Tag Archives: users and abusers

The Need to be Right

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


“Everybody thinks of themselves as right.” I heard that the other day. People who do bad things justify those things by thinking of themselves as right. On both sides of any issue you will find people who think they are right in their cause or opinion. In every war, where you have believed one side good and the other evil, both sides justify their actions by claiming to be right. In every argument, both people believe themselves to be right. Think about the church split you experienced, or the family argument, or that crazy blow-up you had with your friend. Everyone involved thought of themselves as right, didn’t they?

Sometimes there are two right ways of looking at a situation but, most of the time, it is more likely that both sides have done wrong. That’s why a real apology and real forgiveness can heal these differences. Normal people can empathize with their opponents and back off their need to be right. As they do that, they find a common ground that addresses both sides as right and wrong.

But narcissists and legalists must be right. They base their identity on being right. Both the narcissist and the legalist believe they are weakened if their argument is shown to be wrong. The narcissist believes his/her image is everything. That image includes being right, and losing an argument weakens the image. The legalist believes his/her spirituality is everything. That spirituality includes being right, and losing an argument weakens that spirituality. You see the similarities? They both must be right.

And here’s where things get ugly. Because of their need to be right, both narcissists and legalists depersonalize their opponents. Depersonalizing, the unwillingness to see others as people like yourself, allows hurtful actions against an opponent without guilt. Just like you have no remorse at sending poison back to the ant colony through your ant traps, the narcissist has no remorse destroying a co-worker or even a former lover who challenges his/her space. Nor does the legalist have any problem calling those who disagree all kinds of names or criticizing their decisions and values. Once you no longer see someone as a person, you apparently become free to abuse that person. You can use, manipulate, marginalize, even slander an opponent. It doesn’t matter any more than cutting down a tree that’s in your way.

Thankfully, most people are not that dedicated to their own image or spirituality. It is not as important for most of us to look right. In fact, it is quite possible to be right and to look wrong. We can walk away from an argument and allow the other person to think of themselves as right, if they need that. And we can also entertain the idea that we might be wrong. We can listen to someone who disagrees with us and seek a way to come together. While compromise is a bad word for narcissists and an evil word for legalists, it is a normal relationship skill for most of us.

To do this, you must be capable of two things. First, you must be able to be wrong. You can’t be so committed to being right that you base your identity on it. Second, you must be able to see the other person as a person. If you can acknowledge that the other person has a right to their opinion and a right to peaceful existence independent of you, then you can find a way to live in reasonable harmony with those who disagree.

Recently we have encountered another group that seems to be as challenging as narcissists and legalists when it comes to arguments. I call them “ideologues.” It means they are so dedicated/addicted/committed to an idea that they refuse to hear any other idea. We haven’t seen this much in our culture until recent years. While we have always had narcissists and legalists, the ideologues are often tied to the kind of politics we see today. In the past democrats and republicans, for example, could live and work together—even though they disagreed on candidates or policies. Today, we see some people so dedicated to their party or idea or cause that they do not hesitate to offend or judge anyone they think might disagree. They appear to have developed a blindness toward other perspectives and find it easy to depersonalize others. And when others are depersonalized, they can be mistreated without guilt. So ideologues destroy property, reputations, businesses, and relationships without regard to the pain they cause. And they seem to take every word of disagreement as a personal insult.

If you run across an ideologue, you will wonder if the person is a narcissist. If that ideologue is connected to church or Christian topics, you will probably think of him/her as a legalist. While it is certainly possible for the person to be either (or both), the ideologue may not be building his or her own image, nor see you as spiritually compromised. The person might be generous and gracious, but still absolutely rigid and passionate when talking about the cause or idea. Even though these folks can seem to be nice, they can transform when their special topic comes up. Most of the time, if it is possible, it is best to keep the person off their topic. Talk about other things, and you will find a different person.

