Tag Archives: narcissism

Narcissism, Egotism, and Egoism

It’s Narcissist Friday!

(I am aware that this blog continually attracts new readers.  With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material.  The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for.  Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website.  So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years.  Please feel free to comment.)

I am about to finish “The Mirror Effect” by Dr. Drew Pinsky.  This book and “The Narcissism Epidemic” by Twenge and Campbell present a culture that is increasingly focused on the antics and philosophies of self-centered people.  Both books have something important to say, if for no other reason than to present the reality of the lives of the people Hollywood seems to find entertaining.  But, in my opinion, both books somewhat misrepresent narcissism and get it mixed up with a couple of other concepts.

The first is egotism.  Egotism is defined as excessively talking about oneself.  It reminds me of the country song, “I Wanna Talk About Me” by Toby Keith.  Egotists are focused on themselves and can hardly take the time to listen or care about others.  Now, I think someone taught them that this was the way life was.  The children of Hollywood often learn that they are the center of attention wherever they go.  People watch to see what hair style they choose, what clothes they wear, or what music they enjoy.  They are surrounded by admirers and sycophants all their lives.  Add to that the drug culture and the suggestion that drug use causes a stoppage of emotional growth at whatever age it begins and you have Martin Sheen saying that his son, Charlie, is still emotionally a child.  Children are supposed to grow out of egotism and into community.  In our culture, many do not.

Not all egotists are in Hollywood, but most are simply what we used to call spoiled children.  They need to be taught that life isn’t centered on them, no one really cares about their bodily functions, and the world doesn’t owe them either financial or psychological care.  If it wasn’t politically incorrect, I would suggest that many of them simply need a good spanking and an introduction to the real world.

The second word is very similar—egoism.  Egoism (note the loss of the letter “t”) is a philosophy that believes all personal action is fundamentally from self-interest.  Egoists believe that self-interest is the only valid reason for anyone doing anything.  So, according to this philosophy, those who go to war voluntarily do so for selfish reasons.  They may want recognition and are willing to take the risk or they may see a significant positive even in some kind of martyrdom.  Those who give generously to causes would have expectations of some kind of payback.  Those who are kind actually serve themselves.

Egoists have determined their philosophy after a certain jaded look at the world around them.  They see kindness and sacrifice and notice that many of those who do these things have self-interests.  They conclude that self-interest is the primary cause of all such actions and they accept that conclusion as valid.  A change of thinking may be as simple as meeting someone who actually knows how to love.

But narcissism is something quite different.  The narcissist is afraid and is driven to control, to manipulate, to abuse others, by his fear.  Whereas the egotist barely has any idea that there could be something about him that you would dislike, the narcissist is convinced that you would reject him completely if he ever let you close enough to know the truth.  The narcissist needs more than constant attention, he needs constant approval, and he will do almost anything to get it.

Of course, there are overlaps in these definitions.  The egotist may well be betraying a core of narcissistic need.  The narcissist would be the epitome, the ideal, of some form of egoism.  But it is generally helpful to remember that there are distinctions between the concepts.

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Fight with a narcissist? Yeah, right!

It’s Narcissist Friday!    

 

(I am aware that this blog continually attracts new readers.  With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material.  The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for.  Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website.  So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years.  Please feel free to comment.)

 

 

In my recent post on living with a narcissist, I suggested that you must be prepared to fight.  What I meant was that the conflict doesn’t seem to end.  It isn’t “knock-down, drag-out” fighting as much as it is a constant barrage of intimidation.

In fact, very few narcissists are up to a real fight.  They will tell you that they don’t fight.  You just don’t understand.  And, when you think about the last fight, you were probably cowering in some defensive position wishing they would just stop.  But they weren’t fighting.  He or she was just trying to tell you something.

Those who are in relationships with narcissistic people already know what I mean here.  You have faced this conflict, perhaps for years.  You measure your success by the extent of your loss.  If you only lost a little of the argument or the agreement, you feel like you won.  But you still lost.  You always lose.

You see, narcissists invest much more in winning than most people do.  They must win.  To lose, in almost any way, suggests that they are somehow less than they want to be.  If you grew up in normal relationships and with a normal understanding of who you are, you understand that you win some and you lose some.  The narcissist didn’t learn this.  When they lose, it’s because someone cheated or those who determined the winner were flawed.  Some outside circumstance intervened.  Here’s a common exchange:

You: I think Ankara is the capital of Turkey.

Narcissist: No, it’s Istanbul.

You:  Istanbul is larger, but I don’t think it is the capital.

Narcissist:  Yes it is.

You:  Well, I’ll look it up.

Narcissist:  Waste of time.

You:  Look, the encyclopedia says Ankara is the capital.

