Tag Archives: narcissists in church

Saboteurs

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

One of the things I noticed when I began to examine legalism among believers was how some would try to stifle the new joy of those who discovered grace. They became saboteurs, planting words of discouragement and challenge, whenever someone began to believe they were already loved by God apart from their performance. They would point out verses from Scripture, remind people of past sins, and generally try to plant seeds of doubt. And often these were the last people you would expect sabotage to come from.

Then, as I studied and counseled in the area of narcissism, I found the same thing. When you begin to see yourself separate from your abuser and are moving toward the decision to leave the relationship, there will be people who will seem to work against you. It is almost a universal phenomenon. It doesn’t seem to matter what kind of narcissistic relationship you are in.

Some of the saboteurs will surprise you. You might expect that the narcissist’s sycophants will try to make you stay in the relationship and chide you for thinking anything less of the narcissist. But what you don’t expect are the ones who have listened to you, empathized with you, and commiserated with you. These are the folks you thought would be cheering you forward. You might even have expected them to go with you, if it is that kind of relationship. But suddenly they are dragging their feet, compromising, even breaking agreements. And these are the people who seemed to support you!

Anna’s mom always has to have a big Christmas dinner and Anna and her sisters are responsible to bring the food. But Anna lives 150 miles away and her food never seems to make the trip well. Her sisters agree that this year they should all go out to eat. The local restaurant has great food and doesn’t require reservations. All three girls agree. Mom is not happy and decides to make the food herself. Joan, the oldest sister, is helping her. The others are invited, even if they didn’t bring anything. But, of course, they will be made to feel guilty.

Bob has had it with the leader of his team at work. So have the other members. They all decide to confront the leader at the next meeting. Bob begins by sharing his concerns. When he turns to the others, however, none of them will add anything. One of them even suggests that Bob is going too far, that the problems really aren’t that big.

Judy has been married to Mike for twenty-three years. All that time she has suffered. He is a brute: very critical, loud, demanding, and unfaithful. Her neighbor, Frieda, has been a wonderful sounding-board for the past few years. But now that Judy is beginning to stand up for herself and is thinking about leaving Mike, Frieda seems dedicated to discouraging her. She quotes Bible verses about God hating divorce. She lays guilt trips on Judy. She has even threatened to tell Mike Judy’s plans.

Frank and his family have been abused by the leadership of their church. Frank has been threatened with church discipline by the narcissist pastor simply because Frank disagreed with the pastor at a board meeting. Several people have come to Frank with similar concerns. Frank has tried to talk with the pastor and with the other leaders, but no one will listen. Finally, he decides to leave the church. When he does, he finds that none of the others who came to him for support are willing to leave. In fact, some of the things he said to them in private have been shared throughout the church. Now it looks like the pastor was justified in trying to stifle Frank. Now Frank is seen as a troublemaker.

In each of these situations there is a sense of betrayal and sabotage. People who were trusted as support failed to be that support when it was needed. Why?

I know that it is tempting to decide never to trust anyone again. When people fail you or betray you, the emotional damage is deep and long-lasting. But let me help you focus those feelings and give some general rules-of-thumb that might help in the future.

1. Never trust anyone who is in a relationship with your narcissist. I know that’s blunt, but I think you can see the sense of it. The narcissist who has his/her hooks in you has his/her hooks in others. The only problem is that you don’t know where they are hooked or how deeply. Maybe Anna’s mother was able to threaten Joan or manipulate her in some way that moved her to betray her sisters. Maybe Bob’s co-workers are more compromised than Bob knows. They like his strength, but they can’t support him. They will cheer him on, but stand behind him. The narcissist whose control has oppressed you is oppressing almost everyone with whom he has a relationship. Don’t expect help from them.

2. Hesitate to trust anyone who struggles in their own narcissistic relationship. Judy’s neighbor really does understand because of her relationship with her own husband. She knows what Judy has gone through. It has been nice for Frieda to talk with someone who feels the same pain; but, when Judy wants to leave, who will be there for Frieda? And, if Judy leaves Mike, Frieda will be faced with a choice about staying with her husband. She is not willing to go through the drama and pain it will take to leave, and she doesn’t want to feel even weaker than she already feels. Pulling Judy back is the only thing she can do. If Judy fails and is stuck, Frieda won’t feel so bad about herself.

