It’s Narcissist Friday!
Sometimes narcissists are just plain mean. They say cruel things, things meant to sting. It isn’t enough that they don’t care what they say. In these situations it seems like they do care and they are trying to cause pain. Why are they so mean?
I thought about this as I wrote a response to an email I received recently. The behavior seems so counterproductive. If the narcissist needs people, why does he push them away? If he needs certain people who provide his “supply,” why does he try to hurt them?
If we think of narcissists as addicts and people (or what people provide) as supply/drug, then I think we will understand a lot about how narcissists treat people. Most drug addicts hate the drug. It has a physical hold on them and they must have it in order to get the high. The whole process of finding and buying and using the drug is a negative for most addicts. The only positive is the high.
Last week I said that the god of the narcissist is the image they present of themselves. Their highs come from affirmation of that image. Attention, respect, admiration—these are the highs of the narcissist. And what brings the high? People!
Narcissists need people, but they hate the fact that they need people. The ones they need the most are the ones that are hardest for them. They hate having to spend time or energy or money on the ones who are supposed to provide the high, just like a junkie hates having to come up with money all the time. Think about that. Which do you think the addict would get more pleasure from: the drug he has to work or steal to get or the drug that is given as a gift? The work lessens the high, especially when he has to think about more work in order to get the next high.
So some of his cruelty toward his wife or children or others has to do with how he feels about the cost of the relationship. He believes he should receive the admiration and service simply because the image is worth it. Purchased praise just doesn’t feel as good.
Another thing that happens commonly in almost all addictions is what we call “drug tolerance.” Eventually, the drug user needs more of the drug or a stronger drug to get his high. We know that narcissists often have serial relationships. The newness of the next relationship brings a slight difference to the high and the old one wasn’t feeling as good. Many victims have noted that their narcissist seems depressed, almost like the lull between the highs.
So what does a narcissist do when he has painted himself into a corner? He has put together a life that doesn’t allow him to leave his wife and family and he can’t find opportunity for a lover. Sometimes he can build sources of supply at work or in organizations, but sometimes he might have to change the flavor of the drug at home.
I suspect that there is a psychological increase in the high when it comes at a cost to the victim. If loyalty feels good normally, think of how good loyalty would feel if the victim had reason to hate you. If she was still loyal and still gave attention, even after you have been cruel, then she must really love you or be under your control. See how powerful the image is? It receives love and service even from those who have been hurt by it. If the abuser gets pleasure from his victim, this may be the explanation.
Now, I do have to mention one more reason why a narcissist or anyone in a relationship might be so mean. I have known several “christians” who wanted a divorce but couldn’t be seen as the one who initiated the proceedings. If they filed, they would be the bad guys. So, they pushed their spouses through little acts of cruelty and rejection until the spouse cracked. As long as they were seen as the victims, then these “christians” thought they were okay. The image wasn’t tarnished. After all, they were not the ones who filed. They just wanted things to work out.
I have always thought this was dishonest and disgusting, but I have seen it more than I wanted to. Very difficult to hold these “christians” accountable for this behavior and it often works.
So what do you do if you are on the receiving end of this cruelty? It depends on how much you can handle, I suppose, but don’t forget about your kids. Narcissists can be very cruel and damaging to children. Here is my standard advice:
- Keep a diary or a log. Hide it well. Document the cruelty, especially anything physical. Dates, times, circumstances. You will be surprised at how valuable such a record can be, especially if you have details.
- Tuck away some cash or set up a plan of escape. Just because you have one doesn’t mean you have to use it, but not having one means it isn’t there if you should need it. A couple of hundred dollars might get a motel and some meals which will give you some time to find other help. Friends or family who know and believe you can stand ready.
- Physical abuse of spouse or children is unacceptable! It almost always escalates (think addict) and crosses boundaries that are important in relationships. Get out and get your kids out. Take photos of bruises. Seriously.
These are simple things. I didn’t say that you should get a divorce. That’s a bridge you may have to cross later, but you lose more of yourself each time he or she is cruel. So do your kids. Get some help. I am not a fan of secular counseling and resources most of the time, but women’s shelters are made just for this. Know where they are and how fast you can get to one.
One more thing: I have heard several people say that they ought to put up with more abuse because they are Christians. If you are a “Christian” family and have a “Christian” church, you should put up with less! To paraphrase Paul, “Not even pagans think this is right!” In Christ we are to love one another and support each other, not be cruel or abusive. If your narcissist is supposed to be a Christian, something is seriously wrong. Don’t let it keep going.
And don’t believe the lie that comes to you during these times. You are someone special. There is good for you. You are loved and worth loving. The lie tells you otherwise, but it is the lie.