Not Evil Geniuses but Brats in Slacks: On Narcissists and Restraining Order Abuse

Posted on November 22, 2013


Pathological narcissism is apparently a titillating topic.

A growing number of visitors to this blog are brought here by search terms that include words and phrases like narcissism, narcissistic personality disorder, and NPD. More commenters, too, have lately reported abuses by narcissists through the courts, typically restraining order abuse. This surge is less likely due to an uptick in abuses by narcissists than to a dawning awareness of the psychological motives that underlie many vicious legal assaults. More Internet support groups and websites devoted exclusively to exposing abuses by narcissists are emerging, and the same words and phrases glossed above are now appearing in headlines, such as those on The Huffington Post and

My own opinion, on reflection, is that narcissists are banal. Evil, as Hannah Arendt famously noted, usually is (Arendt was a teacher and writer who fled Nazi Germany). The truth is the sorts of legal mischief narcissists get up to only work because our courts are accustomed to crediting lies (however painfully transparent they might be to a disinterested party). Narcissists assuredly congratulate themselves on their courtroom triumphs (congratulating themselves is among narcissists’ principal preoccupations). Yet any precocious child would see through their counterfeit dramatics.

Narcissists aren’t, in fact, epic anything; they’re pathetic. You may perceive narcissists’ pathological lies as devious; you’d more usefully perceive them as compulsive. (A compulsion is an irresistible urge.) What gives their frauds that aura of grandeur is the astonishing ease with which they’re committed, particularly on authorities and judges, and the facility with which narcissists enlist others in those frauds or convince others that they’re true. (Narcissists’ allies and pawns are more often than not morally normal people, that is, “neurotypicals.” Sometimes they’re even seemingly intelligent and discerning ones.)

Casual charlatanism, though, is hardly an accomplishment for people without consciences to answer to. And rubes and tools are ten cents a dozen.

There probably are some narcissistic masterminds out there. None of the narcissists whose conduct I know of, however—and I’ve had dozens of stories shared with me and read scores of other accounts, besides—has ever impressed me as more than a child in big-boy pants or a big-girl skirt. Narcissists succeed by virtue of soulless inveiglement and outward plausibility, neither of which bears up under close scrutiny. (Courtroom decisions made in restraining order cases are the products of a few minutes.)

I’ve read many people differentiate between narcissism and “mental illness.” Narcissists aren’t crazy, they’ll write. I’m unconvinced. I think it’s more accurately pronounced that narcissists don’t seem crazy and that most people are taken in by narcissists not because there isn’t something about them that alerts the antennae of others that there’s something off about them than that what’s off about them doesn’t match any of the familiar paradigms of craziness.

I’m not a psychologist, but my personal opinion is that narcissists are mentally ill and, when their frauds and ploys are resisted to any significant extent, that that mental illness becomes more prominent and perceptible, particularly to those whom they’ve abused. Normal people won’t run themselves ragged defending such frauds and ploys. A narcissist will.

Narcissism is about surface. And surface, despite the warning of that adage about book covers, is what we judge by. Narcissists are good with audiences. They’re also good with stress. They don’t slide into that state of neglected personal hygiene that we associate with “madness” even when pushed to an extremity. This isn’t a reflection of their interior hygiene, however.

Scratch beneath the surface, and you will find disorder.

Contrary to what many online writers counsel, people in legal contests with narcissists shouldn’t think of their opponents as reasoning beings in possession of highly developed albeit wicked minds; they should reckon themselves to be in struggles against recalcitrant children. Much ado is made of the cunning of narcissists. That apparent cunning is really just a manifestation of obsessive-compulsive self-justification combined with infantile rage provoked by the narcissist’s not getting his or her way.

Narcissists aren’t Hannibal Lecters; they’re brats in permanent temper tantrums who recognize no moral boundaries or authority.

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