Tag Archives: narcissists in church

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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A Reminder

Not everyone who is cruel is a narcissist.  Not everyone with whom we disagree is a narcissist.  While it is helpful for us to have a category by which we can try to understand the crazy-makers of our lives, narcissism is a rather specific designation.  So it is important to be reminded occasionally of the actual definition of narcissism.

About once a year I like to repost a definition that I think is helpful.  New readers may see narcissism more clearly in the person(s) they deal with, or they may decide this has been a wrong track.  Either way, I think it is good for us to have something that helps to keep us on track.  

So, here you go…

 

What is a narcissist?

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

Unfortunately the meanings of words adapt to common usage.  A narcissist used to be someone who fit a certain psychological pattern determined by a set of established guidelines.  The American Psychiatric Association publishes a manual referred to as the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).  The DSM-4 (edition 4) used nine criteria to determine whether a person suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

1.      Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

2.      Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

3.      Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

4.      Requires excessive admiration

5.      Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

6.      Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

7.      Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

8.      Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her

9.      Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

– From Wikipedia

However, psychiatrists are notoriously stingy with assigning labels to people.  What if someone has only four of these indications?  What he or she has seven, but not quite as strongly as stated?  What if three are overt but several more are covert?  And what if the patient is particularly adept at covering or compensating for these indications?

Nina Brown has written several books in which she describes people who don’t necessarily fit the technical definition of a narcissist, but who still exhibit the general pattern and hurt themselves and others.  She calls it “Destructive Narcissistic Pattern.”  I recommend her books.

Using Brown’s information and the above APA guidelines, I have put together a list of narcissistic tendencies that we can use to begin to understand these people.  Now, I don’t think it is wise or helpful to call someone a narcissist for several reasons.  First, they may enjoy it too much.  Second, if they disagree you will start an argument and you will lose (because you always lose).  Third, they will begin to consume books on narcissism either to understand themselves or to prove you wrong or both.  Fourth, others will disagree with you based on their perception of the great person to whom you are referring.  No, just keep it to yourself.  Understanding will help you, not so much them.

He or she might be narcissistic if:

  1.  He cannot bear to lose an argument.  She will change the discussion, the subject, the rules.  He will become angry, threatening, demeaning, etc.  She simply cannot be wrong unless it is someone else’s fault.
  2. She has no sense of your personal boundaries.  What’s hers is hers and what’s yours is hers.  He sits at your desk, uses your things, and may even touch you in unwelcome ways.
  3. After working with him on a project, you feel used.  She takes credit for what you do.  The more you work with him, the more you realize that he doesn’t do as much as you thought.
  4. He talks about himself all the time, yet you don’t really feel like you know him.  She never asks how you are or about things that are important to you.  It’s all about him.
  5. He is full of big stories that make him look good, but his accomplishments in other places don’t match what you see at work.  She has all kinds of great plans and her schedule is full, but you don’t often see her doing anything significant.
  6. He is often angry, especially with others who don’t do what he thinks they should.  She claims to be the victim of abuses of others, but you haven’t seen them being mean to her.
  7. His words and his behavior are quite different.  He ridicules and derides others, then does the same thing himself.  She knows unkind information about everyone, but can’t seem to remember important or simple things about them.
  8. He believes he is better than others, that no one measures up to his standards, particularly bosses and other leaders.  Yet, he never expresses this to them.  She thinks others envy her and judge her unfairly, yet she does the same thing.
  9. She expects you to notice her hair or clothing, but never comments positively on yours unless she wants you to do something for her.  He shows off his watch, his car, his wife, or something, and has no interest in yours.  His kids are the greatest at everything and he has no idea whether or not you have kids.
  10. He has no qualms about calling you at inconvenient times to ask you to do difficult or inappropriate things for him.  He shows up to help you just as the job is finishing, then acts like he was helping all along.  She is very good at volunteering for a job and then getting you or someone else to do it for her, perhaps begging off at the last minute with some lame excuse.

These are all narcissistic characteristics and this list can change.  Several people probably came to your mind as you read them.  As with other tests, the more of these things that are observed in a person, the more likelihood that person could be classified as a narcissist.  Basically, the narcissist is concerned about himself and not about you.  In fact, she may not even fully understand that you are a real person with a life and concerns of your own.

Again, remember that this classification is for you.  Once you understand what is happening, what kind of person you are dealing with, you will be better able to handle the frustration you find rising up in you.  Anything you learn about the narcissist is for you.

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The “Victimless” Crime

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

As long as I don’t hurt anyone, I can just do what I want. Right? This philosophy may well be a sign of an increasingly narcissistic culture.

One of the prevailing fallacies of our day is the idea of a victimless crime. Certainly there are actions, perhaps even prohibited actions, that don’t hurt others. But most of the acts people call “victimless” actually have victims. People who want to justify these behaviors usually just ignore or deny the existence of these victims.

