Tag Archives: narcissistic patterns

Confrontation!

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

“People who confront the narcissist always lose.”

 

What do you think? Is that a true statement?  It certainly seems true, doesn’t it?  Only enter the fight if you are prepared to get beat up.  To confront the narcissist on behavior or attitude is to walk dangerously.

If you are reading this, you probably understand. It might be at work where you confront the narcissist about the lies he has told about you.  It might be a parent who has always put you down.  It might be a friend who takes advantage of your time and energy.  Or it might be a spouse or lover who is often cruel and uncaring.  But when you point out how they hurt you, you end up hurt again.

Somehow it is all your fault. You started it.  You deserve it.  You are the real culprit.  If you hadn’t done what you did, this never would have happened.  You should be thankful the narcissist puts up with you at all.  On and on and on.  By the time it’s over you wish you had never dared.

Then you feel like crap. Sorry for the vernacular, but that’s the way it is.  You built up your courage, gathered your nerve, prepared your words—and got creamed.  And this isn’t the first time.

So what do you do? Simple justice seems to demand that the narcissist be confronted.  She has to be told that she is hurting you.  He has to have the boundaries made clear.  They ought to be stopped.

But here’s the problem: the narcissists either already know they are doing something that hurts you or they simply don’t care. All your energy seems out of line to them.  They don’t understand why you are attacking them, since they have done nothing wrong.  Again, you deserved it.  To the narcissist, it is almost hypocritical of you to challenge them for their cruelty when it was your own fault.

 

And     so     you     go     slowly     crazy.

 

But understand that this is not your problem. You are not the crazy one.  This is how narcissists generally deal with confrontation.  Whether it is the boss, the mother, the neighbor, the police officer or anyone.  Even the counselor.

To the Officer: “Yes, Officer, I see your point. Thank you.  I appreciate your diligence.”

To you: “That jerk!  If he didn’t have that badge I would have pushed his words down his throat.  Who does he think he is giving me a ticket?”

Even when it seems that the confrontation works, it still doesn’t. There may be limited success.  He might shut up for a while.  She might walk away.  But they really don’t understand your anger and don’t care about your point.  They can’t see you as a real person whose emotions are valid.  Your anger, your sadness, your joy—they don’t understand them the way you might understand the emotions of others.

 

Back to the question: What do you do? Here are some ideas:

  1. Do what you must. If you must say something, do it. It will feel good to get it out, no matter how it is accepted.
  2. Plan for failure. There are times when it is right to do something even if you know ahead of time that it won’t work. Maybe someone else will hear and understand your point, even if the narcissist doesn’t get it. If you plan for the narcissist to avoid or miss your point, you might not be as hurt when he/she does.
  3. Accept small victories and benefits. Sometimes a confrontation can set up a boundary. Sometimes the narcissist will be set back and have to take a different tack. That can be good.
  4. Or you don’t have to confront at all. Why put yourself through that if you don’t have to? Set your boundaries and maintain them without confrontation. The narcissist will probably try to use confrontation if you seem to want to avoid it, but walking away or staying silent can be a very effective strategy.

 

Confrontation is hard and narcissists usually choose victims who hate it in almost any circumstance. It is hard because you see the other as a real person and you don’t want to hurt them, nor do you want to fail to get your point across.  Just know that your desire to confront and your struggle with confrontation are okay.  They’re normal.

So I have attached a little video that seemed to illustrate what happens when we try to confront the narcissist. I apologize in advance for the “dumb criminals” part.  You are neither dumb nor criminals, but the narcissist is usually as hard as bulletproof glass!

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Insidious

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

A friend is dying of cancer. I hate cancer. Cancer is sneaky. It lies in wait and pops up to ambush a person. It doesn’t care whether you are young or old, married, have children, have unfulfilled dreams, or anything. It just hides until it surprises you.

