Tag Archives: narcissists in church

Unconditional Love – Again

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

Mary has a lover.  She also has a husband.  She only wants to be with her husband because he finances her desires.  She has no love for him, no commitment to him.  During their arguments, she says that she hates him and wants nothing to do with him.  When she leaves the house, she goes to the home of her lover. 

John hits his wife.  He stopped being kind and loving toward her a long time ago.  She is the scapegoat of his anger.  He keeps her isolated so others don’t know her suffering.

Jane hates her daughter.  At least that’s what she yells at her when she is angry, which is most of the time.  She wants her daughter to remain with her until she dies so that she can have a servant.  She permits no outside relationships, no outside activities.  Jane tells her daughter that she wishes she had aborted her before she was born.  Her daughter is unworthy of her love or of any human kindness, she says. 

Mike is the master of his home.  His wife and children exist to serve him.  When he works, he comes home and demands service.  When he doesn’t work, he expects his wife to bring in money for his use.  He has a new pickup and boat, while his wife and children barely have food and clothing.

In the minds of some, Mary’s husband should continue to give to her and care for her in spite of her unfaithfulness and in spite of her own statements of rejection.

In the minds of some, John’s wife is supposed to stay and be a contented wife without regard to her own safety and health.

In the minds of some, Jane’s daughter should obey and love her mother.

In the minds of some, Mike’s wife and family should serve him with sacrifice and love, no matter what.

After all, Christians should show unconditional love!

 

 

I received a comment the other day in which the writer took all of us to task for our lack of “unconditional love” and for speaking of the narcissists in our lives as “objects.”  (Not all comments make it past my moderation.)

But I feel the need to address this idea of unconditional love again.  I wrote about it a year ago HERE.  Please read that post.  This post will only add to what I said there.

Unconditional love is a wonderful thing for people to talk about.  It suggests that good people will put up with anything.  The idea is often used to weaken the resolve of victims for making changes.  It is also used to try to hold back the hand of justice for the offender.  The idea is especially convicting for Christians.  After all, what is more loving than continual, sacrificial, forgiveness?  That’s what we have received, and that’s what we are expected to give.

But I have found that it is a lot easier to tell others to love unconditionally than to actually do it myself.  In fact, I suspect that unconditional love isn’t something we can do.

 Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.

C.S. Lewis

 

But let me ask this question to those who would expect us to love unconditionally: What do you mean by “love”?  Do you mean staying in a relationship where there is danger and hatred?  Do you mean never expecting accountability for the actions of the offender?  Do you mean maintaining the lie that hides the broken and abusive relationship? Do you mean allowing the victim to suffer to the point of suicide or mental illness?  Is that love in your eyes?

You see, most of the people who call others to unconditional love have suffered little in life, or have accepted that suffering for their own lives.  They judge and criticize, rather than empathize.  But unconditional love is not a demand or even an expectation.  It is a glimpse of Heaven and the Lord’s own heart.

I know that there are rare and wondrous occasions where parents forgive the murderer of their child.  I know that some have truly forgiven their abusers or rapists.  Those are marvels in our world, worthy of story and song.  This is not unconditional love as much as it is love beyond conditions.  No one sets out in the morning to have that kind of love in their hearts.  No one could ever create such love.

The rare times we see or feel this kind of love are nothing less than miracles, acts of God.  To judge someone for not experiencing a miracle is unfair.  To place the expectation of a miracle on another, when very few of us would ever experience such a thing ourselves, is cruel.

I sincerely doubt that any human love can be truly unconditional, however.  Love is based on relationship, and when relationship fades, love fades.  You will often hear people speaking of the unconditional love of pets, usually dogs.  But pull the dog’s ear and it will make you stop.  It may feel badly for biting you, but it will bite nonetheless.

A person who sets out to carry a cat by the tail will learn a lesson that will be useful throughout life.

Mark Twain

 

To judge a victim for seeking escape or solace is to misunderstand the need of the heart.  Narcissists often demean their victims to the point of incapacitation.  They use and abuse until the heart is broken and the mind is weakened.  It is natural for victims to want to leave or end the pain.  How could it be otherwise?  And how could they be wrong?  Should we expect that victims would want to remain in their suffering?  Of course not.

