Tag Archives: narcissists in church

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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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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Imprecatory Prayer

It’s Narcissist Friday! 

 

Imprecatory prayers. When you read them in the Psalms they seem almost shocking. After all, aren’t believers supposed to be nice? To call down judgment and punishment on those who cause our suffering just doesn’t seem consistent with “love your enemy,” does it? Christians should just “turn the other cheek” and suffer in silence, right?

Recently a commenter asked about imprecatory prayer (thanks Kathy!) and whether it is appropriate for those who suffer at the hands of someone who is cruel. I am going to say that it is.

Interestingly, “to imprecate” simply means to pray. It seems to have a particular sense of verbalization, to say out loud or to write the things we feel. So the prayer is purposeful, intentional, and not just a thought. It gathered a negative meaning along the way and is used today in the sense of “to curse,” or to call down punishment. When we pray about the pain we suffer, we may want the cause of that pain—even if it is a person close to us—to be broken so that he/she will stop.

Three thoughts come to my mind. First, in the midst of pain and suffering imprecatory prayer is normal. That is not a moral judgment. You just want the abuse to stop and it is normal to lash out against the one who hurts you. Just as it is normal to want to hit back or want justice, it is normal to take those feelings to God. In fact, those feelings should be taken to God. That’s what David did throughout the Psalms. God was the source of David’s hope, the One who helped in times of trouble. So taking those feelings to the Lord and letting Him work in your heart is the right thing to do. If your words come out stronger and with more venom than you would normally speak, God understands.

Second, look at the things Jesus said about the Pharisees and religious leaders of His day. He wasn’t particularly nice, was He? No, He spoke truth about them and their ideas. Many of us were taught that, if we can’t say something nice, we shouldn’t say anything. That is neither taught nor modeled in the Bible. We are to speak the truth with love. When Jesus spoke the truth about the Pharisees or Paul spoke the truth about the Judaizers, the words were not very nice. How do you nicely say that someone is lying or is being abusive? There may not be a nice way to speak up against the false teaching of a leader. But it is often very important that the truth be told—nice or not.

So to go to God in prayer and speak truthfully about the abuse and the abuser might seem like you are being judgmental or condemning. To ask God to stop the abuse might mean to ask Him to stop the abuser. It might take something serious to stop the abuser. That’s up to God.

I know that people get uncomfortable when they read things like David asking the Lord to “break the arm of the wicked and evil man,” in Psalm 10:15. But understand that David doesn’t really care whether God breaks the person’s arm. The point is that God would stop the power of the evil man from doing damage, that God would take away his strength. And when you pray that God would take away the strength of the abuser, be aware that God might break his arm. It’s up to God to choose the method.

Third, remember that under grace we know that even the discipline of the Lord is for the person’s good. Yes, we are to love our enemies. Sometimes that might mean that we ask God to break them so they will call out to Him and open their hearts to Him. I would not ask God to send anyone to hell, but I would ask Him to get their attention so that they can see what they are doing. I might have suggestions as to how God could do that, but I would always yield the methods to Him. I might even be motivated by my pain, but under the pain is always love for those He loves.

Brokenness is a painful process. Some people have to lose almost everything before they will see that the Lord is the One they need. Is it cruel for me to ask Him to break them, to destroy their power, or to humble them? Not if my hope is for their salvation or for the protection of their victims.

Vengeance does belong to the Lord—and He chooses to love. Anyone who comes to Him will find forgiveness and acceptance, even your abuser. In Christ, we understand and accept this. We even rejoice in it. But there is nothing wrong with praying for the abuse to stop, even if it hurts the abuser in the process.

One more thing. When you read something from the Beatitudes, like Matthew 5:44 (“love your enemies”), remember the context. Jesus is speaking to the Jews under the law. He is saying, “The will of God for you is this. To live perfectly in His will, you should be doing this.” But Jesus is fully aware of His purpose. He knows that we cannot live perfectly in the will of God. He knows we need a Savior. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is calling the Jews away from the compromises of their lives and to Himself as their Savior. He is not leaving them with impossible commands. He’s telling them He understands.

God understands your feelings. He accepts your anger and frustration. When you cry out to Him in pain, He still hears you and loves you. If you say things that seem too strong, that accuse and condemn, you are not judged. You may have noticed that He doesn’t do the terrible things you might wish He would do. He will do what is right and in the right time.

