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Clues

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Is there any way to discover a narcissist before you get into a relationship with one? Are there clues we should be seeing?

Yes, with one caveat. We probably won’t know that a person is actually a narcissist until we dig deeply into that person’s life. Instead, we can identify a “toxic person.” It doesn’t really matter whether the person is a narcissist, you want to know if this person could hurt you. There are signs that many people overlook when they meet another person.

Let’s break these clues into two groups: What you see in the person and what you feel in yourself.

 

So, first, what do you see?

 

Criticism:

The narcissist criticizes without regard to propriety. You and I feel like we have to earn the right to share a criticism. The narcissist doesn’t feel that way. He/she will criticize your clothes, your car, your work, anything. You will probably hear him/her criticize others, especially behind their backs. The girl who goes out with a new boy and hears criticism of what she wears or anything else in her life should become very alert. It begins early.

Insincere praise:

It may be surprising to realize that narcissists are quick and generous with their praises. The truth is that this is a manipulative tool narcissists learn early. They use praise to get people to like them and to disarm any hesitation. It often works. (Remember Eddie Haskell?) If you meet someone who is overly generous with praise of you or others, be careful!

Discovering secrets:

Contrary to what some might think, narcissists are good listeners, at least early in the relationship. They gather personal information to use later. It is always best to be careful about sharing personal things, but if you notice someone asking inappropriate questions about sensitive things, that person might be toxic. If he/she returns to a sensitive area after you stopped talking about it, be alert.

Cheating:

In a recent post I shared about how narcissists cheat. Not only will the toxic person break some rule in your presence, he will probably make you aware of it. You are supposed to understand that he is superior. Letting you see him break a rule will impress you with his boldness and deceive you into thinking you share a secret. Many people like the “bad boy” as long as he isn’t hurting them. But the bad boy might become toxic in a relationship.

Fantasy future:

Narcissists can be big talkers with big dreams. Sharing dreams isn’t bad, even early in a relationship, but the dreams of the narcissist will revolve around others admiring or submitting to him. He will be a rock star in some area of life so that others will notice and look up to him. But, as you get to know him, you will see that he doesn’t have the courage or determination to make those dreams come true.

Complaints:

The reason the dreams don’t come true will be because others hold him back or fail him in some way. Narcissists have complaints. They are under-appreciated at church, used at home, passed over at work. The reason he was fired at his last job was because the boss wanted his relative to have the position. People just don’t understand her. Life is always unfair to the narcissist.

Excuses:

The failures of the narcissist’s life are someone else’s fault. He will admit to a weakness if it gives him an excuse for failure. He was late because he never really learned to tell time. (Of course, you better not be late.) He forgot the commitment he made to you or to someone else. It wasn’t his fault. The boss had him working late. His mom took the car. His roommate was loud all night. On and on and on.

Selective memory:

When the narcissist tells the story, it probably isn’t the way you remember it. He will be made to look smarter or stronger. The others will be made to look more foolish. The excuse won’t be quite true. After the argument, your version is different from hers. You were mean, and she was the victim. But that’s not the way it was. Narcissists see truth as something that can be molded to fit their needs.

 

And how does that person make you feel?

 

Compromised:

You walk away from the conversation feeling like you said too much, maybe even exposed things you shouldn’t have. Why did you do that?

Manipulated:

You are painted into a corner. You have to answer the way the person wants or you will feel like you are doing something wrong. You have to do what the person wants, or agree with what she says, even if you don’t want to.

Complicit:

You feel like a partner in a crime you didn’t commit. The narcissist lies, and you are put in a situation where you have to cover or agree. You bring the narcissist to an event, and he breaks the rules. Now you feel guilty.

Drained:

Even at the beginning of a relationship, narcissists can be draining. You are the one who talked the whole time. Or maybe you listened so intently to his talking that you feel exhausted. You worked so hard to present your best that you are wiped out now. Ask yourself why that person drained you.

Mean:

You come away from a time with this person and you realize that you have said so many mean things about others that you are ashamed. Does that person draw out those comments from you, those feelings?

Pushed:

Not just manipulated, but pushed into things. You didn’t really want to go to that movie. You didn’t want to talk about that person. You didn’t want to wear those clothes. Yet, you feel like that person pushed you somehow. It isn’t easy to explain why you didn’t stand up for yourself, but you just didn’t.

