Tag Archives: performance spirituality

About Jesus


(A post from the past as a reminder.  I am traveling and thought this might be an encouragement.)

Every so often, I have to go back to why I started this blog.  It actually did not start to be about narcissism.  It started because of the people I saw trapped in what I called “performance spirituality.”  That simply meant that they measured their spiritual health on the basis of their performance.  They were usually sad or angry and stuck on a treadmill that took them nowhere.  Some of them left the Christian faith, never having experienced the joy of a relationship with Jesus and never knowing that they were fully accepted in His love.  Some of them are still stuck in churches that demand performance in order to receive acceptance.

As I wrote about this idea of performance spirituality, which I called (and still call) “legalism,” I thought about the teachers and others who seemed to work hard to keep people under this burden.  I had learned about narcissism from counseling marriages, particularly among those who had lived and breathed this type of spirituality.  As I understood more about narcissism, and as I continued to try to understand this legalism, I saw a connection that made sense.  There are so many parallels between narcissists and legalists, and between the narcissistic relationship and the legalistic organization.

Quite surprising to me, my articles on narcissism hit a niche that needed to be served.  Many Christians have suffered from narcissistic connections in marriage, church, family, and friendships.  And many of those same people have found themselves part of the performance spirituality mindset.  They believed they had to perform in order to be accepted, to be loved.  But their best performance was never enough.  They paid for their failures with condemnation and shame and abuse.

This has always been a blog centered on the love of God in Jesus.  I believe the true gospel has been usurped by the idea of performance and the message of shame.  Most of those who have rejected the Christian faith, in my experience, have never even heard the truth about God’s love.  They have been told a lie, and that grieves me.

In much the same way, and not coincidentally, the victim of the narcissist has often not understood her/his own value as a person.  The insufficiency of their performance, and the shame and self-doubt that results from it, opens their hearts to the manipulation of those who claim to love them.  Growing up under the system that grants love on the basis of performance sets people up for narcissistic abuse, just like growing up under the teaching of performance sets a person up for legalistic abuse.

Now, I understand that the posts on narcissism are helpful for people outside the Christian faith, and I welcome you here and to our discussions.  It just seems important for me to state once again where the foundations of my heart and intent belong.  I believe that the unconditional love of Jesus is the answer for anyone.  Those who have never felt love without strings attached, who have never been accepted without performance, can come to Him and find both.

It isn’t about church or giving or commandments or measuring up—it’s about Jesus.  It isn’t even about your love for Him.  It’s about His love for you.

We are all broken and hurting people living lives of weakness and limitation.  We make stupid decisions and suffer the consequences.  Sometimes other people suffer the consequences of those stupid decisions.  Not only are we not perfect, we don’t really know what it means to be good.  All of us.

So we look to Jesus.  Our hope and promise are in Him, because we know very well that we can’t save ourselves.  I believe He loves me—One on one—a real relationship.  There is so much I do not understand, but I trust in His love.  And that makes all the difference.

I invite you to look to Jesus with me.  If I can help, send me a note.  I am already praying for you.


Filed under grace, Legalism, Narcissism, Relationship

Supply and Demand

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


I just listened to an excellent message on how the Law is based on demand, while grace is based on supply. According to the Law, God demands our obedience and service. Under grace, God supplies everything that is expected of us.

It struck me that this idea of supply and demand is a core problem in narcissistic relationships. The narcissists demand, and we are supposed to supply. But that isn’t what they think is happening. They think they are the ones who are giving. That’s why they demand.

Think about it. How many times have you heard your narcissist say something like, “After all I have done”? (Never mind that he/she hasn’t done much of anything.) The narcissist sees most relationships as deals. He may only be blessing you with his presence, but you are supposed to keep your side of some kind of bargain.

Narcissists almost always believe they deserve our attention, praise, service, generosity. Somehow, they think they have provided something for us. If we fail to reciprocate, they become angry. Part of the nearly constant anger of the narcissist is this feeling that he/she deserves more and is being slighted.

This allows the narcissist to see what is yours as his. This allows her to take your position, your secrets, your kindness—to use for her own purposes. After all, look at what she has done for you. You owe the narcissist. This is the way the narcissist reasons.

