Challenging behaviour


Narcissists and psychopaths present us with some of the most challenging behaviour we might experience.  

There are all kinds of reasons why someone might display challenging behaviour; they might not necessarily be a narcissist or psychopath.  Somebody might be overly concerned with their own needs because their own needs are great and pressing; they may be damaged, wounded, seeking to replay a story so that it finally turns out right.  They might just be a spoilt brat, or have poor social skills.  Fear or threat can lead to long term anger, a state of high arousal and vigilance, and a high sensitivity to perceived threat.  

Not all narcissists are unpleasant, and there are many psychopaths who never show anti-social behaviour.  


Narcissists and psychopaths – a genetic hypothesis

Observe this diagram, which shows the two dimensions of social life: competition and cooperation.  All social species are both competitive and cooperative, but humans depend upon cooperation much more heavily than any other species except for the social insects (e.g. bees, ants, termites).  

One of the central proposals in this philosophy is that the native abilities of humans in cooperation, and the native human morality based on cooperation, are a result of evolution (i.e. random genetic mutation, and natural selection, over generations).  

From this, it follows that humans have extra genes for cooperation that other animals do not have.  Genes are transmitted from parents to offspring.  

The current hypothesis is that narcissists and psychopaths are essentially lacking in the genes for cooperation that most people have.  Crudely speaking, this means that social life for narcissists and psychopaths is competitive rather than cooperative.  

The little research that exists on the subject seems to indicate that narcissism is at least partly inherited.  There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that it can be completely inherited, with no apparent environmental influence.  


Narcissists, like everyone else, come in all shapes and sizes, yet “narcissism” stands out as a distinct pattern of behaviour within all this variation.  What are the classic signs that make us identify someone as having this “profound” condition?  

1)  They have to be Number 1

This is perhaps the clearest and most pervasive indication that someone is a narcissist.  We can see that most of the time, this is someone’s primary objective during any social encounter: they have to be on top, they have to be admired, they have to be agreed with, they have to be in charge, they can’t tolerate competition, they have great difficulty being Number 2.  Typically, a narcissist finds it genuinely upsetting to have to be Number 2 instead of Number 1.  It’s a tragedy, all is lost.  If life is about winning or losing, then being Number 2 means losing.  

2)  They can’t take criticism or being disagreed with

If you are required to criticise the behaviour of a narcissist, then their normal response is to ignore the criticism entirely, and to attack you instead, “by any means necessary”.  Victim-blaming, shutting you down, deflecting the conversation, denial, talking rubbish to confuse you, and “what about [me!!! or, alternatively, you!!!]” are routine ways to avoid addressing the issue.  There is a word for all this, and it refers to something that comes out of the back end of a bull.  

Because life is a war, for a narcissist, then disagreement is typically felt as a personal betrayal of allegiance.  

3)  “Jaw-dropping selfishness”; a lack of empathy and other moral emotions

More precisely, what narcissists lack is empathic concern: they are simply blind to, and do not care about, other people’s needs.  These are mostly invisible to them.  When they do appear to care about others, it’s typically strategic to their own interests.  Narcissists are famous for coldly abandoning people once they have served their usefulness.  They often seem to see others as cardboard cut-outs: disposable objects just there to be used.  There is a marked lack of long-term loyalty.  

Less obviously, typically, they also lack accountability, fairness, impartiality, sympathetic joy, and treating people on equal terms with themselves.  They often show a “take it or leave it” attitude towards genuine morality; or else it is misused to bully and belittle people through self-righteous judging; or to put on the sham of being a specially good person through “virtue signalling”: conspicuous displays of “goodness”.  

Yet we can see that narcissists in general know how to collaborate with others to get things done.  Joint thinking, and joint action, require highly developed skills that are specific to humans.  

We can conclude that narcissists possess all the sophisticated human cognitive skills of cooperation, without the corresponding emotional adaptations.  In other words, they lack the moral emotions.  These are basically defined as the other-regarding emotions of concern, fairness and impartiality: the building blocks of the normal human sense of right and wrong, which are necessary in order for warm, human, emotional cooperation to function properly.  

To a narcissist, morality is there to serve them and no-one else.  So “fairness” becomes “I want it all for myself”; “concern for others” is replaced almost entirely by “concern for myself”; “impartiality” means “I get special treatment, and others don’t matter”.  People around them are held to impossibly strict standards of behaviour, and any slight lapse of consideration towards them can make them distressed and angry.  However, they are apparently free to treat other people like dirt, and it’s magically OK.  Typically, hypocrisy and double standards are the order of the day, although they often show a surprisingly strong sense of duty, in the sense of  being perfectionist about what they do.  

