Thursday, October 18, 2007

Disordered Thinking

"The disordered character has plenty of insight and awareness but despite it, resists changing his/her attitudes and core beliefs. CDO's (character-disordered individuals) don't need any more insight. What they need and can benefit from are limits, confrontation, and most especially, correction. Cognitive-behavioral therapeutic approaches appropriate." page 21 In Sheep's Clothing; Understanding and Dealing With Manipulative People by George K. Simon, Jr., Ph.D.

The author then goes on to explain, "Most especially, disordered characters don't think the way most of us do. In recent years, researchers have come to realize the importance of recognizing that fact. What we think, how we believe, and what attitudes we develop largely determine how we will act." page 22

I am not going to argue whether or not NPD is character disorder. The entire premise my blog is predicated on is that NPD is a character disorder. Most of the time the terms "personality disorder" and "character disorder" (PD & CD) are used interchangeably by the professionals though there is a move toward classifying CD as a sub-set of PD. Whatever. The classifications are anything but scientific. Nevertheless, even when CD is considered a sub-set of PDs, malignant narcissism still fits the criteria of a CD. So the above quotes are applicable to NPD.

One point I'd like you to take away from these quotes is that a character-disordered individual is the sum product of disordered thinking. These disordered thinking patterns are entrenched as evidenced by the fact that a CD person can have "plenty of insight and awareness" but they do not apply those insights and awareness to their belief system. This is important to note because of the ways we often try to effect change in the narcissist. We try to appeal to their reasoning. We try to appeal to their heart. Neither approach has any hope of making a dent.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that they don't understand your reasoning or appeals to their heart or conscience. They "have plenty of insight and awareness". They do understand. They reject your appeals and your logic. They are able to completely deflect your reasoning and your emotional appeals. They will not allow you to change their belief system based on intellectual or emotional approaches.

Please be sure to interpret the imperviousness the narcissist demonstrates to an active and willful rejection of both your rational logic and your emotional appeals. This will enable you to stop trying to say it yet again in a "better" way assuming that the fault lies in your inability to express yourself clearly when in truth the fault lies with the narcissist. They are able to understand you and still disagree with you.

Traditional psychotherapy has been battered and beaten by the character-disordered. The more honest appraisals of the psych community (led in part by people like Dr. Hare) have determined that psychotherapy actually worsens the behaviors of the character-disordered. They have taken note that traditional psychotherapeutic approaches simply provide tools with which the CD individual can then use to manipulate people in his environment including the therapists. Freud based his therapy models on the neurotic personality. On almost every point, character-disordered people differ from the neurotic. They are almost a completely inverse image of the neurotic. It makes a lot of sense that traditional therapeutic approaches would fail abysmally when confronted with the CD. And it has failed abysmally. This includes all the 12-step programs out there. They do not work on the CD. And considering how often the CD can end up ordered into 12-step programs due to their attendant behavior disorders (addictions, etc.) then we would do well to take note of the real threat of making the character-disordered worse through such programs.

The only time there has been any successful intervention with the CD is when cognitive-behavioral therapy has been used. As the author stated, "What they need and can benefit from are limits, confrontation, and most especially, correction. Cognitive-behavioral therapeutic approaches appropriate." Think of training a dog. You don't train an animal to "behave" by sitting it down and having a heart-to-heart. You don't attempt to train a dog by describing what you want from him very logically. If you are to have any hope of shaping the animal's behavior you will proceed to operate on a clear reward/punishment system based on their behaviors. The same is true with how we train our very young children. Clear limits. Confrontation. Correction. Young children will not learn how to properly behave because you tell him how it hurts your feelings when he misbehaves. He is also insensible to the rational and logical. We shape young children by setting clear limits and enforcing them. We dispense rewards and punishment based on the behavior. Long before the child's mind has developed fully he can be trained to behave within certain guidelines. This helps keep the child safe and it helps us to teach them self-control and respect for others when they are very young. It can be extremely difficult to teach a child these things if we wait until they are older before we start the lessons.

