Tag Archives: narcissistic patterns

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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The Diagnosis Game

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

Okay, so I really feel the need for a lighter post today. This topic gets heavy and I so appreciate those who come to share their stories and ask questions. But dealing with narcissistic relationships is hard work. Sometimes you just need to step back and laugh at the situation. It really isn’t funny, I know, but you need to do something other than cry or scream.

When I think about the clinical names for these disorders and how we sometimes lump them together and call them narcissism, I realize that, in spite of the similarities, we each face something a little different. The relationships of parent-child, husband-wife, friend-friend, are not the same. The dynamics of these disorders vary within those relationships as well. One narcissist might not act just like another. Some might seem more like a borderline personality or a histrionic. These distinctions are hard to explain.

Besides that, these distinctions are coveted by the professionals. They really don’t like for us to use these words. Just because I think someone exhibits narcissism doesn’t mean that a “professional” would agree. So what do we do?

Today I suggest we all try to come up with our own acronyms, ones that will help to communicate what we have struggled with. If we can’t call so-and-so a narcissist, maybe we can call him a J.E.R.K., for example. A “jumbled egocentric rude know-it-all.” Or maybe she is a P.A.I.N. (Persistent, agitating, invasive, nasty) person. Basically, if we can’t use these normal words to describe the abusers, let’s define some disorders and syndromes that make sense to us.

So now it’s your turn. Please don’t feel like we are ridiculing the victims or making light of their suffering. Nor am I suggesting that it will be helpful to call someone a jerk or something like that. But sometimes… well, it just helps to let off a little steam.

Just to get things rolling, I have gathered a list of words that might help. You don’t have to use these words, but they might start you thinking. The only rule is that you can’t use the word “narcissist” or any of its variants. You don’t even have to make a word out of the acronym. Feel free just to stick some letters together that describe your situation. (And remember that this is a Christian blog ;) )

If you were to create an acronym to describe what you are seeing and experiencing, what might it be?

 

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First among Losers

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 
Narcissism is a competitive condition. Let’s face it: narcissists are always competing. They are stronger and smarter and more deserving than you. They work harder or work less or work better than you do. Whatever they perceive as a positive attribute for you, they have to top.

The narcissist deserves to be in charge, to have more money, to have a lighter work load, to gather more sympathy, to be more popular, to get more attention—than anyone else. They will tell you stories about how bad they had it and they can always top your story. They hurt more from their pain, are rejected more by fools, and are less appreciated than you or me. It doesn’t matter if it is positive or negative, if it gets attention they have it more than you.

We are seeing more sports figures these days who reject second-place medals or trophies. Nothing matters except being at the top. Anything less than the best and most loved means nothing. It doesn’t matter what anyone says, they live by the motto that “Second place is just first among losers.”

One consistent characteristic I have noticed among narcissists is this idea that losing—in any way—is fundamentally unacceptable. I have heard narcissists push arguments way past any sense of reason just to get their opponent to concede. They will lie, cheat, steal, abuse, or attack to win a simple disagreement. Sports figures take drugs, businessmen cheat, entertainers starve and carve just to stay on top. Coming in second is just plain old losing.

Those in relationships with narcissists must understand this. There is no sympathy, no cooperation, no understanding when the competition begins. (Unless, of course, the competition is to be sympathetic or cooperative. Then you will lose.) His story begins with, “Oh, that’s nothing! One time I…” Your story is forgotten, in spite of the fact that yours is true. Her words begin with, “That’s nice, but…” or “That’s too bad, but I…” You are dismissed. Go sit in the corner while she tells her story.

The addiction to attention and admiration is so strong in the narcissist that anyone else who gets it is an immediate competitor. The narcissist will say nasty things about the person being recognized, insinuate whatever will bring the person down. I have seen parents take over the recognition that is given to their children and leaders take the spotlight away from honorees. Sometimes the actions of the narcissist are embarrassing to the rest of us. But not to the narcissist. It simply has to be done.

Of course, much of this refers to the behavior presented by the overt narcissist. Because they have learned to be more open about their desire for attention, the overt narcissist has little hesitation as he or she pulls the focus away from others. The covert narcissist must do this more carefully. Typically, the covert narcissist is a victim or a servant. They often stand there, looking sad or dutiful, waiting for others to notice them. Eventually someone will say something positive about the service or supportive about the struggle, and the covert narcissist will milk the attention by denying anything special until the other is almost gushing with praise or sympathy. Covert narcissists teach us that attention can be gathered by self-deprecation and understatement, and that those who appear not to be competing can still win.

I suspect that the narcissist sees attention as a limited commodity. There is only a certain amount of praise available in the world and he deserves all of it. There is a certain amount of sympathy in the world and she deserves all of it. Others should expect to take the second place.

Nothing and no one is worth more to the narcissist than attention. Lovers can never give enough praise or service or worship. Servants can never be trusted to give their all. With ruthless strength, the narcissist tears down anyone or anything that stands in his way to the top. Too many have found this to be true as the marriage or relationship ends. I have heard horror stories of how narcissists have lied and cheated to get their way in divorce and custody battles. They not only must win, but often must destroy.

