Tag Archives: covert narcissists

Narcissism, Egotism, and Egoism

It’s Narcissist Friday!

(I am aware that this blog continually attracts new readers.  With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material.  The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for.  Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website.  So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years.  Please feel free to comment.)

I am about to finish “The Mirror Effect” by Dr. Drew Pinsky.  This book and “The Narcissism Epidemic” by Twenge and Campbell present a culture that is increasingly focused on the antics and philosophies of self-centered people.  Both books have something important to say, if for no other reason than to present the reality of the lives of the people Hollywood seems to find entertaining.  But, in my opinion, both books somewhat misrepresent narcissism and get it mixed up with a couple of other concepts.

The first is egotism.  Egotism is defined as excessively talking about oneself.  It reminds me of the country song, “I Wanna Talk About Me” by Toby Keith.  Egotists are focused on themselves and can hardly take the time to listen or care about others.  Now, I think someone taught them that this was the way life was.  The children of Hollywood often learn that they are the center of attention wherever they go.  People watch to see what hair style they choose, what clothes they wear, or what music they enjoy.  They are surrounded by admirers and sycophants all their lives.  Add to that the drug culture and the suggestion that drug use causes a stoppage of emotional growth at whatever age it begins and you have Martin Sheen saying that his son, Charlie, is still emotionally a child.  Children are supposed to grow out of egotism and into community.  In our culture, many do not.

Not all egotists are in Hollywood, but most are simply what we used to call spoiled children.  They need to be taught that life isn’t centered on them, no one really cares about their bodily functions, and the world doesn’t owe them either financial or psychological care.  If it wasn’t politically incorrect, I would suggest that many of them simply need a good spanking and an introduction to the real world.

The second word is very similar—egoism.  Egoism (note the loss of the letter “t”) is a philosophy that believes all personal action is fundamentally from self-interest.  Egoists believe that self-interest is the only valid reason for anyone doing anything.  So, according to this philosophy, those who go to war voluntarily do so for selfish reasons.  They may want recognition and are willing to take the risk or they may see a significant positive even in some kind of martyrdom.  Those who give generously to causes would have expectations of some kind of payback.  Those who are kind actually serve themselves.

Egoists have determined their philosophy after a certain jaded look at the world around them.  They see kindness and sacrifice and notice that many of those who do these things have self-interests.  They conclude that self-interest is the primary cause of all such actions and they accept that conclusion as valid.  A change of thinking may be as simple as meeting someone who actually knows how to love.

But narcissism is something quite different.  The narcissist is afraid and is driven to control, to manipulate, to abuse others, by his fear.  Whereas the egotist barely has any idea that there could be something about him that you would dislike, the narcissist is convinced that you would reject him completely if he ever let you close enough to know the truth.  The narcissist needs more than constant attention, he needs constant approval, and he will do almost anything to get it.

Of course, there are overlaps in these definitions.  The egotist may well be betraying a core of narcissistic need.  The narcissist would be the epitome, the ideal, of some form of egoism.  But it is generally helpful to remember that there are distinctions between the concepts.

Comments?

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What makes a narcissist?

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

(I am aware that this blog continually attracts new readers.  With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material.  The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for.  Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website.  So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years.  Please feel free to comment.)

 

The answer to this is worth far more than the proverbial $64,000.  There is a general consensus, however, that the narcissist was made very young, through some trauma or series of traumas.  Abandonment or threatened abandonment by parents is a common theme.

I recently heard two stories of 4-year-olds who were sent out by parents to steal.  If they didn’t get what they were sent out for, they were not allowed back in the house.  Imagine what that would do…

One young lady I worked with was rejected by her mother from the earliest age.  In fact, she was told repeatedly, “I should have aborted you!”  She was never allowed to relax as a child, but was either coddled and pampered or abused and rejected.  Her mother would dress her up in expensive clothes and give her expensive hair treatments and parade her around like a doll.  Everyone would make much of her looks.  But the rest of the time she was considered a burden.  In other words, her mother was narcissistic.

What kind of confusion would it cause a child to be rejected for being a child, for wanting to play and laugh and wiggle; but to be praised for acting like an adult, when she was only four?

Through all of this, she learned one lesson from her mother:  she would be loved when she was not herself and hated when she was herself.  If she acted like her heart wanted to act, she would be rejected and abused.  If she acted like her mom wanted her to act, no matter how unnatural it was, she would be loved.

