It’s Narcissist Friday!
There are many things about narcissism that seem to make no sense. Unless you can see the thinking patterns of the narcissist, the acting patterns may look random and confusing. You find yourself asking, “What in the world is this now?”
I don’t think I have ever met a self-employed narcissist. I suppose they might be out there, but most of them seem to work for companies or organizations. (Of course, a narcissist could own a company and consider himself self-employed, but I am referring to someone who actually works by himself.) It would seem that they would like to work by themselves; after all, no one else will ever measure up. But narcissists don’t like working by themselves—because they actually would have to do the work.
No, the narcissist secretly loves the hierarchy of an organization or a business. They like structures they can see and understand. I have noted before how the narcissist can walk into a room and instantly categorize every person present. They know instinctively who is worth knowing and who can be ignored. They know which person has power and which does not. And they like knowing these things. These things are important to them.
I know that narcissists chafe in a hierarchy, unless they are at the top. They struggle with authority. They want to be the ones who are noticed and admired. If there is a “totem pole,” the narcissist hates having anyone higher. They are usually vocal about their frustrations.
At the same time, the hierarchy structure establishes the game plan for the narcissist. Knowing what the ladder looks like and how to move up sets the goals and strategy for the narcissist. The newly hired narcissist will understand that system better than most of those who have been with the organization for a long time. While the rest of the people just do their jobs, the narcissist is focused on climbing that ladder.
There are other things the narcissist likes about hierarchy. There is an inherent competition in any hierarchy. From the military to the church to the boardroom, people compete to be noticed and advanced. Narcissists not only love competition, they excel at it. As I have said before, all human interaction is competitive for the narcissist.
In a hierarchical system, rewards are offered as motivation. The reward might be advancement or recognition. The narcissist sees rewards as rightfully his. If someone else is rewarded, they didn’t work as hard as the narcissist and don’t deserve the reward. “Pretty soon,” the narcissist thinks, “that reward will be mine—as it should be.” This competition for rewards gives meaning to the narcissist. Simple work, for the sake of providing for a family or contributing to society, has no value for the narcissist. The only reason to try harder is to receive the reward.
The narcissist knows that two kinds of people get noticed in a hierarchy: the shining light and the squeaky wheel. If the narcissist cannot be the best, he/she will be the most critical. This is easily seen in organizations like the church. If the narcissist cannot be the most spiritual person because of superior service or knowledge, then he will be the most spiritual because he sees and points out the faults in others. It doesn’t matter to the narcissist that people like him; what matters is that they know him and respect him. He wants attention; he doesn’t really know what to do with love. Admiration is more important than gratitude. Besides, others will give love and gratitude when he reaches the top. On the way up, he just needs to be noticed.
Hierarchies also offer a clear system of authorities and servants. Those above are authorities; those below are servants. The narcissist will move quickly into any kind of leadership, just to have servants. She will become the leader of the committee, and the others will do the work. It will be clear that she is a leader. Soon, she will be head over a department, then the organization. Her servants will make this both possible and pleasurable.
Because everyone is vulnerable in a system based on performance, which almost all hierarchical groups are, the narcissist’s inadequacy is covered. Narcissists are notoriously poor at actually doing their jobs. They are great at getting others to do their work, and they excel in offering excuses or explanations for inferior work. We might expect that the narcissist would be especially vulnerable in a hierarchical system where everyone is watching. But that is exactly what covers the narcissist—everyone is watching everyone. Any failure, any compromise, any indiscretion can be exploited, and no one knows the dirt on others like the narcissist. The narcissist will be able to use the dirt of others to cover his own dirt. Timely comments, veiled threats, anonymous reports, ominous hints—these are weapons in the narcissist’s arsenal. Many people can relate how a narcissist climbed the ladder of the hierarchy simply because everyone was too compromised to confront him.
I understand that narcissists consistently complain about whatever hierarchies they are part of. They really do chafe under authority and struggle with the weaknesses they see in others. But they love the game. Notice what kinds of jobs narcissists have. Notice what kinds of churches and organizations they join. They need the challenge of being noticed in a group, of rising above others. A simple place where people care about each other and believe their work to be of value would be boring for the narcissist.
Here’s a short and fun clip I think you will understand and enjoy: