It’s not, “human nature” for our society to lack honesty, vulnerability and empathy. Rather those behaviors come naturally out of narcissistic sociopathy and psychopathy, a spectrum of genetic and nurtured personality disorders. The rest of us have been trained or, "gaslighted" to think and feel (or rather, not feel) in these ways by narcissists over generations.
Regardless of race, sex or political ideology, people share the same prevalence of narcissistic personality/behavioral disorders. Living with a lack of moral or empathic conscience has, thus far, put narcissists at an unfair advantage when it comes to manipulating people into giving them control of social, economic, cultural and political hierarchies of power. From the narcissistic perspective, reality is like living in a doll house.
For me, it's something I could notice on an intuitive level, but I never had a word to put to it. This strange inequality is only possible with ignorance-- becoming an, "educated empath" is the first step to neutralizing narcissistic behaviors and improving personal/community health.
The good news is awareness in this area makes one more empathic to one's own feelings and those of others. So, don't panic! Let’s, wake up instead! It’s time to evolve a little more as a species by becoming aware of how these psychological differences deeply impact our families, workplaces and communities.
The Wake Up Kit (WUK) is inspired by the #MeToo movement to expand on the momentum of awareness being created by women who stand up for themselves. Without a doubt, those who commit sexual harassment/assault are demonstrating narcissistic behavior. Sexual misconduct is just one manifestation of narcissistic abuse, however.
WUK is an imperfect work in progress to ask, how can we break the grip of narcissistic personalities as a society? How can narcissism be adequately identified, isolated, and when necessary, confronted and countered? How can we organize a society led by vulnerable, honest, empathic leaders? With Donald Trump as President, do we have any other choice? Maybe it's possible to make counter-narcissistic organizing a new way of transforming our communities in this post-Trump life of ours.
This series is not going in depth on the science of how narcissistic/Cluster B personalities work. It only introduces enough to help you connect with two key ideas discussed in Part 2 (link):
1. The empath's barf and it's only real cure,
2. Making TEA, Truth for Empaths and Apaths
With this toolkit, maybe it's possible to apply your own research and start standing up for yourself and others in new ways.
What is Narcissism?
I would love to recommend and cite two books-- The Empathy Trap by Dr. Jane McGregor and Becoming the Narcissist's Nightmare by Shahdia Arabi. With them, we can briefly summarize these behaviors and name some terms.
The problem is, these labels aren't as useful as they could be. Dr. McGregor describes them as, "blurred and confusing" suggesting things like sociopathy, anti-social personality, narcissistic disorders and the like should be redefined as, "conditions of low or zero empathy." (p. 4) Shahida Arabi explains, "people with NPD feel a void where emotions would normally be and cannot experience real human emotions like love and empathy... Narcissists feel a very shallow, watered-down version of normal human emotions except for rage and envy, which they feel with intensity." (p. 240)
For our purposes then, to be a narcissist is to simply lack empathy and maintain a divided self. Narcissists often use religion, business and politics as vehicles to project a, false self or, "mask" over their real self and instinctively seek narcissistic supply from people who will stroke/conform to the fantasy of their false self, or even just provide personal entertainment. By seeking accomplishments in these realms, supply can come easily, and those who challenge their supply are easily marginalized.
It's not important to definitively determine whether someone in your life is in fact a narcissist or sociopath. Their behavior and whether that behavior changes when confronted is what's important, and we can define, track and confront antisocial/low-empathy behaviors.
Apaths and Codependents, the Narcissist's Army
While 1 in 20 lack empathy to the degree they have a cemented personality disorder, many more are still quite narcissistic in terms of deflecting reality about themselves and others. Most narcissists have moderate or mild patterns of habitual narcissistic behavior. Low-level narcissists can become more empathic, literally feeling more range of feelings within themselves and others, with mental health treatment. For the sake of simplicity, about 20% of the population are on the narcissistic spectrum, with about 20% empathic, and the middle 60% being apaths who swing either way depending on what, or who, is influencing them in a given situation.
Dr. McGregor's book is a great read on how antisocial personalities intuitively--almost automatically--manipulate group dynamics. She describes the nature of the, "Sociopathic-Empath-Apath Triad" (SEAT). Remember that McGregor argues there isn't much of a real categorical difference between an intense narcissist and a sociopath, so when she talks about the, "sociopathic transaction," this includes narcissists. She explains, "In the context of any sociopathic interaction we call those that collude in the sport of the sociopath apathetic, or 'apaths' for short. Being apathetic in this situation means showing a lack of concern or being indifferent to the targeted person... The apath in this context is someone who is willing to be blind, i.e. not to see that the Emperor is naked." (p. 27) These SEATs are forming and dissolving constantly in social reality.
You're probably unwittingly, or wittingly complicit in multiple SEATs right now.
A codependent, in short, is someone who lacks the personal skills and self-awareness to maintain personal boundaries or independence. The narcissist wants to make you codependent to them. I take responsibility for being a recovering codependent. This is different from healthy relationships and bonding, we all need each other to be complete human beings. But everyone has, and continues to be codependent with unjust, unhealthy, even degrading relationships and systems. Empaths, apaths and narcissists can be codependent. Codependency is not your fault and it's something you can change with time, care and personal responsibility.
The apath/codependent plays an important role in supporting anti-social behavior. Usually apaths are fair-minded people, but they become, "a willing accomplice [due to] poor judgement resulting from lack of insight." (p.28) Apaths have something to gain (or prevent losing) by playing dumb to a situation, and will rest on inaction and deference to the status quo of the group, even if that status quo is toxic/built around a powerful personality. Because the apath often doesn't want to see the, "bad" in others, they choose not to see the reality of situations, and can literally walk out of a situation in a trance-like state. The SEAT can be formed for the smallest to the largest of matters, and it's only possible due to apathetic behavior, or lack of presence with an evolving situation.
Depending on the type of situation one is in, one can swing from empathic to apathetic, or lose empathic capacity entirely. To notice the nature of these swings in one self and in situations is a core definition of meditation.
List of Resources on the Narcissistic Spectrum
Here you can buy Jane McGregor's and Shadhia Arabi's books on Amazon.
Richard Grannon produced a short documentary on NPD:
TED posted an interesting series on psychopathy and the ways altruism works in the mind:
Proceed to Part 2: Barfing On the SEA of Sociopaths, Empaths and Apaths