Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Passing for Normal

Narcissists and psychopaths know there's something wrong with them. A leading expert on psychopathy, Dr. Robert Hare, as a consultant for Nicole Kidman, who had asked him how she could show the audience there was something fundamentally wrong with her character in Malice, said:

Here's a scene that you can use. You're walking down a street and there's an accident. A car has hit a child in the crosswalk. A crowd of people gather round. You walk up, the child's lying on the ground and there's blood running all over the place. You get a little blood on your shoes and you look down and say, "Oh shit." You look over at the child, kind of interested, but you're not repelled or horrified. You're just interested. Then you look at the mother, and you're really fascinated by the mother, who's emoting, crying out, doing all these different things. After a few minutes you turn away and go back to your house. You go into the bathroom and practice mimicking the facial expressions of the mother. That's the psychopath: somebody who doesn't understand what's going on emotionally, but understands that something important has happened. as quoted by Robert Hercz

To pass for normal, sociopaths and narcissists fake feelings for others. Usually their act comes off badly because it's just mimicry of the normal human reactions they see in those around them: Monkey see, monkey do. So, for example, they mimic the behavior of others at a funeral. Usually their acting job isn't true-to-life, because it's just a hollow outward show of feeling they do not really have. And it's often so overdone that it makes you do a double-take, wondering if it's parody. It's not; it's just the best facsimile of human feeling they can produce.

In fact, narcissists I knew long before I'd even heard of NPD left me with a strong suspicion that they actually do practice facial expressions in a mirror — both tender feely ones and scary intimidating ones.

I know one who goes on and on in an Academy-Award act about how much she loves her cat. The lady doth protest way too much. I know of another whose eyes welled up in tears at any poignant moment for the flickers of light on a TV screen, whether it was a movie, a football game, or the singing of the national anthem. But he never gave up one bit of feeling for a real human being: regarding them as worth it would have killed him. Also, if you distract a narcissist during an acting job of faked feeling, he or she undergoes an instantaneous face change like an actor who drops character when the director says, "Cut!"

So, unless you're just a passing acquaintance of a narcissist, his or her total lack of empathy will show, despite their efforts to conceal it. And when it shows, it's unmistakable. It's chilling. And it's a warning sign to stay away from that person.

This is not to say that narcissists have no feelings. They do have feelings, but only for themselves. Even those feelings are strange, however. Presumably because they so reflexively repress their feelings, they don't experience the full range of normal human emotions and are limited to experiencing vague primitive emotions such as rage.

As for others though — to a narcissist, others aren't worthy of any feeling. They are but objects to exploit and plunder for ego gratification. It is impossible to overstate the significance of that.

Kathleen Krajco