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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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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.


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.


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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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It’s Narcissist Friday!

Why in the world would you choose a narcissist for a friend? Yet, most of us probably have one.

Because you didn’t know. Right? That friend didn’t seem like a user. She didn’t seem demanding and judgmental. He didn’t seem temperamental or cruel. The narcissist just seemed like an especially nice person.

Narcissists have a super-power. If you have been reading here, you know what it is. They have the ability to influence what people think of them. In other words, if the narcissist wants you to think he/she is a kind and attentive friend, you will. If she needs someone to pay attention to her, to take her ailments and difficult situations seriously, you will feel like you should do it. If he wants someone who will make him feel good about himself, someone he can put down and use, you will think it is the right thing to do. Until you realize that you are trapped.

It is not difficult to get into a relationship with a narcissist. In fact, it is surprisingly easy. They want to get you into a relationship. They want you to be honored to be their friend. You will feel good—at first. They will have lunch with you, ask your opinion on things, listen to your life story, and remember a surprising amount of information about you. You will find that you want to help them with their projects, give them money and things, and come to their defense when others criticize them.

It may take a long time for you to realize that the friend relationship is out of balance. You do your part and more, but your friend does little. You give and encourage and praise and serve, but your friend never quite reciprocates.

One of the things you will probably experience is an escalation of demands. That “caring friend” becomes judgmental and possessive. Your loyalty must be absolute and unwavering. Your time and energy must serve no one more than this narcissistic friend. Your family, your work, your personal needs, all must fall into place behind the narcissist.

Now, you may think that you would just drop that kind of friend. Any time a friend becomes an abuser, you should be free to back away from the relationship. But that’s easier said than done. Narcissistic friends have ways of keeping you connected.

I have written on this before. I suspect that narcissistic friendships involve more mind games than other narcissistic relationships simply because a friendship is easier to end. Narcissistic friends tend to play on your sympathy, your sense of loyalty, and your fear.

Many have told of how narcissistic friends used confidences to manipulate. If you leave the relationship, you may find that your secrets are spread around. Others will be told the things you share with your friend in confidence. And, if that isn’t enough, the friend will make up lies to spread.

Those who leave narcissistic friendships are painted as disloyal, ungrateful, and just plain mean. If the friend can’t have you, she will make sure no one else wants you. She will tell about your marriage problems, your past, your kids, and anything else that will dishonor you and your family.

And the places you found for refuge from the demands of the friend will become his/her new territory. She will start coming to your exercise class. He will cultivate relationships with your other friends. If it hasn’t been done earlier in the relationship, it will be done as you are trying to pull out. You might be surprised to learn that she has become a new best friend to your sister or mother. Some people have felt it necessary to change churches or find other service opportunities. Some have even felt pushed to move out of their community.

If I had to choose a word for the narcissistic friendship, I would choose “insidious.” Sneaky, treacherous, beguiling, deceptive. A narcissistic friendship can be almost overwhelming.

What do you do? You do what you must. Get out. If you decide to weather the storm and pay the price, just call it off. He/she will get angry and try to hurt you, but you can handle it.

There is another idea. If you can carefully become toxic to the narcissist, become needy or draining, the narcissist might drop you. And, believe me, you will be dropped the moment you are no longer an asset. If you get sick or have financial difficulties or emotional problems, the narcissist will want nothing to do with you. He is not in the relationship to give or to help. The moment you stop giving to him, he will be gone.

Narcissistic friendships are draining, confusing, and aggravating. Now that you know about narcissism, avoid stepping in it if at all possible.

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It’s Narcissist Friday!

For son dishonors father, Daughter rises against her mother, Daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; A man’s enemies are the men of his own household.
Micah 7:6

There are some who understand this verse better than others. They know what it means to have enemies in their own household, particularly from the family of their birth. We have talked about narcissistic parents and narcissistic children. Now we have to consider narcissistic siblings.

You don’t dare express an interest in a piece of furniture at Grandma’s. If you do, your sister will ask her for it or just take it from her.

You hate getting together for family gatherings and hearing the criticisms from your brother.

The loud political or religious opinions of your sibling ruin every gathering.

Mom doesn’t trust you anymore because your sister has poisoned her thoughts toward you.

