Tag Archives: narcissistic patterns

What to do when you can’t do anything

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

I remember one of the motivational speakers telling a story about a woman who really wanted to make changes in her life. She told the speaker that she wanted to learn things and write, but she had no opportunity. She said that all she did, all day, was sit staring at a brick floor while she peeled potatoes and hand-washed clothes. There was nothing she could do to better herself. The speaker asked her what kind of brick it was. She didn’t know, so she went back and looked more carefully. Then she decided to ask around and do some reading at the library to find out what kind of brick it was. Turned out it was some unusual kind of brick with an interesting story. She wrote up the story and submitted it to the local newspaper. She was excited when they printed it, so she told the speaker about it and he asked, “What is under the brick?”

Now, I know that I butchered that popular story, but the point is important. There are times in our lives when we feel trapped. We can’t think of anything we can do to change our circumstances. Whether your narcissist is a spouse, or a parent, or a co-worker, or a friend—sometimes there seems to be no way out. Yes, there are options, but nothing good. You really feel like you can’t do anything.

Narcissism and traps seem to go together. Many people, in fact, most people, feel trapped in their narcissistic relationship. The narcissist often creates the trap and encourages the feeling of being trapped. Control is the key component of any narcissistic relationship. The narcissist must control the victim. Being controlled feels a lot like being trapped.

So what do you do when you can’t do anything?

The obvious Christian response is that we should pray. I believe this and would readily proclaim it. I believe that God hears our prayers and acts according to His love in our lives. Praying gives the heart an opportunity to be heard and comforted, perhaps especially in those times when we feel alone. So pray first!

Then ask yourself if you are really trapped or if you have just been convinced that you are trapped. In other words, what options do you really have? For example, many people feel trapped in an abusive marriage. They can’t get over the psychological or spiritual hurdle of divorce, so they stay in the marriage. But there are other options. There are many things that can be done before making the decision to divorce. Moving out and living in separation is just one. Telling people who can help is a great first step, long before a divorce could happen. There are options. There may be an option that you don’t like, but is the right thing. Or there might be one that seems impossible because you have been told lies about yourself or the option so that you will think it is impossible.

One thing people do when their hands are tied, is to move and stretch the bonds to begin to loosen them. The beginnings of changes that lead to freedom might be very small at first. A few minutes to yourself. A conversation with a friend. A dollar hidden away, then two, and three. Reading a book, or an ebook, or a website. Asking people for ideas anonymously. A little pushing on the boundaries might reveal weak areas in the control, or might set up opportunities for further stretching later.

Never believe the either/or scenario. There are always options. Always. They might take time and planning. They might take real effort. They might take help. They might take small incremental steps.  But there are always options. Even those who are actually in prison can find ways to be free in their hearts and minds. Every time you come up against a wall, push on it or explore its limits. Look under it or try to climb over it.  And always be willing to ask for help.

And if you are absolutely convinced that you are trapped, and you have tried all of these things and more, then relax. I have counseled people for many years and I have often said that if you truly have no options, then you must be right where you are supposed to be. I don’t say that lightly (nor would I ever say it to someone in an abuse situation), but sometimes all you can do is wait. And sometimes people have to endure a little more before they push to find the way out.

What do you do when you can’t do anything? Go to the Lord who loves you and trust Him. Then start pushing. Wait and watch and work for change. Don’t believe the lies.

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The Pulpit Bully

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

President Teddy Roosevelt was amazed at how people listened to him when he became president. Simply because he was president, his words were important and his opinion mattered. He considered the presidency a “bully pulpit.” “Bully,” to Roosevelt, was a way of saying something was great or special or superior. He thought the presidential platform was a wonderful way to get people to listen to him.