4)  They like to control and manipulate others

The majority of people achieve things by working with others: through cooperation and friendship among equals.  Narcissists tend to get what they want through control and manipulation, often by playing “games”.  A famous one is “triangulation” – getting two people to compete for their affection, and then playing them off against each other.  Another is playing the victim.  Typically, they enjoy controlling and manipulating others for its own sake – as a way to feel powerful, to “win”.  True to form, this means that the other person “loses”.  A narcissist could suck the life out of Tigger.  

If you have genuinely the best will in the world, yet you are forced to walk on eggshells, or change your behaviour, just to avoid upsetting someone for ridiculous reasons – whether this is spoken or unspoken – this is a sign of possible controlling behaviour.  

5)  They need a punch bag

To a narcissist, suffering means losing; it is simply unfair, so somebody has to pay.  In order to even things out, they will intentionally make somebody else suffer.  To this end, normally, somebody in their life is nominated as a habitual “punch bag”.  This is often a child or spouse.  This way, human beings are deliberately damaged; decades may be lost; lives ruined.  This bullying behaviour is a normal defense mechanism of narcissists, and so it tends to be manifested most when they are suffering or feeling stressed.  

6)  Underachievement and fear of failure

Not all, by any means, but a significant subset of narcissists can be seen to be underachievers, to fail to live up to their talents.  This may be for several reasons:

  1. To a narcissist, a failure is seen as a humiliating defeat in the war of life, so many will refuse to embark on anything at which they might not succeed.  This can lead to a negative attitude to life and a cynicism towards ambition.
  2. Many narcissists cannot stand for somebody around them to succeed, especially when they themselves are an underachiever, and consequently, they are willing to sabotage the efforts of others, even when it hurts the narcissist’s own interests.  Typically, others might wonder if the narcissist is insane, when it becomes clear that they do not care if they bring the roof down on everyone’s head.  
  3. Lack of a support system, through driving away allies, because of a competitive attitude, can lead narcissists to underachieve in life.  

7)  Black and white: if you’re not with me, you’re against me

Everything that is not me is dirt.

Patient of Karl Abraham

It is usual for narcissists to take an extreme “them and us” attitude: anyone different from them can be seen as worthless, defective or evil.  This makes sense if we refer to the war metaphor.  It’s a bleak, unhappy view of the world.  


Competition, cooperative identity, and shame

Shame is a moral emotion, but it is self-centred rather than other-centred.  It is part of having a “cooperative identity”.  A cooperative identity has both a public and a personal aspect.  Publicly, it is defined as how cooperative you are evaluated to be by the people who know you: your public reputation as a cooperative team player.

As well as a public, we also have a personal cooperative identity, which can be seen as an internalised version of the public one.  This is a standard which we feel we must live up to, a judgement of our self-worth.  If we fail to be cooperative with others, we feel shame.  

Narcissists are notoriously prone to shame and shame-based depression, and their self-esteem is known to be fragile and dependent on the admiration of others.  The current hypothesis accounts for this situation through the idea of the cooperative identity.  Somebody whose approach to life is essentially competitive, yet who cares what others think of them, must inevitably experience shame through feeling that their internal cooperative identity is poor.  For someone in this situation, their self-esteem is unstable and fragile, and must depend instead on external validation.  

Narcissists are also prone to 1) feelings of humiliation; 2) feeling that others are attacking them.  This is natural if one lives in a state of low-level war with the world: everyone is a potential enemy.  A personal slight, or even a failure to be acknowledged, etc., is a victory by the enemy, and is naturally felt much more keenly by a narcissist than by a cooperative person with healthy self-esteem who tends to see others as a peaceful, helpful source of mutual support.  

Not only do narcissists suffer from fundamentally low self-worth, through being social but competitive in a cooperative world, but they are additionally vulnerable because they cut themselves off from the support system that humans have evolved: each other.  A social being who lacks cooperative and moral feelings will naturally find life harder than the rest of us.  


Three types of narcissist

Each narcissist is different, just like everyone else, but we can observe various distinct qualities which can vary according to the person: for example, how deceptive someone is; how status-obsessed; how brittle; how paranoid; aggressive; malevolent; able to laugh at oneself; empathic; charming; self-aware.  

It has been proposed that there are three main categories of narcissists, which differ according to the strategy they use to “win”.  

