Narcissism is complicated. Sort of.
Up to this point, I have avoided using the term narcissist because it needs to be better clarified. We live in a society that promotes self-centeredness, which gives way to narcissistic behaviors and thought patterns. However, just because you don’t like the way someone treats you or doesn’t act the way you think they should, it does not automatically make them a narcissist. It is detrimental to use the term so flippantly because it takes away from the gravity of those who get trapped by a true narcissistic personality such as victims of domestic violence. I am not a medical or mental health professional; however, I have a childhood and three decades of exposure to narcissistic abusers and want to share some insights I have gained to help highlight some warning signs.
In my previous blogs I painted the picture of what it looks like to be trapped in an abusive relationship. The ability to recognize a narcissist before they gain that much control may not be as easy as it seems. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is legitimate; however, it is the job of the medical and mental health professionals to assign that diagnosis to a person. Having said that, there are discernible traits that we can train ourselves to recognize. Where we tend to go wrong is when we use some of those traits to self-diagnose other people as narcissists. I am going to highlight a few qualities that define a narcissist and try to bring some clarity between those who are and those who are not narcissists.
Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors and attitudes1: ARROGANCE vs. CONFIDENCE
After reading my blogs I would hope that you are able to discern that I am not a narcissist. But it may surprise you to know that I have been labeled as a narcissist at different times in my life. Those who are close to me know that this is far from the truth! My entire Christian life has been spent taking care of my family and many others. Despite my tough beginnings, I have learned how to speak with words of grace, love, and kindness. Unfortunately, when it comes to people who are reserved, shy, or insecure, I can be perceived as intimidating. I am a very strong woman, and my confidence can be intense. I am self-assured and have strong opinions that I am unafraid of voicing. For a long time I was completely unaware of how people felt around me until I had a random conversation with my children.
At the time, I was the Program Director/Service Director for a mega church and helped to run multiple services. My children and I were walking to the café when some of their friends walked by and said hello to me but kept walking. I asked the kids why they didn’t hang out with us and one of them responded, “Mom, you are intimidating to them.” I was literally shocked by that statement and responded, “Why? I am so nice to people!”. Another said, “Mom, it’s not about you being nice; everyone knows who you are, and you carry yourself with such confidence that it’s intimidating to people.” Honestly, this was news to me because a lot of the time I actually felt insecure about myself. In the first few years, I felt unqualified to even have conversations with the pastors because I didn’t believe I was smart enough. That eventually changed, however, no one seeing me walk through the building would have guessed that I was struggling. Yet, no matter how I felt, I still had a job to get done and I did it with the tenacity and excellence that I try to accomplish everything I do with. To me, I was pushing through my insecurities and never thought about how I was perceived outside of myself.
The point I want to make is that I was not walking around telling people what to do and trying to intimidate anyone. My motive was to serve, to love, and to use my gifts and talents to create a beautiful experience for our guests. Nothing about me was fake because as much as I poured into those services, I also poured into my family, friends, youths and victims of domestic violence. My character was consistently proven in all aspects of my life and I was known, not only for my confidence and strength, but for my genuineness and integrity.
Compare the above scenario to Jack, whom I told the story of in Eryn. When he showed up to an event at church, he was the center of attention. When he walked in, the party started, and he could work any room. He was a favorite in the congregation and almost everyone thought he was a great husband and father. Almost everyone. I struggled to like him right from the start because there was something about him that didn’t sit right with me. I noticed that, even though he treated everyone like they were his best friend, he was never present when a need arose. He talked the Christian talk, but I didn’t see him walking the walk. When he dropped his wife and kids off on park days, he would get out of the car and greet the group with a huge smile and jokes. Meanwhile, Eryn was taking the kids out of the car and unloading everything by herself. When she was settled, he would leave just as loudly as he had arrived.
Jack appeared to be confident but, in actuality, he was arrogant. He only cared about his public persona and that he came off as the perfect husband. After Eryn confided in me, the truth came out that, after every event, he would get in the car and rip her a new one for whatever it was that she had done wrong. Jack turned on the personality for everyone, but as soon as they were alone, he returned to his awful and demeaning self. Even though it appeared that Jack was popular, he had no real friends. He had no accountability in his life or anyone who would vouch for his character. His wife and children lived in constant fear of him and it was evidenced by the way they shut down as soon as he was around.
Here is the difference I want to make here. I can walk into a room and light it up with my outgoing personality, however, when I leave that room, I am still the same person. I am not perfect, but I am who I am no matter who I am with and I have genuine motives. Jack could walk into a room and light it up with his outgoing personality, however, when he left the room, he reverted to the abusive person that he was. He had very dark motives. We both emanated a trait listed in the DSM52, however, he was truly a narcissist as time eventually proved. A narcissist is consistent in their behavior and it will usually co-exist with abuse.
It is my hope that society would stop calling every person they disapprove of a narcissist. A true narcissist will not back down in their beliefs, are not humble, don’t care about anyone’s feelings and usually will abuse those closest to them. For those in this relentless dating scene, the next time you meet a fun-loving person who can carry a room and who is attractive to you, get to know them outside of that environment. Prince charming may just end up being an ugly mean frog.
Until next time, be wary and stay safe!!!