It’s Narcissist Friday!    

There’s a video out there about a social experiment that almost went very bad. The goal was to see how people would respond to a young girl who needed help because she had lost her mother. Apparently the expectation was that strangers would try to help the girl in some way. The whole thing came to a screeching halt when a man took the hand of the girl and started walking away with her. No one expected they were setting her up for an abduction.

Pretending is both a normal childhood game and a way of coping with intense emotions. Someone who is frightened might act tough. Someone who is sad might act nonchalant. Someone who is angry might deny the anger. People pretend.

But let’s suppose that a young child pretended to be lost or hurt and found that the attention and extra love felt good. The child does it once and learns that people are kind and helpful and she is considered important. So she does it again. Different people respond and, again, it feels good. Maybe the rescuers buy her ice cream and tell her she is pretty and sit with her until her mom comes back. Maybe the police get involved, and she gets to ride in a police car, and the officers are kind. And maybe she learns that pretending to be lost or hurt or needy allows her to get what she wants from people.

Then she experiments with different ways of manipulating people, almost all of which involve her being needy in some way. She decides that good people are the ones who help, the ones she can manipulate. Bad people are the ones who think she is pretending or expect her to take care of herself. The rest of the people don’t matter. She only likes the ones she can use, and she only likes them as long as she can use them. It’s a game. A game of pretend.

But the game works. As she grows older, she becomes more sophisticated and more experienced. She learns to judge people. She can tell what techniques will work on what kind of people. Her relationships revolve around these manipulations. Good people are easily manipulated. Bad people are not. She meets young men and learns that the techniques work on them as well. It isn’t long before she is a fifty-year-old narcissistic friend, wife, and mother.

We often say that narcissism is a coping technique learned while young. Usually there is some trauma that causes the child to pretend. He might pretend he is stronger than others. She might pretend she is prettier. He might become a bully to make the pretending seem more real. Once the pretense begins—and meets the need—the child returns to it and builds it. Soon there is little left besides the pretense.

Many people who learn about narcissism have compassion for the child. It was trauma, after all, that made the pretending necessary. So, they say, we shouldn’t judge the narcissist harshly. But the child (and the adult) continued to choose the pretending over reality because pretending felt better. It didn’t matter how others were used or hurt. What mattered was that the child had fun or felt good. Even today, others don’t really matter. What matters is that the narcissist feels good.

It’s sad to think of a child who feels the need to manipulate others in order to feel good about him or herself. It’s something different when an adult does the same thing. Adults are supposed to be responsible for their actions. Hurting others, using others, is not supposed to be an acceptable thing. Adults are supposed to know better and do better. Adults are responsible for changing.

When a child steals in order to get something they want, we teach them that stealing is wrong and has serious consequences. When an adult steals, he may go to jail. We don’t expect to treat the adult, or to think of the adult, as a child. Our compassion for the little child who steals doesn’t attach as well to an adult who steals. A violent child is helped by training and discipline. A violent adult might have to be separated from society.

There is nothing wrong with separating the compassion we have for the child who responds to a time of trauma by hiding, lying, pretending, or whatever, from the need to hold adults accountable for similar actions. Adults make choices and can choose to learn new ways of coping with need and stress. In fact, we expect them to learn new ways.

So, when you begin to think of the poor little child your narcissist used to be, you don’t have to excuse current behavior because of your compassion. There were many choices along the way. Probably many people were hurt. And the narcissist is accountable for the pain others suffer.


Filed under Narcissism

22 responses to “Compassion

  1. Jersey Girl

    This was very good! I never quite heard it put like that before. Their troubled childhood is really no excuse for their evil choices in life and their destructive adulthood. Excellent. My ex narc, as an adult, would get unnecessary medical things done for attention. He didn’t care that it would cost him a $3000 deductible to get bogus tests done. And when our child needs to go to a chiropractor, he refuses to pay the $300. Sick people.

