Bullying and the suppression of empathy and shame.

marchforlife

On Friday, at the National Mall in Washington, DC, there occurred A Tale of Two Rallies: two rallies that clashed in a way that says everything about where America as a country stands in 2019.

As the Indigenous Peoples Rights demonstration was winding down, the March for Life anti-abortion rally was just starting. A large group of boys from Kentucky’s Covington Catholic High School were attending the March for Life.

An indigenous elder and Vietnam veteran named Nathan Phillips was standing alone on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, singing a native American protest song as he banged a small handheld leather drum. As he sang and kept rhythm with his drum, a large group of teenage boys from Covington began to surround him and taunt him, cruelly imitating his singing, dancing to the music in a mocking way, and shouting “Build that wall!”  Many of the boys wore red MAGA hats — a clothing item that is already becoming associated with hatred and racism, much as the swastika or brown shirts of WWII Germany eventually became associated with the Nazis and the Holocaust.

One boy in particular stood out, and the video of his silent and seemingly hostile standoff with the Indian elder has gone viral. I won’t name the boy, because I have no desire to ruin his life.   Although the teen’s behavior toward the elder was deplorable and cruel (involving a form of bullying known as physical intimidation — invading someone’s personal space),  I blame the environment he was raised in, particularly the environment of Covington Catholic, which has developed a reputation of fostering a culture of racism, sexism, and white supremacy in its all-male student body (though both the school and the diocese have apologized for the students’ behavior at the rally).

I do not think the boy in the video is necessarily a sociopath or a narcissist, although his behavior toward the elder certainly makes it appear that way.   There are reasons to think this boy is a normal kid who may have been doing this on a dare or to appear “cool” among his peers, and may also be being indoctrinated by his school and his classmates to harshly judge and intimidate people who are different than he is.

Jack Brown, MD, is an expert on facial and body language, and he writes fascinating Twitter threads and articles analyzing the facial and body language of celebrities, politicians, and sometimes, everyday people like this high school boy, whose facial expressions during the exchange with the elder proved to be far more complex than they at first seemed.

So I have taken the liberty of reposting Dr. Brown’s fascinating thread, which goes into great detail about the boy’s subtle facial cues, which while on the surface seemed threatening and bullying, showed fleeting glimpses of shame, anger, sadness, and even empathy.

First, here is the video of the incident.    You can use this to reference the incidents described in Dr. Brown’s tweets.

1/ On Friday 18 January 2019, in Washington DC, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a confrontation occurred between some students of Covington Catholic HS (a private, all-boys school in Park Hills, KY) & members of the Indigenous Peoples March – most notably, Nathan Phillips.

2/ The students were in DC to participate in a March for Life event. Many of the boys in the crowd were wearing MAGA hats as well as clothing with Covington Catholic High School insignia.

3/ Mr. Phillips is a veteran of the Vietnam War and Native American elder of the Omaha tribe. What follows is a partial nonverbal analysis of this event.

4/ At 0:06, we see this student display what is known as a Loose Tongue Jut. A loose tongue jut is a microexpression/near-micro expression signifying the thought-emotions of:

• I’ve been caught

• I’ve been bad

• I’ve done a stupid thing

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5/ During 0:07 – 0:08, we see a second student exhibit this identical behavior.

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6/ During 0:23, one student pushes another student toward Mr. Phillips in an effort to further encroach into Nathan Phillips’ personal space (intimate space).

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7/ A third student displays another Loose Tongue Jut during 0:34

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8/ During 0:43, we see the student who, in the remainder of this video, is the primary confrontational individual (here referred to as John Doe). He is shown here, in near profile, in order to demonstrate his normal chin contour.

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9/ This image (0:48) is captured shortly after John Doe and Nathan Phillips encroach into each others’ personal space. The expression on Doe’s face is a partial, sincere smile (Duchenne Smile).

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10/ Entering into another person’s interpersonal space (personal space and even intimate space) – is a body language behavior which very often provokes violence.

11/ While this is true for all genders, it’s particularly incendiary when two men are Whole Body Pointing toward each other (eyes, head, shoulders, torso, hips, and feet). Simply by turning 20º – 30º to one side will de-escalate the potential for physical confrontation.