Someday the abuser will stand before God and suffer the condemnation he has deserved and chosen . . . or he will stand forgiven in relationship with Jesus. Both justice and mercy are under grace. And you will be safe forever in the hands of the Lord who loves you.

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“A Cry for Justice” – a resource

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

Perhaps one of the most grievous sins committed against the people of God comes in the suggestion that God should be found in the church. What I mean is that He should be found only or primarily in the church organization. So, when a victim of abuse needs to run to the “strong tower” of protection, she is led to the pastor or the elders or the church family. It may be the one place of safety, she thinks. They will believe her story, she thinks. They will help, she thinks. But the church is not that strong tower.

I have come to understand that a certain percentage of my love for books is actually a love for book titles. This one that I found a few days ago has become one of my favorites: “We’ll be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter” by Rachel Hanel. I know little about the book, but I love the title. There is a certain perverse irony in it.

The church often proclaims the message that it is a safe place for those who are hurting. We advertise the love and community, the acceptance and support. We want people to come to the church to find freedom and peace and love. And they should. If the church cannot provide the support the victim needs, if we cannot feed the hungry or heal the wounded, then what good are we?

Listen: if the church is unable to see the hurting from the perspective of Jesus, who loves them without judgment and condemnation, then it cannot be a place of refuge. Apart from the person of Christ, the church offers only a system of rules or standards or ideas, nothing to heal the heart of the oppressed. Jesus is the strong tower to which the abused can run to find comfort and support. If the church offers anything other than the love of Jesus, it fails.

Yet, those of us who read and listen to the stories of the abused hear over and over of the failure of the church. Victims come to pastors and elders and church families and receive judgment, blame, and neglect. If the leaders listen at all, they counsel without wisdom and without love. The victim so often returns to the same abuse, only now even more alone and weighted with shame.

That’s why I would pray that every pastor and church leader read Jeff Crippen’s book, “A Cry for Justice.” When I first started reading it, I found myself thinking that this is the book I wanted to write. Anyone who reads it should come away with a greater understanding of abuse and the church’s responsibility to help the victims. At the same time, you will come away with a sadness as you realize that the one place where the hurting should find help is often a source of more abuse.

“We’ll be the last ones to let you down.” That’s what the new church member hears. The church will be there in times of need. The church cares about you and your family. The church wants to help. But Jeff Crippen has learned, like many of us, that the church often offers its help wrapped in a message of: “It’s your own fault,” or “seven easy steps to restore your marriage,” or “don’t bother us with these personal things.”

Crippen writes about abuse in general, but says much that those who deal with narcissistic relationships will appreciate. In fact, without using the word, he describes narcissistic abuse very well. He covers many of the behaviors that we have talked about in this blog.

I especially appreciated the depth and breadth of Scripture used throughout the book. Like me, Jeff does not believe that Scripture addresses every life situation directly, but that we must reason from the foundation of Scripture to deal with our daily decisions. At the same time, you will be impressed with the careful and consistent use of Scripture throughout the book and the deep regard with which the author views the Bible.

The last half of the book got me even more excited. This is where Crippen directly confronts the church and its leadership. This is where he offers concrete suggestions for churches in providing real help for the hurting. This is what pastors should not ignore.

I know pastors. I know that they are often focused on things very far from hurting people. They are worried about church systems and church conflicts. They are concerned about reaching new people and keeping the ministry growing. They are concerned about what to say about their ministry at the next denominational meeting. These are not trivial things, but they do miss the point. Behind the scenes, the pastors cringe when they see Mrs. So-and-so in the outside office because they know they have little to offer her. They don’t have the time or the wisdom to handle such difficult problems. This is why I have counseled so many not to expect much from the church.

But Jeff Crippen would try to change that. He wants to educate pastors and church leaders. He wants to challenge their trite and formulaic answers. He wants to make them look at the victims of abuse and care. His advice is practical and potent.

With the support of and connection to Barbara Roberts, author of “Not Under Bondage,” Crippen offers an excellent perspective on the subject of divorce among believers as well. (I will be reviewing that book next.)

A Cry for Justice is more than a book, it’s a ministry. And I can see so much potential for the message of this ministry. I would encourage you to buy the book, read it carefully, and then give it to a pastor who will listen. Do I agree with every statement in the book? Probably not. That isn’t important. We will always have differences in perspective and style. But this message is important. I know of too many churches where the abuser is held in higher regard than his victim. Someone, someone of the church, needs to stand up for those who are being hurt.

