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The New You

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

If you have walked a similar path to mine, and I know some of you have, you probably hate the term “character building.”  I know my kids hate it.  Back in the day when we were told that character was everything, almost every negative experience was considered character building.  During some periods of my life I have wondered how much more my character could stand.  Having a friend stab you in the back doesn’t feel like a positive thing for your character.  It just hurts.  Health or financial crises don’t seem particularly character building at the time.

There’s a lot I could say about this worship of character, but that would be another post (or series).  Character is not the end all for believers.  The ultimate test of life is not about what kind of person we are or were.  Identity is the central theme for believers, who you are in Christ and who Christ is in you.  The new life we have in Him is who and what we are.

Recently I have been listening to a very good book where the author said that adversity has made us who we are.  I agree with his idea in context, but I want to rush to say that adversity is not the good thing that has made us better people.  No, our response to adversity both reveals the hidden strength we had forgotten and reminds us of our identity.  What we do in times of adversity comes out of and exposes our identity.

You see, I will give thanks to the Lord for using adversities to reveal His strength in me.  I will even thank Him for allowing the path that involved the narcissist.  But I will not say, not ever, that the narcissist was good.

I believe narcissism is evil.  I believe it springs from an evil root in a person’s heart and develops into an evil fruit that poisons anyone who has the misfortune to come near it.  Overcoming that evil is a wonderful thing, a great blessing, but that doesn’t make it less evil.

I read your emails and comments, and I see strong people.  You are either victorious over the painful abuse of narcissism or you are becoming victorious.  You have discovered who you are in Christ.  You have found strength and courage and wisdom.  You have been through the battles and have come out even stronger.

But you don’t have to say that the narcissist was good for you.  You don’t have to give the narcissist any credit for what you have become.  You looked at yourself and realized that you were not the person the liar said you were.  You found that strength and courage the narcissist tried to take away.  You became who you are today because you overcame the lie and abuse, not because of the narcissist.

There is good in this world, and there is evil.  Make sure you keep the two separate.  As you learn more of your identity in Jesus and live as the person He has made you to be, you experience and proclaim something good.  The evil that tried to conquer you, that held you in bondage for so long, is still evil.

Adversity has not made you a better person.  Overcoming adversity has revealed the good that was already in you so that you can be even stronger in the future.  Give thanks to God for that.

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Teaching Moments

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Narcissists love to teach.  Oh, no, not really teach.  Not the time-consuming, person-centered process of helping someone understand.  No, I am thinking more about those “teaching moments.”

Parents can often use situations or events to teach children basic information.  An error in cooking might be an opportunity to explain what the ingredients in a recipe bring to the food.  A face in a picture might bring an impromptu history lesson.  These are gentle and positive ways to educate without lectures and books.  Kids often remember and enjoy these times when they are done right.

But these teaching moments are not so pleasant when we are adults, particularly when the narcissist uses them.

I have noticed that many narcissists, in different relationships, will grab opportunities to put others down and establish themselves as wise and superior by trying to teach about something.  I have also noticed that narcissists don’t seem to do this very well.

Because the narcissistic teaching moment is not about teaching, nor motivated by compassion, it can become almost comical.  I think of Barney Fife, the incompetent deputy who would puff out his chest and begin to strut as he spewed nonsense.  He usually didn’t know what he was talking about, but he sure felt good doing it.  Some narcissists make up facts and explanations.  They don’t really know the answer, but they have to look good or make themselves think they look good.

Others will slip into their Mr. Rogers mode, sitting down and talking softly to explain how or why something must be done in a certain way.  When the normally aggressive narcissist suddenly becomes gentle and kind to teach something, it will surprise people.  And it feels welcome until you realize you are being treated like a five-year-old.

Sometimes the narcissist will teach a person in front of others, like the teacher in the classroom who uses one student’s error as an illustration for the rest of the class.  And, again, you are made to feel small and inferior and stupid, just like you felt when the teacher did it.

Teaching moments are opportunities for the narcissist to look good.  Because these are usually not planned, the narcissist may not look all that great to others.  He/she will be condescending, repetitive, maybe even wrong.  However, there is probably nothing you can do about it.  You are supposed to shut up and listen.  The great one is speaking.

Today’s technology might help the narcissist.  If the boss notices a mistake, he can slip into his office to check Google before the teaching moment.  If a certain topic often comes up, he can prepare.  And sometimes he can watch television or listen to the radio to have a topic for teaching later.  Then the trick is to find an opportunity to insert that topic into a conversation.  That can also result in some odd teaching moments.

But, often, the narcissist does not prepare.  He just takes advantage of a situation he thinks might make him look wise and superior.

