Trickle-down Narcissism

It’s Narcissist Friday!    


Human beings are amazingly adaptable. We joke about doing the same wrong things over and over, but when we see success, we want to do the same thing. We read how-to books by people who have been successful. We go to lectures and receive training from those who have been successful. Someone said that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but the truth is that imitation is simply our attempt to reach the success we have seen in others by doing the same things. Kids dress like their heroes, hoping to garner some of the attention and success for themselves. Children learn by imitating their parents. Employees do what their bosses do. We are creatures of imitation.

And people who see the success of the narcissist often mimic what they see. We may not like what we see in narcissistic behavior, but it usually appears to work. Narcissists are often at the higher levels of the organization. They are bosses, pastors, CEOs, and parents. Those who watch them know that they are doing something to get what they want. Those who want the same thing will naturally imitate those they see as successful.

So the General Manager is a jerk, a functioning narcissist. He micro-manages, criticizes, and mocks the employees. He depersonalizes the customers. He rails against his bosses and has little loyalty to the company. Guess what the rest of the leaders in his store are like. The Assistant Manager treats both workers and customers the same as the GM. So do the supervisors. Why? Because, apparently, that’s what you have to do to get ahead in that company. Those who won’t work that way either become the butt of the abuse or leave the company.

Remember the classic clique in high school, the “mean girls”? Remember that friend who wasn’t mean until she joined up with that group? Her personality seemed to change. Off to the side, away from the group, she might have been more like she used to be, but whenever the group was around, she acted like them. They were the group that seemed to be successful, at least in her eyes. Emulating them was almost natural, not because she was mean, but because she sought success through imitation.

So here you go:

Children of narcissists act like narcissists

Employees with narcissistic bosses act like narcissists

Friends of narcissists act like narcissists

Members of narcissistic churches act like narcissists

If they did not, you see, they would quickly become a focal point of narcissistic abuse or rage. If there is any other motivation than imitation, it is conformity. Those who are not striving for the success the narcissist has achieved may simply be trying to avoid becoming a victim.

Notice that I say they “act like narcissists.” Narcissism is a learned behavior. You don’t have to be a narcissist to act like one. Narcissists are not defined by their behavior, but by their motivations. Narcissists think they need to act the way they do. They want to be admired, so they put others down. They want to be first, so they push others back. They want to do what they want, so they burden others with responsibilities. They lie, cheat, abuse, and complain because they really believe they deserve what they think they are not getting.

But sometimes you will meet a person who acts like a narcissist and appears to be sincerely sorry for hurtful actions. Narcissists don’t care, but this person does. He apologizes, admits he is wrong, tries to see things your way—all actions quite contrary to normal narcissistic behavior. Yet, he just treated you like a narcissist would. It may be that his narcissistic behavior was simply learned from the leadership of others. He did what his examples did—and may have been shocked when he realized how much it hurt you.

These people can unlearn this wrong behavior. They have a certain amount of empathy and actually care for others. They just wanted to get ahead. When they are convinced that their behavior is unacceptable and hurtful, they can choose to stop because their primary motivations are not the same as those of the narcissist.

Someone might ask, “What about spouses of narcissists?” I think this relationship is different. I suspect that many do act like narcissists. I have certainly known husbands and wives who both act as narcissists. But I don’t think that’s normal. Instead, this “trickle-down narcissism” is primarily a leadership process, where success is emulated. That doesn’t usually happen in a marriage, at least not in the same way. I have learned that marriages can be very different, but I don’t think most people enter marriage (or even intimate relationships) with the idea of emulating their lovers. They look for someone to complement them, to walk beside and be support and encouragement, to be a fun and helpful companion through life. Not an example to live by. So I doubt that this problem is as prevalent in marriages.

When you encounter a church or organization that treats you like a number, where the people pretend to listen but don’t really care, look for a narcissist at the top. When you meet children who take advantage of and abuse other children, look for a narcissistic parent. You won’t always find one, of course. But narcissism does trickle down.


Filed under Narcissism

14 responses to “Trickle-down Narcissism

  1. If there is a narcissist in the family, compliance and taking care of that parent is expected. You don’t know what you don’t know and I suspect narcissists breed narcissists since they cannot give a child the requisite unconditional regard in parenting. Instead, they become enmeshed mini-me’s, or cold and remorseless themselves, or both. My Ndad is married to a narcissist (my step mom) and they have had a long-standing relationship, but it is shallow and materialistic. They don’t have relationships with their children or grandchildren. What a sad loss for them.

