Tag Archives: narcissistic patterns

Secrets

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

A secret is a thing of power.

Hidden away behind the wall, camouflaged against discovery, a secret is kept. Layers of deception and misdirection, hazards and pitfalls in the path, all to dissuade the curious and thwart the investigator. The one who finds the secret finds something of the life of the one who hid it.

Recently the protective lid has been lifted from some well-known Christian ministries and the stench of the long-hidden secret has been exposed. The aged strata of performance and legalist ideals has finally given way to pressures from those whose lives have been touched by the secrets. The battle to keep them covered is being lost.

And now, as the truth is revealed, the secrets have become things of weakness. Their existence shouts of lies and compromises and begs for more questions. What else is hidden, we wonder.

Narcissism thrives in a culture of secrets. Many of the stories I have heard have involved secrets. Secret bank accounts, secret spending, secret relationships. Added to those are the vague histories of past jobs and marriages. I remember one man who somehow failed to tell his wife that she was really his third, not his second, and that there was a child from the first. Some have had secret families and secret apartments. Lies and avoidance cover up truth so that the secret remains hidden.

I think it is fair to mention secrets as a generally common characteristic of narcissists and legalists. Neither want the reality of their lives exposed. Both fear exposure above almost anything. Both promote an image of themselves as reality, so that others will not look for the truth. Both believe that others will judge them negatively if the whole truth was revealed. So secrets are important.

It is not a coincidence that the narcissist and the legalist both seem to want to know the secrets of others. When the young lady meets the narcissist boy, she notices that he listens to everything and asks all about her life. She is impressed and touched at his sensitivity and attention. Later she finds that he remembers details and uses them to accuse her or manipulate her. He gathered her secrets because secrets are things of power.

The legalist preacher often knows details about the lives of the people in his church that others do not know. Through counseling or confession, he has harvested secrets and remembers those secrets when he wants to control the people. I have known pastors who use that information in the pulpit (without names, of course) just to play with their power.

I suspect that the more a person has to hide, the more interested he/she is in the secrets of others. They are distractions from what the narcissist has hidden and they are weapons that can be produced in threatening times. They make the narcissist feel better about himself. Because he knows what he has hidden, he takes comfort in knowing that others have hidden things as well.

I also suspect that the more a person has to hide, the more that person will act out with lesser secrets. Many narcissists hide chunks of time or money. Opportunities to be anonymous or without accountability make them feel stronger. Small or unnecessary deceptions may be tests to see if the real secret is still safe or if the power to conceal is still there. If these lesser secrets are discovered, the narcissist acts as though they are unimportant.

Perhaps it should be noted that the primary secret the narcissist hides might not be all that big. Most hide feelings experienced in times of weakness or fear. Like the girl who lives in fear that someone would find and read her diary even though she has written nothing in it that anyone would care about, so the narcissist may not be hiding anything you or I would think to be of value. Just because a husband leaves work an hour early, but returns home at the usual time, that does not offer proof of a secret lover or evil hobby. At the same time, the deception is understandably disconcerting to his wife.

If you already believe yourself to be in relationship with a narcissist, you may find this characteristic of secrets to be part of that relationship. You may even choose to ignore it or adapt to it, as long as it does not endanger you or your family. While narcissists need the attention of people, they usually find the presence of people to be draining and threatening. The narcissist might need time without the expectations of others in order to continue to function in relationships. Secrets provide space and separation.

However, if you are wondering about the person in your relationship and you see this tendency toward secrets, along with other narcissistic characteristics, those secrets may help you decide what your battle really is about. If you have suddenly realized that the new boyfriend knows everything about you and your family, while you know little about him or his, you should certainly reconsider the relationship. The way a person handles secrets may reveal far more than he or she wants you to know.

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Leaving the Narcissistic Organization

It’s Narcissist Friday!

(At home today, caring for a family member just out of the hospital.  This re-post seemed timely.)

Sometimes narcissists like to be with other narcissists.  Of course, when that happens, there is usually a hierarchy of a sort, a way to know who is above whom.  That takes a system—or an organization.  Sadly, volunteer organizations often fall prey to the narcissistic takeover.

Think of the narcissistic organization as a multi-level marketing system.  The currency, of course, is narcissistic supply.  The leaders share percentages of the admiration and attention that comes from those on the bottom.  Years ago, someone tried to get me to peddle a certain soap company’s products and marketing strategy.  He told me how I would get a piece of the work of everyone I sold the system to and of everyone they sold it to.  In other words, I could live on the support of those under me.  He only stuttered when I asked a simple question:  “Doesn’t someone have to sell soap?”

