Tag Archives: overt narcissists

Narcissistic Emotions

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

I have watched narcissists joke and laugh and even praise people, then turn away with curses in their mouths and disgust on their faces. I have seen them act caring and supportive, even pray with people, and then make jokes about them later. The ability of the narcissist to morph into whatever they think they should be at the moment is impressive.

In our discussion of mourning, the unexpected and inconsistent emotions of the narcissist were mentioned several times. Just like some have noted that their narcissist did mourn, I have been told that a certain narcissist was very empathic. Often narcissists become counselors or helpers to those who are hurting. Professions in medicine and the church are choice bastions of narcissism. But how does a person become a pastor when he sees people as tools to use for his personal gain? And how does one become a doctor or an elected official when he really doesn’t care what happens to others? The emotions needed to connect with the hearts of others seem so inconsistent with narcissism.

Almost by definition, narcissists don’t care. We wonder if they have the ability to care about others. Yet, they cannot move forward in the relationships they need without convincing people that they do care. So narcissists learn to do what it takes.

I believe that narcissists are some of the most practical people we will ever meet. Because they are actually quite free of emotional ties, they are able to look at situations without the same complications we experience. That ability gives them freedom to make quick and strong decisions and to make difficult decisions.

Who can look on the employees of a small business and choose which has to be let go because of the budget cuts? The narcissist can, and without consideration of the employee’s needs or tenure. The decision will be practical and ruthless. But it can’t look that way or the other employees might cause problems. The thinking narcissist will feign a struggle, let everyone know how difficult the choice was, and even shed a tear or two. Of course, if you watch carefully, the narcissist will look bigger and better because of the phony struggle. None of it will be about the employee.

Spouses of narcissists often comment at how the narcissist, who cared little about the children before the divorce, becomes the perfect parent after or during the proceedings. Suddenly he/she is attentive, patient, giving, and empathic. But these same emotions go away when a new lover comes into the picture.

Emotions are useful to the narcissist. He knows that the way into the heart of another person is through connected emotions. He will be upset about some injustice with those who are feeling abused. She will be attentive and loving with those who need a friend. I have found narcissists to be some of the best listeners in my life, accepting and instantly grasping my own feelings. But all of this is an act. The same narcissists who have been so gracious in times of need will produce much greater struggles for their victims in the future.

Understand that emotions are risky for the narcissist. If he cannot control his feelings, he may reveal the weakness he knows himself to have. He will betray the image if he is not careful. So the narcissist learns early not to cry, not to express too much enthusiasm, not to hope. He cannot look weak. He must be in control. Even the covert narcissist, who seems much more willing to express vulnerability, will share only those emotions that will be useful in relationships. She might cry, a lot, and she might show fear or anxiety or disappointment; but all of that will be for the purpose of manipulating those around her.

I really can’t close this post without mentioning the most difficult emotion for the narcissist to control—anger. Anger betrays the narcissist often. Whereas sadness or grief are handled by the depersonalization in every narcissistic relationship, anger is about the narcissist himself. When he is frustrated or afraid or disappointed, it will often come out as anger. Part of the reason for this is that the narcissist will see anger as power. Others cower and back away when he is angry. They give him his way. So anger is useful, of course. But part of it is also due to the intense cost of maintaining the image. There is no option to show real fear or weakness, yet the narcissist hides in the cave hoping others will be distracted by the superior image. When that falters, the stress and inconsistency rises to the surface, sometimes with dangerous results.

Whole books could be written on the way narcissists use emotions. Just remember that those emotions are tools in the narcissists’ hands. Don’t be distracted or deceived by them.


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It’s Narcissist Friday!  


“People who confront the narcissist always lose.”


What do you think? Is that a true statement?  It certainly seems true, doesn’t it?  Only enter the fight if you are prepared to get beat up.  To confront the narcissist on behavior or attitude is to walk dangerously.

If you are reading this, you probably understand. It might be at work where you confront the narcissist about the lies he has told about you.  It might be a parent who has always put you down.  It might be a friend who takes advantage of your time and energy.  Or it might be a spouse or lover who is often cruel and uncaring.  But when you point out how they hurt you, you end up hurt again.

Somehow it is all your fault. You started it.  You deserve it.  You are the real culprit.  If you hadn’t done what you did, this never would have happened.  You should be thankful the narcissist puts up with you at all.  On and on and on.  By the time it’s over you wish you had never dared.

Then you feel like crap. Sorry for the vernacular, but that’s the way it is.  You built up your courage, gathered your nerve, prepared your words—and got creamed.  And this isn’t the first time.

So what do you do? Simple justice seems to demand that the narcissist be confronted.  She has to be told that she is hurting you.  He has to have the boundaries made clear.  They ought to be stopped.

