Tag Archives: narcissistic patterns

Information is power

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

 

If information is power, then the narcissist will have it. Ever notice how the narcissist knows things you don’t? Or how the information you want is hard to get? Or how information is bottle-necked at the same place (person) all the time? Yeah, that’s on purpose.

Narcissists love to have information. They gather information about people especially. All the latest gossip and dirt. They make it a point to know the back story on everyone they think they can use. They know who is open to manipulation and compromise.

But there’s more than that. The narcissist knows that information is important to movement in our lives and in our organizations. So he/she will use it as a tool for control. You get only the information the narcissist wants you to have. Many of those who work with narcissists will tell about the bottleneck that is the narcissist’s desk. It might be the boss, or it might be a co-worker, but things stop at that desk. Sometimes it’s the secretary or administrator. When you have to hunt for the information you need, something you ought to have, you almost always find it at that desk.

And remember that the narcissist doesn’t just want to control, he/she wants you to know you are being controlled. You are to feel inferior and confused. It is the narcissist’s superiority you have to deal with. Anything you get is a privilege for you.

Sometimes you are expected to know the information, the information you were never given. Just to keep you on edge and inferior, you are held responsible for information you don’t have.

“You should have known about that appointment They called three days ago.”

“We always use that supplier.”

“Oh, he changed his mind. Didn’t you get the memo?”

“What do you mean you don’t have it done? I told you a week ago!”

“Really, you showed up? Ha ha! That meeting was called off a month ago.”

But, of course, the narcissist never actually sent that memo or reminder. He/she knew about it and held you accountable for it, but didn’t really tell you. The appointment was on the narcissist’s calendar, maybe even available on another calendar most people don’t use, but not where you would see it easily. And now you look bad. Now you have to scramble. Now you are frustrated and confused. And now the narcissist has even more control.

Many spouses understand this. From the little things, like not mentioning that he used up something in the kitchen, to the big things, like letting that insurance policy drop or never following through on an investment. Or even bigger, like not mentioning a marriage and a daughter and letting the third wife think she was the second until the daughter showed up (yep, true story).

Controlling information makes the narcissist feel strong. He knows something you don’t. She has a way to make you look foolish or make you scramble.

Information is power.

So what do you do? Plan on gathering your own information. Find and be aware of any obscure places information might be found. The narcissist will probably have a way of claiming that the information was out there for you. Find his/her hiding places. Ask others to copy you on information. Create a community that shares information as much as possible. Others have faced the same bottleneck.

Keep your own paper trails. Email trails are easy to maintain and retrace. If you can show that you never received an email, or that you received inaccurate information, you will at least know that you are sane.  Have a family calendar and make it clear that you are only responsible for things entered on it.  Post it where others can see it.

Don’t trust the narcissist. That seems like something that doesn’t need to be said, yet trusting that person may be what got you into trouble in the first place. Double check everything. Get confirmations. If you are responsible for something, make sure you will have what you need. You don’t want to find out that the projector is in the narcissist’s car just before you need it. (Okay, that dates me, but you know what I mean.)

The old adage about the word “assume” making “an ass out of u and an ass out of me” doesn’t really work with a narcissist. It will only make an ass out of u. If there is risk in something changing, don’t assume that it hasn’t. Certainly don’t assume that the narcissist would have told you.

Information is power. The narcissist will grab it and hold onto it. Then use it against you. That’s how it works.

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Fearmongers

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

Fear binds and consumes us, much like a spider with its prey. Fear can immobilize us, causing us to stop when we should be moving. Some people become helpless when they are afraid. Others become surprisingly malleable, allowing users and abusers to make decisions for them. Some of us do foolish things when we are afraid, things we regret later. Fear overrules our thinking and easily becomes our sole focus.

So it makes sense that narcissists would cultivate fear. Fear keeps victims confused, anxious, and usable. As long as the people around the narcissist are on edge, the narcissist is in control.

Technically, fearmongers are people who spread fear by their predictions or gossip or misinformation. They market fear like the fishmonger markets fish. But narcissists are a more subtle type of fearmonger. The fear they spread is directed at the individuals around them. They don’t say that the company is failing, they say that your job might be cut. They will hint at inadequate funds or hurtful gossip about you. They will suggest that the boss didn’t like your comments or that you are losing your edge. It doesn’t take a lot to get most of us to be afraid.