3. Never trust the people who only watch the soap opera. There are people who will agree and challenge and support you just so they can watch your drama. They claim to share your feelings and they may even get a strange parasitic thrill from being in the middle, but they are not truly supportive. Remember the people watching The Truman Show? They cried with Truman, they got angry on Truman’s behalf, they cheered for Truman; but, when it was all over, they simply turned the channel to see what else was on. The people in Frank’s church were excited to share in his determination and strength. They loved his ability and willingness to stand up for what he believed. But they were there for the emotions they could experience from the drama. Not to support Frank and his family.

It isn’t the people who disagree with you who hurt you. It isn’t even the people who just can’t seem to understand your struggle. It’s the ones who are with you in that struggle, to whom you look for support. The only ones who can sabotage the ship are ones who are on it with you. And when they try, it hurts.

Before I end this, let me make two notes. First, deciding to stay in the relationship is a valid decision and may not be an indication of weakness. There will be those who will even try to sabotage that decision. Second, deciding not to trust someone is different from deciding not to love them or be kind to them. You can be gracious without trusting.

One of my heroes, Davy Crockett, is credited with saying, “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.” When you are strong enough to make a decision, make the right one and trust your decision. For me, that means to pray and look to Jesus. When He leads me in a certain direction, even when others disagree or betray, I know it is still the right direction. No one can really sabotage you if you just move in the direction of what you believe is right. They can try. They can hurt you. But they can’t stop you.

And once you see them for what they are, you are free.

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Controlling the Story

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

I was one who simply hated the ending of “Lost,” one of the most popular television shows in recent years. I thought it was contrived and disingenuous and, frankly, just dumb. Many viewers felt betrayed by the ending. But I wasn’t writing the show, was I? No, the ones who controlled the story made the decision and there was little any of the rest of us could do.

One famous mystery writer is known for introducing the perpetrator of the crime late in the book, so you don’t have any reason to wonder about the other characters. The readers feel tricked by the last minute introduction. That’s just the way he writes and my only recourse is not to read his books. He controls the story.

The one who controls the story leads the reader/listener around by a hook in the nose showing only what he wants to show and twisting reality in whichever way he desires in order to accomplish his goals. Because there is no other story, we are forced to follow the path and timing the author sets. If he gives us inaccurate information, we may never know. If he doesn’t want us to know something, he simply won’t tell us. If he wants to distract us or deceive us, he has and uses the means to do so.

Now, all of this is fine when we are talking about a work of fiction, a novel or a movie or a television show. But it is something quite different when it is the narcissist telling the story of your relationship. Like Citizen Kane, or Stephen King, or Hillary Clinton (all of whom are credited with the quote), the narcissist says, “They will believe what I tell them to believe!”

I remember a man (whom I have always suspected of being a narcissist) telling me that his wife was “either sick or evil.” That had come to him as a revelation one evening, and he needed to tell me. At the time I thought he was actually trying to understand her, while ignoring his own cruel behavior. Now I understand that he was testing the story on me. He wanted to know which choice would be believed. If I agreed with either one, that would become the story. “She’s sick and that’s why she says all these things about me.” “She’s evil and is doing everything she can to hurt me and my reputation.” Of course, I did what I could to bring him back to his own actions and his own responsibility for the situation, but he never did accept his fault.

As long as the narcissist controls the story, he controls the world. That might seem over-stated, but some readers here know exactly what I mean. Controlling the story is the ultimate projecting/gaslighting/isolating tool for the narcissist.

Time after time I have read about someone who stepped outside the narcissistic relationship to talk with friends or family members only to find that the story they had been told was very different from the truth. In fact, the victim was surprised to find that there was a story at all. Yet, when he/she stepped out that door, people were already against him/her, had already made their judgments, had already heard THE STORY. What happened? The narcissist planted information with the people who mattered so that the victim had no choice but to stay in the story.

