Tag Archives: narcissists in church

What about the Board?


It’s Narcissist Friday!     


Over and over we hear about pastors, organization leaders, and business leaders who are narcissists. We have seen serious abuses of position and people from these leaders. And one question that is asked when the abuses come to light is, “What about the board?” Most of these leaders have a board, a group of administrators, who should be watching over the actions of the leader. Why were they not doing their job?

For example, one leader of a large Christian organization is now being sued by several women for abuses that happened over the years. In several cases, these actions were brought out before, sometimes years before. This leader resigned, more than once, and was quickly returned to his position as though nothing had happened. There are allegations that the ministry directors, the “Board,” knew about the offenses. Yet, they allowed this leader back and little changed. Why didn’t they do their job?

It is a common story in business also. The board of directors appears to sit by idly while the new CEO makes changes that weaken the company almost to the point of closure. Investors, employees, and the rest of us ask, “Where is the board?” The only answer we can imagine is that the board agrees with the decisions.

Some people suggest that narcissism is a desirable characteristic in a leader. Businesses and organizations, even some churches, want leaders who will shoulder the hard decisions: ruthlessly downsizing employee numbers or taking over other companies, for example. Since narcissists are able to move forward without sympathy for the suffering of others, they are perfect candidates for leading serious change.

I know of one church where the pastor was hired to make the church grow. He warned the leadership that he would make decisions they would not like. He demanded full authority to hire and fire and spend money. He got everything he asked for, and they accepted his warnings. When he moved the church out of the community, sold the building, fired the existing staff and hired new, these leaders allowed all of it. The church grew but lost almost all of the original members, including most of the leaders who brought in the new pastor.

How does a narcissistic leader get by with so much? Why does the board allow these abuses? Well, sometimes the board is complicit from the beginning. The leader simply does what the board wanted to do but was unwilling. Since the narcissist willingly accepts the negative from people who don’t matter to him in order to gain the praise and admiration from those who do, the board gets its way without accountability.

But there may be other reasons a board will sit and allow a narcissistic leader to ruin an organization. First, we have to understand how a narcissist is hired. As I have already said, sometimes the narcissist does just what the board wanted to be done. But sometimes the narcissist comes across as so competent and so desirable that the board feels fortunate to find such a person. You and I would be surprised at how few boards do their homework when hiring a narcissist. The presentation of the candidate overwhelms common sense. Questions are left unasked. Documents are left unread. The information may be available, but ignored in the shining light of the narcissist.

Then, realizing they didn’t do their homework, board members often support the narcissist because they are too embarrassed to admit their failure. No matter what the narcissist does, they support him/her to avoid exposing themselves. This doesn’t only happen in churches or other small organizations. Large businesses have suffered from the same unwillingness to admit fault.

If the board members do begin to see actions or attitudes they don’t like, or if they dare to disagree with the narcissist, they may soon find themselves replaced. When you investigate the boards of most organizations led by narcissists, you will find that the narcissist had a controlling hand in appointing or nominating new members. Supporters from the past, sycophants from inside or outside the organization, are brought in primarily because they will not stand against the narcissist.

And when we ask why these new board members are so supportive of the narcissist, we may discover something truly disturbing. Some are so overwhelmed with admiration and love for the narcissist that they will never see the errors or abuses. They have always been available for the narcissist’s use. They will conspire against anyone who opposes the narcissist/hero, and they will vocally agree with any decision he suggests.

There may also be a darker side. Narcissists are adept at learning about others. They know the little (or big) compromises. They know what it will take to buy the loyalty of some people, and they know what scandals are in the lives others. Some have received “favors.” Others have received threats. By the time the narcissist chooses board members, those members will be unquestioningly loyal.

The board of directors, or whatever it is called in your organization, has the responsibility of representing the people and protecting the interests of the organization. You have a right to expect them to stand up to the narcissist when the abuses begin. But they probably won’t.


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It’s Narcissist Friday!     


There are many things about narcissism that seem to make no sense. Unless you can see the thinking patterns of the narcissist, the acting patterns may look random and confusing. You find yourself asking, “What in the world is this now?”

I don’t think I have ever met a self-employed narcissist. I suppose they might be out there, but most of them seem to work for companies or organizations. (Of course, a narcissist could own a company and consider himself self-employed, but I am referring to someone who actually works by himself.)  It would seem that they would like to work by themselves; after all, no one else will ever measure up. But narcissists don’t like working by themselves—because they actually would have to do the work.

