Category Archives: Narcissism

Defining Family

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Family is overrated.

Wow! I can’t tell you how hard it is for me to let that statement stand. I love my family. I respect my parents and all those who went before them. I want my family always to be strong and loving and present. I can’t imagine life without my family. There are no people I would rather spend time with than my wife and sons and grandkids.

But I know that isn’t true for many people. For many, family is a source of pain. Usually, it is just one or two members of the family. Sometimes it seems to be the whole group. I may not have experienced that pain, but I understand it and believe it. So, to them, I have to say:

Family is overrated.

But what about honoring your parents? What about your responsibility to brothers and sisters? What about caring for your children? The church has always taught that family comes first.

Or does it? Has the church always taught that? Does the Bible teach it? I am not so sure.

Yes, the Bible does tell us to honor our parents. But it does not say just what that looks like. It is not docile acceptance of anything they do or say. Nor is it blind obedience. It must be something more. I have written my thoughts on this:

I believe that I honor my parents when I become a healthy, functioning adult and when I am able to pass that health on to my children or to use that health to bless the people around me.  It does not honor them for me to continue their brokenness through my life.  Even if they don’t see the need for me to be a person separate from them, I still must be able to establish and maintain boundaries, own and value my feelings, make independent decisions, and learn to share myself as a real person with others.  If through their narcissism, my parents have dishonored themselves, I honor them best by finding a way to break the evil patterns in my life and in the lives of those who follow me.

And what does the Bible say about brothers and sisters? Well, for one thing, the definition is much broader than simply those raised by the same parents. The church is supposed to be made up of brothers and sisters in Christ. The Jews considered all other Jews to be their family. Almost all references to brothers and sisters have this larger context in the Bible.

Even Jesus saw family differently. Remember what He said?

While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.” But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”
Matthew 12:46-50

Understand this. The birth family of Jesus expected special access to Him. The disciples expected that they would have special access and privileges. Jesus makes it clear that they have the same access to Him as all the rest of those who love Him. He isn’t closed to His birth family, but He loves them in the same way He loves others.

Okay, so that’s Jesus. He was a special case, right? I don’t think that’s what we are to take from this. I think we should understand that the Christian’s love includes many family members.

I happen to think that the mother of Jesus was a very special person. I think she loved her Son and He loved her. Nothing of that is lessened in this statement. Instead, love for others is lifted up. We are taught about the oneness we should all share in Him.

When I say that family is over-rated, I mean by the traditional church. For some reason, we have been taught that we never leave our families. We never move beyond the power and privilege of that connection. Yet, the Bible says that we leave our parents when we marry. The tradition of the Jews may have kept unmarried people at home, but it was not required in the Bible. Abraham left his family. Moses left his family. God called them away from their “family responsibilities.” But He didn’t take them out of loving relationships. Abraham’s family consisted of those who worked with him. Moses met a new family far away from Egypt. They didn’t forget or neglect their birth families, but they connected with others.

Family, in the Bible, is not limited to those raised in the same home or parented by the same people. Family refers to all those we share life with. Sometimes the group at work is family. Sometimes those who live in the building become family. Sometimes people at church become family. We love them, fight with them, work with them, complain to them, suffer with them.

So, when the narcissist says you are supposed to have a special love for your birth family or that they should have special access to you and to your heart, remember what Jesus said. When the narcissist complains about the time you spend with others and how it reduces your service to her, remember what Jesus said. When the narcissist demands your obedience, remember what Jesus said.

“Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”

Maybe the truth is that family is under-rated.

*****

Apparently the audio file is not included in the email of this post. It may be too large or email filters might not let it through. If you would like to listen to the audio version of the post, you will find it on the blog site.

*****

7 Comments

Filed under Narcissism, Uncategorized

Defining No Contact

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Here’s a great question I read recently:

“Does no-contact work to get an ex back?”

There are counselors and coaches who recommend no-contact to motivate an ex to want to come back. They claim that it might take a while. My question is whether you really want the ex back.

If you have tried to extricate yourself from a narcissist, you almost certainly want no-contact to finally and forever end the connection. No calls. No visits. No emails. No opportunity for the narcissist to reach into your mind and heart again.

Not everyone can do this. If you share children with a narcissist, you know what I mean. Visitation rights, health and education decisions, child support, and more make it almost impossible to consistently have no contact with the abuser. If your narcissist is a parent or sibling or one of your children, you may have little choice about your interactions. And, when you connect with the narcissist, you know that it won’t go well.

But many can do this. Sometimes even with family members. Some people need to do this. So, here are some thoughts.