Being right is different from needing to be right. Those who are at peace within themselves can find ways to be at peace with others, even when those others disagree. Handling these people who need to be right is usually just a process of dropping or avoiding the topic. You don’t have to lie and say you agree, even if they pester you. You won’t win the argument, no matter how well you present your case, so find a way to move on. But be prepared for them to bring it up from time to time just so they can remind you that they won the argument.


Filed under Narcissism

Lying to Self

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


Ever send a mental note to yourself? Of course you have. We do it all the time. We comment on our intelligence, our weight, our organizational skills, our memory, on and on. Usually, we tell ourselves negative things. And then we agree with ourselves.

It’s a neat little package. Somehow I get a negative message about myself. Maybe it’s from a comparison I made. Maybe it’s something someone says to me. But I get that message and then repeat it to myself over and over. The more I repeat it to myself, the more I believe it. The more I believe it, the more I repeat it to myself. The cycle builds the strength of the assertion.

The narcissist does this also, except that he/she does not say negative things about self. Narcissists say positive things about themselves and negative things about others. The narcissist regularly affirms his/her value. “I am worth more than this. I should get more respect. I am the smartest person here. I deserve better.” The narcissist blames any negative on others. “She is stupid. He wants my job. They are incompetent. He is greedy. She lies.” You get the picture.

The point is that almost all of us grew up lying to ourselves. Both narcissists and non-narcissists. And we listened to ourselves. And we believed ourselves.

By the way, this is one reason I find it hard to trust any narcissism test. If a narcissist takes the test and sees anything negative, he/she will reject it. If a sensitive person takes the test, he/she will probably see negative words and associate them with the familiar negative self-talk. So the wrong people are being convinced that they are narcissistic. (Of course the narcissist might think the test is funny. That would take things in a different direction.)

Now listen to this: the narcissist can hear your self-talk. Okay, of course he/she can’t read your thoughts, but somehow they know. Somehow they know the negative things you say to yourself—and they say the same things to you. “You always do it wrong. You’ll never figure it out. You won’t amount to anything.” They know the words. They know how to create those same feelings in you. They know.

By the time the narcissist is an adult, this ability to hear the self-talk of others is almost instinctual. If they don’t sense it even before they meet you, they just need to ask a few questions to get the information. Then they say things that make you think they are different from others. They listen, they sympathize, they even challenge your self-talk. You begin to open your heart to what seems like kindness. The words of affirmation feel so good, and so different from your self-talk, that you would never expect abuse to come from that person. But it will come. The kind words were just more manipulation, and your self-talk opened the door.

Many people ask why they seem to be so vulnerable to narcissists and abuse. Sometimes it’s because your self-talk has prepared you by weakening your defenses and convincing you that you deserve abuse. Every time you tell yourself that you are stupid, you open yourself to someone who will convince you he/she is smart and can help you. Every time you tell yourself you are ugly, you open yourself to one who will convince you that you are attractive when you are with him/her. Every time you think of yourself as socially inept, you open yourself to someone who offers fun and acceptance.

Now, I know that sounds a little harsh. I also know that not everyone seduced by a narcissist has immersed themselves in negative self-talk. But this is the true story for so many.

Listen: the enemy is the negative self-talk. One of the most powerful and effective ways to health is to change what you say to yourself. And, when the old negative comes back, don’t agree. Tell yourself that you are not whatever the negative statement was. Go ahead and disagree with the whispering that comes in your own voice to discourage you. Eventually, you will begin to reject that way of thinking and you will find the door closing to those who want to use it against you.

For those of you who are Christians, I would recommend a series of posts I wrote a few years ago entitled, “Words of Grace.” These are affirmations of your identity in Christ. They begin with this post:


If you can’t seem to find the others, just type “I am” in the search box on any of my blog posts. Be sure to use the quotation marks.

Replace the lying negative talk with truth about yourself. Not only will it feel good, but it will make you stronger every day.