No, the narcissist secretly loves the hierarchy of an organization or a business. They like structures they can see and understand. I have noted before how the narcissist can walk into a room and instantly categorize every person present. They know instinctively who is worth knowing and who can be ignored. They know which person has power and which does not. And they like knowing these things. These things are important to them.

I know that narcissists chafe in a hierarchy, unless they are at the top. They struggle with authority. They want to be the ones who are noticed and admired. If there is a “totem pole,” the narcissist hates having anyone higher. They are usually vocal about their frustrations.

At the same time, the hierarchy structure establishes the game plan for the narcissist. Knowing what the ladder looks like and how to move up sets the goals and strategy for the narcissist. The newly hired narcissist will understand that system better than most of those who have been with the organization for a long time. While the rest of the people just do their jobs, the narcissist is focused on climbing that ladder.

There are other things the narcissist likes about hierarchy. There is an inherent competition in any hierarchy. From the military to the church to the boardroom, people compete to be noticed and advanced. Narcissists not only love competition, they excel at it. As I have said before, all human interaction is competitive for the narcissist.

In a hierarchical system, rewards are offered as motivation. The reward might be advancement or recognition. The narcissist sees rewards as rightfully his. If someone else is rewarded, they didn’t work as hard as the narcissist and don’t deserve the reward. “Pretty soon,” the narcissist thinks, “that reward will be mine—as it should be.” This competition for rewards gives meaning to the narcissist. Simple work, for the sake of providing for a family or contributing to society, has no value for the narcissist. The only reason to try harder is to receive the reward.

The narcissist knows that two kinds of people get noticed in a hierarchy: the shining light and the squeaky wheel. If the narcissist cannot be the best, he/she will be the most critical. This is easily seen in organizations like the church. If the narcissist cannot be the most spiritual person because of superior service or knowledge, then he will be the most spiritual because he sees and points out the faults in others. It doesn’t matter to the narcissist that people like him; what matters is that they know him and respect him. He wants attention; he doesn’t really know what to do with love. Admiration is more important than gratitude. Besides, others will give love and gratitude when he reaches the top. On the way up, he just needs to be noticed.

Hierarchies also offer a clear system of authorities and servants. Those above are authorities; those below are servants. The narcissist will move quickly into any kind of leadership, just to have servants. She will become the leader of the committee, and the others will do the work. It will be clear that she is a leader. Soon, she will be head over a department, then the organization. Her servants will make this both possible and pleasurable.

Because everyone is vulnerable in a system based on performance, which almost all hierarchical groups are, the narcissist’s inadequacy is covered. Narcissists are notoriously poor at actually doing their jobs. They are great at getting others to do their work, and they excel in offering excuses or explanations for inferior work. We might expect that the narcissist would be especially vulnerable in a hierarchical system where everyone is watching. But that is exactly what covers the narcissist—everyone is watching everyone. Any failure, any compromise, any indiscretion can be exploited, and no one knows the dirt on others like the narcissist. The narcissist will be able to use the dirt of others to cover his own dirt. Timely comments, veiled threats, anonymous reports, ominous hints—these are weapons in the narcissist’s arsenal. Many people can relate how a narcissist climbed the ladder of the hierarchy simply because everyone was too compromised to confront him.

I understand that narcissists consistently complain about whatever hierarchies they are part of. They really do chafe under authority and struggle with the weaknesses they see in others. But they love the game. Notice what kinds of jobs narcissists have. Notice what kinds of churches and organizations they join. They need the challenge of being noticed in a group, of rising above others. A simple place where people care about each other and believe their work to be of value would be boring for the narcissist.

Here’s a short and fun clip I think you will understand and enjoy:




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It’s Narcissist Friday!     


Sometimes you might be surprised to hear a narcissist put himself/herself down. The popular definition of narcissism has something to do with bragging almost constantly, so we don’t usually expect narcissists to speak negatively about themselves or their abilities. However, that person you suspect is a narcissist may well lower himself in comparison to others at times. This can be confusing.

Why would a narcissist talk down about himself? Such an action, so out of sync with expected behavior, must have a purpose. Yes, and we call it “sandbagging.”

Sandbagging is a term used in competitive sports and games. Gamblers use the term to define the action of a player who suggests he has a low hand by only matching or passing, then raising when the pot is larger (also called “slow-play”). In racing, the term refers to someone who deliberately runs a slower qualifying race in order to convince others that he cannot perform as well. In chess and golf, sandbagging is to purposely play at a lower level in one game in order to gain a higher handicap for the next. A few years ago an Olympic badminton team was disqualified for intentionally playing at a lower level for the purpose of a higher handicap.

