Tag Archives: narcissistic relationships

What is “Healthy”?

It’s Narcissist Friday!

 

 

After a long period of abuse or illness, it is usually difficult to know what it means to be healthy. “Normal” has been redefined in our lives. We flinch when someone begins to speak because we have come to expect criticism. We worry about appearance and performance because we think everyone is watching us. Our definition of a “good day” becomes one where less pain and suffering comes into our lives.

So what is healthy? Would you know it if you saw it in someone else? Would you sense its growth in your own life? What progress would you seek if you desired health? How would you measure the distance toward the goal?

I have been guilty of trying to motivate people to seek health without clearly picturing that health for them. Parents should seek to be healthy for themselves and for their children. Spouses should seek personal health as protection against the abuse and as provision for the future. Those who find themselves in narcissistic relationships usually discover that health has been drained from their lives, but also find it difficult to remember just what is now lacking.

I could certainly claim that health, emotional and otherwise, is different for each person. Healthy actions of one may not be healthy for another. But, for the most part, that’s a cop-out. The truth is that there are some things common to all of us that are part of being healthy. I want to share just one of these in this post.

 

Healthy people accept love. Stop here to think about that for a moment. Say those words to yourself.

 

People in narcissistic relationships commonly lose the ability to accept love. Some didn’t have that ability in the first place. When the false love of the narcissist came along, they looked past all the warnings to embrace the lie—because it offered love. It isn’t that we didn’t need or want love. It was that we didn’t believe love. We didn’t feel lovable. We doubted our own worth and made the expressions of love from others unwelcome. We pushed love away, in spite of our need.

Yet we accepted the false love of the narcissist. The lie made more sense to us than the true love offered by others. The narcissist set a trap using our own need against us. We trusted the narcissist above others because the lie was mixed so carefully with our own confusion.

And how did that work out? Not so good. When we finally realized that the love of the narcissist was false, our doubts about love were reaffirmed. Now trust is even harder, love is even more doubted, and the familiar loneliness is normal again. Fear and resignation become more deeply entrenched than before. It has become even easier to push others away.

So stop it! There are two lies that have defeated you. The first was that you were unlovable, unworthy of the kindness and attention of others. The second was the idea that the narcissist offered what you needed. Part of the reason you accepted the second was because the first was already planted in your heart. Repairing the damage done by the first will help you avoid a repeat of the second.

Have you ever wondered why children of narcissistic parents find themselves in relationships with narcissistic lovers? Or why victims of one narcissist open themselves to a second? It is not stupidity or inability to see the warnings. It is the need of the heart infected by the lie that they are fundamentally unlovable.

Healthy people accept love. There is real love reaching out to you. Maybe friends or family. Maybe kind acquaintances. Genuine and simple love. Real love. Love that doesn’t want to take from you or use you. Love that just offers acceptance and connection. Yes, there are those who will cause you pain. There are deceivers. But not everyone is a deceiver. Some people really do love. Accept that love.

But even more. There is One who loves you far beyond anything any of the rest of us can. He reaches out to you with sincere acceptance. Yes, He knows the things you have done. Yes, He knows your doubts. Yes, He knows your weaknesses. Yes, He knows your fears. He knows that you will not be faithful to Him. He knows that your heart will wander and struggle. And, knowing all of that, He still reaches out to you with love. Acceptance, full and free.

How can you ever give love unless you can first accept it for yourself? Yes, to be healthy means to be able to accept love. But the joy is that you don’t have to go out and find it. Your job is simply to accept it when it comes.

Let me change your thinking on one powerful and simple word: FAITH. Faith is accepting the love of God. Faith is the willingness to open your heart to the love He offers. He offers it because of who He is—and He genuinely loves who you are. He moves on His own to reach out and love you, but He also moves through others to show you His love.

In faith, open your heart and see the love of God around you. Let Him tell you that He values you. Nothing for you to strive for or earn, nothing to deserve, just real love given freely to you.

Accept that you are accepted in Him. Be healthy.