Now, I know. You can’t see anything he/she has done for you. Or anything you think of has long ago been “paid back.” But remember that the narcissist doesn’t see us as individual people with value and needs. The narcissist only knows that he/she feels cheated—all the time. He might be angry with the boss, but you are supposed to supply his needs. She might be angry with her parents, but you are supposed to take care of her.

This is why you always lose. You give a gift and the narcissist thinks two things: “It’s about time!” and “What am I expected to do now?” A simple gracious “thank-you” seems to be foreign to a narcissist. Instead, the gift somehow fits into this business deal mentality. The narcissist always knows the cost of a gift. It will either be less than he/she deserves, or it will require something from him/her. The narcissist hates feeling like he is in debt, yet always believes others owe him. So, even when you give the supply he/she demands, you still lose.

There is no choice in a business deal. If you take something out of a business deal, you are required to put something in. Buying groceries means you spend money. Simple. Being with the narcissist means serving. Simple—to the narcissist. The formality and “law” of the deal help the narcissist feel better about himself. Anything he receives from others is only what is expected.

Frankly, I think this is a terrible way to live. Always angry. Always hurt. Always looking for more. Never satisfied. Never truly grateful. Yes, that’s what it’s like to be the narcissist.

Of course, we all want our contributions to be noticed and valued. It hurts when they are not considered worthy. But most of us don’t do things for the sake of return. We don’t think in terms of supply and demand. Life is not a business deal for us, nor are our relationships. We give because we love. The narcissist knows nothing of that.

Narcissist relationships are like one-sided agreements. Like the harsh and cruel god of the legalists, they demand and we must supply. Under grace, there is no demand, just need—and love supplies. Get your head around that!


Filed under grace, Narcissism



It’s Narcissist Friday!     


I hate mistakes. I hate making mistakes. I can spot a misspelling on a sign or a grammatical error in a document in seconds, unless I wrote it. For several years I read long theological documents able to catch minute doctrinal errors, but sometimes the things that come out of my own mouth are just dumb. I would never consider myself a perfectionist because there is nothing about me that is perfect.

Sound familiar? Most of us have been carefully trained to focus on our mistakes. Remember school? You handed in a paper with your most careful work. You received the same paper back covered with notations about your mistakes. Red circles, black check marks, harsh comments. Out of 100 points, you got 92. And, instead of noticing the A-level work, you wondered what you did wrong. Everything was focused on what you did wrong.

Many years ago, I worked for a man who seemed to take delight in pointing out my mistakes. He actually used the word “failed.” I failed this way and that way. I sat with him through my final assessment for three or four hours while he told me how I had failed. It took me a long time to get over that.

We learned to judge others and ourselves by our mistakes. The media loves to point out the mistakes of politicians they disagree with. The fans talk about the mistakes of the players and the referees. The error at the store is much more memorable than the many times we have had good service.

Teaching students without focusing on mistakes is a very delicate and difficult job. It takes more time and caring. Instead, teachers usually just hand the criticisms and judgments back and tell them to do better. And the students learn to hate their mistakes. Mistakes bring pain. Mistakes bring shame. Mistakes mean failure.

But we all know in our hearts that mistakes are basic to human life. Not one of us goes through life without making mistakes. It isn’t possible! Let me emphasize that: IT ISN’T POSSIBLE! And not only do we all make mistakes, we all make roughly the same number of mistakes.

The conventional wisdom is that the only way to avoid making mistakes is to do nothing. In other words, the people who are doing something are making mistakes. That means that the people who are doing more are making more mistakes. The most successful people are those who are making the most mistakes. For many years Babe Ruth was known as the “Sultan of Swat” for making so many home runs and the “King of Strikeouts” for missing so many balls. Making mistakes is part of living.

So what’s the difference between those of us who focus on our mistakes and live in fear and shame and those who seem to be able to move past their mistakes? If we all make mistakes, why does it seem like there are people who make none? And why does it seem like I make so many more than others?

The answer is: MAGIC!

