The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.
Narcissists perceive their feelings as facts. However, simply saying that does not really convey the depth of this problem. It is a very serious dysfunction in perception and usually ends up coloring most of how they see things. Feelings are not facts. They can be—and often are—illogical and unreasonable. That's why it's not a good idea to make big decisions when we are really emotional because we may not be thinking clearly or be able to appreciate the big picture of something until we calm down. The majority of us know this and are able to control our emotions and ourselves. We are able to separate reason and emotion and prevent feelings from clouding our reason, perception, and judgment. Most of us, meaning those of us who are not narcissists, fit our feelings to the facts. That means we react appropriately and reasonably to what has actually happened. The event influences our feelings. We are able to view the event clearly and understand it on its own merits. We then process the facts of the event and decide how we feel.
Narcissists don't do that. They essentially do the opposite of that. They fit the facts to their feelings. This means they interpret events in a way that agrees with how they already feel. The narcissist's already-existing emotions influence their processing of the event rather than the other way around. This usually results in very skewed perception. Emotional meaning is attached to things that have none. Malice and bad intentions are read into things that are innocent. It's usually all negative. This happens because the narcissist's feelings are clouding their judgment and the narcissist already feels bad. Their perceptions are colored by feelings they've had for years, feelings that are actually often completely unrelated to the person or event they are perceiving.
Remember, the core of narcissism is a brutal, sadistic superego that assaults the narcissist with abuse 24 hours a day. So they are under internal attack all the time, regardless of what is going on outside of themselves in the real world. This makes them hypersensitive, paranoid and irritable, and they overreact to things because of it. Actually, "misreact" would probably be a better characterization of their behavior. To say someone overreacted implies that there was a provocation to react at all in the first place, and many times, narcissists appear to be reacting to nothing. This is probably why narcissists are sometimes misdiagnosed with psychotic disorders: they often appear delusional to other people because of this type of behavior.
In a very real way, it is delusional. When someone dismisses reality in favor of a belief that contradicts what actually happened, we call that a delusion. People who do not seem to understand what is going on in reality are considered psychotic by the people around them. Reality is an agreed-upon perception. If five people are looking for clouds and they see a rock fall to the earth from the clear blue sky, but one of them says a plane dropped the rock, the other four people are going to feel that this person has not perceived the event correctly. They did not see a plane, therefore there was no plane because logic tells us that if there had been a plane, more than one person would have seen it. Perception is subjective to a point, but there has to be an agreed-upon premise in order to function in the world. Up is up, down is down and so on. Perceptions that differ so far from this agreed-upon premise that they include things no one else can agree on are considered not reality-based, or in other words, delusional.
For example, the way someone says something could be up for debate. There can be different ways people perceive the way something is said. It could come across as rude to some, but not rude to others. Some people might think something is funny, while other people don't think it's funny at all. Those are examples of different perceptions. But while the way a person says something could be up for debate, what they actually said usually isn't. In most situations, there is not usually a question of whether a person said specific words or not when they are speaking directly to someone. However, when you are dealing with a narcissist, you might often find yourself entangled in long, complicated and pointless arguments about what was actually said. They may add words to statements that completely change the meaning of what was said, or they might misquote it completely. Some of this is gaslighting and done on purpose as a way to cloud the issue so they can avoid taking responsibility for something, but some of it is because they really do believe you said that.
The key word is expectation. Narcissists hear what they expect to hear, and what they expect to hear is people insulting, berating or demeaning them. They expect to be treated badly and done dirty. When you're looking that hard for something, nine times out of 10, you'll find it, right? And they do. After you've dealt with a narcissist for a while, you learn that there is nothing - nothing - that can't be taken out of context and twisted into an insult. It's almost like an art form for them. A simple "Good morning" can be turned into a six-hour argument.
The problem comes in because as we said, narcissists believe their feelings are facts. This is the only perception they truly rely on. What they feel overrides what they can see and hear. So, to use our previous example, the narcissist feels a plane dropped the rock. It doesn't matter whether the narcissist actually saw a plane or not. The fact that they didn't see a plane doesn't matter because they feel there must have been one. This is the difference between a narcissist and someone with a psychotic disorder, like schizophrenia. The schizophrenic actually saw a plane. It wasn't real, but he did see it. The narcissist knows he did not see a plane but he feels there must have been one, and therefore insists that there was one anyway.
