Wednesday, December 2, 2009
To understand what is going on in your relationship with someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), we must dig down to the root of the disease. Ready to take a stab at it?
When we interact with someone, our actions draw feedback in response. Our actions aren't just acts, as if we are communicating by kissing or punching that other person. Usually our communicating actions are words and other media of communication such as facial expression, tone of voice, diction (word choice), posture, gestures, and so forth.
Think of all this as information in a message we're sending.
It draws continuous feedback. This feedback isn't just what that other person does or says back. It's also the information in the look on his face, the tone of his voice, his diction, posture, gestures, and so forth.
We are alert to this feedback, because it is the only evidence we have that communication is actually taking place. Even communicating computers continually issue feedback information about the data they are receiving, as during a download. For example, the only way a server on the Internet knows that it maintains a connection to your computer is through the constant feedback your machine sends, which essentially acknowledges the receipt of every packet of information by answering "Got it...got it...got it...got it...."
We humans rely on this feedback information to judge whether our message is being understood and how it is being received. For example, a teacher constantly studies the looks on the faces of a class to see if they are getting what she says. She responds to this feedback, judging either that it's safe to go on or that she should try to make the point more clear. Again, for example, if you are correcting a child and you see him start to hang his head, you respond by letting up. Or, at least if you aren't a narcissist you respond that way: a narcissist will do the opposite and pile on.
This bounced-back information reflects the impression we're making on whomever we're interacting with. If what we're saying brings a smile to his face, for example, we see that we're making an agreeable impression on him. In other words, in this bounced-back information, we get a reflection, or an echo, of that impression. A reflection of our image.
The word image in this context doesn't just refer to our outward appearance. It usually refers mainly to our character, what kind of person we are.
Attention: I Gotta Have It All
Almost everything narcissists do centers upon their all-consuming need for all available attention. Just as you can't get a heroin addict in withdrawal to know the difference between mine and thine with respect to any heroin in the house, you can't get a narcissist to let anyone else have any attention. He or she has gotta have all.
Nature has genetically programmed the offspring of all higher animals to clamor for attention at birth. This is how Nature pressures the parents to forget their own needs and run themselves ragged caring for their offspring. It's amazing how much noise a nest full a baby birdies can make. And it's amazing how much noise a human baby can make. No parent can stand it! The lungs and vocal chords are magnificent already at this stage!
Why do offspring clamor so for attention? Why do babies sometimes cry for no discernible reason? Because Nature has programmed into them a desperate need for attention. In fact, even if their physical needs are taken care of, human babies can die from never being otherwise held and coddled and played with.
This great need for attention that results in clamoring for it improves offspring's chances of survival, but it also creates a problem that later development must resolve. For, it's a good life — being the center of the universe and having others anticipate and cater to your every need, there to make you happy.
The decision whether to grow up and strike out on your own or not can be a close call. Hence, some of those baby birdies need to get unceremoniously shoved out of the nest. When human babies hit their "terrible twos," they too can be a pain. They must be gently weaned from "king" status, or they will start using temper tantrums to control you and become a spoiled brat.
Like a narcissist.
She is like a three-year-old who stamps her foot and yells, "I want Mamma's attention, and I want it NOW!"
"It's all mine. Because I am the one who matters."
You will notice that, when anyone is given recognition before a group, a narcissist immediately starts showing dislike for, or animosity toward, that person. Immediately he sets out on a campaign of character assassination.
Envy is bitter, an extremely unpleasant emotion. It's normal only when some other party really has robbed us of our due.
A narcissist's unnatural envy is so universal and so strong that he cannot even stand being in a place where someone else gets attention. If he cannot keep that from happening, he will find some way to absent himself from the situation — if only by turning away from others and staring at a corner of the ceiling.
First, the need to have it all. An analogy illustrates the threat to others in this attitude. Let's say that you feel a compelling need to have all the dollars in the world. Then, no matter how many you get, you compete with others for every single one. That's unbridled, avaricious greed, and it makes you an adversary of everyone else in the world.
If you see a dollar in someone else's hand, you will want to take it away. Just because he has it. That's the desire to plunder others. In other words, you will view the possessor of that dollar as a predator views prey.
Therein lays the "malignance" in malignant narcissism. Indeed, the inescapable logic is that if you wish someone to have no dollars, you wish him harm. The need to deprive others of what they need, just so you can have it all, is the soul of malignance.
Narcissists are predators, but many people fail appreciate the meaning of that term, letting it in one ear and out the other. The word predator seems to mean nothing to them unless you put the word sexual in front of it. As if sexual predators are the only kind. Thinking that makes you easy prey for other kinds of predators, like street con artists, wolves and gold diggers ("love thieves"), false messiahs, wanna be dictators, and crusaders like Osama bin Wanton.
Being predators puts narcissists in a special class with psychopaths, that class of people who don't wish you well, no matter how friendly their facade — that class from which sexual predators and all other kinds of predators come.