Many narcissists work hard to be unpredictable. While I have often said that the narcissist is predictable by their desires or motives, they don’t want you to think that. They can change from happy to angry without warning, then back again without missing a step. Often you wonder whether any emotion is real, but the situation is such that you want to protect yourself whether it is real or not. You don’t dare laugh at the wrong time, or fight anger with anger. No matter what you do, it will be wrong. That’s the plan.

Whether it’s at home, at the office, in the marriage, or at church, the narcissist will cultivate as much uncertainty and instability as possible. They will withhold information (something we will talk about more later) and make unreasonable accusations, just to keep people on edge. They will create and maintain a level of gossip and criticism so that no one really knows where he or she stands. Uncertainty leads to fear, for most of us.

Fear allows the narcissist to reinforce the idea that he/she is in charge. Threats and criticisms, yelling or being silent, micro-managing or abandoning—all are unsettling for us. The narcissist does this on purpose. In fact, if everyone cowered when the narcissist walked into the room, unwilling to speak anything negative—only praise and worship—the narcissist would be almost satisfied.

So how do you survive when someone in your life seems focused on creating a climate of fear? More specifically, how do you survive when you are afraid, perhaps every day? Here are some ideas:

1. Remember that the fear is being cultivated for a reason. You are supposed to be afraid. For the most part, that means the threat is artificial. Now, narcissists certainly have ways to punish people who displease them, but much of what they want you to fear isn’t real. Try to sort that out. Are you really going to be left with nothing? Will you really be fired? Will she really write you out of her will and would that matter to you? Ask this kind of question.

2. Make plans for escape. You don’t have to act on your plans, but having a way out in mind when the fear begins will help you handle it. Many people have learned to check rooms for exits, back doors, or places to hide. You probably learned to drive defensively, thinking ahead to what could happen and how you would respond. I think everyone should have access to enough money for a couple nights at a motel or enough gas to get far away. Tuck something away that is just your own. Be prepared. Hopefully, you will never have to use it. It is not pessimistic, nor is it a lack of faith, to plan for challenges.

3. Find a safe place. That will mean different things in different situations. Just as a way of leaving is part of planning, so is having a place to go. But you may also have a place in your home or yard, or a place to walk, where you can gather your thoughts, pray, and find strength. For some, that place may only be in your heart or mind. We jokingly refer to finding a “happy place,” but there is more value in that than most of us think. Cultivate good memories or dreams, think on your true friends, remember the love of God.

Many people have written about how high the level of fear is in their situations. They fear losing the hearts of their children. They fear being alone, even when the alternative is life with the abuser. They fear the judgment of their friends and acquaintances, perhaps the people at church. They fear becoming sick and having no support. The threats may be different for each person, but they seem real. Stop and ask if the narcissist is cultivating those fears. Seeing the truth about the enemy (fear) might help you to be stronger. If the fears are being manufactured, like the sights and sounds of the haunted house, you will find freedom in the truth.

And notice that those who love you don’t want you to be afraid. The Scriptures say that “perfect love casts out fear.” Over and over we are told not to be afraid. That isn’t to shame us, but to invite us to the embrace of the Lord who loves us. Love does not create fear.

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Responsibility Overload

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

What an interesting political situation we have in the US these days! Choosing between what many consider to be two evils is certainly nothing new. What seems new is the level of support for each candidate. In fact, we seem to have passed from crowds of supporters to crowds of fans. Far too many of these fans care little about what their candidate says or does or even believes. They just care about the idea the candidate represents.

And this is prime environment for narcissists. When people are willing to overlook character issues, conflicting statements, and blatant illegal acts, watch for the narcissists to rise to power. Don’t ask questions, just trust me—that’s the election motto of the narcissist. Just worship me, and everything will be fine.

There are many reasons our culture has moved into this fanaticism, of course. But one of the more serious ones is the “responsibility overload” we seem to carry. Somehow we have all become culpable for crime and suffering, no matter where it happens. If you don’t care, you are not a good person. We are all supposed to try to stop this, even when it happens far away. Racism, financial inequality, bullying, health problems and care—these things are on our shoulders. Or at least we are made to feel that they are. But who can handle all that responsibility?

