Each person has a set of codes to guide them through relationships. This includes your family relations, work settings, social circles, organizations, and beyond. Those codes are not always fixed in concrete since many variables are involved. For instance, cultures differ in codes regarding how to dress or how leisure time is prioritized. Families have differing codes related to holidays or social gatherings. Religious groups have codes that direct a broad array of decisions, as do social groups, political parties, places of business, and educational institutions. These situations require code switching.

Part of a mature approach to life is respecting the differences of each other’s codes, and when appropriate, setting aside one’s own practices in deference to another’s. In other words, sometimes we need to practice code switching for the purpose of honor and harmony. For instance, when visiting a foreign country, it is wise to know what is and is not normal, according to their prevailing codes. Or when sharing in a friend’s family traditions, it is good to respect their trends as a display of solidarity.

In the best-case scenario, we can practice code switching as a display of empathy. As we understand others from their unique vantage point, we can adjust in ways that increase experiences of good will. Code switching, managed well, implies adaptability.

Narcissists practice code switching often, but not for harmonizing purposes and not with good will in mind. With nefarious intentions, they will give the appearance of blending with the codes of others, when actually they are chameleons trying to create an impression that will give them a manipulative advantage.

Some examples of code switching:

  • Reading the people in front of them, they pretend to have the same convictions, practices, priorities, and preferences…when in fact it is just a ruse. It is merely an attempt to appear desirable, and it is phony.
  • They are constantly positioning for favored treatment. “If I say and do the right thing,” so the reasoning goes, “I get what I want.” They dupe people into assuming they are trustworthy, when in fact they are on an exploitative mission.
  • While trying to appear collegial, they are actually being robotic and dishonest. They are quite willing to set aside the real self in order to gain power or to find an inroad. It is analogous to the wolf wearing sheep’s clothing.
  • Authenticity is missing. Beneath the seemingly agreeable surface are thoughts of ridicule and feelings of disdain.
  • Their code switching is little more than an attempt to gain a controlling advantage.
  • Though they would deny it, relationship success is reduced to creating a superficiality that is carefully measured.

At the base of narcissistic code switching is an effort to exploit you by creating an illusion of pseudo cohesion. The narcissist wishes to give the impression of bonding, when in fact it is a game of smoke and mirrors.

Keep in mind, narcissists are driven by their own twisted code of self-advancement. Whatever suits their cravings, whatever gives them a feeling of control, whatever makes them seem superior…that becomes their code. Me first is the name of their game.

Now that you have this knowledge

As a healthy person, you can make good use of code switching, as long as you have honorable and empathetic motives. But your ongoing exposure to narcissists can create a wariness as you realize they do not share such decent intentions.

There is one quality that can give you confidence that code switching is practiced for the good of the relationship. A person’s integrity is the make-or-break ingredient to indicate if deference to another’s codes is trustworthy. When a person has a lack of integrity coupled with an ongoing penchant for blending with others’ codes, beware. That is a major red flag.

To watch the video version of this topic, please click here.

~Dr. Les Carter