Tag Archives: narcissism and cults

Confidence

It’s Narcissist Friday!

The narcissist wants to be the focus of your attention, of your heart. You are supposed to consider the narcissist important, even necessary, to your life. The center of your world should be the narcissist.

You may think I am exaggerating. Yet, the narcissistic mother will want you to think of her before you think of your husband, wife, or children. The narcissistic boss will want you to serve him without regard to your family. The narcissistic friend will call you in the middle of your meeting or family time. Why? Because they are more important.

People outside the relationship, who do not understand, will say that you should maintain boundaries. Like that’s something easy. What they don’t understand is how the narcissist has managed to strip you of your confidence. You worry that you might lose your job if you don’t do what the boss says. You remember how mom gets when you don’t answer the phone or help her with something. Something bad will happen if you don’t give in to the narcissist. Instead of standing up for yourself, you yield.

But that isn’t all of it. You used to feel good about your decisions and your reasoning process. Now you worry about choosing the best things. Over time, the narcissist has challenged so many of your ideas, showing you to be wrong, that you have learned to doubt yourself. Maybe you never thought of yourself as wise, but you didn’t think you were foolish or stupid. Now you wonder. Maybe you do need the narcissist.

When you finally leave the narcissistic relationship, you may find that you struggle to make decisions. Your confidence has been taken away. It was done on purpose, so that you would be dependent on the narcissist. The narcissist would not be the center of your attention if you trusted yourself or had the confidence to stand alone.

So what do you do now? You listen to those people who are telling you that you are smart and capable, and you move forward. You remember that not all decisions are good ones—even for the smartest of us—and you let yourself make mistakes. Start with small decisions and work up. The best decision you will make is to pull back from the narcissist.

And trust the Lord’s leading. I know that you have been taught to distrust your heart, but the Lord does communicate with you through your heart. Trust that He will move you in the right directions, and that He will overcome both your fears and your mistakes. Be confident in Him when you can’t be confident in yourself. Trust in His love.

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Peace

It’s Narcissist Friday!

It doesn’t seem to matter what kind of narcissistic relationship you are in. One thing that is lost is peace. If you connected with the narcissist at a difficult time in your life, you might have thought he/she would bring you peace. And, maybe, for a little while, things seemed better. The crisis might have gone away. What you didn’t expect was the new crisis that came in.

You didn’t expect to jump when the phone rang. You didn’t expect the fear of not measuring up to expectations. You didn’t expect to dread the end of the day when he comes home. The questions. The accusations. The insinuations. The arguments. You didn’t expect any of that.

If you grew up with a narcissistic parent, it is likely that you have never really known peace. You have never measured up, and you have never known what the next crisis will be. All you know is that something negative is coming. Always.

Narcissists don’t want the people around them to have peace. It’s easier to control people who are off-balance, afraid, or emotional. If the narcissist can create an atmosphere of comparisons, criticism, and worry, he/she can be right in the center. So narcissist mom will pit one child against another. Narcissist boss will stimulate unhealthy competition in the office. Narcissist friend will overwhelm you with problems. Narcissist preacher will tell you that God is disappointed in you. The narcissist might stand ready to be your savior in the midst of the crisis, but you will find he/she does little to bring you peace. Even if the problem is solved, you are now in debt for the help.

One of the churches in our town has a familiar meme on its sign: “No Jesus, No Peace. Know Jesus, Know Peace.” I like that, but it tells only part of the story. The reason knowing Jesus brings us peace is because He accepts us and loves us without criticism. The Christian knows two things about crisis. First, no crisis identifies us. In other words, I am accepted and loved no matter how I perform or respond to the things around me. Second, no crisis will last forever. Because I trust Jesus, I know that I will outlast or overcome any crisis. And I know He is with me through it all.

I have used a little story about a man whose boat capsized in a storm. He was able to climb onto a large rock, but the rock was battered by high waves and strong winds. The people on the shore saw him in trouble but could do nothing to help him. Finally, when the storm subsided, someone was able to get a boat out to rescue him. Someone asked him how he could endure the terror of the storm. His answer was that the rock beneath him had never moved.

Obviously, that’s an old preacher story, but it has a good point. The love Jesus has for you and me is stronger than the crises the narcissist brings into our lives. We may not find peace in our daily circumstances, but we can find peace in our relationship with the Lord who loves us. And that peace can make a difference day by day.

