Sunday, February 03, 2008

A Vaccine for Narcissism

Perhaps the strangest thing about narcissistic abuse is the almost universal decision of the victim to put up with it. This is something other people cannot get their minds around. And it is one reason why they withhold sympathy from the victim, blowing off severe psychological abuse and mental cruelty as mere annoyance.

But there are many understandable reasons why the victim puts up with it. All people need do is think a little to understand.

For one thing, narcissists don't abuse anyone they fear retribution from. They typically go to great lengths to make a lover totally dependent on them, financially and emotionaly, isolating the victim from his or her family and former friends before the narcissist's mask comes off and the abuse begins. Count on it: narcissists are brave enough to abuse only someone they already have over a barrel.

This is what makes a narcissist's own children the easiset and most abused prey.

Imagine what life is like in a home where at least one of the parents (and probably a sibling as well) is a malignant narcissist. Marine Boot Camp is nothing compared to it. And, unlike Boot Camp, the aim isn't to improve posture and self-respect: the aim is to do the opposite. It's a constant hazing.

The children of narcissists have been brainwashed into thinking it's their fault whenever the narcissist goes off. It's because they aren't worthy enough to deserve better treatment. They have been trained to view the narcissist's crackpot behavior as normal: being irrational to keep from losing an argument is normal and acceptable in that home; blowing up because someone else doesn't dress, think, say, or feel what you want them to is normal.

Of course children raised in Hell are going to become adults who put up with narcissistic abuse. But let's get two things straight.

First, the mental healthcare industry must ditch the social and political agenda: this happens as much, or more, in high-income homes and middle-income homes than poverty-stricken ones. In fact, there is documented evidence of that among imprisoned psychopaths.

Second, the fact that grown children of narcissists are likely to put up with abuse doesn't mean they attract it. Or are attracted to abusers.

I really doubt that. In fact, I bet the children of narcissists are quicker to smell a rat than other people are. Not that it does them much good when a narcissist is out to con them. Narcissists fool EVERYONE, even cops and psychologists.

Years ago, I had a wonderful/terrible opportunity to observe a marauding narcissist in action. He was an employer in an institution where shit flows uphill, so that he was unaccountable because his powerful superiors would cover up, and stonewall justice against, anything he did.

He was quite a piece of work, and I actually had nothing better to do than study him. I noticed that he always tested a new mark. Right up front, within the first minutes of your first personal interaction with him, he would test you. If you passed that test, he was AFRAID of you! If you flunked it, as most people did, he moved in like a shark after its "tasting run" for the kill.

Knowing this already, I then had the misfortune to live next door to a very different style of narcissist. One whose true colors showed to be very seedy indeed when the honeymoon was over and the domestic abuse began. In contrast to the administrator I mentioned above, this guy had a rap sheet a mile long. He tried to move the lot lines with con schemes. He would run over his neighbors' fences and small trees and bushes with his huge, jacked-up pickup truck and leash his dangerous dogs out onto your property to keep you from getting to your garage door. Mean and wild as a junkyard dog, that is, and drunk every day.

How's that for a contrast in style? Yet both men were the same at bottom. They were just exploiting different environments.

To my surprise, he tested his prey too. Immediately after his wife and children suddenly disappeared one day, he decided to replace them. In fact, I was grilling steaks when I overhead him snarl at his dog that he'd "get a new dog too" if doggie didn't behave.

Before my wondering eyes could believe what they were seeing, he was hitting on me. Testing me to see if flattery would make me revise history. I was supposed to be so google-eyed over his sudden attentions that I would forget everything I knew about him and forget what he had done to us! I must say that that was the most breath-taking sample of raw narcissism I have ever seen.

But guess what? He was now a different person, an unassuming and likeable man any woman would like. I was just as surprised at myself as I was him. His magic was truly tempting me. I had to keep a tight grip on reality and keep reminding myself of the past - when Dr. Jekyll here was Mr. Hyde. He was quite thick-headed about it and couldn't take a hint to get lost. I had to let him know with a wink one day that I saw right through him and was entertained by his efforts.

