Tag Archives: narcissistic patterns

What will he (or she) do this time?

It’s Narcissist Friday (a little early)  

(I rerun this post occasionally, thinking that it is an important reminder for those who have to handle holidays with narcissistic people.  Although the references are to a male narcissist, we all understand that wives, sisters, mothers, daughters, and other women can be narcissistic as well.  Please understand that this is not meant to empower the narcissist, but to help you have a reasonable holiday.  This is about you and your family/friends.  I would not suggest these for normal use in a narcissistic relationship, but these things might help to make the narcissist’s presence bearable for you and others.  I hope this helps you to have a blessed holiday.)

Narcissists aren’t very good about holidays or family gatherings.  Unless they can be the center of attention, they sulk or tell odd jokes or intrude on conversations or something strange.  He might even flirt with your sister!  Chances are the narcissist doesn’t know what he will do until he gets there.

You, on the other hand, can plan ahead.  Play this like a game and you may find yourself in a better position to win.  Here are some ideas:

  •  Keep comparisons to a minimum.  Family gatherings are often filled with comparisons of anything from kids to cars to dinner entrees.  Comparisons are to the narcissist like gasoline is to the fire.  If you can find some way to keep conversation away from comparisons, you may avoid some tense situations.
  • Remember that the narcissist needs attention and affirmation.  To sit and watch others love each other is painful for him.  Love, for him, is being told how wonderful he is.  Now, you can do this for him.  You can tell some things to your family that build him up in their eyes.  I know this will be hard for some to read, but remember your goal is to have a peaceful, even happy, time with your family.  Be sure you tell these good things in front of him and don’t let him be put on the spot.  If he embellishes the story or the accomplishment, don’t contradict him.  Let him have his time.
  • Give him small victories.  If he wins some things he may not need to win them all.  Let him choose some of the dinner entrees or set the time for the meal.  You know.  Victory affirms him.  When you think that he seems to want to change and control everything, maybe he would be satisfied with a few victories.  Try to do things or talk about things where he has knowledge.  Leaving him with your “know-it-all” brother to watch Jeopardy might be as uncomfortable for him as talking with Aunt Edna about how a turkey “should” be cooked would be for you.  Never forget that the narcissist feels inferior and deals with that feeling by making everyone believe he is superior.
  • Tell him straight out that you want to have some time with your family and ask him what would be best for him.  In other words, set your boundaries and inform him that they will be kept, but let him have a way to express his needs.  This is tricky.  He will see your boundaries as a challenge, so you may have to exaggerate a little in order to get what you want.  However, he may say that he needs to go for a drive.  Let him.  Don’t worry about him.  He will come back for you and you will have time with your loved ones.

In our frustration with the narcissist it is easy to forget that he or she has needs also.  In fact, his needs are actually stronger and more uncompromising than yours.  He is just very bad at dealing with his needs.  If you want a happier holiday time, you might find success by playing his game.  You don’t have to compromise yourself.  One of your boundaries is that anything you do for him must never compromise who you are.  But if you want to keep a relationship with him and with your family, you will probably have to find ways to meet his needs.

And, if at the outset he says that he has no intention of going with you for the visit, then go by yourself.  You choose.  What seems like an attempt to control you may be a statement of abject fear from him.  He just has to say it in a way that doesn’t betray the fear.

I understand that some will have trouble reading this and I admit that I have had some trouble writing it.  These people make us angry and we want to get back at them.  But is your family visit the time for that?  Probably not.  You will have to carefully evaluate the things I have written above to see if they make sense for you.  Maybe you can come up with something for your own situation that I haven’t mentioned.

It didn’t seem right to post this after Thanksgiving.  I pray that your holiday time will be good.


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It’s Narcissist Friday!   

When do we get justice?

I have heard so many stories of narcissists who just go merrily on their way, leaving behind trails of broken victims. Narcissists destroy churches, businesses, careers, marriages, even children and seem to pay nothing for the damage they do. These abusers seem to get by with so much.