What? You don’t believe me? Well, it’s true. How does the magician do his or her wonders? Is it because of mystical powers? Of course not. The key word to understanding magic is “misdirection.” And that explains how people seem to go through life without making mistakes.

Think about this: If others make mistakes just like you and I do, why don’t we see them? Probably because we are too busy looking at something else. The magician tells you where to look mostly by looking there himself. While his hands are doing the trick, his eyes are focused on the place he wants you to look. You look at his right hand, for example, while his left hand is doing the trick. You look at his assistant, just like he does, while he works his “magic.”

The successful person has his or her eyes on the next success. You don’t see their mistakes because they aren’t focused on them. I learned this early and have taught it to my family: if you don’t focus on your mistakes, the majority of people around you will not even know they happened. We have all listened to a singer or musician who stopped to correct a mistake we didn’t notice. If the singer had not called attention to the misspoken lyrics or error in music movement, most of the audience would have either missed or ignored the mistake. The successful performer keeps moving forward drawing the audience along.

The narcissist, on the other hand, gets you to miss his mistakes by causing you to focus on your own. He watches you and collects your errors to use as distractions when he makes his own mistake. By presenting you with your error, which you are ready to accept and consider, you don’t have a chance to see his. And, even if you did see his mistake, you can’t focus on it because you have to defend yourself against your own.

But suppose you have already moved past your mistake. Suppose you have learned whatever you needed to learn and left the fact of your error behind. Then, when the narcissist tries to distract you, you would see his attempt at distraction. You would not have to defend yourself, and you could keep your focus on his error.

Now, I am not suggesting that you focus on the mistakes of others, even of narcissists. What I am suggesting is that you learn to lose sight of your own. The fact that you make mistakes will never go away. You should accept that as the simple truth of an active life. But your mistakes have no purpose in your life other than to help you learn as you move forward. And like good housekeeping, when something has served its purpose, get rid of it. If someone else digs around in your trash and finds something you threw away, don’t take it back.

Here’s an interesting tidbit: In Texas, the things you have put out in the trash no longer belong to you. The courts have ruled that you have transferred ownership of those items to the waste-hauling company, the people with the job of getting it away from you.

So here’s what I would suggest. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it and learn from it. Then get rid of it. Give it to the Lord, and thank Him for His love and acceptance. Then it belongs to Him. He will remove it from you, and you will not be identified by your mistake. Tell anyone who tries to bring it back to you that it belongs to God now. They have no right to it.

Stop focusing on your mistakes. They are normal. Everybody makes them. Move forward with your life.


Filed under Narcissism

Why oh why?

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Filed under grace, Grace definition, heart, Narcissism, Relationship


It’s Narcissist Friday!       


Sometimes people are bothered by my use of the word, “victim,” to describe the abused person in a narcissistic relationship. There’s a reason I use it. You may or may not agree, but I think it is important.

You see, with the gas lighting and projecting and lying that narcissists can bring into a relationship, it is sometimes hard for the person who is being manipulated to think clearly. Typically, narcissists bring problems into a relationship, then blame others for those problems. When this comes from someone you trust or care about, you can become confused.

Narcissists often choose people who are kind, gentle, and self-deprecating. That means people who are used to putting themselves down or blaming themselves for problems. If you find yourself in relationship with a narcissist, you may feel that you apologize a lot for things that are not really your fault. This is by design. The more you think you have caused the problems, the more the narcissist can get away with. Marriage problems, money problems, friendship problems—all are your fault, according to the narcissist. You are blamed for anything negative that happens, even things the narcissist makes up just to put you down.

At first, you may accept the blame. After all, you know you aren’t perfect. You mess up sometimes. You don’t say the right things, and you make foolish decisions. You have known this all your life, partly because people have told you this all your life. So it is easy for you to blame yourself, especially if it means you will keep the peace in your relationship. The narcissist counts on this. It makes it easier for him/her to get by with the abuse.

Sometimes the narcissist will begin to say that he/she is the victim. If he didn’t have such an incompetent spouse, or co-worker, or friend, or child—then things would be better. As it is, the poor narcissist can barely succeed in anything with such an anchor dragging him down all the time. His problems are your fault, and he is suffering because of you.