12/ During 0:53, Doe adopts a significant component of Disgust – and his smile ceases to be sincere – ergo this is a Disgust-Pseudosmile.

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13/ During 0:55, John Doe begins to display a Jaw Jut – a forward displacement of his mandible – and here, indicative of an Adrenaline Surge. He is also suppressing laughter.

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14/ During 0:56, we begin to see a fascinating dynamic – the first signals of a tremendous example of Emotional Dissonance.

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15/ Although John Doe is primarily being governed by peer pressure – and mob mentality (aka herd mentality, pack mentality, gang mentality) – his individual personality is breaking through in his moment.

16/ Indeed, Doe is suppressing his empathy – specifically his feelings of sadness for indigenous peoples and/or Mr. Phillips specifically. Note his mid-facial tension.

17/ Although contraction of the “mustache area” and flaring of his nostrils are also associated with disgust – it’s also a dynamic associated with the suppression of crying. For a couple seconds, Doe is on the verge of tears.

18/ Please watch this video first at normal speed, then at 0.5 and then again at full speed – particularly this crucial portion. The details will then be more discernible.

19/ During 0:57, Doe’s jaw juts out further. He begins what is called a Hard Swallow (note his Adam’s apple moving up and down – indicating a dry throat and elevated anxiety).

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20/ Although we can’t them directly, Doe’s repositioning of his hands begins in this moment – most probably into his pockets. This is akin to a turtle retreating into his shell – he very much wants to leave, but peer pressure is preventing him)

21/ At 0:58, he tilts his head and neck backward and thrusts his chin forward – signifying strong feelings of Defiance. Here he finishes his hard swallow and the repositioning of his hands.

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22/ During 1:04 there is a resurgence of empathy-sadness (although some disgust as well).

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23/ At 1:05, John Doe Breaks his Eye Contact (he’s looking just past Mr. Phillips or perhaps at Phillips’ right ear).

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24/ We often break eye contact in such scenarios in order to suppress strong emotions. In this second, it allows Doe to once again break this cycle of empathy-sadness.

25/ This lack of eye contact enables John Doe to, once again, break into a sincere smile and a moment of suppressing laughter (1:11).

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26/ During 1:29, we see another example of emotional dissonance – a combination of disgust and tear suppression.

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27/ During 1:30, he breaks eye contact in another manner by looking down and to HIS right. Although this is obviously in the direction of Nathan Phillips’ drum, it’s also the quadrant to which most people look during strong feelings of shame, guilt, and moments of sadness.

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28/ Here, during 1:41, Doe is once again looking past Phillips.

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29/ And in the other direction (1:43) – disengaging himself from the intensity of this confrontation.

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30/ At 1:53, after Doe re-establishes eye contact, he re-escalates his emotions, becoming angry.

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31/ At 1:54, Doe looks away again – and immediately his anger is erased and we see the beginnings of a smile (with a hint of disgust).

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32/ During 2:23, we see a stronger example of Disgust. His partial eyelid closure, while not a requirement of disgust, acts as an amplifier.

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33/ During 3:21, another student, who is probably a friend or possibly a family member, begins to give John Doe a Shoulder Rub.

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34/ This is an example of emotional support and affection – but it’s also another signal of emotional dissonance. It’s as if the student in the blue jacket is trying to say, “You did good bro – but time to disengage”.

35/ He stops his shoulder rub at 3:22, yells/howls repeatedly – and displays multiple pseudo-chest/abdomen beating gestures. He exhibits a Loose Tongue Jut during 3:28 – as his psyche declares a mea culpa – calling himself out for his mocking of indigenous peoples.

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36/ He turns to walk away – retreating to the back of the crowd – but not before he displays yet another loose tongue-jut (3:30).

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37/ SUMMARY: Many students of Covington Catholic High School, along with some others who were in this crowd, displayed blatant racism toward indigenous peoples in Washington DC on 18 January 2019.

