Tag Archives: working with a narcissist

The Benevolent Narcissist

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

After last week’s post, I began to think about responses. I could hear people thinking, “Well maybe he’s a narcissist, but he/she really cares about our country/state/district.” A phrase popped into my mind at that point and I did what I often do, I googled it. Sure enough, there’s a lot of discussion about “benevolent narcissism.”

A benevolent narcissist.

Just doesn’t sound right, somehow. Sounds like an oxymoron.

I read something recently where the writer suggested that God is the ultimate narcissist. After all, this person said, God thinks that everything is about Him. He takes care of us because He is benevolent. If He were malevolent, like many narcissists, he thought, then God would be very dangerous. Okay. More later. (Next week.)

Can a narcissist be benevolent? Let’s ask a different question first. Can he/she do things that benefit you? Of course! In fact, one of the reasons narcissists get by with so much is because their actions benefit more than just themselves.

I can think of two ways a narcissist’s goals and actions might benefit you and me. First, as the narcissist woos people into relationship, he/she is quite willing to create benefits. Narcissists are often influential. They can help you make that sale, get that job, gain that privilege. Your desires and goals can be greatly helped by the narcissist. Yes, you might end up owing him/her, but you got what you needed. And, yes, he/she will think you are now a servant, but you still got what you needed.

Second, the goals of the narcissist are not necessarily evil, they are just self-serving. That means the goals of the narcissist might be the same as yours, at least for a while. Your boss might want the store to look good so that he gets promoted. At the same time, you might get promoted. Your husband buys a nice car so that others will see him as successful, and you get to enjoy the car as well. As the narcissist rises, sometimes others rise with him/her.

Let’s say you have an illness. The doctor has wanted to try a new procedure so he can write a paper on it. He tries the procedure on you and it works. You have received a benefit. You are cured. The doctor writes his paper citing your case and gets accolades from the medical community. If you had died or your suffering was extended, he would have written about that and maybe changed tactics on the next case.

In other words, not everything a narcissist does will hurt you. Sometimes the narcissist will benefit you. But that does not make him benevolent. He has no intention to benefit you as a person. His only goal is self-promotion. If you happen to benefit at the same time, he doesn’t care. If it takes benefit to you to get what he wants, he will do that. Again, he really won’t care. As easily as he benefits you, he can hurt you.

A “benevolent dictator” is still just a dictator. He may want the people to love him, and he may seek to accomplish that by doing good things for them, but he may still persecute certain people or require certain restrictions without regard to how that will cause harm to some. Many of the German people considered Hitler to be benevolent. Those who were born Jews or handicapped or who dared to disagree found him to be something else.

Of course, narcissistic methods make the benefits a little less acceptable. If you own stock in a company, you might benefit when the CEO fires a large number of older employees. If you want to sell your house, you might benefit from a real estate agent who stretches the truth to get the sale. The goal isn’t wrong, even if the methods are not what you would do.

Is it benevolent when others are hurt in the process of benefiting you? Not really. We would not call someone benevolent who made others suffer even if we gained at the same time. So it could be beneficial without being benevolent. That’s an important distinction.

Benevolence is a matter of the will, or the volition. The words are connected. When someone chooses to do good for you, that’s benevolence. When someone chooses to do evil to you, that’s malevolence. The point is the volition. The narcissist does not really choose to do good for you. He chooses to do good for himself, and part of the cost is the benefit to you.

Benevolence and narcissism really cannot be connected as “benevolent narcissism.” To do so is to ignore the depersonalization of the narcissistic relationship. Others don’t matter as the narcissist strives to bless himself.

If the narcissist is driving in the same direction as you are walking and stops to offer you a ride, don’t get too excited. He may expect you to help pay for the gas.

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Let’s Talk about Politics

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

When we were kids, we wore tall rubber boots almost all spring. That way we didn’t get our shoes wet when we jumped into puddles. Mud, slime, puddles, these were all fair game, and fun, for us. And sometimes, out in the barnyard, well let’s just say it wasn’t mud we jumped in.

I think I am about to do the same thing with this post.

You might want to put your boots on.

