The Impostor

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.


Filed under Narcissism, Uncategorized

13 responses to “The Impostor

  1. Kitkat

    “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.”

    This is exactly what my ex-friend did. There was no forgiveness, there were no mended fences, there was no making amends, just hate, hate, and more hate. A viciousness unlike any other, vicious because it isn’t deserved. And it is sprung on the victim like a wild animal ripping to shred anything and everything without a care as to how it hurts.
    Today’s post reminds me of the movie “Poltergeist”, how the devil would lie to the little girl it has stolen. Telling her what she wanted to hear, because if she knew the truth she would run from him. Lying because he knew she was scared and he could manipulate her into staying in that false sense of security. And when someone came with the truth, the evil would lash out to try keep what it had stolen. Another “on target” post, Pastor Dave!

  2. When my nxh was exposed, I tried to talk with him and he said ‘I don’t have any words for you.” This is after 45 years of marriage.

  3. Alice

    EXCELLENT post – this is so true!!!

    I admire your a ability to put into words what I struggled so much to understand, all that is in-between the lines with the narcissist.

    How can a person not feel, not wish, not fight for true connection, unity, authenticity? How can someone simply not care at all about the truth and other people’s feelings? How can a man not want to love and beloved?

    In fact, I once found that quote”what is left unsaid says it all”… and thought that this is exactly how I felt in the aftermath of the narc.

    It must be so utterly depressing to live in that rabbit hole, anong the living deads, automats with human masks caught in endless cycles of energetic vampirism.

    The is only one way if you are or have been involved with a narcissist: out of the rabbit hole and never to return there, no matter how alluring the voices are sometimes. Instead, one must seek and find the path back to self and walk the whole road…

    Thanks again & greetings from Europe!



    Wow, so profound and well said and TRUE! Thanks Pastor Dave, once again you have put a piece of the puzzle perfectly in place! I am and have been away from my covert narcissist h for about 5 months now. It is totally amazing how clearly I now see the ‘Impostor’ that I lived many, many years with. sadly. It is so difficult for people, even those really close to me, when they don’t understand what it was like to be married to a person like this. I will print this out and have them read it to understand what it was like, and hopefully find more understanding and compassion from them, instead of the aloof, ‘have no idea what you are saying and do I even believe you’ look.

    Maybe I expect too much? Perhaps unless one had lived it, one will never be able to truly understand it? I desire to be understood, I really do, I hope I do not desire in vain.

  5. Annette

    “The narcissist is not a being, but a doing.”

    John Bradshaw’s book “Healing the Shame that Binds You” has quite a bit to say on “human doings” vs. “human beings”, e.g., “We are human doings because we have no inner life. Our toxic shame won’t let us go inward.” This seems to make sense in regard to narcissists.

  6. susanbotchie

    Dear Dave and Friends, just my opinion, but i think our kouples-culture breeds alot of this nonsense. And sad to say, alot of catty wimmin promote it – through shaming single women for simply being single. Aarrgh! So then what happens is sally starts thinking there is something wrong with her….uhm, because she sleeps alone each night. At 50-something, (and brainwashed by them nosey broads) she gets desperate, and ends up latching onto some creep (who’s mamma got wise and kicked his worthless behind out the door). And the world’s music tells sally the same – you ain’t nothin’ unless you’re sleeping with someone. Worldlings are … annoying!

  7. UnForsaken

    Alice, what you say it true about one needing to “seek and find the path back to self and walk the whole road” ! So beautifully said. Thank you!

    This “Impostor” that it is so easy to become is a theme I run into all the time. People are always accusing each other of not being ‘real’, yet we hardly know what that is. I really liked how you pointed out, Dave, that not everyone who tries to be an impostor is a Narc. Those of us who never found out what we are and disrespect what we do know about ourselves, we would do almost anything to get the approval of the people we laud! That was me as a child, copying to be a ‘nice adult’. That was almost every person I knew. It’s no wonder that when I stopped being enamored of them because I was thrown away, that I could see it as cowardice and look around to see almost no one to emulate! We are all very frail humans, but I believe the addition of personality disorders makes our lives even more untrue, unreal, and sad. We have to be willing to humbly face it to get away from it.

    Lies. There are so many untruths we tend to base our lives on and hide behind. Although I don’t directly see this trait in my N enabling mother, I have to admit she has all of them. Denial is a pathetic thing, especially when it repeatedly rejects imperfections in others, while clinging to the same people for the emotional support it cannot provide. It pulls you and everyone else in all directions.

