It’s Narcissist Friday!
More and more I get emails and comments from people who have diagnosed themselves to be narcissists and want help. When I have written back to these folks, I get no further response. To be fair, I find it hard to be sympathetic, and I don’t answer with sympathy. Most of those who write either have an agenda or blame someone else. In the past, I have spent many hours trying to work through the narcissism with people; but I don’t do that anymore.
So who writes to me? Well, there are some who are in trouble. They are losing their families and/or their marriages. They want to do whatever it will take to fix the problem. Someone has told them they are narcissists, and they think a little counseling will take care of things. When I tell them not to try to fix their marriages or their situation, but to spend time (lots of time) and energy (serious energy) on changing themselves, I don’t hear any more. I told one man that he should let his wife leave and give her a generous settlement, if he really feels that he is responsible. Never heard back.
When a narcissist is in trouble, he/she will seem to be very repentant, very accommodating, very willing to do whatever it takes to fix things. But they have no understanding of what they have done. They cannot identify with the pain they have caused. Eventually, if the apparent groveling doesn’t work, they will begin to say things like: “Well what more do you expect of me? I said I was sorry. I am trying to change.” But the victim knows (and the counselor should know) that nothing has changed. A game is being played.
Then there are those who claim to be narcissists, but are ready to blame others. I actually think this is a twist on the first group. Someone has held them accountable for their behavior. They are willing to admit that the behavior is hurtful, but lay the cause on someone else. It was mom’s fault, or the cruel spouse, or the other children at school. “Sure, I’m a narcissist, but I can’t help it. I’m a victim here. If so-and-so hadn’t done what he/she did, then I wouldn’t be this way.” Again, there is little to do for someone who won’t own their behavior.
There are also some who feel guilty for having hurt someone else. They have become aware of narcissism and think it describes them. Because of their guilt, they quickly assume that they are narcissists. Most of the time I doubt that they are actually narcissists, but most of these folks are so convinced of their guilt that they don’t want to hear anything to the contrary.
Sometimes, of course, I am able to assure someone that pain and fear will lead most of us to narcissistic behaviors and that we will thereby hurt others. There are ways to apologize and claim ownership of that behavior with true regret. That behavior can be changed when it is seen as hurtful by those who don’t really want to hurt others. There is a difference between being a narcissist and exhibiting behavior that narcissists also exhibit.
Then there are those who have taken a test. They read a magazine and found a list of characteristics and decided that some of those characteristics are true of them. But that really doesn’t bother them. In fact, they become a little belligerent, ready to accept the challenge. They waver between proud and defensive, but not regretful. They say to themselves, “Well if that’s what a narcissist is, I guess narcissism isn’t so bad.” Then they write emails and comments to challenge victims to “stop their whining.” They want us to be sympathetic toward them, even though they don’t really regret what they do.
So I have little to offer those who contact me and claim to be narcissists. I want simply to tell them to stop it. I can’t bring them to the brokenness they will need to see what they have done. I can’t make them feel the pain their victims have felt. The only thing I can do for them is pray. God can bring the narcissist to the end of himself.
I am not saying there is no hope for the narcissist. Please don’t think that. But there is no hope for them in me. The only hope is in Jesus.
Here’s my message to the narcissists:
Let Jesus take it all away. If your spouse is leaving, do whatever it takes to make it easier for him/her to go. If your child wants no contact, understand. Give up the fight. Suffer the humiliation. Accept the responsibility. Let go of the blame. And don’t go out looking for sympathy or justice. Just let it happen. Allow everything you fear: the rejection, the weakness, the loss. Ride it down as far as it goes … until you have nothing left but Jesus and His love.
Oh no, you don’t get to be the victim. You made choices and those choices hurt others. Admit it. Own it. Anyone who comes to comfort you and tell you it wasn’t your fault is either more narcissistic supply for your addiction or has their own agenda to use you. You can’t afford to turn your narcissism into being the victim. Own the fact that you use others and don’t care about their pain. Fall to the bottom. You’re going to hate it.
Face your fear. Experience the rejection and shame. Then take it to Jesus. Lay it at His feet. Don’t blame anyone. Don’t make up an excuse. Jesus already knows the truth. No one else should be a part of this, except maybe a counselor who is walking with you through it. Other people are not tools to serve you, even when you are hurting. No one, not your spouse or friend or parent or child, has to go through this with you. This is about what you have chosen and what you are going to take to Jesus.
Then, and only then, you will begin to understand that your hiding and pretending were never the answer. Then you will begin to understand that others are real and valuable. Then you will begin to see that the broken little self you have been trying to protect is just as false as the image you created to distract the world. Jesus loves you. Just you, in all your weakness. He accepts you as you are. Then let Him rebuild your life without the lies and the masks. Don’t expect others to come running to accept the new you. That isn’t the goal. The goal is to let Jesus actually create a new you. Know that He is in your life and is sufficient.
There may be some people you need to talk to. They don’t owe you forgiveness, or even the time to give an apology. If they are willing to listen, tell them what you think you did to them. Only then can you say you are sorry. If they disagree and want to set you straight, let them. If you understand what they say, tell them you are sorry. If you don’t understand, apologize for that and still believe them. Then that’s the end. Don’t ask for forgiveness. Just be sorry. Let them off the hook. If they hate you, so be it. If they don’t believe you, that’s okay. If they still think evil of you, you should understand. If you have to live the rest of your life apart from the people you should have loved, so they can feel and be safe, then do that. But you may still have responsibility to provide for them. Do it without complaint and without expectation. Do it from whatever distance is best for them. Fulfill your responsibility, and let them be free.
And don’t go out looking for new love. Not until Jesus lets you. All the repentance in the world means nothing if you just start hurting someone new. Be prepared to be alone, with no support other than the love of Jesus. That will be enough, more than enough, if you want the change He can bring. This will be the most uncomfortable path you have ever walked, but it will be the right one.
(One more note: if you have been told that you are a narcissist and find yourself criticizing all of this or looking for loopholes or ways to twist this to your advantage, you prove my point. I have nothing more to offer you.)
Is this possible? I believe it is. I won’t hold my breath waiting for an email from someone thanking me for this advice, but I will trust that Jesus will move someone to read it and be challenged with a genuine opportunity for change.