Ask Questions

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.


Filed under Narcissism

20 responses to “Ask Questions

  1. Recovering

    Yesterday I got a return email answer from my ex husband on an issue we had to discuss. He doesn’t say hello, he doesn’t use my name. He answers with prideful sarcasm. I am not sure how far down the NPD can go in devaluing someone, but my ex husband gets a gold medal in doing it. When someone doesn’t even acknowledge you have a NAME. I cannot believe I was married to this person 22 years. I am lucky I have any self esteem at all…Life is good now.

  2. Probably just a figure of speech, but my observation is that weakness runs from strength. So, if you can see through the patina of propriety to the weakness beneath it, you will be a threat, and if you hold your ground, you’re not going to have to run. The agents of weakness will have to knock themselves out to flee/get rid of you.

  3. Fellow Survivor

    Anybody ever play golf with a super narc? There is an excuse for every bad shot. “That bird started chirping right in the middle of my swing” “you were standing to close to me, could you step back a little” “Those people on the other green distracted me” The list is endless.

  4. Jane Costagliola

    Excellent point. I wish someone would have given me this advice before I was involved with my ex husband. Instead I just kept quiet every time he would shut me down when I voiced my opinion. I thought I found my knight in shining armor instead I was involved with a full blown narcissist.

  5. UnForsaken

    If I had read this article first in my search, as I pondered if I really was dealing with an N, I just wouldn’t have questioned it. Every gentle question Is a threat, every affirmation of actually being there and thinking – always taken as a threat. To what? Yet you stop thinking that question and stop asking others, unless it’s one that you must ask and you are prepared for the reaction.
    Mike M. – you are mostly right, at least in my experience. But an N can’t run if they live with you ,any more than you can. Just meeting ordinary people I try to be extra kind to those who appear to be easily intimidated…..But I’ve seen some N’s I’ve never had to bother with. They Knew I had their “number”, they felt – true or not – that I could see to their backbone . So although I have to put extra effort into friendliness towards people who aren’t Ns, I thank God He gave me Something that at least looks/feels somewhat strong or perceptive to these Ns.
    It Doesnt always happen that way though. Nothing is a science with Ns. Some are really out to conquer and the more resistance they feel, the more effort they put into it. A conscious mental acknowledgement of their invasiveness, coupled with a very mild, vague manner is the only way I’ve found to deal with them.

  6. E

    Wow! I never thought about this before. Asking my N questions would lead to a) a sarcastic reply: “I suppose you’re the expert!” b) rage “I don’t know what he wants, it’s not my job!” or “I don’t have to account my day to YOU.” c) A derailing comment that has nothing to do with the topic “You look just like your aunt Anne.” or “Did you iron your shirt today?” Finally, if all else failed, she sputtered incoherently and hung up the phone after an effected “talk to you later!” Questions, even respectful ones, were not welcome.

    As we test the church where we now feel disconnected, I think questions would be a great way to reveal what is really going on there.

  7. Penny

    So true…so agonizingly, painfully true. Even Anna V has said that one of the easiest “tests” for narcissism is to just say “no”. No matter the issue, just say “no” to test & see their reaction/response. But, better don some body armor & an umbrella first, b/c it’s gonna rain something fierce…..

    • Cecilia K

      So very true, Penny. Victims in the hands of angry narcissists…

      • UnForsaken

        Penny, you bring to mind an old rhyme my adopted ( healthy relationship ) grandmother used to tell me. No idea who it is by :

        The rain, it rains upon the Just,
        And also on the Unjust fellow.
        But mostly on the Just because,
        The Unjust stole the Just’s umbrell-o!

        Well, almost like that anyway. We’d got a real chuckle over that one! Justice is very much what comes to mind about Ns. They don’t understand it.

  8. Repol

    Can an entire church congregation be narcissistic? Or is it more likely that there are a few narcissistic members or leaders, and the rest are just brainwashed and gaslighted into playing along, or perhaps just trying to survive there?
    In an institutional setting like a church, do narcissists attract more narcissists, or do they tend to become so abrasive for one another that they avoid settings in which an early N has already taken root?

