Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Manipulator

'Let's pretend that you're the Red Queen, Kitty! Do you know, I think if you sat up and folded your arms, you'd look exactly like her. Now do try, there's a dear!' And Alice got the Red Queen off the table, and set it up before the kitten as a model for it to imitate: however, the thing didn't succeed, principally, Alice said, because the kitten wouldn't fold its arms properly. So, to punish it, she held it up to the Looking-glass, that it might see how sulky it was--'and if you're not good directly,' she added, 'I'll put you through into Looking-glass House. How would you like THAT?' — Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

To say that narcissists and psychopaths are manipulative is an understatement. They are frightfully manipulative.

How manipulative are they?

They are so manipulative that they even routinely con and manipulate mental healthcare clinicians — people trained to be on the lookout for attempts to manipulate them. For example, therapists evaluating violent offenders get it exactly backwards: though the psychopathic offenders misbehave much worse during the treatment program and after release than the non-psychopathic offenders, clinicians report just as high a rate of improvement among them, promote as many within the program, and recommend as many for release. In other words, these mental healthcare professionals are getting conned and in a way that even blinds them to the facts.

But, narcissists and psychopaths aren't necessarily all that smart. And manipulating others isn't just a hobby of theirs. It's part of the disease. It's inherent in the disease. It's an aspect of the way they interact with you.

As we've seen, they don't interact with you: they interact with their own reflection in the mirror of your face and actions. They "pose," in other words, adjusting their image in it. By doing so, they are carving out a work of art, shaping it by how they act.

So, narcissists say and do everything for effect. For example, when a narcissist is talking to you, she isn't saying what she thinks. She is saying what she thinks will draw the reaction she wants from you. She's playing you. So, while you are thinking about the subject at hand and many other things, she is focused on one thing only — your facial expressions and other reactions to her. Like Alice, she tries to control them, to shape them, to manipulate them.

For example, let's say that you're someone she wants to impress. She is pleasant, divining what wins your approval. Taking no chances, she hems and haws enough to probe for the right approach. She detects it in your responses, through your changing posture, facial expression, tone, diction, and so forth. When she sees the gratifying reflection she wants in your eyes, she goes there and puts it on thick.

Narcissists are so totally involved in this game that afterwards they won't remember half of what you said. They may not remember your name or recognise your face. The matter at hand is of no concern to them either. No matter what it's about, it's never about what it's about: it's always all about how they look and sound and seem in that mirror.

For example, if you're their boss, they want to carve out an image of themselves that is of the best worker in the joint. So, they adjust and fine-tune their act till the feedback they're getting from you reflects pleasure and appreciation on you, maybe something like this...

If you're their brother, however, they want to carve out an image of themselves that is greatly superior to you. So, they adjust and fine-tune their act till the feedback they're getting from you reflects your sense of inferiority and shame, maybe something like this...

Either way, in doing this, they're just manipulating you to give them what they want, aren't they? And narcissists don't just manipulate their mirrors some of the time; they do it all of the time. They view other people as objects, nothing but mirrors. They have eyes for nothing but their reflection in these mirrors, because they are as attached to it as we are attached to our inner selves. They identify with that thing.

Consequently, narcissists are extremely observant of people's reactions to things. That's an important point For, we are beguiled into thinking the opposite, that they are oblivious to the effect they have on people. (The only thing they're oblivious to is that other people are human beings with thoughts and feelings, not objects.) We make that mistake only because we wrongly assume the effect they want to have on others. That ain't the effect they want to have. They are highly successful at having exactly the effect they want.

From birth they learn by trial and error what kinds of behaviors elicit the reactions they want from others. That's a lot of practice at manipulation. Anyone who practices manipulation with 100% focus 100% of the time for 20, 30, or 40 years is going to get awfully good at it.

Because they pay such close attention to people's reactions to them, they learn much more about typical human behavior than we do. I discovered this through the back door, by noticing some patterns of behavior in narcissists and wondering why they always did a certain kind of odd thing in a particular situation. Which lead me to carefully observe how people responded. I was astounded that I'd never noticed that about typical human behavior myself. Yet I consider myself a fairly perceptive person. Go figure.

For example, I noticed a certain narcissist followed a pattern in reacting to anyone sucking up to him, especially someone he had yet to gain control over or one of his favorites who was getting too comfortable. The pattern? Instead of being flattered, he took offense. Somehow. In other words, he reacted to an act of sucking up as though it were the opposite, an insult or crossing him in some way. His anger would suddenly flash in a look that could kill.

When I saw the result, I mistook this narcissist for a genius. Such an off-the-wall reaction took everyone who witnessed it by surprise. Surprise attack. Shock tactics. It disarms the other person. It perplexes, like seeing an apple fall UP from a tree would perplex. Thus stunned, perplexed and disabled, the brown nose puts up no resistance when the narcissist then runs them over, viciously accusing them of having malicious intent and threatening that he would not "have" anyone like "that."

The brown nose just sits there with mouth hanging open, not uttering a word in defense. By the time Brown Nose recovers enough to, it's too late. Especially before an audience this humiliates and intimidates, establishing a domineering relationship with that brown nose.

Neat trick, eh? But it takes only a narcissist or psychopath to learn such tricks, not a genius. Why? Because they've been playing this game nonstop since birth.

An infant immediately learns how to manipulate the Mother-object to feed or change or hold it — simply by raising an intolerable racket. Recall what Mark Twain wrote about this: "I was nine days old at the time, and had noticed that if a pin was sticking in me and I advertised it in the usual fashion, I was lovingly petted and coddled and pitied in a most agreeable way and got a ration between meals besides." So, he lied, just acting like something was killing him, to get lovingly petted and coddled and pitied in a most agreeable way.

By the age of three, children's manipulative powers have grown more sophisticated. Now our little Einstein points at a candy bar in the grocery store. Mother hasn't quite gotten the word no off her lips yet before "WAAAAAAAH!" With a quick look around Mother already has that candy bar and is handing it to him. Mid-WAAAAAAH!" he breaks off and undergoes an instantaneous transfiguration into an expression of pure joy.

He's just a cowboy, riding at, waving his big hat at, and yelling at a little doggy to steer it in the direction he wants it to go. He's training Mother, with positive and negative reinforcement, like you train a dog. Throwing a temper tantrum is his stick, and leaving you in peace is his carrot. It's called Behavior Modification. It ain't rocket science.

The problem with psychopaths and narcissists is that they never mature and outgrow this primitive manner of relating to others as mere objects to manipulate. So, by the time they're teenagers, they're amazingly good at it, better than any normal person could dream of being.

By trial and error, they learn rules. The rules go like this: To get a "y" kind of reaction, do an "x" kind of behavior or To get a "y" kind of reaction, say an "x" kind of thing.

They don't figure the formulas out, they simply discover them by noticing that a certain type of behavior always elicits a particular type of reaction from people. Then they acquire these stock behaviors as habits. Because they always want the same thing, aggrandizement.

Their life is that monotonous, nothing but a series of opportunities for self aggrandizement.

Normal people don't pay such close attention to every little nuance of everyone's every reaction to everything they say and do. And normal people are above behaving like an obnoxious brat to make others do what they want. So normal people never learn these formulas. What's more, normal people don't do everything solely for effect. They are considering the matter at hand. The morality of their behavior is usually a consideration. Future consequences are a consideration. The good of the other party is often a consideration. So, behavior is complicated in normal people, who weigh many factors in the choices they make.

Narcissists don't. All that matters is what they want to see reflected in your reaction right now. Nothing else is any consideration. So, narcissists are more like machines than geniuses.

Kathleen Krajco