The other night, I watched the movie “The Prestige” (2006), and my right-brain mind connected a dot or two. For those who have not seen the movie, it’s an expertly-crafted story of two rival magicians, each trying to outdo the other, wrapped end to end with deception, betrayal, loss, and sabotage (which in itself closely resembles pathological narcissism/psychopathy, doesn’t it?). The beginning of the film launches into the three stages or elements of performing a magic trick and its effect on the human psychology of the audience.
I thought of narcissism and psychopathy, and realized that the anatomy of a magic trick parallels closely to the course of a relationship with these personality types. Magicians are relatively deceptive by nature and trade, no? They show you illusions and make you believe that they are real…
…much like a pathological narcissist or psychopath.
I’ll explain, dear ones…
There are indeed three components of a successful magic trick. The first one is The Pledge, where you are shown something relatively ordinary, like a dove or a rabbit or a coin. There’s nothing extraordinary or abnormal about this animal or object.
The pathological narcissist or psychopath appears relatively normal, maybe even better than normal. They may hold advanced degrees, maintain stable or prestigious occupations, and they appear to be capable of the full range of normal human emotion. They may even appear to empathize, sympathize, care, show love, and earn trust.
The second component is The Turn, where the magician makes the ordinary thing do something extraordinary, usually something like to disappear.
Interestingly enough, this is exactly what happens to the pathological narcissist’s or psychopath’s facade/mask: it disappears. Vanished, gone. And, just like the magician’s audience, the narcissist’s/psychopath’s partner is befuddled, left wondering: where did it go, this person I fell in love with??
But making something disappear is not enough for a magician’s audience; they know there’s more to the story. They’re expecting more; there must be a punchline. Maybe it has something to do with the psychology of the Rule of 3’s, or maybe it doesn’t.
Like the magician’s audience, the pathological narcissist’s or psychopath’s partner is also left holding their breath, wondering what happens next. Who is this person really? What’s really going on? And so, like the magician’s audience, we wait and see.
Finally comes The Prestige, the third and final element of the magic trick. The ordinary animal does something even more extraordinary, like reappear, or perhaps another animal or object takes its place.
And that, dear ones, is how the game is played with a pathological narcissist/psychopath. You begin to see them for what they really are, and that could be vastly different from what it is you saw in the beginning. Now, instead of that perfect soulmate or eternal life partner, you see a cruel, abusive, neglectful, or even sadistic person (or machine or animal or any combination thereof) in their place.
Or, your new reality may oscillate between that dark, twisted machine/animal and bursts of the soulmate you fell in love with.
The similarities between a magic show and a pathological, toxic relationship end there. From there, the paths diverge; the magician’s audience is satisfied, having been sufficiently entertained with all dilemmas and hanging chads resolved.
The pathological narcissist’s/psychopath’s partner, however, is left anything but satisfied. Issues and internal/external conflicts are less resolved, less simple, more complicated. Cognitive dissonance wars with deeper intuition whose nagging repetition of grim reality becomes almost incessant, at least until correct-but-painful action is taken and healthy-but-difficult boundaries are established.
From there, the paths may merge again, or not…
The audience goes home happy, having been given the gift of wonder in an otherwise often-drab world. The pathological narcissist’s/psychopath’s partner has a choice; if we continue to latch onto the narcissist or psychopath and remain tethered to old patterns and peptide addictions, they may never be happy again. If we make healthy decisions, set healthy boundaries, and include ourselves as the center of our own equations, then we just might go home happy, too. ❤