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Dating Emotional Predators: Signs to Look Out For

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Dating Emotional Predators: Signs to Look Out For by Shahida Arabi

Dating an emotional predator, a narcissist, a sociopath or anyone else who has the potential to be an abusive or toxic influence in your life is a devastating emotional roller coaster of highs and lows. Although many abusers tend to unfold and reveal their true selves long after they’ve already reeled their victims in, there are some key signs to look out for when dating someone that can foreshadow their future behavior.

The great thing about dating is that you are not committing to a relationship, so you can use this process as a way to find out more about a potential partner, and if necessary, cut ties should he or she turn out to have abusive traits without investing further in the relationship.

Here are some signs to look out for.

1) A need for control.  

Abusers want to control and manipulate their victims, so they will find covert ways to maintain control over you psychologically. They can maintain this control in a diverse number of ways:

Excessive contact. Although many people don’t realize this, excessive flattery and attention from a charming manipulator is actually a form of control because it keeps you dependent on their praise. If you find yourself being bombarded with text messages, voicemails, calls and e-mails on an hourly basis in the early stages of dating, keep a lookout for other signs.

It might seem incredible that someone is so besotted with you after just one date, but it’s actually a red flag for dubious behavior and unwarranted attachment. It’s not normal to be in contact with someone 24/7 especially if you’ve only gone on a couple of dates with them. No one has the time to “check in” constantly with someone they’re “just” dating.

This form of contact is perfect for abusers to “check in” with you to see what you are up to, to make sure that you are suitably “hooked” to their attention, and is a form of “idealization” which will place you on a pedestal that at first, seems irresistible. Of course, if you’re familiar with the vicious abuse cycle of narcissists which include idealization, devaluation and discard, you’ll know that you’ll soon be thrust off the pedestal.

An unhealthy response to rejection or boundaries. Unlike dating partners who are simply excited to see you again and express their interest with polite enthusiasm, toxic partners will get considerably upset if you choose not to respond to them right away or if you resist their idealization by giving yourself necessary space. They won’t wait for your response, either: they will continue to persist and pursue you with an unhealthy level of attention without knowing much about you. This level of attentiveness is not actually “flattering” even though it may appear so initially – it’s downright creepy and dangerous. It reveals a sense of entitlement to your time and presence without regard for your personal preferences, desires or needs.

When you place boundaries with a potentially toxic partner, they will be sure to step over them. If you say no to coming home with them on a first date, for example, they may still continue pestering you despite knowing your reluctance. When your “no” always seems like a negotiation to someone you’re dating, beware. This means you’re in the presence of someone who does not respect your right to make your own choices and maintain your boundaries or values.

Physical aggression. As perpetual boundary-breakers, abusers can also overstep the physical space of their victims. This type of behavior may not come out until months into a relationship, but sometimes abusers can be physically aggressive with you just a few dates in. Grabbing you too harshly, pushing you during an argument or conflict, violating your personal boundaries in any way, pressuring you for sex, touching you inappropriately without consent is a red flag that must be heeded.  It’s a sign that things will only get worse in the future.

This physical aggression may happen under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, so you’re not quite sure what to make of it except that you feel threatened and unsafe. Don’t attempt to justify this if it happens with or without the involvement of alcohol – alcohol may lower inhibitions, but it doesn’t cause personality transplants. It’s very likely that the abuser is revealing his or her true behavior even while claiming that the “drink” made him or her do it.

Mistreatment of others. Even if the abuser idealizes you quite convincingly in the early stages of dating, you may witness his or her behavior towards others as a red flag of future behavior. For example, is he or she rude to the waiter or waitress on your date? Does he or she get excessively angry if another person flirts with you, talks to you or hits on you in front of them? How about the way they talk about others? If they call their ex a “crazy psychopath” and include a whole range of expletives about their annoying coworker, recognize that these are toxic temper issues which you will eventually be on the receiving end of.