You find out a month later that your mom was in the hospital. Your sister simply didn’t let you know.

For those with sibling narcissists, the list above is just the beginning. The constant unwarranted competition, the condemnations from nowhere, the private deals and manipulations—these and so much more plague almost every thought of family. Having a narcissistic sibling has probably been a lifelong challenge.

Controlling not just mom and dad, but their finances, property, and life decisions is often part of sibling narcissism. If you are silent, the narcissist will take over everything. If you protest, the narcissist will actively work to destroy you and any relationship you have with your parents, other siblings, or extended family. Decisions are made without your input. The house is sold, the furniture gone, and you didn’t even get a chance to do anything. Guess who has the power-of-attorney.

If you do find out that dad needs help, your presence is unwelcome. You feel like you are an intruder. Your narcissistic sibling accuses you of stealing, trying to turn dad against her, and butting in where you are not needed. In the narcissist’s eyes, you are a threat. Unwelcome competition.

It isn’t that the narcissist cares about your parents, nor does she need the money or things. She just doesn’t want you to get any credit. She hovers and criticizes and complains, but you can only lose. No matter how much you give and help, it is never enough and never wanted.

And, for many, the narcissistic sibling is connected with narcissistic parents. It isn’t true that all children of narcissists become narcissists, but some do. In fact, the chances are good that one or more have chosen to follow the lead of mom and dad. It may be that you are the only non-narcissist in the family. Together, your parents and siblings can make your life miserable.

For those who do not have this kind of relationship with siblings, imagine what you know of narcissistic manipulation, anger, and superiority. Now imagine that is one of your brothers or sisters. As long as mom and dad are alive, you feel that you have to attend family gatherings and respond to emergencies. No matter how you are treated.

What are you supposed to do? No contact seems like a dream. If only. Maybe when the folks are gone. Maybe now. Boundaries seem almost trivial when they are met with cold rejection. You can tell them not to call in the evening, but they have no problem not calling at all. You can try to set some limits to the family conversation, but they just laugh. Negotiation with these people is a joke. You feel like you are stuck in the abuse.

My advice, as weak as it may seem, is to separate in your mind and heart the responsibilities you feel from the welcome and love you wish to experience. In other words, go to the family gathering if you must, but expect only what you always get. Put in your time and leave. For a few hours you can endure almost anything if you plan for it. Just remember that you can drive away. You can love from a distance, but you may not be able to do much more than that.

If you are rejected by family, remember that’s their problem more than yours. You feel the pain, I understand, but your birth family is not the most important thing in your life. Many people live full and happy lives without connection to their families.

If your access to your parents is limited by the narcissist’s control, maybe you can find ways around it. Just because you are told not to call or visit doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Just because you are criticized for “disobeying” doesn’t mean you have to do what you are told. But there will be consequences. And, if that access is physically limited (maybe the parent lives with the narcissist), you may be able to tell your parent of your love even as you explain that your sister doesn’t want to let you visit. In that case, your parent may also feel trapped.

Of course, you can watch for signs of abuse. 2 out of 3 elder abuse cases are committed by family members. Physical abuse is not the only form. Financial abuse and more happen regularly. There are resources available to help those who see or suspect. (IE: elderabuse.org)

This topic is so complicated. Maybe you are the one taking care of your parent(s) and your narcissistic sibling(s) still try to control everything. Maybe you are constantly being put down and challenged. All I can say is that you should do what you believe is the right thing and remember that your siblings are not your judges. If the Lord is leading you to stay, then trust Him with your health and wisdom. As much as possible, let their criticisms and accusations roll off your back. Ignore them as much as you can.

This takes a great deal of personal strength. Don’t forget who you are and Whose you are. Look to Jesus for that strength and affirmation. Trust that He blesses those who follow Him. Then do what He leads you to do. Know that you are loved and accepted by the only One who can judge you. And, listen, take care of yourself. Get some time for you. Do things for you. Make a point of working toward emotional and physical health.


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It’s Narcissist Friday!

What if your own child is a narcissist? Not much is written about this, but I have received several private notes asking for help with this situation. Frankly, the question is difficult because it brings out so many emotions.

