The new book, How to Deal With Narcissists is free today, Saturday, and Sunday, in Kindle format, for those interested. It is mostly stuff you’ve seen on the blog, so I don’t recommend you spend too much time on it if you hang out here regularly.
One new item in the book is an insight into the amygdala hijack. I’ve spent a lot of time pondering why some presentations seem to amp-up amygdala hijacks stratospheric, while other presentations fail to set off the requisite brain-shock. Matt Forney was a good example. His brash style was in stark contrast to the Stillface mien I found was so effective on narcissists and liberals in person.
As I’ve ruminated on this, I suspect I may have found an answer to what the underlying mechanism is. Suppose you and I meet in a wrestling competition. We clinch, I drop and pick your ankle, and you trip and fall. How angry would you be at me? Not much. Even though I made you fall, you were expecting me to try, so you will simply regroup on the spot, and continue to fight, emotionally unaffected.
Now suppose you show up at work, and walk by me. As you do, I stick my foot out and trip you, and you fall, rolling to the side, and landing exactly as you did in the wrestling competition. Unlike in the wrestling match, you will get angry.
This is a gross exaggeration of the difference in stimuli that I suspect narcissists and Liberals are hypersensitive to. In the new book, it is named a violation of expectation. The reason I think a violation of expectation sets off a heightened amygdala hijack is because it primes the ACC, with an error stimulus, and that primed ACC then delivers a heightened emotional/neural alarm when the amygdala is triggered in some way, and calls for aversive stimulus.
Your ACC is constantly on guard for errors in the environment. In fMRI’s it will fire off a warning if you see the word blue, written in red letters. Detect an error in the chain of calculations in a long math problem, or detect a typo in written text, and as your amygdala flags it for relevance, your ACC fires off a small burst of neural alarm, to draw your attention to the error. This is likely the ventral ACC, which is mostly tasked with emotional responses, and which I suspect is a key structure responsible for the aversive stimulus triggered by the amygdala during an amygdala hijack.
So, all taken together, if I pick your foot while wrestling, your amygdala triggers negative sensations as you fall, and realize you are failing to dominate. However since you were expecting the pick, these negative sensations are tempered somewhat. But if you weren’t expecting anything bad to happen, and I trip you, your ACC first loads an error stimulus, turning it on, and producing a mild neural alarm. Added to this is a call from the amygdala for aversive stimulus due to the unpleasant sensation of falling. Combined, the violation of expectation triggers a call in the ACC for a neural alarm, which then amplifies the aversive stimulus produced when the amygdala adds to that call, with a call for aversive stimulus. This may even be why a guy on the highway, cutting in front of someone unexpectedly can produce anger in someone who will other times, willingly let people in, in front of them,
As is discussed in the book, this is probably evolved. An animal which notices something off around him, in the environment (such as sudden silence in a forest normally abuzz with activity and animal noises), would be well served to enter a cognitive mode in which any subsequent amygdala-triggering stimulus would produce an amplified effect. I think this is a large part of why the baby in the Stillface video freaks out. Look at his face in the beginning, when the mother ignores him. His first expression almost says, “Wait a minute – something isn’t right here…” His expectations were violated.
When I think of the facial characteristics I associate with narcissists and liberals, I used to think of their glassy eye’d look as amped in some form. But as I view those faces through this lens, I begin to see them as expectant. Nancy Pelosi isn’t amped – she is poised in expectancy. She is waiting to see something she expects to happen – and on some level needs to see happen.
This is why I think Matt Forney’s brash amygdala hijacking pieces work. Feminists are expectant. They need to see their feminist group-think rehashed by everyone. If someone steps out of line, they need to see a world where the slightest reproach will snap that person back into a state of timid supplication. When Matt is brash, feminists enter a state like the Stillface baby. They begin to say, “Wait a minute, something isn’t right. He’s saying these things, and he isn’t afraid. He’s laughing! Oh my God, I’m hyperventilating, and now my left arm isn’t moving, and I’m starting to black out!” When a University president says it openly, and without fear, they add to that a need to vomit and run out of the room.
Likewise, my narcissist was constantly looking to piss me off. If I thought he was loyal, and he pissed me off, I’d get irritated, but not take it out on him. He would get to see me miserable, without any cost. But he also expected his ploys to work. Part of the narcissist’s wiring is expectancy. They need things to go according to their script. When I went Stillfaced, and then tore up his false reality and destroyed his false-self, his amygdala fired off a call to his ACC for aversive stimulus over the insult to his false reality, but his ACC was already on fire from the Stillface violating his expectations. What resulted was a total brain meltdown.
Again, we are fairly normal. If I sued Matt Forney for something, dragged him into court, and my lawyer said bad things about him, he’d be pissed, but he would still go out to lunch and eat. Mike Wallace experienced that same thing, and he collapsed in the courtroom and needed to be rushed to the ER by ambulance, where he was then hospitalized for several days. He eventually tried to commit suicide. That is the horror all of these characters are running from. Understanding it is key to our battle.
The violation of expectation is not the entire ball of wax, but I think it will someday be seen as one more step forward, towards a day when we will be able to contain liberals and narcissists as potently with words, as we could easily do with arms.