Demonstration of unwarranted anger is an incredibly important tactic that abusers use to 1) preserve their self-image and their ego, 2) project blame onto others, 3) take back control by recreating a “version of events” that makes them look superior and saintly and 4) evoke fear and intimidate others into doing what they want.

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    Photo Credit: Fotolia/Barrington

2) Addicted to provoking you. 

Covert manipulators are quite gifted at provocation. As they learn more about you, they are investigating your weak spots and catering their comments towards what they know will hurt you the most. Knowing you’re triggered by their comments gives them a sadistic sense of satisfaction that alleviates their secret sense of inferiority and strokes their delusions of grandeur, control and aptitude. Having control over your emotions also gives them the power to effectively manipulate you and convince you that you don’t deserve any better.

Debasing comments about your personality, your looks, your line of work, what you should wear, who you should hang out with, are all inappropriate, especially when just getting to know someone. If you find yourself frequently confronted with these so-called “helpful” comments in the first few dates, be wary. Nobody should be trying to “change” you immediately when they’re just getting to know you, and if they are, this is a recipe for chaos.

These provocative comments might be disguised as constructive criticism or “just jokes,” but you can distinguish them because they are often comments laced with condescension rather than compassion and consideration. Harsh teasing that serves no other purpose but to ignite your anger or annoyance, put you down and insult you is different from playful teasing which is used to flirt and build rapport with a partner.

Sarcasm. Beware of the tactics of the covert sarcastic put-down. Sarcasm is one of the mighty weapons in an abuser’s arsenal. Emotional predators enjoy invalidating your thoughts, opinions and emotions by making frequent sarcastic remarks that shame you into never questioning them again. Since sarcasm isn’t often considered “abusive” by society, abusers use it as a way to escape accountability for their harsh, condescending tone and belittling behavior. They become more and more condescending in their approach to sarcasm over the course of the relationship – what was once a “playful” sarcastic comment now becomes frequent emotional terrorism that questions your right to have an opinion that challenges theirs.

Efforts at making you jealous. If your date consistently brings up past romantic partners, looks at other women frequently on your dates (while furtively checking to see if you’re observing them while doing so), and talks about having a romantic “type” that is quite far from your description, run.

A healthy partner will strive to make you feel secure and cherished, not insecure and doubtful. This could be a form of toxic triangulation in which an abusive partner attempts to create an image of desirability while demeaning your merits so that you are encouraged to compete for his or her attention.

The silent treatment. Abusers may retreat into silence if you question their authority or bring up their mistreatment. This may provoke you into pursuing them even more, in order to try to coerce them into “validating” your emotions and admit that they are in the wrong. Unfortunately, you’re only giving them more power by doing this. They will eventually come around, but only after you’ve vented at them and eventually apologized for being too “harsh” even when you have doing nothing wrong but express yourself.

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Image Source: Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney

3) Inconsistent character and behavior.

The most skilled abusers will save the “hot and cold” tactics for when they enter long-term relationships, but other abusers may give you a sample of this even within the first month of dating. They do so by the following:

Projection and Gaslighting. Narcissistic dating partners and other toxic people are also proficient at gaslighting and projection, techniques they use to convince society that their victims are the crazy ones and to convince their victims that their reality is inaccurate. The effects of this type of manipulation are incredibly lethal on victims long-term, so it is important to note signs early on in the dating process so that you can detach more quickly from the different type of reality these toxic partners are likely to impose upon you. Gaslighting and projection are very clever tactics that allow toxic dating partners to simultaneously shift the blame of their own characteristics onto you while also enabling them to escape accountability for their hypocrisy, deceit and otherwise unsavory behavior.

If you find yourself feeling at unease about something a dating partner did or said and later denied, minimized or projected onto you, remember that narcissists enjoy calling others “crazy.” It’s a common word they’ll use to describe any valid emotional reaction victims have to their shady and inconsistent behavior. It is gaslighting in its simplest form but over time becomes a complex type of psychological torture in which the victim starts to mistrust his or her perceptions of the covert abuse and feels unable to trust his or own reality. Stonewalling (shutting down a conversation even before it’s begun), silent treatments  and devaluation soon follows in order to maintain control. Narcissists can easily maintain the illusion of their false self whenever their behavior is called out and discredit their victims so that the covert abuse is never recognized or addressed without the dire consequences of you walking on eggshells.

