Tag Archives: covert narcissists

Ask Questions

It’s Narcissist Friday! 

 

One of the ways to identify narcissism is to watch what happens when someone disagrees.  This can help us to identify the culture of an organization (church, school, club, business, etc.) or the character of a person.

You are the new employee at the office.  The boss has called a meeting and has told everyone that they should speak their minds.  You were told that when you were hired.  “This organization is transparent and we listen,” you were told.  At the meeting, the boss outlines a strategy with some obvious flaws, obvious to you.  Some of the others voice their agreement with the boss, which puzzles you.  You’re new, so you hesitate; but you were told to speak up.  So you ask a question about one of the points.  Suddenly, the attention turns to you.  The boss stares at you for a few uncomfortable moments.  You don’t know whether he didn’t understand your question, is embarrassed by his error, or is trying to remember who you are. 

Finally, the boss says, “Hey, that’s a great question from our newest employee!  How long have you been with us?  Two weeks?  That’s great.  Well, all I can say is watch and learn!”  Then he looks over at your immediate supervisor and says, to everyone, “Ok, I really appreciate your input.  We will begin moving on this right away!”

As you leave the room, another employee steps in close to you and mutters, “Now you begin to see how things really work around here.”

What did you learn?  That the boss is always right and your job is not to speak your mind or ask questions, but to help the boss look good in front of everyone. 

And then the boss makes a special effort to come over to you.  Are you in trouble?  “Hey, I really appreciated your question.  You just keep up the good work.”  Yup, you are in trouble.  You will be more careful next time. 

Here’s another example:

The young lady gets into the passenger seat in her new boyfriend’s car.  As they pull away from her home, going to the restaurant, she glances at the dashboard and notices that the car is very low on gas. 

“Looks like we should stop for some gas before we get on the highway,” she says.

He doesn’t even look at the dash, but smiles and says, “Don’t you worry about looking at these gauges.  You just sit there and look pretty while I take care of the car.”

She learned her place.  Her job is to be pretty for him and quiet.  She is not to question him.  And she will learn even more when they run out of gas later.  He will become angry and blame the gas meter for malfunctioning.  After all, he just put gas in a few days ago.  Or he will accuse someone of siphoning gas from his car.  Or he will refer to the gas leak that someone should have fixed.  He will not mention her statement, and she is not supposed to mention it either.  If she does, if she dares to suggest that she told him about the gas, he will probably end the relationship.

Can you handle one more?

You feel uncomfortable at the new church your friends suggested, although the people are friendly and the teaching has been good.  As you look around, you notice that none of the women are wearing slacks, all have skirts or dresses.  It doesn’t seem particularly strange to you, because of your background, but you wonder how likely it is that even the teenagers fit the pattern.  So you ask.

“Is there a dress code in the church?”  A simple question, asked to one of the ladies who has been particularly friendly.

The answer comes.  “Of course not.  What do you mean?”

“Well, I noticed that all the ladies, young and older, are wearing skirts.”

“Oh, that’s just because we want to honor our Lord and our men.”  As she says this, the lady looks into your eyes a little too long, like you are supposed to agree and acquiesce.  You understand.

 

Whether it’s the pastor of the church, the new counselor or doctor, the new boyfriend, or the boss—we learn a lot by asking questions.  We learn something about the inner strength of the organization or person.  Narcissism comes out of weakness, weakness that has to be covered with protective layers of intimidation, deception, or anger.  Strength allows disagreement.  Confidence welcomes questions.

Now, understand that anyone can become flustered or upset if the question is presented as an attack or is embarrassing in some way.  Expect a certain amount of resistance or confusion if you are unkind, impatient, or otherwise out of line.  But a respectful and gracious question, even one that suggests disagreement, should be acceptable to a healthy organization or person.

One more thing: if you are in a testing time, do this early.  Do it before you are hired, if you dare.  Do it before you join the church.  Do it on the first or second date.  You will want to know how you are truly valued as an individual who can think your own thoughts.  Narcissism depersonalizes its victims; the sooner you see that coming, the sooner you can run away.

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Narcissistic Apologies

It’s Narcissist Friday! 

 

I’m sorry you were hurt.

I’m sorry you thought you heard that.

I’m sorry you misunderstood.

I’m sorry ___ made me fail.

I’m sorry you feel that way.

I’m sorry that happened.

I didn’t do that.  I’m sorry you think I did.

I apologize for trying.

I apologize for caring.

I apologize for being human.

I apologize for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

 

Recognize these? They’re apologies. What? You don’t think they’re apologies? What’s wrong with them? These are typical narcissistic apologies. Some people have heard this kind of apology all their lives. Others have heard these apologies almost their whole marriages.

And then you hear, “Well, I apologized, didn’t I?”  Uh, actually, no.

