Tag Archives: narcissists in church

Overt and Covert

It’s Narcissist Friday!

(I am aware that this blog continually attracts new readers.  With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material.  The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for.  Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website.  So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years.  Please feel free to comment.)

Think about the people you know.  Some of them are what could be called loud people.  Others are quiet.  Some are outgoing, vivacious, gregarious, etc.  Some are inhibited, shy, withdrawn.  This doesn’t change just because someone is a narcissist.

It is easy to stereotype the narcissist as someone who must always be the loud center of attention.  But many narcissists have learned to avoid the limelight.  They control and dominate from behind the scenes.  In fact, you may not recognize this person as narcissistic at all.

Eleanor D. Payson has written about this difference in her book, “The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists.”  She differentiates between “overt” and “covert” narcissists.  The overt narcissist is what we have come to expect.  The powerbroker, the man in front of the camera, the mother-in-law who comes to your home and takes over.  The overt narcissist will come into your office space, sit on your desk, and dig through your papers.

The covert narcissist still wants to be in control but does so by “helping.”  Sometimes these folks offer to help with projects.  The only problem is that they end up taking over.  They work, or at least they motivate you to work harder, and they get things done.  But you feel stupid in the process.  When the project is done, it cost more than you had planned and it doesn’t look quite the way you had wanted it to.  But your “helper” assures you that this will be much better.  Your way just wasn’t good enough.  The covert narcissist will come into your office space to clean your desk and sort your papers.

This is the mother-in-law who comes to visit with her rubber gloves and cleaning supplies.  You find yourself angry and wishing she hadn’t come at all, when you are supposed to be grateful.  In the church, these people serve on committees and take jobs no one else will take.  It will be very clear that they are making a sacrifice to help you and you will be expected to praise them and honor them.  Never mind that they can’t seem to stay in budget or they alienate everyone else on the committee.  Never mind that the Missions Committee is now somehow responsible for setting the pastor’s salary and deciding what color to paint the outside of the church.

In all of this we have to understand that the goal of the narcissist is to look good and to feel good about himself.  It isn’t about you.  You feel like you are always being put down, but the truth is that the narcissist doesn’t really see you at all.  When Mom comes to clean, she just wants you to understand that she is really that good.  Aren’t you lucky you have her?

Interestingly, Payson suggests that covert narcissists often find their way to become a “doctor, therapist, minister, or missionary.” (p. 27)  These are all areas of service where one can appear to be helping while satisfying a need for control and favorable comparisons.

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Safe People

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

(I am aware that this blog continually attracts new readers.  With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material.  The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for.  Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website.  So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years.  Please feel free to comment.)

 

A good friend wrote to me personally about my last blog post.  The main thing I want to share here is his suggestion that those who must deal with narcissists should “spend lots of time with safe people in your life.”  What a great thing to remember!

Safe people?  Who are they?  Some reading this will have difficulty thinking of anyone, or at least anyone they can spend real time with.  Part of the problem many of us have suffered is making the assumption someone is safe only to find out later that the person used us or came back at us with an attack.  Some of the people in whom we have trusted most have betrayed us most hurtfully.  Self-protection dictates that we are very narrow in our definition of “safe.”

So let’s define safe people with some “off the top of the head” statements.  See if you agree.

  1. A safe person is someone without a vested interest in the outcome, other than your welfare and happiness.
  2. A safe person is someone who is willing to let you make a mistake, even though he or she has shared concerns.
  3. A safe person is someone whom you respect, but for whom you don’t have to measure up.
  4. A safe person is someone who won’t remind you of things you have said or done just to manipulate you to do things his or her way.
  5. A safe person doesn’t care about your situation as much as he or she cares about you.
  6. A safe person is one who will tell you when they think you are full of %$#& and expect you to do the same for them someday.
  7. A safe person is willing for you to share what you want when you want; and you still enjoy time with each other no matter what has been shared.
  8. A safe person is someone who affirms you without using that affirmation to manipulate you.
  9. A safe person isn’t perfect and doesn’t expect you to be.

So could a family member be safe?  Of course!  In fact, you might find that he or she has been waiting for you to come.  Could a non-Christian be safe?  Sure, as long as you remember that there is a difference between you and there are limitations to your connection.  Could someone of the opposite gender be safe?  Yes, but the risks are obvious and serious.  Actually you might be surprised at the person the Lord will use to help you.  In fact, a safe person may already be near.