As the meaning of “bully” changed to that of a person who exerted superiority over others, the meaning of bully pulpit changed in much the same way. Some people think that a pulpit or podium or position gives them or others a right to force their opinions on others. The person in the pulpit, or up front, feels superior and the crowd accepts his superiority. He is the expert; the rest are the uninformed. He is the professor; the rest are the students. He is the preacher; the rest are the congregants. The pulpit infers and confers the superior position.

So it shouldn’t surprise us that narcissists would find their way into pulpits and podiums in our culture. What better place for their image to be enhanced and honored than in front of a crowd? Politicians, preachers, community organizers—all are positions narcissists find useful.

And using the pulpit for manipulation and influence just comes with the opportunity. Not only does the person in the pulpit look and feel superior, but he understands Roosevelt’s assessment. This is a great way to force people to hear and honor your ideas. So the preacher/politician/narcissist uses the pulpit/podium to control.

I knew a pastor, many years ago, who brought every new couple into his office for counseling. He would learn their secrets and then use that information in the pulpit. He would say things like, “There’s someone here this morning whose marriage is on the rocks because of pornography.” He never pointed to the people or said their names, but he didn’t have to. Some folks left quietly, and the church attendance suffered. But many stayed because they were afraid of what he might say about them. He would use the information he gathered to humiliate them if they dared to disagree or stand against him.

I have known pastors who used the pulpit as their own political propaganda microphone. Not only did you know how they were going to vote on issues, you were made to feel unspiritual if you didn’t agree with them. Contrary to what some people think, using the pulpit to promote the preacher’s political opinion is not against the law unless that position is officially adopted by the church and endorses a candidate. But in some churches the preacher’s opinion is difficult to separate from the church’s official position.

I have known preachers who used the pulpit to rail against people who disagreed with them on some church issue. There was no opportunity for a challenge, no counterpoint. This unfair method of “discussion” is perfect for narcissists, because they don’t value the input of others and don’t want to hear the voices of those who disagree. Not only can the narcissist speak without objection, but he can make his opinion sound superior or more spiritual. After all, he’s the one in the pulpit.

I have known preachers who used the pulpit to scold wandering children, disobedient wives, and uncooperative husbands. They say they take advantage of the platform to “counsel” from the pulpit, but they are really just scolding and abusing their place. They alienate people who come to hear words of encouragement and love. They see themselves in the position of God’s prophets to challenge and judge.

I have known preachers who seemed to believe that their strong “moral” positions in the pulpit somehow covered their immoral activities elsewhere. They could lie, steal, cheat, fornicate, and abuse without feeling conflicted because the pulpit allowed them to sound and look better than they were. Nor did they worry about the normal consequences of their behavior because of their superior position. After all, everyone should be careful about making accusations toward the “anointed” one.

Yes, the pulpit, in many churches and many political organizations, confers an anointing on its resident. Others may try to challenge the position, but the one in the pulpit is clearly the one chosen. To challenge the chosen one takes both courage and power.

So the pulpit enables the bullies. Some were bullies before they found the pulpit. Others became bullies once they achieved the pulpit.

The preacher is called to teach what the Word says. To do anything else is to step beyond the role of the preacher to the role of spiritual bully. And, in a day when the people have easy access to the same Bible the preacher has, the people must be free to disagree or challenge the pastor’s interpretation. There is a place for higher learning or advanced study, but the preacher’s role is not to dictate or pontificate, but to reveal the simple truths that all can see in the Scriptures.

The role of the politician, at least in the US, is to represent the people, not tell them what to think. He/she should share information so that the people can be better educated, but not in a way that makes the politician seem superior. But the podium also creates bullies.

Why are there more narcissists among the preachers and politicians?

Because pulpit bullies enjoy the bully pulpit.

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What you should do…

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

I have often found that people who have never experienced a certain challenge find it easy to offer advice and criticism.  Like sofa quarterbacks and back seat drivers, they assess the situation from the outside and think the answer is easy.  These same people usually don’t have such easy answers when they face trouble.

