The Tattoo

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

A while ago I wrote a response to an email and suggested that a relationship with a narcissist is like a tattoo. I have always chuckled at the definition of a tattoo as “a permanent record of temporary insanity.” Some would describe their relationship with the narcissist in the same way.

Sometimes you don’t get to “just walk away.” Sometimes there are children involved. Sometimes a whole extended family revolves around a narcissist. And sometimes you feel so scarred that you just can’t seem to let it go. Like a bad tattoo, the narcissist continues to define you long after you learn the truth and decide to establish some distance.

There are, of course, processes to remove tattoos. They are usually painful and imperfect, but many try to take that route. Others just wear more clothing to try to hide what they now view as a bad decision. But both of these are ways to try to hide the past from others; they do little to change what the sufferer sees in the mirror and remembers.

Today it appears to be more effective to cover a bad tattoo with something new. There are good artists who can take what you have and make it into something beautiful, something that looks different and better even to you. Imagine that heart with his name transformed into a butterfly that just emerged from its cocoon. I understand that the ink from the new art actually blends with and transforms the old. In other words, done correctly, the new art really does overcome and remove the old.

I often get the question: “How can I move on?” The answer is to take the first steps. Begin to live a new life apart from the narcissist and the pain. You are not limited to that life. Even if there are things that tie you back to it, you can begin a transformation in your life that will allow you to become a different person—perhaps the person you used to be or the person you have always wanted to be. You still can make choices.

“But I will always remember.” No, not really. Not with the intensity you feel now, at least. Those memories will fade as new ones take their place. If you go back, you will probably be able to remember the pain. Even then it will be as though it happened to someone else, facts without the same feelings. The facts will still be there, much like the old tattoo, but those facts will no longer be the focus of your heart.

How does this work, in a practical sense? Make your new home yours and have fun decorating your way. Find new friends, new people in whom you can invest your life. Join new groups, get new hobbies, serve others in a new way. Go back to school or just take some classes. Change your hair or your style of clothing. Watch different television shows. Go to different movies. Read new books. Risk new relationships and projects. And everything new that you add to your life will blend with the old to give a new and more beautiful picture.

“But what if I stay or can’t really separate?” You can still begin to build a new life. It will be harder, but you will find health in making your own decisions and separating your need for affirmation from the person who will not give it. Take the definition of your life away from the narcissist. Choose how you will respond to him/her. Choose your own interests and goals. Ignore the criticisms and manipulation as best you can. No one has the right to define you except the Lord Himself.

Yes, the past is still part of you. It will never really go away. But you don’t have to see it and think about it all the time. Eventually, your new life will have memories of its own, more recent and more clear. The old tattoo will still be there, but you won’t see it. When you look in the mirror, you will see the decision you made to become something beautiful, something free.

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Bait And Switch

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

I just had the pleasure of listening to a song entitled “Love is Here,” by Tenth Avenue North. Great lyrics!

“Come to the water, you who thirst, and you’ll thirst no more. Come to the Father, you who work, and you’ll work no more.”

This is the message of the gospel of Jesus. This is the life-fulfilling promise we have to share.

But, as I listened, I realized that so many who try to come to that water in their thirst find only more dryness; and so many who come to the Father to lay aside their works are given more work to do. This is the perversion of the gospel by the legalist churches. They promise one thing but give another.

And it struck me again how much legalism and narcissism are linked. You get into the relationship because you think there is love and acceptance, only to find that you are abused again. You trust because of the kind words and tender promises, but those words prove to be lies.

When I meet people who have been convinced that the God who loves them only loves them when they perform a certain way or amount, I get angry. I know they came to the church, to the Christian faith, because of hope and found a greater burden.

And when I meet people who have been abused by narcissists, I feel much the same. They came expecting rest and peace in a good relationship and found pain and fear. Whether it is in marriage, at work, or in a family, narcissism promises one thing and delivers another.

In the world, that’s called the “bait and switch.” You might see it at the car lot. One car is advertised but really isn’t available. Then you are taken to the real car covered by the special sale. When you read the fine print it doesn’t actually say that the first car was for sale. It was just a trick to get you onto the lot.

The real problem with the bait and switch is that it breaks trust. I have stores I will never go to again because they have baited me too many times. It took a while, but I learned. Not only will I not return to those stores, I will also be a lot more wary when I read the ads of others.

