I have spent years processing the recollections of my life growing up in a ‘ toxic Christianized’ environment and the impact on me. Some pretty rough stuff happened. I am a missionary kid, born and raised for the first 14 years of my life in Nigeria. After not bonding well with my parents, I was sent to a boarding school at age 5.
It took awhile for it to became apparent that I was raised by narcissists. This was due to those who left me feeling bruised and insignificant and as a ‘bad’ child did not easily fall into the description found in the DSM IV .
[I will copy over the diagnostic criteria for 301.81 Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It is characterized by a sense of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
(1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
(2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
(3) believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
(4) requires excessive admiration
(5) has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
(6) is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
(7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
(8) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
(9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
But in my situation and the experience of others growing up in ‘Christian’ institutions’, the relational dynamics were more subtle, being disguised in Bible verses and ‘god’ talk.
Through grappling with the agonizing aspects of my life, an understanding of narcissism grew, along with a strong desire to develop into a woman who was opposite of those who had harmed my confidence in being loveable by God and others. In addition to my own personal healing, I wanted to be a woman who helped others grow in confidence in the design woven into them by the Creator God who adored them.
As years progressed, God brought many people across my path whose lives were intertwined with narcissistic spouses and friends. I personally was left seemingly crushed and confused in a relationship that I finally understood was due to strong narcissistic patterns that paralleled my childhood. I encountered people in ministry and church leadership who exerted their authority in ways that garnished a sense of power and ‘awe’ while leaving people hurt in their wake. And I was brought into a church situation in which a pastor was discovered to be a sexual predator, hiding his many years of abusing the vulnerable under a cloak of a ‘glamourous ministry’.
It is out of this backdrop that I was prompted and on-goingly nudged to pull together a class, Narcissism Among Us. In the upcoming weeks I will upload portions of the manual I created and use in a class.
This material would not exist if it were not for my friends who have supportively listened to my processing, my grief, my rantings and the insights God has led me to. I am grateful for the many additional resources that I found to help me along my path. These include, but are not limited to
++ The Pandora Problem Jim Wilder
++When Narcissism Comes To Church Chuck Degroat
++ Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist. How To End the Drama and Get on With Life Margalis Fjelstad
++ How Much Is a Girl Worth Rachael Denhollander
++ Glittering Images Susan Howatch
++ Published online articles by
Jen Grice and Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., MFT
++ Research done by the University of Missouri.
To begin with, it is important for us to recognize that all of us can only enter into life, bringing our selves with us. It is appropriate for us to desire to be loved and thought well of, honored and held in high regard. When we are not, it appropriately bothers us. It goes against the remarkable design God wove in us and the desire He has for us. As a result, each of us can easily slide into narcissistic tendencies, striving to make ourselves thought well of and adored. Each of us slide up and down on a narcissistic scale. Some of us dip into flavors of narcissism when we encounter significant pain, challenges and situations that hurt our sense of dignity and well-being. (situational narcissism) And others develop lifestyle patterns of narcissism. And some have such significant patterns that they earn in the psychological field a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Not only are there individuals who are narcissistic, but groups and communities, cults and church denominations, gangs and business organizations can be narcissistic. Individuals who feel an urgency to be at the top of some stratosphere can, like a tick on a dog, attach themselves to an organization that they perceive is extra powerful or special in an attempt to get their insecurities addressed.
Let me again summarize some of the main character traits found in a narcissist.
Everything will revolve around this person’s life, needs and wants. They are always in need of praise. Everyone around them is treated as objects to be used for their own gratification or needs.
They neglect, take others for granted and do not help others feel valuable or important unless it is from an agenda to further their own aggrandizement.
They are arrogant and typically over exaggerate their accomplishments.
They lack empathy and compassion and a life stance in caring for others. The only feelings they care about are their own.
Nothing will ever be their fault. If they were to hold the responsibility of something going wrong, or having done something wrong, they are afraid they will be shamed rather than treated as special. Thus, if corrected, they will strive to turn it against the person bringing the correction, blaming them for the wrong done. At times they may live from a stance of “life has been so hard and unfair, that you cannot hold me responsible to act differently.”
Labels can be helpful in bringing understanding and insight , but they are always insufficient. They lose track of the individual with his history, wounds and the dignity of God woven into them. Throughout the material, we continue to strive to hold onto the value of each of us with a stance of understanding compassion, regardless of where we are on the narcissism scale.
Narcissism is developed as a result of developmental trauma. If a person is born into a family in which the caretakers are emotionally mature themselves and delightfully recognize the magnificence in the infant, meeting their needs in a timely manner, the child automatically develops a healthy confidence in being a person of value. They are not left with a need to pursue it, and clamor after it at the expense of others. If they have their needs met in a timely manner, they are not left with an internal angst that their needs will not be met so they must take on the responsibility to care for themselves, regardless of the cost to others. They are free to develop the ability for self- care, along with an internal freedom to desire others be cared for as well. They are set on a course to become life-givers and protectors of others.
For those who do not have this foundation integrated into their life experience, they are left with an urgency to be found as special and a determination to make it happen. As infants, the world was to appropriately revolve around them, meeting their needs. To the degree that this did not happen, the child becomes an adult still striving to get the world to meet their needs. The trajectory has been set for narcissism to develop.
Following is a chart that depicts healthy stages of development and the propensity for living a life of love rather than grasping for love.
We can be relatively certain that narcissists underwent significant trauma during their early developmental years. They are emotionally stuck at an infant level of maturity, feeling the urgency for the world to revolve around them, meeting their needs for value, identity and security. Their ‘drive’ in life is to obtain their needs through others, using manipulation, fear and shame tactics. If people do not fulfill this agenda, they are skilled at “making them pay” in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. More often, narcissists did not have important needs met in their early years, and thus have deeply buried recesses of pain and rejection, having been shamed and uncared for. They did not experience being delighted in unconditionally.
Instead, these children grew up with parents who made their own needs and desires the governing factor in the home. The child’s confidence in themselves as unconditionally wonderful was crushed, along with any certainty that there will be anyone who will ‘have their back.’ The child was often the scapegoat for anything that went wrong in the family. Parents would not own their own flaws and mistakes, but place blame on the child for anything that went wrong, as well as things that were not even worthy of ‘blame’. These children were not safe to express their own perspectives for fear of being mocked or minimized. If a child expressed disagreement, there was usually some form of displeasure or punishment. It was common for parents to destroy enjoyable times by inserting themselves into the situation in very self-centered ways, stealing the attention. Very often the home environment was one of emotional disorganization, due to the child never knowing if a parent would relate positively or negatively in any situation. These children grow up with a need to be seen as special while being certain they will not be given this value. Thus, not able to trust anyone, they set out to claim it for themselves.
Research has shown that what is happening within the caregivers during developmental years gets bio-chemically reproduced within the young one. The patterns of the caregivers are often played out later in life as the child grows up. They also will live out patterns of scapegoating others, manipulation, self-justifications, refusal to own their own flaws, mocking and minimizing and patronizing others, and inserting themselves into situations so as to gain attention and accolades.
In my next blog we will continue to look at the continuum of narcissism that each of us live on. We will ponder what healthy self awareness is and how it is expressed versus narcissism that is situational and can become a malignant life style.
As time goes on, my blogs will include topics such as:
The anti-dote for narcissism.
What we need for personal growth in being able to relate with a narcissist.
How co-dependency fits in here.
The role of the community.
What narcissists need in order to grow into wholeness, which includes a confidence
of how special they are and a freedom to love others.
Please join me on this journey ahead.