Explaining to Others

It’s Narcissist Friday!


“So, tell me, just what is a narcissist?”  I get that question a lot.  People ask what I do and I stammer something about teaching and encouraging people through the internet and email (among other things) and we eventually get to narcissism.  They have heard the word, of course.  It has been out there for a long time.  They even know it isn’t good.  But when they stop to think about it, they have no idea what a narcissist is.

It is popular to think that narcissists are just people who love themselves.  I have written about the difference between narcissists and egotists.  Some people know that narcissists can be nasty and mean, but not all mean people are narcissists.  Our culture says that a narcissist is someone preoccupied with her appearance, his accomplishments, or their majestic goals for the future.  Yet, none of those really do justice to what a true narcissist is.

Somehow, I want to communicate, in a sound bite, something that will bring about that “Aha!” moment for a person.  At the same time, I want to be accurate enough so that people step back a little as they begin to understand.  My definition needs to be clinically and experientially accurate without too many big words or ideas.  In other words, I want to help people quickly grasp the concept and also have that concept grow in their minds as they consider it later.

So here’s what I have so far:

A narcissist is a person who is so busy promoting an image that is desirable and superior that he/she has no interest in seeing other people as persons and is thereby capable of little compassion and great cruelty.

Now, I would invite your comments and confess that to be a work in progress.

But, when your friends ask about your narcissist, or when you try to tell someone what is happening in your life, you don’t have to use any definition.  In fact, I usually tell people not to use the word “narcissist” in open company to refer to your person.  Instead, you just have to tell what the narcissist does.

I have been amazed at how many people have encountered narcissists through their lives.  I realize that those who seek do find, but I am not quick to diagnose narcissism.  Yet, there are narcissistic characteristics that help to bring definition.  Almost all narcissists overemphasize their own importance or accomplishments.  Almost all narcissists focus on injustices done to them, but see nothing of what they do to others.  Almost all narcissists take advantage of others without regard for the sacrifice or discomfort of the others.

When you give an example of what your narcissist does, many times you will find that others understand because they have experienced something similar.  The chances are very good that someone among your friends has a parent very similar to yours.  Or has had a spouse or boyfriend or co-worker like yours.  Not exactly, of course, but close enough to identify.

Also, narcissistic behavior is already defined as negative in our culture.  Certain aspects of narcissism are valued, of course, but other aspects are not.  A politician may be ruthless and self-centered or even dishonest and his supporters think he is just the man for the job, but when they find out that he has fathered a child by a woman not his wife, they throw him under the bus.  When you say that your boyfriend has another girlfriend, but sleeps with you and spends your money, even a culture like ours will understand.

We even have a perverted fascination with the damage narcissists can cause.  Television and books are filled with narcissists because of the conflict they bring.  Perhaps you can connect your narcissist with someone on television and tell your friends, “You know, just like so-and-so.”

Now, realize that the narcissist’s friends will probably not believe you.  Some of them will believe you but still choose to support the narcissist against you.  In a church, at work, even in divorce court—you will find that there will be people who either cannot or will not believe you.  At those times there may be little you can do to explain what is happening.  You can keep a log and be ready to tell the story when you are able, or you can just decide that you don’t need them to believe.  You have value as a person and can make decisions for yourself without the approval of others.  If you need to separate from the narcissist, whatever that means in the relationship you have, then do it.  You know who has the problem.

Be prepared for the word “narcissist” to be watered down so that the concept becomes acceptable.  The professional community is beginning to say that narcissism is prevalent and nearly incurable.  They will increasingly turn their focus on the victims to try to help them not “get so worked up about it.”  Plan what you will say to others to help them understand.


Filed under Narcissism

20 responses to “Explaining to Others

  1. Sue Heumann

    I get this, but do not understand why there is such an emphasis on narcissism.  Why do you write about it each Friday? thx – curious – I don’t usually read on Fridays because it seems so negative, but I guess if I had someone very narcissistic in my life I would feel differently.



    • Sue, I do appreciate your comment and your question. I am very sensitive to the thought that writing about narcissism could make my whole blog seem negative, particularly since the bulk of the comments and traffic center on that topic. So I try hard to write positive things (and educational) the rest of the week. That way the ratio of 4 to 1 communicates more positive than negative.

      However, no matter how clean your house is and how much fun you are having, a smelly trash bin can bring a lot of focus to itself. There is something very smelly happening in the culture and in the church. There are people who are hurting others in ways most of us can hardly imagine. Someone has to at least acknowledge the smell. Visitors notice it right away.

