It’s Narcissist Friday!     



As we grow up, we face various challenges. People are unkind, situations become difficult, we make wrong choices.   How we handle life’s challenges reveals a great deal about who we are and how we think.  Sometimes patterns develop that carry from childhood throughout our lives.

Let’s suppose you are in first grade.  You don’t know anyone, and you feel intimidated.  After you find a desk, one of the other kids looks at you from across the room.  Right at you.  Then he says, “You’re stupid!”  Everyone hears, of course.  Some laugh.  Some just look away.  Some stare at you.  Even the teacher says nothing.

You know how that makes you feel today.  But at the time one question would have been running through your head.  “Am I stupid?”  From that point you would develop a way of handling criticism.  As you matured you would have plenty of opportunities to refine your skills.

Twenty-five years later someone at work or in your organization says, “Well, that was a stupid thing to do!”  Yes, it was referring to you.  By now you have a way of dealing with such things.

These four categories might not be exhaustive, but they seem to be the most common ways people handle criticisms and attacks.


Agree – Some people simply accept the fact that they are stupid.  They might not like it, and they might get on your case for saying it, but they own it.  Being stupid has become a definition for them.  They are victims of stupidity.  They accept little risk or responsibility.  They feel and act defeated and picked on.  They tend to be sad and guilty and sensitive.  Their addictions get them through life, they think.  They accept the judgments of others who consider them stupid.

Compensate – Some people do everything they can to not be stupid.  They become perfectionists, driven to do things right.  They hate being wrong.  They are obedient, hard-working, rule-abiding, and careful.  Ever since that day in first grade, they have worked to be smart.  No one considers them stupid today.

Deny – Some people will fight.  They hate the feeling that comes with the challenge.  If you say something that makes them feel that way, they will be in your face.  They have become angry people, defensive and cynical.  You might call them aggressive, especially if they start to feel criticized.  Few will dare to refer to them as stupid.


Most people, you see, will internalize the personal criticism.  They carry the label around with them throughout life.  They react to that label over and over again.  Thinking about it makes them feel defeated, or angry, or driven to do better.  They try to deal with it.  But there’s fourth group of people who handle it differently.  These are the ones we call narcissistic.


Hide – Some people learned that there were ways to turn the challenges back on others.  In their hearts, they internalized the criticisms like others, but compartmentalized them.  So the little boy sat in his desk and became numb.  Every time something like that happened, he seemed to build a stronger cocoon around himself.  Then, one day, he called someone else stupid.  He noticed how it hurt that person, so he did it again.  It gave him power to make someone else feel like that.  It wasn’t long before he was able to keep others on the defensive.  He became condescending and controlling.  He learned that attacking first kept others from attacking him.  They feared him.


The narcissist learned to cover his fears and inferiority by using and manipulating the feelings of others.  As long as they were concerned about their own feelings, they wouldn’t threaten his.  He could stay hidden.  Because of his aggressive behavior, the others deferred to him.  They let him lead and control.  He began to see that he could overcome his negative feelings about himself by being superior.  As long as he could keep the others fearful and submissive, he was the winner.  All attention had to come to him.  His way could be the only right way.  Anyone who disagreed would have to be silenced.

Some narcissists learned that they could maintain their control by having others fight for them.  Others could be the heroes to protect and provide, as long as the narcissist remained in control.  Others would serve and bend and sacrifice, while the narcissist appeared to be the victim.  But the underlying response to the criticism was the same, manipulating the feelings of others.

So today, when the narcissist is told that something he did was stupid, his response may be to intimidate the people around him, to become angry and threatening toward the accuser, or to be hurt and need special attention.  In no case will he allow himself to feel stupid.  He will lie, accuse others, blame anything, rather than feel stupid.  And he won’t care who he hurts in the process.  He will become the monster, frightening the children around him until he feels strong again.

But the narcissist never really dealt with those feelings from childhood.  He just pushed them into hiding and pretended to be something bigger and better.

As long as he could fool others, he could fool himself.


