Collateral Narcissism

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


We used to say that if you worried about whether you were a Christian it was evidence that you already were. In other words, only a believer would be concerned about being a believer.

From time to time people tell me they are concerned about being narcissists. They look at themselves and see a variety of characteristics they don’t like. Now that they know about narcissism, they wonder if it might describe them. All they know is that they don’t like what they see in themselves. My first thought is that those who are concerned about being narcissists probably aren’t narcissists.

It isn’t unusual for people in relationships with narcissists to begin seeing narcissistic behaviors in themselves. In fact, those who are concerned about this have probably been infected by a narcissistic system, a sort of loop that pulls victims into the narcissist’s way of thinking.

For example, we know that narcissists drain people of energy, enthusiasm, and life. You spend a little time with your narcissist and come away feeling diminished somehow. The narcissist has taken something from you for himself. That’s how narcissists get their energy and passion. They take it from others.

But what do those others do when they are drained? Where do they refill their energy? Well, some look to still more others. You know what I mean. The dad yells at the mom, the mom yells at the kid, the kid yells at the dog. The common factor is the yelling. Narcissism, or abusive behavior, filters through the family or organization.

And how do you defend yourself against a narcissist? Being kind will just get you hurt. Sacrificing yourself will just feed the narcissist more. Standing up to the abuse may cause it to intensify. Instead, you build up defenses by not caring, being distant in heart or in body, and by depersonalizing the narcissist. We could argue that the only real protection against narcissism is narcissistic behavior.

Children of narcissists sometimes exhibit narcissistic behavior simply because that’s what they learned as they grew. The only things that worked were those things that used others. This is why organizations can become systemically narcissistic. Employees learn what gets people ahead. If they can’t find another place to work, they will have to learn how to play the game.

Think about this: narcissists desire a fantasy life where everyone serves them and adores them. So they set up, in whatever ways they can, a life where this happens. They begin to make changes almost right away: in their spouses, churches, workplaces, etc. The system they set up will look like the way they think. As they try to make everyone love and bow to them, they are also setting up a system where false love is received, false work is honored, and false morality is rewarded. People who can’t or won’t fit in are discarded or weakened until they change.

But listen: being caught up in the system does not mean that you are a narcissist. The narcissist is simply so large in that system that it becomes difficult for you to see yourself separate from him/her. You lose something of yourself in every exchange, but you gain something of the narcissist.

Yes, I know. That sounds frightening. But once you realize what is happening and decide you don’t like it, you are free to do something about it. You can choose to leave the system (and the narcissist) behind. You can choose to work to regain your identity. It will take work, but it can be done even within the system.

The point is that narcissists do tend to infect others with their thinking and behavior. But just because you are beginning to act like one does not mean you are one.  Perhaps worrying about whether you are a narcissist is evidence you are not.


Filed under Narcissism

23 responses to “Collateral Narcissism

  1. Cynthia

    Thank you for choosing to share valuable insight and information about narcissistic relationships. Grace for my heart has helped me tremendously in finally breaking free of a relationship with a “friend” who really wasn’t. Thanks again.

  2. “We could argue that the only real protection against narcissism is narcissistic behavior.” That’s scary. Like fighting fire with fire.

    Yesterday I wrote a post on my blog about some of the worst abuses that I experienced as a child with two severely mentally ill, narcissistic parents. Although I can definitely see that I picked up some narcissistic traits from my family of origin, I have worked hard to overcome them, with the help of Christ.

    But more than fighting narcissism with narcissism, my primary defense against the unthinkable was going numb. Like a deer caught in headlights, I froze.

    It has taken me more than fifty years to thaw out.

    • Gratefully Yours

      Hi Linda Lee (with questions for you and Dave),

      Your insights led me to your well-written blog and kindled my compassion for you. I was intrigued by your thought that the narcissist in your family didn’t like you because she told you the truth about her bad behavior, the twisted darkness of her heart, which, instead of repentance resulted in her targeting you for further bad behavior.

      Question: I wonder if this insight is a general truth we could presume about narcissists? That they despise you because you know the truth of how bad they really are?

      I would cringe and couldn’t live with myself if I had those bad motives. They would “drive me to repair”. Hey, can we use that as evidence I’m not a narcissist? (Happy face!)

