Friday, February 29, 2008

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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At 10:38 AM, Blogger Holy Water Salt said...

The best examples I have are emails.

They really need to go into the "field" to get a real narc in action.I mean undercover wire someone in a relationship with one.

I find narc posting online sometimes, they always startle me now in their transparency, because BP ( before psychos) I would have explained away their grandiosity and cruelty.

At 2:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE: "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"

Kathy, that is SOOOOOO true. THe N that I know does have this false modesty to him. When I first met him, I would never have guessed he's a N. He sat back, quietly observing, as if surveying what was out there. (now thinking back, that is just what predators do, isn't it ? ) And I don't know if others experience this, but they can come across as a sad lost child sometimes, so that you feel for them and want to take care of them. But they can turn on you so fast; one minute, you're an angel to them; the next, they rage, swearing at you and you are worse than their worst enemy...

At 3:38 PM, Blogger sonicido said...

maybe it is the difference between "acting" and the real thing!

At 4:07 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

You mean the difference between "acting out an acting job" and the "real acting job"?

Good point. Actually, i wondered about that. It can be a large part of the problem.

But presumably an expert wrote the script. And the script is way off too. Plus, I had to laugh at the therapist constantly asking her how this or that makes her feel. That won't get you anywhere with a narcissist.

At 9:30 PM, Anonymous So Help Me, It's True said...

Believe it or not, I actually had to work with someone, once, who was every bit as blatant and extreme as this caricatured example.

Her 'shtick' wasn't false modesty, it was false enthusiasm. She presented herself as extremely talented, bright, enthused and interested in the job.

Within literally days of being hired, she switched into full-blown 'spoiled princess' mode. Had a dozen excuses as to why she simply couldn't work on whatever was assigned to her, but had to have someone else do it. For her. Etc.

This was accompanied by blatant gaslighting - in print - which I'd never seen before. She would send email to support staff demanding something be done a certain way, then send more email after it was done, demanding that it be redone the opposite way. And approximately every five minutes she'd send another email demanding to know why her poor victim hadn't answered the preceding one yet.

This is not a very bright way to gaslight people - they can compare notes. Literally. And they did. Extensively.

I wish I could tell you that this story ended as it ought to have, but no. Her management not only kept her, they promoted her.

More than once.

It took them several years {!!!!!} to get sufficiently fed up to take appropriate action. The long delay, combined with all their enabling and coddling, resulted in massive amounts of Sturm Und Drang when they finally issued the necessary ultimatum. And it could all have been avoided if they'd dealt appropriately with her when she first began to act out.

This was no child, either. The woman was over 40 years old when they hired her.

I have never seen anything like this before or since - and I've seen enough workplace Ns to last me several lifetimes. But just for the record, such creatures really do exist... rare though they be, I've seen one, alive alive-o.

At 11:12 PM, Blogger ricadozy said...

Do you think some of their inability to characterize their pasts, relate stories, analyze dreams, etc. could have to do with their inability to think abstractly? Psychopaths have this deficit.

Not that that excuses them, but it could be a warning sign, right?

Ask them to define an abstract term -- love, loyalty, goodness -- and if they have trouble, bingo!

At 11:29 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

Psychopaths can think abstractly. When they want to.

Their killing and rape rituals alone show a deeper penetration into the abstract than most normal people ever go. I mean, like why do you think they do it in ways to demonstrate "possession"? Is that not an abstract concept? Are they not doing it in moral (as opposed to material) ways?

Many have done well in college calculus. All abstract. In literature. Abstract.

It's a myth that they can't think in the abstract.

It's also a myth that they have no empathy. It takes empathy to know how to be sadistic = to hurt the victim to the maximum extent possible. "So, I'll throw her in a dumpster and let her die there," he thinks. To even THINK of this takes putting yourself in the victim's skin and contemplating how that would make one feel = empathy.

It's just that they repress all human feeling and refuse to have eampathy for any other purpose.

At 11:41 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

PS, there are no end of myths like this going around about psychopaths and narcissists. Most can be disproved by pure logic though, as in the case above.

Nine times out of ten, the myth takes advantage of forgetting that any knowledge or feeling can be repressed. Like conscience. Some say that narcissists have a conscience and that psychopaths don't. But that doesn't hold up. At most you could say that psychopaths have gotten better at repressing their conscience, so that it almost never surfaces to consciousness on them. A narcissist may have a twinge of conscience surface more often and therefore have to frantically rebury it more often.

But what is repressed isn't gone. It's there in the subconscious. And it drives behavior from there. Repressed guilt. Repressed shame. Repressed feelings.

Like that repressed sense of inferiority, which the N tries to unknow he has and cover with a feigned sense of superiorty instead.

At 11:50 PM, Blogger ricadozy said...

Yeah, they can think abstractly, but I meant that's not the mode they operate in normally. They are more literal day-to-day. It would be like speaking a foreign language or something. They can do it if they need to or to make a point, but they are not comfortable with it. They don't like it, maybe because it brings up bad, buried "feelings" like you mentioned.

At 1:58 AM, Blogger Kathy said...


Yeah. They might respond in a peculiar way to that, as they respond in a peculiar way when you ask them how they feel about something. By the way, they hate being asked questions.

At 5:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have seen many dramas and films with characters who display N behaviour. I imagine that writers are likely to base their characters on people they have met or observed but that is not to say that they know about N.P.D. The posts to your blog show that there is a powerful emotional story to be told here and I long for the day when someone writes a drama that shows a relationship with an N from the heady euphoric beginnings to the inevitable, but THEN goes on to show the victim finding out about N.P.D. and making sense of the past and recovering. I think it would make a great story. There must be many, many people in relationships with N's who would realise from such a drama what they are dealing with. Those who are not involved with an N would at least be aware of the condition and may spot the red flags in any future relationship. It is all very well trying to educate the professionals but it is just as important to educate evereyone else.

