It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Never-Ending Story: At War with a Narcissist

In response to my posting a few days ago, A Fable for our Lives, I received a comment I was not sure if I should post or not. The writer claimed to not know any narcissists but the subject fascinated him/her, and the writer posed a question: why go NC, why not engage the narcissist and overcome her? Although I eventually published it (and got a comment from the writer regarding my reply) I still have my reservations: the letter was just a little too disingenuous, just a bit too “innocent” and the reply continued to advocate engagement and seemed to not understand why people would prefer to simply shut troublemakers out of their lives.

My personal suspicion is that the writer is a narcissist who is trolling but, frankly, the question is a good one. Many of us teeter on the horns of a dilemma with respect to engaging our NMs, many of us are still so angry that the idea of engaging and winning is a favourite fantasy. But most of us are also aware that giving that much time and attention to a narcissist is exactly what the narcissist wants…she doesn’t care if the attention you give her is negative or positive, just so long she gets it and the Nsupply it brings.

A couple of readers responded with excellent answers and it occurred to me that the very best answers to the question of engagement would come from you, the readers who have such a tremendous body of experience in dealing with narcissists. So, I am going to copy the original query below, along with the replies, and then ask you to respond in the comments section. Your collective wisdom is greater than anything I can come up with on my own.


Anonymous September 27, 2014 at 2:30 PM
I have a few questions for you.

First, I have no experience with malignant narcissists. I'm not aware of any immediate or extended family member that has any personality disorder. I've just been reading a few sites that are written by others because I stumbled onto the topic and want to learn more..

You wrote "Or do we simply accept that it is the nature of these creatures to sting, bite, steal and do whatever we must to avoid being injured by them?"

One thing I've noticed in others writings is that the emphasis is on avoiding the MN. Doesn't this play into the MN's hands? Doesn't it leave the initiative to them, and puts everyone else on the defensive, and in a great deal of stress waiting for another attack?

My question is: Wouldn't it be better to gain the initiative and engage the enemy? Put them on the defensive, by pushing their buttons incessantly and without mercy? Make them avoid and fear the abused instead of the other way around? Make THEM go NC, or be destroyed.

I have a hard time understanding why going on the offensive is not discussed in any site I read. I know there could be a reason for that. It could be because I don't know enough, and there are legitimate reasons for not doing this. But as a reader, I have to ask what I consider the obvious question. Why not go on the attack. It's self defense.

Sweet Violet September 29, 2014 at 3:09 AM
Why would anyone want to increase the discord and drama in their lives when a less fraught path was available?

What you fail to realize about narcissists is that they do not respond to provocation like mentally balanced human beings, and they have few (if any) limits. I know narcissistic mothers who have mounted extensive campaigns to malign their scapegoat children and make them look crazy (or worse) and end up taking custody of the target's children away from them. I know of scapegoat daughters ending up in mental health facilities due to the lies told by their narcissistic mothers. I know of one woman who ended up in jail when her mother called the police and reported she had been beaten by her daughter and the woman's enabler husband claimed to have witnessed it.

Who, in their right mind, engages a crazy person who has no limits to the level she will sink to get her own way when cutting off contact is an available choice? 

Anonymous September 29, 2014 at 11:52 AM
Sweet Violet,

I am not saying to engage them on their terms. Just the opposite.
I know they're dangerous, and they don't respond like real humans do, even though I don't know this by personal experience but by reading about them..

By provocation, I mean reframing the conversation, or using other offensive tactics that actually work instead of being on constant defense. I'll give an example of what I am writing about.

Suppose for example you have a weight problem.
Suppose mommy dearest calls up. She heard of a diet that might help you. She is trying to push your buttons while appearing oh so helpful.
Respond with "Ohhh HIIIiiiii! I was just thinking about you. I have some good news! "
And then give her some good news about your life and tell her how happy that makes you feel.
Totally ignore what the beast says in reply and go on with the conversation on your terms about your good news.
And then hang up on her because a friend just showed up at your door. Doesn't matter if it's true or not, just so she thinks there is a friend at the door. Let this thing know that someone else out there is more important than they are.

Give her nothing. Except rage and fear. If rage and fear are all they understand, then I say give it to them generously, with heaping portions. Let that creature feast on it.