From the safety of their comfortable chairs, people yell at football players and other sports people.  They criticize newscasters, politicians, soldiers, law enforcement officers, and fictional people on the television.  They have the answers for the team, for the government, for the business, for everyone.

And, let’s face it, sometimes the answers are easier from the spectator’s position.  Why didn’t the quarterback throw the ball to the receiver who was wide open?  It was plain to see, from the perspective of the aerial cameras in the instant replay.  The criticism is correct, but ridiculous at the same time.

So there you are, hurting from yet another encounter with the narcissist in your life, and your friend says, “Why didn’t you say xyz?”  or “Why didn’t you do this?”  And you wonder the same thing.

You see, the answers are often simple, much simpler than the process of getting to the answer.  Yes, you should have talked to the boss when the narcissist began his abuse.  Yes, you should have distanced yourself from your parent when you had the chance.  Yes, you should have never married that guy in the first place.  Yes, you should have listened to the warnings.  Yes, you should have cut off that friendship years ago.  Yes, yes, yes……

And now you feel stupid and guilty.  You know you made the wrong decision.  You already blame yourself, for then and for now.  You can see it now as plainly as the critic can see it.  But that doesn’t really help, does it?  Blaming yourself for making a mistake doesn’t move you forward.

The reality of the situation is very different from that seen by the observer.  Whenever I am tempted to criticize the quarterback, I stop and think about those 300 lb men running at him to hurt him.  In the pressure of that moment, he is supposed to see things on the field and around him at the same time.  He is supposed to make quick changes to his plans and, at the same time, try not to get hurt.  He is supposed to throw a ball that will be in the exact place necessary when the receiver dodges his opponents and is ready to catch it.  And he is supposed to do it in about five seconds, if he has that long.

The people who offer simplistic answers in your situation are not in your situation.  They are not experiencing what you are.  They don’t know the pressures, the pain, the fear, the worry you are feeling.  Their simple answers might be right from the outside, but nearly impossible from the inside.

So give yourself a break.  Don’t expect that the situation should change as easily as the critics believe.  Those who have not experienced a narcissistic relationship really have little understanding of the manipulation and control of the narcissist.  Those who have been through similar relationships should know better than to offer simple answers.  You do not need to feel guilty just because they think your way out seems easy.

I would guess that most of the simple answers for narcissistic relationships center around you standing up for yourself and forcing the changes.  “You shouldn’t take that!”  “You should speak up and tell her what you think.”  “You should just walk out.”  In other words, you should be strong enough to deal with this person.  Why aren’t you”

Let me remind you of some things, things that others might not understand.

 

  1. It is probably not in your nature to confront people, cut people out of your life, tell people off, or even to stand up for yourself.  You were not taught to do that, and you dislike conflict in general.  You care about other people and want them to care about you.  That’s why the narcissist chose you.  You did not present a risk to the control the narcissist would need.
  2. You may have been already weak when the narcissist found you. Pain from a previous relationship, abuse by parents, feelings of loneliness or isolation or inferiority.  Narcissists are predators.  They can tell when a person is vulnerable.  What you may be understanding only now is that the narcissist did nothing to build you up and become healthy and strong again.  Instead, you have been kept in your weakened condition.
  3. You have almost certainly been compromised along the way. Many people don’t see the narcissistic relationship for what it is until it’s too late.  The narcissist has been preparing for a confrontation since the beginning.  He/she already has your words or actions to use against you.  Or the narcissist has managed to cultivate your sympathy.  You will feel bad if you try to confront.
  4. You may feel threatened. Narcissists threaten openly.  They withhold things you need or take away things you want or do things you fear.  Some will share your secrets with others.  A spouse may threaten to keep the kids and kick you out.  Narcissists are very good at separating you from support, money, opportunity, and almost anything else you need to act on a decision.  Acting alone and without resources can be terrifying.  Narcissistic threats are real and common.