Where would you go to find such a person?  Well, I would love to tell you to go to church and I believe that there are probably safe people there, but I know that church is part of the problem for many believers.  So, perhaps an interest-based group from another church or an exercise group or school group.  There are people who would love to have a friend who would care and would reciprocate in safe ways.

My suggestion is that you ask Jesus to send you someone.  Keep your guard up.  If this person is safe he or she will understand.  Share only what you are led to share.  Trust Jesus only, but let Him lead you to safe people.

And listen—if you blow it, don’t worry.  The Lord knows the need of your heart.  He knows both your desire for a safe person and your fear.  When you are betrayed or hurt, go to Him.  He is always safe.

Would love to read your comments!

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What is a narcissist?

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

(I am aware that this blog continually attracts new readers.  With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material.  The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for.  Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website.  So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years.  Please feel free to comment.)

 

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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Failure

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

Especially when out of their desired element, narcissists can be surprisingly incompetent. They are not as smart as they would have us believe. They often fail to prepare for tasks, fail to listen to instructions, fail to follow through on promises, or fail to take the job seriously. Narcissists often climb the success ladder by manipulating the system or using the work of others. When expected to actually do the job, some fail.

By now we understand that there are several different kinds of narcissists, and we expect that narcissists will respond in different ways to failure. In fact, this is a core subject when thinking about narcissism. Since the narcissist must be superior, failure can present serious difficulty.

Even the definition of failure might seem cagey when thinking of narcissists. Obviously, there is no failure in not keeping a promise. Nor is there failure when the expectations of others are not met. Not in the eyes of the narcissist. The fact that you are inconvenienced or disappointed or hurt does not mean that the narcissist will realize he has failed. No, failure only happens when there is the possibility of a negative light on the image. In other words, only when the narcissist is in danger of being seen as weak or incompetent will he/she respond to failure.

For example: Fred somehow is given the responsibility of putting on the organization’s yard sale. He hand-picks a group to work with him, giving them the jobs that involve real work. He makes the decisions. He sets the date, writes the ad, and keeps everyone going. Fred loudly proclaims that this will be the best sale the organization has ever had. When the day comes, however, the sale is a bust. There were other events in town that day and the place Fred chose was off the path. The ads didn’t get into the paper because Fred didn’t get them done in time. The decisions Fred made were not good ones. So few people came that someone said it was the worst sale they had ever had.

Now, how does Fred handle this failure? He knows that everyone is looking at him. Almost everyone who has had a relationship with a narcissist has seen this situation. Here are some of the options (and remember that a narcissist can use any or all of these):

 

Blame – Fred will probably complain about everyone. The stupid newspaper should make their deadlines clear; and why do they need all that time anyway? The stupid town should advertise their events better so people know what’s going on. If he just had more help. If the workers had told more people. If the organization members really cared. On and on and on. Everyone is to blame except Fred. It isn’t his fault.

 

Attack – Anyone who even looks like they are thinking that Fred has failed will be attacked, especially Mrs. Fred and the kids. The attacks may have nothing to do with the sale. Suddenly the car is dirty and the son is irresponsible and stupid. Suddenly the food isn’t good enough. No one is safe while Fred feels like he has failed.

 

Lies – If possible, Fred will find a scapegoat. After all, he told Bill to be in charge of advertising. The leadership of the group chose the date. If the organization had been willing to spend a little money to get a better location the sale would have been much better. But Fred never told Bill about advertising. And Fred chose the date over objections from others. And the group offered a better location, but Fred disagreed. Fred is very willing to lie so that it doesn’t look like he has failed.

 

Rationalize – The weather was bad. Who could have known about the town’s events? The sale had been going downhill anyway. Nobody wants to buy used junk these days. The people of the town are cheap. Yes, the sale was a bomb, but it couldn’t be helped.

 

Now, this last one might surprise some of you.

 

Whining – I worked so hard, but I just can’t seem to do anything right. Nobody likes me. I am a failure. I didn’t want the responsibility, but someone had to do it. I feel terrible.

 

Why would some narcissists be so willing to take blame and accept failure? So that you and others will disagree with them and tell them it isn’t their fault. By seeming to embrace the failure, Fred is actually deflecting criticism. Instead of the complaints of others, Fred hears words of encouragement. As they agree with his rationalization, they affirm him. As they remind him of his many successes of the past, they build up his image in spite of the obvious failure.

The narcissist sees criticism as arrows of attack, and any failure or appearance of weakness invites criticism in his/her mind. So the narcissist has two options. He may preempt the shooting of the arrows or he can redirect the arrows. He will try to preempt by rationalizing the failure or by inviting the arrows and making the shooters feel bad or by shooting first. He will try to redirect the arrows through lies and blame.