Is it legal to record conversations? I'm not sure where you live, and laws vary. Some states allow recording if you are party to the actual conversation. I'm in IL, and technically it's illegal (last time I checked) but it isn't prosecuted if I am a party to the conversation. If you can legally do this, then why not do it?

I'm writing about being underhanded, and maybe vicious depending on what you consider being vicious, but 100% legal. And pushing the buttons that will set them off. Poke them with a verbal stick. And let them blow up and be known as the crazy one. Bonus points if you can get a recording of it.

They are going to do what they want. If they want your kids, they will find a way to try and take them. If they want a person to be miserable and end up in a mental hospital, they will find a way, whether they are engaged (fought) or not. Am I right or wrong?

They are going to keep doing this until they are stopped. And from what I read, any fighting back is done on the MNs terms because they are reacting and responding to the MNs behavior, so no wonder it has no effect on them, or it actually feeds them. Abused fight back defensively and that leaves the initiative to the MN,

If cutting off contact is an available choice, and it actually works and doesn't provoke stalking, then I understand that. But what if that isn't a viable option, or what if they find you? From what I've read, some MNs will stalk. I personally would not want to be constantly looking over my shoulder 24/7/365.

People write about "vengeance". This isn't vengeance. It's self defense. People have the right to fight back hard when under attack. It just seems that not many have the desire. I said it seems that way, to me. But I am only in my shoes, not anothers' shoes.

Are there any men that blog about this? 

Sweet Violet September 29, 2014 at 10:41 PM
I still don't understand why anyone would choose to engage a narcissist and bring all that drama or why anyone would even advocate it. Yes, some of them will stalk, but most of them, if denied Nsupply long enough (and engaging them gives them Nsupply) will go to greener pastures. Since we who were raised by narcissists know that there is no possible way to change the narcissist's behaviour and belief, and the only way you can "win" is to get that narcissist to change, what is the point? All you do is make your own life more disrupted than it already is, make the narcissist the focal point of your life, and encourage her...counterproductive, if you ask me.

Venus September 29, 2014 at 1:26 PM
So true, Violet. Narcissists LOVE the drama, love the challenge, and are all about it being a bloody competition. ...which they must win at all costs.. :-(

It's a foolish thing to take one on, thinking you can beat them, because they are usually already doing things you could never have anticipated and it's usually something where YOU will cop all the blame, and wish afterwards with all your heart, you'd not allowed the narc back into your life, or worse, thought you could beat them at their own game.

As Violet pointed out, narcs have NO limits. You can never really anticipate their next monstrous step, and often what they are ALREADY doing....meaning, they are already setting you up. They've already out maneuvered you (and sabotaged you), before you've even started.

All it does is excite them. They feed on it. My NM loved to be challenged, and where a normal person would be in tears and stressed out by being confronted, my NM would go cold and deadly calm and verbally cut her 'opponent' down until she'd break them (I'd seen her do that with many people over the years), then privately set about her future revenge. And revenge with a narc doesn't stop, until they are sated. And sometimes, that may be a lifelong campaign against the other person. (momentarily interrupted, if the other person is of use to them in opposing some new opponent).

I don't think narcs are ever satiated. And that's what makes them so dangerous.

Opposing a narc, only excites them. It's like trying to put out a fire with gasoline.

That's just my experience. 

Anonymous2 September 29, 2014 at 11:38 PM
The following is from a reader who was unable to get her comment to post, so she sent it to me via email and asked me to post it for her.

Oh, yes, wow, I like the idea of going on the offensive against my narcissist mom and enabler/co-narcissist dad. I used to quite enjoy baiting my mother just as she had baited me for years, into revealing her own lies or contradictions and then slamming her with it to her face to where she COULD NOT deny/excuse/smokescreen/etc. She'd be in a momentary state of shock, cornered, helpless, and it was DEE-licious for me. I would not drool and smack my lips, though, no no. I just enjoyed the effect and then, like she would do after slicing my heart to bits, just continue on as if nothing was happening, just pick up the conversation from a nearby spot and move on, la ti da, kind of what you'd call cat-and-mousing her. It was useful to see that I could outsmart her on that level, at least. And she's pretty freaking smart, with so many more years of practice at tricky-talk.