High:

This might surprise you. Narcissists know which buttons to push to make someone feel really special and valued. They know just what to say and how to say it. Sadly, this is just another form of manipulation. If you come away from an early contact feeling like this new relationship is too good to be true, it might just be.

 

The whole idea of a clue is that it is not proof. None of these, standing alone, proves that a person is toxic, let alone a narcissist. But when you see several of these, in that person or yourself, then you have some red flags.

So what other clues have you realized? Hindsight does help! It may at least help others.

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A little Narcissism

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Over and over I read about how narcissism can be a good thing in our lives. I know that business and leadership seem to favor the narcissistic style because it gets things done. But most of those who talk about “healthy narcissism” mean we should all have a little of it.

I have written about this before, but it does bear repeating. If all we mean by narcissism is self-esteem, then of course it is healthy for all of us until it gets out of hand. But narcissism means something far more dangerous and destructive than self-esteem. Even if we mean self-interest or self-protection, there is a healthy limit for us. I believe the Bible teaches us a healthy self-love.

But narcissism is necessarily cruel and abusive. Narcissists don’t care about others, at least not apart from using them. Narcissism destroys marriages, families, businesses, churches, and more.

Years ago I was visiting with a group of pastors and noted that a few people had left our church to go to another. I was thankful they had left because they were disruptive and divisive. The church they went to was quite large, so I thought they wouldn’t be so much of a problem in that church. One of the pastors, a wise older man, said, “So, what you are saying is that a little cancer is okay, as long as the man is a big man.” I hadn’t thought of it like that before.

Narcissism devours relationships and victims much like cancer. A little can go a long way. A little fire can lead to big problems. Even the Scripture speaks of a little leaven/yeast making the whole batch of dough rise. One narcissist can destroy a church. A little narcissism can ruin a relationship.

I find it hard to see the good in narcissism of any kind. Yes, narcissists get things done, almost always at the expense of others. Yes, narcissists can make quick decisions, almost always without regard to the effect it will have on people. Anyone who is willing to think long term will see that narcissism is a negative.

So when you hear people say that narcissism can be a good quality, that there is such a thing as healthy narcissism, ask them which of the nine characteristics of narcissism is healthy. Ask how a disorder, one that is defined by consistently negative terms, can be positive. Ask them how a disorder that has destroyed so many marriages and families, that has caused victims so much depression and despair, can be good.

We don’t talk about a healthy murderous rage, or a healthy manipulative abuser, or a healthy inveterate liar—so why should we talk about a healthy narcissist? And if there isn’t such a thing as a healthy narcissist, then how can there be healthy narcissism?

Again, this is a popular way to affirm self-esteem or self-affirmation. But that’s what it is, not narcissism. Narcissism is evil.

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Winners and Losers

It’s Narcissist Friday!    

 

I wish I didn’t think that a person had to be a narcissist to be in politics these days. Maybe it isn’t true on the lower levels, but it seems almost a requirement for higher offices. Narcissists love the praise and adoration of politics, and their supporters faithfully shield them from the criticisms or help them blame the accusers. Most politicians are used to getting what they want, from people who want to serve them. Politics offers a wonderful playground for a narcissist. Power, attention, prestige, admiration—these attract narcissists like spilled 7-up attracts ants. Politics offers all of these.

But please don’t think of this as a political post. I have never wanted to use either the pulpit or the blog for that purpose, in spite of my own opinions. Instead, my desire is to point out something about narcissism that we all see but may fail to recognize.

I recently watched both the victory and the concession speeches of a couple of the candidates. For the last year or two, especially the most recent days, the opponents had accused each other of terrible things. They had attacked policies, character, family, even personal appearance. Their sycophants had carried the insults even further.

Then, suddenly, when it was finally over, they say nice things about each other as though they have always been friends. Each praises the other for the passionate campaign and for service to the country or state. And life is supposed to go on as though none of the arrows had ever been shot, as though none of the injuries caused continuing pain. Now, I understand that Americans like to view politics in the same vein as sports contests. We admire fierce combat, but we remember that it is “just a game.” Someone heavily involved in slinging mud and filth during this season just said, “Well, that was just politics.”