  2. As always, your insights are precious. My ex-wife was probably borderline narcissist. But when she joined a local leadership organization and made the queen narcissist her hero, she went full hog into narcissism, emulating the top narcissist so she could get ahead in her career. The final straw came when she chose her narcissistic leader over me; that was the telling moment in our relationship. It was all about getting ahead, not loving the person who offered unconditional love. So sad. But I am firmly convinced an evil spirit has entered so many people in that organization, which is a good-old-boys club that controls access to better jobs in the county. The narcissist that is at the head of the organization is a puppeteer; pay your fee, become one of her puppets, and if she likes you well enough, if you pay enough money, do enough of her dirty work, you will be rewarded. So disgusting. I am so tired of phony people.

  3. Lea Anna Curtis

    Yes…this is very good!

  4. OTHJ

    This is so true, Dave! I just completed a project assignment at a company, and the trickle-down narcissism was very apparent. My boss was a narcissist & several people he hired who were more “junior” acted like he did. He was a smart guy, but was really selfish and 2-faced. He threw people under the bus a lot. It was difficult working for him & working with 2 people he had hired. Please pray that my next job will be in a much better culture.

  5. I had to chuckle at this one, which is spot on, just like the others. My Narcissist/sociopath ex-husband was elevated to Chief Operating Officer of a large international company. His boss, best friend, and fellow narcissist owned the company and was the CEO. Another good friend and narcissist was the President of the hotel group. I am convinced that my ex learned even more narcissistic tactics from the CEO. For example, the CEO would call people who weren’t extremely wealthy (like he was) “the great unwashed.” That was, of course, most of his employees. My ex would claim that if he couldn’t make a million dollars just in sneaking things into the legal documents after a deal was already agreed in principle, he wasn’t doing his job properly. A colleague joked about how the company would get great prices from people who were in financial distress: “Why kick a man when he’s down, when you can run over him with a steamroller? That’s the Kalebic way.” Of course, that was the way of the company, and that was the way he ran our family – like a business. When I asked him in a counseling session why he always had to have his way, he made a business analogy: “You can’t have 10 people with different opinions! One person has to decide which way things are going to go! I ran a company with 10,000 people. They can’t all decide how to run the company!” Even now bankers and business people who have done business with him will relay a story on how he tried to “screw them over.” It was just a game to him to see how much he could get away with. It was the same with our marriage and divorce – and continues to be.

    In the end, the management finally had enough of the abuse of themselves and their employees. It was a hostile, abusive environment (much like our home environment at the time). They contacted the other owners, and one day, the owners came in and fired both the CEO and the COO (my ex-husband) on the spot. No retirement party, no “thank you for your 30 years of service”, no warm wishes.

    My ex’s reaction? No remorse for being a jerk, of course. But only indignation, and blaming the board, the owners, and management for betraying him. He then went into business with his son, to whom he is teaching the same business skills. At the end of our marriage, both my ex and his son refused to pay my law firm for tens of thousand of dollars in legal fees that their business incurred and that they incurred personally.

    Relieved to be out.

  6. Sandra

    Thank you, Pastor Dave! Best regards!

  7. Wow! I agree with all of that because I have seen it all through my own lifetime in my own family and my marriage. But you know what really strikes me right now? It’s that even when narcissism is emulated, it is all about what scripture calls the cares of this world. It’s all about what I want somehow: getting ahead, getting my way, etc. etc. Scripture warns us not to do this. God tells us to put Him first in all things. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you. When we don’t trust the Father to care for our needs, when we don’t trust Him for our provision, and we think we have to take things into our own hands to get our needs met, then we are susceptible to becoming a narcissist or emulating narcissism. I’ve had to learn this the hard way myself.

    • Cookie

      I completely agree. “Do unto others…” (Matt. 7:12) comes after Matt. 7:8-11 where we are reminded that if our imperfect earthly fathers give us good things when we ask, how much more will our perfect heavenly Father respond to the needs of His children. We can think about and respond to the needs of others because we have a heavenly Father who thinks about and responds to our needs. I love that!

  8. clayvessel

    I wonder if sometimes those who are under constant covert-Narc abuse(s) can appear to be acting as if they are N’s themselves? I have seen both in myself and in a few others the stress build to the point that constant defensiveness is the norm, and everything seems to be colluding for the purpose of USING me/them. Like when a couple goes to counseling for example, and he seems so calm and reasonable, but she is snappish, defensive, etc. – but actually HE is the N and SHE is just at the end of her endurance. And the therapist (with “his” help) starts trying to help her, because in this snapshot view of their relationship she is obviously the one who needs ‘fixed.’ Anyone else relate? (ack, in the middle of it and no, not quite like above as that was just an example and not really related to my situation).
    Thank you, Pastor Dave, I learn a lot from your posts! Would love to see more posts focused on walking in Christ by the Spirit even in “this” – like bible-studies for the N victim, sort of. Please?
    Blessings to all of you and Pastor Dave, I am committing today to praying for ALL of us here and all those like us, I know there are many, and Jesus wants us free, not stuck in the F.O.G. Love in Him, pray for each other, pray without ceasing (my new focus).

