First among Losers

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

Narcissism is a competitive condition. Let’s face it: narcissists are always competing. They are stronger and smarter and more deserving than you. They work harder or work less or work better than you do. Whatever they perceive as a positive attribute for you, they have to top.

The narcissist deserves to be in charge, to have more money, to have a lighter work load, to gather more sympathy, to be more popular, to get more attention—than anyone else. They will tell you stories about how bad they had it and they can always top your story. They hurt more from their pain, are rejected more by fools, and are less appreciated than you or me. It doesn’t matter if it is positive or negative, if it gets attention they have it more than you.

We are seeing more sports figures these days who reject second-place medals or trophies. Nothing matters except being at the top. Anything less than the best and most loved means nothing. It doesn’t matter what anyone says, they live by the motto that “Second place is just first among losers.”

One consistent characteristic I have noticed among narcissists is this idea that losing—in any way—is fundamentally unacceptable. I have heard narcissists push arguments way past any sense of reason just to get their opponent to concede. They will lie, cheat, steal, abuse, or attack to win a simple disagreement. Sports figures take drugs, businessmen cheat, entertainers starve and carve just to stay on top. Coming in second is just plain old losing.

Those in relationships with narcissists must understand this. There is no sympathy, no cooperation, no understanding when the competition begins. (Unless, of course, the competition is to be sympathetic or cooperative. Then you will lose.) His story begins with, “Oh, that’s nothing! One time I…” Your story is forgotten, in spite of the fact that yours is true. Her words begin with, “That’s nice, but…” or “That’s too bad, but I…” You are dismissed. Go sit in the corner while she tells her story.

The addiction to attention and admiration is so strong in the narcissist that anyone else who gets it is an immediate competitor. The narcissist will say nasty things about the person being recognized, insinuate whatever will bring the person down. I have seen parents take over the recognition that is given to their children and leaders take the spotlight away from honorees. Sometimes the actions of the narcissist are embarrassing to the rest of us. But not to the narcissist. It simply has to be done.

Of course, much of this refers to the behavior presented by the overt narcissist. Because they have learned to be more open about their desire for attention, the overt narcissist has little hesitation as he or she pulls the focus away from others. The covert narcissist must do this more carefully. Typically, the covert narcissist is a victim or a servant. They often stand there, looking sad or dutiful, waiting for others to notice them. Eventually someone will say something positive about the service or supportive about the struggle, and the covert narcissist will milk the attention by denying anything special until the other is almost gushing with praise or sympathy. Covert narcissists teach us that attention can be gathered by self-deprecation and understatement, and that those who appear not to be competing can still win.

I suspect that the narcissist sees attention as a limited commodity. There is only a certain amount of praise available in the world and he deserves all of it. There is a certain amount of sympathy in the world and she deserves all of it. Others should expect to take the second place.

Nothing and no one is worth more to the narcissist than attention. Lovers can never give enough praise or service or worship. Servants can never be trusted to give their all. With ruthless strength, the narcissist tears down anyone or anything that stands in his way to the top. Too many have found this to be true as the marriage or relationship ends. I have heard horror stories of how narcissists have lied and cheated to get their way in divorce and custody battles. They not only must win, but often must destroy.

Unfortunately for the narcissist, he isn’t usually good enough to deserve the attention he desires. He fails too often because his focus is not on the game but on how well others think of him. The quarterback may be amazingly gifted but if he can’t top all the rest, he pouts and curses. And something, probably the incompetence of those around him, is to blame for any lack on his part. The salesman may simply not be as good in his job as another, even though he is very good. But second place, losing, is someone else’s fault.

Perhaps one test of whether a person is a narcissist is how he or she tolerates attention given to another. Most of us can rejoice when someone else is praised. We might feel a little jealous or we might wonder why that person deserves the praise, but we don’t have to have it for ourselves or even take it away from them. The narcissist, on the other hand, can reveal much by the attitudes and words that are exhibited when others receive praise.

