Tag Archives: narcissism

The Super-power

 It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

I remember some sci-fi show where the person wearing a certain amulet had the power to make others like him; like him so much that they would do almost anything for him, without regard to his cruel ways. Once the amulet was taken from him, they saw the truth and got their revenge.

Do narcissists have a secret amulet or some kind of special ability that allows them to get what they want? It certainly seems so at times. I have often called this the narcissist’s super-power. They have an amazing ability to manipulate what others think and believe about them.

I get comments and emails saying that a victim’s parents still love the narcissist. Friends, bosses, family members and others can’t seem to see the lies and manipulations of the narcissist. They just see a wonderful person. It’s like some kind of covering is over their eyes distorting reality.

I have watched narcissists get promoted in spite of the fact that they were basically incompetent in their jobs. I have seen narcissists trusted in spite of their almost obvious duplicity. I have seen people go to narcissists for counsel in spite of the fact that the narcissists betray confidences and really don’t care. It is all very hard to understand.

Perhaps there are several factors at work here, I think.

  1. They want us to trust them – Narcissists have needs and they are highly motivated to fulfill those needs. Just like a salesman or a counselor or someone else whose success hinges on trust, the narcissist will go to extra lengths to gain that trust. This is why they seem to be extra loving or attentive or even trustworthy in the beginning. They need your trust more.
  2. They have learned the system – There are words and actions that communicate trust. Narcissists will look people in the eye, give a firm handshake, and refer to the person as “friend.” They will take the extra assignment or do the special favor that gains influence (even if they have to find someone else to do the work). Narcissists are observant and careful listeners and generous and respectful—when they want to gain trust. They know how the trust system works.
  3. They know we want to trust – Narcissists take advantage of a basic human need, the need to relate to trustworthy people. They know that most of us will look past faults, even to form images of a person according to our own desires. Most of us don’t assume that others lie or manipulate. We find it hard to believe that someone could be so mercenary and cold. So they use our desire to trust against us.

I know a narcissist who holds a high organizational position. He is barely competent as a leader and untrustworthy as a friend. Behind him lie the broken lives and vocations of the people he has used. But in front of him are many others with open arms and smiles and generous hearts who see nothing wrong. He has held his position for a long time and has used it to gain both financially and socially. He knows how to play the game.

Basically, that’s the key. The narcissist knows how to play the game. But you have to add to that the fact that they are ruthless in playing. They have nothing to lose and they play to win. And, sadly, they usually do.

So, if you try to fight your narcissist, you may lose. The wife who leaves may find herself with little or nothing. The friend who gets away may find himself to be a pariah among the mutual friends. The narcissist’s super-power works. Those who should be able to see the truth are blinded by the spin, the image, the lies. Those of us who try to come alongside the victims have ideas that should work, but often fail because the narcissists simply have something no one should have—the ability to move the hearts and minds of others in their own favor.

Now, there are some of us who are almost immune to their power. We see the truth, at least about the narcissists we have known. But it is especially frustrating when we realize that even that immunity has come because the narcissist no longer cares. Too many have found themselves vulnerable when the narcissist comes around again.

Yes, it is a super-power, at least in comparison to anything the rest of us have. Yes, it is scary when you see it that way. But it is better to see the truth than to be caught off guard. The only defense we have is to remember the truth we have learned about narcissism, ourselves, and the person who has caused our pain. We may need each other to remind us sometimes.

Remember that victory may simply lie in getting out. The threats of the narcissist cannot overcome the support and strength you have. Find that support and use that strength. Trust the Lord and His love for you. He is the One you can trust.

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Are Narcissists Sick?

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

(This is a post I wrote a couple years ago.  There have been some questions about narcissism as an illness or physical condition recently and this may help.  There is significant debate among the professional community as to the nature of narcissism, but there is wide agreement that it is very difficult to treat.)

 

In many ways it would be easier if we could think of the narcissist as sick.  If we could point to a mental illness or a chemical imbalance, we would have something to blame the behavior on. We could excuse the cruelty by saying, “Oh, he can’t help himself because he is sick.”  Then our desire for compassion would be justified and we could feel better about ourselves as we help a sick person and endure his or her abuse.

Unfortunately, narcissism doesn’t fit the concept of an illness.  For whatever reasons, narcissists have chosen and continue to choose their behavior.