 

Oh, there are signs. A cough. A lump. An itch. A pain. A weariness. Little things that make you wonder. But it is so easy to shrug those signs off and just keep going. Sometimes people even go to the doctor, but the cancer is so small that it isn’t detected . . . yet. But it’s there, waiting. It’s insidious.

 

Insidious.   Seems to me that’s a good word for narcissism also. It means to wait, as in ambush. It comes almost directly from the Latin term. The idea, in Latin, is to sit waiting. The enemy in hiding. The enemy in our midst, not quite identifiable. You can almost feel that something is wrong, but you can’t see it or touch it. It might be right around the corner, or the next. Then, suddenly, it’s there.

 

That lady in church who welcomed you with such kindness. You notice how others seem to let her have her way. You notice that she is much better at getting others to work than she is at doing work herself. The more you get to know her, the more you realize that she speaks a little too freely about others. You begin to wonder if she speaks that freely about you. You have trusted her with private information, but now you begin to worry. Insidious.

 

The young man was so full of love and attention. He was polite and patient and thoughtful. At times it seemed like he was courting you instead of your daughter. She seemed so lucky and so happy. Just because she started wearing her hair differently and she sometimes wouldn’t tell you where they were going, you weren’t worried . . . at first. After a while, when he left his good job because “they didn’t know how to use his talents,” you began to see a different side of him. Soon he and your daughter were living in another state and she never called or emailed. That’s when you saw that you were ambushed.

 

Insidious. I could tell story after story. Husbands and wives; in-laws; co-workers; leaders; friends. People who seem great at first. Even when you begin to see the little things, they seem benign. But the cancer waits and grows.

 

Some people grow up with narcissism. It surrounds them from their earliest memories of parents, grand-parents, or siblings. What seems so obvious to outsiders just seems like regular life to these folks. Nothing is wrong, but everything is wrong.

 

Others have narcissism creep up on them. They enter into relationships with kindness and hope, never suspecting that an abuser sits waiting for an opportunity. It might be at work, where a co-worker tries to take your position or clients. It might be at church where the narcissist decides you are the one that needs their control. It might be an intimate relationship where you thought there was only love. Insidious.

 

So what do we do? Well, we do the same thing we do with cancer. We watch for the little things and pay attention. We tell others about the reality of narcissism and teach them to watch for the signs. Not every unkind act or selfish focus is an indication of narcissism, but we can watch. Patterns begin to emerge, evidence accumulates, and maybe we can act before the damage is done.

 

Sometimes aggressive treatment does work against cancer. Sometimes a change of diet or the right medicines or simple surgery can reduce or eliminate the effect of cancer. In the same way, catching certain behaviors or attitudes early in a relationship can allow us to build defenses, watch even more closely, or escape before things get bad.

 

And I have noticed an unexpected relief for some people who are diagnosed with cancer. Finally they have an explanation for being tired or for that pain that won’t go away. Finally the whole thing makes sense. Again, in the same way, those who have grown up knowing the pain of narcissism sometimes find a relief in naming the insidious enemy. They always knew something was wrong—their family was not like others—but now they know what it is. It doesn’t make it go away, but naming it brings both explanation and options.

 

Parents can talk with sons and daughters about the warning signs of a narcissist. Bosses can learn, as can pastors. Marriage counselors and therapists are beginning to see the truth. Narcissism no longer hides as easily in our society. More of us are sounding the alarm.

 

Yes, narcissists are adaptable, just like cancer. They adjust their tactics and hide differently so we have to be alert. Certain regimens will help. Clear and strong boundaries. Acceptance of ourselves and our uniqueness. Trust in the leading and love of the Lord.

 

We may never eradicate narcissism and it might still surprise us from time to time, but the battle is not the same. Narcissism may continue to be insidious, lying in wait to abuse, but we are watching for it.

 

We are no longer unaware.

 

 

 

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In the Church

I have been challenged a few times for using the term “narcissist.” The concern comes not from the fact that I am not a board-certified psychologist but from the fact that I am a Christian. Christians aren’t supposed to categorize people, I am told. There are only people who know Jesus and people who do not, some suggest. To categorize people further than this just gets in the way of the real concern.

