The Changed Narcissist pt. 3

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Is it possible?

I was recently accused of teaching that narcissists never change, that change is impossible. I know many people believe this to be true, but I do not. Instead, I have taught that narcissists rarely change—because they don’t think anything is wrong with them.

There are several factors in determining whether a particular person can change his or her narcissistic behavior. We have to acknowledge that there is a spectrum of this abusive behavior. We also have to acknowledge that we use the term “narcissist” in a popular sense, rather than as a professional diagnosis. I don’ t know if someone who is diagnosed as a narcissist by a psychologist is capable of real change. Some, like Wendy Behary, claim to have success working with these folks. I am not a credentialed psychological professional, and I do not work with diagnosed narcissists. Here we talk about those users and manipulators more popularly called narcissists.

We also have to distinguish between the behavior of the narcissist and the heart of the narcissist. I don’t know if the narcissist can change his/her heart. It may be possible, with sufficient motivation. Yet, since narcissists value others and relationships so lowly, I would be hard-pressed to know what that sufficient motivation would be. (There is a way to change the heart, of course, and I write about that below.)

I do know that narcissists can change their behavior. As I have said before, they do it all the time. With motivation, they can stop abusing. Good counselors can help them learn to live kindly with others. They may even learn not to be afraid of losing whatever they are protecting. If they can learn not to hurt others, and if those others have relatively low expectations for heart connections, then I would think narcissists could change sufficiently to restore relationships.

We forget that many marriages of the past were functional relationships. Today we seem to think that marriage partners should always be “in love,” meaning romantically infatuated. Not only was that not a requirement for most of history, it is not necessarily the primary goal for marriage today. With children and property and work involved, a good marriage can just be one where the couple gets along as good friends. No, I am not suggesting that should be enough for everyone, but I am saying that can be a satisfying and legitimate relationship for some. So changing from narcissistic behavior to kind and cooperative behavior might work for some relationships. I do think many of those we think of as narcissists could make that change if they wanted.

But to love? That’s the real question. Could the narcissist learn to love? If narcissists have difficulty in relationships because they don’t know how to love, or are unable, then how could that change? It would take a new heart.

I only know one way to get a new heart.

 

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26

 

There is a way to get a heart that feels and cares. There is a way to get a living heart that is able to connect with others. A new heart that both receives and gives love. That heart comes from Jesus. That heart comes when His life is exchanged for yours.
I know that we all wonder if a narcissist can be a Christian. One of my favorite passages of Scripture directly addresses this.

 

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.
And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11

 

So, no narcissist could be a Christian. If someone was a narcissist and came to Jesus for salvation, that person is no longer a narcissist. He/she may act like a narcissist, but the identity has been washed away and victory is possible. The behavior may remain, just as much of our old behavior continued after conversion, but that behavior can be changed. Narcissists can learn not to do what narcissists do, just like thieves can learn not to do what thieves do—and be free of the evil motivations—because of the new heart in Jesus.

I cannot say whether your narcissist is a Christian. All I can say is that a real Christian is both able and motivated to change. I can also say that no heart change is possible without Jesus. If your narcissist has never truly submitted to Jesus, come to Him for new life, then the best that can happen is some changed behavior. So, when a narcissist contacts me, that’s where we go. I place the challenges of changed behavior and heart motivation before them and invite them to new life in Jesus.

To summarize: a narcissist can change some behavior, but not his/her heart. Only Jesus can change the heart.

 

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The Changed Narcissist pt. 2

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Last week I wrote about narcissists who claim that they have changed so their spouses/supply will welcome them back into the relationship. Many sad stories have come from those who have fallen for that deception. Of course, there is no foolproof way to determine if someone has actually changed or if that person is just playing a game. But it seems to me that there are some things that would indicate real change.

So, what would a changed narcissist look like? The following points are all about a male narcissist who wants to return to his wife. We all understand that some women are narcissists and that not all narcissistic relationships are in marriages. Adjust these as you see fit.

