The Provocateur: Method, Motivation, and Mentality

I’ve come into contact with many personality types in my nearly forty years of existence, and perhaps the most confusing and diabolical is he whom I call “The Provocateur.”

I can’t understand why some people enjoy provoking anger in others. I can’t understand why it’s fun for them to pick at a person until they inflict pain. They enjoy hurting other people. They like to cause pain. They want to hurt me and you. And they likely are so blind to their own pathology that they don’t even know it. I invite you to journey with me as I identify the three most salient aspects of the Provocateur: method, mentality, and motivation. I will then offer some recommendations as to how to deal with one.


“I’m not arguing, I’m explaining why I’m right.”

I have to say that, as I see it, the Provocateur’s primary method of incitement is argumentation. Provocateurs will argue about anything, for any reason. They can’t be wrong. After all, the Provocateur uses words as his weapon. He’s a bully. He’s a snarling dog that barks incessantly – at the mailman, at leaves blowing in the yard, at passing cars, at other dogs – and no amount of reason will get him to shut up. Argumentation provides the perfect soil for discord. Provocateurs truly believe that they are smarter than everyone, and insist that they’re simply helping people to see the best way. The right way. Their way!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had conversations with Provocateurs who, when confronted with facts, logic, and airtight arguments, insist that I “don’t understand.” In the Provocateur’s mind, anyone who doesn’t agree with him is either a misguided fool or simply not intelligent enough to understand the gift of knowledge he’s dispensing. He will lie to win an argument. All that matters is creating a power dynamic by manufacturing discord, then asserting himself as the dominant figure. It’s always about power for these people.

Another method is the random attack. The Provocateur will, without warning, levy an attack on another. He will exploit whatever tools he has at the time. He may dredge up something from the past, from your childhood even, and use it to hurt you. He may set you up for misunderstanding, purposely giving you false information then mocking you for believing it, all the while framing the event as a “joke.” The Provocateur may take anything you say and toss it down whatever dark path his angry mind is bent upon that day. Never forget: everything you say will be held against you.

These random attacks create an unsafe environment; it’s unsafe because it’s unpredictable. One moment the Provocateur will be his regular charming self – which, by the way is incredibly common for these types, to create a persona of being lovable and fun – then he will pounce. There is no way to predict when the switch will take place, but what I urge you to realize, dear reader, is that the fun-loving, charming act is just that, an act. What lies beneath is a sick person who genuinely wants to hurt you. Of course, when confronted with his bad behavior, the Provocateur will insist that he’s the victim. He’s victimized by your lack of understanding. He’s victimized by people from his past (usually a parent). He’s victimized by his own good intentions. Stay vigilant, stay focused, and don’t for a moment believe him. Remember, he’s a liar, and he’s arguing again.


“Lookin’ out for Number One!”

Be certain that the number-one motivation for the Provocateur is to obtain and exploit power. This is why he exists. This is what he eats, drinks, and breathes. He is determined to assert himself as the dominant person in the room, all the time, without exception. The easiest way to ascertain one’s power-position is through conflict, so it’s easy to see why the Provocateur is constantly cultivating it.

He demands that he be obeyed. He insists that others live their lives exactly as he’s instructed. But those unfortunate enough to be in contact with a Provocateur know that even when followed to the letter, they will still fail to please him.  Nothing is good enough. Nothing is right enough. No amount of effort is strong enough. Only the Provocateur can be right. So even if you’ve attempted to please him by following his orders, and believe me I know that it seems like it’s easier to just follow orders, you must realize that you will never, under no circumstances, appease the beast.

Of course, just like everyone else, Provocateurs want to experience pleasure. Pleasure for them is causing pain. They are at their happiest when they are in the midst of conflict. Provocateurs are sadists. They get pleasure from being deliberately cruel. They are hypocrites. There is no depth to which they won’t sink to get that rush of adrenaline. They have no moral compass and no self-control. They are constantly grasping at pleasure, which means constantly inflicting pain, thereby continually reaffirming their own position of dominance.

This is born from an out-of-control ego. Freud aside, the word ego has become so ingrained into our lexicon that I feel free to use it here. But let me define it, just to be precise. Ego is a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance. Esteem is admiration, and importance is a state of having great significance. So the Provocateur, by having an ego that is wildly inflated and disturbingly disproportionate to the rest of humanity’s, experiences himself with unrestrained admiration and as being incredibly significant. His out-of-control ego is what makes him think he is the best at everything. This kind of person can not be reasoned with. He is fundamentally incapable of empathy. He is only interested in inflicting harm.


“Everyone is stupid but me.”

It is clear to me that the best way to understand a Provocateur is by referring to the characteristics of a narcissist. But aren’t we all a bit narcissistic? Don’t we all think that our tastes are the best? If my favorite is strawberry ice cream and yours is chocolate, who’s to say I’m wrong? What needs to be understood is that narcissism isn’t about likes and dislikes, it’s a real pathology, a serious emotional disorder. The online journal Psychology Today calls narcissists “aggressive and manipulative.”

“A cross section of the narcissist’s ego will reveal high levels of self-esteem, grandiosity, self-focus, and self-importance.” They have “a marked need for attention, the propensity to manipulate,” and “think they are more physically attractive and intelligent than just about everyone.”