In the same way, some people have given up on the Christian faith altogether because they found greater burdens and less love than they had in the world. They lost their trust in the truth because of the lie.

And, in the same way, some find it very hard to trust any person because of the abuse suffered from the narcissist. Dating again, finding a new church, trusting co-workers: these are so hard after the narcissist.

All I can say is that the truth is only covered by the lie, not destroyed. The love of God is real. The message of hope is true. There are people who are kind and caring and accepting. The real deal is out there. Please, even while you doubt and try to protect yourself, seek the truth.

“Love is here: Love is now; Love is pouring from His hands, from His brow. Love is near; it satisfies; streams of mercy flowing from His side.”

Don’t give up!

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Victims

It’s Narcissist Friday!       

 

Sometimes people are bothered by my use of the word, “victim,” to describe the abused person in a narcissistic relationship. There’s a reason I use it. You may or may not agree, but I think it is important.

You see, with the gas lighting and projecting and lying that narcissists can bring into a relationship, it is sometimes hard for the person who is being manipulated to think clearly. Typically, narcissists bring problems into a relationship, then blame others for those problems. When this comes from someone you trust or care about, you can become confused.

Narcissists often choose people who are kind, gentle, and self-deprecating. That means people who are used to putting themselves down or blaming themselves for problems. If you find yourself in relationship with a narcissist, you may feel that you apologize a lot for things that are not really your fault. This is by design. The more you think you have caused the problems, the more the narcissist can get away with. Marriage problems, money problems, friendship problems—all are your fault, according to the narcissist. You are blamed for anything negative that happens, even things the narcissist makes up just to put you down.

At first, you may accept the blame. After all, you know you aren’t perfect. You mess up sometimes. You don’t say the right things, and you make foolish decisions. You have known this all your life, partly because people have told you this all your life. So it is easy for you to blame yourself, especially if it means you will keep the peace in your relationship. The narcissist counts on this. It makes it easier for him/her to get by with the abuse.

Sometimes the narcissist will begin to say that he/she is the victim. If he didn’t have such an incompetent spouse, or co-worker, or friend, or child—then things would be better. As it is, the poor narcissist can barely succeed in anything with such an anchor dragging him down all the time. His problems are your fault, and he is suffering because of you.

This is why I think it is important for the abused person to accept the fact that they have been the victim of an abuser. It tells the truth about the relationship. The narcissist is an abuser and is accountable for his/her behavior. In an abusive relationship there is the abuser and the victim. It is important to establish which is you, if you are going to change your situation. And that isn’t as easy as it sounds if no one allows you to see yourself as the victim.

You were victimized. That’s the truth. The person you loved or trusted misused you. He/she probably lied to you, manipulated you, isolated you, and hurt you. The narcissist was the aggressor/abuser, and you were the victim.

There. Now that’s out of the way. Now you don’t have to stay a victim. I realize that’s what people are concerned about when they see that word. Once you admit that you have been victimized, you can begin to change the situation. You can get out of the relationship or change the relationship. When you see the narcissist as the abuser, you can find ways to get out of the abuse. It might take a lot. Maybe you have to find some strong support, take some legal action, or move away. But you can begin the process when you understand that it isn’t your fault.

You won’t do any of this as long as you blame yourself. Everything will stay the same (or get worse) if you believe that you are the problem or the cause of the problem. That’s what the narcissist wants you to think…so you will continue to be his/her victim.

Being a victim is not an evil thing. The evil is what is done to you. You are not responsible for the evil someone does to you. Nor are you required to stay and let that person continue to do it. If you choose to stay, you can still make changes to minimize the effect on you. You can build support, self-esteem, and escape routes. You can decide how to answer the accusation. You can decide whether to answer the phone. You can decide not to jump when your narcissist tells you to jump. Yes, there may be a cost to these decisions, but then you will have ceased being a victim.

Admitting that you have been a victim does not give the abuser more power. Allowing yourself to remain a victim when you have choices, that gives the narcissist more power.

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DABDA

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance

The stages of grief

I have often felt that the death of a marriage should be considered as sad as the death of a person. Something alive and wonderful has died, and those who suffer such loss usually go through a kind of grief. In a sense, this is true for any serious relationship. The loss of the support and love of a parent can be a traumatic part of the narcissistic experience. The lack of respect from a boss or a pastor is a serious loss that should be mourned. The betrayal of a friendship can cause great grief.

