Do Narcissists Suck at Tickling

Do Narcissists Suck at Tickling?

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by Ven Baxter

Tickling requires empathy. It’s a psychological game (in a positive sense). One can’t tickle oneself; tickling requires a partner and, like most human interactions, when done the “right” way it’s a give-and-take.

Tickling is fun! It’s enjoyable. And some people suck at it–or refuse to do it (or do it right) at all. Like many enjoyable experiences, the main point of tickling is to induce laughter–and to have fun while giving or receiving the tickling.

Tickling doesn’t take much effort, and it can build trust and intimacy between people. It tends to be an interaction between children, or between adults and children. Adults who tickle each other tend to be friends, romantic partners, or potential romantic partners.

“Flintstone! Get in here on the double and tickle me!” 
“Yes, Mr. Slate!”

Tickling can be a healthy or unhealthy interaction, depending partly on the psychological condition of the person doing the tickling. It can be done the right way or the wrong way. People can mess it up or even accidentally hurt whomever they’re tickling. It can even be used to abuse another person.

Tickling, then, can be a sort of barometer for a person’s psychological health.

“Tickler Types”

I’ve experienced several kinds of tickling or ticklers. Interestingly, only one of them is what I consider to be psychologically healthy.

1. The excellent tickler. This person enjoys tickling and being tickled. He or she knows how to tickle–where to focus one’s efforts; how to find the best “tickle spots”; which techniques to use; and when to stop. This tickler was tickled as a child in a healthy manner…or wasn’t, but has recovered the natural childlike ability and desire to engage in tickling. The excellent tickler understands the psychological dimension of tickling, including the fact that physical contact isn’t always necessary to induce laughter while tickling.

2. The doofus. This person wants to be a good tickler, and even tries his or her hand at it (quite literally)…but sucks at it. The “doofus tickler” botches it somehow, messes it up, or accidentally causes pain while “tickling”. The doofus doesn’t understand the psychology behind tickling, but still is willing to give it a shot…but his or her tickling isn’t really fun for the other person.

3. The faker. This person also doesn’t understand the psychology of tickling but also doesn’t really want to do it. Tickling isn’t enjoyable to the faker, but, for the sake of the relationship, he or she pretends that it is. Fake tickling isn’t really fun or enjoyable, though.

4. The sexual tickler. With sexual or romantic partners, tickling can lead to sex or be an early part of foreplay. It can help one or both partners “get in the mood”–precisely because healthy tickling fosters trust and intimacy between people. For the sexual tickler, though, tickling is intended to lead to sexual interaction. Whether the other person knows it or not, tickling for this person is a calculated way to create physical closeness and induce trust and intimacy (falsely, as it were) in the other person so that the tickler can use it to make a sexual advance.

5. The torturer. This is a sadistic tickler. Rather than tickling to have fun, laugh, and strengthen trust and intimacy, the torturer uses it to dominate and inflict pain on the other person.

The torturer enjoys not the tickling itself, but the suffering that sadistic tickling causes. With this person, tickling might appear to begin quite “normally” (to the unfortunate target), but it quickly descends into sadism: holding the target down, tickling “too hard” and digging into soft areas; ignoring the target’s pleas to stop; and even “tickling” until the victim cries or soils his or her pants. (The latter seems to be a goal of some sadistic ticklers.)

The torturer was likely “torture-tickled” as a child and now “tickles” sadistically in the same way that other abused people become abusers. Sadistic tickling is abusive.  It is a violation of another person–indeed, it is torture.

6. The non-tickler. This person doesn’t enjoy or like tickling or being tickled–and may even say that he or she “hates” being tickled. The non-tickler was likely tickled by a sadistic tickler as a child, probably more than once. Having lost much (or all) of the joy in the laughter and bonding that tickling fosters, the non-tickler associates “fun” with pain…and probably enjoys other pleasant activities less, too. This person was a target of abuse–torture, no less–in the name of “fun” and as a result has experienced emotional trauma from tickling.

Psychology of Tickling

Many children and adults love to be tickled, but only to a certain point. Beyond that certain point, tickling stops being enjoyable and becomes (psychologically, if not physically) painful. Why is this?

The physical-and-psychological “game” of tickling involves consenting to a certain degree of vulnerability to another person. One (theoretically) willingly allows the intrusion of someone else’s body into sensitive and soft parts of one’s own: mainly the belly, sides, armpits, and neck. Indeed, the armpit is the quintessential “tickling area” in our culture.

These areas are not “public-access” body parts, like the hands, forearms, upper back, or shoulder areas are for some people. “Tickling areas” are semi-private parts of the body, normally reserved for close associates and trusted intimate partners. One does not publicly touch a stranger’s belly, sides, armpits, or neck (or, for that matter, touch these parts of anyone but the closest intimates without permission).

Moreover, these areas are vulnerable to harm. The soft tissues of the “tickling regions” are among the easiest body parts to damage through assault. They are the parts (along with the face and genitals) that we protect when we assume the fetal position or roll up into a ball to avoid physical trauma.

