Tag Archives: narcissistic relationships

The Need to be Right

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


“Everybody thinks of themselves as right.” I heard that the other day. People who do bad things justify those things by thinking of themselves as right. On both sides of any issue you will find people who think they are right in their cause or opinion. In every war, where you have believed one side good and the other evil, both sides justify their actions by claiming to be right. In every argument, both people believe themselves to be right. Think about the church split you experienced, or the family argument, or that crazy blow-up you had with your friend. Everyone involved thought of themselves as right, didn’t they?

Sometimes there are two right ways of looking at a situation but, most of the time, it is more likely that both sides have done wrong. That’s why a real apology and real forgiveness can heal these differences. Normal people can empathize with their opponents and back off their need to be right. As they do that, they find a common ground that addresses both sides as right and wrong.

But narcissists and legalists must be right. They base their identity on being right. Both the narcissist and the legalist believe they are weakened if their argument is shown to be wrong. The narcissist believes his/her image is everything. That image includes being right, and losing an argument weakens the image. The legalist believes his/her spirituality is everything. That spirituality includes being right, and losing an argument weakens that spirituality. You see the similarities? They both must be right.

And here’s where things get ugly. Because of their need to be right, both narcissists and legalists depersonalize their opponents. Depersonalizing, the unwillingness to see others as people like yourself, allows hurtful actions against an opponent without guilt. Just like you have no remorse at sending poison back to the ant colony through your ant traps, the narcissist has no remorse destroying a co-worker or even a former lover who challenges his/her space. Nor does the legalist have any problem calling those who disagree all kinds of names or criticizing their decisions and values. Once you no longer see someone as a person, you apparently become free to abuse that person. You can use, manipulate, marginalize, even slander an opponent. It doesn’t matter any more than cutting down a tree that’s in your way.

Thankfully, most people are not that dedicated to their own image or spirituality. It is not as important for most of us to look right. In fact, it is quite possible to be right and to look wrong. We can walk away from an argument and allow the other person to think of themselves as right, if they need that. And we can also entertain the idea that we might be wrong. We can listen to someone who disagrees with us and seek a way to come together. While compromise is a bad word for narcissists and an evil word for legalists, it is a normal relationship skill for most of us.

To do this, you must be capable of two things. First, you must be able to be wrong. You can’t be so committed to being right that you base your identity on it. Second, you must be able to see the other person as a person. If you can acknowledge that the other person has a right to their opinion and a right to peaceful existence independent of you, then you can find a way to live in reasonable harmony with those who disagree.

Recently we have encountered another group that seems to be as challenging as narcissists and legalists when it comes to arguments. I call them “ideologues.” It means they are so dedicated/addicted/committed to an idea that they refuse to hear any other idea. We haven’t seen this much in our culture until recent years. While we have always had narcissists and legalists, the ideologues are often tied to the kind of politics we see today. In the past democrats and republicans, for example, could live and work together—even though they disagreed on candidates or policies. Today, we see some people so dedicated to their party or idea or cause that they do not hesitate to offend or judge anyone they think might disagree. They appear to have developed a blindness toward other perspectives and find it easy to depersonalize others. And when others are depersonalized, they can be mistreated without guilt. So ideologues destroy property, reputations, businesses, and relationships without regard to the pain they cause. And they seem to take every word of disagreement as a personal insult.

If you run across an ideologue, you will wonder if the person is a narcissist. If that ideologue is connected to church or Christian topics, you will probably think of him/her as a legalist. While it is certainly possible for the person to be either (or both), the ideologue may not be building his or her own image, nor see you as spiritually compromised. The person might be generous and gracious, but still absolutely rigid and passionate when talking about the cause or idea. Even though these folks can seem to be nice, they can transform when their special topic comes up. Most of the time, if it is possible, it is best to keep the person off their topic. Talk about other things, and you will find a different person.

