Tag Archives: narcissistic patterns

My Anger

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

From time to time something happens to remind me of struggles of the past. It might just be a memory, or it might be another interaction with one of the narcissists who have caused pain. In those times, it is normal for some of the old feelings to come back. And, I have to admit, some of those old feelings aren’t very nice.

Dealing with narcissists and abusers means dealing with our own feelings. My last post prompted some introspection among commenters. Some mentioned their own feelings, particularly of anger. Some knew their anger was justified, but it still felt wrong. Along the way many have been taught that anger is bad, always. So, even when the anger was prompted by the abuse of the narcissist, it still seemed wrong.

I have written on anger before (here). Those who have read over the years know that I believe anger is a natural and, sometimes, good emotion. It has its purpose. It isn’t a good place to live, but it may be very helpful in moving to a new place.

What I want to write on today is this idea that we should somehow be able to control our feelings. When dealing with the cruelty that comes from others, we all find it very hard to control our feelings. The “don’t worry-be happy” message is not only useless, but cruel in itself. Sometimes we want to scream: “Don’t you think I would be happy if I could?”

When we receive an injury, our response to the pain is involuntary. We flinch. We jump. We grimace. We cry. We might even strike out. These physical responses are normal. To not have them would be strange. Watch a child who falls or hurts himself somehow. Often the first response is confusion. The mind doesn’t register the pain as quickly as it registers the fact that something happened, something unpleasant. It may take a moment or two for the crying to start.

So when we receive an emotional injury, why would we think that our responses suddenly become voluntary? You would not tell a child to stop making a fuss about a real injury. So why do people think they can tell us not to feel a certain way about the emotional and spiritual injuries we suffer from narcissists? Or why do we think we can suddenly control the feelings we have in response to those injuries?

Yes, I know that we are adults and can handle pain. Right. We can learn better responses for chronic pain. We can learn techniques that take our minds off the pain or even minimize the pain as we learn to expect its coming. But when that pain taps into deep personal insecurities or memories of former pains, and when that pain comes unexpectedly or in an overwhelming way, and when that pain comes from someone we have come to trust or even to love—then all the techniques and learning go out the window. Then we become confused, more insecure, very sad, and even angry.

Is anger wrong? That question is wrong! Anger just is, sometimes. Sometimes I am afraid. Sometimes I am lonely. Sometimes I am confused. Sometimes I am hurt. Sometimes I am sad. And, yes, sometimes I am angry. I want to handle all of these, and I usually can, but I can’t beat myself up for feeling them. They are natural. They point to something I should be aware of.

I also wrote about the validity and usefulness of our feelings in another post (here). It prompted a question that has come up often when I want to validate the struggles and negative feelings of victims. “But what about the feelings of the narcissist?” I really wish we could not worry about that. I know that narcissists use their “feelings” to manipulate the people around them and demand attention by their emotions. That’s not what most victims do. Most victims are troubled by their feelings. They wish they didn’t have some of their negative feelings. So that’s the direction of my writing today.

One more thing. Narcissists usually will not own their negative feelings. They project those feelings onto others. So strong is their ability to project, particularly to the people closest to them, that they are able to pass on those emotions to their victims. In other words, are you not usually an angry person? Could it be that your anger actually is a projection from the angry narcissist in your life? Is your loneliness or shame or fear your own, or does it belong to the abuser? Many have said that they were strong and secure and confident before they met the narcissist. Perhaps what you feel now is not really yours.

So how do you deal with feelings? Well, it doesn’t really matter if they are projections from the narcissist, because you can’t unfeel them easily either way. Instead, embrace those feelings. Acknowledge them and thank the Lord for them. Ask Him to lead you into them, to explore why you are feeling that way. He will begin to show you why you are angry or sad or lonely. Then trust Him to stand with you, even in those negative feelings. He will help you sort them out and find the way to health and peace.

