Tag Archives: narcissistic patterns

The Super-power

 It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

I remember some sci-fi show where the person wearing a certain amulet had the power to make others like him; like him so much that they would do almost anything for him, without regard to his cruel ways. Once the amulet was taken from him, they saw the truth and got their revenge.

Do narcissists have a secret amulet or some kind of special ability that allows them to get what they want? It certainly seems so at times. I have often called this the narcissist’s super-power. They have an amazing ability to manipulate what others think and believe about them.

I get comments and emails saying that a victim’s parents still love the narcissist. Friends, bosses, family members and others can’t seem to see the lies and manipulations of the narcissist. They just see a wonderful person. It’s like some kind of covering is over their eyes distorting reality.

I have watched narcissists get promoted in spite of the fact that they were basically incompetent in their jobs. I have seen narcissists trusted in spite of their almost obvious duplicity. I have seen people go to narcissists for counsel in spite of the fact that the narcissists betray confidences and really don’t care. It is all very hard to understand.

Perhaps there are several factors at work here, I think.

  1. They want us to trust them – Narcissists have needs and they are highly motivated to fulfill those needs. Just like a salesman or a counselor or someone else whose success hinges on trust, the narcissist will go to extra lengths to gain that trust. This is why they seem to be extra loving or attentive or even trustworthy in the beginning. They need your trust more.
  2. They have learned the system – There are words and actions that communicate trust. Narcissists will look people in the eye, give a firm handshake, and refer to the person as “friend.” They will take the extra assignment or do the special favor that gains influence (even if they have to find someone else to do the work). Narcissists are observant and careful listeners and generous and respectful—when they want to gain trust. They know how the trust system works.
  3. They know we want to trust – Narcissists take advantage of a basic human need, the need to relate to trustworthy people. They know that most of us will look past faults, even to form images of a person according to our own desires. Most of us don’t assume that others lie or manipulate. We find it hard to believe that someone could be so mercenary and cold. So they use our desire to trust against us.

I know a narcissist who holds a high organizational position. He is barely competent as a leader and untrustworthy as a friend. Behind him lie the broken lives and vocations of the people he has used. But in front of him are many others with open arms and smiles and generous hearts who see nothing wrong. He has held his position for a long time and has used it to gain both financially and socially. He knows how to play the game.

Basically, that’s the key. The narcissist knows how to play the game. But you have to add to that the fact that they are ruthless in playing. They have nothing to lose and they play to win. And, sadly, they usually do.

So, if you try to fight your narcissist, you may lose. The wife who leaves may find herself with little or nothing. The friend who gets away may find himself to be a pariah among the mutual friends. The narcissist’s super-power works. Those who should be able to see the truth are blinded by the spin, the image, the lies. Those of us who try to come alongside the victims have ideas that should work, but often fail because the narcissists simply have something no one should have—the ability to move the hearts and minds of others in their own favor.

Now, there are some of us who are almost immune to their power. We see the truth, at least about the narcissists we have known. But it is especially frustrating when we realize that even that immunity has come because the narcissist no longer cares. Too many have found themselves vulnerable when the narcissist comes around again.

Yes, it is a super-power, at least in comparison to anything the rest of us have. Yes, it is scary when you see it that way. But it is better to see the truth than to be caught off guard. The only defense we have is to remember the truth we have learned about narcissism, ourselves, and the person who has caused our pain. We may need each other to remind us sometimes.

Remember that victory may simply lie in getting out. The threats of the narcissist cannot overcome the support and strength you have. Find that support and use that strength. Trust the Lord and His love for you. He is the One you can trust.

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Disarming the Narcissist – Behary

It’s Narcissist Friday!

It seems to be generally agreed among the professionals that narcissism is something left over from the childhood of the narcissist. For some reason, the child learned to hide his/her vulnerable self and project a superior image. During the trauma that created that deception, the child lost (or never learned) the ability to empathize with others. In fact, he/she never developed the understanding of others as persons, independent and valuable in their own right. Usually this is considered to be the result of parenting issues.

