It’s Narcissist Friday!
It took a long time for me to understand that normal people can hold conflicting, even contradictory, emotions and perspectives. We see this all the time, but it doesn’t make much sense. We want to categorize people, to be able to predict their actions and attitudes. We want to understand them.
But people are complicated.
The loving grandfather who visits abusive porn sites. The pastor who betrays confidences or makes inappropriate advances. The attorney who embezzles funds. The marriage counselor who has an affair with a client. The sweet grandmother who hates people of a different race. The close friend who cheats with your spouse. We wonder how these people can live with such contrasting behaviors and wonder which is real. Often, both sides of the contradiction are real, but the person is somehow content with the conflict.
These are extreme cases, you say. But they are not less real for being extreme. Most people are able to maintain what you and I would consider conflicting perspectives, especially about political or lifestyle issues. People who would never steal will cheat on their taxes. People who would never disobey the law will flout speed limits. I once visited a lady in the hospital who was kind and loving to everyone but threw her garbage on the floor while saying that others would clean it up. Her garbage bag was attached to her table within easy reach. It didn’t bother her at all to make an orderly’s job more difficult.
How can we truly connect with others when they hold such inconsistencies? How can we trust them, any of them? Unless you know all about them, there is a risk of meeting some kind of alter ego at an unexpected time. You know what I mean. Having dinner with gracious Christian friends when one of your hosts begins to rail against people with disabilities or financial struggles. Did he think that about you when he offered to help you out?
It is tempting to dismiss these things as split personalities or some other kind of disorder, but it is true for all of us. No one is perfectly consistent, and few of us are truly predictable. In many small ways, we hold conflict within us.
There are people who hold certain values but vote for people who oppose those values. There are people who truly believe one thing is important, but do another thing. There are people who say they hate certain things, but then do those things themselves. And some of them are people close to you.
It might be financial decisions, political opinions, or religious doctrines. Most people simply don’t worry about logical contradictions or inconsistencies. They have enough difficulty moving through their complicated lives without worrying about those things.
As much as these things disturb us, they are quite normal. People are complicated. We are not logic-based machines. We think out of a mess of emotions, past events, and opinions from others. Be careful how you judge and what you expect.
You see, narcissists and other abusers love to “discover” these inconsistencies. They will trumpet the negative things they find, even if those things are in the past. They remember past sins and compromises so they can use those things to humiliate and manipulate.
You, on the other hand, have to be able to value others in spite of their inconsistencies. For example, when the narcissist points out the bigotry of your father, he doesn’t want to hear about the love your father actually shows to everyone. Nor does he want to hear an excuse you might have for your father’s inappropriate opinions. That bigotry is supposed to invalidate everything your father says, no matter how wise or loving your father is otherwise.
We do understand the challenge this represents to you in the middle. But, again, people are complicated. If that bigotry defines your father, if he is a man filled with hate for certain people, then you have to see that and admit it. If his bigotry comes out of ignorance or a continuing struggle from his past, you may be able to help him through it. But, in that case, it does not define him. It is wrong and hurtful, but your father is more than that and can move past it.
If we are not able to accept the inconsistencies of our friends or family, we will find ourselves very much alone. The abusers want us to be alone. They want us to themselves. When we are alone, we are weak.
Love means that we accept those who are broken and inconsistent. We should be careful not to entrust ourselves to them, but we can still love them. The narcissist knows nothing of this love and wants nothing of it.
So, someone might ask, what about the narcissist himself/herself? Isn’t that just an inconsistency? That’s possible, I suppose. There are people who become quite self-centered and protective when under stress. That might be inconsistent with their normal character. But narcissism and abuse usually come from a more consistent place. It takes a while for the victim to understand that the kind and generous behavior was the inconsistency.
Like the friendly and gracious child-molester, the narcissist knows that he/she must hide the dark side in most relationships. This is why people are so surprised when they learn the truth. But what they learn is that the person is normally cruel and dark and the positive presentation has been phony or, at least, inconsistent.
And what about those times when you see inconsistency in yourself? When you have a genuine desire, almost a natural bent, to love others, but find yourself hating someone? It is right to acknowledge that as an inconsistency in yourself and take it to the Lord. When those things are revealed in us, we should be willing to work toward change and welcome the Lord’s activity.
Yes, people are complicated. And so are you. It is this life.