One of my earliest memories is standing up in the back seat of the car (yep, did it and lived!) and listening to my mom and dad discuss the upcoming election. I said that I would vote for one of the names I heard them mention. It must have been the wrong one. Honestly, I don’t remember what I said, but I remember my dad’s answer. In his usual blunt voice, he said, “What in %#@& do you know about it?”

And that’s when I learned that it isn’t particularly safe to talk about politics.

It is worse today, but it has been bad for a long time. American politics has always been somewhat volatile. Politicians shot each other and beat each other with their canes. They called each other names, paid for votes, and lied about many things to get elected. We deceive ourselves if we think that American politics used to be tame and gentle.

But the common person experienced little of this. There was no evening news. Newspapers came to most homes only long after they were published. So, most people didn’t worry about Jefferson accusing Washington of treason or Lincoln being compared to a baboon. Don’t get me wrong, the common person of American history was neither illiterate nor uninvolved, it’s just that news traveled slowly and so did opinions.

Not so today. Now we know everything about people involved in politics. At least we think we do. We hear a lot more than the truth. Now we have so much information, but we don’t know what to believe. We are left to form opinions based on what side of the aisle we prefer. And a surprising number of people judge and hate based on whatever they have heard.

So what do we know? I always try to step back to what I know when I am faced with a puzzling choice or an uncomfortable position. What do we know?

  1. We know that anyone who enters politics, especially in higher levels, will face serious and often vicious opposition. There will be accusations, threats, lies, and intense scrutiny.
  2. We know that political positions are viewed as leadership and that people in those positions are often considered superior. You may notice that we refer to them as leaders, rather than representatives. We also elect them on a popularity basis, suggesting that only superior people will be chosen.
  3. We know that narcissists love that kind of position and challenge. For the opportunity to stand in front of everyone and receive applause and servitude, the narcissist will endure almost anything. The feeling of power in higher politics must be almost overwhelming.
  4. We know that narcissists are probably the only kind of people who could endure and navigate the gauntlet of public opinion today. Most of us would rather crawl into a hole for the rest of our lives than have everyone express their opinions on how we look or talk or act. Imagine that everything you say is recorded and criticized and publicized and twisted. Imagine that you can’t go out to eat, drive a car, go to a game or movie, or do anything in public without bodyguards and paparazzi. I know I would hate it, but narcissists would love it. It would be the ultimate in attention and influence.
  5. We know that it takes a great deal of money and popularity to accomplish anything in politics today. The old days of party manipulating are almost gone. Now, candidates must be actors and orators and heroes to the people. Party favorites have far less advantage than they used to. Regular people might as well not apply.

So, yes, politicians and narcissism go together. Always? In every case? I suppose not, but more than we would like to admit. How could you be a politician today if you didn’t want the limelight? How could you do it if you were afraid of what people think or say? How could you do it if you didn’t control a significant number of people around you? How could you accomplish anything if you actually said and did what you meant? The ability to lie, to entice, to promise without worrying about fulfilling, to gather people to you and push others away without concern or regret: these are all far easier for narcissists than for the rest of us.

I guess what I am trying to say is that we should not be surprised to learn that people in politics are narcissistic. Whether they are actually narcissists or not isn’t really ours to decide, but it would seem to take the strongest and most convincing just to survive. If someone says that a politician on my side of the aisle is a narcissist, I might not like it, but I have to admit that it is probably true. It does seem to me that the realm of politics has become so nasty that it at least smells a lot like narcissism.

Now, if politics has become a narcissistic game, we have to be extra careful. Narcissists will pit people against each other to accomplish their goals. Narcissists will tell convincing lies to separate us and control us. Those who have lived through narcissistic relationships should recognize the same tactics and effects in our society today. We are being manipulated. There are people who benefit from our anger and division.

So, what do we do? Stop playing their game! Don’t believe everything you hear, even from your own side. Don’t let political things separate you from your friends and family members. We have different opinions and different approaches to solving problems. Sometimes that puts us on different political sides. That has been okay in the past, and it should be okay in the future. We can still be friends. Believe it or not, there are more important things than politics.

