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.