    • UnForsaken

      Hmm, I think Dave has an article on that somewhere, maybe under “church”.
      In my own experience, I believe that groups can be poisened by N behavior and become more like it in their thinking, even if in time a few individuals May recover when completely cut off from their old “friends”. Even cruelty can be a result of a need to survive, so it’s hard to say if they are really hidden Ns or not. But it is the wrong way to Handle it , one way or the other.
      I believe that Ns do attract other Ns, but perhaps mostly when they get something for it. The cowardly, lazy N who wants everything done for him? Mine is not seen this way, but that’s him….in public. At home, he has a need to be in total control, so I try to respond the way I would to the “conquering” N – who is inspired to push the more we resist. Keep strength in reserve, hidden away for emergencies, and talk soft.
      I see Ns avoiding other Ns when they disagree with his objective or they will hinder his getting more power. I am a little bolder with this kind, because thay are intimidated – If – they don’t already have some power over you. But never be totally straight forward or give unessecary info.
      This is Only from my experience, but you may have gathered that mine really does attract other Ns ( and N behaviors). Those are most of the people I know, becaused they are all His friends. So, yes, I think your right about Ns. He loves an atmosphere that makes him feel normal and makes me look very odd, one that is more likely to disapprove of me and make him look/feel good/like he is getting more empathy. They become part of his show and not reality. Their lack of perspective is why we need to stay focused so much on real truth.
      Hope this helps….Still praying for you !!!

    • E

      In my limited experience, (so take with a grain of salt!) I think a church can attract narcissists. There is something they can get out of being members that makes them look holy or good or accepted or famous by association. The church I grew up in was full of them. It was like a country club, complete with invisible tiers of importance assigned to groups who pleased the leadership or those beneath their notice. There were big business owners, politicians, doctors, lawyers (the golfers)…then a large group of blue collar underlings (golfcourse keepers) the salt of the earth types who were usually tolerated enough to get a condescending handshake from the pastor now and then. I sound harsh, but my experience is a bitter one I’m still working through. I was the daughter of an N who could flawlessly manipulate the system right down to giving me an unsafe feeling in Sunday school. I never knew who I could trust because they all reported back to the N. I think the wrong church can grow a narcissist into a bigger one of they feel comfortable enough there. I just had to leave 😦

      • UnForsaken

        E, you know what you’re talking about! Even though people don’t “report” to mine, I know anything I say will get back to him. Mild or not, it does make me feel unsafe in church or any social setting.
        Since he “steals” friends I even have to avoid “the salt of the earth” types – I don’t want them to get taken-in and then dumped or used, however softly. And simple questions from well meaning people can become charged in that kind of situation, let alone any added rudeness or strangeness that often goes with it. Yup, they at the very least concider N behavior more normal than mine……so I Wonder about them.
        You are so fortunate to be able to leave !! Repol, please concider it. There are some lovely Christians/churches who would be far more supportive!

      • Owen San Andres

        E you sound like we came from the same church!
        I used to go to this one church for 15 yrs. Was married by our Senior Pastor. All my 4 kids grew up in Sunday School there and its Christian School to which my husband was made Chairman of the Board. He was a Deacon & church lawyer for several years and was the N Senior Pastor’s ‘best friend’. Then my husband passed away. About a year or so later, I was voted into the Board. And in one of the Board meetings I asked a question, a question that I was not supposed to ask a pastor, i.e. “Shouldn’t we pray and seek God first?” I then saw the SP’s face turn beet red, while the rest of the members’ eyes got round as saucers as they stared at me.
        Then everything went downhill for me. Meetings were called without me. I was asked to sit with the “salt of the earth types” while the Board sat at the Presidential tables during church banquets. I didn’t know anything about narcissism back then so I kept asking questions and telling others about how I was being (mis)treated. So soon enough I was literally kicked out of the church. I was excommunicated. Even friends are warned not to have anything to do with me.
        About 6 mos later I came to watch a concert held there. I chatted with some friends in the ministry. When the pastor heard about this, he suspended my friends from leading worship the next day. Today, 15 yrs later, when old friends in ministry see me in the supermarket, they’d slowly move away.
        Everything makes sense to me now that I have read so much about N. I am happily involved in ministry in this other church with more than a handful of people I can rightfully claim as real friends. Thank you Dave for what you’re doing. May the Lord bless you.
        About a year later, I came to hear him preach, after which I came up to him to shake his hand. I heard from one of his staff that he announced in the next staff meeting that they should all be wary of me bec I intend to come back to church, ans that when I shook his hand he felt that I didn’t want to let go and that I desired him. LOL!

