Weakness is inherent to the human condition. No one is always strong all the time and in every way. Last post, we dove into the deep dark waters of the narcissist. Namely, we explored one of their more common tools for manipulation—gaslighting.
Obviously, I recommend going back to check out the post. But, for brevity’s sake, I’ll restate the definition here.
When reading how insidious gaslighting can be, it’s easy to think that this is something rare that only happens to ‘other people.’ Sadly, this is far from the case. This holds true for narcissists all along the spectrum from mild to terrifying. Why? Because we all have human weakness.
And remember, ‘weakness’ is a highly malleable term that can range from simply a kind and trusting nature to a deep psychological wound. Each weakness is like a hole where an abuser/predator can get a stronger hold to climb even deeper into the psyche of their target.
‘Weakness’ is Necessary
Weakness is a necessary part of being a healthy human. Yes, y’all read that correctly. All of us have strengths and weaknesses, and these are how we forge relationships.
If you think about your friends, partners, spouses, etc. often you’ll have just enough in common to spark, but where your relationship is particularly strong is along areas of weakness.
It is impossible to make a ‘connection’ if both parts are the same. Think of a plug. The cord needs prongs (male) and the wall needs the outlet (female). It is in their ‘opposite-ness’ that they come together and light up a room.
Is either the prong or the outlet ‘weak’? No. But they aren’t terribly useful on their own or without their counterpart.
My closest friends have a lot on common with me, but they are also diametrical opposites. While I might be a clean freak, organization is NOT my thing. Grace and Cait use Excel for everything. They have folders for folders and know precisely where everything is.
Me? I have one GIANT folder no one is to touch because, while I can’t put a finger on whatever in the moment, I KNOW it is in there SOMEWHERE. Cait and Grace keep me on track.
But, both Cait and Grace rely on me to help in areas they can ‘do,’ but where I am simply far better, like writing copy or determining price point variables. I’m oddly a writer who’s also excellent at math.
We NEED Each Other
I am very much a Tigger in my personality…which is why I married Eeyore. Granted, just like Tigger, I can be a LOT of fun…but I can also bounce through your life oblivious to all the things I might break in the interim (then feel SUPER SAD about it). I have three speeds—Fast, Warp Speed, and LUDICROUS. Meaning I think fast, talk fast, work fast, walk fast.
Admittedly, I am
bad horrible at self-awareness and run until I burn out.
so slow and deliberate I want to stab him very meticulous in everything he does. While I am BIG PICTURE, Hubby is detail-oriented to the point it can be maddening (for me). But you know what? I NEED THAT! He actually *gasps* reads instructions! #Witchcraft
This said, someone with a gentle, sweet, caring nature might begin psychologically healthy. But, if they come in contact with the right kind of predator, that predator can/will use what is GOOD about that person to exploit them.
We can be the most emotionally healthy people on the planet, but no one is immune from LIFE. A death, an accident, a job loss, a move, a breakup, a bad diagnosis (for us or a loved one) can throw us completely off center.
These common moments of weakness provide an opportune time for a narcissist to sink their hooks in.
When humans are stressed, we revert to the reptile brain (this is the fight-or-flight survival part of the brain). We’re simply trying to make it through the trauma. The problem is that, in this state, adrenalin and cortisol flood our system, which is great of you’re trying to outrun a bear, not so great when one is trying to manage a deceased loved one’s estate.
When in this super-excited state, blood no longer flows to the higher thinking centers. We might be able to lift a car off our child, but we won’t be debating Nietzsche while doing it. Every decision is minute-to-minute.
This is why predators (abusers, toxic people, con artists, cult leaders, etc.) constantly start drama. They don’t want their ‘target’ to ever calm down long enough to be able to very literally ‘see’ how insane their decisions really are.
It’s why narcissists use gaslighting (keeps the target panicked and questioning their judgement). The narcissist flip-flops between love-bombing to being cold as ice and there is no predicting when their mood will shift. This is to keep the other person off-balance and in reptile brain as much as possible.
Before you think, “It can’t happen to me….”
Writer Weakness: Panic in Publishing
This section is a PSA for writers, so feel free to scroll past if this doesn’t apply. We are ripe fruit for the clever (or not-so-clever) con artist. Ever since publishing entered the digital age, the scammers have come out of the woodwork.
I’ve had quite a few friends targeted, not because they are dumb, but because they are KIND. If any of this happens to y’all, make sure to consult an expert. I’m merely sharing my experiences and this is for educational purposes not a substitute for actual legal council.