Every narcissistic organization must have followers, people who exude appreciation and awe for the leaders.  They must be obedient and helpful and enthralled.  They must be impressed most of all with the one at the top, but also suitably servile and attentive to those under the leader.  The leader, of course, has little time for those on the bottom.  They are to send their admiration (and usually money) without expectation.  They must be satisfied with small connections and with representatives.

So the people at the bottom, the ones who actually do the work (sell soap), become something like groupies.  They may not be able to connect with the lead singer, but they can connect with the stage crew or the bus driver.  Then they just might work their way up to the drummer and get to see the lead singer once in a while.

Now, when you are in this system, all of this just seems sort of normal.  You don’t expect to get to visit with the CEO or the Teacher or the evangelist.  But you certainly appreciate their skill and wisdom.  You listen to the sermon or go to the seminar and you tell others how great it was.  Your small group leader is as close as you will ever get to leadership, but you recognize that he has been under the teaching of the leader.

But when you finally begin to realize that the system exists almost entirely for the sake of feeding the leader with narcissistic supply, you begin to see the ugliness.  Maybe you disagreed with the leader or one of his representatives about something and found that you were being shut out, even shunned.  Maybe rumors were started about your character to discredit any concern you might have about the organization.  Suddenly the ones who were so gracious and welcoming turn into something unexpected and frightening.

Almost like turning off a faucet, your connections seem to disappear.  The phone stops ringing.  The emails stop.  The opportunities for fellowship and service dry up.  You begin to feel like an outcast.  You might be able to be restored, with a certain amount of apology and penance.  But probably not.  Once the narcissistic organization recognizes a person as a threat, that person must go.  Those who stay will be carefully marginalized.

So now you are out.  Either you saw the truth and got out or they turned against you and kicked you out.  Neither one feels very good.  Just like those with narcissistic lovers, you feel empty and afraid when the relationship is over.  No matter how often people tell you that you are better off apart, you can’t feel that way consistently.

You see, narcissistic organizations are simply collections of narcissists.  All the manipulations and addictive drugs narcissists give their victims are in these organizations.  Very often the narcissistic organization takes over the lives of the people.  There are activities and groups and expectations and jobs and all kinds of connections to keep you both close and under control.  They welcome you with attention and love and excitement and tie your heart to the system.  When you leave, it hurts.  Even if it was your choice.

And, yes, there is often fear.  Narcissistic organizations often fill their people with stories of abuse outside the organization.  Wickedness, prejudice, and all kinds of evil lie in wait outside the organization.  What would happen to you if you left?  Where would you ever find a place you could trust?

This is why people who leave narcissistic churches often stop going to church altogether.  They are either convinced that no other church could measure up to the level of authority or activity of what they are leaving or they are afraid of being hurt again by another group of users and abusers.

And there is anger.  The narcissistic organization uses and discards just like the narcissistic person.  Those who leave these organizations have often given great amounts of time and money and loyalty—only to have nothing but negative in the end.  Sadness and loss turn to anger easily when we realize that we were used.

But there is another feeling, something better, something good.  There is a sense of victory.  Like a person who escapes danger learns that she is stronger than she thought, the person who leaves this kind of organization feels like they have done something right.  It might take time to heal, but it is good to be out.

Eventually, the poison that held you in bondage will leave your system.  Just be sure that you don’t get sucked in again.  Be gracious and kind, but withhold your trust for a while.  And believe that there are good churches and good organizations that are worth searching for.  Think through what you learned.  Watch the leaders.  Listen to people who warn you.

There are real people who care.  Find them.  And be prepared to give again.

 

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Anger is your friend

. . . but it can wear out its welcome!

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

Let’s just admit that the Bible seems to send a conflicting message about anger.  On one hand, we are told to avoid anger and get it out of our lives.  On the other, we are told about the anger of God.  I know that some people say only God has the right to be angry, but I think that misses the point.  Anger might be a generally negative emotion, but I think our emotions reflect the way God made us.

There are many passages that speak of the anger of God against the cruelty of people.  When Jesus saw the unkind hearts of the people around Him, He got angry (Mark 3:5).  When God gets angry, something happens.  The status quo is changed.  And, if God can get angry, then good people can get angry.  There is something good in anger.