 

1. He finally understands it is not all about him. Narcissists will talk about their needs, their efforts, their pain, their loneliness, their revelations, their decisions, their inconveniences. But they will not talk about you or your needs. The broken relationship has been a burden on them, but they don’t acknowledge how the relationship was a burden on you. They will tell you over and over how they have changed, how they accept your anger, and how they are struggling to be alone. All about them. Is it a struggle for you to be alone? Are you struggling with your anger? Do you have rights and expectations in the relationship? The narcissist doesn’t talk about that because he doesn’t think about that.

When the narcissist can honestly see and admit how he has hurt you, then he may be changing. When he finally stops thinking about his own struggle and sees yours as valid, then maybe change is happening.

2. He begins to think about what he can give, rather than what he can get. The narcissist makes deals. He expresses what he wants, and you are supposed to do it. He may not even realize that there should be another side to the deal. And, when he does, you don’t know if he will fulfill his side. As long as the narcissist is bargaining, he is manipulating. What if he stopped making deals? What if he just gave, like a loving person would? When he gives you more money than agreed upon because he knows you can use it, even when it makes the month tight for him, he may be changing. When he takes care of chores you need (not chores he needs or likes), because he knows you need them, maybe he is changing.

3. He stops blaming you for the break-up. Narcissists are experts at blaming the victim. Their whole game is to make themselves look good. That will mean you have to be the one who caused the problem. That’s what they think, and that’s what they will tell others. Eventually, you may begin to believe it. Once you do, he wins. Now, if he stops talking about what you should do to change and sees his own failures, then maybe he is changing. If he comes to the relationship without trying to make a deal where you have to give something or give up something, then change might be happening. If he openly and honestly discusses what he did to hurt you, and accepts it from your point of view, then maybe.

4. He goes back to friends and tells them the truth. There is little doubt that the narcissist has already talked to friends about what you have done. He probably did it long before you began to see the truth about him. Certainly, once you started talking about separation, he tried to get them on his side. Now he should go back to them and tell them it was his fault, not yours. He should admit to them that he is manipulative and controlling and that he has hurt you. At minimum, he should speak supportively about you. If he were to do this, maybe he is changing.

5. He’s willing to take time. Restoring the relationship is about winning your heart again. Is he willing to take the time, to proceed gently, to do that? Does he assume certain privileges because he has had them before? Some narcissists simply do not accept that you are committed to separation. They think they just have to say the right words or make the right deal and you will yield. They search for the magic answer so all this will stop. If he is patient, maybe he is changing. If he puts the relationship at such a value that he is willing to take time, perhaps even years, to bring it together again, maybe he is changing.

6. He’s willing to lose. Most narcissistic relationships end when the narcissist says they do. Many end because he finds someone else. Others end because “she is unreasonable.” They will redecorate the story until it is your fault. Whatever it takes to win. Narcissists must win. Their image cannot afford to lose. But if he is willing to do what you want, because you want it, maybe he is changing. I have known men who lost their marriages and blame themselves. No, they were not narcissists, at least from what I could see. But they would tell you that there was a time in their marriage when they were selfish and abusive and lost the best thing they ever had. They understand why the person they hurt is better off without them. Bottom line: they were jerks and they lost. If the narcissist is willing to accept that, then maybe he is changing.

By the way, going online to tell as many as will listen how much suffering you have caused, even when you seem to blame yourself, is just another way to win. Becoming the “expert” on narcissistic relationships because you are one, may be a victory in itself. If he is blogging about his struggle or counseling others, he may have found a different way to come out ahead.

7. He’s no longer angry. Change is hard, but kindness and understanding are patient. We can understand frustration when there is one goal and it isn’t happening. But if the above things are in place, and the narcissist is kind and not angry (over time), then maybe real change is taking place. We have talked before about why narcissists are angry. If there is anything that makes them angry, it is you pointing out their failures by setting boundaries or separating. They get frustrated when they cannot find those magic words or manipulate you into changing your mind. They watch the clock and/or the calendar waiting for “all this” to be over, then get angry when it takes time. If the anger has stopped, maybe he is changing.

