Controlled Comparison

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

One of the connections between legalism and narcissism is the use of comparisons to manipulate. You will find a system of comparisons at work in legalistic churches and narcissistic workplaces, besides families and even marriages. And, somehow, you are always losing the comparison.

The most beautiful women will find ways to lose in comparison with others. So will the most successful men. As long as comparisons exist, there is a way for you to lose.

Years ago I worked for a short time at a funeral home. I watched as the salesperson talked through the purchase of a casket with a grieving family. First they went to the most expensive casket, a beautiful example of fine craftsmanship with an exorbitant price. Then they went to the cheapest caskets, the ones designed for and sold to those who have no money to spend. The family couldn’t afford the most expensive and couldn’t imagine using the cheapest. So they were left with the idea that they either have to break the bank or feel terrible. Then the salesman took them to the casket he really wanted to sell them. It looked very much like the most expensive one, but the price tag, while still high, was much more manageable. By making easy and regular payments, the family could feel good and still pay other bills.

Anyone who has bought a car off the lot or a house through the realtor has experienced this kind of controlled comparison. It is a process of manipulation by pushing you to feel either good about yourself or bad about yourself.

When the legalist sets up a controlled comparison, it will often be a model family or an individual who has exemplified the values of the church or legalist system. For example, one man is particularly mentioned as a great witness because he shares tracts with everyone he meets. Everyone else compares poorly to him. The model family is lifted up because of their well-behaved children, their showroom house, or their debt-free living (or all three). You don’t measure up to them. In either case, the comparison is carefully controlled for you. You are not to compare yourself with everyone. You are certainly not to look for others against whom you can compare yourself favorably. (Of course, that’s just what happens because people want to feel better about themselves, but that’s another post.) No, you are supposed to get the message about your inferiority and adjust your actions accordingly.

The narcissist can find fault with everyone, we know this. But when he or she wants to find fault with you, the controlled comparison is offered. “Why can’t you be more like him or her?” you are asked. “The neighbor’s have a nicer house than ours, but he makes more money.” “I don’t know why you can’t do it, she can.”

Remember: the controlled comparison is just that – controlled. It is not real. You will always compare unfavorably against someone in some way. If you look for that, you will find it. At the same time, others compare unfavorably to you in some way. The narcissist and the legalist use our fear of comparisons to manipulate us.

But once you understand what is happening, how phony the system is, you can become free. Yes, you compare well against some and poorly against others – so stop comparing! If the neighbors have a nicer house than yours, good for them. If your co-worker seems to be able to sell more than you, good for him. So what? Knowing that you will never win the game can set you free from the game.

Stop comparing yourself to others and stop using comparisons as a way to manipulate. It never works. It doesn’t motivate, and it doesn’t lead to health. Rejoice in the blessings others enjoy. Do something to encourage those who have less. But don’t let yourself get sucked into a system designed to manipulate you.

You will be amazed at the power of the freedom from comparisons.

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Selfishness

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

When did it become wrong for us to consider our own needs? If you ask some people, taking care of ourselves is simple selfishness. We should focus on taking care of others, they say. Don’t worry about yourself, they say. God will take care of you. You just take care of others.

But if I can trust God to take care of me, can’t I trust God to take care of others? Why does God need me to take care of others if He is great enough to take care of me?

Yes, I believe God takes care of me. I also believe He takes care of others… and doesn’t need me to do it. Instead, He blesses me when He uses me to bless others. He allows me to participate in His work. There is joy and blessing in that kind of service, when I realize that the results are in His hands and all the power and glory belong to Him. My job is simply to be available to Him. Grace means that all power and responsibility are His. He does His work. I am along for the ride.

If my call is to be available, then I should take care of myself. I should see to it that my needs are met so that I can be ready and willing to do whatever He asks. Think about that. I should get enough sleep, eat well, and pay attention to my emotional needs. If I do that, I will be available to Him.