Like so many of us learn though, that kind of engagement probably just escalates a war that can never be won. But they were invaluable moments in my life where the lies had been stripped away and there we were: mother and daughter, stabbing each other until one knocks the other one's sword down and sticks the point of her sword to the skin of the other. In my mind, that's what I felt like, and I thought along the lines of, "I could run you through right now, and we both know it, so we leave this battle knowing that I spared your life."

I did that several times over in a few years' time. It probably made her more guarded, more offended at me, even more alluring a target for her to aim at, and no doubt, NO DOUBT, caused her to attack me more viciously behind my back. Knowing what I know now, chances are she described those conversations where I nailed her, but changed who said what to whom. She is a classic case in that regard: always taking credit for what good I've done, and trashing me for crappy things SHE'S done or said to or about others (meaning my siblings and in laws). I've heard that directly and voluntarily from two siblings, and seen it in the private email between her and another sibling (I was "cleaning" my mother's jammed-up computer for her while she was in the room with me... can't tell you how long I was waiting for a chance at that job... JUST to see if I could find something in writing, and I did. Just once, just one crack at her computer... pay dirt. Painful, but, the real truth, in black and white.) And, one sister in law copied a letter my mother wrote to her son, my nephew and junior by twenty years, where my mother arbitrarily brought my name forward to bash me; I begged that sister in law to help me keep my sanity by giving me a hard copy of that letter, on the promise that I would never, ever shove it in my mom's face. That SIL never really liked me, but, this she did give to me. Seeing it in black and white was powerful, but possessing it in black and white is long-term NOT FORGETTING.

Anyway, the point is, I'm so glad I had those moments of going on the offensive and gaining the victory of seeing her squirm with her unveiled lies, and of the achievement of cornering HER; and, I can't really tell you or myself if it made my LIFE any happier. It helped me put the period at the end of the sentence though. It's hard to CATCH this woman, and I did, many times while I had to be in her vicinity anyway, and it informed my continued healing: she was really, really lying, and bad-mouthing me, and I got her to paint herself into the corner and reveal herself. I certainly could no longer go on trying to fool myself whether she was trashing me to others or not. That's a passage, progress, as long as I REMEMBER it. That's the thing: we have to keep remembering every day: this is what she is and this is why I must keep saying NO to her being in my life.