There are two meanings to the word “apology” in English.  The most common is a confession of guilt and an expression of regret.  That’s the one we look for.  The other meaning is older and less helpful.  It is used for a formal explanation of position, a justification of an idea.  Socrates presented a defense of his teachings, an apology for his position.  That’s not what we want.

The narcissist uses the second when he/she should be using the first, right?  When someone hurts you, you hope for a statement of regret.  You don’t want an explanation of the philosophy that led to the offense.  You don’t want justification for the action or words.  You want the person to be sorry.

So think about that.  What you want is for the person to understand how the action hurt you and to feel some of your pain.  What you want is for the person to regret his/her actions and contribute to your healing.  What you want is empathy.

But that’s exactly what the narcissist cannot give.

The inability to apologize is a defining characteristic of the narcissist.  I realize that many people learned narcissistic ways to apologize.  Children are taught how to get out of trouble, not how to apologize with sincerity.  Many, if not most, adults present poor apologies when they want to express their regret and many try to pass the blame on the victim.  But most can be taught how to apologize in a way that does promote healing and peace.

Not the narcissist.  Think about it.  If you were to teach someone how to apologize, what would you say?  You would probably say something like this:  “How would you feel if someone had done that to you?”  The narcissist would know how he might feel, but he would have no ability to believe that you could feel the same thing.  Because everyone is depersonalized, not real, to the narcissist, he/she cannot accept the reality of the feelings of others.

Let me say that a different way.  Just because the narcissist would feel angry or hurt or afraid, does not mean he would believe or understand that someone else would feel those things.  Most of those who have lived in relationship with narcissists understand this.  They would be very upset if someone did to them what they did to you.  Yet, they cannot believe that you could feel the same way—or—they simply don’t care that you feel the same way.

Why not?  Because to acknowledge your feelings is to acknowledge you as a person.  He/she can’t see you as a real person because then you would be competition.  All attention must be given to the image.

So the best you get is an explanation of why it was entirely reasonable for him to do what he did or for her to say what she said.  You get a defense.

Here’s an idea that came out of a recent conversation with a friend: ask your narcissist to explain what he thinks you felt when he did what he did.  Ask him how a person who claims to love someone could do something like that to the one he loves.  Don’t ask what he thinks you should feel.  Don’t ask him what he thinks you should do now.  He will tell you to forgive and forget, of course.  Instead, press for the understanding.

If you are wondering whether your painful person is a narcissist, this might be a helpful test.

Maybe you have never heard a real apology.  Maybe you grew up in a home where people never apologized or did very poorly.  Here’s what an apology should sound like:

“I am sorry that I hurt you.  My words were cruel and I have no intention of defending them.  They were wrong.  I was wrong.  I apologize.”

Notice a couple of things.  There is no request for forgiveness.  Requesting forgiveness puts a burden on the victim, the one who was hurt.  If an offender is truly sorry, he/she does not want to put any further burden on the one who was hurt.  I understand that this sounds like a very Christian thing to do, but it is neither necessary nor kind.  If the one who was hurt wants to forgive, that’s fine.  But no push.

Also, notice that there is no blame on anyone or anything else.  There is no claim that the words were accidental or misunderstood.  None of these things would mitigate the pain that was felt.  Nor is it simply an apology for hurting.  It is an apology for being unkind and causing pain.

If the relationship calls for it, an expression of love is appropriate—especially if that expression speaks to the value of the one who was hurt.

“You are my friend and you are important to me.  It grieves me that I hurt you.”

“I love you and it hurts me that I hurt you.”

Don’t make the offender promise never to do it again.  That sounds good, but no one can promise that and be sure it won’t happen.  The narcissist might be very willing to make the statement, but it won’t be true.  Instead, watch to see if the offender understands how the action or words caused pain and if the offender empathizes with your pain.

Now, this is a two-minute overview of apologies and you might have a lot to add.  That’s why we have a comment section! :)  The point here is that the narcissist cannot say these things from the heart because he/she has no empathy, no way to understand or value your feelings.  There is no fix in this post, just an explanation.  I pray with you for the day when narcissists can finally see and grasp the truth.

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Where’s the Church?

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

For most of us who consider ourselves Christians, the church represents a place of comfort and safety, a community of support.  Yet, many of those who struggle against narcissism find the church to be far less supportive and comforting than they need.  Time and again I get the comment that the church leaders wouldn’t listen or help, or even that they support the narcissist against the victim.  I have heard some horror stories about how the church became part of the problem.

