Common Characteristics

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

While most of the literature on narcissism seems to focus on the marriage relationship, there are other narcissistic relationships that have to be addressed. There are several good books now on parental narcissism, and some even on narcissism at the workplace. I have tried to categorize the various relationships I have read about or experienced and have come up with six:

1. Marriage (dating, significant other)

2. Parental (could include grandparent or family authority)

3. Workplace (boss, co-workers, system)

4. Friendship (anyone who uses friendship connection)

5. Organizational (church, volunteer, would include leaders)

6. Familial (siblings, children, connected by family)

There may be others (and I would love to hear your suggestions), but I suspect most would fall under one of these categories. An argument could be made for a sort of “neighborly” narcissistic relationship, where the person has no direct personal connection other than being near. The “narcissist next door” may not quite fall under any of these categories but still be a significant problem. There might be others.

All of these different relationships share common characteristics. Obviously, there is a narcissist (or multiple narcissists) in each of them. The effects on the victims are also very similar. When I write, I usually have more than one kind of relationship in mind. My hope is that the information is helpful to anyone who suffers from such a relationship.

When you have to deal with a narcissist, in any relationship, you should expect to be used. Remember, just because the narcissist is kind does not mean he isn’t using you. He may give you what you want as he uses you. It may feel like you have a good working relationship, even while you are being used.

You should also expect that use will turn to abuse if you fail to give the narcissist what he/she wants. Whatever the narcissist has given to you is an investment in what you are supposed to give to him. Your failure, for any reason, will be met with punishment. If you have a problem that affects your performance, the narcissist will have no empathy for you. Any patience or kindness you are shown is more investment in what you are expected to return. Eventually, the narcissist will want you to provide your part. If you do not, you will almost certainly experience a type of rage meant to intimidate you into submission. At best, the narcissist will write you off without any regret or concern.

Almost everyone in relationship with a narcissist feels the drain of being used. There is something in the connection that seems to go only one way. You get smaller while the narcissist grows larger. You become less important while the narcissist grows more important. Even if you begin stronger or more important, you will feel this change increasing and have a sense that the narcissist is using you.

The narcissist must be viewed as superior, or in the superior position. This seems obvious in business, familial, or organization relationships. Sometimes it is not so obvious in friendships. Remember that the person who is being served often feels himself or herself to be in a superior position. Sometimes narcissists present themselves as victims (think invalid, impoverished, and/or inexperienced) to have others serve them. From our perspective, they don’t seem to be in a superior position, but they are being served. They have found a way to demand your time and energy, perhaps even money, to serve their desires.

So narcissistic relationships are, in any form, draining and one-sided. The lack of empathy and desire to be seen as superior is wearing and corrupting. If you find yourself in a relationship where you feel drained of life—energy, time, money, whatever—you may be in a relationship with a narcissist. If you begin to realize that the person knows a lot about you while you know little about her, or you value the connection far more than he does, you might be in a relationship with a narcissist. If you experience flashes of anger mixed with stringed generosity, you might have a narcissist on your hands.

Fundamentally, every narcissistic relationship is a business deal. You do what you are supposed to do and the narcissist might do what he is supposed to do. Sometimes this relationship works, perhaps for a long time, but if anything changes your side of the deal, there will be consequences. And sometimes, even if you have done your part, the narcissist will find another to replace you.

And it might be at church, at work, with a friend, or in your family. The needs of a narcissist are quite simple. They might not look the same, and you might find them in different places, but they will all want the life and energy you have. They will use you and lessen you to lift themselves up.

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No Record of Wrongs?

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

One of the ways believers are held in abusive relationships is through an interpretation of Scripture that is well-known, but hard to support. Most of us have been taught that 1 Corinthians 13:5 teaches that love “keeps no record of wrongs.” Interestingly, almost no translation of Scripture says that. Instead, the passage should read something like “thinks no evil.” Look it up for yourself and compare different versions. I think you will be surprised at how strongly a rather odd interpretation has been applied by preachers and others who tell us to “get over it.”