(Now, I have to post a disclaimer here.  I am not a psychologist or a psychiatrist or a mental health therapist or counselor.  I am a theologian who has done a great deal of counseling over the years as a pastor.  So what I tell you is based on my experience and on what I have picked up from others.  You are encouraged to do your own research on anything I teach.)

Professional therapists use words like dysfunction, illness, disorder, and disability to refer to different causes of behavior or sensations.  These words are often used interchangeably, which makes definition all the more confusing for the rest of us.  In general, illness or mental illness refers to a condition caused by some biological agent.  The agent could be a genetic anomaly, an injury, a chemical imbalance, or some other outside influence.  While many forms of mental illness may lead to narcissistic behavior, the behavior itself doesn’t prove the illness.

Narcissism has been classified as a personality disorder by some.  All that says is that it is out of sync with what is considered to be normal behavior and perspective.  But it also suggests that narcissism is a choice.  That choice may be based on disturbing childhood experiences, but it is still a choice.  I believe that fear is the primary cause of narcissistic behavior, but the fear does not need to be current.  In other words, acting in a narcissistic way is how the narcissist learned to deal with fear throughout his life.

Addictions are particularly difficult to overcome because they are often the intersection of several types of problems.  What begins as a need to fit into a group or feel better can become a physical dependency through drugs or alcohol.  Those who deal with drug rehabilitation must work through both the biologically-caused illness and the psychologically-caused disorder.  To further complicate things, we now understand that repeated actions can create something very similar to physical addiction.  When we talk about people addicted to eating, shopping, gambling, hoarding, or pornography, we refer to behaviors that have become so ingrained that stopping them takes serious desire and effort.

It is my opinion that narcissism is a type of addiction.  The narcissist has chosen and continues to choose his behavior because he believes it works for him.  Over the years he has gained enough from this behavior that he continues to use it even in the face of negative consequences.  It is his default conduct and he has learned to apply various techniques in different circumstances.  It may be that he has done it so often and has convinced himself so strongly of its value that he simply no longer thinks of it as a choice.  In other words, it just comes naturally to him.

A simple observation from the Bible has become a well-known saying in our culture:

“As he thinks in his heart, so is he.”  (Proverbs 23:7)

Because the man thinks his narcissistic behavior works, and because he has invested so much into making it work, he has become a narcissist.  Whether the clinical definition fits him or not, he acts out of his perspective.  That perspective includes such concepts as the usefulness of others and the promotion of a certain self-image.  He acts this way because he thinks this way.

This is a very brief overview of my perspective on narcissistic behavior, but it reveals some important thoughts.  These are some of the ideas I use as I counsel and write on this subject.

  1. Narcissists are accountable for their actions because they are free to choose otherwise.
  2. Narcissists can change by “unlearning” certain ideas about themselves and others.
  3. Carefully applied negative consequences for narcissistic behavior may be helpful.
  4. Those in relationship with narcissists are victims or objects, rather than caregivers.

 

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Ask Questions

It’s Narcissist Friday! 

 

One of the ways to identify narcissism is to watch what happens when someone disagrees.  This can help us to identify the culture of an organization (church, school, club, business, etc.) or the character of a person.

You are the new employee at the office.  The boss has called a meeting and has told everyone that they should speak their minds.  You were told that when you were hired.  “This organization is transparent and we listen,” you were told.  At the meeting, the boss outlines a strategy with some obvious flaws, obvious to you.  Some of the others voice their agreement with the boss, which puzzles you.  You’re new, so you hesitate; but you were told to speak up.  So you ask a question about one of the points.  Suddenly, the attention turns to you.  The boss stares at you for a few uncomfortable moments.  You don’t know whether he didn’t understand your question, is embarrassed by his error, or is trying to remember who you are. 

Finally, the boss says, “Hey, that’s a great question from our newest employee!  How long have you been with us?  Two weeks?  That’s great.  Well, all I can say is watch and learn!”  Then he looks over at your immediate supervisor and says, to everyone, “Ok, I really appreciate your input.  We will begin moving on this right away!”

As you leave the room, another employee steps in close to you and mutters, “Now you begin to see how things really work around here.”