But here’s the problem: the narcissists either already know they are doing something that hurts you or they simply don’t care. All your energy seems out of line to them.  They don’t understand why you are attacking them, since they have done nothing wrong.  Again, you deserved it.  To the narcissist, it is almost hypocritical of you to challenge them for their cruelty when it was your own fault.


And     so     you     go     slowly     crazy.


But understand that this is not your problem. You are not the crazy one.  This is how narcissists generally deal with confrontation.  Whether it is the boss, the mother, the neighbor, the police officer or anyone.  Even the counselor.

To the Officer: “Yes, Officer, I see your point. Thank you.  I appreciate your diligence.”

To you: “That jerk!  If he didn’t have that badge I would have pushed his words down his throat.  Who does he think he is giving me a ticket?”

Even when it seems that the confrontation works, it still doesn’t. There may be limited success.  He might shut up for a while.  She might walk away.  But they really don’t understand your anger and don’t care about your point.  They can’t see you as a real person whose emotions are valid.  Your anger, your sadness, your joy—they don’t understand them the way you might understand the emotions of others.


Back to the question: What do you do? Here are some ideas:

  1. Do what you must. If you must say something, do it. It will feel good to get it out, no matter how it is accepted.
  2. Plan for failure. There are times when it is right to do something even if you know ahead of time that it won’t work. Maybe someone else will hear and understand your point, even if the narcissist doesn’t get it. If you plan for the narcissist to avoid or miss your point, you might not be as hurt when he/she does.
  3. Accept small victories and benefits. Sometimes a confrontation can set up a boundary. Sometimes the narcissist will be set back and have to take a different tack. That can be good.
  4. Or you don’t have to confront at all. Why put yourself through that if you don’t have to? Set your boundaries and maintain them without confrontation. The narcissist will probably try to use confrontation if you seem to want to avoid it, but walking away or staying silent can be a very effective strategy.


Confrontation is hard and narcissists usually choose victims who hate it in almost any circumstance. It is hard because you see the other as a real person and you don’t want to hurt them, nor do you want to fail to get your point across.  Just know that your desire to confront and your struggle with confrontation are okay.  They’re normal.

So I have attached a little video that seemed to illustrate what happens when we try to confront the narcissist. I apologize in advance for the “dumb criminals” part.  You are neither dumb nor criminals, but the narcissist is usually as hard as bulletproof glass!


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Feeling Trapped?

It’s Narcissist Friday!  


Being dumped by the narcissist is hard. One day you are wonderful and special; the next you are nothing. One day you feel loved and the next you feel hated. That’s tough.

But I think it is even harder when they won’t let you go. Day after day, week after week, on and on they just keep nagging or begging or criticizing or using or trying to make you crazy. And they are so good at keeping you involved in their lives. They lie and cry and plead and threaten, whatever it takes to keep you on that string.

Why are some narcissists so hard to get rid of? Here are some ideas:


  1. They think they own you. Remember that you are not a person to a narcissist. The narcissist sees others as tools, toys or obstacles. If you have been useful in the past, you may be useful in the future. Most narcissists have as little regard for the feelings of others as you or I would have for belongings. So you can’t make the decision to separate from them. They own you.
  2. They may be afraid of what you know. Did you learn any compromising information about the narcissist during your relationship? Could that information be used to challenge the image of the narcissist? Perhaps you are not important or useful, but dangerous and you must be controlled.
  3. You continue to provide supply. Sometimes we think that narcissistic supply, the “drug” many professionals refer to as the source of addiction for narcissists, is only admiration and attention. I think it is also found in conquest, control, and superiority. Every time the narcissist thinks he has won an argument, he gets a hit of supply. Every time she makes you feel worse about yourself, she gets that supply. Whatever it takes to make the narcissist feel better about himself—that’s supply. Even the battle that seems so worthless and so negative to you may provide supply to the narcissist. And, of course, your friend or lover might still want what you gave in the past and continues to look to you to provide it.


All of this is to say that it might be very difficult to end a narcissistic relationship. Not impossible, but difficult and not quick.

So how do you do it? Well, every situation is different. Family, marriage, work, church, friendships—all require some special methods, I suppose. Yet, there are a few things you should know for any kind of narcissistic relationship.

You have the right to be yourself. You should have some space and time and energy of your own. That will take some resources. Don’t be afraid to hold onto a little money or to take a little time for yourself. Even the most controlling relationship can be tolerated if you find a way to feel good about yourself. That happens in private times with the Lord or conversations with supportive people or just a special time by yourself.