So, get this book! You know that I rarely say something like that. I get nothing from the sales, not even an affiliate commission. I did receive a free copy of the book from Jeff because he saw that our hearts and ministries connected. You will have to pay for yours—but it will be worth it. In fact, whatever you pay will have twice the value if you pass the book on to a church leader with your strong encouragement to read (and heed) its message. When you get it, let me know what you think.

Here’s the link to the website:

http://cryingoutforjustice.com/

Here’s the link to the book on Amazon:

cry

 

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Of Many Colors

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Abusers come in many shapes and forms.  I am reading a very good book about abusers in the church.  There are “Christian” abusers and abusers of many other faiths.  There are men and women who abuse.  There are young people and old people who abuse.  Some seem to abuse others almost from birth and others become abusers after accidents or old age.

 

When we consider narcissism, we find the same thing.  There are narcissistic parents and children, bosses and employees, pastors and church members, husbands and wives.  Some seem to develop narcissistic characteristics, while others seem to be born that way.  There may not be a narcissist under every rock, but there are more of them than we ever realized.

 

So writing about narcissism as behavior or sin encompasses many stories.  If you take the time to read through the posts and the comments here, you will find a variety of stories—more, I think, than you may have expected.  Some have struggled with narcissistic friends; other with narcissistic parents; and still others with co-workers or bosses.  Not every victim is married to one of them.

 

With all of this variety, there is one constant: the abuse.  The pain is different for each person, but every story reveals abuse.  And a common theme in a community like this is that the abuse has not been understood or acknowledged by the outside world.  Our culture is finally beginning to see sexual and physical abuse.  Yes, it still hides and still hurts, but we have some safety systems and justice options in place.  Not so much for narcissistic abuse.

 

Narcissistic abuse is hidden in different ways.  While the sexual abuser threatens and the physical abuser lies and covers, the narcissistic abuser seems to use accepted means to continue his cruelty.  He is well-respected even when the narcissism is revealed.  She has friends who seem to accept her exploitation of them.  The boss and co-worker are successful in their work, even though they use others.  No one wants to hear about narcissistic abuse and some would not call it abuse at all.

 

As hard as it is to face reality, victims of narcissistic abuse really can’t expect to find ready help from the world around them, whether it is family or church or community.  I am very grateful for the help our little community can offer.  I see such caring and wisdom in the comments.  Many here pray for those who ask for help.

 

At the same time, we have to fall back on the two things we can do for ourselves.  Set and maintain boundaries and speak up.  Even if others don’t want to listen, they can hear that you are hurting and that a certain person is the cause.  Even if the narcissist refuses to stop the abuse, he or she can hear that it is no longer acceptable.  And the victims can grow in power.  Read through the posts here and study narcissism.  You will find that there are things you can do to expose and stop the abuse.  And there are ways to freedom and health.

 

We are praying for you.

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The Lebensauger

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

Narcissists drain life from their victims. This has come up again and again in the comments and in my personal correspondence. Just as I decided that it was time to write something on this phenomenon, the popular tv show, “Grimm,” had an episode titled, “Lebensauger.” Yes, it means, “life-sucker.”

The life-sucker. I know it sounds like a crude term, but it fits. The narcissist sucks life from his/her victim. In fact, this could be one of the defining characteristics of a narcissistic relationship.

When I talk with counselors about narcissists, I suggest that if they see someone who appears drained of enthusiasm and energy, who has little normal ability to fend off the criticisms of others, they should look for a narcissistic relationship. Some might say that this is simple depression, but too many victims of narcissism have been diagnosed as depressed without anyone seeing the abuse in the relationship.

I also ask the counselors if they have ever had a client who seemed to pull the life out of them. Yes, even the counselors. Scott Peck describes such a case in “People of the Lie.” They never seem to move past their presenting problems, but move you to work and strategize and study to help them. They pull on emotions, both positive and negative. Sometimes counselors try to find ways to avoid the appointments with these folks or end the counseling relationship, but they also find that separation is difficult. And, in the back of their minds, the guilty little fantasy world of the counselor, they dream of how life would be so much better if the client would just cease to exist. (If you have never watched the Bill Murray movie “What about Bob?” you should.)

