Tag Archives: narcissism

The Diagnosis Game

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

Okay, so I really feel the need for a lighter post today. This topic gets heavy and I so appreciate those who come to share their stories and ask questions. But dealing with narcissistic relationships is hard work. Sometimes you just need to step back and laugh at the situation. It really isn’t funny, I know, but you need to do something other than cry or scream.

When I think about the clinical names for these disorders and how we sometimes lump them together and call them narcissism, I realize that, in spite of the similarities, we each face something a little different. The relationships of parent-child, husband-wife, friend-friend, are not the same. The dynamics of these disorders vary within those relationships as well. One narcissist might not act just like another. Some might seem more like a borderline personality or a histrionic. These distinctions are hard to explain.

Besides that, these distinctions are coveted by the professionals. They really don’t like for us to use these words. Just because I think someone exhibits narcissism doesn’t mean that a “professional” would agree. So what do we do?

Today I suggest we all try to come up with our own acronyms, ones that will help to communicate what we have struggled with. If we can’t call so-and-so a narcissist, maybe we can call him a J.E.R.K., for example. A “jumbled egocentric rude know-it-all.” Or maybe she is a P.A.I.N. (Persistent, agitating, invasive, nasty) person. Basically, if we can’t use these normal words to describe the abusers, let’s define some disorders and syndromes that make sense to us.

So now it’s your turn. Please don’t feel like we are ridiculing the victims or making light of their suffering. Nor am I suggesting that it will be helpful to call someone a jerk or something like that. But sometimes… well, it just helps to let off a little steam.

Just to get things rolling, I have gathered a list of words that might help. You don’t have to use these words, but they might start you thinking. The only rule is that you can’t use the word “narcissist” or any of its variants. You don’t even have to make a word out of the acronym. Feel free just to stick some letters together that describe your situation. (And remember that this is a Christian blog ;) )

If you were to create an acronym to describe what you are seeing and experiencing, what might it be?

 

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Do Narcissists Love Themselves?

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

Time for some review. It is easy for me to forget that new readers may not have read all the posts of this blog and perhaps a little more than presumptuous to think that anyone would try. So occasionally I need to restate some of my perspective on the subject of narcissism. This is especially true when posts from this blog are reposted to other sites and when dealing with a topic that generates such cultural excitement.

So my recent post on narcissistic friendships was challenged by someone who, in effect, said that narcissists don’t have friends because they love themselves too much. No one would be attracted to them because of their self-focus.

This idea that narcissists love themselves is something we need to challenge. We understand that it certainly looks like they love themselves. They boast about their accomplishments, treat others as inferior, and assume that everyone should listen to and respect them. They expect others to praise them, serve them, and defer to them. Their lack of empathy and tendency to judge others negatively makes it looks like they love themselves only and greatly.

Consider this: true self-love should be manifested in confidence, rest, and security. A person who is completely in love with who he is, content and assured in himself, should not be concerned about the ideas or achievements of others. If someone disagrees with him, he should simply shrug it off. If someone takes credit for something, he should be undamaged. If someone else succeeds, he would have no reason to be jealous or defensive. The person who truly loves himself should be at peace with himself and with the world around him.

So how well does that describe your narcissist? I’m sure that there are some who appear to pull this off, but most of the narcissists I have met have been very quick to get angry and easily offended. They seem to hate the accomplishments of others and are quick to criticize and condemn. Those who disagree with the narcissist are often ruthlessly attacked and even humiliated. Narcissists are usually very competitive, especially for attention and praise. They are envious, arrogant, and abusive.

Does that sound like someone secure in love for him or her self?

A few years ago I posted an overview of the clinical and practical definitions of a narcissist, one from the DSM-IV and the other from Dr. Nina Brown. Here’s the link to that post: What is a Narcissist?  Look it over and see if this describes a person in love with himself.

