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Followers

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Politics and narcissists seem to go together. In fact, any job or lifestyle where someone has followers attracts the narcissist. But how in the world do such cruel and insincere people get followers?

How do abusive pastors get faithful servants? How do famous and self-focused performers surround themselves with people? How do ambitious and money-grubbing politicians always have supporters? How does the cruel boss always have toadies who will do his will?

Well, of course, some people are brought into the narcissist’s circle in the same way most of us were drawn in. Narcissists typically have a certain charisma and charm. They say the right things and act in the right way. They appear to listen, care, and help. Narcissists are experts at beginning relationships.

But why do people stay with them? We know that narcissists use and misuse people. We know that narcissists are not really interested in others except for what they can get from them. We know that narcissists can be dismissive and even anti-social. So why do they have followers?

Some stay with the narcissist, because the narcissist is good at making promises. You know that the narcissist often promises just the right thing in just the right way. There will be reasons why the promise can’t happen quickly but assurances that the promise is coming. By making enough promises to enough people, or just by insinuating cooperation and support, the narcissist gathers people around who wait for fulfillment. As they wait, they serve. They don’t want any negative to come to the narcissist because that might jeopardize the promise. So they follow, serve, even seem to worship the narcissist.

Others live in fear of the narcissist. I have known people who don’t dare disagree or walk away from the narcissist because they are afraid of the consequences. Narcissists can be very intimidating. They can also be ruthless. Oppose them at your own risk. They won’t care how much they hurt you, how overboard their revenge is. Many have experienced the rage of the narcissist. Imagine if he/she was your boss, pastor, representative. Narcissists love to be in positions where they have power. If one has power over you, you know the intimidation.

Along the line of waiting for the promise, some have invested in the narcissist. Maybe they compromised themselves in some way to get favor with the narcissist. Maybe they actually gave money to the narcissist or his/her business. Those who have invested in these ways also wait for their return. They might not see it as a promise as much as tagging along until the narcissist gets into a position where the investment pays off. A close relationship with a politician can become lucrative. A strong connection with a famous person or a powerful person has real possibilities. Successful narcissists are usually willing to spread money and influence in order to keep others submissive.

Some people like the excitement. They follow the narcissist much like some follow the ambulance. There is almost always some kind of drama around the narcissist, particularly those who have grabbed the spotlight. Some have tricked the narcissist into thinking they are supportive, while they are really just observing and absorbing the energy. There may be little commitment, but these folks can stay with the narcissist a long time, perhaps even after others have left. They like the drama.

It also seems to be a fact that narcissists are drawn to other narcissists. It is not unusual for narcissists to be married to each other. There are many narcissists who have risen to power positions while serving other narcissists. If you think about it, a successful narcissist is a role model, an ideal, for other narcissists. A person who is willing to use and abuse others to get what he wants will often accept that same behavior from an idol. Perhaps that cruel behavior is validated somehow when the great person does it. Perhaps it is just the price one pays to be close to the action.

Some narcissists don’t have followers, I suppose. Some rule only over their family or their small circle of co-workers and friends. Some don’t care about the affection of others, the loyalty or commitment, as long as they get the service. So, having “faithful” followers is not a test of a narcissist.

When you look at a public narcissist, don’t be fooled into thinking that they are less narcissistic because they have followers. There is no wisdom in crowds. It is, in fact, relatively easy to fool many of the people much of the time. Deceit, manipulation, braggadocio—these things work in our broken world, and narcissists are usually very good at them.

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Forgiveness and Trust

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

“Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” – C. S. Lewis

 

Narcissists can be cruel.

Okay, I know that’s an understatement! Narcissists can tear your life apart. They can affect you for years, even long after they are “out” of your life. Betrayal, criticism, manipulation, theft, abuse, destructive acts, lies, and so much more. These things hurt for a long time.

It shouldn’t be any wonder that victims of narcissists find it difficult to forgive. I know that I have written on this before, more than once in fact. It needs to be said often. There is no doubt that we, as Christians, are called to forgive. But we must understand what that means.

Sometimes the church has the tendency to push things to ridiculous lengths. (Yeah, I know, another understatement.) Since the times of the Pharisees, church leaders have had the philosophy that if a little is good, a lot is better. The Pharisees built rules upon rules and made things far more restrictive than the Scriptures did. Many of today’s preachers and traditions do the same thing.

One of the things some have taken far beyond what is reasonable is this idea of forgiveness. The abuser is supposed to be “rehabilitated” and welcomed back, they say. Predators should be “dealt with” and then brought back into fellowship. “If he/she is sorry, then we are called to forgive,” they say.