I have always been impressed with the way the Bible accepts our feelings. Read the Psalms. David is angry, hurt, lonely, confused, ashamed, even bitter. God loves him through all of it.

He loves you through all of your feelings, too.

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The Unintended Compliment

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

A backhanded (or left-handed) compliment is one that comes with its own slap. “That dress is amazing; it makes you look slim!”

A backwards compliment is much the same without the intent. “Your hair makes you look different, really cute!”

An unintended compliment is one that wasn’t meant to be a compliment at all. It may not have been meant as an insult either. It was probably just a statement or an action.

Narcissists do so much to pull people down. They criticize and insult and ignore and use. They say such cruel things and treat others like dirt. It doesn’t take long for some people to begin to believe the narcissist and think of themselves as inferior and unworthy.

But it might surprise you to realize that the narcissist gives you an unintended compliment every day. Whether he/she will admit it or not, you are important to the narcissist. You offer something the narcissist does not have. Now, stop and think about that for a moment.

When the narcissist saw you, he knew you were better than he was in some way. You could handle money. You could make good decisions. You had a good reputation. You had quality friendships. You had something he needed.

With you at his side, the narcissist looked presentable, successful, smart, worthy, or desirable. You were the trophy wife (or husband), the hard worker, the clear thinker, the kind friend. You helped the narcissist present his superior image to the world. Others thought more highly of him because of you.

Some of you know this. Some used to know this. Some don’t believe it could be true. If he thinks so highly of me, you say, why does he put me down all the time? Why does the narcissist seem so dedicated to discouraging and depersonalizing someone he/she admires?

Listen: they put others down because they admire them. The fact that the narcissist admires someone means that person is somehow better in the narcissist’s mind and people the narcissist sees as better are targets to be brought down. The superior person threatens the narcissist. The narcissist wants to be the superior one.

The narcissist needs quality people in order to look good. Yet, he cannot allow those quality people to show or believe their quality. He tries to steal their abilities and contributions to make them his own, so that he gets credit. Then he tries to control them by putting them down and discouraging them so they stay with him and look up to him. If the superior person can be made to look up to the narcissist, the narcissist is lifted even higher. All part of the plan.

This is true in all narcissistic relationships. It seems obvious that a narcissistic boss would try to attract quality employees and use their strengths, but then spend his time demeaning them and trivializing their contributions so they don’t look too good. The narcissistic parent will choose the most gifted child to abuse. Lifting that child up to serve the image, then slamming that child down to keep control.

And narcissists choose friends carefully. In fact, most narcissists don’t really have friends the way we think of friendship. They surround themselves with useful people. They don’t waste time with people who have nothing to offer.

So whatever narcissistic relationship you have endured, consider it an unintended compliment. In fact, take it further. Believe that you have value, serious value. You had something the narcissist didn’t have. Out of all the people the narcissist encountered, you were the best.

Now, I know that you think you must have been weak or broken, and the predator smelled opportunity. There was probably something that opened your heart to the manipulations and grooming of the narcissist. But that wasn’t why the narcissist found you. Narcissists do not choose people who are weak and broken. They have neither the interest nor the time. They have one mission—to present a superior image—and you offered something that furthered that mission. It had to be quality or the narcissist would have passed you by.

Of course you are discouraged in the narcissistic relationship. That’s the way it works. You are supposed to lose any self-esteem, any value of your abilities, any trust in your own decisions and actions. That’s so that you will stay under control. We all understand and we have all felt the same.

But the unintended compliment is still there. Grab onto it and embrace it. Tell yourself that you are still that person. You do have something to offer; not just to the narcissist, but to the world. You still are what the narcissist is not.

Be encouraged and affirmed!

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Remember the Covert

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

I have been reading some of the more popular writing on narcissism these days, just to see what’s out there. One of the things I notice is that most of the writing is done to expose the overt narcissist. They like to talk about the overbearing boss, the critical mother, the abusive husband; but they usually share characteristics almost anyone would reject. What people often miss are the characteristics of the covert narcissist.