Filed under Narcissism

28 responses to “Challenges

  1. LM

    That makes so much sense. But still leaves me at a loss as to how to deal with my mom. A couple years ago, as I was still trying to figure out how to “fix” the relationship between my mom and me, I came across an article that the author said they would think of their parent as the they may have been when 5 or 6. It would ease the anger they were feeling. I sometimes still do that, But it does not work as well as it did in the beginning. I could see my mom as a child, while reading your article. And it is sad to think of her trying to figure out how to deal with things (her being a child of a narcissist too) at that age. And that is where I find it hard: now she is an adult that treats some people poorly (I suppose everyone really, considering the nice treatment comes with strings). It is hard to reconcile that “hurt people hurt people” with the reality of the pain and general disregard they can have for someone, let alone their own children. I guess the struggle is in, they are, to a certain extent, a product of their environment from very early on, but that should not excuse the mistreatment they dish out. Finding that balance of grace and self preservation, I suppose . . .

    • I usually hesitate when I write something that helps to explain the behaviors and attitudes of the narcissist because the explanation prompts feelings of compassion and empathy in the victims. But understanding is different from excusing. The behavior of the narcissist is a choice. They are certainly responsible for the way they treat people, and responsible to change. Most addicts (and narcissists are addicted to the narcissistic supply) mistreat others. We can understand both the factors that led to the addiction and the behavior that proceeds from the addiction, but we do not excuse or overlook that behavior. They are still accountable.

      The main point of a post like this is to show how and why the thinking of a narcissist is so different from that of others. Understanding that difference might help in the daily struggles (or it might not).

  2. Anne

    I’d like to share an interesting story that happened in my family two years ago. At that time I was in the process of reading books on abuse and narcissism as my marriage was falling apart. I had finally realized that my husband was most likely a covert narcissist. It had never occurred to me before that he could be a narc, but as I read the descriptions I saw the pattern. He was passive-aggressive, controlling, and nothing was ever his fault.

    We were out of town visiting our older daughter and her family. Our granddaughter was almost four. She was crazy about my husband and he was wonderful with her. But our younger daughter was there, too, with her baby boy, and my husband was playing with him on the floor.

    It was obvious to all that our granddaughter was jealous; she was glaring at the two of the on the floor. My husband gently told her a few times that she needed to share him with her cousin and she eventually went to the table where her Halloween candy was spread out. Her father said she could have two pieces before dinner and they took a long time to pick out the right ones. They left them on the corner of the table, which was otherwise empty. She was so excited and looking forward to eating them.

    The whole time this was going on my husband was within earshot. He suddenly got up, went over to the table, and quickly grabbed and ate the two pieces of candy while our granddaughter was in the kitchen. (He just happened to be on Weight Watchers at the time). As soon as she came back she noticed they were missing and cried Where is my candy? She was distraught. My ex calmly said, Was that your candy? And she said Yes, Grandpa, I was going to eat it. She was glaring at him, leaning into her father as she started crying. My ex just shrugged and said he didn’t know it was hers. But he just looked at her.

    I finally kicked his foot and told him to apologize. He did, but not with any feeling. Then he turned to our daughter, who had just walked in, and said, I think she’s just tired and upset because I was playing with her cousin. She’s jealous of him but she shouldn’t be. But I thought it was about the candy, what did her cousin have to do with it?

    Then it suddenly hit me: he was punishing her for glaring at him. It was the kind of things he used to do to me. But because he would never say what was bothering him I had no idea why I was being punished.

    Of course no one else sees it this way. But if this had truly been an accident he would have gotten to his knees and hugged her while apologizing. Instead, he stood there aloof, just staring at her, and blaming her justifiable feelings of loss of the candy and claiming it was because of her jealousy of her cousin.

    The next time we visited she sat in the back seat of the car and said I’m not jealous of my cousin, Grandpa. A three-year-old, already a victim.

    I would really appreciate feedback on this as it has really bothered me. She is still crazy about her grandfather and can’t understand why we split up. But you can’t discuss this with a child.

  3. Savedbygrace

    Hi Anne- some feedback: “trust your gut” – I have been counselled to do this many times as I have tried to step out of the crazy making, abusive world of living with a N. I think part of the Ns camouflage is that others would not believe our story if told as it parallels normality ‘just enough’ and the option that what we’ve pointed out is the truth is something that people are incredulous about ‘surely he wouldn’t do… surely he didn’t say/mean…’ because ‘no-one would do/say that’ right? it confronts people’s sense of faith in the good in others.. especially if it’s their dad or someone close- they strive to believe the best. The N is the master of 2nd/3rd 4th chances.. as no-one wants to believe they are truly like that!
    I think the incident you’ve recounted rings true, frustratingly you can never truly know and it is word against word however you are right in picking up a lack of appropriate repentance and affection and the way he has used his power as an adult to define your grandaughters reality. It’s despicable.