There are many books and studies written about the stages of grief. We suffer grief whenever we suffer loss. I have told people for years that grief is the process of discovering who you are after that loss. When a relationship dies something important dies. We lose a piece of ourselves that we invested in the relationship. Even when we finally understand there was no real relationship, we lose the value of what we thought we had. It hurts. It is confusing. It is grief.

Loss of a relationship triggers a process that may be a surprise. We know that we go through grief when we lose a loved one. We also go through the stages of grief when we lose a relationship. These stages are normal cultural ways of dealing with dramatic and unwelcome change.

The grief process is complicated somewhat when the relationship dies over time. Even as people drift apart, or begin to see the reality of narcissism, we can begin the grieving process. When the loss is drawn out over months or years, a person will likely still go through these stages. If the relationship struggles through near-death, then reconciliation, then near-death again, a person may experience this cycle of grief more than once. However, if the process takes years, the stages of grief may be hard to identify.

Here’s what I mean. Eunice had some minor red flags before she married Tim. He wanted everything his way, even at the wedding. He could be critical and hurtful in the things he said, but she pushed her concerns away. After all, they were lovers. These things weren’t really that bad. (denial) After they were married, she found him to be even more critical and unkind. She began to wonder if he really loved her. When she asked him, his response was so limited and disappointing that she began thinking of leaving him. She found excuses to avoid intimacy as a way of protesting, but nothing changed. (anger) Her mother told her that a real relationship was 100% the responsibility of both people, so she decided to do things to make him happy. She worked hard to serve him in creative and gracious ways, but still nothing changed. (bargaining) Finally, Eunice gave up. Life seemed to have little meaning. Alcohol was tempting, as were medications, but Eunice chose to sit at home and watch the television. (depression) When Tim came home that day and told her he was leaving, she felt only relief. The marriage had died long ago in her heart. Finally, Eunice was able to move on. (acceptance)

Now that story crudely illustrates how the stages of grief can be processed while the marriage is still going. It seems more obvious when the marriage or relationship suddenly ends. If Tim had simply come home one day to tell Eunice that he had found someone else and was leaving, she may have gone through all of these steps of grief within months. The suddenness of the change makes grief seem more real and reasonable to us. Some people go through grief after job loss or when they have to leave a church. Some experience these steps over a lifetime as they process their narcissistic relationship with a parent.

These steps are real and common enough to be seen as normal. Not everyone experiences them in the same way; some steps go by quickly while others take time. But if you find yourself struggling with these five feelings, don’t be surprised or afraid. It is grief, and grief is normal. You simply have to process what has happened and what it means to your life now.

One more quick note: Depression is a normal part of this process. After the denial, the anger, and the bargaining, the energy has been spent. You are weary, disillusioned, and sad. The hurt has become part of your system. Now, you feel mostly numb. You just want to crawl away. Please don’t take this stage lightly. This can be a dangerous time. Find someone to talk with. Medications can help and can be temporary. Don’t allow your feelings of worthlessness and rejection to take over. Everything that you were, everything that made you feel good about yourself, is still there. The people who support you will say things that are hard for you to feel, things they mean to encourage you. They are right, and you will eventually agree. Just hold on until the depression stage passes. Be careful not to make too many big decisions, especially about new relationships. Just take care of yourself.

Grief is how we get through sudden and negative changes. Narcissism often provides these changes. Your grief is normal, and you will get through it. Just don’t be afraid to accept the help and perspectives of those who care about you.

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That Obnoxious Person

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

The folks over at Babylon Bee write satire in the form of news articles. This one fits our discussion so well!

Man Unsure If He’s Persecuted Because He’s A Christian Or Because He’s A Massive Jerk

 

The sad thing is that this article isn’t even as strong as the truth. Almost all of the obnoxious “witnesses” and “admonishers” I have known were actually proud of their offensiveness. Yes, they suffered rejection for Jesus, in their minds, but they loved being able to boast about that rejection. The more they suffered, the more they convinced themselves they were better than others. These “legalists” believed they were doing God’s work as they put others down.

Narcissists seem to be able to criticize freely and harshly without hesitation. They won’t do it in front of certain people, people they are trying to impress, but the criticisms flow as soon as the person leaves the room or the narcissist gets in the car. And, if you are unfortunate enough to be considered beneath the narcissist in status, you will probably receive obnoxious criticisms and comments openly and regularly.

