Tag Archives: definition of narcissism

Knowing the Truth

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off!” Gloria Steinem(?)

 

The truth, interestingly enough, is that this quote does not really belong to Gloria Steinem. She took it from someone else. But that’s the way the truth is. Someone named Joe Klaas used it in a book. The original version, the one Joe changed it from, was a little tamer: “the truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” I suspect that both sayings are right much of the time.

There is a certain bliss in ignorance. We walk merrily on our way without fear or anger. Then we learn the truth and it ruins everything. But would it be better not to know? Some people think so. Life was happy before it all came out.

The problem is that the lie is not neutral. The lie hurts us even when we don’t know it’s a lie. Basing our actions and plans on the lie catches up to us eventually. And it is a lie. The truth does not create the problem, it only exposes it.

Is J’s marriage good because she doesn’t know that her husband is having an affair? Is the food in the restaurant better because you don’t know the conditions of the kitchen? Is that politician or leader more honest because you don’t know about his compromises? No, ignorance only covers the truth, it does not negate it. Nor does it guarantee bliss.

Putting the name of cancer on those aches and weaknesses didn’t cause the diagnosis. It was cancer before the doctor looked at it. When you learned that narcissism was behind the problems in your relationship, the problems were already there. You might have been able to ignore them easier, simply because there was no name, but they were still there.

So now you know, and it feels awful. Do you really wish you didn’t know? No, you really wish it wasn’t true. You wish there were no problems. Now you have to make choices, maybe even do something. Why is that hard? Because you are already drained from the stress of the problem you didn’t have a name for. And now you have to face the reality of what you were beginning to suspect.

And now that you have a name, a diagnosis, you can begin to move forward. You can fight or adapt or decide to do nothing. Now, you are in more of a position of power than you ever were before. You can begin to understand what has been happening, and you can make some plans or strategy.

I know it hurts. I’m sorry for your pain. I wish it could be different. But the only way it will ever be different is by facing the truth. Fighting the real enemy, getting the right help, accepting the right support: these things come out of knowing the truth.

Yes, the truth does lead to freedom, even though it might make you angry or sad at first. It’s the only way to real freedom, after all. Continuing the lie will just continue the pain and bondage.

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The Crash

It’s Narcissist Friday!    

 

What happens when the narcissist finally crashes and burns?

Oh yes, it does happen sometimes. We see it on the news. We read about it in the magazines. We hear about it from friends and family. And we wonder if justice has finally come.

The famous preacher or spiritual teacher was never what he pretended to be. There was a dark side. The great politician we were all supposed to love was compromised by his weaknesses. The model employee was cheating all the time. The favorite son broke the rules to serve himself. Then it all came crashing down.

Or did it?

We know what happens just after the exposure. Blame, excuses, blustering, hiding. The narcissist has great difficulty facing the truth. The position of influence might be gone, but the narcissist should not be counted out yet. Even though he knows he can’t have it, he wants it all back. The only reason for the crash was the unfaithfulness and unfairness of others.

“Have you no shame?” we ask when we see the narcissist seeking the limelight again. But this is not about humility… it’s about addiction. Unless the narcissist experiences a serious heart and spiritual change, he must try to return to what he had. Even if it means starting at the bottom again. Another lover, another position, another group of supporters: it can be built again.

Yes, the narcissist is smarter the second time. Slower. More careful. Even less trusting. Willing to accept smaller achievements. After all, he would have to be truly great to come back from such a blow. Any new success serves to show his superiority. Lesser people would not have survived.

And the supporters still gather around. Some never left. Others came after the troubles. Their weaknesses and intentions are obvious, but it doesn’t matter. Narcissists always have supporters. Quality was never a requirement. Only devotion. They watch, hoping to get something of value from the narcissist. Favor, fame by association, inside knowledge, something.

Most of the time it seems that the only ones truly damaged by the fall of the narcissist are those who gave sacrificial support. They are the ones who are embarrassed. Often they are the ones who lose everything. They took a risk and lost. They look back to see just how much it cost to love the narcissist. Too much.

No, the narcissist does not just go merrily on his way. He has fallen from too great a height. There is damage. But he is still the narcissist. He believes in himself. A little tweaking here and there and hope is renewed.

