It’s Narcissist Friday!
The little girl had a new book. Grandpa sat down to read it with her. Along the way, they came to a page with a scary picture. The little girl began to squirm. She was scared of the “monster.” The grandfather said, “Oh, that’s not a monster. That’s just a shadow. See? It’s Bob’s shadow.” The little girl was still nervous at the page, but started calling the monster, “Bob’s shadow.” Every time Grandpa read the book, they called the monster, Bob’s Shadow. Grandpa also pointed out his own shadow and the little girl’s shadow. It wasn’t long before all the fear went away from that book. Naming the monster changed things.
There’s a monster in many marriages and families. There may be a monster at your work, or in your church, or in your organization. Sometimes you might wonder if your friend is a monster. The thing about monsters is that they want to stay hidden. A good portion of the fear monsters produce comes from the fact that they operate in the shadows.
Naming the monster takes away some of its power. Calling it by name, rather than just fearing the unknown, puts a box around it. When we use the word “narcissism” and refer to someone as a “narcissist,” we are not trying to make a psychological diagnosis. We are simply naming the monster we have feared.
We are often chastised for using a professional term to describe what we see. There is a category of personality disorder called narcissism by professionals. They are usually not happy when we use that term, because it is their term. They are, after all, the professionals.
We had a lot of fun a year or so ago trying to come up with other terms to use instead of narcissist. You might like to read some of the great suggestions here. In the end, however, we had to settle back to the term that has definition and literature support. It fits the monster we have seen.
If your marriage, or church, or workplace, or whatever seems to have a monster hiding somewhere; if you are afraid of what you see, but don’t know what to call the problem; if something is lurking in your relationship that feels like it needs control and attention; if you feel like you are being used or abused, but can’t quite figure out how—you might be dealing with narcissism. Read some of the literature. Check out the term online. Read some of the many posts on this blog and some of the stories in the comments.
Not every problem in marriage is related to narcissism. Not every difficult person in your life is a narcissist. As you read, be honest. If the term doesn’t fit, don’t use it. It may even be that there is no monster.
But narcissism does hide in the shadows. When it sneaks out to you, it won’t look evil. It will look loving and kind and funny and generous. The monster has a happy face. At the same time, there may be in your heart a foreboding, a fear that things are not as they seem. That’s the time to believe that the monster has a name and to begin seeking it. The day may come when the monster steps out of the shadows, and you will see its ugliness and hunger. The only way to prepare yourself is to find the name ahead of time.
Naming the monster won’t make it go away, but it will limit its definition. In other words, you will stop blaming yourself and stop trying to deny what you have been seeing. You will stop saying that these are little quirks and that everyone has weaknesses. You will begin to see the monster in the light, without as much fear and confusion. And you will find some ways to deal with it.
Even if you give the monster the wrong name, you will find the terror and anxiety diminished. Later, as you continue to study and evaluate, you may learn the real name and have even more strength. But you will no longer be afraid of something hidden in the shadows, working to destroy you and what you hold dear.
No one can effectively battle an unnamed enemy. You don’t know where it is, how it will attack, or even what it is. But once you begin to define the enemy and give it a name, you can focus your energies in the right places and avoid many distractions. Some have lived in fear and defeat for many years before they finally were able to name the enemy. That’s when things began to change.
A few years ago I wrote about narcissism as a monster. You might want to read that post as well.