Today’s post concludes the current series on blaming as a manipulation and responsibility-avoidance tactic (for more on this and other tactics see the relevant chapters of In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance as well as the series on manipulation tactics beginning with: Lying – Manipulation Tactic 1). And as the lead article in the series asserts (see: Externalizing Blame Can Have Deadly Consequences), externalizing blame to an extreme can have deadly consequences. Disturbed and disordered characters use blame as a tactic to manipulate those whom they know to be conscientious enough to accept all or part of the responsibility for something that’s really not their fault at all. And some manipulators (especially those more narcissitic types) are so good at the subtle use of the tactic that it takes a bit of doing to see how they use it to demean others and aggrandize themselves. The vignette that follows is intended to help illustrate the point (as always, any potentially identifying information has been altered in a minor way to ensure anonymity).
Mildred knew she wasn’t perfect. After all, nobody is. At least, that’s what she always been taught. But she wasn’t so sure Fred felt that way. He just always seemed to be right. At least, he always seemed like he had to be right. Sometimes it would be over the littlest of things, like whether or not he’d actually used a particular word during an argument or whether his way of doing a chore wasn’t a bit more effecient than the way others preferred to do the same thing. Over time, she’d come to learn 2 things about Fred: you could never question him about anything without ending up somehow questioning yourself; and, whenever it came to your way or his way, somehow he always seemed to win. And when things went wrong, it was never because he’d made a mistake in judgment. It was always someone else’s fault. He was always correct, others were always wrong. It was as simple as that. Sometimes, his assertions of perfection were subtle. He wouldn’t say someone was flat-out wrong but rather “mistaken.” Or he wouldn’t come right out and insist he knew better and you’d think for a time he was actually trying to be “understanding” when all of a sudden you’d begin feeling like everyone else in the world was an idiot and he was the only rational one.
One day, things came to a head. Fred had been asked to leave a meeting with their son’s teacher because he’d become, according to the teacher, “too inappropriate and beligerant.” Mildred could have easily surmised what his explanation would be. But it bothered her to hear him complain that a teacher she had great respect for not only was responsible for driving him to the brink but also had “completely blown out of proportion” his reaction to her ” incessant insults.” For Mildred, this was the last straw. She knew this teacher well. And she knew Fred had a temper and sometimes a pretty short fuse. And she firmly believed that deep down Fred knew that, too. So why couldn’t he just admit he’d had a lapse of judgment and let things get out of hand? He wasn’t an abusive person generally. So why wouldn’t he just accept responsibility for a mistake and perhaps do something about it?
Now psychology has gone through various phases when it comes to explaining the phenomenon referenced above. At one time, the predominant thinking about folks with narcissistic traits and who could never admit shortcomings was that their egos and self-concept were far too fragile for them to acknowledge “vulnerability,” so they “compensated” for their insecurity by presenting a facade of greatness. But recently, the evidence has been mounting that there’s another kind of narcissism – the kind I noticed early in my work with disturbed characters and first wrote about in my book In Sheep’s Clothing and later in Character Disturbance and The Judas Syndrome – that’s not rooted in fragility or insecurity but rather in genuine grandiosity (for more on this see the article: Two Types of Narcissism and How to Tell the Difference). These individuals are somewhat deluded in their own sense of greatness and feel entitled to lash out against and hold to account everyone else except themselves. The more she thought about things, and especially about their history together, Mildred was coming to the conclusion that Fred was more the latter type and she would have to stop trying to be so understanding and put her foot down. After all, how would Fred ever get on top of these problems of always having to be right and sometimes going off on someone he felt deserved it if he refused to even admit that he had the problems? So rather than argue with him or listen to any more of his “explanations” that just ended up sounding more like blaming, she simply insisted he get some counseling. That’s the day life and Mildred’s relationship with Fred began to change.
Character Matters at 7 pm EDT this Sunday will again be a live program, so I can take your calls. You’ll want to tune inasmuch as among other things we’ll be talking about narcissists of the grandiose type and what it’s like to live, work, and otherwise deal with them. And next week we’ll be beginning a brand new series devoted to some of the issues the commentators have asked be addressed.