Where the adult narcissist differs from the dog or the child is the reality that they are autonomous adult human beings making choices. They are free-will agents. This is why, when the narcissist refuses to change their behaviors, we are wise if we accept the narcissist's decision to behave how they do and get the hell out of their lives. We have almost no power to persuade them to change how they think in order to change how they behave.

If you must stay in the narcissist's life then you must follow the above guidelines for interacting with them. Firm limits. Confronting their bad behaviors. Following through on consequences for their bad behavior. Do not waste your time appealing to their "conscience" or their logic centers. Those are armor-plated. Do not make the mistake that the narcissist thinks like you do. They do not feel like you do either. They do not interact with the world and their relationships in any way like you do.

We all do a fair amount of projecting in our inter-personal relationships. I'm not talking about the negative projection of narcissists. I'm talking about positive projection. If you are an honest individual you will very often assume that others are also honest and proceed to interact with others based on that assumption. There are obviously serious pit-falls to assuming that the narcissist has similar good motivations and thoughts as you yourself possess. It sets you up to get taken. We have to consciously suspend our usual projection onto others of our ways of thinking and feeling when dealing with the character-disordered. This is essential. This is also difficult for us to do. We can feel that we are being "bad" when we stop assuming the best about the narcissist. You need to ignore that feeling. The narcissist has much more in common in his thinking with the criminal than with you.

I clearly remember feeling confused when I was first coming to acknowledge to myself my mother's bad behaviors and her bad intent. I couldn't understand why she could do such things when she clearly knew better. My mother has always presented herself as a font of wisdom to the people in her life. In fact, I can actually credit her for helping me turn into a decent human being. Why? Because she can really preach a good sermon! This lady knows what truth is. As George Simon stated she "has plenty of insight and awareness". I was a very sincere child and I wanted more than anything to be good. So I took what she preached to me and applied it to my thinking and my behavior. What took me nearly four decades to realize was that she did not do the same. I assumed that when a person knows what truth is that they then apply it to their living. That is what I did. Not perfectly, by any means, but my constant motivation was to be a good and decent person. I projected that onto my mother. I assumed that because she knew the difference between right and wrong that she was endeavoring to do right and not wrong.

I can now clearly see how she is expert at honing the consciences of those around her in order to set herself up with an advantage over them! If I am constrained by my conscience and she isn't...then that means she can get away with anything. It is like playing a game with a little kid. They set the rules up so that they can always win because they rely on you to stick to the rules while they can fudge them at will so as to gain the advantage over you.

Disordered characters are the sum total of their disordered thinking. You have no power to change their thinking. Don't set yourself up for failure by continuing to try to reason and cajole them into a new way of thinking. It ain't gonna work. They'll just be better able to intuit how to parrot back to you what you want to hear so they can bamboozle you yet again.


Cathy said...

Too funny . . ."In Sheep's Clothing" JUST arrived at my doorstep (along with "Emotional Vampires"). I was just deciding which one to delve into first when I read your posting!

Let me describe the clear picture that entered my mind at one point during the "training of dogs" scenario in your post. This is what I thought to myself at that point. . .

Yeah . . .Just TRY to "correct" or "train" the dog that is my mother and watch the deep gutteral, demonic growl escape through bared, clenched, fang teeth covered in a dripping foamy froth.

A growling, sneering, rabid dog. Hmmm. Leaves only one choice. Get the hell outta dodge!!

Anonymous said...

"Disordered characters are the sum total of their disordered thinking. You have no power to change their thinking. Don't set yourself up for failure by continuing to try to reason and cajole them into a new way of thinking. It ain't gonna work. They'll just be better able to intuit how to parrot back to you what you want to hear so they can bamboozle you yet again."

Great Post, Anna!


Anonymous said...

"I can now clearly see how she is expert at honing the consciences of those around her in order to set herself up with an advantage over them! If I am constrained by my conscience and she isn't...then that means she can get away with anything."

Ooooh, Anna, this is gold. This is how a Christian Nparent can be soooooo devastating. Particularly one who is a pastor. Ask my DH how he knows. Sigh.

Thanks for this jewel of an insight,

Anonymous said...

Its also vital that you embrace reality and not be afraid to tell your story, speak your truth - and help educate others.