There will be a day when we will love fully and freely, without condition.  And in that day there will be no more sin.  No one will cause pain in the heart of another.  There will be no abuse or manipulation or degrading.  No one will lie.  No one will cheat.  No one will be cruel.  I look forward to that day.

Perhaps, if you experience the levels of pain that some here have suffered, you might have the grace to keep on loving.  If you do, it will not be that you are spiritually superior.  It will be that you have been given a gift.

It is much more likely that you would go through a time of great grief, mourning the loss of love and the broken relationship.

Please don’t judge those who are in the midst of this struggle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Personal Space

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

The concept of personal space challenges most of us. Some people seem to have a very small sense of personal space. They push themselves right into your face to talk, sit right next to you, and keep their hands on you too long. Others have a very large sense of personal space. They back away as you come near, and always keep a seat between themselves and the next person. Different cultures handle this differently, as do different families.

Last week I wrote about territoriality and narcissism, how the narcissist needs to control his/her world by maintaining ownership. That was a long post. This one will not be as long. I just want to look at this idea of personal physical space.

Most of the narcissists I have known seem almost phobic about being touched. A pat on the back will seem like an offense. I have seen them wipe themselves off when people have touched them, almost as though they were dirtied or something. I have seen them refuse to take an offered hand, or dance around to avoid a hug. They allow others to think of them as germophobic, but the truth is something more.

At the same time, most of these narcissists (not all) are very generous with their own touching. They will put their hands on someone’s shoulders to give a phony back rub. They will put their arms around someone’s shoulders. They will shake hands and hold on too long. They will hug people of the opposite gender when it might seem unnecessary. Some are even willing to risk harassment charges with their touch.

What’s going on? Well, touch can be a controlling technique. To receive a touch from someone is often to submit to that person, to allow him/her into your personal space. When we allow someone into our space, there is something shared that seems intimate. Lovers look into each others’ eyes and brush lips or cheeks. For someone else to do that would seem creepy or threatening. At the least it would seem inappropriate. The whole concept of personal space is to protect ourselves.

So we can understand why the narcissist doesn’t want to be touched. It’s too open, too risky. People who get too close begin to see things the narcissist would rather they not see. They can’t be submissive or out of control.

And we can also see why the narcissist would want to touch others. If touch is a way of controlling, breaking through personal barriers or boundaries, then the narcissist must at least try. Putting his arm around the young lady is a way to see if she will be receptive to his influence. Putting his hands on a co-worker’s shoulders is a way of exerting his superiority. Stepping in or sitting too close might be a way of threatening. Whenever others are uncomfortable, the narcissist sees an opportunity.

What seems like yet another hard to understand inconsistency in narcissistic behavior is actually quite consistent. The narcissist loves to control, but hates to be controlled. If he/she sees touch as a way to control, expect to see both this overly expressive touching and the fear of being touched.

But listen, if you are a woman and a man touches you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, tell him to stop and tell him loudly. Yes, that is harassment. It is not an accident or an innocent gesture. We live in a day when men know they have to be careful about touch. Don’t be afraid to challenge the behavior. The narcissist will protest his innocence, but he almost certainly will not do it again if others hear about it. (Yes, the same process could be used if a woman touches a man in an uncomfortable way, but that protest will probably not be as effective. The culture doesn’t understand the reality of that as much yet.)

And if you are a man who is touched by another man in a controlling or condescending way—and you are able—do the same thing to him. If he comes to sit by you and sits right next to you so you are uncomfortable, do the same thing to him when you see him sitting alone. Or, better yet, put something of yours on the seat next to his. See how quickly he moves your stuff or changes seats. If he puts his hands on your shoulders as you sit at your desk, do the same to him. If he thinks he has opened the door to you coming in to his personal space, he will quickly change.

There are always risks to dealing with narcissists. Be careful and be sure you are safe. At the same time, I think the fear of being touched will outweigh the desire to use touch as way of control for the narcissist.

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Territoriality

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

 

In college I wrote a thesis on human territoriality, a subject that interested me.  It had to do with what we call personal space, the physical distance we maintain between ourselves and others.  Other aspects included how we mark our territory and what we do to defend it.  This topic takes on new life when we think about the narcissist.

Since territoriality has to do with control, it makes sense that it would appear in relation to narcissism.  Yet, you won’t read much about it in the literature.  That’s probably because most writers deal with the behavior toward people rather than how the narcissist interacts with the world in general.