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Protection

 

 

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

From time to time I get a comment or an email asking how to protect the children from the effects of the narcissist in the family.  Usually, the scenario is a mother who either is married to a narcissist or is recently separated/divorced from a narcissist.  In either case, the continuing relationship of the narcissist with the children is troubling.  Even those who divorce usually have custody and visitation connections.  Unless gross abuse can be proved, so that one parent loses all rights and contact with the kids, the connection with the narcissist will continue throughout the childhood years.

So what to do?  How can you protect the kids from narcissistic abuse?  What can you do to help them stay or become healthy and well-adjusted?

Let’s begin by admitting the truth.  Narcissists manipulate.  They use relationships to feed their own desires.  They do not consider other people to be real or valuable or independent.  People, even their children, exist to be used.  This will not change.

Also, you are not God.  You cannot fix or control everything, even when you believe something is most important.  Not only will the kids be affected, you will not be able to change that fact.  God may be able to change the narcissist’s heart, but you will not.  Nor will you be able to prevent all the negative effect of the narcissist.

At the same time, you can do some things.  You can show your kids what healthy looks like.  Make decisions, take responsibility, find happiness and fulfillment.  If you are healthy, they will see the difference between you and the narcissist.  Your health, in all respects, is a key part of caring for your children.  Find ways to feed your needs.  I tell people all the time that they must find the way to health.  Get a good counselor.  Exercise.  Get some fresh air.  Eat right.  Read good books.  Make good friends.  Yes, easier said than done, but do it.

I am convinced that children will be drawn to the healthy parent.  They may seem like they take advantage of you.  They may challenge you and stretch your relationship, but they will know they can do that—while they cannot do that with the narcissist.   You will be the safe parent, the reality of their lives.  That may sound like you are the boring one, but they will understand the truth eventually.  The narcissist can manipulate, but he/she cannot disguise the truth forever.

Teach your children how to set and maintain boundaries.  Yes, you need to know this for yourself.  Again, get some counsel or education.  Boundaries are the narcissist’s bane.  The stronger your child maintains a boundary, the more the narcissist will seek to overcome it and, in that struggle, the child will begin to see the truth.

Be honest.  That means you can’t make up excuses for the narcissist.  If you work hard to smooth the water, telling the children that “daddy didn’t mean those harsh words,” then they will learn either that daddy’s way is acceptable or you are part of the problem.  Instead, hold them and love them when they hurt.  Show empathy and understanding.  They will see that daddy does the same thing to you, and they may realize that daddy is the one with the problem.

Be present and available.  Connect with your kids.  This has less to do with time than with your willingness to listen.  The narcissist only seems like a good listener.  Eventually, he/she hates the conversation and pushes the needy person away.  Embrace the children in their pain.  Don’t tell them how they should feel, let them tell you how they feel.  They will find the answers as you listen.

Be patient.  Life’s success is not measured by how you think at age 20, as though that is somehow the end of the journey.  Your children have a lot of life ahead of them.  If you read the comments here, you will see that many people only understand the truth about a narcissistic parent as adults, sometimes as senior adults.  You may not live to be vindicated, but your child can still find the way of understanding by remembering your honesty and love after you are gone.  I have had many people tell me that they only understood the struggle and strength and goodness of their mothers after.

Don’t forget that the struggles of our lives do bring us strength and independence.  Having a narcissistic parent may be more challenging than anyone outside the relationship can understand, but it can also mold your child into someone strong and alive in wonderful ways.  Failures and weaknesses often build in us the things we need to survive.

So pray.  This is not about you having a good relationship with your kids, no matter how much you want that.  Nor is it about you being valued for your struggle and victories.  It is about your children finding love and peace in their lives.  A narcissistic parent is an obstacle to that, but a healthy parent can do much to prepare the way.  Give your concerns to God and trust Him.  He loves your children more than you do.

No, you can’t prevent this challenge.  It is their path to walk.  Don’t try to do it for them.  Just walk with them.

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“A Hidden Pathology”

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

The reason the title above is in quotes is because it is the chapter title from a book recommended in one of the comments recently: “The Narcissistic Parent” by C.A. Childress. I ordered it after reading the comment (and I apologize for not remembering who recommended it) and was somewhat disappointed. It’s a thin book of only 45 pages and cost about $8.00. But I have read through it twice and now understand its value. This is a book to give the counselor or attorney you are working with. This book will help them understand the narcissist. I can’t guarantee they will read it or value it, but I can almost guarantee that, if they do read it, they will understand a lot more of what you have been dealing with.