I can’t help but think of the narcissist who rips your life apart, accusing and lying and manipulating. Then, when the battle is over, he says, “Hey, no hard feelings, right?” As a pastor, I have been through some hurtful church battles. I have had people lie about me and accuse me of pretty bad things. And, after it was over, they say, “Well, we can still be friends. Maybe catch a cup of coffee sometime.” No, we couldn’t be friends after that.

It doesn’t seem to matter whether the narcissist wins or loses. Either way, he forgets his cruelty and ruthless maneuvering. He just wants everything to be good now. He is shocked when you don’t return the “kindness.” You took things too seriously.

I have heard newly divorced wives say that the narcissist suggested they get together for intimate times once in a while, “now that it’s all over.” I have heard employees say that the boss who fired them just before they reached retirement and pension age thanked them for their faithful service. The narcissist friend who turned everyone against you offers to get together for lunch sometime, “just to catch up.” Mom rips you with accusations and insults then complains when you don’t invite her over for tea.

And our heads spin. They might be able to shift their emotions and perspectives that quickly, but the rest of us can’t. But, you see, for the narcissist it’s all a game. You were just an opponent, not a real person. When the narcissist told those lies about you and manipulated others to oppose you, he was just trying to win, not to hurt you.

I think there is a part of the narcissist that believes that. Since they don’t see anyone as real people, they can’t be accused of trying to hurt anyone. But I also think this is a lie. The anger and evil you saw in your battle are still there, just under the surface. The narcissist hates all opponents with nearly equal passion. You might not have been a real person, but you were a real enemy. The threat you presented required whatever the narcissist brought to the battle. The moment you present the threat again, the evil will return.

And the politicians who seemed to hate each other a couple days ago? Are they friends now? Can we trust them to work together for the good of all of us? Probably not. It’s just politics.

The claws might have pulled back under the skin, but they are still there.

 

(I should have said this earlier.  I know that people have differing ideas about politics and I have no desire to entertain that kind of debate on the blog.  Comments centered on the political scene, for or against candidates, parties, or ideologies, will be blocked.  You will notice that I didn’t mention names and held all politicians to the same standards.  If there is some perceived political statement in the post that offends you, I apologize.  That was not intentional.)  

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Through His Eyes

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Through Your eyes– 
Help me see my brother Lord 
Through Your eyes– 
May He never walk alone 
Place in me a tender heart 
That breaks in little pieces 
When I learn to see my 
Precious brother through Your eyes

 

Someone may be able to help me out here. I found only these lyrics to a relatively popular song from 30 or so years ago. I don’t remember who sang it, nor the rest of the words. In fact, I am not certain of the title. I want to call it “The Anti-Narcissism Song.”

Freeatlast8 suggested that I write about how to “reprogram from a narcissistic mindset.” The key to the answer is learning to see others as real people. Now, I don’t intend this to be a cure for narcissism. Instead, this is meant to help those who have been in narcissistic relationships and have found narcissistic characteristics in themselves.

When we were children, we cried when we were in physical pain. Some physical pain can still bring tears to our eyes. As adults, however, it is usually emotional pain that causes us to cry. The scientists tell us that tears caused by pain, either physical or emotional, contain endorphins to help us feel better. That’s nice, and I don’t doubt it, but it causes me to wonder about this odd way for our bodies to provide those endorphins. What does water filling our eyes have to do with helping us feel better?

I have a suggestion. It isn’t scientific. It isn’t Biblical. It’s just a suggestion. What if God gave us a way to stop focusing on others when we are in pain? When we have tears in our eyes, it’s much harder to see others. When we are in pain, it is much harder to think of others. What if God, in His love, gave us a physical message that says, “It’s okay to think about yourself”?

Narcissistic relationships hurt. They hurt a lot. There are lots of tears for those who have to deal with a narcissist. Tears of grief; tears of anger; tears of pain. And, in those times when tears cannot be helped, God may be saying that it’s okay for you to think of yourself.