Narcissists need to control the world around them.  Most of them hate surprises and intrusions.  They have great difficulty handling changes and challenges.  Many are habitual to the point of obsessive.  It might not look that way to those who don’t have to live with them.  It might seem like the narcissist is always changing, never predictable, but the only change they can endure is change they create themselves.  They want life to be the way they like it—always.  Changes that affect others mean nothing to them, as long as those changes are controlled by them.

One of the most common ways for the narcissist to control the world is to be protective about his/her stuff.  I use the word “stuff” to describe just about anything you want to put in its place.  Whatever the narcissist decides belongs to him.  His house, his workspace, his chair, his car, his sports equipment, his seat at church, his parking spot, his computer, his camera, and on and on and on.  You recognize this territoriality when he makes it clear that no one should ever touch his stuff.

If you should be unfortunate enough to have to share something of his stuff, you are probably under strict orders to put everything back the way you found it.  If the seat in the car isn’t back the way he likes it, or the mirrors or the vents, you will hear about it.  It will sound like you are privileged to use his stuff, not that you share it with him.  He can leave it in a mess or adjusted so that you have to spend time to be able to use it, but that’s different.

If you share an office at work with a narcissist, you probably have seen this intense territoriality.  Remember Les Nessman from “WKRP in Cincinnati”?  Les shared office space with the other employees, but carefully marked his territory and allowed no one in except by permission and by using the imaginary door.  It really isn’t that funny if you have to work with it every day.

Now, almost all of us have some territoriality.  We tend to define ourselves by our stuff.  Ownership and identity get mixed up in a culture like ours.  But the narcissist takes this way past what is reasonable with his vindictive behavior.  Touch his stuff and he may break yours.  Move something of his and you will never hear the end of it.  Scratch something and he will want to kill you.

And there’s more.  You see, because the narcissist refuses to see others as real people, he has no trouble saying:

 

What’s mine is mine; and what’s yours is mine!

 

As hard as it is to face, those in relationships with narcissists will understand more of the life they live when they realize that the narcissist does not see others as real people.  People, as we have said here in the past, are tools, toys, or obstacles.  This seems to be especially true for those closest to the narcissist: spouses, children, and others in familiar relationships.  It also is especially true for those the narcissist deems as dependent or subservient.

If you are friends with the narcissist, you have probably noticed that you are not allowed to touch her stuff, but she can use anything of yours.  At work, his desk is absolutely off limits, but yours is fair game.  You may often return to your desk to find things moved or missing.  He might laugh as he explains that he took paper from your notebook so he wouldn’t have to tear out his.

People are stuff, too, in the eyes of the narcissist.  He can flirt and even cheat, but would never allow his wife the same freedom.  Many have told how the children are nearly neglected until the divorce proceedings come along.  Suddenly the narcissist must hold onto the children.  This isn’t only so that his spouse will lose something.  It is also that he thinks they belong to him.  He might verbally abuse his family, but he will rant and rave against anyone else who does so.  It obviously isn’t that he is protective of them as persons, but he is protective of his stuff.

Another way the narcissist may be different from others in his territoriality is the evidence he leaves behind him.   His stuff will be clearly identified as his, either that or he will have told everyone in no uncertain terms.  When someone parks in his spot, he will say that everyone should know he parks there.  Like the little dog that defends the yard from on top the couch, the narcissist will make a lot of noise when someone dares to enter his territory.

And unlike other sneaks or thieves, the narcissist will usually let you know that he used your belongings or that he snooped.  You may feel like he is asserting control over you, but he is also marking his territory.  He is letting you know that he considers your stuff to be his stuff.  That little scratch on your car or door or desk or chair is a reminder that he owns it.  It doesn’t matter to him that it bothers you, he enjoys the fact that you see it.  Again, like the little dog, he does his job in your yard so that you know he was there.

There are other things toward which we can extrapolate this behavior.  If the narcissist has been part of a committee or organization and, because of term limits or something, has to turn things over to you, expect that his marks will be all over it.  The narcissist pastor will remove all evidence of the former pastors, but find ways to make sure his marks stay after he is gone.  As the new leader of the organization, you will be told in which chair you should sit because the former (N) chairperson always sat there.  The forms will have his name on them, and there will be little evidence that any forms existed before he had the job.

