Tag Archives: definition of 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

*****

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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.

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Defining Forgiveness

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Narcissists have long memories. I know they forget things like birthdays, names of important people, promises made, and rules they are supposed to keep. But they remember every detail of every time you did something wrong, even the things you only told them about. They know who they don’t like and why. They know the information that compromises you or those above them at work. And they remember.

They remember so they can use it against you. When you think you are relaxed in a group of people, enjoying a certain intimacy, the narcissist will bring up that old bit of information. He/she might refer to it directly: “Hey, is this like that time you…?” or indirectly: “Don’t you wish you were in Chicago right now?” Only you will know the reference, but you will blush or sputter or get out of there. And the narcissist will laugh at your expense.

A friend of mine rode with a narcissist to a meeting. My friend put his briefcase on top of the narcissist’s car as he took off his coat to get in. The narcissist went ballistic, accusing my friend of scratching the car. My friend apologized and took his case off the car carefully. Nothing more was said. Then. But in the weeks and months to come, the narcissist referred to the incident over and over. My friend was supposed to apologize over and over.

Forgiveness, in a narcissistic relationship, has a twisted meaning. Somehow, the narcissist can speak forgiveness and then continue to use the offense against you. So, are you forgiven or not?

Legalist Christians do much the same thing. They learn of your past indiscretions and then label you. Once you are labeled, you rarely escape. You may be considered forgiven, but you are still the person who did that thing. Unless you can be controlled, you will not be trusted. After all, they know your area of weakness. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was or how hard you have tried to overcome it. The change in you does not overcome the fact of your sin.

So, are you forgiven or not?

The Bible connects sin and debt. We see that in the Lord’s Prayer. The word for “transgression” or “sin” in the prayer is the word for “debt.” When we hurt someone, it is as though we have taken something of theirs and now owe them something. We don’t have to push that very far to understand. The two ideas of offense and debt simply run parallel.

Now, if you have a debt and it is paid off, whether by you or another, can it still be used against you? It shouldn’t be. That debt is gone. If you look on the ledger, there is nothing more on your account. You owe nothing. All your buying power, all your freedom, all your ability to deal with future debt is restored. It is finished.

And those were the words Jesus said at the end of His ordeal on the cross. The debt was paid in full. What debt? Your debt. The price of your sin. When you came to Jesus, He washed away your debt with His blood. You were and are forgiven.

The narcissist might not want to give you that freedom. The legalist might not understand that freedom. But you are still free. The sin that was on your account has been removed from you and cast away “as far as the east is from the west.” The account that was “red like scarlet” is “as white as snow.” The fact that you remember what you did changes none of that. You are forgiven.

When God forgives you, you are forgiven.

Forgiveness in the human realm is less pure, perhaps more complicated, but of less consequence. The Scripture says that all sin is ultimately against the Lord, so the only forgiveness that matters is His. But the people you hurt may still respond to you in their flesh. They may choose not to forgive what God has forgiven. But you are still forgiven.

When I counsel people who want to forgive, I usually say that forgiveness is moving on. It means turning the offense over to the Lord, perhaps repeatedly as you remember and feel the pain, and moving forward with your life. It does not mean pronouncing the person good or denying what happened. Nor does it require trusting that person again or being his/her friend. It simply means moving on without the need for justice or revenge.

In the flesh, forgiveness is hard work. In the spirit, forgiveness is walking with Jesus as we remember and relate to the other person.

Under grace, we have no need to put others down or hold their offenses against them. All that we need we find in Jesus. His love is sufficient to heal our hearts. I can release any debt I hold against others to Him. He can release those who look to Him in faith. Under grace, I remember that forgiveness is up to Him.

So, are you forgiven? Yes!

*****

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The Confusion that Comes

It’s Narcissist Friday!

A constant in narcissistic relationships is the strange confusion that comes over the victims. Narcissists love chaos and disruption. In almost all narcissistic relationships, the confusion begins early.

When I started writing about narcissism, I just wanted to explore and expose the connection between it and legalism. Then, as I realized how many people had been hurt by narcissism in “Christian” relationships, I wanted to help and encourage. I wanted to help people understand what happened and help them work through to find health.