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Violation

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Someone has been in your house. Things are not like they were. Everything has been moved and touched and changed. You call the police and a good friend, but they keep asking what the intruders took. The scene is so confusing, so filled with emotion, that you can’t even think. All you know is that you have been violated. Someone messed with your life.

The police say they really can’t do much unless you can tell them what is missing. Your friend tries to calm you with the suggestion that the violation is less because you can’t see that anything has been stolen. Yet, you know things are gone. Things that used to be there, that used to be yours, are gone. Once the police leave, you and your friend start putting things back the way they were. But you can’t because you can’t find some of the important things. That’s when you begin to see what was taken.

Healing begins as you put your life back together. When you can name what was taken, verbalize the loss, it helps you work toward restoring your home. It’s the difference between saying, “Well, they took the TV,” and staring uncomprehendingly at the large blank spot on your wall. You make a list and start to find replacements. No, they won’t be the same, but they will again be yours. Life will be different, but normal settles in.

When you leave a relationship with a narcissist, you are almost certainly coming out of a crisis. When you look at your life, all you see is a mess. Confusion, grief, anger—a mess. Nothing is the same. Your emotions are all mixed up. If you have a good friend to stand with you, you might find things a little easier. But so many don’t have anyone. Even friends and family don’t understand. Those who want to help may not know how. And, of course, there are those who just want to blame, and they blame you. What they really want is for your crisis to be over for them. So, you have to try to put things back together yourself.

Narcissists take things from you. They touch everything in your life. Nothing is off limits or special. And they mess things up. They break things, move things, change things. The more important something was to you, the closer you held it to yourself, the more the narcissist wanted it. It is not unusual for victims to feel like they have been robbed. Yet, everything is such a mess that you can barely seen what’s gone.

One of my goals for this blog is to help people see life beyond the narcissist. For many, that will mean after the relationship is over. For some, it will be a rebuilding process while the relationship continues. Narcissistic relationships come in many shapes and forms. Not all are marriage or intimate relationships. Some are family. Some are work. Some are friendships. Some are even in church. All of them take precious things from your life. All of them can leave you in a mess.

Finding what they took and learning how to get those things back will be a process of restoration and growing health. So, over the coming weeks, I want to point out some things narcissistic relationships take from us. There are many. Some will relate to almost all personal relationships: marriage, family, friends. Some will connect with organizational or corporate relationships, like work or church. I want to look at these in the context of Christian experience, but there will be applications for anyone.

Not everyone has experienced the same losses, of course. Different narcissistic relationships take different things. Different narcissists seem to need different things. While some take your sense of peace with their many and unpredictable crises, others take your sense of adventure and leave you a life of drudgery. Some take concrete things, like savings accounts, while others take more spiritual things like hope. We will talk about these and others.

Feel free to comment and suggest topics, although I have a long list already. I would especially like to hear from those who have discovered precious parts of themselves that were taken away or lost in the narcissistic relationship, and how those have been restored to you.

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Mind Control 6

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Singer’s Six Conditions for Thought Control (Cults in our Midst, 1995)

6. Put forth a closed system of logic and an authoritarian structure that permits no feedback and refuses to be modified except by leadership approval or executive order. The group has a top-down, pyramid structure. The leaders must have verbal ways of never losing.

I just had one of those fun experiences with customer service. Okay, not much fun. I ordered something from a company I had not purchased from before. They offered a one-time 20% off coupon. I placed a fairly large order and was pleased with the discount. Then I got a note saying that my order was canceled because the product was out of stock. Since it was something on their in-house product line, I assumed they would have it shortly, so I called to ask if I could place the order again and have it filled when the product was available. I was informed that the product was already available (odd), so I said I wanted to place a new order. I also wanted to use my discount. The lady said I had already used my discount on the previous order. I countered that I had not received any discount because the order was canceled. We went around and around. Her bottom line was that she could only do what the computer would allow her to do. In other words, she had no power other than to say the company line.

Well, most of us have learned that it really does no good to argue with the checkout person or the receptionist on the phone. They can’t do anything. All they know is what they have learned. They are actually barriers, protecting those who do have the power to make decisions. In many companies, you will have to go through several levels of these barriers to get to the one who can really help you. That is by design. The few people who dare to complain about something will almost all drop out before getting to that right person. And, yes, they will almost all keep using the company’s stores and products.

The narcissist says there is only one right way, his way. Your objections come out of your inexperience, your misunderstanding, or your stupidity. You might be laughed at. You might be mocked. You might be ignored. But the narcissist cannot admit that you might be right. To do so would be to affirm your input. To do that would be to open the narcissist to more input from you. Not a good idea for him. How will you stay under control if you feel good about your ideas or opinions?