      What has developed over the years I have written this blog is that Christians find answers for the cruelty they have experienced in their lives and even in their churches. Then they learn that this behavior, this narcissism, is not right and there are some things they can do to work through the pain they have suffered. People from outside the church come here and learn not only the reality of narcissism, but how to deal with their pain and how the Lord loves them. Narcissism robs people of their own hearts. The damage it does is so deep and so lasting that people simply need to hear that they are acceptable and lovable. When the damage happens in the church, someone needs to tell people that it is not the Lord who has hurt them. He loves them.

      I realize that not everyone connects with narcissism. I could be writing about sexual abuse or financial abuse or elder abuse. Some would connect and others would not. But the Lord calls different people to different ministries. Mine, today, includes ministering to those affected by narcissism. That isn’t the main point of my ministry by a long shot, but it is an important point.

      So, I hope you will continue to read the other four days of the blog and feel free to just ignore the Friday sections. On the other hand, once in a while, sneak a peek to see what some people are going through. We all need to remember that some are hurting in ways we are not.

      I am sincerely grateful for your comment.

      • Laura

        Lol, I think I only read Friday’s posts… Oops, I didn’t realize there was more to your blog. :). Your Friday posts have impacted me so much. I can’t begin to thank you enough.

  2. briancisco

    I’ve only recently become aware of “Narcissist Friday,” but want to thank your for your insight and caring spirit. There’s one subject I hope you’ll touch on more in the future ― “Christian” narcissists. The narcissist I’m thinking of exhibits so many of the classic symptoms: lack of empathy, inability to apologize, using people, thinking she’s above the rules. In her train she leaves a trail of broken hearts, anger, and shattered relationships. She knows all the right words, enthusiastically tells others about God, dances in praise, waves her hands, shouts, and speaks in tongues ― and spends the night with boyfriends. To those who know her only from her Facebook posts, she presents herself as a cross between Billy Graham and Mother Teresa. Somehow, she’s able to surround herself with an applauding coterie of coreligionists who, at least for a time, put their stamp of approval on all she does. I care about her and pray for her, and want to believe there’s hope. Anyway, I’d appreciate your thoughts!

  3. John

    It is funny that I read your posts only for the Friday focus on narcissism. Sorry about that. Until I was burned deeply by a destructive narcissist, I had no idea what the word meant. After the experience, I have read a lot and obtained a consensus idea of what it is in my head. Your definition is accurate, but you are right, it is only a collection of things they do that really make you understand. One thing that stands out to me is just all of the lies that I was told by my ex-wife. The lies were told to make me believe I was valued and at the same time to make me believe she was someone very valuable and someone that I could trust. When it ended in betrayal, the betrayal felt almost too deep to recover from. At times now it feels like hatred and at others, I deeply miss the image of the person she told me she was. These two conflicting feelings have gone on for two years now, although the pain has dulled over time.

    The narcissist’s lies make you feel special by association. Everywhere my ex-wife went, no matter how trivial, she always related how important she was. If she took an exercise class, she would come back and say the teacher felt she was the best or if she took a drawing class, she would describe how everyone liked her drawings the best. Since she was talented, I didn’t question her at the time, only felt a proud to be associated with her. I now realize, it was all part of her own delusion and a deliberate attempt to make others feel jealous of her. Of course, she had good qualities, but people were not uniformly envious of her all the time nor were they preoccupied with her greatness. But being seen this way allows a narcissist to subtly and then later overtly abuse you and get away with it, because it is hard to give up the association. When it later their choice to discard you, it is that much worse, because you realize all the abuse you put up with and miss the connection with greatness at the same time. Although the term is not appropriate here, it is a real mind_____.

    Keep writing about narcissism, trust me for some of us, this particular ministry of yours is extremely important. Thanks.

    • A little wiser now

      John, I can relate a bit to your story. I dated and was engaged to a man who had similar characteristics. There was no argument that he was a very intelligent person but he would frequently point out why he was better than many people he came in contact with from family members to waitresses in a restaurant to pastors and friends. After a while, I became thoroughly disgusted by his attitudes of arrogance and superiority. The sad thing about it all was that what I came to understand is that he was probably the most insecure person that I have ever known. If other people weren’t fawning over him, he had to be putting others down so that he would have some sense of worth. He had a keen sense for finding people’s weaknesses and would play on them including my own. When confronted on these things he would come up with some ridiculous yet seemingly noble explanation of why he behaved in certain ways.
      I agree with you that it is very difficult that it is hard to break away from the narcissist because the good times are really good but the bad times were like an anchor around my neck and a crushing weight on my spirit. The person I was involved with made good money, was handsome, had position in the church and could have provided a comfortable and adventurous life but the question that I had to ask myself was this: what is his heart like? The answer to that question led me to breaking up with him. It was extremely difficult for many reasons but I know that God answered my prayer when I asked Him to show me this mans heart. There has been some very frustrating and hurtful things that have happened as a result of people not understanding that this man is a narcissist but I have had a handful of people quietly come to me and say that they were praying all along that I would see who this man is. God answered their prayers and mine and I am very grateful to be out from underneath this mans narcissistic ways. John, I am very sorry for the pain that you have had to endure but I am happy for you to be out of that situation now, as well.