Those in narcissistic relationships should not be surprised to find themselves competing with their narcissists, even when they have no intention of doing so. It is just part of the deal.


Filed under Narcissism

37 responses to “First among Losers

  1. Brilliant understanding of this sad and damaging condition.

  2. Slvrgrl

    …yup! to the last paragraph! I found myself behaving in ways that only seem bizarre looking back….its a set up and our N’s must get great pleasure watching us react to their….ummmm…insidious…veiled…subtle…orchestration of the whole crazy dance!…1 month and 8 days no contact! 🙂

    • Cecilia K

      Yes, I, too, can recall behavior on my part that wasn’t typical of me, while dealing with a narc, even one incident that scares me a little to realize I was capable of. To make matters worse, it just gave him fuel to be able to accuse me of having an anger problem. The fact that I had never done anything like that before, and haven’t done anything like it since he has been out of my life should say something. Nevertheless, I should never allow anyone or anything to make me lose control of my anger.

      • Me too. My problem now is that I find myself in a loop of obsessive thoughts: anticipating their behavior, trying to outsmart them, imagining what they’re saying, and generally worrying that others will choose them over me in whatever scenario is playing out. I am competing with this person in my mind. It’s maddening, not only because it’s exhausting and I can’t win, but because I am in turn being like this person as a result. Anyone else out there struggling with obsessive thinking? Any advice to calm it down??
        I’d also like to add a movie recommendation: “Big Eyes.” I think everyone on this site will relate to this story in some way.

      • New Creature

        This reply is for Kate. I have the same problem with the loop of obsessive thinking. My prayer group was reflecting on “God is my strength.” I realized God gives us strength but I was then giving it all to my MIL N by thinking about her and worrying about her scheming all the time to the point I was worn out and barely functioning. Isn’t that the essence of idolatry…giving my strength/thinking/time/energy to something other than God? She had become an idol to me. Now when it happens, I turn my thoughts to God, confessing my idolatry, that I am giving away the strength and joy that He gives me, gratefully receiving His forgiveness, and asking Him to show me what I should be thinking about/doing at that time. Sometimes I read some scripture or recall some memory verses about His character to redirect my thinking. He has been so faithful to help me with this. Prepare to be persistent…as we know the enemy will try to derail you over and over. Don’t beat yourself up when you fall off the wagon. This is a time to rejoice that we have a God who is so faithful, forgiving and “for” us. He wants to see us have victory over this.

      • Thank you, New Creature. You have given me something substantial here, worth printing out and carrying with me. It’s not easy to redirect thoughts, especially as it forces me to confront my own vanity — over and over.

        I am having a hard time forgiving when there is such blatant injustice, and I live in dread of further pain that lies ahead in this N situation. The “justice” part is exactly what I have to surrender to God, and so is the worry — but I’m struggling with my own [perceived] sense of powerlessness.

        But that’s just it; what “power” is it I seek? “Justice” and imperviousness? Or the strength, joy, and peace of mind in trusting God? Obsessing is the very opposite of peace of mind, and that it’s in fact a form of idolatry is so interesting and true. Thank you.

        I imagine tempering my mind would clear a path to do my job in this matter, the forgiveness part. But first things first, I suppose. I get impatient with myself that I’m still just blabbering and blubbering and so angry inside. Thank you for your kind reply with the strong but gentle message.

      • New Creature

        I think, Kate, that I will never stop having to work at this. It is not something that we completely resolve. Especially when there is a time when we are not having any contact and things seem to calm down and then there is a new contact with new demands and it flares up all over again. I am learning to reflect on God’s grace, that it is not about me “doing better next time.” I am going to trip up and I need to keep asking Him to pick me up and hold me up. It becomes about understanding how to walk my crookedy, sinners walk with Him and being grateful that He sees me as righteous (Dave posted recently on that.) Its about persistence and starting over again when you “fail” (I hate using that word b/c it reeks of a works mentality), its really about making a course correction in what you are thinking about.

