Book - 20 Shades of Narcissism
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Philosophy and Happiness
Site by David Thomas PhD
How Do Narcissists Get Away With Abusing Decent People?
It is a sad indictment of today's society that one person can hate another person when that person has done nothing to harm him. It may simply be that the hated person, through kindness and hard work, is well liked and successful. He or she may have even helped the person doing the hating, but through envy and paranoia, the kind and hard-working person is hated.
This behaviour is becoming all too familiar in contemporary society through narcissists who envy or hate everyone in their environment who doesn't show admiration for them. Sandy Hotchkiss wrote in her book Why Is It Always About You?: The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism, that the misery this behaviour creates '...is a by-product of a personality flaw that, by cultural standards, has become disturbingly "normal".'1
Thomas Aquinas2 described envy as 'sorrow for another's good', and it was Geoffrey Chaucer3 who said that envy is full of sorrow in another man's goodness and prosperity, but joyous in another man's misfortune. He refers to the fault finding and spoiling behaviour used to attack the very person or qualities that the individual admires.
The reason that the narcissist is consumed with hatred is simply because the kind and hard-working person has done better than he has, and when he (or she) compares himself against such a person, he feels bad about himself. He feels this way not because of any conscious thoughts of what a failure he is, which may or may not be the case, but because he is reminded of emotional traumas from his past that were so bad that his brain drove them from consciousness; this self-protective behaviour has evolved to shield the conscious mind from thoughts that could otherwise make living not worthwhile.
But the emotional traumas from the past still leave a trace in the brain's amazingly complex neural networks, and with the appropriate prompts, it will locate those emotions and transfer them into consciousness. Unfortunately, only the emotional pains transfer, not the knowledge of what caused them. Then the owner will find it difficult to deal with the emotional pains, not knowing why such turmoil has hit him. He only knows who spoke or acted in the present to arouse these pains. The knowledge of who put the emotional pains there in the first place, probably when he was a child, exists outside his conscious mind.
As he doesn't know that the problem is inside his head, he thinks, quite logically that the problem must be with the other person. Consequently, he projects his malevolent feelings onto that person in the belief that it was he who caused them. This sequence of behaviour occurs many times per day in all sorts of settings, from friendly family discussions that turn sour, but are forgotten a short while later, to individuals who fall out with friends or relatives and embark upon a lifetime of hatred and recrimination.
Machiavelli recognised many years ago that doing good deeds does not necessarily bring appreciation, saying, 'Hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil'.4 When these situations occur at the top of organisations and the leader is a decent hard-working person, with the narcissist a senior manager, the potential for organisational turmoil is great. Unless the leader is very politically savvy, the emotionally traumatised and probably highly narcissistic senior manager will work ceaselessly to undermine his leader's position. The emotional traumas he suffers will drive him to fight with every sinew to oust the person he believes is the cause of his trauma.
However, the root of the narcissistic senior manager's emotional traumas is not his boss, but his past. The origin of his mental problems will very likely lie in his childhood interactions with his parents. Initially, this often occurs when the mother shows love conditionally, only when he behaves in a particular way. The problem can be exacerbated when, particularly during the son's adolescent period, the father makes his son feel inferior as a way of boosting his own ego. The adolescent then grows up always feeling that he has to prove that he is not inferior.
There are examples throughout history of people behaving in ways that make little sense when objectively assessed. For example, it is common for narcissistic leaders of businesses to manage their companies in the manner that brings them the most short-term personal boosts to their ego, typically in terms of admiration. Whilst the leader wallows in the glow of intense admiration from those people that he desperately yearns to impress, his lack of strategic leadership means that the foundations of the business slowly sink. If nothing is done about the narcissistic leader, the business will disappear into the abyss, taking honest, hard-working employees with it.