First, when you are dealing with a narcissist, no-contact is not a game. If you think you can manipulate your narcissist into coming back to you or falling into line with your boundaries and desires by threatening the end of the relationship, you will almost certainly fail. Narcissists are masters at manipulation. You probably are not.

I realize that people use this to try to get their exes back, as I mentioned above. But you really do want to ask yourself if you want that person back. If you want the narcissist to change, you will probably lose the battle. He might come back but you will find that he has more power and takes more advantage when he does. If the ex you are trying to get back is not a narcissist, then a technique like this might indicate that you are. (In case, you can’t see it, I don’t like playing games with something like no-contact.)

Second, if you do try to separate yourself from the narcissist with no contact, be prepared for a battle. Narcissists love to test your boundaries. This is an ultimate boundary. They will call. They will drop by. They will complain to friends and family. They will lie. They will cry. They will threaten. They will twist your words. They will use the children. They may even try to break into your house. Be prepared. You can do this, but you may have to be as strong and as ruthless as the narcissist.

Part of me wants to say that you can slack off the no-contact after a while. But I know better. If you start this, you have to be committed to all the way and forever. That’s why it is so hard with family. What do you do when someone goes into the hospital? How about funerals? You may still have to see that person, and you can almost count on the fact that they will try something to get to you.

There is a sub-tactic of no-contact popularly called “gray rock.” The idea is that you consider yourself a gray rock in front of the narcissist. You become boring. Nothing they say gets a reaction from you. Even if you have contact, you do not connect.

The idea that you can become boring to the narcissist is certainly attractive. If they can choose to walk away from you, you might find that your contact with them is painless, even benign. But here’s the problem. Narcissists are like cats, predators. Playing dead might make them walk away and allow time for them to become interested in something else. But if they see you move, they will be right back. The game will start again, and this time they will not be as easily deceived.

You might want to use the gray rock method differently. Make the narcissist the gray rock in your life. Instead of trying to hold back your anger or sadness, learn to look at the narcissist without emotion, as though they are boring to you. When you look at the ground, there are many gray rocks. None of them interest you. They have no connection with you. There are many people in the world whose lives do not connect with yours, even though you might see them at the grocery. So, even though you see the narcissist at mom’s funeral, she is no different from the people you don’t know. In fact, she is less because you already know she is uninteresting. Other people at least have potential.

Most of us have had random strangers say odd things to us or interact with us in strange ways. Maybe a joke that comes out of the blue. Maybe an expectation that seems odd. The woman who randomly yells at you at the thrift store. The man behind you at the grocery who makes a political comment you don’t understand. The clerk who talks about what you are buying. You shrug these off. You might wonder for a while, but soon you forget. With the narcissist, you don’t even need to wonder. It’s just another of his twisted jokes or her critical comments. Means nothing to you. You do not have to respond.

If you want to go no-contact or gray rock, you may have to set normal triggers aside. You will not be able to jump in to defend someone else. You will not think maybe the narcissist is changing. Not ever. Diligence, commitment, strength, and prayer.

Otherwise, don’t do it. There are other ways to establish and maintain boundaries. No-contact is hard work.

*****

Apparently the audio file is not included in the email of this post. It may be too large or email filters might not let it through. If you would like to listen to the audio version of the post, you will find it on the blog site.

*****

5 Comments

Filed under Narcissism, Uncategorized

Defining Relationship

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Most people don’t realize they are in a narcissistic relationship until they understand that the relationship is one-sided. When you begin to see that you are the one who gives compliments, thanks, service, encouragement, or time, you wonder what is going on. A one-sided relationship is not a relationship.

Narcissists are users. They connect with you for what they can get. They maintain a connection for what they can get. They end that connection when they find someone else will give them more or better. That’s not a relationship.

Relationships are shared. Giving and getting. Reciprocation. Shared responsibilities and interests and participation.

King David was a man who knew how to love. Sadly, he was also a man who seemed to attract users. People attached themselves to him for what they could get. When it appeared they could do better elsewhere, with other loyalties, they turned away from him. He wrote, in Psalm 41,

Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me. Psalm 41:9

He noticed the fact that he had supported his friend. He had loved him when he was in trouble. But the relationship only went one way.

Proverbs 17 says that a friend “loves at all times.” That’s both sides of the friendship. On the other hand, Proverbs 19:4 notes that “Wealth makes many friends but the poor is separated from his friend.” In other words, some people come around in friendship for what they can get. When they can’t get anything, they disappear. That’s not friendship.

I have been deeply grieved to read some of the things narcissists have said to spouses, children, and friends. “You’re too fat. I have found someone else.” “You have always been a disappointment to me. You should have been more like your sister.” “I never really loved you.” “I don’t need you anymore.” Yes, these are actual things narcissists have said. So cruel.

And victims wonder what happened. Where did this cruelty come from? But the narcissist simply doesn’t care. The pain they cause means nothing to them. They say these things to break the connection.

Friendships are important. Family is important. Community is important. We need these relationships, but narcissistic connections are not relationships. They are connections.

I know that’s sad. To say that a marriage is a connection. To say that a family is just a set of connections. So wrong. So sad. But that’s the truth for many people. A connection with a narcissist is not a relationship.

What does that mean for us? It means that we ought to have different expectations and responses. The normal things you and I expect in a relationship we should not expect in a narcissistic connection. Do not expect loyalty. Do not expect reciprocation. Do not expect what you call love. At the same time, there are things you should expect. Expect that the narcissist does not see you as a person. Expect to be used, exploited, for his purposes. Expect to have your needs and desires ignored unless they somehow align with his. Expect, as I said earlier, that the connection is one-sided.

The point of all this is that you should not feel guilt or shame when the connection breaks. It was not a mutual relationship. The break was not your fault. The fact that the connection was not satisfying for either of you was not your fault. If you had performed your side perfectly, it would have made no difference. It was not that kind of situation. You can work on a relationship, bolster or repair from your side with expectation that the other person will want the same. You can invest in a relationship. But a simple connection for the benefit of one side is not something you can fix.

*****

Apparently the audio file is not included in the email of this post. It may be too large or email filters might not let it through. If you would like to listen to the audio version of the post, you will find it on the blog site.

*****

4 Comments

Filed under Narcissism, Uncategorized

Defining Health

It’s Narcissist Friday!

What does it look like to be healthy after a narcissistic relationship? How about during the relationship? Can you be healthy in the relationship?

Health is more than physical. We all understand that, I think. There are people who suffer greatly from emotional, mental, even spiritual sickness. So, when I speak of health in the context of narcissistic relationships, I mean all of these.

Perhaps the best Biblical word for the kind of health I would desire for all those struggling against narcissism is peace. Peace in your heart. Peace in your mind. Peace with God. Peace even in your body.

I regularly receive comments and emails saying that the writer has struggled with confusion and anger and pain from narcissistic abuse for ten, twenty, thirty years or more. Old memories surface. Old puzzles remain unsolved. Old self-rejection continues. And peace is hard to find.

Years ago I met a woman dying of bitterness. She had been betrayed by someone who appeared to love her. She gave her heart to him, and he left her behind. Young and beautiful, she refused to let go of her pain. I knew her counselor. He cared, and he had right answers for her, but she carried that bitterness with her. When I met her, she was in the hospital dying. The doctors could find nothing wrong. No cancer. No disease. Just severe depression and bitterness. She died just a couple days after I met her. I have never forgotten her.

The stress and sickness that affect our hearts and minds also affect our bodies. While it is good for us to be broken as we come to Jesus, so we know we can no longer depend on ourselves, we are supposed to find wholeness and health in Him. Then we should live in that health as we relate to others. The brokenness should go away.

Carrying pain causes us to respond to others in ways we don’t want and don’t like. Bitterness, anger, sadness, and confusion cause us to struggle in other relationships and bring weakness to our days. We all know this. The more sickness we carry around, the less we accomplish and the more we suffer.

So, health is important. Finding peace is the goal. But how? Well, I believe there is peace in Jesus. He says He will give us peace, peace far greater than anything the world has to give. In a right relationship with Him, you will find peace growing in your life.

If you are out of the narcissistic relationship, peace probably means accepting the fact of your past and moving forward. It may mean admitting that others hurt you, particularly the narcissist, and choosing to live without focus on that old pain. The cruelty happened, and it was wrong. The pain was real, but it is passing. Pick up the strength of who you are and move on.

If you are still in the relationship and plan to stay, you can find peace by accepting the truth of your situation. Narcissists are what they are. I have written a lot about how they can be predicted and handled if a person has the strength. But even if you can’t do that, you can have inner peace and health when you remember that the narcissist cannot touch you. At your core, where you connect with Jesus, nothing has changed. You are loved. You are valued. You are good. Accepting the truth about yourself is healthy.

The old Serenity Prayer may help.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Some things cannot be changed. The events of the past. The things that happened that should not have happened. Things the narcissist did. Things you did. Things others did.