The point is that the narcissist must avoid the criticism. The arrows cannot stick. So much is invested in making the image superior that any negative must be stopped. The cost of stopping the criticism from sticking is never too high.

There is actually one more option for the narcissist, especially if nothing else works.

 

Quitting – Fred, in an explosive fit of blame and lies, tells everyone how terrible they are and then quits the organization. Or he simply leaves. He won’t answer phone calls. He won’t talk to friends. If anyone asks, Mrs. Fred is instructed to tell them that Fred is just too busy with important things and should never have tried to help. Now he is leaving the organization so that he can focus on what he is really called to do.

 

Fred can prevent the arrows, redirect the arrows, or dodge the arrows.

And there you have it. Several options. Fred may use any or all of them. Are there others?

Let’s just say that narcissists don’t handle failure well.

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The Narcissist’s World

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

If we were to truly see the world the way the narcissist sees it, I suspect we would be shocked. It is a world full of monsters and enemies, users and competitors. The narcissist looks out on the world, from his tiny and protective cave, and fears the pain it causes. He wants the happiness and peace he sees in others, but believes it all to be a lie. In fact, he blames others for the fear he feels.

Perhaps you have noticed the conversations the narcissist has in his/her own mind. They fight battles with unsuspecting foes. Long before the boss criticizes the work, the narcissist has argued and fought and called the boss all kinds of names. After the phone call, the narcissist continues the conversation with defensive words of ridicule and anger. Rather than confront directly, the narcissist peeks out from the safety of her shell to do battle when no one is around.

There is little need to learn the perspective of others if those others are simply categorized as enemies or monsters. There is no relationship with competitors or users. There is only strategy and manipulation. Reality lives only in the cave, and love exists only in the shell. Relationship involves only self and reflections of self.

Perhaps there was a time when the little child thought others were kind and helpful and accepting, but those thoughts and hopes were ripped apart again and again—until they disappeared. Now the golden rule of the narcissist is: Do unto others before they do unto you. Now the narcissist strikes first and understands that others are either users or to be used.

By the time of adulthood, many narcissists have built invisible shells around themselves so they can interact with others in safety. They have developed weapons of personality—attractiveness, ruthlessness, and ambition. They quickly categorize the people they meet. Some will serve as reflections, narcissistic supply, to spoon feed acceptance and appreciation. Others are instantly enemies, posturing themselves against the narcissist. Still others are invisible, or nearly so, and not worthy of the narcissist’s notice. And no one gets into the shell. No one.

The boasting and critical narcissist may build a golem, a puppet-self for others to see so there is no risk of them seeing into the shell. The golem, or image, is beautiful, strong, wise, superior in every way. And competitors should concede, monsters should fear, users should serve, and everyone else should bow in worship. The image represents the desires of the narcissist. From the safety of the cave/shell, the narcissist manipulates the puppet-self so that others do his bidding.

But the narcissist knows that the world outside the shell is not real. Even the image can never be real. No matter how much the narcissist builds and worships the image, reality can only be known inside the shell. And inside the shell is a place of fear and inferiority.

So all others must remain outside the shell, in the unreal world. Hurting others means nothing because they cannot be real. Using others is nothing more than moving chess pieces or children’s toys. The feelings of others touch nothing inside the shell because they cannot be real.

If all of this is depressing, you have understood something of the perspective of the narcissist. There is a darkness in the heart of the narcissist. We, from the outside, might feel compassion or, even, grief for what they suffer. Yes, we should pray for them. But we must always remember that their struggle cannot be repaired or even adequately helped by us. We are outside, and we are not real.  The narcissist’s world is inside the shell.

The narcissist will hurt you. He/she probably already has, if you are here reading this. You will not find love or value in your relationship with the narcissist. The narcissist doesn’t have it to give.

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Don’t they ever die?

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

Don’t they ever die?

There I said it. I said it so you don’t have to. It seems like such a terrible thing to think, so hard to admit. So unloving, so unkind, so uncaring. But the thought comes anyway. And the narcissist just keeps going.

I would normally ignore statements like this when I hear them because I understand how people struggle against these feelings. But I have heard this one several times, particularly from people whose aging parent is a malignant narcissist. I have heard it from people stuck giving care to invalid or dying narcissists. In those special situations, where it is so difficult to walk away, people have to deal with their own negative emotions.

