It’s Narcissist Friday!
One of the ways to identify narcissism is to watch what happens when someone disagrees. This can help us to identify the culture of an organization (church, school, club, business, etc.) or the character of a person.
You are the new employee at the office. The boss has called a meeting and has told everyone that they should speak their minds. You were told that when you were hired. “This organization is transparent and we listen,” you were told. At the meeting, the boss outlines a strategy with some obvious flaws, obvious to you. Some of the others voice their agreement with the boss, which puzzles you. You’re new, so you hesitate; but you were told to speak up. So you ask a question about one of the points. Suddenly, the attention turns to you. The boss stares at you for a few uncomfortable moments. You don’t know whether he didn’t understand your question, is embarrassed by his error, or is trying to remember who you are.
Finally, the boss says, “Hey, that’s a great question from our newest employee! How long have you been with us? Two weeks? That’s great. Well, all I can say is watch and learn!” Then he looks over at your immediate supervisor and says, to everyone, “Ok, I really appreciate your input. We will begin moving on this right away!”
As you leave the room, another employee steps in close to you and mutters, “Now you begin to see how things really work around here.”
What did you learn? That the boss is always right and your job is not to speak your mind or ask questions, but to help the boss look good in front of everyone.
And then the boss makes a special effort to come over to you. Are you in trouble? “Hey, I really appreciated your question. You just keep up the good work.” Yup, you are in trouble. You will be more careful next time.
Here’s another example:
The young lady gets into the passenger seat in her new boyfriend’s car. As they pull away from her home, going to the restaurant, she glances at the dashboard and notices that the car is very low on gas.
“Looks like we should stop for some gas before we get on the highway,” she says.
He doesn’t even look at the dash, but smiles and says, “Don’t you worry about looking at these gauges. You just sit there and look pretty while I take care of the car.”
She learned her place. Her job is to be pretty for him and quiet. She is not to question him. And she will learn even more when they run out of gas later. He will become angry and blame the gas meter for malfunctioning. After all, he just put gas in a few days ago. Or he will accuse someone of siphoning gas from his car. Or he will refer to the gas leak that someone should have fixed. He will not mention her statement, and she is not supposed to mention it either. If she does, if she dares to suggest that she told him about the gas, he will probably end the relationship.
Can you handle one more?
You feel uncomfortable at the new church your friends suggested, although the people are friendly and the teaching has been good. As you look around, you notice that none of the women are wearing slacks, all have skirts or dresses. It doesn’t seem particularly strange to you, because of your background, but you wonder how likely it is that even the teenagers fit the pattern. So you ask.
“Is there a dress code in the church?” A simple question, asked to one of the ladies who has been particularly friendly.
The answer comes. “Of course not. What do you mean?”
“Well, I noticed that all the ladies, young and older, are wearing skirts.”
“Oh, that’s just because we want to honor our Lord and our men.” As she says this, the lady looks into your eyes a little too long, like you are supposed to agree and acquiesce. You understand.
Whether it’s the pastor of the church, the new counselor or doctor, the new boyfriend, or the boss—we learn a lot by asking questions. We learn something about the inner strength of the organization or person. Narcissism comes out of weakness, weakness that has to be covered with protective layers of intimidation, deception, or anger. Strength allows disagreement. Confidence welcomes questions.
Now, understand that anyone can become flustered or upset if the question is presented as an attack or is embarrassing in some way. Expect a certain amount of resistance or confusion if you are unkind, impatient, or otherwise out of line. But a respectful and gracious question, even one that suggests disagreement, should be acceptable to a healthy organization or person.
One more thing: if you are in a testing time, do this early. Do it before you are hired, if you dare. Do it before you join the church. Do it on the first or second date. You will want to know how you are truly valued as an individual who can think your own thoughts. Narcissism depersonalizes its victims; the sooner you see that coming, the sooner you can run away.