Friday, June 15, 2007

How Evil Hides From Itself

Innocence seldom utters outraged shrieks. Guilt does. ~ Whittaker Chambers

In a previous post I asserted that evil people don't wake up each day deciding which evil deeds to accomplish. They admit to no evil because define themselves and their deeds as good and right. I'm going to explain a little more how they create this alternate reality. It is important you understand how they twist their thinking because you have probably been sucked into believing their insane logic.

I am convinced the narcissist senses deep down they are evil. Their whole existence is defined by their efforts to deny this nagging sense. Hence, the universal quality of narcissists to avoid introspection and their profligate use of projection.

It is possible, though very rare, for an evil person to admit they are evil. Evil people who admit they are evil tend toward the psychopath end of the narcissism spectrum. Even while admitting to being evil, they will justify their evil in some way in an attempt to lessen their culpability. Evil people have a hard time admitting the full truth of what they are, even if they admit it to some degree or other. Here is a hard and fast principle of human psychology: we can't survive without a sense of righteousness. Even evil people have this need which is why we see people rationalizing the worst of their behaviors in an effort to minimize, shift or eliminate guilt. Guilt is a powerful emotion and has the power to extinguish us if not dealt with. Which brings us back to the human need to be righteous. How we go about getting a sense of righteousness is what separates the decent from the evil. The definition of "righteous" is a relative thing depending on whether you're decent or evil. (Think of a prison population. No matter how bad you are, there is always someone else you can look down on.)

There is a school of thought which purports that someone can not be defined as evil if their intentions are good. As long as the person believes they are pursuing a higher good, then they can't be classified as evil even if the outcomes of their behaviors are considered to be morally wrong or evil. I completely dismiss this rationalization, for that is all it is. One big reason I reject this philosophy is because it is used every day by malignant narcissists to excuse themselves when caught screwing up. I'm convinced the bad guys have made up this silly little philosophy in order to absolve their evil deeds.

I can't tell you how many times I've had to accept as an explanation for bad acts that the narcissist "didn't intend" to cause pain. (I suspect the same is true for you.) They insist how they only meant to cause a good outcome; it just couldn't be foreseen how it would end badly. Because they didn't intend a bad outcome they expect to be not only excused but completely exonerated without making restitution. The narcissists in my life have expected endless do-overs as well as being allowed to maintain that they are "good" people by using this philosophical point as moral cover. A truly decent person would accept the responsibility for the bad outcome even if their intentions had been good. They would not use their good intentions as a way to avoid making up for their wrong.

Here are three statements my mother made in an "apology" letter:
What a cloud of unreality I have lived in regarding our relationship. I had no realization I was so difficult & self-serving & that our connection as mother & daughter was on shakey ground. I am horrified by the terrible pain I’ve caused & the wrongs committed by a seeming callous behavior. Honestly, I had no idea. I’m so sorry. The violations were not done with deliberate intent.
Emphasis mine, obviously. I highlighted the word "seeming" because it is an interesting modifier. She is not admitting to callous behavior. She is only admitting that it seemed so. Her insistence on not having bad intentions completely negates her so-called horror of the pain she's caused and the "wrongs committed". What is really being said here is that the fault is in my perceptions. By the way, I never accused her of "callous" behavior. I accused her of much worse. She is reserving the right to define her behaviors. She chose the word "callous". She isn't even owning it even though she came up with it. She modifies the word "callous" with seeming. Now, instead of the behaviors I charged her with, she is deciding what her behaviors should be called and qualifying it with a word that suggests she only appeared to be callous. **sigh** Narcissists are such slick operators.

May I say never did I do these sins against you with a deliberate thought on how to make you most unhappy.
Pure motives galore. By the way, I never accused her of this either. Another straw man she just wrestled to the ground.

Please feel free to state your disapproval if you see me act that way. It is not intentional.
Anyone can lay claim to a "good intention" after the fact. How hard is it to lie about motivations? Because of the universal human need to be "righteous", how do we give credit to an after-the-fact claim to having pure motives when the outcome is immoral, indecent or inhuman? It is profoundly naive to do so. Narcissists are not above lying in order to make themselves look better; it is their stock-in-trade. Lying is as essential and frequent as breathing. Even a non-narcissist will lie to look better as it is a common defensive human behavior. Since when do we believe that a person caught in a bad or immoral act is going to reliably tell the truth about their motives? This philosophy qualifies as one of those ideas that is so stupid only intellectuals claim to believe it.

I am sure some people feel very sophisticated and high-minded in believing that pure motives disprove evil outcomes as well as their refusal to label another human being as "evil". Many people look down on those who believe in such "simple" concepts as "good" vs. "evil". To believe in the existence of evil is not the simplistic view that pseudo-intellectuals would like to tell you it is. It is much simpler to dismiss the concept of evil than it is to recognize it. Evil is not simple. It is crafty, subtle, seductive. It hides itself with the accoutrements of "goodness". It covers up in layers upon layers of lies. Truth is much simpler. Not simplistic, simpler. Direct. But with evil you have to be a detective, of sorts, to sniff it out because it can dress itself up in many different outfits. On Sundays, it often wears a suit.

