One of the readers here spoke in a comment of being a narcissist-magnet. Sometimes, having dealt with narcissists in the past can condition you to play the narcissist’s game in the future. They try to be noxious, you try to defuse the noxiousness, endure a hit of it, and the narcissist ends up feeling in control and omnipotent. They seem to detect this tendency in you, and it makes you attractive to them when you meet. You almost end up programmed to be an uncomfortable yin to the narcissist’s yang, and they like that. Suddenly the narcissist wants more, and they begin to try to suck you in, using your innate drives to kindness, loyalty, and decency to prevent you from rejecting them.
Narcissists are awful to be around, if you have to be around them, and I don’t think that can really be fixed. However, they can be made less noxious if you cross paths with them for short periods, and you can train yourself to repel them in the process. It is this initial encounter when you have to repel the narcissist, before you grow entwined in their web.
Another comment here brought to mind a recent encounter I had. An acquaintance introduced me to a guy who was about fifty-five or sixty. He had a face like the old actor Jimmy Durante, but his physical proportions were much more athletic, with much broader shoulders, and large, popeye-like forearms. Despite his physical countenance, something reminded me of Bob, in that first moment when we met. A sort of sad, probing quality to his personae, as if he were an unhappy man, using that first moment to cagily look for a weakness in me that he could exploit. We shook hands, and he promptly set about trying to stress my amygdala with different techniques. My initial read had been dead-on.
He was friends with my acquaintance, and I really liked the acquaintance, so I chose not to try and amygdala hijack him, instead ignoring all of his attempts to assert dominance, induce stress, focus on the negative, and play other hijacking techniques. Partly because I knew I had the hijack in my back pocket, I was able to maintain an excellent mood, despite all of the narcissist games. At any moment, I knew I could really do a number on this guy, and knowing the techniques he used caused me to view his executions of them technically, like judging a chess player moving a piece, rather than as the emotional ordeal they were designed to be.
My mood was enhanced by the facts that I liked the acquaintance who introduced us, he seemed to be having fun, I knew I’d never see the narcissist again after this, and what brought us together was kind of funny, in its own way. As a result, my mood throughout the meeting could be described as perpetually comically surprised.
After about twenty minutes, I looked at the narcissist, and realized he looked exhausted. His head hung a little forward, his shoulders slouched, he had turned so he wasn’t facing me directly, he was avoiding eye contact, and a couple of times, as he talked, he was turned ninety degrees to me, and talking into his hand as he slapped it with the edge of his other hand for effect. Even his eyes had that exhausted, “please let this all end” look.
He was in the early stages of an amygdala hijack, despite the fact I had done nothing to precipitate it, beyond exhibit a profoundly amused, happy personae.
To do this yourself you need to do two things. First, recognize that the narcissist is evil incarnate, and not in the least bit human. Don’t treat them nicely, like you would a human. Hurting them is not only OK, it is good. When they try to use your humanity against you, deny them the opportunity by treating them as if they are not human. Extend them no more humanity and kind consideration than you would a rock or a chair, and if possible relish slighting them. Second, internalize the amygdala hijack, to the point that you view the faces of everyone around you in terms of how irritated their amygdala is.
If you can internalize the amygdala hijack, to the point that you innately focus your amygdala on every facet of the narcissist’s countenance, viewing it in terms of amygdala stimulation, you will change how your brain responds to narcissists. You will focus on the narcissist’s countenance, instead of your own response to their provocations. That small hack will shift your amygdala’s focus from your emotional sensations to their’s, and that will dramatically armor you against their attacks. As they try to make you feel like crap, you are too busy thinking about what crap the narcissist feels like, to even notice your own response.
As you learn to do this, you will stop playing their games, because you will not respond to their attacks. They will detect this immediately, and suddenly they will feel as if they are not in control of your interactions anymore. That alone will make them highly uncomfortable in your presence, and after experiencing that, most of them will begin to want to avoid you. They may even enter mild amygdala hijacks themselves, as they ponder how impotent they feel in your presence, and see the attacks they expect to work, violate their expectations and fail. If you want to add to the effect, you can always let your facial expression go to interested-Hannibal-Lector, still-face them, and then let them see you closely scrutinizing the areas around their eyes, mouth, and cheeks as you read their emotional state. For some reason, that is extraordinarily potent in unnerving them.
I left that encounter very pleased – even more so than I would have been had I decided to hijack the narcissist, and been so successful that I left him a quivering, twitching mess on the ground, in mid-stroke. If you can reach that point, it is almost as if denying them the ability to even draw you into a battle somehow renders them even less relevant in your life. At the same time, watching them hijack themselves as you ignore their attacks allows you to leave them unhappy and miserable to boot, without even expending the slightest effort yourself. As you reach that point, it will feed upon itself, and grow ever more. You will enjoy yourself more, the narcissist will suffer more, and each will feed upon the other.
I’d strongly encourage anyone who finds themselves dealing with narcissists often, to make such an ability the end-goal of their training in the amygdala hijack. It is an excellent place to find yourself, after the horrors of having dealt narcissists.