The concept of “re-parenting” people who struggled with severe personality or emotional issues got a bad reputation from those who used questionable techniques such as regression therapy and recovered memory. Those who promoted re-parenting also had a tendency to blame the parents for any and all aberrant or destructive behavior in the child, even when that child was an adult. These techniques and assumptions often had the effect of producing the results they were supposed to reveal.

However, the idea that the narcissist could return to his/her childhood and revisit the trauma from a new and adult perspective would seem to have some potential. Could the narcissist see and acknowledge the pain and fear of abandonment or the confusion of ever-changing standards and boundaries and find a way to personal peace and normal growth in relationships? Those who understand that the narcissists themselves are in pain and live in fear would hope that such a process would be possible and helpful.

According to Wendy Behary, whose primary clientele are “mostly narcissistic men,” this re-parenting is not only possible, but very useful in working through interpersonal relationships. In her book, “Disarming the Narcissist,” Behary attempts to show those who must deal with narcissists how to defend themselves and offer valuable feedback to the struggling narcissist.

DisarmingtheNarcissist2ndEd-CF.indd

As I read this book, I found myself wavering between two opinions. It is clear that Behary knows narcissism. Her descriptions of narcissistic interactions and relationships are often right on point. Many readers will identify with her observations. On the other hand, her assessment of narcissistic behavior seems to excuse the abuse and cruelty by reminding the reader of the broken child in the narcissist.

Her overview of schemas and how narcissists are able to get under our skin and control us through our own vulnerabilities is insightful and gives the readers more power in narcissistic relationships. It is helpful to know why we are so open to narcissistic abuse. However, those who are already given to blaming themselves for their relationship problems will probably feel even more justified in that blame as they understand why they react the way they do to the narcissist.

Finally, her discussion of re-parenting the narcissist by feeding back therapeutic words and helping the narcissist feel accepted in his/her weakness and see how the negative behavior affects others may be just the kind of therapy that will work with the narcissist. I have long believed that some narcissists are not as malicious as their behavior portrays, but are simply so used to responding and manipulating in negative ways that they don’t know what else to do. Helping them to discover different ways, ways that will enhance relationships while not causing them more pain, could be a great blessing.

But is this the role of the spouse or child in a narcissistic relationship? Behary gives examples of language that could be used within the relationship, but one can hardly imagine a wife or child using that language without significant backlash. If a wife were to tell her husband that she understands his continuing shame from the times his mother treated him like a dress-up doll in front of her friends, she may find him withdrawing even more or striking out in anger as he makes it clear that she is not to go to that place again. Can even an adult child be expected to confront a parent with the psychological causes of negative behavior?

Suggesting that the victims stand in the place of the counselor could serve to make them more vulnerable and feel more culpable for the problems in the relationship. Actually, Behary is not saying that the wife or child could really do the counselor’s work. She is simply offering a way for narcissistic victims to take back some control of their own lives and, at the same time, offer some help to the narcissist. My concern is that this may set the victims up for further abuse and disappointment.

Do I recommend this book? Yes, with a couple of notes. First, as you read it, don’t automatically think that you can do what Behary suggests. You may not have the kind of relationship where this is possible or the kind of narcissist who would respond in any positive way. You also may not be in the emotional position to try these things. And if you feel like you are losing yourself and are becoming psychologically or emotionally unstable, you should probably separate from the relationship. If, when you are more healthy, you want to try these things, do it from a position of strength.

It is also worth noting that a therapist who works regularly with narcissists has not written a book on how to help the narcissist. Instead, Behary’s book, like so many in this area, is written for the victims. There is something in that to suggest that the type of feedback Behary offers for use in narcissistic relationships will only be helpful in a fraction of situations. Some people who exhibit narcissistic behavior and ideas may be open to the reasonable approach promoted in the second half of this book. Others, not so much.