When you read about narcissism, you will almost always find that it begins when the person is young, perhaps very young. Something happens in the life of the child to make him/her afraid. The child learns to hide behind an image that is superior to others. This choice is not genetic or physical. It is not a disease or a mental disorder. It is a learned response to the struggles of life—and that makes parents feel guilty.

Now, you can find that in almost every book and from almost every professional that teaches about narcissism. In general, I agree with that assessment. But that does not mean that we can take the next steps without extreme caution. Before you begin to judge yourselves or your children, consider these things.

First, young children often lean toward narcissism. In the process of finding “self,” a child may go through many personalities. At various points, a single child might be boisterous, quiet, kind, mean, critical, accepting, happy, and sad. That’s normal. Children learn how to deal with life by experimentation. If you happen to catch your child in a narcissistic time, when trying to be superior and uncaring, don’t assume the child is stuck in that stage. I would not diagnose a young person (under 18) as a narcissist even if I was in the role of a professional counselor. In fact, today’s young people might be well into their 30’s before their identity settles down. (That’s another topic for another day.) Please do not be quick to label your son or daughter as a narcissist.

Second, parents are not the only influence in a child’s life. While I believe distant or over-bearing parents can trigger narcissistic behavior, it may not always be parents that are the direct cause. How many parents have learned years later of the pains and fears their child had in school or even church? Children may be afraid to talk with parents, even good parents. Grandparents may also influence children, as can other siblings. Parents are often unaware of the real struggles of their kids.

It seems sad to me that good parents blame themselves when they see their child exhibiting a narcissistic personality. The more they read, the stronger they feel the shame and blame. They forget that they could not control all the influences in their kids’ lives. Yes, some parents are to blame. Not all.

Third, children raised in the same homes by the same parents grow up to be different. Each person is complex. It is arrogant and foolish for any parent to think that they could raise their children to all be the same. It simply doesn’t work that way. If one grows up to be narcissistic, but the two others do not, how do we understand that? The only answer I know is that children are different from the beginning. Some are sensitive. Some are loud. Some make friends easily. Others are quiet. While parents may try to be fair and still treat each child according to his or her uniqueness, the job is far more complex than we usually understand. No one can always say or do the right thing, especially under the pressures of parenting. And no one can be fully responsible for the choices of another, even when that is your own child.

Fourth, children make many choices as they grow. Some of those choices are made many times until they become habitual or internal. I have been convinced that narcissistic behavior is a choice. It comes naturally to a person only after many other such choices have produced successful or acceptable results. Professionals are still not sure what to call narcissism. It doesn’t even fit well in the category of a personality disorder. Instead, narcissism seems to be a pragmatic lifestyle choice. It doesn’t pay for the narcissist to care, so she doesn’t. It doesn’t make a difference if the narcissist is kind, so he isn’t. The only way to get ahead in this world, the narcissist thinks, is to take what you want and let others suffer the consequences.

It does seem to be true that narcissists lack empathy and don’t know how to love, but even those seem to be choices, choices made almost unconsciously after long habit. We know that narcissists can be kind, attentive, generous, sensitive—when they want to be—but they are able to turn that behavior on and off. This is why it is sometimes long into a relationship before a victim discovers the truth. But, again, parents are only a small part of the influences that have touched those choices.

One more thing: parents will not be able to fix narcissistic children. It is a normal part of parenting to struggle with the negative things you see in your kids and the desire you have to change them. Sometimes just a good talk can help one of them make better choices. But not a narcissist. If your child is a narcissist, back away. Love from a distance. Pray and let the Lord do His work. That may be the only choice you have available.


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It’s Narcissist Friday!

Children of narcissistic parents usually cannot remember a time when things were different. All they know is that they have wanted to get away for a long time.

Manipulative, controlling, overbearing, uncaring, competitive: these are all words used to describe narcissistic parents.

Remember how a narcissist sees others. I have said over the years that the narcissist sees people as “tools, toys, or obstacles.” In other words, narcissists see others as things to use or to destroy. If they can’t use a person, that person must be pushed into nothingness.

Now, imagine how a narcissist sees his or her own children. Tools, toys, or obstacles. The narcissist categorizes offspring. There is no love, no compassion, no empathy. Either the child serves the narcissist in some way, or the child is abandoned.

