2019-02-14 Narcissism

I was commenting on a post by Anne Hunter about Zak S on Google+ and since that platform is about to disappear, I’m posting something similar here as well.

Please note that I’m going to use “narcissist” in the following without there being an actual diagnosis by anyone. The Narcissistic Personality Disorder page is interesting: “characterized by persistent grandiosity, excessive need for admiration, and a personal disdain and lack of empathy for others … arrogance and a distorted sense of superiority, and they seek to establish abusive power and control over others … … typically value themselves over others to the extent that they openly disregard the feelings and wishes of others, and expect to be treated as superior, regardless of their actual status or achievements … intolerance of criticism, and a tendency to belittle others in order to validate their own superiority” and so on.

The reason people are now all speaking out against Zak is, I believe, that the all experienced some of the above in some degree and so Mandy and Viv’s stories seem so plausible.

I talked about the entire situation with my wife. Zak is the first narcissist in my life but unfortunately she has seen quite a few at the workplace and had started reading about the entire thing. But it’s only now that I’ve been able to put it all together. I was simply unable to prove anything and didn’t (and still don’t) want to judge people on vague statements and exhortations to “believe”. I wrote about this back in 2016: “That’s why I agree with people like Zak: there needs to be more accountability online. Posting online is not like talking to friends. Posting online is like writing for the press if more than a handful of people can read it. Accountability is key. Politeness is key.”

I have so little to do with Zak and Mandy and Vik and all the others in this story that I’d like to move away from the personal. I wish them all the best. Let the victims heal. Let the perpetrators learn and grow as a human. I don’t know the truth. It’s hard to know what to believe.

The only thing I know is what many people are writing about right now. Online, Zak exhibited many of the traits I quoted from the Wikipedia article. It’s interesting to see how the entire spectrum exists between different people, and over time: association, disengaging, hiding, blocking. I want to focus on that part, because that’s the part that affects us all, I think. As a society, it’s hard to know how to deal with narcissists.

How do we deal with the smart and charming but ruthless and heartless people, the manipulative abusers? I liked the unprofessional looking How To Deal with a Narcissist. They have big pictures. But read what it says. It matched the things my wife had read and experienced even if it was couched in super friendly words. I feel the part about walking away and ending relationships was super important based on what my wife had been telling me and I think that’s what many of us have been doing, gradually, each according to their own needs to be safe.

I also noticed that the article talks about “a spouse, a parent” and I realized that sometimes narcissists are family and it’s not always as (comparatively) easy as quitting a job or cutting ties on social media. 😥

As for myself, I definitely want to get better at spotting and handling narcissists. This is a skill I totally need to improve. I still don’t know how to do that without compromising my values. I don’t want to participate in angry mobs, I don’t want to believe every accusation, I still want people to be able to defend their position. It’s hard to do all this in the workplace, and it’s hard to do on social media.

Thus, I don’t feel bad for my slow and silent retreat, I don’t feel bad for liking the interesting things Zak did, or standing up for my values, but I definitely want to get better at spotting and handling narcissists.

Things to watch out for:

Keep track of these things and use these as early warning signs.

Here’s what not to expect:

Here’s what to do:

Here’s what to expect:

Anyway, that’s why I feel like I can say this in public: I don’t know whether the accusations are true or not (they seem very plausible!) but the thing I know for sure are the warning signs I mentioned:



Wow, this is a great post.

– Anonymous 2019-02-14 21:55 UTC

I also recommend Thank You, Mandy by Michael Prescott about the importance of feelings, and how the idea of using legal arguments to decide who to be friends with is a “reasonable-sounding bad idea.”

If you want to see examples of how the duping actually went – because it’s hard to imagine if you haven’t experienced it, and because it’s important to recognize it when you meet somebody with narcissist tendencies, here are some links:

  • Crossroads. Ben summarizes a conversation he had. “When we talked it was like I was speaking to a completely different person … He was generous. He said nice and empathetic things about some of the people he feuded with. I was actually grateful to him at the time for handling it all so reasonably.”
  • Thoughts on the zaklash, personal stuff. Cavegirl talks about the duality of the experience: they are nice to you and make you feel smart and valuable, and yet at the same time you see things blow up elsewhere. Also, a transcript of a conversation.
  • OSR: On Zak (Sabbath) Smith. Skerples has some screenshots of how one-on-one conversations went.

I’m listing these blog posts because it’s interesting to see how the magic works, and it’s important to me that it not work again the next time.

Sadly, in our lives, we will probably meet more narcissists. Some of us will be charmed and end up entangled in a web of obligations and deception, others will feel something is wrong but can’t put their finger on it, and most of us will want to lead our lives and will not want to be part of lynch mobs and witch trials. And yet, we will need to work together. We need to realize as a group that there is a somebody amongst us taking advantage of how we feel.

I don’t want to fall for it again.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-02-15, 2019-02-16

Also interesting: In Repercussions, Brendan talks about the slow realization that friends are disappearing, that you you need to watch you words near somebody who is as aggressive online as Zak was and how that drives people away even if they didn’t do anything wrong. And he talks about one of the remedies I mentioned, too: sending direct messages.

We really do need to warn each other, support each other, organize our response. Together we stand, divided we fall.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-02-19 06:50 UTC

And also interesting: In I Don't Know What to Think, with a more legal mindset, basically expanding on the point how most people who have practically no connection to accused or accuser cannot sure (”beyond all reasonable doubt”) of what happened.

But then again, that’s self-evident to me (now, I guess I should add?) – we can believe things without convicting people. We can end friendships and make financial decisions based on hearsay. There is not perfect justice in this world.

I loved this anonymous comment:

Lord save me from ignorant people who bandy around legal terms on elf game blogs. I include myself in this.

Hearsay refers to a statement not made as oral evidence in court during trial. It can be evidence in some circumstances.

More importantly, if this situation is being treated as a criminal trial […] the statements by Mandy and co should be treated as being made in the course of the trial, i.e. as oral evidence, which is admissible without any of the caveats that apply to hearsay.

You can’t have it both ways - requiring people to apply the standard of proof that only applies during a criminal trial, while treating the accusers’ statements as being made wholly outside any legal process.

Like, I don’t know whether people have just watched too much CSI and think that ‘evidence’ only refers to CCTV and forensics and all that exciting HARD PHYSICAL EVIDENCE in little plastic bags, because they’re in for a rude surprise if they ever end up in court.

Statements made by people are evidence. That’s what a witness statement is. Multiple statements that corroborate each other are generally pretty good evidence, and can certainly be sufficient for conviction. People get sentenced to prison (actual prison, not ‘no one will buy my books or art and now I have to work a normal job’) every day on the basis of oral evidence. All this bleating about hearsay and evidenceless accusations and people’s lives being ruined is based on ignorance about what’s actually involved in the criminal process - which, again, this is not, so you would be perfectly justified in not requiring the same standards of proof, evidence, etc.

– Anonymous

Definitely stuff I hadn’t thought through myself.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-02-19 15:54 UTC

A thought I had about Narcissists, but about domestic abuse: Werewolves as a Metaphor for Domestic Abusers.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-02-22 16:55 UTC

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