Usually, narcissistic organizations have a single authority, a teacher whose wisdom is worshiped by the followers. At most, there will be a small group of leaders who make all the decisions. These will be the elite, the superior servants who have a right and responsibility to lead. In a Christian organization, they will be seen as the most spiritual. Because they are superior, they have wisdom the rest of the people don’t have. God, apparently, teaches them so they can teach others.

So, when a member of the organization has a question or a doubt and wants to find an explanation, he will be met with barriers. The friends he starts with will parrot the teacher’s words. They will assure the questioner that the teacher has so often been proved right. If he persists with his question, he will be pushed up to local leaders and marked as a doubter. They will also repeat the teacher’s words. Then, he may be referred to the next level and the next. Each time he will simply hear a repetition or a rewording of what the teacher has presented. And each time his status as a troublemaker will increase.

If the persistence of the questioner reaches the teacher, the teacher may condescend to a personal contact. In other words, a phone call could come out of the blue, or a meeting at an event might be arranged. The teacher will know all about the man with the question because the underlings have briefed him. But, again, the words of the teacher are as close to sacred as any will find. Nothing will change. The teacher has graced the troublemaker with a personal contact, something most of the underlings have never had. To continue to question would mark the person as a rebel, perhaps even cause him to be ousted from the group. But he will not change the teaching.

Special dispensations might be given for rules, and they will come with special strings. The one who needs a favor will be expected to present unusual loyalty, strong support, for the system. Non-conformity cannot be condoned. Questions cannot be allowed to change teaching.

Sometimes, if enough people are asking the question, the teacher can have a revelation. The teacher can change his teachings without admitting his error. A revelation, a clarification, a new teaching. The teacher can do almost anything, particularly regarding his teaching. Even the teacher is concerned about politics within the organization. He won’t want anything to instill doubt among the followers.

Control of information, when information is desired, is a narcissistic goal. To be the superior source, the one who defines, is the dream of the narcissist.

By the way, I got my discount by asking if there was anything she could do. Behind the scenes, so I couldn’t hear, she asked her supervisor what to do. Suddenly, a one-time complimentary offer of a 20% discount was available. She was doing me a big favor. So, I thanked her and placed the order with the discount. Sometimes you just have to play the game.

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Walk with Me: A Grace Devotional by [Orrison, David]

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Mind Control 5

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Singer’s Six Conditions for Thought Control (Cults in our Midst, 1995)

5. Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to promote learning the group’s ideology or belief system and group-approved behaviors. Good behavior, demonstrating an understanding and acceptance of the group’s beliefs, and compliance are rewarded while questioning, expressing doubts or criticizing are met with disapproval, redress and possible rejection. If one expresses a question, he or she is made to feel that there is something inherently wrong with them to be questioning.

One of the things I remember so well from the legalistic organization we were in was the system of rewards and punishments. Those who were chosen to lead, even in small groups, were considered superior. It was an achievement to be noticed for compliance and conformity. Things like initiative and energy were only rewarded if they served the system. Leaders were chosen, not on actual leadership abilities (that might present a threat someday) but for their willingness to submit to even higher authorities. Special families were given administrative chores, even brought to headquarters to serve.

Don’t underestimate the attraction of this kind of reward! I knew men who quit their jobs to work for the organization at minimal pay. I knew young people who gave up vocations and education to serve. Some of them even paid for the privilege to work long hours at sometimes trivial tasks. To serve at headquarters, even to serve in the local organization, was an honor.

The other side was almost as strong. Certain people were discouraged from applying, joining the group, because their families wouldn’t measure up. Too much television. Divorce and step kids. Even young people in college. These were enough to keep families out. Not good enough.

And, if you got in, the old process of shunning took new forms. Yes, certain families and certain people were in the group, barely. Everyone knew they didn’t fit. No one looked at them when opportunities arose. If one of the young people at HQ broke even a minor rule, he or she could be sent home to a reception of failure and shame.

Doubt was allowed. People spoke against some of the teachings. But those people were not rewarded. They were noticed and remembered. To ask a question was to reveal your spiritual immaturity. I marveled at those who said things like: “I really don’t agree with that teaching, but I know it’s because I haven’t arrived at that point yet.” Or: “Every time I disagree with something the teacher says, I find him to be right later.” You just had to wait and the teacher would be affirmed, no matter what kind of off-the-wall thing he taught.