You get the idea. Sandbagging is hustling. Almost every form of competition has its hustlers, and sandbagging is a primary method of hustling. For the narcissist, every human interaction is competition.

For some competitors, the goal of sandbagging is the higher handicap. For others it is to influence the betting. For still others, it is to gain a better position. But what is the goal of the narcissist?

Here are some ideas:

1. The narcissist may use sandbagging to get out of work. Real work is anathema to the narcissist. They would rather use the work of others. So the narcissist might claim a physical limitation or a lack of ability to avoid an unpleasant job. “Oh, I am terrible at cleaning,” the narcissist says. So someone else will have to do it.

2. When the narcissist needs praise, and they do crave praise much like other addicts crave their drug, she might say something negative about herself so that you will disagree and lift her up. “I am such a terrible mom,” she may say. To which, of course, you must say, “Oh no, you have been a good mom.” So the praise is gained by a simple self-demeaning statement. (The irony here is that the narcissist doesn’t believe the negative, but says it; while you do believe the statement, but are put in a position to speak against it.)

3. Narcissists are not above simple hustling. To trick an opponent into thinking of the narcissist as less able, then overwhelm with superior ability, is narcissist glory. For example, Jack is invited to play racquetball. He has played all his life, but he says that he isn’t very good. Then he thoroughly enjoys beating his opponent. He has, in fact, beaten the opponent twice. Once by the deception; and once by superior play. Jack may even try to pass off his success as a total surprise, a fluke, just so he can do it again to the same opponent.

4. Some narcissists play the role of a victim so others will support them with help, money, and sympathy. They put themselves down to manipulate the feelings of others. They are disabled, or confused, or depressed, or shy, or whatever it will take to get you to do what they want. By the time you figure out that their negative claims don’t stand up to truth, you have been used.

5. Sometimes the narcissist will sandbag just for the sake of making you feel guilty for questioning or criticizing them. When you have dared to point out an error in something the narcissist has done, you may hear over and over how the narcissist just isn’t good at that. This is not an excuse to get you to do it, but a way of manipulating your feelings. If the narcissist got lost while driving, and you had to help find the right way, he may continually say that he is “so lousy” at directions. Each time you are made to feel ashamed for any criticism you may have felt, whether you shared it or not.

So, if you hear the narcissist putting himself or herself down, ask why. Believe me, there is a reason.


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It’s Narcissist Friday!     


You recently got a new job. You are excited to learn everything and try to do well. The first day is tough, but you expect that you will get training soon. The second day, the second week, the second month go by, and you still have not received training. You are trying hard, but anything you have learned you have discovered for yourself. All your boss does is yell at you for not doing things right.

How could anyone expect you to do well without training?

Narcissists are notoriously bad at training others. Parents seem to think that kids learn best by criticisms. Bosses expect employees to perform well from the start. Organizational leaders bring people on staff or into the organization without information. Spouses expect certain things without ever asking or explaining. Most narcissistic relationships are filled with frustration simply because the victim/supply doesn’t know what is expected.

Why does this happen?

Well, I would suggest two reasons, one intentional and the other not. The first is simple control. When a narcissist chooses someone to use as supply, he needs that person to be dependent. Dependent people are much easier to control. Narcissists routinely give out only enough information to get the subordinate moving, but not enough to do well. So the victim is forced to come back for more information. At the same time, the narcissist can criticize and complain about performance. These come together to make the victim feel shamed and devalued.

A young woman is excited about her opportunities in life. She feels confident and competent. When she meets the narcissist, he makes her feel good about herself and woos her into a relationship. Then, after a while, she begins to get the message that she isn’t doing things the right way. The narcissist is quick to correct and help, but that changes to criticism. The process is gradual, but steady. It isn’t long before the young woman feels like she truly cannot make good decisions or do well on projects. She needs the narcissist more and more.

The preacher tells his people Sunday after Sunday how sinful they are and how God is displeased with them. But he doesn’t tell them how to please God in any way they can actually accomplish. Nor does he point out progress or success. The church people need the pastor to help them make decisions because they have become convinced that they are unable to do well on their own. They believe that their hearts, which guide their decisions, are compromised. They have come to believe that they cannot understand the Scriptures or even pray correctly. So they depend on the pastor to tell them what they need to know. This he does, little piece by little piece.

Narcissism depends on control. Narcissists are fearful people who need to control the world around them. That means you. Giving the training or information you need to do well on your own may allow you to separate from them or surpass their achievements.