The literature of narcissism is widely agreed that the narcissist is insecure in himself and, based on that insecurity, has produced and promoted an image of superiority in order to distract others from the inferior and vulnerable self. The narcissist sees himself as unacceptable and weak, but attempts to cover that by hiding behind this grandiose image. Thus, he becomes adept at making friends, manipulating people, and gathering support. The image is attractive, charming, confident, strong, and exceptional. But that’s not the way the narcissist thinks of himself. He worships the image more than anyone else. He depends on the image, is addicted to the image, needs the image. And he needs you to worship the image with him.

Those who counsel narcissists find them to be evasive and dishonest. They usually leave counseling when the counselor gets close to the truth. Those who work with or live with narcissists should understand that they want you to think that they love themselves and believe that you should love them too. Otherwise, you might discover the truth.

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Confrontation!

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

“People who confront the narcissist always lose.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

And     so     you     go     slowly     crazy.

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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The Monster’s Legacy

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

I recently wrote an overview of the damage the flood from a year ago did to our little church building. It surprised me to look at the simple facts. We had to strip everything from the building, down to the studs in the walls and the concrete under the flooring. Everything was lost: all furnishings, wall coverings, fixtures, appliances, and nearly every small item. Our final costs, with a great deal of volunteer help, will be well over $50,000.

So, if the water only came up to three or four feet in the building and didn’t actually reach the rear of the building at all, why so much loss? Simple answer: mold. Invasive, destructive, smelly mold. Within a week or so, it had climbed to the top of the A-frame and penetrated almost everything in the building. Books sitting on the shelves, far above any water, were destroyed by the moisture and mold. All wood surfaces had to be sanded, treated, and painted. That meant removing all the drywall in the whole building. It took a crew of four two weeks and cost us nearly $19,000 just to stop the mold.

And our beautiful wood interior chapel will never look the same. Instead of wood grain, there is paint on all the beams. Instead of simple pews, we have steel chairs. It’s brighter and everything is new, but it is not the same.

Mold was the monster that changed everything.

I have a couple I talk with who have battled narcissism for many years in their extended family. We call narcissism “the Monster.” Just like the mold in our little church building, the narcissism monster has invaded nearly every part of their lives. It took years to identify it and more to understand the best ways to deal with it. And then there’s the monster’s legacy.

When the mold mitigation was finished, after so much damage and so high an expense, we still had all the work of rebuilding. When the monster has done its damage, the damage remains even after the monster is gone. Many people have written to tell me of the continuing struggles they faced after the narcissist left. Even when the problem is “solved,” and the monster is gone, the damage still affects us. In spite of the desire to move on, to start a new life, there is a lot of work to do.

Narcissism was the monster that changed everything.

Inability to make decisions, fear in personal relationships, nagging false guilt and shame, broken connections with others, depression, anxiety, and loneliness. These are some of the normal internal struggles. Then there are the external struggles. Financial stresses, custody and visitation issues, the need to find a job or the loss of a job, the physical consequences of stress, and so much more. When you look back at the end of a narcissistic relationship, you usually see a wide path of destruction.

And, again just like a physical disaster, there is fatigue. People sometimes have energy in the midst of battle, but find themselves drained and weary after the end. Not only did they spend precious personal resources to make the decisions and survive the conflict, but they borrowed energy and assets from their future. Now they simply have little to give to their own renovation and recuperation. The excitement that might come with starting new does not compensate for the drain caused by the battle.

I feel a special concern for newly single parents who have to minister to their children in the midst of their own grief and fatigue. Some of those who read this have been through that situation and are, in my estimation, heroes of a special order. Long after they should have been free to rest, they spent from their own hearts to care for children who needed stability and love. I have been so impressed by some of the stories I have read.

It is very important that we acknowledge the reality of the continuing struggle of those who have left narcissistic relationships of any kind. You feel drained, angry, discouraged, and lonely. You want to hurt someone and you want to crawl into a hole in the ground and what you really need is a good hug. You look around at the damage and wonder how you will ever continue.

No, things will not be the same. To be honest, some things will never be as good as they were once. But you will survive. Find support, someone to talk with, whatever agencies or ministries or good people will help. Take the help. Give yourself permission to screw things up, to go through the whole day with no measurable accomplishments, and to hide from the world once in a while. Don’t be ashamed of your occasional weakness or sadness or fear or even anger.