In a way, I understand. Theologically, there is a very simplistic sense to the concern. However, the error exhibited by the concern isn’t quite as simple. The error suggests that behavior reveals inner truth. Again, there is a simplistic rightness to that, but not all behavior is overt. In other words, the behavior you and I see may not be consistent with what lives inside.

If you turned over the rocks and looked behind the locked doors, I think you could find almost any sin in church or among church members. Active sin with willing participants. Some find that hard to believe. All of us find that hard to accept.

Nine years ago the congregation of Christ Lutheran Church in Wichita learned that their church president had a terrible secret. Dennis Rader, whom they had known for many years, was the BTK murderer. For nearly twenty years, he had terrorized the community. The people never knew if or when they might be his victims. The fact that the police couldn’t seem to catch him made it possible for him to bring so much fear. Even when the killings stopped, no one knew if he was still out there watching his next victims. They certainly didn’t think that he was living among them as a trusted church leader.

BTK (bind, torture, kill), the nickname used to identify the murderer, has been diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder. ASPD is similar to narcissism in many ways with the additional factor of almost habitual illegal activity. It involves lying, grandiose ideas, lack of empathy, difficulty in personal relationships, and more in common with narcissism. And at least one active church member, a church leader, exhibited it.

My point is that we really should not be surprised that these folks can be found in church. There are many reasons. Maybe some of them actually feel some guilt over their sin and hope that association with the church will help. Maybe some of them find the church to be a great hiding place or a feeding ground. And because of their willingness to play the games, people with personality disorders are often trusted in positions of leadership.

This is also true in any other organization. Dennis Rader (BTK) was an active scout leader. You find them in clubs and organizations, neighborhood associations, and political groups. Many seem drawn to public gatherings, perhaps for the affirmations or even for the contacts. The church is not more susceptible to the wiles of these people than other groups, but certainly not immune from them either.

So how do we deal with these people in the church? Should we ignore the truth about them as we embrace them in fellowship because of Jesus? Do we have to determine their doctrine before we can deal with their sin? In other words, if they believe the right things and act right when they are with us, should we overlook concerns and reject labels? I don’t think so.

Matthew 18:17 shows us that it is possible for an abuser to be dealt with as an abuser, apart from consideration of his personal faith. There is a point where the behavior has to be confronted as it is, not as it ought to be. Matthew 18 shows us that there are limits to the “breaks” someone might get because of an expression of Christian faith or church involvement.

Another helpful passage is 1 Timothy 5:8, where we are told that a man who will not provide for his own household is outside the faith and worse than an unbeliever. In other words, it doesn’t matter what he says he believes. What we have to look at is his behavior.

So let me be blunt.

    Abusers should be treated as abusers. Murderers should be treated as murderers. Narcissists should be treated as narcissists.

God may accept them because of Jesus if they cry out to Him, but society has a right and a responsibility to deal with their “personality disorders” and sins without regard to their faith. And the church should support society’s involvement.

That means we do not cover up the sins of church people any more than we would want to cover the sins of school teachers or scout leaders. We call the police and let the justice system do its job. We help the victims and listen to their stories. We understand that there may well be predators and abusers even among us.  And we teach people to identify these disorders.

All my previous cautions about using labels still stand, but naming a behavior is different from calling a person a name.  Not only is it right for us to discern and label behaviors and attitudes like narcissism and ASPD, it may be very important . . . in the church.

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The Monster’s Legacy

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

I recently wrote an overview of the damage the flood from a year ago did to our little church building. It surprised me to look at the simple facts. We had to strip everything from the building, down to the studs in the walls and the concrete under the flooring. Everything was lost: all furnishings, wall coverings, fixtures, appliances, and nearly every small item. Our final costs, with a great deal of volunteer help, will be well over $50,000.