        About forgiving the N, I am still trying to wrap my head around that. Usually a person has remorse and they stop doing it. But what about with an N where they wrong you, there is no remorse and they are guaranteed to do it to you again? There isn’t the same restoration of the relationship as there would be with a “normal” person. Forgiveness is about not continuing to hold the past against them, but we still need to protect against future abuse. It isn’t “restoration” in the traditional sense.

        Years ago (the decade of the ’90s actually), my MIL was very manipulative and abusive to me. As a young bride and approval seeking, I cooperated with her and she scarred me. Once I woke up, I put a stop to it. Time passed and I eventually stopped holding it against her. During this time, she was married to a devoted husband who took the pressure off of us. After her divorce from him, it all flared up the memories flooded back and I was back in the struggle. The struggle of the endless mind tape and the struggle of understanding what forgiveness looks like under these circumstances.

        If you have any more insight into that, I would appreciate it. Maybe Dave will write something about it one day….Hint, hint!

        As for the power thing, I urge you not to beat yourself up and to read too much into your supposed need for power. Dave’s recent post on guilt hits the nail on the head. Ns excel at trying to make you think it is your fault (or your sin/sin nature) that is causing the problem. The confusion is from them and they are ultimately responsible for that. Your responsibility is to just walk one step at a time with the Lord and to turn your eyes back on Him whenever you realize you have looked away.

      • New Creature

        Just noticed Dave’s post on forgiveness, March 30, 2012. Very helpful…especially the part that forgiving doesn’t mean you have to be friends.

  3. Kathy

    This is my father-in-law to a T. Ns simply DO NOT CARE how their attention-seeking behavior looks to others. They simply MUST have the attention.
    When my husband, the N’s son, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, the N called a few weeks later and said “Guess what? I have cancer too!!” and sent me an email of his nose with a bandage — a melanoma had been removed.
    At his on son’s funeral, when everyone said such wonderful things about my husband, his father stood up and told the story of a prank that my husband had pulled as a 12-year-old. Not to share a funny story — but to undo all the praise that had been given about my husband. It was a tacky story, but not something terrible that any other 12-year-old boy would have pulled. Just inappropriate for the setting.
    Then, when N and his wife (husband’s N mother) got home (to a state hundreds of miles away), he called and said “Guess what? We got a meal waiting for us from a neighbor because we had to travel when our son died. D (husband) said you guys got meals this year, and now we got one too!”

    He couldn’t even let his son have cancer or a funeral or even some meals without competing.
    But he is the one who lost.

    • Ann

      A very small man(?) indeed. This turned my stomach.

      • Kathy

        Thank you, Ann, for affirming me. Like everyone else, on occasion I look back and feel as though maybe, just maybe, I took it the wrong way. But when I bounce it off of others, they affirm my view that the FIL is sick, not me. Thank you.

    • Kitkat

      Kathy, I agree with Ann, his behavior was disgusting. This reminds me of something I saw I TV a few years ago now. I was not a fan of Michael Jackson, but I remember an interview with Michael Jackson’s father, Joe, AT MICHAEL’S FUNERAL. The interviewer was asking about Michael’s service, and Joe Jackson said something along the lines of, “Yeah it was nice, but let me tell you about my new production company…”. I was floored at the time. Since learning about N, I recognize them more readily now. I hope that you are comforted in knowing what a strong man your husband was, in that he had to have made a choice not to be like his parents. What a courageous man he was to swim against the tide of Narcissism. God Bless you as you continue your journey in this life.

      • Kathy

        Oh my gosh!! I didn’t see that on TV. You know what? They don’t even care if it’s negative attention, if people say they’re jerks. As long as it’s ANY attention, they’re happy.
        I am very comforted in knowing that my husband would have approved of this cut-off. I had asked my in-laws NOT to come on the night of oldest daughter’s senior prom, I had too much to do.
        They came anyway. FIL said “We know you’re busy. We’ll wait for our dinner.”
        My husband overheard him and was in our room, and he was crying. He was so angry at his dad. I know I did the right thing by cutting them all off.
        Thank you!!

