The Litigator Adapts to the "Narcissistic Witness"

 

The Litigator Adapts to the "Narcissistic Witness"

 

Occasionally, the litigator discovers that the most dangerous part of his/her case is a "narcissistic" key fact or expert witness. This witness may not actually qualify for a psychiatric diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, but nonetheless represents a challenging and frustrating witness to prepare.

 

Here, I am using the term "narcissistic witness" loosely to characterize a witness with an unwarranted sense of self importance, prideful self-confidence and/or knowledge producing an arrogant, prickly demeanor, lacking in empathy and resistant to self-awareness or constructive corrective input.

 

Healthy and Unhealthy Narcissism...

Whereas healthy narcissism allows a person to maintain a sense of self-esteem and well-being at times of calamity, the unhealthy narcissism I refer to here is a defensive posture which attempts to protect a fragile underlying personality structure, an armor overlying an easily crushed eggshell.

 

Narcissistic Injury...

The narcissistic witness feels "injured" by actual or perceived criticism that is common in cross examination. This "narcissistic injury" may lead to frustration, for which the witness has few coping skills. The narcissistic witness may then "over-react" resulting in sparring with the questioner and the creation of falsehoods, exaggerations and distortions of facts and claims.

 

More Manageable versus Less Manageable...

The litigator, in recognizing the narcissistic posture, needs to distinguish between more manageable and less manageable witnesses. The more manageable narcissistic witness will be willing to "eat crow" and absorb the narcissistic injury of criticism in order to follow case theory and strategy to achieve overall goals. The less manageable narcissistic witness will not be able to let go of primitive psychological defenses.

 

Primitive Psychological Defenses...

The primitive psychological defenses derive from the central defense called "splitting." This primitive defense literally splits the world in two, the good and the bad. There are no shades of gray. Think about the extreme political right and left-the further out you go, the less able to tolerate disagreement and the more apt to have antagonistic splinter groups. From this basic stance in life, in which the person cannot accept him/herself as anything but "good," and the other as anything as "bad," several things follow: (1) the "identification" of anything the person thinks or does as "good" (remember Nixon, "If the President does it, it cannot be illegal."); (2) the "projection" of bad or evil onto anyone with an opposing point of view; and (3) a sense of "paranoia" and hyper-vigilance.

 

Challenge without Criticism... 

Since the narcissistic witness will react badly to criticism, try to turn corrective comments into challenges. Use the "I WONDER IF" technique. Suppose you have a narcissistic witness (engineer, brain surgeon, CEO, etc.) who is using language the jury will not understand. Tread carefully to not imply the witness is doing something wrong, and try, 'Gee, the jurors probably won't understand something that sophisticated. I WONDER IF there is a way for you to say it as if you were talking to high school freshmen.'

 

It would be nice if your narcissistic witness could develop self-awareness and empathy, admit and confront her deepest fears and become more likable, but that's not going to happen.

 

Blend with your narcissistic witness' need to be in control and recognize that the best you can do is get him to be a better "actor" for a short period of time. He may be willing to "play a part" for his own self-interest. Rather than sighing in disgust and rolling his eyes, he may be willing to sit a certain way, take a less condescending tone, and so on, just for selfish reasons.

 

Let your narcissistic witness "outsmart" the other side by not getting hooked into an angry response. "I know you won't let them get you to blow your cool. You're smarter than that!"

 

Role Play...

In preparing witnesses of any ilk, remember than role play is always more important than talking about testimony in an abstract or conceptual manner. Reverse roles from time to time, and let the witness experience asking the questions so that you can model appropriate responses. This is especially helpful with the narcissistic witness who may not be able to fully experience empathy and proper behavior, but may be able to mimic it.