In some ways, this two-page chapter (on page 6-7) is the primary message of the book. Dr. Craig Childress, a psychotherapist based in Claremont, California, calls narcissism “A Hidden Pathology.” It may not be correct to say that it qualifies as “pathology” in a medical sense, but narcissism is certainly not normal or healthy. Dr. Childress makes the point that narcissists don’t present themselves as having a serious disorder. He uses quotes from other psychologists to establish that narcissists present themselves as “intelligent, charming” and “calm, self-assured, untroubled.” Well, we know that to be true, don’t we? They are, he says, “creative leaders” and “outstanding performers.” No argument here!

I have heard story after story of narcissists winning over the minds and hearts of church leaders, judges, and counselors. A wife will try to convince a marriage therapist of the struggles she experiences only to hear that it is her own fault – after the narcissist has had a chance to talk with the therapist. Pastors tell wives they should submit and stop bad-mouthing their fine Christian husbands. Judges rule in favor of the narcissist because they believe the spouse is the real problem. How does this happen? It happens because the narcissist knows how to “present well.”

I write often of the narcissists’ “super-power.” They are able to manipulate what others think of them. In spite of their inabilities, the narcissists are viewed as superior. In spite of the fact that they don’t care about anyone, they are seen as loving and helpful. Yes, the narcissist is a broken and cruel person, but you wouldn’t know it unless you were in a special relationship with him/her.

So the cruel and abnormal behavior and attitude of the narcissist stays hidden. The counselor doesn’t see it. The pastor doesn’t see it. The judge doesn’t see it. Hey, maybe even your parents have trouble seeing it. Like most abuse, it stays hidden until you get home. And you have a difficult time convincing anyone of what you are suffering.

Dr. Childress writes particularly about the attachments of the child to the narcissistic parent and how the appearance of connection can deceive those who seek to do right for the child’s welfare. There are professionals who disagree with his assessment of this attachment. That’s a part of the discussion I haven’t gotten into. What I like about this little book is how well it reveals the deception of narcissism. It may look like the children are more attached to the narcissistic parent, but that attachment is inappropriate and pathological. It may seem like the narcissistic parent is well-adjusted and loving, but that is an act. It may seem like the accusing partner is the real problem, based on the behavior observed in the counselor’s office, but what happens at home tells the real story.

When I first began counseling narcissistic relationships, the narcissist presented himself as cool, assured, even docile. He listened to what I said and seemed to appreciate my help. His wife, on the other hand, was stressed and almost unreasonable in her abrupt responses and accusations. Eventually, I could see that she became that way only when he pushed certain buttons. I could almost predict the point at which our counseling would break down on her end. I was fortunate or perhaps guided by the Lord. Not all counselors will see that. Once I did, I was able to talk with them separately to avoid much of her stress. And, when he was put on the spot, his reactions became far less congenial.

Attorneys and counselors, anyone to whom you go for help, may need some education about narcissism. I would reproduce this little chapter for you to give them, but I don’t want to take anything away from Dr. Childress. Perhaps, if you are in that position, you should just spend the $8 on Amazon and give/loan the book to the person you are working with. Call their attention to this chapter. Help them understand that what they see in their office is not the truth.

If you would like to read more about the narcissists’ super-power, check out this post:

https://graceformyheart.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/the-super-power/

If you are interested in purchasing Dr. Childress’ book, this is the Amazon link:

https://www.amazon.com/Narcissistic-Parent-Guidebook-Professionals-High-Conflict/dp/0996114548/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1493417515&sr=8-1&keywords=childress+narcissistic

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Child Abuse?

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Abuse is a loaded word. Because it is so loaded, we have to qualify it in order to know what it means. For example, if I say that someone is abusive, you might ask what kind of abuse. It isn’t enough just to categorize someone as abusive. Should you be frightened of such a person? Should you consider calling the authorities? Or should you just ignore my accusation because I am angry or feeling offended? If I add that the person is guilty of child abuse, your mind will go in one direction. If I change it to spousal abuse, you will think something else. If I add “sexual” to either of those, we have yet another dimension.