Narcissist:  Let me see that.  This thing is wrong.  We should have gotten rid of these years ago.

(At this point you wish you hadn’t said anything.)

Narcissist:  Well, I was right.  It says here that Ankara used to be called Angora.

You:  But you said it was Istanbul.

Narcissist:  No, I said Angora.  You just used the modern name and that threw me off. 

Now, notice what happened.  When you first opened your mouth you were assumed wrong.  The source, because it supported you, must also be wrong.  But when the narcissist realized that you were right, the argument changed.  Suddenly he didn’t say what you thought he said.  He is willing to lie or able to deceive himself into thinking that he meant the right thing after all.  If you challenge him, you are now starting another argument.  What seemed to be his error in the beginning was your fault and it will be your fault if you persist in the new argument.

The husband or wife of a narcissist goes through conversations like this several times a day.  But most of them center on more personal things.  Your opinions, your personal habits, your appearance, your role in the family, your discipline of the children—anything about you is fair game.  You are on the defensive—always.  If you dare to say something about him or her, then the real conflict begins.  Not only will it be necessary to prove you wrong, you must admit your error and repent.

If you think this is too strong, you are blessed.  You have never been there.  But as you read the accounts of those who have suffered under narcissists, whether in the literature or on websites and blogs, you will see a great amount of anger.  This is the anger of those who have been pushed down for a long time and finally have the opportunity to express their pain.  If you work with a victim of a narcissist, perhaps as a counselor, you will probably observe someone who acts confused, downtrodden, discouraged, and very tired.  This is someone who has been in a long and losing battle.

Setting new boundaries, finding new support, limiting the effect of the narcissist—these things will serve the victim very well, but will threaten the narcissist.  Be prepared for the conflict to increase.

Interestingly, the legalist system brings out the same anger.  Those who are constantly criticized, never able to measure up to some invisible standard, become afraid and confused.  If they are able to break away, they express strong anger toward those who manipulated and abused them.  Legalism is a narcissistic system.  Its leaders are often narcissists who have found a way to look good by pushing others down.

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What makes a narcissist?

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

(I am aware that this blog continually attracts new readers.  With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material.  The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for.  Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website.  So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years.  Please feel free to comment.)

 

The answer to this is worth far more than the proverbial $64,000.  There is a general consensus, however, that the narcissist was made very young, through some trauma or series of traumas.  Abandonment or threatened abandonment by parents is a common theme.

I recently heard two stories of 4-year-olds who were sent out by parents to steal.  If they didn’t get what they were sent out for, they were not allowed back in the house.  Imagine what that would do…

One young lady I worked with was rejected by her mother from the earliest age.  In fact, she was told repeatedly, “I should have aborted you!”  She was never allowed to relax as a child, but was either coddled and pampered or abused and rejected.  Her mother would dress her up in expensive clothes and give her expensive hair treatments and parade her around like a doll.  Everyone would make much of her looks.  But the rest of the time she was considered a burden.  In other words, her mother was narcissistic.

What kind of confusion would it cause a child to be rejected for being a child, for wanting to play and laugh and wiggle; but to be praised for acting like an adult, when she was only four?

Through all of this, she learned one lesson from her mother:  she would be loved when she was not herself and hated when she was herself.  If she acted like her heart wanted to act, she would be rejected and abused.  If she acted like her mom wanted her to act, no matter how unnatural it was, she would be loved.

This appears to be a message learned by many who grow up to be narcissists.  They know in their hearts that they will be rejected if they relax or if they fail, or if they just are who they are.  In order to be accepted, they must create an image that is acceptable, even superior.  Control is the ultimate goal—control of what others think of them.  You are welcomed or pushed away based on what they think you will think of them.  When the narcissist looks in the mirror, it isn’t because she loves herself; it is to reassure herself that you ought to think highly of her.

So, yes, the narcissist is in pain and lives in fear.  That doesn’t excuse his cruelty, even if it explains it.  And not everyone who suffers such rejection ends up narcissistic.  For some, however, narcissism is the means they use to avoid and deny the pain.

But this is why it is so difficult to help a narcissist.  To go back to that time of fundamental rejection, to admit the vulnerability, is unthinkable.  Is it possible?  I do believe that the Lord can take us back into those most difficult times and lead us through them to wholeness.  There is such love and acceptance in the real gospel.  I do believe that there is hope in Jesus even for narcissists.  Someday I hope to see such a thing.

Thoughts?

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Overt and Covert

It’s Narcissist Friday!

(I am aware that this blog continually attracts new readers.  With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material.  The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for.  Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website.  So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years.  Please feel free to comment.)

Think about the people you know.  Some of them are what could be called loud people.  Others are quiet.  Some are outgoing, vivacious, gregarious, etc.  Some are inhibited, shy, withdrawn.  This doesn’t change just because someone is a narcissist.