Why does this happen? Why does the narcissist draw life from those around him/her? The answer really requires a general understanding of what narcissism is, but let’s just say that the narcissist does not function in the real world. The narcissist’s world is a fantasy. While the real life of the narcissist is hidden away and protected, the image of the narcissist is put out for others to see. The narcissist wants others to believe that the image is real and is, of course, him.

But the image has no life and the narcissist does not dare to reach to his hidden self to draw life from there. So life is drawn from those around the narcissist. They are the “supply” the narcissist needs to maintain the image.

What does this look like? Well, picture the child whose mother uses her to make points with acquaintances and then blames the child for any negative that comes. The little girl is loved when she is dressed up and behaving well so that others can give praise to mom; but she is hated when she gets dirty or misbehaves because that might make mom look bad.

Or picture the office worker who puts in extra time and energy on a project only to have a co-worker or boss steal the credit. Or the spouse who is blamed for any financial stress or any discomfort, even that caused by the narcissist. Or the church member who works hard and sacrifices but never seems to give enough to be appreciated or to rest because the narcissistic organization or leaders just keep taking.

I’m sure you can come up with your own examples now. When you try to be positive and you try to contribute and you try to stay on top of things, but always fall short or get criticized, you might be dealing with a narcissist. When you are no longer the person you used to be, no longer as creative or happy or fun to be around, you might be in a narcissistic relationship. When you feel like it would be easy to die, a pleasure to kill, a wonder to run away, but you end up pulling back into your cave a little more each day; you might be losing your life to a narcissist.

Please, if this is you, find someone to talk with. The depression of a narcissistic relationship can go away. The life that has been drained away can come back to you. Deep inside, in your heart, you are still the person you want to be. Find someone to help you find the way back. If you are free to leave the narcissistic relationship, do it. Don’t look back. If you are not free to leave—if you are married or need the job or in a family—there are ways to rebuild your life. Setting boundaries, rebuilding your support system, finding ways to be creative again, can all be done within the narcissistic relationship. It might be challenging, but don’t be afraid.

Your life is ahead of you.

 

 

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Narcissistic Apologies (2)

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

I recently read yet another statement by a well-known Christian leader confessing sin and asking for forgiveness. It was one of those apologies that leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. I would say that it was a narcissistic apology.

The difference between the narcissistic apology and a real apology is the center. In the center of the narcissistic apology is the offender saying, “I am hurting because of this.” The real apology sees the victim in the center and says, “You are hurting because of this.”   The difference is empathy. Just like always, the narcissist doesn’t care about your pain, just his/her own.

The purpose of a narcissistic apology is to divert attention away from the offender. Your knowing and accusing gaze is extremely painful. You see too much and too well. Under that scrutiny, the abuser is laid bare and vulnerable.

Apologies aren’t always used. Some will attack in anger. Others will blame the accuser or a third party—anyone else. Some will admit to lesser evils, trying to keep your attention away from the truth. Some will claim that you simply don’t understand the truth. Some will create bold lies. Whatever it takes to get you to stop.

The narcissist needs you to turn the light somewhere else. The offender cries for relief, pushes for forgiveness, begs for mercy, bargains for reconciliation. Just, please, make it all stop.

If intimidation, negotiating, and pleading don’t work, then you might hear the narcissistic apology. The one that admits to nothing except those things that can be interpreted as positive for the offender. He was too dedicated, too focused, too strong a leader. His intention was always good. The hope is that your attention will center on the image of the offender, the one that is superior and righteous. The purpose is still to push the attention away from the offender’s heart.

A real apology, something seldom heard, admits the validity of the victim’s perspective. The repentant one doesn’t try to point the light away from the painful exposure because he trusts that his exposure will help the victim. Someone who offers a real apology also wants the pain to end, but not at the expense of the victim.

The narcissistic apology is part of our culture and certainly is not limited to narcissists. Many of us learned that type of apology from our families and friends. It offers little and solves nothing. We have become used to hearing it from politicians and public figures.

When we receive it, it does not satisfy our hearts and often leaves us feeling somehow guilty. A part of us knows that we have not been heard or valued. The burden on us has somehow become greater, rather than less. We experience confusion, even anger. Yet, we are not supposed to continue feeling anything negative because the offender has apologized.

The effective narcissistic apology moves your attention to your confusion or anger or pain or guilt . . . and away from the offender.