38/ One individual in particular deliberately maintained his position in Nathan Phillips’ personal space. Mr. Phillips was, of course, vastly outnumbered and elderly – however, in many (most) similar scenarios, this student’s act would have provoked violence.

39/ The display of disgust in this situation is profoundly noteworthy. Outside of the context of true self-defense, in order to for the psyche to inflict harm on another person or group, it must view them as less than human.

40/ Those who commit such acts need to see their victims – as “others” – beneath them. Disgust is the emotion which encapsulates this feeling. Indeed, disgust is the most common emotion displayed by people committing hate-crimes and acts of mass violence.

41/ This phenomenon was well-documented during the Holocaust.

42/ While this incident in front of the Lincoln Memorial was certainly an example of peer pressure and mob mentality, it also exemplified cognitive and emotional dissonance.

43/ The primary confronting student’s emotions oscillated from disgust, anger, and even taking joy in his deliberate intimidation – but also to sadness, empathy, guilt, shame – and several times he was even near-tears.

44/ In the near future, this student will very likely appear in a public setting/television interview, where he will apologize. A written statement (usually prepared by an attorney) is nowhere close to a sincere or meaningful apology.

45/ In giving a public apology, with high probability, he will break down in tears – and it will become, for him, a fundamental life inflection point. It will be healing. Such a public apology will permanently up-regulate his empathy.

46/ Alternatively, if he neglects to undertake this difficult, but emotionally intelligent act – he will most probably spend the rest of his life digging in his heels and rationalizing his bad behavior.

 —  Dr. Jack Brown, MD

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My takeaway is similar to Dr. Brown’s conclusion:  this incident will be a pivotal event in this boy’s life.  If he takes the high road and chooses to acknowledge his barely suppressed empathy and shame, and publicly (or even privately) apologizes, he will feel painful emotions but will be able to redeem himself.  He will have learned a valuable life lesson and his empathy will henceforth no longer be so hidden.  He will grow up into a man who can truly care about others.

But, coming from a school environment having a reputation for racism and “othering” people who are different, combined with peer pressure from classmates who may be more sociopathic than he is, he may choose not to acknowledge his feelings of cognitive dissonance, and not apologize, which will make it easier for him to suppress his empathy and shame in the future.  As Dr. Brown pointed out, should he choose that road, his personality, still malleable due to his youth, could turn sociopathic or narcissistic.

*****

Follow Dr. Jack Brown’s Twitter page:

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The deconversion of a Trump troll.

burning-trump-hat

You may remember a few weeks ago I asked readers to let me know if they knew of anyone who had finally turned on Trump.   I wanted to write a blog post describing the journey of such a person.

I got no responses to my question, and personally, I don’t know anyone who supported Trump who has changed their mind.   I gave up finding such a person.

But they do exist!   Granted, they’re rare as snow in Mississippi, but they are out there.  Yesterday I came upon an article written for Forward (an online magazine focusing on issues related to Judaism and Jews) by a New Yorker named David Weissman.

He colorfully describes his days as a hardcore Trump supporter and Internet troll.  Everything you might expect, he did it or said it.  He was all-in on bullying liberals and  Democrats (and RINOs — “Republicans in Name Only”).   He mainlined on Fox News.   He went to Trump rallies and owned a MAGA hat.   He willingly soaked in Trump’s hateful rhetoric and dismissed anyone who was offended by it as “snowflakes.”

It took one woman to change his views.    One day the comic actress Sarah Silverman responded to one of his inflammatory comments on Twitter.  He describes the way she engaged him in conversation and debate without putting down his beliefs or attacking him.  She remained patient and doggedly kept replying to his tweets in a civil and engaging way, explaining why she felt the way she did about things like healthcare, immigration, racism, and many other topics — and why she believed Trump was wrong for America and the world.

I have also tried to engage Trump supporters with the truth, but eventually I give up, because most Trumpists I meet online waste my time with straw man arguments, what-aboutism, straight-up gaslighting, and even personal attacks.   If they realize they’re losing the argument, they always fall back on their old standby, “it’s fake news.”  Or, “well, Hillary would have been worse.”  I began to block them  because it was just easier than the frustrating and seemingly futile experience of trying to get them to think outside their comfort zone or handle the resulting cognitive dissonance.  Patience is not one of my greatest virtues.   Maybe if it were, I might be able to eventually get through to a few of them.  Maybe.