I would be very interested in the thoughts of those who have read this book, particularly those who have used these ideas in their own relationships. You are welcome to disagree with me. I think this is an important part of the literature on this subject, but I caution anyone who wants to approach a narcissistic relationship using these tools.  You should also know that this review is based on the first edition of the book.  A second edition is now available.

I won’t be able to respond to comments for a few days because I will be traveling, but you are welcome to leave comments. Here are some other books you might find interesting.

http://graceformyheart.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/books-on-narcissism-pt-1/

http://graceformyheart.wordpreDisarmingtheNarcissist2ndEd-CF.inddss.com/2011/04/22/more-books/

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Are Narcissists Sick?

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

(This is a post I wrote a couple years ago.  There have been some questions about narcissism as an illness or physical condition recently and this may help.  There is significant debate among the professional community as to the nature of narcissism, but there is wide agreement that it is very difficult to treat.)

 

In many ways it would be easier if we could think of the narcissist as sick.  If we could point to a mental illness or a chemical imbalance, we would have something to blame the behavior on. We could excuse the cruelty by saying, “Oh, he can’t help himself because he is sick.”  Then our desire for compassion would be justified and we could feel better about ourselves as we help a sick person and endure his or her abuse.

Unfortunately, narcissism doesn’t fit the concept of an illness.  For whatever reasons, narcissists have chosen and continue to choose their behavior.

(Now, I have to post a disclaimer here.  I am not a psychologist or a psychiatrist or a mental health therapist or counselor.  I am a theologian who has done a great deal of counseling over the years as a pastor.  So what I tell you is based on my experience and on what I have picked up from others.  You are encouraged to do your own research on anything I teach.)

Professional therapists use words like dysfunction, illness, disorder, and disability to refer to different causes of behavior or sensations.  These words are often used interchangeably, which makes definition all the more confusing for the rest of us.  In general, illness or mental illness refers to a condition caused by some biological agent.  The agent could be a genetic anomaly, an injury, a chemical imbalance, or some other outside influence.  While many forms of mental illness may lead to narcissistic behavior, the behavior itself doesn’t prove the illness.

Narcissism has been classified as a personality disorder by some.  All that says is that it is out of sync with what is considered to be normal behavior and perspective.  But it also suggests that narcissism is a choice.  That choice may be based on disturbing childhood experiences, but it is still a choice.  I believe that fear is the primary cause of narcissistic behavior, but the fear does not need to be current.  In other words, acting in a narcissistic way is how the narcissist learned to deal with fear throughout his life.

Addictions are particularly difficult to overcome because they are often the intersection of several types of problems.  What begins as a need to fit into a group or feel better can become a physical dependency through drugs or alcohol.  Those who deal with drug rehabilitation must work through both the biologically-caused illness and the psychologically-caused disorder.  To further complicate things, we now understand that repeated actions can create something very similar to physical addiction.  When we talk about people addicted to eating, shopping, gambling, hoarding, or pornography, we refer to behaviors that have become so ingrained that stopping them takes serious desire and effort.

It is my opinion that narcissism is a type of addiction.  The narcissist has chosen and continues to choose his behavior because he believes it works for him.  Over the years he has gained enough from this behavior that he continues to use it even in the face of negative consequences.  It is his default conduct and he has learned to apply various techniques in different circumstances.  It may be that he has done it so often and has convinced himself so strongly of its value that he simply no longer thinks of it as a choice.  In other words, it just comes naturally to him.

A simple observation from the Bible has become a well-known saying in our culture:

“As he thinks in his heart, so is he.”  (Proverbs 23:7)

Because the man thinks his narcissistic behavior works, and because he has invested so much into making it work, he has become a narcissist.  Whether the clinical definition fits him or not, he acts out of his perspective.  That perspective includes such concepts as the usefulness of others and the promotion of a certain self-image.  He acts this way because he thinks this way.

This is a very brief overview of my perspective on narcissistic behavior, but it reveals some important thoughts.  These are some of the ideas I use as I counsel and write on this subject.