Eventually, we are able to adjust to the things that cause us to cry. Most of us no longer cry about physical pain. Some no longer cry when people are mean. We may allow ourselves to cry at safe times, watching a movie or reading a story, but otherwise we have learned to be strong enough to shoulder through our suffering. We grit our teeth, say a bad word, or whatever else it takes to not cry. Crying makes us feel weak.

But we still withdraw into ourselves. In times of pain, it is hard to see other people. We have to take care of ourselves. The pain is demanding and makes us pay attention. Since the pain is internal, we focus internally to see it and try to fix it.

And when the pain lasts a long time, perhaps years, this focus on ourselves becomes habitual. Many have said that they used to be fun and caring and energetic, but the narcissistic relationship changed them into something else. Now it is hard to care. Now the one who used to be a good listener finds herself thinking about other things as her friend talks. Now the one who used to be the first to pray or reach out with help holds back. The generous person worries about the cost. The carefree person wonders what others will think. The fun person is quiet and withdrawn.

Living with a narcissist is like having a constant migraine, with occasional jabs of intense pain. It’s hard to think about anything else. Most of the time is spent worrying about the next sharp pain. And, like migraine sufferers, victims of narcissists are worn out, distracted, and given to despair.

But now it’s over. The source of pain is gone, but the memory of the pain lingers. And you are still withdrawn, still focused on yourself. In fact, as you begin to heal, you see that some of the behaviors that hurt you are present in your life. In other words, you are acting like the narcissist.

So what do you do? How can you stop this thing that you hate? It may not be as hard as you think.

The narcissist lacks empathy. He/she does not see other people as persons. You had empathy before. You hurt when others hurt. You joined in their joy. You connected with others. You saw them as real people. But life with the narcissist stole that empathy from you. It became dangerous, for one thing. When you tried to empathize with the narcissist, you became confused and experienced more pain. It was better just not to try. And, when you cared about other people, the narcissist punished you—or else you were already so weakened that any rejection from them felt like the pain that came from the narcissist. After a while, it began to seem like everyone was turning against you. No one understood. No one cared. You couldn’t trust anyone. The wall around you became strong and kept everyone out.

You rationalized this by putting people in categories. Some were on the narcissist’s side. Others were ignorant and unhelpful. Some were hard to understand, but you didn’t want to trust them. Any compromise, any weakness in their support, became a reason to push them away. You found it easier to reject everyone than to allow anyone in. Pretty soon, you stopped seeing others as real people with their own struggles. You also stopped seeing their love and support.

But that was never your true heart. That was your response to your pain. You didn’t have much choice but to focus on yourself, even if that meant pushing others away. Now you want that loving person you used to be to come back.

So, here’s one thing to pray about and to do. Just one thing. Not a seven-step program. Not a book to read. Just one thing.

Learn to see others as real people again. Stop categorizing and start seeing. Yes, they are full of compromise and struggle. Yes, they have needs. Yes, they do dumb and, sometimes, mean things. But they are struggling just like you.

When we were kids we were taught how to cross the street with three simple words: stop, look, and listen. That is my simple suggestion for getting rid of the remnants of narcissism that have stuck to you. Stop pushing people away by categorizing them. Look at their faces, their eyes, and see their struggle. Listen to their words and their hearts. You will be amazed at the compassion and connection that rises up in your heart.

If this is hard, then ask the Lord for help. This is His heart, for you and for others. He sees with compassion. He knows the struggles. He cares.

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Collateral Narcissism

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

We used to say that if you worried about whether you were a Christian it was evidence that you already were. In other words, only a believer would be concerned about being a believer.

From time to time people tell me they are concerned about being narcissists. They look at themselves and see a variety of characteristics they don’t like. Now that they know about narcissism, they wonder if it might describe them. All they know is that they don’t like what they see in themselves. My first thought is that those who are concerned about being narcissists probably aren’t narcissists.

It isn’t unusual for people in relationships with narcissists to begin seeing narcissistic behaviors in themselves. In fact, those who are concerned about this have probably been infected by a narcissistic system, a sort of loop that pulls victims into the narcissist’s way of thinking.

For example, we know that narcissists drain people of energy, enthusiasm, and life. You spend a little time with your narcissist and come away feeling diminished somehow. The narcissist has taken something from you for himself. That’s how narcissists get their energy and passion. They take it from others.

