Jordan Peterson seems to be an angry man. I think he might be angry at me, but I can’t tell for sure. His rants are so imprecise that I am not sure who the targets of his wrath really are. I cannot tell what, precisely, he thinks that these people have done wrong, why he thinks that what they did was wrong, or what he thinks that they should have done instead. However, he is stirring up a lot of hatred against whole groups of people, including feminists and what he describes as “the postmodernist left.” I’m afraid that I might get put into some of those groups, whether I belong there or not. For this reason, Jordan Peterson makes me feel uneasy.
Narcissists are people who want to be socially dominant. They want the power, property, and prestige that go along with having a high social rank. However, they don’t know good ways to get those things. So instead, they try to bamboozle or bully other people. For this reason, narcissists often play “mind games.”
Narcissists play to win, and they play dirty. If you are a sane and decent person, the only way that you can “win” these games is by refusing to play. Yet if you avoid conflict altogether, you will be chased away from the things that matter to you. For this reason, you have to learn to set and enforce boundaries.
King of the hill
Narcissists are obsessed with power and social rank. For this reason, they will try to turn practically everything into some sort of contest, especially one that is rigged in their favor. Nearly all of their games are variations on “king of the hill.” However, the hill in question is seldom worth the fight. So whenever a narcissist tries to embroil you in some conflict, ask yourself, “Is this the hill I want to die on?”
Of course, if you walk away from the conflict after it has started, the narcissist will declare victory, and you will lose ground. If this keeps happening, the narcissist will eventually take over everything that matters to you. There are two possible solutions to this problem. One is to disentangle yourself from the narcissist, so that you can avoid getting involved in any of those pointless struggles. If you cannot disentangle yourself from the narcissist, at least try to find a referee. If the narcissist is one of your coworkers, get your manager to set and enforce some rules.
Heads I win, tails you lose
Ordinary parlor games, like poker or chess, have clear, objective rules for deciding who has won and who has lost. Narcissists would much rather play games in which they can adjust the rules as they go along, so that they can always declare themselves to be the winner. From the narcissist’s perspective, the point of the game is to win by any means necessary. So in general, you should avoid playing any sort of game with a narcissist unless there will be a rulebook, a referee, and a prize that is so valuable that it is worth the price that you will pay for winning. Of course, narcissists tend to avoid those kinds of contests because they cannot ensure that they will win.
Mirror, mirror on the wall
Narcissists worship themselves, and they expect other people to worship them, too. In fact, narcissists love to surround themselves with submissive, co-dependent people who give them meaningless praise and unearned respect. These goodies are called narcissistic goods or narcissistic supply.
Like Snow White’s evil stepmother, narcissists want to hear you say that they are “the fairest of them all.” From the narcissist’s perspective, the praise that you provide is merely a sign of your submission. They really don’t care about your opinions. If you give any answer that is less than worshipful, the narcissist may throw a tantrum, to bully you into submission. These tantrums are called narcissistic rage. A raging narcissist may become dangerous to you or to somebody else.
From your perspective, giving any sort of feedback to a narcissist is a lose-lose proposition. If you praise them, you give them the impression that you are submitting to them. And if you criticize them, then all heck can break lose. So it is often best to avoid giving them any feedback at all.
If you do not provide the narcissistic supply that the narcissist so desperately craves, the narcissist may resort to a tactic called gaslighting. The term comes from the movie Gaslight. In that movie, a jewel thief marries an unsuspecting woman, so that he can steal jewels and other valuables from her late aunt’s estate. However, the woman starts to get suspicious when valuables start to go missing, when she hears noises from the attic, and when the gas-fueled lights in the home start to flicker. When she starts to voice concerns, her new husband keeps the con going by making her doubt her own sanity.
The criminal in Gaslight was a sociopath, but narcissists often do a similar thing. The narcissist might not be after your jewelry. Instead, the narcissist may simply want to dominate you, body and soul. To dominate you, the narcissist may have to convince you that you have a mental illness. If you let the narcissist erode your trust in your own memory and your own common sense, the result can be a form of madness called a folie à deux (the madness of two), which is when two people share a set of delusional beliefs.
This is the only game that you could possibly win, if you are playing with a narcissist. The trick is to keep away without being chased away from the things that matter to you. Thus, you must learn how to set and enforce boundaries. Often, you will need some help in enforcing those boundaries.