Being right is different from needing to be right. Those who are at peace within themselves can find ways to be at peace with others, even when those others disagree. Handling these people who need to be right is usually just a process of dropping or avoiding the topic. You don’t have to lie and say you agree, even if they pester you. You won’t win the argument, no matter how well you present your case, so find a way to move on. But be prepared for them to bring it up from time to time just so they can remind you that they won the argument.


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Lying to Self

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


Ever send a mental note to yourself? Of course you have. We do it all the time. We comment on our intelligence, our weight, our organizational skills, our memory, on and on. Usually, we tell ourselves negative things. And then we agree with ourselves.

It’s a neat little package. Somehow I get a negative message about myself. Maybe it’s from a comparison I made. Maybe it’s something someone says to me. But I get that message and then repeat it to myself over and over. The more I repeat it to myself, the more I believe it. The more I believe it, the more I repeat it to myself. The cycle builds the strength of the assertion.

The narcissist does this also, except that he/she does not say negative things about self. Narcissists say positive things about themselves and negative things about others. The narcissist regularly affirms his/her value. “I am worth more than this. I should get more respect. I am the smartest person here. I deserve better.” The narcissist blames any negative on others. “She is stupid. He wants my job. They are incompetent. He is greedy. She lies.” You get the picture.

The point is that almost all of us grew up lying to ourselves. Both narcissists and non-narcissists. And we listened to ourselves. And we believed ourselves.

By the way, this is one reason I find it hard to trust any narcissism test. If a narcissist takes the test and sees anything negative, he/she will reject it. If a sensitive person takes the test, he/she will probably see negative words and associate them with the familiar negative self-talk. So the wrong people are being convinced that they are narcissistic. (Of course the narcissist might think the test is funny. That would take things in a different direction.)

Now listen to this: the narcissist can hear your self-talk. Okay, of course he/she can’t read your thoughts, but somehow they know. Somehow they know the negative things you say to yourself—and they say the same things to you. “You always do it wrong. You’ll never figure it out. You won’t amount to anything.” They know the words. They know how to create those same feelings in you. They know.

By the time the narcissist is an adult, this ability to hear the self-talk of others is almost instinctual. If they don’t sense it even before they meet you, they just need to ask a few questions to get the information. Then they say things that make you think they are different from others. They listen, they sympathize, they even challenge your self-talk. You begin to open your heart to what seems like kindness. The words of affirmation feel so good, and so different from your self-talk, that you would never expect abuse to come from that person. But it will come. The kind words were just more manipulation, and your self-talk opened the door.

Many people ask why they seem to be so vulnerable to narcissists and abuse. Sometimes it’s because your self-talk has prepared you by weakening your defenses and convincing you that you deserve abuse. Every time you tell yourself that you are stupid, you open yourself to someone who will convince you he/she is smart and can help you. Every time you tell yourself you are ugly, you open yourself to one who will convince you that you are attractive when you are with him/her. Every time you think of yourself as socially inept, you open yourself to someone who offers fun and acceptance.

Now, I know that sounds a little harsh. I also know that not everyone seduced by a narcissist has immersed themselves in negative self-talk. But this is the true story for so many.

Listen: the enemy is the negative self-talk. One of the most powerful and effective ways to health is to change what you say to yourself. And, when the old negative comes back, don’t agree. Tell yourself that you are not whatever the negative statement was. Go ahead and disagree with the whispering that comes in your own voice to discourage you. Eventually, you will begin to reject that way of thinking and you will find the door closing to those who want to use it against you.

For those of you who are Christians, I would recommend a series of posts I wrote a few years ago entitled, “Words of Grace.” These are affirmations of your identity in Christ. They begin with this post:


If you can’t seem to find the others, just type “I am” in the search box on any of my blog posts. Be sure to use the quotation marks.

Replace the lying negative talk with truth about yourself. Not only will it feel good, but it will make you stronger every day.


Filed under Narcissism

Bait And Switch

It’s Narcissist Friday!   