We have identified abuse as a “cause celebre.” If you want attention, tell people you are being abused. If you want to raise money, do it for someone who is abused. If you want to be elected, claim that your opponents are abusers. However, because it is used in these ways, many people consider it to be phony, just a tool to get sympathy. And real abuse goes on without the attention it should get. And real victims continue to suffer.

I was faced with a question recently: is narcissistic parenting child abuse? Before you say yes or no, consider the problem. Some people believe spanking is child abuse. Some believe that not spanking is child abuse. Some see no problem leaving younger children in the charge of a ten-year-old sibling. Others would consider that to be neglect, a form of abuse. Some will let a fussy child go to bed hungry rather than give in to childish demands. Others would consider that to be abuse. So how do you answer whether you think that narcissistic parenting is abusive?

Who asks this question? Perhaps the adult child of a narcissist wonders if their strange and painful childhood was abusive. That might explain the difficulties that have come with adult life, the indecisiveness or the PTSD symptoms. Perhaps the mother who is beginning to realize that her husband is narcissistic. She wonders if she would be able to get custody in a divorce, so that the children would be protected. Perhaps a counselor or attorney would ask such a question to determine the best way to help a client.

This short post will certainly not answer the question, if it can be answered at all. Instead, I would like to share a couple of thoughts that might help those who are seeking an answer.

First, our culture defines abuse as an event. In other words, it has to be substantiated and chronicled as an event in time. What happened; when; where? The culture does not see a person as abusive all the time. Instead, they see and acknowledge abusive actions in time. I knew a lady who hit her child with a board. It was not an accident. It happened at a certain point in time. There were bruises to prove that it happened. It was determined to be abuse. If you want to consider something as abuse, you will have to tell a story with specific details. For the court, you will have to keep careful records and make charges to authorities in order to be believed. If you can substantiate the abuse, but did nothing to stop it (calling the police, for example) then you will be doubted. If you called the police, but have no evidence, they will probably do nothing.

Second, narcissism is a disorder, not an abusive act. You and I may understand that narcissists use people and care nothing about the pain they cause, but others will not see that. To claim that someone in your life is a narcissist is not the same as saying that person is an abuser, no matter how much that makes sense to us. In fact, it is the narcissism that allows the abuse. Because the narcissist cannot and will not connect with the pain of others, he/she simply does not care about what hurts them. The manipulations and emotional neglect of the narcissistic parent are cruel to the point of damaging, but most of what the victims experience would be hard to explain to others.

Some narcissists are also sociopaths. Some are destructive and actually enjoy the pain of others. For these people, physical abuse brings a perverted pleasure. But most narcissists do not abuse physically, according to the professionals. Narcissistic abuse is much harder to see and understand—unless you are on the receiving end. Sometimes even then.

Finally, sometimes the determination of abuse can only be found in the relationship. What I mean is that some forms of abuse are only understood by the two people who experience it: the abuser and the victim. If a mom hits her child with a board, we understand that to be abuse. If the same mom calls the child lazy, we are not so sure. Even the child may not understand at the time. But later, the adult child may understand that the mom was manipulating and abusing her. If a father makes a promise and fails to follow through, no one outside the relationship may see the act as abusive, but the son may understand one day that his father only used promises to control. Sometimes a third person, close to the relationship, can see the truth, but that person will have difficulty convincing others. Even more so if that third person is the only one who will consider the actions abusive.

What all of this leads to is that you might have to determine for yourself whether you were abused by narcissistic parents. If you examine the characteristics of narcissism and determine in your own heart and mind that your parent(s) fit the description, you may be able to see their actions as abusive. That might help you understand your present struggles a little better. You may not be able to get any legal or official action against them, or even be able to convince others, but you can know more about yourself. A good counselor can help you see how that abuse led you to a certain dysfunction in your life.