Some things can be changed. As you become more healthy, you will make changes you need to make. As you make those changes, even more health will come.

And, of course, you will need wisdom to know the difference. Jesus loves you. Ask Him for guidance. Ask Him for wisdom.

I like practical steps. Go on a walk. Find a place for yourself, some place that is just yours. Separate yourself from the drama whenever you can. Narcissistic relationships tend to consume your energy and personality. Find who you are again. Join the gym. Meet with others. Remind yourself that there is life and affirmation apart from the narcissist. You can do these things even as you stay in the relationship. Once you are out, however, you can spend time and energy rebuilding your life. Do it. You are worth it.

Peace is the knowledge that nothing in this world can damage you. Some have found peace in the most difficult circumstances. They were healthy in themselves and were able to help others. In prison, in poverty, in pain. They were healthy because they knew who they were and they claimed ownership of their identity.

You are loved. You are important. You are greatly valued. You are precious to the heart of Jesus. Hold onto that.

*****

Apparently the audio file is not included in the email of this post. It may be too large or email filters might not let it through. If you would like to listen to the audio version of the post, you will find it on the blog site.

*****

Leave a comment

Filed under Narcissism, Uncategorized

Defining Boundaries

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Narcissists take what they want because they believe they are entitled. After all, if others exist only to serve them, there is no privilege or desire that should be withheld from them.

Suppose you invite a friend to your home, someone you have known for a while, but not an intimate friend. You leave the room for a bit and, when you return, he is digging through your refrigerator for a snack. What do you do? Or you find that she has opened your mail and is reading your letters. What do you do?

Well, you would probably be offended. You might even ask that person to stop or leave. You certainly would be cautious about inviting him or her back to your home. And you would be within your rights. There are certain limits.

But the narcissist does this kind of thing regularly. He rifles through your desk at work. She asks questions and expects answers on topics that make you uncomfortable. He borrows your car without asking. She went through your diary. He talks with your friends about you. She calls you when she knows you are busy or comes over when she knows you have a guest. There is no such thing as privacy or personal space with a narcissist.

Sadly, that’s because the narcissist does not see you as a person. He would be greatly offended if someone crossed that line with him. She would never want to tell you her secrets. In fact, when you think about it, you know little about the narcissist. And what you do know, you aren’t sure you believe.

You need boundaries. But boundaries against the narcissist are an offense to him/her. Boundaries show your lack of love, lack of trust. Boundaries prove that you have something to hide. If you don’t allow the narcissist access to every part of your life, you are mean-spirited and unloving.

And you find yourself believing that perspective. It’s hard not to answer the phone when you know it’s from her. It’s hard to hide the keys to your car or lock your desk. You feel it’s wrong somehow. And that’s just how the narcissist wants you to think.

Boundaries are part of every sane life. If you are allowed no boundaries, you are an abused captive. Boundaries are good, no matter what the narcissist thinks.

Sometimes the boundary is as bold as saying, “No.” Sometimes it is not answering the phone. Sometimes it has to be negotiated. You don’t close the door completely, but limit access to certain times.

Sometimes boundaries are internal. Refusing to argue when prompted by the narcissist. Choosing to walk away instead. Limiting conversation to certain topics. Refusing to worry about the problems the narcissist presents.

Sometimes boundaries protect you. Your health and sanity are important, and your needs are valid. Even if the narcissist doesn’t see you as a person with value, you should see yourself that way. And sometimes your boundaries protect others. Your children, your co-workers, people you care about. In fact, your boundaries may even protect the narcissist. Who knows what could happen if you are pushed too far?

Boundaries are good. They may be hard to determine and hard to maintain, but they are important enough to justify the work. Even if they are broken, they are worth trying again.

I wish I could look each victim of narcissistic abuse in the eyes and say, “You are worth it! You have a right and a responsibility to set boundaries. Boundaries are good for you!” The narcissist will fight you, blame you, criticize you, bargain with you, push you, and tempt you. Keep the boundary in place. It’s for your good.

By the way, the Bible does speak of boundaries. While teaching that believers are one in Jesus, the Bible also acknowledges that there are people who may be toxic to you. The primary command is to live as one, to be of one mind, to care for each other, but even Jesus separated Himself from the crowd at times. He avoided situations that He knew would not be good. And, of course, the wise book of Proverbs has several references to people we should avoid. We might love them, but do so from a distance. (See Proverbs 22:24; 21:19; Titus 3:10; 1 Corinthians 7:15) You won’t find many proof texts, but you will find affirmation for boundaries in the Bible.