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Mr. Weissman seems like a man who might have been receptive to a different viewpoint anyway.   One of the things that worries and saddens me is that many Trump supporters seem to show signs of sociopathy themselves — or are attracted to a “strongman” type of leader who tells them exactly what to think because they don’t want to or don’t know how to think for themselves.   Trumpism has been compared to a cult, and it really is one.   Its followers respond to Trump as they do to a cult leader, and like Jim Jones’ followers, they willingly, even eagerly, drink his poison Koolaid even though it might eventually harm or even kill them (Trump is doing nothing for the average working class white person and is fact is doing a lot of damage to his own supporters).

As with all cults, it’s almost impossible for someone on the outside to deprogram a believer; it really is a form of mind control.    Trump supporters are literally in thrall to their golden calf.  Reality and facts get trampled under the hooves.

Maybe Mr. Weissman was less brainwashed than most other Trump supporters, or had just enough insight or self-awareness for reason and facts to begin to sink in.   Maybe it’s because Ms. Silverman, a fellow Jew, was perceived as sympathetic.   But it doesn’t matter why Weissman could be redeemed from Trumpism, while so many others seem impermeable to the truth and facts.  What matters is that it’s possible.

It didn’t happen overnight.  His deconversion happened over a period of several weeks or months (he doesn’t give an exact timeframe of how long it took), mostly by continuing his online conversation with Ms. Silverman.   He decided to read the links to articles she gave him instead of attacking them as “fake news.”  By reading and educating himself about the facts, he began to question what he’d believed (or wanted to believe) about Trump.   He became willing to deal with the cognitive dissonance all the new information was causing him.  (Cognitive dissonance is extremely uncomfortable for most people, who will do almost anything to avoid experiencing it).  Weissman describes how welcoming the “liberals” were, and the way they did not judge him.   Some of his Trumpist buddies began to bully him and call him a traitor. They were incensed that he and Ms. Silverman — a liberal — appeared to be friends.  Weissman began to see his fellow Trump supporters in a new light –  as ignorant people embracing a narcissistic bully (or even being bullies themselves) and willfully shutting out the truth.

Here is his story (which also gives tips on how to engage with Trump supporters):

I Used to Be a Trump Troll 

Educated Evangelicals, Academic Achievement, and Trumpism: On the Tensions in Valuing Education in an Anti-Intellectual Subculture

This is an excellent essay told from a personal perspective about why so many evangelicals reject science and the truth itself — and why they can embrace someone like Donald Trump.

Please leave comments under original post.

Not Your Mission Field

Authority First: The Enclave Strikes Back

“I sat in the waiting room wasting my time, and waiting for Judgment Day. I praise liberty, the freedom to obey.” – Green Day, “21st Century Breakdown,” 21st Century Breakdown (2009)

Fundamentalists force an inhumane choice on reflective, empathetic individuals who grow up in their enclave communities: assent that 2 + 2 = 5, or, if you can’t, shut up about it or leave. Conservative Evangelicalism is a variety of Christian fundamentalism, and, make no mistake, the data tells us with overwhelming clarity that (apart from the “special demographic” of Vladimir Putin, Mitch McConnell, and James Comey), white Evangelicals are the one demographic most responsible for electing the most patently unqualified and dangerously demagogic president in modern American history. I am often asked how they could vote for someone so impious, which is a question I’ve addressed multiple times, generally referring to white Evangelical subculture’s

View original post 3,885 more words

Why some people won’t change their minds even when faced with evidence they are wrong.

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Why people get upset when you challenge their beliefs.

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Cognitive dissonance and NPD.

I think people who develop NPD do so to correct cognitive dissonance. Unfortunately for them and others, once this “correction” is made, which usually (but not always) happens in early childhood, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, for them to ever be normal again.
This post first appeared on this blog in August, 2015.

Lucky Otters Haven

narcissism_childhood

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of cognitive dissonance and its role in creating a narcissist or turning a narcissist into a malignant one.

Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.

–Wikipedia

A computer will crash or stop working when given conflicting sets of instructions. Although people are not computers (because we have emotions and a soul), if we receive conflicting sets of “instructions” or information about ourselves, it causes so much mental distress that a personality disorder can develop if the conflict appears very early in life.

A child who is constantly invalidated by narcissistic parents tries to correct the cognitive dissonance by “becoming” what the parents tell them they are. If the parents…

View original post 1,418 more words

Cognitive dissonance and NPD.

narcissism_childhood

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of cognitive dissonance and its role in creating a narcissist or turning a narcissist into a malignant one.

Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.

–Wikipedia

A computer will crash or stop working when given conflicting sets of instructions. Although people are not computers (because we have emotions and a soul), if we receive conflicting sets of “instructions” or information about ourselves, it causes so much mental distress that a personality disorder can develop if the conflict appears very early in life.

A child who is constantly invalidated by narcissistic parents tries to correct the cognitive dissonance by “becoming” what the parents tell them they are. If the parents tell them they are evil, bad, always misbehaving, etc. they may become aggressive, overt narcissist themselves to “match” the parents’ assessment of them. If they are told they are incompetent, a loser, stupid, etc. they may develop covert narcissism or BPD instead.

Golden/spoiled children.

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Spoiling a child is actually a form of abuse, because being a golden child negates the child’s own reality that they are human and less than perfect. The spoiled, golden child will either try to be as “perfect” as they are told to match their parent’s unrealistic assessment (and a grandiose false self develops from that) or they know they can’t ever be the image of perfection their parents insist they be, and to correct the cognitive dissonance they may become rebellious or adopt covert narcissism (in which the child believes they are worthless and the parents are wrong) as a coping strategy.

Other personality disorders.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is also a way to correct cognitive dissonance. I think BPD develops in many children who were both golden children and scapegoats (which is often the case with onlies) who were given inconsistent parenting, sometimes abused, sometimes treated like little gods. That’s why they’re so conflicted and seem to act in contradictory ways that confuse themselves and those around them.

Not all abused children develop narcissism or BPD, but it’s my belief almost all children of narcissists develop personality disorders, all of which are the adult incarnations of childhood attachment disorders.

Malignant Narcissism.

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Malignant narcissism is NPD that is high on the spectrum and mixed with antisocial (ASPD) traits. A low-mid spectrum narcissist (or even a non-narcissist!) can turn malignant during adolescence or even as an adult. I think this is almost always due to some choice they made or action they were forced to engage in that went against their conscience. Let me explain how this works.

M. Scott Peck in his book, “People of the Lie,” (the book that popularized the concept of malignant narcissists as “evil”) told the story of a man who narrowly escaped becoming evil/malignant. The man, a non-narcissist who loved his family dearly, suffered from debilitating panic attacks when crossing a certain bridge on his drive to work. Even though he didn’t believe in the devil, one day while suffering a severe panic attack he made a “deal with the devil”–he told the devil he could take his favorite son’s life in exchange for allowing him to cross the bridge without having any more panic attacks. Of course nothing happened, and the son was fine. The man, filled with remorse over having these thoughts, told Dr. Peck about it, and was told he did the right thing to repent, because otherwise he would have become evil himself, especially had something actually happened to his son. If he had turned to darkness and narcissism, it would have been to correct the cognitive dissonance between what he had done and his internal moral compass. He would have had to discard his previous moral standards and embrace darkness.

A person forced to engage in something they find morally reprehensible, such as a soldier forced to kill innocent civilians, can turn toward darkness. Many veterans return suffering severe PTSD and in some cases seem to have lost the souls they went to war with. Many, who have committed atrocities in war, correct the cognitive dissonance created by doing something that went against their conscience, by discarding their conscience altogether. This isn’t a conscious choice usually, but is the end result of severe PTSD. (I think all personality disorders are, in fact, manifestions of severe PTSD caused by chronic abuse starting when the personality was still forming.)

