It’s Narcissist Friday!
(I am aware that this blog continually attracts new readers. With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material. The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for. Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website. So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years. Please feel free to comment.)
Think about the people you know. Some of them are what could be called loud people. Others are quiet. Some are outgoing, vivacious, gregarious, etc. Some are inhibited, shy, withdrawn. This doesn’t change just because someone is a narcissist.
It is easy to stereotype the narcissist as someone who must always be the loud center of attention. But many narcissists have learned to avoid the limelight. They control and dominate from behind the scenes. In fact, you may not recognize this person as narcissistic at all.
Eleanor D. Payson has written about this difference in her book, “The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists.” She differentiates between “overt” and “covert” narcissists. The overt narcissist is what we have come to expect. The powerbroker, the man in front of the camera, the mother-in-law who comes to your home and takes over. The overt narcissist will come into your office space, sit on your desk, and dig through your papers.
The covert narcissist still wants to be in control but does so by “helping.” Sometimes these folks offer to help with projects. The only problem is that they end up taking over. They work, or at least they motivate you to work harder, and they get things done. But you feel stupid in the process. When the project is done, it cost more than you had planned and it doesn’t look quite the way you had wanted it to. But your “helper” assures you that this will be much better. Your way just wasn’t good enough. The covert narcissist will come into your office space to clean your desk and sort your papers.
This is the mother-in-law who comes to visit with her rubber gloves and cleaning supplies. You find yourself angry and wishing she hadn’t come at all, when you are supposed to be grateful. In the church, these people serve on committees and take jobs no one else will take. It will be very clear that they are making a sacrifice to help you and you will be expected to praise them and honor them. Never mind that they can’t seem to stay in budget or they alienate everyone else on the committee. Never mind that the Missions Committee is now somehow responsible for setting the pastor’s salary and deciding what color to paint the outside of the church.
In all of this we have to understand that the goal of the narcissist is to look good and to feel good about himself. It isn’t about you. You feel like you are always being put down, but the truth is that the narcissist doesn’t really see you at all. When Mom comes to clean, she just wants you to understand that she is really that good. Aren’t you lucky you have her?
Interestingly, Payson suggests that covert narcissists often find their way to become a “doctor, therapist, minister, or missionary.” (p. 27) These are all areas of service where one can appear to be helping while satisfying a need for control and favorable comparisons.