Filed under Narcissism

Politicians, Narcissists, and Apologies

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


Remember the little Sesame Street song that said “One of these things is not like the others”? We can see the connection between politicians and narcissists, but apologies seem to be something out of sync with the others.

You would be hard-pressed to find a single vocation more suited to narcissists and narcissistic behavior than politics. I know that some people think Hollywood is filled with narcissists, and I suppose that could be, but the actors and actresses we scoff at do work for our approval. They may feel entitled when they are successful, but some of these politicians seem to feel entitled all the time. Failure, laziness, compromise—none of these things reduce their self-indulgences.

I have written on narcissistic apologies before, but I was just prompted to think about them again as I read this in the news:

“I apologize to those who may have been offended by my remark.”


A classic! Let me break that down a little.  Here’s the thinking behind that kind of apology:


  1.  Not everyone was offended by my remark. Some thought it was funny. Some had the good sense to keep their opinions to themselves. Some are always against me, no matter what I say.
  2. Some may have been offended. I don’t really know anyone who actually was offended. My people say that I have to issue this apology because some people might have been offended.
  3.   It was just a remark. It wasn’t a bad word. I didn’t call anyone a name or accuse that person of something. I didn’t lie or speak evil of someone’s mother. I just made a little comment, that’s all.
  4. What about everybody else’s remarks? Why pick on mine? Why not pick on the really nasty people, like those who call me names and disagree with me?
  5.   I am not admitting that I did anything wrong because it wasn’t wrong. I have to say something to get people off my back—and I am sincere in my apology—but I didn’t do anything wrong.
  6.   You people make me sick. Always twisting my words and accusing me. Don’t you realize who I am? I can’t afford the time to deal with this nonsense.
  7.   Now I never want to hear about this again. I gave my apology. What more do people want? Let’s move on to something real and important.

So the politician/narcissist turns away from the microphone ready to attack anyone who brings up the remark in the future, but he winks at a friend as he walks away.


No, this isn’t an apology. Nor is it satisfying. I know that politicians play a little game where they each try to catch the other in some offensive words or actions. I know that the accusations are often as petty as the apologies. But the point here is that the narcissistic apology thrives in politics.

Sadly, you can find the narcissistic apology in so many places: the home, the church, the organization, any place you could find a narcissist. You might even find yourself using the narcissistic apology because that’s what you have been taught. Instead of dealing with the pain of those we hurt, or the offense we have committed, we use this apology to get out of the situation. It has become the apology of our culture.

We can do better. The narcissist may have more difficulty.

Because the narcissist really cannot sense the pain of others and only thinks of others when he/she has use for them, the narcissistic apology will always be lacking honesty and comfort. In other words, you will walk away unconvinced and untouched.


Filed under Narcissism

The Tattoo

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


A while ago I wrote a response to an email and suggested that a relationship with a narcissist is like a tattoo. I have always chuckled at the definition of a tattoo as “a permanent record of temporary insanity.” Some would describe their relationship with the narcissist in the same way.

Sometimes you don’t get to “just walk away.” Sometimes there are children involved. Sometimes a whole extended family revolves around a narcissist. And sometimes you feel so scarred that you just can’t seem to let it go. Like a bad tattoo, the narcissist continues to define you long after you learn the truth and decide to establish some distance.

There are, of course, processes to remove tattoos. They are usually painful and imperfect, but many try to take that route. Others just wear more clothing to try to hide what they now view as a bad decision. But both of these are ways to try to hide the past from others; they do little to change what the sufferer sees in the mirror and remembers.

Today it appears to be more effective to cover a bad tattoo with something new. There are good artists who can take what you have and make it into something beautiful, something that looks different and better even to you. Imagine that heart with his name transformed into a butterfly that just emerged from its cocoon. I understand that the ink from the new art actually blends with and transforms the old. In other words, done correctly, the new art really does overcome and remove the old.