Recently a commenter mentioned how she felt required to continue to stay with her abuser (narcissist) and not hold his offenses against him based on this verse. We are, according to some people, supposed to both forgive and forget. That seems to be the idea here. And that allows every offense of the abuser to be a “first” offense. Instead of seeing a destructive pattern, the victim is limited to seeing only a single offense, which must be forgiven.

But abuse is cumulative. That means the effects of abuse add together. One punch to the face is quite different from many punches. One criticism is different from years of criticism. Each new blow weakens and damages the victim further. To suggest that each should be treated as the first is to deny the suffering of the victim.

Interestingly, there is little support for this idea anywhere else. Our laws, which are based on the teachings of Scripture, certainly don’t treat each offense as a first offense. The legal system recognizes patterns of behavior. Even God keeps a record of wrongs until we come to Him in faith. It would be very difficult to support this “no record of wrongs” approach from Scripture or from common sense.

Of course, the Scripture does tell us to forgive. And we should be generous with our forgiveness as an expression of love. Those who come to apologize should be heard and blessed. Those who have sins in their past should not be reminded of those sins after coming to Christ. Forgiveness is always tied to a change of thinking or at least acknowledgment of the wrong. Even our sins are forgiven, or at least forgiveness is only applied, as we come to Jesus in faith. Otherwise, as the Scripture says, “you are still in your sins.”

Without going into a long post with a boring Greek lesson, let me just say that the passage simply means we should not judge others negatively—think no evil. We should not assume the worst of a person. The old saying, “Never ascribe to malice what could be explained by stupidity,” is a fair restatement of this admonition. Don’t think that a person who causes you grief is evil. That person might just be incompetent or negligent.

And just because he looks creepy or she talks a lot doesn’t mean they are bad. Judging by skin color, choice of clothing, ability to speak clearly, or whatever will probably not give us a right assessment. Nor would it be fair or loving. Love doesn’t treat others according to stereotypes or by what they have done in their past. Love allows for change in a person or for a person to express themselves differently. Love,

bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Do you see the difference? It is not unloving to see a pattern of behavior that causes others pain and suffering. It is not unloving to affirm the truth about the damage consistent abuse can do. Nor is it unloving to hold others accountable for the abuse they do. In fact, it is loving to take a molester off the streets: loving to past and potential victims and loving even toward the molester. To allow a person to continue hurting others has nothing of love in it.

It is unloving to continue to hold a particular sin or error against a person who has acknowledged the wrong and sought forgiveness. Even then, it may be difficult to forget. Keeping no record suggests that we are supposed to forget. Not only is that very difficult for humans, it is usually not wise. I might forgive someone who stole money as my bookkeeper, but I probably shouldn’t put that person in charge of my books again. And if I tell a person a secret and it is not kept, I will rightfully be hesitant to tell that person another secret. To forget (or to ignore) past offenses is quite different from forgiving them. Sometimes ignoring a person’s weaknesses and temptations can be very foolish.

So, please know that it is wise and right to see patterns of behavior and build boundaries in your life when you encounter maltreatment. Forgive as much as you can and then go to the Lord for more, but don’t ignore the truth. Abusive people, narcissistic people, usually count on our unwillingness to admit what we see. If we don’t deny the truth, we often try to cover for it. Don’t let an improper interpretation of Scripture convince you to lower your defenses against evil.

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Complicity

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Have you ever lied for your narcissist? Knowingly or unknowingly? Almost everyone in a relationship with a narcissist has. Someone calls and she says, “Tell them I am not here.” Or someone asks about a time and he says, “Tell him I will be there at five.” (But he has no intention of arriving that early.) Or maybe you cover with your family by telling them that he/she is not feeling well and couldn’t come. Or you sign the tax forms even though you know they are wrong.

Some people grew up lying for narcissistic parents or even siblings. Some started lying for a lover very early in the relationship. Some lied for their bosses or their friends. And, when they did, they became complicit in the narcissist’s lies.