To be selfish is a bad thing, in our culture. We have been taught that thinking about ourselves limits what we can do for others. Selfish people push others away, use others. We understand this and don’t really disagree. But to drain ourselves for the sake of others, without finding ways to rebuild our strength and enthusiasm, will take us out of the serving game altogether.

I always enjoy the little speech the airline attendants give before takeoff, especially the part where they tell parents to put the oxygen mask on their own faces before trying to put them on their children. Mom isn’t going to be much help if she is passed out on the seat next to the frightened child. Take care of yourself. That’s the only way to be truly available to others.

There’s a lot I could say about this. People in narcissistic relationships usually feel themselves being drained. When they get out, they have almost lost the ability to care for themselves. They have been so busy servicing the narcissist that they not only have nothing left, but they have little memory of how to rebuild. Adding to the injury, some have said that the more the life drained from them, the more the narcissist pushed them away. The abuser moves on to a new victim when the first is worn out.

If you are in a narcissistic relationship, find ways to take care of yourself. Small victories, basic boundaries, alone time, supportive relationships—these will give you strength even as the narcissist drains it from you.

If you have gotten away from the narcissist, don’t hesitate to take care of yourself. Just feed you for a while. If you have kids, you will want to pour extra into them, of course. But remember that you can’t give them what you don’t have. They will need to understand that you need to care for yourself sometimes. That shows them how to take care of themselves in the future.

If you don’t like the idea of being selfish, I understand. Use a different word. But do it. Find the things that rebuild you for the hour, the day, the week, and more. Invest in yourself. Even love yourself a little. It’s okay. After all, God loves you, so you are worth loving.

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Me, Myself and I

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

The old Billie Holiday song brought a simple saying into our vocabulary that seems to encompass all of who we are while hinting at a sort of loneliness:

“Me, Myself, and I”

The phrase almost sounds like a reference to three people, yet the three are just one alone. Just me.

There is a difference between being alone and being by one’s self. Those who are not happy with themselves, who dislike who they are, will find the phrase lonely. Those who like themselves, who understand at least a few of their own motivations and affirm who they are, might find a sort of empowerment in those words.

Healthy people are content with themselves. Healthy people, while needing relationships and enjoying others, are not afraid to be alone. In fact, they can find being alone to be refreshing and uplifting.

Now, I know that much of the message you and I have heard in churches would lead us to be very disappointed in ourselves, even to not like who we are. One of the worst things preachers and teachers have done to us is to make our alone times uncomfortable by trying to convince us that we are somehow unworthy. I suppose if God is ultimately disappointed with and ashamed concerning me, then I should feel the same way about myself. So how could I be content being alone?

Narcissists confuse our sense of self. They try to insert themselves into our beings, and we tend to forget who we are. When the narcissist tells us that we are stupid or worthless or unwanted, we learn to agree and begin to dislike ourselves. We may even try to keep from being alone just because we have learned to hate ourselves.

It’s time for all of that to change. The truth is that God loves you, yes, just as you are. There is no “if” or “but” at the end of God’s love for you. He values you as a person. We have been taught that God doesn’t choose us because we deserve His love. That’s fine, but it doesn’t mean we are worthless. We have great worth because He loves us. God loves you—and that makes you valuable. In fact, that makes you someone very special.

The preachers who try to degrade your sense of self are wrong. The narcissist who tried to convince you that you are unworthy was lying. Not only are you acceptable to God, He highly values you. So much that He sent Jesus to pay the price to bring you home.

When you are alone, don’t tell yourself the lies the narcissist told you. Don’t repeat the shameful assessment the preachers gave you. Instead, begin to see yourself as a person of great value to the only One who can make such a judgment.

When you are alone, be okay with yourself. That’s healthy.

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People Need People

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

One of the marks of a true victim (rather than a person who uses the designation of victim to manipulate) is great difficulty in connecting with others. As has been mentioned here many times in the comments, it is challenging to trust after you have been abused. This is even more true when the abuser was someone trusted. You see this as a wall or thick skin around the person. They have difficulty initiating conversation, accepting praise or thanks, and believing that anyone could be genuinely (and kindly) interested in them. So they maintain a shell of protection.