I just had the pleasure of listening to a song entitled “Love is Here,” by Tenth Avenue North. Great lyrics!

“Come to the water, you who thirst, and you’ll thirst no more. Come to the Father, you who work, and you’ll work no more.”

This is the message of the gospel of Jesus. This is the life-fulfilling promise we have to share.

But, as I listened, I realized that so many who try to come to that water in their thirst find only more dryness; and so many who come to the Father to lay aside their works are given more work to do. This is the perversion of the gospel by the legalist churches. They promise one thing but give another.

And it struck me again how much legalism and narcissism are linked. You get into the relationship because you think there is love and acceptance, only to find that you are abused again. You trust because of the kind words and tender promises, but those words prove to be lies.

When I meet people who have been convinced that the God who loves them only loves them when they perform a certain way or amount, I get angry. I know they came to the church, to the Christian faith, because of hope and found a greater burden.

And when I meet people who have been abused by narcissists, I feel much the same. They came expecting rest and peace in a good relationship and found pain and fear. Whether it is in marriage, at work, or in a family, narcissism promises one thing and delivers another.

In the world, that’s called the “bait and switch.” You might see it at the car lot. One car is advertised but really isn’t available. Then you are taken to the real car covered by the special sale. When you read the fine print it doesn’t actually say that the first car was for sale. It was just a trick to get you onto the lot.

The real problem with the bait and switch is that it breaks trust. I have stores I will never go to again because they have baited me too many times. It took a while, but I learned. Not only will I not return to those stores, I will also be a lot more wary when I read the ads of others.

In the same way, some people have given up on the Christian faith altogether because they found greater burdens and less love than they had in the world. They lost their trust in the truth because of the lie.

And, in the same way, some find it very hard to trust any person because of the abuse suffered from the narcissist. Dating again, finding a new church, trusting co-workers: these are so hard after the narcissist.

All I can say is that the truth is only covered by the lie, not destroyed. The love of God is real. The message of hope is true. There are people who are kind and caring and accepting. The real deal is out there. Please, even while you doubt and try to protect yourself, seek the truth.

“Love is here: Love is now; Love is pouring from His hands, from His brow. Love is near; it satisfies; streams of mercy flowing from His side.”

Don’t give up!


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It’s Narcissist Friday!       


Sometimes people are bothered by my use of the word, “victim,” to describe the abused person in a narcissistic relationship. There’s a reason I use it. You may or may not agree, but I think it is important.

You see, with the gas lighting and projecting and lying that narcissists can bring into a relationship, it is sometimes hard for the person who is being manipulated to think clearly. Typically, narcissists bring problems into a relationship, then blame others for those problems. When this comes from someone you trust or care about, you can become confused.

Narcissists often choose people who are kind, gentle, and self-deprecating. That means people who are used to putting themselves down or blaming themselves for problems. If you find yourself in relationship with a narcissist, you may feel that you apologize a lot for things that are not really your fault. This is by design. The more you think you have caused the problems, the more the narcissist can get away with. Marriage problems, money problems, friendship problems—all are your fault, according to the narcissist. You are blamed for anything negative that happens, even things the narcissist makes up just to put you down.

At first, you may accept the blame. After all, you know you aren’t perfect. You mess up sometimes. You don’t say the right things, and you make foolish decisions. You have known this all your life, partly because people have told you this all your life. So it is easy for you to blame yourself, especially if it means you will keep the peace in your relationship. The narcissist counts on this. It makes it easier for him/her to get by with the abuse.

Sometimes the narcissist will begin to say that he/she is the victim. If he didn’t have such an incompetent spouse, or co-worker, or friend, or child—then things would be better. As it is, the poor narcissist can barely succeed in anything with such an anchor dragging him down all the time. His problems are your fault, and he is suffering because of you.