This is why I think it is important for the abused person to accept the fact that they have been the victim of an abuser. It tells the truth about the relationship. The narcissist is an abuser and is accountable for his/her behavior. In an abusive relationship there is the abuser and the victim. It is important to establish which is you, if you are going to change your situation. And that isn’t as easy as it sounds if no one allows you to see yourself as the victim.

You were victimized. That’s the truth. The person you loved or trusted misused you. He/she probably lied to you, manipulated you, isolated you, and hurt you. The narcissist was the aggressor/abuser, and you were the victim.

There. Now that’s out of the way. Now you don’t have to stay a victim. I realize that’s what people are concerned about when they see that word. Once you admit that you have been victimized, you can begin to change the situation. You can get out of the relationship or change the relationship. When you see the narcissist as the abuser, you can find ways to get out of the abuse. It might take a lot. Maybe you have to find some strong support, take some legal action, or move away. But you can begin the process when you understand that it isn’t your fault.

You won’t do any of this as long as you blame yourself. Everything will stay the same (or get worse) if you believe that you are the problem or the cause of the problem. That’s what the narcissist wants you to think…so you will continue to be his/her victim.

Being a victim is not an evil thing. The evil is what is done to you. You are not responsible for the evil someone does to you. Nor are you required to stay and let that person continue to do it. If you choose to stay, you can still make changes to minimize the effect on you. You can build support, self-esteem, and escape routes. You can decide how to answer the accusation. You can decide whether to answer the phone. You can decide not to jump when your narcissist tells you to jump. Yes, there may be a cost to these decisions, but then you will have ceased being a victim.

Admitting that you have been a victim does not give the abuser more power. Allowing yourself to remain a victim when you have choices, that gives the narcissist more power.


Filed under Narcissism

Futile? No, but hard!

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


I often read or hear about people who suggest that we should just fight the narcissists in our lives. After all, they are wrong and we are right. Stand up to them. Gather others against them. Tell your story and others will listen and believe you, they say. Just say no to the narcissist.

But that’s easier said than done. In fact, I wonder if those who give that advice have ever tried to do it, and I wonder if they succeeded. Most of those who try to stand against a narcissist find an opponent far stronger than they expected.

Why is it so hard to fight a narcissist? Well, most of us have never really fought anyone, and a narcissist is one of the most formidable people you will ever meet. Many strong and capable people have lost everything when they dared to go against a narcissist.

Here’s why:

1. The narcissist will be prepared. The narcissist prepared for battle against you before he ever heard your name. He has been preparing for battle all his life. The narcissist’s life is a continual battle. From the beginning, the narcissist was building relationships, gathering information, and watching your weaknesses. He has been expecting your opposition.

We have talked about how the narcissist boyfriend will pretend to be so interested in every part of the young lady’s life, but is really just gathering compromising information to use later. The narcissist boss knows what happened at your last job. Your mother has read your diary. Your narcissist friend has heard your secrets. They are preparing for the battle. You would probably not be in this relationship if the narcissist didn’t already believe he/she could beat you.

In most cases, the battle will be over almost as soon as it begins. The narcissist is so ready that you are defeated before you start. When you finally tell people there are problems in your marriage, they already know because your spouse has told them. They have already formed their opinions against you. When you decide to stand up to the narcissist at work, you find that the boss already has complaints against you. When you finally tell that friend not to call anymore, you find that other friends have already heard how uncaring and unkind you are. The narcissist was prepared.

2. The narcissist will be committed. Competition (battle) is the lifeblood of the narcissist. Winning is everything. The narcissist is willing to say things you would never say and do things you would never do. Narcissists cheat and lie and manipulate because the only real goal is winning. Whatever it takes to win, the narcissist will do.

You must understand that the narcissist has fought or cheated to get almost everything he/she has in life. Fighting is easy, even natural, for the narcissist. Not only that, but narcissists are very good at it. All that practice has made them the best.