It is obvious that this shouldn’t happen.  Of all the helping organizations, the church should be the strongest voice against narcissism.  But it isn’t.  Here are my thoughts as to why…

First, the church is full of compromise, particularly in areas where narcissism lurks.  Let’s look at a few:

Money: Narcissists may not be big givers, but they usually want church leadership to think they are.  They depend on the confidentiality expected in regard to giving.  So most church leaders will look at the narcissist and expect him to be generous.  Who wants to rock that boat?  Church leaders know that the victim will have nothing.

Leadership: Often the leaders are impressed enough with the narcissist to place him in leadership.  If they discover that to be a mistake, it will be too late.  He will already have found ways to control them and maintain his power.  If they don’t see their mistake, it may be that they look past his characteristics because of the same ones in themselves.  I mean that many church leaders have narcissistic tendencies.  That’s why they aspired to leadership in the church.

Image:  For so many in the church, image is everything.  Their local church must be superior.  They have the one true message and they practice the one true way.  To admit that there is trouble among the membership is hard.  They don’t want to hear it and, if they must, they will try to quiet it as quickly as possible.  This is often true in all kinds of abuse situations.  Even in a day where public organizations and leaders are required by law to report certain abuse, church leaders still try to cover it up or handle it “in house.”

Legalism: I think many churches are unwilling to acknowledge narcissism because it is so close to the legalism they hold.  It’s all about image and performance and measuring up to standards.  Depersonalization is just the way things work.  It is common for people to be rejected and abused in legalism and narcissism may be seen as one person attempting to do right while another holds him back.  The leaders often don’t see any difference.

Unity:  If a narcissist has a presence in the church, he probably has a following.  If he is rejected, others will leave or take up his defense.  Then the leaders will have a problem.  Loss of unity might mean loss of people and loss of people might mean loss of money and loss of image.  The victim is rejected because it might damage the unity.

 

Compromised churches certainly have reasons for ignoring the victims of narcissism.  But there are other reasons churches fail to help.

Some have been so robbed of authority that any intervention into a marriage or family situation seems impossible.  Who are the church leaders, even the pastors, to tell a husband or wife or parent what to do?  Leadership in churches isn’t always compromised, sometimes it is just weak.

Some are poorly equipped to counsel, especially at the intense levels needed by a narcissistic relationship.  Many pastors and church leaders haven’t even heard of narcissism; or what they have heard is just the popular portrayal of the person whose ego is too big.  They have no idea what the victim is suffering and have no context in which to learn.  Pastors have so many other problems that they can rarely give more than pat answers for common situations.

And some have bought into the idea that we can change others by changing ourselves, no matter who those others are or what they are doing.  In other words, they blame the victim.  If you were just more loving, more prayerful, more gracious.  If you tried harder, he would change.  Blaming the victim only makes things worse.

 

Well, I would guess that is as depressing for you to read as it is for me to write.  What are we supposed to do then?  We are Christians and we look to the church for support.  Can’t they do something?

So I want to give some suggestions.  I do believe that the victim of narcissism should find help in the church and support from the leaders.  I just want you to be careful.

First, don’t use the word “narcissist” when you go for counsel.  I can almost guarantee that it won’t have the effect on others that it has on you.  Instead, tell the pastor or elder or whoever what is happening.  Be gentle, but share your pain.  Watch for sympathy or empathy.  Do they listen?  Do they ask questions to understand?  Or do they preach at you and minimize your pain?  Do they pray for you to change or for the Lord’s help in your situation?

You should feel the difference between these approaches.  If it appears that they just want to straighten you out so that you will leave them alone, then leave them alone.  They don’t want to help.  If all they have for you are pat answers or blame, then find your help somewhere else.

And have a reasonable expectation of what you want from the church leaders.  They can’t reach in and fix your narcissist.  They probably won’t tell you what to do, even if they do listen and care.  But they can pray with you and stand by you.  They can listen and try to understand.  They can study narcissism and help you find a counselor.  They can even help you when the whole situation hits the fan.

I know pastors who have gone far out on a limb to help people in narcissistic relationships.  I know churches that have helped with thousands of dollars of legal aid and counseling expense.  I know church leaders who have stood strong alongside victims to protect and support.  Some do listen and some do understand.  Don’t give up.

It is worth trying.  Go to your pastor and ask for his ear.  Tell your story without embellishment and without a lot of blame.  Tell what you feel.  Then wait and see.  If he chooses not to help, okay.  Find your support somewhere else.  God will deal with him.

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Fooling Me

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

Little things.  A hint here.  A hint there.  Something isn’t quite right.  This isn’t what it was supposed to be.

****

But it’s alright.  He didn’t mean it.  I didn’t hear it the right way.  Things will change.  Everything will be wonderful.

****

Others don’t understand.  They say that because they are jealous or because they aren’t really my friends.  If I am okay with it, why can’t they be? 

****

We are just getting to know each other better.  Everyone has little things that rub others wrongly.  I’m sure it’s just a quirk of his personality.  