Narcissism is fundamentally a mind game. Narcissists almost always rule by intimidation and awe. They convince their victims of their superiority and take what they want from them. When you meet a narcissist and the narcissist thinks you might be useful, you will be impressed. If you are not impressed with the narcissist, it will be because you are not useful to him/her. The narcissist controls what you think about him.

Unbelievable? I have been making the case that this is the narcissist’s super power for the last several years. The narcissist enters every relationship, from his own children to the people at work, with the idea that he can manipulate certain ones for his benefit. This sounds devious and evil, but it is just how this personality disorder works. And the narcissist is very good at it.

We use mind words when we describe narcissistic abuse. Manipulation, gaslighting, projection. An amazing willingness to lie is an almost universal part of narcissism. Even depersonalization, in the context of relationship, is a mental destruction. Victims of narcissists find themselves defending their abusers, rationalizing the abuse, and blaming themselves for the situation. Even those who finally find a way out struggle with the confusion for many years.

Add to all of this the context of the church, particularly the performance-based church. Even the place of hope and promise, the one place where narcissistic abuse should have no part, becomes a place of this manipulation. The meaning of words are changed. The basic concepts of the faith that should set us free are redefined to bring more bondage. Love is exchanged for duty. Freedom is exchanged for standards. We are told that we must perform to certain standards that are impossible. We are doomed to failure even while we are encouraged to try harder. That’s the church most people are connected with as they struggle with narcissistic relationships.

The reason I am writing all of this is to allow those who have suffered through narcissistic relationships to see why they have had such difficulty in rebuilding their lives and finding health. This confusion is a tool of the narcissist. It was cultivated, and it is purposeful. Don’t blame yourself!

I’d like to take the next few months to walk through definitions that have been twisted and broken in the legalistic and narcissistic struggle. Part of the process of finding health and freedom after the narcissistic relationship is the renewing of the mind. That means sorting out wrong definitions and wrong perspectives.

Please understand that I don’t consider myself to be the one dependable source of truth. I would love to have your input and even some discussion on these things. Primarily, I want to look to the Scriptures to see what has been revealed there about these things. We will find that many of the definitions and perspectives we have carried out of these relationships are contrary to the simple teachings of the Word of God.

Just know that a good deal of the struggle you are experiencing with the church and the people in your lives might come from this continuing confusion. There is a way through the fog. My prayer is that the light of God’s love will shine into your heart as we walk together.

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Random Narcissists

It’s Narcissist Friday!

I have this image in my mind of someone reading this blog and saying that they have never met a narcissist. And I want to say, “Oh, you probably have. You just didn’t realize what was happening.”

That neighbor who keeps moving the boundary a little more into your yard each year. That driver who cut you off in traffic, endangering your family and most of the others driving nearby. That salesperson who treated you like an idiot or acted like he/she was doing you a favor to answer your question. That teacher who never seemed to care who was listening or what you thought. Or maybe the person in your homeowners’ association that makes your life miserable.

These folks are not necessarily narcissists, of course. Not everyone who rubs you the wrong way is a narcissist. Sometimes people are not careful or not caring. Sometimes they have other issues. But sometimes they are narcissists, and you are either a tool they can use, a toy they can play with, or an obstacle in their way.

As I write this, we are in the middle of the “lock down” because of the virus scare. People are actually encouraged to report those who are breaking the rules. Near my home a family was playing with a ball in the park. The father was handcuffed by four uniformed officers, in front of his 6-year-old, and forced into the back of a patrol car. After a little while, the officers decided the man wasn’t doing anything wrong. Why did they arrest him? Because someone reported the family in the park.

This is a time almost designed for narcissists. You know, the ones out on the road complaining about the others out on the road. The ones who refuse to wear a mask even when they have the cough, but complain about others who don’t wear masks. Narcissists love the rules—for others.

It was the neighborhood narcissist who reported that your grass was too long or that your car was parked on the street too long. It was the narcissist who pulled into the parking space you were so obviously waiting for. It was the narcissist who broke the rules and ruined the privileges everyone enjoyed.

