It’s Narcissist Friday!
We have all seen the ads. The older couple loses their life savings to some internet hack or postal thief. The young man wants to buy a house, but finds that someone has taken out a credit card in his name, and his credit rating is terrible. The college student finds that her debit card, and the bank account that backed it, has been completely drained. How does all of this happen? Identity theft.
One lady discovered odd items on her credit report spanning twenty years. She later learned that her mother had stolen her identity when she was just a teenager. Her mother had maxed out several accounts in her daughter’s name. The daughter didn’t learn the extent of the situation until her mother died. That’s when she found boxes of credit card bills in her (the daughter’s) name. For years she struggled with the consequences of her bad credit. Her own mother.
Identity theft can really complicate the lives of victims. But the offenders don’t care. They don’t even think about the people they are stealing from. Their desires are more important than the pain the others will suffer. All that matters is that they get what they want. Besides the victims are just names on cards or papers. Not real people.
Narcissists are identity thieves. They steal the joy and the lives of others. Because they reject any truth about themselves, who they really are, they cannot accept the reality of other people. Think of it this way: the narcissist grew up hiding. From early childhood, the narcissist learned to present a false image for others to see. If they could love the image, they would love him. If they feared the image, they would leave him alone. If the image got into trouble, whatever reality was hiding in the corner could still be safe. But the narcissist had no identity, nothing real that could be acknowledged or shown to others.
The side effect of this lack of identity was two-fold. First, the narcissist became incapable of valuing the identity of others. He couldn’t see others as real people because doing so might establish a relationship that would make his hiding self vulnerable. So others became tools to serve the image. Friends, co-workers, spouses, children—all were seen as tools to support the image. The value of others was in the way they made the narcissist’s image look good.
But also, the narcissist knew instinctively that some kind of identity, no matter how false, was important. We talk about the image, but the image is not created out of nothing. The image of the narcissist is built on the characteristics, the lives, of the people around him. The narcissist chooses a happy and competent spouse, a wise business partner, a hard-working and giving friend. Why? So the narcissist can be seen as having those characteristics.
You go to work and find the narcissist writing up some paperwork. He says, “You know that couple you worked with yesterday? They came in a few minutes ago, so I finalized the deal. You snooze, you lose!” You did the work, he takes the credit (and the commission). Your mom says you can have a sleepover and decides that she will be the center of the party. She stays up and plays with your friends the whole time. Your husband is known as the fun one of your relationship, but you are the one who put the party together and made sure everyone had a good time. You are the one who communicates with friends. He is only fun when you are with them. What is happening in these stories? The narcissist is taking your success, your character, your life.
Eventually you wonder, “Whatever happened to me? I used to be fun. I used to be popular. I used to be good at my work. What has happened?” And you don’t have an answer. You think you are the same person, but something is missing. You are tired, yes, but there is something else. Something has been taken from you. Your identity. Someone else is benefiting from your gifts and your energy. Just like the identity thief gets the benefit of your hard-earned money, so the narcissist gets the benefit of your reputation, your hard work, your success.
The good news is that the identity is still yours. It may have been hijacked for a while, but you are still you. The one who worked hard before can work hard again. The one who succeeded before can succeed again. The one who had friends and laughter and happiness before can find all those things again. The narcissist can only borrow and drain. He/she didn’t become you. It may take some work, but you can find yourself again … and you can rebuild. The only thing the narcissist can do is find another victim.