  1. Narcissists are accountable for their actions because they are free to choose otherwise.
  2. Narcissists can change by “unlearning” certain ideas about themselves and others.
  3. Carefully applied negative consequences for narcissistic behavior may be helpful.
  4. Those in relationship with narcissists are victims or objects, rather than caregivers.

 

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Why?

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

Why do the narcissists abuse people?  Why do they do such things?  They hurt.  They use.  They manipulate.  They destroy.

Why?

Some have attributed their cruelty to hatred.  Some to anger.  Others to envy.  Perhaps they look at the rest of us and create ways to demolish what we or others have built into our lives.   Perhaps they do it for fun, excitement, maybe challenge.

Narcissists can cause a lot of pain.  I read the stories people send to me privately and those shared in the comments and I grieve for those who have had to endure so much.  Some of the stories are hard to believe, but I know narcissists and I do believe them.  And, again, why do they do these things?

I have written about this before, but it seems important to say it again: it isn’t your fault.  You are not an inferior person destined to be the kick-toy for others.  You are not suffering because of some sin in your life.  Narcissists don’t need our sin in order to accomplish their nastiness.  God is not angry with you.  He did not send the narcissist to punish you.  Basically, it isn’t about you.

I’m not sure the truth will make you feel better about the reality in which we live, but I hope it allows you to feel better about yourself.  It’s the narcissist who is broken.  There is something lacking in them that allows them to hurt others without concern.  There is something in them that is very different from the rest of us.  No, they are not normal.

You see, the narcissist simply doesn’t care.  He will do whatever he wants.  She will say whatever she thinks.  Words and actions are part of the narcissists’ tools to get what they want.  They do the things they do because they are means to an end.  If it hurts you, so what?

But, you say, how can a spouse or a friend or a parent think like that?  I don’t know.  I just know that some of them do.  They manipulate in whatever way works.  If it takes being nice to you and making you feel very good, they will do that.  If it takes being mean and cruel, they will do that.  Either one is simply useful, not good or bad.

So is it envy or hatred or sadism or some other perverted motivation?  Maybe.  But I will guarantee you that the narcissist does not feel these things in the same way you do.  If they envy, they don’t think of it as envy.  It is probably much more like base desire.  If it is hatred, it may still have nothing to do with you as a person.  If it is sadism, it does not bring the pleasure you might think.  The narcissist is motivated simply by the desire to feel better about themselves.  Whatever it takes…

Don’t try to figure it out.  There is probably no cause and effect that will make sense to you.  Just don’t believe the lie that it is about you.  A few years ago I ran across this little selection from T. S. Eliot.  I have shared it here before, but it seems good to share it again.  It might help.

 

Half the harm that is done in this world

Is due to people who want to feel important

They don’t mean to do harm ­

But the harm does not interest them.

Or they do not see it, or they justify it

Because they are absorbed in the endless struggle

To think well of themselves.

T. S. Eliot

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Feeling Trapped?

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

Being dumped by the narcissist is hard. One day you are wonderful and special; the next you are nothing. One day you feel loved and the next you feel hated. That’s tough.

But I think it is even harder when they won’t let you go. Day after day, week after week, on and on they just keep nagging or begging or criticizing or using or trying to make you crazy. And they are so good at keeping you involved in their lives. They lie and cry and plead and threaten, whatever it takes to keep you on that string.

Why are some narcissists so hard to get rid of? Here are some ideas:

 

  1. They think they own you. Remember that you are not a person to a narcissist. The narcissist sees others as tools, toys or obstacles. If you have been useful in the past, you may be useful in the future. Most narcissists have as little regard for the feelings of others as you or I would have for belongings. So you can’t make the decision to separate from them. They own you.
  2. They may be afraid of what you know. Did you learn any compromising information about the narcissist during your relationship? Could that information be used to challenge the image of the narcissist? Perhaps you are not important or useful, but dangerous and you must be controlled.
  3. You continue to provide supply. Sometimes we think that narcissistic supply, the “drug” many professionals refer to as the source of addiction for narcissists, is only admiration and attention. I think it is also found in conquest, control, and superiority. Every time the narcissist thinks he has won an argument, he gets a hit of supply. Every time she makes you feel worse about yourself, she gets that supply. Whatever it takes to make the narcissist feel better about himself—that’s supply. Even the battle that seems so worthless and so negative to you may provide supply to the narcissist. And, of course, your friend or lover might still want what you gave in the past and continues to look to you to provide it.