Another fantastic post, my friend.

Anonymous said...

To the last "anonymous"...I too was the target of two N pastors and the daughter of one of them, my XN wife. Wow, the leverage they have on you when you're not aware of what's happening! And especially when you are a Christian and give the "double honor" to pastors as commanded. I'm certain thier reward will be magnified.

Fortunately, God allowed my escape after nearly 25 years of marriage and escalating chaos and insanity.
The second N pastor "stole" my wife. I should send him a "thank you" note.

Anonymous said...


I read all of your posts as time allows, but I just wanted to comment that this one was outstanding for me at this time in my journey to health and truth. I appreciate your voice so much. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I have never been a person who uses logic much in making decisions about people. I also think that my confidence in my own opinions was severely eroded as a young girl in my N household. My N mother's craziness made me question my own sanity and memory on numerous occasions. I have found recently that logic has become my best friend when dealing with Ns.

I recently confronted my mother and sister about some actions of theirs which had caused a great deal of harm. I gave them multiple occasions to explain themselves, and I became very insistent that they look at the evidence (not at their opinions) and tell me why I shouldn't deal with them accordingly.

In both instances, they either shot back accusations which had nothing to do with the situation at hand, or retreated into some kind of weird fantasy world where they were innocent children who had no idea what I was talking about. It was truly scary and nauseating to see the behaviour. This was all done in writing, so I didn't have to go on my own feelings, I could look at the evidence.

It was very helpful for me to see how ludicrous their behaviour was, and it helped me diagnose their N'ism with clarity. I still feel a bit shell-shocked - how come I am normal, we're from the same gene pool - and I have times when I experience 'floating'.

'Floating' is a term used for those who have survived a cult, or the subject of brainwashing (N victims would know this one). It just means you have times when you go back into the same mental state you were in when you were being abused, and you start to question whether your thoughts about this person are justified or not. "Maybe they weren't that bad", "Maybe it wasn't as awful as I thought it was". You need a kick in the pants to get you back to reality.

I come here and read this blog, or others about Narcissism, it helps to get my feet back on the ground.

So, what IS in a heart? said...

This is a little unrelated, but I read your post on bullies and thought that this site might be of interest to you:

(It's a bit wordy, but in the self-defense area, he talks about pacifism, and how many self-proclaimed pacifists are actually verbally violent).

Anonymous said...

As someone that has been dealing with the rather abrupt ending to a relationship with an emotional narcissist for awhile now, this was an apropos characterization.

This person I was supposedly close to was extremely adept at expressing empathy and sympathy with abstract concepts and situations, but woefully deficient at both showing love for people that they were in contact with on a regular basis, particularly regarding instances where they were to blame. They favored the abstract over the personal, and seem oblivious to how many people pull away from them. It's never their fault.

This person seemed to prefer emotional and ego self preservation over maintaining relationships or showing any thing smacking of love or support. Showcasing such feelings was viewed by this person as making them vulnerable and weak, extremely taboo, even at the risk of losing what they had.

Your post reminded of a short tale that I heard that gets at the heart of such heartless individuals:

One day, a guy went out on the beach to enjoy his time off work or what not. Anyway, he eventually decided to test the ocean water and swim for a bit. After while, he was viciously attacked by a shark, which immediately began biting and chomping the man's body.

Pleading for his life, the man began pounding on the shark's snout and screaming: "Stop, can't you see you're hurting me and killing me!?"

Paying no mind to the man's desperate attempts to stop the brutality being inflicted on him, the shark continued with its onslaught of the innocent man.

However, this man enjoyed life and was not accustomed to giving up anything without a fight or struggle, and continued beating on the Shark in the hope of obtaining some relief. He tried reasoning with the shark. "Hey, I have a family and can't bear to have my child grow up without me."

Finally, after an indeterminate amount of the man screaming and beating on it, the shark stopped, and with a look of pure, unadulterated scornful disgust, spoke, "How rude you are to bother me, can't you see I'm eating my dinner?"