I know pastors who were “forgiven” for their infidelity and welcomed back to ministry only to do the same thing again. We know abusers who are allowed to come back to the family under this idea of forgiveness only to abuse again. Many have forgiven their narcissistic friends and have felt their betrayal again. We all could tell such stories.

Bear with a little repetition. Forgiveness is not saying that nothing happened. Forgiveness is not saying that everything is now okay in the relationship. Forgiveness is not deciding that punishment is unnecessary. Forgiveness is not being silent about the offense. Forgiveness is not opening yourself to the abuser again. And forgiveness is not trusting again.

For some reason, the church has expected people to trust again. If you really forgive, people say, you will give the person another chance to hurt you and others. I’m sorry, but that sounds foolish to me.

Forgiveness is continuing to love, even when it must be from a distance. Forgiveness is moving forward with your life and not keeping the other person in a prison you carry around with you. Forgiveness is understanding who your offender is and, perhaps, deciding to move forward with him/her anyway. Forgiveness is releasing the pain of the abuse to the Lord who loves and comforts you. Forgiveness is moving on.

It is one thing to let someone hurt you. You can choose that. It is far different—and wrong—to try to convince yourself that they won’t hurt you when you know they will. In other words, forgiveness does not mean you should be dishonest with yourself or others. You may, as part of your forgiveness, decide to open yourself to more abuse. That’s up to you. But you can’t lie to yourself and say that no more abuse will ever happen. That’s different. You can decide to put the offender in a position of trust again, but you can’t take the risk of convincing yourself that your trust will not be broken again. Love risks, but it does not lie. Love may be blind, but it is not stupid.

But, but, but… Can you be loving when you don’t trust someone? Are you really forgiving when you don’t open yourself to that person again?

In John 2:24-25 we are told that many people saw the signs and wonders Jesus did. They were impressed with Him. They wanted to be with Him. But, the Scripture says, He did not entrust Himself to them. In other words, He didn’t trust them. Why? Because, the text goes on, He knew what was in their hearts. He loved all of them and came to forgive them, but He knew better than to trust them.

Now, people do change. Some are deeply grieved because of their past actions. Some. But the “Dear Abby” columns are full of letters from women who seem shocked that the men who left their wives for them are now cheating again. Betrayal and abuse becomes easier the more it is done. And narcissists who are trusted again will almost certainly abuse again.

If you think someone has changed and you want to risk again, go ahead. Just do it with your eyes open. That’s different than trusting.

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Money

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

“Money isn’t everything, but it’s way ahead of whatever’s in second place.”

 

I saw that on a postcard behind the seat of my parent’s car when I was in third or fourth grade and have never forgotten it. It’s one of those sayings that makes so much sense but doesn’t make sense at the same time. We would all agree that money is not the most important thing, but sometimes money seems more important than anything else.

Many times I have heard people say that money problems are the number one cause of stress in marriage. I know, if you talk with couples about money, you would think that was true. I don’t look at money as the cause of marriage problems. Money is far more likely to be the symptom of marriage problems. Communication, control, lack of responsibility—these are far more likely to be the real problems.

At the same time, money is important. You can’t do much without it. The narcissist knows this.

When Bill and Susan were married, Susan had an inheritance from her grandfather in the bank. It wasn’t a lot, a few thousand dollars, but it was hers. Bill insisted that his name should be put on her bank account since they were married and now shared everything. Susan loved Bill and agreed. Bill had a good job with a great salary. Susan also had a great job, but when they moved away from their hometown, she couldn’t find anything quite as good. That was okay because she planned to stay home when the kids came. She worked part-time jobs for a while, then finally stopped. She let her credentials slip, the ones that would have enabled her to back to her good job. After all, she and Bill were happy, and the future looked bright.

If Bill needed a new car, he bought one. Susan was excited. When they bought the big house, it seemed a little extravagant, but Bill said it would be an investment in their future. After all, he wanted the people at work to know how successful he was. The boat and the camper were fun and would be great for the kids. Bill had a lot of toys, Susan thought, but he made good money.

Over the years, Bill became more and more controlling, even demanding. He spent more time at work than with the family, and his free time was spent with friends and his toys. He traveled more than he used to for work. Eventually, Susan discovered that Bill traveled with his co-worker, Debbie, and booked one motel room. Debbie was in the circle of boating and camping friends also, a circle where Susan wasn’t particularly welcome. She began to understand.

When Bill realized that his infidelity was discovered, his personality seemed to change. He became even more angry and critical. He blamed Susan for everything. In a few months, Susan went to a lawyer. She told Bill she wanted a divorce.