But there’s another reason narcissists are poor trainers. To teach someone, you actually have to see that person as a person. (Now, I know that might disqualify a lot of university professors, but the university culture expects students to find and learn information for themselves.) Narcissists don’t see others as persons. They are unable to empathize and, therefore, unable to help a “trainee” who needs more than just basic information.

Narcissists usually have little or no patience with others in any capacity. That’s because they only see their own need, not the struggles of others. Teachers/trainers need patience as people learn. Narcissists have little time or concern for the weaknesses or ignorance of others. They have a need, and they expect their employee/child/spouse to meet that need. Over time the narcissist has come to expect failure and incompetence in others, simply because others are unable to meet these needs. Rather than find ways to help others learn to meet these needs, the narcissists fall easily into their habit of criticism and disrespect.

Some narcissists see little value in training for subordinates. Not only will they not do the training themselves, but they will hinder the training provided by the system. The boss, for example, may not give the employee time to work through the training offered by the company. If the new employee wants training, the narcissist reasons, he will have to get it on his own time. Training time is not work time, according to the narcissist.

There’s actually one more reason. Narcissists in leadership have not usually come to their position by competence, but by politics. That means they may not know how to do the things they expect others to do. If they were ever trained, they chafed under the training and authority structure and learned little other than how to manipulate what their leaders thought about them. In other words, the narcissist was never good at his job, so he cannot teach you to be good in yours.

Unfortunately, you will probably not realize that your boss is a narcissist until you are long past the training time for your job. If you find that you are expected to do something that you have never been taught, you probably should use your own time to train yourself. But be aware that even then you may be set up to fail. The narcissistic leader may not respect any other way than his own and may resent that you were able to better yourself without his help.

If this is a different relationship, with a parent or spouse perhaps, then you still should not expect any help from your narcissist. If you want to understand what you are expected to do, teach yourself. The benefit of this will be that you have received both the training and the self-respect. You have enabled yourself without the narcissist’s help and are one small step closer to health and independence. Even if the narcissist fails to acknowledge your competence, others will.


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The Swoop

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


The little prairie dog has carefully prepared his den. He pokes his head up from his hole and decides to get more supplies. Everything is quiet. When he feels confident, the prairie dog steps out of the entrance and runs across the small field. Suddenly a bird of prey swoops out of the sky to grasp him in its talons. Everything changes because of that swoop.

You have nearly completed your project. A lot of hard work is coming to an end. Very soon, you will present your accomplishment to your bosses. But, just as you are about to finish, the narcissist swoops in to help. You were careful not to include him in the project, but somehow he knew just when to arrive. Now he stands by your side as the bosses look over your work. He answers the questions they ask. It’s as though he shared in the work all along. But he didn’t. He will only share in the praise and attention.

Like the bird of prey, the narcissist will hover over unsuspecting victims. After the work is done, he will swoop in to take what he wants. Usually it’s the glory, or the right to say that he helped. What seems so unethical to you is just opportunism to him.

Many of those who work for narcissists have had their boss take credit for their efforts. When the hard project is done, the narcissist steps in to take over. As far as the superiors are concerned, the narcissist has done it all. If your name is remembered, it will be for helping. You will wonder where he was the whole time.

Parents will do this to their children. I once saw a father take credit for his child’s accomplishments at graduation. He even put down the child as he patted himself on the back. Moms will come at the end of a painting or cleaning project and act as though they are worn out by the work. From that time on, it was “our” work, and “we” deserve the credit. I have seen people join committees near the end of a large project and take credit for the work of the committee.

I call this the “swoop.” Out of nowhere, the narcissist swoops down to get his prize. He/she has been hovering and waiting until just the right moment. And there is almost nothing you can do about it.

You really can’t complain to the higher-ups that your boss didn’t do the work. You can’t criticize the leaders for letting the narcissist join the committee at the last moment. Nor can you tell your mother that you had the job almost done and didn’t need her help. Not if you want to be nice. Not if you want others to think of you as nice. That’s what the narcissist counts on.

The company system says that you get paid to make your boss look good. The family has always let your mother get praise for work she didn’t do. The organization is just happy to have another warm body on the committee. Nobody really cares but you.

There are some things you can do. You can watch for the hovering narcissist. You can fudge the end time for the project, saying that you will be finished on a certain day and then finish early. You can communicate with those who matter earlier in the process so they know that you are the only one(s) working. But the narcissist will still try.

The bird of prey does not always get the prairie dog. But the swoop works often enough that it is the primary pattern. Besides, there are other prairie dogs.


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Shouldn’t I try to help?