    I can feel badly about what this does in a Narc enabler’s life and mine, but I cannot feel sorry for the N. They have the same traits with the addition of “not being, but a doing”. I think this is one of the best ways I’ve heard of distinguishing the enabler and the Narc! They may feel shame and rejection – perhaps even for some real thing, but from a warped view – but I believe that unlike ourselves they live mainly for the feeling of winning. They have to stay on top to keep on getting that feeling. So it is a very good point that we don’t all try to be the same kind of Impostor. Without being a N we wouldn’t constantly win, we wouldn’t do things for the same reasons, and we wouldn’t even see the same things as winning! More than that, it’s all in the heart…in the being.

    I really hate looking back at me as a child because of the horrible feelings of copying this and never making it. It is terribly empty. But we all have a chance to get up and discover ourselves: what we are and wish we weren’t, what we want to be, what we ought to be, what we dream, our surprising worst selves and our best better selves through all the hills and valleys, but still, Ourselves!

  8. Wallace Howe

    “To Be or not to Be … That is the Question”. Do a character profile of Satan: Father of Lies, Imposter, Snake, pre-occupied with self Vain-Glory and so on then contrast that with the character of Christ: Truth, Justice, Compassion, Humility and so on. Whoever writes the book “Satan is a Narcissist” – will be a best seller. Tragically the lies of the parents and grandparents told to the children become the lies the child tells to themselves. Another N is created, based on the toxic shame of being rejected, not good enough, that then starts to grow in their hearts / souls. This fatal early wounding, often even in the pre-verbal stage of development changes the emergent ego structure so that both Love and Hate are locked up inside, they become emotional blunted and shut down. Their violence and cruelty when someone challenges their Imposter Pretender Mask is from all the years and years of repressed rage, now often murderous in intensity, comes spewing out from their emotional prison inside…… from not being praised and idealized after a lifetime of work of attempting to be “Smart, Beautiful, and so on” – often called the Grandiose Bubble, The false mirror they hold up to themselves, the grand lie of how perfect, superior they are. They are Trapped in this mirror of their lies, they are now only that illusion / delusion. Image, status, objects – extensions of themselves all become their idols. To be Christ centred is to finally become a “Human Being” no longer only a “Human Doer”.

    • Rachel

      Wallace, that is so true!
      Yes, the murderous rage, that is true!
      The false mirror, all true!
      But you are so right about the chance to be whole, through Christ!
      Let’s pray for that for all our Narcissists and for ourselves.

  9. Lynn Sonia

    EXCELLENT! Two things that hit me:

    The impostor is codependent; in other words, out of touch with his or her own feelings. This makes me wonder if, during my marriage, I was out of touch with my own feelings and thus, was co-dependent with John. I remember being very in touch with my feelings prior to John. I believe I lost my ability to be in touch with my feelings/emotions with him; he negated my emotions/feelings again and again and again so that I doubted them.

    The imposter. That was John. They leave the relationship. John left me for Stephanie. I was standing up to him and she was adoring/worshipping him.

    Powerful article.

  10. Kelly

    Wow. I just found your blog and love it! I am a survivor or maternal narcissistic abuse and just came out of my denial in my forties now. I have been no-contact now for almost two years. Your blog has so many new insights for me. Thank you! I really connect with your statement that the narcissistic parent, when exposed, has nothing to give, nothing to BE. So true. I just throw her empty (and still abusive) letters away now. It is my choice and my life now.


  11. Joy

    One night before we split up, my ex and I were lying in bed, and he asked if I’d told anyone about our troubles…about how he is. I said yes, I told 2 close friends because I needed someone to talk to. He said “It will never be the same. Now they will know.” I didn’t ask what they will know…but the way he said it was as if someone had just pulled his mask off, and now people would know. And of course, it was my fault for revealing that. Once he’d heard that, he was ready for our long marriage to be over.

    doing not being. He really is that. He is not caring but he will do things that seem caring but leave him looking like a hero, or feeling as if he is better than others. Almost always these things have a rather decent sized audience. He will do these things for people he hardly knows if word will get out about how great he is. You know, if you put a roof on your friend’s house, her whole family will know how great you are, as well as all the people who pass by. He’s much less likely to help do something that will be hidden from view….and, if it’s a loner who lives in the country, he’ll be too busy to help him. Sigh.

  12. noel6119

    After a meeting with our minister when I told him my story and xnh told his story, the mask was off. Xnh said that he would never be able to go to that church again. What he meant was, “I can never go there and have my mask on because the minister knows who I am now.

    The minister said that xnh should be able to go to any church he wants to, but that would mean that he would have to be repentant and change his ways. So off he went and is now fooling another group of people who don’t really know him.

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