You see, the narcissists know the rules. They know etiquette. They know how the game is supposed to be played. You know they know, because they expect you to obey. You might wonder because they seem to break so many of the rules, even the simple ones.

Another example: you are riding with the narcissist as he sees a car pass him. He says, “Hey, the speed limit here is only 45!” He curses at the other driver, but you look to see that he has been traveling along at 52 mph.

The narcissist hates boundaries, but expects others to abide by them. No coffee in the work area? She will disobey regularly, but scold others for doing the same thing. Narcissists expect special privileges. They are more important; their work is more important; their desires are more important. More important means the rules don’t apply to them in the same way they apply to you.

So, yes, you have probably met many narcissists. They laughed as they frightened you or hurt you. They walked away from your need. They took what was yours. They simply did not care about your pain or your heart.

One of the questions that comes up often is whether there are more narcissists today. With no statistics to back me up, I think so. I think this is a culture that supports narcissistic perspectives and actions. There seems to be more anger, more aggression, more entitlement. It may be that many of those who act out narcissistic behaviors are not technically narcissists, but they find that depersonalizing others works for them. Not caring about others frees them from responsibilities and expectations. Even if someone were to suggest that there are not more narcissists today, I would argue that we are seeing more narcissistic behavior.

Remember that we are not research professionals. It is neither our job nor our right to diagnose narcissism, at least as a clinical disorder. We observe behaviors and attitudes. Sometimes we live so closely or work so closely with a person that we can observe behavior over a long period and come to a reasonably responsible conclusion. When the person is in the other car on the highway, we have no real knowledge from which to draw conclusions. The most we can say is that person doesn’t seem to care about others.

Also, remember that narcissists can be very good at hiding their true feelings. Ted Bundy was a nice guy. The BTK killer was a respected elder in his church. Murderers, abusers, thieves, cheaters, perverts, and more live in our neighborhoods, work in our schools, and attend our churches. This is a crowded world, and there are narcissists.

We have considered narcissism in eight relationships (spouses, parents, children, siblings, friends, people at work, people in organizations, and random people we meet. It is not my desire that you would live in fear of relationships. Just because there are narcissists, users, in each of these does not mean they make up the majority or that you will have one in a certain relationship. Most people are not narcissists. Don’t be afraid.

At the same time, we need to be wise. Be careful with whom you share your heart. Give trust with discernment. Go slowly into close relationships. Teach your children about those who would use them. It is neither depressing nor frightening to know that there are cruel people. It is only enlightening and empowering. Understanding the truth and preparing for the real battle is a good beginning to victory.

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Church

It’s Narcissist Friday!

I think part of why I write about narcissism in the church is because it seems so wrong to me. A narcissistic relationship is painful. It is intrusive, treacherous, cruel, and manipulative. And nothing of that should connect with life in the church.

Yes, I know that people bring their flesh when they come to church. I know that the openness and yielding of the Christian life can be used against us. It’s just that it shouldn’t happen. This world is struggle enough. We shouldn’t have to suffer narcissistic abuse in the context of the church. We have good reason to expect church relationships, from the pastor to the members, to be filled with love and support. Gossip, condemnation, exclusion, and favoritism have no place in the church.

And yet.

And yet so many people tell of narcissist parents who use the church and the Bible to manipulate. And yet, so many tell of narcissist spouses who quote Scripture to support their abuse. And yet, so many have struggled with narcissistic friends from church. And yet, so many have been used or hurt by narcissistic church leaders and pastors. It shouldn’t happen, but it does.

Why?

In my book, Narcissism in the Church, I explain that the church offers a powerful opportunity to narcissists and other abusers. It’s like a new born lamb for the predators. The lamb bleats for its mother, announcing its weakness and availability. People come to the church in times of weakness and vulnerability looking for help, or they have been trained from childhood to be submissive and self-deprecating. In either case, they are the predator’s dream.

So, predators/narcissists are attracted to docile and yielding people. They find churches to be full of them.

They also find that churches offer a considerable amount of attention and praise for those who lead. Not only are people willing to put the leader on the pedestal, they are taught and believe that God blesses them for doing so. Imagine the narcissist who finds that the pulpit gives the opportunity to have a group of people listen carefully to his words and treat them as words from God! Few places in our society offer such an opportunity.