The power of a legalist/narcissist organization to indoctrinate, to force conformity, seems unbelievable to those who have never experienced it. By subtly presenting a feedback system that always loops back into the teachings and control of the organization, the victims are moved slowly to acceptance. Rewards always led back to more involvement, more recognition, within the system. Punishments always circled back to the idea that conformity was best.

Now, does an individual narcissist do this? Of course. In fact, in much the same way. “If you do it my way, we will go out someplace together.” Always together. “If you don’t do it my way, you will be further separated from the things and people who build you up.” Always away from what is good for the victim and toward the narcissist. To question the narcissist is to attack him/her. Your question will be met with either a pat on the head (”You just don’t understand”) or a slap in the face (”How dare you?”).

In fact, one of the things that should cause you to suspect a narcissistic relationship is a system of rewards and punishments. What happens when you do what you are told? What happens when you do not? Loving relationships may have consequences, but they won’t make you feel controlled or manipulated. Narcissists don’t see you as a person with values and ideas like themselves. You are a tool to be used to serve the image. Any nonconformity must be brought under control.

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Walk with Me: A Grace Devotional by [Orrison, David]

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Mind Control 4

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Singer’s Six Conditions for Thought Control (Cults in our Midst, 1995)

3. Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments and experiences in such a way as to inhibit behavior that reflects the person’s former social identity. Manipulation of experiences can be accomplished through various methods of trance induction, including leaders using such techniques as paced speaking patterns, guided imagery, chanting, long prayer sessions or lectures, and lengthy meditation sessions.

Sometimes you don’t realize what really happened until the situation is long past. I told someone recently that a good deal of my ministry has been to try to answer the question, “What the heck happened?” Dealing with narcissism is so intense and so foreign to most people that it feels like a train wreck. So much devastation in so little time. Or, perhaps, it accumulated over many years until you finally realized what you had lost.

Many people have told me that they became different persons over the course of the narcissistic relationship. They used to be fun and outgoing, now they are quiet and insecure. At one time they were competent and able to achieve goals. Now they feel weak and useless. What if I told you that was the plan?

Narcissists and narcissistic organizations live on control. In order to control, they have to strip away that which makes a person strong. Skepticism must be replaced with gullibility. Independence must be replaced with submission. Strength must be replaced with obedience. Sometimes that can be accomplished through a short, but intense, traumatic experience. If a strong person can be taken through a situation where their strength is insufficient or untrustworthy, that strength can be broken.

In 1973, a man named Olsson took four hostages during a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. He demanded the release of a friend from prison. When the friend was released, they held the hostages together for a total of six days. At that time, the robbers were captured and the hostages released. However, none of the hostages would testify against their captors. They even began to raise money for the defense of their captors. Their perspective confounded law enforcement officers and became known as the “Stockholm Syndrome.” There have been several widely publicized cases that were similar, including that of Patty Hearst in the mid-seventies.

Apart from a dramatic event, narcissists will nibble away at the confidence and courage of their victims until little is left. One method is to make the person feel inferior or foolish. Gaslighting and projection are often considered “crazy-making” techniques. But another way is to feed information to victims, information that is supposed to be important, in a way that is difficult for them to understand or control.

Some narcissists are particularly soft-spoken. I have known a man who spoke softly, so softly that others often had to ask what he said. It was his way of getting others to focus on him and his words. By intensifying their focus, his listeners had to reduce their natural caution to his words.

In spite of what we see around us every day, we should have great respect for the human mind. Our minds gather amazing amounts of information. Accessing that information when we want to can be a challenge, but everything we have seen and heard has had an effect on us. We might not think we remember, but it touched our lives. Whispered words we just can’t seem to catch are words our minds often hear but don’t process consciously.

My family was part of an organization years ago where seminars were presented by overhead projectors. We were expected to fill out note sheets or take notes on our own. The information was shared quickly, so much so that the occasional break was met with either sighs of relief or questions to neighbors about what was missed. The effect of this was that few people actually remembered what was taught. There was no time to question ideas or statements and no opportunity to process information. But the words entered our minds. The indoctrination still had a subconscious effect.

Our culture knows about this. We talk of people who try to “slip things past us.” We resist the quick sell techniques and ask for time to look over contracts. But the reason we know about these things is that they are real techniques to manipulate or control us. The telephone rings with a crisis. Our Social Security account is being revoked. Our grandson is stuck in Mexico and needs money. We have to respond right away. No time to think.