But what do those others do when they are drained? Where do they refill their energy? Well, some look to still more others. You know what I mean. The dad yells at the mom, the mom yells at the kid, the kid yells at the dog. The common factor is the yelling. Narcissism, or abusive behavior, filters through the family or organization.

And how do you defend yourself against a narcissist? Being kind will just get you hurt. Sacrificing yourself will just feed the narcissist more. Standing up to the abuse may cause it to intensify. Instead, you build up defenses by not caring, being distant in heart or in body, and by depersonalizing the narcissist. We could argue that the only real protection against narcissism is narcissistic behavior.

Children of narcissists sometimes exhibit narcissistic behavior simply because that’s what they learned as they grew. The only things that worked were those things that used others. This is why organizations can become systemically narcissistic. Employees learn what gets people ahead. If they can’t find another place to work, they will have to learn how to play the game.

Think about this: narcissists desire a fantasy life where everyone serves them and adores them. So they set up, in whatever ways they can, a life where this happens. They begin to make changes almost right away: in their spouses, churches, workplaces, etc. The system they set up will look like the way they think. As they try to make everyone love and bow to them, they are also setting up a system where false love is received, false work is honored, and false morality is rewarded. People who can’t or won’t fit in are discarded or weakened until they change.

But listen: being caught up in the system does not mean that you are a narcissist. The narcissist is simply so large in that system that it becomes difficult for you to see yourself separate from him/her. You lose something of yourself in every exchange, but you gain something of the narcissist.

Yes, I know. That sounds frightening. But once you realize what is happening and decide you don’t like it, you are free to do something about it. You can choose to leave the system (and the narcissist) behind. You can choose to work to regain your identity. It will take work, but it can be done even within the system.

The point is that narcissists do tend to infect others with their thinking and behavior. But just because you are beginning to act like one does not mean you are one.  Perhaps worrying about whether you are a narcissist is evidence you are not.

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Seeing the Light

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

How long did it take you to see the light? Some have lamented that it took 40 years for them to see the truth and do something about it. So many wish they had separated from their narcissist before they had kids, signed that contract, moved their family for the new job. They kick themselves for not seeing the light sooner.

“Wasted time.” That’s what they call it. Time in which they could have been happy. Time in which they could have accomplished some of their dreams. Time that was lost to fear and sadness and turmoil.

Listen: I don’t believe that was wasted time! Every moment of my life has been used to bring me to where I am today. Maybe I didn’t accomplish all I wanted when I wanted, but I am here now and glad of it. I didn’t like all the things that have happened. I certainly didn’t choose some of those things. I wish some of those things hadn’t happened. The journey has not taken me where I thought it would, not even where I wanted to go, but it has brought me here. And it is still going.

I remember an old conversation where one person was encouraging the other to go back to school. The other said it would take four years to get a degree. “Do you know how old I will be in four years?” The first person responded: “How old will you be in four years if you don’t go back to school?”

Learning the truth, seeing the light, is good no matter how long it takes. You have accomplished so much more than most people. You have looked at your circumstances and have made a decision. Maybe you decided to make some drastic changes. Maybe you decided to stay in those circumstances with the new understanding you have. Whatever you decided, you did it. You made the decision. That alone says you are free.

We often hear of people who were imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit. When the real perpetrator is discovered, the innocent person is set free. Sometimes they get a settlement for the time they wrongly spent in prison. I suppose some are angry, perhaps bitter, for the wasted time. But I am always impressed by those who say they are just grateful that the truth was finally discovered. Those are the ones who will continue their lives. Those are the winners.

I put many years of service into an organization, sacrificing time and energy, only to find that the organization cared little about me. They took the contribution I gave, then wrote me off. I have been through my anger, even with hints of bitterness, but the truth is that I grew and learned during those years. Yes, I was hurt. Yes, at times I wonder if the sacrifice was worthwhile. I can still feel the anger, if I want. (They still send me requests for money.) But I have moved on.

Whatever I went through was nothing compared to the pain some of you have felt in the years of marriage and family struggles. Your injuries are deep and the scars severe. But you are moving on. You have become free, either in or out of the relationship. I am humbled by your strength and determination. You have seen the light.

