Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

The Principal and the Profile

By Steven Pressfield | Published: February 20, 2013

My friend Jane worked for years for a legendary personality of the 20th century. I’m respecting her wishes by not using the gentleman’s name. Let’s call him Michael.


Fans even came after Michael by sea

Michael was a target for the tabloids and the paparazzi. He was besieged relentlessly by fans and admirers, cranks, crazies, and outright stalkers. He lived on an estate. The place became a fortress. It got so bad that Michael had to employ bodyguards and a professional “threat assessor.”

The threat assessor wound up teaching everyone on Michael’s staff how to respond to a certain type of persistent assailant. The dynamic was so universally-encountered in the security field, he said, that it even had a name.

It was called the Principle and the Profile.

In this case the “principal” was Michael. The “profile” was the assailant.

The profile was anyone who sent repeated notes or letters or packages, who left phone messages and e-mails, who used the web and social media to bombard Michael with requests for favors and meetings, samples of writing or music, diatribes, harangues, manifestoes, sob stories, etc.  Sometimes the profile showed up in person. Jane told me that Michael’s security men had to chase people off Michael’s roof; they repelled invaders climbing over Michael’s walls, even using boats to reach him by sea.

I suspect you know where I’m going with this.


The phenomenon of the Principal and the Profile is fascinating to me because I have found myself in different eras playing both roles. I’m ashamed to confess I have been a profile. With me it’s not with famous people; it’s in relationships.

I’ve been a principal too.

Both roles really suck.

What exactly does a profile do when he assaults a principal? What is he after? What does he want?

The profile can be charming or the profile can be snarky. Either way, he puts out what psychologists call a “hook.” The aim of the hook is to engage the principal. One type of hook is a guilt trip. “You have marched against poverty but you won’t help out your fellow starving artists.” The profile is trying to get the principal to respond by defending himself. Often the profile will accuse the principal of something. “You’re a hypocrite, you don’t live up to what you preach.”

Sometimes the profile attacks the principal’s work or family or reputation.

The profile is like the Nigerian prince we all find in our inboxes. He’s trying to elicit a reaction. He’s seeking to suck us in.

Here’s my character assessment of the profile (remember, I’m speaking from having been there myself):

The profile is not without talent. He’s smart. He’s ambitious. The profile, in his own way, is an interesting person. But the profile is terrified. He is a frustrated artist or entrepreneur. His demons are devouring him. He is lost and desperate. And he’s unconscious. He is mired so deeply in Resistance that he could not see it if you pointed him straight at it.

What the profile wants from the principal is distraction. He wants a connection to something that works. The troubled young man who shot John Lennon wanted to be John Lennon. He loved John Lennon. He hated John Lennon. John Lennon’s existence was to him simultaneously a beacon of salvation and a crushing reproach.

The profile is dangerous to himself and to others. He is drowning; he’s in hell. He may reach out to others but he cannot see them as human beings, only as icons and archetypes. The profile is narcissistic to the point, sometimes, of sociopathy.

We all, I suspect, have tendencies to profile-dom. Just as we all have been hit on by profiles.

The cardinal rule, Michael’s threat assessor declared, is Never Engage the Profile.

That’s what the profile wants. He’s looking to pick a fight or start a “relationship.”

Don’t answer his e-mails, don’t return his calls, don’t respond to his heart-wrenching appeals.

The profile is bad news.

In my own profile days, I was as cunning as a junkie and as full of shit as a telemarketer. Sometimes I amazed myself at the BS I could come with, without a second’s rehearsal or a moment’s forethought.

When we are mired in Resistance (as the profile always is), we can spew self-exonerations and self-justifications like candy. We can be charming, we can be seductive, we can connive and cajole and manipulate. It’s terrible.

From time to time in my profile days, someone would call me on my bullshit. A guy would throw me out of his office, a girl would slam a door in my face and triple-lock it behind me.

I always respected those people.

It took me years to see through my own profile tendencies.

Now that I’m on the other side, I have no mercy for profiles. I hate ’em. I can smell them a mile away. They are poison.

The kindest thing a principal can do for a profile is to ignore him utterly. Have compassion if you can. But don’t try to help. Don’t get mad. Don’t engage. Don’t seek to counsel or correct or proffer guidance.

The profile is dangerous. He is locked in battle with his demons. He won’t listen. He can’t hear you. Steer a wide berth around him. The profile is a sociopath and a vampire, and no one can save him but himself.

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