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Why oh why?

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

You sit in your chair staring at the television. It’s off. The room is dark because you don’t want to be in the light right now. No one is around and you are grateful. Your mind and heart are numb, yet racing with thought. Numb thought. That’s about right.

What you did was wrong. It was a foolish decision. Yet, you did it knowingly and willingly. You didn’t stop at the warnings, you just did it. And it felt good. Or did it? There was something in it that felt good, but that numbness was there as well. The laughter and happiness were tempered by the knowledge that regret was coming. You knew you would pay a price.

And maybe this wasn’t the first time. It’s like something builds in you and needs to be released. The release brings pleasure, but also pain. The problem seems to be that the pain is future while the pleasure is present. As long as the pleasure comes first, you long for it. The pain, which seems so real as you sit in your chair staring at the TV, is far enough away to be ignored.

Pastor Jones preaches in favor of marriage and family, but visits the adult bookstore when he goes to the big city. He lives in fear that someone will see him and hates himself later, but rarely misses the stop. Mrs. Smith has a bottle hidden away and seeks comfort in its contents. The last bottle, like the ones before it, was poured down the drain in shame and guilt. But there’s always another. Another few dollars from the register at work, another few “extra” hours on the time card, just one more night together, just a little lie: these seem to take the pressure away—for a while.

Why do we do what we don’t want to do? Why do we keep making these bad decisions? What in the world is going on?

Well, the problem may be old, but the answer isn’t easy. It has to do with how we believe we are accepted or loved. The old saying is that everybody needs to be somebody to somebody. We need affirmation and, to get it, we will do just about anything.

Almost all of us grew up with affirmation that came on the basis of some kind of points. We earned points by doing the right things. We lost points when we did the wrong things. Our culture, whether from the church or family or community, sought to mold us by a system of rewards and punishments. And, for the most part, it appeared to work. We are affirmed when we do well and shamed when we do not.

But inside, where our thoughts and desires live, affirmation comes from feeling important or valued. We want to feel good about ourselves. Yes, that might mean that we want to feel righteous, but it also means we want to feel strong or desirable or rich. We aren’t usually content with feeling acceptable to the community, we want to feel like we are “somebody.” The community affirms us when we conform, when we are not independent and creative. Our hearts affirm us when we express our uniqueness and value.

Most of the vices in life minister to our need to feel special. Alcohol, overspending, porn, drugs, lying, theft—all are there because they promise to meet that need. They may do it through fantasy, but even fantasy feels good for a while. They all have consequences, but the feeling is sometimes worth the price. The vices calls to the needs of our hearts.

Keeping the rules and cultural standards may satisfy the community, but that doesn’t satisfy the heart. The points we gain from “doing right” are not enough. We seem to need more. Points come from the other side as well. The fantasies give us points that feel good. It even makes us feel strong and independent to break the rules. Those points count. They don’t satisfy either, but they seem to give us something.

Once the cycle begins, and it begins early, we go from breaking the rules and scoring the points that make us feel good to keeping the rules and trying to overcome the negatives with points from the good side. So Pastor Jones preaches about faithfulness in marriage, then visits the porn shop, then preaches a stronger message about marriage the next week. He isn’t being simply insincere. He is struggling with these feelings of acceptance. He thinks he can overcome the negative points with more positive ones.

But the more we try to overcome the negatives with positives, the more we feel phony and the less any of the points help us feel good about ourselves. Our goal is to feel good, but those feelings diminish the longer the process goes. The cycle becomes more and more frantic until something happens to break it. It will begin all over again unless we find a way to get away from points altogether. As with any addiction, we have to find a way to break free.

There is a way, but it is contrary to most of what you have been taught and most of what you feel. That way is to accept the love and affirmation of the One who made you. He does love you. It doesn’t matter what you have done. He welcomes you. He values you. He wants you to know that no system of points, either in your culture or your heart, will ever be enough to satisfy your need. His love will be enough.

The message of the Gospel of Jesus is a message of love and acceptance. I know that preachers have made it sound otherwise, but they are as bound up in their system as you have been in yours. The message of the cross is one of sacrificial love for those who neither deserved nor understood it. It allows all of us to get off the point system and accept our acceptance.