I want to be happy.
~~~~~~~~~~

So…what would you like to say to this person who seems to think that our best option is not to walk away from the drama but to engage and escalate it? Please comment below.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Good, the Bad, and the Gullible


Years ago, my cousin Sue found herself in desperate financial straits. She was over extended and needed a consolidation loan to sort it all out. But our local lenders had turned her down for such a loan and she was looking bankruptcy in the face…until she spotted an ad in the classified section of our local newspaper that promised loans to people who had been turned down by more conventional lenders.

She answered the ad but soon found herself in a quandary: there was a $600 “loan origination fee,” and she didn’t have the $600—I found out about this because she asked me to loan her the money, promising to pay me back as soon as the loan came through. She came by my house to pick up the money and in her hand she had a FedEx envelope and in my head the red flags began waving furiously.

I pointed out to Sue that the “lender” wanting the fee was suspicious, the lender wanting her to send the money via money order or certified check was suspicious, the use of FedEx rather than the regular mail was super-suspicious. But Sue explained it all away, attempting to allay my fears in the same way she had allayed her own: loan origination fees were not uncommon (even though wanting the money up front was unheard of), why would a lender trust a check from a person who is desperate enough for funds to answer a classified ad, and the FedEx was just a way to expedite things, not a way to avoid being arrested for mail fraud.

Well, you probably guessed it—it was a scam, Sue lost the $600 and the so-called lender was never heard from again. I sent her to a debt counselling service that helped her dig herself out of the financial hole she was in and she lived another 20 years in much better financial health due to the lessons she learned.

We have all heard tales of people who lost their life savings in various scams: the Nigerian scam, Ponzi schemes, even putting money down to rent a property at an incredibly good price, only to find out on moving day that twenty other people also think they have rented the property. We have heard of young women going out with someone they met on the internet, only to end up beaten and raped or worse. There are now epidemics of completely avoidable diseases circling the planet because some parents trusted wrongly and did not vaccinate their children and now not only are they paying the price, but some of their innocent children are ending up blind, deaf, crippled or even dead.

What all of these people have in common is gullibility…and we are all susceptible to it. And being gullible doesn’t mean we are stupid, either. In fact, “‘Intelligent people are more likely to trust others, while those who score lower on measures of intelligence are less likely to do so,’ reports a just-released study from Oxford University.”

Intelligence, however, is no match for greed or desperation. Our ability to rationalize, to engage in confirmation bias, to believe what we want to believe leaves us vulnerable to predators of all kinds. To my way of thinking, gullible people fall into three basic categories: 
1) Greedy: these are the people who get involved in “get rich quick” schemes;
2) Too trusting: those who see the world through rose-tinted lenses, unwilling to admit that people are not what they seem to be on the surface; and
3) The desperate and hopeful: these people, while they may know better on a deep level, are so despairing and hungry that they ignore the warnings from their subconscious, desperately hoping the illusion they are ascribing to is true.

Many ACoNs fall into the last category because 1) they so badly want something to be true that they fool themselves into believing it and/or 2) they simply do not trust their own judgment, their own critical thinking skills, and so they go along with something that sounds plausible…or that fits with what they want to believe. A University of Leicester study found that “People who have experienced an adverse childhood and adolescence are more likely to come to believe information that isn’t true—in short they are more suggestible, and easily mislead…they might succumb to peer pressure more readily…The majority of people may learn through repeated exposure to adversity to distrust their own judgment; a person might believe something to be true, but when they…read something in a newspaper that contradicts their opinion, or they talk to someone with a different view-point, that individual is more likely to take on that other person's view…This is because the person may have learned to distrust their actions, judgements and decisions due to the fact that the majority of the time their actions have been perceived to invite negative consequences...there is already evidence to suggest that there is a relationship between intensity/frequency of negative life impacts and degree of vulnerability. Experience of adversity may have a knock-on effect on a person’s mindset—they may come to believe that ‘they are no good’, or ‘nothing they do is ever good enough’…”

As people who had negative, abusive childhoods, we are at particular risk for this vulnerability. According to the same study “…parents who cope with stress/negative events in a more stressed manner (raging, acting out, drinking, expressing a pessimistic view of the world)…may in turn transfer that way of behaving onto their children.” It’s no surprise that we might learn certain behaviours from our parents…they are our primary role models during our most formative years…but those of us who grow up as the family scapegoat may well be the ones who experience the knock-on effect mentioned above while our GC siblings emulate the narcissistic parents and learn raging, acting out and a host of other negative behaviours.