Anger is a natural response against injustice and abuse.  We might go so far as to say that it is a right response.  It moves us to action.  We used to refer to “righteous indignation.”  Anger has moved some people to get up and rescue those who are being abused.  Anger has moved some to work hard on changing laws and practices.  Anger has moved some to make serious changes in themselves.  Anger gets things moving.

Think of anger as a large and vicious dog that you keep in your house to protect your family.  You know that the dog is powerful and ruthless and deserves respect.  Yet, you keep it around anyway.  Why?  Because there is danger in your neighborhood and you need something strong and ferocious in your house.

Now, you can’t just let a dog like that run around the neighborhood terrorizing people.  Nor should you let go of your caution when it is around your kids.  The dog could get out of hand and become dangerous.  But when the burglars or those who would harm your family come to your house, that dog could save their lives.  He would be more alert, more aggressive, and a lot more formidable than you would be.  You want the bad guys to be afraid.

Some people would say that they would never risk having a dog like that.  I understand.  There are risks, but sometimes the risk is worth taking.

There are times in life when anger is your friend.  In dealing with narcissism, anger is natural, perhaps even right.  Narcissists can be so cruel.  Without anger, some people would not have the strength to separate themselves from a narcissist.  Without anger, the narcissist may continue his/her abuse unhindered.  Without anger, no one else may ever hear of the manipulations and lies.

Anger may be the one tool in your chest that gives you the strength to get out or to say no.  I remember reading, very early in my study of narcissism, Vaknin’s comment that the most common response felt by those who realize they have been victims of narcissism is rage.  Rage that stirs them to speaking loudly and acting harshly.  Rage that makes a fist.  Rage that finally moves the victim to pack up and move out.

But listen: you can’t live there.  Rage drains your spirit and body of energy.  Anger may be useful, but it cannot be sustained without great cost.  Nor is it necessary.  You don’t want your anger to become a dangerous part of your life.  Like the big dog, anger can hurt your relationships and can hurt you.  And anger can move you to do stupid things.  Use wisdom and caution when you allow yourself to be angry.

So the Bible says that anger should be put away, not be allowed to stay for long.  Even God’s anger lasts only a moment (Psalm 30:5).  We must learn to control our anger, to be slow to anger.  Otherwise, it is dangerous for us and others.

I know that most of us have been taught to hold in our anger or to deny it and call it wrong.  The truth is that the big dog already lives with you.  You can ignore it until it gets loose and causes problems, or you can accept its presence and understand its purpose.

My point in this post is not so much to change your thinking about anger, but to give you permission to use anger to move forward with your life.  If you are the victim of a narcissist, you know that something has to change.  Even if you stay in the relationship, you must establish boundaries and find ways to regain your health.  The initial strength may come out as anger.  Don’t be afraid of it.

And, I know that narcissists are usually angry people and would read this as a way to excuse their anger.  The truth is that narcissists are what they are because of fear and anger.  They like using the big dog to scare others.  They think it makes them look strong and it moves others to do what they want.  They don’t care about relationships.

But you are not like them.  Your anger has a purpose and a place.  Your anger does not control you.  It is simply a tool for you to use and then set aside.  You control it.  Let it come out when you need it, then take it to the back yard when you don’t.

There is a risk for me to write this.  I really don’t want readers to misunderstand.  Anger is not bad, but anger is dangerous.  It will consume you if you do not control it.  Once your anger has done its work then you can choose not to live there.  You do not have to use anger to maintain your boundaries or distance.  Anger can be unpredictable and can flare out of control.  We can hurt a lot of people with our anger.  So be careful.  But don’t abandon something God gave you for strength.

What about trusting the Lord and prayer?  These are still most important, of course.  Give all things over to the Lord and trust Him to lead you.  Maybe you won’t need anger.  Maybe you will do the right thing with peace of heart and ease.  Maybe you will look at your narcissistic relationship and act in wisdom and freedom in the right way.  But, if you have become confused or intimidated in the relationship, the Lord might just allow you to get angry enough to do something.

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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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Not Narcissist?

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

Narcissism is certainly one of those concepts that make so much sense when you first hear about them that you want to apply them everywhere.  Suddenly everyone has a narcissist in their lives.  It’s a little like the popular disease everyone is learning about on the internet.  In just a short time, cases of that disease are found everywhere.  It’s almost an epidemic.

There are two reasons for this phenomenon.  First, there really are more cases of the disease out there than what was previously understood and the revelation of the symptoms has helped people know what is happening to them.  That may well be the case with narcissism.  There are more cases than we have realized and now we have a name for the problem.