  4. I agree despicable- reading your account just made me swear out loud. Such insidious deceptive destructive intent towards his own grandchild. May God break him.

  5. Anne

    Thank you so much for the validation! You don’t know how much that means to me. I think the only one who might believe me is my son-in-law. When we would visit or vacation with them my ex would always monopolize our granddaughter’s attention, to the point that I felt jealous and I think my son-in-law did too. Grandpa just had to be Elise’s favorite and be adored. Now that she is getting older he is focusing on being that person to our almost-two-year-old grandson. I guess that’s narcissistic feed for him.

    • Seeing the Light

      Just a little more validation for you, Anne. I read your story above and had such behavior is disgusting. Trust your gut. I believe you have read this behavior very well. I am still married to a covert narcissist. It took me two decades to figure out what was going on and the exposure has only made him worse. It’s very frustrating – the second-guessing, the cognitive dissonance and more. I am so sorry you and your grandchildren (and children) have to deal with this.

      • UnForsaken

        Anne, your story is very familiar. As an adult with a N parent I have many strange memories. Even good ones seem somehow “off” because of the false reality they try to create.

        Your granddaughter sounds as if she still has a healthy dose of self respect, standing up for herself and seeing the difference between her reality and his. There are still the dangers she will eventually believe him ( a kind of ‘guilt humility’ ) or she will continue to deny it ( ( good, but that denial may become so strong it overcomes evident truths) .

        She sounds both deeply hurt and intelligent. May I make a suggestion? At that age I would have warmed to and wanted the friendship of someone understanding….in other words, someone who would validate my responses and opinions. You probably can’t share the details of your relationship issues with your X, but she would love to know you are proud of her for sticking up for herself. You might even ask her if she knows why you broke up with her grandpa. Something like, ” You know how hurt you were when he ate your candy and accused you of being jealous? Well, that’s how he treats me about a lot of things. Only it happens again and again. I have to stand up for myself too. When people don’t learn to respect your needs you need to keep on doing right, like standing up for yourself. ”

        You know what is most appropriate for your grandchild, but this would have worked for me as a child, no matter what age. Showing confidence and sharing is the opposite of what N’s do and will help her believe in you and in herself. It may also help you address any real jealousy issues or other things ( possible future personality disorders ) that can happen in the confusion Ns stir up.

        It is wonderful you are thinking about your relationship with each grandchild at such young ages. Most of the time I see well meaning people assuming children won’t be hurt in the long run, won’t understand something, are there to be cute…. and a wide variety of things that seem to say children are like pets or subhumans. All children want to be our equals and that’s what we want them to act like, right? There are those wonderful Bible passages that say we are all equal in Christ and to let the children come to Him. It is the sick, the elderly, and the children made to take lower seats in our churches. But people like yourself combat this as you enable these small hands/ears/eyes to do their part in the Body, by healing through Real relationships.

        You are doing a great job Anne. Keep up the good fight! ❤

  6. Boy is this ever painfully true. Mr former husband evidently betrayed me more than once, is trying to hide under a disguise of ” now I want to honor God” and viciously accused me of not being Christian and of telling people his “supposed faults”. Supposed? Three times adulterous, lying to police, threatening to commit suicide are ” supposed” faults? I see why many people advise no contact with a narcissist, and Lord how I wish I wasn’t empathetic to that man’s abusive childhood. He is toxic!

  7. Noel

    Xnh was very attentive to our grandchildren when they were little. Now that they are teens and early 20s, he only sees them once or twice a year. He doesn’t even see them at Christmas time. My daughters want to believe the good, but it is getting harder and harder for them.

  8. I once had these neighbors that lived behind me. Whenever I took the dog for a walk out back, they would be in their pool, and would start to snicker and make fun. This went on for some time before finally moving. You could tell it was the father and his two teenage kids that were up to no good by the way I was once treated during a face to face interaction. The wife was innocent. She was really nice and behaved cluelessly around them and they didn’t seem to address her or count her in within the interaction.

