Are there more Narcissists?

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

(I am traveling and thought this might be a post worth repeating.  The times, they are a changin’!)

I often get asked if there are more narcissists today and, if so, why. That’s a difficult one to answer because the diagnosis of “narcissist” keeps changing. Many psychologists now believe that the narcissism we see in our relationships is simply a personality type, rather than a disorder. They reserve the label of narcissism for only extreme cases, those who commit gross crimes or who are sociopathic.

I suspect that the reason for this change is that we seem to see narcissism everywhere. Churches, politics, entertainment, even in small organizations and in our families. Most of us are simply more aware of narcissism and see it more, as when you are told that there are a lot of pregnant women in your community and you begin seeing them more and more. We are talking about narcissistic behavior and abuse more today than ever, and we are seeing it all around us.

Yet, I think the simple answer is: Yes, there are more narcissists today. At least there is more narcissistic behavior. I think there are more abusers, more cruel and manipulative people, and more attention seekers.

Of course, there are more of almost every kind of person today. In 1980, there were over 32,000 100-year-olds living in the US. In 2014, there were over 72,000. Not all of this is because we are living longer. There are just more people. We added nearly 100 million people to the US population during that same time.

I suspect that there are several factors in what we see as a rise in narcissism. One of the more influential factors could be the increased difficulty of being noticed when so many people are involved in our lives. If you consider just the memorable history of an older adult today, you will see the changes that have happened. Farm families spent most of their time apart from other people except for church or social gatherings. When the children started going to school, class sizes were small, just the local kids. When rural kids began to be bused into town, the schools were still smaller and class sizes allowed the teachers to actually know the kids. Today’s schools are consolidated and student bodies often number in the thousands. How does one kid stand out?

How do you get noticed in school today? Achievements that might stand out are already eclipsed by the trophies in the hallway case. Even bad behavior today has accelerated beyond anything that could have been imagined 60 years ago. How does a kid stand out?

How do you get your resume to stand out today? It used to be that you could drop in on a local store to see if they have any openings. Today you are told to send your resume through their website. You will probably join 200 others who have done the same thing. Almost all employers report the difficulty of sorting through the hundreds of resumes and applications they receive.

There’s lot of pushing going on out there. You see it when you drive. You see it when you try to buy a certain popular product. You see it when you want to advertise your skill or organization. Everybody is pushing to be seen and heard.

Some people respond to life’s pressures by developing a need and a will to push themselves into the limelight. Do you realize that only nine out of 10,000 high school football players in the US will eventually play in the NFL? Even if the student stands out in his school, how can he stand out later? Yet, those who must will find ways.

Today’s students and workers do not compete against those who do well. They compete against those who push hard. Who pushes to become the boss? Who pushes to become popular? Who pushes to make more money or get the more attractive spouse or enjoy the attention of others? Well, the narcissists certainly do.

And, because they have to push, they justify the abusive and manipulative behaviors of the narcissist. If you want to become the supervisor at work, you can’t let the work of others be considered better than yours. You have to draw attention to yourself, and you will probably be more willing to push others down to do it. The tools of the narcissist become the tools of advancement: lying, cheating, manipulating, belittling, using.

Most of us will refuse to stand out if that means we have to hurt others. But the narcissist doesn’t care about hurting others. The narcissist doesn’t recognize the personhood of others. The narcissist only wants to get ahead, to be noticed. Since that seems to take more these days, the narcissist is the one who can win.

Who gets the job or the scholarship or the position on the team? We all know that good people who are more capable are often pushed aside so the narcissist can get the prize. The company hires the one who pushes, rather than the faithful employee who knows the job so well. The school honors the one who “did what it takes” to get noticed, rather than the most qualified. The team uses the loudest and most outgoing player, rather than the one who practices diligently and works best with the other players. We see this all the time.

So we see narcissists more, I think. Narcissistic behavior is rewarded more. We may even be creating more narcissists by requiring that behavior to get ahead of others.