      Perhaps my cringe factor is why I resist the ugly but seemingly true labeling of underlying dark motives of narcissists? It does appear instead of being repelled by their bad motive and responding with a repentant, new and improved behavior, their badness elicits more badness when the recipient is attached by the commitment of blood or marriage. Though I’ve improved at protecting myself and “guarding my heart” that commitment and the roller coaster of occasional intermittent reinforcement from NPD’s traps me into letting my guard down, building false hope, feeling safe, then BOOM I’m back regretting I got too close.

      I recognize the NPD’s inconsistent public verses private life behavior, how they maintain the persona of perfection and dependability in the public eye, but lack empathy for family members. It ‘s such a cruelty then that being supportive of their good public behavior led to a personal commitment that would make us targets of their bad behavior. I’m uncomfortable that I resist acknowledging this dark state of the soul, yet ironically it’s uncomfortable to not acknowledge it. Why so displaced? Because narcissists model inconsistent realities? I’d love to learn how to believe this reality that a dark motive exists so I could grow in my separation from the narcissistic system and reconcile why saying “I do” became “I don’t”.

      Thank you, Linda Lee, for sharing your thoughts and thank you, Dave, for studying this subject so diligently, helping us navigate the maze of NPD.

      • There is a sense in which the narcissist despises everyone. They can’t show that outwardly to anyone they wish to use in the future, however. The sycophants that gather around popular or important persons look like they are adoring, but they despise the one they seem to serve. So, when you finally see the truth, it will be because the narcissist no longer cares enough to hide it. Watch the kind of negative behavior you receive. If you pose a threat, the behavior toward you will be more intimidating and menacing. If you don’t seem to be a threat, you will simply be treated like a non-person: used, ignored, or mocked.

        It may also be that the narcissist shared real feelings at a genuine time of weakness, allowing you to see some small part of the pain or fear he/she suffers. After that, the narcissist will almost certainly do everything possible to show that he/she does not need you. No weakness can be confessed without deep fear of exposure. So you must be pushed away, abused, or proved to be weaker than the narcissist.

        Yes, the “dark motive” exists. It comes out of the hidden fears.

      • Gratefully Yours

        Whoa…Narcissists are hiding that they really hate everybody?!!! So the times when they act nice is the “fake side”, not the real side? The real side doesn’t like you full time?! So tell me how you really feel! (Joking) This is revolutionary for me! Extraordinary!!! I can grasp this and feel I now have great clarity on this issue.

        Thank you for helping me understand. I divorced a covert narcissist, married an overt narcissist and come from a family of overt/covert NPD’s with a bi-polar schizophrenic to keep it interesting. For so long I thought I was unlikable because these people didn’t like me. Their blaming behavior said it was my fault. This led to my erroneously projecting their twisted perspective of me onto the world so I isolated. Then three years ago I reached out to my church and their safe groups to pursue this problem (“driven to repair” as I like to say). Two years ago I found “Grace For My Heart” and identified the disorder of narcissism in my family. Through healthy friendships I found the narcissists negative perception of me to be false. And now, today, I see for the first time that narcissists don’t like people even though they appear to be the King of popularity and all that is good. It’s a cover-up and that’s why I was so confused! This explains exactly why narcissists treat me “like a non-person: used, ignored or mocked.”

        You can’t believe how much this revelation is blessing me! John 8:32 “…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” I feel set free and am going to celebrate this new joy in my heart! Thank you, Dave. You drove this insight out of the park and gave me exactly the homerun I needed. I think God just added another floor to your celestial mansion! Ever so grateful!

      • Faithful

        I think there is a continuum of awareness for narcissists. Some are truly aware of their disorder and patterns, and others are not at all. Some believe that if you think negatively of them, you are not perceiving things correctly, interpreting things funny, being hyper judgmental, etc. Some believe that everyone is more mean and less kind privately, and that everyone puts on a show publicly. Some believe that when they act cruelly to you in private, that it is your fault that you pushed their buttons and solicited them to be mean to you. Thus they can’t imagine why you would hold it against them for their being mean to you when you intentionally baited them into it (so it feels to them). Narcissists don’t intend collateral damage, it just happens as a result of them being NPD. Sociopaths/psychopaths, on the other hand, scheme and are intentional about cruelty and hurting others.