Zoom, gone just like that, and bringing other women home from the bars for testing in the role of his new mamma.

The narcissist Sam Vaknin says the same, though in an abstract way:

I compared Narcissistic Supply to drugs because of the almost involuntary and always-unrestrained nature of the pursuit involved in securing it. ...The narcissist rates people around him according to whether they can provide him with Narcissistic Supply or not. As far as the narcissist is concerned, those who fail this simple test do not exist. They are two-dimensional cartoon figures. Their feelings, needs and fears are of no interest or importance.

Potential Sources of Supply are then subjected to a meticulous examination and probing of the volume and quality of the Narcissistic Supply that they are likely to provide. ...Needless to say that he loses any and all interest in them and in their needs once he decides that they are no longer able to supply him with what he needs: an audience, adoration, witnessing (=memory).

So, that's the crucial determiner of whether you are likely to fall prey to a narcissist or not - do you flunk these tests?

If you do, you will seem to attract narcissists.

In the case of the administrator, the first test was always a test of good faith. That's a test of your basic integrity. Commonly, it was a test of fidelity, probing to see whether you would betray a collegue to please terrifying him. But it could also be a test to discover whether you will betray the truth to please axe-weilding him.

A narcissist seeking a lover as prey might test you by going off like firecracker in some off-the-wall reaction to something you do or say. The test is to see whether this herds your behavior in the direction he wants, whether you attempt to appease him, whether you forget about it tommorrow (when he acts like it never happened) by acting like it never happened. In other words, you flunk this test by "forgiving and forgetting." To a narcissist, that's a green light. You pass this test by raising your own voice, saying, "What the hell are you mad about?" and "If you won't make sense and be reasonable, I won't waste my breath on you," deciding that if he is such a changeable, unpredictable Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, you aren't going to date him any more.

The street con artist always tests potential marks too. (See the chapter entitled "The Con Artist" in the book for more on this.) For example, will you do a stupid thing to please him just because he acts like you'll be a bad person if you don't? You pass the test by replying, "WHAT? Are you nuts? No!" You flunk the test by caving in to moral pressure by saying, "OK, I'll go into the bank and draw money out of my account to help you guys catch that evil teller."

In any case this test is always a test to see if the narcissist slams into the brick wall of a backbone. If he does, he flies away like a bee that has just discovered there's no nectar in that flower.

From these examples, you can see that the children of narcissists are more likely than others to flunk some kinds of tests. For example, they have been brainwashed to regard as normal and tolerate blow-ups in people with the nerve to be so rude. They have been trained to say, "Well, yes he does have a terrible temper but he doesn't carry a grudge." Note the irony in that: the fact that he's all smiles the next day is a BAD sign, not a good one!

But people with little or no experience with narcissists are more likely to flunk other tests. For example the test of that administrator or the street con artist.

The bottom line is that it isn't so much a matter of backbone as it is a matter of naivite. We all must face the fact that there are people like this out there. They look just like the rest of us. You can't tell who they are by their reputation or status or anything else. Only these red-flag behaviors give the predators among us away.

Never forget that faces are masks and that we never really know what's going on in anyone else's head.

You are easy prey for predators if you are naive, not knowing that you must just ALWAYS choose to have a backbone = ALWAYS pass the test.

No matter WHO that other person is. Yes, even if people will say you're a bad person for it: good people don't prostitute themselves to the threat of being called a bad person for doing the right and/or sensible thing.

So, just always pass the test. It's a vaccine for a narcissist-free life.

Not to mention a truly virtuous one.

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10 Comments:

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

Just to thank you for your last post, so edifying. My English is not good enough to tell you about my own experience but this story about this neighbour of yours reminds me of one colleague. So weird how they expect you to have forgotten how they used to behave or the awful things they did.Is it part of their 'magic thinking'?

J.F

 
At 1:10 AM, Anonymous Barbara said...

Testing me to see if flattery would make me revise history. I was supposed to be so google-eyed over his sudden attentions that I would forget everything I knew about him and forget what he had done to us! I must say that that was the most breath-taking sample of raw narcissism I have ever seen.