    • Yes, I can totally relate! I was the one to finally leave the adulterous N (after fifty years and an egregious last-straw event). That was three years ago, and in conversations with my kids (now middle-aged men) I learned that it was hard for them to tell the difference. It took many more months for the divorce to be final and for me to be able to cease almost all contact, but the longer I go without engaging him, the more I can be myself and the kids can now see who is who. For the past three years I have been able to devote myself to prayer and Bible study as I never managed to do before, and it is such a blessing.
      I’d like to second your request for the Bible studies from Pastor Dave on walking in the Spirit, and also on prayer. And I’d like to see his list, which I am sure he has, of narcissists in the Bible!

      • Clayvessel, you point out one of the Narcissist’s most common (and effective) tactics: baiting. Behind closed doors, the N will do everything to frustrate, sabotage, and violate any normal person. When the spouse finally has had enough and reacts like any normal person would at the repeated violations, all the rest of the world sees is her reaction. The N sits back smugly and calmly, waits for and watches the eruption he has just caused, and then says to the therapist, the friends, the children, or whomever is watching, “See, I told you she is crazy!” It’s just a sick game to them.

        When one finally realizes the N is not normal and has a severe, untreatable disorder so that they will never be normal, one can heal and return to normalcy when they cut the N out of their life. The people that cannot heal and cannot move on are those who continue in hope that the N will finally have an “aha” moment and, through guilt or conscience or some goodness in them, change back into the person the N pretended to be when they were dating. Unlike normal people, N’s have no guilt or conscience, and therefore, cannot or will not do the right thing. But they will pretend to be a good person for the next victim, and the cycle continues. There is never closure with a N. But being in prayer, Scripture, worship, song, and surrounded by good people helps the healing tremendously.

        There are many, many narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths in the Bible. A trip through the Old Testament will reveal at least one in every book!

        Prayers to all who struggle with Satan’s minions called Narcissists.

  9. Darlene

    Thank you again for sharing your gifted insight; I get so much affirmation from your blog on narcissism.

    My step father severly abused all of his children (biological and step) verbally. He psychologically abused my mother for 20 years (she finally escaped when the Lord delivered her through death).

    Little did I know how much she suffered until I was older and she began tonshare many things with me. Still yet, neither one of understood him – she made excuses for him and taught us to do the same.

    I too married a narcissist but mine was even worse; eventually he became physically abusive. When my mother passed it was as if I could no longer survive “her way” which involved making excuses for these men. That’a when I started to stand up to my N husband and therefore he increased his abuse to push me back down where he had always had me before.

    Even though I have been divorced for almost ten years, the reason why your ministry still has such an affect on me is because of this latest angle you wrote about: Trickle Down Narcissism.

    My baby sister is in her 30’s now and continues to mimic dad’s behavior. Her self-esteem is so utterly crushed from all of the confusion in our home due to having a verbally abusive narcissistic parent. Because she saw dad as the dominant one and everyone else as weak, she is scared to death of becoming the “weak” one and has opted to follow in dad’s ways – she is very hateful to me despite my love for her, making a healthy relationship impossible.

    The damage done in my family through ONE unhealthy, out of control narcissist, has left me very alone. Because the Lord has brought understanding and healing in my life, I chose to leave my N and also create boundries with my sister. Sometimes doing the right thing hurts; when I read your post of the week, I am encouraged. I know I am doing the right thing and I pray God gives me an opportunity to share my life with new friends who will give me a sense of family – the family I have lost due to the horrible spirit of narcissism.

    Keep Writing. Many Blessing!

  10. Sandra C Martineau

    I’ve lived with an N for 25 years. I’m not convinced it is a learned behavior, I think the personality has to be there. While it may be that the early childhood circumstances are what help to make the N (or rather just how bad they are going to be), the personality, their way of looking at things, has to already be there – they are born that way. A different personality in his spot in the family could have easily turned out completely differently (cuz they did) even in the exact same situation.

    I also think there aren’t different kinds of N’s. They are all the same thing – they just show different faces to different people in different circumstances. Whatever it takes. Mine to me is Vulnerable N. At work? Oh man…def Grandiose …. but not at home. The 2nd a male neighbor shows up? So does Mr. G. Entertaining to watch.

    No offense to the entire psychiatric community 🙂

    • Marilyn M. Mason

      I agree with your post….they are born that way. Like the tares (weed) in Jesus’ parable. Satan throws them in the field with wheat seeds. They grow up together with wheat, but are unrecognizable until the ears of grain appears.

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