No, I don’t think many narcissists would become real teachers, like in a school classroom.  The students would not be people who counted for much in the narcissist’s mind, and teachers have little chance for real power over anyone else.  The preparation and paperwork wouldn’t suit many narcissists.  Nor would the necessary people connections.  I am sure there are some, but I would bet most are unhappy in their jobs.

On the other hand, a college professor—someone who might be able to get students to do the grunt work and help him get published—maybe that would attract a narcissist.  I seem to remember some….

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Humble Narcissism

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

There’s a TED talk out there that tells people narcissism alone is not good, but narcissism tempered with humility is great.

Wait.  Narcissism tempered with humility? 

In fact, the speaker says those who have to work with narcissists should not try to make them less narcissistic, but just help them be more humble.  Uh huh.  That’s all you have to do.  That’ll work.

Well, those who actually have to work with narcissists might have something to teach this psychologist/speaker.  As would those who have to live with them.

The bulk of the talk is about humility.  Humility is good.  Humility is right.  But it isn’t just something you add to narcissism.  I find myself wondering if this psychologist has ever read the definition of narcissism.  Humility is almost the direct opposite of narcissism.

Of course, that is only true if we are talking about real narcissism…and real humility.  If we are talking about something else, then everything’s up in the air.

The problem with talks and articles like this, that make their way into the popular press, is that they don’t use words in the way the rest of us do.  It took most of those who read here years to find the word “narcissism,” and then it took long and careful study to accept it as a description of the cruelty and pain they were experiencing.  Even with a clear definition and a clear case in front of us, the professionals are loathe to accept our diagnosis.

So why is this psychologist thinking that you could just add a spoonful of humility to a batch of narcissism to make it taste better?  Because he is using the term to mean anyone who has personal ambition and confidence.  For many people today, narcissism is a good thing, a type of self-esteem.  Yes, there are those who go overboard, they say, but it is good to be confident and strong.  Narcissism is just feeling good about yourself, they say.

Don’t be fooled by this.  As I have said before, true narcissists will find a way to either reject their diagnosis altogether or to embrace it as a positive.  This is our narcissistic (depersonalizing/abusive) culture embracing the diagnosis.

And, yes, humility is a good thing.  Real humility.  Not some kind of fake cover for aggressive manipulation.  Not the kind of humility the narcissist would “add” to his cruel attitude and behavior.  Real humility accepts the value of others and does not see self as the only source of truth.  Real humility does not consider attention a need or entitlement a right.  Real humility is giving and sharing and listening and deferring and accepting.

Real narcissism and real humility are not compatible.  If your narcissist is humble, he/she is either not a narcissist or not humble.

 

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I have written on the humble narcissist before here:

https://graceformyheart.wordpress.com/2015/08/14/the-humble-narcissist/

 

You might want to read this TED talk for yourself here:

Tapping into the power of humble narcissism

 

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Shy?

It’s Narcissist Friday!

“But my husband is so shy. He can’t be a narcissist.”

Those who read here regularly know that I am cautious in diagnosing someone as a narcissist. First, I am not a psychological professional, and few of those who find themselves in narcissistic relationships are. We understand that there are many other reasons a person could be controlling or cruel. We also understand that the term “narcissist” has a popular, non-professional, usage. So, when we suggest that a person may be a narcissist, we usually mean that study of the term and the attributes may be helpful in understanding what a victim is suffering.

The popular image of a narcissist is that of a loud, gregarious, controlling good-old-boy who seems to be friends with everyone in public while criticizing and abusing them in private. We generally think we will know when the narcissist enters the room. But that only refers to some overt narcissists. There are others who are quiet.

Still, I would be hard-pressed to call a narcissist shy. I suppose the discussion centers around definitions. Most of us would think that a shy person may lack confidence or not consider himself important enough or fit to meet and interact with others. That would not describe a narcissist.

However, a narcissist might be quiet. To be quiet is not the same as being shy. Nor is being cautious. In fact, some narcissists do not enter a room with fanfare. They do not go around shaking hands and laughing loudly. Nor do they show off to get attention. Perhaps the narcissist is simply “casing the joint,” observing the people and the interactions.

Narcissists are keenly aware of relationships and expectations in a room. Some may choose to act in a way that seems oblivious, but narcissists will rarely act in ways that seem wrong to them. They choose their actions based on the judgments they have made on those around them.

The young lady might consider her boyfriend shy when he doesn’t want to meet her parents or friends. Then, when he consents and pouts because he thinks they don’t like him, she has sympathy for him. But this may well be a prelude to the isolation that will give him total control over her. Or it could be an assessment of her family and friends as unworthy of him. But, if he is a narcissist, it isn’t that he is shy.

After they are married, he will probably not want to visit family or connect with people in the neighborhood or spend time with mutual friends. She will say that he is shy, but his harsh words of criticism and his willingness to meet strangers or others will betray his real heart. He isn’t shy, he’s manipulative and judgmental.