Yes, there are some issues that are pretty important, important enough to divide friends, I suppose. But have you ever noticed that those issues don’t get solved by politicians? The ones who run on those issues never quite get anything done with them. We still have war, poverty, racism, drugs, abortion, unrest in the Middle East, abuse, high taxes, pollution, and almost all the rest. Nothing has changed for several decades, in spite of changes in the White House.

I have to be honest. I am firmly on one side of the political spectrum. I think it matters that you vote and who you vote for. I even get sucked into the rhetoric once in a while. But I don’t ever want to think less of another person for disagreeing with me. Not only could I be wrong, at least once in a while, but there may be more than one solution for a problem. It is more important that we remain friends and continue to talk with each other. Politicians will never solve the real problems the world faces. People who listen and care, they are the real problem-solvers.

If you have found yourself caught in the narcissists’ game, step back. Don’t feel bad. They are very good at what they do. But, as you step back, think about others. Maybe they have been caught up just like you were. Maybe they have something to say that you should listen to.

And, if you are a Christian, remind yourself that you are not of this world anymore. This is not your home. You care about all the people in it, but you have a Savior who is not a politician. You have a Lord who loves you and loves even those who disagree with you. That love is what the world needs—and will never find from the narcissists.

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As always, I appreciate your comments.  Your experiences and insights make this community work.  However, please keep your comments on this post to the general topic.  We don’t need to hear accusations against any certain politician.  I know I stepped into it, but we don’t need to smear it around.  

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Gotcha!

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

I just ran across an article on cults that connected so well to our discussion that I had to call it to your attention. The link to the article is below, but the author basically asks how people can become so dependent and so deceived as to kill themselves or give away all their money or live their lives in service as part of a cult. Cult groups often ask extreme sacrifices from their members, sacrifices that normal people simply would not give.

This is not a scientific article, but it has some good talking points. The author suggests that there are four “techniques” cults use to connect with and manipulate members. As you read through them, they will look very familiar.

First, cults choose their victims. Certain people are targeted. People with certain needs, certain weaknesses or struggles.

Second, cults “love-bomb” their victims, pouring out attention and flattery and acts of kindness. These actions coincide with the needs experienced by the prospective recruits. For example, young people with family struggles will find a welcoming family atmosphere in the cult.

Third, cults isolate their victims. We have all heard of these “training centers” way out in the rural areas. Keeping the recruits separated from family and friends, from life as they used to know it, ties the victims to the cult. Their whole world becomes the cult.

Finally, cults control their victims by subjecting them alternately to “terror and love.” They cultivate just enough fear to create a need for support, then provide the support within the cult. The victim cannot leave because of the isolation and because the cult is seen as the only answer, even though the cult is also the source of the fear.

None of this is particularly new or insightful, except that it is an amazing parallel to the way narcissists cultivate relationships. Targeting, love-bombing, isolating, controlling. Those who have suffered intimate relationships with narcissists will recognize the tactics. So will those who have been in narcissistic friendships. Even in jobs or churches, we see a similar process.

I know it’s hard to think that narcissists target their victims. That sounds so evil. But think of it more as a natural thing for the narcissist. He/she knows instinctively who will be responsive. I think narcissists recognize weaknesses and openings we don’t even know we have. It doesn’t have to be much, just enough to make the attempt worthwhile.

And, of course, we know that narcissists love-bomb. At the beginning of a relationship, the narcissist can be the best listener, the most caring and helpful friend, the one who makes us feel so good. They know how to flatter, promise, and make life worth living.

We have talked about how the narcissist isolates. Sometimes it is harsh and uncaring, but often it sounds reasonable. You have to move away for his job. You have to change churches, communities, jobs, or friends. Things are too busy. It’s too expensive. He/she doesn’t feel well enough to visit. There are so many excuses and reasons that isolation just seems to happen.

I think, if I were to write the article, I would not use control as the fourth step. Control is the ultimate goal. Terror and love—creating dependency through confused emotions—that’s the fourth step. It leads to or produces a controllable subject. “Terror and love.” That describes many narcissistic relationships. Don’t make the narcissist angry, but when things are good they are so very good. Back and forth, never quite sure, the victim stays just off-balance enough to become more and more dependent.