Here are a few things I believe will help:


  1. You are not wrong to say no. You have to maintain some personal control in order to be healthy. Saying no or keeping your distance may be a very good thing.
  2. You don’t have to answer the phone, read the email or the text or the letter, or even be home when the narcissist expects. This is harder in a marriage, of course, but adapt these things to your own situation. If the marriage has ended, almost all of the conversation can as well.
  3. You are not accountable to the narcissist and must not tell more about yourself, especially your secrets. Secrets are powerful. When you hold one, you have control. When you share one, you give control away. This is why narcissists love to learn the secrets.
  4. There is no responsibility to continue a friendship when you have been abused. A user will use you again. Count on it. You do not have to stay tied to the abuser. You have a right to life without that person. That’s true even for an abusive parent.
  5. Plan for the battle. Remember that they will use your empathy or your guilt or your sadness against you. They want you to feel bad about letting them go. They can be ruthless. They will tell your secrets. They will lie about you. They will try to destroy whatever support you have. You will have to be strong.


Can you ever win? Will you ever be able to move on? Oh yes! Most of them will give up eventually. Those who won’t give up or those who have you tied into situations where you think you can’t escape only think they are in control. Create a life within your heart and mind that is yours. Even if they can make you do certain things, they can’t make you do everything. Win little battles and feel good about yourself. Spend a little time just for you. Spend a little money just for you. Find a place that is yours, even if it is a spot in the yard or a stop along the drive home. Don’t go there when the narcissist is with you. It’s yours.

Know that you are more than the victim or the supply of the narcissist. You are you and you are valued and loved. If you can get away from the narcissist, do it. If you can’t or feel that you should continue longer, find the way to be healthy even in the relationship. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself.


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Imprecatory Prayer

It’s Narcissist Friday! 


Imprecatory prayers. When you read them in the Psalms they seem almost shocking. After all, aren’t believers supposed to be nice? To call down judgment and punishment on those who cause our suffering just doesn’t seem consistent with “love your enemy,” does it? Christians should just “turn the other cheek” and suffer in silence, right?

Recently a commenter asked about imprecatory prayer (thanks Kathy!) and whether it is appropriate for those who suffer at the hands of someone who is cruel. I am going to say that it is.

Interestingly, “to imprecate” simply means to pray. It seems to have a particular sense of verbalization, to say out loud or to write the things we feel. So the prayer is purposeful, intentional, and not just a thought. It gathered a negative meaning along the way and is used today in the sense of “to curse,” or to call down punishment. When we pray about the pain we suffer, we may want the cause of that pain—even if it is a person close to us—to be broken so that he/she will stop.

Three thoughts come to my mind. First, in the midst of pain and suffering imprecatory prayer is normal. That is not a moral judgment. You just want the abuse to stop and it is normal to lash out against the one who hurts you. Just as it is normal to want to hit back or want justice, it is normal to take those feelings to God. In fact, those feelings should be taken to God. That’s what David did throughout the Psalms. God was the source of David’s hope, the One who helped in times of trouble. So taking those feelings to the Lord and letting Him work in your heart is the right thing to do. If your words come out stronger and with more venom than you would normally speak, God understands.

Second, look at the things Jesus said about the Pharisees and religious leaders of His day. He wasn’t particularly nice, was He? No, He spoke truth about them and their ideas. Many of us were taught that, if we can’t say something nice, we shouldn’t say anything. That is neither taught nor modeled in the Bible. We are to speak the truth with love. When Jesus spoke the truth about the Pharisees or Paul spoke the truth about the Judaizers, the words were not very nice. How do you nicely say that someone is lying or is being abusive? There may not be a nice way to speak up against the false teaching of a leader. But it is often very important that the truth be told—nice or not.

So to go to God in prayer and speak truthfully about the abuse and the abuser might seem like you are being judgmental or condemning. To ask God to stop the abuse might mean to ask Him to stop the abuser. It might take something serious to stop the abuser. That’s up to God.

I know that people get uncomfortable when they read things like David asking the Lord to “break the arm of the wicked and evil man,” in Psalm 10:15. But understand that David doesn’t really care whether God breaks the person’s arm. The point is that God would stop the power of the evil man from doing damage, that God would take away his strength. And when you pray that God would take away the strength of the abuser, be aware that God might break his arm. It’s up to God to choose the method.

Third, remember that under grace we know that even the discipline of the Lord is for the person’s good. Yes, we are to love our enemies. Sometimes that might mean that we ask God to break them so they will call out to Him and open their hearts to Him. I would not ask God to send anyone to hell, but I would ask Him to get their attention so that they can see what they are doing. I might have suggestions as to how God could do that, but I would always yield the methods to Him. I might even be motivated by my pain, but under the pain is always love for those He loves.

Brokenness is a painful process. Some people have to lose almost everything before they will see that the Lord is the One they need. Is it cruel for me to ask Him to break them, to destroy their power, or to humble them? Not if my hope is for their salvation or for the protection of their victims.