To understand the difference between a partner who provides you constructive criticism or simply disagrees with you and a partner who routinely projects their own qualities and gaslights you, look closely at their actions rather than their words. Does it appear that the person you are dating often accuses you of the same characteristics, traits or actions that they themselves seem guilty of committing? Do they call you a hypocrite when they are the ones who often contradict their proposed beliefs? When you call them out on being rude, do they bring up something irrelevant you did in response, in order to shift the topic back to you instead?

For example, you may meet narcissistic partners who, in the beginning, are very possessive of you, track where you go and who you are with, seem to check up on you 24/7 and call you out if you ever dare to show signs of flirtation or interacting with another man. Yet the moment you ever call out signs of potential infidelity on their part or question any lies that don’t quite add up, they may unleash their narcissistic rage and gaslight you into thinking you are the jealous, possessive one and tell you that you’re  getting too heavily invested in the relationship too soon – minimizing the fact that they had been putting you under survellience from the very beginning.

Be careful – the projection and gaslighting of narcissists is so adept, so sneaky, so conniving, and so utterly convincing, that you are often led to apologize for being alive at all.

Superficial charm. I cannot count the endless number of abusers I have met who begin their ploys with superficial charm accompanied by self-absorption and an actual lack of empathy or substance. You can begin to spot how superficial their demeanors are once you’ve had some practice in identifying nonverbal gestures, nuances in facial expressions and tone of voice. Skilled predators are quite charming and you can easily learn to see through this by observing the way they exaggerate how they feel about you and their glib ways of showing you that they “care” when they really don’t.

For example, hearing “I’ve never felt this way about anyone else,” on a first or second date is not only premature, it’s most likely a lie to impress you. When this charm is paired with actions that don’t align with the abuser’s words, like the fact that this person never actually asks you about your interests or passions despite being so “enamored” with you, you’ll soon realize these are just shallow ways of getting into your head (and most likely your bed).

Pathological lying. Do you catch the person in frequent lies or stories that simply don’t add up? Do they “drip-feed” you information so that the full story eventually unravels over time? A girl he hung out with was once just a “female friend,” and now suddenly he mentions that he used to date her. A man she sees for Sunday brunch is “just” a colleague, but then you find out that it’s an ex-husband. It’s true that everyone reserves some crucial information on the first few dates for later and everyone makes mistakes or tells “white lies” to preserve their self-image occasionally. However, if these lies seem to be chronically common, it’s not a healthy pattern to start off a relationship with. Disclosure, honesty and open communication are foreign words to the abuser, who lives in a world of falsehoods.

Frequent disappearances. In the beginning, the person you were dating was constantly on top of you, bombarding you with calls and texts. Suddenly, they disappear for days, only to come back again as if nothing ever happened. These disappearances, which are often staged without convincing explanations, are a way of managing your expectations and making you “pine” for contact.

Attitude changes towards you. Abusers engage in “splitting,” emotional polarization in the ways they view you. You’re either “the one” when you’re meeting their needs or you’re suddenly the villain if you disappoint them in any way or threaten their fragile sense of superiority. Beware of this “hot and cold” behavior, because it’s another tactic to manage your expectations and keep you on your toes. Even if you don’t even like the person, if you tend to be the people-pleasing type, you might fall into the trap of attempting to avoid rejection and win their favor. It’s “reverse psychology” at its finest.