But sometimes the desire for categorizing our problems overrides our caution to assign a label.  In other words, we want so badly to understand what’s wrong that we jump on anything that looks close to what we are suffering.  “It must be influenza, because I feel so sick.”  Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.  This is one reason the professionals are so stingy with their diagnoses.  You might just have a cold or a stomachache.

In the same way, not everyone who exhibits narcissistic behavior is a narcissist.  Sometimes people are just mean.  Things might be happening in the person’s life or in your relationship which lead to cruel behavior or secrecy or attempts to control—all of which could be seen as narcissistic.

Occasionally I get an email or a comment on the blog and I find myself doubting that the person is really describing narcissism.  There’s no way for me to know, of course, without asking a bunch of questions.  Yet, I want to make sure to say that not everything that is mean is narcissistic and not only narcissists exhibit narcissistic behavior.

If you are arguing with someone who seems particularly dense and unwilling to yield, that person might not be a narcissist and it won’t help to call him/her one.  I have consistently advised people in narcissistic relationships to avoid using the word because it so often backfires.  Another good reason is that you may be wrong.

However, there is nothing wrong with learning how to deal with narcissistic behavior and educating yourself so that you know what you are dealing with.  There’s nothing wrong with protecting yourself against abuse.  There’s nothing wrong with finding support from others who have been through difficult relationships.  And sometimes it really is narcissism.

So…

Not all who manipulate, not all who abuse, not all who are cruel, not all who hide, not all who hate, not all who are angry, not all who cause pain, not all who boast, not all who lie, not all who threaten, not all who cheat, not all who are absent or abandon or scapegoat or project or gaslight . . . are narcissists.

If several of these are present in your abuser, then it will be very helpful for you to begin to understand narcissism.  But you don’t have to diagnose or label.  Your primary goal should be your safety and health, and the same for those in your care.  Get the help you need, whether your offender is a narcissist or not.

If, someday, someone tells you that your person is not a narcissist, that’s okay.  You can handle that.  They could be wrong or they could be right.  The label doesn’t matter.  The behavior matters.  Your safety and health matter.

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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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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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Nebuchadnezzar

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Sandy Hotchkiss—in  Why is it Always about You?—identifies what she calls the “Seven Deadly Sins” of narcissism.  They are familiar to almost anyone who has been in a relationship with a narcissist: shamelessness, magical thinking, arrogance, envy, entitlement, exploitation, and bad boundaries.

We see almost all of these in a character from the book of Daniel.  The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, may well have been the most powerful and most ruthless king in history.  Now, I know that some scholars say this was not the real Nebuchadnezzar , but a man who followed him named, Nabonidus.  I don’t really care one way or the other.  Let’s look at the guy the Bible talks about.

Narcissists are often very successful people.  Nebuchadnezzar was successful.  He had conquered most of the surrounding kingdoms and everyone was afraid of him.  He was brutal and merciless and the nations paid their tribute without a fight.  So he became very wealthy and powerful.

But then he had a disturbing dream.  In his day, dreams were considered to be prophetic, so he wanted an interpretation of the dream.  However, narcissists don’t actually trust the people who work for them.  They will use people and get as much as they can from them, but they never really put themselves into their hands.  So, Nebuchadnezzar believed that he was surrounded by sycophants and incompetents who generally lied to him, and he wouldn’t tell his “wise men” his dream.  He wanted them to interpret the dream, but wouldn’t tell them what it was.  He believed they would just make something up.

He threatened the wise men.  Either they told him what he wanted to know or they would die and their families would die with them.  They had no way of knowing what his dream was (because they really were phonies) so he decided to have them all killed.  After all, he could always get other wise men, right?  Just like any narcissistic boss, he saw no real value in his employees.  Fortunately, Daniel had the answer.  He knew the dream and the interpretation, and Nebuchadnezzar was appeased.

The dream involved a great statue, an image, presumably of Nebuchadnezzar.  Even though the statue in the dream had problems, the idea was placed in his mind.  Soon, Nebuchadnezzar had a great gold image of himself made for everyone to worship.  All the people were supposed to bow to his image whenever they heard the trumpet sounds.  Not all of them did and it made him furious.  Well, you can read the rest of that story for yourselves.

But then there was the day when Nebuchadnezzar was walking on the balcony of his palace and looking out over the great city.  I have to quote this:

The king spoke, saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?” Daniel 4:30 (NKJV)

Sound narcissistic to you?  He was the only one who built the great city.  No mention of his slaves, his soldiers, his officials, his wise men, or anyone else.  He did it all himself.  What a guy!