So, why is there such a connection between narcissists and cults? Why would they use the same steps? Obviously, part of the answer is that they have the same goals. The victim/recruit has something the abuser wants. In order to get it, and remain in control of it, certain steps must be taken to break down the resolve or boundaries of the prospect.

I use the word, prospect, intentionally. You see, these are simply negative expressions of common marketing techniques. Think of how you have been led to purchase something you probably didn’t need. Someone connected with a weakness or desire in you. Advertisers direct their words or pictures to certain groups of people. Something caught your eye, made you hungry, connected with a longing, solved a problem. Then the game started.

Your interest or desire was piqued. Then, you were bombarded with positive connections to either the salesman or the product. Salesmen have long been known for their flattery. Products promise fulfillment and good feelings.

What happened next? Often a salesman would take you off to the side, away from family or friends to sell to you. Or he would look directly into your eyes, ignoring the people with you, causing you to focus only on him. Isolating from the wisdom and support of others is a normal part of sales. One of the primary reasons online marketing is so effective, one that is rarely acknowledged, is the isolation. If you walk into the store, you are probably with someone who can question your desire to buy something. If you are on Amazon, you are probably alone.

Finally, the primary push to the sale is the comparison between the negative of your failure to buy and the positive of your purchase. In other words, you have to make the decision today because the price will go up tomorrow, but you will be so happy if you decide to buy. Or you will regret walking away and enjoy purchasing. Terror and love.

And what is the goal? You have something the salesperson wants. Probably money, but sometimes just a sale. If everything works well, the salesman can sell you the product, the service or protection plan, and maybe even get you to sign up for the company credit card. He gets commission or points for everything.

Narcissists are marketers. You have something they want. They have to make you want what they offer. Teach your children and grandchildren how to withstand simple marketing techniques and they will be stronger against the narcissist. If you see or feel the process happening, step away. Understanding how it’s done is a good part of keeping yourself safe.

 

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https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/four-cult-recruitment-techniques?rebelltitem=5#rebelltitem5

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The Parting Shot

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

The ancient Parthians may or may not have been the source of our term “parting shot,” but their archers had a similar practice.  As they rode away from the enemy, they turned almost completely around on their horses and fired back at the pursuers.  That unexpected act claimed many soldiers, even leaders.

I enjoy many kinds of music, including that of Michael Bublé.  So, when I heard a quote by him this past week where he mentioned narcissism, I had to check it out.  The Bublé family is struggling with the illness of one of their children, and the struggle is taking a toll.  Michael has announced his retirement from performing.  He will spend his time with his family.  Good for him.  I suspect that is far more difficult to do than most of us understand. 

In fact, the clue is in his parting shot.  He says,

“I don’t have the stomach for it any more.  The celebrity narcissism. This is my last interview. I’m retiring. I’ve made the perfect record and now I can leave at the very top.”

“The celebrity narcissism.”  There’s a culture that few of us will ever see.  The competition, the constant performance, the unreasonable expectations—look nice, talk nice, act nice.  Don’t let anyone see the real you.  Hide from everyone.  Try to hide from yourself.  Don’t cry.  Don’t give in to temptations.  Don’t cuss out the idiots.  Hold it in. 

So, he’s out.  Wow!  It’s tempting to think that he is a good guy who just got caught up in all of it and now realizes how artificial and meaningless it all was.  And that may be exactly what he is.  But then there’s that parting shot. 

Every performer is competing.  Every professional is expected to grow an audience, to stay ahead of the race.  I think we see a little of that in his claim that he has “made the perfect record” and “can leave at the very top.”  Just a comment to anyone who thinks he is giving up or copping out.  Just a note to those behind him.  One last statement of superiority.

I don’t know if Michael Bublé is a narcissist.  Probably not.  But he certainly reflects the values and behavior of that narcissistic culture he is rejecting.  Narcissists often give these “parting shots” as they leave a place or position.  Last words that lift themselves up and put others down.  Last words to remind you that he is ahead of you. 