If you are the spouse of a narcissist, you may have to determine for yourself whether your husband/wife abuses the kids. Don’t expect others to understand what you know. You may have to act on what you know to be true, even if others don’t see it. Lawyers, pastors, even most counselors may not see what you experienced as abuse—only because they were not there and not you. A quality counselor, who understands narcissism, can help you to deal with your feelings and may also be able to help you see the dangers facing your children.

What actions can you take if you believe your spouse exhibits narcissistic abuse? I worked with a woman whose husband read horrible, true stories to the children before bed, stories of torture and murder. She believed his actions were abusive, damaging to the children. When he refused to stop after she expressed her concerns, she gathered the children and left. Counseling and time supported her concerns. The authorities today respond almost only to physical abuse and serious neglect. Narcissistic parents usually abuse in other ways. You may have to make the hard decisions without help from authorities.

If at all possible, build a small support structure: friends, family, counselors, etc. Let others know what makes you afraid. Let them help you make wise decisions about how to handle the situation. You don’t want to put the children in danger yourself. Living in the car, going without food, leaving them alone—these things could make you look like the abuser. If you have a place to go and money to get there, you can provide the safety you and the children will need.

Is narcissistic parenting child abuse? I can say that parents who abuse are almost always narcissistic. I can say that narcissism causes the depersonalization that allows the abuse. I can say that narcissism, by definition, hurts others without sympathy. But, without examining specific actions, I cannot say that narcissistic parents are abusers. Self-focus, lack of empathy, even manipulation of others is not necessarily abuse. So, I would say that narcissistic parenting is not, by definition, abuse. But it sure is not good.

Was your childhood with narcissistic parent(s) abusive?  Perhaps.  It may be worth talking with someone about that.

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The Generous Narcissist

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

I watch the television with closed captions because my family is often not up when I am. On a live or real-time broadcast, it must be difficult to keep up with the dialog. Sometimes the little mistakes are hilarious. Recently, someone passed away and the news people were interviewing family and friends. One of them said, according to the closed caption, “He was the kind of person who would give you the shirt off your back.”

When I stopped laughing, I realized that I know people like that: generous narcissists. Oh yes, there are such people. In fact, they will puzzle you. They give generous gifts, volunteer for service, and offer all kinds of help. But, when you look more closely at how things turn out, the narcissist hasn’t really done anything.

An illustration of this was a man in a church who attached himself to a landscaping project we were doing. He came to the leadership and said, “If you get me a group of guys and a tractor, I’ll get that job done.” Fortunately, the leaders were wise enough to see the truth. They had to get the workers. They had to get the tractor. The workers would do the work, and the “volunteer” would sit on the tractor. He offered to give them what they already had—and was willing to accept the credit.

A narcissist will use your money to buy you a gift and expect your thanks. She will redo work you have already done and expect credit. He will take your words and repeat them back to you as though they were his and expect you to be impressed. He may bring you flowers he picked in your yard. She will convince you to bake a cake she can bring to the event. Generous narcissists are usually sponges.

Now, there are times when the narcissist gives sacrificially. Narcissists generally believe that people can be manipulated by certain words or actions. If a generous gift will open a door or convince a person, the narcissist might be generous. But he will remember. The person who receives the gift will owe the narcissist. Special attention, agreement, special privilege, whatever. The narcissist expects the gift to accomplish something.

Again, we have to understand the motivation and perspective of the narcissist. No one is deserving of kindness. No one is worth a sacrifice. The kindness must have a purpose for the narcissist. He can appear to be kind and generous, but he is still self-serving. She may appear to want to help, may even help, but her help comes at a price. Your loyalty, your time and energy, your favor, your reciprocating thanks—these may be expected.

The generous narcissist is a phantom. He/she might seem to exist…but nope!

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Self-love?

It’s Narcissist Friday!    

 

As the subject of narcissism becomes more popular, the resources for counsel will become more available. Some of these resources will not understand the truth about narcissism. I keep running across writings and videos where the counselors consider narcissism to be simple “self-love” gone to extreme. I have ranted about the idea of “healthy narcissism” in the past, and probably will again, but those who think narcissism is just self-love are wrong. There’s a lot more to it than that.

In fact, if you think of narcissism as only self-love, many observable things won’t fit. The sudden rage, the continual discontent, the lies, the insecurity, just to name a few. You would think that someone who loves himself would be secure and at peace, wouldn’t you? But few who know their narcissists would describe them as secure or at peace.

No, most who have studied narcissism in depth and over time seem to agree that the narcissist does not love what he/she considers to be self. Instead, they create an image, a fantasy self, to hide the reality they believe. Whatever happened to them as children, they decided that the way to handle it was to become something they were not. They believed that they were unlikeable, unworthy, and unable. So they created an image of themselves that was outgoing, successful, and superior. To do this, they learned to mimic the behavior of those they admired. If they saw someone loved by almost everyone, they imitated that person. If they saw someone successful in work or school, they acted like that person. If they saw someone admired by others, they mimicked the one who got the attention. And they found that they could control others by controlling the attention others gave to them.

But none of this comes out of self-love. The image of the narcissist is not the narcissist. He/she wants you to think it is, but he/she does not believe it is. In fact, the reason the image is defended so strongly against challenges is to stop people from learning the truth. The image is phony. The real narcissist is hiding.

Some suspect that the narcissist doesn’t even know his/her true self. Because of the broken childhood (or whatever trauma), the narcissist did not receive the feedback good relationships provide to help us understand who we are. Without a basic understanding of self, the narcissist cannot empathize with others, cannot even see others as fellow beings. Hence, the depersonalization and exploitation of others. So the “self” the narcissist hides may also be false. We cannot know ourselves without heart connections with others.

Counselors, teachers, and authors who suggest that narcissism is merely self-love often refer to “healthy narcissism.” They suggest that narcissism is a continuum from good to bad, rather than from bad to worse. We are able and willing to accept that there are hints of narcissism in us and that those hints are negative even in our lives. Yet, these teachers tell us that narcissism is basically good and only too much of it is hurtful, like sugar or sunshine. This not only confuses us, it moves us to open ourselves even more to the abusers. We miss the fact of the narcissistic system in the mind and heart of the narcissist. We are led to believe that the narcissist thinks just like we do, only worse. We are forced to try to empathize with a person whose personal belief system is radically different from ours.

Self-love is both a normal and appropriate—and healthy—human attribute. From it springs our sense of value and our need for self-care. Accepting the fact that we have abilities and ideas to offer others is truly a good thing. It is not narcissism. Narcissism is a dark and broken thing, a pervasive fear that depersonalizes and exploits others.

I have suggested that healthy narcissism should be compared to healthy cancer. Cell growth and division is normal and healthy. Cancer is abnormal, dangerous, and uncontrolled cell growth. These cells invade tissues and organs in which they do not belong. They cause damage and may lead to death. No one refers to healthy cancer. No one should refer to healthy narcissism.

 

 

If you are interested in reading more about the image of the narcissist, check out these posts:

https://graceformyheart.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/image-addiction/

https://graceformyheart.wordpress.com/2015/10/02/the-impostor/

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Contrived Helplessness

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Every once in a while I come up with a term for a narcissistic behavior only to find that the term is already being used for something else. I have wanted to write about a certain type of narcissist who controls others by being needy. I thought that the helplessness these people exhibit is a learned behavior. So I looked up “Learned helplessness.” Yes, it is a psychological term used for those who have tried a certain task repeatedly without success, then have become convinced that they are unable to do the task. A kidnap victim, for example, may try to run away and fail over and over, then give up and become unable to take advantage of real opportunities. Some of the more famous kidnapping cases, like Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, may be examples of this inability in victims to help themselves.

Of course, I realized that I couldn’t really apply the term to “needy” narcissists. But before I left the idea altogether, I remembered that narcissists are often mimics. They watch others to see what works: who gets attention and service. Some are loud and obnoxious, having learned that intimidation works. Others are critical and cruel, having learned that abusive behavior works. But some are needy because they learned that helplessness works.

So I am going to call this “Contrived Helplessness.” It is learned, as are all the narcissist techniques, but it is not a response to real trauma, at least not to different trauma than most of us suffer through our lives. Instead, this is a method of control, using others to meet needs and desires.

The Needy Narcissist wants you to do things for her/him. But she can’t just ask you. You have to want to do these things. You have to value the narcissist enough to serve with enthusiasm. That way you become the servant by choice.