3. The narcissist will be vigilant. They are always watching you. It will be hard to do anything for which he/she is not prepared. I know of narcissists who logged the miles on their wives’ cars. They knew when lawyers were contacted, when funds were drawn out of the bank, when friends were informed about the situation. The boss knows when you gather with other employees and what you talk about. Someone in the group will almost certainly be compromised by the narcissist. I have heard of pastors who bugged the meetings of church leaders to which the pastor was not invited. That friend knows when you are home and when you are not answering the phone. They know.

The narcissist will stalk you, talk to your friends and family about you, and find you almost wherever you hide. They will come to your home, your workplace, your gym, your church. Information empowers the narcissist, so they will find out what they want to know.

4. The narcissist will be ruthless. Narcissists don’t only love to win, they live to win. Winning is everything. But even that isn’t enough for most of them. The winning isn’t complete until you are humbled, perhaps even destroyed. Not only must you lose, but you must regret losing—regret even trying.

Narcissists will use any compromise, any relationship, any information they have to hurt you. People have told me that their spouses would deliberately provoke them and then record the conversations. Your darkest secrets will be exposed. Today we have “sex tapes” that are shared when narcissists want to humble a lover. The narcissist will never think he looks bad, he just wants to make you look bad.

If you stand up to your narcissistic boss, you better have another job in hand—and you better hope the boss doesn’t already know about it. It will not be enough for him to fire you, he will want to make sure no one else hires you. You might even be blamed for something you didn’t do. Others will already believe you did it because the boss will have prepared that perspective of you. Heaven help you if you actually did something and the boss found out. That compromise he was “overlooking” will almost certainly come back to haunt you.

“Wow, Pastor Dave, that’s depressing!” I am sorry. Really. But you have to know what you are getting into if you want to confront or fight the narcissist. I have heard too many stories of wives being overwhelmed by their husbands as they approach a divorce. The lies and the manipulation are shocking. Too many stories of the intensity of angry narcissistic ex-friends. I have seen good workers lose their careers because they dared to stand up to a narcissist. I know of too many who contemplated suicide during their battle with the narcissist.

Can a narcissist be beaten? Sure. That’s not the question. The question is whether you are ready for that kind of battle. And sometimes you have to do it anyway. If it is less intense for you than I have said, that’s great. If not, you knew before you started.

Am I right about these things? Those who read here can tell you. Some of their stories are very intense and very sad. Some have lost so much, been through so much. And yet, these are stories of survivors. It may be hard, but it can be done.

If nothing else, this is a warning for anyone thinking about a relationship with someone they suspect is narcissistic. It is a lot easier to get in than to get out. And, if you are in that kind of relationship and have the chance to get out, maybe you should take the opportunity. And, one more, if the narcissist leaves you, let him/her go.

Fighting the narcissist may cost more than you know, more than you are willing to pay.


Filed under Narcissism

Narcissist-resistant Environments

It’s Narcissist Friday!   


Last week I wrote about how narcissists adapt their environment to fit their needs. For the most part, narcissists are opportunistic, taking advantage of existing conditions.  In other words, the environments they create around themselves were already open to their influence in some way.

It should follow that the rest of us could create an environment where narcissists would fear to tread. Could we build our families, organizations, churches, even friendships to prevent the narcissists from entering in?

Well, this is another topic that should be sufficient to fill a good book.  In fact, Jeff VanVonderen’s book, “Families Where Grace Is in Place,” might be a good suggestion for parents.  I am sure there are other books that might talk about healthy relationships in churches.

So let’s consider an ideal.  There’s nothing wrong with seeking the ideal, as long as we understand that we may not accomplish it.  Trying will bring us closer than not trying.  We also understand that it is more difficult to repair a broken structure than to begin fresh and right.  The following thoughts should apply for any of the relationships we talk about here (family, marriage, work, friendships, church, organizations, etc.)

Narcissism seems to thrive in a culture of performance.  When love and acceptance are given on the basis of performance, people suffer from insecurity.  No one knows if they have done enough or if they will do enough tomorrow.  When people are on edge, weakened by anxiety and fear, the way is easier for the predators.  Comparisons and competition give the narcissists opening for control.