 

People outside your relationship rarely see the picture you see.  They don’t feel what you feel.  They offer what makes sense to them from the outside.  Yes, they should know better, but their motivation might still be good.  Sometimes the answer really is that easy.  It’s just that getting to that point is hard.

And, please, don’t blame yourself if you are struggling in the conditions listed above.  Life is what is it.  All you can do is start today to see the truth and find the freedom promised.  Build your strength little by little.  Pray for guidance and listen.  Do what you can to move forward today.

The quarterback in the game can’t worry about what others think he should have done.  He can only do what he can do in the moment.  Sometimes he will make mistakes.  But he has to move forward to the next play.  His concern is the game, not the play.

Your concern is not what you should have said or done, but how you will become healthy and reclaim your identity and feel good about yourself again.  Those who can do that win the game.

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Who is Safe?

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

 

I recently read “When I Lay My Isaac Down,” by Carol Kent. A compelling story by a mother who went through tragedy. At one point, she relays something another person told her:

“When you’re in a crisis, if you have only one supportive person, you can make it through the journey. We all need at least one person to be there for us in the middle of a tragedy.”

Good words, and I agree, but they leave one begging question: Who? Who can you trust? Who qualifies as supportive? Who is safe?

This blog post won’t give you a personal answer to that question, of course. I wish I could say, “your pastor,” but I know better. I have heard too many stories where the pastor was not the one to trust. Same for counselors and friends and family members. There just isn’t a certain group of trustworthy—safe—people. Instead, I can share some thoughts on what kind of person to watch for (and who to avoid).

First, remember that the narcissist can be one of the most supportive people you will meet. Some have shared how the narcissist would listen and sympathize and be just the right person at the right time. But later, things change. Later, the things you shared, the personal and private details, come back at you in manipulative ways. You regret telling the narcissist anything. The support was just a way for the manipulator to get the information needed to twist you and hurt you.

So be careful who you trust. That probably isn’t really news to anyone who reads here. Most readers here have been burned. But we all need someone for support. When the narcissist has been pretty much the only person in your life, how do you find someone safe?

Consider these thoughts:

 

  • A safe person doesn’t need the details. If someone prompts you to tell more and more, beware. Safe people are supportive even when they don’t really know what’s going on. Safe people can pray without knowing what they are praying for.
  • A safe person doesn’t try to fix you. Watch out for the person with all the answers. They tell you what you did wrong and what you should do next. If you just do what they say, then they will support you. Safe people don’t have the answers, but they stand by you while you find them for yourself.
  • A safe person doesn’t bring in others without your permission. Safe people don’t run to their “prayer group” with the latest information about you. They can pray for you by themselves. Safe people respect your privacy and confidence.
  • A safe person doesn’t need to be with you all the time. Safe people allow you to come to them. They just stay available. They might remind you that they are available, ready to help, but they don’t punish you or pout when you don’t call.
  • A safe person doesn’t judge you. Safe people know that we all make mistakes and we all hurt when our mistakes come back to haunt us. Safe people don’t consider themselves to be more spiritual or more wise.
  • A safe person doesn’t talk a lot. Safe people listen. They don’t correct or interrupt or lecture. In fact, you may wish that your safe person would say more. But safe people know that you need to talk, or that support is found in presence rather than words.
  • A safe person doesn’t tell you that your problem is the same as hers. Safe people can have the same struggles as you, but they understand that you are different from them. It may be nice to find someone who understands from personal experience, but every situation and
  • A safe person doesn’t invest in your problem. Safe people invest in you. They rejoice when your problem is solved. They don’t need to bring it up again, but they understand when you do.
  • A safe person doesn’t expect to be your only support. Safe people want you to have as much support as you can find. They want you to have a team, and they understand that not everyone will have the same place or words. A safe person might warn you if they fear you are trusting someone unsafe, but they let the decision be yours.
  • A safe person doesn’t just tell you what you want to hear. If a safe person needs to talk, he/she might tell you the truth as they understand it. Sometimes that’s uncomfortable, and sometimes you won’t like it. But the safe person understands that truth is often difficult and approaches it with love and concern for you.