And, as he was stretching his arm to pat himself on the back, something hit him.  A voice of judgment came from God and said that it was time Nebuchadnezzar learned that there was a power greater than his, an authority higher than him.  Nebuchadnezzar went insane.  For some unknown time, perhaps a long time, Nebuchadnezzar left the city and lived like an animal.  He ate grass and even started to look like an animal.  God humbled him.

When the time was fulfilled, God restored his mind and brought him back to his kingdom.  Now, I don’t know if Nebuchadnezzar became a believer, but he certainly learned that he was not the highest power around.  There’s still a little of the old boasting left in him, but he acknowledges that there is at least One who is more deserving of praise than he.

At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me. My counselors and nobles resorted to me, I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me.
37  Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down. Daniel 4:36-37 (NKJV)

“Those who walk in pride He is able to put down.”  Narcissism is ultimately a problem of pride.  God is able to bring down the proud person.  What that person does as a result of this brokenness may not be what God wants,  but God can bring him/her down.

Maybe a direction for prayer in a narcissistic relationship. . .

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Jezebel

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

From time to time someone challenges me that I don’t use enough Scripture on Narcissist Fridays.  So the next couple of posts ought to help with that.

Are there narcissists in the Bible?  Not just bad people, but people who actually exhibit the characteristics of narcissism?  We might be tempted to think that anyone who stood against the Lord was narcissistic, but some were just misguided or compromised.  A man like Judas, for example, might have been narcissistic, but we are told only that he was a zealot, someone with political ideas contrary to the mission of Jesus.

Of course, the Bible shows us legalists who care little about the Lord and lots about the Law.  But legalism and narcissism are not the same.  What I have said in the past is that legalism creates a haven, a pleasant work environment, for narcissists.  Certainly some of the Pharisees exhibited narcissistic characteristics and so did the Judaizers later in the New Testament.  Yet finding a narcissist in the Bible is not so easy.

I think I have found a couple.  The first one I want to look at is the woman named Jezebel, from the kingdom of Israel during the time of Elijah.  You find her story beginning in 1 Kings 18.  One nasty lady!

Jezebel is an example of a narcissist who has no way to her own power so she overtakes and overwhelms someone who has power.  She was the daughter of a minor king who was married to Ahab of Israel, almost certainly a political marriage.  Ahab was not the sharpest tack on the board, if you know what I mean.  He was powerful and wealthy and could be manipulated.  Jezebel had everything she wanted.

Ahab followed her gods and moved the people to follow her gods.  So much was she in charge that we are told that 950 of the false prophets of her gods “ate at her table,” and that was a time of famine.  She appears to be almost completely in charge of the decisions of Ahab, her husband.  The Bible says that Ahab was particularly wicked because Jezebel “stirred him up,”

In one story, Ahab wants to buy a vineyard from someone so he could have more room for a vegetable garden.  Well, vineyards take many years to grow strong and were passed through family generations.  The man didn’t want to sell.  So Ahab pouted.  When Jezebel heard the story, she scolded Ahab and ordered people to lie about the owner of the vineyard so he could be killed.  After his death, she presented the property to Ahab.  She was ruthless, willing to lie without hesitation, and saw the rights and value of others as things that got in her way.

This evil woman continued her influence after her husband’s death through her children.  Her son Ahaziah became king when Ahab died and, we are told, he walked in the ways of his father and his mother.  Rarely is the mother’s influence mentioned in Scripture, but Jezebel’s influence was not normal.  When Ahaziah died, his brother Jehoram became king.  We know little about these people except that they continued to do what Jezebel told them.

Even the daughter of Jezebel got into the act.  She married Joram, the king of Judah, and led Judah to walk in the ways of her mother.  Talk about a dysfunctional family!  And behind all of it was Jezebel.  Even after she died, Jezebel continued to have influence through another young man named Ahaziah, her son-in-law.  In fact, Scripture refers to the considerable wicked influence of the “house of Ahab,” meaning that Ahab was held accountable, but Jezebel was behind the evil.

Finally, a man named Jehu was appointed by God to kill the house of Ahab in both kingdoms.  Jezebel defied him to the last minute.  Her particular fate was to become a meal for the dogs.  Nothing was left of her except her hands and feet.  And the Bible says that this happened so that Jezebel wouldn’t have a monument in her memory.  What narcissist could bear such a fate?  Not even a monument!

But forever after, the name Jezebel is a name that speaks of betrayal, cruelty, and the deepest evil.

Looks like narcissism to me.

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