Whoa! That’s harsh! I know, but that’s how the narcissist sees it. In fact, that may have been the intent. Most of the time the narcissist’s lies just flow without regard to consequence, yours or his. But after you lie for him, he holds it over you. He uses your compromise, even if it was unintentional, to shame you into more lies or other actions you don’t want. Now he thinks he owns you.

But it was his fault! You didn’t mean to lie. He lied to you and you just passed it on to others. None of that will matter to the narcissist if he thinks he can use guilt to manipulate you. He will tell you that it is your fault your parents think he is always sick. He will tell you it is your fault he was late for that appointment. And because he knows how to twist your thinking and your heart, you will believe at least some of what he says. You should have known better, you tell yourself.

Maybe you lied just to try to keep the peace. You lied to your children about the narcissist, telling them of love and concern that never really existed. You lied to friends and family to try to cover the pain and shame you felt because of the relationship. Still, the narcissist uses this against you. He/she manipulates your feelings.

So, first, I would suggest that you simply stop lying for the narcissist. Tell him/her that you will no longer agree with false statements and no longer pass on lies, nor will you cover for him/her with falsehoods. Be prepared for backlash. There will be threats, pleas, and cruelty. You will be accused of betrayal and complicity. It will be challenging.

But there are good reasons to get yourself out of the mess. Some of the people heard lies from you, instead of the narcissist, even though they came from him/her. Now they are wondering about you, why you have become untrustworthy. And, when the relationship begins to break up, your friends and family are puzzled at the change they see in you. You never said these things about your spouse, the boss, or your friend before. They will think something has changed.

How do you get out of this? Well, I think you deal with it head on. Some of the lies (and if you are like most people in relationship with a narcissist, there are many) don’t need to be addressed. You can’t go back to deal with them, and you shouldn’t try. Give them to the Lord and let them go. But those that come up or have to be confronted should be owned. Yes, you lied. If you didn’t know it was a lie, but you shared it as truth, say that. If you knew it was a lie, admit it and apologize. You thought you were protecting your family/the company/the church/your marriage, but now you know it was the wrong thing to do.

Narcissists create traps for those they use. The more they can compromise you, the more they can control you. Breaking that power is hard. If you don’t do it you will pay a price, and you will lose more of yourself. If you stand up and deal with it, you may still pay a price, but you will move one step closer to health.

I appreciate those who read and comment here so much. Your stories flesh out these thoughts in many ways. If you are able and willing, please share a time when you lied for your narcissist and paid a price. Yes, I know it might be hard to limit it to just one time. But my prayer is that this will be an encouragement and warning to others in these relationships. Share also how you stopped lying for your narcissist. I am looking forward to your stories!

(Also, please be careful with your identities. I know that narcissists lurk here. I would caution against using your full name. Feel free to use an alias. Your email address is safe, but the name you use is shared. If you forget and post with your whole name, you should be able to go back and edit your comment to change it.)

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Attention is Acceptance

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

As I wrote last week’s post, I realized that I made a connection that might not make sense to everyone. When I write of the narcissist wanting acceptance, that means attention. For most of us, acceptance is something that is settling to our heart, that wraps arms around us for safety and support. Acceptance is a very close synonym for love and, of course, love has something to do with attention.

From youngest days, the narcissist has equated attention and acceptance. You may have noticed that some children will take almost any attention they can get whether positive or negative. That’s how they get mom and dad to notice them. That notice is as close to acceptance as they get. So we have narcissists coming from broken or alcoholic homes and from wealthy and coddling homes and every kind of home in between. Parents from many lifestyles, cultures, and backgrounds may have difficulty giving their children the feeling of being accepted. This creates an uncertainty in the hearts of their children that some handle by seeking attention.

So the narcissist you know views attention as acceptance. That’s pretty simplistic, I know, but it might help to explain some things. The narcissist, by definition, craves attention. For some, that means being loud and outgoing and overtly controlling. For others that means adopting a victim mentality and allowing/demanding the service of others. For still others that means being invasive and critical. Whatever it takes to get and hold your attention. The unpredictability, the flattery, the cruelty, the promises: all are designed to focus your attention on the narcissist. And when you are looking at the narcissist, he feels it as acceptance.