At the same time, I have come to understand that we were made to need people. Relationship, no matter how risky, is vital for our health in almost every respect. We were not made to be alone. Victims of narcissistic abuse often find themselves to be alone no matter how many people are around them. Part of that is the direct result of the abuse. Narcissists often make their victims feel unacceptable, unworthy. Their opinions and desires are meaningless, even offensive, to the people around them, the narcissist says. That way the victims learn to keep to themselves, to “shut-up.” And, of course, part of it is an indirect result, the feeling of being unacceptable that comes almost naturally from being manipulated and used. The need for people is pushed aside because of the fear of people.

But healthy people need other people. It is not unhealthy to feel lonely. Loneliness is the soul’s push toward relationship. It is unhealthy, however, to push everyone away because of fear.

So a move toward health is also a move toward others. Many who have lived in relationships with narcissists have found themselves separated from those who would be supportive or affirming. That isolation is part of the control narcissists exert. Apart from normal support relationships, narcissistic victims become weakened and malleable. If there is only the narcissist’s voice, the psychological and emotional manipulation becomes easier.

What does this move toward health look like? It looks like a smile or a friendly nod. It sounds like a simple conversation with an acquaintance. It may be the discovery of a common activity or the pleasure of a common interest. In other words, it doesn’t have to start big. Perhaps it shouldn’t start big. Few people welcome those who lay their needs out in front of them in the beginning of a relationship. Victims often wonder if others would be accepting “if they knew,” but others don’t need to know all about your struggle. Instead, allowing the simple relationship of friendly acquaintance is a wonderful step toward health.

Yes, there is risk. Always. But the risk is lessened if a gentle and shallow relationship is allowed. There are many others who need someone and are afraid. The old story of the two people who sit alone at a party and pass the time talking with each other is a great lesson in simple relationships. Don’t expect a great deal. Be willing to enjoy an acquaintance.

Narcissists push fast and hard into a relationship. Users and abusers attach themselves with velcro-like strength. But walking away from an acquaintance who smiles and is kind, without expectation of more, is a powerful statement of health. If more comes later, that’s great. If not, there will be someone else. Many people long for the kind word or simple affirmation.

Support structures that have been broken may be repaired. A phone call just to say that you have missed the relationship and see how the person is doing can open a door. Those who may have felt betrayed or left behind when you slipped into your cave might just welcome the contact. If they do not, that’s okay. It may not be rejection, but surprise. They might not know how to respond.

Healthy people understand that others are real people. Most of them can barely handle their own burdens, let alone yours. Instead, they might need to lean on you as you lean on them. They can’t carry your load, but they might be able to help you stand. Friends come with weaknesses and struggles of their own.

The book of Proverbs says that two are better than one. That is not a reference to marriage, although that is one example of what should be a supportive relationship. A friend, a familiar face, a helping hand: these are also examples of that great truth.

Let me summarize this by saying that you don’t need a champion, you need a companion. Get your counseling from a professional and your security from the Lord. You need a friend, or many friends. Smile, be kind, help someone in a little way. Friends are out there. They need you as much as you need them.

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What is “Healthy”?

It’s Narcissist Friday!

 

 

After a long period of abuse or illness, it is usually difficult to know what it means to be healthy. “Normal” has been redefined in our lives. We flinch when someone begins to speak because we have come to expect criticism. We worry about appearance and performance because we think everyone is watching us. Our definition of a “good day” becomes one where less pain and suffering comes into our lives.

So what is healthy? Would you know it if you saw it in someone else? Would you sense its growth in your own life? What progress would you seek if you desired health? How would you measure the distance toward the goal?