  4. HopefulSorrow

    One of the most difficult things to deal with is touched on in your second to last paragraph…that others close to you may not believe what you are trying to tell/explain to them about the narcissistic abuse you have endured. This is especially difficult in church situations. The narcissist is so good at keeping up there public image that if you ever try explaining what has happened to you, most will not believe you. In fact, they are shocked. I really like what you said about deciding that you don’t need anyone to believe you. Sometimes just knowing that God does know the truth is the only thing I can hang on to. Thanks.

    • Hope

      I just want to second your comment. It is so sad to me that church people were the ones to most hurt, “disown,” and call me names when I dropped relationship with a narcissistic person (who happened to be in my immediate family). I would have rather suffered physical pain than the emotional and social pain inflicted on me by those in the church. Sadly, more people in “the world” seemed to understand what happened than those in “the church” did. I hope God will use this blog will help open more people’s eyes; and I know eventually the truth will prevail.

  5. Kay

    Thank you so much for “Narcissist Friday”…I look forward to it each week! This site has really helped me fit the pieces of the puzzle together. I left my narc behind a few years back, but the confusion and pain have been slow to heal. Thank God for His infinite, matchless grace! To Sue: count your blessings! May you never have to deal with the craziness and pain.

  6. Sheila

    I too particularly look for the Friday posting, maybe that’s because I have suffered also at the hands of a narcissist. Yesterday I returned from a trip to India and whilst I wasn’t there long enough to understand fully the depth of interaction between people it did seem to me that the whole demeanour of the Indian people was one of compassion, loving and giving. It did make me think that maybe there are cultural differences in the development and extent of narcissism. Do you think this may be the case?
    Thank-you so much for your ministry.

  7. Tina Harp

    Wow, can me and my two smaller children relate to briancisco comments. Please would you consider writing about the “Christian Narcissist”? We are recently going through this and this is the first Christian article I have read that I have hope that Jesus hung on the cross long enough to heal narcissism too! I am praying for my loved one in this situation. I believe God had me raise my children for Him and the one who is separated from my family is hurting and needs His touch. We have had to separate ourselves for now. My prayers in this situation are vital. I pray that they will be able to face the pain (whatever or whoever caused it) and let God heal them the way I try to teach them. It is not in vain.

  8. Thanks so much for the comments! I am out of the office for a few days, but a couple of you have asked about an article on the Christian narcissist. Please use the search feature on the blog to find several posts dealing with this in various ways. I will also try to write something specifically on that topic very soon.

    Lori and others, thanks for your patience. I will answer your comments as soon as I can. In the meantime, I am praying for you.

  9. Penny

    I really like the “soundbite” and appreciate having something concise yet brief to explain. I thot about adding: ” …promoting ‘and protecting’ an image that is desirable, ‘perfect’ and superior that he/she has no interest in seeing other people as ‘real’ persons and is thereby capable of little compassion and great cruelty.”

    • “perfect” is a good addition. Even when the image has obvious flaws, the narcissist will rarely admit to them. It must be perfect.

      • Object of Contempt

        My Nwife will readily admit to not being perfect, particularly in a counseling environment, and will admit to having done something wrong, even. But she will never repent. She will not apologize. She does what she has to in order to appear as a vulnerable, humble, submissive wife. And, everyone believes her. People see my emotional mess, and assume the worst about me.

        I love God, but churches have been horriffic in their willingness to attack me on my wife’s behalf. I am grateful for a place to be understood. Your Friday posts are very important to me.

  10. In Recovery

    I’m two years out of a parasitical Narc entanglement and I still get angry at the level of entitlement and betrayal I experienced at the hands of this man. In my experience I attracted my Narc because within me lived buried repressed childhood pain that needed to be healed properly. In this sense my Narc was a God send. Without that painful experience I would have continued to be a shame riddled codependent approval addiction addict.