 

Well, that’s ten, and I will stop at the round number. You probably already have someone in mind who is safe, and someone who is not safe. I think this list works even for a professional counselor. I have known professionals who have broken several of these with clients. Same is true for pastors and family members. You are welcome to add more in the comment section, and I would encourage everyone to read the comments.

The bottom line is that you need someone safe. If you begin to trust someone and they break one or more of these, find someone else. And be patient with yourself. Your instinct for reading people may be damaged. You probably find it hard to trust yourself. So, if you make a mistake, look for support somewhere else and don’t punish yourself. We have all done it.

I guess I should add another one:

 

  • A safe person will not use you, abuse you, mock you, manipulate you, trap you, trick you, lie to you, exploit you, or endanger you. If someone you are trusting is doing these things, step away. Find someone else to trust. You don’t need a person like that, no matter how much he/she has been entwined into your life.

 

Now, I really want to say that you should not try to find safety in someone of the opposite gender, particularly a friend, but I am avoiding that. Just know that the risk is very high. If you have been abused by a narcissist, you have to go into a relationship very carefully. Too many stories have been told (some here) of people who are rescued from a narcissistic spouse by another narcissist. Trading one abuser for another. It happens. Don’t let it happen to you.

You need a safe person. If you don’t have someone, share your story or your need here in the comments. You will find that this group truly cares. Be careful of connecting off thread, because we have had phony people here, but there are many good people who truly understand and care.

Stay in a safe zone and don’t be ashamed of asking for support. Just one person can make a huge difference.

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Something New

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

A new year! I have to admit that I am a sucker for new things. I like beginnings. I like to think that, with a little tweaking, things can be different. A new year offers a starting point for change.

At the same time, I am not one for big resolutions. Maybe I am too old for all that. I have a few things in mind that I would like to do this year, some good things; but I have learned that setting myself up to feel guilty is dumb. Instead, I will try to make small changes that will help these goals to be accomplished and celebrate whatever successful steps I make.

Can life be different? Yes! But the change has to start. If you do the same things tomorrow as you did today, don’t be surprised if tomorrow looks just like today. If you do the same things next year as you did last year, next year will be the same as last year. Change has to start somewhere.

So why not today? Changes in relationships seem so hard, so overwhelming. I can almost hear people shouting at their computers, saying: “Don’t you think I would change things if I could?” Yes, I think you would. But I also think you probably need a little encouragement to take the first steps. And, perhaps, permission to take very small steps in the beginning.

You see, we tend to think of change as something like getting a new job, a huge endeavor. Sometimes people just quit their old jobs and start the search for something new. Sometimes, they take much smaller steps. Maybe just beginning to think about your skills and what other company or vocation could use what you can do. Maybe taking an online class to introduce yourself to some new software, or some old software everyone seems to be using. Maybe talking with friends (who are not in a position to jeopardize your current work) about what’s out there. Begin somewhere.

Relationships tend to develop over long periods of time. If you were raised with a narcissist, you were probably well into your adult years before you began to see that something was wrong—and realize it wasn’t you. If you married a narcissist, you probably found out that something was wrong in a fairly short time, but you were convinced that things would get better. In other narcissistic relationships, the same thing holds true: it takes a while to figure things out. So the big change almost has to happen in small steps. Just understanding the problem begins the process.

I can’t tell you what the change should look like. Some choose to stay in these painful relationships. Some choose to leave. Some go no-contact. Others set firm boundaries and stay in contact. Some learn everything they can about beating the narcissist in his/her own game. Ask the Lord what you should do, then do what He says. Just move forward. Toward health and peace. Somehow. Starting today.

Here are some beginning steps. They don’t lead to anything in particular, but could lead directly to the change you need. This is not a particularly profound list, just common sense. Think of these items as permission slips for moving forward.

