A narcissist will not see their behavior through the reality of cause and effect. Instead, they will use a distorted prism to blur the lines.
The brain is like a computer, good information in creates good information out. Bad information in, creates bad information out. But when the internal processing apparatus of the computer is broken, what comes out is a mess. Likewise, a prism absorbs light and changes it into a rainbow of colors. If the prism has internal flaws, the light that exits will be distorted in ways that are inconsistent with normal output.
A brain is like a prism
Information is absorbed and transformed. Over the years, we rely on its consistency to lead us to appropriate conclusions. A narcissist with a malfunctioning prism relies on it in the same way a normal person would. They don’t recognize that their output is abnormal. They become comfortable with their distorted perceptions.
Mental health professionals don’t label children as narcissists because their brain and moral code is still forming. It’s not until their early twenties that a psychiatrist will identify a person as a Cluster B, even though they demonstrated sociopathic beliefs and behaviors for many years. The hope is that the child, ultimately, will develop more appropriately.
Changing the mental processing of an adult narcissist is virtually impossible. They simply are the way they are. And they will blur the lines of your understanding if and when you recognize they are distorted. One of the critical elements in narcissism is that the person fails to accept blame. They will see your recognition of their disorder as “blame,” and turn it against you. It’s the mechanism they use to prevent self awareness, and thwart being shamed. It is less a determined effort and more the mechanics of how their brain works.
A person with a conscience would honor your understanding, particularly if you love them. A normal person can sense altruism and accept that a person who loves them will be in their corner even when their comfort zone is stretched and if they are not perceived as “perfect.” But Narcissists don’t sense love in the traditional way. Their lives are about want and need, and they see everyone around them as attempting to manipulate and control them. Since they don’t feel altruism, they don’t comprehend when they receive it. They don’t see a need to be “better,” because, in their eyes, it’s you, not them, that is hurting; therefore, YOU are the one with the problem.
The fact that you are simply trying to protect yourself from their harm is lost on them. In the process of trying to change a narcissist, you will likely be blamed for being a narcissist because their prism will blur the lines between cause and effect.
According to Wikipedia:
In optics, a prism is a transparent optical element with flat, polished surfaces that refract (bend) light.
When we are in a relationship with a narcissist, we process the information we receive through our prism, and we don’t expect that theirs is different. Their prism absorbs our light and reshapes it differently than what we are accustomed to. And if we could be mindful of how our light is coming back to us, we could figure them out and protect ourselves faster. Here are a couple of clues:
- Mirroring values- Often, the light we receive back from them mirrors our own. When this occurs, we should explore where their shared values came from to determine if it has merit or if it’s simply a hook.
- Testing your belief system with incongruity- My son’s ex-roommate related a story to me about meeting my son’s character disordered father for the first time. When they arrived at the apartment, he was working on building a bookshelf. My ex unabashedly removed his jacket and hung it on the structure he was working on. Donna Anderson recently told a story about Bill Cosby spitting out the window of her car as she drove him to a restaurant. Both these absurdities reflect how the narcissist tests the prism of your brain to see how you process information.
The prism we see people through refracts their light based on our own sense of the world. We need to be circumspect about reading people by what they present and not ascribing values that are not deserved.
I’m frequently asked….
“But where does “forgiveness” enter in? Aren’t we supposed to forgive people for their wrongdoing. None of us are perfect, right?”
Yup, none of us are perfect. And you can “forgive” the narcissist. But that doesn’t mean you have to “live” with the narcissist. Forgiving means understanding, not tolerating bad behavior and putting yourself back in harm’s way. Some people have a distorted prism, and you cannot change it.