All of this is normal when the monster has swept through.

Is it wise for us to renovate our Chapel? It is worth all the work and expense? Some would wonder, given that another flood could happen. But it is important that we have a presence in that community. It is who we are. In another location, we would be different and we would lose even more. So we are a little wiser now. Paint will not be as susceptible to the ravages of mold. The flooring will be easier to replace. Our landscaping will, perhaps, be a little stronger.

Is it safe for you to trust again, to open your heart to others? Maybe not, but you are wiser and will be more careful. You know more of what to watch out for. And you are a person who needs relationship. Your kindness and patience and giving heart may have given the abuser the opening, but to change those things is to change who you are. There are other monsters out there, but you still have to be who you truly are. Be more careful, but don’t close your heart.

Rebuilding is hard work. The monster is terrible. But we do get through these things and there is life, better life, on the other side.

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The Super-power

 It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

I remember some sci-fi show where the person wearing a certain amulet had the power to make others like him; like him so much that they would do almost anything for him, without regard to his cruel ways. Once the amulet was taken from him, they saw the truth and got their revenge.

Do narcissists have a secret amulet or some kind of special ability that allows them to get what they want? It certainly seems so at times. I have often called this the narcissist’s super-power. They have an amazing ability to manipulate what others think and believe about them.

I get comments and emails saying that a victim’s parents still love the narcissist. Friends, bosses, family members and others can’t seem to see the lies and manipulations of the narcissist. They just see a wonderful person. It’s like some kind of covering is over their eyes distorting reality.

I have watched narcissists get promoted in spite of the fact that they were basically incompetent in their jobs. I have seen narcissists trusted in spite of their almost obvious duplicity. I have seen people go to narcissists for counsel in spite of the fact that the narcissists betray confidences and really don’t care. It is all very hard to understand.

Perhaps there are several factors at work here, I think.

  1. They want us to trust them – Narcissists have needs and they are highly motivated to fulfill those needs. Just like a salesman or a counselor or someone else whose success hinges on trust, the narcissist will go to extra lengths to gain that trust. This is why they seem to be extra loving or attentive or even trustworthy in the beginning. They need your trust more.
  2. They have learned the system – There are words and actions that communicate trust. Narcissists will look people in the eye, give a firm handshake, and refer to the person as “friend.” They will take the extra assignment or do the special favor that gains influence (even if they have to find someone else to do the work). Narcissists are observant and careful listeners and generous and respectful—when they want to gain trust. They know how the trust system works.
  3. They know we want to trust – Narcissists take advantage of a basic human need, the need to relate to trustworthy people. They know that most of us will look past faults, even to form images of a person according to our own desires. Most of us don’t assume that others lie or manipulate. We find it hard to believe that someone could be so mercenary and cold. So they use our desire to trust against us.

I know a narcissist who holds a high organizational position. He is barely competent as a leader and untrustworthy as a friend. Behind him lie the broken lives and vocations of the people he has used. But in front of him are many others with open arms and smiles and generous hearts who see nothing wrong. He has held his position for a long time and has used it to gain both financially and socially. He knows how to play the game.

Basically, that’s the key. The narcissist knows how to play the game. But you have to add to that the fact that they are ruthless in playing. They have nothing to lose and they play to win. And, sadly, they usually do.

So, if you try to fight your narcissist, you may lose. The wife who leaves may find herself with little or nothing. The friend who gets away may find himself to be a pariah among the mutual friends. The narcissist’s super-power works. Those who should be able to see the truth are blinded by the spin, the image, the lies. Those of us who try to come alongside the victims have ideas that should work, but often fail because the narcissists simply have something no one should have—the ability to move the hearts and minds of others in their own favor.

Now, there are some of us who are almost immune to their power. We see the truth, at least about the narcissists we have known. But it is especially frustrating when we realize that even that immunity has come because the narcissist no longer cares. Too many have found themselves vulnerable when the narcissist comes around again.