Abortion, pornography, gambling, tax evasion, shoplifting—those who do these things often refer to them as victimless. They choose to either depersonalize the victims or deny that they exist. Usually the fact that the victims are far away or are hurt only minimally gives sufficient excuse.

Take lying on a resume for example. Who is hurt if I lie on my resume to get a job? I believe I can do the job, but I don’t really have the credentials or the experience. So I lie. If I get the job, who cares? I didn’t hurt anyone, did I? Well, the other applicants who did not get the job (but lost to me because I lied) might disagree. The employer who didn’t get the competence desired might disagree. The customers or clients I would serve inadequately might disagree. Just because I might choose to ignore these victims does not mean they do not exist.

Those who have been in relationships with narcissists, at whatever level, have almost certainly heard these words, “What? I didn’t hurt anyone.” Since the narcissist refuses to see any victim, he/she feels justified in the action. “No one was hurt!”

This philosophy comes so easily to the narcissist because the narcissist doesn’t see anyone as having value, or even as real for that matter. Others, as we have said here so often, are simply tools, toys, or obstacles. Other people only have value inasmuch as they are useful to the narcissist. So stealing, lying, and manipulating will always be victimless in the mind of the narcissist.

The narcissist parks in a handicapped spot. “I was only in the store for a few minutes. No handicapped person needed that spot. I didn’t hurt anyone.”

The narcissist steals from his employer. “They have so many of these things that they will never miss this. It isn’t like I hurt someone.”

The narcissist drives over the speed limit. “I was in full control all the time. No one was hurt.”

The narcissist lies about his accomplishments to a group of acquaintances. “They will never know otherwise. How could that hurt anyone?”

In fact, the narcissist can convince himself that he does these things because others want him to. They secretly enjoy watching him drive fast or hearing his inflated stories. Not only are they not victims, but he is doing something they like.

The laws that prohibit certain behaviors came out of a culture that understood the often subtle damage our actions can have on the people around us. We understood that certain acts do have victims, even when those victims are not known to us or near to us. Today that understanding is eroding.

But the narcissist lives this philosophy as a matter of identity. He/she thinks: “If it doesn’t hurt me, there is no victim.”

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The Chase

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Those who read this blog regularly understand what I mean when I refer to the narcissist’s “super-power.” It is their amazing ability to manipulate what others think of them. While family members and co-workers see their duplicity and mean spirits, others see nothing but positive.

However, like many things in life, this is easier to initiate than to maintain. Taking on a pet, for example, is an initial expense and effort that might be easy to manage. The real cost of a pet, however, is spread over years of feeding and care. The same is true for a vintage car, a house, or anything else that requires regular maintenance. I used to have a sign in my office that said, “Almost everything in life is easier to get into than to get out of.”

So the narcissist often has many acquaintances and few friends. First impressions are easy for the narcissist. They read people quickly. They understand just what to say and how to act. Contrary to what those who enter long-term relationships might think, narcissists actually value acquaintances. Who knows whether one might come in handy some day. So the extra effort, the extra kindness, might pay off later. It is worth the initial investment to the narcissist.

But the long relationship is much harder. What seemed like patience and kindness in the beginning cannot be found later. Rather than being complimentary and helpful, the narcissist becomes critical and needy. The person in the relationship is expected to service the narcissist. Any failure is met with harsh words or cruel actions.

Narcissists are great at making new friends and impressing the people they meet, but they are almost always ill-equipped to maintain long relationships. They love the mystery and challenge of dating, but marriage quickly becomes a chore. They like new customers at work, but hate the regulars. They enjoy the new baby (and the attention it brings), but find children to be a drag. Some narcissists seem to jump from marriage to marriage (or have multiple intimate relationships), just because they get bored or burdened. It’s the adventure they seek, not the responsibility.  The chase proves to be more fun than reaching the goal.

Never forget that narcissists judge people by their usefulness. An acquaintance is something held in potential. Someone who might become useful. The person in the relationship has already proven to the narcissist that her/his usefulness comes with a price. Most narcissists are quickly unwilling to pay that price. Words of encouragement and gratitude, quickly given to the acquaintance, are rarely heard by the person in relationship.

Many people speak of the 80/20 rule. The narcissist sees 80% of the people as requiring 20% of his effort. The 20% require 80% of the work. So why spend time on the 20%? And why would he seek to bring anyone from the 80% into the 20%? Instead, people are kept at arm’s length. The fewer close relationships the narcissist has, the better.

Well, you say, those acquaintances are not paying the bills, washing the clothes, or doing the work of the relationship. The narcissist knows this and doesn’t like it. If the narcissist could find a way for acquaintances, people with whom he/she barely has to relate, to send money and do work—it would be a perfect world. Instead, he/she is stuck with people who expect time and connection in order to happily serve. That’s not a good thing in the mind of the narcissist. You and I should serve joyfully and adequately without any reciprocation. Just because the narcissist is so worthy.