What did you learn?  That the boss is always right and your job is not to speak your mind or ask questions, but to help the boss look good in front of everyone. 

And then the boss makes a special effort to come over to you.  Are you in trouble?  “Hey, I really appreciated your question.  You just keep up the good work.”  Yup, you are in trouble.  You will be more careful next time. 

Here’s another example:

The young lady gets into the passenger seat in her new boyfriend’s car.  As they pull away from her home, going to the restaurant, she glances at the dashboard and notices that the car is very low on gas. 

“Looks like we should stop for some gas before we get on the highway,” she says.

He doesn’t even look at the dash, but smiles and says, “Don’t you worry about looking at these gauges.  You just sit there and look pretty while I take care of the car.”

She learned her place.  Her job is to be pretty for him and quiet.  She is not to question him.  And she will learn even more when they run out of gas later.  He will become angry and blame the gas meter for malfunctioning.  After all, he just put gas in a few days ago.  Or he will accuse someone of siphoning gas from his car.  Or he will refer to the gas leak that someone should have fixed.  He will not mention her statement, and she is not supposed to mention it either.  If she does, if she dares to suggest that she told him about the gas, he will probably end the relationship.

Can you handle one more?

You feel uncomfortable at the new church your friends suggested, although the people are friendly and the teaching has been good.  As you look around, you notice that none of the women are wearing slacks, all have skirts or dresses.  It doesn’t seem particularly strange to you, because of your background, but you wonder how likely it is that even the teenagers fit the pattern.  So you ask.

“Is there a dress code in the church?”  A simple question, asked to one of the ladies who has been particularly friendly.

The answer comes.  “Of course not.  What do you mean?”

“Well, I noticed that all the ladies, young and older, are wearing skirts.”

“Oh, that’s just because we want to honor our Lord and our men.”  As she says this, the lady looks into your eyes a little too long, like you are supposed to agree and acquiesce.  You understand.

 

Whether it’s the pastor of the church, the new counselor or doctor, the new boyfriend, or the boss—we learn a lot by asking questions.  We learn something about the inner strength of the organization or person.  Narcissism comes out of weakness, weakness that has to be covered with protective layers of intimidation, deception, or anger.  Strength allows disagreement.  Confidence welcomes questions.

Now, understand that anyone can become flustered or upset if the question is presented as an attack or is embarrassing in some way.  Expect a certain amount of resistance or confusion if you are unkind, impatient, or otherwise out of line.  But a respectful and gracious question, even one that suggests disagreement, should be acceptable to a healthy organization or person.

One more thing: if you are in a testing time, do this early.  Do it before you are hired, if you dare.  Do it before you join the church.  Do it on the first or second date.  You will want to know how you are truly valued as an individual who can think your own thoughts.  Narcissism depersonalizes its victims; the sooner you see that coming, the sooner you can run away.

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Where’s the Church?

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

For most of us who consider ourselves Christians, the church represents a place of comfort and safety, a community of support.  Yet, many of those who struggle against narcissism find the church to be far less supportive and comforting than they need.  Time and again I get the comment that the church leaders wouldn’t listen or help, or even that they support the narcissist against the victim.  I have heard some horror stories about how the church became part of the problem.

It is obvious that this shouldn’t happen.  Of all the helping organizations, the church should be the strongest voice against narcissism.  But it isn’t.  Here are my thoughts as to why…

First, the church is full of compromise, particularly in areas where narcissism lurks.  Let’s look at a few:

Money: Narcissists may not be big givers, but they usually want church leadership to think they are.  They depend on the confidentiality expected in regard to giving.  So most church leaders will look at the narcissist and expect him to be generous.  Who wants to rock that boat?  Church leaders know that the victim will have nothing.

Leadership: Often the leaders are impressed enough with the narcissist to place him in leadership.  If they discover that to be a mistake, it will be too late.  He will already have found ways to control them and maintain his power.  If they don’t see their mistake, it may be that they look past his characteristics because of the same ones in themselves.  I mean that many church leaders have narcissistic tendencies.  That’s why they aspired to leadership in the church.

Image:  For so many in the church, image is everything.  Their local church must be superior.  They have the one true message and they practice the one true way.  To admit that there is trouble among the membership is hard.  They don’t want to hear it and, if they must, they will try to quiet it as quickly as possible.  This is often true in all kinds of abuse situations.  Even in a day where public organizations and leaders are required by law to report certain abuse, church leaders still try to cover it up or handle it “in house.”

