Common Characteristics

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


While most of the literature on narcissism seems to focus on the marriage relationship, there are other narcissistic relationships that have to be addressed. There are several good books now on parental narcissism, and some even on narcissism at the workplace. I have tried to categorize the various relationships I have read about or experienced and have come up with six:

1. Marriage (dating, significant other)

2. Parental (could include grandparent or family authority)

3. Workplace (boss, co-workers, system)

4. Friendship (anyone who uses friendship connection)

5. Organizational (church, volunteer, would include leaders)

6. Familial (siblings, children, connected by family)

There may be others (and I would love to hear your suggestions), but I suspect most would fall under one of these categories. An argument could be made for a sort of “neighborly” narcissistic relationship, where the person has no direct personal connection other than being near. The “narcissist next door” may not quite fall under any of these categories but still be a significant problem. There might be others.

All of these different relationships share common characteristics. Obviously, there is a narcissist (or multiple narcissists) in each of them. The effects on the victims are also very similar. When I write, I usually have more than one kind of relationship in mind. My hope is that the information is helpful to anyone who suffers from such a relationship.

When you have to deal with a narcissist, in any relationship, you should expect to be used. Remember, just because the narcissist is kind does not mean he isn’t using you. He may give you what you want as he uses you. It may feel like you have a good working relationship, even while you are being used.

You should also expect that use will turn to abuse if you fail to give the narcissist what he/she wants. Whatever the narcissist has given to you is an investment in what you are supposed to give to him. Your failure, for any reason, will be met with punishment. If you have a problem that affects your performance, the narcissist will have no empathy for you. Any patience or kindness you are shown is more investment in what you are expected to return. Eventually, the narcissist will want you to provide your part. If you do not, you will almost certainly experience a type of rage meant to intimidate you into submission. At best, the narcissist will write you off without any regret or concern.

Almost everyone in relationship with a narcissist feels the drain of being used. There is something in the connection that seems to go only one way. You get smaller while the narcissist grows larger. You become less important while the narcissist grows more important. Even if you begin stronger or more important, you will feel this change increasing and have a sense that the narcissist is using you.

The narcissist must be viewed as superior, or in the superior position. This seems obvious in business, familial, or organization relationships. Sometimes it is not so obvious in friendships. Remember that the person who is being served often feels himself or herself to be in a superior position. Sometimes narcissists present themselves as victims (think invalid, impoverished, and/or inexperienced) to have others serve them. From our perspective, they don’t seem to be in a superior position, but they are being served. They have found a way to demand your time and energy, perhaps even money, to serve their desires.

So narcissistic relationships are, in any form, draining and one-sided. The lack of empathy and desire to be seen as superior is wearing and corrupting. If you find yourself in a relationship where you feel drained of life—energy, time, money, whatever—you may be in a relationship with a narcissist. If you begin to realize that the person knows a lot about you while you know little about her, or you value the connection far more than he does, you might be in a relationship with a narcissist. If you experience flashes of anger mixed with stringed generosity, you might have a narcissist on your hands.

Fundamentally, every narcissistic relationship is a business deal. You do what you are supposed to do and the narcissist might do what he is supposed to do. Sometimes this relationship works, perhaps for a long time, but if anything changes your side of the deal, there will be consequences. And sometimes, even if you have done your part, the narcissist will find another to replace you.

And it might be at church, at work, with a friend, or in your family. The needs of a narcissist are quite simple. They might not look the same, and you might find them in different places, but they will all want the life and energy you have. They will use you and lessen you to lift themselves up.


Filed under Narcissism

15 responses to “Common Characteristics

  1. Janet

    This is one of THE most spot on descriptions of my relationship with my N Christian sister.

    “You should also expect that use will turn to abuse if you fail to give the narcissist what he/she wants.”

    How many many many times over the last 7 years did I tell her, “you always attack me when I do not do what you want! You always punish me when you don’t get EXACTLY what you want!! I am not tolerating this!” And I would go no contact.

    But alas, she would always after a few months come back, hat in hand, apologize for, the selfish and abusive behavior??? NEVER!! She would EXPLAIN some new sob story that MADE her do those things. See? Never REAL repentance. Just excuses. I genuinely liked her despite her vile treatment of me.