But guess what? He was now a different person, an unassuming and likeable man any woman would like. I was just as surprised at myself as I was him. His magic was truly tempting me. I had to keep a tight grip on reality and keep reminding myself of the past - when Dr. Jekyll here was Mr. Hyde.


OMG Kathy!!!

Anonymous - this is EXACTLY and PRECISELY what the last Narcissist I was involved with did to me. EXACTLY!!

Unfortunately, I had been raised by an N-mother and was divorcing my N-husband so I didn't see it. After 25 years this guy FLEW IN UNDER MY RADAR. He constantly questioned and covertly pressured my memory of things that had happened 25 years prior - while at the same time making me feel human for the first time in then 14 year marriage.

I fell into his thrall. Since getting out he's been cyberstalking, raging and attacking me.

Not wierd at all. Part of their plan. Revising history is all part of who they are. They even revise it to themselves!!

As I have said before Kathy, will you marry me??? LOL - thank you thank you for the validation!!

 
At 11:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was our neighbor, up to his shoulders in the hole he had just dug.

"Hey," I called out. "You're digging up our fence footings, and that fence is on our side of the property line."

"Not any more," said the neighbor. "I've dug up the property pins." He held them in the air.

Migod, do these psychos live everywhere? Obviously he has not heard of a real property report. Surveyors will note the missing pins and replace them. Idiot.

Only to be replaced by the neighbor who told my husband it would cost $1000 for him not to build his garage over the property line.

 
At 5:50 AM, Blogger sonicido said...

Childhood conditioning can be undone. I was not a child who grew up 'suspecting' because of my experience. I grew up accepting.
Becoming a Christian later in my 20's I was trained to "turn the other cheek"; "love suffers long"; and, "he who is without sin, may cast the first stone". Because the N's in my life provoked bad behavior from my own self, I knew I was definitely NOT fully pure in heart.

It took me many years to separate "man's" idea of God (religion) from, God and His idea of "man", i.e. mankind.

I have learned to separate religious actions-rooted in "man's" proclamation of "love"- from, actions that are rooted in the love of God.

Any time "love" has a human twist to it, I watch out.

An example of a human twist would be, when someone commits an unloving act towards their victim, and expects to be unaccountable for it while the victim is totally accountable to the perpetrator for their response to the unloving act.

This kind of meddling has ruined the human race.

 
At 6:50 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

"Perhaps the strangest thing about narcissistic abuse is the almost universal decision of the victim to put up with it."

I think it's easy to understand. If you live in a Narcissist's world, you don't have to make your own. It's why children don't know any better - children can't make their own worlds yet - so N parents make "sense" to a kid. And it's why the abused stay with abusers. The alternative is to make a world for yourself - it's a lot of work! And there's no one else to blame when crap happens. To an older person, no longer a child, it feels generous and virtuous and heroic to exist like that -- but it's the opposite - it's reverse parasitic behavior - it's just hiding in someone else's world. And it took me a long long time to figure that out.

 
At 7:56 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

Wow. Come to think of it, that's mainly what you have to do = make your own world (reality based), and choose it rather than the narcissist's. It's like a war of the worlds.

 
At 12:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have just submitted my comment in the "Shameless" essay over a married so called friend making a pass at me when I was vulnerable.

This essay has made me realise that although I did not plan to respond to him, I failed the test at first for two reasons.

First was my confusion over friendship and being overloaded by another predator and his aggressive lawyer as a tactic. I put off dealing with it until I was able to.

Secondly, since I was involved with other people and wanted to keep the group energy going, I gave him a graceful exit, since I did not suspect him as being narcissistic at first. Wrong move!

However, when I did deal with it, he treated my distress as a joke and was dismissive and cold. Infuriating and upsetting as it was, I guess that means I did eventually pass and I am glad to have had my eyes opened. Still, I would have preferred to have found out at a less stressful time and can't help but feel that I should have known better.

-Cassandra

 
At 3:34 AM, Blogger Lynn said...