Legalism: I think many churches are unwilling to acknowledge narcissism because it is so close to the legalism they hold.  It’s all about image and performance and measuring up to standards.  Depersonalization is just the way things work.  It is common for people to be rejected and abused in legalism and narcissism may be seen as one person attempting to do right while another holds him back.  The leaders often don’t see any difference.

Unity:  If a narcissist has a presence in the church, he probably has a following.  If he is rejected, others will leave or take up his defense.  Then the leaders will have a problem.  Loss of unity might mean loss of people and loss of people might mean loss of money and loss of image.  The victim is rejected because it might damage the unity.

 

Compromised churches certainly have reasons for ignoring the victims of narcissism.  But there are other reasons churches fail to help.

Some have been so robbed of authority that any intervention into a marriage or family situation seems impossible.  Who are the church leaders, even the pastors, to tell a husband or wife or parent what to do?  Leadership in churches isn’t always compromised, sometimes it is just weak.

Some are poorly equipped to counsel, especially at the intense levels needed by a narcissistic relationship.  Many pastors and church leaders haven’t even heard of narcissism; or what they have heard is just the popular portrayal of the person whose ego is too big.  They have no idea what the victim is suffering and have no context in which to learn.  Pastors have so many other problems that they can rarely give more than pat answers for common situations.

And some have bought into the idea that we can change others by changing ourselves, no matter who those others are or what they are doing.  In other words, they blame the victim.  If you were just more loving, more prayerful, more gracious.  If you tried harder, he would change.  Blaming the victim only makes things worse.

 

Well, I would guess that is as depressing for you to read as it is for me to write.  What are we supposed to do then?  We are Christians and we look to the church for support.  Can’t they do something?

So I want to give some suggestions.  I do believe that the victim of narcissism should find help in the church and support from the leaders.  I just want you to be careful.

First, don’t use the word “narcissist” when you go for counsel.  I can almost guarantee that it won’t have the effect on others that it has on you.  Instead, tell the pastor or elder or whoever what is happening.  Be gentle, but share your pain.  Watch for sympathy or empathy.  Do they listen?  Do they ask questions to understand?  Or do they preach at you and minimize your pain?  Do they pray for you to change or for the Lord’s help in your situation?

You should feel the difference between these approaches.  If it appears that they just want to straighten you out so that you will leave them alone, then leave them alone.  They don’t want to help.  If all they have for you are pat answers or blame, then find your help somewhere else.

And have a reasonable expectation of what you want from the church leaders.  They can’t reach in and fix your narcissist.  They probably won’t tell you what to do, even if they do listen and care.  But they can pray with you and stand by you.  They can listen and try to understand.  They can study narcissism and help you find a counselor.  They can even help you when the whole situation hits the fan.

I know pastors who have gone far out on a limb to help people in narcissistic relationships.  I know churches that have helped with thousands of dollars of legal aid and counseling expense.  I know church leaders who have stood strong alongside victims to protect and support.  Some do listen and some do understand.  Don’t give up.

It is worth trying.  Go to your pastor and ask for his ear.  Tell your story without embellishment and without a lot of blame.  Tell what you feel.  Then wait and see.  If he chooses not to help, okay.  Find your support somewhere else.  God will deal with him.

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What will he (or she) do this time?

It’s Narcissist Friday (a little early)  

(This is a rerun, but an important reminder for those who have to handle holidays with narcissistic people.  Although the references are to a male narcissist, we all understand that wives, sisters, mothers, daughters, and other women can be narcissistic as well.  I hope this helps you to have a blessed holiday.)

Narcissists aren’t very good about holidays or family gatherings.  Unless they can be the center of attention, they sulk or tell odd jokes or intrude on conversations or something strange.  He might even flirt with your sister!  Chances are the narcissist doesn’t know what he will do until he gets there.