*****

Apparently the audio file is not included in the email of this post. It may be too large or email filters might not let it through. If you would like to listen to the audio version of the post, you will find it on the blog site.

*****

3 Comments

Filed under Narcissism, Uncategorized

Confidence

It’s Narcissist Friday!

The narcissist wants to be the focus of your attention, of your heart. You are supposed to consider the narcissist important, even necessary, to your life. The center of your world should be the narcissist.

You may think I am exaggerating. Yet, the narcissistic mother will want you to think of her before you think of your husband, wife, or children. The narcissistic boss will want you to serve him without regard to your family. The narcissistic friend will call you in the middle of your meeting or family time. Why? Because they are more important.

People outside the relationship, who do not understand, will say that you should maintain boundaries. Like that’s something easy. What they don’t understand is how the narcissist has managed to strip you of your confidence. You worry that you might lose your job if you don’t do what the boss says. You remember how mom gets when you don’t answer the phone or help her with something. Something bad will happen if you don’t give in to the narcissist. Instead of standing up for yourself, you yield.

But that isn’t all of it. You used to feel good about your decisions and your reasoning process. Now you worry about choosing the best things. Over time, the narcissist has challenged so many of your ideas, showing you to be wrong, that you have learned to doubt yourself. Maybe you never thought of yourself as wise, but you didn’t think you were foolish or stupid. Now you wonder. Maybe you do need the narcissist.

When you finally leave the narcissistic relationship, you may find that you struggle to make decisions. Your confidence has been taken away. It was done on purpose, so that you would be dependent on the narcissist. The narcissist would not be the center of your attention if you trusted yourself or had the confidence to stand alone.

So what do you do now? You listen to those people who are telling you that you are smart and capable, and you move forward. You remember that not all decisions are good ones—even for the smartest of us—and you let yourself make mistakes. Start with small decisions and work up. The best decision you will make is to pull back from the narcissist.

And trust the Lord’s leading. I know that you have been taught to distrust your heart, but the Lord does communicate with you through your heart. Trust that He will move you in the right directions, and that He will overcome both your fears and your mistakes. Be confident in Him when you can’t be confident in yourself. Trust in His love.

6 Comments

Filed under Narcissism, Uncategorized

Are there more Narcissists?

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

(I am traveling and thought this might be a post worth repeating.  The times, they are a changin’!)

I often get asked if there are more narcissists today and, if so, why. That’s a difficult one to answer because the diagnosis of “narcissist” keeps changing. Many psychologists now believe that the narcissism we see in our relationships is simply a personality type, rather than a disorder. They reserve the label of narcissism for only extreme cases, those who commit gross crimes or who are sociopathic.

I suspect that the reason for this change is that we seem to see narcissism everywhere. Churches, politics, entertainment, even in small organizations and in our families. Most of us are simply more aware of narcissism and see it more, as when you are told that there are a lot of pregnant women in your community and you begin seeing them more and more. We are talking about narcissistic behavior and abuse more today than ever, and we are seeing it all around us.

Yet, I think the simple answer is: Yes, there are more narcissists today. At least there is more narcissistic behavior. I think there are more abusers, more cruel and manipulative people, and more attention seekers.

Of course, there are more of almost every kind of person today. In 1980, there were over 32,000 100-year-olds living in the US. In 2014, there were over 72,000. Not all of this is because we are living longer. There are just more people. We added nearly 100 million people to the US population during that same time.

I suspect that there are several factors in what we see as a rise in narcissism. One of the more influential factors could be the increased difficulty of being noticed when so many people are involved in our lives. If you consider just the memorable history of an older adult today, you will see the changes that have happened. Farm families spent most of their time apart from other people except for church or social gatherings. When the children started going to school, class sizes were small, just the local kids. When rural kids began to be bused into town, the schools were still smaller and class sizes allowed the teachers to actually know the kids. Today’s schools are consolidated and student bodies often number in the thousands. How does one kid stand out?

How do you get noticed in school today? Achievements that might stand out are already eclipsed by the trophies in the hallway case. Even bad behavior today has accelerated beyond anything that could have been imagined 60 years ago. How does a kid stand out?

How do you get your resume to stand out today? It used to be that you could drop in on a local store to see if they have any openings. Today you are told to send your resume through their website. You will probably join 200 others who have done the same thing. Almost all employers report the difficulty of sorting through the hundreds of resumes and applications they receive.

There’s lot of pushing going on out there. You see it when you drive. You see it when you try to buy a certain popular product. You see it when you want to advertise your skill or organization. Everybody is pushing to be seen and heard.