****

If others would just try a little.  He’s not really the way they say.  If they got to know him, they’d see him differently.  They are the problem.  They are so unfair.  Give him a chance.

****

It’s me.  It’s my fault.  I do dumb things.  If I just hadn’t said that.  If I weren’t so stupid.  He has a right to be angry.  Maybe it’s good for me to have him so I can do better.

 

 No one knows for sure who said it first: “Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.”  I am convinced that narcissism takes advantage of the tendency of good people to deny negatives in their lives.  We don’t want something to be what it seems, so we re-decorate it.  We convince ourselves that it is something else.  We were taught to think positively, to believe the best about people. 

So the narcissist becomes a friend, maybe even a lover.  Gentle words or captivating personalities break down natural barriers and we open our hearts.  It isn’t long before the narcissist is an integral part of who we are.  And then we have a problem.  There were clues, but we ignored them as the narcissist moved closer. 

Just give most of us enough good to want a thing and we will take care of denying the bad.  That’s what a narcissist uses to cultivate a relationship.  The clues are there, but the bait is so attractive that we ignore the dangers or excuse the bad behavior. 

If the old saying, “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” is true, then perhaps we should not be so quick to dismiss the first time.  Maybe, once someone fools us, we should learn something about that person and use that information to protect ourselves in the future.  After all, isn’t that what the saying is supposed to be teaching us? 

But that’s part of the problem.  When the narcissist “fools” a victim, he or she quickly pushes to the second step.  Instead of “shame on you,” the victim is pushed to “shame on me.”  And, when it becomes “my fault” a strange set of dynamics begins.

You see, most of us are programmed to see good in others and bad in ourselves.  So we tend to see the offenses of others differently than we see our own offenses.  We are taught to overlook what others do to us, to offer excuses for their behavior so that we can let it go.  But few of us were taught how to overlook our own actions.    All the narcissist has to do to get us to continue to deny the truth is to get us to believe the whole thing is our own fault.  We move quickly and easily from “shame on you” to “shame on me.”

I have heard victims of physical abuse blame themselves.  I have heard victims of sexual abuse blame themselves.  That’s a form of denial.  When the fact of the deed can no longer be denied, we deny the true source.

And the abuse grows in the culture of denial.  The victim denies.  The family denies.  The church denies.  The business denies.  As long as denial continues, the cruelty grows.  Narcissism thrives in a culture of denial. 

I want to be careful here.  Two points.  I am not suggesting that every offense is grounds for divorce or even for the end of a relationship (except, perhaps, for physical abuse).  We are all flawed and we do hurt each other by our words and actions.  I am saying that these things should never be pushed into the darkness.  They can often be forgiven, but they should not be ignored. 

And denial is not forgiveness.  I know that many people grew up in a denial culture where things were swept under the rug for the sake of forgiveness.  But I will ask simply, “If it is denied, how can it be forgiven?”  No, shine the light on it and then forgive, if forgiveness is right.  But admit the truth.

From talking with victims of narcissism, whether in families or marriages or even organizations, I have come to understand that denial is part of the equation almost from the beginning. 

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The Rich Young Ruler

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

Let me paraphrase this story from a little different perspective.

 

A certain young man wanted to show himself and others that he was spiritual.  So he went to Jesus, since Jesus was widely acknowledged to be a great teacher, greater than all the others.  When he found Jesus, he tried to flatter Jesus with a special title.  Others just called Jesus, “Rabbi,” or “teacher.”  This young man called Him, “Good Teacher.”

But Jesus, desiring nothing of flattery and wanting to expose the young man’s insincerity, asked, “Why are you calling me good?  Only God is good.  Do you think I am God?”

The young man had also asked an important question.  Knowing that Jesus taught more about eternal life than others and wanting to show those around him that he was special, the young man asked, “What must I do to receive eternal life?”

Jesus respected his question, but used it to further expose the young man’s mistaken perspective on his own value.  He told the young man that he should keep the commandments, the same thing any teacher of the day would have told him.

When the young man asked which commandments, Jesus had him.  “Just the regular ones,” Jesus said.  “You know:  ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Nothing about “no other gods before Me,” or “keep the Sabbath holy,” or “don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.”  Why not those?

But the young man stood a little taller.  He said, “I have kept all of those throughout my whole life.  What else do I lack?”  (Perfectly?  All of them?  Really?)  If that was all that was needed, the young man could be assured of eternal life.  If something else was necessary, he would do it easily.

Jesus accepted his statement without comment.  Arguing with him wouldn’t help.  Instead, Jesus would get right to the point.

“Okay, great.  So now just go, sell everything you have, and follow me.  You won’t need all those things.  You can trust me to provide for you.  You will become poor, just like all these people around you.  Leave your privileged life behind and follow me.”

