Protecting Yourself

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:



Filed under Narcissism, Relationship

17 responses to “Protecting Yourself

  1. Amen amen David. I was a target. I graduated second in my high school class of 660, National Merit Scholar, but my fearful mother had spoken, “Oh, take study hall because high school will be harder than elementary school.” I wanted to be a doctor,and she told me to be a nurse. Bless her heart, she felt inadequate in herself, and kids believe what their parents say about them, so I settled for less in college than I could have reached for because, in excelling, the boys were “scared”of me. Even though I was a capable and gifted teacher, I knew I missed my calling to write. Then God gave me a way to write, and I knew my choice of majors in college hadn’t been a mistake,but something important to invest in my own children and valuable when I taught in women’s ministry. My narcissist husband felt threatened by my intelligence and by my success, and threw me under the bus for loving Jesus and “Not supporting me.” I know where I could have given him more, but I gave more than most women would have. The failure our marriage wasn’t about what I didn’t do. Still it hurts to lose someone I loved, damaged as he was and is.

    God blessed me with a wonderful, God-honoring and me valuing man, Ken, 18 months ago, we married 8 months ago, and he was tragically killed four weeks ago. Now I have to wonder what in the world God intended in our short but solid relationship. One thing I know: I can love another man, and I can give more than adequately into someone else’s life, and receive gladly what that person gives. Ken encouraged me to publish my blog as a devotional prayer journal,and it’s going into the jail where his killer is awaiting trial. I am awestruck: God may use my tragedy to speak His love into wounded lives.

    • Laurie

      Wow, speechless and in awe at the same time. Thank you for sharing. Praying

      • Thank you Laurie. Sorry I didn’t notice this earlier. God amazingly put my book Move Your “…BUT…” – a Journey Into God’s Heart into the county jail to prayerfully bring inmates to know the incredible love God has for them. I am humbled beyond words to be His empty bucket to carry His love.

    • dianablackwood

      Wow! Sometimes I’m floored by God’s ways. But I know they are so much higher than ours. Once I heard that grief breaks our hearts and grows the pieces together bigger. Tragedy, when healed from, will allow us to love more people better. I’d love to read more of your story! I hope you do write it and that God blessed every word.

      • This is all in a paperback your can use as a springboard for your devotions entitled Move Your “…BUT…” – A Journey Into God’s Heart. Chip, my narcissist, is always in my prayers for God to deliver him from the domain of darkness and transfer him the kingdom of His beloved son.I can’t do it, have to surrender him to Go’s redemptive judgment, which I do pray comes while he has time to truly give his heart to Jesus. Amazingly, a chaplain the county jail ordered copies for the jail library, and I am humbled beyond words.

    • Dear Rose, I am deeply moved by your story, especially by your attitude of faith and grace. I am praying too.

  2. This article was incredibly helpful, especially the last three visual paragraphs describing what a narcissist looks like when you meet one.

    It made me realize that, having been raised by narcissists, I had created a fear of women, avoiding getting close to them because I didn’t want to be treated badly. I didn’t know about narcissism nor how to differentiate between them and nice people so I avoided all. Now I know and have learned to enjoy the company of many delightful women.

    This article gives a memorable vision for recognizing someone unhealthy. Thank you for writing it!

  3. Reblogged this on A Blog About Healing From PTSD and commented:
    If — like me — you have been wounded by narcissistic abuse in the past, how do you protect yourself from anything like that ever happening again? Pastor Dave Orrison has some advice I believe is spot on: he says your identity is key.

    Quoting from Pastor Dave’s latest “Narcissistic Friday” post:
    “…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.”

    Please click on the link below and read this very excellent post in its entirety. If you wish to comment, I think it would be best to show your appreciation to the author by leaving your comments on his site. However, I am interested in reading your thoughts here too, so maybe you can copy and paste your comment in both places? But if that’s too much of a hassle, please just leave your comment for Pastor Dave on his Grace For my Heart blog. Thank you and God bless!

  4. Connecting this article, Jesus gave an excellent example for recognizing and being a non-self-centered person when He described a God-centered/Other-centered person in Luke 10:27 (my paraphrase) “The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself”. That’s a God-centered, other-centered person.

    Thank you, Pastor Dave, for continuing to open our eyes to the truth which is setting us free.

  5. Savedbygrace

    Thanks Dave, as usual very thought provoking- what made me weak and vulnerable to a narcissist? through today’s post I have a new appreciation of how well my parents accepted me for who I was (thankyou!)… however two other factors came into play- firstly, the teaching of the church on women’s identity especially who she is with respect to men ( submission, second class christian, certainly not ‘leadership’ material) and the social message that taught my mum to be all/ do all for her husband. In her era it was social convention to give up your career ( she was a nurse) when you married and devote yourself to homemaking and husband pleasing. This was her role model to me and that is a very powerful influence when you are entering the world of male/female relationships as a young person. I think that to want to change things to ‘impress’ a potential boy/girlfriend is a natural response, but I think the problem is when there is a lack of mutuality (do they want to change things for you too?..) and when it becomes more than the occasional thing. I agree that in the gospel we have a life affirming powerful message of acceptance and transformation which should have the effect of liberating.

  6. building boundaries for yourself is key to healing from narcissistic abuse.

  7. Mary

    What a phenomenal article. How I wish I had understood this five years ago.

  8. Mark

    I’ve discovered that churches that emphasize our worthlessness before God create generational narcissism. I’m not sure how it develops, but somehow the church leaders are exempt from that worthlessness. So, you create leaders who see themselves as needing to change the sheep and sheep who think they’re worthless and overly value the opinions of the leadership.

    The wrong people are also being attracted to leadership. Instead of the people who are confident, those who see themselves as worthless are attracted because they think they will finally see respect. They don’t get respect because of their poor boundaries, so they start demanding respect because of their superior position. Narcissists fit well into that system because they know how to manipulate the weaklings around themselves and position themselves as leaders.

    I’m happy that I found a church that preaches to post-salvation Christians – those who have great value, great ability to do good and no compelling reason to forsake our own Spirit-led self reflection regardless of who is talking to us, despite our former lives and weaknesses.

  9. Sandra

    Dear Pastor Dave, Thank you for another terrific article.

    Sometimes I paraphrase the Joan Jet song “I hate myself for having this N friend!”

    Yours in continuing prayer,

  10. its good to be back here.

  11. KT

    No weapon formed against me shall prosper Isaiah 54:17! God is Sovereign. He is Omnipotent and Omniscient! He knew what I would suffer in this unhealthy relationship and provided a way of escape and healing through his Word through this ministry! Thank you Lord, I will learn who I am in you and never allow anyone to hurt me like this ever again: )!!!

  12. Thank you so much for writing this. I had no idea about all of this until I dated a guy who tried to make me into the image of who he expected me to be and I always came up short. I kept trying to change as he often used the silent treatment and I am so sad to say now I complied and tried harder and harder. I didnt feel seen by my parents or fully supported so I was a target for this kind of thing. Your article makes clear so many things. Once again thank you.

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