Growing up as a scapegoat is anxiety provoking. According to Christina Valhouli in a Columbia University publication Psychologists agree that all belief systems—astrology, Objectivism, religion—ease anxiety about the human condition, and provide the illusion of security, predictability, control, and hope in an otherwise chaotic world.” One of the things that powerless people like scapegoats crave is a feeling of security or predictability in their lives and, like the anorexic who seizes on food as a way to have at least some sense of control in her life, we are susceptible to accepting and believing things that give us that same feeling of control, including things that we would reject if we viewed those things critically, trusted our own judgment, and did not feel such a pressing need for control…any control…in our lives. This leaves us vulnerable to exploitation by everyone from New Age nonsense to manipulative narcissists both inside and outside of our families.

We seek and develop or accept beliefs that make us feel secure, that give us a feeling of control or comprehension of a world we have heretofore experienced as chaotic, regardless of their objective truth and effectiveness. Columbia sociology professor Herbert Gans says “People believe in things like astrology because it works for them better than anything else…Your own system is the most efficient one, whether it's a guardian angel, a rabbit's foot, or a God watching over you. And if it doesn't work, there's always an excuse for it.” This is how we end up with perfectly intelligent people spouting nonsense about guardian angels, protective crystals, magic cures like EFT and a host of other pocket-picking, common sense hijacking exploitive panaceas: we need to feel protected or in control so badly we sacrifice both money and good judgment to anything that makes us feel better.

“Dr. Robert Glick, head of the Columbia Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, calls belief systems ‘societal pain relievers.’ ‘People will recruit anything from their environment that will ensure and protect their safety,” he says. “It gives you a sense that you're not alone, and helps ease feelings of being powerless.’ Power—whether an increase in a person's perceived power or an abdication of it—is a major component of pseudoscience, and Glick explains people's relations to power in Freudian terms. He describes belief systems as a metaphoric representation of our parents, providing a release from authority and responsibility. ‘People have a built-in predilection that wishes for assistance and support. This is an extension of childhood, where there were always people around us who control our life. Beliefs like astrology and even religion are a projection that there are forces in the heavens that are like your parents.’”

Some of us may think this is not really a problem, that if a person derives comfort from these beliefs, that it all that really matters. And while I can see why someone might think that way, my point of view is much different. I think it is dangerous, not only because it encourages a vulnerability to the predators out there, but because as long as we are seeking magic fixes for our problems we are not actually fixing them. I liken it to a cancer patient who, fearful of chemo and radiation therapies, seeks quack remedies that ease her mind but allow the cancer to grow to unmanageable proportions. Quack therapies, whether for physical or emotional problems, are good only for their purveyors, lining their pockets and/or boosting their egos. They ultimately do nothing but harm to the believer by keeping the believer gullible to other quack remedies and preventing the believer from getting real, effective help.

So how do you know if you are gullible? And what do you do about it?

Do you eschew mundane, ordinary solutions to things, especially if they might take a long time and/or cause you to feel pain? If you do, you are vulnerable to quack remedies (it doesn’t mean you will fall for them, only that you are exactly the kind of person the promoters of such quackery are looking for). Do you distrust the government, modern medicine, or the scientific process? Do you believe that magic is or “might be” real? Do you think that the ancients knew more than we do now? Do you think there is a way to change another person through meditation, potions, prayer, or other forms of manipulation-at-a-distance? Are you superstitious about anything? If you answered “yes” to even one of these questions, you are at risk: somewhere out there lurks at least one charlatan who specializes in your particular vulnerability and s/he has a magical, scientifically-bankrupt scheme intended to either separate you from your money or inflate his own sense of importance by drawing you into the fold…or both.

The question you must ask yourself, before you buy into one of these quack theories is whether or not it is scientifically valid. Not junk science, but bona fide, real science…has it been independently studied, have the studies been published in bona fide scientific or medical journals like Nature or Lancet? Can you access these studies through sites like PubMed or NIH? Because if they are only available through a website, if they purport to be a “secret” or something “known by the ancients,” it is virtually certain that you are looking at a scam disguised as something beneficial.

We who have narcissistic parents have spent our lives living in fantasy worlds constructed by someone else and for their benefit. Most of us “drank the kool aid” as part of our upbringing: to be safe, we had to go along with the craziness that was our narcissistic parent. But as adults, unsure of our way and not trusting our own judgment, we are vulnerable to those whose voices ring with authority. I can remember second guessing myself…wavering on my own memories…because my narcissistic (now ex-) husband was so absolutely certain that he was right…his confidence was so strong...that it made me question my own. We are vulnerable to that voice of authority because we have been conditioned to not trust our own senses or thought processes but to accept what others…those to whom we allow authority over us…tell us.

