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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Bad Decisions

 

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Some didn’t have any choice. They were born into a narcissistic home and relationship. Or maybe they were hired by a good company and found themselves working for or with a narcissist. Some were totally deceived by the narcissistic lures. But some just made a bad decision.

Bad decisions are part of life. Sometimes we don’t have all the facts, other times we simply look past the facts. And sometimes we see all the facts, hear all the warnings, and decide to do it anyway. Let’s face it, sometimes the consequences of the bad decision are our own dumb fault.

Okay, so either you were in the narcissistic relationship because of someone else, or you were responsible yourself. Either way, you paid a price. Now you know better. Maybe you got out. Maybe you have some good tools for handling it. There is little value in blaming either yourself or others. Real value is in what you do next. You know that.

But then you go and make another bad decision. Another hurtful relationship. Returning to the narcissist. Saying or doing something that compromises everything you have worked so hard to accomplish. Now you wonder if the narcissist was right with the criticisms. Now you wonder what in the world is wrong with you.

Well, most likely nothing is wrong with you. Bad decisions are normal. Yes, they can hurt and, yes, we want to avoid them, but we make them. Too often.

The needs of our hearts are not easy for us to fill. Why would we think that eating that bowl of ice cream would make us feel better about our weight? Why would we buy a new car we can’t afford so that we could feel rich? Why would that one night stand make us feel loved? But these are the bad decisions we make when we are hurting. There’s no real excuse. We know better. But reason doesn’t fix the pain in our hearts.

Many of the bad decisions we make come out of our need for something we can’t even identify. We don’t know what we need or why we need it, so we find something that won’t help or may even make things worse to try to appease the need. Yes, it really sounds dumb. But it is normal.

You see, you are not alone. I have heard so many stories of people making bad decisions after they leave or admit narcissistic relationships. Maybe you hurt yourself. Maybe you hurt others. Well, it’s a big club, one none of us want to be in. It’s okay to regret some of the things you have done. It’s admitting that you are human.

Note that I am not saying it is okay to do these things. It isn’t okay to hurt yourself or others. But if you already have done it, you might as well decide to keep moving forward. There is forgiveness. You are still loved. You are still valued in the heart of God. None of that has changed.

Next week I will write more about why we make some of these bad decisions. Today I just want you to know that your experience, your regret, is shared by many others. You are not the only one who did what you did.

The narcissist disrupts our thinking and our feeling. He/she knows how to push our buttons and how to keep us subdued. We should not be surprised if our judgment is a little off, whether we have left the relationship or are still in it. The narcissist has an interest in making us doubt ourselves. What seems right, in the struggle of the narcissistic relationship, may not be right. It may not even make sense, but that’s the nature of what these victims suffer.

So don’t beat yourself up. Find forgiveness in the love of God and move forward. Trust that you are just as loved as you ever were. Both the bad decision and the regret just prove you are human and you need support from outside yourself.

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Eclipsed!

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Yes, I know that all the excitement is over. If I wanted to capitalize on the eclipse I should have done so last week. We drove to Wyoming to see it, along with some 500,000 other cars (that’s true). Driving was terrible, the eclipse was wonderful.

But it made me think.

How many of you took your special glasses and looked at the sun after Monday? No reason, right? After Monday, everything was just the same as always. The only big deal was that the moon got in the way on Monday.

One of the most serious desires of the narcissist is to be the center of attention. The co-worker who shows up at the end of the project and is able to take credit for the work others did. The husband who picks up a dish towel just as the company comes. The mother-in-law who “cleans” what you have already cleaned so she can say that she helped you. The narcissist doesn’t really do anything except get in the way—but expects to get the attention and credit.

Those of us who were able to watch the eclipse on Monday didn’t watch the sun. We watched the moon. It was the moon that was moving. Narcissists are usually the people who are moving. They are not the regular workers, the ones we all depend on. In fact, they make fun of the “plodders” who do the real work. The narcissist is here and there and everywhere, making an appearance, trying to be noticed. The narcissist doesn’t stay in one place, resists being “stuck” in a job, pushes to be involved in the next exciting thing. Narcissists are the ones moving around.