Please hear me: You are not a terrible person for thinking this or even for wishing it would happen. Anyone who carries a burden will wish for it to be lifted, and you carry a heavy burden. You get tired. It takes over your life. It is constantly negative. You are discouraged and depressed and worn out. The thoughts come even when you don’t want them.

I think it is normal for any caregiver or sufferer to wish that the burden was lifted. Even if the one you care for is not a narcissist, but a kind and grateful person. Part of the struggle after the death of someone you have cared for is the mixture of emotions. On one hand you are grieved that they have passed; on the other, you are relieved. As you heal, you will find that you are able to look forward in life again. The guilt that comes then is natural, but unnecessary. Being thankful that the burden is gone is a normal, but usually unspoken, part of grief.

Obviously, it is a whole different thing to take action that leads to a person’s death. I know I don’t have to say that here; and, yet, perhaps I do. Wishing a person would die and helping them die is not the same. Trust God for the timing, but allow yourself the dignity of real feelings in the struggle. The person of integrity accepts the negative thought and does what is right anyway.

So here’s the question: “Do narcissists live longer than others?” I suppose I should add, “or does it just seem longer?” Well, I have never heard of any study on that topic, nor do I expect one. I have heard of many narcissists who have lived into their nineties. I have known of narcissists who live well past the expectations of their doctors. Perhaps there is a longevity aspect to orneriness.

I do know that narcissists are particularly tenacious. They seem to be able to hang onto attitudes and situations longer than others. What they lack in commitment to relationships, they seem to have in commitment to goals and grudges. They tend to remember everything, at least everything they want to remember. They can put up with a great deal of negative to accomplish a plan. Perhaps they are also able to hang onto life longer than others.

There are corollaries to the “Don’t they ever die” question. The adulterous spouses who criticize and complain about the marriage: “Don’t they ever leave?” The co-worker or boss who hates the job and the rest of the employees and can’t seem to actually do the work: “Don’t they ever move on?” The church members or leaders who only criticize and undercut plans and projects or who never seem to get enough attention: “Don’t they ever find another church?” We long for the day when these folks choose to get out of our lives. I suspect that those situations that are about relationships are just that much easier for the narcissists to leave than those that are about the image.

And the more we long for that day, the longer it seems to take. Narcissists I thought would move through leadership positions quickly have often stayed much longer than I expected. But maybe it seemed longer because I was watching and waiting. If you dread going to work every morning and long for the day the narcissist retires or finds a new job, you will probably feel like you wait a long time. If you hate for the phone to ring with another word of criticism or complaint or expectation, then it will seem like the phone rings way too often. We set ourselves up for the negative feelings by focusing on the pain.

Now, I am not saying that you should just ignore the struggle and be happy. What I am saying is that you must not allow your life to revolve around the negative relationship or circumstances. The more you wish your parent would die, the longer he/she will live. That’s not true, of course, but it will seem that way. So acknowledge the feelings and move forward with your life. Focus on the things that make you happy. If you are a caregiver, carve out some time for yourself. The only price you will pay is more complaining, but you will get that anyway. Just tell yourself that you are worth it.

Negative thoughts are part of life. Embrace them and move toward the positive. When you find yourself wishing the narcissist would just die, understand that you are struggling under a burden and it is natural for you to want out. Then just do the next right thing—which might be to take a break, or a walk, or a bath. Pray for yourself, but don’t be ashamed of your feelings. Just use them to know yourself and your needs a little better.

I have found that God does not usually take troubling people out of my life. No matter how much I blamed them for my problems and my pain, God seemed to leave them in place. No amount of good reasoning (and I had some great arguments) was enough to get Him to remove them. And, every time, I have grown from the struggle. I have learned more of how to find good in a situation or to look past what I saw as an obstacle. I have found a great deal of peace even when the situation hasn’t changed. Little by little, I am learning to trust Him. But listen: He doesn’t scold me or shame me for asking. He understands my pain and desire. He just knows better than I do what is good for me.

As always, we understand that situations are different. Sometimes you can move on, distance yourself from the narcissist and the pain. Sometimes you can’t. When you can’t, you have to find ways to affirm and care for yourself. Let your negative feelings, especially the strong ones, tell you that you need a break. To put it bluntly: when you find yourself wishing grandma would just die, call a friend and go out for a cup of coffee or find a hiding place and read a good book for a while. Give yourself something special. Don’t beat yourself up. You probably just need a break.