"Everyday evil" hides itself in plain sight. To quote Elizabeth Barrett Browning (a poet):

"The devil's most devilish when respectable."

This is why our devils...the narcissists...use position and title to attempt to hide the evil of their characters and their actions. Titles like: mother, father, priest, church member, volunteer, doctor, teacher, etc. provide protective coloration because society doesn't like to ascribe evil to people who fill these roles. None of us like to ascribe evil to people in these roles. But we must be willing to consider the possibility that a devil is hiding in plain sight when the evidence starts stacking up. We can't assume pure motives are always in place when the outcomes are consistently bad for you and others.

I would like to expand just a little on the complicated mental gyrations of the narcissist required to maintain this sense of themselves as being "good". It isn't necessarily an easy thing to keep perceiving ones self as good when your deeds are consistently bad. It takes constant effort to maintain the inverse reality of the narcissist.

A by-product of the narcissist's deathly fear of introspection (fear of finding out the truth about themselves), is how they value symbolism over substance. They are shallow and cursory in their thinking, as well as in what impresses them about themselves and others. They capitalize on how things look, not on the substance of what things in reality are. Since they are easily impressed by appearances, they assume you are too (projection). They assume that the appearance of perfection is what constitutes perfection. Just look the part and you're it. The narcissist who positions themselves in a role which society ascribes pure motives to is intent on fooling themselves first. They play-act the part and convince themselves they are the thing they are play-acting at. This goes a long way toward giving themselves the sense that they are "good". They assume you see things as they do, therefore you too must ascribe to them all the goodness their title or position implies. If you dare to call "foul" on something they do, they point to their "title" as proof of the impossibility of their being wrong.

All of this is the long way of saying that the narcissist is first and foremost trying to convince themselves they are not evil. Next, they assume that what convinces them should convince you as well. They hide their evil in plain sight by capitalizing on appearances. That is all they have. Appearances. Substance, reality, truth are not friendly to the narcissist because they expose the narcissist. The narcissist is always hiding from the truth of who they are. Their persistence in believing they are always "right" and "good" is coming from that human need to rid ourselves of guilt. Narcissists attempt to cheat by pretending there is no reason to feel guilty. Good people make wrongs right in order to relieve guilt. And good people are willing to live with a sense of guilt if they've earned it. They will admit their pain is deserved and learn to live with it if perfect restitution isn't possible to achieve. This helps good people to keep from re-committing bad acts. They remember how a prior bad act hurt others and themselves.

Who we are is demonstrated by what we do. The physically abusive husband may try to minimize having beaten his wife by saying, "I wasn't myself when I did it". Yes, it is like you to beat your wife because it is what you chose to do. We become who we are through the sum of our choices. We choose to do what we do, therefore we are what we do. This is important to keep in mind when dealing with a narcissist. Their constant claims of moral purity based on their insistence on having the purest of motives is nothing more complicated than a dodge from accountability. We are what we do. If the outcomes of someone's actions are consistently evil then it is correct to assume that their character is evil.

If a person's words and actions are conflicting with each other you must believe the actions over the words. Otherwise, you are guaranteed to get socked in the gut time and again. What people do carries more weight than what they say. There is a trite saying that goes, "it's easier said than done". It is an annoyingly trite statement due to its utter obviousness. Everything is easier to say than to do. Which is why actions are much more significant than words. Actions take monumentally more effort to carry out than to just sit around talking about it. Every action requires effort; even bad acts require effort. When we consistently say one thing and do another we show where our heart is by what we are willing to put our effort into. Whether our deeds are consistently benevolent and kind or consistently immoral and damaging...we reveal what our true motives are by what we do. So I make the argument that actions reveal true motives...motives do not define the actions. Once again, the narcissists have things upside down. They think "good" motives purify the bad deed. Well, screw that.

You are what you do. Period.


Lorenzo said...

So I make the argument that actions reveal true motives...motives do not define the actions.Economists call that the difference between expressed preferences (what people say they want) and revealed preference (what people's actions show they want).

May I join the chorus of people saying what a great blog this is and what a wonderful resource for people with narcissists in their life, past or present.

Unknown said...

Wow you described exactly how i felt when i walked in to Grammy's room everytime when i lived with her in 2002.
-lexi mae

Unknown said...

That letter was so slick. I would have fallen for it. I have fallen for their tactics everytime. What scares me is now seeing past these things now that I have awoken to my own MN mother. She could tell you off to your face and scream and yell, and have tons of flying monkeys defending her actions.

Since awakening I have discovered I had a N/MN friend for years. We are friends no longer, because I "screwed up". Who knows, she won't tell me. I guess I deserved it. Being away from her I noticed I am no longer under this constant condemnation I was previously under.

They are so tricky.