So, if the water only came up to three or four feet in the building and didn’t actually reach the rear of the building at all, why so much loss? Simple answer: mold. Invasive, destructive, smelly mold. Within a week or so, it had climbed to the top of the A-frame and penetrated almost everything in the building. Books sitting on the shelves, far above any water, were destroyed by the moisture and mold. All wood surfaces had to be sanded, treated, and painted. That meant removing all the drywall in the whole building. It took a crew of four two weeks and cost us nearly $19,000 just to stop the mold.

And our beautiful wood interior chapel will never look the same. Instead of wood grain, there is paint on all the beams. Instead of simple pews, we have steel chairs. It’s brighter and everything is new, but it is not the same.

Mold was the monster that changed everything.

I have a couple I talk with who have battled narcissism for many years in their extended family. We call narcissism “the Monster.” Just like the mold in our little church building, the narcissism monster has invaded nearly every part of their lives. It took years to identify it and more to understand the best ways to deal with it. And then there’s the monster’s legacy.

When the mold mitigation was finished, after so much damage and so high an expense, we still had all the work of rebuilding. When the monster has done its damage, the damage remains even after the monster is gone. Many people have written to tell me of the continuing struggles they faced after the narcissist left. Even when the problem is “solved,” and the monster is gone, the damage still affects us. In spite of the desire to move on, to start a new life, there is a lot of work to do.

Narcissism was the monster that changed everything.

Inability to make decisions, fear in personal relationships, nagging false guilt and shame, broken connections with others, depression, anxiety, and loneliness. These are some of the normal internal struggles. Then there are the external struggles. Financial stresses, custody and visitation issues, the need to find a job or the loss of a job, the physical consequences of stress, and so much more. When you look back at the end of a narcissistic relationship, you usually see a wide path of destruction.

And, again just like a physical disaster, there is fatigue. People sometimes have energy in the midst of battle, but find themselves drained and weary after the end. Not only did they spend precious personal resources to make the decisions and survive the conflict, but they borrowed energy and assets from their future. Now they simply have little to give to their own renovation and recuperation. The excitement that might come with starting new does not compensate for the drain caused by the battle.

I feel a special concern for newly single parents who have to minister to their children in the midst of their own grief and fatigue. Some of those who read this have been through that situation and are, in my estimation, heroes of a special order. Long after they should have been free to rest, they spent from their own hearts to care for children who needed stability and love. I have been so impressed by some of the stories I have read.

It is very important that we acknowledge the reality of the continuing struggle of those who have left narcissistic relationships of any kind. You feel drained, angry, discouraged, and lonely. You want to hurt someone and you want to crawl into a hole in the ground and what you really need is a good hug. You look around at the damage and wonder how you will ever continue.

No, things will not be the same. To be honest, some things will never be as good as they were once. But you will survive. Find support, someone to talk with, whatever agencies or ministries or good people will help. Take the help. Give yourself permission to screw things up, to go through the whole day with no measurable accomplishments, and to hide from the world once in a while. Don’t be ashamed of your occasional weakness or sadness or fear or even anger.

All of this is normal when the monster has swept through.

Is it wise for us to renovate our Chapel? It is worth all the work and expense? Some would wonder, given that another flood could happen. But it is important that we have a presence in that community. It is who we are. In another location, we would be different and we would lose even more. So we are a little wiser now. Paint will not be as susceptible to the ravages of mold. The flooring will be easier to replace. Our landscaping will, perhaps, be a little stronger.

Is it safe for you to trust again, to open your heart to others? Maybe not, but you are wiser and will be more careful. You know more of what to watch out for. And you are a person who needs relationship. Your kindness and patience and giving heart may have given the abuser the opening, but to change those things is to change who you are. There are other monsters out there, but you still have to be who you truly are. Be more careful, but don’t close your heart.

Rebuilding is hard work. The monster is terrible. But we do get through these things and there is life, better life, on the other side.

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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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