Add to that the expectations of our family and our work, and every organization to which we belong, and we feel constantly increasing pressure. Besides, we want to be faithful to ourselves, not be lost in the requirements of others. Time and energy resources drain away.

When we become responsible for everything, we find success and peace to be impossible. Responsibility overload makes us feel incapable of almost all responsibility. All we want is for someone to take care of us. All we want is for someone to fix things.

And along comes the narcissist with promises. Our desire to have those promises come true makes us unwilling to ask how they are possible. The narcissist doesn’t care if the promises are possible. The narcissist doesn’t want to be held accountable to keep a promise. Once the promise is made and the desired loyalty is attained, the promise can be forgotten. Promises, like almost everything in the life of the narcissist, are just tools to get what is desired.

Now, I suspect that few of us can remember a presidential candidate who wasn’t some level of a narcissist. I know there were some who had right motives and ideas that sounded good to me. But, over the years, the people have stopped listening to what the candidates say. They allow the media to transform the candidates into icons, symbols that represent certain ideas or hopes. Then the people just follow, because following is easier than thinking.

By the way, this isn’t true only in presidential races. In churches, people just want a pastor who will preach and manage in a way that makes the church feel better. In business, the people want a figurehead to represent the goals and methods of the company—and bring financial success. Even in personal relationships, we look for someone to make our lives better.

The committee that is charged with finding a new pastor doesn’t want to meet week after week. The members have families and jobs and life. So they find someone who sounds good and looks good.

The company board of directors doesn’t want to spend a lot of time and instability on searching for a new CEO, so they are ready to accept the person who sounds and looks good. After all, the accomplishments of the candidate sound impressive. The company needs to move forward.

Searching for love takes a lot out of a person. Being alone isn’t much fun. Someone who sounds good and looks good is very tempting. You don’t want to ask questions and don’t want to hear the warnings of others. You just want someone.

So the narcissist comes with promises and accolades and soothing words and we fall for his/her charms. It doesn’t matter that he/she doesn’t have anything else to offer or that we wouldn’t like what else comes with the package. We don’t ask questions. We don’t want to look under the rug. We don’t want to hear about the lie. We just want the stress to stop.

Someone to fix things. The new CEO, the new preacher, the new boyfriend, the new president. Life is too much for us. If the right person comes along, we will just turn things over to him. Don’t tell us about the dangers. Don’t tell us we are wrong. Just leave us alone and let us place our trust in this savior. We are tired of thinking.

Who knows? Maybe things will work out better than last time.

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Unconditional Love – Again

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

Mary has a lover.  She also has a husband.  She only wants to be with her husband because he finances her desires.  She has no love for him, no commitment to him.  During their arguments, she says that she hates him and wants nothing to do with him.  When she leaves the house, she goes to the home of her lover. 

John hits his wife.  He stopped being kind and loving toward her a long time ago.  She is the scapegoat of his anger.  He keeps her isolated so others don’t know her suffering.

Jane hates her daughter.  At least that’s what she yells at her when she is angry, which is most of the time.  She wants her daughter to remain with her until she dies so that she can have a servant.  She permits no outside relationships, no outside activities.  Jane tells her daughter that she wishes she had aborted her before she was born.  Her daughter is unworthy of her love or of any human kindness, she says. 

Mike is the master of his home.  His wife and children exist to serve him.  When he works, he comes home and demands service.  When he doesn’t work, he expects his wife to bring in money for his use.  He has a new pickup and boat, while his wife and children barely have food and clothing.

In the minds of some, Mary’s husband should continue to give to her and care for her in spite of her unfaithfulness and in spite of her own statements of rejection.

In the minds of some, John’s wife is supposed to stay and be a contented wife without regard to her own safety and health.

In the minds of some, Jane’s daughter should obey and love her mother.

In the minds of some, Mike’s wife and family should serve him with sacrifice and love, no matter what.

After all, Christians should show unconditional love!