Cons can take any number of forms, so I’ll only address the most common. Usually some random person will threaten an author with a bogus (or even a real) lawsuit for libel or slander. Most often the threat is bull sprinkles. They know our weakness. We aren’t attorneys.
The predator panics the author with the fear of a drawn out legal battle, but then will ‘kindly’ offer to make everything ‘go away’ if the author will pay out X amount of money ($500-$5,000 or so) as a ‘settlement.’ Or, maybe they wait for the terrified author to suggest a settlement. The ends are the same.
They’re COUNTING on the author a) being a good/decent person b) not knowing any better and c) freaking OUT.
Recently, a beloved friend of mine was a target. A woman from the UK told her she was suing my friend because of a comment on a blog of hers that was two years old. My friend is one of the gentlest, sweetest people I know and she immediately removed the comment, was extremely upset and didn’t know what to do.
Thankfully, she posted what was happening on Facebook and I intercepted (along with writer friends who were actual attorneys).
It is/was a CON.
First of all, people can sue for anything. It doesn’t mean they will get anywhere. When it comes to the internet, we can only control commenters to a certain degree. And, under Section 230—at least under U.S. law—anyone who posts on the internet is well-shielded from litigation (it’s why trolls can get away with so much).
But note, my friend didn’t post the offending content, another person did. So, the alleged ‘lawsuit’ made no sense. Even if this person actually was suing, this is the part writers need to understand.
***Um, Johnny Depp anyone?
In my friend’s case, I doubt this stranger would convince any judge that a comment from a two-year-old blog in another country did that kind of harm to her ability to support herself.
BUT, con artists do this all the time and writers are a prime target for these attacks. They know our weakness. We fear lawsuits (like any sane person).
My recommendation is ignore the email (other than maybe filing it). DO NOT RESPOND, PERIOD.
If it is genuine legal action then the plaintiff will officially serve you with papers (which is highly unlikely since it is a con). DO NOT ENGAGE. Do not feed the
trolls con artists.
I only post this section because it does happen but also to demonstrate the POWER of tossing someone into reptile brain. It’s really a lot more effective than most people imagine.
Now, back to our regular programming…
How to Use Weakness in ‘Lite’ Fiction
Last time, when we discussed the narcissist, I mentioned that they can run along a spectrum from the person who is simply emotionally immature/needy/self-centered all the way to the truly diabolical.
Depending on which genre we are writing will dictate the appropriate narcissist. It also follows that we should use the appropriate ‘victim’ (for lack of a better term). If I am writing a sweet romance, then let’s do a quick example…
My narcissist might be the MC’s identical twin sister who cannot see how her behavior affects everyone else.
As an identical twin, she might be trying to ‘individuate’ by being the wild child (WC). She travels all the time, disappears, chooses ‘bad boy’ boyfriends, is constantly in financial straits, etc. The other sister—‘Good Twin’ (GT)—feels over-responsible. Her sister might use guilt, love bombing, or threat of abandonment to get away with pulling nonstop shenanigans.
WC doesn’t want a relationship with GT, not really (she might feel inadequate). But, she doesn’t want GT to love anyone BUT her (subconsciously). So, she’ll probably sabotage all good things that come into GT’s life. She’ll seduce her boyfriends, help herself to money, end up in dire trouble conveniently/and on important dates.
Thus, when GT starts her own cupcake bakery, and starts falling for the new town veterinarian, what sort of havoc is WC likely to pull? Well, on opening night maybe there is a big party, but WC, of course, crashes her motorcycle. GT drops everything to rescue sister…yet again
Y’all get the gist.
GT’s arc is going to be from doormat to finally putting down boundaries and allowing her sister to suffer the consequences of her actions. Ideally, both GT and WC will arc. One will put down healthy boundaries and the other will grow up and individuate in healthier ways. She can be a Wild Child without being selfish and hurting others.
Hopefully, with that quick example, you can see how much chaos you (Author God) can create. People who are over-responsible, kind-hearted, struggle to stand up for themselves are common ‘victims’ and almost ALL of us can relate. Which is largely why these stories are so popular.
Once we tread into the darker realms of fiction (gritty fiction, psychological thrillers, crime fiction, suspense, mystery-suspense, fantasy, etc.) then just as our narcissist needs to change, our target should change as well.
One thing to keep in mind is the audience must sympathize/empathize with our MC. If we are not careful, it’s easy to make them TDTL. They need to have weakness, but it is tricky to balance flawed with ‘Too Dumb to Live.’