Covert narcissists would rarely be called abusers, but they can push people to suicide. Covert narcissists are not loud and arrogant, but tend to be much more manipulative and subtly cruel. They don’t call people stupid or lazy, at least not to their faces; but covert narcissists will make you feel stupid or lazy and leave you wondering why. Covert narcissists are the real crazy-makers.

Four years ago, shortly after I started Narcissist Fridays, I wrote this about covert narcissists:

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.
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.

These are the narcissists who don’t seem to fit the mold. They are “nice” people, people who seem to be cooperative and helpful. Their criticisms are just helpful advice. Their manipulations are just trying to encourage you. Their generosity is just trying to make things better for everyone.

You probably won’t find many covert narcissists in jail. Nor will your friends understand the problem you have with them until they experience it for themselves. They will hold leadership positions in any organization—not the top, you understand—and they will mold the organization to their own liking. Very few will notice or be hurt or offended.

The covert narcissists make the overt narcissists look like bumbling clods. Very little can be traced back to them. Whereas the overt will lie and cheat blatantly, the covert will get others to lie and cheat for her. Whereas the overt will call someone names, the covert will just make you feel like the names he is calling you in his heart. The covert will apologize to you, praise you, speak words of encouragement to you, and put herself down—all to get you to do what she wants. Covert narcissists have learned to be subtle and patient.

I suspect covert narcissism and legalism are two sides of the same coin in the church. Some legalists are confrontational and argumentative. Some accuse others to their faces and speak loud words of condemnation. Others, who are far more dangerous, just sigh sadly and say they will continue to pray. They ask questions like: “Do you think that’s wise?” They remember sad stories of people who did the same things you are doing, and they hope you don’t end up the same way. This is not covert legalism as much as it is covert narcissism, manipulation at its best.

Coverts are the experts at gaslighting and projection. They twist your words, remember things differently, and accuse—all while smiling and pretending to be your biggest supporters. And those words of apology you wish you could hear from the overt narcissist? The covert says them with a sad and believable face. You probably won’t even realize that you have been duped.

Now, someone is thinking that this describes the “other side” of the narcissist they know. This is what others see as you see the overt narcissist. You experience the cruelty, while they see someone who is kind and helpful and thoughtful. Or you have seen the change, the Jekyll and Hyde phenomenon. The person who was kind and helpful and thoughtful suddenly becomes the abuser; and then might just as quickly change back with apologies and penance. Of course, this may be an indication of another problem (bi-polar or borderline or something else), but it can also be the eruption of the covert narcissist.

It seems to me that the covert is far more powerful and capable than the overt. The covert must work much harder to get the results, but can often do so undetected for years. But that work still comes with a price. Just ask the kids of the randomly exploding mom. They have seen the truth that no one else has seen.

The world is learning about narcissism. The incredible lack of empathy and the willingness to use or abuse others to fulfill personal goals is being noticed. But the covert narcissists are staying out of the spotlight. They are not seen as cruel or abusive or negative in any way. They are seen as helpful.

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Smashing Mirrors

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

What do you see when you look into a mirror? Do you see yourself? Probably not! Okay, what I mean is that you don’t see yourself the way you think of yourself. In fact, sometimes we are shocked when we look into a mirror. I have wondered who that old guy is who looks back at me. Usually I feel younger than that guy and I sure want to think of myself as younger. But most of us simply sigh and go on with our day, accepting that the mirror really doesn’t lie and life is okay just the way it is.

But what if you could never accept what you see in the mirror? What if you hated what you saw? What if you could never reconcile the reality with what you want to be true? What if the mirror revealed all the faults and weaknesses and shames that you would rather forget?