  4. Needing grace

    My N mother in law and I were making a holiday meal once and I suggested we roast the vegetables instead of boiling. She acted like it was a crazy idea but did it anyway. At dinner everyone was raving about the vegetables. Not once did she give me credit & it seemed to upset her that they liked my recipe. Halfway thru the meal she suddenly felt so terrible she had to lay down. Instead of going to her bedroom she lay right next to the dining room so we could see her. It was so strange. Maybe she really was ill but the next day she was fine. Now that I understand narcissism I think she just couldn’t handle me upstaging her in any way. So bizarre.

    Now that I’m trying to separate from my N (her son) he is using even that to gain attention & sympathy. Our mutual friends support me so he’s started attending a new church and forcing the kids to go. He tells me people ask him if I’m an unbeliever since I don’t come. He’s spun everything to make him look like the loving husband & me look spiteful and unforgiving. I tell myself it doesn’t matter what those people think but it’s hard knowing they don’t know the truth.

    • Kathy

      It is very hard to be the victim of a smear campaign — and that’s exactly what he’s doing. My in-laws did it to me when I went No Contact (I think my husband was stolen from another family because he was the most wonderfully loving man and I miss him very much).
      It hurts to know there are people out there that you don’t even know who believe terrible things about you.
      But remember this — the God that made eyes and ears does see and does hear what is being said. And He has called you by name — and you are His beloved.

  5. unofficialnarcissist

    I knew something was wrong with my ex’s family when they very graciously attended a birthday celebration for my 20-year-old daughter. I suggested a compliment circle, where her friends and family say a complimentary word that comes to mind about my daughter. I wanted her to feel loved and supported and the wonderful ways she is perceived in her world. My ex MIL became visibly anxious and disturbed. She kept saying things to obstruct the circle, and the others were kind enough to wait for her and even adjust to her concerns. In the end, I went ahead and led the circle, and my MIL did say something appropriate, but my FIL said something snarky. That was an “ah-ha” moment for me. I thought at first it was because there was a feeling in the room, but it was also because no one is allowed to shine too brightly, lest they grab all the praise meant for the narc. They are truly like children. Children do this…they follow their own sympathies and are hungry for you to follow along. Children are filled with our love, narcissists remain perpetually empty.

    • Kathy

      That is so telling — when they can’t even say something nice when asked to. It’s weird that that seems to be the time that they cannot compete — they’re not trying to think of the “best” nice thing to say, they’re not trying to outdo someone else in lavishing praise! They will try to outdo you in every area EXCEPT for saying something nice!!!
      At my husband’s funeral there was a time to stand and share a nice story, and my in-laws were aware that this would happen.
      NOT ONE of them said anything except father-in-law, who said something tacky.
      One of his sister explained why she couldn’t: “Well, I couldn’t think of anything nice he DID FOR ME.”
      His other sister “I couldn’t say anything nice. Do you know what HE did? He joined the service WITHOUT consulting mom and dad!” (30 years prior).
      His brother? “Dad said we didn’t have to say anything nice because he left home at 19 and we really didn’t know him.” (that brother was best man at our wedding, stayed at our home several times, went on a vacation with us!))
      Nope — no competition if they have to say something nice about someone else!
      Did I mention that they say there are “Christians”?

      • unofficialnarcissist

        same with my ex’s family…very religious. Sheesh. So uncanny how alike their behavior can be across the board.

  6. E

    These group settings were always hard for my N mother. But after reading this, I am horrified to realize that I was unintentionally competing with her in many ways!

    For example, if she seemed flippant and rude to a waiter, I would go out of my way to smooth things over and compliment the service. She then would escalate the complaints, I would try harder to be nice…on and on until we left the restaurant.