I understand that some of you are thinking, “Well, that’s just dumb!” For the narcissist, acceptance does not mean love in the way you and I think of it. Instead, it means validation and personhood. The narcissist is “somebody” if you are focused on him/her. And that focus can be positive or negative. It may be power or superiority or need that causes you to focus on the narcissist, but it doesn’t matter. You accept the narcissist’s person when you are focused on him/her.

So the best way to overcome the narcissist is to ignore him. And the hardest thing to do is to ignore her. For the narcissist, turning your back is the ultimate sign of rejection. He can ignore you because he doesn’t want you to think you are important, but if you ignore him he hears that you don’t think he is important. And he must be important in order to feel accepted. So the overt narcissist will be in your face with questions and demands. The covert will be nagging at you with crises and sadness and needs. If those don’t work, maybe you will notice when friends are told lies about you. Whatever it takes to get your attention back.

And remember: getting angry doesn’t work. Your attention is still on the narcissist. It is hard work to marginalize someone like this in your life, but that may be the only way to be separate. You have to ignore the phone calls and cries for help and lies and demands. Send the message that the narcissist simply doesn’t matter to you any longer. Perhaps he/she will find someone else. And, even if this works, don’t be surprised if the narcissist checks back in with you once in a while to see if he/she can be somebody in your life again.

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Narcissists and Points

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Narcissists live by points. I wrote about the perils and follies of the point system of morality a couple weeks ago. It is something to consider deeply, I believe. The idea that doing good things earns us good points, while doing bad things earns us bad points, seems to ignore the truth that sometimes all a person really wants is points of some kind. Especially when we are afraid or weary, we just want something. That allows us to do things we consider wrong, just for the sake of “feel good points.”

Now, consider the narcissist from this perspective. One of the primary pitfalls of the point system is the collateral damage it does in relationships. Not only did the narcissist grow up more keenly aware of a point system, but he/she used that system to judge others. In fact, the outward look of judgment helped to distract from the inward look of self-criticism.

When I say judgment, I don’t mean legal condemnation only. Narcissists categorize everyone. They judge according to usefulness. They judge according to offense or benefit. They judge according to perceived comparisons. And that’s just a few off the top of my head. Narcissists are always judging others.

I wrote about this judging according to usefulness here. Narcissists can quickly form opinions about how useful a person will be to their (the narcissist’s) plans or needs. Some people are useful, at least for a while, and will be welcomed. Others are not useful and are usually ignored or disparaged. Still others are in the way and must be crushed.

Almost anyone in a narcissistic relationship knows how the narcissist keeps points based on offense or benefit. They seem to remember every negative thing ever done to them, and those negative points are forever on the other person’s account. Yes, they also know who has been good (read generous or subservient) to them, and those folks get positive points. It is interesting how quickly someone can lose all their positive points with the narcissist, but never the negative, but that’s another post.

Finally, the narcissist keeps points based on comparisons. This is probably part of the usefulness matrix, but that won’t be obvious. Many have noticed how the narcissist can walk into a room full of people and know almost instantly whom to avoid and whom to entertain. Comparisons are made on the basis of clothing, hairstyle, connections with others, position in the organization, facial expressions, and probably factors the rest of us barely notice. Spouses sometimes hear the narcissist say something like, “I don’t fit in that group.” Comparisons have already been made and the narcissist doesn’t like them. Contrary to what some think, most narcissists don’t like to be with people they think are “better” than themselves. They will make some kind of negative comments about the people and stay away. Nor do they like to be with a group of people deemed “less” than themselves. Not interesting, no benefit, not worthwhile. And, by the way, there are no equals. Everyone is either above or below in the mind of the narcissist.