Beware of the anger adapting. Anger can change to resignation. Shrugging his shoulders and saying “whatever” may be just a different way of expressing anger. The “sad sack,” the defeated victim, is able to manipulate in much the same way as the angry person. Don’t be fooled. There is a difference between honestly acknowledging your failure and becoming a broken-down moping servant.

 

 

So, there you have it. I am sure that you could add to this. My first thought as I read back over this list is: What will the narcissist think? I am aware that narcissists watch this blog. My hope and prayer is that they would see the pain of their spouses and accept the real need for change. My expectations are far less.

I would expect one of two responses from the narcissist. Some will make this into a list with check boxes. They will work on each area until they are satisfied they can communicate that to their spouse. They might even show the list to their spouse someday. Just more bargaining.

The more likely response is that this is ridiculous. “No one could possibly do all of these things. You are suggesting that the narcissist go completely soft, take all the blame, and become a doormat.” Well, perhaps I am. Perhaps this list is tough with expectations that are high. But they are not too high for regular people, people who do stupid things and want to rebuild their relationships. Nothing on the list above is actually unreasonable. Yet, I acknowledge that they might be difficult. I also acknowledge that they are inconsistent with narcissism.

So, can a narcissist really change? Is it even possible? Next week….

 

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The Changed Narcissist

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

What would a changed narcissist look like? So often I have had people write to ask me whether a narcissist could change. I have also had narcissists write to me to tell me they have changed. In fact, I have been criticized for not trusting the changed narcissist.

But I have also heard many stories of spouses and others who have opened their doors and their hearts to their narcissist again—on the promise of change—only to find that the problems in the relationship increased. If you read the comments here (or if you could read my email) you know what I mean. The supply/victim finally gets up the courage to set boundaries or to separate, and the narcissist gets the message. Change or else. So the narcissist changes. If he hit, he stops hitting. If she criticized, she stops criticizing. If the narcissist was demanding or demeaning or whatever, the behavior stops. Then he/she wants to be welcomed back to the relationship. After all, look at all the change.

That story is common. Sadly. But what happens behind the scenes is also common, just not as obvious. Narcissists are political deal makers. Over and over I hear that the narcissist has gone to friends to convince them that he has changed. Then the friends go to the victim to try to convince her. Behind the scenes, the narcissist has planted the idea that she is the real problem. Yes, he has done some wrong things, but it takes two. If she would only open up, he could show her that he has changed. So the “friends,” or should I say pawns, begin their play.

Involving friends or family or even outsiders is evidence that the narcissist has really not changed. That’s just the politics. The deal-making is evident as the narcissist only changes the things that have been issues. If the victim talked mostly about lying, he will be overly truthful. If the victim pointed out the abuse, the abuse will stop. But little else will change. Only the things that have to change in order to restore the relationship. Just the minimum.

The political deal-maker sees a relationship as a negotiated partnership. He offers his part and you offer yours. He will promise to do what you want and you will promise to do what he wants. When the deal-maker is a narcissist, your part will be the only one with substance. In other words, he will say he has changed, and you have to let him live with you again. Notice the inequality of that deal?

This is the personal equivalent of the “we have to pass the bill before we can read it” scenario. For those of you who have no idea what that means, it refers to legislation that is pushed through by one side without opportunity for the other side to examine the bill. Yes, that’s American politics. But it is also narcissistic politics. You have to give in order to see if the other side is being honest. That’s why it isn’t until the narcissist is back and settled that you realize he/she had no intention of keeping the promise.

And once the narcissist is settled, the deal is done. There is little reason to continue the change. In fact, because you have spent your resources and resolve, he/she will become even more abusive. He has established himself as the real victim to the friends and the real victor to you. It will be harder for you to find the strength to break the relationship next time.

Now, this story is surprisingly common. It is also surprising to me how many of you have had the courage to go through all this a second time (or a third). You learned how the game was played, and you stopped negotiating.

By the way, this doesn’t happen only in marriages. This could be co-workers or friends or family members. If the narcissist needs you, he/she will adjust behavior to try to make you believe in the change.