Do some change? Maybe. And then they write books about themselves or tell their stories to new lovers. Too few make any real changes in who they are.

When the storm comes, we should not try to hide under the tree. The tree has survived other lightning strikes. Those who trust in the protection of its branches are usually not so fortunate.

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How we see the world

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Do you find yourself fixing the motives of others, trying to explain the nastiness and abuse away? “He didn’t really mean it.” “She has so many problems of her own, that’s why she acts that way.” “Well, if you knew the truth of his life and upbringing…”

When someone calls your attention to a mean thing another said to you, are you surprised that you didn’t hear the comment? Did you think you heard something different, something more positive?

Not naive or stupid. Just happy. Just a desire to conform the world to your basic good will. You want the world to be good and other people to think like you. Your belief is not meant to be manipulative, but it does tend to change the actions and attitudes of others, at least in your mind.

Not everyone sees the world this way, of course. Some are angry. Some are afraid. Some combine their anger and fear into a general negativity. They expect the worst from others and the worst from life. I suppose this is often taught at home in various ways, and I am not suggesting that this attitude is inherent. We may well learn the way we look at life.

But I would almost be willing to bet that most of those who read this blog are people who see life positively. Or at least used to. I suspect that narcissists attach themselves mostly to people who are positive about life.

You might remember the Farside cartoon about the man whistling in hell. Whatever work he was doing was not bringing him down. One of the demons in the cartoon says to the other, “We’re just not getting through to that guy.”

Narcissists are drawn to positive people for two reasons. First, because the narcissist sees the world as negative, he/she cannot abide anyone who sees it otherwise. To allow that person to continue to be positive would be to suggest that the narcissist is either wrong or incompetent. So, like the demons of hell, the narcissists set out to break the positivity of those whistle while they work.

But, secretly, the narcissist is drawn to the positive person because he wants that positivity. It is draining and damaging to be negative all the time. Most narcissists live in competitive and fearsome worlds, believing that others will hurt them or use them. They see the worst in everyone. But the positive person is happy, at least a lot more happy than the narcissist. So the narcissist will seek to take that positivity away for himself. In other words, he will try to become happy by taking your happiness.

I have heard (and read) many people who said that they used to be happy. They used to be positive, but the narcissistic relationship drained that happiness from them. Now they live in fear and pain, distrusting others and waiting for the “other shoe” to drop. Sometimes these folks even use narcissistic techniques to try to regain their happiness at the expense of others. But they hate doing that. They hate their negativity.

I believe that the desire to be a happy person is the first step toward being that person. When we look around and begin to allow ourselves to feel that peace and joy again, it comes. God wants you to be happy. He gives you good things and wants you to live enjoying those things.

No, the narcissist doesn’t really want to be happy. The narcissist owns his negativity. He/she identifies as a negative person, no matter what facade covers the truth. The narcissist doesn’t really understand that happiness is a way of seeing the world, rather than a process of getting what you want.

You see, you know something the narcissist does not know. You know that:

Being satisfied is not the same as being happy
Being successful is not the same as being happy
Being comfortable is not the same as being happy
Being popular is not the same as being happy
Being beautiful is not the same as being happy
Being wealthy is not the same as being happy
Being powerful is not the same as being happy

The narcissist does not know these things. The narcissist will not be happy until he/she does.

You, on the other hand, are happy already. You just have to remember. The positive person is happy because that’s the way he/she sees life. In prison, in pain, even in grief, positive people find ways to laugh and whistle.

God loves you. This world is not your home. The promise of eternal peace and joy is real. The past does not define you. The days ahead will have good in them. You are forgiven. You are free. You are accepted. You are valued. You are loved.

 

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Controlled Comparison

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

One of the connections between legalism and narcissism is the use of comparisons to manipulate. You will find a system of comparisons at work in legalistic churches and narcissistic workplaces, besides families and even marriages. And, somehow, you are always losing the comparison.

The most beautiful women will find ways to lose in comparison with others. So will the most successful men. As long as comparisons exist, there is a way for you to lose.