For me, this person is that shark. Acutely in sync with their own wants, needs, desires, and emotions, they were/are pathologically emotionally vacant regarding other's feelings. I'm sorry to have written so much, but I've been reading your blog on and off, and this one really spoke to me.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading this blog for a few months, but afraid to comment. My N husband left a few months ago, and before he did, he acted like the shark in the Oct. 24 post. The horror of the months before he left was unbelievable. I could not comprehend how someone I thought I knew for nearly 20 years could really be someone else - empty, cold and dead inside, but cruel too. I begged for compassion and mercy, but there was only contempt, denial, gaslighting, and sadism. Yet, many times I wonder, now that he is out, if I have misunderstood, exaggerated... yet, I could not say how bad it was without humiliating myself. We have a child, so I still have to deal with him. How can I understand what was his NPD (undiagnosed except by me) and what belongs to me? Thank you for your bravery - I feel my self esteem is gone.

Anna Valerious said...


I wish I had an easy solution for your situation. I don't. I hope you will keep on reading and absorbing the truth about NPD both here in the archives as well as Kathy Krajco's blog and main site:


It is going to take time to sort things out. It is very understandable that you've emerged from this marriage with little self-esteem intact. It is going to take time to rebuild it.


Hang in there. Even though it doesn't feel like it, you have been handed the golden key to the rest of your life...the good life.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Anna for your kind words. I am grateful that you are not judging me.

That's one of the hardest things about this - it never makes any sense when you talk about it, because people don't really understand unless they've been there. It is a very lonely feeling. There is so much shame, guilt, despair already, that it would be too painful to be judged too.

I felt like I was clinging onto the edge of the cliff with my fingers, and when I begged for help, he stomped on my hands. So, why do I still feel a connection? I'd like to think it is because I want to honor whatever was true and good in the relationship, not because of some weakness. But, if it wasn't real, I still feel there was love, maybe for who I thought he was and what I hoped for out of life.

It is too barren to feel like the entire marriage was empty - I don't want to view my life as garbage, even though I was dumped and left behind. Even before that, I now believe that what I was facing was constant, exhausting and enraging projective identification. I have to live with memories of anger that I didn't understand or want, that didn't belong to me.

Everyone says I must recover for my child, and I always will do whatever it takes to give her what she needs to the best of my ability, but I feel shattered and numb, like I'll never be free and happy again. Why is it so hard?

Thank you again for your site - I will continue to read and gain strength from all of you here and at the other site. These voices are the only ones that seem to understand, the other pioneers on a volcanic landscape.

JW said...

"Do not make the mistake that the narcissist thinks like you do. They do not feel like you do either."

See this is the statement that caught my eye in your post. The hard part about this is that feelings come naturally to a person and I have always been told that people feel the way they feel and that feelings shouldn't be attacked. But in the case of my Ncoworker, I ended up attacking his feelings in a sense because he was abnormal and I didn't think that his feelings were normal. His behavior always contradicted his feelings, which finally led me to realize that there was definately something off about him. To attack someone's feelings is to invalidate that person's feelings in a sense. I have read alot about invalidation and I feel guilty about doing this to my Ncoworker. It happened on one occasion. But after awhile, I didn't know how to excape this individual. I was always sympathetic and understanding with him. I always tried to get along with him until I realized that he was an "evil" person. The one thing I've realized about these people is that they will try to induce guilt into their target if they feel like the target is turning away from them. The worst part about the whole situation is that when the target attacks the N's feelings, the target ends up being thought of as selfish and inconsiderate. The one thing that I have read about N's is that they are disassociated from their own feelings and pain in a sense. They don't care about themselves. Any thoughts on this?

Anna Valerious said...


Nothing in my post was advocating or encouraging anyone to attack a N's feelings. Or even their thinking. In fact, I specifically say to not waste your efforts attempting to either appeal to their feelings or their thinking. You seem to not have comprehended my points.

The focus of the post was on the thinking of the narcissist. I then mentioned that not only do the character disordered not think like normal people, even their feelings are not like ours. They do not react to life with the same feelings in a situation as you would. That is just information for you to know...not to attack a N with. It is information that helps you to not interact with a N with the presumptions that we use when we interact with normal individuals.