And, as the article suggests, I have known narcissists/legalists who actually turn up their volume when they criticize in a public place. They claim they do it so the people around can have the benefit of their wisdom. But the truth is that they just want to embarrass their victim until he/she submits. The narcissist/legalist does not believe that a public spectacle will make them look bad; it will only make you look bad.

Scolding a teenager loudly in a restaurant, criticizing a customer in the grocery, ridiculing a cashier while checking out of the store, confronting the pastor as people shake his hand—these are public manipulations, expressions of superiority for all to see. While the rest of us would be ashamed to do such a thing, the narcissist/legalist uses the exposure to convince others of his/her righteousness and power.

Now, the hard part.

How do you handle this public display? Most of us will do almost anything to get them to shut up, including give in. But remember this: the loud critic exposes only himself as a jerk. We live in a culture where that is not considered good form. You don’t have to give in. You will be embarrassed either way, so why not make it clear that you are the victim in the situation? Ask: “Why are you doing this here in front of everyone?” Others are wondering the same thing. You don’t have to shout or cry. Just recognize the tactic for what it is.

Oh yes, there will probably be a price to pay for not playing your part in the situation. But you have to sort out the real cost of your actions. If you will be physically abused, then don’t leave that public place without some protection. And don’t go home with the abuser. But you may decide that you can endure the lecture on the way home, the rejection throughout the day or evening, or the angry scolding later. The narcissist/legalist doesn’t have to always get his/her way. Be careful. Just understand what the jerk is doing.

Oops!  One more thing!

As I read this after it posted I realized that sometimes the narcissist tries to get others to act irrationally in public places.  If, on reading this post, you wondered if you are the narcissist, but then realized that he/she provokes you to that point, please understand this.  Another tactic of the narcissist is to manipulate what you think of yourself and what others think of you by pushing you to the point where you react like someone out of control.  That doesn’t make you a narcissist.  It just shows that he/she is more covert, at least in public situations.  (Sometimes we have to respond loudly just to hear ourselves think above the confusion of the narcissist’s manipulations.)

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Respect

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Aretha Franklin sang it:

I ain’t gonna do you wrong, while you’re gone
Ain’t gonna do you wrong (ooh) ’cause I don’t want to (ooh)
All I’m askin’ (ooh)
Is for a little respect when you come home (just a little bit)
Baby (just a little bit), when you get home (just a little bit)
Yeah (just a little bit)

 

Just a little respect. But narcissists don’t respect people. They manipulate people, curry favor with people, use people, and may even hate people, but they don’t respect anyone.

To respect someone, you have to see that person separate from yourself and with value separate from you. In other words, their value cannot be simply in what they do for you or can do for you.

To respect is to look at a person in a way that acknowledges a value in that person apart from you.

In the past, I have written that narcissists see others as tools, toys, or obstacles. While the carpenter might appreciate the quality of his tools, he would hardly say that he respects them. They exist for his use. If they fail him, he simply discards them and find others. The child treats her toys in the same way. Their value comes from the purpose they serve in her life.

It could be said that a person might respect an opponent who presents an obstacle, I suppose, but only until that obstacle is overcome. The narcissist sees obstacles as enemies to be destroyed. Once the enemy is overcome, there is nothing more to respect. The only purpose for an obstacle is to make the narcissist look good in overcoming it.

The point here is that when the narcissist categorizes people in his or her life, respect has nothing to do with it. It might appear that the narcissist respects certain people if they are in authority or if they offer something he needs. There might be an action or attitude that seems like respect, but it will be part of the manipulation.

How will you know this? By listening to the things said about that person. The narcissist will almost always have something about the person to criticize. “He is a great salesman, but did you see that tie?” “She has a beautiful house, but so would I if you made more money.” In front of the person, the narcissist is gracious and submissive. These negative words come later.

Of course, most people will not even get that much respect from the narcissist. Most of us, regular people, only get noticed when we are in the way or are useful. And then it isn’t respect that we get.  We get criticism, or demands, or lectures, or manipulations, or whatever it takes to get us to do what they want.

Why doesn’t the narcissist respect people? Because he/she doesn’t see others as separate. Depersonalizing others is a key part of the narcissist’s life. There is no empathy, no regard for people as individuals. Others only have value in connection with a purpose in the narcissist’s life. If that value is finished, or if the person fails, the narcissist is able to discard the relationship and move on.

And remember: being the reason for the narcissist’s failure or weakness serves a purpose. That means the narcissist might not discard someone who fails if that person can be used as an excuse. “I thought Bill would be able to make this work, but now he has let me down again.”

For the narcissist, control is everything. In the mind of the narcissist, two types of people are under his/her influence: deceived people or intimidated people. They are either less intelligent or weaker than the narcissist.  In order to be useful, people have to be under control.  Anyone under control deserves no respect from the narcissist.  Anyone not under control is either useless or an obstacle.

Once again, the truth hurts. Who wants to be with someone who doesn’t have respect for others? Who wants their value only in their ability to be “useful”? Where is love and respect? Not with the narcissist.

Sometimes I don’t like writing these things.  I know they hurt.  At the same time, they answer questions.  If this is what you are seeing in your relationship, you may be dealing with a narcissist.  If that’s the case, then at least you are beginning to understand the battle you are in.

 

 

 

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The Laughing Narcissist

It’s Narcissist Friday!    

 

I recently read a Facebook post by a “friend” who began this way:

“Didn’t know I was a narcissist.” (Smiley face)

He explained that the “diagnosis” came from an article and posted the article. The article was about people who post their gym workouts and other exercise information on Facebook. It said that these people need attention and have psychological problems. Then it said they were narcissists. Here’s the quote:

“Narcissists more frequently updated about their achievements, which was motivated by their need for attention and validation from the Facebook community” (link below)

So the suggestion is that those people who post their exercise accomplishments are narcissists. That made my FB friend laugh. He thought the article was “hilarious.” Not only that, but he accepted the label of narcissist with no concern. When others commented on his post, they affirmed him and did not find the label offensive at all. In fact, one commenter wrote: “continue on, you narcissist.” Ha ha ha.

Well, I have written about this before. Three things are at work here. First, there is the unfortunate “study” that was done. The idea that posting your accomplishments on Facebook reveals that you are a narcissist is foolish. Facebook and other types of social media allow just enough anonymity and community for otherwise timid or quiet people to risk putting out something positive about themselves. Many motivational teachers tell people to go public with their goals and progress as a way of accountability. The encouragement that comes from a supportive community helps a lot. I do not doubt that some of the people who toot their own horn on Facebook are narcissists, but I know for a fact that many are not. For some of the people I know, posting on FB at all is a frightening thing.

The second thing that is obvious here is that the term, “narcissist,” has become so popularized that it is losing both its true meaning and its negative connotations. Some people think it means a person who needs attention or affirmation. But listen: we all need affirmation! That doesn’t make us narcissists. No, the narcissist will abuse you and manipulate you to get affirmation. He/she doesn’t care anything about others, except to use them. To be a narcissist is a negative thing. It means you are hurting others. Nothing to laugh about. Nothing at all.

And that brings me to the third thing at work here. When the narcissist is given a label, he/she may well accept it as a way to ridicule the person who gave it. If you call your problem person a narcissist, he/she will not be ashamed, nor be inclined to make changes. Instead, you may become a focal point for revenge or ridicule. “Oh, well, miss psychiatrist thinks I am a narcissist! Well, I guess that’s what I am then.” “Oh, I’m sorry, I guess that’s what you should expect from a narcissist.” (Read those words with dripping sarcasm.)

The friend on Facebook was not ashamed to find himself labeled a narcissist, nor was he moved to stop posting his accomplishments. Instead, he made it into a joke and a way to receive even more affirmation from his followers. Is he a narcissist? I don’t know because I have never met him or talked with him. I just read his posts. He is superior and insulting, I will say that. Not a particularly nice guy, but that’s another thing Facebook seems to bring out. My point here is that his reaction to the article was not to reject the label, but to embrace it.

This is why I have consistently suggested that the labels are for our understanding, not for throwing at the narcissists in our lives. It may help you to understand why a certain person acts a certain way. It gives you a category that you may not have understood before. But be careful when you use the word with others. Some will think it is funny; some will embrace it for themselves; almost all will misunderstand it.

(I do wonder, though, if my Facebook friend would have been as happy to be called a “parasite,” someone who gets life and energy from the exploitation of others. That might not seem quite so funny to him.)

https://www.brunel.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/articles/Facebook-status-updates-reveal-low-self-esteem-and-narcissism#

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