And let me add one more thing: the narcissistic apology almost always ask for forgiveness in some way. This puts the burden back on the victim. “Will you forgive me?”—sounds a lot like, “There, I said it, now can we be done with this?” If you say yes, then everything is supposed to be back the way it was. If you say no, you are the bad guy. Then you may hear, “Well what do you want? I apologized!”

Understand that the purpose of the narcissistic apology is not to admit the offense and lessen your pain. The purpose of the narcissistic apology is to get you to shut up.

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Sacrifice

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

Over the years that I have been talking with people about narcissism, I have heard many different accounts of the same story.  Yes, the details are different, but there are so many similarities.  This is why we are able to discern common practices among narcissists and other controllers.  There are certain techniques, certain behaviors, that almost come naturally to these users.

One such common theme is the idea of sacrifice.  Nearly everyone who has been in a relationship with a narcissist has been expected to sacrifice for the relationship.  Sacrifice a job.  Sacrifice college goals.  Sacrifice a savings account.  Sacrifice close relationships with family and friends.  Sacrifice the place you live.  Sacrifice your belongings.  Sacrifice your time.

This says nothing about the more destructive sacrifices.  Sacrifice your privacy.  Sacrifice your security.  Sacrifice your worth as a person.  Sacrifice your opinions.  Sacrifice your virginity.  Sacrifice your dreams.  Sacrifice your support structure.  Sacrifice your love for others.  Sacrifice your self-respect.

And what do you get for these sacrifices?  You get to be with the narcissist!  In other words, you get nothing except more expectations.  Although your hopes grew with each sacrifice, your reality didn’t change much.  You thought the narcissist would be more loving, pay more attention, or be more kind.  Instead, you got more ridicule, more lies, and more pain.  The more you sacrificed, the more you were used.

Your sacrifice is a measure of the narcissist’s worth.  In other words, the more you are willing to sacrifice, the more important the narcissist feels.  Since one of the goals of the narcissist is to feel important, pushing you to make more sacrifices may be a regular thing.  When you value the narcissist over your treasure, he/she is affirmed.

But that’s not the only reason you are pushed to make sacrifices.  Sometimes this is necessary for the narcissist to be in control.  Tearing away the support structure of a victim is an important part of narcissistic abuse.  Without the relationships or the belongings that make you feel secure or valued, you are much easier to manipulate.  So the narcissist sets you up to choose between that support and him.  In fact, the more you indicate that something or someone is important to you, the more pressure you may feel to offer that as a sacrifice to the narcissistic relationship.

And sometimes it is simply that what is important to you doesn’t matter.  Since the narcissist does not see the real value of others, except to serve himself, he also does not see the value of the things that are important to others.  Living near an invalid parent, for example, may be very important to you but not even on the radar of what is important to the narcissist.  Giving up your job is not a big deal because your job was never a big deal to the narcissist.  Unless it is important to the narcissist at the moment, it isn’t important at all.  A sacrifice to a narcissist will not be received with the emotion in which it was given.

So how are you supposed to deal with this?  If you are new to a narcissistic relationship and have begun to see this need for sacrifice, maybe it’s time to get out.  But most of those who read this realize that too many sacrifices have already been made and there is little to show for them.  I want to simply say that it is time to stop.  At the same time, I realize that’s a lot easier to say than to do and especially easy for someone not living your life.

Yet, sometimes health begins at the point you first say, “No!”  When you are able to look at yourself and understand that it is right for you to keep something that’s important to you, you might be at the beginning of the process of rebuilding your life.  Don’t sacrifice that friendship or that relationship with family.  Don’t leave your job.  Don’t give in.

You will pay a price for not making the sacrifice.  Your love will be attacked.  You will be called selfish and uncaring and uncooperative.  You will be blamed for the relationship problems.  The narcissist will become the martyr and will remember none of your former sacrifices.   But hold your ground.  None of the other sacrifices have satisfied this false god.  This one will do no better.

And that leads me to something else.  I am posting this on Good Friday.  I am very aware that not all who read here share my faith in Jesus, but I want to point out the reason we acknowledge this day.  On this day, according to Christian history, Jesus suffered on the cross and died as a sacrifice for us.  He died because He loved us.  He gave the sacrifice, instead of asking for one from us.  The contrast between the love of Jesus—real love—and the abuse of the narcissist could not be stronger than what we see on this day.

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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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