April 22, 2010

The Peaceable Kingdom

The Peaceable Kingdom with the Leopard of Serenity, by Edward Hicks, circa 1800

The most famous "folk" art painting in American art is "The Peaceable Kingdom" by Edward Hicks (1780-1849). [this version] sold for $9,673,000." ~Link
The Peaceable Kingdom is a very expensive idealistic painting to hang on your living room walls. Ask anyone who paid dearly for those ideals, like the little lambs lying next to Kings of the Jungle. At some point, and you won't expect it, that lioN will reach over and bite the lamb's head off. So much for sacrificing yourself to an ideal that's about as real as a stretched canvas covered in oil paint. Rule of thumb for all you little lambs out there: When you're sleeping with a lioN, remember this----they're a' lyin.

Rules of the Jungle

First rule of survival in the jungle: There's safety in numbers. Birds of a feather flock together. You don't see bluebirds flying with vultures, now do you? 

Second rule of survival in the jungle: it's a jungle out there. 

Third rule of survival: Never trust an animal with bigger teeth than your own. Claws retract. They don't disappear. 

Fourth rule of survival: if a lion ate lambs before meeting you, he'll eat lambs again. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. 

Fifth rule of survival: other jungle creatures will smirk at your woolly-headed foolishness blissfully sleeping next to a carnivore. After all, you shoulda known better than to tempt a lioN's true nature. If you make it out alive, get used to feeling sheepish. 

Sixth rule of survival: The whiter the wool, the tastier you are. Vulnerability is an irresistible appetizer. Betrayal is an after-dinner dessert---like Cherries Jubilee. Or Banana Flambé. Predatory gourmands love setting lambs' hearts on fire by betraying their trust. 

Seventh rule of survival: Lions look warm and fuzzy and nice to snuggle up to in the cold of the night; but, they're lioN through their teeth if you think they're safe. They don't understand a word you're saying with your non-violent communication pretenses. They're just listening and waiting for the perfect moment to pounce.

The Peaceable Kingdom

I'm not sure what Edward Hicks was portraying in his Peaceable Kingdom painting, though it's referred to as a future time when all God's creatures will get along. So far in my life, that's an impossible downright-dangerous and ridiculous ideal. It isn't real. Ignoring predators who by their nature prey on other creatures, is a huge mistake if what you want is to stay alive another day, doin' your lamb-y things like taking care of the kids and dining on clover. 

For me, this picture points to the individual's task to manage her Inner Zoo. A zoo that mixes monkey brains with tiger hearts, rabbit natures with vulture wings, snake guts positioned next to elephant toes. It's hard keeping all your ducks in a row. But I never pretend it's safe for my Inner butterfly to communicate with spiders. She's wary of gossamer webs beckoning her to rest her tired wings. For only a moment. Just long enough to get bundled up for a late night snack. 

After writing about Non-Violent Communication and my struggles putting ideals into practice, I couldn't help but think about the problems we face if we assume narcissists reciprocate our empathy and our desire to meet their needs so they'll naturally want to meet ours. The first picture popping in my head when thinking about non-violent communication with a narcissist, was a lamb chop. From there, you get an Edward Hick's rendition of the Peaceable Kingdom, the one I hope we can all discover within ourselves because it certainly isn't realistic to assume narcissists will will lose their taste for lamb chops and start eating carrot stew instead. 

If your ideals are not grounded in reality, you may find yourself on a platter surrounded by crunchy crudités . Take that, Marshall Rosenberg, and use the principles of NVC to stuff the next turkey who believes narcissists want the same things other people do. 

Not that I don't admire Rosenberg's attempts to teach people how to communicate more peacefully than firing off bullet points and flaming arrows to dominate the conversation or win an argument. But I believe it is erroneous, if not downright dangerous, to assume narcissists will suddenly retract their claws because we're willing to empathize with where they're coming from. To expect sincere and heartfelt communication with someone who sees him or herself as KiNg of the Jungle is rather...well...preposterous. 

You can talk to a narcissist and you can improve your conversation by understanding the narcissist's true nature, but you'd better never forget there's something distinctly different about pathological narcissists; or even from the average garden-variety-narcissist who might respond to your empathy with a limited capacity to meet your needs and wants. 

