It’s Narcissist Friday!
Singer’s Six Conditions for Thought Control (Cults in our Midst, 1995)
3. Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments and experiences in such a way as to inhibit behavior that reflects the person’s former social identity. Manipulation of experiences can be accomplished through various methods of trance induction, including leaders using such techniques as paced speaking patterns, guided imagery, chanting, long prayer sessions or lectures, and lengthy meditation sessions.
Sometimes you don’t realize what really happened until the situation is long past. I told someone recently that a good deal of my ministry has been to try to answer the question, “What the heck happened?” Dealing with narcissism is so intense and so foreign to most people that it feels like a train wreck. So much devastation in so little time. Or, perhaps, it accumulated over many years until you finally realized what you had lost.
Many people have told me that they became different persons over the course of the narcissistic relationship. They used to be fun and outgoing, now they are quiet and insecure. At one time they were competent and able to achieve goals. Now they feel weak and useless. What if I told you that was the plan?
Narcissists and narcissistic organizations live on control. In order to control, they have to strip away that which makes a person strong. Skepticism must be replaced with gullibility. Independence must be replaced with submission. Strength must be replaced with obedience. Sometimes that can be accomplished through a short, but intense, traumatic experience. If a strong person can be taken through a situation where their strength is insufficient or untrustworthy, that strength can be broken.
In 1973, a man named Olsson took four hostages during a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. He demanded the release of a friend from prison. When the friend was released, they held the hostages together for a total of six days. At that time, the robbers were captured and the hostages released. However, none of the hostages would testify against their captors. They even began to raise money for the defense of their captors. Their perspective confounded law enforcement officers and became known as the “Stockholm Syndrome.” There have been several widely publicized cases that were similar, including that of Patty Hearst in the mid-seventies.
Apart from a dramatic event, narcissists will nibble away at the confidence and courage of their victims until little is left. One method is to make the person feel inferior or foolish. Gaslighting and projection are often considered “crazy-making” techniques. But another way is to feed information to victims, information that is supposed to be important, in a way that is difficult for them to understand or control.
Some narcissists are particularly soft-spoken. I have known a man who spoke softly, so softly that others often had to ask what he said. It was his way of getting others to focus on him and his words. By intensifying their focus, his listeners had to reduce their natural caution to his words.
In spite of what we see around us every day, we should have great respect for the human mind. Our minds gather amazing amounts of information. Accessing that information when we want to can be a challenge, but everything we have seen and heard has had an effect on us. We might not think we remember, but it touched our lives. Whispered words we just can’t seem to catch are words our minds often hear but don’t process consciously.
My family was part of an organization years ago where seminars were presented by overhead projectors. We were expected to fill out note sheets or take notes on our own. The information was shared quickly, so much so that the occasional break was met with either sighs of relief or questions to neighbors about what was missed. The effect of this was that few people actually remembered what was taught. There was no time to question ideas or statements and no opportunity to process information. But the words entered our minds. The indoctrination still had a subconscious effect.
Our culture knows about this. We talk of people who try to “slip things past us.” We resist the quick sell techniques and ask for time to look over contracts. But the reason we know about these things is that they are real techniques to manipulate or control us. The telephone rings with a crisis. Our Social Security account is being revoked. Our grandson is stuck in Mexico and needs money. We have to respond right away. No time to think.
It is wise for us to ask, to take our time, and even to doubt. Very few things are so critical that we can’t step back to be sure they are real. I have made it a rule to never make a purchase over the phone. I ask the caller to send me information by mail if I am remotely interested. If the deadline is too close, I am content to miss it. I doubt I have missed very many real opportunities.
If you feel out of control in a relationship or a situation, remind yourself that this is a technique to move you to do something you may regret. Step back and take a closer look. If you miss a few notes in the seminar, you will be okay. If you miss the words of the manipulative narcissist, too bad for him. Protect yourself.