Do We Need Narcissistic Leaders?

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

The word out there is that we need narcissists as leaders in our current culture. This is no longer a “nice guy” world. Today, we are told, we need people who can make decisions quickly and without regret. Today’s leaders must be ruthless and aggressive. People who care are slow and compromised. When things have to get done, narcissists can do them.

There was a day when the small town had one grocery. The grocer’s children went to school with everyone else, and people had accounts they could pay off over time. Eventually, the town grew to benefit from two groceries. Even then, the competition was friendly and relaxed. Many people went to both stores, depending on what each could get from their suppliers. When one store ran out of a product, boys who worked for the store would run over to the other to get it as a service to the customer. The two stores had accounts with each other.

But then the chain store came to town. The little groceries couldn’t keep up. The manager’s kids might have gone to the same schools as the rest of the kids of the town, but they might have lived in the next town. The owners were from far away. No one had personal accounts at the chain store. If you didn’t have money, you would have to use a credit card. Otherwise, the chain store simply didn’t care.

For the most part, prices were better at the chain store. So most people liked having them come to town. The distance from the owners and managers didn’t really matter as long as the prices were lower. As the town grew, other chains came in and other private shops disappeared. Soon, everyone expected that distance from the owners of a store. It was just what was.

But, behind the scenes, where shoppers had no access, the chain stores competed with great intensity. Eventually, the chains were bought by larger corporations. Those corporations answered not to shoppers, but to stockholders. Shoppers were a necessary bother. They had to be a part of the system, but they were seen as categories and groups, rather than individuals. The corporations could not afford to focus on people, they had to think about money.

Of course, Mr. Johnson down at Johnson’s Grocery had to think about money, too. In fact, he probably thought about money a lot. But he also thought about the people who came to his store. He had to carry certain products and perform certain services for individuals. People were important to Mr. Johnson, as important as money. In fact, money and people were not disconnected.

The grocery I visit most is a Kroger store. Kroger is the second largest retailer in our nation, just behind Walmart. Kroger handles nearly $120 billion each year through its 4000 or so stores. It has about 450,000 employees. That’s a long way from Bernard Kroger’s grocery store on Pearl Street in Cincinnati. Even the original street is now somewhere under interstate highway 71.

I suppose this is progress. We might long for the days that used to be, but we aren’t going back there soon. Nor would we want to go back all the way. Things might have been slower and more personal then, but they were not necessarily easier. At the same time, we didn’t seem to have so many narcissists.

There are about 500 companies in our country with revenue (sales) of $1 billion or more. Many more with sales over $100 million. That’s business in the US. This is what people are talking about when they say we need narcissistic leaders. The competition among these businesses, for sales and for investment dollars, is intense. They have neither the time nor the interest to focus on people.

Now, you say, a lot of stores focus on people today. The staff is friendly and helpful, the prices are great, the product lines are wide—American business is very interested in me and what I like. Sadly, American business today is interested in us as groups. They gather as much information, without regard to privacy, as they can about you and me. They do need to sell product to generate money. But we are all calculated as categories. If one category is dropped in favor of another, that’s just business.

What kind of leader could make a decision that would negatively affect a large group of customers? What kind of leader would sell an inferior or compromised product just to generate more sales income? What kind of leader would close stores that are needed in communities just to save money? What kind of leader would use, abuse, or push out large numbers of faithful employees? Do you see why people say we need narcissists in charge?

I know that not all those in charge of large companies are narcissists. I also know that not all the decisions made by narcissists are good for the companies they work with. But we can see that the distance from people in business has created a favorable environment for narcissists.

And this is just business. We have leaders in many other capacities. Let’s not get started on politics. When was the last time you sat down and shared your concerns with your representative? And then we have churches, big churches, where no one except staff and major donors ever get an audience with the senior pastor. Schools, charities, banks, and so many other organizations have grown to the point where the leaders never have to connect with the people they are thought to serve. That disconnect from people, with the promise of power and money and prestige, is very attractive to narcissists.

So, do we need narcissists in leadership? I suppose we could ask if this is really leadership. It’s more like ruler-ship or some kind of oligarchy. Narcissists don’t care about leading. They only care about others serving them. Apparently, our growing culture accepts the fact that what benefits narcissists benefits the rest of us. In other words, someone has fallen into the trap.

No, I don’t think we need narcissistic leadership today. I think even leaders of large corporations could stop often to think about the people they serve. The large groceries and the large churches could make a point of making their leaders accountable to people. They could stop rewarding leaders with ridiculous salaries and severance packages (Perfect for the narcissist. Imagine a job where you get rich just for being there. If you fail, you get richer!) In fact, they could begin to hold leaders accountable.