  • Begin a daily prayer for the change, asking the Lord for guidance and protection.
  • Begin a daily (or regular) journal.
  • Find someone who will listen and understand.
  • Find a good counselor.
  • Set aside some money just for you.
  • Take a class.
  • Eat a little better and exercise a little more.
  • Find a place to where you can slip away just to clear your head.
  • Read something you enjoy. Admit that you enjoyed it.
  • Write down your story.

You see, these are just ideas for first steps. Some of them might take a little preparation. Even preparing to take a step is movement. You can add to this list, I am sure.

It’s a new year. An opportunity for a decision. A decision to move toward change. You may not know what that change will be yet, but you can begin to move. No guilt. No shame. Not even much fear. Just a small step in the right direction. That’s how every great journey begins.

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AOD

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

Maybe someday the professional counselors will break narcissism into several parts. If so, I have a suggestion for one aspect of narcissism: Attention Obsessive Disorder. Of the nine clinical characteristics of narcissism (which you can find here) seven of them have something to do with the narcissistic need for attention. I think it would be hard to overstate this characteristic.

Now, this is obvious with the overt narcissists, right? They jump in front of the camera, in front of the stage, so others will notice them. They will be loud, or funny, or sarcastic, or cruel, or whatever it takes to bring the light on themselves. For some, all attention is good attention. Politicians, preachers, sports heros, “reality stars,” and others often seem to live for the attention.

But we have to make sure we understand this in the right way. Attention does not mean just the limelight. It means focus. The narcissist wants you to focus on him/her. It means that the narcissist wants your life.

A commenter recently noted something many have experienced. The narcissist often pulls people into intense personal relationships quickly. Many people relate a feeling of “love at first sight.” Narcissists talk of marriage much earlier in the relationship than expected. They demand exclusivity. They know how to attract and keep the focus of a person they want. Once the hook is set, they keep the pressure up until the victim is reeled in. That means focus. The young lady is overwhelmed by the attention the narcissist seems to give. Then she is told what to wear and how to eat and what to buy and who her friends should be. She is so smitten by the intensity of the relationship that she doesn’t sense the dangers. She loses herself in his need for her attention or focus.

Someone might wonder about the more covert narcissist, the one who seems to avoid the spotlight, but still manipulates all of her relationships. Again, this is a need for attention/focus. Your mother might be nearly unknown in the community or church, but your father does whatever she says, and you live in dreadful anticipation of her phone calls. Do you see what she wants and gets? Your focus. She is supposed to be the center of her family. Anything less than concentrated focus from her victims will be met with anger. Even if you are constantly looking over your shoulder in case she shows up or worried about what she will say next, she has your attention.

Remember Captain Jack Sparrow? The officer says, “You are without doubt the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of!” And Sparrow answers, “But you have heard of me.” Even the person at church who takes every job and succeeds at none of them might be doing so just for the attention. The failure doesn’t matter, in fact it could draw even more attention to the narcissist, especially if the narcissist is the victim of some other person who failed. The person at work who never really works but knows everything about everyone, including the boss, might thrive on the attention of others who are both angry that she doesn’t carry her load and worried that she might tell what she knows. In either case, you are watching her.

And that friend who has no other friends besides you, but seems to expect—even demand—your constant availability and sympathy, may well be a narcissist who loves the focus you give to her. She is sick. She is out of money. She is being picked on by others. She is misunderstood. You care until you realize it never ends. When you stop, you move so quickly from friend to enemy that you really don’t understand what happened. You are demonized simply because you no longer provide the focus she wants.

The narcissist walks into a room full of people and immediately separates them into three categories. A certain number are instant friends. Another number are instant enemies. The rest might as well be invisible. On what basis does he make these assessments? By whether he thinks he will become the center of their focus. Some will give him what he wants. They will oooh and aaaah at whatever he says or does. Friends. Others will expect attention for themselves. Competitors. Enemies. The rest are too stupid to notice his specialness, or of such little value that it wouldn’t lift him up if they did.