 

So the teenager who finds her mother wearing her clothes should understand that this is a way in which her mother claims her belongings.  The same is true when mother reads the daughter’s diary, after searching through the drawers and boxes for it.  That diary, like the daughter, belongs to the mother. 

And the wife who realizes that nothing is in her name may be seeing her narcissistic husband claiming ownership to the things she thought they shared. 

The employee who finds his boss at the employee’s computer is probably being reminded that both the computer and the employee are owned by the boss. 

 

I could give many examples of this territoriality, I suppose.  And you could give so many more.  The point is that we must understand the value of belongings and space to the narcissist.  Ownership is control and prestige in their world.  Things have value because they serve the image without argument or variation.  People have value if they stay quiet and submissive.

Finally, have you ever noticed how the narcissist gets rid of things?  He doesn’t mourn the loss of a faithful car when he gets a new one.  He already rejected the old junker before he got the new one.  The narcissist isn’t sad to leave behind a job or house or piece of furniture; he is glad to get rid of it.  There is no middle ground for most narcissists.  At the moment they decide that belongings no longer serve their purpose, those belongings are rejected.  Sometimes even if those belongings are yours.  And sometimes even if it is you.

 

When a person enters the world of the narcissist, he or she enters a controlled world where everything is either owned or hated.

 

 

 

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Challenges

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

 

As we grow up, we face various challenges. People are unkind, situations become difficult, we make wrong choices.   How we handle life’s challenges reveals a great deal about who we are and how we think.  Sometimes patterns develop that carry from childhood throughout our lives.

Let’s suppose you are in first grade.  You don’t know anyone, and you feel intimidated.  After you find a desk, one of the other kids looks at you from across the room.  Right at you.  Then he says, “You’re stupid!”  Everyone hears, of course.  Some laugh.  Some just look away.  Some stare at you.  Even the teacher says nothing.

You know how that makes you feel today.  But at the time one question would have been running through your head.  “Am I stupid?”  From that point you would develop a way of handling criticism.  As you matured you would have plenty of opportunities to refine your skills.

Twenty-five years later someone at work or in your organization says, “Well, that was a stupid thing to do!”  Yes, it was referring to you.  By now you have a way of dealing with such things.

These four categories might not be exhaustive, but they seem to be the most common ways people handle criticisms and attacks.

 

Agree – Some people simply accept the fact that they are stupid.  They might not like it, and they might get on your case for saying it, but they own it.  Being stupid has become a definition for them.  They are victims of stupidity.  They accept little risk or responsibility.  They feel and act defeated and picked on.  They tend to be sad and guilty and sensitive.  Their addictions get them through life, they think.  They accept the judgments of others who consider them stupid.

Compensate – Some people do everything they can to not be stupid.  They become perfectionists, driven to do things right.  They hate being wrong.  They are obedient, hard-working, rule-abiding, and careful.  Ever since that day in first grade, they have worked to be smart.  No one considers them stupid today.

Deny – Some people will fight.  They hate the feeling that comes with the challenge.  If you say something that makes them feel that way, they will be in your face.  They have become angry people, defensive and cynical.  You might call them aggressive, especially if they start to feel criticized.  Few will dare to refer to them as stupid.

 

Most people, you see, will internalize the personal criticism.  They carry the label around with them throughout life.  They react to that label over and over again.  Thinking about it makes them feel defeated, or angry, or driven to do better.  They try to deal with it.  But there’s fourth group of people who handle it differently.  These are the ones we call narcissistic.

 

Hide – Some people learned that there were ways to turn the challenges back on others.  In their hearts, they internalized the criticisms like others, but compartmentalized them.  So the little boy sat in his desk and became numb.  Every time something like that happened, he seemed to build a stronger cocoon around himself.  Then, one day, he called someone else stupid.  He noticed how it hurt that person, so he did it again.  It gave him power to make someone else feel like that.  It wasn’t long before he was able to keep others on the defensive.  He became condescending and controlling.  He learned that attacking first kept others from attacking him.  They feared him.