Vengeance does belong to the Lord—and He chooses to love. Anyone who comes to Him will find forgiveness and acceptance, even your abuser. In Christ, we understand and accept this. We even rejoice in it. But there is nothing wrong with praying for the abuse to stop, even if it hurts the abuser in the process.

One more thing. When you read something from the Beatitudes, like Matthew 5:44 (“love your enemies”), remember the context. Jesus is speaking to the Jews under the law. He is saying, “The will of God for you is this. To live perfectly in His will, you should be doing this.” But Jesus is fully aware of His purpose. He knows that we cannot live perfectly in the will of God. He knows we need a Savior. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is calling the Jews away from the compromises of their lives and to Himself as their Savior. He is not leaving them with impossible commands. He’s telling them He understands.

God understands your feelings. He accepts your anger and frustration. When you cry out to Him in pain, He still hears you and loves you. If you say things that seem too strong, that accuse and condemn, you are not judged. You may have noticed that He doesn’t do the terrible things you might wish He would do. He will do what is right and in the right time.

Someday the abuser will stand before God and suffer the condemnation he has deserved and chosen . . . or he will stand forgiven in relationship with Jesus. Both justice and mercy are under grace. And you will be safe forever in the hands of the Lord who loves you.


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The Lebensauger

It’s Narcissist Friday!   


Narcissists drain life from their victims. This has come up again and again in the comments and in my personal correspondence. Just as I decided that it was time to write something on this phenomenon, the popular tv show, “Grimm,” had an episode titled, “Lebensauger.” Yes, it means, “life-sucker.”

The life-sucker. I know it sounds like a crude term, but it fits. The narcissist sucks life from his/her victim. In fact, this could be one of the defining characteristics of a narcissistic relationship.

When I talk with counselors about narcissists, I suggest that if they see someone who appears drained of enthusiasm and energy, who has little normal ability to fend off the criticisms of others, they should look for a narcissistic relationship. Some might say that this is simple depression, but too many victims of narcissism have been diagnosed as depressed without anyone seeing the abuse in the relationship.

I also ask the counselors if they have ever had a client who seemed to pull the life out of them. Yes, even the counselors. Scott Peck describes such a case in “People of the Lie.” They never seem to move past their presenting problems, but move you to work and strategize and study to help them. They pull on emotions, both positive and negative. Sometimes counselors try to find ways to avoid the appointments with these folks or end the counseling relationship, but they also find that separation is difficult. And, in the back of their minds, the guilty little fantasy world of the counselor, they dream of how life would be so much better if the client would just cease to exist. (If you have never watched the Bill Murray movie “What about Bob?” you should.)

Why does this happen? Why does the narcissist draw life from those around him/her? The answer really requires a general understanding of what narcissism is, but let’s just say that the narcissist does not function in the real world. The narcissist’s world is a fantasy. While the real life of the narcissist is hidden away and protected, the image of the narcissist is put out for others to see. The narcissist wants others to believe that the image is real and is, of course, him.

But the image has no life and the narcissist does not dare to reach to his hidden self to draw life from there. So life is drawn from those around the narcissist. They are the “supply” the narcissist needs to maintain the image.

What does this look like? Well, picture the child whose mother uses her to make points with acquaintances and then blames the child for any negative that comes. The little girl is loved when she is dressed up and behaving well so that others can give praise to mom; but she is hated when she gets dirty or misbehaves because that might make mom look bad.

Or picture the office worker who puts in extra time and energy on a project only to have a co-worker or boss steal the credit. Or the spouse who is blamed for any financial stress or any discomfort, even that caused by the narcissist. Or the church member who works hard and sacrifices but never seems to give enough to be appreciated or to rest because the narcissistic organization or leaders just keep taking.

I’m sure you can come up with your own examples now. When you try to be positive and you try to contribute and you try to stay on top of things, but always fall short or get criticized, you might be dealing with a narcissist. When you are no longer the person you used to be, no longer as creative or happy or fun to be around, you might be in a narcissistic relationship. When you feel like it would be easy to die, a pleasure to kill, a wonder to run away, but you end up pulling back into your cave a little more each day; you might be losing your life to a narcissist.

Please, if this is you, find someone to talk with. The depression of a narcissistic relationship can go away. The life that has been drained away can come back to you. Deep inside, in your heart, you are still the person you want to be. Find someone to help you find the way back. If you are free to leave the narcissistic relationship, do it. Don’t look back. If you are not free to leave—if you are married or need the job or in a family—there are ways to rebuild your life. Setting boundaries, rebuilding your support system, finding ways to be creative again, can all be done within the narcissistic relationship. It might be challenging, but don’t be afraid.

Your life is ahead of you.




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Narcissistic Apologies

It’s Narcissist Friday! 


I’m sorry you were hurt.

I’m sorry you thought you heard that.

I’m sorry you misunderstood.

I’m sorry ___ made me fail.