I have been guilty of trying to motivate people to seek health without clearly picturing that health for them. Parents should seek to be healthy for themselves and for their children. Spouses should seek personal health as protection against the abuse and as provision for the future. Those who find themselves in narcissistic relationships usually discover that health has been drained from their lives, but also find it difficult to remember just what is now lacking.

I could certainly claim that health, emotional and otherwise, is different for each person. Healthy actions of one may not be healthy for another. But, for the most part, that’s a cop-out. The truth is that there are some things common to all of us that are part of being healthy. I want to share just one of these in this post.

 

Healthy people accept love. Stop here to think about that for a moment. Say those words to yourself.

 

People in narcissistic relationships commonly lose the ability to accept love. Some didn’t have that ability in the first place. When the false love of the narcissist came along, they looked past all the warnings to embrace the lie—because it offered love. It isn’t that we didn’t need or want love. It was that we didn’t believe love. We didn’t feel lovable. We doubted our own worth and made the expressions of love from others unwelcome. We pushed love away, in spite of our need.

Yet we accepted the false love of the narcissist. The lie made more sense to us than the true love offered by others. The narcissist set a trap using our own need against us. We trusted the narcissist above others because the lie was mixed so carefully with our own confusion.

And how did that work out? Not so good. When we finally realized that the love of the narcissist was false, our doubts about love were reaffirmed. Now trust is even harder, love is even more doubted, and the familiar loneliness is normal again. Fear and resignation become more deeply entrenched than before. It has become even easier to push others away.

So stop it! There are two lies that have defeated you. The first was that you were unlovable, unworthy of the kindness and attention of others. The second was the idea that the narcissist offered what you needed. Part of the reason you accepted the second was because the first was already planted in your heart. Repairing the damage done by the first will help you avoid a repeat of the second.

Have you ever wondered why children of narcissistic parents find themselves in relationships with narcissistic lovers? Or why victims of one narcissist open themselves to a second? It is not stupidity or inability to see the warnings. It is the need of the heart infected by the lie that they are fundamentally unlovable.

Healthy people accept love. There is real love reaching out to you. Maybe friends or family. Maybe kind acquaintances. Genuine and simple love. Real love. Love that doesn’t want to take from you or use you. Love that just offers acceptance and connection. Yes, there are those who will cause you pain. There are deceivers. But not everyone is a deceiver. Some people really do love. Accept that love.

But even more. There is One who loves you far beyond anything any of the rest of us can. He reaches out to you with sincere acceptance. Yes, He knows the things you have done. Yes, He knows your doubts. Yes, He knows your weaknesses. Yes, He knows your fears. He knows that you will not be faithful to Him. He knows that your heart will wander and struggle. And, knowing all of that, He still reaches out to you with love. Acceptance, full and free.

How can you ever give love unless you can first accept it for yourself? Yes, to be healthy means to be able to accept love. But the joy is that you don’t have to go out and find it. Your job is simply to accept it when it comes.

Let me change your thinking on one powerful and simple word: FAITH. Faith is accepting the love of God. Faith is the willingness to open your heart to the love He offers. He offers it because of who He is—and He genuinely loves who you are. He moves on His own to reach out and love you, but He also moves through others to show you His love.

In faith, open your heart and see the love of God around you. Let Him tell you that He values you. Nothing for you to strive for or earn, nothing to deserve, just real love given freely to you.

Accept that you are accepted in Him. Be healthy.

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About Honoring Parents

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

I am traveling, but I wanted to share something I wrote a while back regarding the question of honoring parents.  In our context, this can be challenging.  Think about this:

 

I believe that I honor my parents when I become a healthy, functioning adult and when I am able to pass that health on to my children or to use that health to bless the people around me.  It does not honor them for me to continue their brokenness through my life.  Even if they don’t see the need for me to be a person separate from them, I still must be able to establish and maintain boundaries, own and value my feelings, make independent decisions, and learn to share myself as a real person with others.  If, through their narcissism, my parents have dishonored themselves, I honor them best by finding a way to break the evil patterns in my life and in the lives of those who follow me.