However, as I write about church in this post, I also have to write about other organizations. There are other groups that offer power and prestige in leadership. There are other groups that are easy to get into and hard to get out of. There are other groups where people will use your information against you, manipulate you into serving or giving, and expect you to bow in obedience.

If you are part of an organization where you are being manipulated into too many hours of service or expected to jump whenever the leader speaks, I would tell you to get out. Find a way to leave that organization. There are other groups where that does not happen. There are many ways to serve or give or even receive support that do not open you to narcissistic abuse.

So, what do I say about the church? Well, same thing. There are churches that do not abuse. There are Christian relationships that will give support without cruelty. In fact, there are many people like you and me who hate the idea of that exploitation coming from a group that is supposed to be focused on the love of God in Jesus. Find those people. Find that church.

And if you can’t? Then worship Jesus and serve Him on your own. Read His word of love to you and others. Give and share with those who love. Maybe you won’t always be on your own. Keep watching for others who know the Lord’s grace and seek to live in His love.

You might have to be on your own, but you will never be alone. He is real, and He loves you. Learn to walk with Him.

*****

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.

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Work

It’s Narcissist Friday!

When you first meet your new boss, you feel like he/she is the greatest person ever. You feel grateful for the new job, qualified to do the work, and ready to go. You notice that other employees are cool toward you and seem dissatisfied with the company. Some even seem strangely sympathetic toward you. One tells you to be careful not to agree to things like extra work.

So, you mention to the boss that the others seem unhappy. First, he wants to know which ones. Second, he says that this has been a busy time and some people aren’t willing to work hard. Then he says that’s why you were hired, because you had a good attitude and seemed competent. You walk away wondering if there was something you missed in the conversation.

That was your first clue. The second clue came when you saw how everyone worked hard to appear to be working hard whenever the boss was around. When he wasn’t around, they relaxed. You found yourself wanting to please the boss, to volunteer for extra responsibilities, but the others kept quiet. He worked extra hours and expected you to work longer also, but you couldn’t really say what he did. Yet, you wanted to give him respect.

Eventually, you understood. The boss was insatiable. If you had work, he gave you more. If you did well, it was not good enough. If you didn’t do well, he made you feel like an ungrateful loser. He micro-managed everyone with arbitrary rules and changes to projects. He made sure that everyone looked like a loser and understood that they kept their jobs only by his tolerance.

This is only a glimpse of what work under a narcissistic boss might be like. Those who have lived this will usually paint a much darker picture.

Of course, narcissists at work are not always bosses. Sometimes they are just co-workers. They want to be bosses and believe they know better than the bosses. They say nasty things about the bosses behind their backs and try to get you to do the same. But, when the boss is around, they become fawning toadies. In fact, if you did say something negative about the boss or the company, the boss will probably hear about it.

These co-workers steal your work, your clients, and things from your desk. They claim credit for work you did. They boast about their past accomplishments and blame the bosses, the other workers, and you that they are not accomplishing the same wonders now. They talk of their great plans and how they will change things when they get a chance. Of course, all the bosses are against them, and the other workers hold them back. They never seem as competent as they claim to be.

Most of the literature about narcissism focuses on marriage and family. Most people never think of the work environment when they think of narcissistic struggles. But those who have to report every day and work beside or work for a narcissist know that the struggle is not just real, but very difficult. Sometimes there is little that can be done.

But knowledge does bring a certain power. Be careful of what you say to others at work. Document the work you do so you can prove it is yours. Document interactions with the narcissistic boss. There may be a price to pay for going to HR, but when he/she steps across the line you may have to.

There is a helpful book on this subject, the only one I have found. Dr. Nina Brown is one of my favorite writers on narcissism. Her book, Working with the Self-Absorbed, is practical and specific. Filled with examples, she offers ideas on how to handle some of the workplace difficulties.

My only caution is to be careful. Just like dealing with any narcissistic relationship there may be a price to pay for standing up to them or trying to expose them. If you get to the point where you are willing to pay the price, you may be able to change some things at work.

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