Will it ever happen? Maybe. Maybe not soon, but there is a weariness among the people that longs for connection to others. Small businesses are popping up all over because people like to know those who serve them. I don’t expect large companies or even churches to go away soon, but we are getting tired of narcissists.

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Television People

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

The Sin of Unbelief continued…

 

The people on television are not real. Right? Like the comedy family that makes fun of each other. Or the afternoon drama people who seem to have so many problems. Or the little kids who appear to be starving. Or the prime-time law enforcement people who seem to catch all the bad guys. Or the politicians who keep promising things they don’t deliver. Or the news people who seem so smart. Or the families of those killed in that terrible accident. Or the people paid to protest. Or the late night movie people who don’t have any color. Or the sports stars who seem to do such stupid things off-season. None of these folks are real, right?

Uh… hold on…

One of the most serious problems with television people is that the mind must sort out reality from fantasy. Yes, some of these people are real. Some are actors. And some you think are real may not be. But you don’t know for sure.

We have probably all known someone who was so connected to a certain fictional character on a television show that they became depressed when the character got married or was killed off. Actors often tell of delusional fans who don’t realize the actors are not the same as their characters. Sometimes the mind just cannot make that distinction between fiction and reality.

Most of us do a pretty good job of keeping these things separate. We can tell what is real and what is fiction on television, unless someone is deliberately trying to deceive us. And we know the difference between television people and real people.

But this is actually a fair illustration of how the narcissist sees people. The distance television offers, distance from caring or real relationship, is the kind of distance the narcissist tries to maintain from real people. The homeless person on the street is no more real than the homeless person on the comedy show or on the news. No one would expect the narcissist to give money to the man acting like a homeless person on television. So why would you expect the narcissist to feel any more compassion for the one he passes on the street?

He has no more interest in the drama or concerns of his neighbors or co-workers than you do in the lives of the people on the television drama. He remains separate from emotional involvement with real people, just as normal people remain separate from television characters.

There is, of course, one difference. The proximity of relatives, co-workers, friends, and other real people means the narcissist can use them. If he could use television characters, he would. But real people can be used without regard for their desires or pains, as if they were not real. So the narcissist might choose to know a lot more about the drama of real-life people if he thinks that knowledge will serve him. He might even give to the homeless person if he wants others to think of him as generous. But there is no heart, no real connection, in any of this. He would feel just as good about giving to the starving children on television if he could get others to notice. He might even lie about giving to a fake charity, if others would be impressed.

Now, I am not suggesting that the narcissist can’t tell the difference between people on television and people in real life. What I am saying is that the difference doesn’t matter, at least as it affects the narcissist’s heart.

Like I said, this is just an illustration designed to help us understand how narcissists see others. We have a sense of what that distance is like when we watch television. Even then, I suspect many of us are closer to the television characters than the narcissists are to the real-life people around them.

But I want to close with a question. It has been my impression (not the result of study) that the narcissists I know aren’t very interested in television, particularly in fictional drama. I would be interested to know if others have noticed this, or if I am wrong. I suspect that covert narcissists might find it easier to insert themselves in fictional drama and feel superior, but overt narcissists would see little value in it. They get their entertainment from watching and manipulating others.

If this is true, then I would suggest that narcissists don’t need television. They have us.

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The Sin of Unbelief

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Many understand that the greatest sin against the Lord is unbelief. Charles Spurgeon called it “the parent of every other iniquity.” While faith opens the door to grace, unbelief keeps that door closed. All that God wants to give remains apart from the unbeliever. The Bible reveals a God who is alive and personal. In other words, He is a real Person, and we relate to Him as a real person. He is with us. He loves us. We can talk with Him. He cares about what happens in our lives. At the same time, He has His own thoughts and purposes. He is more than an extension of ourselves. God is a real Person.

There are those who think God is some kind of idea or a controllable force. Some thought God could be contained in an idol. Others simply don’t care whether God exists or not. I remember one young lady telling me that God could take a flying leap. All of these are forms of unbelief.

But do you realize that the greatest sin against other people is the same – unbelief? What if you looked at people only as tools to serve your life? What if you did not believe they had their own thoughts and desires and pains? What if you didn’t care? Unbelief is not just thinking the other person isn’t real, it is thinking that the reality of the other person doesn’t matter.

