It’s Narcissist Friday!
Okay, so I know that I have stumbled into narcissistic relationships and have suffered for it. How do I avoid this in the future? Is there a way to protect myself from narcissists?
Good and strong people still find themselves to be the targets of narcissistic manipulation and/or rage from time to time, but there may be a way to keep your relationships narcissist-free. So while narcissists may attack you or try to use you, you may be able to protect yourself against the soul-eating relationships you have suffered before. In fact, you may also be able to make yourself less susceptible to narcissistic manipulation in the relationships you have now.
The key is identity. Who are you? Are you willing to find security and strength in who you are?
You see, in our minds (and in the minds of others), we suffer from identity confusion. I am not who I was, but I also am not who I would like to be. Yet some people see themselves only in the light of who they used to be. Some people constantly compare themselves with who they want to be.
When we look at others, we often don’t see who they are. We see who they were or who they could be, in our minds. Or, perhaps, we see what we want them to be for us.
So the young lady (who sees herself as who she used to be and believes she will never be what she would like to be) meets a young man who sees in her what he wants her to be. At the same time, he feels the same way about himself as she feels about herself, and she looks to him as someone to help her become who she wants to be. And this we would probably consider a normal relationship. No wonder relationships are so often confusing.
When the narcissist, who sees no one as a real person, looks on that same young lady, he only sees his own needs and views her as a way to meet those needs. He doesn’t care who she really is or what she would like to be. He only cares about what he needs. He will either use her at the time or manipulate her into becoming something that will meet his needs. She, on the other hand, won’t understand what he is doing. She will only see her own inadequacies and believe that changes are somehow right or important. If he is successful, he will mold her into what she never was and never should have been. She will feel like her world has become somehow unreal, not right.
All of this is about identity. Narcissists will not be interested in those who are secure in who they are. The problem is that so few people know who they are. All our lives we have been told that we are not good enough, that we are failures, and that we should try harder to be something else. That makes us weak and vulnerable. We believe the assessment of the users and abusers. We see ourselves as inadequate, so we are submissive, weak, and culpable. We believe we deserve the abuse, because we see ourselves in this negative light.
One thing I have noticed over the years as I have written and taught about narcissism is the quality of the victims. Almost without exception, the people who write to me or talk with me are articulate and strong. But they don’t see themselves that way. I have been impressed many times at the excellent writing in the emails I receive. I have been impressed at the amount of work some have done in these relationships. I have also been impressed at the intelligence of those who write. But so very few think of themselves as superior or even normal.
The narcissist sees an opening when we view ourselves as inadequate or damaged. Sadly, that’s what the church has taught people. Every Sunday some people go to church and hear how bad they are. They don’t want to be bad, and they try to do right, but they come back the next week and are told the same thing. When they meet the narcissist, they have been prepared. They already think of themselves as weak and inadequate. They compare poorly against others. They are already compromised. So it shouldn’t surprise us that narcissists operate effectively in churches.
But we should strongly object to that. The church has a message of love and acceptance that people would be challenged to find anywhere else. Christians should be the most secure and peaceful people in the world. We have already been accepted and loved and valued by the One whose judgment matters more than any other. Our inadequacies simply prove that we need the Savior we have. There is no shame in our failures or weaknesses. The Lord’s compassion lifts us up when we fall, and no one’s mocking or condemning can bring us down again. No can take away what He has given us. We did not deserve His love, and we will not keep it by our goodness. The peace we have comes from who He is. That’s what makes us who we are.
You see, narcissists depend on our needs, our fears, and our vulnerability. If we come into the relationship, whether it is at work, at church, or dating, content in who we are, the narcissist has nothing to use against us. Emotional and spiritual health lie in an accurate and confident understanding of who we are.
Let’s look back at that young couple. When she goes on a date with him, he tells her she looks nice, and she feels good. On the second date, she wears a different dress. He tells her he liked the first dress more. On the third date, she fixes her hair differently. He is unhappy with the change. What should she do? If she comes into the relationship unsure of herself, already feeling inadequate, she may want to change things to please him. If she made her choices confident in who she is and what she likes, she may realize that he is trying to manipulate her. She should tell him that she wore the dress she wanted to wear, and that she likes the new hair style. That should be enough for him. If it isn’t, she should let him go. If she is strong enough to stand for herself, he will probably want to go.
Is that too blunt? I don’t think so. Narcissistic relationships often begin this process of changing and molding the victim’s identity early. Those who are confident in who they are will recognize the subtle attempts at control and will not be as attractive to the narcissist.
A couple years ago I wrote a series of posts to help believers understand the truth about themselves in Christ. I called the series “Words of Grace.” You may want to check this out. It starts here: https://graceformyheart.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/i-am-accepted/