Carole Owens: Countering the narcissist/deflector

STOCKBRIDGE — In the current political climate, some sense urgency, even threat. In dire circumstances, we need a survival kit. Given the nature of jeopardy in 2017 what is needed is not a gun or a gas mask but information.

1. What is deflection? Deflection is accusing another of doing the very thing you are guilty of yourself. The guilty party does this to avoid any investigation of or consequence for his own behavior. The knee-jerk reaction to deflection by a public figure is twofold: the accused denies and defends; the reporters work diligently to seek out and publish the truth. Don't bother. The deflector accuses someone else to avoid scrutiny. So if you know someone is a deflector, investigate his accusation not the person he accuses. You will discover what he did.

2. What is a narcissist? A clinical definition of a narcissist is not one who loves himself but one who has an inflated sense of his own importance, a deep need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. That is, a narcissist thinks everything is about him, has no understanding of or concern for others, and needs to claim credit for anything "good" and to deny responsibility for any failure. Beneath apparent self confidence — even brashness — is a fragile self esteem that is threatened by even the slightest criticism. Therefore daily he will deflect blame and accuse others.

3. What is storytelling? The need to protect a fragile ego justifies storytelling, even lying. It justifies claiming credit for what others have done and accusing others of what he has done. It includes a penchant for predicting the future and speaking in superlatives: the greatest, easiest, strongest, biggest and best. Both predictions and superlatives demonstrate superior knowledge and position in the mind of the storyteller.

The one bad apple

4. A group is controlled by its most neurotic member. It would be helpful to know why, but first what is a group? It is a number of people — as few as three, as many as the 535 members of Congress, the 100-plus staffers in the White House, or the 318,000,000 citizens of the United States — with a common identity and a common purpose. To get to work, a group must agree to group norms — acceptable language and behavior and common goal(s).

The most neurotic member controls because he does not agree to the terms. His language and behavior remain outside the norm. He will not change but will use the following defenses: my predecessor did the same thing; other members do it but you treat him better, and you may not like it but it's not illegal. All the energy of all the other members is focused on trying to convince or control the neurotic member and so work never begins.

Assume these four bits of information are correct and relevant. The great question is: so what? If these help define the problem or the underlying cause: what do you do with the information?

Don't try to establish truth and convince others, instead learn from history. When all the New York newspapers tried to expose Boss Tweed, there was a river of ink and nothing happened. Tweed explained, "My constituents don't know how to read."

Tweed's constituents couldn't read; the narcissist's supporters won't listen. So what can be done? Tweed explained, citing the Conde Nast cartoons, "They can't help seeing them damned pictures!"

That is, trust the comedians and the cartoonists. True believers cannot be convinced, but they can laugh. When the accusations, exaggerations and outright downright lies become visible daily, borrow a line from Ronald Reagan, smile, and say, "There he goes again."

Are you trying to figure out if the deflector and disruptor of groups is a brilliant man with a hidden agenda and no conscience, dumb or crazy? Possibly none of the above. In his mind he is the magician. He is the one who knows how the trick is done. He loves doing it because it demonstrates the invidious comparison: how smart he is and how easily fooled you are. He is a constant combatant— one who must prove his superiority daily, if not minute by minute. He needs an audience and a sparring partner.

You cannot change a narcissist, but for those who wish to lessen his power, remember William James, psychologist and brother of novelist Henry James, who wrote: "No more fiendish punishment could be devised than that one should be turned loose in society and remain absolutely unnoticed by the members thereof."

A Berkshire writer and historian, Carole Owens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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