    If she hosted a party or wedding shower, it seemed the event was less about the honorees and more about her excellent hosting abilities. There was often a desperate need to outdo her friend’s parties and showers, to the point of overspending on food, decorations, and entertainment. Her last big shower was fraught with awkward interruptions as the couple opened gifts for announcements and door prizes. Door prizes! At an engagement shower. Then if the Thank You cards didn’t come in spades, she was depressed for weeks.

  7. Sam

    Thanks again. Your insightful posts are so helpful on this journey.

  8. Kitkat

    Your description of the subtle Narcissist is my N ex-friend to a T. I was in a competition with her and I had no idea. Once again, a spot on post.

  9. Penny

    “Perhaps one test of whether a person is a narcissist is how he or she tolerates attention given to another. ”
    My FIL died at home, surrounded by 3 generations: his wife, daughter & granddaughter. He needed to use the bathroom, but was weak & needed their help to get there; then his knees buckled & he slumped to the floor, breathing his last. Weeks later when visiting with my [narc] MIL, I commented what a blessing it was that all 3 women were there together, for him, at the moment he entered eternity.
    My MIL responded, “oh, yes! That was so wonderful. When he slumped to the floor like that, I could have hurt myself!”
    Say what???? Whaaaat????
    Even in that poignant moment, her thots were about herself, not him. Even in death she was competing for attention. She literally could not tolerate him getting all the attention. He was the one dying, but SHE might have “hurt herself.”
    If that is not a self-absorbed narcissist then tell me what is.

  10. MC

    The day of my husband’s funeral, my Mom (Narc), was on the couch after the service at my home. I said “Mom, I’m glad you’re here”. She replied “You could’ve fooled me!” I’m asked asked what? She actually repeated it. I could not believe it! She hadn’t been there for me the entire time he fought his illness (3yrs) and now it’s about her. Oh Brother! I’ve just recently realized she was a Narc it’s an enlightening yet sad realization.

    • Kathy

      Oh my gosh!! What were you supposed to do, swoon all over her all day, saying “thank you, thank you, thank you for your presence”?
      Yes. In her head that is what you were supposed to do.
      And you failed. How dare you!!
      I know it doesn’t help a lot, but please know you’re not alone.
      My husband had less than 2 months when my daughter had her senior prom. I had told my in-laws to not come that weekend, I had too much on my plate. They came, and brought my husband’s sister too.
      My FIL said “We know you’re busy. We’ll wait for our dinner”
      I got an email from his sister after my husband died and she said “You made us feel like we were in the way!”
      There’s no words for this type of behavior — to even insist on all attention be on them during a time of sadness for someone else. It’s mind-boggling. And it is evil.

  11. Penny

    For Kathy, MC. Sam, et al: As you said, Kathy, these responses are evil. Recognize that. Give yourself permission to reject their evil and walk away. Jesus did–He walked away from those who refused to worship God and not self.
    If that was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me. I make NO apologies for following Jesus!

  12. HDG

    Kathy,thank you so much for sharing the link! I wish I’d been “armed’ with this link when N took me to his pastor so we could “straighten things out”ie he could (privately )continue his abuse while I was called a “rebellious”woman if I called him out on it. I was never granted a private meeting with the pastor(he would not even speak to me by phone)after many attempts.Just sign me….free and forgiven.