  9. Carolyn

    My N ex husband’s answer to just about every question I would ask was, “why do you ask?” He wanted time to formulate his response based on him hearing my thoughts FIRST. even something as mundane as “what town are you working in today” or “do you have an idea what time you might be home?” It would drive me crazy! When he did answer…his response was always vague. Never matter of fact…lots of wiggle room. This post was so interesting! I continue to learn not only from Pastor Dave, but from all of you as well! Happy Sunday and God Bless!

    • Repol

      That stalling tactic is very familiar to me too, Carolyn.
      I’ve wondered what the reason was for it–just to buy time? Or to make me question myself for questioning? “Will you be home by 6?” “Will I?” (Ummm, yes, you’re the only person I’m talking to…) “Did you drop that check into the mail yet?” “Did I?” (Ummm, yes, you said you would three days ago…)
      He doesn’t do it to people he wants to impress though. Just to me or to the kids.

  10. Maggie

    Questions are so not welcomed…always met with a question first no matter what the question subject or importance is. I learned after 23 years of marriage the questions I asked were too close to revealing information that would reveal a long double life he led right under my nose. He traveled all over the world so the work and travel lent itself beautifully to the double life but the questions were just too much for him. Often simple straight forward questions were met with such unnecessary disdain and or resistance. It did not all make sense until a few years ago when I discovered the double life. Of course that discovery led to more questions and even though there is sobriety and an attempt at changed behavior during the discovery and early recovery from all of this, the N in him cannot tolerate natural questions that have emerged regarding our life together. It is so very sad. The N cannot tolerate shame, most of which he has manufactured himself through his own behaviors ,and when a question triggers that shame there is no stopping the N rage that follows. Something as simple as asking a question is so very revealing of the truth. Thank you Pastor Dave..wish I would have had this advice many years ago.

  11. Cecilia K

    In light of the three examples of narcissists in different personas, a question occurred to me. Do you think it is possible for someone to behave narcissistically in only one area of their life? For example, could a man be domineering, controlling, and cruel with his girlfriend, but at work, he is perfectly pleasant and easy to get along with? Or vice versa – at work, a woman is maybe pushy and critical and takes credit for others’ work, and no one likes her, yet at home, her family adores her and enjoys spending time with her?

    I am inclined to think, no. Whoever we are inside is bound to permeate every aspect of our existence. I cannot account for my ex-boyfriend’s work behavior, but I know at a previous job, he was with the company for nine years, I think, and he said he was laid off because of downsizing, I think. So unless he lied about that, he wasn’t fired for being a difficult employee. But then, I guess, according to what I’ve read, narcissists are skilled at making themselves look good, so I guess it’s not beyond comprehension that he could last for so long.

    Anyway, I was just curious what others think. Has anyone ever known anyone who seemed to be narcissistic in only one or two areas? I realize this may be difficult to testify to, because you probably can’t observe your narcs in every area of their lives.

    • Carolyn

      Hi Cecilia….I think their narcissistic behavior floods every area of their life. Can they control it if the WANT something…or WANT to be perceived a certain way? Absolutely…and therein lies the danger of the deceit and manipulation that are going on under the surface. If my ex-husband’s “friends” only knew how he talked about them behind their backs…if his boss only knew the things that were said about him…he would have a very different outcome with his career and friends. But they are master liars and manipulators….that is what makes them so dangerous. Wolves in Sheep’s clothing. This is why we never saw it when we were dating them and falling in love with them. Everything is controlled and the fake persona is the one that we see.
      I thank God every day for delivering me out of that relationship.

  12. HDG

    My personal experience :If it will benefit the narcissist to promote their false image at work($$ ,promotions,praise),church(admiration for their “integrity” kindness,”goodness”) or with friends(praise,respect,they pay his way when going out/buy him things)or home(adoration,respect,leadership)they will. For a short term or short time “he can do no wrong.”Somewhere though,in the “long run” the mask slips and the truth is revealed.My “N’s” true personality only came out when we were alone together. To this day his friends,former female co-workers(men at work were out to get him because he was so much better)and church members sing his praises. I tried to speak and show ( emails etc.) my truth to people I thought were also my friends and the pastor I felt I could trust to help “us”. Not 1 would listen!

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