Suddenly the truth was revealed.  The young man was very wealthy and had a respected position among his people.  He had worked very hard to present an image of success and superiority.  He wasn’t like the rest of these people.  He could humble himself when it served his purpose, but to humble himself all the way like Jesus was suggesting was out of the question.

“No.”

He went away in distress.  Maybe a little angry.  He mumbled to himself as he walked away, wondering how this Jesus could ask such a thing.  Didn’t Jesus know who he was?  He deserved respect and he had worked hard for his money.  No way was he going to just give it away and have nothing.

 

Now, I know that this isn’t the way we learned this story.  Yet, a careful reading of the three accounts in the gospels can certainly give us something like this.  This young man may well have been a narcissist.  He wanted to be able to do enough to earn eternal life.  He expected that what he had already done would be taken into account.  He couldn’t give up what he had accomplished.

This story is not about money or the love of money.  This story is about a man who wanted to add superior spirituality to his resume, certainty to his future.  This young man’s heart was not nearly as open as we were taught, I think.  That’s why Jesus talked with him the way He did.  And the word for “sorrowful” means “distressed.”  The young man may not have grieved over his attachment to his possessions.  He may have been disturbed by the fact that Jesus was not impressed with him.  This puts him firmly in the camp of the Pharisees and other religious people of Jesus’ day, who thought they would be able to impress God by the things they did for Him.

It may also put him in the camp of the narcissists.  Like all narcissists, this young man needed affirmation.  He wanted Jesus to tell him that he was superior, that he had something more than the rest of the people.  He was already superior in position and in wealth.  Now he wanted spiritual recognition.  When Jesus asked him to set aside his superiority, he was very disturbed.  Sorrowful?  Maybe, but almost certainly mixed with indignation.  After all, he did walk away.

Well, you can take this for what it’s worth.  I could be way off.  But I don’t think so….

(You can read the story for yourself in Luke 18:18-23, Matthew 19:16-22, and Mark 10:17-22.)

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Recuperating?

It’s Narcissist Friday!    

 

The holidays are winding down and people in relationship with narcissists are settling back to whatever passes for normal life.  The spouse/parent/friend/co-worker/sibling narcissist has been himself/herself.

I hope you had a great holiday!  I hope that your narcissist was reasonable and got along well with others and you.  But if that didn’t happen, if you are still stressed, here are some thoughts.

  1. Survival is Victory – You thought the situation would be terrible.  Maybe it was, but you survived.  You thought your heart would break, but it didn’t.  You thought you wouldn’t be able to stand it again, but you did.  You survived.  Good for you!  I call that a victory.
  2. That which does not kill you makes you stronger – Okay, I don’t believe that in every case, but you will find yourself stronger in the days to come.  You learned some things and you will understand them as you sort them out over time.  And you are seeing yourself in a new light.  You are not the defeated victim that you used to be.
  3. Be kind to yourself – You are probably exhausted.  The holidays do that themselves, but narcissists can be especially trying during holidays.  Stress comes with a price.  Give yourself a break.  Understand why you are drained.
  4. Forgive yourself – You may replay the situation in your mind now and think of things you could have said or done.  That’s normal and it is normal to feel a little frustrated that you didn’t do those things.  But let it go.  You can’t hold yourself accountable for errors or omissions while you are under that kind of stress.  And, you know, it might have just made things worse.
  5. Forgive the narcissist – I might get hate email on this one, but remember that forgiveness is for you.  You cannot spend hours and days reliving the offenses.  You probably won’t forget, but you have to let yourself move on.  Nor do you have to open yourself to the narcissist again.  Forgiveness is not about making yourself more vulnerable or trying to forget what was done.  Forgiveness is about your decision not to hold onto the offense and give it continuing power in your life.
  6. Move into the future – Things are changing.  You are more aware than you were.  You are learning how to handle some of the things he/she does.  You are getting stronger.  You are beginning to see yourself as a separate person, a person of value.  All of that is good.  This year will not be like last year.
  7. There is hope – There is always hope.  Pray and seek the Lord.  Let Him love you.  Let Him be your strength and your joy.  Find life apart from the pain.  Our hope is in the Lord.  He can do anything.

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Pre-Narcissism?

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

Do people develop into narcissists later in life?  This is a question I have been hearing a lot lately.  This wonderful person, with whom I shared some great times, is now acting like a narcissist.  What happened to cause that change?  Did I do something?  Did something change?

Let’s face it—we’re all amateurs.  Even those who counsel people for a living struggle to find the causes of personality disorders.  We look at broken families and blame them, but many people survive broken families without personality disorders.  We look at parental errors or abuses, but many are strong and healthy after serious parental dysfunction.  We can identify a variety of contributing factors without knowing the specific cause, and children growing up in the same home exhibit different responses.  There are certain counseling techniques and philosophies that attempt to take the adult back to a defining moment, but I haven’t heard of that being particularly successful with narcissism.