 

The narcissist learned to cover his fears and inferiority by using and manipulating the feelings of others.  As long as they were concerned about their own feelings, they wouldn’t threaten his.  He could stay hidden.  Because of his aggressive behavior, the others deferred to him.  They let him lead and control.  He began to see that he could overcome his negative feelings about himself by being superior.  As long as he could keep the others fearful and submissive, he was the winner.  All attention had to come to him.  His way could be the only right way.  Anyone who disagreed would have to be silenced.

Some narcissists learned that they could maintain their control by having others fight for them.  Others could be the heroes to protect and provide, as long as the narcissist remained in control.  Others would serve and bend and sacrifice, while the narcissist appeared to be the victim.  But the underlying response to the criticism was the same, manipulating the feelings of others.

So today, when the narcissist is told that something he did was stupid, his response may be to intimidate the people around him, to become angry and threatening toward the accuser, or to be hurt and need special attention.  In no case will he allow himself to feel stupid.  He will lie, accuse others, blame anything, rather than feel stupid.  And he won’t care who he hurts in the process.  He will become the monster, frightening the children around him until he feels strong again.

But the narcissist never really dealt with those feelings from childhood.  He just pushed them into hiding and pretended to be something bigger and better.

As long as he could fool others, he could fool himself.

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Protecting Yourself

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

Okay, so I know that I have stumbled into narcissistic relationships and have suffered for it.  How do I avoid this in the future?  Is there a way to protect myself from narcissists?

 

Good and strong people still find themselves to be the targets of narcissistic manipulation and/or rage from time to time, but there may be a way to keep your relationships narcissist-free.  So while narcissists may attack you or try to use you, you may be able to protect yourself against the soul-eating relationships you have suffered before.  In fact, you may also be able to make yourself less susceptible to narcissistic manipulation in the relationships you have now.

The key is identity.  Who are you?  Are you willing to find security and strength in who you are?

You see, in our minds (and in the minds of others), we suffer from identity confusion.  I am not who I was, but I also am not who I would like to be.  Yet some people see themselves only in the light of who they used to be.  Some people constantly compare themselves with who they want to be.

When we look at others, we often don’t see who they are.  We see who they were or who they could be, in our minds.  Or, perhaps, we see what we want them to be for us.

So the young lady (who sees herself as who she used to be and believes she will never be what she would like to be) meets a young man who sees in her what he wants her to be.  At the same time, he feels the same way about himself as she feels about herself, and she looks to him as someone to help her become who she wants to be.  And this we would probably consider a normal relationship.  No wonder relationships are so often confusing.

When the narcissist, who sees no one as a real person, looks on that same young lady, he only sees his own needs and views her as a way to meet those needs.  He doesn’t care who she really is or what she would like to be.  He only cares about what he needs.  He will either use her at the time or manipulate her into becoming something that will meet his needs.  She, on the other hand, won’t understand what he is doing.  She will only see her own inadequacies and believe that changes are somehow right or important.  If he is successful, he will mold her into what she never was and never should have been.  She will feel like her world has become somehow unreal, not right.

All of this is about identity.  Narcissists will not be interested in those who are secure in who they are.  The problem is that so few people know who they are.  All our lives we have been told that we are not good enough, that we are failures, and that we should try harder to be something else.  That makes us weak and vulnerable.  We believe the assessment of the users and abusers.  We see ourselves as inadequate, so we are submissive, weak, and culpable.  We believe we deserve the abuse, because we see ourselves in this negative light.

One thing I have noticed over the years as I have written and taught about narcissism is the quality of the victims.  Almost without exception, the people who write to me or talk with me are articulate and strong.  But they don’t see themselves that way.  I have been impressed many times at the excellent writing in the emails I receive.  I have been impressed at the amount of work some have done in these relationships.  I have also been impressed at the intelligence of those who write.  But so very few think of themselves as superior or even normal.

The narcissist sees an opening when we view ourselves as inadequate or damaged.  Sadly, that’s what the church has taught people.  Every Sunday some people go to church and hear how bad they are.  They don’t want to be bad, and they try to do right, but they come back the next week and are told the same thing.  When they meet the narcissist, they have been prepared.  They already think of themselves as weak and inadequate.  They compare poorly against others.  They are already compromised.  So it shouldn’t surprise us that narcissists operate effectively in churches.

