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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At 12:26 PM, Anonymous holy water salt said...

I have many stinging words of my former friend chiseled into my psyche.

The classic line: I don't even know you.

That was during a fight- they were devaluing and discarding me and correctly stating- I had no reason to turn to them, they seemed shocked that I thought we were such good friends.

This was after almost a year of regular phone conversations that usually lasted an hour- though they were more monologues,visits and emails. Of course, it was always all about them- always. This fight erupted because I demanded to be acknowledged- they had dismissed an important event in my life and told me they had no interest in my work- though I was expected to devout my interest to theirs.

That sentence: I don't even know you. Was said with such condescension, my stomach turned and I cried- I knew they did not want to- and they knew very well, I was nothing to them,but a past-time.

I would have figured it out sooner, but they intiated almost all contact. They made it seem as if, they cared,were interested.

Nah- I was a prop.Damn- these creatures are all the same.

After a year- they didn't even know I had a sister.

At 12:48 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

Thanks for the example. It resonates with my own experiences with narcissists: "I don't know you" and the discarding after initiating almost all contact. Yes they are all the same!

Superficially they may seem different as night and day, but deep down they are all the same, as predictable as machines in their reactions to exploit things/situations. I constantly get surprised reader comments saying that their N does "exactly the same thing!"

We always think that this person is so weird they must be one of a kind. We are stunned to discover that their kind are as common as crab grass and anything but individually unique.

At 2:58 PM, Anonymous Dandelion said...

An excellent post. I think it captures the essential feature of the N, that of living in a pretend world (designed to make them look good), where the nature of the interaction with others is determined by how well they cooperate with the N's pretend world (narcissistic supply) at any given time.

I've always felt that my N-mom doesn't know me, although I was already an adult when I first put that feeling into words. It seemed so bizarre that you could raise a child and end up not knowing them. But maybe not that surprising in retrospect: if you consistently censor your child and make them feel guilty for challenging your perspective, they will stop speaking the truth and start pretending, because they don't want to think of themselves as hurtful. How can a parent possibly get to know you under those circumstances?

Even now, when I've come to terms with her and we see each other occasionally, she continues to say things that give away how little she knows me. Actually, the worst part is NOT that she doesn't know me. It's that she THINKS she knows me, and the things she thinks she knows about me are not about me at all, but sound like she's talking about somebody else (herself?)

At 6:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, and are these lines familiar to you? "there is so much I have to give, but you don't let me" or "I'am not a bad guy" or "I only mean the best" "what you see is what you get!!" (well, unfortunately that's true!!) "I don't have friends" .....

jt B

At 4:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a friend who I think is possibly more borderline than she is narcissist, but she most certainly treats the people around her as props.

She 'screens' her friends for their willingness to give her attention and sympathy (her NS) by telling them VERY sensitive information about herself within minutes of meeting them (i.e. her history of suicide attempts, her mental illnesses, what psych drugs she's on)

She'll drone ON and ON and ON about her mental illnesses and will stoop to unbelievable lows whenever anyone dares to divert the topic of conversation. One time she even screamed at the top of her lungs and brandished old self-mutilation scars to everyone in a group setting, simply because she'd been left out of the conversation for a few minutes.

She doesn't remember a single thing about ANYONE else around her, nor does she care about anyone else's problems (unless they bear some similarity to her own, which will then give her an opportunity to start talking about herself again.)

I used to feel sympathy for her until I realized she was just nuts. I nearly blew my top when she began crying and wailing about her insomnia to a woman whose husband had JUST BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH CANCER!!

I mean it, everyone is a prop to her, used mercilessly to bolster her fragile mental state and suffuse her with the emotional support that she is clearly incapable of giving herself.

The thing is, she never takes any action to solve her problems. I think this is because she is secretly getting off on them. It's nearly like her life is a melodrama, consistently spiraling out of control, and she's the star.

And we're the minor characters, standing around and merely participating in the show.

At 6:37 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

About the "possibly more borderline" friend. What you say strikes me the same way. There is obviously narcissism at the root, but it seems to have taken shape in something different than NPD. It reminds me of something Vaknin wrote, and I'd link to it if it weren't so hard to relocate something you remember reading on one of his many sites. But it went something like this.

He thinks all disorders in that group are actually rooted in narcissism and develop along slightly different paths. He viewed them all as forms of narcissism, with NPD being the manifestation of the very "competetive" type. It made sense to me, but I don't know nearly enough about the other disorders to have an opinion, so I just stored that interesting idea for future reference. With him you must consider the source, but that doesn't mean he can't be right about things.

This friend obviously, like a narcissist, must have all avaialble attention. She is very competive for it. People are denying her her due if they don't give it to her. Typical narcissist.

Her claim to all this attention is excuses for sympathy. That's the kind of attention she seems mostly after, and that seems somewhat different than most people with NPD. But, she is just as callous as your typical NPD, unfeeling and uncaring about someone with much greater pain and adversity. People are nothing to her, nothing but tools to shine attention and sympathy on her. More typical NPD. But the image of herself that she portrays isn't grandiose except insofar as it makes her out to be the only one of any importance. More overtly childish than NPD?

As childish as people with NPD are, they don't project an image of themselves that is childish. But I have seen an aged NPD get that way.


At 10:24 AM, Blogger sonicido said...

I went to your link: anti-attention. WOW. Just a few weeks ago, our "N" told the kids, "I am KING." and they all laughed. I told them, "And he thinks that he is."

At 10:44 AM, Blogger B.E.C.K. said...

This entry speaks to me. When I lived with my son's dad, he posted, on a bulletin board in a room I had to walk through, his list of qualities he wanted in a mate, which he'd written prior to meeting me. When he posted this, I was already pregnant with our child and we'd been living together for months. I deliberately avoided looking at the list, and my now-ex constantly told me I should look at it "to see how close you are to my ideal." Close, but not quite, of course. We went to therapy together (about eight therapists, because he kept finding things "wrong" with them), and his personal therapist asked me why I didn't want to look at the list, and I said I wanted my then-partner to see ME for myself. Needless to say, he never had any interest in really knowing me; he was interested in finding a baby-making machine. I found that out too late, and now I need to make sure my son grows up to be a good man.

At 11:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the one who at 44 dumps his wife and 2 teenage kids, hooks up with another and then all he talks about is how much better the new one is as if he were trading the old one in for a new car and has no idea how transparent he sounds.

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

Quote: If she sees you outside the usual setting, she may not even recognize your face!

I once got on the train that my n-mother was on. I recognised her at once but she did not recognise me. I did not think anything of it until now.

On the topic of personal details, before I knew anything about narcissism, it always used to amaze me how extremely self absorbed some people could be. I was amazed at how much I knew about other people and how little they knew about me. Apart from the selfishness, it always struck me as being very stupid not to find out about who you were dealing with.



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