When Richard Nixon lost the California governor’s race in 1962, he blamed the media.  He appeared before the reporters to make a statement after the loss and said, “You don’t have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”

Of course, like most narcissists, he didn’t stay quiet after that.  We remember that Nixon came back to win the presidency in 1968, surprising all those who had written him off a few years before.  His parting shot in 1962 was a way of telling everyone that he was still on top and would have been elected governor except for the unfair treatment by the press.  It was someone else’s fault.

Narcissists not only like to have the last word, they want the last word to be cutting and pointed.  The employee says that it won’t be hard to find a better job than the one he is being forced to leave.  The husband who tells his wife that he never really loved her as he walks out the door.  The teacher who says she had no chance to win against the type of children and parents today.  The pastor who says that most of his congregation were not really Christians anyway.  The mother who tells an adult son that he never honored her.  The boss who predicts the failure of the company without him.

To be fair, many of us will think these things as we leave or are forced to go.  We may even wish we had the courage to say them.  But the narcissist will stop in his tracks, turn around, and just say it.  A parting shot.

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Just Rude

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

Some of the most shocking and hurtful things come out of the mouths of narcissists. They seem to have no difficulty saying cruel things.

I know the old saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Yeah, that’s not true. If you have lived with or been in a close relationship with a narcissist there have almost certainly been times you wished they had thrown a rock at you rather than saying what they said. The bruise from a stick or rock will eventually heal and fade, but those words can ring in our ears for a long time.

And it isn’t always criticism. Sometimes it is simple rudeness. The way the narcissist treats the waitress or the checker at the store, for example. I know several people who work retail. The stories they tell of how people comment on how the store employee is so stupid or poorly dressed or overweight or whatever. The narcissist doesn’t care if he leaves the checker in tears or gets the waitress fired because she can’t function after his comments.

Pushing into line, commenting on the people around him, making crude noises, laughing and pointing at people, some narcissists do these things so casually that it seems they are just rude people. Offending others means nothing to them.

Yet, they don’t always act rudely. The narcissist will probably be able to shut the rudeness off in an instant around certain people. The waitress is fair game, but the boss at the next table hears nothing but respect.

But why? Well, some narcissists just see others as so far beneath them that they get pleasure from hurting them. Some like to rile people, set them on edge to see how they will react. It might even be you the narcissist is watching as he/she is rude to others.

And some use their rudeness as a type of “force shield.” It protects them from connecting. Who wants to connect with someone who acts like that? Narcissists often keep others at a distance. Sometimes certain people seem like they might be useful, so the narcissist won’t be rude. At least until the usefulness is drained away.

Some use their rudeness as a way to communicate superiority. Most people will back away from rudeness. Push into line and others will just step back. They might think you are rude, but they won’t say anything or challenge you. The narcissist knows this and uses this to communicate his disdain for others. By saying something that hurts or by challenging an etiquette rule, the narcissist sets himself apart from others. He/she might think others will be impressed.

The sad thing is that we live in a culture that almost honors rudeness. We reward the rude person not only by stepping out of their way and not reacting, but by accepting the idea that they are somehow better than we are. We might not like it, but we internalize it and believe it. When the rude person refers to our weight, we might be offended, but our pain comes from agreeing. When someone criticizes our work, or pushes in front of us, we tend to value that person more. No, we don’t like it, but there is something about aggression that we find attractive and valuable.

I have often been amazed at how people will speak highly of a teacher or leader who is just rude. That teacher thinks those people are fools who need to be educated. That leader thinks his people are sheep who need his guidance. They put others down by being rude in word and action and the result is more dedicated following. When you see it, it is a shocking and disgusting phenomenon.

So, what do you do? You probably spend a good amount of time apologizing. To the waitress or your mother or your friend or anyone. You hide your face in embarrassment. You try to make things better by explaining what he meant, when you know he just meant to be rude.