I know that we usually picture the narcissist in front of the mirror, loving the image portrayed. The popular idea of narcissism is self-love. But this is not as often true in practice. In practice, the narcissist either avoids the mirror or becomes obsessed with fixing the image he/she sees. We think the narcissist should walk by the mirror, like the Fonz, and be pleased with the image; but that isn’t usually the case.fonz2

In fact, I suspect that most narcissists would love to smash the mirror. It does reveal weakness and imperfection. But, instead of smashing the mirror, the narcissist reasons that the mirror cannot reflect reality. The narcissist does not accept the image projected by the mirror. He turns to another reflection, the people around him.

You see, the narcissist needs more than his own picture of himself. His own picture is like that in the mirror, inferior and flawed. But that isn’t the image he wants. So he looks to others for affirmation and respect. He expects them to support the image he wants to see. He wants to be superior, so he expects others to think of him as superior. He wants to be admirable and desirable and powerful, so he expects the people around him to tell him he is these things. They are supposed to praise him in ways reality does not.

We have all seen movies or television shows where the pretender, the one who has justified a crime or wants to be superior, sees himself in a mirror then throws a glass to break the mirror or smashes the mirror with his fist. This is the image of frustration and conviction, where reality intersects fantasy. Unable to handle the reality, the narcissist would rather smash the mirror than admit the truth.

And what if the new mirror, the person, doesn’t reflect the image the narcissist desires? At first he/she will preen and adjust, cajole and manipulate, to try to get the reflection longed for. But when that doesn’t work, when the eyes of the victim fail to shine with approval and admiration, then that mirror can be abandoned or even smashed.

Sometimes the change in the narcissist is abrupt. The day she realizes you are no longer under the spell. The moment he sees disagreement or judgment in your eyes. From that point on, things change. You are no longer important, no longer a friend, no longer a relationship to cultivate and cherish. Now you are a badly placed mirror. You must be covered or destroyed. And when you stop being the mirror, when you become healthy enough so that the image the narcissist sees is you, then you are no longer of use.

Sometimes the change is gradual. In fact, most relationships in the life of a narcissist end eventually. The effort to avoid the reality reflected by what you see becomes a burden for the narcissist. She becomes even more critical and demanding. He is distant and separate. The relationship ends before the marriage does. The family seems to fall apart. The friendship is simply forgotten. The mirrors are hidden away in closets or quietly thrown away. When the pleasure of molding a victim’s uniqueness for the purpose of reflecting the image of the narcissist is finished and the narcissist sees his own reality reflected back once again, the relationship has no more value.

They say that the fear of breaking a mirror comes from the ancient Romans who believed that the reflection somehow captured the soul. Perhaps the narcissist smashes mirrors in hopes that the soul is destroyed. In the soul is weakness and fear and guilt the narcissist would reject.

They also say that those who drain life from others have no souls and cannot see their reflections in the mirror. Perhaps the narcissists who seek to use the lives and energies of others as their own have simply abandoned their own souls and see them no longer. The pursuit of the false image consumes the narcissist. The lives they lead are empty, and they trap themselves in a world of fantasy to avoid the truth.

It may seem sad, or even harsh, but the best thing might be to simply stop reflecting the false image to the narcissist. Stop playing the game. If the narcissist is ever to deal with reality, he/she must face it and not continue to rely on the lie. And even if the narcissist abandons you or pushes you away or even tries to smash you, you have to find the way to be healthy and present yourself and the truth to the world.

You are the person we want to see and know.

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The Ultimate Pragmatism

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!

 

Narcissism is a choice. I realize that there are people who would disagree with me on this “diagnosis,” but I have neither read nor experienced any convincing evidence to the contrary. Maybe the choice was made long ago and has now become a pattern, a default, for the narcissist; but it is still a choice and the narcissist is both culpable for his/her actions and accountable for change.

Narcissists don’t change because they don’t want to change. Narcissistic attitudes and actions are useful to them, more useful than the alternatives. Even when faced with severe negative consequences, the narcissist will adapt and, through projection or blame, push away the change that is suggested. Some may make minor changes when their normal narcissistic behaviors become less useful, but those changes will be made for self-serving reasons, rather than any empathic concerns.