Think about what you will give up when you leave the point system behind. No more spiritual comparisons. If there is no need for gaining spiritual points, then no one can be better than another. No more sleepless nights worrying about regrets. You are accepted by the Lord regardless of your past and your mistakes. No more fear of judgment. The One who judges you loves you and has given all to have you with Him. No more fear of failure. Results and accomplishments are in the hands of the Lord who loves you. On and on. The things you give up by leaving the points behind are the things that have hurt you so much.

I understand that this post is long and may seem convoluted. Let me summarize by saying that we tend to gravitate to that which promises to make us feel good—and those feelings come from both sides of the moral system. There is a better way. When you get up in the morning, remind yourself that the Lord loves you. Let yourself feel accepted and valued by Him. Throughout the day, seek His presence and remember His love. At the end of the day, thank Him for loving you. Then accept the rest He gives. Is it that simple? Yes, I believe it is.

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Bad Decisions

 

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Some didn’t have any choice. They were born into a narcissistic home and relationship. Or maybe they were hired by a good company and found themselves working for or with a narcissist. Some were totally deceived by the narcissistic lures. But some just made a bad decision.

Bad decisions are part of life. Sometimes we don’t have all the facts, other times we simply look past the facts. And sometimes we see all the facts, hear all the warnings, and decide to do it anyway. Let’s face it, sometimes the consequences of the bad decision are our own dumb fault.

Okay, so either you were in the narcissistic relationship because of someone else, or you were responsible yourself. Either way, you paid a price. Now you know better. Maybe you got out. Maybe you have some good tools for handling it. There is little value in blaming either yourself or others. Real value is in what you do next. You know that.

But then you go and make another bad decision. Another hurtful relationship. Returning to the narcissist. Saying or doing something that compromises everything you have worked so hard to accomplish. Now you wonder if the narcissist was right with the criticisms. Now you wonder what in the world is wrong with you.

Well, most likely nothing is wrong with you. Bad decisions are normal. Yes, they can hurt and, yes, we want to avoid them, but we make them. Too often.

The needs of our hearts are not easy for us to fill. Why would we think that eating that bowl of ice cream would make us feel better about our weight? Why would we buy a new car we can’t afford so that we could feel rich? Why would that one night stand make us feel loved? But these are the bad decisions we make when we are hurting. There’s no real excuse. We know better. But reason doesn’t fix the pain in our hearts.

Many of the bad decisions we make come out of our need for something we can’t even identify. We don’t know what we need or why we need it, so we find something that won’t help or may even make things worse to try to appease the need. Yes, it really sounds dumb. But it is normal.

You see, you are not alone. I have heard so many stories of people making bad decisions after they leave or admit narcissistic relationships. Maybe you hurt yourself. Maybe you hurt others. Well, it’s a big club, one none of us want to be in. It’s okay to regret some of the things you have done. It’s admitting that you are human.

Note that I am not saying it is okay to do these things. It isn’t okay to hurt yourself or others. But if you already have done it, you might as well decide to keep moving forward. There is forgiveness. You are still loved. You are still valued in the heart of God. None of that has changed.

Next week I will write more about why we make some of these bad decisions. Today I just want you to know that your experience, your regret, is shared by many others. You are not the only one who did what you did.

The narcissist disrupts our thinking and our feeling. He/she knows how to push our buttons and how to keep us subdued. We should not be surprised if our judgment is a little off, whether we have left the relationship or are still in it. The narcissist has an interest in making us doubt ourselves. What seems right, in the struggle of the narcissistic relationship, may not be right. It may not even make sense, but that’s the nature of what these victims suffer.

So don’t beat yourself up. Find forgiveness in the love of God and move forward. Trust that you are just as loved as you ever were. Both the bad decision and the regret just prove you are human and you need support from outside yourself.

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Eclipsed!

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Yes, I know that all the excitement is over. If I wanted to capitalize on the eclipse I should have done so last week. We drove to Wyoming to see it, along with some 500,000 other cars (that’s true). Driving was terrible, the eclipse was wonderful.

But it made me think.

How many of you took your special glasses and looked at the sun after Monday? No reason, right? After Monday, everything was just the same as always. The only big deal was that the moon got in the way on Monday.

One of the most serious desires of the narcissist is to be the center of attention. The co-worker who shows up at the end of the project and is able to take credit for the work others did. The husband who picks up a dish towel just as the company comes. The mother-in-law who “cleans” what you have already cleaned so she can say that she helped you. The narcissist doesn’t really do anything except get in the way—but expects to get the attention and credit.