It is wise for us to ask, to take our time, and even to doubt. Very few things are so critical that we can’t step back to be sure they are real. I have made it a rule to never make a purchase over the phone. I ask the caller to send me information by mail if I am remotely interested. If the deadline is too close, I am content to miss it. I doubt I have missed very many real opportunities.

If you feel out of control in a relationship or a situation, remind yourself that this is a technique to move you to do something you may regret. Step back and take a closer look. If you miss a few notes in the seminar, you will be okay. If you miss the words of the manipulative narcissist, too bad for him. Protect yourself.

Walk with Me: A Grace Devotional by [Orrison, David]

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Mind Control 3

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Singer’s Six Conditions for Thought Control (Cults in our Midst, 1995)

3. Systematically create a sense of powerlessness in the person. This is accomplished by getting members away from the normal social support group for a period of time and into an environment where the majority of people are already group members. The members serve as models of the attitudes and behaviors of the group and speak an in-group language.

I remember the first time I saw a three-legged ladder. It looked like a regular stepladder, but it had only three legs. I asked about it and was told that a three-legged ladder was the most stable of all stepladders. “Three points make a plane,” the man said. I understood. But that third leg didn’t seem very strong. Apparently that’s why four-legged ladders are more popular. People find it hard to believe that one additional leg would be enough.

But that one person in your life was the real support you needed. Or maybe it was the one small group of friends. You knew you could count on them. They would have your back. You laughed together. You cried together. They were closer than family. And you needed them.

Now that person or that group are gone. What happened? That one person, that one group, would have saved you from the narcissist. But he/she convinced you to ignore their advice. He turned your heart away from them. He had to.

You probably remember it happening. Maybe she warned you about him. Maybe they were concerned about your new group. But when they expressed their concerns, you shut them out. That’s what the narcissistic organization said would happen. You can’t trust them, you were told. You can’t listen to them. You have new friends, friends who think like you, friends you can trust. At least that’s what they said.

Maybe you were told those old support people would just hurt you. You learned to be suspicious of their motives. You forced yourself to react against their words and acts of kindness. Even though it broke your heart, you pushed them away because “it was for the best.” But it wasn’t best. Not even good.

Isolation, separation from the support structure, takes away the opportunity to stand against compromise and brokenness. Most of us have someone who will speak truth to us. Most of us have someone who will stand with us ready to pull us away from danger. The narcissist and the narcissistic organization will want to separate us from those people. Exposing the evil, the control and manipulation, is the job of our support structure. Subtly and slowly or loudly and dramatically, we have to be separated/isolated so the narcissist can do his/her/its work.

Suppose you climbed a tall three-legged ladder. Then that third leg was threatened in some way. Or maybe someone told you that it was not to be trusted. It will fail, they said. What would you do? You want to be safe. You would probably listen and come down. Maybe you wouldn’t use that ladder, no matter how safe it really was. After all, just think of what could happen if you fell. No, better to be safe.

In much the same way, narcissists nibble at our confidence, particularly in the people who have always been there for us. By causing us to question, they open us to alternatives, their alternatives. New friends. New community. New support. But all designed to control you and get you to conform. It’s part of the manipulation. It has happened to many.

So, don’t be surprised when you realize that you cut off some good people, folks who cared and maybe even tried to help. They warned you because they cared. They didn’t want to see you get hurt.

Now what? Can you go back to them? You may have been part of their support network, and you hurt them. Understand if they are hesitant. Understand if they seem suspicious. You can apologize, but you may have to leave it at that. The best case would be if you could restore your relationships with friends and family, made wiser now because of the pain. The worst case is that you have lost their support for good. If you tell them you were wrong and should have listened, at least you have done what you can to bring restoration. They have a right to their pain, too.

One of the most heinous parts of narcissistic relationships is how they destroy good things, particularly the community and support victims once had. But understand that you are not the first, nor the only, this has happened to. Many wise and careful people have been led astray by the deceptive words of manipulative people and groups. So many, in fact, that the book of Proverbs talks about them.

An ungodly man digs up evil, and it is on his lips like a burning fire.
A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends.
A violent man entices his neighbor, and leads him in a way that is not good.
He winks his eye to devise perverse things; he purses his lips and brings about evil.

Proverbs 16:27-30 (NKJV)

And one of the things we are specifically told that the Lord hates:

A false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.
Proverbs 6:19 (NKJV)

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Walk with Me: A Grace Devotional by [Orrison, David]

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