How Narcissists use “Other Focus” to Deflect
Other focus is an intense focus upon and antagonism toward the legitimacy of the actions, feelings, and beliefs of others, especially the partner. The term derives from the observation that a primary aggressor when asked to focus on himself and his actions, will be seemingly unable to do it. Any attempt to talk about conditions, feelings, or actual behavior is met with a barrage of argument and blame of others. It produces a climate of contentiousness that takes over any situation. Overall the solution, where possible, is to stay out of the details completely, and point out and reject the overall process. ‘Other-focus’ manifests itself in the aspects listed below.
- Deflection: a primary aggressor immediately responds to any discussion or confrontation of his actions by changing the focus onto the survivor’s behavior and keeping it there. It is almost a reflex for most people to defend themselves. So, when a primary aggressor, brings up a counter complaint or blame, the survivor’s original complaint, at a minimum gets lost, and quite commonly, the event becomes an opening for verbal abuse from the primary aggressor. Survivors usually want to be accountable, so it can seem fair at times to answer first to others about what they don’t like.However, survivors are never able to ‘earn’ the right to discuss the primary aggressor’s behavior this way. If it is safe to do so, deflection needs to be addressed with statements like, “Right now, I only want to discuss your behavior”, or “Nevertheless, I want to discuss this matter first.”
- Pressured Manner: There is a natural instinct to respond to questions and criticism, even more so when they are delivered rapidly and urgently. By attacking and challenging non-stop, primary aggressors fluster and confuse targets, triggering ‘fight or flight or freeze’ physical states which hamper interaction. Primary aggressors then use the awkward and incomplete attempts to answer in this situation as material for further belittlement and attack.
- Unprincipled Complaints: It is very common for primary aggressors to attack both one action or aspect of a person and it’s opposite. For instance a mother might be criticized for being “too strict” and “too lenient” almost simultaneously. Who is being complained about is more important than what is being complained about. These are truly ‘ad hominem’ attacks. There is no discrimination or consistency about principles or beliefs. While this makes complaining easy for the primary aggressor, it is very crazy-making and exhausting for others who are trying to be logical and sincere. Whatever the response, more complaints are forth-coming, because the complaints are not about reaching a solution. The complaints are about weakening the sense of legitimacy or reputation of the target. In this arena, quantity counts a lot, and quality almost not at all, because it is about momentum.
- Abuse of Process: Many government or non-profit entities have processes for formal complaints. The entire civil legal system is an open-ended process for complaints. These complaints compel a response. It is of course much easier to make a groundless or distorted accusation than to respond to one thoughtfully. The burden is great for the respondent, who faces possible consequences for not responding, for missing a deadline, or for being misunderstood. The complainant risks nothing, so this becomes an easy tactic to distress a target. This strategy works very well, unfortunately, because these systems consider complaints separately and slowly on purpose, and do not address the overall quality, pattern or goal. There is no easy answer to this problem when it is done through actual statutory processes, but naming what is going on may help functionaries in the middle recognize what is going on sooner. There is a spill-over in which private parties and groups (especially in the helping professions) come to believe they owe the same solemn courtesy and suspended disbelief to frivolous complaints, but this is not the case. The right to dispute things may be essential in the legal system, but it can clearly be abused in personal and professional relationships.
- Indictment by News: Primary aggressors will often bring up news stories of bad acts performed by someone with superficial similarities to the target. This is very frequent when acts of survivor violence are reported. Because of the implied but unstated accusation, the target often slips into the awkward position of defending the person in the news. But the news usually focuses not on larger contexts but just actual transgressions, so the target takes on the guilt in some way.