James, our narcissist, initially presents as a rational person who disagrees with my basic tenet that a narcissist can choose his behaviour. James further identifies himself as autistic and in passing, describes narcissists as not being neurotypical. This popped my first red flag. James said: I disagree completely that you, Sweet Violet, are capable of "making everything wrong in your life the fault of someone else rather than choices you have made." because you, unlike your mother, are not a narcissist. It has probably never occurred to you to engage in the blame game your mother plays; likewise it has probably never occurred to your mother to take responsibility for her own actions. You, Violet, cannot choose to be narcissistic. Your mother cannot choose to be neurotypical.
There is nothing in the literature that I have been able to find that indicates a narcissist is not neurotypical. In fact, a PsychologyToday article would seem to discount that possibility with the observation that, in a test wherein the subjects were shown pictures of facial expressions and asked to identify them, “only narcissists were accurate at recognizing anger. Therefore, … narcissists appear to stand out as having enhanced cognitive empathy.” This is the antithesis of the autistic, who has great difficulty in reading facial expressions, including anger. Autistics and narcissists do share some characteristics, namely difficulty with empathy. Additionally, both autistics and narcissists can get fixated on something to a degree that is astonishing to others and they have often have a lot of trouble with change that they, themselves do not initiate. Narcissists are opportunists and it would not be surprising for a narcissist to seize on these shared characteristics to excuse his behaviour: people make allowances for autistics, knowing they are incapable of certain things and what better disguise for a narcissist to slip under the radar than to pretend to be an autistic?
But, like narcissists everywhere, James took it a step too far when he implied that narcissists are not neurotypical because the science simple does not support that. Unlike the autistic, who is not neurotypical and commonly has trouble discerning the meanings of facial expressions, the narcissist has an enhanced ability to do so. A search on Google, PubMed and NIH revealed no peer-reviewed articles supporting the idea that narcissists are not as neurotypical as you or I.
I responded to James—you can read the entire exchange here—and reiterated my position using examples, closing with “That you don't grasp this very fundamental fact of narcissists, that they can show one face to you and another face to me, tells me that either you have no narcissists in your life or that you have them but are deep in denial. Either way, you are one of the ones who doesn't “get it.’”
James responded with what appeared to be an empathetic response but then reiterated his position. Another red flag for me. He is unwilling to give up…I suspected at this point that he would not give up until I agreed with him, that he would rephrase and reframe his position until he got me to agree that he was right and I was wrong. This felt very manipulative: first show empathy to soften me up, agrees with my basic premise—that narcissists can show one face to some people and another face to others—and then reiterates his position, which implies they have no choice in the matter.
Again I refuted his contentions, again giving examples, and his next response gave me the “aha!” moment I was expecting: he twisted my words to support his contention. I replied: “Sophistry doesn't work with me. When faced with my brother's misdeeds, my mother did not punish him, she punished ME for ‘letting him’ misbehave. Narcissism or no, she had a CHOICE in who to punish.
“Narcissists cannot change their natures but they are perfectly capable of changing their behaviour. If they can treat one of their children well, they can treat them ALL well. They simply choose not to.”
And the gloves were off. James replied “It's not sophistry, but a rational argument, something which you unfortunately lack. I'm not going to waste any further time speaking to you, not because we disagree but because, despite my best efforts to not offend you and apologising when I thought I had, you have been consistently rude in return. It's entirely your choice as to whether you publish this comment; just knowing you read it is enough for me.”
I replied, pointing out how narcissistic this exchange was, but giving James the benefit of the doubt just in case he really was autistic, and pointing out that when he did not succeed in getting me to change my position, he became rude and attacked me. I then said I would not publish any more correspondence from him because “If a person can’t get his point across without attacking, then they don’t get space here.”
And that is where it got really interesting!
I didn’t publish his next response, which was “Well played, very well played. If I am a narcissist, I am not the only one here.” Note that I had given James the benefit of the doubt in my previous comment. I had specifically said “Now I am not saying James is a narcissist… I am going to be generous here and write off James’ rudeness to autism and an inability to grasp concepts that do not support his personal perception.” So James’ response to this was to gaslight and take the position that I called him a narcissist when I most specifically did not. He then attacked me yet again, calling me a narcissist. And amongst all of this, he revealed that this was a game to him… “well played, very well played” he said, like a chess player admiring an unexpected move by his opponent.
Then, in an attempt to outflank me, he sent two messages anonymously. How do I know they were from him? Because they were gaslighting: they accused me of being rude to James instead of the other way around. They accused me of wrongdoing and tried to hoover me back into the game, a typical ploy for a narcissist who is smarting from being bested in a competition that exists only in his mind. James (as Anonymous) said: Sweet Violet....what I saw was you going on the attack first and tried to argue your point so vehimently that you didn't allow him to have his own opinion. He also reacted as did you. You both have the right to your opinion and I would welcome to hear more of how the two of you worked through this. It's not about black and white, right or wrong, it's about really listening to the other person's point of view and letting them have their own opinion. BOTH of you....all of us.
I didn’t publish it so, a few hours later another message from James came in (narcissists hate to be ignored), also under the Anonymous name: It's o.k. for you to attack him? Sooooo those that disagree with you have no "voice"? hmmmm just curious Remember, my last published comment about James specifically excused his rudeness just in case he really was autistic…
Well, I didn’t publish that comment either and, true to narcissistic form, he was back this morning, this time with an email entitled: “Autistic? You wish.” The message said:
I lied about that, I'm a psychopath. I've written about being one: [link redacted]
You were a fun distraction for a little while, but your insistence on blocking anybody you don't like got in the way of that. Didn't the narc bitch who squeezed you out teach you not to get in a psychopath's way?
It's very interesting reading of your tales of scapegoating when you were a child. Have you ever wondered why Petey was the chosen one while all you got was blame and bruises?
As if you're going to answer, you'll hide away from me like the weak speck (though these days I read you're more of a blob) of nothing your mother always knew you were.
This, of course, made me laugh out loud. Talk about being butt-hurt and petulant! Victim-blaming, attacking, James came to the blog expecting to be a cat toying with a mouse and found a big dog who bested him at every turn. Narcissists don’t scare me anymore nor do they have the power to intimidate me. I will be generous here and answer the questions James posed in his email for you all:
1) Didn't the narc bitch who squeezed you out teach you not to get in a psychopath's way? Obviously if she did, that was not a lesson I cared to retain. Like a typical narcissist, you inflate yourself and call yourself a "psychopath" so you will sound more formidable but, like all narcissists, you are a weak person who creates a powerful false persona to hide behind. I was onto you in your first message…my red flag system works extremely well.
2) Have you ever wondered why Petey was the chosen one while all you got was blame and bruises? No, I never wondered at all because I knew why: she favoured him over me. And I knew why: because my birth caused her to have to change all of her plans for her future. And, instead of handling that fact like a mature adult, she childishly blamed me for it.
3) …you'll hide away from me like the weak speck (though these days I read you're more of a blob) of nothing your mother always knew you were. There is a difference between hiding and refusing to give an asshole a forum. Pity you don’t know the difference, James.
And so here you have it…an exchange with a narcissist from pseudo-empathetic beginning to truth-revealing end, complete with gaslighting, hoovering, sweet talk and attacks. A real smorgasbord of narcissistic interaction: I could not have given you a better example if I had created an illustrative analogy myself! Thanks, James!