As mentioned in this post, traditional psychotherapeutic methodologies get it all wrong where the character disordered are concerned. So, when psychology states that the narcissist doesn't care about himself it is just wrong. That statement is the complete inverse of reality. The problems with Ns arise from their supreme self-love, self-focus, self-concern. The idea that it is wrong to not validate a character-disordered individual's feelings is based on the model of the neurotic and simply does not apply.

But, again, I was not focusing on the feelings of the character-disordered in this post. I was focusing on their thinking. Twisted thinking always results in twisted feelings. The thinking is the primary problem. Their feelings are secondary to the problem and really don't need to be addressed by us when dealing with them. To validate their feelings would be to validate their twisted thinking. Not an approach I would recommend. Dump your self-help and psychology books at the door when trying to deal with or understand the narcissist. They do not apply. Psychological studies and insights on dealing with the character disordered, such at the work of Cleckley, or Hare, or books such as the one recommended in this post, that are dealing specifically with the character disordered is the type of information that can actually help you know what you are dealing with in a narcissist. The same paradigms do not exist for the character disordered as they do for you and me. You have to step into the twilight zone when dealing with them.

JW said...

Nothing in my post was advocating or encouraging anyone to attack a N's feelings. Or even their thinking. In fact, I specifically say to not waste your efforts attempting to either appeal to their feelings or their thinking. You seem to not have comprehended my points.

Oh I definately understood the points that you were making. The situation that I was describing in which I did attack the Ncoworkers feelings happened over a year ago, before I happend onto your blog. I definately do not believe in attacking anyone's feelings and I know that that is not what you are advocating, I was simply trying to state what I had done based on not knowing how to handle the situation at the time, before I had a better understanding of the kind of situation and person that I had the misfortune of dealing with. I read through your whole post earlier today and the statement that you made just kind of stood out to me and I felt like discussing what I had done in my situation before I knew better. Thanks for responding.

Anna Valerious said...


Oh, good. I really didn't get a clear sense of where your head is at today, vs. back when this event happened. I am glad that you have a clearer idea now of things. I am relieved for your sake!

The more one chooses to try to appeal to the heart or head of a narcissist, the more ammunition you give them to pummel you with. They use your own conscience against you to their advantage. This is why it is essential to keep in mind that they don't have the same (normal) feelings or thoughts as we do. It helps you to see through the FOG (fear, obligation, guilt) to see the sleight of hand manipulation of you by them. They are constantly trying to control your reality. You have to stand outside of the situation mentally in order to avoid falling into the traps they lay for you. You fell into a trap when you were finally provoked into reacting to your Ncoworker. You did nothing wrong...yet you were made to feel like you were the bad person. Bystanders are terrible about blaming the person who is reacting defensively to protect themselves and absolving the truly guilty party who did the provocation. The person who seems the most angry and emotional tends to get the blame. It ain't fair. It ain't right. It just is, though. So, keeping a cool head and mostly refusing to react at all is the best course most of the time.

Anonymous said...

You are so right...

I just left a comment about ten minutes ago asking if one can change...And well, you've answered it for me in this entry.

this is so frustrating!

Anonymous said...

I have a message to anonymous whose N ex-husband left her after years of marriage:

I have the luxury of speaking from a relationship with a N that only went for a fickle year and a half...Well, I also have the luxury of believing that time is relative.

Anyway, an epiphany jostled me out of my bed last night to write it out in my journal: I seek the abuse of the N I know because I myself have a brother diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder who never never never (unless he's drowsy on meds) lets me free without blame for the whole fabric that makes his life. And so it makes sense that I am drawn to the N (since I have been conditioned to not only believe but "know" that I --not you, not him, def. not the N--am the one who "NEEDS" the blame). But I have just started to forgive myself for my mistake in believing that it was my fault..[it being any cause for blame my brother cleverly came up with]. Of course, I can't recover overnight--so I'll definitely be referring to this blog time and time again.

If you want to heal--meaning gain your own sense of self-worth--you should definitely seek the root of why you may not be donning yourself with the love you deserve. yes, deserve.