 

 

I received a comment the other day in which the writer took all of us to task for our lack of “unconditional love” and for speaking of the narcissists in our lives as “objects.”  (Not all comments make it past my moderation.)

But I feel the need to address this idea of unconditional love again.  I wrote about it a year ago HERE.  Please read that post.  This post will only add to what I said there.

Unconditional love is a wonderful thing for people to talk about.  It suggests that good people will put up with anything.  The idea is often used to weaken the resolve of victims for making changes.  It is also used to try to hold back the hand of justice for the offender.  The idea is especially convicting for Christians.  After all, what is more loving than continual, sacrificial, forgiveness?  That’s what we have received, and that’s what we are expected to give.

But I have found that it is a lot easier to tell others to love unconditionally than to actually do it myself.  In fact, I suspect that unconditional love isn’t something we can do.

 Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.

C.S. Lewis

 

But let me ask this question to those who would expect us to love unconditionally: What do you mean by “love”?  Do you mean staying in a relationship where there is danger and hatred?  Do you mean never expecting accountability for the actions of the offender?  Do you mean maintaining the lie that hides the broken and abusive relationship? Do you mean allowing the victim to suffer to the point of suicide or mental illness?  Is that love in your eyes?

You see, most of the people who call others to unconditional love have suffered little in life, or have accepted that suffering for their own lives.  They judge and criticize, rather than empathize.  But unconditional love is not a demand or even an expectation.  It is a glimpse of Heaven and the Lord’s own heart.

I know that there are rare and wondrous occasions where parents forgive the murderer of their child.  I know that some have truly forgiven their abusers or rapists.  Those are marvels in our world, worthy of story and song.  This is not unconditional love as much as it is love beyond conditions.  No one sets out in the morning to have that kind of love in their hearts.  No one could ever create such love.

The rare times we see or feel this kind of love are nothing less than miracles, acts of God.  To judge someone for not experiencing a miracle is unfair.  To place the expectation of a miracle on another, when very few of us would ever experience such a thing ourselves, is cruel.

I sincerely doubt that any human love can be truly unconditional, however.  Love is based on relationship, and when relationship fades, love fades.  You will often hear people speaking of the unconditional love of pets, usually dogs.  But pull the dog’s ear and it will make you stop.  It may feel badly for biting you, but it will bite nonetheless.

A person who sets out to carry a cat by the tail will learn a lesson that will be useful throughout life.

Mark Twain

 

To judge a victim for seeking escape or solace is to misunderstand the need of the heart.  Narcissists often demean their victims to the point of incapacitation.  They use and abuse until the heart is broken and the mind is weakened.  It is natural for victims to want to leave or end the pain.  How could it be otherwise?  And how could they be wrong?  Should we expect that victims would want to remain in their suffering?  Of course not.

There will be a day when we will love fully and freely, without condition.  And in that day there will be no more sin.  No one will cause pain in the heart of another.  There will be no abuse or manipulation or degrading.  No one will lie.  No one will cheat.  No one will be cruel.  I look forward to that day.

Perhaps, if you experience the levels of pain that some here have suffered, you might have the grace to keep on loving.  If you do, it will not be that you are spiritually superior.  It will be that you have been given a gift.

It is much more likely that you would go through a time of great grief, mourning the loss of love and the broken relationship.

Please don’t judge those who are in the midst of this struggle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Personal Space

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

The concept of personal space challenges most of us. Some people seem to have a very small sense of personal space. They push themselves right into your face to talk, sit right next to you, and keep their hands on you too long. Others have a very large sense of personal space. They back away as you come near, and always keep a seat between themselves and the next person. Different cultures handle this differently, as do different families.

Last week I wrote about territoriality and narcissism, how the narcissist needs to control his/her world by maintaining ownership. That was a long post. This one will not be as long. I just want to look at this idea of personal physical space.

Most of the narcissists I have known seem almost phobic about being touched. A pat on the back will seem like an offense. I have seen them wipe themselves off when people have touched them, almost as though they were dirtied or something. I have seen them refuse to take an offered hand, or dance around to avoid a hug. They allow others to think of them as germophobic, but the truth is something more.