This is why I think it is important for the abused person to accept the fact that they have been the victim of an abuser. It tells the truth about the relationship. The narcissist is an abuser and is accountable for his/her behavior. In an abusive relationship there is the abuser and the victim. It is important to establish which is you, if you are going to change your situation. And that isn’t as easy as it sounds if no one allows you to see yourself as the victim.

You were victimized. That’s the truth. The person you loved or trusted misused you. He/she probably lied to you, manipulated you, isolated you, and hurt you. The narcissist was the aggressor/abuser, and you were the victim.

There. Now that’s out of the way. Now you don’t have to stay a victim. I realize that’s what people are concerned about when they see that word. Once you admit that you have been victimized, you can begin to change the situation. You can get out of the relationship or change the relationship. When you see the narcissist as the abuser, you can find ways to get out of the abuse. It might take a lot. Maybe you have to find some strong support, take some legal action, or move away. But you can begin the process when you understand that it isn’t your fault.

You won’t do any of this as long as you blame yourself. Everything will stay the same (or get worse) if you believe that you are the problem or the cause of the problem. That’s what the narcissist wants you to think…so you will continue to be his/her victim.

Being a victim is not an evil thing. The evil is what is done to you. You are not responsible for the evil someone does to you. Nor are you required to stay and let that person continue to do it. If you choose to stay, you can still make changes to minimize the effect on you. You can build support, self-esteem, and escape routes. You can decide how to answer the accusation. You can decide whether to answer the phone. You can decide not to jump when your narcissist tells you to jump. Yes, there may be a cost to these decisions, but then you will have ceased being a victim.

Admitting that you have been a victim does not give the abuser more power. Allowing yourself to remain a victim when you have choices, that gives the narcissist more power.


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It’s Narcissist Friday!     


Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance

The stages of grief

I have often felt that the death of a marriage should be considered as sad as the death of a person. Something alive and wonderful has died, and those who suffer such loss usually go through a kind of grief. In a sense, this is true for any serious relationship. The loss of the support and love of a parent can be a traumatic part of the narcissistic experience. The lack of respect from a boss or a pastor is a serious loss that should be mourned. The betrayal of a friendship can cause great grief.

There are many books and studies written about the stages of grief. We suffer grief whenever we suffer loss. I have told people for years that grief is the process of discovering who you are after that loss. When a relationship dies something important dies. We lose a piece of ourselves that we invested in the relationship. Even when we finally understand there was no real relationship, we lose the value of what we thought we had. It hurts. It is confusing. It is grief.

Loss of a relationship triggers a process that may be a surprise. We know that we go through grief when we lose a loved one. We also go through the stages of grief when we lose a relationship. These stages are normal cultural ways of dealing with dramatic and unwelcome change.

The grief process is complicated somewhat when the relationship dies over time. Even as people drift apart, or begin to see the reality of narcissism, we can begin the grieving process. When the loss is drawn out over months or years, a person will likely still go through these stages. If the relationship struggles through near-death, then reconciliation, then near-death again, a person may experience this cycle of grief more than once. However, if the process takes years, the stages of grief may be hard to identify.

Here’s what I mean. Eunice had some minor red flags before she married Tim. He wanted everything his way, even at the wedding. He could be critical and hurtful in the things he said, but she pushed her concerns away. After all, they were lovers. These things weren’t really that bad. (denial) After they were married, she found him to be even more critical and unkind. She began to wonder if he really loved her. When she asked him, his response was so limited and disappointing that she began thinking of leaving him. She found excuses to avoid intimacy as a way of protesting, but nothing changed. (anger) Her mother told her that a real relationship was 100% the responsibility of both people, so she decided to do things to make him happy. She worked hard to serve him in creative and gracious ways, but still nothing changed. (bargaining) Finally, Eunice gave up. Life seemed to have little meaning. Alcohol was tempting, as were medications, but Eunice chose to sit at home and watch the television. (depression) When Tim came home that day and told her he was leaving, she felt only relief. The marriage had died long ago in her heart. Finally, Eunice was able to move on. (acceptance)

Now that story crudely illustrates how the stages of grief can be processed while the marriage is still going. It seems more obvious when the marriage or relationship suddenly ends. If Tim had simply come home one day to tell Eunice that he had found someone else and was leaving, she may have gone through all of these steps of grief within months. The suddenness of the change makes grief seem more real and reasonable to us. Some people go through grief after job loss or when they have to leave a church. Some experience these steps over a lifetime as they process their narcissistic relationship with a parent.