Years ago I worked for a short time at a funeral home. I watched as the salesperson talked through the purchase of a casket with a grieving family. First they went to the most expensive casket, a beautiful example of fine craftsmanship with an exorbitant price. Then they went to the cheapest caskets, the ones designed for and sold to those who have no money to spend. The family couldn’t afford the most expensive and couldn’t imagine using the cheapest. So they were left with the idea that they either have to break the bank or feel terrible. Then the salesman took them to the casket he really wanted to sell them. It looked very much like the most expensive one, but the price tag, while still high, was much more manageable. By making easy and regular payments, the family could feel good and still pay other bills.

Anyone who has bought a car off the lot or a house through the realtor has experienced this kind of controlled comparison. It is a process of manipulation by pushing you to feel either good about yourself or bad about yourself.

When the legalist sets up a controlled comparison, it will often be a model family or an individual who has exemplified the values of the church or legalist system. For example, one man is particularly mentioned as a great witness because he shares tracts with everyone he meets. Everyone else compares poorly to him. The model family is lifted up because of their well-behaved children, their showroom house, or their debt-free living (or all three). You don’t measure up to them. In either case, the comparison is carefully controlled for you. You are not to compare yourself with everyone. You are certainly not to look for others against whom you can compare yourself favorably. (Of course, that’s just what happens because people want to feel better about themselves, but that’s another post.) No, you are supposed to get the message about your inferiority and adjust your actions accordingly.

The narcissist can find fault with everyone, we know this. But when he or she wants to find fault with you, the controlled comparison is offered. “Why can’t you be more like him or her?” you are asked. “The neighbor’s have a nicer house than ours, but he makes more money.” “I don’t know why you can’t do it, she can.”

Remember: the controlled comparison is just that – controlled. It is not real. You will always compare unfavorably against someone in some way. If you look for that, you will find it. At the same time, others compare unfavorably to you in some way. The narcissist and the legalist use our fear of comparisons to manipulate us.

But once you understand what is happening, how phony the system is, you can become free. Yes, you compare well against some and poorly against others – so stop comparing! If the neighbors have a nicer house than yours, good for them. If your co-worker seems to be able to sell more than you, good for him. So what? Knowing that you will never win the game can set you free from the game.

Stop comparing yourself to others and stop using comparisons as a way to manipulate. It never works. It doesn’t motivate, and it doesn’t lead to health. Rejoice in the blessings others enjoy. Do something to encourage those who have less. But don’t let yourself get sucked into a system designed to manipulate you.

You will be amazed at the power of the freedom from comparisons.

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Selfishness

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

When did it become wrong for us to consider our own needs? If you ask some people, taking care of ourselves is simple selfishness. We should focus on taking care of others, they say. Don’t worry about yourself, they say. God will take care of you. You just take care of others.

But if I can trust God to take care of me, can’t I trust God to take care of others? Why does God need me to take care of others if He is great enough to take care of me?

Yes, I believe God takes care of me. I also believe He takes care of others… and doesn’t need me to do it. Instead, He blesses me when He uses me to bless others. He allows me to participate in His work. There is joy and blessing in that kind of service, when I realize that the results are in His hands and all the power and glory belong to Him. My job is simply to be available to Him. Grace means that all power and responsibility are His. He does His work. I am along for the ride.

If my call is to be available, then I should take care of myself. I should see to it that my needs are met so that I can be ready and willing to do whatever He asks. Think about that. I should get enough sleep, eat well, and pay attention to my emotional needs. If I do that, I will be available to Him.

To be selfish is a bad thing, in our culture. We have been taught that thinking about ourselves limits what we can do for others. Selfish people push others away, use others. We understand this and don’t really disagree. But to drain ourselves for the sake of others, without finding ways to rebuild our strength and enthusiasm, will take us out of the serving game altogether.

I always enjoy the little speech the airline attendants give before takeoff, especially the part where they tell parents to put the oxygen mask on their own faces before trying to put them on their children. Mom isn’t going to be much help if she is passed out on the seat next to the frightened child. Take care of yourself. That’s the only way to be truly available to others.

There’s a lot I could say about this. People in narcissistic relationships usually feel themselves being drained. When they get out, they have almost lost the ability to care for themselves. They have been so busy servicing the narcissist that they not only have nothing left, but they have little memory of how to rebuild. Adding to the injury, some have said that the more the life drained from them, the more the narcissist pushed them away. The abuser moves on to a new victim when the first is worn out.