  9. Mark

    My older brother, who I think is a narcissist, is highly sensitive with a lack of self control. My parents were authoritarian and legalistic. He was always in trouble for something, so I think as a defense mechanism, he figured out that he could blame things on me and deflect the punishment. I think his narcissism was a defense from feeling inferior for his lack of self control. Instead instead of hiding, he projected his insecurities on me and tried to turn the rest of the family against me. It worked in part – I get ignored and disrespected whenever the family is together. My wife and I decided to limit the duration of family visits because we have some wacky “respect” triggers. They try to “put me in my place” by disrespecting me and I get angry when I’m disrespected. So, I feel like I’m walking on eggshells to preserve the family peace when I visit. We are often forced to stay with my N brother, I assume because no one else wants to stay with him.

    So, I agree with the article in part. N’s don’t want to internalize feeling inferior, so they learn how to project that inferiority on others to maintain their superiority. I think there is a spectrum of Narcissism, based on how successful the N is in his own lie, where NPD is someone who has completely walled off his real self. Someone who actually confronts them gets their character assassinated. The overt N’s seem to do it through aggression, and the covert N’s do it through feigned victimization.

  10. LordHaveMercy

    This post is so very fascinating to me.
    I’ve been lurking on here for quite some time now. In the last year, my eyes have been opened to some of the dysfunctions that have played out in my 20yr marriage. After wondering for so long, I believe God led me on the path of finally being able to put my finger on what is going on. I believe my husband is somewhere on the NPD continuum.
    Last summer, we were driving around with the children, in his small hometown. We came to his elementary school where he showed our children where he had to stand outside the fenced in school yard – he was not allowed IN the school yard because he was a bully. Picking fights. Later he said that he was “defending” his friends.
    As I read this post, I realized that from a young age, there was something in him that needed to be recognized as a SAVIOR.
    I read something the other day about a “communal” (I think that’s what they called it!) Narcissist. (Shoot, now I’m not sure that’s the term…..)
    They described it as a narcissist who’s main strategy to get their supply is through being a sacrificial servant of all posing as a tenderhearted, compassionate person. This really goes a looooong way in the church, doesn’t it? …and how do you confront that!?
    I realized that all the “nice” things he did to serve me and others came at a HUGE cost.
    The hole is deep. The hole is dark. The hole is bottomless.
    I can’t fill the hole and I’m done trying.
    Of course, because I’m not trying to fill it anymore, I’m accused of disrespect. Even the christian counselor I am seeing – who knows of my spouse and called him “charming” before I told her what was going on is encouraging me to build him up more. The thing is, when I throw him a bone, he tries to eat my whole arm.
    Lord help us all.

    • Mark

      I think it’s “covert” narcissist. If you can, it’s best to build up a support group of people you can really talk to, who aren’t going to push you to sacrifice who you are for your husband. My wife is by no means a narcissist, but the church and my relatives pushed me to sacrifice for her, beyond what was really healthy for me, and it nearly destroyed my marriage.

      “Boundaries” is a great read. It says that sacrifice should come out of our overflowing bucket and not be the last drops of our empty bucket. We aren’t called to be martyrs in our marriages. Boundaries talks about fences for protection, and unfortunately, narcissists are skilled at destroying fences, which is why most people here have recognized that separating from the narcissist is the only way to move forward.

      I will tell you my experience. I turned my wife into a virtual narcissist by not having boundaries and sacrificing who I was to make her happy. When I started to pull back and build fences, she supported that rather than trying to get her way. She actually didn’t know that I was doing that – I was just communicating my needs and desires and we agreed on what to do, but that was a huge step for me. What I’m saying, though, is that she SUPPORTED me through this rather than being manipulative. That is healthy. So, as you start to develop healthy boundaries, you should expect your husband to support you and recognize that they are good for both of you. If he doesn’t, then you may need to put space between you to establish those boundaries, and that may come at significant cost because your “support group” is really enabling your husbands narcissism.