In some groups, like accepting and friendly families, the quiet person gets a lot of attention. People try to connect with them. People listen to them. Other groups have subtle interactions and structures the narcissist will want to observe and use. And, sometimes, the narcissist walks into a room and sees no one worthy of his attention. Shyness has nothing to do with any of these.

Now, I am not suggesting that quiet people are narcissists. What I want to point out is that some narcissists are quiet—for their own reasons.

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The Path

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Most professionals agree that narcissism begins quite early in life.  The child may be ignored, abandoned, coddled, or abused—but he/she lacks the normal and appropriate nurture of parents.  Other siblings in the same home may be treated differently or may learn to cope in different ways, but some will choose a narcissistic path.  They learn to get the attention and support they need by manipulating parents and siblings and, later, friends.  They might decide that being hurt and needy will work.  They might learn that being loud and irritating will work.  Or they might learn to be devious and scheming to get their needs met.

Now, I understand that parents of narcissists sometimes find this hard to accept.  But the truth is that we all lack parenting skills, particularly those specifically needed by certain children.  If we raise all our kids the same, we fail to meet special needs.  If we try to deal with each one differently, we may be viewed as playing favorites.  The problem is not always in the parenting.  The problem is in how each child views their own upbringing.  It may be a long time ago, but we all remember times in our childhood when we felt alone or afraid or unloved.  We each had to learn how to deal with those feelings and those needs.

So, some children set out on a path that leads them into the darkness and loneliness of narcissism.  Children try things.  They learn what works and what does not.  They are not good judges of why and how certain things work, of course.  Nor are they aware of the long-term risks of certain behaviors.  All they know is that certain things seem to work better than others.  That begins a journey on a long path.

Years ago, there was a management teaching called “GMP” – the Greatest Management Principle.  It was very simple.  People will repeat the behavior that is reinforced.  In other words, if a certain behavior is practiced regularly—positive or negative—something is reinforcing that behavior.  Find the reinforcement and you may be able to change or encourage the behavior.

Narcissistic behavior is readily reinforced in a culture like ours, even in most homes.  Busy parents give in to the loud or needy child.  Disciplining a headstrong child is challenging, and a cooperative and quiet child is easy to leave alone.  So, some learn to fight, while others learn to work the system.  Once on the narcissist path, the child finds a great deal of reinforcement.

Of course, not all such behavior is reinforced.  Sometimes there is discipline, but some children simply learn that occasional discipline is the price to pay for the behavior that, more often than not, will work.  Children on a narcissistic path often face resistance.  The loud child in the classroom may not be liked by the other kids and the teacher may have to devise some kind of punishment.  But if that child believes the path is right for him/her, the loud behavior will continue (or it will be subdued until a better time).

This is what I mean when I say that narcissism is a choice.  It is a path that is chosen, a way of looking at others and self.  Eventually, the distance between the child and others will grow and more abusive or manipulative behaviors will assert.  Narcissists learn to use others from the beginning of the path, but their methods are refined and intensified as the years go on.  By the time the child is an adult, he/she is convinced that narcissistic behavior is not only working but is necessary and right.  Arguments to the contrary fall on unbelieving ears.

So, why do some children in a family become narcissistic, while others do not?  By my study, no one really knows.  It might be easy to assign some genetic predisposition or some chemical or mental/emotional imbalance, but almost none of the professionals believe that to be the case—except, perhaps, with those narcissists who become malignant sociopaths.  Instead, some simply choose a path.  Along the way, the darkness grows, but the child doesn’t notice or care.  As long as the chosen path seems to work, at least enough to provide reinforcement, the hardness of heart and the distance from others will grow.

Then can this path be changed?  Can the person who chose narcissism be convinced to choose another way?  Well, there are some who claim to be able to help narcissists change.  I think the only change will be utilitarian, behavior change for the purpose of personal benefit, and I don’t think heart motivations change as easily.  And there is nothing easy about changing narcissistic behavior.

 

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I’m Here!

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Many years ago, a family came to our church with a young boy who would open the door of the church and yell, “I’m here!”  Every week it was the same.  I began an experiment.  Each time he would say that, I would ask him his name as though I didn’t know it.  And every time, he seemed shocked and offended that I didn’t know his name.  He would shout his name at me.  Eventually I stopped because I could see that it was truly an issue with him.  His need to be known and welcomed was so great that he had to announce his presence and make sure everyone saw him.

The family moved away before I could watch the boy grow, but I have always wondered.  The parents seemed kind and appreciative.  They gave him attention and discipline.  Some of it was the exuberance of life that a child has, but it was more than that.  His brother had no such need.  Nor did his parents.

So, was this the beginning of a narcissist?  I don’t know.  I do know that narcissists expect you to know they are with you.  We are all supposed to notice them.  We are supposed to remember their names.  In fact, we should be happy they came.

