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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