That’s why you will see the narcissist in the group, but not with or part of the group. He/she is either the center of attention or the wallflower (is there such a word as “wallweed”?) Above and separate or just separate.

All of this is based on a system of points conceived in the mind and heart of the narcissist from long ago and reinforced over the years by life experiences viewed through the same perspective. Sadly, it also explains why the narcissist has so much difficulty accepting real love. He/she accepts service and loyalty and devotion, but love is a foreign thing.

In his heart, the narcissist never felt accepted simply on the basis of love. Acceptance/attention only came from points. So he has great difficulty believing that you ever loved him, mostly because he cannot understand or accept the reality of that love. In the same way, the narcissist has great difficulty believing that God loves him apart from a system of points.

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Presence

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Several years ago a man told me that he thought he had “presence.” He felt that people noticed when he entered the room. I have often chuckled at that, mostly because I didn’t think anyone particularly noticed when he was in the room. He simply wasn’t as great as he thought he was. So I sometimes joke about people who have “presence.”

By the way, he didn’t tell me that I had presence. That wasn’t something he considered. Besides, he was talking about himself. I remember that he often used the narcissist’s soft voice, speaking so quietly that people had to work to hear his words. In that way, they focused even more on him and what he was saying. I don’t know if I would call him a narcissist, but he certainly seemed to lean in that direction.

Above all else, the narcissist wants “presence.” If you look at the definition of narcissism and the nine characteristics, you can’t help but see that the narcissist is someone who wants to be noticed and valued. I have shared the definition in this post, but it is good to share a reminder from time to time. Here’s the list from Wikipedia:

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
1.      Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
2.      Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
3.      Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
4.      Requires excessive admiration
5.      Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
6.      Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
7.      Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
8.      Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
9.      Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
– From Wikipedia

Notice that numbers 1-5 and 8-9 are all about feeling superior or more important, having presence. That’s seven out of nine. The other two are simply the price the narcissist is willing to pay to get this feeling.

The narcissist wants you and me to drop everything and pay attention to him/her. If others are being served, the narcissist demands, “Well, what about me?” If others are being honored, the narcissist might try to get in the way or take the credit. If others are just going about their work, the narcissist might do something obnoxious or mean.

The narcissist wants to be the elephant in the room, the person no one can ignore. He wants heads to turn, strong men to quake, ladies to swoon. Not getting those things, the narcissist might turn heads because of some joke or some need. He might purposely arrive late to a meeting where he is needed. He might generously buy drinks for everyone, or beg poverty to get sympathy. Again, whatever it takes.

Politicians build careers on this presence. Top CEOs expect others to notice it. Preachers expect to be revered. And other narcissists see this and lust after it.

A person with presence stimulates others. He might be able to make you feel like you are important, and you will feel like he is important because of that. She knows how she looks to others and flashes that smile that warms the heart. You open yourself to the person with presence because of their personal power and attraction.

Presence opens doors.

No wonder the narcissist wants that!

 

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Why oh why?

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

You sit in your chair staring at the television. It’s off. The room is dark because you don’t want to be in the light right now. No one is around and you are grateful. Your mind and heart are numb, yet racing with thought. Numb thought. That’s about right.

What you did was wrong. It was a foolish decision. Yet, you did it knowingly and willingly. You didn’t stop at the warnings, you just did it. And it felt good. Or did it? There was something in it that felt good, but that numbness was there as well. The laughter and happiness were tempered by the knowledge that regret was coming. You knew you would pay a price.

And maybe this wasn’t the first time. It’s like something builds in you and needs to be released. The release brings pleasure, but also pain. The problem seems to be that the pain is future while the pleasure is present. As long as the pleasure comes first, you long for it. The pain, which seems so real as you sit in your chair staring at the TV, is far enough away to be ignored.

Pastor Jones preaches in favor of marriage and family, but visits the adult bookstore when he goes to the big city. He lives in fear that someone will see him and hates himself later, but rarely misses the stop. Mrs. Smith has a bottle hidden away and seeks comfort in its contents. The last bottle, like the ones before it, was poured down the drain in shame and guilt. But there’s always another. Another few dollars from the register at work, another few “extra” hours on the time card, just one more night together, just a little lie: these seem to take the pressure away—for a while.