This appears to be a message learned by many who grow up to be narcissists.  They know in their hearts that they will be rejected if they relax or if they fail, or if they just are who they are.  In order to be accepted, they must create an image that is acceptable, even superior.  Control is the ultimate goal—control of what others think of them.  You are welcomed or pushed away based on what they think you will think of them.  When the narcissist looks in the mirror, it isn’t because she loves herself; it is to reassure herself that you ought to think highly of her.

So, yes, the narcissist is in pain and lives in fear.  That doesn’t excuse his cruelty, even if it explains it.  And not everyone who suffers such rejection ends up narcissistic.  For some, however, narcissism is the means they use to avoid and deny the pain.

But this is why it is so difficult to help a narcissist.  To go back to that time of fundamental rejection, to admit the vulnerability, is unthinkable.  Is it possible?  I do believe that the Lord can take us back into those most difficult times and lead us through them to wholeness.  There is such love and acceptance in the real gospel.  I do believe that there is hope in Jesus even for narcissists.  Someday I hope to see such a thing.

Thoughts?

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Overt and Covert

It’s Narcissist Friday!

(I am aware that this blog continually attracts new readers.  With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material.  The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for.  Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website.  So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years.  Please feel free to comment.)

Think about the people you know.  Some of them are what could be called loud people.  Others are quiet.  Some are outgoing, vivacious, gregarious, etc.  Some are inhibited, shy, withdrawn.  This doesn’t change just because someone is a narcissist.

It is easy to stereotype the narcissist as someone who must always be the loud center of attention.  But many narcissists have learned to avoid the limelight.  They control and dominate from behind the scenes.  In fact, you may not recognize this person as narcissistic at all.

Eleanor D. Payson has written about this difference in her book, “The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists.”  She differentiates between “overt” and “covert” narcissists.  The overt narcissist is what we have come to expect.  The powerbroker, the man in front of the camera, the mother-in-law who comes to your home and takes over.  The overt narcissist will come into your office space, sit on your desk, and dig through your papers.

The covert narcissist still wants to be in control but does so by “helping.”  Sometimes these folks offer to help with projects.  The only problem is that they end up taking over.  They work, or at least they motivate you to work harder, and they get things done.  But you feel stupid in the process.  When the project is done, it cost more than you had planned and it doesn’t look quite the way you had wanted it to.  But your “helper” assures you that this will be much better.  Your way just wasn’t good enough.  The covert narcissist will come into your office space to clean your desk and sort your papers.

This is the mother-in-law who comes to visit with her rubber gloves and cleaning supplies.  You find yourself angry and wishing she hadn’t come at all, when you are supposed to be grateful.  In the church, these people serve on committees and take jobs no one else will take.  It will be very clear that they are making a sacrifice to help you and you will be expected to praise them and honor them.  Never mind that they can’t seem to stay in budget or they alienate everyone else on the committee.  Never mind that the Missions Committee is now somehow responsible for setting the pastor’s salary and deciding what color to paint the outside of the church.

In all of this we have to understand that the goal of the narcissist is to look good and to feel good about himself.  It isn’t about you.  You feel like you are always being put down, but the truth is that the narcissist doesn’t really see you at all.  When Mom comes to clean, she just wants you to understand that she is really that good.  Aren’t you lucky you have her?

Interestingly, Payson suggests that covert narcissists often find their way to become a “doctor, therapist, minister, or missionary.” (p. 27)  These are all areas of service where one can appear to be helping while satisfying a need for control and favorable comparisons.

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First among Losers

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 
Narcissism is a competitive condition. Let’s face it: narcissists are always competing. They are stronger and smarter and more deserving than you. They work harder or work less or work better than you do. Whatever they perceive as a positive attribute for you, they have to top.

The narcissist deserves to be in charge, to have more money, to have a lighter work load, to gather more sympathy, to be more popular, to get more attention—than anyone else. They will tell you stories about how bad they had it and they can always top your story. They hurt more from their pain, are rejected more by fools, and are less appreciated than you or me. It doesn’t matter if it is positive or negative, if it gets attention they have it more than you.

We are seeing more sports figures these days who reject second-place medals or trophies. Nothing matters except being at the top. Anything less than the best and most loved means nothing. It doesn’t matter what anyone says, they live by the motto that “Second place is just first among losers.”

One consistent characteristic I have noticed among narcissists is this idea that losing—in any way—is fundamentally unacceptable. I have heard narcissists push arguments way past any sense of reason just to get their opponent to concede. They will lie, cheat, steal, abuse, or attack to win a simple disagreement. Sports figures take drugs, businessmen cheat, entertainers starve and carve just to stay on top. Coming in second is just plain old losing.