The most reasonable suggestion is that narcissism is a coping technique.  We have looked at that before.  A child has to find a way to handle the confusion and turmoil of life, even normal life.  Some discover methods that are acceptable within society, while others lean toward behaviors and decisions society has deemed unacceptable.  Narcissists have learned to walk somewhere in between.  They present themselves as superior and exemplary, but hide their failures behind deception and projection.  They cope with life by hiding, lying, and using others.

But only the most overt narcissists are obnoxious and abusive all the time and with everyone.  Those who handle life with narcissistic behavior know there is a game to be played.  They will be much more successful if they act like others, or better than others.  If being generous is a positive, for example, then they will be more generous.  Or they will lead you to believe they are more generous.  There might be some strings attached to their generosity, but the recipients are helped.  Narcissists can be very kind and a lot of fun.  This is how the game is played.

There are two ways to look at this and both may be true.  It may be that the nasty behavior of the narcissist lies just under the surface and, for some, only appears in situations of stress.  This normally kind and peaceful person suddenly erupts with vicious attacks, ruthlessly confronting anyone who defines or contributes to that stress.  Those who observe may not be able to discern the particular cause of the stress and not understand the reason behind the behavior, but it is there.

It may also be true that the kindness before the abuse was just part of the plan.  Even though it was long-term and very pleasant, the narcissist may simply have been grooming the relationship.  While this is a particularly painful conclusion for the victim to grasp, there are many stories that would appear to support it.  Narcissistic people are intelligent, goal-oriented, and lack empathy.  They usually have no difficulty deceiving others.  They may not even consider their actions to be deceptive or abusive.

Most people have an ability to redefine the things that happen in life and interpret reality the way they want it to be.  Angry people find reasons to be angry all around them.  Happy people find reasons to be happy.  People who need a relationship to be good often selectively reinterpret what they see in that relationship.  Because the good is so strongly desired, the bad is frequently ignored.  In other words, we see what we want to see and believe what we want to believe.

Now, before I make my conclusion, I have to point out again that diagnosing narcissism is an inexact science at best.  I have said before that there seems to be a sliding scale of behavior and attitude.  At some point, the person can be said to be a narcissist.  At another point the behavior is noted as narcissistic.  There are people who exhibit narcissistic behavior without being narcissists.  What that means is that they choose a coping mechanism that is cruel and self-centered to deal with the situation in which they find themselves.  It is possible that this could be uncharacteristic behavior for that person and caused by the stress.  Parents see this in children from time to time.  “Leave me alone!  I hate you!”  Then, later, this goes away as the stress is handled through other means or dissipates on its own.

If we think of narcissism as a collection of behaviors or symptoms, we find some help.  We can understand that behaviors do not define people.  Choosing certain behaviors consistently begins to reveal something about the person.  But odd behavior probably reveals more about a problem.  So it may be that the person acting strangely in your life has something going on that is pushing him/her to hide, deceive, abuse, and otherwise exhibit narcissistic behavior.

But some people learned very early in their lives a certain way to play the game.  They learned to protect themselves at all costs and use others for that protection.  They developed an inability to relate to others except to serve a particular use.  They strategize, manipulate, and deceive to get what they need.  Theirs is not a response to any recent stimulus.  Theirs is a life-long chosen way of coping with life.

If you didn’t see this in your narcissist before, it may simply be that he/she was good at playing the game.  The narcissist wants to be happy.  As long as the situation was pleasing to him/her, everything was fine.  When that changed, perhaps very gradually, the negative behavior came out.  No, you probably didn’t do anything more than become resistant or boring.

Most likely, your narcissist has been a narcissist for a very long time.  You just didn’t see it.

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Hiding

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

Over the past several weeks we have been talking about tactics used by narcissists in relationships.  We have talked about projection, isolating, barricading, gaslighting and lying.  Obviously these all overlap to various degrees.  I want to add another that may seem similar, but offers a different perspective on narcissistic behavior.

The world sees narcissists as loud and seeking attention, at least the ones we call “overt.”  For the most part that’s true, but those who know even the overt narcissists also know that there is much that the world does not see.  In fact, there is much no one sees.

Some of the narcissists I have known have had significant amounts of unaccountable time.  Where did they go and what did they do?  Some, and I have seen this suggested in comments here, believe that this is to serve sexual appetites for porn or other relationships.  Obviously that’s true in many cases, as spouses have learned the hard way.  But that isn’t true in all cases.  Some, I suspect, just like being alone or anonymous.

Narcissists hide their past.  Many of them hide their money.  Almost all of them hide their failures and fears.  And if you try to ask about these things, you will encounter lies, evasion, or even attack.