There are also many examples in contemporary society of narcissistic leaders wreaking destruction on their businesses. Enron, the Houston energy company, is one memorable example. All it takes is one toxic Machiavellian leader to poison the minds of his easily led and co-dependent followers, dragging them down to the depths of degeneracy often associated with the greed and avarice of medieval times. In his book Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego, and the Death of Enron, Robert Bryce wrote, 'Enron failed because its leadership was morally, ethically, and financially corrupt.'5
At a micro level, there are many examples of apparently decent individuals who have been taken advantage of by unreasonable people. Anne Boleyn was Queen of England from 1533 to 1536 as the second wife of King Henry VIII. Henry had Anne investigated for high treason, then tried, found guilty, and beheaded. Historians view the charge against her of high treason as, to say the least, unconvincing. The truth is most probably that she was unable to bear Henry a male heir, so he took advantage of the power that his position vested in him and used his supporters to make sure that she was executed on trumped-up charges.
There are also many examples at a macro level of unreasonable individuals taking advantage of decent and unsuspecting people. In the last century, too many Germans passively accepted the Nazi party and its activists; by the time the reasonable people realised that a narcissistic and ruthless leader, Adolf Hitler, was behaving in an unreasonable manner, it was too late.
The excesses and the eventual failure of Nazi Germany are well recorded in historical texts. Details of the events that led to the downfall of the Nazis are easily accessible to anyone who cares to look them up. But it was not the case at the time. It seems hard to imagine that the vast majority of the German people did not know of the scheming and evil goings-on during World War II, but the truth is that they did not. All people who behave unreasonably know at some level that they are behaving unreasonably to their fellow human beings, but the human mind finds ways of making such behaviour, no matter how despicable, seem acceptable.
For the vast majority of people, including most of the German population, the only way they learned about the immoral, wicked, and evil treatment of millions of decent and honest people in Nazi Germany was in news reports after the event. Had Nazi Germany won World War II, the events that led to the death of millions of people, murder committed on an industrial scale, would not necessarily be known to the vast majority of the world's population, as it is today. Had the Nazis won they would have continued to pour their propaganda onto the unsuspecting German people, who, with no access to an alternative explanation of the events, would have unwittingly swallowed the party line of half-truths, misinformation, and outright lies. Bad people do not like to admit to their sins!
These same behavioural activities are being applied in all sorts of situations today. There are people being abused either physically or emotionally, or both, or exploited in homes and workplaces everywhere. It is just not on the same scale as Nazi Germany. Nonetheless the same principles apply; an insecure and malicious individual uses stealth, lies, and ruthlessness to firstly gain the trust of and then take control over the lives of decent and unsuspecting people; he then manipulates situations that play out his malevolent fantasies, which always involve the inflation of his own grandiose image and the denigration of those under his control whom he considers to be a threat, even if only in his own mind.
Most of these situations remain hidden from the wider public because the often charismatic perpetrator uses stealth, lies, and ruthlessness to convince his supporters of the righteousness of his cause, and then they work together to conceal his misdeeds. Unless the perpetrator makes such a fundamental error such that his wickedness is exposed, or someone blows the whistle, the mistreatment of those under his control will continue-and continue to be hidden.
The ruthless and unreasonable behaviour of such individuals can only be carried out if they are in positions of power; and power is defined as authority with the ability to impose sanctions. But it does not apply only to such individuals as King Henry VIII and Adolf Hitler, who both graduated to positions of immense power; it applies to anyone who has authority with the ability to impose sanctions; these are people in everyday walks of life: fathers, mothers, supervisors, managers, CEOs, and so on.
It is often the case that those being abused are unaware of it, or at least, in such a state that they are unable to do anything about it, and so go into a state of denial. Such a situation may, at first, appear to be ridiculous. How can someone who is being abused not know it? Even after allowing for someone being in a state of denial, they must know, at some level, that they are being abused, mustn't they?