Intermittent reinforcement. This is a psychological tactic that provokes you into trying to please them, even if the abuser is mistreating you. The abuser gets to have you on your “best behavior” without changing his or her own behavior. Abusers love giving “crumbs” after they’ve already seduced their victims with the idea of the whole loaf of bread. You might find yourself on the receiving end of praise, flattery, attention one day, only to be given cold silence the day after.  Occasionally you will get the same idealization that you received on the first few dates, but more likely, you will get a mixture of hot and cold, leaving you uncertain about the fate of the relationship.

TIPS FOR DEALING WITH PREDATORS IN DATING: 

If you notice any of these red flags after the first few dates or within the first few months of dating, do not proceed. Since within the first few dates you are usually presented with a person’s best behavior, you can be sure that things will not get any better. You cannot fix this person and you run the risk of emotionally investing in someone who is  out to deliberately harm you.

Be careful: if you choose to reject an abuser outright, it may infuriate them or he or she may use “pity ploys” or angry harassment to convince you should go out with them again. Going No Contact if someone is bothering you, harassing you or making you feel uncomfortable in any way is a better tactic. Block their number and any other means they might use to communicate with you. If they’ve been disrespectful, they don’t deserve a polite response.

Should they continue to harass you, document the evidence and tell them you will take legal action if necessary. If you’re trying online dating, make sure you block the predator from the site you are using after you document their messages by using screenshots.

Tread lightly when you’re dating someone new. Don’t give out personal information like your address, home telephone number or other means of reaching you besides a cell phone number. If possible, use an alternative like a Google Voice number or other text messaging app while still getting to know someone. You must put your safety and privacy first.

Resist projection and gaslighting. Stick to what you know to be true. Do not allow your toxic dating partner to minimize or deny things he or she may have said or done. When a dating partner attempts to gaslight you or project qualities onto you, know that this is a clear red flag of emotional infancy that will not be suitable for a long-term relationship. It is helpful to keep a journal during your dating process to note any inconsistencies, red flags, emotions and/or gut feelings that may arise. You will want to refer to this journal often in order to keep grounded in your own perceptions and inner sense of truth.

Keep your eyes open. Be willing and open to recognizing both the bad and the good. While we all want to see the best in people, it’s important not to also gaslight ourselves into denying or minimizing the signs that someone is not compatible with us. The signs will always be there, and even if they don’t present themselves quite as visibly, your gut instinct will tell you when something is not quite right.

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Have you noticed any of these signs while dating a toxic person? Do you have any other signs that should be added to this list? Comment below and share your thoughts!

Interested in learning more about narcissistic abuse? Order my new book on narcissistic abuse, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself.

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Copyright © 2014-2016 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. No part of this entry may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

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About the Author

UntitledShahida Arabi is a graduate of Columbia University and the author of three #1 Amazon bestselling books. She graduated summa cum laude from NYU as an undergraduate student, where she studied Psychology and English Literature. Her interests include psychology, sociology, education, gender studies and mental health advocacy.

A Culture of Narcissism, Part II: Cyberbullying and Trolling

I am very grateful for all of the feedback I received on my blog post, Five Powerful Ways Abusive Narcissists Get Inside Your Head. As you all know, narcissism and recovery from abuse are topics that are near and dear to my heart, and there is absolutely nothing that compares to the feeling that you’ve helped someone in their healing, even in the smallest of ways. That’s why I’ve decided to continue the series on this blog called A Culture of Narcissism. In this series, I will explore how narcissism is becoming ingrained and reinforced by new technologies and  sociocultural norms.

The reason I am exploring narcissism from this approach is simple: psychopathology often needs a “breeding” environment to thrive and disorders often manifest themselves due to an interaction between biological predisposition and the environment. I believe our culture is providing an environment that is conducive for disorders such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder to thrive.

There are many theories about how narcissism arises in the individual – from a “narcissistic wound” in childhood, to a pattern of idealization and devaluation by the parent or even a neurological standpoint that focuses mainly on how a narcissist’s brain has structural abnormalities related to compassion. I am not claiming that our culture is the primary source of narcissism, but rather, that it does encourage it in those who already have the biological predisposition. That’s why I believe it’s so important to explore this culture and how it’s affecting the way narcissism and narcissistic individuals operate in society.