You, on the other hand, can plan ahead.  Play this like a game and you may find yourself in a better position to win.  Here are some ideas:

  •  Keep comparisons to a minimum.  Family gatherings are often filled with comparisons of anything from kids to cars to dinner entrees.  Comparisons are to the narcissist like gasoline is to the fire.  If you can find some way to keep conversation away from comparisons, you may avoid some tense situations.
  • Remember that the narcissist needs attention and affirmation.  To sit and watch others love each other is painful for him.  Love, for him, is being told how wonderful he is.  Now, you can do this for him.  You can tell some things to your family that build him up in their eyes.  I know this will be hard for some to read, but remember your goal is to have a peaceful, even happy, time with your family.  Be sure you tell these good things in front of him and don’t let him be put on the spot.  If he embellishes the story or the accomplishment, don’t contradict him.  Let him have his time.
  • Give him small victories.  If he wins some things he may not need to win them all.  Let him choose some of the dinner entrees or set the time for the meal.  You know.  Victory affirms him.  When you think that he seems to want to change and control everything, maybe he would be satisfied with a few victories.  Try to do things or talk about things where he has knowledge.  Leaving him with your “know-it-all” brother to watch Jeopardy might be as uncomfortable for him as talking with Aunt Edna about how a turkey “should” be cooked would be for you.  Never forget that the narcissist feels inferior and deals with that feeling by making everyone believe he is superior.
  • Tell him straight out that you want to have some time with your family and ask him what would be best for him.  In other words, set your boundaries and inform him that they will be kept, but let him have a way to express his needs.  This is tricky.  He will see your boundaries as a challenge, so you may have to exaggerate a little in order to get what you want.  However, he may say that he needs to go for a drive.  Let him.  Don’t worry about him.  He will come back for you and you will have time with your loved ones.

In our frustration with the narcissist it is easy to forget that he or she has needs also.  In fact, his needs are actually stronger and more uncompromising than yours.  He is just very bad at dealing with his needs.  If you want a happier holiday time, you might find success by playing his game.  You don’t have to compromise yourself.  One of your boundaries is that anything you do for him must never compromise who you are.  But if you want to keep a relationship with him and with your family, you will probably have to find ways to meet his needs.

And, if at the outset he says that he has no intention of going with you for the visit, then go by yourself.  You choose.  What seems like an attempt to control you may be a statement of abject fear from him.  He just has to say it in a way that doesn’t betray the fear.

I understand that some will have trouble reading this and I admit that I have had some trouble writing it.  These people make us angry and we want to get back at them.  But is your family visit the time for that?  Probably not.  You will have to carefully evaluate the things I have written above to see if they make sense for you.  Maybe you can come up with something for your own situation that I haven’t mentioned.

It didn’t seem right to post this after Thanksgiving.  I pray that your holiday time will be good.

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Persistence

It’s Narcissist Friday!

It is entirely possible for a narcissist to exhibit a lack of resolve in the things he does and a stubborn persistence for the things he wants you to do.

It may have to do with the obsessive nature of narcissism, the need to control as much as possible, but it seems to be true that narcissists are able to focus on particular goals with abnormal tenacity.  Once they decide that a certain thing would benefit their image or, conversely, that a certain thing obstructs their image, narcissists can be ruthless and unyielding.

Some will notice that a certain friend/acquaintance/coworker brings up the same issue every time they meet.  Perhaps it is a boss who asks if a certain thing has been done yet.  Perhaps it is a neighbor with an old and oft-repeated complaint.  Depending on your relationship with the narcissist, he may not even know you apart from the obstacle you present.  He may think of it and mention it every time he meets you simply because he does not see you.  He only sees the problem.

Narcissists don’t see people in the way others do.  They see, as I have noted before, tools, toys, or obstacles.  At any time you may fit into one or more of these categories.  But if you present a problem for the narcissist, or if you are the means to a desired end, then he/she will only see you from that perspective.  The narcissist is not afraid to spend time and energy pursuing something he/she wants.  The narcissist boyfriend is unusually attentive, unusually available, unusually endearing—as long as he is pursuing the relationship.  The narcissist employee is unusually cooperative, unusually motivated, unusually diligent—as long as she thinks she is working toward a higher position.  But the moment the goal is achieved or a different goal is deemed more worthy, all that focus dissipates.  And the bitter reality is that the people along the way mattered little.