It isn’t that narcissists are good performers.  They are rarely good parents or friends or co-workers.  Narcissists are usually not good at their jobs.  But they have an amazing ability to make others see them as good performers.  Narcissists take credit for work others do, they use others to get their work done, and they offer excuses when they fail.  But somehow they appear to be superior to others. If you have ever been on a team with a narcissist, you will remember how the narcissist was able to take credit for the team’s work.  You may also remember how the narcissist wasn’t able to make the meetings or the workdays or spent the time “managing” rather than doing anything useful.  Yet, somehow, the narcissist came out on top when everything was finished.  In a culture of performance, the narcissist will succeed.

Families where acceptance is based on performance, where love is a reward for work well done, will likely raise narcissists.  Some parents create competition between children, where those who “do well” are viewed as superior or more valued than the others.  Narcissists do not learn how to do well in this environment; they learn how to compete and how to make others view them in the best light.

Churches where spirituality is measured by certain qualities or quantities of performance will attract narcissists.  They will find their way into positions of leadership and power because others will see them as spiritually superior.  No, they will not be superior and may not even meet the minimum levels of performance, but others will still see them that way, and they will succeed.

Friendships based on performance may be doomed from the start.  When people remember who gave what gift and measure their reciprocation based on the perceived value of the gift, the narcissist will win.  When time or service or energy is the measure of the friendship, the narcissist will win.  No, not by superior performance, but by manipulating the relationship so that the other is always on the defensive.  When the narcissist gives a gift, for example, the reciprocated gift will never be enough, never be equal in value.  When the narcissist performs a service, the reciprocated service will never be sufficient.  Those who find themselves in that kind of friendship will always lose.

Even at work, where performance often reigns, competition and comparisons among co-workers encourage and enable the narcissist.  Some bosses keep their employees on edge, wondering about their jobs or rewards, worried about being accepted.  Narcissists are notoriously bad employees, but some bosses never see the truth because the narcissists are so good at manipulating the competition.

So how could we create an environment where the narcissist would find no opening, no welcome?  One way would be to end any form of acceptance or love based on performance.  Children who know they are loved, even when they do poorly or wrong, will probably never grow up to be narcissists.  Friends who are valued for who they are, rather than what they do, will support each other in ways narcissists would never find comfortable.  Employers who value their people and avoid competition among their employees, may find that a coherent and supportive team will achieve far more, and the false accomplishments of the narcissist will be revealed.

And churches/pastors who understand the love God has for each person, regardless of sin or performance, and who teach that to their people, will provide an atmosphere of support and acceptance the narcissist will find revolting.  The true message of the gospel is not about our performance, but about His love.  Because we are all dependent on His work and His love, rather than on our performance, there is no way for one to be superior to another.  When the highest leader is, at best, a servant of all, there is no power or prestige for the narcissist to covet.

This topic is far larger than one post can handle, so we will come back to it.  Yes, I believe it is possible to consider a narcissist-proof culture.  We may not achieve it, but we can move toward it.


On this humbling day we call Good Friday, I leave you with words that speak of God’s heart, words that encourage a new culture in our relationships.
Dear friends, we should love each other, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has become God’s child and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love to us: He sent his one and only Son into the world so that we could have life through him.
This is what real love is: It is not our love for God; it is God
’s love for us in sending his Son to be the way to take away our sins. 1 John 4:7-10 (NCV)



Filed under Narcissism, Relationship



It’s Narcissist Friday!   

Like all predators, narcissists use their environment to increase their success with victims and to protect themselves against challenges. One of the key factors in predation is environment. Predators are more successful in some environments and not as successful in others. Most hawks don’t do well in the brush of the forest, for example, so they seek their prey in the fields. Lions rarely take prey from the center of herds, but wait for stragglers. The environment plays an important role for the predator.

Abusers, narcissists included, are almost always at the center of a system or environment. They surround themselves with support and keep themselves away from threats. This is why we so often hear people say that the serial murderer next door was “such a nice man.” Even when the behavior of the abuser negates the image, the system supports it. Church, friends, co-workers, choice of neighborhoods—all become part of the environment.