But let’s be sure that we are seeing the real distinction. The narcissists are not moving around because they are working. They move around to look like they are working. They believe that they have to keep moving to be noticed. They are “overworked,” “busy,” “needed.” You can tell by the fact that they don’t have time for you or for what you consider important.

Most of the narcissists I have known are what I call “antsy.” I think that’s reference to the old “ants in the pants” idea. They come late to the lunch date and have to leave early. They interrupt your conversation with their phone calls, the people they see, and the agenda they brought. Some actually have trouble sitting down (unless they are watching you work). He isn’t in his office. She can’t be reached by phone. Always on their way to something else.

It is a well-known tactic in acting for one person to upstage another just by moving. Bob Newhart did it when he thought too much attention was being given to a supporting actor. The camera (and our eyes) tend to follow the one who is moving. Narcissists know this almost instinctively. They plan to be unpredictable, even rebellious, just so others will be watching.

Meanwhile, you try to do the job you have been given. You do the work required. But don’t worry, the narcissist won’t be in your way long. You will be able to get back to your regular work when the narcissist moves to another place, probably in front of another person. And sometimes, just sometimes, others will notice who the real worker is. It may be after the narcissist moves on to steal from someone else.

How can you fight this? You probably can’t, at least you probably won’t succeed. The narcissist is much better at taking your credit than you are at protecting it. But maybe there is a lesson in this. Maybe you should be willing to toot your horn a little. Maybe you should be willing to receive praise and thanks. Including others in the praise you receive is nice, but not when it lifts up someone who did nothing. Don’t be afraid to let someone appreciate you.

And maybe you should move around a little. Be willing to take on a new project or share in a new team. If something excites you, admit it and volunteer to be a part. Yes, you have something to offer. Believe it.

The narcissists will always be around to try to steal what is yours. You may not win at their game. Yet, you can be happy and fulfilled. Allow yourself to live in a little of the limelight. You deserve it.

 

Slow and steady only wins the race if the race is long enough.

 

 

 

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Traveling

I am traveling this weekend and am unable to post. Sorry everyone. Please know that I am praying for all of you. You are loved!

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Knowing the Truth

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off!” Gloria Steinem(?)

 

The truth, interestingly enough, is that this quote does not really belong to Gloria Steinem. She took it from someone else. But that’s the way the truth is. Someone named Joe Klaas used it in a book. The original version, the one Joe changed it from, was a little tamer: “the truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” I suspect that both sayings are right much of the time.

There is a certain bliss in ignorance. We walk merrily on our way without fear or anger. Then we learn the truth and it ruins everything. But would it be better not to know? Some people think so. Life was happy before it all came out.

The problem is that the lie is not neutral. The lie hurts us even when we don’t know it’s a lie. Basing our actions and plans on the lie catches up to us eventually. And it is a lie. The truth does not create the problem, it only exposes it.

Is J’s marriage good because she doesn’t know that her husband is having an affair? Is the food in the restaurant better because you don’t know the conditions of the kitchen? Is that politician or leader more honest because you don’t know about his compromises? No, ignorance only covers the truth, it does not negate it. Nor does it guarantee bliss.

Putting the name of cancer on those aches and weaknesses didn’t cause the diagnosis. It was cancer before the doctor looked at it. When you learned that narcissism was behind the problems in your relationship, the problems were already there. You might have been able to ignore them easier, simply because there was no name, but they were still there.

So now you know, and it feels awful. Do you really wish you didn’t know? No, you really wish it wasn’t true. You wish there were no problems. Now you have to make choices, maybe even do something. Why is that hard? Because you are already drained from the stress of the problem you didn’t have a name for. And now you have to face the reality of what you were beginning to suspect.

And now that you have a name, a diagnosis, you can begin to move forward. You can fight or adapt or decide to do nothing. Now, you are in more of a position of power than you ever were before. You can begin to understand what has been happening, and you can make some plans or strategy.

I know it hurts. I’m sorry for your pain. I wish it could be different. But the only way it will ever be different is by facing the truth. Fighting the real enemy, getting the right help, accepting the right support: these things come out of knowing the truth.

Yes, the truth does lead to freedom, even though it might make you angry or sad at first. It’s the only way to real freedom, after all. Continuing the lie will just continue the pain and bondage.

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