How does this change? I don’t think there is an easy answer, except on a personal level. Tell your daughter that the flashiest guy might not be the best, that the regular guy who is kind and thoughtful might make a much better life partner. Help your church to find the pastor who will serve and love, rather than mold the church to his will for his own benefit. Again, avoid the flashy pusher. If someone gives you good service, send a note to the boss as a thank you. If someone is kind, be sure to tell others. These things do make a difference.

If the game is set up to use the skills of the narcissist, we will see more narcissists. People will begin to use narcissistic behaviors to get what they want. The only way to overcome this, I believe, is to value the kindness and patience and service we have learned to take for granted.

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Did He Do It?

It’s Narcissist Friday!

You have to wonder, don’t you?  Put aside the conspiracy theories.  Put aside the improbabilities.  Just think about the character of the narcissist.  Did the narcissist kill himself?

I’m not going to mention his name.  If you watch or listen to American news at all, you know who I am talking about.  An infamous person, a monster who hurt so many. 

No, I don’t want to hear about his enemies.  He was an evil man.  He used people, particularly young girls.  He satisfied himself at the expense of others.  He didn’t care who he hurt or what happened to them after.  Because he thought of himself as superior, deserving, special.  He should have had enemies.  Good people everywhere should have been his enemies.

He had money, lots of money.  He had power over many people.  He had incriminating evidence against many powerful people, or so he said.  In fact, when he was charged before with these crimes, he laughed his way to freedom.  His attorneys and his money (and perhaps his blackmail information) got him off. 

He had power over presidents, over royal families, over the wealthiest people.  He had everything he wanted, and he was untouchable.  So, what are the real chances that he killed himself in despair? 

I have said in the past that narcissists are not prone to suicide.  This man was every part of the description of the narcissist.  Smarter, more powerful, more desirable, more crafty—just plain superior to everyone else.  Why would he not think he would beat the charges this time?  His attorneys were just as good as last time.  He had just as much money.  He was still superior.

The narcissist might not really love himself, but he hates others more than he hates himself.  I have heard so many stories of narcissists berating family members and caregivers even at the very end, spewing their venom with their dying words.  If this man had spent every cent of his money, told all his secrets, cursed his captors and the watching world, I would not have been surprised.  But kill himself?  It just doesn’t fit.

“To the last, I grapple with thee; From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee; For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.”

That’s how a man so focused on his own ambition with no regard for the pain and sacrifice of others looks at his enemy.  Captain Ahab cared nothing for the men who died in his fight against Moby Dick.  All he cared about was his passion against the whale.

Maybe I am wrong.  Maybe a narcissist can give up in despair.  But I just find it hard to believe that one so focused on his own passions would give up when he had so much left with which to fight.

I really don’t want to hear the latest theories or get into a debate about this.  I just want to suggest that the simple character of the narcissist makes this suicide very questionable. 

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Severe Heart Pain

It’s Narcissist Friday!    

How bad can heart pain get?

I recently had a conversation with some good friends who asked what would happen to a believer who committed suicide.  I’m not sure when the idea started that someone who ended his or her own life would go to hell, no matter what faith the person professed before, but it has certainly caused a lot of grief.  My friends knew a person who had spoken strongly and often about love for the Savior, sharing with others the good news, and living a kind and open life.  But the last couple of years had been very hard.  At the end, there was a harsh note filled with despair and pain and a body.

So, what happened to this “formerly” strong believer?  Straight to hell?  No.  I can’t find that in Scripture.  I believe Jesus hold on to His people even when they can no longer hold on to Him.  “Neither death nor life” will be able to separate us from Him.

We need to be honest.  Believers can go through unbelieving times.  Times filled with such heart pain that an end seems better than another day.  I wish that were not true.  I wish every believer would be able to look with joy and hope to the Lord’s face every moment of every day.  I wish I could.  But sometimes the pain is so strong that it’s all you can think about.