My first post in this series can be found here: The Narcissism of Elliot Rodger – #YesAllWomen, Misogyny and Rape Culture

Now onto Part II!

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A Culture of Narcissism, Part II: Cyberbullying and Trolling

For this post in the series, I’ll be exploring how technologies like the internet provide narcissists and those who have antisocial traits with easy access to victims and minimal effort. Cyberbullying and trolling are strategic ways for narcissists who lack adequate narcissistic supply or who are experiencing boredom to get a quick “fix” without being held accountable for their abuse. 

In the context of intimate relationships, survivors of narcissistic abuse may be stalked, harassed and cyberbullied for years even after the ending of the relationship, especially if they were the ones to discard the narcissist first. When a narcissist suffers from a narcissistic injury, this can lead to narcissistic rage. This rage is a result of  an injury to their ego when something or someone threatens their delusions of grandeur and “false self.” Since survivors often implement No Contact with their abusers, narcissistic abusers feel a loss of power and attempt to regain that power through tactics like provocation, hoovering and post-breakup triangulation techniques.

On a larger scale, narcissists and those who have antisocial traits employ similar manipulation tactics in cyberspace to provoke and harm complete strangers. A recent study showed that online trolls demonstrated high degrees of sadism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. This should come to no surprise to anyone who has encountered trolls or cyberbullies – they are notorious for attempting to provoke people in order to derive sick feelings of satisfaction that they apparently can’t get anywhere else.

Bullying in any form, especially anonymous bullying, can lead to devastating results. Research indicates that cyberbullying in schools leads to a higher rate of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in victims of cyberbullying. There have been a number of suicides that were triggered by the words of anonymous sadists – the suicides of many teenagers, for example, were a direct result of cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying and trolling leave such a terrible psychological impact that there is even a movement against anonymous comments sections on media outlets. Since there is little accountability for cyberbullies and the laws against it in each state may not protect victims entirely from emotional abuse, it often goes unchecked and unpunished. If cyberbullies are ever reprimanded, it is usually after the fact of a tragic suicide or in the event of publicity.

In the case of the recent death of Robin Williams, for example, people became outraged when they heard that trolls on social media outlets were harassing Robin Williams’ daughter and had caused her distress during a time of intense grief and loss. Usually, however, the sadism of these bullies goes unnoticed except for the people who have to endure the harassment.

THREE WAYS TO DISTINGUISH A SADISTIC CYBERBULLY FROM A PERSON WHO’S PROVIDING CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM

1. Rather than engaging in healthy debate and respectful disagreement, cyberbullies and trolls distinguish themselves from normal people who disagree by staging personal attacks on character instead of providing evidence against the argument that they claim to have problems with. Instead of saying, “Research proves you wrong, here’s the source,” they’re more prone to verbal diarrhea which consists of insults, name-calling, word salad, circular logic and provocative overgeneralizations deliberately aimed to get a rise out of you. They may even bring up personal details or assume things about you that have nothing at all to do with the matter at hand. They are, like many narcissists in intimate relationships, perpetual boundary-breakers.

2. They persist. Some cyberbullies give up eventually if they don’t get the response they were looking for, but others will keep hunting for more of a reaction and provoking you, even on multiple accounts. Like narcissists in intimate relationships, they use the anonymity feature of cyberspace to employ triangulation techniques with their “fake” accounts to show “support” for – who else -themselves.

3.  Stalking. When you do respond in a way they’re not accustomed to, they suffer a kind of narcissistic injury and resort to low blows and attacks. Some cyberbullies are satisfied when you give them a quick ego stroke, like a “You’re right” to their insult and go away. Others are much more malicious. When you give them radio silence or choose to report their harassing behavior, they come after you.

I’ve had cyberbullies follow me all the way onto personal social media accounts in an attempt to silence my voice on important issues or because they suffered a narcissistic injury when I didn’t respond. They weren’t persisting to try to respectfully get me to see their point of view, either – they were outright insulting me and making assumptions about me that had little to do with the topic at hand.