These are also semi-sexual areas. A spouse or romantic partner might affectionately touch his or her mate on the neck, side, or belly. Touching these parts of a child’s body is normally, “properly” reserved for close family members, same-age playmates, and medical professionals. It can be alarming to a parent when a stranger touches one’s child in these areas–even (or perhaps especially) to tickle the child.

[IMPORTANT NOTE:  Tickling a child without the prerequisite relationship might be a way for a pedophile (in this case, a pathological variety of the “sexual tickler”) to get close and gain access to a child. The excuse to a suspicious parent of “Aw, I’m only tickling her! See? She likes it!” can be the doorway that grants a pedophile access (if the excuse is accepted) or denies it (if rejected).]

When we consent to being tickled, we are handing over a degree of power to another person–for a specific purpose (mutual enjoyment) and period of time (until either one of us says we’re done). If that power is abused, particularly if we are helpless to avoid or overcome that abuse, we suffer emotional trauma. “Too much tickling” can be a personal violation.

On the other hand, observing the “rules” of tickling teaches us some valuable lessons.  The main “rules” of tickling might be as follows:

1) Don’t tickle too hard.
2) Stop when the tickled person says to.
3) Don’t tickle inappropriate areas of the body.
4) Be nice.

Following these “rules” teaches us about trust, vulnerability, respect, personal boundaries, consent, and cooperation. Tickling is itself practice in these domains of personal interaction.

Healthy and Unhealthy Tickling

psychologically healthy person is likely to be an excellent tickler. He or she can tickle (with respect) and be tickled (with vulnerability). In my opinion, it is developmentally important that a child NOT be abused by tickling. Such abuse can affect the child’s ability to trust others, be vulnerable, and even to enforce his or her own personal boundaries against violation.

By the same token, someone who abuses the “tickling game” is showing a lack of respect, disregard for consent, and willingness to take advantage of someone else’s vulnerability.

Observing how someone tickles can reveal much about that tickler’s psychological health. So can observing how willing they are to be tickled. If the person tickles like a “doofus” or fakes it, he or she has likely been “torture-tickled” before. If someone effectively uses tickling to abuse others, that person likely has other issues that cause harm.

Of the six “tickler types” listed above, a Narcissist is likely to fall in types #2-6. Unable to understand the psychology of tickling, he or she will tend to either suck at it, fake it, use it as a sexual advance, use it to dominate others, or avoid it altogether.

Non-Narcissists might also fall into these categories, but a Narcissist will not be an excellent tickler–because the “game” of tickling requires empathy in order to do it well. Empathy is one psychological activity that the Narcissist is not able to take part in.

Author Bio – Ven Baxter lives in Florida, where he works as a canoe outfitter, writes, and enjoys being father to his three children.  You can find this article on his blog, Ven Baxter – Go deep into the nooks and crannies of life and the human experience…

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Malachi Maverick says March 25, 2018

*I’ve experienced several kinds of tickling or ticklers. Interestingly, only “ONE” of them is what I consider to be psychologically healthy.* That’s the most close minded, one sided, bigoted thing I’ve ever read. I’m sorry to say, but someone doesn’t have to like what you like to be psychologically healthy. We all have our preferences, (some like what other’s don’t) so for you to put non tickler in the category and then say only the excellent tickler is psychologically healthy is extremely disrespectful and offensive. Someone who doesn’t like or even hates an experience is equally just as open minded, psychologically healthy, and valid as the person who loves the experience, regardless of whether you like it, or not. It’s called variety in life. Get used to it.

Nancee Tanner says August 11, 2017

I was absolutely dumbstruck when I found your article on “tickling” today. I had written about this in one of my two books coming out in Sept…..the TORTURE involved and now I am fully convinced it was ABUSE. My brother also sexually molested me. Nothing was confronted until I was the age of 40. The result? The alienation of my entire family……against me!

Following is my experience direct from my manuscript of TRUE CONFESSIONS OF A SINGLE MOM I never understood why laughter, for whatever reason, could be wrong; however, all laughter did not come from naturally generated emotions. While I was sitting on the floor watching television, when I least expected it, Daddy and Jamie ganged up and tickled me. These sneak attacks were sudden and were not funny or for the purpose of having a good time with family members. These episodes were both emotionally cruel and physically abusive, yet, I was berated if I seemed upset due to their team effort. Their harassment resurfaced when I least expected it, but I never allowed them to bring me to tears. I turned off my emotions and hardened myself to their abuse, which they considered being a time of amusement, but I knew better.
I never ceased wondering why Jamie never felt any guilt for the things he did to me. Was this cruel duality the only way Jamie could connect with Daddy? I was affected body, spirit and soul by this lack of empathy, protection and abuse.

quiscas says August 9, 2017

My sadistic, violent, psychopathic father, whom I was very scared of, used to tickle me when I was under five years old. I don’t remember how many times it took place… probably not very many ’cause after the first time I knew what to expect (not that I could have refrained from being tickled if he wanted to).