        Narcissists are scared of people. They need others to think well of them as their life blood to survive, because they don’t have a true sense of self, and I think this is where the resentment of others comes in. There is a sense of insufficiency in their core, and they project that onto others. They can’t acknowledge they hate that feeling of insufficiency within themselves, but respond with repulsion towards others once they project onto others. That is why weak people or unattractive people or unaccomplished people don’t exist for the narcissist, and why they like to associate with “successful”, strong, attractive people.
        I used to be a narcissist. I no longer am. I was married to a Narcissist, am the child of narcissists. When I started “dying to self” and gave my life up to Jesus, surrendered everything, and gave up all my dreams and my false idols, God started to remake me as a person and to heal the deep deep wounds inside of me. I cry now when I think about how much I hurt my husband, also a narcissist, who left me. I cry when I think about how I related to the world and devalued others. I was in extreme pain, all the time, ALL THE TIME. I didn’t want to hurt anybody, but I just did. I could barely see someone else because my pain was extreme, and I acted all the time. I acted like I was fine, normal, happy, but inside deep down I always felt like I was a piece of crap, flawed, unlovable no matter what I did. I couldn’t even acknowledge these feelings to myself. It would have felt like annihilation. I would have had to hate myself, if I acknowledged my feelings of insufficiency. I did not realize that the entire mental paradigm I had built my reality on was broken. It was not God’s reality, the Kingdom of God, where I WAS loved and GOD WANTED ME. That was reality, but I didn’t know it. I was too scared that maybe there was nothing.

        God rescued me. 🙂

  3. Maybe you could write a post about how to reprogram from a narcissistic mindset. I’m out of a decades-long relationship for a couple years now and need reprogramming. I’m working on being transformed by the renewing of my mind and trusting God WILL make me new. I definitely see the effects of my former partner’s mindsets and how I mirrored them. But not anymore.

  4. Gratefully Yours

    This is a keeper! Saving it in my prayer journal to remind me of reality and help me unscramble when narcissistic moments happen. I agree, it’s so important to see ourselves as separate from the narcissistic system. That is grace for my heart…Thank you, Dave!

  5. I’m a giver, so ut was east for him to take from me. When I started seeing abd living my calling, he was furious because I had asked him to leave the Air Force ( where he refused to play the games under upper officers to advance in rank, so he wouldn’t have succeeded anyway – and he even told our son that decades later) so we could have more family life, but he held onto resentment of me for decades even though he never said he couldn’t leave his chosen career. Whenever he acceded to my requests, he got mad at himself AND mostly at me for asking. Yikes, here I am a Christian who doesn’t want to see him go to hell, but that’s not my call or within my power to impact. Painful to see the truth and watch a loved one go down to eventual destruction. I need God’s help big time for this empath to walk away emotionally and pursue the best for myself.

    • guardyourheart

      Rose, having read your post i observe that you are telling your husband what to do and what kind of job, presumable you knew what his chosen career path was before you married him ? did you not know that men and women do not like being told what to do when they are grown up and in their adulthood with every right to make their own decisions not have them dictated by someone else.

      • Thank you for your comment. No, I didn’t tellhim what to do. He told oiur older son he knew he never would have been successful in the Air Force because he didn’t like playing the “games” you have to submit to in order to progress in ranks. He enjoyed the success he had in his next civilian job and being made an engineer by the company. It blessed him greatly, and I grieved when a hostile takeover threat cost 2,000 of the 2,500 people at that workplace to lose their jobs. That sent him on a downward spiral of feeling personally rejected. I followed him to two more jobs, both of which he disliked, and when I asked – not dictated – if we could move back to help my sick mother, he got a job back in the industry he enjoyed. The Reactive Attachment Disorder in him from his childhood made him very vulnerable to feelings of abandonment and insecurity, leading him to look for female emotional connections outside of our marriage, including an international exchange student we hosted, even though we enjoyed much intimacy in our relationship. He took my love for Jesus as a threat to himself, though in reality my love for Jesus gave me added love for him. I couldn’t undo what his mother had set up in him. NPD and RAD give a person, as one of our counselors said, a “disconnect between his perceptions and reality.”

      • The counselor we both saw in 2009, at my second meeting, outlined for me that I was a “pleaser” aka compliant who took responsibility for the relationship, and he was a “user” who took no responsibility, got his identity from others’ input into him, and became an abuser. I have God’s compassion for him and pray for him daily to come to know his identity in Jesus, to know the vast love God has for him, and to feel his security in that, not from controlling others.