We also see that these various behaviours may be present in most narcissists, depending on the situation they find themselves in, but, perhaps, one or other may predominate.  In general, there is a lot of less-than-straightforward behaviour displayed, in that a narcissist may claim or appear to be doing one thing, but is actually doing another.  


How  to get the best out of a narcissist

Don’t play their games.  Don’t jump through hoops to prove yourself.  Narcissists are, in general, like Gary Kasparov, the Grand Chess Master of the World, when it comes to playing games.  Every time, it’s checkmate for you: you lose every time.  So do not play.  As soon as you engage with the drama, you’ve lost.  Instead, keep cool; play the adult; rise above it; be tactical; get yourself out of that situation without falling into the “trap” that has been set.  Narcissists don’t necessarily care about consequences: all they care about is feeling like they are No. 1.  The intended object is to make you feel upset, frustrated, angry, small, and undermined; to work you like their puppet: this is not what you want: refuse to let them make you feel bad.  These games can often be very hidden and subtle, masquerading as something else that looks reasonable to a reasonable person; and so, not easy to spot.  

Those emotional reactions are your puppet strings.  Cut the strings.  


Call a truce.  If life is a war, for a narcissist, then it follows that they will respond best to empathy, understanding, support, and patience.  Use techniques from Unconditional Love, such as helping, educating, and the compassionate outcome.  However, be aware that you’re dealing with a crocodile who will likely try to bite off your hand if you let them, so maintain your boundaries and self-protection.  


Benefits of narcissism

Narcissists can often be the best fun in the world, and can be driven, through their need for self-esteem, or their grandiosity and entitlement, to achieve ambitiously great things that everyone benefits from.



Narcissistic personality disorder

Harmful narcissists and their effects on others

Ten signs of emotional abuse

Narcissistic manipulation  [18]

Knight in Sham Armour

The Dysfunctional Ways a Family Protects a Narcissist

The Female Malignant Narcissist is Just as Dangerous as Her Male Counterpart








The famous but only partially correct stereotype is “destructive power and control”.  


The late Lee Atwater, another Bush aide, described [Fox News CEO Roger] Ailes as having “two speeds – attack and destroy.”  

LA Times


Hare describes people he calls psychopaths as “intraspecies predators who use charm, manipulation, intimidation, sex and violence to control others and to satisfy their own selfish needs.  Lacking in conscience and empathy, they take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without guilt or remorse”.  “What is missing, in other words, are the very qualities that allow a human being to live in social harmony.”

Wikipedia via Hare Psychopathy Checklist


I am just not scared.  


“Among the Hoods – my years with a teenage gang” – Harriet Sergeant




Compared with a narcissist, a psychopath potentially represents a new level of horror.

The current hypothesis is that two of the essential differences between a psychopath and a narcissist are:  

  1. a narcissist cares about what others think of them, and is exquisitely sensitive to the opinions of others; while a psychopath does not care about this;  
  2. a psychopath is extremely unemotional.  

It has been found that psychopaths show abnormally low levels of fear or stress, and have no conscience.  They can, however, be motivated by reward, since they are capable of feeling pleasure.  Typically they enjoy dangerous life-threatening thrills and other extreme forms of pleasure.  They often enjoy cruelty for its own sake, and these people would laugh while you die in flames.  

To others, it can appear that a psychopath is not human: that the human parts of them are missing, often because of extreme, pointless cruelty.  However, they are human beings, and decorum dictates that they are treated as such, for the sake of the overall moral atmosphere of society.  We do not wish to live in a society where anyone is denied their human rights.  




Psychopathic traits

This check list is for information only, and any diagnosis should be carried out by a professional clinician.  

The Hare Psychopathy Check List of psychopathic traits:

In addition, it is common for psychopaths to enjoy hurting others – a lot.  However, many psychopaths do not seem to have this trait.  

We may observe that many of these traits are also typical of narcissists, including “destructive power and control”.  

We may also observe that as with narcissists, certain behaviours, such as impulsiveness or malevolence, are expressed more strongly in some individuals than in others.  




Why do some people become psychopaths?


Professor Essi Viding, UCL Psychology and Language Sciences.  (2014)

More information about psychopathy.  

Are you worried about a child?  Only a minority of children with behavioural problems are psychopaths.  




‘We’re scared of our adopted son’  

When your child is a psychopath

Checklist – are you dealing with a sociopath?

12 Symptoms of an Undercover Psychopath  

Philpott murders

Confessions of a sociopath

We Talked To A Diagnosed Sociopath To Figure Out If We Were Dating One

Sociopath World  




The Dark Triad

from wikipedia


The dark triad is a subject in psychology that focuses on three personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy.  Use of the term “dark” implies that people possessing these traits have malevolent qualities.  