But listen, don’t accept rudeness as superiority. The narcissist is not superior. He/she is rude. Rudeness is bullying. Bullies are not superior or better. Bullies don’t deserve honor and respect. You might want to get out of the bully’s way. After all, the bully will hurt you if you don’t do what he/she wants. If you can avoid being with the bully, do it. The rude person is not attractive or desirable. The rudeness reveals what the person is made of.

In a world where the bully cannot hurt you, you might tell the waitress, “Oh, he just wants you to think he is better than you. He isn’t.” You might even refer to the narcissist as a bully. Of course, most people don’t live in that world. Most people would pay a high price for such honesty.

Whatever you do, don’t give excuses for the narcissist’s rude behavior. You may tell the waitress you are sorry, but don’t try to make the bully look better. He isn’t sick or tired or handicapped. He is just mean-spirited and rude. Yes, you sympathize with his victim, and you can say that or show that, but you don’t have to run interference for the narcissist. Let others see him as rude.

Before I close this, I have to say that not all who are rude are narcissists. Some are tired or sick. Some are just being thoughtless. I have been rude, and I would guess you have too. Sometimes we caught ourselves in time to apologize to our victim. Sometimes we realized our rudeness later and felt regret. You and I and many others are rude by accident or carelessness. The narcissist is rude on purpose.

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Followers

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Politics and narcissists seem to go together. In fact, any job or lifestyle where someone has followers attracts the narcissist. But how in the world do such cruel and insincere people get followers?

How do abusive pastors get faithful servants? How do famous and self-focused performers surround themselves with people? How do ambitious and money-grubbing politicians always have supporters? How does the cruel boss always have toadies who will do his will?

Well, of course, some people are brought into the narcissist’s circle in the same way most of us were drawn in. Narcissists typically have a certain charisma and charm. They say the right things and act in the right way. They appear to listen, care, and help. Narcissists are experts at beginning relationships.

But why do people stay with them? We know that narcissists use and misuse people. We know that narcissists are not really interested in others except for what they can get from them. We know that narcissists can be dismissive and even anti-social. So why do they have followers?

Some stay with the narcissist, because the narcissist is good at making promises. You know that the narcissist often promises just the right thing in just the right way. There will be reasons why the promise can’t happen quickly but assurances that the promise is coming. By making enough promises to enough people, or just by insinuating cooperation and support, the narcissist gathers people around who wait for fulfillment. As they wait, they serve. They don’t want any negative to come to the narcissist because that might jeopardize the promise. So they follow, serve, even seem to worship the narcissist.

Others live in fear of the narcissist. I have known people who don’t dare disagree or walk away from the narcissist because they are afraid of the consequences. Narcissists can be very intimidating. They can also be ruthless. Oppose them at your own risk. They won’t care how much they hurt you, how overboard their revenge is. Many have experienced the rage of the narcissist. Imagine if he/she was your boss, pastor, representative. Narcissists love to be in positions where they have power. If one has power over you, you know the intimidation.

Along the line of waiting for the promise, some have invested in the narcissist. Maybe they compromised themselves in some way to get favor with the narcissist. Maybe they actually gave money to the narcissist or his/her business. Those who have invested in these ways also wait for their return. They might not see it as a promise as much as tagging along until the narcissist gets into a position where the investment pays off. A close relationship with a politician can become lucrative. A strong connection with a famous person or a powerful person has real possibilities. Successful narcissists are usually willing to spread money and influence in order to keep others submissive.

Some people like the excitement. They follow the narcissist much like some follow the ambulance. There is almost always some kind of drama around the narcissist, particularly those who have grabbed the spotlight. Some have tricked the narcissist into thinking they are supportive, while they are really just observing and absorbing the energy. There may be little commitment, but these folks can stay with the narcissist a long time, perhaps even after others have left. They like the drama.

It also seems to be a fact that narcissists are drawn to other narcissists. It is not unusual for narcissists to be married to each other. There are many narcissists who have risen to power positions while serving other narcissists. If you think about it, a successful narcissist is a role model, an ideal, for other narcissists. A person who is willing to use and abuse others to get what he wants will often accept that same behavior from an idol. Perhaps that cruel behavior is validated somehow when the great person does it. Perhaps it is just the price one pays to be close to the action.