Yes, narcissists can adjust their behavior. We have talked about this. They don’t treat everyone the same. They adjust their behavior depending on what their goal is. They don’t treat you like they treated you at the beginning of the relationship. The narcissist can control behavior. That’s just one of the things that makes me suggest narcissistic abuse is a choice, rather than an illness.

I have also suggested that changed behavior may be an acceptable goal if the desire for change is real and the change is enforced. Boundaries and counseling can help the narcissist learn to function in a relationship. If the cost of losing the relationship is significant in the narcissist’s mind, that negotiation might make a difference. Some spouses (or others) may accept that in order to provide stability for the family or some kind of mutual benefit in the relationship.

But real and enforced change is usually not what the narcissist offers when he wants back into the relationship. That’s a longer process, and most narcissists will not be interested.

I began this post with a question: What does a changed narcissist look like? This post is long enough. Next week I will offer some thoughts in answer to that question. They will be very similar to what I have written to several narcissists who have come to me claiming to have changed.

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Unconditional Love

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

(The following was posted a few years ago, but it seemed important to share it again.  I pray for all of you at this special time of the year.)

 

For Christians, Good Friday reminds us of the day Jesus went to the cross for us. We who were sinners, broken and hurting others in our brokenness, needed something more than we could ever get for ourselves. Although we needed a change of thinking, we needed more than new ideas. Although we needed forgiveness, we needed more than just cleansing from our sin. We needed new life.

When Jesus came, He came to give us life. The primary message of the passion is the message of the cost of that life. Jesus suffered, bled, and died to give us life.  His life.  Life in relationship with Him.

Thinking Christians are aware of the great love our Lord has for us. We are only able to come into His presence, to seek what we need, because of that love. That love makes all the difference. We who deserve nothing from the Almighty God, receive everything because of that love. No matter what we have done, He loves us. No matter what we are doing or will do, He still loves us. That kind of love humbles us.

Then we look at the people around us and we are impressed that we, who have received such love, ought to love them. Even the most difficult people in our lives. Even the narcissists. And then we feel guilty.

Fairly often someone asks me how to love a narcissist. I flippantly answer, “From a distance!” I am not being facetious, though. Sometimes the only way to keep loving is to keep that distance.

So how do we, as Christians, love the narcissists? How do we show them the kind of love Jesus showed us?

 

Some thoughts:

1. You are not Jesus. You will never be able to give the narcissist what he/she needs. Your love will never be enough.  The best you can do is bring the narcissist to Jesus for His love.  But even that result is not in your hands.

2. Love does not always demand your presence. I am impressed with how often Jesus withdrew from the people. He was human and needed rest and space. (Luke 5:16) He took care of Himself. How can you get by with less?

3. Jesus did not entrust Himself to the people. (John 2:24) That means that He did not allow them to command His time and energy or to decide His purpose.  He did not allow them to define Him.  Narcissists are driven to control. You don’t have to let them control you.

4. Jesus knew the truth and spoke the truth about people. (John 8:44) He said hard things that people did not want to hear. Then He allowed them to accept or reject His words.  He knew that some people lied when they expressed their affection for or interest in Him.  He knew they just wanted to use Him.

5. Jesus understood that there was a time to walk away. (Mark 6:11) Those who did not want a relationship with Him were free to go their way without Him.  Let Him lead you to know when that time will be. It may be that He tells you to stay longer, and He may give you freedom to leave.

 

Now, my point with all of this is to say that the One who is love most amazing, who loves most generously, who gives and serves most sacrificially—even He allowed limits. There was nothing He would not do for them, but only if it would truly help them. He didn’t walk around giving money to everyone or even healing everyone.  He reached out to those who wanted what He offered.  He would forgive them, empower them, set them free—if they wanted. If they didn’t want it, He would respect them and Himself enough to walk away. And, all the while, He was loving them.

When we talk about unconditional love, we often think that means putting up with anything no matter what the outcome. But when it becomes clear that it is not helping for us to continue and that the person we are trying to love is not willing to receive what we offer, then there comes a time to walk away. And, even then, we can love them. We can continue to pray for them, to bring them to Jesus. We can do that from a distance. We can be safe and productive and never see the person—and still love them. But we don’t have to continue to put up with their abuse.

