(I am at a conference this weekend and posting from my tablet. Please forgive the strange formatting)
It’s Narcissist Friday!
Behavior, the things we do, is supposed to be outward evidence of what we think or feel. Emotions are acted out in our behavior. We think we should be able to see a person’s heart in his behavior.
But some people use their behavior to pretend to have certain feelings. In the beginning of the relationship, for example, the narcissist behaves in a most loving and caring way. Patience, kindness, attentiveness—these things project love in the narcissist’s mind. So, to convince a potential partner of love, he exhibits loving behavior.
I suspect this is the most concrete area of overlap between narcissism and legalism in my mind. Believers under legalism are taught to behave in certain ways, whether they feel those things or not. Pray a certain way and amount, give a certain way and amount, serve a certain way and amount—and others will believe that you are a good Christian. Never mind what is really in your heart. Only behavior matters.
Narcissists can modify their behavior in order to convince or control. Those who do not understand this can be deceived. Suddenly the husband has a wonderful change of heart. He becomes a listener. He is thoughtful and caring. So the wife yields once again. Maybe things have really changed. But it doesn’t take long before things are back to normal. What happened? The husband knew what he had to do to keep her, to manipulate her feelings.
This is a common story in narcissistic relationships of all kinds. We long for kindness and respect, so we are open to receiving them. We relax and enjoy and are tricked again. The man who does all the Christian things and stays away from all the worldly things must be good enough to bring on as a leader in the church. And we are tricked again.
If you are in a narcissistic relationship, or suspect you might be, watch out for this type of behavior modification. It is surprisingly effective. Most often, the heart stays the same as the behavior changes.
However, if you are called to stay in the relationship, or stuck in the situation, this ability of the narcissist to change behavior might work to your advantage. If you are wise enough to recognize that no real love exists, you may be able to at least have a partner who treats you in a loving way. If the narcissist wants something you have or give, he/she might be willing to act lovingly in order to get it.
I certainly understand that might seem wrong to some of you. You want someone who actually feels love for you. But the narcissist probably cannot and probably never will. He/she may still value you and want you in their life, however. You may be able to tell him/her what loving you acts like … and you can expect that behavior.
And, it may not be as phony as you think. The narcissist who willingly changes behavior because he wants you in his life is telling you something. Maybe love is foreign, at least in the way you love, but desire and value are certainly part of love.
Some counselors who work with narcissists consider success to be changed behavior, particularly for the purpose of valuing another person. If it is not done to deceive, it is a way for the narcissist to fit in society and to function in relationships.