It’s Narcissist Friday!
By definition, the narcissist needs affirmation. Narcissists long for attention and affirmation. They need to be noticed, valued, considered special. And, of course, you and I are supposed to give this to them.
The boss looks to you to feel superior. He believes your job is to make him look good. If you do well, he will feel good about himself. Not because he has helped you, but because he can take credit for any success you have brought.
The mother-in-law looks to you to feel important. Any success her son has is her success. Anything you contribute is for the purpose of making her feel affirmed. Even your children exist for her to boast about.
Your “needy” friend looks to you to tell her that she is special in her need, special to you and to others. Her needs are to be the primary needs in your life. Her need warrants your time, energy, and attention. Everything you do for her is to make her feel good about herself.
Why does the narcissist need this affirmation so much? What is going on?
The narcissist has two serious problems. First, the narcissist has no inherent affirmation. There is no inner voice that speaks love and affirmation for the narcissist. Instead, he/she must work to hear that from others. Contrary to what is often taught, the narcissist does not love himself. He loves the pretend image of himself. In his/her heart there is only self-condemnation.
Second, the narcissist doesn’t see others as real. We have talked about this depersonalization before. Basically, it means the narcissist doesn’t value the opinions and contributions of others. Everyone is phony or worthless, according to the narcissist.
But, if the opinion of others is false or of no value, then the narcissist cannot receive the affirmations that come. That means any affirmation, no matter how much the narcissist has worked to get it, sounds insincere or uninformed. If you do praise the narcissist, which you must do, he thinks your opinion comes out of your stupidity or that you are lying.
Now, think about that. If the narcissist needs affirmation from others but cannot receive that affirmation in his heart, what does he do? He strives harder to get something that feels good. Consider the boss. He pushes those below him to make him noticeable by those above him. Then, when those above him give affirmation, he doubts and discredits them as well. The boss believes they should have noticed him before, or they are just setting him up for something they want him to do for them.
This continual loop of working for affirmation then rejecting it when it comes takes a great deal of energy from the narcissist and is extremely frustrating. Hence, the anger, the sarcasm, the distance, the bitterness. The narcissist suffers from an unsatisfying addiction. He/she needs something but cannot receive it. We could say that the narcissist’s need for addiction is insatiable.
Of course, each person handles this differently. Some overt narcissists will strive harder and harder, burning out people in their lives quickly and recklessly. Like other addicts, they believe there is satisfaction out there somewhere. Because of their willingness to use others ruthlessly, they climb the business and organizational ladders. Even when they reach the top, they are still striving for more. So, we see these superstar businessmen, sports people, actors, and politicians doing things that seem stupid. The billionaire who gets caught with prostitutes. The academy award winner who hosts drug parties. The music star who puts a hit on a rival. The politician who cheats on his wife or who gets caught having sex with children. These stories have become almost regular on our daily news.
Some covert narcissists handle their insatiable addiction in much the same way. The “sick” narcissist has more and more symptoms to attract more attention. What seemed like hypochondria before has now become Munchausen, from pretend symptoms to self-inflicted harm. Some have even injected themselves with or ingested things that cause serious damage. Some even carefully fake suicide attempts. Others harm their children to get attention as caregivers, something known as “Munchausen by proxy.” We consider these extremes to be mental illness, but some of them are extensions of the narcissistic need for affirmation.
Others don’t take their need to these extremes. They withdraw into themselves in anger and fear. They become reclusive, sociopathic. Their addiction smolders until it finds an outlet in some type of rage event. They become dangerous and unpredictable.
Most of us will never experience these severe cases, I hope. But we should understand the level of pain the narcissist suffers in their unending search for satisfying affirmation. Nor do I think this should foster compassion for narcissism in anyone. Narcissists choose their lifestyle and behavior, at least they did at one time. Just like other addicts, they ignored warnings and chose to cope with the difficulties they encountered in life by wrong behavior. And their behavior hurt others. While I don’t have a great deal of hope for change in the heart of a narcissist (except by coming to Jesus!) I do know that wrong behavior can be unlearned. Narcissists who want to change, like other addicts, can find help to stop hurting others and themselves.
Those who find themselves in relationship with a narcissism might do well to remember this addiction. It explains most narcissistic behavior. It also means you are not going to be able to help the narcissist. He/she will only change when that change is desired. Those who try to counsel narcissists should understand this addiction as well.
I was contacted by a young man (who has become a friend) to do a podcast for his ministry. He read the book and wanted to explore the general topic a little more. That became over an hour of discussion and a promise to come back in a month for more. Dan Duval at Bride Ministries hosted and interacted with me. If you are interested in watching (bear with my first attempt at this), here’s the link:
If watching is hard and you would like to just listen, there is an audio version under the podcast window.
I have uploaded a different pdf for the Kindle version of the book. A couple people said that the other didn’t work for them. The problems they described didn’t fit with anything I could find as a normal problem. Someone at the Kindle Authors forum suggested that Word did not make good pdfs, so I made a new one through my pdf conversion software. I hope that helps!
The link to the ebook is: