Tag Archives: narcissistic relationships

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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Narcissists Who “Care”

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

A recent comment exposed the almost unbelievable fact that many narcissists work in caring professions. That means they are doctors, nurses, pastors, counselors, social workers, police, teachers, attorneys, etc. These are the people we turn to when we need help. These are the professions we have been taught to trust. When we discover that someone who is supposed to “care” for us instead wants to use us for his/her own purposes, we feel both confused and betrayed.

Of course, there is an element of control in most helping professions. People in need come for help. In doing so, they are already submissive. They want to turn their lives and troubles over to someone else. They look to the pastor to get them right with God. They look to the doctor for a way to health. They look to a counselor to find the way to sanity or peace. Submissive or weakened people easily become supply for the narcissist. Those who love to control others, who need to control others, would find helping professions to be fertile fields.

Under the category of control, we also have to remember that most helping professions are hierarchical. That means there are authorities and there are workers. Narcissists will move quickly into positions of leadership so they can use others to do aspects of the job they don’t like.

Although we might not hear of them often, there are opportunities for carers to be recognized as heroes. The doctor who provides the cure or the life-saving surgery becomes a hero to the sufferer and his/her family. Police officers can become heroes. Nurses, counselors, and pastors provide timely encouragement and support in situations of great need. Narcissists love to be heroes. Some will work hard for that recognition. Others, of course, will claim it even if it isn’t true.

There’s something else, something we rarely talk about. Some would suggest that it is almost necessary for care-givers to depersonalize those with whom they work. The one who cares must go home without the problems of their clients or patients. The doctor and the nurse cannot take the pain and suffering home. They must learn to separate the person from the problem. Setting a child’s broken arm means the doctor has to cause significant pain to the child. Empathy must be pushed aside for a while, and the problem must be addressed. Counselors, pastors, and others must sometimes say things that hurt, in order to deal truthfully with a problem. Caring about the person can get in the way of solving the problem.

And narcissists do this naturally. This is why narcissists are often so good at their jobs in caring professions. They are able to think without regard to the suffering of the person. They can prioritize services and time and money in ways that make others struggle. Emergency care workers may be required to do triage among several patients, to determine which should or should not receive treatment, without worrying about the identities and situations of the dying. Doctors and counselors must often decide when to stop trying to help. This aspect of caring jobs would be easy for narcissists.

For the most part, people in need won’t care whether their “caring” person is a narcissist. They just want help. The caring professions offer a sort of symbiotic relationship. The narcissist only wants to be seen as superior and successful, while the sufferer only wants successful relief. Today many people don’t expect the doctor’s “bedside manner” to be kind. They just want him to perform well.

But the narcissists are still narcissists at home or with co-workers. The miracle-working “Dr. House” is still a jerk to the people around him. The great preacher abuses his staff and ignores his family. The honored policeman is on his third marriage. The wise counselor’s kids are addicts and delinquents. The “caring” is a performance, a job expectation, a way to recognition and appreciation. It does not come from the heart.

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Call It First


It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Whoever calls it first gets it, right? The baseball catch, the last piece of cake, the front passenger seat, the check at the restaurant, the parking place. We name it and claim it. Somehow, being first seems to grant control.

Politics is a great place to see this game. Blame the other party for something you are doing or want to do. As long as you call them on it first, you control the narrative. Then you can do whatever it is you wanted to do and all the complaining of the other only looks like sour grapes.

In these days when narcissism has become a popular word, it shouldn’t surprise us when the narcissist calls others “narcissists.” I have heard this more lately. Someone will write to me saying that an abuser has referred to the writer as a “narcissist.” Yet, when more information is gathered, it is plain that the abuser is the narcissist.

“You’re a narcissist!”

“No, you’re a narcissist!”

Which has the stronger position? See what I mean? The second response might be the right one, but it sounds childish.

This is called projection, a subject we have considered before, but it is aggressive projection, kind of a first-strike projection. This kind of preemptive combat is common for narcissists. Accuse the other person, let them fluster in their own defense, then do whatever you accused them of. When they complain, the narcissist can refer to the original accusation as fact and remind others. That way the others will assume that the victim is the one doing the projecting.

Confused? You are supposed to be. That’s how it works.

And this serves as a reminder that the narcissist’s ways are probably not your ways. Who thinks like this? Narcissists do. They are always thinking ahead, at least when it comes to their plans and manipulations. Because they have to be right (and seen as acceptable or superior) they have to find ways to cover their “sins.” Sometimes they do that by blaming you—even before they do the nasty deed.

I know of narcissists who accused their spouses of lying in front of the court, when the narcissists were the ones lying. The victims were shocked and effectively silenced, just so they wouldn’t look weak in response. I know of co-workers who accused other co-workers of some less-than-acceptable practice, and then set out to do the same thing themselves. If the deed was discovered, it would be the victim who would be investigated.

There is some power in this tactic, if for no other reason than it is so ruthless and unexpected in normal relationships. But that’s the point. The narcissistic relationship is not normal—and you need to be ready for anything. Projection is one of the more difficult narcissistic tactics to overcome, especially when others are involved.

How can you protect yourself? First, understand that the narcissist does not play fair. You will be abused in the process. Narcissistic relationships hurt. If the narcissist accuses you before he/she does something, you may not be able to do anything right. So maybe there is nothing for you to do, at first.

Second, don’t accept the blame for something you did not do. Most of us have been taught to accept guilt when it comes our way, whether we deserve it or not. If someone says that we are doing something wrong, our minds go quickly to any compromise in our lives, and we start to feel guilty. We stammer and try to explain and make ourselves look both guilty and weak. Instead, just say no. If it is not true, say it isn’t true. Whether people believe you or not, this will be the strongest position for you to take.

Third, call the narcissist on the tactic. Let him/her and others know that you understand what is happening and will not accept the game. The narcissist knows what he/she is doing, but the others probably do not. Identifying the tactic might help them to see the truth.

Fourth, point out behavior by example. Be specific. Don’t get into a name-calling exchange. Don’t even get angry. Just be prepared to point out where the narcissist did what he/she accused you of. (This is one good reason to keep a journal, just so you can remember the details, although I would not reveal the existence of the journal until the narcissist can’t get to it and destroy it.)

So the conversation might go like this:

“You’re a liar!”

“No. And I understand what you are doing. You call me a liar to deflect from your own lying. You didn’t work at the office that night. I know where you went.”

I suspect that the narcissist’s tactics will change at about this point in the conversation. You will be attacked in a different way, of course. That’s how this works. But you will probably not be called a liar again.

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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:

https://graceformyheart.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/i-am-accepted/

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.

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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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Victims

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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