I’m sorry you feel that way.

I’m sorry that happened.

I didn’t do that.  I’m sorry you think I did.

I apologize for trying.

I apologize for caring.

I apologize for being human.

I apologize for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.


Recognize these? They’re apologies. What? You don’t think they’re apologies? What’s wrong with them? These are typical narcissistic apologies. Some people have heard this kind of apology all their lives. Others have heard these apologies almost their whole marriages.

And then you hear, “Well, I apologized, didn’t I?”  Uh, actually, no.

There are two meanings to the word “apology” in English.  The most common is a confession of guilt and an expression of regret.  That’s the one we look for.  The other meaning is older and less helpful.  It is used for a formal explanation of position, a justification of an idea.  Socrates presented a defense of his teachings, an apology for his position.  That’s not what we want.

The narcissist uses the second when he/she should be using the first, right?  When someone hurts you, you hope for a statement of regret.  You don’t want an explanation of the philosophy that led to the offense.  You don’t want justification for the action or words.  You want the person to be sorry.

So think about that.  What you want is for the person to understand how the action hurt you and to feel some of your pain.  What you want is for the person to regret his/her actions and contribute to your healing.  What you want is empathy.

But that’s exactly what the narcissist cannot give.

The inability to apologize is a defining characteristic of the narcissist.  I realize that many people learned narcissistic ways to apologize.  Children are taught how to get out of trouble, not how to apologize with sincerity.  Many, if not most, adults present poor apologies when they want to express their regret and many try to pass the blame on the victim.  But most can be taught how to apologize in a way that does promote healing and peace.

Not the narcissist.  Think about it.  If you were to teach someone how to apologize, what would you say?  You would probably say something like this:  “How would you feel if someone had done that to you?”  The narcissist would know how he might feel, but he would have no ability to believe that you could feel the same thing.  Because everyone is depersonalized, not real, to the narcissist, he/she cannot accept the reality of the feelings of others.

Let me say that a different way.  Just because the narcissist would feel angry or hurt or afraid, does not mean he would believe or understand that someone else would feel those things.  Most of those who have lived in relationship with narcissists understand this.  They would be very upset if someone did to them what they did to you.  Yet, they cannot believe that you could feel the same way—or—they simply don’t care that you feel the same way.

Why not?  Because to acknowledge your feelings is to acknowledge you as a person.  He/she can’t see you as a real person because then you would be competition.  All attention must be given to the image.

So the best you get is an explanation of why it was entirely reasonable for him to do what he did or for her to say what she said.  You get a defense.

Here’s an idea that came out of a recent conversation with a friend: ask your narcissist to explain what he thinks you felt when he did what he did.  Ask him how a person who claims to love someone could do something like that to the one he loves.  Don’t ask what he thinks you should feel.  Don’t ask him what he thinks you should do now.  He will tell you to forgive and forget, of course.  Instead, press for the understanding.

If you are wondering whether your painful person is a narcissist, this might be a helpful test.

Maybe you have never heard a real apology.  Maybe you grew up in a home where people never apologized or did very poorly.  Here’s what an apology should sound like:

“I am sorry that I hurt you.  My words were cruel and I have no intention of defending them.  They were wrong.  I was wrong.  I apologize.”

Notice a couple of things.  There is no request for forgiveness.  Requesting forgiveness puts a burden on the victim, the one who was hurt.  If an offender is truly sorry, he/she does not want to put any further burden on the one who was hurt.  I understand that this sounds like a very Christian thing to do, but it is neither necessary nor kind.  If the one who was hurt wants to forgive, that’s fine.  But no push.

Also, notice that there is no blame on anyone or anything else.  There is no claim that the words were accidental or misunderstood.  None of these things would mitigate the pain that was felt.  Nor is it simply an apology for hurting.  It is an apology for being unkind and causing pain.

If the relationship calls for it, an expression of love is appropriate—especially if that expression speaks to the value of the one who was hurt.

“You are my friend and you are important to me.  It grieves me that I hurt you.”

“I love you and it hurts me that I hurt you.”

Don’t make the offender promise never to do it again.  That sounds good, but no one can promise that and be sure it won’t happen.  The narcissist might be very willing to make the statement, but it won’t be true.  Instead, watch to see if the offender understands how the action or words caused pain and if the offender empathizes with your pain.

Now, this is a two-minute overview of apologies and you might have a lot to add.  That’s why we have a comment section! 🙂  The point here is that the narcissist cannot say these things from the heart because he/she has no empathy, no way to understand or value your feelings.  There is no fix in this post, just an explanation.  I pray with you for the day when narcissists can finally see and grasp the truth.


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It’s Narcissist Friday!  

