It’s Narcissist Friday!
Little things. A hint here. A hint there. Something isn’t quite right. This isn’t what it was supposed to be.
But it’s alright. He didn’t mean it. I didn’t hear it the right way. Things will change. Everything will be wonderful.
Others don’t understand. They say that because they are jealous or because they aren’t really my friends. If I am okay with it, why can’t they be?
We are just getting to know each other better. Everyone has little things that rub others wrongly. I’m sure it’s just a quirk of his personality.
If others would just try a little. He’s not really the way they say. If they got to know him, they’d see him differently. They are the problem. They are so unfair. Give him a chance.
It’s me. It’s my fault. I do dumb things. If I just hadn’t said that. If I weren’t so stupid. He has a right to be angry. Maybe it’s good for me to have him so I can do better.
No one knows for sure who said it first: “Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.” I am convinced that narcissism takes advantage of the tendency of good people to deny negatives in their lives. We don’t want something to be what it seems, so we re-decorate it. We convince ourselves that it is something else. We were taught to think positively, to believe the best about people.
So the narcissist becomes a friend, maybe even a lover. Gentle words or captivating personalities break down natural barriers and we open our hearts. It isn’t long before the narcissist is an integral part of who we are. And then we have a problem. There were clues, but we ignored them as the narcissist moved closer.
Just give most of us enough good to want a thing and we will take care of denying the bad. That’s what a narcissist uses to cultivate a relationship. The clues are there, but the bait is so attractive that we ignore the dangers or excuse the bad behavior.
If the old saying, “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” is true, then perhaps we should not be so quick to dismiss the first time. Maybe, once someone fools us, we should learn something about that person and use that information to protect ourselves in the future. After all, isn’t that what the saying is supposed to be teaching us?
But that’s part of the problem. When the narcissist “fools” a victim, he or she quickly pushes to the second step. Instead of “shame on you,” the victim is pushed to “shame on me.” And, when it becomes “my fault” a strange set of dynamics begins.
You see, most of us are programmed to see good in others and bad in ourselves. So we tend to see the offenses of others differently than we see our own offenses. We are taught to overlook what others do to us, to offer excuses for their behavior so that we can let it go. But few of us were taught how to overlook our own actions. All the narcissist has to do to get us to continue to deny the truth is to get us to believe the whole thing is our own fault. We move quickly and easily from “shame on you” to “shame on me.”
I have heard victims of physical abuse blame themselves. I have heard victims of sexual abuse blame themselves. That’s a form of denial. When the fact of the deed can no longer be denied, we deny the true source.
And the abuse grows in the culture of denial. The victim denies. The family denies. The church denies. The business denies. As long as denial continues, the cruelty grows. Narcissism thrives in a culture of denial.
I want to be careful here. Two points. I am not suggesting that every offense is grounds for divorce or even for the end of a relationship (except, perhaps, for physical abuse). We are all flawed and we do hurt each other by our words and actions. I am saying that these things should never be pushed into the darkness. They can often be forgiven, but they should not be ignored.
And denial is not forgiveness. I know that many people grew up in a denial culture where things were swept under the rug for the sake of forgiveness. But I will ask simply, “If it is denied, how can it be forgiven?” No, shine the light on it and then forgive, if forgiveness is right. But admit the truth.
From talking with victims of narcissism, whether in families or marriages or even organizations, I have come to understand that denial is part of the equation almost from the beginning.