Anyone can fall victim to the narc, anyone. However, they are prone to be more successful with the vulnerable, the one's who are either pre-occupied with other things (like grieving or getting over a lost relationship). They can be successful with those who were brought up by an N, a child who forever had their boundaries ignored or crossed and who lived in a competitive type relationship because as you say, they're 'used to it'. But what about the people who aren't aware that such predators exist in our society? If one did not have these things happen to them as a child and have never been made aware they are vulnerable too, because of their naiviety (sp?).

At the end of the day, all we can do is attempt to give our children good boundary recognition, good common-sense and decency and self-respect.

But in the end, the N may still get any of us, for they are devious creatures and can hide their fangs for a long time.

 
At 6:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hm, about regognize a predator...

While I'am still forced to fighting etc. after 5 years of the divorce date a helping "friend" made suddenly a pass on me with an intesity, beyond. Direcly everything in my body and mind blocked him...Red flag! And yes... I was sooo right.. (I was devostated though..never thought he would be one!)

Somehow, I did learn.. I sensed it, inmediately.. and nowadays I react instantly in the correct way for myself. Isn't that great?

So I think, once a victim, you don't have to stay a victim.

Knowledge is wisdom and Kathy, you are helping a lot op people. Great job, really!



jt B

 
At 3:28 PM, Blogger eclypz - owner - alphachakra.com said...

A narcissist seeking a lover as prey might test you by going off like firecracker in some off-the-wall reaction to something you do or say. The test is to see whether this herds your behavior in the direction he wants, whether you attempt to appease him, whether you forget about it tommorrow (when he acts like it never happened) by acting like it never happened. In other words, you flunk this test by "forgiving and forgetting." To a narcissist, that's a green light. You pass this test by raising your own voice, saying, "What the hell are you mad about?" and "If you won't make sense and be reasonable, I won't waste my breath on you," deciding that if he is such a changeable, unpredictable Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, you aren't going to date him any more.

I was just getting ready to write you and ask you if you could discuss your ideas on the borderline/narcissistic personality duality.

When I read the above selection it spoke right from my relationship. We were together for only a month but she was absolutely amazing in my eyes and she was outwardly successful, beautiful and seductive. But she would never come out and say these things, she had a false humility about her as well which kept me confused.

But after a month, I told her I loved her which was too soon I know but I went for it, and she said she loved me. That very next week she ignored my phone calls and stood me up on a date. I was crushed. I had no idea what happened. She finally calls me later that night and says she ignored my calls and stood me up because she was depressed because she felt like she didn't matter to me, like she wasn't important. She went on to say she felt like that because I was not calling her every day.

I was beside myself. I had no problem calling every day. It was still early on and I didnt want to crowd this amazing person so I thought if she wanted to talk she could call me too. But I was just happy to hear that it wasn't because she thought I didnt measure up!

I didn't get mad or defensive. I just said, please don't do that again, just talk to me if you're ever upset about something.

She went on to say that I am an amazing man because most guys would have been defensive or angry with her. In essence she quickly pointed out that she does this a lot, enough to know what kind of responses she gets and she didn't apologize for doing it but Rewarded me for putting up with it! She would go on and on about how she appreciated my patience but never really apologized for anything.

I knew something was wrong at this point. I wasn't completely ignorant. But I was hooked. After that she would snap at me for things that just seemed way out of line. She'd criticize me for things. But I hadn't had a serious relationship in a while. I've also been quite selfcentered myself so I was really trying my damnedest to be a better boyfriend.

Anyhow, I can now completely see this "test" for what it was.

I still am curious though about your thoughts on borderline and narcissism. After my breakup I began studying personality disorders because I knew soemthing was wrong, I just didn't know what it was.

I basically settled on narcissism first. It hit me. But at the same time she really didn't outwardly exclaim some sort of superiority. And no offense to her at all but she's not bright at all. She's cunning and clever in her own way but she can't hold a very stimulating conversation unless it has to do with her listening to me talk.

Then I started looking into Borderline. There it was! That's it! But then every day I go back and forth and it seems like she is a perfect combination of both.

Do you see this a lot? What are your thoughts on borderline and how it relates, especially considering both disorders usually have a sense of entitlement, lack of empathy and selfishness at their core? Is it a gender bias?

 

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