It’s Narcissist Friday!
If the narcissist is the victim, does that make you the abuser?
Perhaps, of all types of narcissistic abusers, the “victimized” abuser is the most difficult to get past. Some narcissists learned that they could get attention and control others by being victims. Their lives become one sad story after another and they find listeners and believers and helpers to manipulate. This can be a type of covert narcissism that is very difficult to understand and handle.
“Victimized narcissists” are masters at projection, among other behaviors. They can say any hurtful thing to you, but if you dare to say something back, you are labeled as abusive. They can call you any name, but if you challenge them, you are being mean. They can lie about themselves and about you and they sound so honest. And there will almost always be someone who will believe them.
I started to write a story to illustrate this, but it was just too simple. We know these people. They always have some need, someone to blame, and expectations of the people around them. They are sick, poor, lonely, angry, picked on, abused, or whatever it takes to get your attention and time. And once you start helping them, you feel like you are trapped. They call and expect you to answer and listen. They visit and expect you to entertain. They use you and expect you to be happy to be used again.
And you have helped. Over and over and over. But it is never enough. You give money, but it always seems to disappear. You can’t pour enough of your time into their troubles. You make connections so they can get help from others, but those connections never seem to work out. You find jobs, but they are just too busy or sick or troubled to go to the interview. On and on and on.
I have had some run-ins with Munchausen syndrome over the years. Folks that exhibit Munchausen use physical and emotional illnesses for attention. They often create intricate backstories to explain the troubles they have, freely lifting from medical journals, stories of acquaintances, and the internet. Today Munchausen is one of several disorders categorized as “Factitious Disorders.” There are many levels of these disorders, of course. Some people simply make things up. Others will make themselves look sick. Still others will do things to make themselves sick. At a certain point these are considered to be mental illnesses.
While Munchausen is usually focused on physical or emotional illnesses, victimized narcissists may have all kinds of troubles. They are often the victims of cruel bosses, parents, boyfriends, mechanics, landlords, etc. In other words, their troubles very often have people sources. The similarity between Munchausen and narcissism will be obvious to those who have experienced both. I would suggest that Munchausen, because the “sufferer” has little regard for the expense or sacrifice of others who try to help, is a narcissistic behavior. They certainly don’t care about others who actually need the ambulance or the hospital room or the doctor’s time or the financial offerings. That lack of empathy and need for attention certainly connects them to narcissism somehow.
Yet, the victimized narcissist has so many more ways to manipulate people. She is not only a victim, but a better victim than you. She is sicker, more abused, and poorer than you. He has stories that make yours look like you had fun. He works harder and is passed over more often than anyone at work. These folks are better at playing the victim than others and take the competition seriously.
Now, someone will say: “But aren’t narcissists really victims from their childhood?” Many professionals agree that narcissists come out of dysfunctional homes and, yes, were victims of a sort. That does not mean that they should get special attention. Many, many children come from dysfunctional homes. In fact, narcissists don’t often come out of the worst homes. They are often wealthy, coddled, and privileged. But they were manipulated or abandoned or ignored and discovered narcissistic behavior to be useful. The problem is that victimized narcissists would be happy for you to think of them as victims of cruel parents or environments. If it works to get your attention and service, they will even embellish their troubles. So don’t be swayed or compromised by whatever story the narcissist suggests to explain his or her cruel behavior. As I have always said, narcissists are still accountable.
There are some ways to identify these victimized narcissists, if you find that difficult. First, they quickly begin to demand attention. Early in the relationship they seem genuinely grateful, but they soon show anger if you are not fast enough or caring enough with your help. If you don’t answer the phone, interrupt your plans, give sacrificially—then you don’t really care, and they begin to accuse you.
Second, you feel like you have lost your place in the relationship. Because the narcissist sets up the relationship with herself as the victim and begins to lay blame on you even though you didn’t do anything (or perhaps because you didn’t do anything), then you become something less in the relationship. You don’t get to be a victim, no matter what they do to you. You know you aren’t the abuser, even though you are often painted that way. And the narcissist leaves nothing else for you. You have been depersonalized. Either you fit into the relationship the way the narcissist wants or you don’t count. And the skill of the narcissist is to make you believe you are the abuser. You begin to feel like something must be your fault.
Third, you find the relationship draining. The needs never end and you never give enough. You do something to help, but it doesn’t quite help. The money disappears into some kind of bottomless pit. The time is hijacked by never-ending new projects. Even the listening ear becomes numb from overuse. You feel guilty for not being able to make a difference, but eventually you wonder if it could ever be different. You are unable to meet family or work responsibilities, and unable to do the things you used to enjoy. You feel guilty and drained and increasingly angry.
Once again, boundaries are the answer. You help people because that’s who you are. You help the narcissist because she knows that’s who you are. You shouldn’t try to stop being who you are—but you should stop being who you are to the narcissist. Once you realize that you are being used, begin placing boundaries around your time and generosity. You don’t have to answer the phone. You don’t have to jump when he says he needs you. You don’t have to sacrifice your plans for that person again. Yes, she will get angry. Yes, he will call you names. But eventually, the victimized narcissist will move on. You can move on first.
The victimized narcissist is a scam. He/she is a professional user. Most of us fall for the deception from time to time. Don’t blame yourself. Be the kind and helpful person you are. Just put up some boundaries to protect yourself.