It’s my opinion that adolescence is when malignant narcissism is most likely to develop, because adolescents are by nature risk-takers and trying to establish a separate identity from their their parents. This usually takes the form of some type of rebellion, and rebellion is normal as long as it doesn’t go too far. Some adolescents may be “dared” by their friends to engage in antisocial activities. Adolescents are so eager to be accepted in a group of their peers that sometimes their desire for acceptance overrides their conscience, which isn’t fully developed yet. If these antisocial activities hurt others (such as robbing someone’s house on a dare), the teenager’s fledgling conscience is halted in its growth, and may be discarded altogether. It’s at this point an adolescent can turn to malignant narcissism. This is why the choices kids make are so important. Here’s an excerpt from my article, “Healing Narcissism: Stephen’s Story,” in which a fictional boy I called Stephen turns to narcissism as a coping strategy, and it all began with a dare.

The Choice.

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Stephen recalled a dare when he was 8 years old. A group of boys who had bullied him dared him to set a paper bag of dried dog poop on another boy’s rickety wooden front porch and set it on fire. The boys promised him that if he did this, they would no longer bully him and they would be his friend and protect him against any further bullying. Stephen knew that doing this could set the other boy’s house on fire and at first he protested, explaining what could happen. At this point he still had a conscience. But the boys threatened him and told him if he didn’t do it, their bullying would become worse and they would kill his pet rabbit. Stephen believed them, so against his will, he complied.

They set out after dark for the targeted house. The boys watched from the darkened yard as Stephen lit the paper bag on fire and hesitantly walked up the front stairs of the boy’s porch and set it next to a dead potted plant. The deed done, all the boys ran away before anyone saw them. Stephen looked back in time to see the flames ignite the plant, and quickly start to spread over the railings of the rickety old wooden porch. He felt awful and considered going to the police, but he didn’t dare. He went to bed that night and had terrible nightmares.

The targeted boy’s house burned down and he, his baby sister, and his mother had to be taken to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. Soon after, the family moved away, never to be seen again. No charges were pressed because no one knew who the culprit was.

To protect himself from his unbearable feelings of guilt and shame, Stephen shut off his painful emotions of guilt and conscience. From then on, the group of bullies accepted him as one of them, and they continued to engage in tormenting other children and even petty crimes.

This is an example of cognitive dissonance. Stephen would not have been able to live with himself had he not turned to narcissism as a coping strategy. The irony here is that, the more intense the child’s guilt or shame over committing an act that goes against their morals (or the more heinous the act), the more likely it is they will turn malignant, because to do otherwise would mean the overwhelming shame they feel could likely cause them to become severely depressed or even suicidal. This isn’t an excuse for anyone to turn to narcissism (or malignant narcissism) as a coping strategy, but is an unfortunate reality.

Acquired narcissism.

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Sometimes people who become extremely successful, such as celebrities, sports stars, business leaders or politicians, can become narcissists, even if they were not narcissistic before their success. It doesn’t happen to all of them, but if it does, this is another example of how cognitive dissonance tries to “correct” things. In order to close the mental gap between their actual assessment of themselves as imperfect humans and the adulation they receive from the outer world that treats them as if they’re somehow more than human, a successful person can turn to narcissism to align their self-assessment with the way they are regarded by others. This is why some celebrities become so full of themselves or manipulative. It’s a form of acquired narcissism, but because it’s acquired fairly late in life and isn’t due to a choice, this type of narcissism may be temporary and only last as long as the person remains famous or very successful. If they fade into obscurity, the person faces a narcissistic crisis, but after that I think they can return to a non-narcissistic way of being in the world.

When does a narcissist cross the point of no return?

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This question came up on the forums I’ve been active on. I think this question has fascinating implications but may never be answered with any degree of certainty.

Where the point of no return (the point at which a narc cannot be healed) exists on the narcissistic spectrum isn’t a question we will probably ever know. However, I have a couple of theories that ping ponged around inside my head.