For example, a wife (Merry) finally realizes that nothing is right at home. Ted is cruel and conflicted and angry. Their marriage has been difficult for years. She has been too embarrassed to talk with anyone, but decides finally to confide in a friend she has known for a long time. When she begins to tell her story, she hears, “Oh, Ted told me you were becoming unhappy, and I should expect a call.” What? He already talked with her? Of course, he is getting the story out. Soon Merry learns that all of her friends have been prepared, even her family members have been told Ted’s version. But no one will listen to her side. She has been labeled as the “crazy one.”

Merry has only begun to venture outside the story that Ted has been telling for so many years. Eventually, she will find that he is the patient one, the one who has to endure her ranting and raving. She learns that she is the one who abuses and overspends and might be having outside relationships (or at least interests). She is the problem for poor Ted, the reason he can’t do certain things and the explanation for any of his incompetence or failure. But what a guy he is for standing by her all these years!

I wish this was purely fiction, that nothing like this had ever really happened, but I know better. I have read your stories. Siblings, parents, co-workers, and spouses—particularly those who are narcissists—tell stories that serve their purposes. You are just a character in the story. Your purpose is to make them look better than they are. You are controlled by the author of the story, and people will think of you what the author tells them to think about you.

It honestly seems almost cruel to talk about this. Yet, many have found just this to be true. The narcissist has controlled information to others long enough that they believe him. Some have found that their own parents and siblings believe the narcissist, as do the people of their church. No one has heard any other story.

In the past, when people were more isolated, the narcissist’s story would simply stand. For some, that is still the case. To get out of the relationship may mean losing everything: friends, family, finances, reputation. Some will decide that it is still worthwhile. Their own health and sanity is worth starting all over again.

But we do have other means of getting the story out today. Let’s go back to Merry:
When Merry decides she must move forward even if Ted’s story seems to rule her time and space, she remembers family members who have been estranged because they never got along with Ted. Humbly, she attempts to reestablish those relationships. She begins to build a support structure from which she can move forward. She seeks out a shelter for abused women; and, even though she was not physically abused, they set up an appointment for her with a counselor who understands. She begins to learn techniques for controlling the emotions Ted usually brings out of her to control her. She starts to gather a little money and takes some classes that might lead to a job.

To anyone who will listen, she calmly and consistently tells a new story about the marriage. Some people don’t believe her and won’t listen. Others will at least listen. For some people, Ted was a little too good to be true, and they are not as surprised by Merry’s story as she thought they would be. The counselor has helped her set and maintain boundaries in the relationship, and Merry is not overwhelmed by fear when Ted learns that she has told a different story to some people. Eventually, Merry realizes that it is not as important that others believe her story as it is that she no longer has to live under Ted’s story.

Of course, Ted will react to all of this. He will feel out of control. His story, which was designed to support his image, will begin to crumble. He will have to find ways to discredit Merry or adjust his story to overcome hers. But if Merry patiently, calmly, and consistently tells a different story, Ted is no longer in control. He will win some battles, but he will not rule the world.

And, in the real world of today, Merry could move away and establish new friendships in another place. She could start her own blog and let her story become public. She could begin to work with others who need to escape the stories written by their narcissists. It is even possible that Merry’s story could become the story others read and Ted’s story will fall aside.

Yes, what I am writing here is idealistic. There are many battles and failures that have been omitted. But this new narrative is happening—and it can happen for you. Don’t be surprised when you learn that the narcissist’s version is out there, and don’t be intimidated into thinking that it’s all over. You can write a new story.

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Everyone’s Guilty?

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

We have been taught to feel guilty. We have been told that we are bad people and we do bad things. We accept guilt and shame as we do old friends. They are familiar and comfortable to us. This is one of the reasons I put out this blog, to show that so much of the condemnation Christians carry around does not come from the heart of God.