      • LordHaveMercy

        Hi Mark,
        Thanks for your reply.
        Actually, just after I left my comment I googled “communal narcissist” which is ACTUALLY the term. If you look it up, it defines my husband to a tee.
        He is also a covert narcissist.
        I do have that book. Actually, I have many, many books that I have bought in the last year – many on narcissism – some on getting myself strong.
        All these years, when he told me I was the problem and backed it up with scripture (ie. give more respect, be more submissive, be more available sexually to meet his needs, etc, etc) I believed him. After all, HE is the head of our marriage and home. Why wouldn’t I believe it…..but after so many years of trying harder, I COULD NOT understand how the dynamics were not improving. How I felt farther away and more alone than ever.
        So, I begged him, for a long time to go to counseling. He finally did. The counselor we saw, a Christian, had his number. My husband stormed out of there regularly until he just stopped going.
        Now, I’m going on my own.
        My husband does not support the boundaries that I have set for myself. When I established them, he started raging and being aggressive and also many of his more passive aggressive tendencies.

        I am always encouraged when I read that some people get to experience mutual respect – as in your relationship with your wife. It’s beautiful that she is responsive and attentive to the changes in you and in the way you two interact, and that she is able to identify her part and now that you both can move forward together. You must feel deeply respected and loved although I’m sure the journey is not without it’s challenges.

        I know there may be a heavy price to pay some day. I changed counselors because I was sure that the first Christian one I saw, who recommended a separation with the goal of reconciliation, was wrong. After one session with the 2nd counselor, she ended with the same admonition…..maybe a sign from the Lord?

      • Mark

        I just googled and you are right. I’d never heard that term before.

        I’ve been struggling with that kind of use of scripture. I grew up in that sort of church – with prooftexts and sophisticated explanations of why certain verses said certain things. For example, why “wives submit to your husbands” is literally and universally true, but “submit to each other” has to be narrowly understood within some context. Friends who have left, and this is my experience as well, have said they started questioning, do I believe this because it’s what scripture says, or do I believe this because it’s what I’ve been taught. It took about 20 years of God whacking me over the head with narcissistic church leadership before I realized I needed to separate.

        I have a great deal of respect for my wife, and more so because I was steeped in a narcissistic family and church culture. I know I have a lot of narcissistic tendencies, but I also was raised to feel “worthless”, and I think that is uniquely hard for my wife to handle.

  11. KT

    Omg. After 5 yrs of torture, I’ve learned “it” has a name. Narcissism!!! So, is this a spirit, as in demon? I just want to be well again. 41 yrs of life, a college degree and I NEVER knew these people existed! Why!?!?

    • Kate

      Hi KT! Why? Maybe because you believe in the inherent goodness of the human heart? Maybe because narcissism seems too ridiculous to be true — until you experience it first-hand? And then, when you do, you wonder why no one else sees it too??

    • noel6119

      I remember reading Scott Peck’s “People of the Lie” and having feelings that something was wrong, but I dismissed it as being unbelievable.

      • In my opinion, some narcs do the unthinkable, the unbelievably bad, and that’s why it’s often gotten away with. But it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

      • My ex has recently filed a vpo against me after I caught him in several lies and had the nerve to demand the truth. This is his way of both punishing me and silencing me. He’s claiming I’m stalking and harassing him because I contacted the woman he’s had the affair with and they both have very public carriers. He can’t have me tainting his perfect pubic good guy image so he went on the attack and is trying to make me look crazy. Never mind I am the victim who actually ended up with hsv. He is a prosecutor and quote “knows how to play the game” as he’s informed me over and over. I dreaded even telling my attorney my story because the things he has done are so absurd – no one would believe them. I would think I was crazy too! His npd rage was in perfect form and I walked right into his trap. It took a good week and several THOUSANDS of -thank the Lord -recovered text messages for my own attorney to finally see what I was dealing with. To which he finally turned to me and said ” is this guy mentally unstable?” Uhm ya think?? My ex so generously offered to drop the vpo before we go back to court for the third time – all I have to do is agree to a list of his demands a mile long that includes signing a non disclosure agreement! Seriously -what stalker is asked to sign one of those? The lies he put in the vpo petition are unbelievable ! He’s an ausa committing perjury without batting an eye!

      • noel6119

        I am so sorry that you are having to go through this. It is unbelievable when the victim becomes the one that needs to heal when the sick one is really the perpetrator. I’m so glad that your lawyer is finally in your corner. Hang on and don’t cave into his demands. He will lose in the end.

        You will be in my prayers.

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