It’s Narcissist Friday!
We used to say that if you worried about whether you were a Christian it was evidence that you already were. In other words, only a believer would be concerned about being a believer.
From time to time people tell me they are concerned about being narcissists. They look at themselves and see a variety of characteristics they don’t like. Now that they know about narcissism, they wonder if it might describe them. All they know is that they don’t like what they see in themselves. My first thought is that those who are concerned about being narcissists probably aren’t narcissists.
It isn’t unusual for people in relationships with narcissists to begin seeing narcissistic behaviors in themselves. In fact, those who are concerned about this have probably been infected by a narcissistic system, a sort of loop that pulls victims into the narcissist’s way of thinking.
For example, we know that narcissists drain people of energy, enthusiasm, and life. You spend a little time with your narcissist and come away feeling diminished somehow. The narcissist has taken something from you for himself. That’s how narcissists get their energy and passion. They take it from others.
But what do those others do when they are drained? Where do they refill their energy? Well, some look to still more others. You know what I mean. The dad yells at the mom, the mom yells at the kid, the kid yells at the dog. The common factor is the yelling. Narcissism, or abusive behavior, filters through the family or organization.
And how do you defend yourself against a narcissist? Being kind will just get you hurt. Sacrificing yourself will just feed the narcissist more. Standing up to the abuse may cause it to intensify. Instead, you build up defenses by not caring, being distant in heart or in body, and by depersonalizing the narcissist. We could argue that the only real protection against narcissism is narcissistic behavior.
Children of narcissists sometimes exhibit narcissistic behavior simply because that’s what they learned as they grew. The only things that worked were those things that used others. This is why organizations can become systemically narcissistic. Employees learn what gets people ahead. If they can’t find another place to work, they will have to learn how to play the game.
Think about this: narcissists desire a fantasy life where everyone serves them and adores them. So they set up, in whatever ways they can, a life where this happens. They begin to make changes almost right away: in their spouses, churches, workplaces, etc. The system they set up will look like the way they think. As they try to make everyone love and bow to them, they are also setting up a system where false love is received, false work is honored, and false morality is rewarded. People who can’t or won’t fit in are discarded or weakened until they change.
But listen: being caught up in the system does not mean that you are a narcissist. The narcissist is simply so large in that system that it becomes difficult for you to see yourself separate from him/her. You lose something of yourself in every exchange, but you gain something of the narcissist.
Yes, I know. That sounds frightening. But once you realize what is happening and decide you don’t like it, you are free to do something about it. You can choose to leave the system (and the narcissist) behind. You can choose to work to regain your identity. It will take work, but it can be done even within the system.
The point is that narcissists do tend to infect others with their thinking and behavior. But just because you are beginning to act like one does not mean you are one. Perhaps worrying about whether you are a narcissist is evidence you are not.