Some people respond to life’s pressures by developing a need and a will to push themselves into the limelight. Do you realize that only nine out of 10,000 high school football players in the US will eventually play in the NFL? Even if the student stands out in his school, how can he stand out later? Yet, those who must will find ways.

Today’s students and workers do not compete against those who do well. They compete against those who push hard. Who pushes to become the boss? Who pushes to become popular? Who pushes to make more money or get the more attractive spouse or enjoy the attention of others? Well, the narcissists certainly do.

And, because they have to push, they justify the abusive and manipulative behaviors of the narcissist. If you want to become the supervisor at work, you can’t let the work of others be considered better than yours. You have to draw attention to yourself, and you will probably be more willing to push others down to do it. The tools of the narcissist become the tools of advancement: lying, cheating, manipulating, belittling, using.

Most of us will refuse to stand out if that means we have to hurt others. But the narcissist doesn’t care about hurting others. The narcissist doesn’t recognize the personhood of others. The narcissist only wants to get ahead, to be noticed. Since that seems to take more these days, the narcissist is the one who can win.

Who gets the job or the scholarship or the position on the team? We all know that good people who are more capable are often pushed aside so the narcissist can get the prize. The company hires the one who pushes, rather than the faithful employee who knows the job so well. The school honors the one who “did what it takes” to get noticed, rather than the most qualified. The team uses the loudest and most outgoing player, rather than the one who practices diligently and works best with the other players. We see this all the time.

So we see narcissists more, I think. Narcissistic behavior is rewarded more. We may even be creating more narcissists by requiring that behavior to get ahead of others.

How does this change? I don’t think there is an easy answer, except on a personal level. Tell your daughter that the flashiest guy might not be the best, that the regular guy who is kind and thoughtful might make a much better life partner. Help your church to find the pastor who will serve and love, rather than mold the church to his will for his own benefit. Again, avoid the flashy pusher. If someone gives you good service, send a note to the boss as a thank you. If someone is kind, be sure to tell others. These things do make a difference.

If the game is set up to use the skills of the narcissist, we will see more narcissists. People will begin to use narcissistic behaviors to get what they want. The only way to overcome this, I believe, is to value the kindness and patience and service we have learned to take for granted.

10 Comments

Filed under Narcissism

Mind Control 6

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Singer’s Six Conditions for Thought Control (Cults in our Midst, 1995)

6. Put forth a closed system of logic and an authoritarian structure that permits no feedback and refuses to be modified except by leadership approval or executive order. The group has a top-down, pyramid structure. The leaders must have verbal ways of never losing.

I just had one of those fun experiences with customer service. Okay, not much fun. I ordered something from a company I had not purchased from before. They offered a one-time 20% off coupon. I placed a fairly large order and was pleased with the discount. Then I got a note saying that my order was canceled because the product was out of stock. Since it was something on their in-house product line, I assumed they would have it shortly, so I called to ask if I could place the order again and have it filled when the product was available. I was informed that the product was already available (odd), so I said I wanted to place a new order. I also wanted to use my discount. The lady said I had already used my discount on the previous order. I countered that I had not received any discount because the order was canceled. We went around and around. Her bottom line was that she could only do what the computer would allow her to do. In other words, she had no power other than to say the company line.

Well, most of us have learned that it really does no good to argue with the checkout person or the receptionist on the phone. They can’t do anything. All they know is what they have learned. They are actually barriers, protecting those who do have the power to make decisions. In many companies, you will have to go through several levels of these barriers to get to the one who can really help you. That is by design. The few people who dare to complain about something will almost all drop out before getting to that right person. And, yes, they will almost all keep using the company’s stores and products.

The narcissist says there is only one right way, his way. Your objections come out of your inexperience, your misunderstanding, or your stupidity. You might be laughed at. You might be mocked. You might be ignored. But the narcissist cannot admit that you might be right. To do so would be to affirm your input. To do that would be to open the narcissist to more input from you. Not a good idea for him. How will you stay under control if you feel good about your ideas or opinions?

Usually, narcissistic organizations have a single authority, a teacher whose wisdom is worshiped by the followers. At most, there will be a small group of leaders who make all the decisions. These will be the elite, the superior servants who have a right and responsibility to lead. In a Christian organization, they will be seen as the most spiritual. Because they are superior, they have wisdom the rest of the people don’t have. God, apparently, teaches them so they can teach others.