Some of the stories break our hearts. Spouses left with almost nothing after the divorce because the narcissist managed to get the best lawyers and convince the court that he/she was the victim. Children stuck with the narcissist parent, then nearly abandoned as the parent seeks new relationships. Church members who feel forced to leave their church home because of the ruthless focus of a narcissistic pastor or church leader. Employees nearing retirement pushed out before their benefits can begin because a narcissistic boss found a loophole in the contract. So many stories. So much pain.

When do we get justice?

Justice is society’s way of recognizing wrong. Justice is a way of letting the victim know that we understand what the abuser did, how it hurt, and why it was wrong. No amount of punishment can make up for the pain the victim suffered, but justice at least acknowledges that pain in a formal way.

When the abuser is allowed to walk away, to do evil to other victims or to prosper from the cruel actions, the victim is harmed again. In a sense, the victim is told that no one sees the pain, or no one cares. The victim in a narcissistic relationship is often painted as the abuser, and the truth is so twisted that the victim’s mental and emotional health is challenged. When the rape victim is blamed for the crime against her, and the rapist is allowed to continue to lead in the church or community, the victim’s reality is turned upside down. Nothing can be right.

When do we get justice?

In the real world, justice often hides from the victim. The guilt of the abuser is covered by a system that marginalizes both the victim and the sin. Allowed to simply be an unfortunate casualty, the victim wanders in a no-man’s-land. Not only do others not care, they don’t want to care. They don’t want to know because knowing will require something from them. So the abuser goes on in seeming bliss, having conquered once again, while the victim tries to remember where the pieces of life were lost so they can be put together again.

When do we get justice?

Yet, overwhelmingly, the victims I know and have heard do not seek punishment for their abuser. What they want is for someone to believe them, someone to know and care. Punishment of the abuser rarely helps the victim. A penance of money or jail or shame does little to ease the pain. What eases the pain is someone who listens and shares, who sympathizes. The pain begins to go away when someone else says the pain is real and valid. We are healed by affirmation and acceptance.

We get justice when we know that what was done to us was wrong, when the doubt and confusion are gone and we choose to look toward the future. When we can look at the pain and lay it at the feet of the abuser—then we can be free. When truth comes alive in us and pushes out the accusations and condemnations and manipulations spoken by the abuser, then justice happens in us. The light of truth shines again in our hearts.

Three thoughts to close: First, there is a God and the narcissist is not Him. Vengeance does belong to God and He will repay. Sin is either forgiven as the offender finds the Savior, or it is allowed to run its eternal course. The realm of punishment and recompense is not ours.

Second, trust the growing assurance in your heart that tells you the abuser was wrong. Find and listen to those who support you in seeing that truth and moving forward in its light. Believe those who believe in you.

Finally, be that support for someone else. Now that you know there is a way out of the confusion and self-incrimination, help someone else find that way. Let that person tell their own story. Don’t put your story in for theirs. Listen—care—affirm. Help someone else find the justice that acceptance brings.

We would like to stop the abusers from hurting others. In some ways we are hurt more by the fact that they continue to hurt others in the way they hurt us than we were by our own pain. But when you can do nothing, then there is nothing for you to do. Perhaps the best we can do is reach out in love and acceptance toward other victims.

Will the narcissist get what he/she ought to receive? I don’t know. And, increasingly, I don’t care. What matters is that more people are hearing our stories and believing. What matters is that we support each other. What matters is that there is a God in Heaven who loves us. For myself, I am willing to leave the rest in His hands.


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It’s Okay not to be Okay


It’s Narcissist Friday!   


Brennan Manning wrote that one of the most important truths of his life was in the words, “It’s okay not to be okay.” The corollary to that was, “God loves you as you are, not as you should be.” The point is so important. None of us is okay.