So, in narcissistic homes, we find children who are coddled and doted upon alongside children who are ignored. We find children who grow up to be narcissists and children who grow up to be victims of more narcissists. And sometimes the damage is so deep that the same child suffers on both sides.

Some people will say that the children of narcissists grow up to be narcissists. That simply is not true. Since the abuse differs for each child, the response to that abuse also differs. Even more, children in the same family respond differently to the same circumstances. Some may learn narcissistic behaviors from parents without becoming narcissists, just as normal kids learn behaviors from normal parents. Others will decide quite early, usually as a response to the abuse, to shield themselves with narcissistic personality.

It is normal for narcissistic parents to have favorites. One child is rejected while another is chosen. To be rejected is to be neglected, abandoned, or even attacked. Because this began so far in the past, the victim has no cause to which he/she can point. Feelings of inferiority and unworthiness are normal. Even choosing partners who continue the narcissistic abuse is normal.

Perhaps the child of narcissistic parents has a better opportunity to leave the relationship than a spouse, but the damage is deeper. The normal childhood others talk about, the loving parents others enjoy, the close family ties others remember—these things are not part of their background. Everything from family trips to personal privacy has been tainted by the narcissism.

It is one thing to leave mom and dad, but quite another to leave the influence they had since birth. The pain of narcissistic abuse, even when there has been no physical abuse, can be traumatic and lingering. Children of narcissists often wonder why they were picked on or hated, but they find no answers. Narcissistic rejection may seem arbitrary.

Because narcissistic abuse seems so normal to the children of narcissists, they often find spouses or intimate others who are narcissists. The criticism, rejection, arbitrary emotional responses, and lack of love seem normal. Without parents who love each other, children often don’t expect to find the love others talk about. Without parental affection as children, some don’t expect spousal affection. Some suffered a series of narcissistic relationships before they began to realize that their experience is neither normal nor right.

A counselor who understands narcissistic abuse can help work through self-esteem and behavioral issues. As always, be careful. Few church counselors or pastors understand narcissism, especially the depths of emotional scarring children of narcissists have. Reading about narcissism, talking with others who have struggled in the same way, and joining a support group—these can also help.

And, of course, adults can still have their narcissistic parents. The manipulation, rejection, favoritism, and other abuse doesn’t go away once the child becomes an adult. The twisted ideas of family and love affect grandchildren as well.

One of the most successful and practical methods of dealing with parental narcissism is understanding and maintaining boundaries. It may not be possible to establish no-contact with a parent. It may also not be desirable. But firm boundaries regarding visits, phone conversations, etc. can give power back to the child of a narcissist. But, again, prepare for battle. Those who can’t be used must be destroyed—at least that’s how most narcissists think.

It is right to stand up to the abuse of a narcissist, even if that person is a parent. But you will pay a price. Gather your support and be careful. Vindictive narcissists can be ruthless. Still, getting separate from their control is right.

We will pray for you. Seriously.


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It’s Narcissist Friday!

Ninety percent of the literature on narcissism is written from the perspective of marriage or intimate relationships. That is my guess, not the result of careful study. It might also be an exaggeration (but not much). If you pick up almost any book on narcissistic relationships, it will primarily focus on marriages. The next largest focus will be parental relationships, but most of the heat comes out of marriages.


Marriage is where most people have discovered narcissism. We might go into marriage with open hearts and rose-colored glasses, but eventually we look more carefully at our reality. When someone explains narcissism, those in marriages can see it at work.

The marriage relationship presents extra challenge because it is 1) intimate; 2) adult; 3) holy.

Intimate: Marriage is a relationship where the narcissist can intimately manipulate another person. Partners go into marriage expecting to share in the most deeply personal way available. Narcissists, however, don’t share themselves. They take whatever their partner is willing to give, but offer little of their own fears, compromises, weaknesses. In other words, narcissists use marriage to learn intimate things about their partner without sharing heart issues of their own. The exclusive nature of that intimacy allows the narcissist to abuse without others seeing. The narcissist is usually a different person to the spouse than to others. But the expectation of loyalty means the spouse is less able to share the truth.