For narcissists and legalists, guilt and shame are effective tools to keep others quiet and in line. The condemnation we bring with us into the relationship or the church gives them the opening they need to begin to manipulate us. They build on the foundation we already have and further weaken us by their insinuations and accusations. The best follower is a quiet one, one who won’t challenge the teacher. Guilt, intimidation, uncertainty—these are all tools in the narcissist’s toolbox.

So we had some fun last week (wonderful comments, btw!) and along comes a reminder that we are all guilty of these things, that we are not better than others. Now, please understand, I am not scolding or judging whoever made the comments. I just want to point out why that happens. And I want to show why it is an error.

Let’s start by establishing the fact that we simply do not do what some people do. When you hear about a murder or a rape, do you stop to remind yourself that you are a sinner also? Probably not. You want the person to be caught and brought to justice. You have no hesitation in thinking that the perpetrator is accountable—and that he is different from you. You could be with children all day and not molest any of them. You could look at a pretty girl in a secluded place and not attempt to rape her. You could probably be in charge of a friend’s finances and not steal anything. Many of you have told your stories here and I know that you have lived in relationship with some of the most difficult people in the world—and you have not committed murder. The truth is that there is a difference between you and many others.

Now, just what is that difference? You see, most of us were taught in church that all sin is the same and that any of us could do anything. I agree with that to a point. I believe any of us could commit any sin—but we don’t. I believe all sin is the same when the need for a Savior is proclaimed—but not all sin is the same in the practice of daily life. Some sin hurts others more seriously than other sin. Some is more cruel, more insidious, and, perhaps, more evil. Yes, there is sin on all our accounts and we all need the Savior’s love, but there are distinctions that are real and important. Otherwise, we can’t ever judge any cruel act.

When Jesus said that lust was the same as adultery and depersonalization was the same as murder, He meant that guilt was guilt in the eyes of God, and all sin creates a need for forgiveness and salvation. He was chastising the self-righteous leaders for judging some people as less valuable in the eyes of God. The sins of the leaders, while acceptable within the community perhaps, were still not acceptable to God. Jesus is not saying that the person who calls his brother a fool should be treated like a murderer. He is simply saying that we all sin.

We all agree that there are things on the list from last week that could apply to our behavior and attitudes at times. There is no question that I can be argumentative and critical and belligerent sometimes (I will spare you the rest of me that’s on that list). But that doesn’t make me a narcissist. When we list adjectives like that, we are just describing characteristics. For example, I could say that an apple is red, round, hard, sweet, edible, and falls from a tree. That doesn’t mean that every red thing is an apple. Nor does it mean that every hard thing that falls from a tree is an apple. These are just a list of an apple’s attributes. If all of them are true, I will begin to think of an apple, of course. And if many or all of the things on our lists from last week are true of a certain person, I will begin to wonder if that person is a narcissist.

There is another notable difference between most of us and the narcissist. When I do these things and I realize that I have done them, I experience regret. Not just regret for getting caught, but genuine regret for hurting someone and for being less than I could be. I often remember those things long after I did them because I wish I had never done them. Now, I believe there is no guilt on my account with God for those things because of what Jesus did for me and I have, when appropriate, apologized to the person, but I still remember and feel bad. I know I am not guilty, but I still beat myself with those things. Almost everyone reading this will understand… except for the narcissist.

You see, the narcissist only regrets getting caught or burning a useful bridge, he/she does not regret saying what was said. If he called you a name that cut deep, he has probably forgotten it, or he did it purposely to manipulate you in some way. For example, narcissists attack when they feel threatened. That’s when they use your secrets against you. Do they regret doing it? Of course not, no more than they would regret picking up a stick to chase away a threatening dog. You are not a person and your secrets are tools to be used.

But you don’t think that way and it is just fine for you to acknowledge that. You are different from the narcissist. Many have noted the existence of a kind of narcissistic spectrum. This concept may or may not be helpful. If we say that anyone on the spectrum is a narcissist, then it isn’t helpful. If we say that there is a point at which this behavior defines a person, that the person consistently acts in these negative ways, and is therefore a narcissist; then the spectrum is being used correctly. Not all vain people are narcissists, but vain people who also use others and have no empathy and regularly say and do inappropriate things might be.