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


Recently I read an article that gave an overview of narcissism. It was okay. It captured many of the problems narcissists present and shared some of the professional perspectives. But the thing that frustrated me was a two-pronged message: yes, you should try to help your narcissist; and no, there is nothing you can do.

That kind of dilemma is designed to bring frustration and failure. The article seems to put some burden on those who are in relationships with narcissists because the poor narcissists are so broken that we really should have compassion on them. But then it says narcissists resist change and cannot be changed without their participation.

Narcissists draw people who have empathy. These caring and kind people usually become their victims. Because they want to help, because they care, these victims will keep trying and keep overlooking offenses and keep blaming themselves. These are people narcissists can use.

So when an article like this says that we should care enough to try to help the broken narcissist, we want to try. We have always wanted to help. We have sensed the pain of the narcissist from the beginning. We have believed that enough love could turn the narcissist’s heart. But we fail. Every time.

So let me say it again: you cannot, will not, should not be the savior for your narcissist. He/she will change only by choice and only by serious or dramatic intervention. You have never been in a position to do what needs to be done to help your narcissist. That’s not why you are in the narcissist’s life. You are there to be used, not to help. I know that is harsh, but it is reality.

You have choices. You can leave the relationship or stay. You can, if you are strong enough, negotiate some reason into your relationship. You can give up and let the narcissist use you. You do have choices—but the one choice you do not have is to fix the narcissist. There is nothing you can do to help.

I believe that the Lord could change the heart of the narcissist. I also believe that the Lord will not do it unless the narcissist desires the change. I believe good, long, strong counseling could mitigate some of the narcissist’s cruel behaviors. Again, this is only by the consent of the narcissist. So, yes, I believe a narcissist could change.

But I do not believe you will change your narcissist, no matter how much you love or how much you sacrifice.

And there it is. Hard reality. I wish I could say something else, but facing the truth is the beginning of your freedom.


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What Do You Think?

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


When the narcissist asks for feedback, be very careful!

There are many old jokes that center around a wife asking her husband if a certain outfit makes her “look fat.” The poor husband must be very careful how he answers. The wife, of course, may simply be asking for his perspective. The husband feels like there must be a trap somewhere.

When we began raising children we picked up a piece of advice that was very helpful. Parents should answer only the question that was asked, nothing more. Sometimes parents begin explanations, thinking the child is asking about some uncomfortable topic, when the child is only asking something simple. The key is to answer with the simple answer only, rather than the long explanation. If the child wants more, he will ask for more. If not, any further explanation would be unnecessary or even confusing.

Sometimes narcissistic bosses or parents will ask a question that seems to put us in uncomfortable positions. In fact, most narcissists will do this from time to time. It’s really a simple question, one asked by normal people with good intentions. And it is a question we long for from the narcissist.

“What do you think?”

That’s right, the narcissist may ask for your opinion. You will feel honored, even important. You may appreciate the chance to offer your thoughts. Your opinion has not been valued until this moment. Now’s your chance.

Don’t do it!

Here’s a rule to remember: narcissists do not want your opinion. They don’t need your opinion. Instead, the question, if it is not a set up to make you look bad, is a desire for affirmation. Remember that the goal of the narcissist is your focus and loyalty. They always want your affirmation.

So you have to be careful to answer the real question, not the one you heard. The words they said, coming from someone else (not a narcissist) would mean something else. But the question always revolves around the need for affirmation with the narcissist. Instead of truly asking for your opinion on a choice or an issue, the narcissist is asking if you remember your place or if you can give a word of praise.

“I think there’s a reason you are the boss.”

“I think you look great.”

“I think I am willing to go with whatever you choose.”

“I think you know what you are doing.”

Now, these are just examples, of course. Your response will have to fit your situation.

And someone will say, “But I can’t lie!” I understand. But you should understand that this is exactly the set-up some narcissists will use against you. They will ask your opinion because they know you will give it, then they will use it to show others how stupid or rebellious you are. They will use your opinion to put you down. They will twist your words and hurt you with them until you submit.

If it isn’t a set-up, it is still not a sincere request for your opinion. It is an opportunity for you to say the right thing, whatever will affirm the narcissist. If you don’t say the right thing, you will be punished. You will be put down, made to feel ashamed, or face retribution.

If you are prepared for that kind of conflict, then speak your mind. Share your opinion. Be honest and forthright. No, the narcissist does not deserve your submission. No, the narcissist does deserve to hear the truth. But you have to be prepared to pay the price.

Otherwise, learn to answer the real question.


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