The answer is 'not necessarily'. In World War II, many people took on the view of the world that Adolf Hitler gave to them, or at least, indoctrinated into them. The view, for example, that all Gypsies and Jews were no better than vermin, and so should be exterminated, was held by many, if not all, of Hitler's hierarchy. Over time, it was extended to many others within the wider population, and Gypsies and Jews were eventually deemed to be Lebensunwertes Leben or 'life unworthy of life'. In effect, these perpetuators of Hitler's evil views were themselves being abused by being taken advantage of by their idol and becoming instruments of evil for his policies.
There are a large number of people who are susceptible to being conned into believing whatever their idol tells them; they are co-dependent. It takes time for the 'idol', as he presents himself, to convince the co-dependent person that he has the power of a deity, that he is god-like, that he is omnipotent, all-powerful, and supreme in his wisdom and knowledge. But amazingly, it happens with astonishing frequency in all walks of life.
What makes it relatively easy for an 'idol' to snare his prey is the emotional state of the co-dependent person, which is typically the result of an insecure childhood caused by needy parents. An insecure mother, for example, may use her child to give her the feeling of power, of being in control, a feeling that she may never have had during her life so far due to the insecurity of her own mother. It passes from one generation to the next.
It works as follows. The child learns very early in life never to express any form of disappointment with his (or her) insecure mother. The mother achieves this control through her responses to the child's emotional fears as the child grows. As the infant starts with no knowledge of how to respond when confronted with emotions, he relies on his mother to show him, and if the mother withdraws her love when the appropriate response is not shown, the child will soon learn to trust only his mother, knowing no other way of behaving. The mother's love for her child is conditional upon the child responding appropriately to the mother's needs. Carl Rogers, one of the great psychologists of the twentieth century, believed that 'conditional love' was the underlying cause of all unnecessary emotional traumas in life.
Thus the child is brought up to believe whatever his mother, who is his idol, says. The child has been conditioned to be controlled by his mother, in whom he trusts implicitly, and as a consequence the child, when grown, will also accept being controlled by any other man or woman who is able to earn his trust.
Such co-dependents have been groomed unwittingly by their parents to be highly susceptible to being controlled, and therefore susceptible to being abused. I believe that, at some level of consciousness, they know that they are being abused, but they have such implicit faith in their idol that whenever they raise the subject, their idol convinces them that they are wrong. Going against their idol would be like going against their mother, which would simply never happen.
Living an honest and decent life is not easy. In truth, there are few adults in this world who can say that they have been completely truthful and respectable throughout their entire life. It is so easy to delude ourselves about the things that we find difficult to accept; we hide from uncomfortable evidence of our failings; we conceal our feelings. Some of us tell lies on behalf of others even though they never asked us to, just because we feel responsible for them in some way. We refuse to accept other people as they are, even though we know at the back of our minds that it is wrong to do so. But all these are common behavioural characteristics of normal people, doing the things that they feel they need to do to get through life and cope.
But for some, it is all too easy to transgress, to cross the line from reasonable behaviour to unreasonable behaviour. Many adults in today's society have been brought up without guidance as to where boundaries lie, not physical boundaries, but the boundaries in relation to others that reasonable people do not cross. They may be simple things like knowing when to and when not to interrupt conversations. Or the boundary crossing may be much more significant, such as when a business or political leader makes strategic business decisions that have the potential to adversely affect hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people. They choose to make those decisions according to their own ego needs, rather than in the best interests of their family, their employees, or their people, leading ultimately to the deterioration or demise of the family, the business, or as in Adolf Hitler's case, his country.1. Hotchkiss, Sandy, & Masterson, James F. (2003), Why Is It Always About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism, Simon & Schuster Free Press, USA.
2. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica: Treatise on The Theological Virtues (QQ - 46): Question 36 - Of Envy.
3. Chaucer, Geoffrey (2005), The Canterbury Tales, Penguin Classics, UK.
4. Machiavelli, Niccolo (2003), The Prince, Penguin Classics, UK.
5. Bryce, Robert (2002), Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego, and the death of Enron, PublicAffairs, USA.
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