  2. Tee3

    My N husband said when he was little, he would target the time when his mom was cooking a delicious meal and tell them no one would eat of it. Then he would collapse and his parents would rush him to the emergency room, and his siblings would be left home in fear. He said he did this cruel act many times to his family. Reading this, I now know he was pretending, enjoying the attention.

  3. dianablackwood

    Predators of compassion are everywhere. It’s a most disgusting practice! But I remember craving attention so badly that I would fake psychotic episodes. My friends would laugh and people would be fooled. Getting a reaction out of people seemed to validate my existence. Raised by two narcissists, I was neglected and rejected constantly. God has sinned healed me and my longing for reality and honesty is what has kept me from repeating the narcissist cycle in myself and my own children. God, my Father, taught me consequences and softened my heart to be humbled by them. My prayer for my narcissistic husband is that God will show him the same mercy. But in the meantime I will no longer allow my compassion to be preyed upon by the bottomless pit of selfishness that steals and destroys. I will always try giving an inch to see if he will attempt manipulating a mile out of me. I will never give up unless God tells me to.

  4. Gina

    Spot on! I was married to the adult description for 23 years! He was a drug addict who got clean 2 mos. after we married.. lied all the way through the engagement for 2.5 years before that. No amount of 12 Step work stopped the core narcissistic behavior – it actually fed it! Ego, ego, ego! I still have to deal with his bully behavior and his new girlfriend he started up with 2 days after our separation is getting the full whoa is me treatment! Talk about a split personality! Thankfully I found this site to clarify for me and put a name to the crazy behavior. I always thought somebody who engaged in NA for that kind of time really cleaned them up. No, it cleared the path for the other psychosis to come into the light – the most prominent sex addiction and extreme narcissism. The drug addiction manifested itself in another way… If my story sounds similar to what somebody else is experiencing, I can only speak from my experience – get you affairs in order, protect yourself financially and get the heck out of the relationship and don’t look back. There is no amount of questioning yourself to take ownership of the overall problem staring you in the face. It’s not a about you…it never was and it’s not your burden to own. Good bless and peace to you. You’re going to need it!

  5. Thank you for this post. Wish I could share more but I’m always fearful that certain people may discover my comments and thus, make my stressful state even worse. I’m not being believed as many of the “controllers” in my life come across as being quite nice and level-headed; even to the Christian community. Much of my battle is definitely concerning true and false Christianity.

    • UnForsaken

      True Christianity….I was drawn to your post because of the wonderful book by that title, and cannot Agree more! The worst controllers are the ones that claim to be good, religious, helpful,and even responsible! I used to think my N was the most level-headed person I knew, but that is his ‘reality’ he wants us to believe. He has fooled every Christian community we’ve been in. He can still fool me on those ‘angelic’ days. It’s the motivations that eventually pop out and I have to forgive and move on again…but Never forget. We must never forget we are dealing with real evil, even if it is only visible to God in their hearts.

      Keep looking up this season and Know you are in His “everlasting arms”. Bless you, Sister ! ❤

      • healingInHim

        Thank you, UnForsaken. Yes, I will continue to look unto HIM. I also continue to look inward at myself. I truly am not being judgmental of those who “profess” to be Christians. I am merely going by the Word and it took me years to finally vocalize that there is “sin in the camp.”

      • UnForsaken

        Yes, you are Not being judgmental. I know that from the very sound of your words. Coming from a small town and leaving a Narc run church, I know what it’s like to be falsely accused of that and how Silly it is! In my experience, those who care and pray and turn to God in their trouble are the ones who have the trial of being accused by fellow believers…or “professors” of the faith. His Word has led you well!

  6. hazelnut

    The only thing that is real is the pain and confusion. This is the only thing that has become worth paying attention to in my quest for healing and recovery. I’m out now of a year 25 year relationship, beginning a life I never thought possible.

    I’m curious about the dynamics of scapegoating as a child and the draw to the narcissistic personality type. I’ve been reading online and working with a trauma therapist and this topic has come up.