So, when a member of the organization has a question or a doubt and wants to find an explanation, he will be met with barriers. The friends he starts with will parrot the teacher’s words. They will assure the questioner that the teacher has so often been proved right. If he persists with his question, he will be pushed up to local leaders and marked as a doubter. They will also repeat the teacher’s words. Then, he may be referred to the next level and the next. Each time he will simply hear a repetition or a rewording of what the teacher has presented. And each time his status as a troublemaker will increase.

If the persistence of the questioner reaches the teacher, the teacher may condescend to a personal contact. In other words, a phone call could come out of the blue, or a meeting at an event might be arranged. The teacher will know all about the man with the question because the underlings have briefed him. But, again, the words of the teacher are as close to sacred as any will find. Nothing will change. The teacher has graced the troublemaker with a personal contact, something most of the underlings have never had. To continue to question would mark the person as a rebel, perhaps even cause him to be ousted from the group. But he will not change the teaching.

Special dispensations might be given for rules, and they will come with special strings. The one who needs a favor will be expected to present unusual loyalty, strong support, for the system. Non-conformity cannot be condoned. Questions cannot be allowed to change teaching.

Sometimes, if enough people are asking the question, the teacher can have a revelation. The teacher can change his teachings without admitting his error. A revelation, a clarification, a new teaching. The teacher can do almost anything, particularly regarding his teaching. Even the teacher is concerned about politics within the organization. He won’t want anything to instill doubt among the followers.

Control of information, when information is desired, is a narcissistic goal. To be the superior source, the one who defines, is the dream of the narcissist.

By the way, I got my discount by asking if there was anything she could do. Behind the scenes, so I couldn’t hear, she asked her supervisor what to do. Suddenly, a one-time complimentary offer of a 20% discount was available. She was doing me a big favor. So, I thanked her and placed the order with the discount. Sometimes you just have to play the game.

***

Walk with Me: A Grace Devotional by [Orrison, David]

2 Comments

Filed under Legalism, Narcissism

Mind Control 5

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Singer’s Six Conditions for Thought Control (Cults in our Midst, 1995)

5. Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to promote learning the group’s ideology or belief system and group-approved behaviors. Good behavior, demonstrating an understanding and acceptance of the group’s beliefs, and compliance are rewarded while questioning, expressing doubts or criticizing are met with disapproval, redress and possible rejection. If one expresses a question, he or she is made to feel that there is something inherently wrong with them to be questioning.

One of the things I remember so well from the legalistic organization we were in was the system of rewards and punishments. Those who were chosen to lead, even in small groups, were considered superior. It was an achievement to be noticed for compliance and conformity. Things like initiative and energy were only rewarded if they served the system. Leaders were chosen, not on actual leadership abilities (that might present a threat someday) but for their willingness to submit to even higher authorities. Special families were given administrative chores, even brought to headquarters to serve.

Don’t underestimate the attraction of this kind of reward! I knew men who quit their jobs to work for the organization at minimal pay. I knew young people who gave up vocations and education to serve. Some of them even paid for the privilege to work long hours at sometimes trivial tasks. To serve at headquarters, even to serve in the local organization, was an honor.

The other side was almost as strong. Certain people were discouraged from applying, joining the group, because their families wouldn’t measure up. Too much television. Divorce and step kids. Even young people in college. These were enough to keep families out. Not good enough.

And, if you got in, the old process of shunning took new forms. Yes, certain families and certain people were in the group, barely. Everyone knew they didn’t fit. No one looked at them when opportunities arose. If one of the young people at HQ broke even a minor rule, he or she could be sent home to a reception of failure and shame.

Doubt was allowed. People spoke against some of the teachings. But those people were not rewarded. They were noticed and remembered. To ask a question was to reveal your spiritual immaturity. I marveled at those who said things like: “I really don’t agree with that teaching, but I know it’s because I haven’t arrived at that point yet.” Or: “Every time I disagree with something the teacher says, I find him to be right later.” You just had to wait and the teacher would be affirmed, no matter what kind of off-the-wall thing he taught.

The power of a legalist/narcissist organization to indoctrinate, to force conformity, seems unbelievable to those who have never experienced it. By subtly presenting a feedback system that always loops back into the teachings and control of the organization, the victims are moved slowly to acceptance. Rewards always led back to more involvement, more recognition, within the system. Punishments always circled back to the idea that conformity was best.

Now, does an individual narcissist do this? Of course. In fact, in much the same way. “If you do it my way, we will go out someplace together.” Always together. “If you don’t do it my way, you will be further separated from the things and people who build you up.” Always away from what is good for the victim and toward the narcissist. To question the narcissist is to attack him/her. Your question will be met with either a pat on the head (”You just don’t understand”) or a slap in the face (”How dare you?”).