When you start setting and enforcing boundaries, you may realize that the narcissistic relative or coworker who is bullying you is not your only problem. You may realize that you are dealing with a dysfunctional family or a hostile work environment, in which the bully is being aided and abetted by his or her “flying monkeys.” Fortunately, you can go “no contact” with your abusive relatives. Rather than wasting your time and treasure on people who do not care about you, work on building deep friendships with people who truly care about you. If your relatives (especially your ex-partner) refuses to respect your boundaries, you may have to get a restraining order. At that point, the police should be on your side.
If you are being bullied at work, you might simply start looking for a better job. You might even be able to win a lawsuit if the abuse at work was based on race or sex. In other words, if your management is dysfunctional, the legal system might serve as the referee that you need.
Photo by Matthew Oliphant
By learning how to manage your anger, you can learn how to make better choices in life. Unfortunately, sending domestic abusers to anger management classes will not get them to stop beating their romantic partners and other family members.
Narcissists are people who worship themselves and want you to worship them, too. However, they do not know how to earn your respect honestly. So instead, they may try to bamboozle you. If that fails, they may try to bully you into submission. For this reason, narcissists love to debate. Their goal is to convince you that they know more than you do—even when they clearly don’t! If you get drawn into that kind of ugly and pointless conversation, you might be tempted to point out that real experts disagree with the narcissist, and for good reasons. But if you do that, the narcissist may sneer that you are using the “argument from authority.” The narcissist will then declare victory. Continue reading “Why Narcissists Love to “Debunk” the Argument From Authority”
A delusion is an irrational false belief that someone holds so firmly that nobody can talk him or her out of it. Delusions are a feature of some major mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia. Narcissists also often try to make you believe things that are clearly false. This tactic is called gaslighting. Sometimes, narcissists even seem to believe the nonsense that they spout. Yet there is a difference between the delusions of someone with schizophrenia and the foolish nonsense that appears on a narcissist’s Twitter feed. Schizophrenics care about the truth, and narcissists do not.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a story that provides hope for children who are being bullied and otherwise rejected by their society. Rudolph is clearly the hero of the story. The villains are most of the rest of the people in Rudolph’s society, including Santa Claus himself. Some critics have complained that the Rudolph story teaches bullied children that they cannot trust authority figures. But the bullied children already knew that. It’s high time that the adults figured it out as well.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was a character created in 1939 in a Christmas story created by Robert L. May, who was working as a copywriter for the Montgomery Ward Company. The story was such a hit that it was reprinted for several years. The story was adapted into a 9-minute cartoon, to be shown in movie theaters. May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, then wrote the lyrics and melody for the popular song. In 1964, the Rankin/Bass company produced a stop-action Christmas special, which has become a modern classic.
Robert May based his Rudolph story on the story of the Ugly Duckling. This duckling was a misfit among its flock of ducklings. Yet to everyone’s surprise, the Ugly Duckling grew up to be a beautiful swan. Likewise, Rudolph is initially rejected because he looks different from the other reindeer. As a result, his childhood is lonely and unhappy. Yet thanks to his natural gift, he becomes a valued member of society as an adult.
The television special introduced some new characters, including Hermey, an elf who ran away from Santa’s workshop because he wanted to become a dentist, instead of a toymaker. The two find their way to the Island of Misfit Toys, whose ruler asks Rudolph to ask Santa to find homes for the misfits. Yet Rudolph cannot live with the misfits because he’s afraid that his shining nose will endanger the others, by attracting the attention of the Abominable Snowman. Despite how horribly Rudolph has been treated by others, Rudolf grows up to be not only brave but selfless. He even has the magnanimity (greatness of soul) to forgive Santa and his father for their cruel rejection of him. Yet thanks to the brilliance that made others reject him, Rudoloph is eventually able to solve a problem that no one else in his society could solve.
Some people have argued that the Rudolph story is a parable about growing up gay. Certainly, gay children have often been targets of bullying, and gay children can draw comfort from the story, with its “It Gets Better” message (https://itgetsbetter.org). Yet Rudolph is not gay. He falls in love with a doe named Clarice. Instead, Rudolph represents another class of bullied children: the gifted. Gifted children are described as “bright” or “brilliant” because of their intelligence, whereas Rudolph is literally bright, because of his shiny nose. Like many gifted children, Rudolph was bullied by other youngsters as well as by adults, who were inexplicably frightened by his nose. (Likewise, many ordinary children and adults feel fear as well as loathing when they encounter brilliant people.) Rudolph’s father Donner had tried to get Rudolph to hide his nose, but the fake nose that Donner made for Rudolph eventually failed. Rudolph’s brilliance was as plain as the nose on his face. The attempt to hide it was stifling and was doomed to failure. The same goes for gifted children.