Perhaps we could say that narcissism is the ultimate pragmatism. It begins because it works and it is maintained because it works. And here’s a scary thought: it spreads because it works. Narcissistic behavior is becoming acceptable in business because it is easier and more productive. Empathy causes problems in business. Self-serving promotion is considered not only normal, but necessary. Cutting off relationships, using others, pushing blame and consequence to others, and enlarging personal accomplishments are all normal parts of business today.

Sadly, the same is true in many other areas of life. Narcissism–or the behavior associated with narcissism–is becoming normal in personal relationships, in churches and other organizations, and in social media. It may be because we have become a media culture, with young people learning life skills through television or other media. It may be because there are increasing numbers of us, and we all want to live in the same places. It may be because the last couple of generations of parents became more focused on themselves (perhaps for the same reasons) and young people have grown up in more of what we have called “dysfunctional” homes. Whatever the reason, a cursory glance at our culture would be enough to conclude that narcissism is becoming not only normal, but desirable.

Perhaps I don’t have to do any more convincing along this line. Perhaps it is so obvious that no one would disagree. Perhaps the qualities of narcissism—self-promotion, fantasy superiority, need for admiration, exploitation of others, sense of entitlement, lack of empathy or desire to care about the feelings of others—are so much a part of the normal lives of young people that no one especially thinks of them as problematic. When even those who are not narcissists accept narcissistic behavior as normal, the difficulty of dealing with those who hurt and use others may become insurmountable.

A culture of narcissism will only serve to validate and encourage the narcissists. Remember that they are the ones who have been doing this all their lives. They are very good at being narcissists. The pretend narcissists, the ones who want to use the narcissistic characteristics for their own gain, will soon find themselves being used and abused by the masters. The only real change is that the narcissists will no longer be seen as abnormal.

There is debate on whether Hollywood leads and promotes cultural change or simply reflects that change back to us. Dr. House was the narcissist we hated to love. The characters on House of Cards attract and repel us at the same time. The plot line of 50 Shades of Grey is surprisingly enticing in a culture that claims to stand against sexual abuse. None of these shows promotes the kind of culture that serves to lift people up and learn to love; yet they are increasingly popular and increasingly intense. We are being (or have already become) desensitized to narcissism.

Why? Because we are a culture that worships pragmatism. Whatever works. Whatever works to get me a job—lying, cheating, blaming, boasting—is worthwhile. Whatever works to make me feel good about myself—using others, cutting off friends in need, over-spending, dramatizing the events of my life—becomes important. We have been taught that our goals, even the sub-conscious ones, are more important than the truth or the relationships of our lives. And the way to accomplish our goals, in a narcissistic culture, is through narcissistic behavior.

So what do we do? I wouldn’t want to end this post on a negative thought. There are things we can do. First, don’t be surprised at what you see. The person who cuts you off in traffic probably hasn’t even thought about you or the fear you might feel. The friend who lies to make whatever points she thinks are important probably doesn’t even see the problem. Just because this is wrong and contrary to the values we hold does not mean that the behavior should surprise us or overwhelm us. Of all people, those of us who have dealt with narcissism should understand what’s happening around us.

In relationships, especially, we can call out the behavior. We still claim to hold positive values in relationships. So we have the right and responsibility to help others maintain those values. Narcissism still hurts others, no matter how normal the behavior seems. Hurting others is still not acceptable. Speak up against abuse and lying and cheating and compromised values. (And don’t feed the bank accounts of the 50 Shades people!)

But there’s more. We can smile more and be more kind. A thousand little acts of kindness to show the world that narcissism does not rule everyone. Affirm relationships. Tell people that you value them and are grateful. For so many, the characteristics of narcissism have been adopted because they are afraid or have been made to feel unimportant. Thank people. See people, especially those who have been invisible in the past. Do things narcissists wouldn’t think about doing, especially for the sake of others.