Those of us who were able to watch the eclipse on Monday didn’t watch the sun. We watched the moon. It was the moon that was moving. Narcissists are usually the people who are moving. They are not the regular workers, the ones we all depend on. In fact, they make fun of the “plodders” who do the real work. The narcissist is here and there and everywhere, making an appearance, trying to be noticed. The narcissist doesn’t stay in one place, resists being “stuck” in a job, pushes to be involved in the next exciting thing. Narcissists are the ones moving around.

But let’s be sure that we are seeing the real distinction. The narcissists are not moving around because they are working. They move around to look like they are working. They believe that they have to keep moving to be noticed. They are “overworked,” “busy,” “needed.” You can tell by the fact that they don’t have time for you or for what you consider important.

Most of the narcissists I have known are what I call “antsy.” I think that’s reference to the old “ants in the pants” idea. They come late to the lunch date and have to leave early. They interrupt your conversation with their phone calls, the people they see, and the agenda they brought. Some actually have trouble sitting down (unless they are watching you work). He isn’t in his office. She can’t be reached by phone. Always on their way to something else.

It is a well-known tactic in acting for one person to upstage another just by moving. Bob Newhart did it when he thought too much attention was being given to a supporting actor. The camera (and our eyes) tend to follow the one who is moving. Narcissists know this almost instinctively. They plan to be unpredictable, even rebellious, just so others will be watching.

Meanwhile, you try to do the job you have been given. You do the work required. But don’t worry, the narcissist won’t be in your way long. You will be able to get back to your regular work when the narcissist moves to another place, probably in front of another person. And sometimes, just sometimes, others will notice who the real worker is. It may be after the narcissist moves on to steal from someone else.

How can you fight this? You probably can’t, at least you probably won’t succeed. The narcissist is much better at taking your credit than you are at protecting it. But maybe there is a lesson in this. Maybe you should be willing to toot your horn a little. Maybe you should be willing to receive praise and thanks. Including others in the praise you receive is nice, but not when it lifts up someone who did nothing. Don’t be afraid to let someone appreciate you.

And maybe you should move around a little. Be willing to take on a new project or share in a new team. If something excites you, admit it and volunteer to be a part. Yes, you have something to offer. Believe it.

The narcissists will always be around to try to steal what is yours. You may not win at their game. Yet, you can be happy and fulfilled. Allow yourself to live in a little of the limelight. You deserve it.

 

Slow and steady only wins the race if the race is long enough.

 

 

 

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Knowing the Truth

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off!” Gloria Steinem(?)

 

The truth, interestingly enough, is that this quote does not really belong to Gloria Steinem. She took it from someone else. But that’s the way the truth is. Someone named Joe Klaas used it in a book. The original version, the one Joe changed it from, was a little tamer: “the truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” I suspect that both sayings are right much of the time.

There is a certain bliss in ignorance. We walk merrily on our way without fear or anger. Then we learn the truth and it ruins everything. But would it be better not to know? Some people think so. Life was happy before it all came out.

The problem is that the lie is not neutral. The lie hurts us even when we don’t know it’s a lie. Basing our actions and plans on the lie catches up to us eventually. And it is a lie. The truth does not create the problem, it only exposes it.

Is J’s marriage good because she doesn’t know that her husband is having an affair? Is the food in the restaurant better because you don’t know the conditions of the kitchen? Is that politician or leader more honest because you don’t know about his compromises? No, ignorance only covers the truth, it does not negate it. Nor does it guarantee bliss.

Putting the name of cancer on those aches and weaknesses didn’t cause the diagnosis. It was cancer before the doctor looked at it. When you learned that narcissism was behind the problems in your relationship, the problems were already there. You might have been able to ignore them easier, simply because there was no name, but they were still there.

So now you know, and it feels awful. Do you really wish you didn’t know? No, you really wish it wasn’t true. You wish there were no problems. Now you have to make choices, maybe even do something. Why is that hard? Because you are already drained from the stress of the problem you didn’t have a name for. And now you have to face the reality of what you were beginning to suspect.

And now that you have a name, a diagnosis, you can begin to move forward. You can fight or adapt or decide to do nothing. Now, you are in more of a position of power than you ever were before. You can begin to understand what has been happening, and you can make some plans or strategy.

I know it hurts. I’m sorry for your pain. I wish it could be different. But the only way it will ever be different is by facing the truth. Fighting the real enemy, getting the right help, accepting the right support: these things come out of knowing the truth.