Like many other gifted children, Rudolph had a strong moral sense. He was kind and brave and selfless. His moral sense put Santa’s to shame, even though Santa is supposedly the one who knows who’s naughty or nice. Similarly, gifted children (and gifted adults) are often shunned, precisely because of their moral integrity, as well as their brilliance.
What about Hermey the elf? Some commentators have suggested that Hermey is gay because he is kind of nerdy. Yet when I was growing up, I knew some children who were not gay but were kind of nerdy, who did not worship Santa or take part in Christmas celebrations, and who went on to become dentists or other professionals. They described themselves as “Jewish.” Like Hermey, Jewish kids seemed to think that it was good to be bright. Although Hermey is not explicitly labeled as Jewish, his role in the Rudolph story is to teach children that anti-Semitism is stupid.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer teaches important moral lessons. Rudolph and Hermey serve as a role models for bright, nonconforming children. Rudolph and Hermey’s story arcs reassure bright children that their childhood misery is not their fault, and that their intelligence, compassion, and moral courage may allow them to become valuable and valued members of society in adult life. In contrast, Donner and Santa’s story arcs serve as cautionary tales for parents and teachers.
Many adults like to think that schoolyard bullying is “kid’s stuff” and therefore none of their concern. Yet the schoolyard bullies are taking their cues from the adults in their societies. Bullies often see themselves as a police force, enforcing the social norms that have been established by the adults. Likewise, Santa and Donner decided that Rudolph’s nose was an embarrassment, and they allowed “all of the other reindeer” to be cruel. The blinding snowstorm serves as a metaphor for Santa and Donner’s moral blindness. Without (moral) guidance from Rudolph, Santa and Donner could not deliver joy to children.
The moral lessons from Rudolph are simple: Be Rudolph. If you can’t be Rudolph, be Hermey. Don’t be bigoted and callous, like Donner and Santa and all of the other reindeer (except Rudolph’s girlfriend Clarice). If you find yourself having to rear or teach a child who is exceptionally bright, contact Serving the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (www.seng.org) for guidance.
Photo by joebeone
Like the protagonist of an ancient Greek tragedy, Harvey Weinstein has fallen from a position of wealth, power, and prestige. Like other tragic figures, Weinstein has only himself to blame. He has been accused of acts of hubris. The Greek word hubris is often translated as foolish pride, but it referred to offenses of a particular kind. In Rhetoric, Aristotle explained that “hubris consists in causing injury or annoyance whereby the sufferer is disgraced, not to obtain any other advantage for oneself besides the performance of the act, but for one’s own pleasure….The cause of the pleasure felt by those who insult is the idea that, in ill-treating others, they are more fully showing superiority.”
There has been yet another mass shooting in the United States. This one is the deadliest in living memory. In the wake of this horror, people are having the usual arguments about whether the shooting was an act of terrorism and whether the shooter was mentally ill. The first is a legal question, and the second is a medical question. To answer the first question, you need to understand how legal terms are defined. To answer the second, you need to understand what mental illness is and how cases of mental illness are classified. These questions are important. Until you answer them, you cannot figure out how to prevent similar offenses from happening in the future.
Narcissists tend to be thin-skinned people who throw tantrums over minor or even imaginary slights. Some psychologists make the absurd argument that the narcissist’s childish behavior is the result of low self-esteem. Yet the word narcissism means that the person’s self-esteem is ridiculously high. You cannot be narcissistic and have low self-esteem at the same time, just as you cannot have a fever (high body temperature) and hypothermia (low body temperature) at the same time. So why might someone with ridiculously high self-esteem be so touchy? As I explain in my book Don’t Feed the Narcissists! The Mythology and Science of Mental Health, narcissists are secure in their self-concept but not in their social rank. Narcissists have ridiculously high self-esteem. For this reason, narcissists feel that they are entitled to a much higher social rank than reasonable people are willing to grant to them. Narcissists often notice that other people do not worship them as much as the narcissists worship themselves. As a result, narcissists feel that they are being unfairly disrespected and unfairly deprived of the things they richly deserve.
William Shakespeare was the greatest English playwright, and one of the greatest English poets. Yet since the 19th century, many people have doubted that William Shakespeare, an actor from Stratford-upon-Avon, could actually have written the plays and poetry attributed to him. How could a man of limited education suddenly drop his Warwickshire accent and start writing highly sophisticated poems and plays, peppered with puns in Hebrew and Italian and references to hundreds of literary works? On the other hand, an educated woman of Italian and Jewish ancestry could have written like that. As it turns out, the man who was in charge of the entertainments in Queen Elizabeth’s court had a mistress who met that description. Her name was Emilia Bassano (later, Emilia Lanier).