Narcissistic relationships, whether in marriage, the family, at work, or wherever, are painful relationships. They cut deeply into our hearts. The narcissist takes life from us, goodness and strength. The narcissist often causes us to doubt ourselves and do things we don’t want to do. The narcissist messes with our heads and takes advantage of our own weaknesses. And, no, we are not okay.

Some women and men are suicidal in and after narcissistic relationships. I know pastors who left the ministry after dealing with narcissistic leaders. Some adult children of narcissists can barely function in the world. Some look in fear on new relationships. Some live in various ways of hiding. Some can’t seem to get it out of their heads. No, we are not okay.

Being okay is not the real test of success in life, nor is it a requirement for being accepted and loved. God knows our pain and the brokenness it has caused. He reaches out to the hurting and the lost. He loves you.

Now, I certainly want to encourage you to move toward “more okay.” I regularly counsel people to find the way back to health. Whether you are in the relationship or out of it, doing things that take care of you is important. You have the right and the responsibility to move toward health. There are things in life that can help you strengthen your emotional, mental, and physical health.

But, frankly, telling yourself and others that everything is okay, when it isn’t, just does more damage. Lying to yourself causes more incongruity and stress.

Sometimes the most healthy thing you can do is say, “No, I’m not okay.” It acknowledges the truth of what is happening in your heart. Living in truth may be the first step to becoming “more okay.”

You see, we all carry around the broken part of our lives. Those who have come to Jesus for salvation have found the way to true freedom and peace, but they still struggle against the old way of thinking—which was developed in the brokenness. We hold memories and bear scars and sometimes live with circumstances caused by the things we did and others did to us. That pain and sadness may never fully go away. And there are days when we forget how much we have and think about how much we have lost.

There may come a day when you can say, “I’m okay,” and mean it. I truly hope so. You should strive for that day. You should find some good supportive people who will help hold you up. You should do what you can to get your life back in order. You should learn to let the past be past and focus on today and tomorrow. These are all good things for all of us.

But until that day, especially when you are in the midst of the struggle, it’s okay to not be okay. If you never admit that you are not okay, you may never find the way to being okay.


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The First Concern


It’s Narcissist Friday!   


When people write to me and share their stories I try to consistently tell them they must be safe. Being safe and thinking from a place or position of safety is important.

Are narcissists dangerous? Yes. Simple answer. They mess with your thinking. Some are physically abusive. Few abuse victims expect the first slap or punch. If it happens, you are not safe. If physical abuse is happening to your children, they are not safe. If you are afraid, you are probably not safe. Get safe. That’s the first priority.

Very often people write to me asking if they should get a divorce. I understand. But that shouldn’t be the first question. The first question is whether you and those for whom you are responsible are safe. You can think about divorce later, when the real options are in front of you. Until you are able to step back in safety and have some confidence, you shouldn’t make any decision.

For some, the question of divorce is a way of avoiding the real question. Some stay in abusive relationships and continue to be abused because they ask about divorce rather than safety. They think they have to make a decision about divorce before they can move out or find support. But that’s a little like worrying about which publisher you will use before you start writing your book. There are first steps and there are later steps. Divorce is after safety.

Listen: if you are being physically abused, remove yourself from the situation. If you really cannot, because he will hurt the kids or something, then you must tell someone. But that’s a minimum. Most of the time you can leave. Look in the phone book for a women’s shelter. If you can’t find one, call a counselor from the phone book and tell them that you need an immediate way of escape from abuse. Ask where you could go. Or maybe a women’s clinic. If you simply can’t find anything, go to a motel and call the police to tell them you are there and why. The point is to remove yourself and get others involved.

If you are here, you are trying to understand what is happening or what did happen in your relationship. That’s a good step. If you are in a marriage with a narcissistic partner, one who abuses by emotional manipulation, you should study and you should talk with someone who understands. If you are not in immediate danger, take the time to gather some money so that you can leave if necessary. Build a support team of people who know your story. Don’t assume you can trust everyone, but don’t be afraid of trying. If you find a counselor or pastor who doesn’t really listen, find someone else. Find a way to be safe.