Some predators simply use the environment that best suits their needs. Like the hawk over the open field, the narcissist knows which churches will support him and his desires. The service organization is carefully chosen as the place where she can “use her talents.” These environments already exist and are already useful.

Other predators build their environments for their purposes. Like a spider builds a web, abusers sometimes create the environment within which they operate. Narcissistic parents manipulate and mold their children to serve as supply. Bosses can create work environments in which subordinates are pitted against each other and all serve the boss.

But most narcissists have neither the need nor the inclination to create their system out of nothing. Instead, they adapt existing environmental factors. They find weakened prey: people longing for recognition or appreciation, people who have already been softened by other narcissists, or people who are alone and apart from support. They work in churches, organizations, and businesses already lacking accountability and supportive leadership. Narcissists are pragmatists, finding and manipulating useful objects in their lives. Those useful objects include people, organizations, and ideologies.

Legalistic church systems provide rich environments for the narcissist. Double standards for men and women, lack of accountability for leaders, demanding expectations for those under authority, and high appreciation for those who perform according to nebulous measures of spirituality—these all serve the narcissist well. Narcissists use the ideologies of these churches without owning or obeying the standards.

Some churches, to continue the example, simply pass from the hands of a covert narcissist pastor to an overt narcissist. Much of the environment was already in place. Or vice-versa. The covert narcissist looked so good after the overt that no one asked the right questions. And the weakened leadership is happy to turn everything over to the one who promises to fix everything.

The narcissist begins to adapt the church or organization or even neighborhood to become a supportive environment for his/her purposes. With a carefully chosen word or intimidating look, certain obstacles are pushed over to one side. Minor criticisms open the way for greater ones when needed. Casting suspicions and manipulating perceptions minimize the effectiveness of challenges. Doubts planted in the hearts of victims, perhaps over a period of years, help to keep the victims docile and submissive. Doubts planted in the hearts of others toward the victims, again perhaps over a period of years, prepare for any challenge from the victims.

Because the narcissist, through predatory instinct, prepares his/her supportive environment so well, anyone who challenges will find themselves enmeshed in a much larger battle than expected. Quickly, the battle turns against the challenger. The support the victim expected dissipates. The support around the narcissist seems impenetrable. No matter what accusations are brought out, they are filtered through the support environment.

“Oh, but he has always been such a good leader.” “Well, we understand that you feel hurt, but don’t you think his motives were good?” “She has been so faithful. What would we do without her?” “He has been a good neighbor; keeps to himself mostly, but quiet and friendly.” “You just don’t understand the way he does things.” These are all walls put in place by the narcissist or abuser, prepared long in advance against your attack.

Predators are creatures dedicated to competition. Their survival depends on their success. Their provision and protection come from their attention to detail and their careful preparation. When you challenge the narcissist, you will almost certainly find that his environment is already an active part of his support structure.


Filed under Church, Narcissism

Dating a Narcissist?

It’s Narcissist Friday!    

(This blog continually attracts new readers.  With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material.  The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for.  Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website.  So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years.  Please feel free to comment.)


I had wanted to write something to provide to parents, particularly parents of daughters, to help them discern if the person their child is dating could be a narcissist.  Obviously, that’s a tall order – since not all narcissists are the same.  Then I found this and I doubt that I could have written it better.  Take your daughter (or son) through this and see how the questions are answered.  Or just give it to her/him and see what happens.  The webpage, on which you will find more, is at the end:

Is there anything you can do to avoid abusers and narcissists to start with?
Are there any warning signs, any identifying marks, rules of thumbs to shield
you from the harrowing and traumatic experience of an abusive relationship?

Imagine a first or second date. You can already tell if he is a would-be
abuser. Here’s how:

Perhaps the first telltale sign is the abuser’s alloplastic defenses – his tendency to blame every mistake of his, every failure, or mishap on others, or on the world at large. Be tuned: does he assume personal
responsibility? Does he admit his faults and miscalculations? Or does he keep
blaming you, the cab driver, the waiter, the weather, the government, or fortune
for his predicament?

