It’s Narcissist Friday!
“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!”
Although Shakespeare often gets credit for those words, they were actually written by Sir Walter Scott. Whoever wrote them, they are certainly right on the money. Lies to cover lies that cover other lies create a mess that takes a great deal of energy to maintain. Someone else said, (Quintillian), “A liar should have a good memory.”
When we encounter the lie about ourselves, that we are unlovable or inferior, we have a variety of ways to deal with the feelings that come into our hearts. Some people bow in acceptance of the judgment. Others become angry and deny the judgment. Still others begin a lifetime of hard work to overcome the judgment. And some accept the judgment but do everything they can to cover it up so others don’t see it.
I believe that the narcissist tries to cover the lie with other lies. When he was very young, just like the rest of us, he heard the lie about himself and believed it. Then, in order to survive, began to create an image of himself that he lifted up for others to see. Everything in his life pointed to the image, rather than to the lie about himself. If he felt weak, he created an image of himself that was stronger than others. If he felt inferior in any way, his image was greater.
The image, of course, was a lie. But it was a lie to cover the other lie. And the problem with lies is that they do not maintain themselves. They take work. In fact, they often take more lies. The little boy who felt weak created an image of himself as stronger than others and now, as an adult, tells stories of his great strength. Of course, the stories are lies. And when he is challenged on his strength, he stretches his arm and says that he could still be that strong if he hadn’t had that accident. Another lie.
Those who live with narcissists hear lies all the time. But the narcissist is not just a liar. He is self-deceived. Like many of us, he believed the lie. He saw himself as unacceptable and desperately wanted the love and attention of others. But unlike most of us, he thought another lie would help. Now he is so invested in his lies that he moves from relationship to relationship in fear of exposure. I know of narcissists who got their job on the basis of their lies and their ability to manipulate what others think of them. Now they go to work afraid every day that someone will find out that they really don’t know what they are doing. To cover that, they steal the work of others, create dissension in teams, and undercut the ones above him.
But just when you start to feel sorry for the narcissist, remind yourself that one of his primary investments has been to keep you under the bondage of the lie about you. When you become free from the lie, you become a threat to the narcissist. You will never be good enough for the narcissist, simply because to acknowledge that you are acceptable and lovable is to point out what he has believed about himself.
Jesus said that the truth would set you free. But there are people who don’t want us to be free. The narcissists in our lives are certainly among those people. Our freedom just makes them feel their bondage even more acutely.