But we should strongly object to that.  The church has a message of love and acceptance that people would be challenged to find anywhere else.  Christians should be the most secure and peaceful people in the world.  We have already been accepted and loved and valued by the One whose judgment matters more than any other.  Our inadequacies simply prove that we need the Savior we have.  There is no shame in our failures or weaknesses.  The Lord’s compassion lifts us up when we fall, and no one’s mocking or condemning can bring us down again.  No can take away what He has given us.  We did not deserve His love, and we will not keep it by our goodness.  The peace we have comes from who He is.  That’s what makes us who we are.

You see, narcissists depend on our needs, our fears, and our vulnerability.  If we come into the relationship, whether it is at work, at church, or dating, content in who we are, the narcissist has nothing to use against us.  Emotional and spiritual health lie in an accurate and confident understanding of who we are.

Let’s look back at that young couple.  When she goes on a date with him, he tells her she looks nice, and she feels good.  On the second date, she wears a different dress.  He tells her he liked the first dress more.  On the third date, she fixes her hair differently.  He is unhappy with the change.  What should she do?  If she comes into the relationship unsure of herself, already feeling inadequate, she may want to change things to please him.  If she made her choices confident in who she is and what she likes, she may realize that he is trying to manipulate her.  She should tell him that she wore the dress she wanted to wear, and that she likes the new hair style.  That should be enough for him.  If it isn’t, she should let him go.  If she is strong enough to stand for herself, he will probably want to go.

Is that too blunt?  I don’t think so.  Narcissistic relationships often begin this process of changing and molding the victim’s identity early.  Those who are confident in who they are will recognize the subtle attempts at control and will not be as attractive to the narcissist.

A couple years ago I wrote a series of posts to help believers understand the truth about themselves in Christ.  I called the series “Words of Grace.”  You may want to check this out.  It starts here:  https://graceformyheart.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/i-am-accepted/

 

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Narcissist-resistant Environments

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

Last week I wrote about how narcissists adapt their environment to fit their needs. For the most part, narcissists are opportunistic, taking advantage of existing conditions.  In other words, the environments they create around themselves were already open to their influence in some way.

It should follow that the rest of us could create an environment where narcissists would fear to tread. Could we build our families, organizations, churches, even friendships to prevent the narcissists from entering in?

Well, this is another topic that should be sufficient to fill a good book.  In fact, Jeff VanVonderen’s book, “Families Where Grace Is in Place,” might be a good suggestion for parents.  I am sure there are other books that might talk about healthy relationships in churches.

So let’s consider an ideal.  There’s nothing wrong with seeking the ideal, as long as we understand that we may not accomplish it.  Trying will bring us closer than not trying.  We also understand that it is more difficult to repair a broken structure than to begin fresh and right.  The following thoughts should apply for any of the relationships we talk about here (family, marriage, work, friendships, church, organizations, etc.)

Narcissism seems to thrive in a culture of performance.  When love and acceptance are given on the basis of performance, people suffer from insecurity.  No one knows if they have done enough or if they will do enough tomorrow.  When people are on edge, weakened by anxiety and fear, the way is easier for the predators.  Comparisons and competition give the narcissists opening for control.

It isn’t that narcissists are good performers.  They are rarely good parents or friends or co-workers.  Narcissists are usually not good at their jobs.  But they have an amazing ability to make others see them as good performers.  Narcissists take credit for work others do, they use others to get their work done, and they offer excuses when they fail.  But somehow they appear to be superior to others. If you have ever been on a team with a narcissist, you will remember how the narcissist was able to take credit for the team’s work.  You may also remember how the narcissist wasn’t able to make the meetings or the workdays or spent the time “managing” rather than doing anything useful.  Yet, somehow, the narcissist came out on top when everything was finished.  In a culture of performance, the narcissist will succeed.

Families where acceptance is based on performance, where love is a reward for work well done, will likely raise narcissists.  Some parents create competition between children, where those who “do well” are viewed as superior or more valued than the others.  Narcissists do not learn how to do well in this environment; they learn how to compete and how to make others view them in the best light.

Churches where spirituality is measured by certain qualities or quantities of performance will attract narcissists.  They will find their way into positions of leadership and power because others will see them as spiritually superior.  No, they will not be superior and may not even meet the minimum levels of performance, but others will still see them that way, and they will succeed.