At the same time, most of these narcissists (not all) are very generous with their own touching. They will put their hands on someone’s shoulders to give a phony back rub. They will put their arms around someone’s shoulders. They will shake hands and hold on too long. They will hug people of the opposite gender when it might seem unnecessary. Some are even willing to risk harassment charges with their touch.

What’s going on? Well, touch can be a controlling technique. To receive a touch from someone is often to submit to that person, to allow him/her into your personal space. When we allow someone into our space, there is something shared that seems intimate. Lovers look into each others’ eyes and brush lips or cheeks. For someone else to do that would seem creepy or threatening. At the least it would seem inappropriate. The whole concept of personal space is to protect ourselves.

So we can understand why the narcissist doesn’t want to be touched. It’s too open, too risky. People who get too close begin to see things the narcissist would rather they not see. They can’t be submissive or out of control.

And we can also see why the narcissist would want to touch others. If touch is a way of controlling, breaking through personal barriers or boundaries, then the narcissist must at least try. Putting his arm around the young lady is a way to see if she will be receptive to his influence. Putting his hands on a co-worker’s shoulders is a way of exerting his superiority. Stepping in or sitting too close might be a way of threatening. Whenever others are uncomfortable, the narcissist sees an opportunity.

What seems like yet another hard to understand inconsistency in narcissistic behavior is actually quite consistent. The narcissist loves to control, but hates to be controlled. If he/she sees touch as a way to control, expect to see both this overly expressive touching and the fear of being touched.

But listen, if you are a woman and a man touches you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, tell him to stop and tell him loudly. Yes, that is harassment. It is not an accident or an innocent gesture. We live in a day when men know they have to be careful about touch. Don’t be afraid to challenge the behavior. The narcissist will protest his innocence, but he almost certainly will not do it again if others hear about it. (Yes, the same process could be used if a woman touches a man in an uncomfortable way, but that protest will probably not be as effective. The culture doesn’t understand the reality of that as much yet.)

And if you are a man who is touched by another man in a controlling or condescending way—and you are able—do the same thing to him. If he comes to sit by you and sits right next to you so you are uncomfortable, do the same thing to him when you see him sitting alone. Or, better yet, put something of yours on the seat next to his. See how quickly he moves your stuff or changes seats. If he puts his hands on your shoulders as you sit at your desk, do the same to him. If he thinks he has opened the door to you coming in to his personal space, he will quickly change.

There are always risks to dealing with narcissists. Be careful and be sure you are safe. At the same time, I think the fear of being touched will outweigh the desire to use touch as way of control for the narcissist.

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Territoriality

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

 

In college I wrote a thesis on human territoriality, a subject that interested me.  It had to do with what we call personal space, the physical distance we maintain between ourselves and others.  Other aspects included how we mark our territory and what we do to defend it.  This topic takes on new life when we think about the narcissist.

Since territoriality has to do with control, it makes sense that it would appear in relation to narcissism.  Yet, you won’t read much about it in the literature.  That’s probably because most writers deal with the behavior toward people rather than how the narcissist interacts with the world in general.

Narcissists need to control the world around them.  Most of them hate surprises and intrusions.  They have great difficulty handling changes and challenges.  Many are habitual to the point of obsessive.  It might not look that way to those who don’t have to live with them.  It might seem like the narcissist is always changing, never predictable, but the only change they can endure is change they create themselves.  They want life to be the way they like it—always.  Changes that affect others mean nothing to them, as long as those changes are controlled by them.

One of the most common ways for the narcissist to control the world is to be protective about his/her stuff.  I use the word “stuff” to describe just about anything you want to put in its place.  Whatever the narcissist decides belongs to him.  His house, his workspace, his chair, his car, his sports equipment, his seat at church, his parking spot, his computer, his camera, and on and on and on.  You recognize this territoriality when he makes it clear that no one should ever touch his stuff.

If you should be unfortunate enough to have to share something of his stuff, you are probably under strict orders to put everything back the way you found it.  If the seat in the car isn’t back the way he likes it, or the mirrors or the vents, you will hear about it.  It will sound like you are privileged to use his stuff, not that you share it with him.  He can leave it in a mess or adjusted so that you have to spend time to be able to use it, but that’s different.

