Thursday, April 7, 2011


The way narcissists (and psychopaths) interact with others makes them extremely potent manipulators. How potent? So potent that their powers of manipulation are spooky and seem downright magical.

How does the way they interact with others make them such expert manipulators? Because practice makes perfect, and they have been practicing the art of manipulation in every interaction since birth.

Indeed, in playing to the mirror of your face, that's what they're doing, isn't it? Manipulating you. Everything they say and do is entirely for effect, to get the reaction they want from you. That IS manipulation.

They're regulating, manipulating your reactions. But you aren't like them. Your reactions come from within. So, what are they ultimately regulating and manipulating? Your thoughts. Manipulation is mind control.

Manipulation is a subtle thing. So subtle that we are usually unaware of being manipulated, unless the manipulator blows it and breaks the spell. So, manipulators are putting thoughts into our heads that we think are ours. A very dangerous thing.

Since a narcissist isn't acting on normal human premises, since all he is doing is playing you for the reaction he wants, truth is irrelevant. Truth or lies — it's all the same to him. Whichever works. Usually that's lies.

It would be more correct to say that there is no such thing as truth to a narcissist. Because there is no such thing as truth when playing Pretend. That's why narcissists and psychopaths beat lie detector tests. (In fact, so do many people from "shame" cultures where lying to save face of oneself, one's family, one's tribe, and one's religion is considered morally necessary and expected.)

Psychopaths are known to get so good at manipulating people that, by the time they're teenagers, they routinely fool and manipulate mental healthcare professionals, judges, prison officials, parole boards, and social workers who know they are psychopaths, are on the lookout for attempts to manipulate them, and should be immune to manipulation.

It isn't a matter of intelligence: it's a matter of practice, experience. This is because most of what transpires in interaction happens too quickly to think it through.

In playing to the mirror of your face, the narcissist receives a steady stream of your feedback to the steady stream of words and body language he sends. He continuously reacts to every nuance of it in "real time," if you will. A sideways glance from you might make him alter his choice for the next word in the sentence he is saying. Or his facial expression or tone of voice. Or it might make him take a step closer to you.

So, no matter how cunning a manipulator is, he isn't consciously analyzing your every slight reaction and fine-tuning his act to it. I say that because he can't be. That would be impossible, because no one could think that fast.

He must be relying on a lifetime of experience at this game, reacting habitually in certain ways to certain things he observes in you on the fly. In other words, this manipulation must be rather like the act of hitting a forehand in tennis.

You cannot consciously think your way through the stroke. Too many things are happening too fast. In fact, you will botch your stroke and be lucky to even connect with the ball if you try to consciously think your way through with "Watch the ball ... bend your knees ... keep your arm straight ... keep your head still ... step into the shot ... et ad infinitum." Well, that's exaggerating a bit, because there are only about 100 instructions I could list for hitting a forehand ;-)

You can't think that fast. No one can. So, you must practice that stroke enough under varying conditions to program the unconscious centers of the brain to execute it virtually automatically. When you net your shot or hit it out (provided you note how far off the shot was), your "program" is revised to get the bug out.

This phenomenon is called Natural Learning. It's how we learn to walk and talk.

That "program" isn't just a fixed set of muscle commands from the brain. It's an interactive program like a computer program. Because no two forehands are the same. Yet the more you practice, the better your forehand program, and the more effectively it faithfully produces a good forehand under widely varying conditions. You have only to make the major decisions, such as where and how to hit the ball: speed, spin, and placement. But Natural Learning is so powerful that even tactical decisions become virtually automatic in advanced players. Hence the best players in the world do very little conscious thinking while the ball's in play.

The power of Natural Learning is also illustrated by comparing experienced drivers with young drivers. Young drivers have no experience, so they must think their way through problems. Result? Crash. But with the same problem an experienced driver has no problem. He or she spontaneously makes an intuitive, instinctive move faster than the speed of thought. Result? No crash.

When playing to the mirror of your face, that must be what a narcissist is mostly doing — relying on a lifetime of experience that allows him to react instinctively to every bit of feedback he gets from you. That's how he fine-tunes your reactions into the feedback he wants. Rather like turning the knobs on a short-wave radio.

This is manipulation. And it's occurring faster than the speed of thought, because a narcissist has had so much constant practice at drawing the look he wants that most of his "moves" are virtually automatic.

This is why, I think, narcissists seem like machines with their knee-jerk reactions to things. But those reactions aren't knee-jerk reflexes: they are learned through experience to the point that they become habitual as second nature.

This is also why, I think, we tend to overestimate the intelligence of narcissists, psychopaths, con artists, and other manipulators like dictators who con their way to power. We think they must be brilliant to be so manipulative. But even a stupid narcissist I knew was extremely manipulative. Their skill is the fruit of constant practice at manipulation in every human interaction.

But it doesn't pay to underestimate them, either. That same practice makes them extremely observant and perceptive. Over time that will improve their intelligence, at least some aspects of it.

In fact, they are much more observant and perceptive than they seem. That's because all they're interested in is what they can use. So, though they block out much, what they do choose to see, they see very well. They are interested in your reactions, not you. So, they probably are more aware of how you react to things than you are. But the only information about you they're interested in is what that can use to exploit you. The rest they filter out of consciousness = forget.

So, never think that you are too smart to be manipulated by a narcissist, psychopath, or con artist. You aren't. And you surely can never beat one at his own game.

That's nothing to be ashamed of. It just means that you are an innocent who hasn't spent his or her whole life practicing the black art. So, you won't win that game.

By Kathy Krajco