Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Disproportional Responses or When the "Crime" Doesn't Fit the Punishment

One of the oft used tools in the narcissist's manipulation toolbox is disproportional response. This technique is highly effective on adults; it is devastatingly effective on children.

abusive tactic is targeted at one goal: control. The narcissist is consumed with controlling his version of reality which means he must control you in order to maintain a sense of the world as he has defined it. The narcissist attempts to maintain "order" and internal cohesion in himself by shaking up your world. By confusing you, he gets to feel sane. By fragmenting your reality he gains a sense of wholeness. Yeah, it's twisted.

He keeps you off-balance by his disproportional reactions to minor affronts. He rages suddenly over what seems like nothing. It is nothing. That's part of the point. He punishes over the tiniest infractions to throw you off balance by confusing you. You gently disagree with him on some minor point and he throws a giant tantrum. Or you may have no idea what you did, but suddenly you have an enraged beast going for your throat. You start walking on eggshells around him. You never feel completely relaxed in his presence because you never know when or where the next outburst will come from.

There is an important thing to know about the narcissist's rages. A narcissist doesn't rage the way normal people do. The narcissist is in total control of his rages. They are calculated for effect. When a decent person experiences rage it is the result of extreme provocation. While experiencing the rage, this person feels out of control and it takes some time for the feelings to subside and some great effort at self-control. So when we are confronted by a narcissist's rage we wrongly assume they are feeling what we would be feeling if we were enraged. You are wrong in this belief. If you've been in the presence of narcissistic rages often enough you've likely seen that they can turn it off and on like a switch. If you haven't seen this, then try this: rage back at them. Watch them crumble into a helpless, whiny little suppliant. Or simply walk into a room where other people are and watch them flip the switch to "off". Watch them pick up the phone during one of their rages and suddenly act completely normal. This is not normal rage. This is contrived rage. They are in complete and total control even while your eyes and ears tell you they are out of control. They are using rage the same way they will use their sexuality, or their charm...for effect only. They are trying to control you with it.

The use of disproportional reactions by the narcissist will usually contain some level of rage as its component, which is why I took the time to describe what narcissistic rages are all about. Be assured that this is an abusive tactic. Don't accept it. Let them taste their own medicine. If you are willing to put up with the inevitable fall-out then get in the narcissist's face with your own disproportional reaction. Interestingly, just about any abusive tactic of the narcissist can be turned around on them. It is about the only way to penetrate their frustratingly thick skulls with any impression of your displeasure. Turning their own weapons against them can be highly effective. Don't try this with a narcissist whom you have reason to believe could turn violent though. The less confrontational approach would be to simply refuse to put up with the disproportional responses by demanding just and proportional treatment. Reject or ignore their unpredictable, volatile behavior. They can be conditioned to somewhat modify their behavior. Like any dog, they are not likely to keep up a behavior that doesn't reap rewards. They'll move onto their next obnoxious trick. Really, what is the point of keeping these bastards in your life?

If you have children with a narcissistic spouse, you owe it to those children to get them away from the narcissist parent. This type of abuse is extremely destructive to the hearts, minds and souls of children who have no power to get away from it. The capricious and disproportional reactions are corrosive to the child's sense of security which will undermine a child's psychosocial development. This abusive tactic sends adults into tail spins...multiply that effect many times when trying to measure how children are affected by it. If you're any kind of decent person, save your children from your narcissistic spouse. I could fill books with descriptions of the private terror a child under the care of a narcissistic parent while the other parent worked 16 hour days and closed his eyes to any evidence of abuse. Whatever you may be experiencing doesn't begin to compare with the reign of terror your child is enduring.


Anonymous said...

Both my children are being treated for severe anxiety thanks to their narcissistic parent and his DISPROPORTIONATE responses

Greendaze44 said...

Thank you for the reminder that I need to get my 9 year old daughter away from her Dad so much. I work at night, so she is with him more than me and it drives me crazy. I've been trying to get day hours, but I'm going to try harder now.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I wish my dad would understand this. He was surprised when I told him that when I was younger I thought that I was a brat that did not deserve to live. He always says you shouldn't talk about your mother like that. She is your mother. She isn't that bad. Aaaargh! Well she is. She is getting better I think I have been in a way setting up defense before I even knew there was a word for it. Now she is much easier to deal with. Still ridiculous but much easier.

She knows that I will not do a thing she says if she goes to far and she knows that I am stronger than her now. She cannot physically force me to do anything.

Anonymous said...

The real jaw dropper for this post was the remark about picking up the phone and turning off the rage. It's like you were in my home growing up!

My N-sister did exactly that on one occasion -- that was the moment where I truly realized she was in utter control of herself, that her rages were entirely to get her way and not out of any real emotion. It was chilling to realize that.