If you share an office at work with a narcissist, you probably have seen this intense territoriality.  Remember Les Nessman from “WKRP in Cincinnati”?  Les shared office space with the other employees, but carefully marked his territory and allowed no one in except by permission and by using the imaginary door.  It really isn’t that funny if you have to work with it every day.

Now, almost all of us have some territoriality.  We tend to define ourselves by our stuff.  Ownership and identity get mixed up in a culture like ours.  But the narcissist takes this way past what is reasonable with his vindictive behavior.  Touch his stuff and he may break yours.  Move something of his and you will never hear the end of it.  Scratch something and he will want to kill you.

And there’s more.  You see, because the narcissist refuses to see others as real people, he has no trouble saying:

 

What’s mine is mine; and what’s yours is mine!

 

As hard as it is to face, those in relationships with narcissists will understand more of the life they live when they realize that the narcissist does not see others as real people.  People, as we have said here in the past, are tools, toys, or obstacles.  This seems to be especially true for those closest to the narcissist: spouses, children, and others in familiar relationships.  It also is especially true for those the narcissist deems as dependent or subservient.

If you are friends with the narcissist, you have probably noticed that you are not allowed to touch her stuff, but she can use anything of yours.  At work, his desk is absolutely off limits, but yours is fair game.  You may often return to your desk to find things moved or missing.  He might laugh as he explains that he took paper from your notebook so he wouldn’t have to tear out his.

People are stuff, too, in the eyes of the narcissist.  He can flirt and even cheat, but would never allow his wife the same freedom.  Many have told how the children are nearly neglected until the divorce proceedings come along.  Suddenly the narcissist must hold onto the children.  This isn’t only so that his spouse will lose something.  It is also that he thinks they belong to him.  He might verbally abuse his family, but he will rant and rave against anyone else who does so.  It obviously isn’t that he is protective of them as persons, but he is protective of his stuff.

Another way the narcissist may be different from others in his territoriality is the evidence he leaves behind him.   His stuff will be clearly identified as his, either that or he will have told everyone in no uncertain terms.  When someone parks in his spot, he will say that everyone should know he parks there.  Like the little dog that defends the yard from on top the couch, the narcissist will make a lot of noise when someone dares to enter his territory.

And unlike other sneaks or thieves, the narcissist will usually let you know that he used your belongings or that he snooped.  You may feel like he is asserting control over you, but he is also marking his territory.  He is letting you know that he considers your stuff to be his stuff.  That little scratch on your car or door or desk or chair is a reminder that he owns it.  It doesn’t matter to him that it bothers you, he enjoys the fact that you see it.  Again, like the little dog, he does his job in your yard so that you know he was there.

There are other things toward which we can extrapolate this behavior.  If the narcissist has been part of a committee or organization and, because of term limits or something, has to turn things over to you, expect that his marks will be all over it.  The narcissist pastor will remove all evidence of the former pastors, but find ways to make sure his marks stay after he is gone.  As the new leader of the organization, you will be told in which chair you should sit because the former (N) chairperson always sat there.  The forms will have his name on them, and there will be little evidence that any forms existed before he had the job.

 

So the teenager who finds her mother wearing her clothes should understand that this is a way in which her mother claims her belongings.  The same is true when mother reads the daughter’s diary, after searching through the drawers and boxes for it.  That diary, like the daughter, belongs to the mother. 

And the wife who realizes that nothing is in her name may be seeing her narcissistic husband claiming ownership to the things she thought they shared. 

The employee who finds his boss at the employee’s computer is probably being reminded that both the computer and the employee are owned by the boss. 

 

I could give many examples of this territoriality, I suppose.  And you could give so many more.  The point is that we must understand the value of belongings and space to the narcissist.  Ownership is control and prestige in their world.  Things have value because they serve the image without argument or variation.  People have value if they stay quiet and submissive.

Finally, have you ever noticed how the narcissist gets rid of things?  He doesn’t mourn the loss of a faithful car when he gets a new one.  He already rejected the old junker before he got the new one.  The narcissist isn’t sad to leave behind a job or house or piece of furniture; he is glad to get rid of it.  There is no middle ground for most narcissists.  At the moment they decide that belongings no longer serve their purpose, those belongings are rejected.  Sometimes even if those belongings are yours.  And sometimes even if it is you.