Those in relationships with narcissists must understand this. There is no sympathy, no cooperation, no understanding when the competition begins. (Unless, of course, the competition is to be sympathetic or cooperative. Then you will lose.) His story begins with, “Oh, that’s nothing! One time I…” Your story is forgotten, in spite of the fact that yours is true. Her words begin with, “That’s nice, but…” or “That’s too bad, but I…” You are dismissed. Go sit in the corner while she tells her story.

The addiction to attention and admiration is so strong in the narcissist that anyone else who gets it is an immediate competitor. The narcissist will say nasty things about the person being recognized, insinuate whatever will bring the person down. I have seen parents take over the recognition that is given to their children and leaders take the spotlight away from honorees. Sometimes the actions of the narcissist are embarrassing to the rest of us. But not to the narcissist. It simply has to be done.

Of course, much of this refers to the behavior presented by the overt narcissist. Because they have learned to be more open about their desire for attention, the overt narcissist has little hesitation as he or she pulls the focus away from others. The covert narcissist must do this more carefully. Typically, the covert narcissist is a victim or a servant. They often stand there, looking sad or dutiful, waiting for others to notice them. Eventually someone will say something positive about the service or supportive about the struggle, and the covert narcissist will milk the attention by denying anything special until the other is almost gushing with praise or sympathy. Covert narcissists teach us that attention can be gathered by self-deprecation and understatement, and that those who appear not to be competing can still win.

I suspect that the narcissist sees attention as a limited commodity. There is only a certain amount of praise available in the world and he deserves all of it. There is a certain amount of sympathy in the world and she deserves all of it. Others should expect to take the second place.

Nothing and no one is worth more to the narcissist than attention. Lovers can never give enough praise or service or worship. Servants can never be trusted to give their all. With ruthless strength, the narcissist tears down anyone or anything that stands in his way to the top. Too many have found this to be true as the marriage or relationship ends. I have heard horror stories of how narcissists have lied and cheated to get their way in divorce and custody battles. They not only must win, but often must destroy.

Unfortunately for the narcissist, he isn’t usually good enough to deserve the attention he desires. He fails too often because his focus is not on the game but on how well others think of him. The quarterback may be amazingly gifted but if he can’t top all the rest, he pouts and curses. And something, probably the incompetence of those around him, is to blame for any lack on his part. The salesman may simply not be as good in his job as another, even though he is very good. But second place, losing, is someone else’s fault.

Perhaps one test of whether a person is a narcissist is how he or she tolerates attention given to another. Most of us can rejoice when someone else is praised. We might feel a little jealous or we might wonder why that person deserves the praise, but we don’t have to have it for ourselves or even take it away from them. The narcissist, on the other hand, can reveal much by the attitudes and words that are exhibited when others receive praise.

Those in narcissistic relationships should not be surprised to find themselves competing with their narcissists, even when they have no intention of doing so. It is just part of the deal.

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Not Nice

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

I wonder when America chose being nice as its highest value. Was it just since movies and television? We have several old photos of ancestors, and one common thread, no matter what branch of the family, is that they are not smiling. You get the impression that they were not nice people. Today, everybody puts on phony smiles so they can pretend to be nice, but maybe being nice wasn’t such a high value back then.

Sometime someone decided that we should all be nice. We were told to be nice to our siblings and praised for being nice children. No matter what someone was doing, we could get them in trouble by accusing them of not being nice. We wore nice clothes, drew nice pictures, acted nice on the playground, and said our prayers like nice little boys and girls. And, somehow, that was supposed to be more spiritual.

But being nice also meant not telling the whole truth much of the time. Just keep your opinions to yourself. It meant not dealing with abuses done by those who weren’t so nice. It meant not bringing up those abuses, even to those who could do something about them. Our goal was not to be honest or forthright or strong, just to be nice.

Nice people became prey for the predators, food for the hungry users and abusers. Churches still do nothing about abuses because the leaders are bound to portraying themselves as nice. Church discipline isn’t nice. Confronting people with their sins isn’t nice. And, since we are all so willing to suffer to be seen as nice, leaders are willing to let people suffer. We just want a nice church.

Years ago I found a coffee cup with a grumpy character on it and the words, “No More Mr. Nice Guy!” I had it on my desk one day when someone who disagreed with me saw it and said, “What do you mean, ‘no more’?” In other words, she thought I had stopped being nice when I disagreed with her on something. And maybe I was never all that nice.

You see, I believe the church should confront the abuser and cannot let the abused feel alone and abandoned. I have had to do it several times and I hated it every time. It wasn’t nice and some of the people thought I wasn’t nice. People left our church because we stood up for those who were being hurt and confronted the ones who were judgmental and unkind. My only regret was in not doing it earlier in several cases.