    My narc ripped off deeply imbedded childhood scabs and when our relationship ended I could barely put one foot in front of the other and I drowned in a lake of tears nightly…never knowing such pain.

    I don’t think we fall for Narcs if we’re emotionally healthy because it takes two to dance the narcissism tango. Everything about my ex reminded me of my first love…my mother. Eerily I believe there is a connection from childhood that allows our Narcs to come in our lives and exploit to the nines….Narcs do not walk into our lives by accident.

    The other positive outcome is that my Narc brought me closer to God. And I now know that only God can love me unconditionally. Before I sought that out in flawed and imperfect human beings and when they let me down I became devastated. But God has never let me down and has always loved me…I just didn’t know that before.

    • In, I appreciate your comment that people who are emotionally healthy don’t fall for the narcissist. For the most part, this is true. The narcissist will try to impress anyone and isn’t afraid to lie to do it. But healthy people notice the lies early and end the relationship. Those who have their own emotional struggles are usually well into bondage before they see what is happening. Their own desire to be accepted and treated well opens them up for the deception. And, of course, most of our instability in our emotional lives comes from when we were children.

      Narcissists seem to be very adept at sensing those who are weak or hurting and are predatory by nature. This is why they seem to be such great listeners early in the relationship. They are researching.

  11. Fellow Survivor

    I’m not sure where I should post this thought but this article seems like a good place to do it. My wifes father is a malignant narcisisits in the worst way. In our early happy years I asked her how it felt when her parents divorced when she was 8. She told me she was glad because all the yelling and fighting stopped. I can only imagine.

    As we began our lives together she made me promise to help her not become like her dad. She was terrified of the thought. The fleas as they are refered to in her case were interupting conversations, a loud voice, and focusing conversations on herself. We even had little signs I would give her in social situations where I would alert her if she was engaging in any of these behaviors.

    Now she is in her late forties and has become a full blown malignant narcisists herself. My 16 year old daughter shared a therory about what happened. She barely recognizes her mom at all from what she used to be. She takes an honors biology class and they are discussing DNA and RNA. The way she explained it, DNA stores the information about who we are. Our hair color, body type etc. The RNA commands the DNA to act at specific times. In my case the RNA commanded the DNA in my genes to stop growing hair in my 30s. The reason we started the conversation was out of the blue my daughter says “my goodness graicious” She does not spend much time with my mom but thats exactly what my mom says. Also, my daughter’s hand writing is almost identical to my mom’s. I can barely distinguish between the two.

    Additonally, she told me there is a third chemical that activates the RNA especially in stressful situations. She thinks the stress in her mom’s life caused the RNA to hyperactivate her DNA to begin to show the character traits of my wife’s father. I have no idea how it works, but this may explain why some children of narcisists, growing up in the same home with their siblings, become narcisists themselves while their brothers and sisters don’t. I don’t know how iit works, but some people may just be predisposed to become narcisistis especially if they were raised under the neglect, betrayal, and abandonment environment that creates the monster.

    So, to short circuit this possibility, the child would need to know Jesus at an early age. If a child knows in their hearts that we all fall short of the glory of God and that no man is better or worse than the next man in relation to God, and that all men are God’s children, then that child, even if he or she has the narcisistic DNA, could never become one. Just a thought.

  12. I have little to add to this except that I continue to believe that narcissism is a learned response to rejection. In a home where narcissism is modeled, children will respond in different ways. Family dynamics can be very complicated, with favoritism and rejection playing key roles. I suspect that the more the child is accepted by the narcissist, the more likely that child is to adopt narcissistic characteristics. I can’t prove that and I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to become worried, but the child could easily believe that such behavior works for the parent. Other children, however, will observe the parent model and choose otherwise – until such time as the narcissistic behavior seems useful. None of this happens by conscious choice, but it is chosen nonetheless.

    Showing children a model and a type of behavior that dramatically contrasts with the parental narcissism and is held up as desirable, may be a strong deterrent to a narcissist choice later.

  13. Magdalena Deac

    To me,a narcissistic person in an invader of my intimacy on my life path.They attack and destroy the silence of personal thought or the familiar sounds I live with,by raising and sharpening their voice to overflow my ears with awfull sounds.They attack and destroy feelings of self pride and safety,depicting me as the most undeserving person arround.They attack and destroy hope and merit,highlighting how untrustworthy I am and how I have always been like that.If,under such circumstances,I still manage to have some personal gain,improvement or a plan of mine is seen through,they will do anything to attack and destroy the outcome,most likely with open rage against me and gaslighting among all the people we know.

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