 

When a person enters the world of the narcissist, he or she enters a controlled world where everything is either owned or hated.

 

 

 

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Challenges

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

 

As we grow up, we face various challenges. People are unkind, situations become difficult, we make wrong choices.   How we handle life’s challenges reveals a great deal about who we are and how we think.  Sometimes patterns develop that carry from childhood throughout our lives.

Let’s suppose you are in first grade.  You don’t know anyone, and you feel intimidated.  After you find a desk, one of the other kids looks at you from across the room.  Right at you.  Then he says, “You’re stupid!”  Everyone hears, of course.  Some laugh.  Some just look away.  Some stare at you.  Even the teacher says nothing.

You know how that makes you feel today.  But at the time one question would have been running through your head.  “Am I stupid?”  From that point you would develop a way of handling criticism.  As you matured you would have plenty of opportunities to refine your skills.

Twenty-five years later someone at work or in your organization says, “Well, that was a stupid thing to do!”  Yes, it was referring to you.  By now you have a way of dealing with such things.

These four categories might not be exhaustive, but they seem to be the most common ways people handle criticisms and attacks.

 

Agree – Some people simply accept the fact that they are stupid.  They might not like it, and they might get on your case for saying it, but they own it.  Being stupid has become a definition for them.  They are victims of stupidity.  They accept little risk or responsibility.  They feel and act defeated and picked on.  They tend to be sad and guilty and sensitive.  Their addictions get them through life, they think.  They accept the judgments of others who consider them stupid.

Compensate – Some people do everything they can to not be stupid.  They become perfectionists, driven to do things right.  They hate being wrong.  They are obedient, hard-working, rule-abiding, and careful.  Ever since that day in first grade, they have worked to be smart.  No one considers them stupid today.

Deny – Some people will fight.  They hate the feeling that comes with the challenge.  If you say something that makes them feel that way, they will be in your face.  They have become angry people, defensive and cynical.  You might call them aggressive, especially if they start to feel criticized.  Few will dare to refer to them as stupid.

 

Most people, you see, will internalize the personal criticism.  They carry the label around with them throughout life.  They react to that label over and over again.  Thinking about it makes them feel defeated, or angry, or driven to do better.  They try to deal with it.  But there’s fourth group of people who handle it differently.  These are the ones we call narcissistic.

 

Hide – Some people learned that there were ways to turn the challenges back on others.  In their hearts, they internalized the criticisms like others, but compartmentalized them.  So the little boy sat in his desk and became numb.  Every time something like that happened, he seemed to build a stronger cocoon around himself.  Then, one day, he called someone else stupid.  He noticed how it hurt that person, so he did it again.  It gave him power to make someone else feel like that.  It wasn’t long before he was able to keep others on the defensive.  He became condescending and controlling.  He learned that attacking first kept others from attacking him.  They feared him.

 

The narcissist learned to cover his fears and inferiority by using and manipulating the feelings of others.  As long as they were concerned about their own feelings, they wouldn’t threaten his.  He could stay hidden.  Because of his aggressive behavior, the others deferred to him.  They let him lead and control.  He began to see that he could overcome his negative feelings about himself by being superior.  As long as he could keep the others fearful and submissive, he was the winner.  All attention had to come to him.  His way could be the only right way.  Anyone who disagreed would have to be silenced.

Some narcissists learned that they could maintain their control by having others fight for them.  Others could be the heroes to protect and provide, as long as the narcissist remained in control.  Others would serve and bend and sacrifice, while the narcissist appeared to be the victim.  But the underlying response to the criticism was the same, manipulating the feelings of others.

So today, when the narcissist is told that something he did was stupid, his response may be to intimidate the people around him, to become angry and threatening toward the accuser, or to be hurt and need special attention.  In no case will he allow himself to feel stupid.  He will lie, accuse others, blame anything, rather than feel stupid.  And he won’t care who he hurts in the process.  He will become the monster, frightening the children around him until he feels strong again.

But the narcissist never really dealt with those feelings from childhood.  He just pushed them into hiding and pretended to be something bigger and better.

As long as he could fool others, he could fool himself.

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