Unfortunately for the narcissist, he isn’t usually good enough to deserve the attention he desires. He fails too often because his focus is not on the game but on how well others think of him. The quarterback may be amazingly gifted but if he can’t top all the rest, he pouts and curses. And something, probably the incompetence of those around him, is to blame for any lack on his part. The salesman may simply not be as good in his job as another, even though he is very good. But second place, losing, is someone else’s fault.

Perhaps one test of whether a person is a narcissist is how he or she tolerates attention given to another. Most of us can rejoice when someone else is praised. We might feel a little jealous or we might wonder why that person deserves the praise, but we don’t have to have it for ourselves or even take it away from them. The narcissist, on the other hand, can reveal much by the attitudes and words that are exhibited when others receive praise.

Those in narcissistic relationships should not be surprised to find themselves competing with their narcissists, even when they have no intention of doing so. It is just part of the deal.

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Kinds of People

It’s Narcissist Friday!

 

Someone reposted this on Facebook a while back:

“When I was using, there were 2 kinds of people…People who were in the way of my using, and people who helped me use. Now, there are still 2 kinds of people… People who are in the way of my recovery, and people who help me in my recovery.” 

facebook.com/rightfromtherooms

 

I have no idea who made the statement, or why, or even what that person meant by it. Yet, I am sure they meant for it to be a positive statement about addiction. I can imagine that the person who reposted it thought it was a great statement of conviction and moving ahead. But it doesn’t seem to indicate that there has been much of a change in perspective.

In fact, I read this as a statement a narcissist might make about his or her attempt to change. It suggests that people are there to be used. During the addiction, people were either tools or obstacles. During the recovery, people are still either tools or obstacles. Either useful or not—that’s how people are categorized.

Addicts use people. We understand that. They push and pull their loved ones and friends and acquaintances as far as the relationship will stretch and sometimes just beyond that. But the addiction drives them. They see no one and nothing other than their need. Fortunes, marriages, health, family—all have been sacrificed to satisfy the addictions. Too many know this too well.

What isn’t widely understood is that narcissism is an addiction as well. The image is just as much a focus for the narcissist as cocaine is for the “snowbird.” To get the next word of praise or submission or service, to avoid the next criticism or expectation, the narcissist will spend money and sacrifice relationships.

Some of you will remember the name of Sam Vaknin, who wrote “Malignant Self-love.” As a self-proclaimed narcissist, he has some interesting perspectives on the problem. I wrote about him in a post entitled: The Open Narcissist. Here’s what he went through before he began to understand his problem:

“‘Malignant Self-Love – Narcissism Revisited’ was written under extreme conditions of duress. It was composed in jail as I was trying to understand what had hit me. My nine years old marriage dissolved, my finances were in a shocking condition, my family estranged, my reputation ruined, my personal freedom severely curtailed. Slowly, the realisation that it was all my fault, that I was sick and needed help penetrated the decades old defences that I erected around me.”

The struggles of the narcissist are very similar to those of the drug addict, perhaps with a couple of notable differences. First, the struggle of the narcissist likely began at a very young age, unlike the addict, and by the time an adult relationship is established, the narcissist is quite hardened. Also, the narcissist does not have a physical addiction and can learn to make changes in how he/she relates with others. This may seem to minimize the problem, but narcissists seem to be more culpable, more responsible for their decisions concerning others.

So both the addict and the narcissist see people in the light of their addictions. Others are to be used. There can be no other purpose for a relationship. No other focus within the relationship. No other focus in life.

But what happens when a narcissist sees that he has problems and wants to change? Now, instead of using others to make himself feel good about himself, he wants to be a “better person.” And those around him are supposed to help. They are supposed to be patient and gracious and forgiving. If they are not, if they place more expectations on him than he desires or if they exhibit anger, then they are in the way of his “recovery.”

So those in relationships with narcissists will hear things like: “I am doing my best. Why aren’t you helping?” Or “I know I have a problem. I need your support, not your criticism.” Or even, “I am doing my part, how about you doing yours?” The other person was supposed to help worship the image before, now they are supposed to help the narcissist get “better.” Anyone who does not help becomes responsible for the problem. In other words, now it’s your fault he is a narcissist.

You see, there are more than two kinds of people in the world. There are people who have no desire to enter into the drama of the narcissist. There are people who simply don’t care about the narcissist’s needs or desires. They didn’t create the problem and they aren’t interested in helping solve it. There are others who have been so beat up that they have nothing more to give. They don’t want to hurt, but they can’t help. Some have been so compromised, so marginalized, in their relationship with the narcissist/addict that they are no longer in a position to help. Still others have become angry and will refuse to help. There are many different kinds of people in the world.

And some of them have gotten smarter. They care, but they see the truth. This “recovery” is just another pretense, just another way for the narcissist to look good. The effort is sacrificial, the change is supposed to be celebrated, and the new person is just the old person with different words and methods.

Fairly often now I receive emails from people who identify themselves as narcissists. They ask for help in changing. They are losing their marriages or others have confronted them with their offenses. They are under pressure and want out. Every time I get one of these emails, I struggle. Usually I doubt that I can do anything to help. Sometimes I don’t think the person is really a narcissist, just another victim who identifies the worst in himself. When I do answer someone who I think might actually be a narcissist, I get no further response. I suppose that my suggestion that they let themselves hit the bottom is not welcome. They don’t really want to suffer the brokenness and humbling they will need to go through. They just want me to tell them how to get through their problem.

And what is the problem? Other people. So what has changed?

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