My point is that the guilt we bring into these relationships is a weapon they will use against us. The narcissist and the legalist will heap more guilt on you and use that guilt to beat you into submission. The moment you try to defend yourself, they will pounce and accuse you of the same thing. They will gaslight you into thinking that it is really all your problem as they project their own behavior on you. As long as you let them present the axioms, set the agenda, provide the criteria—you will lose.

So, don’t bring the guilt for them to use. No, you are not perfect. No one is. Yes, you sometimes do wrong things. We all do. But you are not like the narcissist. And listen: you can disagree. When the narcissist begins to say that you are the one with the problem and that you do the same thing you are accusing him/her of doing, you can stop and say no.

“No, I am not like you.” If you can’t say it, at least let yourself think it.

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The Diagnosis Game

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

Okay, so I really feel the need for a lighter post today. This topic gets heavy and I so appreciate those who come to share their stories and ask questions. But dealing with narcissistic relationships is hard work. Sometimes you just need to step back and laugh at the situation. It really isn’t funny, I know, but you need to do something other than cry or scream.

When I think about the clinical names for these disorders and how we sometimes lump them together and call them narcissism, I realize that, in spite of the similarities, we each face something a little different. The relationships of parent-child, husband-wife, friend-friend, are not the same. The dynamics of these disorders vary within those relationships as well. One narcissist might not act just like another. Some might seem more like a borderline personality or a histrionic. These distinctions are hard to explain.

Besides that, these distinctions are coveted by the professionals. They really don’t like for us to use these words. Just because I think someone exhibits narcissism doesn’t mean that a “professional” would agree. So what do we do?

Today I suggest we all try to come up with our own acronyms, ones that will help to communicate what we have struggled with. If we can’t call so-and-so a narcissist, maybe we can call him a J.E.R.K., for example. A “jumbled egocentric rude know-it-all.” Or maybe she is a P.A.I.N. (Persistent, agitating, invasive, nasty) person. Basically, if we can’t use these normal words to describe the abusers, let’s define some disorders and syndromes that make sense to us.

So now it’s your turn. Please don’t feel like we are ridiculing the victims or making light of their suffering. Nor am I suggesting that it will be helpful to call someone a jerk or something like that. But sometimes… well, it just helps to let off a little steam.

Just to get things rolling, I have gathered a list of words that might help. You don’t have to use these words, but they might start you thinking. The only rule is that you can’t use the word “narcissist” or any of its variants. You don’t even have to make a word out of the acronym. Feel free just to stick some letters together that describe your situation. (And remember that this is a Christian blog ;) )

If you were to create an acronym to describe what you are seeing and experiencing, what might it be?

 

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First among Losers

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 
Narcissism is a competitive condition. Let’s face it: narcissists are always competing. They are stronger and smarter and more deserving than you. They work harder or work less or work better than you do. Whatever they perceive as a positive attribute for you, they have to top.

The narcissist deserves to be in charge, to have more money, to have a lighter work load, to gather more sympathy, to be more popular, to get more attention—than anyone else. They will tell you stories about how bad they had it and they can always top your story. They hurt more from their pain, are rejected more by fools, and are less appreciated than you or me. It doesn’t matter if it is positive or negative, if it gets attention they have it more than you.

We are seeing more sports figures these days who reject second-place medals or trophies. Nothing matters except being at the top. Anything less than the best and most loved means nothing. It doesn’t matter what anyone says, they live by the motto that “Second place is just first among losers.”

One consistent characteristic I have noticed among narcissists is this idea that losing—in any way—is fundamentally unacceptable. I have heard narcissists push arguments way past any sense of reason just to get their opponent to concede. They will lie, cheat, steal, abuse, or attack to win a simple disagreement. Sports figures take drugs, businessmen cheat, entertainers starve and carve just to stay on top. Coming in second is just plain old losing.