Do you make good decisions when you are in pain?  Do you “keep your hopes up,” as they say?  Or are you like the rest of us, doing stupid things just to get it to stop—or even for a few moments of some better feeling?  Another cookie, another online purchase, another drink—these are small things.  What about a quick fling with a neighbor or co-worker, something you will regret for the rest of your life?  It would feel good for a while, take your mind and heart away from the pain that won’t stop, even as you know it won’t be good in the long run. 

Johnny Cash was the one who sang, “I hurt myself today,” when I first heard the song.  “I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel.” (I don’t think I have ever heard the Nine Inch Nails version.)  An affair, cutting, spending money we don’t have—these are ways of hurting ourselves (we know they will hurt us), but they also affirm that we can still feel.  Stupid acts with lasting consequences, but the things we do when we are becoming numb from so much pain.

The folks who claim to know say that 10 million Americans seriously considered suicide in the past year.  About a third of them made a plan.  You might be one of them.  Or maybe you were a few years ago.  Yes, it would have been stupid, especially as you look back from today.  Today, for some, that pain is a memory.  A new life has begun.  There was hope, but you couldn’t see it. 

Some will actually do it.  They will hurt themselves to a point from which there is no return.  Even the fear of hell will not stop them, because the pain is already hell.  And, like many other bad decisions, there is no turning back.  Once you have had the affair, you can’t undo it.  And you may call for help and be saved in time from your suicide attempt, or you might not be able to.  Some decisions are like that.

Please, there is hope.  Find some help if you are going through this kind of pain.  There are other ways to end it.  There really are.  Cry out to Jesus, He loves you.  Find your way back to Him.  Find someone who can help you find your way back.  Don’t take your own life.  There are many who care.  They may not realize how much you hurt.

And, if you have had these thoughts, don’t think about them as sin, think of them as desperation.  Severe heart pain is also real.  Pain so great that you long for a way out, no matter what options are offered.

If you have had such thoughts, don’t feel guilty.  If you are having these thoughts now, you are not evil.  But you are hurting at a level that may be out of control.  Please stop everything and find help.  Please.

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Heart Pain

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

“The question is not how well you can hold on to Jesus,

but how well He can hold on to you.”

Not too long ago I said those words to a mother worried about her son who says he is no longer a believer.  I suggested that people go through rough times in their faith, that statements and decisions are often made in the midst of grief or despair, and that those struggles or compromises do not define us.  Instead, believers must trust the Lord to get them through those times. Sadly, years can be spent in the struggle.

Jesus said His people would have times of tribulation.  For some, that means persecution on the basis of faith.  For some, it means marriage struggles or financial struggles.  For others, it may mean times of intense depression or personal doubt.  But He promised that He would be with us in those times.  We might not feel His presence or even believe in it, but He will be there.

The Lord wants us to know this.  He promises many times that He will be with us in our “valley of the shadow of death.”  Nothing, He says, will separate us from His love.  For those who have trusted in Him as savior and hope, it is His strength and faithfulness that gets us through.  In those times when our own faith is so obviously inadequate, when it seems we have been living a lie, when we no longer feel His presence or enjoy the promise—we need something more than ourselves.  His strength is our hope.  It was never our own that would save us.

Yes, dealing with narcissists and abusers and evil systems can drag us down.  In fact, they can drag us a long way down.  They whisper their lies into our hearts until we begin to believe them instead of the Lord who love us.  It isn’t just our faith that is lost, but our identity.  We lose the people we once were when the lies worm their way into our hearts.  Then, as we seek to establish a sense of sanity and control again, we find ourselves rejecting what we were and trying to define someone new.  The once loving and carefree person becomes suspicious and cool toward others.  We seek to protect ourselves from pain, rather than to enjoy life. 