    She was totally served, by me, by others in the church. We were all used. But others didnt care that much and never invested as much as I did in the relationship: time, MONEY, car rides, listening ear, advice. She was so NEEDY. But, I slowly began to see she was using me when after overcoming some need, with in 2-3 weeks there was ALWAYS a brand new crisis, a brand new trauma, a brand new NEED. When I finally started calling her on this PATTERN, boy, did I get drawn and quartered!!
    The relationship was EXTREMELY draining. I told her finally 2 months ago, after she recontacted AGAIN and wanted to reconcile, I basically told her what I saw, which was in fact EVERYTHING you listed in todays article. But, of course, I was the one who was EVIL because she was trying to reach out and reconcile, right? Therefore I was the bad one. So, I decided to try something.
    I apologized for my “bitterness”, giving her the “superior position”, and said, we need to part company for good. I “didn’t want to hurt” her any more, see? (Haha!!) So what does she say?
    She had no idea I was do full of bitterness, otherwise she would never have tried to reconcile, and SHE DECIDED we should “GO NO CONTACT”, (the classic term used for cutting ties with an N). (Um….didnt I just day that????? And hadn’t I been saying it since 2010?????)
    Anyway, I have been blocked on Facebook (HALELUIA!!) I check from time to time to see if it has remained so. Why? Because everytime she UN-blocks me, SHE COMES BACK AGAIN, and tries some new angle to get me back!!!
    Lord, preserve me!!!

    • Shrek

      Oh my. If I insert ” my wife” in place of your sister…..exact match!
      Wish I would have found this site years ago.
      The more I read, the more profound is my new understanding of how common my experience is.
      My wife, and her life story, is one that near perfectly mirrors the traits described here.
      Sadly, my story of being used by her and manipulated by her was exacerbated due to us being Christian, and the “helpful” advice of fellow Christians.
      Thank you, Pastor Dave for bringing life this website!

  2. OTHJ

    This is an excellent post, Pastor Dave, and has so many good points. It seems that in our society today, narcissists are everywhere and are promoted because they know how to use people to get things done. So how do you relate to them when it is required, e.g., work? I know setting clear boundaries is necessary, but when it is your manager or another person in authority, how do you “push back” without being insubordinate?

    • Good question OTHJ! I only realised yesterday I have experienced 2, may be 3, managers in my working life who didn’t display narcissistic behaviours. The longest manager shifted between overt & covert, but I couldn’t see that initially. He ceased employment because he got “beaten” down by a stronger & more able Narcissist, who allowed me to stay till I was no longer of use, (one of my happy days). I had learned from another manager not to try to outlast them, to have them caught doing bad eg fraud, theft, bullying. That manager taught me that I needed to continue to do my job, set MY boundaries, and emotionally distance myself from work. I had to learn to say “No”. I learned the hard way through hospital stays & extreme migraines.
      I have also worked for a corporation who screamed “we support work-life balance” but that was about as far as it got, unless you were in the chosen few.
      Unfortunately we learn by example; being awful/dominering/manipulative/game player always seem to be rewarded with promotion and pay rises. I see it happen so often, I wonder why & have tried to play that game. But my inherent trait of calling out BS gets me voted out too often!
      My best suggestion is remembering every interaction with them is different, being aware of their limits & triggers helps, becoming clear in what you set as boundaries which includes working hours. And learning ways that suit you so not to bring the toxicity home, to be able to leave at the gate or door, otherwise it can do so much damage to home & family (& they “win”).

  3. Selma

    That these posts are written in such a way that they can apply to almost any kind of relationship with a Narcissist has made it my number one place to go for strength & encouragement. Mine is a rather unique situation & there is precious little that I can find out there to address it.

    The Narc in my life is a church member who made it her mission to become “best friends” with my husband (the lead pastor). Their “friendship” gave her great power in the congregation which, of course, was her real goal. To add a layer of complexity, she also holds a PhD in psychology & is a licensed therapist (which, in my opinion, makes her even more dangerous). When I, very early on, strongly objected to my husband’s “friendship” with her, it was surprisingly easy for her to convince him that I was unstable, insecure, irrationally jealous, & needed to see a therapist. I did finally break down & find a therapist, not because of my “instability” but because it was destroying my marriage. At the end of my first session, after I had spent an hour describing my husband’s not-normal friendship with someone that everybody seemed to think was the greatest thing since sliced bread, my God-given therapist said the words I had been waiting months for someone to say, “I just want you to know, you’re not crazy.”

    A year into therapy & at the absolute rock-bottom point of my marriage (I discovered phone records that showed some days with over a dozen phone calls between them while he had been telling me for 4 months that he had broken off all contact), I discovered Pastor Dave & GFMH. It, like my therapist, has been a true gift.

    Eighteen months after rock-bottom, our marriage is solid but still recovering. She still attends church on Sundays but has lost all her positions of power. I am not the only one that she targeted for abuse & her reputation has suffered — people have noticed that trouble seems to follow her & a handful now realize that the problem might be her instead of everyone else. Running into her a church is unnerving, but I try to “grey rock” her as much as possible. As her pastor, my husband is polite but does his best to avoid her. Finally, I think he sees her for who she truly is.

