Narcissism Among Us. Where Are We on the Narcissistic Scale?

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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

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Copyright 2000  American Psychiatric Association ]

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.

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19 Comments

  • Thanks for the opportunity to revisit this important material! It’s a heavy topic & I need to hear it several times because there’s only so much I can take in at one time. Thanks for walking through these minefields and sharing information and insights. It’s very helpful to bring the discussion into the open and into the light where it can be dealt with. Thanks for your courage and leadership to find a way through! Hugs!

    Reply
    • Hi Margaret. Thanks for taking the time to re-read the material and bringing your life into my own journey through our group time together! I sure appreciate you!

      Reply
  • Interesting you should post this now. I have spent years trying to deal with the narcissists around me, and recently have been wondering about my own narcissism. Thank you for doing this.

    Reply
    • Hi Pam. Thanks for taking the time to read my post. I appreciate your joining me in thinking through the material. And interacting with it in a way that helps with personal growth. I certainly know that to be a challenge! Tailored blessings to you!

      Reply
  • Thank you for what you are doing. I look forward to your next blog.

    Reply
    • Bonnie, thanks for taking the time to read my thinking… and for your encouragement to me!

      Reply
  • Wha amazing insights, Maribeth! You are an excellent communicator. Thank you for sharing this important information!

    Reply
    • Sarah, thank you for taking the time to read my pondering! And for your encouragement to me! Tailored blessings to you!

      Reply
  • Thanks
    Maribeth.
    Im
    particularly
    interested
    in
    this
    learning
    because
    of
    recent
    relationship
    with
    someone
    who
    may
    be
    a
    closet
    narcissicst.

    Reply
    • Hi Jayne!! It is so hard to be in such a relationship. Hard to discern at times. Can be crazy making with emotions and our minds. May you gain discernment… and comfort for your soul!

      Reply
  • Thank you, Maribeth, for this good work of much interest to me, as we have encountered and been overwhelmed by narcissism in our communities. I like that you also view it on a scale, and have us examine ourselves also. I look forward to future posts!

    Reply
    • Hi Betsy. Good to hear from you. Thanks for taking time to read my thoughts and for your encouraging feedback. I appreciate you.

      Reply
  • This difficult relationally painful topic you have addressed with tender insight and care . Thank you for your clear articulation of the formative aspects and needs of both the narcissist and those hurt by them.

    Reply
    • Jewell! Great to see evidence of you on the screen! Thanks for taking time to read my thoughts and to send your encouraging feedback!

      Reply
  • I want to express gratitude to you sincerely for opening this topic, I also feel is appropriately timed for examination within and around myself and those I love. Thank you for framing this relational pox in stages and giving hope for treatment in the future. My heart grieves deeply for us all. Thankful for your presence in my life Maribeth.

    Reply
    • Kristy! Good to hear from you. I’m grateful you took time to read my thoughts and for your response! I’m glad we are in each other’s lives.

      Reply
  • Hi Maribeth!
    Thanks for this post and the forthcoming material! A few years ago I recognized narcissistic tendencies in myself and have been working with Jesus in dealing with them. He brought to me Dallas Willard’s book A Life Without Lack that has laid a foundation for recognizing and addressing this stuff in my life. Psalm 23 has become the core passage of daily reflection and prayer in order to learn a life content in God’s provision and life for the sake of others. And the pastoral words of Todd Hunter also help me on the path of relearning how to live for others. Thanks for this material and more importantly your friendship!

    Reply
    • JASON! I so wish we could sit in a coffee shop together for a hunk of time and talk about this! I have read Dallas’ book and been challenged deeply! I’ve also gotten an online course- Life Without Lack, that includes lectures by Dallas from which the book was written. I’ve benefited from listening to Dallas… and have thoughts and attitudes surface that are quite revealing about myself. I wonder what ‘words of Todd Hunter” you are referring to? Thanks for taking time to read my blag and to time/ effort to send me your note! I’m glad there is YOU and wish we could hang out! You are good for me!

      Reply
  • Thank you so much Maribeth! I’m sad that your knowledge in this area comes from the hands/hearts of unhealed narcissists. Leave it to God and to your wonderful heart to bring healing where injury has done its terrible work. When the post was done, I felt…oh no!…it can’t be done yet. I want more!! Kinda like on Netflix…wanting to binge read your posts! J

    Reply

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