The following is extracted from an article on the Psychology Today website titled “How to Spot a Narcissist”: “Narcissists’ language and demeanor is often geared toward one objective: to maintain power in an interaction. Psychologist Anita Vangelisti of the University of Texas at Austin found that tactics in the narcissists’ toolbox include bragging, refocusing the topic of conversation, making exaggerated hand movements, talking loudly, and showing disinterest by ‘glazing over’ when others speak.”

This is an extremely apt description of the Provocateur. But to call all narcissists Provocateurs would be unfair to narcissists. It’s my opinion that the Provocateur is a particular sub-species of narcissist. It’s safe to say then that all Provocateurs are narcissists but not all narcissists are Provocateurs. I’ve known quite a few narcissists in my day, but only a few of them actively seek to provoke anger from others. In fact, they try to charm the pants off of just about everyone and want people to like them. They don’t typically go looking for fights, or creating them when they can’t find them. As such, narcissists are generally content with living in their own world of self-aggrandizement. But the Provocateur, now there’s a dangerous one. Not only is he a narcissist but he’s the variety that seeks to constantly hurt others. What a terrible way to live!

“Because control is so important to narcissists, they can abruptly lose their charm if destabilized or threatened. This two-faced behavior is often the first clue to their true character. They get angry when rejected, overreacting to small slights and punishing those who do not support their grandiose image of themselves.”

Here we see the phantasms of the Provocateur. True narcissists only react this way when challenged, but the Provocateur goes out of his way to create challengers, then turns on the nastiness. The Provocateur is two-faced. He can act so caring and lovable, but this is only a ploy to keep his audience. When he’s successfully provoked others, he’ll then try to charm them, to make them forget that they’ve been hurt. He may even make himself look like the victim, causing the true victim to feel guilty and question the details of the confrontation. This makes it nearly impossible for the kind person the Provocateur has decided to hurt to stay angry, to shut the Provocateur out of his life, or to fight back. Thus, the Provocateur creates victims. He’s a predator. He hunts the kind-hearted and keeps them in an emotional cage. In this way the Provocateur creates an extremely toxic environment.

Another difference between Provocateurs and narcissists is that the narcissist is aware and even proud of his narcissism, while the Provocateur is genuinely blind to his own motivations. He’s simply reacting. He’s like a child who knows that he wants pleasure and demands it by throwing tantrums. Unfortunately, we can’t put the Provocateur in time-out! This makes him far more dangerous than the textbook narcissist because he’s so unpredictable. He doesn’t think, he just acts, but every action is geared toward furthering his agenda of harm.


Get away and stay away! Don’t try to change the Provocateur. Don’t try to reason with him. He’s too far gone. The Provocateurs I know are only interested in arguing. If you are so good-hearted that you choose to express your feelings to him, he will use it to manipulate you even more. The more emotionally attached you are the easier it will be for him to manipulate you.

Don’t give in to the Provocateur. Don’t give him the fight that he wants. As long as he can’t provoke you, you’re winning. This is not weakness. The Provocateur will attempt to make you think you’re weak because you’re not fighting, but the exact opposite is true. It requires an heroic amount of strength to resist the urge to explode on him. Remain calm. Don’t let him push you to anger. This is what he wants, and he’ll try every method he knows to achieve this. But realistically a person can only take so much before he boils over. This is why it’s essential to cut him out of your life. Lock the door to your heart and throw away the key.

This sounds harsh, I know. This may be easily done if the Provocateur is a casual acquaintance, but what if a family member is a Provocateur? You can’t shut out family! The best method is to keep conversation to a minimum. Always let them be right. Never offer your opinion, no matter what. If and when your opinion is requested of the Provocateur, or some other situation arises where you must communicate with him, be vigilantly aware that everything you say will be held against you. Keep your answers short and simple and when he tells you that your opinion is wrong, just nod your head and agree. You can not win an argument with a Provocateur, so don’t try!

But you’re not the monster that he is. You care about others. You care about those who may be hurt by your decision to keep the Provocateur at a safe distance. Do your best to help those people. They’re likely unable or unwilling to cut the Provocateur out of their lives, so be there to comfort them when he hurts them. Never tell them that they need to separate themselves, but make it clear that your life is much safer with him at bay. Perhaps they’ll realize the benefit in turning your back on him.

“Indeed, deep down, narcissists are plagued by insecurity and self-doubt, and desperately crave positive social feedback in order to quell these feelings.”

I could use the above quote to start on an apology for the Provocateur, and anyone with half a brain can see that he is desperately insecure. It may indeed have come from a traumatic or abusive childhood. It may very well be a genetic anomaly. But when we start creating excuses for the Provocateur we are once again in his grasp. Some people are simply unable to be rehabilitated, and unfortunately for the Provocateur, and especially for those who have to endure him, he is beyond help. This is why the only recourse is separation.

I’m sorry that this is such a bummer of a blog post, but this needs to be said and they need to be silenced. Too many people are victimized by these predators, and it’s time we arm ourselves with the knowledge and the tools to take our freedom back. Provocateurs don’t belong in the world I want to live in. I try every day to be kind to everyone. The kindest thing I can do for the Provocateur is to leave him alone in his own angry world. He is simply beyond help.

I’ve immortalized a few of these types in my short story “The King of Everything,” found in my book The Philosopher’s Stoned. It’s a disturbing topic but an informative story.


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