In fact, many of those who thought their narcissist was so open, so transparent, in the beginning of the relationship suddenly have realized that they only know parts of the narcissist’s life (and they aren’t sure about the truth of what they think they know).  Some things were shared, but other parts are glaringly missing . . . when you stop to think about it.  Of course, the narcissist doesn’t want you to think about it.

Some conveniently leave out parts of their employment history or even relationship history.  What must it be like to learn of another wife or husband after you have been in the relationship for a while?  Or learn that an employee had successfully covered up harassment charges or accusations of theft in other jobs?  Because narcissists are generally so good at talking, they are able to divert conversations away from sensitive areas.

Those in relationships with narcissists often get into trouble for sharing what the narcissist says are secrets.  Certain things are not to be discussed.  Sometimes you don’t know what topics are off limits.  Sometimes the topics are off limits for you but not for the narcissist.  That’s because he will spin things his own way.

Remember that hiding is part of the basic nature of the narcissist.  The loudness and strong personal presentation are meant to distract people from the truth.  Hiding things and facts gives the narcissist both protection and power.  Again, picture the child who escapes into a fantasy.  There may be a hidden place with some hidden things that contribute to the strength of the fantasy.  Those hidden things represented a separation from the pain or rejection the child experienced in regular life.

And, I know, some of you will feel compassion for the narcissist at this point.  So do I.  But many of us had challenging childhoods.  The narcissist has chosen to continue this hiding and all the other narcissistic characteristics in adult life.  Instead of growing out of childish perspectives and solutions, the narcissist chooses to use them in current relationships.

The saddest thing is that the narcissist hides from him/herself and from God, the source of the love they have always wanted.  By hiding behind the image he has created, the narcissist never lets anyone get close enough to help.  Those who do get close, find that the cost is great.

Please don’t read this and think you have to “walk the extra mile” to help your narcissist.  Love from a distance.  Protect yourself.  You are not the one who will provide the solution.  You are the one who will be used and hurt. 

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Overcoming the Disbelief

 It’s Narcissist Friday!

Last week I wrote about the difficulty many have in explaining the actions and abuse of the narcissist.  Some find that they simply are not believed when they begin to describe the kind of attacks and manipulation they have suffered.

I wanted to suggest some ways to prepare for telling your story.  Please understand that there is no magic incantation to make someone believe you.  As I explained last week, there are times when the recipients of your story feel that they cannot support you, even if they do believe you.  And, at other times, the narcissist simply wields his super ability to persuade others and you lose.  I wish it were some other way.

But there may be a few things that could help.

  1. Keep records.  Contemporaneous notes, records written very near the time of the event, are considered to be stronger evidence than just a story later.  If you can write down, within an hour or so, the exact words used or the particular times of the event or some very specific information, you will find that people receive your words with greater trust.  This is a well-respected technique in negotiations, probably because it seems more difficult to fabricate.  Use different writing tools from time to time to accent the fact that you are not writing this all at once.
  2. Report abuse.  Seriously, if you have been physically abused or if your children have suffered in this way, take pictures and go to the police.  I know it is hard and it will have consequences.  If you do not, they will ask later why you didn’t.  You will try to tell people about the abuse and they will doubt your story because you didn’t make a big deal at the time.  If you are afraid of the narcissist, tell the authorities.  Yes, sometimes this backfires and there is a risk, but most of the time you simply have to do it anyway.
  3. Tell the right people.  Can your pastor really do anything?  Will the narcissist’s mother even listen to you?  Maybe these are not the right people.  This is a time to build support for yourself, rather than find a solution to your problem.  Do both if you can, but don’t forget that the day will come when you will need someone to stand beside you.  A close family friend who will listen, a neighbor who has maybe heard his abuse, a teacher who sees the effect on your kids—someone who will listen.  Find a shelter and talk to the people there about how to build a support structure.  Maybe there is someone who warned you about the narcissist.  Find that person and talk.  Don’t expect the ones who listen to your story to do much more than give support and prayer.  Those things are important.
  4. Don’t mention narcissism.  There is something about an unprofessional diagnosis that makes people reject the story.  Perhaps too many people have claimed diseases or disorders just to get attention.  Someone once told me that she was bipolar.  When I asked her what she was doing about it, she said nothing.  She hadn’t been to a doctor, but she was pretty sure that’s what she had.  It is easy to dismiss something like that.  You don’t want your story to sound that way.  Instead, be very specific about words and actions.  Tell what he or she does.  Describe the narcissism without diagnosing it.
  5. Don’t tell your life story.  The more you tell, the more they will dismiss you.  Sorry, but that’s usually the way it is.  You may need someone to listen, but they hear stories all the time.  Every divorce has two victims/perps, according to the judge’s perspective.  Don’t make your story longer; make it more specific and factual.  Make it clear and have something reasonable that you expect him to do.  There are few people out there who will champion your cause.  You have to know what you need and tell only what will move your listener to that action.
  6. Report crimes.  Often the narcissist is willing to bend the rules because he or she feels they should not apply.  If you know of a crime that your narcissist has committed, seriously consider revealing that information to authorities.  There is certainly a risk in this and you have to be wise, but too many have waited until the divorce proceedings and then it looks phony and self-serving.  If your narcissist is a co-worker, you may discover over time that he has made it look like you did the deed.  Waiting or avoiding may not be your best choice.
  7. Play the game.  If he says you are stupid, then stupidly say the things that need to be said—in the company of others.  Use his accusations and criticisms against him.  Let him underestimate you while you build your support structure.  If he thinks you can’t handle money, he may not expect you to be tucking some away for the day of reckoning.  I don’t know what this might mean in your relationship, but I know that there are ways to play his game that will give you the advantage.
  8. Get healthy anyway.  Ultimately it won’t matter whether others believe you or not.  Yes, you may lose a great deal, but you must find the way to health.  No matter what it takes, build yourself back to what you should be.  Perhaps people will listen at a later time.  You will have suffered, but you may still have the last word.