I often get the question: “How can I move on?” The answer is to take the first steps. Begin to live a new life apart from the narcissist and the pain. You are not limited to that life. Even if there are things that tie you back to it, you can begin a transformation in your life that will allow you to become a different person—perhaps the person you used to be or the person you have always wanted to be. You still can make choices.

“But I will always remember.” No, not really. Not with the intensity you feel now, at least. Those memories will fade as new ones take their place. If you go back, you will probably be able to remember the pain. Even then it will be as though it happened to someone else, facts without the same feelings. The facts will still be there, much like the old tattoo, but those facts will no longer be the focus of your heart.

How does this work, in a practical sense? Make your new home yours and have fun decorating your way. Find new friends, new people in whom you can invest your life. Join new groups, get new hobbies, serve others in a new way. Go back to school or just take some classes. Change your hair or your style of clothing. Watch different television shows. Go to different movies. Read new books. Risk new relationships and projects. And everything new that you add to your life will blend with the old to give a new and more beautiful picture.

“But what if I stay or can’t really separate?” You can still begin to build a new life. It will be harder, but you will find health in making your own decisions and separating your need for affirmation from the person who will not give it. Take the definition of your life away from the narcissist. Choose how you will respond to him/her. Choose your own interests and goals. Ignore the criticisms and manipulation as best you can. No one has the right to define you except the Lord Himself.

Yes, the past is still part of you. It will never really go away. But you don’t have to see it and think about it all the time. Eventually, your new life will have memories of its own, more recent and more clear. The old tattoo will still be there, but you won’t see it. When you look in the mirror, you will see the decision you made to become something beautiful, something free.


Filed under Narcissism

Bait And Switch

It’s Narcissist Friday!   


I just had the pleasure of listening to a song entitled “Love is Here,” by Tenth Avenue North. Great lyrics!

“Come to the water, you who thirst, and you’ll thirst no more. Come to the Father, you who work, and you’ll work no more.”

This is the message of the gospel of Jesus. This is the life-fulfilling promise we have to share.

But, as I listened, I realized that so many who try to come to that water in their thirst find only more dryness; and so many who come to the Father to lay aside their works are given more work to do. This is the perversion of the gospel by the legalist churches. They promise one thing but give another.

And it struck me again how much legalism and narcissism are linked. You get into the relationship because you think there is love and acceptance, only to find that you are abused again. You trust because of the kind words and tender promises, but those words prove to be lies.

When I meet people who have been convinced that the God who loves them only loves them when they perform a certain way or amount, I get angry. I know they came to the church, to the Christian faith, because of hope and found a greater burden.

And when I meet people who have been abused by narcissists, I feel much the same. They came expecting rest and peace in a good relationship and found pain and fear. Whether it is in marriage, at work, or in a family, narcissism promises one thing and delivers another.

In the world, that’s called the “bait and switch.” You might see it at the car lot. One car is advertised but really isn’t available. Then you are taken to the real car covered by the special sale. When you read the fine print it doesn’t actually say that the first car was for sale. It was just a trick to get you onto the lot.

The real problem with the bait and switch is that it breaks trust. I have stores I will never go to again because they have baited me too many times. It took a while, but I learned. Not only will I not return to those stores, I will also be a lot more wary when I read the ads of others.

In the same way, some people have given up on the Christian faith altogether because they found greater burdens and less love than they had in the world. They lost their trust in the truth because of the lie.

And, in the same way, some find it very hard to trust any person because of the abuse suffered from the narcissist. Dating again, finding a new church, trusting co-workers: these are so hard after the narcissist.

All I can say is that the truth is only covered by the lie, not destroyed. The love of God is real. The message of hope is true. There are people who are kind and caring and accepting. The real deal is out there. Please, even while you doubt and try to protect yourself, seek the truth.

“Love is here: Love is now; Love is pouring from His hands, from His brow. Love is near; it satisfies; streams of mercy flowing from His side.”

Don’t give up!


Filed under Narcissism


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


It’s Narcissist Friday!     


Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance

The stages of grief

I have often felt that the death of a marriage should be considered as sad as the death of a person. Something alive and wonderful has died, and those who suffer such loss usually go through a kind of grief. In a sense, this is true for any serious relationship. The loss of the support and love of a parent can be a traumatic part of the narcissistic experience. The lack of respect from a boss or a pastor is a serious loss that should be mourned. The betrayal of a friendship can cause great grief.

There are many books and studies written about the stages of grief. We suffer grief whenever we suffer loss. I have told people for years that grief is the process of discovering who you are after that loss. When a relationship dies something important dies. We lose a piece of ourselves that we invested in the relationship. Even when we finally understand there was no real relationship, we lose the value of what we thought we had. It hurts. It is confusing. It is grief.

Loss of a relationship triggers a process that may be a surprise. We know that we go through grief when we lose a loved one. We also go through the stages of grief when we lose a relationship. These stages are normal cultural ways of dealing with dramatic and unwelcome change.

The grief process is complicated somewhat when the relationship dies over time. Even as people drift apart, or begin to see the reality of narcissism, we can begin the grieving process. When the loss is drawn out over months or years, a person will likely still go through these stages. If the relationship struggles through near-death, then reconciliation, then near-death again, a person may experience this cycle of grief more than once. However, if the process takes years, the stages of grief may be hard to identify.

Here’s what I mean. Eunice had some minor red flags before she married Tim. He wanted everything his way, even at the wedding. He could be critical and hurtful in the things he said, but she pushed her concerns away. After all, they were lovers. These things weren’t really that bad. (denial) After they were married, she found him to be even more critical and unkind. She began to wonder if he really loved her. When she asked him, his response was so limited and disappointing that she began thinking of leaving him. She found excuses to avoid intimacy as a way of protesting, but nothing changed. (anger) Her mother told her that a real relationship was 100% the responsibility of both people, so she decided to do things to make him happy. She worked hard to serve him in creative and gracious ways, but still nothing changed. (bargaining) Finally, Eunice gave up. Life seemed to have little meaning. Alcohol was tempting, as were medications, but Eunice chose to sit at home and watch the television. (depression) When Tim came home that day and told her he was leaving, she felt only relief. The marriage had died long ago in her heart. Finally, Eunice was able to move on. (acceptance)

Now that story crudely illustrates how the stages of grief can be processed while the marriage is still going. It seems more obvious when the marriage or relationship suddenly ends. If Tim had simply come home one day to tell Eunice that he had found someone else and was leaving, she may have gone through all of these steps of grief within months. The suddenness of the change makes grief seem more real and reasonable to us. Some people go through grief after job loss or when they have to leave a church. Some experience these steps over a lifetime as they process their narcissistic relationship with a parent.

These steps are real and common enough to be seen as normal. Not everyone experiences them in the same way; some steps go by quickly while others take time. But if you find yourself struggling with these five feelings, don’t be surprised or afraid. It is grief, and grief is normal. You simply have to process what has happened and what it means to your life now.

One more quick note: Depression is a normal part of this process. After the denial, the anger, and the bargaining, the energy has been spent. You are weary, disillusioned, and sad. The hurt has become part of your system. Now, you feel mostly numb. You just want to crawl away. Please don’t take this stage lightly. This can be a dangerous time. Find someone to talk with. Medications can help and can be temporary. Don’t allow your feelings of worthlessness and rejection to take over. Everything that you were, everything that made you feel good about yourself, is still there. The people who support you will say things that are hard for you to feel, things they mean to encourage you. They are right, and you will eventually agree. Just hold on until the depression stage passes. Be careful not to make too many big decisions, especially about new relationships. Just take care of yourself.

Grief is how we get through sudden and negative changes. Narcissism often provides these changes. Your grief is normal, and you will get through it. Just don’t be afraid to accept the help and perspectives of those who care about you.


Filed under Narcissism