Some narcissists don’t have followers, I suppose. Some rule only over their family or their small circle of co-workers and friends. Some don’t care about the affection of others, the loyalty or commitment, as long as they get the service. So, having “faithful” followers is not a test of a narcissist.

When you look at a public narcissist, don’t be fooled into thinking that they are less narcissistic because they have followers. There is no wisdom in crowds. It is, in fact, relatively easy to fool many of the people much of the time. Deceit, manipulation, braggadocio—these things work in our broken world, and narcissists are usually very good at them.

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Forgiveness and Trust

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

“Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” – C. S. Lewis

 

Narcissists can be cruel.

Okay, I know that’s an understatement! Narcissists can tear your life apart. They can affect you for years, even long after they are “out” of your life. Betrayal, criticism, manipulation, theft, abuse, destructive acts, lies, and so much more. These things hurt for a long time.

It shouldn’t be any wonder that victims of narcissists find it difficult to forgive. I know that I have written on this before, more than once in fact. It needs to be said often. There is no doubt that we, as Christians, are called to forgive. But we must understand what that means.

Sometimes the church has the tendency to push things to ridiculous lengths. (Yeah, I know, another understatement.) Since the times of the Pharisees, church leaders have had the philosophy that if a little is good, a lot is better. The Pharisees built rules upon rules and made things far more restrictive than the Scriptures did. Many of today’s preachers and traditions do the same thing.

One of the things some have taken far beyond what is reasonable is this idea of forgiveness. The abuser is supposed to be “rehabilitated” and welcomed back, they say. Predators should be “dealt with” and then brought back into fellowship. “If he/she is sorry, then we are called to forgive,” they say.

I know pastors who were “forgiven” for their infidelity and welcomed back to ministry only to do the same thing again. We know abusers who are allowed to come back to the family under this idea of forgiveness only to abuse again. Many have forgiven their narcissistic friends and have felt their betrayal again. We all could tell such stories.

Bear with a little repetition. Forgiveness is not saying that nothing happened. Forgiveness is not saying that everything is now okay in the relationship. Forgiveness is not deciding that punishment is unnecessary. Forgiveness is not being silent about the offense. Forgiveness is not opening yourself to the abuser again. And forgiveness is not trusting again.

For some reason, the church has expected people to trust again. If you really forgive, people say, you will give the person another chance to hurt you and others. I’m sorry, but that sounds foolish to me.

Forgiveness is continuing to love, even when it must be from a distance. Forgiveness is moving forward with your life and not keeping the other person in a prison you carry around with you. Forgiveness is understanding who your offender is and, perhaps, deciding to move forward with him/her anyway. Forgiveness is releasing the pain of the abuse to the Lord who loves and comforts you. Forgiveness is moving on.

It is one thing to let someone hurt you. You can choose that. It is far different—and wrong—to try to convince yourself that they won’t hurt you when you know they will. In other words, forgiveness does not mean you should be dishonest with yourself or others. You may, as part of your forgiveness, decide to open yourself to more abuse. That’s up to you. But you can’t lie to yourself and say that no more abuse will ever happen. That’s different. You can decide to put the offender in a position of trust again, but you can’t take the risk of convincing yourself that your trust will not be broken again. Love risks, but it does not lie. Love may be blind, but it is not stupid.

But, but, but… Can you be loving when you don’t trust someone? Are you really forgiving when you don’t open yourself to that person again?

In John 2:24-25 we are told that many people saw the signs and wonders Jesus did. They were impressed with Him. They wanted to be with Him. But, the Scripture says, He did not entrust Himself to them. In other words, He didn’t trust them. Why? Because, the text goes on, He knew what was in their hearts. He loved all of them and came to forgive them, but He knew better than to trust them.

Now, people do change. Some are deeply grieved because of their past actions. Some. But the “Dear Abby” columns are full of letters from women who seem shocked that the men who left their wives for them are now cheating again. Betrayal and abuse becomes easier the more it is done. And narcissists who are trusted again will almost certainly abuse again.

If you think someone has changed and you want to risk again, go ahead. Just do it with your eyes open. That’s different than trusting.

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