It’s Narcissist Friday!
Like all predators, narcissists use their environment to increase their success with victims and to protect themselves against challenges. One of the key factors in predation is environment. Predators are more successful in some environments and not as successful in others. Most hawks don’t do well in the brush of the forest, for example, so they seek their prey in the fields. Lions rarely take prey from the center of herds, but wait for stragglers. The environment plays an important role for the predator.
Abusers, narcissists included, are almost always at the center of a system or environment. They surround themselves with support and keep themselves away from threats. This is why we so often hear people say that the serial murderer next door was “such a nice man.” Even when the behavior of the abuser negates the image, the system supports it. Church, friends, co-workers, choice of neighborhoods—all become part of the environment.
Some predators simply use the environment that best suits their needs. Like the hawk over the open field, the narcissist knows which churches will support him and his desires. The service organization is carefully chosen as the place where she can “use her talents.” These environments already exist and are already useful.
Other predators build their environments for their purposes. Like a spider builds a web, abusers sometimes create the environment within which they operate. Narcissistic parents manipulate and mold their children to serve as supply. Bosses can create work environments in which subordinates are pitted against each other and all serve the boss.
But most narcissists have neither the need nor the inclination to create their system out of nothing. Instead, they adapt existing environmental factors. They find weakened prey: people longing for recognition or appreciation, people who have already been softened by other narcissists, or people who are alone and apart from support. They work in churches, organizations, and businesses already lacking accountability and supportive leadership. Narcissists are pragmatists, finding and manipulating useful objects in their lives. Those useful objects include people, organizations, and ideologies.
Legalistic church systems provide rich environments for the narcissist. Double standards for men and women, lack of accountability for leaders, demanding expectations for those under authority, and high appreciation for those who perform according to nebulous measures of spirituality—these all serve the narcissist well. Narcissists use the ideologies of these churches without owning or obeying the standards.
Some churches, to continue the example, simply pass from the hands of a covert narcissist pastor to an overt narcissist. Much of the environment was already in place. Or vice-versa. The covert narcissist looked so good after the overt that no one asked the right questions. And the weakened leadership is happy to turn everything over to the one who promises to fix everything.
The narcissist begins to adapt the church or organization or even neighborhood to become a supportive environment for his/her purposes. With a carefully chosen word or intimidating look, certain obstacles are pushed over to one side. Minor criticisms open the way for greater ones when needed. Casting suspicions and manipulating perceptions minimize the effectiveness of challenges. Doubts planted in the hearts of victims, perhaps over a period of years, help to keep the victims docile and submissive. Doubts planted in the hearts of others toward the victims, again perhaps over a period of years, prepare for any challenge from the victims.
Because the narcissist, through predatory instinct, prepares his/her supportive environment so well, anyone who challenges will find themselves enmeshed in a much larger battle than expected. Quickly, the battle turns against the challenger. The support the victim expected dissipates. The support around the narcissist seems impenetrable. No matter what accusations are brought out, they are filtered through the support environment.
“Oh, but he has always been such a good leader.” “Well, we understand that you feel hurt, but don’t you think his motives were good?” “She has been so faithful. What would we do without her?” “He has been a good neighbor; keeps to himself mostly, but quiet and friendly.” “You just don’t understand the way he does things.” These are all walls put in place by the narcissist or abuser, prepared long in advance against your attack.
Predators are creatures dedicated to competition. Their survival depends on their success. Their provision and protection come from their attention to detail and their careful preparation. When you challenge the narcissist, you will almost certainly find that his environment is already an active part of his support structure.