that they don't know the sky is blue. They just want to force you to act as though it's purple for them."

So they know they are doing something wrong, or that they are lying - they knowingly manipulate the facts and confuse you to suit their needs at that moment ?

So when he asked me 'in all honesty' (as if he was truly baffled by it) what was it that I found so objectionable about his behaviour, you are suggesting he was fully aware of the answer and he was asking to manipulate me - to make me think he was really a good guy afterall and may be I was the one getting it wrong ? something like that ? ...because after he asked me that a few times, I did begin to doubt myself...I did begin to say to myself, may be I imagined it afterall, may be he wasn't so bad etc.

But do you think they consciously go through all that thought process ? The N that I know is not a thinking type of person - he is impulsive - he reacts - everything has to be instant, instant gratification, instant reaction, I wonder if he really goes through all that thought process to calculate....

At 11:13 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

Judge by conduct. Actions speak louder than words.

People can know a thing one second and unknow it the next. They do this by repressing consciousness of things. Impulsively. Relentlessly, as often as the unwanted awareness surfaces to consciousness on them. That is just lying - lying to oneself. It makes one a double liar, not innocent of lying.

So the question of how aware they may be at any given moment is meaningless.

Again I say, judge by conduct, zero-in on facts. Leave their words and your desired conclusion out of it - just add up all the facts and you will see what you need to know. The rest is his problem.

At 11:19 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

I forgot to mention that these behavior patterns begin in childhood. Of course by the time Ns become adults the old abuse-and-then-act-like-it-didn't-happen trick becomes second nature. They don't have to consciously think it through anymore. But that doesn't make it involuntary behavior. See the earlier post on Conceptual Clarity

At 7:17 AM, Anonymous troubled family said...

As I continue to read your site and blog I find more and more pieces that fit this puzzle so perfectly. There is simply no denying that we are dealing with a full blown narcissist.

Our brother the "N", knows exactly who and when to release his abuse on. He truly is a master at manipulation. Women and children are/were his major targets and he targets them only when there is no one else around.

Example.... A year ago at our mothers birthday party, I'd brought her a gift from her granddaughter (his daughter who had disowned him and knowing he would be there did not attend). I saw the look on his face and felt the glare of his eyes while she opened it, but he held his tongue in front of the WHOLE family. As I was trying to leave two hours later, he stopped me in the driveway, away from everyone else and proceeded to "go off". Demanding I cut ties with his "old life". Screaming that I had no right to bring the gift, that his daughter needs to go away completely and let him live a "happy" life. After about ten minutes of listening to his ranting, one of our other brothers noticed I was "trapped" in the driveway and came to my rescue. The second the other brother appeared, the "N" brother immediatly changed his behavior and went from demon to angel in less than a second.

I have TONS of real life examples of this. His ability to lie amazes me too. He literally will tell you one thing and seconds later deny he said it or worse.... claim that YOU said it. The "N" is a nightmare. I have even found myself questioning my own sanity when dealing with him at times. He has almost talked me into believing things that I KNOW not to be true. He's soooooo good at it.

And looking back.... this did start when we were kids. He'd beat me up regularly, deny it all, claim he saw me fall to our parents, then laugh about it to me when no one else was around. What's worse is that more than once our mother SAW him beat me with her own eyes and yet would back up his story and lie with the "N" to my dad.

Here we are 25 years later and not much has changed. If anything..... he's getting worse. While he hasn't physically attacked me in many years (not since I fought back around age 15), he continued to verbally assalt me until I cut ties with him a year ago.

Sadly, all that has done is force him to turn his abuse onto other members of our family. He's focused more and more of his rants at our brothers over the last year. At first I felt guilt about this. When he was attacking me, he would spare our brothers. But at the same time, now that they've gotten a taste of the "real" him, they're finally getting a dose of the reality I've dealt with all these years. What frightens me most about that is that his MO is changing. Without me to attack, he's now attacking our brothers. He's getting more bold, no longer focusing his rage only on women, but now also at his MALE siblings. Have you heard of this before? Is that typical of an N? Or is this uncommon and only because he lost contact with the two females he attacked the most?