In anticipation of those who will attack me for putting narcissists and psychopaths in this special class, I point out that I am not the one who does so: they do. They do this by identifying with their image instead of their true (human) self inside. They despise it. Precisely because it is human. And they consequently despise humanity itself, and all us merely human beings. They view themselves as gods relative to us, who look down on us the way we look down on cockroaches.
It's All About Attention
A false image is, of course, a work of art, an idol. And a lie.
A narcissist identifies with this image, not his true inner self. So, all he cares about is his image, not what kind of person he really is. Indeed, the latter has no real existence in his world.
In identifying with his image, he's identifying with an ephemeral figment that has but virtual reality, a purely immanent existence as a reflection in the attention shone on him by others. No attention, no image. No image, no self!
So, no normal person can imagine what it's like living in the mind of a narcissist. Where would their center of consciousness be? Got me hanging. Trying to imagine where your center of consciousness would be if you were outside yourself is rather like trying to picture the physics in the Fifth Dimension: I can't do it.
But we can take what we do know and apply logic to it for drawing conclusions. For example, what would it be like if you weren't always there for yourself? If your experience of your own existence was limited to seeing yourself reflected in mirrors?
You'd be forever posing before a mirror, wouldn't you? In fact, if you looked around and saw all the people/mirrors around you reflecting someone else (i.e., paying attention to someone else) and none reflecting you, you'd experience an existential crisis.
This phenomenon is strangely reminiscent of what happens when game birds hatch and "imprint" on their human caretakers instead of Mother Bird. Something essential never happens in the formation of their "bird mind."
So, it's all about attention. Narcissus' life is a game of monopoly for it all. And people are just mirrors to him.
He won't listen to you: you must listen to him. He won't look at you: you must look at him. Because you are just his mirror. This is no exaggeration: if you grew up in a home with a narcissistic parent, you grew up in a home with a parent whom you never had a conversation with.
There are two things to keep in mind about being someone's mirror.
One is that a mirror is just an object, not a person in its own right. It's there for his sake, like the rest of the furniture, to reflect his image by shining attention on him. In other words, he is the center of his universe and the world revolves around him.
As every mother knows, this is the mentality of an infant. It's natural in infants, who have not yet acquired a personality. We see it throughout nature. It's what makes baby birdies erupt in loud chirping, stick their heads up out of the nest, and stretch their gaping mouths wide — each struggling to chirp louder, stick his head up higher, and stretch his gaping mouth wider than everybody else — every time Mother comes near. This mentality is adaptive in infants. It makes them behave in a way that stimulates Mother's instincts to forget her own needs and see entirely to theirs. And it makes the biggest attention-getter in the nest most likely to survive.
The other thing to keep in mind is that mirrors are all pretty much the same. Narcissus doesn't notice anything particular about any of them because he's too busy maneuvering to get and hold their attention and too busy admiring the important image of him they're reflecting in the inordinate amount of attention he gets from them. Since people are just mirrors to him, he has no more interest in them than you or I have in a mirror we are studying our image in.
And since he has no interest in them, a narcissist has a knee-jerk reflex that tunes people out as background noise. He's too busy thinking of what to say next and too busy admiring how he sounds to hear them. This means that what Narcissus doesn't know about the significant others in his life is both amazing and diagnostic.
And so, narcissism is a mental dis-ease that can run its course to bizarre extremes of self-absorption.
Now let's pause a moment and reflect on what that mirror of attention is. Consider what "attentions" come packaged in it:
· What do you get in the attention of someone pausing to hold a door open for you?
· What do you get in the attention of someone telling you that you did an excellent job on something?
· What do you get in the attention of a military salute?
· What do you get in the attention of someone listening to how your day went?
· What do you get in the attention of someone visiting you when you're sick?
· What do you get in the attention of someone who comes to see you at the wake of a loved one?
· What do you get in the attention of someone who says "thank you" when you do something for them?
· What do you get in the attention of someone who decides against an otherwise ideal option because it would have an adverse effect on you?
· What do you get in the attention of someone who has offended you and (instead of making nothing of it by pretending it didn't happen) comes to you and apologizes for it?
· What do you get in the attention of someone who puts their arm around you now and then?
· What do you get in the attention of someone who wants to have sex with someone else but remembers that he's married to you and chooses not to risk his marriage to you?
· What do you get in the attention of someone who is interested in your grades at school or the results of your matches on the high school tennis team?
· What do you get in the attention of someone who expresses sorrow and anger over others mistreating you?
· What do you get in the attention of someone who comes to your side when you are in trouble and sticks up for you?
· What do you get in the attention of someone who steps up and lends a hand with some job you're doing?
· What do you get in the attention of someone who asks for your opinion and often follows your advice?
I could go on, but you get the idea. Attention is just a catchall term for many things. IE: regard , honor , acceptance , appreciation, consideration , comfort, respect, fidelity , affection, courtesy, gratitude, credit, deference, sympathy , admiration
moral support , apologies, trust, praise, cheer, cooperation, encouragement, understanding, help, compassion, empathy, love
This is the stuff of human relations, isn't it? All people hunger for these things, especially from those they love. These things are a human being's principle source of gratification and one nobody can thrive without. They are just forms of attention. And Narcissus' life is a game of monopoly for it all.