Those in relationships with narcissists must understand this. There is no sympathy, no cooperation, no understanding when the competition begins. (Unless, of course, the competition is to be sympathetic or cooperative. Then you will lose.) His story begins with, “Oh, that’s nothing! One time I…” Your story is forgotten, in spite of the fact that yours is true. Her words begin with, “That’s nice, but…” or “That’s too bad, but I…” You are dismissed. Go sit in the corner while she tells her story.

The addiction to attention and admiration is so strong in the narcissist that anyone else who gets it is an immediate competitor. The narcissist will say nasty things about the person being recognized, insinuate whatever will bring the person down. I have seen parents take over the recognition that is given to their children and leaders take the spotlight away from honorees. Sometimes the actions of the narcissist are embarrassing to the rest of us. But not to the narcissist. It simply has to be done.

Of course, much of this refers to the behavior presented by the overt narcissist. Because they have learned to be more open about their desire for attention, the overt narcissist has little hesitation as he or she pulls the focus away from others. The covert narcissist must do this more carefully. Typically, the covert narcissist is a victim or a servant. They often stand there, looking sad or dutiful, waiting for others to notice them. Eventually someone will say something positive about the service or supportive about the struggle, and the covert narcissist will milk the attention by denying anything special until the other is almost gushing with praise or sympathy. Covert narcissists teach us that attention can be gathered by self-deprecation and understatement, and that those who appear not to be competing can still win.

I suspect that the narcissist sees attention as a limited commodity. There is only a certain amount of praise available in the world and he deserves all of it. There is a certain amount of sympathy in the world and she deserves all of it. Others should expect to take the second place.

Nothing and no one is worth more to the narcissist than attention. Lovers can never give enough praise or service or worship. Servants can never be trusted to give their all. With ruthless strength, the narcissist tears down anyone or anything that stands in his way to the top. Too many have found this to be true as the marriage or relationship ends. I have heard horror stories of how narcissists have lied and cheated to get their way in divorce and custody battles. They not only must win, but often must destroy.

Unfortunately for the narcissist, he isn’t usually good enough to deserve the attention he desires. He fails too often because his focus is not on the game but on how well others think of him. The quarterback may be amazingly gifted but if he can’t top all the rest, he pouts and curses. And something, probably the incompetence of those around him, is to blame for any lack on his part. The salesman may simply not be as good in his job as another, even though he is very good. But second place, losing, is someone else’s fault.

Perhaps one test of whether a person is a narcissist is how he or she tolerates attention given to another. Most of us can rejoice when someone else is praised. We might feel a little jealous or we might wonder why that person deserves the praise, but we don’t have to have it for ourselves or even take it away from them. The narcissist, on the other hand, can reveal much by the attitudes and words that are exhibited when others receive praise.

Those in narcissistic relationships should not be surprised to find themselves competing with their narcissists, even when they have no intention of doing so. It is just part of the deal.

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Kinds of People

It’s Narcissist Friday!

 

Someone reposted this on Facebook a while back:

“When I was using, there were 2 kinds of people…People who were in the way of my using, and people who helped me use. Now, there are still 2 kinds of people… People who are in the way of my recovery, and people who help me in my recovery.” 

facebook.com/rightfromtherooms

 

I have no idea who made the statement, or why, or even what that person meant by it. Yet, I am sure they meant for it to be a positive statement about addiction. I can imagine that the person who reposted it thought it was a great statement of conviction and moving ahead. But it doesn’t seem to indicate that there has been much of a change in perspective.

In fact, I read this as a statement a narcissist might make about his or her attempt to change. It suggests that people are there to be used. During the addiction, people were either tools or obstacles. During the recovery, people are still either tools or obstacles. Either useful or not—that’s how people are categorized.

Addicts use people. We understand that. They push and pull their loved ones and friends and acquaintances as far as the relationship will stretch and sometimes just beyond that. But the addiction drives them. They see no one and nothing other than their need. Fortunes, marriages, health, family—all have been sacrificed to satisfy the addictions. Too many know this too well.