If you are in a narcissistic relationship, find ways to take care of yourself. Small victories, basic boundaries, alone time, supportive relationships—these will give you strength even as the narcissist drains it from you.

If you have gotten away from the narcissist, don’t hesitate to take care of yourself. Just feed you for a while. If you have kids, you will want to pour extra into them, of course. But remember that you can’t give them what you don’t have. They will need to understand that you need to care for yourself sometimes. That shows them how to take care of themselves in the future.

If you don’t like the idea of being selfish, I understand. Use a different word. But do it. Find the things that rebuild you for the hour, the day, the week, and more. Invest in yourself. Even love yourself a little. It’s okay. After all, God loves you, so you are worth loving.

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People Need People

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

One of the marks of a true victim (rather than a person who uses the designation of victim to manipulate) is great difficulty in connecting with others. As has been mentioned here many times in the comments, it is challenging to trust after you have been abused. This is even more true when the abuser was someone trusted. You see this as a wall or thick skin around the person. They have difficulty initiating conversation, accepting praise or thanks, and believing that anyone could be genuinely (and kindly) interested in them. So they maintain a shell of protection.

At the same time, I have come to understand that we were made to need people. Relationship, no matter how risky, is vital for our health in almost every respect. We were not made to be alone. Victims of narcissistic abuse often find themselves to be alone no matter how many people are around them. Part of that is the direct result of the abuse. Narcissists often make their victims feel unacceptable, unworthy. Their opinions and desires are meaningless, even offensive, to the people around them, the narcissist says. That way the victims learn to keep to themselves, to “shut-up.” And, of course, part of it is an indirect result, the feeling of being unacceptable that comes almost naturally from being manipulated and used. The need for people is pushed aside because of the fear of people.

But healthy people need other people. It is not unhealthy to feel lonely. Loneliness is the soul’s push toward relationship. It is unhealthy, however, to push everyone away because of fear.

So a move toward health is also a move toward others. Many who have lived in relationships with narcissists have found themselves separated from those who would be supportive or affirming. That isolation is part of the control narcissists exert. Apart from normal support relationships, narcissistic victims become weakened and malleable. If there is only the narcissist’s voice, the psychological and emotional manipulation becomes easier.

What does this move toward health look like? It looks like a smile or a friendly nod. It sounds like a simple conversation with an acquaintance. It may be the discovery of a common activity or the pleasure of a common interest. In other words, it doesn’t have to start big. Perhaps it shouldn’t start big. Few people welcome those who lay their needs out in front of them in the beginning of a relationship. Victims often wonder if others would be accepting “if they knew,” but others don’t need to know all about your struggle. Instead, allowing the simple relationship of friendly acquaintance is a wonderful step toward health.

Yes, there is risk. Always. But the risk is lessened if a gentle and shallow relationship is allowed. There are many others who need someone and are afraid. The old story of the two people who sit alone at a party and pass the time talking with each other is a great lesson in simple relationships. Don’t expect a great deal. Be willing to enjoy an acquaintance.

Narcissists push fast and hard into a relationship. Users and abusers attach themselves with velcro-like strength. But walking away from an acquaintance who smiles and is kind, without expectation of more, is a powerful statement of health. If more comes later, that’s great. If not, there will be someone else. Many people long for the kind word or simple affirmation.

Support structures that have been broken may be repaired. A phone call just to say that you have missed the relationship and see how the person is doing can open a door. Those who may have felt betrayed or left behind when you slipped into your cave might just welcome the contact. If they do not, that’s okay. It may not be rejection, but surprise. They might not know how to respond.

Healthy people understand that others are real people. Most of them can barely handle their own burdens, let alone yours. Instead, they might need to lean on you as you lean on them. They can’t carry your load, but they might be able to help you stand. Friends come with weaknesses and struggles of their own.

The book of Proverbs says that two are better than one. That is not a reference to marriage, although that is one example of what should be a supportive relationship. A friend, a familiar face, a helping hand: these are also examples of that great truth.