  13. Belle

    This is enlightening… One of the things my husband has accused me of over the years was being “competitive.” I never could understand the criticism. Many of his criticisms, although unwarranted, have had a ring of truth. When he said I was “competitive”, however, I had no idea what he meant, as that is the furthest thing from the truth. My desire was to see him succeed! Now I see that this criticism of me must be a reflection of his own heart. I don’t know how many ways he is competitive with me, but this puts in place one weird dynamic in our house. Whenever I comfort or encourage one of our children, he steps in and starts doing the same thing. Many a time he has taken one of our small crying child from me. When the child says he wants me, he rebukes the child and doesn’t let them come to me. I guess he has to be the parent with the most comfort to offer. Interestingly enough, if

  14. UnForsaken

    One of the things my N says when upset is ” You’re always pushing back”. Hmm. NEVER…. yet I think he feels that way. If you rarely say anything ( but he is constantly assuming), I believe our very presence and existence offends an N. They have problems with reality and responsibility. They want to play a game and pull us into it, but refuse to let us Occupy a square!

    I was struck by the ‘test’ of how Ns tolerate others getting attention. How many Ns have I known really? Most of the people my N collects are temporarily useful, or just as much interested as he is in getting entertainment and being the entertainment. This explains why I’ve been alternately trotted out for show-and-tell/shaming, and then pushed against a wall to be ignored. They want to invade our boundaries and enjoy our discomfort trying to come up with decent replies, and yet focus the whole thing on how exciting they are!

    Recently we caught the N in an interesting twist of untruth, which seems to prove my belief that he has been trying for some time to alienate us further from loved ones. He told one of us to go look for my mom in a certain place because he was in the check out line. When they got back, he was telling my returned mom that person had gone looking for her. She was flustered. ( She hates being ‘looked after’, a feeling which I believe is fostered by him as it is something he also drove between us and grandparents.) This person then honestly proceeded to tell her that HE had sent them to look for her. “Really! He hadn’t said that!” Complete shock on her face. It was repeated several times to make sure she understood. Then he gave his nasty look and left promptly to do something else. When he returned, all was as if it never happened. Caught.

    ” When he fails, it’s because his focus is not on the game, but on how well others think of him.” ( paraphrase) WOW. That is an amazing insight. They are so smart, and yet even as subtle as a covert Narc can be, they let out the most horrifying sneers/anger when no one else is looking. They know just when to do it, and the other person knows just who it’s for.

    It’s so important not to swallow this poison or let it get to our hearts. I’ve come to realize my heart, mind, and body can accept something as true, and yet I need to train my mind to not only think that way, but also react that way automatically. I believe God is with me and I am in His hands, but it is an entirely different thing to try to act this way when the Ns behavior are telling you the opposite all the time.

    Thank you for this post, Dave. It was timely. ❤

  15. Abigail

    This really resonates with me! I could never mention that I felt overwhelmed by a particularly busy day, because he always worked harder. “YOU didn’t have to drive for 3 hours to a job site!” His work was always more valuable, and he had a right to be tired, but not me.

    I am so thankful that the Lord led me to your blog! I hope that you don’t mind if I share some of your posts on my blog, with credit to you, of course. I’ve been 5 months away from my narcissistic husband, and I now want to try to help other women recognize and understand that they have been going through. Thank you, once again!

    • Cecelia K

      Sounds so familiar, Abigail. I remember one occasion with my ex-boyfriend, when I told him I was really tired (I think it was in the context of why I wasn’t going to come over to his house that day, but I’m not sure). He viciously told me I had no reason to be tired. I don’t remember how I responded, or anything that was said after that. I knew better than to use my job as a defense (not that it’s a strenuous job, but working 40 hours a week for anyone is tiring, I would think), and I couldn’t think of anything else – not that Any defense would have been acceptable to him. Even if I had been cutting down 50-foot trees with an axe all day in 100-degree humid heat, followed by a round of chemo treatment (both hypothetical examples), my fatigue would still not have been excusable in his eyes. But in hindsight, I realize that my job wasn’t the real cause of my fatigue, anyway; it was being in relationship with him – the constant fights, verbal beatings, etc. You all know.

      • Abigail

        Dear Cecilia, it always amazes me just how much we abuse victims have in common! You made an excellent point, that the daily beating down is often the cause of our tiredness. I’m so happy for you that you’re free now. Thank you so much for stopping by!

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