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.
People with schizophrenia have serious problems with logical thinking, because something is going seriously wrong in their brain. Meanwhile, some part of their brain is trying to make sense out of the confusion. Their brain might come up with some wrong answers, but those wrong answers will feel right to the person with schizophrenia. Those wrong answers are called delusions. A person with schizophrenia will then cling to those delusions tightly, just as a drowning person will cling to a life‐raft. That is why you will probably have no luck in trying to talk schizophrenic people out of their delusions. At most, you will make them angry and suspicious. They may be wrong about some important things, but they care about the truth. You can also anger narcissists by trying to reason with them, but their anger has a completely different cause.
Narcissists are ambitious people who want the power, property, and prestige that go along with high social rank. However, they lack the intellectual, technical, and interpersonal skills to earn those goodies honestly. So instead of trying to earn your respect, narcissists may try to bully you or at least baffle you into giving them admiration that they do not deserve. Narcissists do not feel any particular need to know things. Instead, they just want to be regarded as “the one who knows.” Gaining real knowledge is hard. It is far easier to just make things up as you go along and bully the weak‐minded into believing whatever you say.
People with schizophrenia have problems in relating to reality, which then leads them to have problems in dealing with other people. In contrast, narcissists have problems in dealing with other people, which then leads them into problems in relating to reality. Narcissists do not care about reality. All they care about is their position within the dominance hierarchy. For this reason, scientists are often the first to notice that someone is narcissistic.
Scientists care deeply about the truth. Part of the discipline of science is to reshape your theories to fit the available evidence, which is an act of humility. Narcissists, in contrast, are arrogant people who will revise the evidence until it serves their purposes. As a result, they may actually end up believing their own falsehoods. At that point, their lies are not actually lies but bullshit. Liars say things that they know to be false. Bullshitters don’t know or care whether what they say is false; they have no respect for truth.
It is pointless to reason with a schizophrenic person about their delusions. It is also pointless and sometimes dangerous to reason with a narcissist about their bullshit. Narcissists spout bullshit as part of an attempt to claim the top spot in the dominance hierarchy. By debunking their bullshit, you are actually claiming a superior position in that hierarchy. The narcissist’s reaction to this challenge will depend on how much of a threat they perceive you to be. If they feel that their grasp on their social position is secure, they will just sneer at you. But if they think that you might unseat them, they will feel a sense of threat called narcissistic injury. As a result, they may react with dominance aggression (i.e., narcissistic rage). We do need to prevent ignorant people, liars, and bullshitters from taking on positions of real power in our society. However, it can be dangerous to take them on directly.
For more information about how to spot narcissists, and how to deal with them, see my book Don’t Feed the Narcissists!
Photo by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com