    Here’s my question. Narcissistic parents mold a child to receive the projections of their unhealed and unendurable emotions and unwanted characteristics (unknowingly) on a child. The child introjects those emotions and characteristics. And then the parents reject the child for acting out those emotions and characteristics, the child acting out the behavior that the parent couldn’t for whatever reasons. The parent then label the child as bad, evil, or too sensitive and pour all their wrath into that child in order to rid themselves of it. This child has become the target for scapegoating, who in adulthood goes on to seek relationships which are familiar to the parents scapegoating behavior. And of course the child/adult is set up to make themselves responsible and receive all the blame. The guilt that the narcissist is primed to and more than eager to have someone else, like the scapegoated child/adult, take in and feel guilty for. Very severe destructive relationship dynamics! My story. Does this ring? Any thoughts about this?

    • Bruised Reed

      Oh, this definitely rings true for me! I *never* would have gotten into two emotionally abusive/narc relationships if I hadn’t first been conditioned to endure the same type of cr@p at home. I was not allowed to say “no” growing up (yet I was somehow “rebellious”), so as a young adult I felt that I had no right to do so, no matter what the other person said or did. Not a good combination.. But praise God, He didn’t leave me with either of those men, and after many battles, I am pretty much free from my parents, too. 🙂 I’m still working through a lot of the trauma, though, so it’s a work in progress.

      • hazelnut

        Thanks Bruised Reed. Hearing others stories, like yours, helps it all make sense. I can identify with “not being allowed to say no, but labeled as rebellious.” sheesh, how does one make sense of that? – well, it doesn’t and that’s the thing. After reading Dave’s blog, I was thinking the Narcissists is conditioned to be attracted to someone, like the rejected child, who is willing to give themselves up completely to feel some love from another that they never had in childhood. And it seems the Narcissist is so good playing that part. The draw seems like magnets, from what I’ve been reading, with narcissist personality types and some of the characteristics that would have developed in the scapegoating type of upbringing. I’m glad to hear you are healing. It’s a long journey and, from the perspective of my experience so far, much courage and patience is needed along the way. I’m thankful for the blooming flowers that can be found …genuine people with insight and willing to walk together. We can’t do it alone. Yes, a work in progress.

    • Batya Ahul

      Hi Hazelnut:)
      You have just described my childhood in a proverbial ‘nutshell’ (pun intended!).

      At the tender age of 40 the good Lord has revealed that my mother was/is a narcissist & I was the scapegoated child. It feels like I have just realised an epiphany that everything that is wrong in the world is not actually my fault & that it isn’t normal to feel this way. Thankfully I am married to a wonderful kind man who unlike previous relationship partners could see what my parents were doing/ have done.

      I wondered for years why I was so drawn to selfish people who literally drew me in chewed me up and spat me out (praise HIm this cycle is now broken, I only addressed it when I was pregnant with my first child as I had the needs of my baby to prioritise), and always seemed to make me look like the bad guy. I realise now I was drawn to them (n’s) as they met my need of their narcissistic abuse (as this was my normal growing up) and I met their need of narcississtic supply, usually as someone else put here by providing sympathy and compassion whether warranted or not. All would be fine initially in the relationship but eventually when I would try & create boundaries or react to abuse all hell would break loose, the relationship (bizarrely these were just friendships with either men or women, never a romantic coupling) would terminate & I would be left feeling it was all my fault, exactly what I deserved & very rarely stood up for myself. The narcissist would project their ‘reality’ so vividly that it would be all anyone else would see. It would feel like a nasty playground experience & I would be left feeling ‘what’s wrong with me, how did I get here again?’.