Thoughts of despair and rejection of self are normal parts of dealing with the pain and confusion narcissists and other abusers bring into our lives.  They reflect the tearing and breaking that is happening within us.  If someone makes a harsh statement about the Lord or rejects the hope they used to have, we must understand the source.  Pain causes us to react in ways that are inconsistent with our desires. 

Heart pain is real.  Just as you might jerk your hand away from a hot burner and spill your coffee as you do it, you might also react violently against a certain criticism with words or actions you would not have chosen otherwise.  Sure, we are still responsible for what we do, and we may still have to clean up a mess, but the fact of our reaction is not evil.  It’s normal. 

Don’t beat yourself up for stupid or mean words or actions that came out of your pain.  Do what you can to settle things with others.  Apologies are not really that hard.  Then move on.  Find the way back to the person you know you are, especially the person who knows and loves the Lord who has never left you.

And be willing to forgive and let others who have done similar things move forward.  Their heart pain is just as real to them as yours was/is to you.

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More Narcissists in Fiction

It’s Narcissist Friday!

“Listen, Kippy Jo, men like Earl Deitrich steal people’s dreams,  They have no creative vision of their own, no love, and no courage.  They envy people like you and Wilbur.  That’s why they have to destroy you.”  Heartwood, James Lee Burke, p. 167

As the author explains this to his character, he explains it to us.  He does nothing to solve the problem, but he puts into words the feelings we have.  Some of you know a person like Earl Dietrich, who steals dreams and destroys the hearts of others.  Some were raised by such a person.  Some have been married to such a person.  Some work for such a person.

You may have thought you were the only one who thought these thoughts.  They were too strong, you thought.  You tried to talk yourself out of labeling a person with those words.  But there they are, in print.  Someone else knows a narcissist.  You are not alone.

But the fiction writer is not better than you.  He or she might have thought about the issue more or in a different way, but that does not mean they are right.  In fact, the fiction writer may not be describing the true motivation of the narcissist at all.

In the quote above, the suggestion is that the evil character has no dream of his own.  But, of course, the narcissist does have a dream.  For most it is a single dream/goal made of many progressive smaller dreams.  The narcissist wants to be seen as the best—the smartest, the richest, the most powerful, the best looking, the most successful, the strongest, etc.  That dream is a fantasy, something the narcissist believes he will never truly attain.  Yet, he is driven toward that goal with every breath.

Your dreams do challenge the narcissist.  The fact that you can find contentment at any point lower than the top is something he cannot understand or accept.  He will not believe you.  He will not respect you.  And he will take your dream to help him achieve his own.  If you get hurt in the process, he doesn’t care.  In fact, he sneers at your obvious inferiority.

So, the “Earl Dietrich’s” of the world want you—need you—to respect/honor/serve them.  If they have to humble you to make you do that, they will.  If they can somehow use you or your accomplishments, they will.  And two things will happen: they will feel superior and they will think they are closer to their goal.

You may look at your narcissist and think he or she is quite creative and quite capable.  Most are intelligent and successful in life.  Just remember that they also serve a dream, and everything serves that dream.  Perhaps it is not very creative to have just one dream, but there is a dream.  The sad thing is the narcissist will never reach it.  No matter how much love and respect and attention are heaped on them, it will never be enough. 

The narcissist wants it all. 

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Narcissistic Characters

It’s Narcissist Friday!

It seems surprisingly easy to write fictional narcissistic characters.  We certainly see a lot of them on television and in novels.  The antagonist of the story is so often self-centered, oblivious to or pleasured by the pain he/she gives to others, and broken by childhood trauma.  Whether it is a crime television show or a psychological thriller novel, the bad guy is often narcissistic.

Of course, some of that is because it is easy for us to stand against such a character.  The more blatant the cruelty, the more we are free to hate them.  And part of us wants to have someone to hate because of the cruelty we see in the world around us.  Justice, which is so often lost in the real world, is affirmed in fiction.  And we read fiction to make ourselves feel good.