Here are a couple of simple examples. The next time you stay in a motel, thank the cleaners when you see them in the hallway and leave a tip with a word of gratitude. You just spent $150 on a room and you expected it to be clean. A couple of bucks might make someone’s day. Wave at the next police officer you see. Thank a nurse. Open the door for an older person. You know what I mean. Do little things that gain you nothing for people who may never connect with your life again. That’s not narcissism and it’s not pragmatic; it’s love.

We are called to be salt and light in a world of people who are afraid and want to be accepted. It costs us nothing to be kind and gentle and grateful. Let’s be anti-narcissists.

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Controlling the Story

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

I was one who simply hated the ending of “Lost,” one of the most popular television shows in recent years. I thought it was contrived and disingenuous and, frankly, just dumb. Many viewers felt betrayed by the ending. But I wasn’t writing the show, was I? No, the ones who controlled the story made the decision and there was little any of the rest of us could do.

One famous mystery writer is known for introducing the perpetrator of the crime late in the book, so you don’t have any reason to wonder about the other characters. The readers feel tricked by the last minute introduction. That’s just the way he writes and my only recourse is not to read his books. He controls the story.

The one who controls the story leads the reader/listener around by a hook in the nose showing only what he wants to show and twisting reality in whichever way he desires in order to accomplish his goals. Because there is no other story, we are forced to follow the path and timing the author sets. If he gives us inaccurate information, we may never know. If he doesn’t want us to know something, he simply won’t tell us. If he wants to distract us or deceive us, he has and uses the means to do so.

Now, all of this is fine when we are talking about a work of fiction, a novel or a movie or a television show. But it is something quite different when it is the narcissist telling the story of your relationship. Like Citizen Kane, or Stephen King, or Hillary Clinton (all of whom are credited with the quote), the narcissist says, “They will believe what I tell them to believe!”

I remember a man (whom I have always suspected of being a narcissist) telling me that his wife was “either sick or evil.” That had come to him as a revelation one evening, and he needed to tell me. At the time I thought he was actually trying to understand her, while ignoring his own cruel behavior. Now I understand that he was testing the story on me. He wanted to know which choice would be believed. If I agreed with either one, that would become the story. “She’s sick and that’s why she says all these things about me.” “She’s evil and is doing everything she can to hurt me and my reputation.” Of course, I did what I could to bring him back to his own actions and his own responsibility for the situation, but he never did accept his fault.

As long as the narcissist controls the story, he controls the world. That might seem over-stated, but some readers here know exactly what I mean. Controlling the story is the ultimate projecting/gaslighting/isolating tool for the narcissist.

Time after time I have read about someone who stepped outside the narcissistic relationship to talk with friends or family members only to find that the story they had been told was very different from the truth. In fact, the victim was surprised to find that there was a story at all. Yet, when he/she stepped out that door, people were already against him/her, had already made their judgments, had already heard THE STORY. What happened? The narcissist planted information with the people who mattered so that the victim had no choice but to stay in the story.

For example, a wife (Merry) finally realizes that nothing is right at home. Ted is cruel and conflicted and angry. Their marriage has been difficult for years. She has been too embarrassed to talk with anyone, but decides finally to confide in a friend she has known for a long time. When she begins to tell her story, she hears, “Oh, Ted told me you were becoming unhappy, and I should expect a call.” What? He already talked with her? Of course, he is getting the story out. Soon Merry learns that all of her friends have been prepared, even her family members have been told Ted’s version. But no one will listen to her side. She has been labeled as the “crazy one.”

Merry has only begun to venture outside the story that Ted has been telling for so many years. Eventually, she will find that he is the patient one, the one who has to endure her ranting and raving. She learns that she is the one who abuses and overspends and might be having outside relationships (or at least interests). She is the problem for poor Ted, the reason he can’t do certain things and the explanation for any of his incompetence or failure. But what a guy he is for standing by her all these years!