Yes, it is a super-power, at least in comparison to anything the rest of us have. Yes, it is scary when you see it that way. But it is better to see the truth than to be caught off guard. The only defense we have is to remember the truth we have learned about narcissism, ourselves, and the person who has caused our pain. We may need each other to remind us sometimes.

Remember that victory may simply lie in getting out. The threats of the narcissist cannot overcome the support and strength you have. Find that support and use that strength. Trust the Lord and His love for you. He is the One you can trust.

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Are Narcissists Sick?

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

(This is a post I wrote a couple years ago.  There have been some questions about narcissism as an illness or physical condition recently and this may help.  There is significant debate among the professional community as to the nature of narcissism, but there is wide agreement that it is very difficult to treat.)

 

In many ways it would be easier if we could think of the narcissist as sick.  If we could point to a mental illness or a chemical imbalance, we would have something to blame the behavior on. We could excuse the cruelty by saying, “Oh, he can’t help himself because he is sick.”  Then our desire for compassion would be justified and we could feel better about ourselves as we help a sick person and endure his or her abuse.

Unfortunately, narcissism doesn’t fit the concept of an illness.  For whatever reasons, narcissists have chosen and continue to choose their behavior.

(Now, I have to post a disclaimer here.  I am not a psychologist or a psychiatrist or a mental health therapist or counselor.  I am a theologian who has done a great deal of counseling over the years as a pastor.  So what I tell you is based on my experience and on what I have picked up from others.  You are encouraged to do your own research on anything I teach.)

Professional therapists use words like dysfunction, illness, disorder, and disability to refer to different causes of behavior or sensations.  These words are often used interchangeably, which makes definition all the more confusing for the rest of us.  In general, illness or mental illness refers to a condition caused by some biological agent.  The agent could be a genetic anomaly, an injury, a chemical imbalance, or some other outside influence.  While many forms of mental illness may lead to narcissistic behavior, the behavior itself doesn’t prove the illness.

Narcissism has been classified as a personality disorder by some.  All that says is that it is out of sync with what is considered to be normal behavior and perspective.  But it also suggests that narcissism is a choice.  That choice may be based on disturbing childhood experiences, but it is still a choice.  I believe that fear is the primary cause of narcissistic behavior, but the fear does not need to be current.  In other words, acting in a narcissistic way is how the narcissist learned to deal with fear throughout his life.

Addictions are particularly difficult to overcome because they are often the intersection of several types of problems.  What begins as a need to fit into a group or feel better can become a physical dependency through drugs or alcohol.  Those who deal with drug rehabilitation must work through both the biologically-caused illness and the psychologically-caused disorder.  To further complicate things, we now understand that repeated actions can create something very similar to physical addiction.  When we talk about people addicted to eating, shopping, gambling, hoarding, or pornography, we refer to behaviors that have become so ingrained that stopping them takes serious desire and effort.

It is my opinion that narcissism is a type of addiction.  The narcissist has chosen and continues to choose his behavior because he believes it works for him.  Over the years he has gained enough from this behavior that he continues to use it even in the face of negative consequences.  It is his default conduct and he has learned to apply various techniques in different circumstances.  It may be that he has done it so often and has convinced himself so strongly of its value that he simply no longer thinks of it as a choice.  In other words, it just comes naturally to him.

A simple observation from the Bible has become a well-known saying in our culture:

“As he thinks in his heart, so is he.”  (Proverbs 23:7)

Because the man thinks his narcissistic behavior works, and because he has invested so much into making it work, he has become a narcissist.  Whether the clinical definition fits him or not, he acts out of his perspective.  That perspective includes such concepts as the usefulness of others and the promotion of a certain self-image.  He acts this way because he thinks this way.

This is a very brief overview of my perspective on narcissistic behavior, but it reveals some important thoughts.  These are some of the ideas I use as I counsel and write on this subject.

  1. Narcissists are accountable for their actions because they are free to choose otherwise.
  2. Narcissists can change by “unlearning” certain ideas about themselves and others.
  3. Carefully applied negative consequences for narcissistic behavior may be helpful.
  4. Those in relationship with narcissists are victims or objects, rather than caregivers.