Anyway, at first it was fun, I was enjoying it. Tickling was the only time in all of my childhood when I remember having a moment of relaxed fun & some sort of human closeness with him. We kind of wrestled on the sofa, he started out by matching his strength to mine tickling me a little here and there, and I was giggling and wriggling. After a while like this, he finally forced my mouth open and spat inside it. I started crying, tears rolling… and he roared with laughter, having a blast at my expense. (He did a lot of things that were way worse than this…)

Sam says August 8, 2017

My NM used it to torture me she would use her finger and poke me in the side all the time I was young it hurt a lot she used to laugh she thought it was funny, my ex N didnt like it when I tried to tickle him however it was ok for him to do that to me it wasnt fun either he would go overboard with it end up hurting me then tell me i was a sook and then wanted sex to make up for it, they are sadistic.

Jayne says August 8, 2017

My father held me down and tickled me. I screamed and cried. Sometimes threw up or wet myself. It was torture. He knew I didn’t like it. He knew it caused me pain. It was worse than the times he beat me because I was pinned down and felt violated. I still hate to be tickled. I have lashed out at people who innocently tickled me. This will most likely not go away. Even though my boyfriend knows I don’t like to be tickled, he does it randomly. I try hard not to show any emotion. I close up and try to imagine I am not there.

Natalie Black says August 8, 2017

I’m just blown away at the sense this makes. Even as an adult, I would tell my mom how her brother ,my “creepy uncle” gave me the heebie jeebies chasing me around, tickling me, literally pulling me out from under the dining room table…I just could not pretend to like him after that. as NPD- Narcopathic as she is, she totally invalidated me…always has. She left me an open invitation to be abused and victimized. I really don’t know where I’d be without the “name to the face” of this insanity and soul lessness. I would always say, I don’t get those gut feelings about bad people that I hear people speak of. I was being groomed and invalidated by such a young age, that those intuitive feelings were dismissed. This article seemed so silly at first, but in the end. It brought back a memory, that has stuck with me since I was perhaps, 4. Because, his intentions probably WERE bad (considering, too..hes my mother’s brother raised by ww2 gen parents). Ahhh, the clarity and validation of it all is endless!

Tami says August 8, 2017

Sigh. Thank you so much for this post. I have struggled with trying to figure out why my ex didn’t respect my boundaries when it came to tickling and why it was always so excessive. It crosses my mind a lot since the divorce and why I felt tortured by him. I thought it was just something wrong with me. My ex loved to pin my legs by sitting on them and tickle my feet to the point where I was freaking out and screaming at him to stop. I finally trained myself not to laugh when he tickled my feet, it took years, and when it finally no longer bothered me he stopped. To this day, 30 some years later I do not laugh when my feet are tickled. After that he moved on to my neck and under my chin and I was never able to not laugh so I made sure I protected my neck with my hands and arms when he was in the mood to tickle me. He’d pull my hands away as he was stronger than me and pin me down, but then his hands were occupied and couldn’t tickle me. Not ideal but he’d grow tired of my squirming and give up telling me I wasn’t any fun. Truly, thank you for post. I wish I could divorce him twice.

    Kim Saeed says August 10, 2017

    Sorry for what you endured, Tami. I’ll tell Ven, my new collaborating author, that his article resonated with you. Thanks for sharing your story. Kim XoXo

kuiskas says August 8, 2017

Hi Kim. My sadistic, violent, psychopathic father, whom I was very scared of, used to tickle me when I was under five years old. I don’t remember how many times it took place… probably not very many ’cause after the first time I knew what to expect (not that I could have refrained from being tickled if he wanted to).

Anyway, at first it was fun, I was enjoying it. Tickling was the only time in all of my childhood when I remember having a moment of relaxed fun & some sort of human closeness with him. We kind of wrestled on the sofa, he started out by matching his strength to mine tickling me a little here and there, and I was giggling and wriggling. After a while like this, he finally forced my mouth open and spat inside it. I started crying, tears rolling… and he roared with laughter, having a blast at my expense. (He did a lot of things that were way worse than this…)

    Kim Saeed says August 10, 2017

    Hi, kuiskas. I’m sorry that happened to you. I’ve learned over the past few years that many narcissistic individuals like to spit into the mouths of people they’re abusing, but it’s especially sadistic to do it to a child. I hope you’ve healed from that. Sending you loving vibes. Kim XoXo

c2gemineyes says August 8, 2017

Thats Insane bc my NPD mother tormented me when i was elementary school age by tickling me. It wasnt meant for my fun. Shed coherse my high school age sister into participating all the while hackling thru out my torture. I HATE being ticklef now. I even react with instinctual punching if I dont catch myself 1st. Im 42 yo and to this day I still have nightmares of being attacked or chased and tickled.

    L says August 8, 2017

    This was fascinating. 200% accurate in my case. I HATE bring tickled. My father was useless at it my stepmother was sadistic and a couple of ex narc bfs were also useless at it and wouldn’t stop. It feels sad that something healthy people apparently enjoy us something I would like to become illegal

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