Narcissists may say they want a relationship with you, but they only want someone to serve them.  They need people to use.  Allowing them to use you is not love.  They want your service, loyalty, and energy–not your love.  Your love offers relationship.

It is not love that moves a person to become passive and victimized in a relationship. Love means offering something of yourself to another. If you have no more to give, or if what you give is never enough, perhaps the problem is not yours. Perhaps what keeps you in the abusive relationship is guilt or shame or fear or desire, but it isn’t love.  Duty is not love.

Over the past few years I have worked to respond to a movement in the culture that says God saves people even when they don’t want Him to. There are teachers who say that God will somehow, someday, make everyone respond to His love. But that is not love. That is control.

The One who went to the cross for you and me, offers His love freely and allows us to accept or reject what He wants to give. The truth reminds me of a t-shirt I once saw: “Not all sinners want to be forgiven.” And there it is. Jesus offers forgiveness in a relationship. Those who want the life He offers, will find the forgiveness that comes with it.  There is no end to the love of God and no limit other than respect, respect for the will of those who want no part of relationship.

Sometimes people just want to take your time, money, loyalty, service, and anything else they can get. They don’t want your love, your life. They just want to use you. They don’t want a relationship with you as a person. Love is relationship. Love is sharing. That’s what Jesus offers to all of us. That’s what you offer to the narcissist. But when it is clear that the one to whom love is offered really doesn’t want it, it may be time to move on.

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Take out the Trash

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

I have said many times here that you should not tell the narcissist your secrets. Your dreams, your regrets, your fears—these are things the narcissist will use against you. So don’t tell him/her. The problem is that you usually don’t know someone is a narcissist until after you have exposed yourself. They are deceptive and persistent. They know how to ask questions and apply pressures and gather information. They work to get these things out of you long before they show you who they really are.

The best way to protect yourself is to do some regular housekeeping. Last week we talked about protecting your treasures. Don’t put your dreams and hopes out there for people to play with. They are yours, and they are special. Put them somewhere you can see them often, but others can’t get them. Hopes and dreams and special loves are treasures to be kept.

But fears and regrets are something else. Why are you storing them at all? Most of us store stuff that should be thrown out. We keep reminders of our failures, souvenirs of our pain, and things that make us afraid. Why? Partly because we don’t want to risk others finding them, I suppose. So we tuck them away, hide them, and use our time and energy to keep them away from others.

Believe me, the narcissists will find them. The only way for the narcissist not to find your regrets and fears is for you not to have them at all. If there is nothing there to find, the narcissist can’t use it against you.

Okay, I know. We all have fears and regrets. We do. My dad used to say that the person who said he didn’t have any regrets probably lied about other things as well. We all have fears. But these are things for us to overcome, not treasures to be kept in our hearts.

As you rebuild after the narcissist, or to protect yourself against the narcissist, you need to take out the trash. The trash consists of things that had a value once, but no more. Think of them this way: your fears show you the areas of your life where you feel vulnerable. They had a purpose. But when you deal with those areas, find ways to become strong and not feel vulnerable, then those fears no longer have value.

For example: What if you fear handling money? Take some basic accounting classes. Read some budget books. Learn some basic math. Take small steps until you feel more confident. Once you realize that you can handle money better than most people, you no longer have to be afraid.

Regrets are the sore spots that remain after we do foolish or wrong things. If you tried to jump over the chair and missed, you might have a bruise on your shin to remind you not to do that again. That’s the purpose of a regret. Just as you do not need a continuing bruise to help you remember not to try to jump over the chair, you do not need continuing regret to remind you of stupid things you did. Learn and move on. We all do dumb things, the advertisement says. No sense in keeping the pain around.

If you teach your children to learn from their mistakes and then move on, if you teach them to face their fears and grow in the areas of their vulnerability, then you prepare them for a life mostly protected from the narcissist. The normal manipulative tools of the narcissist (shame, intimidation, etc.) simply won’t have any effect on them. No one can do this perfectly, of course, but why not give them the best chance you can?