These steps are real and common enough to be seen as normal. Not everyone experiences them in the same way; some steps go by quickly while others take time. But if you find yourself struggling with these five feelings, don’t be surprised or afraid. It is grief, and grief is normal. You simply have to process what has happened and what it means to your life now.

One more quick note: Depression is a normal part of this process. After the denial, the anger, and the bargaining, the energy has been spent. You are weary, disillusioned, and sad. The hurt has become part of your system. Now, you feel mostly numb. You just want to crawl away. Please don’t take this stage lightly. This can be a dangerous time. Find someone to talk with. Medications can help and can be temporary. Don’t allow your feelings of worthlessness and rejection to take over. Everything that you were, everything that made you feel good about yourself, is still there. The people who support you will say things that are hard for you to feel, things they mean to encourage you. They are right, and you will eventually agree. Just hold on until the depression stage passes. Be careful not to make too many big decisions, especially about new relationships. Just take care of yourself.

Grief is how we get through sudden and negative changes. Narcissism often provides these changes. Your grief is normal, and you will get through it. Just don’t be afraid to accept the help and perspectives of those who care about you.


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That Obnoxious Person

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


The folks over at Babylon Bee write satire in the form of news articles. This one fits our discussion so well!

Man Unsure If He’s Persecuted Because He’s A Christian Or Because He’s A Massive Jerk


The sad thing is that this article isn’t even as strong as the truth. Almost all of the obnoxious “witnesses” and “admonishers” I have known were actually proud of their offensiveness. Yes, they suffered rejection for Jesus, in their minds, but they loved being able to boast about that rejection. The more they suffered, the more they convinced themselves they were better than others. These “legalists” believed they were doing God’s work as they put others down.

Narcissists seem to be able to criticize freely and harshly without hesitation. They won’t do it in front of certain people, people they are trying to impress, but the criticisms flow as soon as the person leaves the room or the narcissist gets in the car. And, if you are unfortunate enough to be considered beneath the narcissist in status, you will probably receive obnoxious criticisms and comments openly and regularly.

And, as the article suggests, I have known narcissists/legalists who actually turn up their volume when they criticize in a public place. They claim they do it so the people around can have the benefit of their wisdom. But the truth is that they just want to embarrass their victim until he/she submits. The narcissist/legalist does not believe that a public spectacle will make them look bad; it will only make you look bad.

Scolding a teenager loudly in a restaurant, criticizing a customer in the grocery, ridiculing a cashier while checking out of the store, confronting the pastor as people shake his hand—these are public manipulations, expressions of superiority for all to see. While the rest of us would be ashamed to do such a thing, the narcissist/legalist uses the exposure to convince others of his/her righteousness and power.

Now, the hard part.

How do you handle this public display? Most of us will do almost anything to get them to shut up, including give in. But remember this: the loud critic exposes only himself as a jerk. We live in a culture where that is not considered good form. You don’t have to give in. You will be embarrassed either way, so why not make it clear that you are the victim in the situation? Ask: “Why are you doing this here in front of everyone?” Others are wondering the same thing. You don’t have to shout or cry. Just recognize the tactic for what it is.

Oh yes, there will probably be a price to pay for not playing your part in the situation. But you have to sort out the real cost of your actions. If you will be physically abused, then don’t leave that public place without some protection. And don’t go home with the abuser. But you may decide that you can endure the lecture on the way home, the rejection throughout the day or evening, or the angry scolding later. The narcissist/legalist doesn’t have to always get his/her way. Be careful. Just understand what the jerk is doing.

