Do Narcissists Suck at Tickling?

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!”
(Um, no.)

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

A 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 game that the Narcissist is not able to play.

13 Responses to Do Narcissists Suck at Tickling?

  1. […] Together, negativity and wrong beliefs are called the “ego” or the “false self.” […]

  2. […] 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… […]

  3. holywhole says:

    Reblogged this on Site Title and commented:
    What a profound article, says the girl who hates to be tickled and now understands why.

    • Nancee Tanner says:

      As you may or may not remember, I requested using a few lines out of this amazing article in my book that is coming out end of November, True Confessions of a Single Mom… The second of two volumes…NO ONE……..I say NO ONE has ever mentioned the abuse involved with “tickling” and I had already written about my dad and brother doing that to me. Amazing insight and I am so thankful that you confirmed my experience of abuse. My mother NEVER intervened on anything my dad or much older siblings did to me.. I took care of her when she was dying, but my feelings of affection were ambivalent. Thank you Ven for bringing this “hidden” abuse out into the light.

      • You’re welcome, Nancee! I was also subjected to “torture tickling” (by my aunt) as a child. In the process of unraveling abuse and Narcissism, and while tickling my own child (properly), it occurred to me that “tickling well” requires empathy.

        As with everything else, a Narcissist/Cluster B will twist something enjoyable into a sadistic, painful power play if given the chance.

        Thank you for your kind cooperation, and for using some of this info in your upcoming book!

      • Nancee Tanner says:

        Just as in the current “expose” of Hollywood psychopaths of which I am so thankful………having someone else to say ME TOO is very comforting. Thank you for your wonderful commentaries. Nancee

  4. I agree. You’re welcome!

  5. Isaac Kalder says:

    *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, biggoted 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 disrespectful and offensive AF. 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, whether you like it, or not. It’s called variety in life. Get used to it.

    • This blog post is about “ticklers” that “I’ve experienced”.

      Also from this blog post [ALL CAPS added]:

      “A psychologically healthy person is LIKELY to be an excellent tickler. He or she can tickle (with respect) and be tickled (with vulnerability).”

      Thanks for sharing your opinion.

      • Nancee Tanner says:

        I included your insight into the ABUSE of TICKLING in my story, TRUE CONFESSIONS OF A TRANSFORMED WOMAN-12 Steps to Change………..You are the only person I have ever heard to diagnose tickling as abuse…….and this was a major issue in my childhood. I refer people to your site. Thank you Ven for your insight. Such wonderful affirmation and healing I have received.

      • You’re welcome, Nancee! I’m not a psychologist, psychiatrist, or psychotherapist, but I am glad to hear that these insights were helpful to you.

        Thank you for letting me know!

  6. Isaac Kalder says:

    Alright, please do forgive me, and correct me if I am wrong in this little translation of mine, but my interpretation of your article ultimately boils down to this one summary: In order for an individual to be deemed worthy of being labeled “Open Minded”, and “Psychologically Healthy” in your book, that individual HAS to be into, and enjoy being tickled. If that individual is not into, and does not enjoy being tickled or perhaps even hates being tickled for whatever reason, then there is something wrong with them, and that individual should just suck it up, and surrender to the sensation, and experience, and learn to like it, simply because tickling is natural, healthy, and for their own good. If that individual is not willing to do exactly that, then that individual in your book is therefore, automatically close minded, narrow minded, and/or even psychologically unhealthy. Did I about nail that on the head? Now if my interpretation of your article is inaccurate, then GREAT! However, if my interpretation is indeed accurate, and that is what you are seriously trying to actually insinuate, and imply in your article, then that is totally asinine, and wrong, and I would REALLY hope that you could someday learn to respect, and accept other people’s dislike, or hatred for being tickled as being equally valid, and just as OK as someone who loves being tickled, rather than judging them, and placing your own biased labels on them.

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