I wish this was purely fiction, that nothing like this had ever really happened, but I know better. I have read your stories. Siblings, parents, co-workers, and spouses—particularly those who are narcissists—tell stories that serve their purposes. You are just a character in the story. Your purpose is to make them look better than they are. You are controlled by the author of the story, and people will think of you what the author tells them to think about you.

It honestly seems almost cruel to talk about this. Yet, many have found just this to be true. The narcissist has controlled information to others long enough that they believe him. Some have found that their own parents and siblings believe the narcissist, as do the people of their church. No one has heard any other story.

In the past, when people were more isolated, the narcissist’s story would simply stand. For some, that is still the case. To get out of the relationship may mean losing everything: friends, family, finances, reputation. Some will decide that it is still worthwhile. Their own health and sanity is worth starting all over again.

But we do have other means of getting the story out today. Let’s go back to Merry:
When Merry decides she must move forward even if Ted’s story seems to rule her time and space, she remembers family members who have been estranged because they never got along with Ted. Humbly, she attempts to reestablish those relationships. She begins to build a support structure from which she can move forward. She seeks out a shelter for abused women; and, even though she was not physically abused, they set up an appointment for her with a counselor who understands. She begins to learn techniques for controlling the emotions Ted usually brings out of her to control her. She starts to gather a little money and takes some classes that might lead to a job.

To anyone who will listen, she calmly and consistently tells a new story about the marriage. Some people don’t believe her and won’t listen. Others will at least listen. For some people, Ted was a little too good to be true, and they are not as surprised by Merry’s story as she thought they would be. The counselor has helped her set and maintain boundaries in the relationship, and Merry is not overwhelmed by fear when Ted learns that she has told a different story to some people. Eventually, Merry realizes that it is not as important that others believe her story as it is that she no longer has to live under Ted’s story.

Of course, Ted will react to all of this. He will feel out of control. His story, which was designed to support his image, will begin to crumble. He will have to find ways to discredit Merry or adjust his story to overcome hers. But if Merry patiently, calmly, and consistently tells a different story, Ted is no longer in control. He will win some battles, but he will not rule the world.

And, in the real world of today, Merry could move away and establish new friendships in another place. She could start her own blog and let her story become public. She could begin to work with others who need to escape the stories written by their narcissists. It is even possible that Merry’s story could become the story others read and Ted’s story will fall aside.

Yes, what I am writing here is idealistic. There are many battles and failures that have been omitted. But this new narrative is happening—and it can happen for you. Don’t be surprised when you learn that the narcissist’s version is out there, and don’t be intimidated into thinking that it’s all over. You can write a new story.

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Everyone’s Guilty?

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

We have been taught to feel guilty. We have been told that we are bad people and we do bad things. We accept guilt and shame as we do old friends. They are familiar and comfortable to us. This is one of the reasons I put out this blog, to show that so much of the condemnation Christians carry around does not come from the heart of God.

For narcissists and legalists, guilt and shame are effective tools to keep others quiet and in line. The condemnation we bring with us into the relationship or the church gives them the opening they need to begin to manipulate us. They build on the foundation we already have and further weaken us by their insinuations and accusations. The best follower is a quiet one, one who won’t challenge the teacher. Guilt, intimidation, uncertainty—these are all tools in the narcissist’s toolbox.

So we had some fun last week (wonderful comments, btw!) and along comes a reminder that we are all guilty of these things, that we are not better than others. Now, please understand, I am not scolding or judging whoever made the comments. I just want to point out why that happens. And I want to show why it is an error.

Let’s start by establishing the fact that we simply do not do what some people do. When you hear about a murder or a rape, do you stop to remind yourself that you are a sinner also? Probably not. You want the person to be caught and brought to justice. You have no hesitation in thinking that the perpetrator is accountable—and that he is different from you. You could be with children all day and not molest any of them. You could look at a pretty girl in a secluded place and not attempt to rape her. You could probably be in charge of a friend’s finances and not steal anything. Many of you have told your stories here and I know that you have lived in relationship with some of the most difficult people in the world—and you have not committed murder. The truth is that there is a difference between you and many others.

