by Thomas Pluck
Anyone else have psychopath fatigue? What scares me more than someone without conscience is someone with a conscience who can subdue it to get what they want. It bothered them a lot to strangle their spouse and children and dump them in an oil field, but they couldn't run off with that sexy millionaire otherwise. Eggs in the omelet, you know? And the worst are narcissists.
At Left Coast Crime, we had a great discussion at Josh Stallings's panel "Writing Dark Fiction with Heart." Narcissists make great villains in psychological suspense stories because we've all seen them in school, or at work, and social circles. They weaponize people against each other for their own benefit. They can be the worst kind of bully, the emotional kind. The one who gaslights you, turns your friends against you, and gets away with everything because they take advantage of sympathy.
I said that we need to move past the stereotype of the "big bully." Most bullies are of the emotional kind. Physical violence is rightfully unacceptable in society, but many bullies know how to use this to their advantage, especially the narcissist bully. They tease and humiliate their victims, who may be physically larger and easily taunted. Then when they get a reaction, they can tell on the teacher and get their victim suspended from school, or hated in the group for being "crazy." Did you see how she went nuts on me?
I got this a lot from a kid in fifth grade who whispered fat jokes until I yelled at him to stop, and then was punished for disrupting class. Mrs Macaw never believed that Pranav could say such things. I had to be exaggerating.... stay after class and learn to behave, Thomas. It's a classic narcissist move, turning everyone against their chosen victim. Congrats, you've been gaslighted. The target can the subject of the narcissist's envy, or they can see them as a convenient stepping stone for rising in the pecking order, or they can be grooming them as a toady. Or they can be practice.
I grew up with a drunken narcissist, I know the game. I don't hold it against the suckers who fall for it. I still fall for their bullshit now and then, they are good at what they do, and writers are suckers for a compliment. They start by "negging" their victims, belittling their accomplishments, or taking credit for them:
"Hey, you only got that nomination because I was disqualified, and I told them to give you my votes."
"Congrats on that award! When I wasn't nominated, I created a secret voting campaign to make you win."
"You should let me have that position you were given, you're just going to be nervous and mess it up. I'll pave the way for you."
Stuff like that. It's as pathetic as it sounds, but it works on us when we are vulnerable. Look at what scumbag Ryan Adams did to young women after he told them he "made their careers." The victim can't talk to the people who've bought into the lies, because they are the "crazy" enemy who is "attacking" their friend with accusations. This is the same weapon all abusers use to silence their victims.
Another way narcissists gaslight people is to offer to "shake hands" when they owe you an apology (which you will never get, because they are never wrong; their ego is paramount, and you wounded that ego by not buying into their false self-image). This way you look like the bad guy by refusing to make peace. Abusers do this all the time. "I just want us to be a family." This way they can claim victimhood, which to them is "winning."
Here's an example:
A drama llama wanted to "have it out" with me at a bar once. Saturday night may have been declared all right for fighting by Elton, but one thing I have learned in fifteen years of fight training is how to not get into a fight. This may not make for exciting stories, but it's a good skill to have.
Because there's no way to win a fight.
Fights are generally performative masculinity, like bower birds dancing for mates. They accomplish little. Especially when you are the big guy, and you have nothing to prove, and therefore nothing to win. For example, if Goliath broke David's neck, no one would be talking about him today except as a monster. But little David with his sling, even if he stood up to the big galoot only to be squashed like an insect, would be the hero. This plays right into a narcissist's martyr complex.
Even if it's a "debate" or a heated discussion, it can only be used against the narcissist's target. That's how abusers operate, they create scenes of drama to gaslight their enemies and show themselves as the aggrieved victim to people they haven't hurt yet. The narcissist needs an audience, the ones who tell their victims how nice they are, so if they hurt you, it's your fault, you must have misunderstood.
That's why trolls like Ben Shapiro want to "debate" real journalists and politicians, to legitimize their bullshit careers. They might as well be asking someone to "step outside". If you take the fight, you roll in the mud with the pig. If you laugh at them for the joke they are, you are "cowardly". They love games like this because they have everything to gain, and their target has everything to lose.
And unlike in fiction, there is rarely a moment of exposure where the bully and narcissist is exposed for what they are. People have too much invested in them, they go down with the ship. It's why the flood of articles exposing pathological liars in power accomplish nothing. They usually self-destruct and drag down others with them, and often have a track record of abject failure (or bankruptcy) and backstabbing people who supported them once they can no longer be used.
Try not to be one of them.