That’s when she learned that her inheritance was gone. That’s also when she learned that nearly everything they owned was in Bill’s name alone. The checking account they shared, the only one she thought they had, had little left in it. Bill quickly drained that, closed the credit card accounts, and gathered up whatever cash he could find around the house. He told Susan that she would have to leave the house and the kids behind. Then he changed the locks. Susan had only what was left in her purse. Bill said she could go with nothing or she could stay. That was her choice.

As terrible as this story is, it is simply a fictional compilation of so many stories I have heard. Some aren’t this bad. Some are far worse. I am troubled by hearing from so many that they cannot leave the marriage because they have no money with which to hire a lawyer. Some don’t even have enough money to get out of the house for a night. Narcissists too often separate their victims from support like families and friends. They also isolate (imprison) by controlling the money.

Yes, money is important. I usually counsel people who think they will need to leave a relationship to put money aside, little by little, and hide it from the narcissist. Even a hundred dollars would be welcome if there is danger to you or your children. Gas money. Food money. If you have to travel across country to get back to your support, you need these things. Call it escape money.

And tell your daughters and sons that they are entitled to keep gifts that were given to them and things they worked for. Cars, inheritance money, even a house can still belong to them. I understand the idea that couples should share things but listen: a loving husband would not expect to take your daughter’s bank account. He would be happy to let her keep it in her name. Same thing with job credentials like union memberships or licenses or further education. A wise husband would want his wife—even if the plan is for her to put work aside while she cares for the children—to have a way of providing for herself if something happened to him. He should want her to keep people in her life who support her and love her. He should want her to feel and to be free.

Marriage is not the prison the church has often made it out to be. It is to be two free and strong friends walking together through life. Yes, they have covenanted to stay together. Yes, they want to share that life in the fullest way possible. But we bring differences to marriage, and those differences build both people. If one is the prisoner of the other (and it can be the man who is the prisoner) then neither are blessed by the marriage.

Narcissists love to control the “purse strings” because control is what gives them power. At work, in the extended family, in the marriage, even among friends, money is a way to control.

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Helping

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

You know your story.  You understand it better than before.  You even have a word that describes your mother, husband, or boss.  Narcissist.  At least, narcissism.  The descriptions, definitions, and examples fit so well.  Things are starting to make sense.

So, when your neighbor begins to tell you about her relationship, the one that hurts her so much, you know you can help.  Understanding has helped you so much.  But, when you start to talk about narcissism and what happened to you, she clams up or gets offended.  She doesn’t want to hear it.  She doesn’t want to believe it.  And the conversation comes to that screeching halt that makes it clear you are not going to help.

I have had this happen.  An acquaintance began to tell me why her wedding didn’t happen, what he did just before the ceremony.  She wants nothing more to do with him, and I understood why.  But when I began to talk about narcissism, she shut down.  I should have known better, but I thought I could help.

Here’s what happens: you have had a sympathetic response.  That means you think you feel similar feelings or have felt them.  You connect with the other person’s story in a way that reminds you of the emotional struggle you went through.  In telling the other person your story or what you have learned, you want to communicate that you understand.  Instead, you both walk away frustrated.

Some thoughts: there is a tendency in almost all of us to put what we have learned about ourselves on others.  In other words, we see their emotions and struggles through our own.  Many times, that’s okay.  We are more the same than most will admit.  But it can also be wrong.  I might completely misunderstand someone’s struggle if I put my grid over their words as explanation.

In fact, thinking of my own story while listening to theirs isn’t really listening, is it?  It is important for us to remember that other people are different from us.  Their backgrounds have prepared them in different ways.  The Bible says that each heart knows its own grief.  I have taken this to mean that each person experiences pain in their own way.  I may not understand their way, but that does not invalidate it.

Another common tendency for most of us is to see what we have recently discovered almost everywhere.  We have learned about narcissism and, quite honestly, we have seen it in a lot of places.  But not every jerk is a narcissist.  Nor is every prying or controlling parent.  Nor is every difficult spouse.  Just like people see a recently understood disease popping up all around them, so it is easy to see narcissistic characteristics in many relationships.

And, again, if you and I jump in with our diagnosis without listening to the person’s story, we could do them a true disservice.  Just because you have a hammer, that doesn’t mean every problem is a nail.  Sometimes a different tool is needed.

So, how can you help?  Listen.  Believe the story.  Even if some of the details turn out not to be true, by listening you will connect and open the door for the truth.  Accept the other person’s view of their own pain.  Don’t try to make them fit your understanding of narcissism or abuse.