Yes, the truth does lead to freedom, even though it might make you angry or sad at first. It’s the only way to real freedom, after all. Continuing the lie will just continue the pain and bondage.

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The Crash

It’s Narcissist Friday!    

 

What happens when the narcissist finally crashes and burns?

Oh yes, it does happen sometimes. We see it on the news. We read about it in the magazines. We hear about it from friends and family. And we wonder if justice has finally come.

The famous preacher or spiritual teacher was never what he pretended to be. There was a dark side. The great politician we were all supposed to love was compromised by his weaknesses. The model employee was cheating all the time. The favorite son broke the rules to serve himself. Then it all came crashing down.

Or did it?

We know what happens just after the exposure. Blame, excuses, blustering, hiding. The narcissist has great difficulty facing the truth. The position of influence might be gone, but the narcissist should not be counted out yet. Even though he knows he can’t have it, he wants it all back. The only reason for the crash was the unfaithfulness and unfairness of others.

“Have you no shame?” we ask when we see the narcissist seeking the limelight again. But this is not about humility… it’s about addiction. Unless the narcissist experiences a serious heart and spiritual change, he must try to return to what he had. Even if it means starting at the bottom again. Another lover, another position, another group of supporters: it can be built again.

Yes, the narcissist is smarter the second time. Slower. More careful. Even less trusting. Willing to accept smaller achievements. After all, he would have to be truly great to come back from such a blow. Any new success serves to show his superiority. Lesser people would not have survived.

And the supporters still gather around. Some never left. Others came after the troubles. Their weaknesses and intentions are obvious, but it doesn’t matter. Narcissists always have supporters. Quality was never a requirement. Only devotion. They watch, hoping to get something of value from the narcissist. Favor, fame by association, inside knowledge, something.

Most of the time it seems that the only ones truly damaged by the fall of the narcissist are those who gave sacrificial support. They are the ones who are embarrassed. Often they are the ones who lose everything. They took a risk and lost. They look back to see just how much it cost to love the narcissist. Too much.

No, the narcissist does not just go merrily on his way. He has fallen from too great a height. There is damage. But he is still the narcissist. He believes in himself. A little tweaking here and there and hope is renewed.

Do some change? Maybe. And then they write books about themselves or tell their stories to new lovers. Too few make any real changes in who they are.

When the storm comes, we should not try to hide under the tree. The tree has survived other lightning strikes. Those who trust in the protection of its branches are usually not so fortunate.

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How we see the world

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Do you find yourself fixing the motives of others, trying to explain the nastiness and abuse away? “He didn’t really mean it.” “She has so many problems of her own, that’s why she acts that way.” “Well, if you knew the truth of his life and upbringing…”

When someone calls your attention to a mean thing another said to you, are you surprised that you didn’t hear the comment? Did you think you heard something different, something more positive?

Not naive or stupid. Just happy. Just a desire to conform the world to your basic good will. You want the world to be good and other people to think like you. Your belief is not meant to be manipulative, but it does tend to change the actions and attitudes of others, at least in your mind.

Not everyone sees the world this way, of course. Some are angry. Some are afraid. Some combine their anger and fear into a general negativity. They expect the worst from others and the worst from life. I suppose this is often taught at home in various ways, and I am not suggesting that this attitude is inherent. We may well learn the way we look at life.

But I would almost be willing to bet that most of those who read this blog are people who see life positively. Or at least used to. I suspect that narcissists attach themselves mostly to people who are positive about life.

You might remember the Farside cartoon about the man whistling in hell. Whatever work he was doing was not bringing him down. One of the demons in the cartoon says to the other, “We’re just not getting through to that guy.”

Narcissists are drawn to positive people for two reasons. First, because the narcissist sees the world as negative, he/she cannot abide anyone who sees it otherwise. To allow that person to continue to be positive would be to suggest that the narcissist is either wrong or incompetent. So, like the demons of hell, the narcissists set out to break the positivity of those whistle while they work.

But, secretly, the narcissist is drawn to the positive person because he wants that positivity. It is draining and damaging to be negative all the time. Most narcissists live in competitive and fearsome worlds, believing that others will hurt them or use them. They see the worst in everyone. But the positive person is happy, at least a lot more happy than the narcissist. So the narcissist will seek to take that positivity away for himself. In other words, he will try to become happy by taking your happiness.

