It’s Narcissist Friday!
You have entered new territory. The old is behind and the new is in front of you. But there are dragons, someone has said. So, you decided to study dragons. And wow did you learn about dragons! You spent hours reading and scrolling and listening until you knew more about dragons than anyone in your circle. Dragons fascinated you, frightened you, and made you angry. And all the time, you are focused on the dragon.
Remember when you hadn’t heard of narcissism? Remember the confusion from the betrayal or manipulation of the narcissist? You didn’t know what was happening. You didn’t know who to ask or where to go for help. All you knew was that something was terribly wrong.
Then you found a book or listened to something online. The fact that there were others who experienced something similar was astounding. You began to consume everything you could about narcissism, psychopaths, abusers, and more. And there was a lot of information available. Websites, books, magazines, blogs, podcasts, and more.
The more you read, the more you understand. Narcissism is everywhere! You see it in your family, in your marriage, in your church, almost everywhere you look. You can spot a narcissist from across the room. You have become an expert.
I know I have to tread carefully here. This could be my story and the story of many others who truly desire to help people. But we have to understand what it means to be an expert.
An expert is simply someone who has more answers than you do. When you were wondering what was happening in your marriage, someone who could explain what you saw and felt appeared to have expert knowledge. Suddenly you had answers. The more you read from the “experts” the more you learned. It wasn’t long before you had more answers than others you met. A friend or acquaintance begins to tell their story and you know you have the answers.
But there’s a problem. Familiarity with a subject sometimes leads to blindspots about other subjects. It is a principle of learning that we see and understand more based on what we already know. Continuing to study a subject makes that subject even more available to us. In other words, we begin to see it all around us.
When you go to the doctor, you do well to consider what specialty the doctor has. If you have headaches and go to a chiropractor, for example, he/she might want to adjust your back. The cancer doctor might want to scan for a tumor. The holistic doctor might have certain supplements for you to try. The GP might prescribe a stronger pain reliever. It all depends on their focus. I am not trying to disparage these professionals. I want to illustrate how a singular focus can mislead us.
Once we learned about narcissism, we began to see it everywhere. Our eyes were opened to the narcissism around us. We had the information we needed to explain the problems we saw. But were we right?
Let’s be honest. The attitudes and actions of narcissists look like those of many different kinds of abusers. They also look like actions and attitudes of people who suffer or exhibit other personality dysfunctions. There are several disorders that move people to abuse or manipulate others. All may be narcissistic, but not all may be narcissists.
This is why I try to caution about labeling someone a narcissist, particularly someone you don’t know personally. You might see only a fraction of this person’s interactions—and what you see might be narcissistic—but you can’t diagnose or accuse someone of being a narcissist based on that limited perspective.
“But it fits so well!” I know. And I think it may be appropriate to use adjectives rather than nouns. Someone may be narcissistic or abusive or manipulative without being a narcissist. Describing the actions of the person will go much further than trying to pronounce a diagnosis.
You see, too often we attach certain other judgments to a diagnosis. Narcissists can’t be Christians. Narcissists can never change. Narcissists will eventually leave or betray you. Once you diagnose someone, you open the door to these attachments. Even if you disagree with them, others will bring them in.
So, yes, it might fit. When you listen to a story or see someone on the television, you may be ready to apply what you have learned. That isn’t bad, but it may be dangerous. Be careful with what you know, what you have learned. Remember that there is much you haven’t learned.
It was Alexander Pope who wrote “A little learning is a dangerous thing” in his poem called “A Little Learning.” He was right.