The word, “nice,” has an interesting history. It comes to us from Latin, through Old French and Middle English, and means—are you ready?—stupid! It suggested a simpleton who didn’t know when someone was being cruel or antagonistic. We can imagine someone with a silly grin on his face as people taunt him. To be nice was to misunderstand what was going on.

Well, isn’t that about right? In our desire to be nice, we allow the narcissists and abusers to control churches and governments and families. We stand there with stupid grins on our faces while they say whatever they want no matter how much it hurts us. (I’m sorry, I know that hits close to home.) We let them get by with their nastiness time after time. And, all the while, they think of us as stupid.

Someone might say, “Well, doesn’t the Bible tell us to be nice?” Nope! Not once. It tells us to be patient and compassionate and kind and loving and generous and even willing to suffer, but not to be nice. I don’t think Jesus was nice. I think He was gracious and giving and happy, but few people would refer to Him as nice. And no one would refer to the Father as nice. Loving, yes. Nice, no.

There are times when we ought to call others on their behavior. There are times when we should speak up and challenge unkind statements or actions. Church and organization leaders and government officials should stop worrying about what others will think and just do the right thing. If to be nice means that we stand by while others are hurt, then being nice is not being good. If being nice means allowing yourself to be used, then being nice is not smart.

Now, I believe there are times to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. Jesus knew what He was saying. There are also times to call the Pharisees around us “whitewashed tombs” or to point out their hypocrisy. You can choose to let others use you and you can choose when it should stop. You don’t have to be nice.

Narcissists and others depend on a culture of nice to stop any opposition against their abuses. Maybe, in your situation, it’s time to take some of that nice out of your culture. Pray and trust the Lord. Don’t do this lightly. There are risks. Keep yourself safe. Prepare for consequences. Just know that being a doormat is not more spiritual. If you choose to let it continue, that’s fine. But you don’t have to.

So, for the sake of irony, maybe it’s time to stand up to the narcissist and say, “You are not nice!”

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Narcissistic Emotions

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

I have watched narcissists joke and laugh and even praise people, then turn away with curses in their mouths and disgust on their faces. I have seen them act caring and supportive, even pray with people, and then make jokes about them later. The ability of the narcissist to morph into whatever they think they should be at the moment is impressive.

In our discussion of mourning, the unexpected and inconsistent emotions of the narcissist were mentioned several times. Just like some have noted that their narcissist did mourn, I have been told that a certain narcissist was very empathic. Often narcissists become counselors or helpers to those who are hurting. Professions in medicine and the church are choice bastions of narcissism. But how does a person become a pastor when he sees people as tools to use for his personal gain? And how does one become a doctor or an elected official when he really doesn’t care what happens to others? The emotions needed to connect with the hearts of others seem so inconsistent with narcissism.

Almost by definition, narcissists don’t care. We wonder if they have the ability to care about others. Yet, they cannot move forward in the relationships they need without convincing people that they do care. So narcissists learn to do what it takes.

I believe that narcissists are some of the most practical people we will ever meet. Because they are actually quite free of emotional ties, they are able to look at situations without the same complications we experience. That ability gives them freedom to make quick and strong decisions and to make difficult decisions.

Who can look on the employees of a small business and choose which has to be let go because of the budget cuts? The narcissist can, and without consideration of the employee’s needs or tenure. The decision will be practical and ruthless. But it can’t look that way or the other employees might cause problems. The thinking narcissist will feign a struggle, let everyone know how difficult the choice was, and even shed a tear or two. Of course, if you watch carefully, the narcissist will look bigger and better because of the phony struggle. None of it will be about the employee.

Spouses of narcissists often comment at how the narcissist, who cared little about the children before the divorce, becomes the perfect parent after or during the proceedings. Suddenly he/she is attentive, patient, giving, and empathic. But these same emotions go away when a new lover comes into the picture.

Emotions are useful to the narcissist. He knows that the way into the heart of another person is through connected emotions. He will be upset about some injustice with those who are feeling abused. She will be attentive and loving with those who need a friend. I have found narcissists to be some of the best listeners in my life, accepting and instantly grasping my own feelings. But all of this is an act. The same narcissists who have been so gracious in times of need will produce much greater struggles for their victims in the future.

Understand that emotions are risky for the narcissist. If he cannot control his feelings, he may reveal the weakness he knows himself to have. He will betray the image if he is not careful. So the narcissist learns early not to cry, not to express too much enthusiasm, not to hope. He cannot look weak. He must be in control. Even the covert narcissist, who seems much more willing to express vulnerability, will share only those emotions that will be useful in relationships. She might cry, a lot, and she might show fear or anxiety or disappointment; but all of that will be for the purpose of manipulating those around her.