And why not do the same for yourself? Look your fears straight on and find ways to overcome them. Learn the lessons your regrets came from and stop holding them close to your heart. When you do this, the narcissist has so much less to use on you. Yes, narcissists are persistent and ruthless, but there is no reason to give them the tools they need.

Now, anyone can do this, but Christians have divine help. Our God stands strong against the things we fear. Our Lord affirms us when we fail and does not require us to hold onto our regrets. We know that we are loved and forgiven and accepted. Even when we sin, He still loves us. So we learn our lessons and move on with our lives. We face our fears with the confidence of someone well-protected.

I know that a few words in a blog post can make these things sound easy. I don’t want to suggest that they are easy. But I do want to assert that they are true. Regrets and fears are not things to hold in the safe place of your heart. Instead, find the ways to overcome them. Then throw them out with the trash.

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Set a Guard

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Medieval castles and fortresses were developed along similar lines throughout Britain and Europe. In Britain, the names given to parts of the complex are still recognizable to us. We know about the moat around the castle, which was originally the trench around the motte, or mound, on which the castle itself was built. You might know someone named Bailey, or talk about someone’s bailiwick, both of which referred to the flat area where the common people lived and the market could be found, usually surrounded by a wall of some kind, a palisade. And you know the word, keep, which meant the inner tower of the castle or fortress, the place where the valuables were kept and the rulers’ families would either live or use for refuge in times of danger. (By the way, in French the keep was called the donjon. Since prisoners were often kept in the tower, either at the top or in a basement area, the English began calling the place where the prisoners were held the dungeon.)

Okay, now you know more than you wanted. But I have always been blessed by the idea of a keep being a place well-guarded, the last place of refuge, defended to the uttermost. In fact, the noun became a verb, meaning to guard or protect. When we keep something, we hold it close. The castle or fortress keep was the place where the most important and precious things (and people) were protected.

The King James version of the Bible came shortly after the medieval years and uses language based on well-known concepts of that time. So, when we are told in Proverbs 4:23,

 

Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.

 

…we know what it means. We are to guard our hearts, protect them from the influences around us, particularly in the time of attack. Nothing is more precious to us than our hearts. If the enemy breaks into the keep, and overcomes our hearts, we are lost.

I don’t have the time here to give a long definition of what the heart is, but you know. Your heart is where you know yourself. In your heart lies your identity, your courage, your hopes and dreams. Your heart is the core, the most precious part, of you.

Narcissistic relationships, particularly if they are close, always attack the heart. The narcissist goes for the heart almost immediately. This is why the narcissist wants to pull your daughter away from you and other support. This is why he wants to have a sexual relationship so soon. This is why he demands exclusive loyalty. Whereas others will be content to win your heart over time, the narcissist wants to own it as soon as possible.

This is why the narcissist quickly learns your fears and regrets and dreams. Those are things you hold in your heart. (By the way, you don’t need to keep regrets and fears in your heart, but that’s another post.) Using those things allows the narcissist to control you. Reminding you of your pain, threatening you with your fears, tempting you with your dreams—these are ways the narcissist manipulates you.

This is why the narcissist quickly learns your triggers. What words will discourage you and take away your hope? The narcissist knows and uses them. He/she knows how to make you angry or sad or defeated or confused.

So, guard your heart! Don’t let the narcissist in. You will be able to handle the cruel and cutting words as long as they stay outside your heart, but once you take them in and believe them, let them change your dreams or define you, you lose. Once you begin to think of yourself the way the narcissist thinks of you, he/she wins. So, guard your heart.

You don’t have to believe what you hear. You don’t have to accept the criticisms and discouraging words. You can hear them and not own them. Just because it is your boss or your parent or your lover—that doesn’t mean you have to agree. You may be saddened that they think of you that way, but you don’t have to think of yourself that way. You may have to deal with the boss’s assessment of you, but you don’t have to agree. There may be no way for you to protest or change their opinion, but you still don’t have to let their words into your heart.

Keep your dreams and your identity tucked away and don’t let people play with them. The only opinions that matter are the Lord’s and yours, and even yours is second to His. He loves you and accepts you. He knows you are valuable and good. He knows you belong to Him.