Friendships based on performance may be doomed from the start.  When people remember who gave what gift and measure their reciprocation based on the perceived value of the gift, the narcissist will win.  When time or service or energy is the measure of the friendship, the narcissist will win.  No, not by superior performance, but by manipulating the relationship so that the other is always on the defensive.  When the narcissist gives a gift, for example, the reciprocated gift will never be enough, never be equal in value.  When the narcissist performs a service, the reciprocated service will never be sufficient.  Those who find themselves in that kind of friendship will always lose.

Even at work, where performance often reigns, competition and comparisons among co-workers encourage and enable the narcissist.  Some bosses keep their employees on edge, wondering about their jobs or rewards, worried about being accepted.  Narcissists are notoriously bad employees, but some bosses never see the truth because the narcissists are so good at manipulating the competition.

So how could we create an environment where the narcissist would find no opening, no welcome?  One way would be to end any form of acceptance or love based on performance.  Children who know they are loved, even when they do poorly or wrong, will probably never grow up to be narcissists.  Friends who are valued for who they are, rather than what they do, will support each other in ways narcissists would never find comfortable.  Employers who value their people and avoid competition among their employees, may find that a coherent and supportive team will achieve far more, and the false accomplishments of the narcissist will be revealed.

And churches/pastors who understand the love God has for each person, regardless of sin or performance, and who teach that to their people, will provide an atmosphere of support and acceptance the narcissist will find revolting.  The true message of the gospel is not about our performance, but about His love.  Because we are all dependent on His work and His love, rather than on our performance, there is no way for one to be superior to another.  When the highest leader is, at best, a servant of all, there is no power or prestige for the narcissist to covet.

This topic is far larger than one post can handle, so we will come back to it.  Yes, I believe it is possible to consider a narcissist-proof culture.  We may not achieve it, but we can move toward it.

 

On this humbling day we call Good Friday, I leave you with words that speak of God’s heart, words that encourage a new culture in our relationships.
Dear friends, we should love each other, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has become God’s child and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love to us: He sent his one and only Son into the world so that we could have life through him.
This is what real love is: It is not our love for God; it is God
’s love for us in sending his Son to be the way to take away our sins. 1 John 4:7-10 (NCV)

 

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“I don’t want to be a narcissist!”

It’s Narcissist Friday!    

More and more I get emails and comments from people who have diagnosed themselves to be narcissists and want help. When I have written back to these folks, I get no further response. To be fair, I find it hard to be sympathetic, and I don’t answer with sympathy. Most of those who write either have an agenda or blame someone else. In the past, I have spent many hours trying to work through the narcissism with people; but I don’t do that anymore.

So who writes to me? Well, there are some who are in trouble. They are losing their families and/or their marriages. They want to do whatever it will take to fix the problem. Someone has told them they are narcissists, and they think a little counseling will take care of things. When I tell them not to try to fix their marriages or their situation, but to spend time (lots of time) and energy (serious energy) on changing themselves, I don’t hear any more. I told one man that he should let his wife leave and give her a generous settlement, if he really feels that he is responsible. Never heard back.

When a narcissist is in trouble, he/she will seem to be very repentant, very accommodating, very willing to do whatever it takes to fix things. But they have no understanding of what they have done. They cannot identify with the pain they have caused. Eventually, if the apparent groveling doesn’t work, they will begin to say things like: “Well what more do you expect of me? I said I was sorry. I am trying to change.” But the victim knows (and the counselor should know) that nothing has changed. A game is being played.

Then there are those who claim to be narcissists, but are ready to blame others. I actually think this is a twist on the first group. Someone has held them accountable for their behavior. They are willing to admit that the behavior is hurtful, but lay the cause on someone else. It was mom’s fault, or the cruel spouse, or the other children at school. “Sure, I’m a narcissist, but I can’t help it. I’m a victim here. If so-and-so hadn’t done what he/she did, then I wouldn’t be this way.” Again, there is little to do for someone who won’t own their behavior.

There are also some who feel guilty for having hurt someone else. They have become aware of narcissism and think it describes them. Because of their guilt, they quickly assume that they are narcissists. Most of the time I doubt that they are actually narcissists, but most of these folks are so convinced of their guilt that they don’t want to hear anything to the contrary.