Some would suggest that it is easy to write about narcissists because we are all narcissists ourselves.  I have never agreed with that diagnosis.  Most of us, most of the people in the world, are not narcissists.  We can be self-centered and mean, but we truly dislike that in ourselves.  On the other hand, we can extrapolate from our feelings when we write about narcissists.  It certainly does not take a narcissist to write about one, just as a fiction writer can write about murder without ever having done the act.  Instead, we think about not having internal limits or morals and go from there.  The narcissists of fiction do what we might do if we let ourselves go.

But I think this misses something.  I suspect that the reason we read about narcissistic antagonists is because our culture is trying to define and understand these people.  What kind of person can be so cruel, so separate from the feelings of others?  What kind of person can go through life with morals that only serve themselves?  How can a person be as inconsistent and detached and manipulative as these folks?  We want to understand.  Fiction gives us the opportunity to study, both by writing and by reading, the narcissistic character.

We would probably all agree that we would rather meet a narcissist in a book than in real life.  We would rather read about a fictional relationship with one than suffer a real narcissistic relationship.  So, I think the culture as a whole is using these antagonists to find a way to deal with the narcissists we are finding in life.

I have gotten myself in trouble when I suggest that narcissists are evil, but notice that the fictional characters are almost always portrayed that way.  They might be broken inside, damaged by whatever trauma they suffered.  They might have a twisted sense of right and wrong that allows them to justify their cruelty.  Yet, they are always bad.  We know the difference between good people and narcissists.  We just don’t understand what to do about them in our lives.

In fiction, it seems that the antagonist usually loses.  The narcissist is somehow punished, and justice is accomplished.  In real life that often is not the case.  The cruel abuser is often defended, even promoted.  But, again, the culture desires that justice.  As believers, we entrust justice to the hands of God, especially when the system seems to be loaded against us. 

The next time you read a story or watch a show with a narcissistic antagonist, ask yourself what you can learn.  Are there ways suggested to deal with such a person?  Are there ways of escape that could be used or should be avoided?  Don’t copy what you see, but let yourself learn from the story what you may not be able to learn in real life.  Sadly, what you see will often not be as bad as some have suffered.  Let your heart find compassion for others who struggle against this evil.

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Narcissism and HOAs

It’s Narcissist Friday!

I recently was approached to support a local (rural) organization that smelled a whole lot like an HOA.  For those who may not know, that means “Home Owners Association.”  The only problem is that regular homeowners usually hate HOAs.  They are excellent opportunities for local narcissists to grab a little power. 

Of course, the idea of an HOA was reasonable at the beginning.  Communities should be able to enforce certain behaviors, certain property management decisions for the good of all.  When your neighbors’ pigs make the community smell and house values go down, someone should be able to do something (unless, of course the pigs were there before the neighborhood).  Nor should a different neighbor be allowed to build an apartment complex with many small units at low rates in a single-family neighborhood.  We understand these things.

What we find harder to understand is when the worst offenders against the rules are the ones in charge of the HOA.  Or when they refuse to see how their property decisions affect others negatively.  They can decide how close you can build your shed to the main road, but you have no voice in where they park their trailers, for example.

To be honest, I am not in an HOA.  But the ability to have authority without accountability is the dream of a narcissist.  Not all HOAs are run by these folks, nor are all of them hurtful.  But the stories of abuses by HOA leaders are far too common to be considered even unusual.  So are the stories of abuses by leaders of other kinds.  Pastors, scout leaders, bosses, elected officials, billionaires, law enforcement—wherever there is an opportunity for power and control over others, you will find narcissists.  And those narcissists will use people while being both inconsistent and hypocritical. 

No organization is immune. 

The only answer is to avoid or end organizations that focus on control.  How?  Frankly, that’s the question.  We need government, law enforcement, and churches.  But the individuals we lift up in these organizations must first be servants, real servants who care about the people they serve.  The moment we see these leaders using others for their own benefit, either the leader or the organization should go. 

Harsh?  Have you read the news lately?

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