      • Gratefully Yours

        Hello RoseInspiration and Dave,

        I so related with your counselor’s observation, “…I was a “pleaser” aka compliant who took responsibility for the relationship, and he was a “user” who took no responsibility,…”

        Question for Dave: I lived this crazy-making relationship till I recognized my husband was an overt narcissist. His long term consistent resistance to a mutual relationship with me had to be seen as the reality over his words which intermittently said the opposite, that he refuses to connect or initiate the relationship. In this counselor’s statement it is clear to me that not taking responsibility for a relationship is wrong. But what I’d like clarity on is if the healthy way of looking at a pleaser/compliant (who has good boundaries) is that they could be considered a delight in a safe relationship with mutually pleasing people, but the trait is wrong when the pleaser is taking the entire responsibility for a relationship with a disconnected person (narcissist)? In a “normal” or mutually responsible “safe person” (Cloud/Townsend term) relationship, wouldn’t taking responsibility for the relationship be the right thing when both do it? Weird that I even have to ask, a symptom of living with narcissists! It seems to me in the above case, when you’re with a narcissist whose not taking responsibility for the relationship, you taking responsibility for the relationship becomes wrong because you can’t be responsible for both sides of the relationship, that’s not a relationship, the other person is still not engaging in the alleged “relationship”. In marriage to a narcissist it seems you just have to co-exist as best you Biblically can taking responsibility only for yourself and children as there is no mutual adult relationship to be responsible for. What do you think, Dave?

      • Gratefully Yours

        One correction to my last comment: I meant to say, “I lived this crazy-making relationship till I recognized my husband was a COVERT narcissist.” Differing from the incorrectly stated “overt”, the covert is the outwardly charming one who sounds so good in front of others but in reality deserts you on a daily basis. Their response is so confusing because you see two different sides of the same person till you learn the mean one is the real person. Attempts to relate are draining and one sided, leaving you alone no matter what agreeable thing they say to end the “lets improve the relationship” conversation. They will not be there for you, nor initiate any attempt to improve. Sabotage you, yes. Support you, no. It’s better to co-exist cordially when you have to and turn to safe sane people for your support and friendship. Gratefully we can learn this from “Grace For My Heart”.

  6. Awesome. Than you!!!! 😊😊😊 I’ve been learning all I can about narcissism and see the rotten fruit of it in my own thinking and behavior after all the years of living in it. I realize there is a narcissistic bent in my family of origin, as well. I always knew there was something not right about one person in my family, in particular, but now I can see it so clearly. It makes me wonder if that propelled me into choosing a narc as my life partner. All I know is, I can see it now and iI recognize some of it still in me and on me, and I don’t want anything to do with it. I am being made new in Christ, the old has gone the new has come. I am thrilled to know that he works in me to change me. For years, I was trying to change to please my husband. It seems no matter what I did, I came up short. I would beat myself up over my failures. It was so difficult and disheartening. The verse that says “hope deferred makes the heart sick” was so applicable to me. I knew something was wrong with him, with me, or with both of us. Now I only have myself to work on. I have had to face some painful realizations, but again, I know the Lord is not finished with me. So anything you have to offer about deprogramming and reprogramming the heart and mind when coming out of narcissistic relationships and abuse would be excellent. I look forward to reading what you come up with. I hope it is sooner than later. No pressure, though. Wink..

  7. Good article, Dave. Concise yet richly revealing. You hit on something here that often goes unseen and completely unacknowledged. For most it is invisible. It was planned that way, of course, but instead of seeing illicit planning and “a fantasy life where everyone serves them and adores them,” the deceived simply see what is and believe it is what is supposed to be. It usually goes unchallenged. It could be because most people cannot imagine such a faux set-up with personal agendas for those at the top, especially if the organization is “Christian” and therefore supposedly above board and innocent.

    It is in part why the Lord Jesus gifts some of His people with eyes to see, but even then, though they know something is not right, they often have a hard time seeing through the charade early on. Once they do see it though, they see it all.

    Most never seem to escape the deception. When the deception becomes traditional, however, whoever points it out is seen as wrong or even evil (think OT prophets). Thus, those who create the narcissistic fantasy exult upon the tops of their pyramids, knowing they have created something that serves them very well, fully within the realm of legitimacy, where they escape proper censure, that most people are blind to.

    Keep up the good work.