If your narcissist is your parent or friend or coworker or in some other relationship, you can still find a way to be safe by building boundaries and keeping them. Again, let someone help you. You don’t have to answer the phone. You don’t have to open the door. You don’t have to get involved in a conversation. You don’t have to answer questions or share your secrets. If it makes you feel unsafe, don’t do it.

And what if you don’t know that the person is narcissistic? What if you are new to the relationship? Again, if it makes you uncomfortable or feel unsafe, you don’t have to do it. Sometimes you learn a lot about a person when you tell them no. You must be safe or the relationship is a danger for you.

Most of us were not taught how to be safe. We assumed that we were safe, and we assumed that others would keep us safe, particularly those with whom we were in relationship. Christians are often told to think the best of others, not to distrust. But we were not told what to do when others take advantage or abuse us. Things like “turn the other cheek” or “love your enemy” were not really meant to address abusive situations, nor are they commands to remain in unsafe positions. We were taught to obey, to think of others first, and to endure suffering, but we were not taught how to deal with abuse.

There are many Scriptures about being safe. We are called to pray, to run to the Lord, to flee evil. We are not meant to live in fear. No one expects you to stay in a situation where you are in danger. Except the abusers.




This is a good time to remind readers of my friends over at A Cry for Justice.  If you are feeling unsafe or have questions about abuse, click the link and check them out.  Good folks and helpful information.


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The Joy of Ranting


It’s Narcissist Friday!    


Every once in a while I get an email or a comment that ends with something like this: “I am sorry to share all of that, but thank you for letting me rant.” Believe me, we all understand!

Maybe it’s the craziness of all of it. Maybe it’s the isolation that we feel in narcissistic relationships. Maybe it’s the look on people’s faces when we try to tell them what has been happening. Whatever the cause, it just makes you want to scream sometimes.

Remember the old Sylvester and Tweety cartoons, where the cat needs to scream? He runs to the garbage can, lets it all out, and closes the can before the noise can escape. Then the garbage man comes along, opens the can, and is knocked over by the scream. Wouldn’t it be great to have a place like that?

We need to be able to let it out. Holding anger in (or frustration or whatever you want to call it) isn’t healthy. At the same time, it may not be healthy to let it out in the relationship. So what do you do? Maybe you have a good friend or family member who will let you say what you really think. Maybe you have a place to write your words (like here). Or maybe you just go for a walk away from everybody else and tell God what you think.

I encourage you to find some safe place or person to let some of your frustration out. Be careful. Probably not someone at church or in your family, unless you are very confident. Almost certainly not your kids. Maybe a counselor who doesn’t try to fix you by shutting you up. Maybe not your pastor.

Some people can’t handle the honesty you need. Some really don’t want to share your burden. Some will have all kinds of answers for your problems, whether they have really listened or not. Some will judge you for your honesty. So be careful.

It takes a thick skin and a lack of caring just to dump your stuff on someone else. In fact, you could become part of their problem. So what do you do if you can’t find that certain safe person or place? How can you get your rant out and stay safe without hurting others?

Well, here are a few ideas.

1. I already mentioned taking a walk and telling God how you feel. You don’t have to hold back with Him. He already knows, right? And He can handle your anger or confusion or grief. It doesn’t have to be a walk. Maybe a drive or just sitting in the car. I would suggest that you speak out loud, so be aware of who can hear you. Go ahead and scream, cry, explain, whatever. Just let it out. God can handle it. And you may well find that He gives you more encouragement and guidance than you expect.

