No Touchee!

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


Recently I watched a video of a local government meeting where one man reacted to being touched repeatedly by another man. Man A was putting his hand on Man B’s arm during some kind of debate. He did this several times apparently, enough to greatly irritate the second man. Man B suggested that Man A might find this acceptable in circles of his sexual orientation, but stated strongly that he was not of that persuasion and the touching was not welcome. Everyone in the room got to laugh at Man B’s discomfort and the media used it as an example of homophobia and bigotry.

Now, I suppose I should qualify this, since I was not present and don’t know the two men, but I would almost bet that I understand what was happening. You see, touching is a powerful control technique—especially when you know the other person is made uncomfortable by the touch. Man A knew full well that his touch disturbed Man B. That’s why he did it. The difference in sexual orientation made the touch even more uncomfortable for Man B and even more manipulative for Man A. This was neither accidental nor innocent.

People in narcissistic relationships may understand this. Narcissists use touch to intimidate and manipulate. Not all of them, of course. But I have watched narcissistic men—who would never allow you to touch them—use touch to control others. A gentle hand on the back to direct. A hand on the arm to subdue. Perhaps even a pat on the head to humiliate. A hand on the leg to unsettle. An over-long handshake to suggest unity. A squeeze on the shoulder to intimidate. This is all man-to-man, and the narcissist is always in the dominant position.

Narcissistic men will touch women in ways that are inappropriate but not overtly sexual (unless they think they can get by with it). Again, the purpose is to control. If the result is arousal, even more control is possible. An arm around the waist. A brush of the hair. A gentle hand on the cheek or back. Uncomfortable, but not really something to report unless the organization has a strong no-touching policy. Even then, the narcissist will plead innocence. But touch is far from innocent where the narcissist is concerned.

And, yes, women do this as well. In fact, I would suggest that men are far more susceptible to the touch of a woman than vice-versa. Women are usually suspicious of men who touch. Men think there is genuine connection in the touch. Men are less suspicious of women, I think.

Some women touch a lot. They want hugs or like to hold hands, even with other women. Female narcissists use touch to control also. Some hold a hug too long. Others will touch the waist or the hair or trace a wrinkle—all to make an unspoken point.

Now, I want to be sure to say that not everyone who touches is a narcissist. Many older people need touch. They receive little, especially if their spouse is gone, and touch does offer a sense of connection. But holding hands with Grandma is far different from the controlling touch of a narcissistic mother.

So how should you handle touch that makes you uncomfortable? Well, the man in the video, Man B, did the right thing. He spoke out. He should have spoken to Man A privately first, and I think he did, but then he had every right to do so publicly… just as a young woman has the right to publicly speak out when touched inappropriately. Don’t be afraid to step away or speak up. You are not obligated to tolerate this manipulative touching, even if it is a boss, a pastor, or a relative.

Of course, like the man on the video I watched, the narcissist will make fun of your objection. He/she will say that you are making a big deal out of nothing. Maybe others will wonder why you are making a scene. But there will be some who will be grateful to you for speaking up. Maybe they will do the same when the narcissist touches them. You may empower them, and they may vindicate you.

Narcissistic touching is manipulative. You don’t have to put up with it. And, even if you feel there is nothing you can do, at least you know that it is just another technique the narcissist uses to try to control you. Each time you identify one of the ways the narcissist works, you become wiser and stronger—and less susceptible to the deception.




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Filed under Narcissism

10 responses to “No Touchee!

  1. Cee

    Wow! What timely wisdom! Something intimidating along these lines just happened this week, and I knew I needed to address it, but kept putting it off. No more. Thank you.

  2. Yikes, the subject of touching really is … touchy. The opening scenario was interpreted in a way I didn’t expect, as I thought Man B’s response was an attempt to needlessly (and publicly) shame Man A. My impression, from only the account given, was that Man B was the one being manipulative.
    Touch certainly is tricky, and yet another means of warmth and connection between people that can be corrupted into power play.

    • I watched the video a couple of times before I understood what was happening. It was actually very well done and, just like so many narcissist encounters, turned the whole situation against the victim. Now, I still have to give the disclaimer that I was not present and don’t know the situation first-hand. I have just seen so many of these manipulative twists. By the way, did you know that manipulation is a reference to touch? The Latin root ‘man’ is the word for hand. To manipulate by touch is sort of redundant. 😉

  3. Pamela Shalom

    Oh my, what an article. All of this is foreign to me; but I can see how touch could be used as a controlling thing. However, my love language is TOUCH. It is WORDS first, but touch is right next to it. I am always touching someone on the arm to communicate God’s Love to them. I do it without thinking, and I would have to really work at NOT doing this !!!. I will do that with strangers in the store if I feel led to, as I am a friendly sort of person. I am 68 years old, so I am fairly safe 🙂 But I was like this when I was younger as well. Truly, I hope people can discern the kinds of touches. O LORD HELP !! 🙂

    • This is an important point. Not only do some need to touch, some need to be touched. Touch is an important part of human communication and connection. It isn’t touch that is bad, it is that narcissists can use touch to manipulate. Just like anything else, touch can be used for evil.

      Most people can discern different kinds of touches, if they are supported and in healthy relationships. At the same time, people who give touch as a gift also discern when it is inappropriate or unwelcome. Doing this right is not hard. What is hard is understanding the motivations and manipulations of the narcissist.

  4. Fern

    “Each time you identify one of the ways the narcissist works, you become wiser and stronger—and less susceptible to the deception.”

    So spot on, I am learning this all the time. I will keep this quote for my notes. As I look back to learn, heal & understand what happened, it is so powerful when I am able to identify a new technique!
    Like a ripple effect, so many things start to become clearer after learning just 1 more tactic the Narc had used… and that’s all that it is — a tactic. I find it refreshing to be able to separate my emotions & the effects the Narc may have wanted on me, from the intellectual knowing & identifying the tactics & agendas. It helps me to take it less personally, and to start to externalize (rather than internalize!) the events that unfolded.

    I am journaling much now, and I can’t wait to start to contribute a little more in the future; even 1 nugget of thought put forth by the community can really make a difference when we are being faced with these situations — I strongly remember that from my time of abuse. I am really grateful for the whole Grace For My Heart community! ❤ Thank you Pastor Dave, for all that you do for us. Happy New Year to all!

  5. Pamela Shalom

    Thank you Fern, for this response. This is all so very good. Blessings….

  6. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. I heard about this and how everyone thought Man B was overreacting. I wanted to scream. I was impressed Man B was as in control as he was. My mother uses touch to manipulate. I hate it. She started calling me “Little Miss Touch Me Not” in my teens to anyone who would listen and still does. People think I’m cold and hardhearted for maintaining my distance. They have no idea how terrified I am of that tiny woman. Thank you for addressing this, Pastor Dave. Your book is on my Wish List. 🙂

  7. Jeanie

    It’s not just touch….its also words. For example, always calling your spouse “baby”. This can be a romantic gesture but when its constant and the comments that follow are controlling then you know that the name “baby” is not as much of a term of endearment as others may think it is.

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