  8. Gladheart

    It was so so hard for me to really believe that my ‘Christian’ husband had such bad motives, it was easier to believe that it was my own sin causing the destruction. Someone gave me a great booklet about manipulative people saying they saw it clearly in my husband and I tossed it aside saying “nah, we are all manipulative people.” It took years for me to come to clarity enough to get out/stay out. But I have often struggled to know how to reprogram now that I am safely out. 17 years living with an intense Narcissit leaves much need for renewing. There is stuff out there by non Christians who ‘tap into the inner consciousness’ and say it’s a quicker healing process. I believe Christ does a supernatural mind renewing, and that we could be guided through that process by someone submitted to Christ who also has a understanding/experience in NPD effects.

  9. guardyourheart

    i need some help discerning something that has been bothering me, i’ve been keeping away from manipulative mother and brother for a while now. initially was not in a good place due to these issues with destructive family members and needed some company but now reflecting on it, it just doesn’t seem like it adds up.

    Attended a larger church in my area that did evening services and was immediately invited for lunch by a young man who was assisting at the church and staying at an older member house.

    Went along and was told that the the older member was an expert in finance and banking and looked after some some christian mission businesses who he told me were all making a profit – something I didn’t quite understand.

    At his house out of the blue he asked me about my personal financial meters and i felt it crossed the boundary because we just met so I told him that there was an accountant already who helped with that and refused to tell him more even though he insisted on asking how much I donated etc.

    He then proceeded to give a lecture on how someone who was staying at his house was watching movies for free on the internet and how they shouldn’t do that and got noticeably angry when I disagreed with him. He then told me that I had to leave because they had work to do and got up and opened the door abruptly and asked me to leave. It felt like he invited me but had a different agenda and felt a bit like how some of the destructive manipulative family members were behaving. He also made some comment asking me what I thought about he living with a bunch of young single boys and some some sexually charges joke. I said that it was none of my businesses. It reminded me of a sexual abuser I met in my teens who had a similar mannerisms and smile. But I also thought maybe I was too needy and talked too much because i was lonely and desperately needed to socialise with someone…

    Later I was talking some other people at the church and he came over and told everyone that he had me at his house and a meal and proceeded to tell other people about his efforts. He didn’t tell them how he treated me.

    the people who stayed at his house treated me in a a hostile manner a couple of time and seemed to have told some others to do the same, so next time I tried to talk to people they would come over and interrupt and not listed to what I had to say…. so I just say hello and avoid when or go straight home after the services.

    I observed one he chased a homeless man from the church saying he came in to beg for money…

    Finding it difficult to discern what is going on here but cant help it but feel something in my gut telling me that there is something not right…

    any comments and insights please ?

    • Savedbygrace

      Hi Guardyourheart…. your name says it all… this is what you need to do! God gives us our instincts and ‘gut feelings’ as a warning system.. this is what we need to tune into.. from what you have said, I would agree that ‘something is not right’. What about you print out your comment and use a highlighter on all the things that have been said or done or implied or given you a bad vibe… it may help you see it more plainly. I would steer clear… especially if this person has so much sway over others. I pray God will give you another church to go to where there is God honouring fellowship which you can enjoy and truth which will cast out fear.
      God bless xx

  10. Thank you for this post, and your blog in general. It’s been a great help to me.

    I found myself unable to practice a full range of emotions because of my need to repress the pain and anger I felt toward my narcissist and narcissist-enabling family as the scapegoat. I felt like I was becoming a “near narcissist” as I was so into my own protection that I realized I was having trouble feeling natural compassion for others. But I knew I wasn’t a narcissist precisely because I was concerned of not feeling compassion easily for others. Also, I have a commitment to look to Jesus to help me with my pain, which is also something a narcissist wouldn’t do.

    I’m actually at the part of my healing now where I’m asking God to help me begin to feel a wider range of positive emotions, some of them for the first time in my life.

  11. KT

    Adapting to narcissist behaviours to deal with a narcissist is exhausting 😞 Need to hide and retreat to rebuild myself. This guy will not “go away”. Feel like I’m going I’m circles with him. Tired of the mind games and having my heart kicked around. All for no apparent reason. I have to keep hope alive at a chance to meet someone new and have a normal relationship.

  12. guardrdyourheart

    just came across this study on narcissism in institutional churches that might be of interest:

    Click to access AACC_2015_Paper_NPD_in_Pastors.pdf

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