~I just realized how confusing this is without using names, to clarify a bit. There are five of us siblings. The "N" is the oldest brother (39 yrs old), then myself (the only daughter), then there are three more younger brothers. There are two to four years between each of us, with ten years between the oldest and youngest. Only the "N", myself and the youngest brother (age 29) still live near our parents and are currently dealing with this on a regular basis, however the other two brothers are dealing with it via email, telephone, and when they are in town visiting.~

~ jen

At 7:20 AM, Anonymous troubled family said...

Kathy, would you post the link to "Acting like it didn't happen"?

I can't seem to find it.


At 7:55 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

Thanks for asking about "Acting Like It Didn't Happen", TroubledFamily. I see that this is in the book only and had forgotten that. I will post it (or at least part of it) later today. Haven't decided whether to put it on the main site or post it here on the blog. Check back later or tommorrow.

At 8:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Does anyone know what I am talking about at all ?"

I think they've learnt to repress so well, that the go from one thing to the next without knowing, or rather, they disconnect from their feelings and live from one moment to the next, forgetting what was, re-writing history as they go along.

To not have to deal with the inferiority complex aspect of themselves.

At 8:34 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

"His ability to lie amazes me too. He literally will tell you one thing and seconds later deny he said it or worse.... claim that YOU said it. The "N" is a nightmare. I have even found myself questioning my own sanity when dealing with him at times. He has almost talked me into believing things that I KNOW not to be true. He's soooooo good at it."

This is probably THE most common complaint about narcissists. I have been there myself a thousand times. Joanna Ashmun describes it on her website too. I dearly wish someone would catch a narcissist doing this on film and broadcast it to the whole world so narcissist sympathizers would wise-up already.

This isn't normal lying - it's pathological lying. It amounts to GASLIGHTING.

It makes a normal person have to pinch themselves. The normal person always does wonder which of you is crazy, which is halucinating.

Don't think they don't know what they're doing to you. It's dangerous to underestimate their intelligence and the simple savvy that decades of practicing these stunts has given them.

This effort to make you doubt your eyes and ears is just one of those disarming tactics they learn as children. Note that little children will do the same thing.

Ns blow up and yell at you ... the next thing you know they are accusing YOU of being the one who blew up and started yelling at them. And they are YELLING while saying this to you for trying to to get them to calm them down and listen to reason. This trick is called projection, the oldest trick in the book.

Enough to make the head spin.

The reason they SEEM to believe what they are saying is because they are PRETENDING it's true, like a little child playing pretend. Pretending is make-believe. That doesn't mean they don't know any better.

They are playing Pretend and trying to FORCE you to play along. Like a little child who gets mad when her playmates don't play along the way she wants them to when they are playing "Let's pretend we're doctors" or "Let's pretend we're cowboys and Indians" or "Let's pretend we're astronauts." She must run the show and all the other kids must follow her script or she throws a fit.

Like that child, an N can change what they are pretending in the blink of an eye.

But this is exactly what we should expect of people who live in world of fiction that they make up on the fly. Truth and reality mean nothing to them.

Even the real THEM has no existence in their world. They identify with a projected (false) image instead.

Narcissists attack vulnerability. Your sex, your color, your age, a handicap, your socio-economic status all can be vulnerability. I have seen Ns exploit racism or sexism and the like, not because they really are racist and sexist, but just because they can use the bigotry of the bystanders against their victim. For example, they will exploit homophobia and spread rumors that their target is homosexual.

So, I am not at all surprised that he attacks your brothers. As grown men they aren't likely to punch him in the nose anymore, are they? That makes them easier prey now for the N = bully.

It is a bad sign in a way though. It shows that he is getting headier, and that would make me concerned that he might be bold enough now to do something really frightening. It's hard to tell. You're in a better position to judge that than anyone else.

At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My soon to be ex-husband is a master--a text book example of this behavior. I never realized until recently that when we would go into a social situation, he would scan the room and then focus all his attention on one person for the evening. In his mind, that one person was the smartest, the best, and the only person he considered to be worthy of his attention.

There are no words to describe the rages and tantrums over 23 years. What is so interesting is that HE can remember them BY EXACT DATE in order to throw my behavior at the time back at me. However, I do not remember throwing a bicycle through the family room (from the outside), throwing a vacuum cleaner down the stairs, locking me out of a hotel room, or being asked to leave more than one restaurant. (Yes, my husband's rages were sometimes saved to humiliate me in public.)

It will take me years to recover. I am just grateful to have the chance.