This is why I mentioned earlier how ANYONE can be a victim with the right circumstances.
But, when we profile what the MC is missing, then we can profile which narcissist is likely to be a match.
Particularly nefarious narcissists know trauma is a game-changer for them. Think about con artists. In Texas, we get a lot of severe weather and one VERY common con is ‘roofing companies.’ They’ll start trolling right after a wave of storms and catch people when they are vulnerable and overwhelm them.
Their prime targets are usually the elderly or those who are still so in shock they aren’t thinking clearly enough to ask any questions, let alone the right questions.
Romance scams are more common than ever, especially with the rise of the internet and social media. Add in a couple years of quarantine and you’ve got a wide population of lonely, depressed people desperate for human connection.
Or say, something more common. Divorce/breakups. According to relationship counselors, right after a breakup/divorce is the WORST time to date. You’re reeling from loss (even if the breakup was necessary).
Suddenly your life is cleaved in half and there is a gaping psychic wound. Odds are your self-esteem has taken a hit and rejection and abandonment are primal fears guaranteed to have the limbic system lighting up like Vegas.
The irony is that the worst time to make major decisions is often when we, in our humanness, are more likely to make decisions.
We LITERALLY are not in our right minds.
We’ll sell the house, invest all our savings in a
shady scam sure thing, quit the job, start dating/spontaneously move in with or marry the person that, before the trauma, we possibly wouldn’t have even gone near.
All these situations don’t just have red flags. THEY ARE A RED FLAG WAVING RED FLAGS ON AN ISLAND OF RED FLAGS.
But, in our weakness, we’re colorblind and predators know this. Whether this is some deadbeat/abuser who wants someone they can use or control, a sadist, a con artist, or even a killer, they can smell a drop of trauma from two miles away (or from across the globe on-line).
Thus, when creating your MC, the more ‘normal, everyday’ we can make that person, the more the story will resonate with readers. The more our MC looks like our readers, the deeper we can sink the psychological hooks. If our reader can blow off the MC as an idiot, then we lose the fictive dream. The more a reader has to catch their breath and think, “Oh, God! That could be ME!” the better the page-turner.
Weakness: What is the Narcissist’s ‘Type’?
Aside from trauma or major life changes, there are certain qualities the narcissist is looking for in a potential target. If we understand these qualities, then we can create the ideal MC for our story (again, always keeping genre and audience in mind). A target isn’t always damaged, they might be gentle, sweet, kind and generous.
When I plot (or consult with plotting), I prefer to come up with my antagonist (Big Boss Troublemaker) first, because this is who creates the core story problem in need of resolution. So, when considering genre, then choose which kind of narcissist you want to cast.
Once this is done, envision the qualities that the narcissist will twist to suit their own agenda.
What Does the Narcissist WANT?
This is the BIG question.
What does that narcissist WANT, because, first and foremost your MC has something the BBT desires. Hannibal Lecter has very different ends/wants than a Dirty John. One is a psychopath/serial killer and the other a serial con artist.
A bigamist has a different agenda/psychological profile from a phony modeling agent. One collects wives and the other collects sexual conquests/blackmail material. A cult leader seeking devotees wants something different from the malignant narcissist in the office who’s after your MC’s rightful promotion.
When you define what the narcissist WANTS, that is the core story problem in need of resolution. THEN we move onto the protagonist. Feel free to work the other direction if it suits you. Maybe you have a protagonist in mind. What does he/she HAVE that a predator might want? Then work from there.
Obviously we want to balance the MC against the antagonist (BBT). If we are writing about a love scam, then a lonely, naive interior designer unlucky in love (Dirty John) is a better choice than a hardboiled FBI agent with a shameful past (Silence of the Lambs).
Just make sure that, as you’re writing to continually ask, “Is this a person that, under the right circumstances, could fool even ME?” and build from from there.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Obviously, I DO listen since one of the commenters in the last post mentioned thinking who a narcissist might target. And here we are!
***For the record, I DO go into greater detail on the variety of cons in an upcoming class, Spilling the Tea: Blogging for Authors.
For me, the scariest part about narcissists (predators) is anyone can be a victim. What is scariest for you? What kind of predator really gets under your skin? Which vulnerabilities freak you out the most? What type of predator angers you the most? I have a special hatred for abusers and con artists.
I love hearing from you, and to show my appreciation…
What do you WIN? For the month of MAY, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice.
The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
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