With most people, if what their eyes and their ears are telling them does not match up with what their feelings are telling them, they will adjust their feelings to be more appropriate. The narcissist does not do that. When what they see and hear—when reality, in other words, does not match up with what their feelings are telling them—they adjust reality to match their feelings. Or they dismiss it completely. The narcissist's mindset is, "I feel it, therefore it's true." Anything that doesn't reinforce this perception is discarded, dismissed or denied. This ends up with the narcissist living in an almost-constant state of denial, trying to protect all of these erroneous perceptions and defend all of their invalid assertions. The stronger the proof to the contrary is, the harder they will dig their heels in. This in turn simply embeds the misperception into their head more.
With most people, proof that their feelings are inappropriate is enough. Most people will re-evaluate their emotional stance if proof that contradicts it is introduced. Let's say you are watching a football game and you think there was a bad call. You become angry because you feel your team is being cheated. Upon seeing the instant replay, however, you are shown a different angle of the play and realize that you were mistaken. The ref's call was appropriate. You are able to process this and understand it, so your anger goes away. Narcissists do not react that way. If proof that contradicts a narcissist's stance is introduced, instead of re-evaluating themselves or their feelings, the narcissist attacks the proof and the person providing it, often becoming very angry, even accusing people of trying to trick them or of faking the proof. Again, some of this is simply lying or even gaslighting, but some of it is because the narcissist truly believes their perceptions are valid. They are simply unable to understand that feelings are not facts.
This is a very difficult situation for loved ones to be in. Here is the narcissist, accusing their loved ones of being cruel, hateful monsters. The loved ones are trying to prove that it's not true and here is the narcissist, denying, twisting and dismissing every bit of proof to the contrary. Where do you go from there? Most people are simply lost because the only thing they know to do is just to keep trying to explain using logic. But using logic with a person who is being completely illogical is pointless and exhausting. You cannot break through the denial. You have to break the cycle and stop engaging with the narcissist in the first place. The article How to Break The Drama Cycle & Stop Reacting offers a lot of good information for exactly how to do that. It's difficult, but it's worth it because it stops the endless cycle of trying to defend yourself against things that never happened. There really is no point trying to use reason with someone who is irrational anyway, and a person who believes their feelings dictate reality is irrational. If the narcissist feels you are cruel and evil and abusive—or anything else—because of their irrational and unreasonable perceptions, there's nothing you can do about it. It really has nothing to do with you anyway.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2017 The Little Shaman
Mohammed on May 21, 2019:
Sorry I disagree with some of what the message you are sending out comes across. I understand what you are saying however the bit where you talk about emotions as if too much emotion will always override rationality is debatable.
There are times where people covertly do things to other people and the best thing they have to rely on is their gut instinct.
How you feel is just as important as what you think. A lot of people get covertly abused and I just believe that one of the ways to actually counteract that is by being in touch with your feelings not shunning them.
When theres something that's not good for you your body gets rid of it e.g. you feel sick and vomit. Reacting is natural and can be healthy. Feelings are not facts I get that but there are times where they can be just as important if not more important.
Imagine living without feeling. Life would be pointless just living by facts and ignoring how things make you feel. But hey that's just my opinion.
Chris on October 24, 2018:
Yes this is true. The discard events are all about my terrible problems when the real reason she left a marriage out of a dumb argument about me not in the mood for all the drama. She left because she was very mad
Yvonne McLeod on May 24, 2018:
This is all new to me, I'm learning and educating myself on covert narcissistic abuse,, as my ex made my whole 37yrs of being married to him a livi g Hell,, So now my education of this is so valuable to me,, & reading the paragraphs above regarding how narcissists work,, educates me even more,,,thank you,for this part of my education
Kim Johnson on April 11, 2018:
Brilliant and accurate description of what is one of the most horrifying experiences that a person on the receiving end of narcissistic abuse can go through. It is impossible to explain especially to somebody who has no idea or experience of narcissistic abuse. The thing is no matter how clever articulate and educated you are, when you are abused like this, it destroys your ability to put into words what’s going on.