In the particular case I witnessed, she was raging at our father. She wanted money to go eat out with her friends. Dad made it clear that he didn't have money, he was waiting on his disability check to come in (he hasn't been able to work since we were little and - after a quadruple bypass surgery - doctors told him he couldn't go back to working). When he got his check, he said he needed to use most of it for his medicine and bills.

This brought on her rage - he was lazy for not working she said. She argued that she had to "pay for everything" with her part time job (after she got her job, she still didn't pay for anything, she just had more money to spend on herself).

She went on a diatribe of how all the rest of us were lazy/worthless because she was the only one working (uh, mom works too. And the rest of us were paying our own way through college -- I earned my scholarship money to go to school, thank you).

She yelled and screamed at a man who wasn't allowed to work because any stress or hard work (he did construction) could damage his heart. He was visibly upset. And the heart breaking thing was I knew from past experience that DEFENDING him would only make him more stressed. I would fight her back every last word, and I DID usually rout her. Yet dad was a member of the "Cult of Nice" as you put it. He did believe in peace at all costs, at least within the family.

In this particular instance, I didn't argue with her. And in the middle of her tirade she gets a phone call - it's one of her (very N) "friends." She is then all chirpy and happy and oozing nice until the phone is off. Then it's right back to her rage mode. Like she had an on/off switch.

Goodness, college was my life saver for getting me away long enough to break my daze over a lifetime of abuse. I still feel terrible anger at the way she treated everyone, and especially Dad. If she loved him as much as she professes she would NEVER yell at him over something like that.

/end rant ;) Thanks again for letting me spill my guts.

Lara said...

I'd like to reiterate the 'get your children away' sentiment for a related reason: you don't want to train your children to partner with narcissists either.

noxpennatus said...

I'll never forget that time my (possibly-N) dad blew up over the lack of shampoo in the shower. No kidding. He went totally overboard, shouting and screaming at my little sister, Mom, and me. I was terrified. Luckily, said sister "Holly" wasn't very affected, she just started giggling over dad's parting line "Go out and buy ten bottles of shampoo tomorrow". I'm proud of her for that.

Anonymous said...

"If you have children with a narcissistic spouse, you owe it to those children to get them away from the narcissist parent."

I totally agree, but what if the kids don't want to leave? My husband has three teenage children who refuse to see him because their N mother has trained them to think of him as "the enemy" because he is no longer a member under her control. We can see all the signs of the kids' distress, the abuse they endure every day but they worship their mother and think she is perfect. It is heartbreaking but there doesn't seem to be anything we can do.

Anna Valerious said...


I was speaking primarily of young children. By the time they are teens it is a whole different ball game. At this point all your husband can do is do all he can to make it clear to his kids that he is there for them. He will have to restrain himself from saying negative things about their mother. It will only make them defensive for her as well as confirm in their minds that their dad is the bad guy their mother says he is. He is going to have to be a steady rock of sanity in the midst of her insanity. Loving, kind, not indulgent but giving. They are too old now for him to make some precipitate move like forcing them to move in with him. It would only foster their hostility. Sorry, but the news isn't good. The time to remove them from her influence was long ago. Now what is required is patience and steadiness.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Anna. Society wants to sell us a "quick fix" for every problem, someone always thinks they have "the answer" to any question. But there are some situations that really can't be solved, when there just isn't a solution - except perhaps, time. I hope that as adults, my stepchildren will open their eyes and break free from a lifetime of brainwashing. Maybe they will, maybe they won't. Life is sad sometimes.

Anonymous said...

I want to leave my narcissistic spouse, but am afraid of sending my son to visitations with him. What do you think? Would it be better than staying with him?

Anonymous said...