      Fortunately I live quite literally on the other side of the planet to my family, I can now see how He miraculously did this 20 years ago and without realising it created a ‘low contact’ relationship with my parents. I love my parents but for the best interests of everyone I love them from a distance. As a nurse that works in a school setting I can confirm the sad & unfortunate paradoxical reality that all chidren intrinsically love their parents but not all parents love their kids. I can say this from inside the ‘fishbowl’ (most healthcare workers only have the perspective of looking from the outside in to the ‘fish bowl’ which represents the population they work with). God really showed me that a large part of my parents behaviour was the suffering they didn’t address after my eldest brother died (after some sort of birth trauma he only lived 12 hours, my mother didn’t see or hold him & my father was the only one who attended the funeral. No counselling was available as this was around 1969 there was no provision where my parents were). I have huge compassion for them for this but as Dave so wonderfully put as adults we are responsible for the pain we cause others. As I finally confronted my childhood when I was pregnant with my first child as I knew I wanted to protect & love my children ( I saw & occasionally still see the most wonderful Christian counsellor & have had much prayer & healing), my parents should have confronted their pain when things got out of control.

      I can still remember hearing my father telling my mother ‘this is child abuse’ when I was about 10 (without going into detail my mothers abuse was the whole bag, physical, psychological, emotional, financial- not sexual, but has certainly had a huge negative impact on my ability to function on any level in that area as an adult as I fight the ingrained belief that I am ‘dirty’ as I was repeatedly told as a child). My surviving brother was/is the golden child & my twin sister is somewhere between the ignored and golden child, it strangely seems to alternate. The latter made sense to me recently when my brother had said he had asked about our sibling who died as a baby, my father said he looked like my sister. At least that gave me some rationale to why it was always me.

      My fathers mother was also clearly a narcissist, she continually played her children off against each other (even after she died but that’s another story)& my father was certainly the scapegoated child. His needs were obviously met by marrying my narcissistic mother, it also explains why although he seemed to strangely empathise with me but could never seem to protect me from her abuse. My mothers father ( my Grandfather obviously) had problems with alcohol & had fought in WW2 so I guess there were issues with PTSD which must have also lead to my mothers narcissism.

      My Aunt who I had on a pedestal for years is clearly an enveloping narcissist (as opposed to an ignoring as my mother is), she was my only contact here in the UK for many years & I would get upset whern I saw her & was unsure why. I disclosed to her some of the abuse about 10 years ago (I remember apologising, I always apologise for everything). Initially she (indirectly)accused me of fabricating the abuse referring to the phenomenon of abuse victims having false memories of reality ( I can’t remember the term for this but I do know this has occured in some situations where regressive therapy is used which I have never had). I think she tried to ask my mother about it & of course she flatly denied everything. It was only when my Aunt spoke to my brother (who I am actually quite close to in a fragmented way on the other side of the planet) & she insinuated it was a figment of my imagination, that he said ‘no that all happened, she’s telling the truth’. Years later my Aunt who is also a Christian took the opportunity to say to me (under her breath almost when my eldest child was about 10 weeks old), that I should be thankful for ‘what I went through’ as a child as it made me the kind, considerate & empathic person that I am. I was so angry about this but kept thinking of ‘thank the Lord in all circumstances’ Romans 8v28 etc, etc. I was only when I met with my Christian counsellor for prayer & healing that He revealed this was wrong. I was then able to write a compassionate letter to my Aunt saying that child abuse is evil & my loving merciful father does NOT expect me to be thankful for it. I wrote that my kindness & empathy are fruit of the Spirit & that the abuse I suffered only produced anger, resentment & self hatred all of which I was still dealing with. I wrote that I was forgiving my parents on a daily basis & continuing to pray that they would know Him & his eternal peace but they would one day have to account for this abuse. I very quickly received a reply from her apologising for upsetting me, but not apologising for what she had said. I forgive her as I forgive my parents 77×7.

      May God bless you all and thank you Dave for such a compassionate site clearly lead by Him. So many resources for children of narcissists project so much hatred towards the narcissist. It is so wonderful to have a link to this site that promotes compassion and understanding but as you have said today we must create safe boundaries & protect ourselves & our families from the abuse and break the generational cycles that would otherwise continue.