At 6:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I watched and yes this must be an actor showing some traits in an over-obvious way.
If the narcissists I met acted this way I think I never would be involved with them so closely.
What I miss is the way they first seem very nice and understanding, docile, not exaggerated at all.
They tell a completely differant story and show a compleet differant person. In my case the opposite off who they realy are. And they evoke pity in you.
If they all acted like this women they wouldn't be such succesfull predetors. There cloaking is much better, at least the one's I dealt with and I believe the real NPD's all are.
I think in one session it's impossible to detect NPD in a person. If there is a technique to do that I sure want to know.
In my cases and what I've seen from it the grandiose behaviour wasn't so obvious right away. This was camouflaged often with the opposite.
For me the biggest red-flag is when they start devaluating people and especialy people who are vunerable.
And they only start doing this when their pray is hooked and more or less vulnerable.
And this cann't be the case in a first session on the couch of a strong therapist I believe.
So there are three things missing I think; behaviour seen over a lenght of time, a smart narcissist and a good prey.
It's a pity I think that the general believe still is that the grandiosity is always obvious. It still is the hall-mark off NPD.
I think this believe covers many real NPD's and serves them well.


At 10:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looked at the video. Well this doesn't even come close!

They should have acted as a very integer, charming, arrogant, but with words the opposite, in between little hints though. An N. would try to impress the therapist and a good N. would do that in a way that the therapist would get it hard to stay in his own feald...etc. etc.

No this isn't it.

Students are trained with this? Unbelievable.

jt B

At 4:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kathy, I've wondered whether a transcription of a conversation with the N, or a video, would show the real nature of the interaction (the less damaging exchanges, not the extreme abuse)? I know how it felt, but the N is so good at projecting the "problem" onto me. Would an outsider even see it? It's almost like being around the N is being exposed to some kind of invisible, debilitating radiation. Very frustrating to explain to others - can't get real validation since it is covert and subtle. That's why I wonder if a therapist could even see it in the video - they'd only see our reactions. That is what happened to me anyway, with very bad results. "jewel"

At 8:04 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

I wonder the same things. I have often thought of writing in actual dialog. But would anyone get it? You'd have to explain so much that you'd need thousands of words to give the background of a single remark. Otherwise the reader couldn't see through what the N is saying. N's are language weasels, using the passive voice (to avoid responsibility), confusion of a thing with what it ain't, hint and innuendo, and every other linguistic trick in the Handbook of the Prince of Lies. In fact, just try to quote one. You're lucky to get more than one or two quotables sentences, because so much is gibberish that stops sentences in the middle, changes sentences in the middle, and garbles the grammer so badly in a whirlwind of blabber leaping off on tangents this way and that. As audible speech we understand it, because we automatically fill in missing words and figure out what the person MEANT. But if you see that gobbdygook on paper, it strikes you as...well..babble, meaningless babytalk.

Usually all you can do is paraphrase with something like, "she said that..." or quote a sentence here or there.

And therapists or anyone who chooses to be obtuse, just won't get it anyway.

I'd love to see film of actual narcissists blathering like this, irrationaly yanking the dialog off onto bewildering tangents, and insulting and abusing their employees or family behind closed doors. THAT would make people believe and understand.

But there are privacy issues involved in obtaining such records.

Frankly, I think when there is probable cause, the law should set up the judicial system to issue warrants allowing it, just as for wiretaps.

THAT would make millions of narcissists think twice!

At 6:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's so stunningly subtle but enourmously effective, this work of a narc at his best. One morning, my narc co worker, who'd felt I'd "attacked" him with something I'd said, was FLYING with all kinds of cruel abuse towards me, in actions, and verbally, that was creating emotional hell in me, and I KNEW IT. We happened to be surrounded by a busy work environment. BUT.....
I also knew that anyone watching us interact, hearing what was said, watching our work performances, WOULD TOTALLY NOT GET IT. IT LOOOOOKS SO INNOCENT.. and this is one of the biggest traumas for a target: You, the Target, are the ONLY ONE besides the Narc, who really knows what's happening. Narcs also are so cunning in making it so anything done in self-defense makes you look really ridiculous to others.. therefore, SCRIPTING this kind of behavior for screen would be really difficult..

I have sometimes stood, paralyzed in disbelief and absolute awe at the power of their minds to create such situations that only the target can experience, and everyone else is totally oblivious.. It's an evil, devastating "talent," it makes me shiver to remember are so helpless at that moment.. you cannot defend yourself. THIS is true hell.

This thing that makes it so evil is the most difficult thing to capture on film..

At 12:01 PM, Blogger Toni said...

I'm on board with nearly every single comment on this blog...with one eensy exception. =)

My N had history and loved to tell it. His entire "personality" (I hesitate to call that a personality) was based upon his history.

I heard the stories..again and again and again. They were huge, they were over the top, they were endless.

In each of the stories there was a germ of truth. He did have 2 younger brothers. His mother was violent and reactive. His father was a drunk. He did go to school. He did get married and then divorced. He did break his jaw.

And that was where his history and the truth diverged. The rest of his fabricated life was designed to either suck you in, impress you, make your jaw drop or garner pity for his poor little upbringing and praise for his triumphal survival despite the odds.

We did the marriage counseling thing, prior to his NPD diagnosis. The counselor barely needed to ask a question before the verbal floodgates opened. One hour sessions filled with his voice...soft and tearful at times, bellowing in laughter at others.

So yes, some N's can and do have history and love telling it. Not that any of it is verifiable and true. LOL



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