So how do we overcome this vulnerability, how do we stop being gullible? The short answer is “critical thinking.” It means depending on scientific method and healthy scepticism. It means analysing something and throwing out what we want to believe in favour of what is rational…and sometimes it means believing things we don’t want to believe. It takes time and it takes self-education and sometimes it takes being willing to embrace ugly truths instead of the pretty lies that we want to believe. Start by learning how to differentiate between “junk science” (like the anti-vaxxers rhetoric) and real science, then move on to learning how to differentiate between valid and specious logic. Learn what the “scientific method” is and then apply it to claims from various sources for miraculous or instant cures for your ills, both physical and emotional. Learn to be sceptical of fantastic claims…the more fantastic the claim, the more likely it is to be untrue.

By becoming sceptical you not only begin to protect yourself from the scammers and cultists and manipulators out there, you begin to acquire the skills to protect yourself from the narcissists in your life. They depend on your gullibility and vulnerability to succeed in having their way with you. When you start being sceptical, you stop believing their every promise, spoken or implied. You start pulling away from the games they play that inevitably end up hurting you or those you love. As you gain clarity about how people hoodwink each other and how your own subconscious desires play into it and allow you to be the mark yet again, you will start seeing the game before you get sucked in and hurt, not after. It is all about forcing yourself to see and recognize the truth…the real, ugly, hard truth.

And that truth will ultimately set you free.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Fable for our Lives


A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won't sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.”

The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?”

“Because,” replies the scorpion: “It is my nature...”

Scorpions sting, mosquitoes bite, magpies steal…does anyone expect anything different from them? How many hours have been spent trying to elicit change in the natures of these beasts? How much guilt and personal pain do we endure because somehow, some way, we provoked them? How much hope do we hold out that we can walk through a cloud of mosquitoes and not get bitten? Or do we simply accept that it is the nature of these creatures to sting, bite, steal and do whatever we must to avoid being injured by them?

You know where this is going, don’t you? Do you think that the rules of nature don’t apply to one particular pet mosquito you might have? Or perhaps you think you can induce your pet magpie not to steal shiny things you leave laying around your house. Have you tried, like the frog, bargaining with your scorpion only to find yourself stung yet again?

For some peculiar reason we find it easy to accept that the scorpion will sting without provocation, the mosquito will bite you because you are there, the magpie will steal because it is its nature…and we hold no hope of them changing their behaviours. We accept that this is what they are and what they do and we take steps to protect ourselves and our loved ones from them. And yet, we live with a scorpion in our midst, a blood-sucking mosquito at our elbow, a magpie at the other end of the phone…and we expect them to change and we feel guilty about taking steps to protect ourselves and our loved ones from them.

I am, of course, talking about narcissists. And denial…your denial and the pervasive and perhaps subconscious belief that there is a chance that your narcissist will “wake up,” grow a conscience and miraculously transform into a loving person who will feel remorse for treating you badly and bend over backwards to make amends.

We are talking about hope, that same hope the frog experienced when he agreed to ferry the scorpion across the river, the same hope that was dashed midstream when the scorpion dropped the mask that inveigled the frog into making what would become a fatal agreement. Like the scorpion, narcissists spin a good tale. They draw us in with convincing logic and faked behaviours and, like the scorpion, can maintain the fa├žade for as long as it takes to achieve their objectives. But once victory is firmly in their grasp, they revert to their true selves and you are again stung.

It is tempting to say that the frog’s mistake was in believing that the scorpion could change its nature, but I think it goes deeper than that. You can believe something is possible without committing your well-being to it…that takes hope. It takes both the belief that something is possible and the hope that it is true to take us to the point of making that commitment…the frog not only believed that it was possible for a scorpion to restrain its nature, the frog had the hope that it was true and, based on that hope, committed himself to what turned out to be a fatal venture. Humans do this all the time…we believe it is possible to get a million dollars by helping some Afghani general’s widow smuggle ill-gotten gains out of the country and hope leads us to believe her tale is true. We believe it is possible that the doctors are wrong and hope leads us to quack cures for illnesses like diabetes and cancer. We allow hope to lead us down paths where, if we had no hope, just bare facts, we would never consider treading.

Hope is not a bad thing…misplaced hope is a bad thing. When we hope some creature will go against its nature because that is what we want it to do, we are doomed to disappointment. A man who climbs the fence into the lion enclosure at the zoo because hope has led him to believe the lions won’t harm him…even though he has never been within touching distance of a lion…will be locked up (provided he survives) for observation, his mental health in question. And yet we, who have a lifetime of experience being hurt by the stingers of our narcissists, keep coming back for more, driven by the hope that this time it will be different.