Oops!  One more thing!

As I read this after it posted I realized that sometimes the narcissist tries to get others to act irrationally in public places.  If, on reading this post, you wondered if you are the narcissist, but then realized that he/she provokes you to that point, please understand this.  Another tactic of the narcissist is to manipulate what you think of yourself and what others think of you by pushing you to the point where you react like someone out of control.  That doesn’t make you a narcissist.  It just shows that he/she is more covert, at least in public situations.  (Sometimes we have to respond loudly just to hear ourselves think above the confusion of the narcissist’s manipulations.)


Filed under Legalism, Narcissism


It’s Narcissist Friday!     


Aretha Franklin sang it:

I ain’t gonna do you wrong, while you’re gone
Ain’t gonna do you wrong (ooh) ’cause I don’t want to (ooh)
All I’m askin’ (ooh)
Is for a little respect when you come home (just a little bit)
Baby (just a little bit), when you get home (just a little bit)
Yeah (just a little bit)


Just a little respect. But narcissists don’t respect people. They manipulate people, curry favor with people, use people, and may even hate people, but they don’t respect anyone.

To respect someone, you have to see that person separate from yourself and with value separate from you. In other words, their value cannot be simply in what they do for you or can do for you.

To respect is to look at a person in a way that acknowledges a value in that person apart from you.

In the past, I have written that narcissists see others as tools, toys, or obstacles. While the carpenter might appreciate the quality of his tools, he would hardly say that he respects them. They exist for his use. If they fail him, he simply discards them and find others. The child treats her toys in the same way. Their value comes from the purpose they serve in her life.

It could be said that a person might respect an opponent who presents an obstacle, I suppose, but only until that obstacle is overcome. The narcissist sees obstacles as enemies to be destroyed. Once the enemy is overcome, there is nothing more to respect. The only purpose for an obstacle is to make the narcissist look good in overcoming it.

The point here is that when the narcissist categorizes people in his or her life, respect has nothing to do with it. It might appear that the narcissist respects certain people if they are in authority or if they offer something he needs. There might be an action or attitude that seems like respect, but it will be part of the manipulation.

How will you know this? By listening to the things said about that person. The narcissist will almost always have something about the person to criticize. “He is a great salesman, but did you see that tie?” “She has a beautiful house, but so would I if you made more money.” In front of the person, the narcissist is gracious and submissive. These negative words come later.

Of course, most people will not even get that much respect from the narcissist. Most of us, regular people, only get noticed when we are in the way or are useful. And then it isn’t respect that we get.  We get criticism, or demands, or lectures, or manipulations, or whatever it takes to get us to do what they want.

Why doesn’t the narcissist respect people? Because he/she doesn’t see others as separate. Depersonalizing others is a key part of the narcissist’s life. There is no empathy, no regard for people as individuals. Others only have value in connection with a purpose in the narcissist’s life. If that value is finished, or if the person fails, the narcissist is able to discard the relationship and move on.

And remember: being the reason for the narcissist’s failure or weakness serves a purpose. That means the narcissist might not discard someone who fails if that person can be used as an excuse. “I thought Bill would be able to make this work, but now he has let me down again.”

For the narcissist, control is everything. In the mind of the narcissist, two types of people are under his/her influence: deceived people or intimidated people. They are either less intelligent or weaker than the narcissist.  In order to be useful, people have to be under control.  Anyone under control deserves no respect from the narcissist.  Anyone not under control is either useless or an obstacle.

Once again, the truth hurts. Who wants to be with someone who doesn’t have respect for others? Who wants their value only in their ability to be “useful”? Where is love and respect? Not with the narcissist.

Sometimes I don’t like writing these things.  I know they hurt.  At the same time, they answer questions.  If this is what you are seeing in your relationship, you may be dealing with a narcissist.  If that’s the case, then at least you are beginning to understand the battle you are in.





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