Remember, if this person is suffering a narcissistic relationship he/she is probably confused, blaming self, defending the abuser, and struggling with trust.  You are not going to fix that relationship any more than you could fix your own.  But the victims of narcissism and abuse need support.  They need people who will listen without fixing, care without controlling.  A gentle friend, accepting and kind, is a great treasure.

You know this.  You went through it.  Maybe you are still going through it.  That special friend or confidant, that one who listened and was there at just the right time with the right words and help, that person was a gift from the Lord.  That person helped.

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What Truth?

It’s Narcissist Friday! 

 

Jesus said that those who belong to Him would know the truth and the truth would set them free.  Most of us have been taught that refers to the freedom that comes with our salvation, freedom from condemnation and the bondage of sin.  Of course, that’s true, but don’t we want freedom in our daily struggles?  The hope of glory is truly a blessing, but the day by day pain of dealing with narcissists and abusers can make us forget about what is coming someday.

In fact, Jesus took this further.  Just a few verses later, He tells the people that when the Son sets someone free, that person is “free indeed.”  So, maybe this isn’t just for future hope.  Maybe this does mean something in the here and now.

So, what truth?  Learning the truth about the narcissistic behavior of the abuser in your life has helped.  You have been able to see more clearly why these things have happened and keep happening.  You may even have found some support or strategy that helps.  But knowing the enemy you are fighting does not make you free.  It just clarifies your struggle.

No, the truth that sets you free in day to day living is the truth of who you are.  The abuser/narcissist attacks your heart.  There is something deep inside you that cares about what the narcissist thinks about you and how he/she treats you.  When you are abused, you struggle with far more than the pain of the abuse.  You take the negative message about yourself into your heart.   This is why the abuser is almost always someone close, someone who should be supportive and caring.  This is why the narcissist establishes a relationship with you in the beginning.  All so they can get close to your heart.

When you receive the message about yourself that the abuser/narcissist brings, you move closer to defeat and bondage.  That defeat pulls the life-energy from you.  The more you believe the lies, the more you fall into the pit.  What lies?  That you deserve the treatment; that you made bad choices and now have to live with them; that no one cares about you; that this is all there is to your life.  Those lies.

Paul said that slaves who could be free should go for it.  In the same way, I pray that a victim of abuse or narcissism should become free.  But there are those who see no way to separate from the narcissist.  (Now, I should add that if you are suffering physical abuse, you should use legal authority and other means to get out.  I am not at all suggesting that someone should stay in a dangerous situation.)  Some people are not led to divorce or separation from a narcissistic spouse.  Some can’t separate from narcissistic parents or children or co-workers.  But there is freedom indeed in Jesus!

You see, the truth that sets you free, free indeed, is the truth of God’s love for you in Jesus.  You are His treasure, the love of His heart.  He is always with you, always on your side, always working on your behalf.  In His eyes, you are beautiful, valuable, pure, perfect, and desirable.  He sees no sin in you, no blemish, no unworthiness.  When you are discouraged, He wants to lift you up.  When you are hurting, He wants to be your comfort.  When you are afraid, He wants to be your peace and safety.  You are the pearl of great price to Him.

That truth sets you free in the midst of any suffering.  When others are against you and try to make you feel bad, look to Him and see His smile.  When you have been put down, used, betrayed, manipulated—go to Him and feel His love.  You don’t have to come to Him in shame even if you have done something wrong.  Come to Him as His own beloved child, who is always welcome in His presence.  You don’t have to bargain with Him for His comfort or help, just tell Him your need and let Him work on it.  You are His, and He will take care of you.

No, this isn’t magic.  This is love.  You can trust His love for you.  You can trust the fact that you are someone very special to the heart of the Lord God Almighty, so special that He is never separate from you.  He is always working for you, because He loves you.

That’s the truth that sets you free.  If you can get out of the narcissistic relationship that hurts so much, do it; but know that you will still not be free until you learn the truth about yourself.  There are many who have gotten their divorce and kept their bondage.  At the same time, there are those who have stayed in what most of us would run from and have found true freedom.  No matter what happens to them, they know the truth.

Let the truth of God’s love in Jesus—for you—set you free!

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The New You

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

If you have walked a similar path to mine, and I know some of you have, you probably hate the term “character building.”  I know my kids hate it.  Back in the day when we were told that character was everything, almost every negative experience was considered character building.  During some periods of my life I have wondered how much more my character could stand.  Having a friend stab you in the back doesn’t feel like a positive thing for your character.  It just hurts.  Health or financial crises don’t seem particularly character building at the time.

