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MAY 30, 2014 6:38 AM

Of Many Colors

Abusers come in many shapes and forms.  I am reading a very good book about abusers in the church.  There are “Christian” abusers and abusers of many other faiths.  There are men and women who abuse.  There are young people and old people who abuse.  Some seem to abuse others almost from birth and others become abusers after accidents or old age.

 When we consider narcissism, we find the same thing.  There are narcissistic parents and children, bosses and employees, pastors and church members, husbands and wives.  Some seem to develop narcissistic characteristics, while others seem to be born that way.  There may not be a narcissist under every rock, but there are more of them than we ever realized.

 So writing about narcissism as behavior or sin encompasses many stories.  If you take the time to read through the posts and the comments here, you will find a variety of stories—more, I think, than you may have expected.  Some have struggled with narcissistic friends; other with narcissistic parents; and still others with co-workers or bosses.  Not every victim is married to one of them.

 With all of this variety, there is one constant: the abuse.  The pain is different for each person, but every story reveals abuse.  And a common theme in a community like this is that the abuse has not been understood or acknowledged by the outside world.  Our culture is finally beginning to see sexual and physical abuse.  Yes, it still hides and still hurts, but we have some safety systems and justice options in place.  Not so much for narcissistic abuse.

 Narcissistic abuse is hidden in different ways.  While the sexual abuser threatens and the physical abuser lies and covers, the narcissistic abuser seems to use accepted means to continue his cruelty.  He is well-respected even when the narcissism is revealed.  She has friends who seem to accept her exploitation of them.  The boss and co-worker are successful in their work, even though they use others.  No one wants to hear about narcissistic abuse and some would not call it abuse at all.

 As hard as it is to face reality, victims of narcissistic abuse really can’t expect to find ready help from the world around them, whether it is family or church or community.  I am very grateful for the help our little community can offer.  I see such caring and wisdom in the comments.  Many here pray for those who ask for help.

 At the same time, we have to fall back on the two things we can do for ourselves.  Set and maintain boundaries and speak up.  Even if others don’t want to listen, they can hear that you are hurting and that a certain person is the cause.  Even if the narcissist refuses to stop the abuse, he or she can hear that it is no longer acceptable.  And the victims can grow in power.  Read through the posts here and study narcissism.  You will find that there are things you can do to expose and stop the abuse.  And there are ways to freedom and health.

We are praying for you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your life is ahead of you.


 Narcissistic Apologies 

I recently read yet another statement by a well-known Christian leader confessing sin and asking for forgiveness. It was one of those apologies that leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. I would say that it was a narcissistic apology.

The difference between the narcissistic apology and a real apology is the center. In the center of the narcissistic apology is the offender saying, “I am hurting because of this.” The real apology sees the victim in the center and says, “You are hurting because of this.”   The difference is empathy. Just like always, the narcissist doesn’t care about your pain, just his/her own.

The purpose of a narcissistic apology is to divert attention away from the offender. Your knowing and accusing gaze is extremely painful. You see too much and too well. Under that scrutiny, the abuser is laid bare and vulnerable.

Apologies aren’t always used. Some will attack in anger. Others will blame the accuser or a third party—anyone else. Some will admit to lesser evils, trying to keep your attention away from the truth. Some will claim that you simply don’t understand the truth. Some will create bold lies. Whatever it takes to get you to stop.

The narcissist needs you to turn the light somewhere else. The offender cries for relief, pushes for forgiveness, begs for mercy, bargains for reconciliation. Just, please, make it all stop.

If intimidation, negotiating, and pleading don’t work, then you might hear the narcissistic apology. The one that admits to nothing except those things that can be interpreted as positive for the offender. He was too dedicated, too focused, too strong a leader. His intention was always good. The hope is that your attention will center on the image of the offender, the one that is superior and righteous. The purpose is still to push the attention away from the offender’s heart.

A real apology, something seldom heard, admits the validity of the victim’s perspective. The repentant one doesn’t try to point the light away from the painful exposure because he trusts that his exposure will help the victim. Someone who offers a real apology also wants the pain to end, but not at the expense of the victim.

The narcissistic apology is part of our culture and certainly is not limited to narcissists. Many of us learned that type of apology from our families and friends. It offers little and solves nothing. We have become used to hearing it from politicians and public figures.

When we receive it, it does not satisfy our hearts and often leaves us feeling somehow guilty. A part of us knows that we have not been heard or valued. The burden on us has somehow become greater, rather than less. We experience confusion, even anger. Yet, we are not supposed to continue feeling anything negative because the offender has apologized.

The effective narcissistic apology moves your attention to your confusion or anger or pain or guilt . . . and away from the offender.

And let me add one more thing: the narcissistic apology almost always ask for forgiveness in some way. This puts the burden back on the victim. “Will you forgive me?”—sounds a lot like, “There, I said it, now can we be done with this?” If you say yes, then everything is supposed to be back the way it was. If you say no, you are the bad guy. Then you may hear, “Well what do you want? I apologized!”

Understand that the purpose of the narcissistic apology is not to admit the offense and lessen your pain. The purpose of the narcissistic apology is to get you to shut up.

There is a battle between the Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Error. Truth will prevail! Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach. Humanity, it's time to get right.



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