Now, just what is that difference? You see, most of us were taught in church that all sin is the same and that any of us could do anything. I agree with that to a point. I believe any of us could commit any sin—but we don’t. I believe all sin is the same when the need for a Savior is proclaimed—but not all sin is the same in the practice of daily life. Some sin hurts others more seriously than other sin. Some is more cruel, more insidious, and, perhaps, more evil. Yes, there is sin on all our accounts and we all need the Savior’s love, but there are distinctions that are real and important. Otherwise, we can’t ever judge any cruel act.

When Jesus said that lust was the same as adultery and depersonalization was the same as murder, He meant that guilt was guilt in the eyes of God, and all sin creates a need for forgiveness and salvation. He was chastising the self-righteous leaders for judging some people as less valuable in the eyes of God. The sins of the leaders, while acceptable within the community perhaps, were still not acceptable to God. Jesus is not saying that the person who calls his brother a fool should be treated like a murderer. He is simply saying that we all sin.

We all agree that there are things on the list from last week that could apply to our behavior and attitudes at times. There is no question that I can be argumentative and critical and belligerent sometimes (I will spare you the rest of me that’s on that list). But that doesn’t make me a narcissist. When we list adjectives like that, we are just describing characteristics. For example, I could say that an apple is red, round, hard, sweet, edible, and falls from a tree. That doesn’t mean that every red thing is an apple. Nor does it mean that every hard thing that falls from a tree is an apple. These are just a list of an apple’s attributes. If all of them are true, I will begin to think of an apple, of course. And if many or all of the things on our lists from last week are true of a certain person, I will begin to wonder if that person is a narcissist.

There is another notable difference between most of us and the narcissist. When I do these things and I realize that I have done them, I experience regret. Not just regret for getting caught, but genuine regret for hurting someone and for being less than I could be. I often remember those things long after I did them because I wish I had never done them. Now, I believe there is no guilt on my account with God for those things because of what Jesus did for me and I have, when appropriate, apologized to the person, but I still remember and feel bad. I know I am not guilty, but I still beat myself with those things. Almost everyone reading this will understand… except for the narcissist.

You see, the narcissist only regrets getting caught or burning a useful bridge, he/she does not regret saying what was said. If he called you a name that cut deep, he has probably forgotten it, or he did it purposely to manipulate you in some way. For example, narcissists attack when they feel threatened. That’s when they use your secrets against you. Do they regret doing it? Of course not, no more than they would regret picking up a stick to chase away a threatening dog. You are not a person and your secrets are tools to be used.

But you don’t think that way and it is just fine for you to acknowledge that. You are different from the narcissist. Many have noted the existence of a kind of narcissistic spectrum. This concept may or may not be helpful. If we say that anyone on the spectrum is a narcissist, then it isn’t helpful. If we say that there is a point at which this behavior defines a person, that the person consistently acts in these negative ways, and is therefore a narcissist; then the spectrum is being used correctly. Not all vain people are narcissists, but vain people who also use others and have no empathy and regularly say and do inappropriate things might be.

My point is that the guilt we bring into these relationships is a weapon they will use against us. The narcissist and the legalist will heap more guilt on you and use that guilt to beat you into submission. The moment you try to defend yourself, they will pounce and accuse you of the same thing. They will gaslight you into thinking that it is really all your problem as they project their own behavior on you. As long as you let them present the axioms, set the agenda, provide the criteria—you will lose.

So, don’t bring the guilt for them to use. No, you are not perfect. No one is. Yes, you sometimes do wrong things. We all do. But you are not like the narcissist. And listen: you can disagree. When the narcissist begins to say that you are the one with the problem and that you do the same thing you are accusing him/her of doing, you can stop and say no.

“No, I am not like you.” If you can’t say it, at least let yourself think it.

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Filed under grace, Legalism, Narcissism