Do people develop into narcissists later in life?  This is a question I have been hearing a lot lately.  This wonderful person, with whom I shared some great times, is now acting like a narcissist.  What happened to cause that change?  Did I do something?  Did something change?

Let’s face it—we’re all amateurs.  Even those who counsel people for a living struggle to find the causes of personality disorders.  We look at broken families and blame them, but many people survive broken families without personality disorders.  We look at parental errors or abuses, but many are strong and healthy after serious parental dysfunction.  We can identify a variety of contributing factors without knowing the specific cause, and children growing up in the same home exhibit different responses.  There are certain counseling techniques and philosophies that attempt to take the adult back to a defining moment, but I haven’t heard of that being particularly successful with narcissism.

The most reasonable suggestion is that narcissism is a coping technique.  We have looked at that before.  A child has to find a way to handle the confusion and turmoil of life, even normal life.  Some discover methods that are acceptable within society, while others lean toward behaviors and decisions society has deemed unacceptable.  Narcissists have learned to walk somewhere in between.  They present themselves as superior and exemplary, but hide their failures behind deception and projection.  They cope with life by hiding, lying, and using others.

But only the most overt narcissists are obnoxious and abusive all the time and with everyone.  Those who handle life with narcissistic behavior know there is a game to be played.  They will be much more successful if they act like others, or better than others.  If being generous is a positive, for example, then they will be more generous.  Or they will lead you to believe they are more generous.  There might be some strings attached to their generosity, but the recipients are helped.  Narcissists can be very kind and a lot of fun.  This is how the game is played.

There are two ways to look at this and both may be true.  It may be that the nasty behavior of the narcissist lies just under the surface and, for some, only appears in situations of stress.  This normally kind and peaceful person suddenly erupts with vicious attacks, ruthlessly confronting anyone who defines or contributes to that stress.  Those who observe may not be able to discern the particular cause of the stress and not understand the reason behind the behavior, but it is there.

It may also be true that the kindness before the abuse was just part of the plan.  Even though it was long-term and very pleasant, the narcissist may simply have been grooming the relationship.  While this is a particularly painful conclusion for the victim to grasp, there are many stories that would appear to support it.  Narcissistic people are intelligent, goal-oriented, and lack empathy.  They usually have no difficulty deceiving others.  They may not even consider their actions to be deceptive or abusive.

Most people have an ability to redefine the things that happen in life and interpret reality the way they want it to be.  Angry people find reasons to be angry all around them.  Happy people find reasons to be happy.  People who need a relationship to be good often selectively reinterpret what they see in that relationship.  Because the good is so strongly desired, the bad is frequently ignored.  In other words, we see what we want to see and believe what we want to believe.

Now, before I make my conclusion, I have to point out again that diagnosing narcissism is an inexact science at best.  I have said before that there seems to be a sliding scale of behavior and attitude.  At some point, the person can be said to be a narcissist.  At another point the behavior is noted as narcissistic.  There are people who exhibit narcissistic behavior without being narcissists.  What that means is that they choose a coping mechanism that is cruel and self-centered to deal with the situation in which they find themselves.  It is possible that this could be uncharacteristic behavior for that person and caused by the stress.  Parents see this in children from time to time.  “Leave me alone!  I hate you!”  Then, later, this goes away as the stress is handled through other means or dissipates on its own.

If we think of narcissism as a collection of behaviors or symptoms, we find some help.  We can understand that behaviors do not define people.  Choosing certain behaviors consistently begins to reveal something about the person.  But odd behavior probably reveals more about a problem.  So it may be that the person acting strangely in your life has something going on that is pushing him/her to hide, deceive, abuse, and otherwise exhibit narcissistic behavior.

But some people learned very early in their lives a certain way to play the game.  They learned to protect themselves at all costs and use others for that protection.  They developed an inability to relate to others except to serve a particular use.  They strategize, manipulate, and deceive to get what they need.  Theirs is not a response to any recent stimulus.  Theirs is a life-long chosen way of coping with life.

If you didn’t see this in your narcissist before, it may simply be that he/she was good at playing the game.  The narcissist wants to be happy.  As long as the situation was pleasing to him/her, everything was fine.  When that changed, perhaps very gradually, the negative behavior came out.  No, you probably didn’t do anything more than become resistant or boring.

Most likely, your narcissist has been a narcissist for a very long time.  You just didn’t see it.


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It’s Narcissist Friday!  


Over the past several weeks we have been talking about tactics used by narcissists in relationships.  We have talked about projection, isolating, barricading, gaslighting and lying.  Obviously these all overlap to various degrees.  I want to add another that may seem similar, but offers a different perspective on narcissistic behavior.

The world sees narcissists as loud and seeking attention, at least the ones we call “overt.”  For the most part that’s true, but those who know even the overt narcissists also know that there is much that the world does not see.  In fact, there is much no one sees.