    Still, since it is impossible for us to go total “no contact” (unless she chooses to leave the church), I worry that, at some point, she will attempt to re-engage. And so I look forward to Fridays, when I can receive a word of encouragement from Pastor Dave & read comments from folks who understand. I thank God for you all.

    • Oh goodness, that is horrible! I HAD an ex narcissist ‘family’ member who discussed my “mental health” treatment behind my back with my neurologist causing him to misdiagnose me. He broke HIPPA laws to discuss my health with a Narcissist in-law who my husband and I had been renting a house from. Needless to say it was a messy, danger-wrought escape from those people. I am fortunate that my husband broke off contact of his own accord because he was finally fed up with the abuse that afflicted him even in childhood. We had to move across the country to get away from these people, because even living hours away from them wasn’t far enough without the back-roads style of meddling they’d do with our neighbors, fellow congregants, and even bosses and college professors (The Head narcissist was a retired college professor, Ph.D).

    • Janet

      I so identify with your predicament and pain!. My N, was also a church member, and a volunteer to our congregation. She latched onto me, we had been really close. But her narcissistic behavior, which at the time I had NO clue what it was, made it look like I was the problem. I felt like I was going crazy too. I kept trying to break off the relationship. She totally betrayed me one day, ie, lied about me to leadership. They removed me from being a worship leadrr, and all my leadership duties and told ME to take a year and get ministry. Meanwhile, she weedled her way onto the worship team!!!
      What destroyed her in the end was ” trouble followed her”, as you said. She started to do the same clingy relationship with a woman elder. She tried the same manipulations, and control with her and her husband. But they were tighter with leadership than me and this Ns behavior was now being seen for what it was. I was restored to my positions, no apologies, but, they were falling all over me being kind and appreciative. I learned alot about the character of God in those days so my relationship with Him is on a greater solid rock ever since. This N volunteer, God saw to it her visa was denied and she had to return to her home country. I was vinicated as well. But I have been traumatized and scarred for life. I totally understand what you went through.

  4. Two of the best books I have read and helped to set me “free” are: One: THE EMOTIONALLY DESTRUCTIVE RELATIONSHIP by Leslie Vernick. She also has an amazing and informative site and weekly email as well as seminiars around the country. One of her passions are the Church and how they respond. Two: FOOL PROOFING YOUR LIFE by Jan Silvious. These books are not necessarily about a narcissist but certainly fit the bill. There were times I was so “sick” I would literally sit and type some of the paragraphs in Leslie VERNICK’S book to get it into my head and spirit. Be blessed and the truth WILL set you free. I stand, Eph 6:13

  5. Penny

    “Fundamentally, every narcissistic relationship is a business deal.”
    Amen, Brother!!
    A wise person warned me long ago to view every transaction (conversations, gifts, phone calls, compliments, etc) as an INVOICE.
    The narc will choose the time & place to issue that invoice, because of the hard & fast rule that you OWE them. You MUST pay up!!
    And if you don’t, they work overtime to either make you pay or make you miserable.
    It’s that simple.
    They are toxic & contagious.
    Avoid them like the plague.

    • Postbellum

      Oh my goodness, yes! My experience w exnpd husband, exactly. I would tell him , over our 22 years, that he treated me/kids like a business deal. Your analogy about the “invoice” makes perfect sense. He always seemed to be working off of some system constructed in his sick mind. It is like he kept score of what he believed was “due” to him. I had no ability to understand this system, as my mind is not geared that way, do I was always in a one-down position, and blindsided. I attribute much of his narcissistic rage to his “invoicing”, this was his way of collecting on a perceived debt. (Weird when you are the debtor, but never understood what you owed or why). This explaines some of the confusion we experience at the hand of these monsters. Sadly, my kids have had to cope with him “invoicing” and collecting on them. They are learning the hard way that NOTHING is free with dad. So grateful for you Dave, and others that share insight, helps to know I’m not alone. I struggle so much with feeling alone. Having lived though this abuse for decades, I think that if I try to describe it to someone, it’s as if I have some rare disease that no one has heard of. People don’t know how to handle this information. Most don’t get it at all. So, I tune in to Pastor Dave on Fridays, thank you for your ministry. I pray God’s blessings for you.