1. Level of sadism/paranoia. (these traits were suggested by another forum member)
I think the ratio of ASPD traits to NPD traits would come into play–and most ASPDs are at least somewhat sadistic. I don’t know what the percentage of ASPD traits would have to be (and maybe it would vary in individuals anyway) but obviously a narcissist with a lot of ASPD is going to be more sadistic, and therefore more malignant/psychopathic, and that’s the point where no self awareness is possible–when a narc becomes malignant or psychopathic. Paranoia would come into play too, as I think paranoia rises with sadism. The more malignant the narcissist, the more paranoid (and sadistic) they will be.
For more, please see my article about The Dark Triad.

2. Soul-murder/cognitive dissonance.
My second theory about the point of no return is going to sound a little strange. I don’t believe the world is just the physical world we see. I’m not especially religious and don’t interpret biblical events literally but I am Christian (Catholic) and believe with no doubt that evil exists. Whether there’s an actual entity called Satan is not something I can answer. But I think there are evil entities, or energies, and I think M. Scott Peck’s book “People of the Lie” explains all this brilliantly (and was the first book to explain malignant narcissism even though it wasn’t called that in 1983). It was also the book that helped me identify my mother and my ex as MNs.

Anyway, I think it’s possible for a person (a victim of abuse) to be infected with the evil of another person. If it goes on long enough, the victims’ “narcissism fleas” (N traits picked up from their narcissists) can become cancerous and turn into full blown narcissism. If the victim was especially abused or sensitive (or was both scapegoat and golden child) they may be more covert but are still N.
I think choice also has to do with it. If one sides with their abusers all the time, or colludes with them in antisocial acts, I think something in the person’s soul can turn dark.

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Once this darkness sets in, a person who was low-mid spectrum moves higher on the spectrum into malignant narcissism and can’t go back to being the way they were. That’s the point of no return. This has happened in wartime, with soldiers forced to do things that go against their morals like killing innocents, or accidentally killing a fellow soldier in combat — when these veterans return they suffer severe PTSD but for some, who were forced to commit deeds that went against their conscience and morals, they crossed a line into evil.

I think the mechanics of what happens is that when one makes a choice or is forced to do something that goes against their morals, there’s so much cognitive dissonance that a split in the mind occurs, where the person, feeling so guilty over their deed that it’s unbearable, takes the side of evil, to correct the dissonance.

I think all PD’s may actually be complex PTSD (c-PTSD) that is more deeply embedded in the personality.

As far as narcisissts lower on the spectrum (low-through mid spectrum)–and I absolutely believe it’s a spectrum disorder like autism–a non-malignant/non ASPD narcissist isn’t evil and hasn’t crossed the point of no return. It won’t be easy to get that “skeleton transplant” (and will be extremely painful!) but it can be done.

I hope my BPD wall of words made sense (someone told me that all BPD’s write posts that are as long as books with a lot of run on sentences, LOL!)

Can narcissists feel empathy for fictional characters?

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There is a question I have wondered about for a long time that was brought up on another post.

Narcissists are exquisitely sensitive. They are very easily hurt. But their hypersensitivity is limited to themselves (this is called narcissistic injury). Any insult, no matter how minor, will send them flying into a narcissistic rage or cause the “needy” type to break down like the babies they are.

But as we all know, when it comes to others, they have no empathy. They cannot feel your pain, share your sadness, or rejoice with you. On this level, they are incredibly insensitive.

But there’s something I wonder about. Because narcissists are “fictional people” themselves (what you see is not their true self but a mask), can they feel empathy for fictional people, such as characters in a sad or touching movie? Can they cry when reading a sad book or when they hear a sad song?

I’m leaning toward yes, because my MN mother never could feel pain for anyone but herself (and never expressed even her own narcissistic injury in any manner other than rage), yet I remember she could cry a river of tears when we went to a sad movie or watched a touching love story on TV. Hell, she could even turn on the eye-faucets when a maudlin commercial came on. My N ex used to get all weepy when he watched sad movies too.

For a narcissist, it’s “safe” for them to feel empathy for fictional characters on a movie screen or in a book, because those are not real people. There’s an interesting article written on the blog Let Me Reach by Kim Saeed about this subject, in which the author concludes that narcissists definitely do cry at movies, and it has to do with cognitive dissonance. Read Kim’s article for a more in-depth look at how this works for narcissists, because she explains it much better than I do.