Some of the narcissists I have known have had significant amounts of unaccountable time.  Where did they go and what did they do?  Some, and I have seen this suggested in comments here, believe that this is to serve sexual appetites for porn or other relationships.  Obviously that’s true in many cases, as spouses have learned the hard way.  But that isn’t true in all cases.  Some, I suspect, just like being alone or anonymous.

Narcissists hide their past.  Many of them hide their money.  Almost all of them hide their failures and fears.  And if you try to ask about these things, you will encounter lies, evasion, or even attack.

In fact, many of those who thought their narcissist was so open, so transparent, in the beginning of the relationship suddenly have realized that they only know parts of the narcissist’s life (and they aren’t sure about the truth of what they think they know).  Some things were shared, but other parts are glaringly missing . . . when you stop to think about it.  Of course, the narcissist doesn’t want you to think about it.

Some conveniently leave out parts of their employment history or even relationship history.  What must it be like to learn of another wife or husband after you have been in the relationship for a while?  Or learn that an employee had successfully covered up harassment charges or accusations of theft in other jobs?  Because narcissists are generally so good at talking, they are able to divert conversations away from sensitive areas.

Those in relationships with narcissists often get into trouble for sharing what the narcissist says are secrets.  Certain things are not to be discussed.  Sometimes you don’t know what topics are off limits.  Sometimes the topics are off limits for you but not for the narcissist.  That’s because he will spin things his own way.

Remember that hiding is part of the basic nature of the narcissist.  The loudness and strong personal presentation are meant to distract people from the truth.  Hiding things and facts gives the narcissist both protection and power.  Again, picture the child who escapes into a fantasy.  There may be a hidden place with some hidden things that contribute to the strength of the fantasy.  Those hidden things represented a separation from the pain or rejection the child experienced in regular life.

And, I know, some of you will feel compassion for the narcissist at this point.  So do I.  But many of us had challenging childhoods.  The narcissist has chosen to continue this hiding and all the other narcissistic characteristics in adult life.  Instead of growing out of childish perspectives and solutions, the narcissist chooses to use them in current relationships.

The saddest thing is that the narcissist hides from him/herself and from God, the source of the love they have always wanted.  By hiding behind the image he has created, the narcissist never lets anyone get close enough to help.  Those who do get close, find that the cost is great.

Please don’t read this and think you have to “walk the extra mile” to help your narcissist.  Love from a distance.  Protect yourself.  You are not the one who will provide the solution.  You are the one who will be used and hurt. 


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Functional Narcissism?

It’s Narcissist Friday!


I was recently challenged about something the commenter believed was a generalization.  I have to admit that this kind of writing makes generalizations easy.  A “hasty generalization” is a logical fallacy in which the presenter makes a statement about all members of a group based on observations of some members of the group.  Usually it is the result of insufficient evidence, but sometimes generalizations are made purposely to strengthen an argument.  It can be used to support a stereotype and can be demeaning to someone in the group who does not have the characteristic.

It would be easy for me to fall into this trap as I write about narcissism, especially since few narcissists will come to set the record straight.  It is easy for any of us to assume that all narcissists exhibit the particular characteristics we experienced from the ones in our lives.  But the truth is that narcissists, like their victims, can exhibit a variety of characteristics.  We have talked about overt and covert narcissists, for example.  Their techniques are different, even if their goals are ultimately the same.  And we have talked about varying levels of narcissism in different people.

I generally write, on Narcissist Fridays, about “destructive narcissists,” those who hurt their victims, usually through emotional manipulation and abuse.  They often share a set of characteristics and it is helpful to talk about these characteristics.  But please don’t assume that all narcissists are the same.  Nor will any certain narcissist treat all people the same.

In fact, I suspect there are more “functional narcissists” around us than we realize.  There may be many people who are unable to see others as real people, but have learned to live peaceably in society.  For them, the reality of family and friends and others is accepted via a “because I said so” authority.  What they learned is that trying to live among people while treating them as things is less than successful or productive.  Society pushes these “narcissists” into compliance.

They still lack empathy, but cover that with a sincere desire to “do what’s right.”  They can be kind or sympathetic or loyal, when those qualities are expected.  Basically, they have learned how to function well in relationships.

Functional narcissists can give themselves away.  Sometimes you will notice a person exhibit inappropriate emotion in a certain situation and then abruptly change the emotion to fit.  This can be a simple deception, of course, but it can also be a functional narcissism.  We accept this in young people as they learn how to interact with others.

We should not consider this insincere.  In fact, this may be the direction to take a narcissist in a non-clinical counseling relationship.  The literature is less than optimistic about changing a narcissist into a caring person, but he can learn to do the things caring people do.  If he cannot feel what others feel through empathy, he can at least accept that they are feeling something and seek to affirm them in their feelings.