Research on the dark triad is used in applied psychology, especially within the fields of law enforcement, clinical psychology and business management.  People scoring high on these traits are more likely to commit crimes, cause social distress and create severe problems for an organization (especially if they are in a leadership position, see psychopathy in the workplace for more information).

All three dark triad traits are conceptually distinct although empirical evidence shows them to be overlapping.  They are associated with a callous-manipulative interpersonal style.  





Passive aggression

Passive aggression is generally unconscious aggression, and being unconscious, the person who does it is probably not aware of it.  

From this, it follows that an effective remedy could be to bring the behaviour to their attention.  This can be difficult, precisely because the sly and nebulous nature of the behaviour makes it difficult for a straightforward person to navigate, and because it has a way of cleverly kicking your legs out from under you when you are not expecting it, taking you by surprise.  

However, if you can just calmly speak up, and draw attention to it, on multiple occasions, this may reduce the behaviour over time.  For example, you can calmly say, directly, like an adult:  “Hold up right there.  Run that one by me again.  You said – [x, y ridiculousness].  What did you mean by that?” and don't let go until you achieve some kind of result.  

One of the commonest forms of passive aggression is, very quietly and secretly, to push someone’s buttons and enrage them.  The benefit of this is that the victim looks like a terrible person for seemingly getting angry over nothing.  Alternatively, the victim is just hot and bothered, and this counts as a passive aggressive success.  

If you find that you are the one being passively aggressive, then the eventual solution must be to examine your emotions and bring the subconscious anger or aggression into consciousness.  

Passive aggression can be seen as an immature (i.e. unconscious, maladaptive) ego defense, and when these are brought into consciousness, then their effectiveness, and necessity, can be reduced or eliminated.  

A passive aggressive person may well have been “kept down” and prevented from expressing their real self, through being abused or controlled by the people around them; or there may be some other reason, for example: religious, cultural, or political norms, why they are not allowed to be themselves.  They may have been taught to get what they want through bullying and manipulation, while not being allowed to express themselves openly.  They may be left with a lot of anger while feeling prevented from either seeing it or expressing it.  Since they do not know about it consciously, it controls their behaviour without their understanding.  

It may sometimes be linked to “learned helplessness”, where a person learns over time that no matter what they do, it has no effect, and so, they are not able to exercise legitimate power through legitimate means.  

A close relative of passive aggression is passive controlling; watch out for this too.  Both are a stock in trade of narcissists.  


Straightforward and polite  

The opposite of behaving passive-aggressively is to be straightforward and polite.  


7 Signs You're Dealing With a Passive-Aggressive Person   

How to Spot and Deal With Passive-Aggressive People  

10 Signs You're in a Relationship With a Passive-Aggressive  

How Mentally Strong People Respond to Snarky Comments  

Is Your Partner Passive-aggressive?  




Controlling behaviour

– in a personal context (i.e. outside of an official legal framework).    

Controlling – forcing or manipulating someone in a certain direction, whether obviously or not – would seem to go together with “competition”, if only because it is a way of getting them to do something that does not involve straightforward cooperation as equals.  It is also dominant: a competitive way to feel powerful; a way to tip the relative balance of natural selection in the controller's favour, just for the sake of it.  Very often it is also destructive, combining to make destructive power and control.  


3 Mind Games Every Toxic Person Plays With You  

Is he a controlling man?  

Coercive control: How can you tell whether your partner is emotionally abusive?   

10 Common Reasons That Women Remain In Abusive Relationships   




Maliciously causing trouble  

This also comes under the category of “destructive power and control”.  

The normal pattern seems to be:  

It is very much like the pleasure a child will get when they stir up an ants’ nest with a stick, and then enjoy watching the ants all scurrying around in anxiety and confusion, desperately trying to fix the situation.    

This trouble-causing is generally done in secret, or it may be done under the guise of something else which is made to look “reasonable” by a malicious, manipulative charmer or authority figure.  

If someone is just hanging on by their fingertips, there are plenty of people, in all walks of life, who will deliberately come along and stamp on those fingers.  Don't think they wouldn't.  These finger-stampers could easily be among your family or “friends”.  




Success is the best revenge




Don't get angry

or enraged

or insulted.  

Rise above the bullshit.  

Flick your light back on,

and shine it brighter than ever,

and fall so deeply in love  

with your own life  

that anyone who tried to wrong you  

becomes a laughable, ridiculous

distant, memory.  


Cara Alwill Leyba – “Stripped”