Adult: The guilt and shame that comes on the spouse of a narcissist is partially due to the fact that the relationship began by choice. Sometimes there were warnings that were ignored. Sometimes there were deceptions that were presented by the narcissist. The victim/spouse feels they have no excuse because they should have known better, should have listened to cautions, should have been more careful. The pain of the relationship is the result of a bad or foolish decision, the victim thinks.

Holy: Even the bond between parents and children does not have such a strong sense of moral obligation. Separating from parents is considered normal; separating from a spouse is considered wrong, at least in most Christian circles. Narcissists know this. They use the extra pressures of the church to continue their control over a spouse. From a Christian context, marriage is an easy place for narcissists to do their nasty work. Spouses feel compelled to stay in the relationship in order to be spiritually acceptable.

Therefore: The intimacy brings intensely painful feelings of betrayal which the victim feels he/she deserves because of foolish choices and can’t escape because of the spiritual expectations of the marriage relationship. We can understand why Christians find the narcissistic marriage such a quandary.

And the Christian is left with no good option. Since the narcissist almost never changes, the spouse can either choose to stay in the painful relationship or leave it and suffer the consequences. Neither choice is desirable. Reconciliation, restoration, honest change: these normal relationship options do not seem to be available in the narcissistic relationship. Added to this is the fact that few churches are educated on narcissism or prepared to help victims.

Combating narcissism in marriage takes strength, one of the things the narcissist usually drains from a victim. It is important for outsiders to offer real support: a believing heart, a place of refuge, resources for leaving, time away from the struggle, and more. Expect weakness, anger, fear, and other challenging emotions from the spouse of a narcissist.

Our culture is beginning to accept narcissism as a type of abuse. More counselors are learning about the struggle and offering concrete help to victims. My concern is that narcissism is often treated as trivial, minor abuse, by those who haven’t experienced it or as curable by those who have never really worked with a narcissist. Spouses must be very careful about choosing and submitting to any counselor, especially those who desire to “fix the marriage.”

Sadly, the spouse of the narcissist is left with trying to learn about the affliction on her/his own. Study narcissism in marriage. There are things you can do to help if you want to stay. Learn about boundaries and find the strength to maintain them. Read. Gather support. Find a good counselor for yourself. Don’t be afraid to put away some money and make some plans for separation if necessary. Don’t blame yourself. Don’t think it will just go away if you try harder. Prepare yourself for battle and find ways to build your health. Pray and let others pray for you. Don’t beat yourself up for some strange and challenging emotions.

And read the posts and comments here.


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Narcissistic Relationships

It’s Narcissist Friday!

For the last several weeks I have been writing about what narcissistic relationships take from us. When the smoke and dust clears, what is missing? Many people who have suffered from these relationships find themselves almost wandering in confusion after the relationship ends. Like those who suffer a home burglary, the victims of abusive relationships find that a lot has changed. Sometimes it is hard to know just what is missing.

So, we have talked about that, and many have added their own stories as illustrations. Some of them break our hearts. We grieve with those who have suffered. But there is always hope, always health, in Jesus. Many who read here have also given testimony to that truth. Life might not be the same, but it can be good again.

In my book, Narcissism in the Church, I tried to show how these relationships can be found even in the context of the Christian faith. I may have tried to cover too much, but wanted to shine the light on abusive “Christian” parents, spouses, and leaders. Yes, sadly, these all exist. Most of those who read this blog have experienced narcissism in the context of Christianity. I don’t see that as a judgment against the faith, but as a reality check that the faith can be mimicked and used to hurt others. Just because someone knows the right words and presents themselves as “good” people doesn’t mean they are believers, nor that Jesus is leading them in the things they do.

There are many kinds of relationships. Over the years, as I have studied and listened and prayed, I have boiled narcissistic relationships down to eight forms. There may be more, and someone else might bring a couple of these together to make fewer, but this is how it works out for me. In the weeks ahead, I want to look at each of these from a Christian perspective (if possible) to expose the abuse and challenges they present.