Ransomnote Says:
Thank you from the bottom of my battle scarred heart for this blog, Anna.
I am wondering about this issue. My sister is NPD as well as BPD and Sociopathic Personality Disorder so I tend to lump her abusiveness into Narcissism sometimes when I should not because it is a trait having more to do with BPD or Sociopathy. Do Narcs sometimes have a meltdown where they lose control and rage because they are feeling the heat of their own vile emptiness?
My sister used to have major meltdowns at Christmas while trying to prepare the perfect Christmas meal. She would stand over me screaming and crying because I was a worthless unsupportive sister on Christmas Eve until my lips were grey and I felt physically weak but didn't have anyplace else to go at 11:30pm at night. Or a friend of mine turned white in the face as he tried to tell me that his girlfriend 'got upset' while putting her dog on an airline conveyer belt. THe dog was her extension of her evil little soul and to see the dog being shipped off in a crate on a conveyer belt into the dark unknown of the baggage system (I know, it would be hard for anyone) triggered rage that exceeds the normal skin peeling horror found in N rages.
Part of me is picking up the idea of the calculation of their rages between thumb and forefinger because I had some knowledge that there was calculation but I am thinking that more of it was calculated than I want to admit.
I recall some of the more obvious calculated rages quite well - who could forget them? Ever?
For example, I do remember my sister (when we in our early 20s) calling her boyfriend and asking to borrow his brand new car for a drive to Tahoe. I mean, he had that car 3 days and she wanted to take it overnight to the snow. When he declined, the hateful screaming rage started. She pretended to recoil from his base 'greedy selfishness' and raged that he was such a disappointment. Over and over she returned to amazed anger that she never knew just how petty and self centered he was. I had no self esteem at that point because I had 360 degrees of abuse from every relative (N's, BPD's, Sociopaths, Alcoholic ragers) so to hear her include me in these demands was humiliating -I secretly didn't think I deserved to live so hearing her tell him that 'we' deserved to borrow his new car was harrowing. I literally became physically ill listening to her hatred and contempt go on for about 45 minutes. The moment he said yes - the switch flicked off. There were tears streaking her face as she playfully chided saying 'you could have just said yes in the first place instead of putting me through this' but the rage was gone - she was just in training mode then. And what she meant was "Don't ever do that again unless you want a repeat of this beating".
She hung up, and in a perky tone of excitement said "He's going to let us borrow his NEW CAR!" and with a squeal of excitement (wait...don't rats and pigs squeal too?) skipped off to her room to pick out her wardrobe for the trip. I was too weak to stand for awhile. 5 years later she would turn to me in the car and say with a wistful smile "Remember the time Mike let us borrow his new car to drive to Tahoe" and the haunting returned to my eyes. She asked "What?" On this rare occaision I actually said "Well, I remember you raging at him for almot an hour to get him to loan it to us" She erupted in rage saying "YOU ONLY REMEMBER BAD THINGS ABOUT ME!!!!" She told me I liked to portray her negatively and got tears in her eyes as she said I did it on purpose just to make her feel bad.
Or the time that she purposely abused me for a calculated 2 hour effort to get me to agree to handle inherited property the way she wanted - I have have PSTD surrounding that long car drive but I feel that her traumatizing rage was a scripted effort to break me psychologicaly. So I know that rage is a tool for them, they find it invigorating while we find it depleting. They are proud of it. A Narc I know said, appropos of nothing, "Ooooh I could say something so mean right now." with a twinkle in her eye. She knew what kind of rage she could produce, she knew the kind of damage she could cause, and it made her purr with superior glee to reflect upon her 'talent'.

WarriorMOMMY said...

The last poster completely struck a chord with me. They really do find pride in their rages and offensive tactics. It is like their claim to fame. My N mother scares the hell out of people with even the threat of possibility of what she could do. She has chased cars off the freeway for cutting her off, screamed racial smears at certain ethnic groups. She is going to end up crossing the wrong person one day that is more of an N than her and get herself in trouble.

The most interesting part is that some people are safe in the N's world. For instance, my mother's friends and my other sibling rarely if ever see the rages directed at them personally . . .

Unknown said...

Thank you Anna for all your hard work. Not sure if I've said it before although I have been commenting here.

This particular posting is really covering my mother. So I'm not crazy after all. I was in counselling for many years, the anxiety took its toll. When I was trying to hold on to a job, it was hard, everyone thought I was crazy.

So, yes get the children the hell out of there.

Eve Diamond said...

I am so incredibly grateful to have found this blog and now have access to all of this information on NPD. I've always had terrible problems trusting my own perception of reality as a result of these 'rages' my mother has, as often they didn't seem logical to me but I had to accept them as 'justified'. It really does make you feel crazy, and the concept of right and wrong behaviour becomes distorted.
I will never forget the rages over that stupid remote control- looking back it almost seems like it was a game to her. In the evenings I would watch tv in the upstairs office (not in the living room, I would often try to 'disappear' into different parts of the house as soon as I got home from school to avoid provoking a tantrum through my mere presence). My mother would be on the ground floor below and somehow she always heard if I dropped the tv remote. I don't know how she could have heard it, but if I ever dropped the remote and it clattered to the floor 5 seconds later she would either be at the bottom of the stairs or already flying into the office shrieking and screaming. I would even be grounded for 'deliberately terrorising my mother with the remote control'. The thing was - I was so damn nervous every time I turned on the tv I would have sweaty, shaky hands and drop the remote even more. Eventually I gave up and spent the rest of my years in that house in my room, avoiding any sort of confrontation. I was made to feel that with just my presence I was doing many, many things wrong and deserved to be punished for it, but since I could never figure out what I was 'doing wrong' as my mothers reasoning wasn't logical to me, I just chose to be a ghost instead.