Someone might suggest that this describes all of us, that we must learn to accept and respect the feelings of others.  That is a valid point. However, most of us have learned that through empathy, a type of bonding that enables us to connect with others.  I am describing someone who does not have that ability, but still seeks to accept and respect the feelings of others.  Perhaps it doesn’t matter why someone does the right thing.

I suspect that there are people who search for an answer to the strange behavior of a spouse or friend or parent and find that narcissism almost explains it.  But not quite.  The cruelty may be missing.  The person might honestly not be aware of how manipulative she is.  And, when confronted, might be genuinely upset and regretful.  Functional narcissism could be an answer.

I do not like the idea of “healthy narcissism.”  It sounds too much like saying that a little cruelty is a good thing.  I don’t know of any narcissistic characteristics I would value enough to emulate willingly.  So I am not saying that a person could keep the “good parts” of narcissism and avoid the bad.  Instead, I am suggesting that a person could learn to compensate for his or her lack of empathy and the ease of depersonalizing others.  The ability to function in relationship without empathy could have been learned while very young.

I have come to believe that narcissism is a learned behavior, a way of coping adopted in very difficult circumstances and reinforced by years of fear.  If that is true, then the narcissist can learn ways of interacting with people that are acceptable and are ultimately beneficial to him.  Counselors and others who may not have the opportunity for the in-depth therapy narcissism requires could help the narcissist learn to function as a caring person.  Those who love the narcissist and wish to continue the relationship without the pain may be very grateful.

What do you think?


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Parasite or Predator?

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Which is your narcissist?  You may read something about a characteristic of narcissism and decide that the jerk in the office really doesn’t fit.  Yes, he manipulates and uses, but he isn’t particularly aggressive.  He doesn’t seem vicious in his use of others.  He pilfers, takes a little here and there, and generally is a nuisance and unpleasant character.  You don’t know what he says to the boss about you, but he doesn’t seem to be after your job.

On the other hand, you read about the narcissist who swoops in and takes whatever he wants and leaves dead bodies behind.  He moves from relationship to relationship and never commits himself to anyone.  He has no qualms about using people for money, sex, privilege, or anything else.

It will be obvious to some readers that this describes the difference between a covert narcissist and an overt narcissist, which I have written on before.  This simply gives us a metaphor that some might find very helpful.

Generally, parasites move slowly.  Their strength is in their persistence and willingness to take whatever they can get.  Like a tick, the covert narcissist, creeps into a life and simply attaches himself.  He seems harmless, although it is difficult to see what he contributes to the relationship.  While he is a constant drain on his victim, the parasitic narcissist seems to know that it will be unproductive to take too much from the victim in too short a time.  The host/victim suffers slowly and in indirect ways from the attachment.

Parasitic narcissists may be part of families or churches or businesses and drain a little from many people.  In a church, for example, this may be a person who constantly needs prayer or financial support or attention.  There is nothing that can be pointed out as wrong, but the narcissist’s presence is a continual drain on the congregation and leadership.  In a family, there is often someone who takes a little here and there, generally putting a negative feeling into every event.  Mom has one of her regular headaches and must go lie down just when everyone is ready to eat.  Sister calls with a minor crisis involving her ex just as you sit down to watch your favorite TV show.  Every time there is an explanation, but it seems to happen a lot.  You can’t seem to get away.

The predator, of course, pounces and devours.  Predators are loud and aggressive and vicious.  If a predatory narcissist is at your workplace and has determined that you are to be his victim, every day is filled with fear and worry.  A young man sees a young woman as prey, rather than as someone to love.  Lust and desire seem to blind him to any pain he causes.  He seeks the weak person and, if something happens to stop him from getting what he wants, he simply watches for another victim.  He must eat.

Perhaps another thing should be mentioned in this context.  Sometimes narcissistic relationships are symbiotic.  That means they provide something for both the narcissist and the victim.  While that may seem strange to us, it seems to happen quite often.  Think about the rock star and the groupie.  The groupie is food for the rock star, something to be used.  But the groupie finds pleasure in being used by the rock star and willingly accepts the abuse.  I have seen wives look at their husbands with much the same kind of willing and joyful subservience, apparently very happy to be part of his life.  While this seems strange and dysfunctional to most of us, it is certainly a part of the narcissistic relationship in many cases.  In fact, it leads many counselors to believe there are actually two narcissists in the relationship, each using the other and each willing to pay the price.

One thing is worth noting: none of these narcissists will see the victim as a person worthy of love or concern.  The parasite just needs a willing host on whom to feed.  The predator simply needs a meal.  Both take what they want for their own purpose.  Even in the symbiotic relationship, which is often characterized by a complex system of negotiation and supply, there is little sense of value placed on the other person.  Narcissists don’t see others.  They use and abuse because they don’t care.


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