The need for attention is part of the basic definition of narcissism.  If the narcissist cannot get it by announcing his presence, he may “act out” to get it.  I have seen adults do some foolish and obnoxious things to get attention.  Even when most of the room finds their behavior disgusting, they get the attention they need.

You see, it didn’t bother this young boy that he sounded silly when he shouted, “I’m here!”  It didn’t concern him that no one else did such a thing.  The fact that his embarrassed parents tried to get him to stop meant nothing.  All that mattered was that people should see him and appreciate him.  The few people that would laugh and welcome him provided what he wanted.

I have wondered what he would have thought if some of us had preempted his announcement with something like, “He’s here!”  I think he would have been happy.  It may have made him feel superior, worth more than others.  After all, people didn’t make a big deal when others entered the room.  His announcement may well have been a way of telling people that they should notice him.

Narcissistic adults, particularly those we consider “overt,” do consider themselves to be of greater value than others.  That’s another part of the basic definition.  They should have special privileges and special voice.  The fact that others fail to see this superiority does not negate it.  If they have to announce it themselves, they will.

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Organizational Integrity

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Narcissistic organizations can often be identified by what used to be called the “good old boy” system. Favors and positions are granted on the basis of some secret parameters that are indiscoverable by those not in the system. In other words, certain people seem to get ahead in spite of incompetence or conformity. Leadership is made up of those who are not leaders, at least not in a way that builds others. Instead, major leaders in the narcissistic organization are chosen for their looks or for the image they bring to the organization. How minor leaders are chosen will seem to be a mystery.

In my experience, it doesn’t matter whether leaders are chosen by election or by appointment in the narcissistic organization. The goals of the organization will be accomplished either way. And, somehow, the goals of the organization are different from the goals of the members of that organization.

Many people have joined organizations—churches, clubs, even businesses—only to find that these organizations change over the years. The values and standards become something less than what they were. The church that once stood strong for the truth is now willing to compromise Scripture and tradition. The business that once held to high standards of honesty and transparency now seems to focus only on what will make more money. The club that once was open and welcoming and respectful of others is now filled with cliques and gossip and comparisons. Things are not the same, and it is a mystery how they changed.

No matter how hard you work for the organization or how well you contribute, you are never chosen for leadership. Instead, the ones who are chosen seem to be prideful and willing to use others. Once in a while a good person slips in, but he or she doesn’t seem to last long. If you are chosen for leadership, you may owe certain people or there may be certain expectations of you that were not in place before.

Years ago I became part of an organization with a good reputation. I was honored to be a part of it. However, I was told quickly that the organization was a “good old boy” network. That meant certain people had more respect and privilege than others, based, I thought, on their connections within the group. For the most part, I was right, but there was more to the story as the years went on.

For the next 30+ years, I worked for the organization and sacrificed time and energy for it thinking that I was somehow contributing to a greater good. I held a minor office because I was willing to work. Any greater office was out of reach because I was not one of the “good old boys.”

At the same time, I watched as this organization began to compromise more and more of its principles, even to the point of changing its list of core values. Some of those chosen for leadership had little or no previous connection with the organization. Some were of questionable character but looked good up front. I noticed that dishonesty became almost a leadership requirement. Self-promotion and projecting superiority replaced any idea of sacrificial service.

What I came to understand was that the changes happened gradually as those in leadership began to think of themselves above whatever rules or values the organization held. Candidates for leadership were evaluated by how they could move the organization toward some unacknowledged goal. Values could be compromised as long as the person desired would serve to further that goal.

To put it more plainly, some among the leaders had decided that the organization should grow at almost any cost. New leaders were chosen (elected or appointed) on the basis of their usefulness in helping the organization grow. Solid workers who had done well over the years were ignored simply because their loyalty to the “old” values limited their willingness to compromise. Compromise would be necessary for growth to happen.

So, when you look at your church or business or club and wonder why things have changed so much, ask what the goals are. How do the current goals (even if unofficial and unspoken) contrast with the goals when you first came? You may well be able to pinpoint the time or the leadership that began the compromises and changes.

When an organization is willing to compromise (fudge, equivocate, accommodate, etc.) its values, watch out for the narcissists. The ideal organization—in the mind of the narcissist—is one that claims high and strong values but is willing to “bend” those values behind the scenes. If certain people get treated a little better than others, if some can get by with things or get more privileges, then the narcissists will come in like flies. And the organization will welcome them if the goals of current leaders are different from the stated goals of the members.

Do you wonder why some churches seem to slip toward the “dark side”? Do you wonder why a good business becomes one that sees its customers as only sources of money and its employees as tools to be used? Do you wonder why your club has become exclusive and judgmental? As you begin to see narcissists in leadership, ask what goals were changed along the way and why the doors were so open for the narcissists.

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