What isn’t widely understood is that narcissism is an addiction as well. The image is just as much a focus for the narcissist as cocaine is for the “snowbird.” To get the next word of praise or submission or service, to avoid the next criticism or expectation, the narcissist will spend money and sacrifice relationships.

Some of you will remember the name of Sam Vaknin, who wrote “Malignant Self-love.” As a self-proclaimed narcissist, he has some interesting perspectives on the problem. I wrote about him in a post entitled: The Open Narcissist. Here’s what he went through before he began to understand his problem:

“‘Malignant Self-Love – Narcissism Revisited’ was written under extreme conditions of duress. It was composed in jail as I was trying to understand what had hit me. My nine years old marriage dissolved, my finances were in a shocking condition, my family estranged, my reputation ruined, my personal freedom severely curtailed. Slowly, the realisation that it was all my fault, that I was sick and needed help penetrated the decades old defences that I erected around me.”

The struggles of the narcissist are very similar to those of the drug addict, perhaps with a couple of notable differences. First, the struggle of the narcissist likely began at a very young age, unlike the addict, and by the time an adult relationship is established, the narcissist is quite hardened. Also, the narcissist does not have a physical addiction and can learn to make changes in how he/she relates with others. This may seem to minimize the problem, but narcissists seem to be more culpable, more responsible for their decisions concerning others.

So both the addict and the narcissist see people in the light of their addictions. Others are to be used. There can be no other purpose for a relationship. No other focus within the relationship. No other focus in life.

But what happens when a narcissist sees that he has problems and wants to change? Now, instead of using others to make himself feel good about himself, he wants to be a “better person.” And those around him are supposed to help. They are supposed to be patient and gracious and forgiving. If they are not, if they place more expectations on him than he desires or if they exhibit anger, then they are in the way of his “recovery.”

So those in relationships with narcissists will hear things like: “I am doing my best. Why aren’t you helping?” Or “I know I have a problem. I need your support, not your criticism.” Or even, “I am doing my part, how about you doing yours?” The other person was supposed to help worship the image before, now they are supposed to help the narcissist get “better.” Anyone who does not help becomes responsible for the problem. In other words, now it’s your fault he is a narcissist.

You see, there are more than two kinds of people in the world. There are people who have no desire to enter into the drama of the narcissist. There are people who simply don’t care about the narcissist’s needs or desires. They didn’t create the problem and they aren’t interested in helping solve it. There are others who have been so beat up that they have nothing more to give. They don’t want to hurt, but they can’t help. Some have been so compromised, so marginalized, in their relationship with the narcissist/addict that they are no longer in a position to help. Still others have become angry and will refuse to help. There are many different kinds of people in the world.

And some of them have gotten smarter. They care, but they see the truth. This “recovery” is just another pretense, just another way for the narcissist to look good. The effort is sacrificial, the change is supposed to be celebrated, and the new person is just the old person with different words and methods.

Fairly often now I receive emails from people who identify themselves as narcissists. They ask for help in changing. They are losing their marriages or others have confronted them with their offenses. They are under pressure and want out. Every time I get one of these emails, I struggle. Usually I doubt that I can do anything to help. Sometimes I don’t think the person is really a narcissist, just another victim who identifies the worst in himself. When I do answer someone who I think might actually be a narcissist, I get no further response. I suppose that my suggestion that they let themselves hit the bottom is not welcome. They don’t really want to suffer the brokenness and humbling they will need to go through. They just want me to tell them how to get through their problem.

And what is the problem? Other people. So what has changed?

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Leadership

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

I recently read that a narcissistic former CEO is being considered as a candidate for president. This former CEO nearly destroyed a major US corporation and left, of course, with a multi-million dollar severance package. The suggestion of narcissism is not mine, but the assessment of many who have watched this person’s career and have seen the piles of the dead along the path. Who could imagine the damage this person could cause as president?

On the other hand, some people think this is just the kind of person we need in leadership. Narcissism is increasingly seen as a positive characteristic among leaders. And narcissists are found in almost every type of leader position offered in our culture. Spiritual leaders, military leaders, political leaders, organizational leaders, even local and small group leaders are often narcissists.

