It’s Narcissist Friday!
A secret is a thing of power.
Hidden away behind the wall, camouflaged against discovery, a secret is kept. Layers of deception and misdirection, hazards and pitfalls in the path, all to dissuade the curious and thwart the investigator. The one who finds the secret finds something of the life of the one who hid it.
Recently the protective lid has been lifted from some well-known Christian ministries and the stench of the long-hidden secret has been exposed. The aged strata of performance and legalist ideals has finally given way to pressures from those whose lives have been touched by the secrets. The battle to keep them covered is being lost.
And now, as the truth is revealed, the secrets have become things of weakness. Their existence shouts of lies and compromises and begs for more questions. What else is hidden, we wonder.
Narcissism thrives in a culture of secrets. Many of the stories I have heard have involved secrets. Secret bank accounts, secret spending, secret relationships. Added to those are the vague histories of past jobs and marriages. I remember one man who somehow failed to tell his wife that she was really his third, not his second, and that there was a child from the first. Some have had secret families and secret apartments. Lies and avoidance cover up truth so that the secret remains hidden.
I think it is fair to mention secrets as a generally common characteristic of narcissists and legalists. Neither want the reality of their lives exposed. Both fear exposure above almost anything. Both promote an image of themselves as reality, so that others will not look for the truth. Both believe that others will judge them negatively if the whole truth was revealed. So secrets are important.
It is not a coincidence that the narcissist and the legalist both seem to want to know the secrets of others. When the young lady meets the narcissist boy, she notices that he listens to everything and asks all about her life. She is impressed and touched at his sensitivity and attention. Later she finds that he remembers details and uses them to accuse her or manipulate her. He gathered her secrets because secrets are things of power.
The legalist preacher often knows details about the lives of the people in his church that others do not know. Through counseling or confession, he has harvested secrets and remembers those secrets when he wants to control the people. I have known pastors who use that information in the pulpit (without names, of course) just to play with their power.
I suspect that the more a person has to hide, the more interested he/she is in the secrets of others. They are distractions from what the narcissist has hidden and they are weapons that can be produced in threatening times. They make the narcissist feel better about himself. Because he knows what he has hidden, he takes comfort in knowing that others have hidden things as well.
I also suspect that the more a person has to hide, the more that person will act out with lesser secrets. Many narcissists hide chunks of time or money. Opportunities to be anonymous or without accountability make them feel stronger. Small or unnecessary deceptions may be tests to see if the real secret is still safe or if the power to conceal is still there. If these lesser secrets are discovered, the narcissist acts as though they are unimportant.
Perhaps it should be noted that the primary secret the narcissist hides might not be all that big. Most hide feelings experienced in times of weakness or fear. Like the girl who lives in fear that someone would find and read her diary even though she has written nothing in it that anyone would care about, so the narcissist may not be hiding anything you or I would think to be of value. Just because a husband leaves work an hour early, but returns home at the usual time, that does not offer proof of a secret lover or evil hobby. At the same time, the deception is understandably disconcerting to his wife.
If you already believe yourself to be in relationship with a narcissist, you may find this characteristic of secrets to be part of that relationship. You may even choose to ignore it or adapt to it, as long as it does not endanger you or your family. While narcissists need the attention of people, they usually find the presence of people to be draining and threatening. The narcissist might need time without the expectations of others in order to continue to function in relationships. Secrets provide space and separation.
However, if you are wondering about the person in your relationship and you see this tendency toward secrets, along with other narcissistic characteristics, those secrets may help you decide what your battle really is about. If you have suddenly realized that the new boyfriend knows everything about you and your family, while you know little about him or his, you should certainly reconsider the relationship. The way a person handles secrets may reveal far more than he or she wants you to know.