At 3:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Anon,

Even after I spelled out for my N in an email what I felt she had done wrong. She responded by saying:
You just keep saying the same thing over and over. Why won't you talk to me? I don't understand why you are so angry with me.
Its hard to explain to people who tell you to say it better or say it differently.

At 10:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In a security building, we lived next door to drug addicts, enough said. In front of my father and the security guard on duty, my neighbour barged across the threshold of my door and attempted to assult me, but I blocked her. I turned to the security guard and said that I had just been assalted and that I wanted it on record. My neighbour quickly replied, "no, I didn't!" As if it had never happened!


At 11:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It is a bad sign in a way though. It shows that he is getting headier, and that would make me concerned that he might be bold enough now to do something really frightening."

Especially if the parents die and he gets it all. Most Malignant Ns aren't content with just "winning".

"My neighbour quickly replied, "no, I didn't!" As if it had never happened!"

No, of course it didn't. It's fairly common behavior too. Anything to get out of trouble.

At 6:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An N I know does the opposite of what is written in your post. Treats people great one-on-one, but look out if someone else walks into the room. He'll go from understanding and sweet to downright rude in the blink of an eye. The first time it happened, I didn't realize that someone had walked into the room with us, my back was to the door, and just thought, WHAT????

I think he gets his kicks constructing an image of "Look how I treat people, like shit, and still, they adore me."

(He's a guru type, for lack of a better explanation to describe what he does.)

At 7:00 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

Good one. Another great example of why you can't say that a narcissist is just someone who does this or that, because some narcissists do the exact opposite. They each have their own tactics for achieving the objectives of narcissistic strategy. Tactics optimized to the environment.

The one you speak of is pretty bold and able to get away with a lot.

I think the most common example is the narcissist who dotes on his children versus the narcissist who pays less attention to them than to a fly on the wall.

Both narcissists are, at bottom, the same, but the tactics they're using to accomplish the same end are different. For example, the doting narcissist thinks he has a child who can be made outstanding in some way (like one who might become a movie star or professional athlete if you push him hard enough), but the other narcissist doesn't see this as the best way to support his delusions of grandeur, so he just denigrates his children by acting like they don't exist.

That's why some behaviors are more common than others, but you can always find narcissists who do just the opposite. To understand you have to dig down to what they're getting out of it.

At 11:24 AM, Blogger Kathy said...


"Treats people great one-on-one, but look out if someone else walks into the room. He'll go from understanding and sweet to downright rude in the blink of an eye. ...I think he gets his kicks constructing an image of "Look how I treat people, like shit, and still, they adore me."

He also knows that he's less likely to get what he has coming when others are around. That slap in the face or punch in the nose. Political correctness denies your right to protect yourself by teaching him that lesson.

So, he in effect has a handcuffed victim to abuse in a way that intimidates everyone who witnesses it. Just like your typical schoolyard bully...hitting on someone who can't hit back.

At 8:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


When I read what your wrote about withholding - you talked about the man who let the grass grow around the swingset. What you wrote is ABSOLUTELY TRUE.

Mine, the son of a bazillionaire who gave his father his balls a long time ago, withholds from me regularly.

And he has no problem enjoying the things he withholds from me, right in front of me. He wants me to see that he while he has the power to give them to me, he chooses not to.

It is cruel.


He will be extraordinarily generous on occasion - but not directly to me. When he bestows any generosity or kindness to me, it is a very, very public display.

For instance, he once paid for my son's ski lessons, but to do it, he called the owner of the resort and set up the payment with the owner, a prominent member of the community.

He didn't give the money to me to pay for the lessons, because the intent was not to make me happy or my son a better skier.

His motive was to shore up his image. Now that prominent member of the community can boast about my N's generosity at the country club.

When his displays of "love" are done in public, he ensures there are witnesses so when I accuse him of abusing me, everyone around you thinks I am the crazy one.

In public, his arm is around me, he smiles and brushes the hair from my eyes. He cries in public when I try to leave the relationship.

After all he has done for me? They all shake their heads at what an ungrateful b*tch I am. They call and console him and tell him how great he is.

He always has someone to have dinner with. Who calls and checks on him. Who understands.

They turn on me like I am this awful golddigger.

He reaps all kinds of rewards. I suffer even more. I am alone with no support.

He gets a power trip and uses me to cement his 'goodness' in the community and destroys mine.

He is a master.


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