Why do we do what we don’t want to do? Why do we keep making these bad decisions? What in the world is going on?

Well, the problem may be old, but the answer isn’t easy. It has to do with how we believe we are accepted or loved. The old saying is that everybody needs to be somebody to somebody. We need affirmation and, to get it, we will do just about anything.

Almost all of us grew up with affirmation that came on the basis of some kind of points. We earned points by doing the right things. We lost points when we did the wrong things. Our culture, whether from the church or family or community, sought to mold us by a system of rewards and punishments. And, for the most part, it appeared to work. We are affirmed when we do well and shamed when we do not.

But inside, where our thoughts and desires live, affirmation comes from feeling important or valued. We want to feel good about ourselves. Yes, that might mean that we want to feel righteous, but it also means we want to feel strong or desirable or rich. We aren’t usually content with feeling acceptable to the community, we want to feel like we are “somebody.” The community affirms us when we conform, when we are not independent and creative. Our hearts affirm us when we express our uniqueness and value.

Most of the vices in life minister to our need to feel special. Alcohol, overspending, porn, drugs, lying, theft—all are there because they promise to meet that need. They may do it through fantasy, but even fantasy feels good for a while. They all have consequences, but the feeling is sometimes worth the price. The vices calls to the needs of our hearts.

Keeping the rules and cultural standards may satisfy the community, but that doesn’t satisfy the heart. The points we gain from “doing right” are not enough. We seem to need more. Points come from the other side as well. The fantasies give us points that feel good. It even makes us feel strong and independent to break the rules. Those points count. They don’t satisfy either, but they seem to give us something.

Once the cycle begins, and it begins early, we go from breaking the rules and scoring the points that make us feel good to keeping the rules and trying to overcome the negatives with points from the good side. So Pastor Jones preaches about faithfulness in marriage, then visits the porn shop, then preaches a stronger message about marriage the next week. He isn’t being simply insincere. He is struggling with these feelings of acceptance. He thinks he can overcome the negative points with more positive ones.

But the more we try to overcome the negatives with positives, the more we feel phony and the less any of the points help us feel good about ourselves. Our goal is to feel good, but those feelings diminish the longer the process goes. The cycle becomes more and more frantic until something happens to break it. It will begin all over again unless we find a way to get away from points altogether. As with any addiction, we have to find a way to break free.

There is a way, but it is contrary to most of what you have been taught and most of what you feel. That way is to accept the love and affirmation of the One who made you. He does love you. It doesn’t matter what you have done. He welcomes you. He values you. He wants you to know that no system of points, either in your culture or your heart, will ever be enough to satisfy your need. His love will be enough.

The message of the Gospel of Jesus is a message of love and acceptance. I know that preachers have made it sound otherwise, but they are as bound up in their system as you have been in yours. The message of the cross is one of sacrificial love for those who neither deserved nor understood it. It allows all of us to get off the point system and accept our acceptance.

Think about what you will give up when you leave the point system behind. No more spiritual comparisons. If there is no need for gaining spiritual points, then no one can be better than another. No more sleepless nights worrying about regrets. You are accepted by the Lord regardless of your past and your mistakes. No more fear of judgment. The One who judges you loves you and has given all to have you with Him. No more fear of failure. Results and accomplishments are in the hands of the Lord who loves you. On and on. The things you give up by leaving the points behind are the things that have hurt you so much.

I understand that this post is long and may seem convoluted. Let me summarize by saying that we tend to gravitate to that which promises to make us feel good—and those feelings come from both sides of the moral system. There is a better way. When you get up in the morning, remind yourself that the Lord loves you. Let yourself feel accepted and valued by Him. Throughout the day, seek His presence and remember His love. At the end of the day, thank Him for loving you. Then accept the rest He gives. Is it that simple? Yes, I believe it is.

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