It is said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, but I disagree. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is a manifestation of hope…hope that something, this time, will change, that something we say or do will lift the scales from their eyes, soften their stony hearts, open the locked and sealed doors of their minds. We try everything: kindness, cruelty, acquiescence, rebellion, withholding, generosity, love, hate…but nothing shakes them loose. We try to win their love, their approbation, using everything and anything that comes to mind: our techniques may change, but our objective does not: we seek their love, their respect, their approval. And we are regularly and predictably disappointed.

So what was the frog’s mistake? The fundamental mistake the frog made, the error upon which he set the hope that led him to make his fatal bargain, was the belief that the scorpion’s mind worked the same way his did. When the scorpion said “Because if I do, I will die too,” that made perfect sense to the frog. He believed the scorpion had the same mental processes he had and this logic was incontrovertible: the scorpion would not hurt him because in doing so, the scorpion would hurt himself. And this, I think, is where we make our biggest mistake in dealing with narcissists: believing that their minds work like ours and those of other people, believing that the same methods we use to elicit the cooperation of others will work on the narcissist.

But the narcissist is not like other people. She has no “better nature” to appeal to, she has no compassion to evoke, she has no sense of reciprocity. Until we accept…truly accept…that the narcissist is like a scorpion, that she has her own agenda and will pursue it regardless of anything we do or say, we will continue to be lured into traps, then be hurt and disappointed.

And this is where denial comes in: the frog knew he was dealing with a scorpion. He did not delude himself into believing that the creature was something more benign, he did not deny the essential nature of the beast…but too often we do. We feel that it is somehow our fault that our narcissists treat us like shit, that there is something wrong with us because we don’t seem to be able to find that magic key that will unlock the love and nurturing parent we so deserve. And we feel guilty and we redouble our efforts, only to get stung again.

We make an immense mistake when we ascribe our very normal mental and emotional functions to the narcissist. In believing the narcissist thinks like us, we must believe that her attitudes and behaviours stem from the same kinds of things that would provoke us to those behaviours. And believing that brings a secondary belief: if we can be provoked to certain behaviours and also dissuaded from them, then if the narcissist’s behaviours are the result of provocation (what else could it be?) and she can be dissuaded from them by finding the right thing to say or do.

But what we fail to see is that there can be no magic key to unlock the loving nature of our narcissists because there is no loving nature to unlock. There is only self-serving selfishness and the narcissist uses whatever tactic or technique that works to get what she wants from the people around her. The frog knew he was dealing with a scorpion, he had no illusions about the nature of the creature he was dealing with, but too often we do not. And even when we do, like the frog, we may accept that our antagonist is a narcissist but fail to grasp just what that means in practical terms.

Humans tend to seek reasons…our brains seek patterns in order for the world to appear more orderly and predictable to us. When we are faced with a situation in which we cannot see a reason, we can be frightened because without a reason to help us build a predictable pattern, we feel unsafe. Our need for reasons underpins our creation of gods and religions, superstitions and magic: if we can’t find a reason that the sky bellows and weeps, then we create a reason…gods fighting, goddesses weeping, the lightning bolt a god’s weapon used to signal displeasure with the puny humans below. As children we do the same: our mother is angry with us and we can see no legitimate reason, we create one: we did something wrong, we are inadequate, we are not pretty enough, not smart enough, not accomplished enough…not good enough, for our mother to love.

We want to believe that our narcissists not only can change, but that given the right motivations, they will change. And that is where we are most wrong: narcissists don’t want to change, they simply want their own way and they want complete freedom—the kind of freedom that is not curtailed by such inconveniences as compassion or conscience—to pursue their goals.

The scorpion’s behaviour made no sense at all to the frog…he indulged his base nature and condemned himself in the bargain, something the frog would never dream of doing. To the rational mind, there has to be a payoff, and we cannot fathom the payoff a narcissist gets from her behaviour any more than we can fathom the payoff an anorexic gets as she deliberately brings herself to the brink of death by starvation. But just because we can’t see the payoff doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Be careful, also, of dismissing or discounting the narcissist’s payoff that you can see—just because you cannot see the value in the payoff, just because it is worthless to you, doesn’t mean the narcissist does not hold it in high value.

The scorpion, after all, was willing to die for his payoff and it didn’t matter if the frog—or anyone else—understood it or not. What mattered is that the scorpion valued it enough to die for, and that was enough to motivate him to do what he did.

Remember that the next time your narcissist does something baffling, you don’t need to understand anything about the narcissist’s behaviour, you simply have to accept that she does what narcissists do…and, regardless of anything you might say or do, always will.