It is easy to stereotype the narcissist as someone who must always be the loud center of attention.  But many narcissists have learned to avoid the limelight.  They control and dominate from behind the scenes.  In fact, you may not recognize this person as narcissistic at all.

Eleanor D. Payson has written about this difference in her book, “The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists.”  She differentiates between “overt” and “covert” narcissists.  The overt narcissist is what we have come to expect.  The powerbroker, the man in front of the camera, the mother-in-law who comes to your home and takes over.  The overt narcissist will come into your office space, sit on your desk, and dig through your papers.

The covert narcissist still wants to be in control but does so by “helping.”  Sometimes these folks offer to help with projects.  The only problem is that they end up taking over.  They work, or at least they motivate you to work harder, and they get things done.  But you feel stupid in the process.  When the project is done, it cost more than you had planned and it doesn’t look quite the way you had wanted it to.  But your “helper” assures you that this will be much better.  Your way just wasn’t good enough.  The covert narcissist will come into your office space to clean your desk and sort your papers.

This is the mother-in-law who comes to visit with her rubber gloves and cleaning supplies.  You find yourself angry and wishing she hadn’t come at all, when you are supposed to be grateful.  In the church, these people serve on committees and take jobs no one else will take.  It will be very clear that they are making a sacrifice to help you and you will be expected to praise them and honor them.  Never mind that they can’t seem to stay in budget or they alienate everyone else on the committee.  Never mind that the Missions Committee is now somehow responsible for setting the pastor’s salary and deciding what color to paint the outside of the church.

In all of this we have to understand that the goal of the narcissist is to look good and to feel good about himself.  It isn’t about you.  You feel like you are always being put down, but the truth is that the narcissist doesn’t really see you at all.  When Mom comes to clean, she just wants you to understand that she is really that good.  Aren’t you lucky you have her?

Interestingly, Payson suggests that covert narcissists often find their way to become a “doctor, therapist, minister, or missionary.” (p. 27)  These are all areas of service where one can appear to be helping while satisfying a need for control and favorable comparisons.

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Safe People

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

(I am aware that this blog continually attracts new readers.  With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material.  The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for.  Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website.  So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years.  Please feel free to comment.)

 

A good friend wrote to me personally about my last blog post.  The main thing I want to share here is his suggestion that those who must deal with narcissists should “spend lots of time with safe people in your life.”  What a great thing to remember!

Safe people?  Who are they?  Some reading this will have difficulty thinking of anyone, or at least anyone they can spend real time with.  Part of the problem many of us have suffered is making the assumption someone is safe only to find out later that the person used us or came back at us with an attack.  Some of the people in whom we have trusted most have betrayed us most hurtfully.  Self-protection dictates that we are very narrow in our definition of “safe.”

So let’s define safe people with some “off the top of the head” statements.  See if you agree.

  1. A safe person is someone without a vested interest in the outcome, other than your welfare and happiness.
  2. A safe person is someone who is willing to let you make a mistake, even though he or she has shared concerns.
  3. A safe person is someone whom you respect, but for whom you don’t have to measure up.
  4. A safe person is someone who won’t remind you of things you have said or done just to manipulate you to do things his or her way.
  5. A safe person doesn’t care about your situation as much as he or she cares about you.
  6. A safe person is one who will tell you when they think you are full of %$#& and expect you to do the same for them someday.
  7. A safe person is willing for you to share what you want when you want; and you still enjoy time with each other no matter what has been shared.
  8. A safe person is someone who affirms you without using that affirmation to manipulate you.
  9. A safe person isn’t perfect and doesn’t expect you to be.

So could a family member be safe?  Of course!  In fact, you might find that he or she has been waiting for you to come.  Could a non-Christian be safe?  Sure, as long as you remember that there is a difference between you and there are limitations to your connection.  Could someone of the opposite gender be safe?  Yes, but the risks are obvious and serious.  Actually you might be surprised at the person the Lord will use to help you.  In fact, a safe person may already be near.

Where would you go to find such a person?  Well, I would love to tell you to go to church and I believe that there are probably safe people there, but I know that church is part of the problem for many believers.  So, perhaps an interest-based group from another church or an exercise group or school group.  There are people who would love to have a friend who would care and would reciprocate in safe ways.

My suggestion is that you ask Jesus to send you someone.  Keep your guard up.  If this person is safe he or she will understand.  Share only what you are led to share.  Trust Jesus only, but let Him lead you to safe people.

And listen—if you blow it, don’t worry.  The Lord knows the need of your heart.  He knows both your desire for a safe person and your fear.  When you are betrayed or hurt, go to Him.  He is always safe.

Would love to read your comments!

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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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