It’s Narcissist Friday!
(At home today, caring for a family member just out of the hospital. This re-post seemed timely.)
Sometimes narcissists like to be with other narcissists. Of course, when that happens, there is usually a hierarchy of a sort, a way to know who is above whom. That takes a system—or an organization. Sadly, volunteer organizations often fall prey to the narcissistic takeover.
Think of the narcissistic organization as a multi-level marketing system. The currency, of course, is narcissistic supply. The leaders share percentages of the admiration and attention that comes from those on the bottom. Years ago, someone tried to get me to peddle a certain soap company’s products and marketing strategy. He told me how I would get a piece of the work of everyone I sold the system to and of everyone they sold it to. In other words, I could live on the support of those under me. He only stuttered when I asked a simple question: “Doesn’t someone have to sell soap?”
Every narcissistic organization must have followers, people who exude appreciation and awe for the leaders. They must be obedient and helpful and enthralled. They must be impressed most of all with the one at the top, but also suitably servile and attentive to those under the leader. The leader, of course, has little time for those on the bottom. They are to send their admiration (and usually money) without expectation. They must be satisfied with small connections and with representatives.
So the people at the bottom, the ones who actually do the work (sell soap), become something like groupies. They may not be able to connect with the lead singer, but they can connect with the stage crew or the bus driver. Then they just might work their way up to the drummer and get to see the lead singer once in a while.
Now, when you are in this system, all of this just seems sort of normal. You don’t expect to get to visit with the CEO or the Teacher or the evangelist. But you certainly appreciate their skill and wisdom. You listen to the sermon or go to the seminar and you tell others how great it was. Your small group leader is as close as you will ever get to leadership, but you recognize that he has been under the teaching of the leader.
But when you finally begin to realize that the system exists almost entirely for the sake of feeding the leader with narcissistic supply, you begin to see the ugliness. Maybe you disagreed with the leader or one of his representatives about something and found that you were being shut out, even shunned. Maybe rumors were started about your character to discredit any concern you might have about the organization. Suddenly the ones who were so gracious and welcoming turn into something unexpected and frightening.
Almost like turning off a faucet, your connections seem to disappear. The phone stops ringing. The emails stop. The opportunities for fellowship and service dry up. You begin to feel like an outcast. You might be able to be restored, with a certain amount of apology and penance. But probably not. Once the narcissistic organization recognizes a person as a threat, that person must go. Those who stay will be carefully marginalized.
So now you are out. Either you saw the truth and got out or they turned against you and kicked you out. Neither one feels very good. Just like those with narcissistic lovers, you feel empty and afraid when the relationship is over. No matter how often people tell you that you are better off apart, you can’t feel that way consistently.
You see, narcissistic organizations are simply collections of narcissists. All the manipulations and addictive drugs narcissists give their victims are in these organizations. Very often the narcissistic organization takes over the lives of the people. There are activities and groups and expectations and jobs and all kinds of connections to keep you both close and under control. They welcome you with attention and love and excitement and tie your heart to the system. When you leave, it hurts. Even if it was your choice.
And, yes, there is often fear. Narcissistic organizations often fill their people with stories of abuse outside the organization. Wickedness, prejudice, and all kinds of evil lie in wait outside the organization. What would happen to you if you left? Where would you ever find a place you could trust?
This is why people who leave narcissistic churches often stop going to church altogether. They are either convinced that no other church could measure up to the level of authority or activity of what they are leaving or they are afraid of being hurt again by another group of users and abusers.
And there is anger. The narcissistic organization uses and discards just like the narcissistic person. Those who leave these organizations have often given great amounts of time and money and loyalty—only to have nothing but negative in the end. Sadness and loss turn to anger easily when we realize that we were used.
But there is another feeling, something better, something good. There is a sense of victory. Like a person who escapes danger learns that she is stronger than she thought, the person who leaves this kind of organization feels like they have done something right. It might take time to heal, but it is good to be out.
Eventually, the poison that held you in bondage will leave your system. Just be sure that you don’t get sucked in again. Be gracious and kind, but withhold your trust for a while. And believe that there are good churches and good organizations that are worth searching for. Think through what you learned. Watch the leaders. Listen to people who warn you.
There are real people who care. Find them. And be prepared to give again.