THREE WAYS TO HANDLE CYBERBULLIES AND TROLLS

1. Don’t engage or feed the trolls. Depending on the forum or website that you’re being harassed on, there may be an option for you to report harassment or block the person. This is especially useful for cyberbullies who are attacking you personally and taking a toll on your mental health. This is sort of like going No Contact – except, instead of someone you were in an intimate relationship with, you’re going NC on a stranger out to harm you. Find a way to remove them from your presence with the least amount of effort. They’re simply not worth the time and energy that it takes to stage a rebuttal. Remember: narcissists always need an audience and a source of supply. By removing yourself as a narcissistic source of supply, you refuse to give them the attention they’re looking for. By default, you win.

2. Be strategic about your privacy. Different forums and websites have different policies, so be strategic depending on what platform you’re using. Most social media platforms allow you to block or report anyone who’s harassing you, so take advantage of whatever you can do. Next, explore the privacy settings on whatever platform you’re using. If you feel comfortable and it’s available, take on the option that will enable you to share the least amount of information with the public. This will prevent cyberbullies and trolls on the hunt from finding out the personal details of your life. If you find it feasible, consider limiting the number of social media accounts you have so that you only use the ones you absolutely need for your professional and social life.

If you’re a blogger and are being trolled or cyberbullied, websites like WordPress take it one step further and allow you to see the IP address of the person commenting. This enables you to watch out for multiple “fake” accounts cyberbullies may be using to troll your blog or website and you can block one specific IP address from commenting on your blog altogether and just be done with it.

Should cyberbullies ever threaten you with physical harm, you can use this IP address to find out where the troll or cyberbully resides,  so you can report them with more accurate information. Simply copy/paste the IP address into a geolocation website like this one. This will yield identifying information that you can have in case the cyberbully or troll ever threatens you.

3. Refocus your energies on productive outlets. Trolls and cyberbullies will never have the final say on your self-worth or your abilities. Why? Because they’re literally spending their time trying to tear people down. Don’t you think that if they were fulfilled in their own lives, they’d find better things to do? Thankfully, you do have better things to do than to ruminate over the narcissists and sociopaths in cyberspace. You have a blog to run, a website to manage, a Twitter feed to update, a Facebook page to update, and a story to share.

Continue to use your voice and make it heard. Only engage with respectful people and save the debate for people who can disagree with you in a manner that’s not pathological. Let the cyberbullies motivate you to make waves for social change and to continue to speak out on behalf of the underdogs.

If you’re at any point feeling overwhelmed by these bullies, shut down the computer, unplug the devices, and tell someone, especially if you’re an adolescent reading this post. Stand up for yourself and do not let this go unchecked. Also help others who may be going through similar struggles. The more you spread awareness about this important issue, the more likely change can happen.

Important Note: If the cyberbully is someone you know, like a friend or former romantic partner, make sure you go No Contact with the person immediately, document any text messages or incriminating phone calls and report them to online service providers or law enforcement agencies if they violate your state’s anti-bullying laws. In that scenario, their anonymity no longer protects them from the consequences of their harassment.

Remember: bullies can be adolescents or adults. Though they all share the same mental age of five, they can be dangerous to us at any age group. Let’s take a stand against bullying and harassment in all forms – from text messages to forums, from social media to blogs. We do not deserve to be violated or disrespected – even online.

Stay safe and take care. Here are some additional resources for cyberbullying which may prove helpful to you:

Top Ten Tips for Adults Who Are Being Harassed Online

Top Ten Tips for Teens Who Are Being Harassed Online

Reporting Cyberbullying from StopBullying.gov

How to Spot Blog Trolls and What to Do by Kristen Lamb

How to Stop Caring About Trolls and Get On With Your Life

Do you have any tips on how to handle cyberbullying or a story to share? Comment below and help other victims of abuse. 