Sometimes, of course, I am able to assure someone that pain and fear will lead most of us to narcissistic behaviors and that we will thereby hurt others. There are ways to apologize and claim ownership of that behavior with true regret. That behavior can be changed when it is seen as hurtful by those who don’t really want to hurt others. There is a difference between being a narcissist and exhibiting behavior that narcissists also exhibit.

Then there are those who have taken a test. They read a magazine and found a list of characteristics and decided that some of those characteristics are true of them. But that really doesn’t bother them. In fact, they become a little belligerent, ready to accept the challenge. They waver between proud and defensive, but not regretful. They say to themselves, “Well if that’s what a narcissist is, I guess narcissism isn’t so bad.” Then they write emails and comments to challenge victims to “stop their whining.” They want us to be sympathetic toward them, even though they don’t really regret what they do.

So I have little to offer those who contact me and claim to be narcissists. I want simply to tell them to stop it. I can’t bring them to the brokenness they will need to see what they have done. I can’t make them feel the pain their victims have felt. The only thing I can do for them is pray. God can bring the narcissist to the end of himself.

I am not saying there is no hope for the narcissist. Please don’t think that. But there is no hope for them in me. The only hope is in Jesus.

Here’s my message to the narcissists:

Let Jesus take it all away. If your spouse is leaving, do whatever it takes to make it easier for him/her to go. If your child wants no contact, understand. Give up the fight. Suffer the humiliation. Accept the responsibility. Let go of the blame. And don’t go out looking for sympathy or justice. Just let it happen. Allow everything you fear: the rejection, the weakness, the loss. Ride it down as far as it goes … until you have nothing left but Jesus and His love.

Oh no, you don’t get to be the victim. You made choices and those choices hurt others. Admit it. Own it. Anyone who comes to comfort you and tell you it wasn’t your fault is either more narcissistic supply for your addiction or has their own agenda to use you. You can’t afford to turn your narcissism into being the victim. Own the fact that you use others and don’t care about their pain. Fall to the bottom. You’re going to hate it.

Face your fear. Experience the rejection and shame. Then take it to Jesus. Lay it at His feet. Don’t blame anyone. Don’t make up an excuse. Jesus already knows the truth. No one else should be a part of this, except maybe a counselor who is walking with you through it. Other people are not tools to serve you, even when you are hurting. No one, not your spouse or friend or parent or child, has to go through this with you. This is about what you have chosen and what you are going to take to Jesus.

Then, and only then, you will begin to understand that your hiding and pretending were never the answer. Then you will begin to understand that others are real and valuable. Then you will begin to see that the broken little self you have been trying to protect is just as false as the image you created to distract the world. Jesus loves you. Just you, in all your weakness. He accepts you as you are. Then let Him rebuild your life without the lies and the masks. Don’t expect others to come running to accept the new you. That isn’t the goal. The goal is to let Jesus actually create a new you. Know that He is in your life and is sufficient.

There may be some people you need to talk to. They don’t owe you forgiveness, or even the time to give an apology. If they are willing to listen, tell them what you think you did to them. Only then can you say you are sorry. If they disagree and want to set you straight, let them. If you understand what they say, tell them you are sorry. If you don’t understand, apologize for that and still believe them. Then that’s the end. Don’t ask for forgiveness. Just be sorry. Let them off the hook. If they hate you, so be it. If they don’t believe you, that’s okay. If they still think evil of you, you should understand. If you have to live the rest of your life apart from the people you should have loved, so they can feel and be safe, then do that. But you may still have responsibility to provide for them. Do it without complaint and without expectation. Do it from whatever distance is best for them. Fulfill your responsibility, and let them be free.

And don’t go out looking for new love. Not until Jesus lets you. All the repentance in the world means nothing if you just start hurting someone new. Be prepared to be alone, with no support other than the love of Jesus. That will be enough, more than enough, if you want the change He can bring. This will be the most uncomfortable path you have ever walked, but it will be the right one.

(One more note: if you have been told that you are a narcissist and find yourself criticizing all of this or looking for loopholes or ways to twist this to your advantage, you prove my point. I have nothing more to offer you.)

Is this possible? I believe it is. I won’t hold my breath waiting for an email from someone thanking me for this advice, but I will trust that Jesus will move someone to read it and be challenged with a genuine opportunity for change.

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