Needy narcissists will express themselves with what seems like humility. They tell you what they can’t do. Whereas the normal narcissist brags, the needy narcissist whines and moans. He doesn’t have enough money for lunch. She can’t get all her work done. Too many expectations. Too many aches and pains. Too weak. Too old. Too traumatized. Too sick.

This contrived helplessness works. Especially in the church. Many people have reported trying to help a person in need only to find themselves stuck in the relationship as some kind of caregiver. You take a meal over and end up doing housecleaning. You do the housecleaning while listening to a recital of how few people really care. You stopped by for a few minutes and spent the afternoon. You can’t complain because you volunteered to help.

But then the calls begin. During lunch. After supper. Pulling you away from family and daily responsibilities. Spend time with me, the narcissist says. But she doesn’t actually say that. Instead, she calls with a crisis or asks for advice. You talk for an hour about her/his problems, and you struggle to find a way to get off the phone. Why don’t you come over tomorrow, the narcissist asks. Spend more time. Don’t worry about your family. Don’t complain about being tired. Don’t bring up your problems. The narcissist wants your time. He/she gets it by being needy.

And the work starts. The narcissist wishes she could get to church but is so afraid of driving. You volunteer to pick her up on your way. Of course, you will have to wait for her to be ready. It’s hard, you know. If her washer worked, she could have better choices of her clothes. So, you volunteer to do her wash. Oh, that would be great. She’ll have it ready on Tuesdays. That will give you time to get it back to her on Friday for Bingo. (Yeah, you notice that she somehow gets to Bingo.) But, pretty soon, you find your weekly schedule revolves partly around her laundry.

And the money begins to flow. She could do her own laundry if she just had enough for a new washer. It’s just a loan, you think. But her new washer is nicer than yours—and you just paid for it. She wants to begin driving herself to church, but the car has been acting up. Can’t trust it (except for Bingo). If she just had money for repairs. You know a good mechanic. Oh, that would be great. Again, it’s just a loan.

If you have lived through this, you will understand. Your time, your money, your energy—they are all going to the narcissist. You get so little in return, especially when you realize she was doing all of this without you before you took that meal. And you begin to understand that nothing has really changed. She doesn’t get ahead. She doesn’t become more able. If anything, she has become more needy as you have helped more.

Usually, there’s another aspect to what the needy narcissist wants from you. You are supposed to compliment him. But, unlike the regular narcissist who almost asks for the compliment, the needy narcissist gets you to do it without him asking. He tells you that he just isn’t good at anything. That’s why he can’t find a good job. So you sit down to list all the things he can do well. He is a good carpenter, you say. But no one’s hiring carpenters, he says. And he couldn’t do that kind of work anymore. That cabinet he made is quality work. But he no longer has good enough tools. Eventually, you understand that he doesn’t want work, he wants you to say nice things about him.

Eventually, these relationships become stressed. Big surprise. Some day you will say something. You will decide not to answer the phone, skip the laundry run, end the compliments. You will hint that you should get some of that loan money back. And—suddenly—the needy narcissist will become angry, even resentful. You might find that he stops calling and won’t answer your calls. She stops going to church and blames you when she talks with others. She thought you were her friend, but all you can do is criticize. Eventually, you realize you aren’t going to get your money back.

What do you do? Well, most of us write these things off as the price of a “good education.” We are more cautious next time. You could push the issue and try to get your money back, realizing that the needy narcissist will try to make you look bad. You might actually get your money because the narcissist will want you to go away. But she/he will lie and cry and gather support against you first. On the other hand, you might be surprised. People are often not quick to take the side of someone who will not repay a debt.

Now you might be thinking that this is the same as Munchhausen’s Syndrome. Actually, the narcissist’s needs don’t revolve around being sick—as in going to the doctor. Munchhausen’s is usually associated more with being a patient, under physical care from professionals. The narcissist might use sickness or disability, but you will notice that they rarely get any real help for those things. That’s because those complaints are useful and, if not phony, at least far less than portrayed.

On the other hand, both behaviors are almost certainly learned. Let’s call it “contrived helplessness.”

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