In fact, one of the things that should cause you to suspect a narcissistic relationship is a system of rewards and punishments. What happens when you do what you are told? What happens when you do not? Loving relationships may have consequences, but they won’t make you feel controlled or manipulated. Narcissists don’t see you as a person with values and ideas like themselves. You are a tool to be used to serve the image. Any nonconformity must be brought under control.

***

Walk with Me: A Grace Devotional by [Orrison, David]

7 Comments

Filed under Legalism, Narcissism, Uncategorized

Mind Control 4

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Singer’s Six Conditions for Thought Control (Cults in our Midst, 1995)

3. Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments and experiences in such a way as to inhibit behavior that reflects the person’s former social identity. Manipulation of experiences can be accomplished through various methods of trance induction, including leaders using such techniques as paced speaking patterns, guided imagery, chanting, long prayer sessions or lectures, and lengthy meditation sessions.

Sometimes you don’t realize what really happened until the situation is long past. I told someone recently that a good deal of my ministry has been to try to answer the question, “What the heck happened?” Dealing with narcissism is so intense and so foreign to most people that it feels like a train wreck. So much devastation in so little time. Or, perhaps, it accumulated over many years until you finally realized what you had lost.

Many people have told me that they became different persons over the course of the narcissistic relationship. They used to be fun and outgoing, now they are quiet and insecure. At one time they were competent and able to achieve goals. Now they feel weak and useless. What if I told you that was the plan?

Narcissists and narcissistic organizations live on control. In order to control, they have to strip away that which makes a person strong. Skepticism must be replaced with gullibility. Independence must be replaced with submission. Strength must be replaced with obedience. Sometimes that can be accomplished through a short, but intense, traumatic experience. If a strong person can be taken through a situation where their strength is insufficient or untrustworthy, that strength can be broken.

In 1973, a man named Olsson took four hostages during a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. He demanded the release of a friend from prison. When the friend was released, they held the hostages together for a total of six days. At that time, the robbers were captured and the hostages released. However, none of the hostages would testify against their captors. They even began to raise money for the defense of their captors. Their perspective confounded law enforcement officers and became known as the “Stockholm Syndrome.” There have been several widely publicized cases that were similar, including that of Patty Hearst in the mid-seventies.

Apart from a dramatic event, narcissists will nibble away at the confidence and courage of their victims until little is left. One method is to make the person feel inferior or foolish. Gaslighting and projection are often considered “crazy-making” techniques. But another way is to feed information to victims, information that is supposed to be important, in a way that is difficult for them to understand or control.

Some narcissists are particularly soft-spoken. I have known a man who spoke softly, so softly that others often had to ask what he said. It was his way of getting others to focus on him and his words. By intensifying their focus, his listeners had to reduce their natural caution to his words.

In spite of what we see around us every day, we should have great respect for the human mind. Our minds gather amazing amounts of information. Accessing that information when we want to can be a challenge, but everything we have seen and heard has had an effect on us. We might not think we remember, but it touched our lives. Whispered words we just can’t seem to catch are words our minds often hear but don’t process consciously.

My family was part of an organization years ago where seminars were presented by overhead projectors. We were expected to fill out note sheets or take notes on our own. The information was shared quickly, so much so that the occasional break was met with either sighs of relief or questions to neighbors about what was missed. The effect of this was that few people actually remembered what was taught. There was no time to question ideas or statements and no opportunity to process information. But the words entered our minds. The indoctrination still had a subconscious effect.

Our culture knows about this. We talk of people who try to “slip things past us.” We resist the quick sell techniques and ask for time to look over contracts. But the reason we know about these things is that they are real techniques to manipulate or control us. The telephone rings with a crisis. Our Social Security account is being revoked. Our grandson is stuck in Mexico and needs money. We have to respond right away. No time to think.

It is wise for us to ask, to take our time, and even to doubt. Very few things are so critical that we can’t step back to be sure they are real. I have made it a rule to never make a purchase over the phone. I ask the caller to send me information by mail if I am remotely interested. If the deadline is too close, I am content to miss it. I doubt I have missed very many real opportunities.

If you feel out of control in a relationship or a situation, remind yourself that this is a technique to move you to do something you may regret. Step back and take a closer look. If you miss a few notes in the seminar, you will be okay. If you miss the words of the manipulative narcissist, too bad for him. Protect yourself.

Walk with Me: A Grace Devotional by [Orrison, David]

5 Comments

Filed under Narcissism, Uncategorized