 

All of this is to say that it might be very difficult to end a narcissistic relationship. Not impossible, but difficult and not quick.

So how do you do it? Well, every situation is different. Family, marriage, work, church, friendships—all require some special methods, I suppose. Yet, there are a few things you should know for any kind of narcissistic relationship.

You have the right to be yourself. You should have some space and time and energy of your own. That will take some resources. Don’t be afraid to hold onto a little money or to take a little time for yourself. Even the most controlling relationship can be tolerated if you find a way to feel good about yourself. That happens in private times with the Lord or conversations with supportive people or just a special time by yourself.

Here are a few things I believe will help:

 

  1. You are not wrong to say no. You have to maintain some personal control in order to be healthy. Saying no or keeping your distance may be a very good thing.
  2. You don’t have to answer the phone, read the email or the text or the letter, or even be home when the narcissist expects. This is harder in a marriage, of course, but adapt these things to your own situation. If the marriage has ended, almost all of the conversation can as well.
  3. You are not accountable to the narcissist and must not tell more about yourself, especially your secrets. Secrets are powerful. When you hold one, you have control. When you share one, you give control away. This is why narcissists love to learn the secrets.
  4. There is no responsibility to continue a friendship when you have been abused. A user will use you again. Count on it. You do not have to stay tied to the abuser. You have a right to life without that person. That’s true even for an abusive parent.
  5. Plan for the battle. Remember that they will use your empathy or your guilt or your sadness against you. They want you to feel bad about letting them go. They can be ruthless. They will tell your secrets. They will lie about you. They will try to destroy whatever support you have. You will have to be strong.

 

Can you ever win? Will you ever be able to move on? Oh yes! Most of them will give up eventually. Those who won’t give up or those who have you tied into situations where you think you can’t escape only think they are in control. Create a life within your heart and mind that is yours. Even if they can make you do certain things, they can’t make you do everything. Win little battles and feel good about yourself. Spend a little time just for you. Spend a little money just for you. Find a place that is yours, even if it is a spot in the yard or a stop along the drive home. Don’t go there when the narcissist is with you. It’s yours.

Know that you are more than the victim or the supply of the narcissist. You are you and you are valued and loved. If you can get away from the narcissist, do it. If you can’t or feel that you should continue longer, find the way to be healthy even in the relationship. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself.

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Knowing

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

“I just want to know everything about you!”

 

To the young girl who has, perhaps, been pushed aside by friends or parents, those words seem wonderful. She has met a young man who listens to every story she tells about her family, her school, her dreams, her failures, her secrets. It’s so easy to talk with someone who actually listens and so nice to talk to someone who cares. He is so sensitive, so loving, so intimate.

But five years later, or ten, or two—the young man is very different. His ability to listen is gone, along with his caring. Now he is mean and he uses her secrets to hurt her. He knows things about her family and her friends and he hints at using the information unless she does what he wants. Now, instead of intimacy, it’s all about control.

Those who have walked this path would tell the young lady that it was all about control from the beginning.

Narcissists are usually predators. They watch and they listen. They seek openings they can use to their advantage. It might be a marriage or family, it might be at work, it might be what seems like a friendship, or it might be in a church—but the narcissist knows things. Somehow he learns things he shouldn’t know. Somehow she pries secrets from others. Then there is power.

There is an old marketing saying that we should all remember when we meet others:

If I know more about you than you know about me,  I can control the conversation.  

If I know more about you than you know about yourself,  I can control you.

 

Few people notice how the narcissist controls the conversation from the beginning of the relationship: learning more and revealing less. Gradually and methodically, he gathers facts and stores them away, like the spider that stores its catch to consume later. When he has enough, his plan begins to bear fruit.