  6. cefeather

    A business deal, yes, but any payments or work you do on the narc’s behalf is forgotten. There is always a hole in the deposit bag, your account balance is always in the red and theirs, in their estimation, way in the black. You are only as good as what you just did for them, and that was not good enough. The concept of making deposits in a love bank is foreign to the narcissist. They don’t have a love bank. They forget what you did for them the moment it is done. All that matters is if you are, at this very moment, promoting them, aiding them, propelling them to the level of greatness they deserve. So glad to be free of mine.

    • Penny

      Yes, the other side of the invoice “coin” is exactly as you have said!
      You are ALWAYS indebted to them, while they are ALWAYS deserving of total devotion.
      They will suck you dry, saying you never gave enough, all the while crying more, more, more.
      They are insatiable.
      You are correct about the “moment”…they live in the moment, and no matter how grand the moment, it “buys” very little for the giver, & is quickly forgotten.
      Glad you’re free!!!

  7. UnForsaken

    I have experienced 4 of the above types of Ns most of my life. And it’s easy to always be bumping into the same kind, as the Ns I’m around attract even more Ns! The old law of “like attracts like”. Thankfully, as the numbness wears off and I open my eyes, I can almost smell the familiarity.

    They have a huge entitlement and feeling that we owe them. I live within a situation where a N looks like the caring person paying for needs, but who really deeply resents it. You can bet I know with every fiber that this covert Narc is waiting for the big someday when they can call in the debt! Right now I’m not kicking myself for getting into the situation I couldn’t help, but I’m trying to remember that if God has me here in this place for a purpose, He must have a special reason. After all, God can use even a recalcitrant Narc to care for His little one’s needs. For years I had to swallow shame about this and didn’t get the irony, but now it does make me laugh. The N won’t give to any charity that won’t get them some kind of notice or dividend, but with me they aren’t going to get anything of value except on a tax form and they feel they deserve that. They want the extra. They’ve been forced into a “charity project” they would never choose! God chose this way to care. I’ve learned to be grateful…to GOD….for this, and I’m also praying and looking forward to the day He enables me to leave.

    I need to say this : It’s not the N who is actually paying these bills, not the one who wishes to replace God. It is Jesus’ total sufficiency that has sustained me through this! He alone has taken care of the bills – even for the N. I look forward to saying that ALOUD, in a safe place. The N will think that is strangely angering, perhaps even a kind of blasphemy. Whatever the N wants credit for, we owe to the One who has given us every good gift. The only debt I owe is one of love, to the God Who Is love! We can be free of all burdensome debt right now in our minds and heart, where Jesus rules with grace. ❤

  8. E

    I’m grateful for these articles on narcissism and often find myself here seeking validation that I’m not crazy. The narcissistic person is sometimes situated over the victim in such a way that confrontation would destroy, discredit, or painfully isolate the victim. It’s not that I think every difficult person has NPD. It’s just that the NPD person in my life is usually replaced with another one because I can only recognize patterns in hindsight. I’m sure many can relate. It started with a narcissistic parent, then poisoned my dating relationships—skipped my marriage as God led me to a stable and emotionally healthy husband—and finally and most horribly is revealed within the clandestinely legalistic “modern” Church we attend, where we as a couple have felt trapped in our own different ways. I’m talking about spiritual abuse. It’s as if we peel off another layer of it every once in a while, but have no way to fix it or even scratch the surface because the problem is so systemic. My husband is on staff and actually helped perpetuate some of the agendas we now question as the great “machine” of the church turns on anyone who attempts to heal or even acknowledge the rotten core of its leadership. Morale is low, the pastor is paranoid, and others are blamed for everything in the most abstract of “spiritual” terms that invalidate and marginalize. If you aren’t with him, you are with, well, you may have guessed it (cue eye roll). It seems that the “enemy” is getting blamed for a lot of poor human impulse control lately, things that have already been lovingly addressed by some members of staff only to be ignored or justified as “the necessary way a leader should be.” But kindness, gentleness, patience, are no where to be found and the attitude of perfectionism, contempt for criticism, and lack of self-awareness trickle dangerously down into the staff as they learn how to kill their own gifts and strengths and mirror that of the self-proclaimed “effective visionary leader.” If you aren’t like him, don’t worry, he says, you will learn. Yikes. And of course I sound crazy saying all of this. But this happens in churches and we are seeing it. Yes, there are plans to get out but it’s never a seamless, clean escape. But it’s got to happen. The narcissist is the boss, the pastor, and at some point tried to become a friend. All relationships have frayed apart one by one. I’ve been done for at least a year now and finally my husband sees that he has to be as well. All I can say is we are in for a rough ride, but we can’t let fear of this person dictate our decisions anymore. It was ridiculous that it happened in the first place, but it did. Beware some modern churches that want to triple in attendance by such and such a time and who promote vision over character.

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