Is he hypersensitive, picks up fights, feels constantly slighted, injured,
and insulted? Does he rant incessantly? Does he treat animals and children
impatiently or cruelly and does he express negative and aggressive emotions
towards the weak, the poor, the needy, the sentimental, and the disabled? Does
he confess to having a history of battering or violent offenses or behavior? Is
his language vile and infused with expletives, threats, and hostility?

Next thing: is he too eager? Does he push you to marry him having dated you
only twice? Is he planning on having children on your first date? Does he
immediately cast you in the role of the love of his life? Is he pressing you for
exclusivity, instant intimacy, almost rapes you and acts jealous when you as
much as cast a glance at another male? Does he inform you that, once you get
hitched, you should abandon your studies or resign your job (forgo your personal

Does he respect your boundaries and privacy? Does he ignore your wishes (for
instance, by choosing from the menu or selecting a movie without as much as
consulting you)? Does he disrespect your boundaries and treats you as an object
or an instrument of gratification (materializes on your doorstep unexpectedly or
calls you often prior to your date)? Does he go through your personal belongings
while waiting for you to get ready?

Does he control the situation and you compulsively? Does he insist to ride in
his car, holds on to the car keys, the money, the theater tickets, and even your
bag? Does he disapprove if you are away for too long (for instance when you go
to the powder room)? Does he interrogate you when you return (“have you seen
anyone interesting”) – or make lewd “jokes” and remarks?
Does he hint that, in future, you would need his permission to do things – even as innocuous as meeting a friend or visiting with your family?

Does he act in a patronizing and condescending manner and criticizes you
often? Does he emphasize your minutest faults (devalues you) even as he
exaggerates your talents, traits, and skills (idealizes you)? Is he wildly
unrealistic in his expectations from you, from himself, from the budding
relationship, and from life in general?

Does he tell you constantly that you “make him feel” good? Don’t be
impressed. Next thing, he may tell you that you “make” him feel bad, or that you
make him feel violent, or that you “provoke” him. “Look what you made me do!” is an abuser’s ubiquitous catchphrase.

Thanks and acknowledgements to Sam Vaknin, author of “Malignant Self-Love“.  The webpage where the above is found is:



Filed under Narcissism

I see you!

 It’s Narcissist Friday!  

(I am aware that this blog continually attracts new readers.  With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material.  The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for.  Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website.  So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years.  Please feel free to comment.)



Okay, I may be the last person in the US to watch the Avatar movie.  I watched it last week.  No particular comments on the movie.  But there was one thing that stood out and I think I will remember for a long time.  When the people wanted to communicate real connection, they said, “I see you.”

A couple of weeks ago I had an encounter with one of the narcissists in my life.  I have to limit the details because I don’t even want to come close to identifying him.  I was visiting with two friends when the narcissist came up to me (most likely to see why I was there—this was his turf).  He put his hand on my shoulder and I turned and we exchanged greetings.  So far, so good.  It lasted about a minute.  After very brief conversation, he began to berate the two friends with whom I had been speaking.  He spoke so negatively about them that I was afraid of what they would think.  Apparently they were (or pretended to be) in conversation themselves and didn’t hear what he said.

Now, the narcissist couldn’t have missed the fact that someone was standing with me.  He should have known them by name and position.  The only thing I can figure out is that he simply didn’t see them as anything important to him at the moment.  After his statements, he looked up at the clock and said that it was slow.  Then he walked away without a further word to me.

So, what happened?  He didn’t see them; at least not in the sense the Avatar movie uses the phrase.  Because his mind was on what he was saying, because he was positioning and preening, because he didn’t know if I was still a threat to him, he didn’t pay any attention to the people standing nearest to him.  He sent the same message to me when he walked away without finishing the conversation.  Once his little purpose was over, he moved on to the next opportunity to make himself look important.

You say, Dave, didn’t you try to defend your friends?  Didn’t you try to fix the situation?  Nope.  As I often am around narcissists, I was dumbfounded.  What had happened was so far from anything I saw as normal that it took me a few moments to understand it.  By that time, the opportunity had passed.

This is what the narcissist is like.  Others are not important until they are important to him.  He simply doesn’t see them.



Filed under Narcissism, Relationship, Uncategorized