What has helped to move people to believe your story?

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The Christian Narcissist

It’s Narcissist Friday!

 

All the narcissists I have known have been Christians.

Now, there are a couple of things that have to go along with that statement.  First, I mean they consider themselves Christians and they want everyone else to consider them Christians.  Second, I don’t get out much.

Recently a couple of readers suggested that I write something on the Christian Narcissist.  I have to admit that I find that designation to be troubling.  It seems like an oxymoron, a term that has two contradictory parts.  I am tempted to say that there cannot be such a creature, yet I do know some.  In fact, many churches have them.  So, here’s what I know:

  1. Christians are people saved by Jesus.  They draw their life from Him, but they draw their behavior from the patterns that developed throughout their early life and from the Holy Spirit.  In other words, sometimes we act like Christians and sometimes we don’t.  That’s true of all of us.
  2. Narcissism is a flesh pattern that developed in early life and became the coping mechanism of choice in handling the stresses of life.  This happened while the person was very young and has been reinforced constantly throughout life.  That means that if such a person would become a believer he or she would almost certainly continue to struggle with narcissistic behavior in relationships.
  3. Narcissistic behavior can be seen in almost anyone and appears in society as a continuum.  Those who practice it intuitively (without thinking) and regularly—to the detriment of their relationships—are the ones we label as narcissists.
  4. Those whose behavior and values warrant being designated as narcissists are unwilling or unable to care about others in normal ways and tend to use others in their process of handling life.  They think of little other than how to manipulate people in ways that benefit themselves or serve the image of themselves they want to promote.
  5. Narcissism is contrary to the Christian faith.  Because the narcissist will not admit failure or need, in order to protect the image, he or she will also not admit sinfulness or unworthiness and will not see the need for repentance or brokenness.  Those who receive Christ as life, do so as they understand their own failure and need.  Narcissists would find it very difficult to do this.
  6. However, Christian behavior is easy to fake and many in the church are naïve and gullible and are particularly vulnerable to the manipulations and deceit of the narcissist.  The church is a prime hunting ground for narcissists, with little real accountability and significant opportunity for attention and promotion.
  7. Narcissists are able and willing to adapt their behavior and words for the purpose of promoting their image and will use organizations, such as the church, to accomplish their goals.

 

So, what do I take from all of this?  That none of us should be surprised to find narcissists in church!  Are they Christians?  That isn’t mine to say.  While narcissism is contrary to Christ, narcissistic behavior may be just old flesh patterns at work in the life of the believer.  People who exhibit these characteristics will almost always be successful in persuading the majority of the people to accept and honor them, usually because the majority of the people won’t spend enough time to see the truth.

But what do you do about it?  Protect yourself.  Learn to recognize the behavior that hurts you and others.  You almost certainly will not be able to change the minds of church leadership toward the narcissist.  They are often the last ones to see the damage these folks can do.  If you must call attention to their actions, be sure to point out the behavior, rather than the motivation.  Tell what they do.  Maybe you can help others by pointing out what you see or by coming alongside victims when they are hurt.

I wish there was a more helpful and effective way of dealing with narcissists, particularly in the church.  But the truth is that these people usually win.  They are ruthless, willing to use whatever information and opportunities they are given to defend themselves and attack those who threaten them.  Most of the time it just isn’t worth it.  Churches and volunteer organizations are poorly prepared to deal with predators of any kind.  It would probably be better just to find another church.

Comments?  Questions?

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