It might seem like the narcissist loves mankind, but hates people. In truth, the narcissist uses anyone and everyone to the point where they become more effort than they are worth. Because the narcissist is not omniscient, he/she sometimes gets into relationships expecting more fun or more service and finds boredom and responsibility. The person in that long relationship often finds the narcissist to be angry, distant, and wandering.

Always chasing the elusive prize of satisfaction and fulfillment, the narcissist is disappointed again and again that no person can meet the longing of his/her heart.

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Forgiveness or Boundaries?

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

It seems to be a hard fact that others will take advantage of nice people. Open your door to strangers, and you will have more strangers in your home than you can handle. Say yes to one job, and you will have twenty more. Let someone get by with one offense or intrusion, and that person will do so over and over.

Certain people look for nice people to use. They know that nice people have a desire to be nice, to help and give. They also know that nice people have trouble saying “no” and sometimes even more trouble saying, “Stop!” So they seek out people to use and use them until they wear out or break. Then these abusers move on to someone else.

Narcissists are users. Narcissistic parents raise victims for their use. Narcissist bosses hire victims. Narcissist spouses marry victims. Narcissist friends hunt their victims. All narcissists need someone to use.

So the connection between narcissistic abuse and Christian kindness seems almost inevitable.

Some believers have great difficulty reconciling the need for limiting the abuse in their lives with the call to forgive the abuser. In other words, when forgiveness is to come freely and quickly, it seems to open the door to more abuse. Some think that the call to forgive negates any desire for boundaries.

Sometimes the charge of Jesus for us to “turn the other cheek” is brought into the discussion. When someone hits you on the cheek, Jesus says, you should give him the opportunity to hit the other cheek. Jesus says this to help His people understand that suffering is a part of the Christian life. While we may avoid it most of the time, there will be times when—because of our unity with Him—we will suffer. In those times, we should not despair. We should suffer with the understanding that the Lord loves us and is with us.

But there are a couple of things to notice. First, this suffering does not come about because of sin on our part. This suffering is from sin on the part of the abuser. It is clear from the context of the passage (Matthew 5) that the person hitting the victim’s cheek is evil and an enemy of the Lord (or at least acting like one). Second, these are situations that cannot be avoided. The abusive person is in a position of power or authority over the victim. Words like “compel” and “sue” do not suggest that the victim is a willing participant.

So, yes, there are times when turning the other cheek is the only response. Fighting back, striking the abuser, is usually out of the question. Sometimes the bully gets you, but in those times the Lord has not forgotten you. There is a promised blessing in suffering, and you should forgive the abuser.

HOWEVER, boundaries may allow you to avoid such situations in the first place. Or boundaries may give you personal victory in the midst of the shame and abuse. Simply being able to lay blame for the abuse at the feet of the abuser is a boundary. When I refuse to see myself as an unworthy person just because someone is abusing me, I have set an important boundary. When I can admit that my suffering does not come from what I have done, but from the sin of another, there is an important boundary. And, perhaps, the use of other boundaries in my life will help me avoid the abuse altogether.

Boundaries are to protect us. We may not be able to control the actions of another person. We may be called to forgive those actions. But we do not have to allow those actions, or that person, to define us or control every part of our lives. The idea of a boundary is simply that we may reject the control of the abuser.

For example, suppose you have someone who insists on calling you at ten o’clock at night to complain or share problems. Can you, as a Christian and a kind person, tell that person that you will not be able to answer phone calls that late? Of course. You are still a Christian and still kind, but now you no longer have to suffer the loss of peace and sleep those calls brought.

And can you forgive the person with the boundary still in place? Again, of course. The existence of the boundary does not stop your forgiveness. It simply allows you to sleep. You forgive the person separately from your action or decision to stop their control.

The narcissist seems to know how to push our buttons. They know what things drag us down and weaken us so they can control us. In fact, they resist our boundaries as they attempt to control. The person who calls at 10 PM will almost certainly do it after being told not to. Perhaps over and over. The boundaries will be tested, even attacked.

But you can still forgive. Each time.

The point is that forgiveness and boundaries are not exclusive. In fact, they are both part of who we are as believers. There are many boundaries in the Christian life. The young person may say no to sexual pressure by setting a boundary, but still forgive the person who pressures. The Christian who is expected to lie at work can refuse to compromise his integrity by setting a boundary, but still forgive the person who asked for the lie. These are different things.

So when the narcissist tries to control, through one of his/her many methods, you can resist by setting boundaries and still forgive the attempts. There is no inconsistency in this. Forgiveness is not holding the offense against the person. Boundaries are a decision to limit the abuse.

And what about turning the other cheek? Jesus is not suggesting that we invite or even welcome the abuse. He is telling His followers to be strong, to continue to trust in Him, in spite of the suffering. He is saying that we can look our abusers in the eye and endure the suffering—when it cannot be avoided. But there is nothing in the text that tells us we cannot avoid the abuse or try to limit it. The call to forgive is not meant to be a sign on your back saying, “Kick me!”

 

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