I really can’t close this post without mentioning the most difficult emotion for the narcissist to control—anger. Anger betrays the narcissist often. Whereas sadness or grief are handled by the depersonalization in every narcissistic relationship, anger is about the narcissist himself. When he is frustrated or afraid or disappointed, it will often come out as anger. Part of the reason for this is that the narcissist will see anger as power. Others cower and back away when he is angry. They give him his way. So anger is useful, of course. But part of it is also due to the intense cost of maintaining the image. There is no option to show real fear or weakness, yet the narcissist hides in the cave hoping others will be distracted by the superior image. When that falters, the stress and inconsistency rises to the surface, sometimes with dangerous results.

Whole books could be written on the way narcissists use emotions. Just remember that those emotions are tools in the narcissists’ hands. Don’t be distracted or deceived by them.

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Confrontation!

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

“People who confront the narcissist always lose.”

 

What do you think? Is that a true statement?  It certainly seems true, doesn’t it?  Only enter the fight if you are prepared to get beat up.  To confront the narcissist on behavior or attitude is to walk dangerously.

If you are reading this, you probably understand. It might be at work where you confront the narcissist about the lies he has told about you.  It might be a parent who has always put you down.  It might be a friend who takes advantage of your time and energy.  Or it might be a spouse or lover who is often cruel and uncaring.  But when you point out how they hurt you, you end up hurt again.

Somehow it is all your fault. You started it.  You deserve it.  You are the real culprit.  If you hadn’t done what you did, this never would have happened.  You should be thankful the narcissist puts up with you at all.  On and on and on.  By the time it’s over you wish you had never dared.

Then you feel like crap. Sorry for the vernacular, but that’s the way it is.  You built up your courage, gathered your nerve, prepared your words—and got creamed.  And this isn’t the first time.

So what do you do? Simple justice seems to demand that the narcissist be confronted.  She has to be told that she is hurting you.  He has to have the boundaries made clear.  They ought to be stopped.

But here’s the problem: the narcissists either already know they are doing something that hurts you or they simply don’t care. All your energy seems out of line to them.  They don’t understand why you are attacking them, since they have done nothing wrong.  Again, you deserved it.  To the narcissist, it is almost hypocritical of you to challenge them for their cruelty when it was your own fault.

 

And     so     you     go     slowly     crazy.

 

But understand that this is not your problem. You are not the crazy one.  This is how narcissists generally deal with confrontation.  Whether it is the boss, the mother, the neighbor, the police officer or anyone.  Even the counselor.

To the Officer: “Yes, Officer, I see your point. Thank you.  I appreciate your diligence.”

To you: “That jerk!  If he didn’t have that badge I would have pushed his words down his throat.  Who does he think he is giving me a ticket?”

Even when it seems that the confrontation works, it still doesn’t. There may be limited success.  He might shut up for a while.  She might walk away.  But they really don’t understand your anger and don’t care about your point.  They can’t see you as a real person whose emotions are valid.  Your anger, your sadness, your joy—they don’t understand them the way you might understand the emotions of others.

 

Back to the question: What do you do? Here are some ideas:

  1. Do what you must. If you must say something, do it. It will feel good to get it out, no matter how it is accepted.
  2. Plan for failure. There are times when it is right to do something even if you know ahead of time that it won’t work. Maybe someone else will hear and understand your point, even if the narcissist doesn’t get it. If you plan for the narcissist to avoid or miss your point, you might not be as hurt when he/she does.
  3. Accept small victories and benefits. Sometimes a confrontation can set up a boundary. Sometimes the narcissist will be set back and have to take a different tack. That can be good.
  4. Or you don’t have to confront at all. Why put yourself through that if you don’t have to? Set your boundaries and maintain them without confrontation. The narcissist will probably try to use confrontation if you seem to want to avoid it, but walking away or staying silent can be a very effective strategy.

 

Confrontation is hard and narcissists usually choose victims who hate it in almost any circumstance. It is hard because you see the other as a real person and you don’t want to hurt them, nor do you want to fail to get your point across.  Just know that your desire to confront and your struggle with confrontation are okay.  They’re normal.

So I have attached a little video that seemed to illustrate what happens when we try to confront the narcissist. I apologize in advance for the “dumb criminals” part.  You are neither dumb nor criminals, but the narcissist is usually as hard as bulletproof glass!

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