It’s Narcissist Friday!
Singer’s Six Conditions for Thought Control (Cults in our Midst, 1995)
6. Put forth a closed system of logic and an authoritarian structure that permits no feedback and refuses to be modified except by leadership approval or executive order. The group has a top-down, pyramid structure. The leaders must have verbal ways of never losing.
I just had one of those fun experiences with customer service. Okay, not much fun. I ordered something from a company I had not purchased from before. They offered a one-time 20% off coupon. I placed a fairly large order and was pleased with the discount. Then I got a note saying that my order was canceled because the product was out of stock. Since it was something on their in-house product line, I assumed they would have it shortly, so I called to ask if I could place the order again and have it filled when the product was available. I was informed that the product was already available (odd), so I said I wanted to place a new order. I also wanted to use my discount. The lady said I had already used my discount on the previous order. I countered that I had not received any discount because the order was canceled. We went around and around. Her bottom line was that she could only do what the computer would allow her to do. In other words, she had no power other than to say the company line.
Well, most of us have learned that it really does no good to argue with the checkout person or the receptionist on the phone. They can’t do anything. All they know is what they have learned. They are actually barriers, protecting those who do have the power to make decisions. In many companies, you will have to go through several levels of these barriers to get to the one who can really help you. That is by design. The few people who dare to complain about something will almost all drop out before getting to that right person. And, yes, they will almost all keep using the company’s stores and products.
The narcissist says there is only one right way, his way. Your objections come out of your inexperience, your misunderstanding, or your stupidity. You might be laughed at. You might be mocked. You might be ignored. But the narcissist cannot admit that you might be right. To do so would be to affirm your input. To do that would be to open the narcissist to more input from you. Not a good idea for him. How will you stay under control if you feel good about your ideas or opinions?
Usually, narcissistic organizations have a single authority, a teacher whose wisdom is worshiped by the followers. At most, there will be a small group of leaders who make all the decisions. These will be the elite, the superior servants who have a right and responsibility to lead. In a Christian organization, they will be seen as the most spiritual. Because they are superior, they have wisdom the rest of the people don’t have. God, apparently, teaches them so they can teach others.
So, when a member of the organization has a question or a doubt and wants to find an explanation, he will be met with barriers. The friends he starts with will parrot the teacher’s words. They will assure the questioner that the teacher has so often been proved right. If he persists with his question, he will be pushed up to local leaders and marked as a doubter. They will also repeat the teacher’s words. Then, he may be referred to the next level and the next. Each time he will simply hear a repetition or a rewording of what the teacher has presented. And each time his status as a troublemaker will increase.
If the persistence of the questioner reaches the teacher, the teacher may condescend to a personal contact. In other words, a phone call could come out of the blue, or a meeting at an event might be arranged. The teacher will know all about the man with the question because the underlings have briefed him. But, again, the words of the teacher are as close to sacred as any will find. Nothing will change. The teacher has graced the troublemaker with a personal contact, something most of the underlings have never had. To continue to question would mark the person as a rebel, perhaps even cause him to be ousted from the group. But he will not change the teaching.
Special dispensations might be given for rules, and they will come with special strings. The one who needs a favor will be expected to present unusual loyalty, strong support, for the system. Non-conformity cannot be condoned. Questions cannot be allowed to change teaching.
Sometimes, if enough people are asking the question, the teacher can have a revelation. The teacher can change his teachings without admitting his error. A revelation, a clarification, a new teaching. The teacher can do almost anything, particularly regarding his teaching. Even the teacher is concerned about politics within the organization. He won’t want anything to instill doubt among the followers.
Control of information, when information is desired, is a narcissistic goal. To be the superior source, the one who defines, is the dream of the narcissist.
By the way, I got my discount by asking if there was anything she could do. Behind the scenes, so I couldn’t hear, she asked her supervisor what to do. Suddenly, a one-time complimentary offer of a 20% discount was available. She was doing me a big favor. So, I thanked her and placed the order with the discount. Sometimes you just have to play the game.