Here are the eight relationships:

  1. Marriage
  2. Parents
  3. Children
  4. Siblings
  5. Friends
  6. Work
  7. Church
  8. Random

In each of these, narcissists abuse, use, and manipulate. In the book, I define the narcissistic perspective with three aspects:

The superior image
Depersonalization of others
Use and abuse of others to serve the image

If these are present, narcissistic abuse is happening. We will see that this can happen in any and all of these types of relationships.

Why? Because not all narcissistic abuse is alike. Someone suffers at work trying to deal with a narcissist, but doesn’t understand what is happening. Someone else wonders how one of their kids could grow up to be a narcissist. Not all narcissism happens in marriage or intimate relationships. This is a widespread multi-faceted problem.

It is important for us to care about each other. We pray here, and I am so grateful. But not everyone has suffered in the same way. When you tell your stories, we might relate, or we might be shocked, but we are always touched. When someone shares how their parent did something so cruel, I grieve. But my own parents didn’t do those things. I learn from you. We learn from each other. And each time we listen, our hearts become more sensitive, more grace-filled, for those whose hearts were hurt.

That’s what this is all about. My message to you is about the love Jesus has for you, how you are valuable and precious to Him. Your message to each other is that there are those who listen to and believe your story. You are not alone. We may not have experienced what you have, but we care about you.

Pray for the Lord’s wisdom as I write these next few posts. And, please, share your stories, if you are led, and pray for those do.

You all mean so much to me.



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It’s Narcissist Friday!

Years ago a friend told me that he had kept his mother’s china set for years after her death. He didn’t use it, but kept it carefully boxed in the garage. Then, one day, his garage door was open when the garbage collectors came. You got it: they gathered up the boxes of his mother’s china and took them with the trash. After all those years, gone in a few minutes.

But it’s just stuff. Right? Yeah… right… but…

The china set had little practical value if it wasn’t being used. But it had sentimental value. This man thought of his mother when he saw it, even in the boxes. He remembered the family gatherings and the special events. Through those memories came memories of loved ones long gone and more. And the set had a certain monetary value. A set of quality china can bring several thousand dollars when sold. There was real loss for this man.

And there was real loss for you when the narcissist took, stole, sold, broke, used up, your special things. To strip you of identity and strength, the narcissist will take those things which are precious in your life. If you value something, it has to go. It isn’t so much that the narcissist sees your things as competition for value in your life, but that he/she needs to break you. Sometimes, the things you bring into the marriage remind you of the family or the independence you had before the narcissist. That connection is what must be broken.

Oh, the stories I have heard. Somehow the little dog she had before she met him died early in the marriage. Grandma’s bureau was donated to the thrift store to make way for his desk. She said she hated your dad’s guns in the house so she pressured until you had to get rid of them. The car you had, the one you had saved for and restored, had to go. On and on.

Add to this the inheritance you received from your grandfather, the letters from your dad, the books that you used in college, the football jersey with the letters you earned. The list is long and personal. I have even heard of narcissists who gained ownership of their spouse’s family farms or homes either through manipulation or as part of the divorce. The goal is to take your heart away. These things, whether they should or not, connect with our hearts.

We must be careful as we seek to comfort others. When we say that possessions are just things and don’t matter, that the loss isn’t real or important, we sound just like the narcissist. Instead, we should acknowledge the heart connection people have with precious things and help them release those things to the love of Jesus. Releasing our connections to special possessions is a process. When the narcissist rips or steals away that possession, the anger and loss become mixed, making release much more difficult. We want to be understanding.

At the same time, the goal for each of us is to lay our possessions at the feet of Jesus. It will be a step toward health if you can find the way to do this. Part of that process is to acknowledge the sin of the narcissist. I know people will say that you have to forgive, but in order to forgive you first have to acknowledge that what was done was wrong. Even if others don’t see it, you know it is true. The narcissist’s act was an offense against your heart. It was wrong, perhaps even legally criminal. There should be a price to pay. Justice is in the hands of the Lord.

The goal is to move on. The act has happened. The special possession is gone. The memories are still yours, even if the bureau or the dishes are gone. Hold precious the relationship you had. The possession was only a reminder, only a symbol. These are more than words, they are statements of health.

You are more than a possession. The people in your life are/were more than a possession. Grandma and her love for you will never be lost to you. Your father is/was far more valuable than the things he left you. The narcissist can never take away what really matters.


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