 

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Ask Questions

It’s Narcissist Friday! 

 

One of the ways to identify narcissism is to watch what happens when someone disagrees.  This can help us to identify the culture of an organization (church, school, club, business, etc.) or the character of a person.

You are the new employee at the office.  The boss has called a meeting and has told everyone that they should speak their minds.  You were told that when you were hired.  “This organization is transparent and we listen,” you were told.  At the meeting, the boss outlines a strategy with some obvious flaws, obvious to you.  Some of the others voice their agreement with the boss, which puzzles you.  You’re new, so you hesitate; but you were told to speak up.  So you ask a question about one of the points.  Suddenly, the attention turns to you.  The boss stares at you for a few uncomfortable moments.  You don’t know whether he didn’t understand your question, is embarrassed by his error, or is trying to remember who you are. 

Finally, the boss says, “Hey, that’s a great question from our newest employee!  How long have you been with us?  Two weeks?  That’s great.  Well, all I can say is watch and learn!”  Then he looks over at your immediate supervisor and says, to everyone, “Ok, I really appreciate your input.  We will begin moving on this right away!”

As you leave the room, another employee steps in close to you and mutters, “Now you begin to see how things really work around here.”

What did you learn?  That the boss is always right and your job is not to speak your mind or ask questions, but to help the boss look good in front of everyone. 

And then the boss makes a special effort to come over to you.  Are you in trouble?  “Hey, I really appreciated your question.  You just keep up the good work.”  Yup, you are in trouble.  You will be more careful next time. 

Here’s another example:

The young lady gets into the passenger seat in her new boyfriend’s car.  As they pull away from her home, going to the restaurant, she glances at the dashboard and notices that the car is very low on gas. 

“Looks like we should stop for some gas before we get on the highway,” she says.

He doesn’t even look at the dash, but smiles and says, “Don’t you worry about looking at these gauges.  You just sit there and look pretty while I take care of the car.”

She learned her place.  Her job is to be pretty for him and quiet.  She is not to question him.  And she will learn even more when they run out of gas later.  He will become angry and blame the gas meter for malfunctioning.  After all, he just put gas in a few days ago.  Or he will accuse someone of siphoning gas from his car.  Or he will refer to the gas leak that someone should have fixed.  He will not mention her statement, and she is not supposed to mention it either.  If she does, if she dares to suggest that she told him about the gas, he will probably end the relationship.

Can you handle one more?

You feel uncomfortable at the new church your friends suggested, although the people are friendly and the teaching has been good.  As you look around, you notice that none of the women are wearing slacks, all have skirts or dresses.  It doesn’t seem particularly strange to you, because of your background, but you wonder how likely it is that even the teenagers fit the pattern.  So you ask.

“Is there a dress code in the church?”  A simple question, asked to one of the ladies who has been particularly friendly.

The answer comes.  “Of course not.  What do you mean?”

“Well, I noticed that all the ladies, young and older, are wearing skirts.”

“Oh, that’s just because we want to honor our Lord and our men.”  As she says this, the lady looks into your eyes a little too long, like you are supposed to agree and acquiesce.  You understand.

 

Whether it’s the pastor of the church, the new counselor or doctor, the new boyfriend, or the boss—we learn a lot by asking questions.  We learn something about the inner strength of the organization or person.  Narcissism comes out of weakness, weakness that has to be covered with protective layers of intimidation, deception, or anger.  Strength allows disagreement.  Confidence welcomes questions.

Now, understand that anyone can become flustered or upset if the question is presented as an attack or is embarrassing in some way.  Expect a certain amount of resistance or confusion if you are unkind, impatient, or otherwise out of line.  But a respectful and gracious question, even one that suggests disagreement, should be acceptable to a healthy organization or person.

One more thing: if you are in a testing time, do this early.  Do it before you are hired, if you dare.  Do it before you join the church.  Do it on the first or second date.  You will want to know how you are truly valued as an individual who can think your own thoughts.  Narcissism depersonalizes its victims; the sooner you see that coming, the sooner you can run away.

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