It’s Narcissist Friday!
One of the aspects of legalism that led me to an in-depth investigation of narcissism was the practice of comparison. Legalism is built on comparison. In spite of what some people teach, that legalism is about earning your way to God’s heart, most legalists are very much aware of their own sin and believe they are unable to please God because of it. However, when spirituality is turned into a game of comparisons, the legalist becomes more comfortable. He says to himself, “I may not be able to be as good as I ought, but I can sure be better than those people.”
Narcissists are experts at surveying and comprehending the playing field in the comparisons game. When a narcissist enters a room, he or she will immediately note every person present and categorize each one. The narcissist will know, almost instinctively, where he or she stands in the group. Some people will be above and will merit attention, if not respect. Others will be below and may have value in bringing attention to the narcissist. Still others will be ignored altogether.
Those who grew up with narcissists, or live with one, or work with one, will probably recognize this comparison game. They wonder how the narcissist can act so kind and gracious in one context and then hateful toward the same person in another context. How can the narcissist butter up the boss in one breath then curse the boss in the next? How could mom say such cruel things about people at home and be so pleasant in public?
This comparison game is a part of the de-personalization narcissists (and legalists) do regularly. People are not real to the narcissist, not real as people. As we have said many times, people are seen as tools, toys, or obstacles. People are either to be used to get farther up the ladder of success/attention or they are just in the way. The only real thing is the ladder.
It would seem that the legalist tendency to honor and almost blindly follow certain teachers would belie this desire for comparison. Actually, there were levels of respect from what we observed. A local pastor might be greatly respected at the beginning of the relationship with the narcissist, then lose ground as familiarity grows or as the narcissist’s position in the congregation grows. If the teacher is distant, in a faraway place or kept from relationships with the people, the respect can be maintained longer. But, for the narcissist, familiarity does breed contempt. The more he understands a person’s weaknesses, the more the narcissist sees that person as someone who can be used or overcome.
So what do you do if you live with a narcissist or a legalist and are constantly drawn into their comparison game? How should you respond and how do you protect yourself from their poison? Tough questions! Here are some ideas:
- Their opinions do not have to be yours. Even if you have to listen to them, you don’t have to agree. Nor do you have to argue. Just grunt. 😉 Communicate that you heard them, that’s all. Remember boundaries.
- Comparisons are a symptom of the narcissist/legalist problem. That means you probably are not going to change them. As long as he is a narcissist, he will compare. As long as she is a legalist, she will compare.
- Pretend there are invisible signs all over your home and car that read: “Please don’t feed the narcissist!” When you bring home complaints or criticisms, he will just remember them and use them. Sadly, the narcissist/legalist is not someone with whom you can share your thoughts and frustrations. Not without a cost. Whatever you share about your mother, your boss, your friend, will be remembered and, almost certainly, misused.
- Realize that a relationship with a narcissist will make all other relationships difficult. This is also part of the cost. If she isn’t fighting others for your attention, she will fight you for theirs. You may find the narcissist’s idea of relationship to be very strange if you think it is anything like yours. You must remember the addiction to positioning and comparison.