In the Guy Ritche film Revolver, the protagonist, Jake, goes on a journey of self-discovery, learning about the complex facets of the human mind. Eventually, he discovers that his ego, the part of the psyche that protects him on both emotional and physical levels, has a way of distorting reality while constantly seeking validation for its prejudices. In the climatic scene, Jake is held at gunpoint by his archrival, who implores Jake to fear him. Failing to take the bait, his enemy begins to weep uncontrollably while reiterating the words ‘fear me’. Jake, in that moment, learns what those of us who’ve had to deal with emotionally and, even physically abusive, bullies eventually realize: psychologically, the bully’s power lies within his victim’s mind.
This means that his victim is no longer one as soon as he ceases to accept the bully’s perspective. While the sheer joy stemming from the bio-chemical rush experienced at the moment of abuse is significant, it constitutes only one aspect of the bully’s motives. Psychologically, the bully is desperate for you to see what he sees, and to believe as he does. Jake’s rival was deeply insecure and, thus, sought power to feel good enough. But, in order to believe he had it, he needed Jake to share in his belief. In those final moments, when Jake remained still, smirking at the gunman, the man who held the world in his hands began to doubt his own strength, eventually crumbling at the sight of disbelief. As soon as Jake resolved to discontinue acknowledging his rival’s power, the self-doubt melted away his own self-conception.
And that’s how power works; you’re always skeptical of its existence, especially if you have a history of feeling powerless. If we could have peeked into the rival’s mind, we likely would have heard thoughts like, “Why isn’t he afraid?” And that thought could have easily evolved into the conclusion of, “Maybe I’m a nobody.” Narcissists, bullies, are deeply insecure about their beliefs of who they and others are; essentially, they need the world to constantly remind them. Remember when we spoke about cognitive dissonance in past articles and I mentioned that we have a difficult time challenging our core beliefs? Well, so do bullies, who have low self-esteem, which is your perspective of your own value, and self-efficacy, your sense of your ability to manage your world. So, as they’re proving their value to themselves, they’re constantly challenged by their intuitions. And as I’m sure you know from personal experience, all it takes is one negative piece of evidence to collapse the entire edifice.
Therefore, bullies are drawn to those who tend to validate their beliefs, who make them feel strong and superior, those who buy into their distorted realities. And they avoid, running away from, people who create self-doubt, basically those who support their negative core beliefs. Thus, if Jake fed into the fear, it would have reinforced his rival, causing him to feel superior and in control of Jake’s future. But, Jake chose to take his power back. Cognitive frameworks are both interesting and useful, with the real power abiding in one’s understanding of them. The next time you’re dealing with a narcissist, I hope you recall Jake, because he clearly solved the riddle.