There’s a lot I could say about this worship of character, but that would be another post (or series).  Character is not the end all for believers.  The ultimate test of life is not about what kind of person we are or were.  Identity is the central theme for believers, who you are in Christ and who Christ is in you.  The new life we have in Him is who and what we are.

Recently I have been listening to a very good book where the author said that adversity has made us who we are.  I agree with his idea in context, but I want to rush to say that adversity is not the good thing that has made us better people.  No, our response to adversity both reveals the hidden strength we had forgotten and reminds us of our identity.  What we do in times of adversity comes out of and exposes our identity.

You see, I will give thanks to the Lord for using adversities to reveal His strength in me.  I will even thank Him for allowing the path that involved the narcissist.  But I will not say, not ever, that the narcissist was good.

I believe narcissism is evil.  I believe it springs from an evil root in a person’s heart and develops into an evil fruit that poisons anyone who has the misfortune to come near it.  Overcoming that evil is a wonderful thing, a great blessing, but that doesn’t make it less evil.

I read your emails and comments, and I see strong people.  You are either victorious over the painful abuse of narcissism or you are becoming victorious.  You have discovered who you are in Christ.  You have found strength and courage and wisdom.  You have been through the battles and have come out even stronger.

But you don’t have to say that the narcissist was good for you.  You don’t have to give the narcissist any credit for what you have become.  You looked at yourself and realized that you were not the person the liar said you were.  You found that strength and courage the narcissist tried to take away.  You became who you are today because you overcame the lie and abuse, not because of the narcissist.

There is good in this world, and there is evil.  Make sure you keep the two separate.  As you learn more of your identity in Jesus and live as the person He has made you to be, you experience and proclaim something good.  The evil that tried to conquer you, that held you in bondage for so long, is still evil.

Adversity has not made you a better person.  Overcoming adversity has revealed the good that was already in you so that you can be even stronger in the future.  Give thanks to God for that.

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Teaching Moments

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Narcissists love to teach.  Oh, no, not really teach.  Not the time-consuming, person-centered process of helping someone understand.  No, I am thinking more about those “teaching moments.”

Parents can often use situations or events to teach children basic information.  An error in cooking might be an opportunity to explain what the ingredients in a recipe bring to the food.  A face in a picture might bring an impromptu history lesson.  These are gentle and positive ways to educate without lectures and books.  Kids often remember and enjoy these times when they are done right.

But these teaching moments are not so pleasant when we are adults, particularly when the narcissist uses them.

I have noticed that many narcissists, in different relationships, will grab opportunities to put others down and establish themselves as wise and superior by trying to teach about something.  I have also noticed that narcissists don’t seem to do this very well.

Because the narcissistic teaching moment is not about teaching, nor motivated by compassion, it can become almost comical.  I think of Barney Fife, the incompetent deputy who would puff out his chest and begin to strut as he spewed nonsense.  He usually didn’t know what he was talking about, but he sure felt good doing it.  Some narcissists make up facts and explanations.  They don’t really know the answer, but they have to look good or make themselves think they look good.

Others will slip into their Mr. Rogers mode, sitting down and talking softly to explain how or why something must be done in a certain way.  When the normally aggressive narcissist suddenly becomes gentle and kind to teach something, it will surprise people.  And it feels welcome until you realize you are being treated like a five-year-old.

Sometimes the narcissist will teach a person in front of others, like the teacher in the classroom who uses one student’s error as an illustration for the rest of the class.  And, again, you are made to feel small and inferior and stupid, just like you felt when the teacher did it.

Teaching moments are opportunities for the narcissist to look good.  Because these are usually not planned, the narcissist may not look all that great to others.  He/she will be condescending, repetitive, maybe even wrong.  However, there is probably nothing you can do about it.  You are supposed to shut up and listen.  The great one is speaking.

Today’s technology might help the narcissist.  If the boss notices a mistake, he can slip into his office to check Google before the teaching moment.  If a certain topic often comes up, he can prepare.  And sometimes he can watch television or listen to the radio to have a topic for teaching later.  Then the trick is to find an opportunity to insert that topic into a conversation.  That can also result in some odd teaching moments.

But, often, the narcissist does not prepare.  He just takes advantage of a situation he thinks might make him look wise and superior.

No, I don’t think many narcissists would become real teachers, like in a school classroom.  The students would not be people who counted for much in the narcissist’s mind, and teachers have little chance for real power over anyone else.  The preparation and paperwork wouldn’t suit many narcissists.  Nor would the necessary people connections.  I am sure there are some, but I would bet most are unhappy in their jobs.

On the other hand, a college professor—someone who might be able to get students to do the grunt work and help him get published—maybe that would attract a narcissist.  I seem to remember some….

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