But, but, but… What if it’s too late? What if the damage is already done? What if the narcissist got in and ransacked your heart?

Listen: It is not too late! It’s time to rebuild. Tell yourself the truth about you and reject the lies. Rebuild the keep, sweep out the mess, set it all up again. Who are you in Christ? What gifts did the Lord give you? What dreams still exist? Gather these things and put them into the safe place.

Then, set a guard at the door. What guard? Well, the Scripture tells us what guard is supposed to be set at the door of our hearts.

 

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

 

Trust in the Lord who loves you. He will keep you safe as you look to Him. The attacks of the narcissist and the evil one will not destroy you. Let His peace stand guard at your heart. If your heart is secure, you will be okay.

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Name the Enemy

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

The little girl had a new book. Grandpa sat down to read it with her. Along the way, they came to a page with a scary picture. The little girl began to squirm. She was scared of the “monster.” The grandfather said, “Oh, that’s not a monster. That’s just a shadow. See? It’s Bob’s shadow.” The little girl was still nervous at the page, but started calling the monster, “Bob’s shadow.” Every time Grandpa read the book, they called the monster, Bob’s Shadow. Grandpa also pointed out his own shadow and the little girl’s shadow. It wasn’t long before all the fear went away from that book. Naming the monster changed things.

There’s a monster in many marriages and families. There may be a monster at your work, or in your church, or in your organization. Sometimes you might wonder if your friend is a monster. The thing about monsters is that they want to stay hidden. A good portion of the fear monsters produce comes from the fact that they operate in the shadows.

Naming the monster takes away some of its power. Calling it by name, rather than just fearing the unknown, puts a box around it. When we use the word “narcissism” and refer to someone as a “narcissist,” we are not trying to make a psychological diagnosis. We are simply naming the monster we have feared.

We are often chastised for using a professional term to describe what we see. There is a category of personality disorder called narcissism by professionals. They are usually not happy when we use that term, because it is their term. They are, after all, the professionals.

We had a lot of fun a year or so ago trying to come up with other terms to use instead of narcissist. You might like to read some of the great suggestions here. In the end, however, we had to settle back to the term that has definition and literature support. It fits the monster we have seen.

If your marriage, or church, or workplace, or whatever seems to have a monster hiding somewhere; if you are afraid of what you see, but don’t know what to call the problem; if something is lurking in your relationship that feels like it needs control and attention; if you feel like you are being used or abused, but can’t quite figure out how—you might be dealing with narcissism. Read some of the literature. Check out the term online. Read some of the many posts on this blog and some of the stories in the comments.

Not every problem in marriage is related to narcissism. Not every difficult person in your life is a narcissist. As you read, be honest. If the term doesn’t fit, don’t use it. It may even be that there is no monster.

But narcissism does hide in the shadows. When it sneaks out to you, it won’t look evil. It will look loving and kind and funny and generous. The monster has a happy face. At the same time, there may be in your heart a foreboding, a fear that things are not as they seem. That’s the time to believe that the monster has a name and to begin seeking it. The day may come when the monster steps out of the shadows, and you will see its ugliness and hunger. The only way to prepare yourself is to find the name ahead of time.

Naming the monster won’t make it go away, but it will limit its definition. In other words, you will stop blaming yourself and stop trying to deny what you have been seeing. You will stop saying that these are little quirks and that everyone has weaknesses. You will begin to see the monster in the light, without as much fear and confusion. And you will find some ways to deal with it.

Even if you give the monster the wrong name, you will find the terror and anxiety diminished. Later, as you continue to study and evaluate, you may learn the real name and have even more strength. But you will no longer be afraid of something hidden in the shadows, working to destroy you and what you hold dear.

No one can effectively battle an unnamed enemy. You don’t know where it is, how it will attack, or even what it is. But once you begin to define the enemy and give it a name, you can focus your energies in the right places and avoid many distractions. Some have lived in fear and defeat for many years before they finally were able to name the enemy. That’s when things began to change.

A few years ago I wrote about narcissism as a monster. You might want to read that post as well.

 

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