For more tips on recovering from emotional trauma and self-care, please subscribe to the blog (follow button located on the right sidebar) and join our mailing list by filling out the information below:

To learn more about recovering from emotional trauma and staging your victory from abuse, please see my book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care available in Kindle and in Print.

The ideas in this blog entry have been adapted from a chapter of this book and are copyrighted by law.

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Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, you must ask permission if you intend to share this blog entry somewhere, and always provide proper credit in the form of a link back to this blog as well as my name.

A Culture of Narcissism, Part I: #YesAllWomen, Misogyny, Rape Culture

A Culture of Narcissism, Part I: #YesAllWomen, Misogyny, Rape Culture and Elliot Rodger

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As a mental health advocate, a feminist, and as someone who has an avid interest in writing about narcissistic abuse, the Elliot Rodger case made my heart ache and my head spin. This case raised so many key social and political issues it was difficult to keep track of them all: misogyny, mental illness and gun control, to name a few. It led to a mass twitter movement under the hashtag #YesAllWomen, to document the horrific experiences of sexual assault, rape, street harassment and the everyday inequalities women face. It led to articles like this one talking about the importance of improving our mental health system to make sure that disturbed people like Elliot Rodger, who was most likely a narcissistic sociopath (although there is misconception that he was diagnosed with Asperger’s) get diagnosed and get proper treatment or care. It also reawakened an issue that’s been in the media for a while now, the issue of gun control and the failings of laws that facilitate access to weapons to potential perpetrators.

There are arguments on all sides about which “issue” should be prioritized, which issue “caused” this disturbed man to instigate a mass shooting. However, these arguments about which issue is most important is actually detracting from a multifaceted reality we have to face. They are all important (although perhaps not an equal amount) and interconnected. They all need to be examined in order to understand what occurred and why it did.

The Elliot Rodger case is indeed about the misogyny in our society and culture as well as the individual pathology that interacted with it. It is about the fact that women can be maimed, killed, assaulted, and even thrown acid upon because they reject sexual advances or marriage proposals from men. It is about rape culture, a pervasive and problematic set of ideologies, practices and values in our culture that normalize and trivialize sexual violence against women, shifting the blame from perpetrator to victim through mechanisms like slut-shaming, street harassment, and cyberbullying when women dare to speak out against it.

There have been a number of women who are a part of the #YesAllWomen movement who have been unjustifiably harassed, stalked and threatened online due to their tweets. After participating in the #YesAllWomen twitter movement against rape culture with my own tweet, “Because the length of my skirt should not be seen as a measure of my consent #YesAllWomen,” I received a nonsensical tweet from an anonymous person who told me, “Studies prove that women who wear bright colors are looking to have sex. It indicates desire.” And this, my friends, is why we need a movement against rape culture and misogyny, and why these issues cannot be dismissed when speaking about the Elliot Rodger case.

It is clear from the hateful responses of those who wish to demean this movement, and from Elliot Rodger’s own entitled rants, that a sense of ownership over women’s bodies is actually considered normal in today’s culture. With the normalization of these attitudes, Elliot Rodger’s own statements, are, as Jessica Valenti puts it, part of “the norm,” rather than the exclusive rantings of a psychopath. Society and culture owned this sense of entitlement to women’s bodies long before Eliot Rodger’s used it to justify his violence. Trolls may argue that since Elliot Rodgers killed men too that misogyny doesn’t matter, but unfortunately his pathology and motives to kill were inevitably tied with misogynistic idealogies. Misogyny kills men too. Men and women both can suffer because of misogyny, a fact that our society and culture seem to dismiss. Misogyny and the rape culture that accompany it are two issues are still very much alive and were manifested in this case.