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Protection

 

 

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

From time to time I get a comment or an email asking how to protect the children from the effects of the narcissist in the family.  Usually, the scenario is a mother who either is married to a narcissist or is recently separated/divorced from a narcissist.  In either case, the continuing relationship of the narcissist with the children is troubling.  Even those who divorce usually have custody and visitation connections.  Unless gross abuse can be proved, so that one parent loses all rights and contact with the kids, the connection with the narcissist will continue throughout the childhood years.

So what to do?  How can you protect the kids from narcissistic abuse?  What can you do to help them stay or become healthy and well-adjusted?

Let’s begin by admitting the truth.  Narcissists manipulate.  They use relationships to feed their own desires.  They do not consider other people to be real or valuable or independent.  People, even their children, exist to be used.  This will not change.

Also, you are not God.  You cannot fix or control everything, even when you believe something is most important.  Not only will the kids be affected, you will not be able to change that fact.  God may be able to change the narcissist’s heart, but you will not.  Nor will you be able to prevent all the negative effect of the narcissist.

At the same time, you can do some things.  You can show your kids what healthy looks like.  Make decisions, take responsibility, find happiness and fulfillment.  If you are healthy, they will see the difference between you and the narcissist.  Your health, in all respects, is a key part of caring for your children.  Find ways to feed your needs.  I tell people all the time that they must find the way to health.  Get a good counselor.  Exercise.  Get some fresh air.  Eat right.  Read good books.  Make good friends.  Yes, easier said than done, but do it.

I am convinced that children will be drawn to the healthy parent.  They may seem like they take advantage of you.  They may challenge you and stretch your relationship, but they will know they can do that—while they cannot do that with the narcissist.   You will be the safe parent, the reality of their lives.  That may sound like you are the boring one, but they will understand the truth eventually.  The narcissist can manipulate, but he/she cannot disguise the truth forever.

Teach your children how to set and maintain boundaries.  Yes, you need to know this for yourself.  Again, get some counsel or education.  Boundaries are the narcissist’s bane.  The stronger your child maintains a boundary, the more the narcissist will seek to overcome it and, in that struggle, the child will begin to see the truth.

Be honest.  That means you can’t make up excuses for the narcissist.  If you work hard to smooth the water, telling the children that “daddy didn’t mean those harsh words,” then they will learn either that daddy’s way is acceptable or you are part of the problem.  Instead, hold them and love them when they hurt.  Show empathy and understanding.  They will see that daddy does the same thing to you, and they may realize that daddy is the one with the problem.

Be present and available.  Connect with your kids.  This has less to do with time than with your willingness to listen.  The narcissist only seems like a good listener.  Eventually, he/she hates the conversation and pushes the needy person away.  Embrace the children in their pain.  Don’t tell them how they should feel, let them tell you how they feel.  They will find the answers as you listen.

Be patient.  Life’s success is not measured by how you think at age 20, as though that is somehow the end of the journey.  Your children have a lot of life ahead of them.  If you read the comments here, you will see that many people only understand the truth about a narcissistic parent as adults, sometimes as senior adults.  You may not live to be vindicated, but your child can still find the way of understanding by remembering your honesty and love after you are gone.  I have had many people tell me that they only understood the struggle and strength and goodness of their mothers after.

Don’t forget that the struggles of our lives do bring us strength and independence.  Having a narcissistic parent may be more challenging than anyone outside the relationship can understand, but it can also mold your child into someone strong and alive in wonderful ways.  Failures and weaknesses often build in us the things we need to survive.

So pray.  This is not about you having a good relationship with your kids, no matter how much you want that.  Nor is it about you being valued for your struggle and victories.  It is about your children finding love and peace in their lives.  A narcissistic parent is an obstacle to that, but a healthy parent can do much to prepare the way.  Give your concerns to God and trust Him.  He loves your children more than you do.

No, you can’t prevent this challenge.  It is their path to walk.  Don’t try to do it for them.  Just walk with them.

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