2. Write it down. For many of us, writing is therapeutic. Writing makes us choose our words, but anonymous or hidden writing lets us say things we might not say otherwise. Writing connects your creativity with your frustration and gives you a release beyond just yelling. Again, be careful. If you write in a diary, you don’t want your narcissist finding it and using it against you. He/she will. You could burn what you wrote or seal it in an envelope and give it to a trusted support person. (Here’s an idea: you could write with ink that turns invisible so no one can read it later except you (because you know how to make it visible again). Wink…)

I think writing things down can be very important. Logging events might help a great deal if you are being gaslighted (made to think you are crazy). You may be able to share these events with a counselor later to help explain what you have gone through. But these logs are probably not the place to write your rants. Your rants may actually make you sound crazy! That’s no reason not to write them, however. Just don’t share them.

3. You are welcome to write your rants as anonymous comments here. I would ask that you keep the swearing to a minimum, of course, and don’t overload the internet (I know you could!) But telling your story, even with some strong emotion, is fine here. Sometimes you might get a response or two, but even if you don’t you have had the opportunity to let it out somewhere. You can look it up later and know that you wrote that.

4. You may be able to find a face-to-face group where you can let things out, maybe even anonymously. Some support groups only use first names and allow people to tell their stories without judgment for emotions. As always, be careful. Groups can feed these emotions so they don’t actually get out, but loop back over and over every time you share or hear someone else share. You probably know people who are so caught up in their anger and confusion that they tell the same story repeatedly. You want to get rid of some of it.

Sadly, these are also groups frequented by predators. Beware the support person who comes out of one of these groups, especially someone of the opposite gender. Narcissists on the prowl will seek someone already victimized by another narcissist.

Letting out the rant is simply being honest. Using the rant to attack or dump on others is obviously not what you want to do. But holding it is not going to help. Let the emotions out somehow without hurting others. Embrace the feelings you have in the situation. If you deny them, they will hurt you. Instead, acknowledge those feelings and, by so doing, control them. You can do it. In fact, it might feel good.


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The Selfie


It’s Narcissist Friday!   


To be fair to the girls pictured in the video, I think the announcers set this up by asking people to take and send selfies.  But this popular video is seen by some as an example of the narcissism of our day. What do you think? Is the fascination with the selfie an indication that we have become a narcissistic culture? Are those who take multiple selfies narcissists?

Okay, you know what a selfie is, right? You hold your phone and take a picture of yourself. Of course, that’s not quite all. You have to post that picture online somewhere. Maybe your Facebook page or some other social media page. Often it is a picture of you somewhere or doing something or with someone. Sometimes it is just a new picture of you.

Actually, I don’t think the selfie is a sign of narcissism. Here’s why: when was the last time your narcissist took a selfie? I am going to risk a guess—never? While I could believe that some of the selfie shooters are narcissists, I suspect that few are. Most, I suspect, are just insecure and in need of affirmation. That may be somewhere on the narcissistic spectrum, but it doesn’t make a person a narcissist.

Now, you can educate me if you think I am wrong. Why do I think the narcissist wouldn’t  take selfies to post? Because it would open him/her to criticism. How often have you looked at someone’s selfies and wondered how they could post that picture? How often have you heard your narcissist criticize or make fun of someone’s photo? I just don’t see a narcissist exposing himself or herself in that way.

The selfie is a vulnerable act. It may be an attempt to feel good about oneself and a hope to receive affirmation from others. And, I would guess, for many it isn’t even that.  It’s just something new and fun.  That isn’t a bad thing. And it is nice to see recent pictures of friends and family.

Not every self-centered act is narcissistic, nor marks one as a narcissist. The world uses labels freely, too freely sometimes. Not everyone who is afraid is paranoid, for example. Not everyone who forgets has dementia. In fact, using labels freely has the effect of changing, lessening, the value of the label. If you say that anyone who exhibits an extreme emotion is bi-polar, you do a disservice to those who really suffer from the illness.

Narcissism is much more than self-focus. Narcissism is a lack of empathy, usually with subsequent cruel manipulation. A narcissist is almost always an abuser of some kind. Narcissism causes pain, deep internal pain, in its victims. Narcissism is serious.