Let me summarize this by saying that you don’t need a champion, you need a companion. Get your counseling from a professional and your security from the Lord. You need a friend, or many friends. Smile, be kind, help someone in a little way. Friends are out there. They need you as much as you need them.

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Protection

 

 

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

From time to time I get a comment or an email asking how to protect the children from the effects of the narcissist in the family.  Usually, the scenario is a mother who either is married to a narcissist or is recently separated/divorced from a narcissist.  In either case, the continuing relationship of the narcissist with the children is troubling.  Even those who divorce usually have custody and visitation connections.  Unless gross abuse can be proved, so that one parent loses all rights and contact with the kids, the connection with the narcissist will continue throughout the childhood years.

So what to do?  How can you protect the kids from narcissistic abuse?  What can you do to help them stay or become healthy and well-adjusted?

Let’s begin by admitting the truth.  Narcissists manipulate.  They use relationships to feed their own desires.  They do not consider other people to be real or valuable or independent.  People, even their children, exist to be used.  This will not change.

Also, you are not God.  You cannot fix or control everything, even when you believe something is most important.  Not only will the kids be affected, you will not be able to change that fact.  God may be able to change the narcissist’s heart, but you will not.  Nor will you be able to prevent all the negative effect of the narcissist.

At the same time, you can do some things.  You can show your kids what healthy looks like.  Make decisions, take responsibility, find happiness and fulfillment.  If you are healthy, they will see the difference between you and the narcissist.  Your health, in all respects, is a key part of caring for your children.  Find ways to feed your needs.  I tell people all the time that they must find the way to health.  Get a good counselor.  Exercise.  Get some fresh air.  Eat right.  Read good books.  Make good friends.  Yes, easier said than done, but do it.

I am convinced that children will be drawn to the healthy parent.  They may seem like they take advantage of you.  They may challenge you and stretch your relationship, but they will know they can do that—while they cannot do that with the narcissist.   You will be the safe parent, the reality of their lives.  That may sound like you are the boring one, but they will understand the truth eventually.  The narcissist can manipulate, but he/she cannot disguise the truth forever.

Teach your children how to set and maintain boundaries.  Yes, you need to know this for yourself.  Again, get some counsel or education.  Boundaries are the narcissist’s bane.  The stronger your child maintains a boundary, the more the narcissist will seek to overcome it and, in that struggle, the child will begin to see the truth.

Be honest.  That means you can’t make up excuses for the narcissist.  If you work hard to smooth the water, telling the children that “daddy didn’t mean those harsh words,” then they will learn either that daddy’s way is acceptable or you are part of the problem.  Instead, hold them and love them when they hurt.  Show empathy and understanding.  They will see that daddy does the same thing to you, and they may realize that daddy is the one with the problem.

Be present and available.  Connect with your kids.  This has less to do with time than with your willingness to listen.  The narcissist only seems like a good listener.  Eventually, he/she hates the conversation and pushes the needy person away.  Embrace the children in their pain.  Don’t tell them how they should feel, let them tell you how they feel.  They will find the answers as you listen.

Be patient.  Life’s success is not measured by how you think at age 20, as though that is somehow the end of the journey.  Your children have a lot of life ahead of them.  If you read the comments here, you will see that many people only understand the truth about a narcissistic parent as adults, sometimes as senior adults.  You may not live to be vindicated, but your child can still find the way of understanding by remembering your honesty and love after you are gone.  I have had many people tell me that they only understood the struggle and strength and goodness of their mothers after.

Don’t forget that the struggles of our lives do bring us strength and independence.  Having a narcissistic parent may be more challenging than anyone outside the relationship can understand, but it can also mold your child into someone strong and alive in wonderful ways.  Failures and weaknesses often build in us the things we need to survive.

So pray.  This is not about you having a good relationship with your kids, no matter how much you want that.  Nor is it about you being valued for your struggle and victories.  It is about your children finding love and peace in their lives.  A narcissistic parent is an obstacle to that, but a healthy parent can do much to prepare the way.  Give your concerns to God and trust Him.  He loves your children more than you do.

No, you can’t prevent this challenge.  It is their path to walk.  Don’t try to do it for them.  Just walk with them.

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