It’s Narcissist Friday!
How many kinds of narcissists are there? Someone has said that if you ask eight people for their political opinions, you will get nine opinions. We are individuals, not identical to each other. And, sometimes, the answer is even more complicated.
Not only are there different kinds of narcissists, but different relationships with narcissists. The narcissist might be very different to church people than to his wife, or different to the people in the club than she is to her own children. In fact, narcissistic parents often treat their children differently. For some it may be a “divide and conquer” technique; for others it may stem simply from seeing different children as useful in different ways. The point is that no two people will see the narcissist in exactly the same way.
So we have all kinds of different narcissists in all kinds of different relationships. That makes it difficult to make blanket statements that cover all of them. Anyone writing about narcissism can only speak to generalities or to certain aspects of narcissism at one time.
Of course, this is true about almost any human characteristic or behavior. We are individuals, and we are different. That’s part of what makes it hard, and it’s part of what makes it fun. At the same time, we can make some general statements that are true of certain categories. Not everyone is different in every aspect. Some act in much the same way as others. Some look, in some ways, like others. It is natural for us to try to notice similarities in people, more natural than for us to focus only on the differences. In our desire to understand each other, we use these categories to help. Nothing is wrong with that, as long as we remember that these categories are just for the purpose of understanding. Using these categories to discriminate or divide actually harms all of us.
As I write about narcissists and their behavior, I am very aware that I do not describe all narcissists. If I were to say that narcissists don’t physically abuse, for example, I would be wrong. Some do. Most do not. If I were to say that promiscuity is a characteristic of a narcissist, I would be wrong. That is certainly true for some, but not others. Not all narcissistic parents have a favorite child or a scapegoat child, although that seems to be true in many cases. I always have to give the caveat, or at least hope my readers understand, that my statements will be generally true, but not necessarily true of every person who could be called a narcissist.
Readers should take this into account whenever they read blogs or articles or comments about narcissism. People tend to share what they have experienced or learned. Their situation might be different from others. The blog writer might be focusing on something other than what you are experiencing. The article might be too general to fit your situation (or might just be wrong). Be patient as you study and allow yourself to gather a broader understanding of a very difficult problem.
Now, someone should be asking, “So what?” What does this matter? Several things are going through my mind. I would caution anyone against judging another because their narcissist doesn’t measure up to yours. Some narcissists are not as cruel as others, and some people are able to handle more cruelty than others. Compassion and understanding should be in generous supply among those who have been victims of narcissistic relationships. It seems so inappropriate and uncaring for one person to tell another that their situation isn’t all that bad and they should just suck it up and be a better Christian. No one needs that.
Also, take the time once in a while to go back to the clinical definitions of narcissism. Check out this post. Remember that these people can be of all shapes and sizes, colors and nationalities, religions and vocations. Remember that not all of these characteristics have to be true of any one person. And there is a scale, a continuum of narcissistic behavior. Sometimes people who are not clinically narcissists behave in ways that are quite narcissistic.
I have said many times that I think it is less than helpful to call someone a narcissist publicly or even to their face. Because the word is widely used today, people may not understand you or believe you when you say that your spouse or parent or boss is a narcissist. They might have a different picture in their minds that doesn’t fit your person. Besides that, narcissism is beginning to be touted as a positive in business and professional relationships. Some people will be proud to be called a narcissist.
Instead, describe behavior. Tell what is happening in your marriage or family or work. Describe it in a way that the other person can feel for themselves. If you did the work and your narcissistic co-worker took the credit, almost anyone would see that as wrong. If your mother ignores you or laughs when you tell her you had a miscarriage, people will see that as hurtful. But if you just say that so-and-so is a narcissist, they won’t understand.
Finally, you may never know if the person in your life is a narcissist, at least by the clinical definition. All you know is that something is very wrong. You see the consistent and destructive lack of empathy. You feel the pain of day after day living in fear and loneliness and accusation. You search to put a name to your enemy and narcissism seems to fit best. That’s okay. You don’t have to be a psychoanalyst. You just need to know what to do next.
And that’s where the categorization helps. The answer is almost universally the same. You must protect yourself. Set up boundaries. Build your own strength and self-esteem. Find some kind of support. Find a way back to health. You are not a reflection of your narcissist’s (or whatever you decide to call the person) image. You do not exist to serve that person. You are a person in your own right, valued and loved by your Creator. Find a good counselor (and don’t be afraid to dump a bad one). Leave the relationship if that is what is best.
I want you to know that you are loved, that your story is believed, and that there is always hope. That’s why I write these posts. The Lord who made you has not abandoned you. Hold on to Him and His love.