To look at a group of girls taking selfies or to see a friend who takes photos of himself and point to narcissism as the cause is too simplistic. It minimizes the real damage narcissists do to others and the darkness in their hearts. We should see narcissism as a problem, not a casual thing everyone experiences. It is hard enough to get people to understand the pain of victims.

At the same time, the word is becoming popularized. Don’t be discouraged by this. My advice is to avoid the word for the most part. As I have said before, when you tell your story, tell about the behavior. The word will increasingly get in the way. Most people will know nothing about it, even though they have probably used it to criticize their friends.




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The Impostor

It’s Narcissist Friday!   


The narcissist has a real problem. The problem is that he/she isn’t real!

Most people have never seen the real person behind the narcissist, the wizard behind the curtain, if you will. While the narcissist presents an image that is superior in every way (or maybe a superior victim), the real person hides deep in the shadows. The real person is weak and afraid, but the impostor is so much better.

I have deeply appreciated the writings of Brennan Manning and have mentioned him here before. I doubt that I would agree with all of his doctrines, but he had a way of sharing the gracious love of Jesus that touches my heart. He lived a difficult life of shame and addiction, finding God’s love and freedom only to fall back again. Brennan suffered a life of extremes and, were it not for the extremes, all of us would identify with his staggering walk.

In his memoir, “All is Grace,” Manning tells of his early childhood and relates the pain of rejection. He saw himself as inferior and unwanted, even at the earliest ages. At about eight years old, he made a decision. He would be “a good boy.” Those are his words. He would become what his mother and others wanted and admired. He became what he calls, “The Impostor.”

Manning gives us a bullet list of characteristics of the impostor.

  • The impostor lives in fear.
  • The impostor is consumed with a need for acceptance and approval.
  • The impostor is codependent; in other words, out of touch with his or her own feelings.
  • THe impostor’s life is a herky-jerky existence of elation and depression. The impostor is what he or she does.
  • The impostor demands to be noticed.
  • The impostor cannot experience intimacy in any relationship.
  • And, last but not least, the impostor is a liar. (p. 56)

Sound familiar? The opportunity to become the impostor pops up in our lives from time to time. We face rejection and we say in our hearts, “Fine! You want X. I can be X. I’ll be the best #$@% X you have ever seen!” But most of us can’t do it. There is something about us that won’t let us become the impostor. Call it a weakness. Call it a strength. Call it what you want, but we fail at being the impostor.  It doesn’t appear that Brennan Manning was successful at being the impostor either, no matter how long or how many times he tried.

The narcissist, on the other hand, is not content with failure. Failure hurts too much. It reveals too much. They develop their “win at all costs” attitude early on. They will suffer pain and loss to make the impostor become real. It isn’t long before they begin to believe the lie they have created.

I particularly like this line from Manning’s points:

“The impostor is what he or she does.”

The narcissist is not a being, but a doing. What I mean is that every affirmation, every bit of attention, every argument is about what the narcissist does. The narcissist believes that doing will outshine being. As long as he says the right words, it doesn’t matter whether he means them. As long as she does acts of kindness, she doesn’t have to be kind. As long as people think he cares, he doesn’t have to care. It looks to most people like the narcissist is a caring, even loving, person; but those who have come to know the being, even just a little, realize that there is nothing there. That caring person is an impostor.

But there isn’t anyone else. There is only the impostor. Unlike the Wizard of Oz, there isn’t anyone behind the curtain. Most narcissistic adults don’t stand still when the curtain is removed. They hide. They leave the relationship. They attack the ones who threaten to see the truth. Or maybe they quickly create a new version of the impostor. Whatever it takes to maintain the lie.

Some who were married many years have found that they never really knew their narcissistic spouse. All they knew was the impostor. Once the curtain came down, there was nothing left. The narcissist parent has nothing to say, nothing to offer, nothing to BE, when exposed. That’s why these folks fight so hard and so ruthlessly to keep the impostor going.

Yet another reason why we find it so hard to understand and connect with the narcissist. Not only were we unable to do what they did, but they did it so well that they were lost in the process.


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