Never underestimate the value of attention for narcissist. And, of course, we understand that this is not really attention for the narcissist, but for the image the narcissist has put up for himself. You are required to worship the image. Everything the narcissist does is for the purpose of lifting up that image. He wants you to believe in his superiority.

Attention. The drug of the narcissist. Your attention. Your focus. Your life. The narcissist is obsessed with getting as much of it as he/she can.

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Compassion

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!    

There’s a video out there about a social experiment that almost went very bad. The goal was to see how people would respond to a young girl who needed help because she had lost her mother. Apparently the expectation was that strangers would try to help the girl in some way. The whole thing came to a screeching halt when a man took the hand of the girl and started walking away with her. No one expected they were setting her up for an abduction.

Pretending is both a normal childhood game and a way of coping with intense emotions. Someone who is frightened might act tough. Someone who is sad might act nonchalant. Someone who is angry might deny the anger. People pretend.

But let’s suppose that a young child pretended to be lost or hurt and found that the attention and extra love felt good. The child does it once and learns that people are kind and helpful and she is considered important. So she does it again. Different people respond and, again, it feels good. Maybe the rescuers buy her ice cream and tell her she is pretty and sit with her until her mom comes back. Maybe the police get involved, and she gets to ride in a police car, and the officers are kind. And maybe she learns that pretending to be lost or hurt or needy allows her to get what she wants from people.

Then she experiments with different ways of manipulating people, almost all of which involve her being needy in some way. She decides that good people are the ones who help, the ones she can manipulate. Bad people are the ones who think she is pretending or expect her to take care of herself. The rest of the people don’t matter. She only likes the ones she can use, and she only likes them as long as she can use them. It’s a game. A game of pretend.

But the game works. As she grows older, she becomes more sophisticated and more experienced. She learns to judge people. She can tell what techniques will work on what kind of people. Her relationships revolve around these manipulations. Good people are easily manipulated. Bad people are not. She meets young men and learns that the techniques work on them as well. It isn’t long before she is a fifty-year-old narcissistic friend, wife, and mother.

We often say that narcissism is a coping technique learned while young. Usually there is some trauma that causes the child to pretend. He might pretend he is stronger than others. She might pretend she is prettier. He might become a bully to make the pretending seem more real. Once the pretense begins—and meets the need—the child returns to it and builds it. Soon there is little left besides the pretense.

Many people who learn about narcissism have compassion for the child. It was trauma, after all, that made the pretending necessary. So, they say, we shouldn’t judge the narcissist harshly. But the child (and the adult) continued to choose the pretending over reality because pretending felt better. It didn’t matter how others were used or hurt. What mattered was that the child had fun or felt good. Even today, others don’t really matter. What matters is that the narcissist feels good.

It’s sad to think of a child who feels the need to manipulate others in order to feel good about him or herself. It’s something different when an adult does the same thing. Adults are supposed to be responsible for their actions. Hurting others, using others, is not supposed to be an acceptable thing. Adults are supposed to know better and do better. Adults are responsible for changing.

When a child steals in order to get something they want, we teach them that stealing is wrong and has serious consequences. When an adult steals, he may go to jail. We don’t expect to treat the adult, or to think of the adult, as a child. Our compassion for the little child who steals doesn’t attach as well to an adult who steals. A violent child is helped by training and discipline. A violent adult might have to be separated from society.

There is nothing wrong with separating the compassion we have for the child who responds to a time of trauma by hiding, lying, pretending, or whatever, from the need to hold adults accountable for similar actions. Adults make choices and can choose to learn new ways of coping with need and stress. In fact, we expect them to learn new ways.

So, when you begin to think of the poor little child your narcissist used to be, you don’t have to excuse current behavior because of your compassion. There were many choices along the way. Probably many people were hurt. And the narcissist is accountable for the pain others suffer.

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