So he begrudges any of this GRATIFICATION to anyone but himself and steadfastly refuses to PAY the attention the OWES others:
· What do you get from someone walking through a door and letting it slam on you and your armload of groceries?
· What do you get from someone who makes nothing of offending you by never acknowledging that he has done so and apologizing for it?
· What do you get from someone who has no comment about some outstanding achievement of yours, such as authoring a book or winning a regional championship, and instead just acts as though it never happened?
· What do you get from someone who won't salute you?
· What do you get from someone who chooses an option that has an adverse effect on you, even though he has other options that would work as well?
· What do you get from someone never saying "please" or "thank you"?
· What do you get from someone who has nothing to say about others mistreating you, let alone expressing any emotion about it?
· What do you get from someone who immediately exits any room you enter, can't sit still to listen to you for a minute, and just generally acts as though you stink?
· What do you get from someone who shows what being married to you is worth to him by having sex with every other woman in town?
You get the message, don't you? You are nothing.
Because attention in all its forms is a value judgment. And that's why Narcissus has gotta have it all — so that he gets no end of gratification from your relationship with him and you get none.
That's predation. Parasitism.
For example, he compulsively does his best to make sure that others get no attention in the form of consideration. He must get it all, and others must be treated inconsiderately. You can run right down the list: Narcissus does likewise with everything on it, every form of attention. All regard must be for his rights and feelings; others' rights and feelings must be disregarded. He must get all appreciation; others must be taken for granted. Everyone must be faithful to him and betray all others. He must get all the credit for everything, others none. He must get all sympathy, others none.
He acts as though every ounce of this stuff were the last loaf of bread in a starving world that he has just gotta out-compete you for. Even if you are his sweet three-year-old daughter, he won't let you have any, no matter how fat he is.
This is the essence of narcissistic abuse. And when you take a second look at what he's doing, you see that he is denying others their right to be treated as human beings.
So, it ain't no minor matter. Doing this to someone in every encounter, 24-7-365, will psychologically injure anyone. And doing this to your own children is an atrocity.
Ask any addict: He doesn't care how bad you need a fix. He has no regard for the fact that you will die in withdrawal because he's gotta be a pig that has just gotta have it all. Narcissus is like that with his drug, attention. He won't share. He deprives his own children of it.
Doubtless you're aware of how retrograde into childishness this behavior is. Indeed, like a three-year-old, Narcissus is the center of the universe and absolutely certain that he has a right to whatever he wants.
Individuals with NPD assume that other people will submerge their desires in favor of the comfort and welfare of those with NPD. They believe that just because they want something — that is reason enough for them to have it. They assume that others are as consumed by concern for those with NPD as the individuals themselves are; they believe they deserve special consideration from others (DSM IV™, 1994, p. 659) (Millon & Davis, 1996, p. 394).
This "I-want-it-and-I-want-it-now" mentality is normal for three-year-olds, because they have not yet developed a proper relationship with themselves and have not yet come to see others as persons in their own right, with rights and feelings and needs that count.
But your narcissist is willfully forever three. All attention/gratification should go to him because he is dying for it and can't get enough, and everyone therefore just has to let him have it. Indeed, he feels that others are depriving him and stealing from him if they try to get any of it.
This attitude reminds one of the scriptural verse that proclaims that all glory, laud, honor, credit, and gratification belong to God alone. Whom Narcissus obviously has himself confused with.
Think what it means to demand no end of attention/gratification and refuse to let anyone else have any. Showing our regard for others in these ways is the essence of relating to others humanly, not as one would relate to some insignificant bug.
Even if he is fifty years old, inside is a child so immature it would kill him to share this stuff: He's just gotta have it all.
No matter what. No matter how desperately someone needs it, he can't let them have any. Praise someone before Narcissus, and he must tear that person down to deny them any praise. Do Narcissus a favor, and he must deny you gratitude. Need comfort, and he must find you contemptible and therefore unworthy of it. And so on. All to deny others one bit of regard.
By treating others as unworthy of any regard, Narcissus is acting as though they are beneath notice, insignificant and infinitely less important than all-important him. He pays no more regard to them in what he does than you pay to bug you step on while crossing the street. They are nothing; he is everything.
This is how he compensates for that demeaning value judgment imprinted on his soul. This is how he edits the shameful image of himself he saw reflected in a parent's disapproving eye. Since that's what made that parent a god, that's what makes him a god.
How does he enact this fiction? By treating you like dirt. And by maligning you behind your back. You could define a narcissist as someone who likes to treat others like dirt and ruin their reputations.
This is the game a narcissist plays, in a nutshell. Because he is an emotional imbecile (i.e., mentally of pre-school-age maturity).
The only people he doesn't abuse this way are those he doesn't dare abuse. Or those he can aggrandize himself by association with. Or those he can con and is setting up for a con job. Like psychopaths, narcissists view others as but objects, material to exploit for their own aggrandizement.