If the narcissist wants something from you, you won’t hear the end of it until it is done.  Call it nagging, reminding, badgering, or whatever—the narcissist will stay on target until you give in.  Girls may notice that the wonderfully attentive boyfriend is also constantly pressuring for intimacy or conformity.  Narcissistic parents will zero in on certain acts of obedience or agreement and challenge everything else as rebellion; even if their children are adults.  The only thing that matters is the idea in the narcissist’s head.

Of course, if you need something or want something or hope for something from the narcissist—be prepared to wait or just give up.  The same focus will not be there for your project or concern.  There is no drive to support his image, no reason to be worried about what you want.  And it doesn’t matter if you are a spouse, a boss, a child, or a friend.

So, if you are a few steps removed from a real relationship with the narcissist, you might see him as a dedicated, focused, person.  You might even admire his sense of purpose and resolve.  He may go beyond your expectations to achieve the goal.

As long as it is his goal.

If you are in a close relationship with the narcissist, you will know the truth.  You will see a person who is stubborn in achieving or resisting, but focused only on his own ideas.  You may see someone who cannot keep a job or a relationship very long.  And you may have forgotten how persistent the narcissist was in the beginning.

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Narcissism – Public Relations

It’s Narcissist Friday!

I have often wondered how parents of autistic children handle the new media attempts to portray autism as something desirable.  There are several television shows that feature autistic young people with some minor social struggles, but miraculous abilities.  The boy on “Touch” is a good example.  According to the story, he has an amazing ability to see connections between people and events.  In our “speak first, think later” culture, I can imagine someone saying, “Oh you have an autistic son?  How cool!  What can he do?”

Now, please understand that I would never have brought that up, except that it is really happening.  What I hesitated even to wonder about publicly, because of the disrespect toward parents and children who work so hard, is actually being said.  I have heard twice now of parents who tried to have their child diagnosed as autistic so they could receive a different type of education and be seen as special.  (Check out the articles below.)

When the media tries to fix our perception of a difficult situation, an emotional or social problem, for example, it often ends up hurting people.  From Otis, the happy and gracious drunk on the Andy Griffith show to Dr. House, the narcissistic diagnostician, Hollywood takes something difficult and makes it light or cute or even something superior.

So get ready.  Narcissism is becoming popular.  I mentioned Dr. House.  Now there’s Frank Underwood, Kevin Spacey’s character on House of Cards (and his wife and many of his friends).   Narcissists are seen as positive characters, even with all their negatives exposed.  Consider Dr. House.  The show is done now, but still very popular in reruns.  House is mean, angry, abusive, judgmental, and egotistical.  He hurts everyone who tries to be kind to him.  He uses other people for his own pleasure.  He readily admits that he isn’t a nice guy, but he doesn’t care.

We are led to believe that he had father issues and that he is in constant physical pain.  All of these negatives are explained away and set aside because he is an incredible doctor.  There’s no doubt that House is good at what he does, but he uses his team like slaves and gives them little credit, often calling them “idiots” and trying to turn them against each other.  Let’s face it: House is a jerk.

But if the narcissism causes him to be such a good doctor, we think it must be something inherently good.  After all, look at all the people who have been helped.  If that’s what narcissism does. . .

Narcissism was removed from the DSM V, presumably because it is no longer considered a mental or personality disorder.  It doesn’t seem unreasonable to suspect that it is becoming acceptable, or even desirable if defined a certain way.  We live in a ruthless culture that uses people and discards them.  We live in a culture that values short-term success.  We live in a culture that thrives on attraction and devalues relationship.

If you go to Psychology Today online and look at the articles and blog posts on narcissism, you will find an increasing number of them that tell of the wonders of narcissism.  Narcissists are attractive.  Narcissists are sexy.  Narcissists get things done.  Narcissists are exciting.  Narcissists are better at picking up girls.  Yes, they will tell about the negatives, but after the positive hype.

So get ready.  I can imagine the day when someone says, “Oooo, you were in a relationship with a narcissist?  I know they have problems with commitment, but was it good while it lasted?”

Try not to punch that person in the mouth.

Here are a couple of articles on the effects of exploiting autism, if you are interested in looking into this further.  The second uses some strong language.  

http://ideas.time.com/2012/02/17/the-latest-tv-trend-autism/

http://www.devinonearth.com/2012/03/autism-is-not-the-new-cool/

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