      I’m sorry this has been such a long post, but it has been truly cathartic.
      God bless you all. x

      • Batya Ahul

        Sorry for all the typos (I don’t think I can edit my post?)& just to clarify I’m a non identical twin, not only do we not look alike, you wouldn’t even know my twin sister & I are related based on appearances. Keep on fighting the good fight guys & remember even if you were the only person on earth God would still have sent His son to die for you, you are worth that much! (I remind myself this every single day). Xxxx

      • hazelnut

        Thanks for sharing your story Batya Ahul, much of what you’ve described is the same for me. So good to hear you are now married to a wonderful kind man.

  7. Bruised Reed

    Seems to me that most N’s count on receiving compassion from others as a large part of their “supply”. At least, 3 of the 5 N’s I’ve known have operated that way. Telling some “sob story” about their youth, previous relationships, or current circumstances serves a double purpose. For one, it allows them to place the blame for their actions and decisions (both past and present) on others, thus absolving them of any guilt or personal responsibility. And two, it disarms their audience by blinding “normal” people to their true character, thus ensuring a nice supply of “poor you” from the unsuspecting future victims. :sigh: It’s even more frustrating when you know the other side of their story, yet you know others would much rather believe the N’s BS than to be confronted by the truth. Perhaps because knowing the truth also brings a responsibility to act accordingly, and that usually means a change in the “status quo”?

  8. Penny

    In “the sociopath next door” , author Marrha Stout warns that the surest way to detect a sociopath/narcissist is “the pity party”.
    She writes, “the best clue is, of all things, the pity play. The most reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness. It is, perversely, an appeal to our sympathy”.
    She goes on to say (tongue in cheek), “I am sure that if the devil existed, he would want us to feel very sorry for him”.
    Whoa. So true.
    For those of us abused by a narc, we need to understand that it is our own compassion that they exploit, and thus we get invited to their perennial pity party. They save compassion for themselves alone, but never spend it on others.
    It is a huge, red flag flying over the domain of a narc: “it’s my pity party and I’ll cry if I want to”.
    But ask a narc who the tears are for, and they suddenly become hostile.
    Compassion is not hostile, thus their ruse is exposed.
    Beware the pity party.

    • Anthea

      On the day of my daughter’s graduation, one of the happiest days of her life, my N husband suddenly had a “breakdown,” laying on the bed, weeping, ranting, delirious. All attention focused on him…poor, poor, poor man. His goal was to prevent me from going to the ceremony and watch others receive honors, and to focus only on him. Fortunately I was strong enough to go anyway, and would you believe that by the time I got home he was completely normal? Since I no longer fall for these tricks he has begun using them on the children. He will take to his bed, “ill” and act sooooo sad. He tells them he’s sooooo sorry but he can’t allow them to participate in their favorite activities. They are so tenderhearted and worried about pleasing him that they do whatever he says. Next time I’ll ask him what the tears are for. Other than that, how can I ever combat his horribly manipulative treatment of them???

  9. Rachel

    This is brilliant Dave, thank you!
    Now I understand; I was the good person at first because I accepted the poor child. Now I am the bad person because I won’t play the game any more and have seen through his appalling behaviours and called them out for what they are.
    Also, friends of ours are split, some of them are still the good guys who sympathise with his “poor me” routine. I find it hard to have any kind thought towards these people, some of whom have heard my story and basically have called me a liar.
    Then there are those who have seen and believe!
    They are still my friends.
    Sorry if this sounds a bit harsh, I am processing a lot at the moment.
    I know The Lord loves all of them and I He calls me to do the same, I will get there but at the present it is too bruising.
    Think again for the fab post.

  10. Lesley Paquette

    This makes a lot of things clear now. Thank you…

  11. Lene

    Wow. I just realized that my ex (an N) was abused as a child and used to play that card all the time with me. I felt such pity for the hurt little child. Now I realize that while it’s fine to pity that child, the grown man was using my sympathy. Wow.

  12. Sam

    Thank you for these kind, enlightening words. They bring reassurance to many.

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