It’s Narcissist Friday!
The narcissist has a real problem. The problem is that he/she isn’t real!
Most people have never seen the real person behind the narcissist, the wizard behind the curtain, if you will. While the narcissist presents an image that is superior in every way (or maybe a superior victim), the real person hides deep in the shadows. The real person is weak and afraid, but the impostor is so much better.
I have deeply appreciated the writings of Brennan Manning and have mentioned him here before. I doubt that I would agree with all of his doctrines, but he had a way of sharing the gracious love of Jesus that touches my heart. He lived a difficult life of shame and addiction, finding God’s love and freedom only to fall back again. Brennan suffered a life of extremes and, were it not for the extremes, all of us would identify with his staggering walk.
In his memoir, “All is Grace,” Manning tells of his early childhood and relates the pain of rejection. He saw himself as inferior and unwanted, even at the earliest ages. At about eight years old, he made a decision. He would be “a good boy.” Those are his words. He would become what his mother and others wanted and admired. He became what he calls, “The Impostor.”
Manning gives us a bullet list of characteristics of the impostor.
- The impostor lives in fear.
- The impostor is consumed with a need for acceptance and approval.
- The impostor is codependent; in other words, out of touch with his or her own feelings.
- THe impostor’s life is a herky-jerky existence of elation and depression. The impostor is what he or she does.
- The impostor demands to be noticed.
- The impostor cannot experience intimacy in any relationship.
- And, last but not least, the impostor is a liar. (p. 56)
Sound familiar? The opportunity to become the impostor pops up in our lives from time to time. We face rejection and we say in our hearts, “Fine! You want X. I can be X. I’ll be the best #$@% X you have ever seen!” But most of us can’t do it. There is something about us that won’t let us become the impostor. Call it a weakness. Call it a strength. Call it what you want, but we fail at being the impostor. It doesn’t appear that Brennan Manning was successful at being the impostor either, no matter how long or how many times he tried.
The narcissist, on the other hand, is not content with failure. Failure hurts too much. It reveals too much. They develop their “win at all costs” attitude early on. They will suffer pain and loss to make the impostor become real. It isn’t long before they begin to believe the lie they have created.
I particularly like this line from Manning’s points:
“The impostor is what he or she does.”
The narcissist is not a being, but a doing. What I mean is that every affirmation, every bit of attention, every argument is about what the narcissist does. The narcissist believes that doing will outshine being. As long as he says the right words, it doesn’t matter whether he means them. As long as she does acts of kindness, she doesn’t have to be kind. As long as people think he cares, he doesn’t have to care. It looks to most people like the narcissist is a caring, even loving, person; but those who have come to know the being, even just a little, realize that there is nothing there. That caring person is an impostor.
But there isn’t anyone else. There is only the impostor. Unlike the Wizard of Oz, there isn’t anyone behind the curtain. Most narcissistic adults don’t stand still when the curtain is removed. They hide. They leave the relationship. They attack the ones who threaten to see the truth. Or maybe they quickly create a new version of the impostor. Whatever it takes to maintain the lie.
Some who were married many years have found that they never really knew their narcissistic spouse. All they knew was the impostor. Once the curtain came down, there was nothing left. The narcissist parent has nothing to say, nothing to offer, nothing to BE, when exposed. That’s why these folks fight so hard and so ruthlessly to keep the impostor going.
Yet another reason why we find it so hard to understand and connect with the narcissist. Not only were we unable to do what they did, but they did it so well that they were lost in the process.