I have heard (and read) many people who said that they used to be happy. They used to be positive, but the narcissistic relationship drained that happiness from them. Now they live in fear and pain, distrusting others and waiting for the “other shoe” to drop. Sometimes these folks even use narcissistic techniques to try to regain their happiness at the expense of others. But they hate doing that. They hate their negativity.

I believe that the desire to be a happy person is the first step toward being that person. When we look around and begin to allow ourselves to feel that peace and joy again, it comes. God wants you to be happy. He gives you good things and wants you to live enjoying those things.

No, the narcissist doesn’t really want to be happy. The narcissist owns his negativity. He/she identifies as a negative person, no matter what facade covers the truth. The narcissist doesn’t really understand that happiness is a way of seeing the world, rather than a process of getting what you want.

You see, you know something the narcissist does not know. You know that:

Being satisfied is not the same as being happy
Being successful is not the same as being happy
Being comfortable is not the same as being happy
Being popular is not the same as being happy
Being beautiful is not the same as being happy
Being wealthy is not the same as being happy
Being powerful is not the same as being happy

The narcissist does not know these things. The narcissist will not be happy until he/she does.

You, on the other hand, are happy already. You just have to remember. The positive person is happy because that’s the way he/she sees life. In prison, in pain, even in grief, positive people find ways to laugh and whistle.

God loves you. This world is not your home. The promise of eternal peace and joy is real. The past does not define you. The days ahead will have good in them. You are forgiven. You are free. You are accepted. You are valued. You are loved.

 

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Controlled Comparison

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

One of the connections between legalism and narcissism is the use of comparisons to manipulate. You will find a system of comparisons at work in legalistic churches and narcissistic workplaces, besides families and even marriages. And, somehow, you are always losing the comparison.

The most beautiful women will find ways to lose in comparison with others. So will the most successful men. As long as comparisons exist, there is a way for you to lose.

Years ago I worked for a short time at a funeral home. I watched as the salesperson talked through the purchase of a casket with a grieving family. First they went to the most expensive casket, a beautiful example of fine craftsmanship with an exorbitant price. Then they went to the cheapest caskets, the ones designed for and sold to those who have no money to spend. The family couldn’t afford the most expensive and couldn’t imagine using the cheapest. So they were left with the idea that they either have to break the bank or feel terrible. Then the salesman took them to the casket he really wanted to sell them. It looked very much like the most expensive one, but the price tag, while still high, was much more manageable. By making easy and regular payments, the family could feel good and still pay other bills.

Anyone who has bought a car off the lot or a house through the realtor has experienced this kind of controlled comparison. It is a process of manipulation by pushing you to feel either good about yourself or bad about yourself.

When the legalist sets up a controlled comparison, it will often be a model family or an individual who has exemplified the values of the church or legalist system. For example, one man is particularly mentioned as a great witness because he shares tracts with everyone he meets. Everyone else compares poorly to him. The model family is lifted up because of their well-behaved children, their showroom house, or their debt-free living (or all three). You don’t measure up to them. In either case, the comparison is carefully controlled for you. You are not to compare yourself with everyone. You are certainly not to look for others against whom you can compare yourself favorably. (Of course, that’s just what happens because people want to feel better about themselves, but that’s another post.) No, you are supposed to get the message about your inferiority and adjust your actions accordingly.

The narcissist can find fault with everyone, we know this. But when he or she wants to find fault with you, the controlled comparison is offered. “Why can’t you be more like him or her?” you are asked. “The neighbor’s have a nicer house than ours, but he makes more money.” “I don’t know why you can’t do it, she can.”

Remember: the controlled comparison is just that – controlled. It is not real. You will always compare unfavorably against someone in some way. If you look for that, you will find it. At the same time, others compare unfavorably to you in some way. The narcissist and the legalist use our fear of comparisons to manipulate us.

But once you understand what is happening, how phony the system is, you can become free. Yes, you compare well against some and poorly against others – so stop comparing! If the neighbors have a nicer house than yours, good for them. If your co-worker seems to be able to sell more than you, good for him. So what? Knowing that you will never win the game can set you free from the game.

Stop comparing yourself to others and stop using comparisons as a way to manipulate. It never works. It doesn’t motivate, and it doesn’t lead to health. Rejoice in the blessings others enjoy. Do something to encourage those who have less. But don’t let yourself get sucked into a system designed to manipulate you.

You will be amazed at the power of the freedom from comparisons.

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