Narcissism may seem to be all about the self, but the sin of narcissism is the depersonalization of others. When others don’t matter, even the ones who should be closest, then the actions of unbelief cause pain without regret. The narcissistic leader and parent and friend and (sadly) spouse can use others and hurt them without concern. Nothing matters if the person isn’t real.

Depersonalizing others comes out of a self-centered focus that moves the offender to see only his or her own value. The only opinions that matter are his own. The only ideas that matter are her own. The only pain that matters, the only desires that matter, the only fears that matter—are those of the narcissist. No one else even exists in comparison.

This is not just a desire for independence. It is more than self-esteem. This is beyond what normal people need. This is flagrant disregard for others in the pursuit of self. Not a bad definition of narcissism.

I should add here that I think this is something so deep in the narcissistic mind that it is not a conscious choice. In other words, the narcissist doesn’t look at each person and choose to see them as unreal. That comes naturally now. The only way the narcissist found to cope with the struggles of life was to live and think as though no one outside of himself was a real person.

This “sin of unbelief” in personal relationships is devastating. It never allows the kind of connection or interdependence the rest of us enjoy. At the same time, it protects the narcissist from the pain that relationships can bring. But only the narcissist. No one else is protected from his/her behavior.

Let’s face it. Other people are real. They have their own needs of time, energy, and resources. They have their own perspectives. They could look at the same thing as you and come up with different solutions or conclusions. That makes life harder, I suppose, but a lot more interesting. Unless you think you are always right, you learn from listening to others.

And, if others are not real, then you have to be right. All the time. No one else is worthy to doubt you or question you or even instruct you. Sound familiar?

 

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The Laugh


It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

A few weeks ago a man publicly revealed the fact that he had been bullied in Junior High. He spoke in front of his local school board. Then, to the shock of all, he named the Superintendent as the person who bullied him in a most disgusting way. As part of the public record, a video was made of the exchange. Within a couple of days, the story was being shared around the country. The Superintendent later denied any involvement in the bullying and denied ever knowing the man who accused him. However, an eyewitness has come forward to corroborate the accusation.

this is current news and the charge has been denied, so I am not making an judgment as to whether the accusation is true. The event happened about 40 years ago. However, from my own experiences as a child, I can testify that those memories rarely fade. Those who have suffered this kind of abuse do know the names of their abusers and many details of the event. But the internet is not the place to judge.

What I noticed, as I listened to the video, was what sounded like a mocking laugh from the superintendent. Others have noted the laugh as well, and the accuser turned to offer further evidence in response to the sound. I heard the laugh immediately. In fact, I recognized it. So would anyone who has accused a narcissist.

Now, again, I don’t know this superintendent, and I certainly cannot say that he is a narcissist. I don’t know if the accusation is true. But I have heard that laugh before. It was the dismissive, reviling laugh of a man who wants to make others reject the words of the accuser. It was the mocking laugh of someone who views himself as higher, stronger, untouchable. I have heard it from politicians, church leaders, husbands, and even some people in my own life. And I have to confess that it made me instantly angry once again.

That is the laugh that abuse victims anticipate, that causes them to back away from their accusation. It is meant to intimidate, to deflect, to humiliate the accuser. It is meant to show superiority and power. And, especially in the presence of sycophants, it is a signal to begin the attack on the accuser.

please understand that I am not pronouncing judgment on this superintendent. I really don’t know anything other than what I have read and listened to online. (Have I said that enough?) My only focus is that laugh.

What would a normal person do with such an accusation? I would think, if innocent, he would be shocked and begin to offer his defense right away. I would think that a normal person, guilty of the accusation, would also be shocked and try to defend himself or become angry. But what kind of person would laugh? Well, we know, don’t we? Because many who read this have heard that laugh.

Law enforcement officers, counselors, doctors, attorneys, and others have ways to listen to the immediate response of someone who is accused to determine at least the beginning sense of guilt. An innocent person will protest the accusation, that’s normal. A guilty person will try to think up lies to cover the truth. But a narcissist? Well, the narcissists I know just might laugh.

Have you heard that laugh? The hundreds/thousands of people who have come forward in recent months with stories of abuse have heard it. The parents of bullied children have heard it. The victims of so many crimes have heard it. Frankly, it is a vile sound.

I think that laugh reveals a lot.

********

(TRIGGER WARNING! If you want to hear the laugh, watch this video of the event. You will hear it at about 1:40. Tell me if you have heard that laugh before.)

https://nypost.com/2018/03/21/superintendent-called-out-for-alleged-childhood-bullying/

 

 

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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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