When I was working in residential substance abuse treatment, I sometimes got outwitted by my patients, though I tried to stay one step ahead of them. Despite my best efforts, occasionally a resident would obtain something – a communication, an object, a privilege – that was contrary to his recovery or to the rights and needs of others. I didn’t get stressed about this, though I marveled at the dudgeon some of my co-workers would get into in these situations. I would chuckle to myself and say: Well, an addict got the better of me; not the first time and probably not the last.
But I’m not so philosophical about an incident that happened to me in a non-therapeutic setting. I realized yesterday that I had been badly punked by a narcissistic-sociopathic person a few months ago, and it has taken all this time for me to tumble to it. And then it was so obvious I was dumbstruck. The problem is that, not being a narcissistic-sociopath myself, I sometimes don’t recognize the behavior. It doesn’t occur to me that another woman is capable of such extreme harmful lying aiming to destroy another who has never harmed her, when there is no tangible benefit to her for doing so. I recognized the pathology in this woman long ago, but I still am challenged in recognizing her moves. I think one of the reasons I underestimated her is that she is so incompetent in so many areas. Yet narcissistic-sociopaths can be highly efficient in manipulation – or perhaps good people are challenged in recognizing the moves. I should have known.
One trap I’m not falling into is wondering why she did it. You learn quickly, as a cognitive-behavioral therapist, that “why” is not a useful question. “What” is always more important than “why.” I haven’t done anything to harm this woman, who is bent on destroying my life, and the screwy head-scratching reasons she gives for her behavior might even be the truth.
A film by John Waters, called Serial Mom, I find comforting in these situations. It’s a spoof on true-crime exposes, about a middle-aged female serial killer, that has a deceptively simple lesson: it doesn’t matter why. There is a reason she does what she does, but it’s not going to make sense to any sane person. The sociopathic justification might even be as ridiculous as punishing someone for wearing white shoes after labor day. It doesn’t matter why.
So recognize what evil people are capable of, but don’t bother asking yourself “why they do it”: when dealing with a narcissistic-sociopath, logic only gets in your way.