The predatory, malicious narcissist however, never sees YOU as a peer and lions don't usually eat their own kind but we're talking about narcissists here. The narcissist might even be the first person to sign up for classes in non-violent communication. The narcissist might be ardently devoted to ushering in The Peaceable Kingdom, like the NewAge bullshit being promoted these days. The narcissist might even retract his claws until the little lamb does something threatening his domain. There are no rules restricting the narcissist from acting on instincts and justifying, to himself and others, that his aggression was a necessary means of defense, even against liddle lambzy divy. 

The biggest problem I see after talking to thousands of people about narcissism is our reluctance to accept the malignant narcissist's predatory nature. Our idealistic hope that a few 'baa baa's" here and there will convince the lion to let a therapist remove his teeth 'cuz he doesn't need them anymore. Our fatalistic desire to believe all God's chilluns have an Inner Rabbit who will hop out once we prove we how nice we are. 

You can empathize, you can compromise, you can twist yourself inside out for magic words to change the narcissist's heart but never forget, no matter what the narcissist might say: he's a' lyin.




Non-Violent Communication on The Narcissistic Continuum

Crib Notes in my Birkenstocks on The Narcissistic Continuum


  1. Hello!
    What an awesome post. I was writing yesterday about a buzzard, and its claws, and then I come here and you have already written my ideas. I've come here before to discover the same thing. We must think alike in some ways about a narcissist.
    " To expect sincere and heartfelt communication with someone who sees him or herself as KiNg of the Jungle is rather...well...preposterous." -- this reminded me of a recent conversation with a woman, who had the occasion to sit and have a "serious talk," with the narcissist I knew, she being a person of power and hearing of my complaint prompted the occasion. "He looked me straight in the eyes," she said, "when he told me..."
    A narcissist looked her in the eyes! He was sure a "lyin." I think she knew it but had to protect her own.
    "He said you copied and pasted," she said over something that he wrote. Well, I told her, you were flat out lied to.
    I told her she was not much more than a worm in his world. His lyin was so prosperous that it made me laugh.
    You got it right on about remembering their predatory nature! And the lies. Well, they are made of lies. Lyin' must be to them sort of like a weekly planner is to the rest of us.

  2. Yikes --- can you edit my spelling on that comment -- I hate those mistakes. Then, lol, delete this one? His lies were indeed for him somewhat prosperous, but I meant to write, preposterous! Thanks!

  3. "His lyin was so prosperous that it made me laugh." ~Dogkisses

    Are you sure that was a mistake?? ha! Lyin' is prosperous for the narcissist which is all the more reason to do it, right?

    I don't have editing power over comments. Unfortunately. How about I leave both of your comments because whether you say "Prosperous" or "Preposterous", they BOTH fit!

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Dogkisses. It's always a pleasure to hear from you!


  4. Best post ever!!

    "..if we assume narcissists reciprocate our empathy and our desire to meet their needs so they'll naturally want to meet ours. " HA....never gonna happen!


    "You can empathize, you can compromise, you can twist yourself inside out for magic words to change the narcissist's heart but never forget, no matter what the narcissist might say: he's a' lyin."

    Pretty much sums it up!

    Thank you for this little bit of reality.

  5. You are welcome, Just Me.

    First things first: admit that narcissists are NOT capable of reciprocal empathy. A lot of psychology advice encourages people to be more compassionate, more empathic and understanding. This is fine if we're dealing with people who can reciprocate those things. If we aren't, we might delude ourselves into believing we're having a two-way conversation.

    I am concerned about Non-Violent Communication Principles for anyone who might be talking to a narcissist. That's because your heart is in the right place and you've let down your defenses just enough to be vulnerable.

    It's like walking onto a battlefield waving a White Flag. You only make yourself an easier target for the snipers.

    There you are, using the white flag like a tourniquet on a gaping hole in your chest, wondering why someone would shoot you when your flag was raised.

    It's foolish to assume your high-minded principles will garner the narcissist's respect.


  6. So true...I did not know about narcissism until I ran into one and actually invited them to my home. One of the first things they did was tell me they were always talking to another person about me ( they hardly knew me) and when I asked if they were acting as a go between between me and this other person, they smiled sweetly and said "yes". It took me back and too readily I brushed it off. Now I look back and I know I was looking into the face of a wolf right then. After a two years I experienced every form of manipulation possible I think in a 'friendship". So painful...and I always hoped it could be turned around. I always hoped there was a lamb within this person. I am away now and perhaps on some level I still hope but I know to stay away.


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