Wednesday, February 06, 2008

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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At 10:58 PM, Anonymous Barbara said...

Quick, narc, how do you play this to aggrandize yourself?



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