What we can learn from the narcissist

It’s Narcissist Friday!


Motivational speakers tell us that there are two kinds of motivation, positive and negative.  Positive motivation is setting up a desirable goal or outcome and finding the drive to move toward it.  Negative is acknowledging an undesirable result or an unattractive illustration and moving away from it.  Narcissism certainly gives us something to move away from.

So, looking at the narcissist, what can we learn?  Here are some ideas:

  • Other people are real and valuable.  Depersonalizing others is, perhaps, the greatest sin of narcissism and even the greatest sin of human relationship.  Jesus said that the second commandment was to “love others as yourself.”  I take that to mean that we are never to forget that other people, no matter who they are, have feelings and struggles and fears and dreams—just like we do.  People are not just members of a set or a category.  It is neither right nor wise to simply refer to groups and individuals as parts of groups.  I could say that all Democrats have some characteristic, but I would be wrong.  The same would be true if I refer to all gay people or all Mexicans or all Mormons.  These groups do exist as groups, but the individuals are more than just members of the group.  It diminishes me and the other person when I dismiss him because he is associated in some way with a group.  I am a conservative Evangelical Christian, but I hate being defined by the stereotype of that group.  The narcissist must categorize and depersonalize others in order to survive.  You and I don’t have to—so let’s not.
  • You don’t have to be better to be valuable.  If there is any widely known characteristic of narcissism, it is the drive to portray themselves as better than others.  The literature calls this “grandiosity.”  The narcissist is usually a person of big plans, great (but unsubstantiated) achievements, and bold opinions.  But, you see, the narcissist learned very early that the only way to find value in the eyes of those who were important to him was to be better than others.  Comparison and judgment are vital tools in the narcissist’s collection.  She always knows where she stands in the group.  She sees what everyone is wearing, who they are with, and how they look.  She might not acknowledge someone, but she has placed the person on the graded scale.  Her constantly critical words about others betray her need to be better, in whatever way she can.  This is what the narcissist must do, but you and I don’t have to.  We can reject the drive to be better.  We can just be who we are: always willing to learn and grow, but not for the purpose of looking down on others.  We can applaud the achievements of others without being jealous or critical, simply because we value both the person and the truth. 
  • Failure and exposure are simply part of the game. Counselors who deal with narcissism quickly find that the fear of exposure runs strong in the narcissist’s heart.  No one must know the secret.  The insecurity and self-deprecation must stay hidden.  Any failure can reveal the truth.  This is why the narcissist rejects failure so vehemently.  It’s someone else’s fault.  It wasn’t a failure at all.  You just don’t understand.  But failure is part of normal life.  The narcissist’s rejection of failure reveals the weakness in his heart.  Those who accept failure as ordinary and seek to learn or adjust have a strength that allows them to enjoy life and relationships. 
  • When we seek to control others, we burden ourselves.  One of the reasons many narcissists fail to accomplish much in their lives is because they spend so much energy trying to control the lives and thoughts of others.  Narcissists are often very intelligent and very capable, but they are burdened by their need for comparisons and fear of failure.  If they spent half as much time actually working as they do to explain why others get in their way, they might accomplish a great deal.  In the real world, we are constantly bumping into other people.  They are on their way to someplace and so are we.  Sometimes we want the same thing and other times we are repulsed by what they want.  But that’s what life with other real people is all about.  Learning to accept our differences and our mutual striving is wisdom and love.  We don’t have to control or fix them.

These are just a few thoughts.  What do you think?


Filed under Narcissism

5 responses to “What we can learn from the narcissist

  1. mark

    How do you get free of narcissism in yourself?

    • I get this kind of question a lot and I always have to make a difficult distinction. There is a certain narcissism in all of us. From a Christian perspective, I believe it comes from what the Bible calls the flesh. It is the way we learned to protect ourselves from pain in relationships. We judge others, push them away, use them, and hurt them. We do these things because we think of ourselves first and our own needs as primary. It is easy to forget that others struggle and hurt just as we do.

      Perhaps learning about narcissism is a way of combatting it in our own lives. In my post above, there’s a message for all of us about how to live with others. Some thoughtful introspection on these things should help.

      However, that brings me to the important distinction. If you feel that you are a narcissist, maybe someone has told you that or you see that you fit the patterns, you need to get some quality counseling. Find a counselor who is not and probably will not be impressed with you or involved in your life. Find one who is willing to deal with narcissism apart from a formal diagnosis that fits the official disorder. Find one who will care, but not allow you to suck him or her into your struggle. Then be prepared to go back to some of the most painful times of your life and see them differently. You will have to make choices about how you view yourself and your vulnerabilities. Choose differently than you have. A good counselor can help you work through these things and you will find some path to treating others with respect and love.

  2. Kelly

    Freedom is so much a part of the Christian life. The narcissist is in such bondage on so many levels. I think something I learned from being with a narcissist is the incredible danger they are to your health. When you live in unmitigated stress year after year with a controller/manipulator/gas lighter, you cannot help but have a physical breakdown. I think it’s safe to say they are “bad for your health”. To Mark: For me, I enjoy being “others oriented” it keeps me from be coming selfish and brings incredible joy.

    • It is my prayer that people will find help in the midst of that pain, find a way out of that pain, and maybe others will be more compassionate to their pain. I appreciate your willingness to share your struggle. I know it is helping others.

  3. I have been damaged by a narcissist or atleast someone who is emotionally and verbally abusive because I couldnt give them what they wanted. One thing I learned to look at was my own insecurites and how those insecurities may impact my life and those around me. I learned to become a gentler person and I had to relearn who I was again because my once healthy esteem seemed to drop to the gutter. Every little thing I ever did was wrong and so I lost who I was. I had to crawl out of the depths of the pits. It impacted my health too! The stress gave me an injury that took almost 1 year to recover from. Sadness and stress really can make a major impact on life. Things are looking brighter but I still miss and love the man whom I fell in love with.

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