Many have related how they told so much to the narcissist, yet never felt like they knew him. He had their secrets, but they had nothing. I have known people who just never got around to telling a spouse about a previous marriage, even children. Knowledge is power and power is held by the narcissist.

Eventually, as the narcissist gathers information, his power goes beyond the controlled conversation to the control of the victim.

Most of us are good at deceiving ourselves about ourselves. We ignore things we don’t like and focus on fantasies about what we can do or what we might do. We go through life with a certain bemusement that allows us to look forward and get things done. But the narcissist wants to know all about the things we would rather hide. Then he feeds them back to us when we least expect it, when we are vulnerable.

When I was active in church denominations I asked pastors if they would take an embarrassing personal struggle to their denominational leaders, even those who claimed to be caring about the special struggles of pastors. Everyone I talked with said they would not, and I certainly knew that I would not. One told me, “Once you tell (the authority) about that, you can forget ever moving ahead. That will always be there in the background.” Perhaps we all knew that denominational leadership is often a haven for narcissists.

So be careful with your secrets. Tell your children not to share things they don’t want used against them, especially before they are married. If the conversation is one-sided ask why. Perhaps you are being set up.

I believe that Jesus is the one with whom we should share our secrets. He already knows and He already loves us. Nothing we share will shock Him and He will never use the information against us. In fact, there is an interesting statement in the Bible about what real relationship is:

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face.

Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

1 Corinthians 13:12

 

I shall know as I am known. The power isn’t on one side. The power is in the relationship. Real relationship is sharing knowledge and love. There will be a day when that is normal.

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Chaos

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

“You never know what’s coming next.”

The one who controls the chaos, controls the world.

 If you are a fan of the old “Get Smart” television show, you will remember that the two organizations were named “CONTROL” and “KAOS.” Back in the cold war days, Americans were taught that our side was good and the other side was evil. The subtle message in Get Smart was that control was good, while chaos was evil.

But I think chaos is a tool for those who want control. The more chaos a person experiences, the more he/she wants order. Order requires control.

In many narcissistic relationships, chaos reigns. You really don’t know what’s coming next. Sometimes we chalk that up to the fact that we don’t think like the narcissist so it is hard to predict individual choices and actions. But sometimes chaos itself is the means of control.

You never know what answer will come when you ask a question or make a statement. You can’t get a commitment on an upcoming event so you can make plans. You don’t get to know how much money comes in or goes out or how it is used. You wait when the narcissist is late, but you never know what has been going on.

The chaos keeps you off balance. After a while it gets hard to think and planning or preparing seem like lost causes. A lot of your energy is spent trying to stay reasonably stable in the midst of all the chaos.

Could this be purposeful? Could the narcissist not really be that forgetful, but be late just to set you off? Could the random statement or accusation in the midst of a serious conversation be an attempt to throw off your reasoning? Could the mood shifts be planned just to keep you guessing?

Of course. Narcissists must control as much as they can. They usually control by taking away the options and energy of the ones they are using. As long as you are off balance, you are vulnerable and reactive. You don’t get a chance to pull things together so you can control your own life.

I don’t think all narcissists use this, but some will certain recognize the technique. We have talked about gaslighting, but chaos isn’t really for the purpose of making the victim look crazy or undependable. Chaos, I think, is for control.

In the past I have said that narcissists are predictable. I should revise that. Narcissists are predictable in as much as their motives and desired results are always the same. The motive is to serve the image, and the desire is to avoid feelings of vulnerability. But you may never be able to accurately predict what your narcissist will say or do next . . . and that might be on purpose.

How do you cope with chaos? Set your mind and heart on a still point. In the midst of the confusion and anxiety find that still point and you will find peace and freedom. For me, the still point is the knowledge of the love of God that comes through my relationship with Jesus. Whatever happens, He is there for me. Even when I can’t see Him, I know that He is there and He loves me. It helps.

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