A BONUS TIP:

I want to say something about the telephone. I have needed to take a lesson from my kids on this. My kids might be odd in this world, but they can sit right next to a ringing phone without answering it. That’s not the way I was raised. We would run across the yard to get to the house before the phone stopped ringing. But today we have caller ID and answering systems. If the call comes at an inconvenient time, we can know who called and what they wanted. Then we can call them back at our convenience.

Here’s what I have told many people: Let the phone ring! If it is your narcissist on the other end, you don’t have to jump or scramble. Turn on the television and find the remote, get a cup of coffee, sit down in your most relaxing chair, and then call the narcissist back when you are ready. One more thing: When you are finished, hang up. If you need to make up an excuse, have it ready before you call. Put a loud teapot on the stove. Have someone call you. Walk over and push the doorbell. You don’t have to lie, just say that you have to go.

Someone is thinking: But what if it is an emergency? Has it ever been a real emergency? Every situation is an emergency in the mind of the narcissist. Every situation demands that you (not they) jump to action. Think it through. Most of the time you know what they are calling about. Besides, you can listen to the message as they leave it.

Neither the telephone nor the narcissist is in charge of your life.

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The Unintended Compliment

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

A backhanded (or left-handed) compliment is one that comes with its own slap. “That dress is amazing; it makes you look slim!”

A backwards compliment is much the same without the intent. “Your hair makes you look different, really cute!”

An unintended compliment is one that wasn’t meant to be a compliment at all. It may not have been meant as an insult either. It was probably just a statement or an action.

Narcissists do so much to pull people down. They criticize and insult and ignore and use. They say such cruel things and treat others like dirt. It doesn’t take long for some people to begin to believe the narcissist and think of themselves as inferior and unworthy.

But it might surprise you to realize that the narcissist gives you an unintended compliment every day. Whether he/she will admit it or not, you are important to the narcissist. You offer something the narcissist does not have. Now, stop and think about that for a moment.

When the narcissist saw you, he knew you were better than he was in some way. You could handle money. You could make good decisions. You had a good reputation. You had quality friendships. You had something he needed.

With you at his side, the narcissist looked presentable, successful, smart, worthy, or desirable. You were the trophy wife (or husband), the hard worker, the clear thinker, the kind friend. You helped the narcissist present his superior image to the world. Others thought more highly of him because of you.

Some of you know this. Some used to know this. Some don’t believe it could be true. If he thinks so highly of me, you say, why does he put me down all the time? Why does the narcissist seem so dedicated to discouraging and depersonalizing someone he/she admires?

Listen: they put others down because they admire them. The fact that the narcissist admires someone means that person is somehow better in the narcissist’s mind and people the narcissist sees as better are targets to be brought down. The superior person threatens the narcissist. The narcissist wants to be the superior one.

The narcissist needs quality people in order to look good. Yet, he cannot allow those quality people to show or believe their quality. He tries to steal their abilities and contributions to make them his own, so that he gets credit. Then he tries to control them by putting them down and discouraging them so they stay with him and look up to him. If the superior person can be made to look up to the narcissist, the narcissist is lifted even higher. All part of the plan.

This is true in all narcissistic relationships. It seems obvious that a narcissistic boss would try to attract quality employees and use their strengths, but then spend his time demeaning them and trivializing their contributions so they don’t look too good. The narcissistic parent will choose the most gifted child to abuse. Lifting that child up to serve the image, then slamming that child down to keep control.

And narcissists choose friends carefully. In fact, most narcissists don’t really have friends the way we think of friendship. They surround themselves with useful people. They don’t waste time with people who have nothing to offer.

So whatever narcissistic relationship you have endured, consider it an unintended compliment. In fact, take it further. Believe that you have value, serious value. You had something the narcissist didn’t have. Out of all the people the narcissist encountered, you were the best.

Now, I know that you think you must have been weak or broken, and the predator smelled opportunity. There was probably something that opened your heart to the manipulations and grooming of the narcissist. But that wasn’t why the narcissist found you. Narcissists do not choose people who are weak and broken. They have neither the interest nor the time. They have one mission—to present a superior image—and you offered something that furthered that mission. It had to be quality or the narcissist would have passed you by.

Of course you are discouraged in the narcissistic relationship. That’s the way it works. You are supposed to lose any self-esteem, any value of your abilities, any trust in your own decisions and actions. That’s so that you will stay under control. We all understand and we have all felt the same.

But the unintended compliment is still there. Grab onto it and embrace it. Tell yourself that you are still that person. You do have something to offer; not just to the narcissist, but to the world. You still are what the narcissist is not.

Be encouraged and affirmed!

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