It’s always surprising how senseless regret can be. It’s not like you can go back to change anything. Nor should you regret what others have done to you. You didn’t do those things. You might mourn the losses you have experienced. You might grieve over what might have been. But those feelings eventually lessen and go away. Grief is a process of finding yourself after loss. It may take time, but it does happen. Keep moving on.

Regret is telling yourself that you should not have done certain things. Even if you are partially responsible for the troubles you have suffered, so what? You can’t undo them. Forgive yourself and find the way to health and better decisions. There is no reason to punish yourself, and you are not given the freedom to punish anyone else. Regret is a way of bringing up uncomfortable things of the past and feeling bad about them over and over. It is a form of self-punishment. Move on.

Are there things you wish hadn’t happened? Of course. Some of them were serious. Some hurt others. Most hurt you. But now you see the truth. Now the truth has set you free. So give yourself permission to move on.

Do you need permission from someone else? I hereby give you permission, in the name of the Lord, to move forward with your life. I am not going to tell you what that should look like, what you should do with your life. Let the Lord lead you. I simply say that you can move on.

Maybe it comes back again to the old Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, 
The courage to change the things I can, 
And wisdom to know the difference. 

And let me add one more line:

And the strength to move on with my life, leaving the regrets behind.

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Cheaters

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Narcissists are cheaters. They cheat at big things and little things. Any advantage that will make them look smarter or superior in any way, they will take.

Actually, I am surprised this is not one of the nine clinical characteristics of the narcissist. Maybe it’s because others cheat as well, but I suspect all narcissists cheat. It may also be that cheating is not longer seen as a negative in an increasingly narcissistic culture.

You see, the narcissist is superior in his/her own mind. The rules don’t apply to them. They can choose what rules to follow and what rules to ignore. Things like speed limits, truth in advertising, accurate tax returns, and fair play are for other people. People who are not superior.

Almost everyone who has ever played a game with a narcissist has seen this. Unless the narcissist is actually superior in something, he will cheat. Your ball was out, he says. She will peek at your cards. The piece was to be moved seven places, but somehow the narcissist moved eight. He did “one more” push-up than you. Little dumb things. Some have said their narcissist even cheated while playing games with the kids.

So cheating in marriage, cheating on a resume, cheating a customer or client, or cheating in politics—all are just fun for the narcissist. Breaking the rules brings a rush to the narcissist. The fear of getting caught is nothing compared to the feeling of being superior.

You were taught that cheating proves nothing. The narcissist learned that cheating proves he is better. You were taught that cheaters always lose in the long run. The narcissist learned that tomorrow’s potential loss pales in the light of today’s win. You were taught that cheating was bad. The narcissist learned that silly moral standards keep you from being a winner.

The old word for someone who sees themselves as above the rules was “scofflaw.” A scofflaw laughed at the limits people placed on themselves. Arguments of fairness and safety meant nothing to the scofflaw. The word came out of Prohibition times. It actually came from a contest to pick a name for people who continued to drink when alcohol was illegal.

What happens when the narcissist is told not to do something? He almost has to find a way to do it. It might be drinking or stealing or parking in a certain place. The narcissist will stretch the rule to its absolute limit, and then just a little more. Just because the authorities don’t realize that the rules are for others, doesn’t mean the narcissist has to keep them. He will find a way.

Now, you might know a narcissist who knows every rule and insists that everyone must keep them all. He will make a big show of keeping them, but he will cheat. In some place, some hidden area, he will break the rules—just to prove to himself that he is superior. If we have learned anything over the past few years, we have learned that the strongest Bible-thumping preacher has secret sins. He cheats.

And everyone in the narcissist’s life knows this to be true. “Grandpa cheats!” the kids say. You stopped playing games with that friend a long time ago. The other workers hide their lunches or their client lists because they know what happens. The people at the gym don’t argue anymore when the narcissist claims more chin-ups or says the ball was out. People only play with the narcissist because they have to, or because they don’t know any better.

And if the narcissist is caught? “It was just a joke!” “I was just seeing if you could catch me.” “I would have won anyway.” “No, that’s not true!” “You are just whining because you lost.” “You were the one cheating.” You have probably heard all of those.

You see, even in little things, the narcissist must make himself feel superior.

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