This case is also about the failings of the mental health system and the trained officials such as law enforcement and mental health practitioners who failed to identify Elliot Rodger’s pathology even when it was reported to them by his own parents. Although we may never have an official diagnosis, Elliot Rodger appears to be an extremely disturbing example of a narcissistic sociopath. This is demonstrated by his grandiose sense of self, claims about how “awesome,” “magnificent,” “godly,” “beautiful” and “perfectly gentlemanly he is,” coupled with his ridiculous sense of entitlement, violation of the rights of others, lack of empathy as well as arrogant remarks dripping with misogyny and racism (which are part of grandiose sense of self and sense of entitlement). He even liked his own Facebook selfies. Red flag right there.

Narcissists and sociopaths are all around us, and while they don’t always reveal themselves in such extreme ways, they are still malignant and capable of ruining lives. They work at our companies as charming and conniving CEOs. They are the emotional vampires and psychological abusers in our romantic relationships. They are the destructive, malignant politicians. They are the trolls on Twitter and Facebook. They can be anyone. They are the Elliot Rodgers in different forms. We must educate ourselves on this disorder as our culture is also becoming highly narcissistic and providing a conducive environment for this disorder to thrive and be rewarded. The development of psychopathology depends on an interaction between biological predisposition and the external environment, after all.  Social media has become a popular mechanism to strengthen and solidify narcissistic urges, for us to “like” and post self-absorbed statuses, pictures, and videos. Although we are not all sociopaths and narcissists, a culture like this will do nothing to curb the development of such a disorder and its potentially life-threatening effects.

And of course, let’s not forget about gun control. Even in a state with restrictive gun laws, Elliot Rodger, someone who had been struggling with mental health issues, was still able to gain access to a gun. This issue also interacts with a failing of our mental health system to identify, diagnose and treat individuals properly. Without that knowledge, guns can be given to people like Elliot Rodger more easily than therapeutic treatment. Why is that? Why is the importance of being armed and the ability to defend ourselves more important than making sure that weapons don’t get into the hands of the wrong people? Why is it more important and more accessible to have a gun than to have access to effective mental health practitioners and treatment? Why is it more prioritized than say, training law enforcement officials better to recognize the signs of disguised psychopathology – something that could’ve helped prevent Elliot Rodger’s crimes?

What’s narcissism got to do with it? The same thing that misogyny, gun control, and the failings of the mental health system have to do with it. All these issues interact with one another and will continue to feed each other in a vicious cycle if we don’t speak out on their behalf and the victims that suffer at the hands of all of them. None of them can be discounted when discussing this case, although people can argue about which issue should be prioritized. The Elliot Rodger case has erupted in an explosive outpouring that has the potential to highlight social justice and sociocultural issues that need to be addressed. The time for change is now.


NOTE:

This is the first post in a series I’ll be writing called A Culture of Narcissism. In this series, I will explore how narcissism is becoming ingrained and reinforced by new technologies, work cultures and other sociocultural norms.

The reason I am exploring narcissism from this approach is simple: psychopathology often needs a “breeding” environment to thrive and disorders often manifest themselves due to an interaction between biological predisposition and the environment. I believe our culture is providing an environment that is conducive for disorders such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder to thrive.

There are many theories about how narcissism arises in the individual – from a “narcissistic wound” in childhood, to a pattern of idealization and devaluation by the parent or even a neurological standpoint that focuses mainly on how a narcissist’s brain has structural abnormalities related to compassion. I am not claiming that our culture is the primary source of narcissism, but rather, that it does encourage it in those who already have the biological predisposition. That’s why I believe it’s so important to explore this culture and how it’s affecting the way narcissism and narcissistic individuals operate in society.

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

A Culture of Narcissism, Part II: Cyberbullying and Trolling

Shahida Arabi is a graduate student at Columbia University, the former President of NOW-NYU and the author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care, a bestselling Kindle book also available in print. Her interests include psychology, sociology, education, gender studies and mental health advocacy. You can check out her new blog, Self-Care Haven, for topics related to mindfulness, mental health, narcissistic abuse and recovery from emotional trauma.

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Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, please contact me if you intend to share this blog entry somewhere, and always provide proper credit in the form of a link back to this blog as well as my name.