Leadership positions draw narcissists like parties draw college students. Even if they aren’t particularly interested, the people around them push and pull them into leadership. Almost all the narcissists I have known have been in some leadership position, usually in churches. Narcissists love leadership, and our culture loves to have narcissistic leaders. It seems to be a marriage made in… well, not Heaven.

Now, before I go much further I have to acknowledge that I do not believe true leadership can be accomplished by a narcissist. In my heart, I believe that leadership really is people-centered and empathic. But that’s why I have a small church, some would say. That’s why I have never been a significant leader, others would say. For our culture, leaders are people who can make things happen.

Narcissists can make things happen. Let’s think about why. What characteristics do narcissists have that make them “good leaders” in our culture?

One of the first things we have to understand is that political maneuvering is in the nature of the narcissist. They cultivate friendships, learn secrets, and manipulate others with extraordinary skill. They sense leadership opportunities, know when a co-worker is weak, and watch for administrations to make changes. In other words, narcissists prepare for leadership. They might even cultivate dissension within the organization so leadership opportunities will be available. Many will take lesser positions as a way of putting themselves in line for the “big one.” When leadership is defined as political prowess, narcissists almost deserve to be leaders.

It is common to speak of the poor “people skills” of the narcissist, but that can be an error. Narcissists may have poor relationship skills, but they know people. Politicians, preachers, doctors, and others rarely rise to leadership positions without working with people. In fact, we could say that, from a certain perspective, narcissists have much greater people skills than most of the rest of us. What is sadly true is that narcissists don’t care about people. They use people to accomplish their purposes; but they can discard or abuse without hesitation because people are simply objects for them. Many leaders today are in their positions simply because of their ability to use the work and skills of others. They bring little that is applicable to the organization, except their willingness to use others and the understanding to see who would be able to accomplish what is needed.

Perhaps the most hated and most popular characteristic of narcissistic leaders is the disconnect they have between their goals and the pain of others. If the goal, for example, is to increase the value of company stock, the leader might decide to cut the number of employees. Knowing that the job market is difficult, the leader is confident that remaining employees will work longer hours under more pressure to make up for the loss of the others. Employees who quit under the pressure will easily be replaced, if necessary, by younger employees earning less pay. If closing a plant in one location can be made to look like progress for the company, the local workers who lose their jobs are of little concern. This has been happening around the country for many years.

So consider this. Narcissists…

Have extraordinary people skills

Don’t see people, but assets

Rarely suffer regrets

Are limited by few scruples

Have no qualms about making decisions that hurt others

Have little or no hesitation to use others and discard them

Does that look like leadership in politics or business to you? It may even look like leadership in your church. These are the people who are credited with turning small companies into great ones. These are the ones who grow large churches, and who get themselves elected to public office. They run much of the world in which we live. Shareholders, church members, and organizational volunteers are happy with the new energy they bring.

Until. You see, there is one characteristic about narcissists that is rarely noticed at the beginning of the relationship. The narcissist cares only about himself. If shareholders are happy, he can mold his contract to whatever benefits him the most. Who do you suppose manipulated those incredible severance packages given to departing CEOs of failing companies? If the church members are happy, or at least the ones who matter, the pastor can have his extra vacation, his travel opportunities, and his work/leadership team. The narcissist takes care of himself. And when the company struggles, the CEO simply cashes in and moves to another organization.

So what are we finding in organizations, churches, businesses, and governments today? Weak structures unable to handle the normal pressures of change. Self-serving leadership at nearly every level. Depleted asset accounts. Abuse of people, money, and reputation by leaders, and inability of the organization to discipline or hold leaders accountable. Distrust of leadership is epidemic in our culture, yet we have never been so dependent on the government or the company. We feel trapped, yet the addiction moves us to be excited with news of the next change.

Narcissistic abuse explains so much of what we see in our culture, particularly in leadership. Those who are concerned need to understand what is happening and why. Narcissists might seem like great leaders; but, in the end, all you have is a narcissist.

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