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Discernment Versus Judging a Narcissist
Can We Ever Judge?
As a Catholic who blogs about malignant narcissism and church bullies, I am acutely aware that I'm not supposed to judge people. This is something I try not to do, and, I'll admit, at times it becomes a battle.
My faith tells us to always try to see the best in everyone, and to attribute the best possible motives to any action we observe, even if it runs contrary to our liking.
For instance, if our supervisor has a difficult personality, the most charitable thing to do is to assume he or she has some horrendous stresses going on outside of work, which we are not privy to. Or, to focus on his or her better qualities. Maybe their social skills aren't the best. But he or she is, nevertheless, a highly organized individual.
That's why the charity toy drive she runs every Christmas is a smashing success. Because of this, hundreds of presents are distributed to needy children throughout the community. This is something we can, perhaps, keep in mind, instead of focusing on her more maddening micro-managing.
Everyone is given different graces. At the very least, we should try to think, perhaps, this person is doing the very best with the gifts he or she has received from God.
However, sometimes a person's actions become so aberrant that we have to make a judgement call. Is this someone we want to welcome into our lives? Do we need to take action to defend another innocent person who's being hurt? After all, there's nothing holy about watching someone else suffer, when we could step in to lend support and offer relief.
Judgments We Must Make
Trying to judge someone's interior motives, or the real state of their soul, or their eternal destiny, is the wrong thing to do. However, if we steer clear of this and focus on actions, there are times when discernment is needed.
For instance, we know that killing is wrong, in direct violation of the Fifth Commandment. So, if someone intentionally takes the life of someone else, we know for certain they committed a grievous crime.
The Fifth Commandment is also broken when someone "kills" the reputation of another through malicious gossip. We objectively know that talking badly about someone is a terrible thing to do (Hanging out with a gossip monger is a bad idea as well.)
However, we don't know what interior force is driving someone to run their mouth. Did they grow up in a home in which their parents talked about people? Were they never taught that gossip is bad? Do they honestly think they are doing some good by shedding light on a bad situation?
Gossip seems so prevalent nowadays, that they might not be clued in to the fact this isn't how nice people behave.
As Christians, we also have to bear in mind that God enlightens people in different ways at different times. It's entirely possible this person will eventually amend themselves, and start living a life of goodness. In the meantime, though, we are free to consider backbiting as totally unacceptable.
Working with You is Killing Me
The Reality of Con Artists
While being careful not to judge the state of our neighbor's soul, we must also be on guard that we don't fall into the hands of an emotional predator. These are the con artists who may appear saintly, but are anything but. These dangerous characters are found everywhere, even in schools, hospitals, social work and volunteer groups.
Unfortunately, people with strong sadistic and narcissistic traits are drawn to the helping professions. They want to be seen as a "nice" person. It also puts them in contact with a pool of potential targets.
The best way to describe them is as high functioning sociopaths who are not locked up, despite the fact they have no conscience and take delight in hurting others. They may not be serial killers in the classic sense. But they kill in other ways.
Narcissistic sociopaths, or narco-paths, may run a rival out of a job, regardless of whether they are the sole breadwinner in the family. Lying comes easily and naturally, and they do it in a way that is very convincing. They're also good at getting others to rally around their cause, even if it's an evil one.
People suffering from this moral disturbance are the consummate con men (or con women.) Smooth talking and sophisticated, they cause an incredible amount of destruction. Spotting one of them early on can save you a great deal of agony later.
The Sociopath Next Door
Learning About Malignant Narcissism
Even though I'm not a licensed mental health professional, I've had to learn about malignant narcissism, a personality disorder characterized by a severe lack of regard for anyone else, coupled with a desire to con you, or to pull one over on you. However, if I had this insight earlier, I may have spotted some of the warning signs, and I would not have allowed a certain emotional predator into my life, whom created complications that took years to unravel.
What's done is done, but a little knowledge would have probably have prevented the worst of the drama. I did take away many lessons from this experience, and have also received some blessings. (These only became evident years later.) However, knowing that perfectly "nice" and "normal" people can have such a dark side would have served me well.
Psychologist Martha Stout, PhD., who wrote the book, The Sociopath Next Door, estimates that 1 in every 25 people is an emotional predator, and most of them are walking among us. These people can look completely normal, she warns us. They can even deceive psychologists.
Dr. Stout says there are no clear signals given off by high-functioning sociopaths, who may be found running businesses, treating patients in a hospital or serving on the PTO board at your child's school. However, she tells us to watch out for people who play the sympathy card when you first meet them, as this is often a sign that something is amiss.
How to Set Up Better Boundaries
Firming up Boundaries When Dealing With Difficult People
Learn to AppreciateYourself
Listen to Your Emotions
Respond to Rude Remarks
Change the Subject
Other people will realize if you value yourself, and treat you accordingly.
Your gut feelings can often guide you. If you have a bad feeling about a person, perhaps you need to erect stronger boundaries.
Tell people you don't want to hear this type of "advice," especially if someone's remarks are hurtful.
If a conversation is making you uncomfortable, feel free to take it in another direction.
Biblical Warnings to Keep Our Eyes Open
I believe we need to turn the other cheek, but not if this means we become a doormat and lose all sense of ourselves in the process. As a Christian I think that's a mistake that some of us, myself included, have fallen into, because we are trying to be kind. We need to help others. But we also need to draw the line at narcissistic abuse.
Actually, the Bible is filled with warnings against walking with "fools," or people who plot evil against their neighbor. The Book of Proverbs is filled with advice on dealing with difficult people, and it tells us to stay away from those who misbehave.
The New Testament also recommends putting space between us and those prone to mistreating others. In The Second Letter to Timothy, Chapter 3, we are told to "avoid" people who are "self-centered," "haughty," "lovers of money," "slanderous" and "traitors."
Of course, even if people have harmed us, as a Christian, we still need to love them. However, this doesn't mean we need to spend time in their company.
When dealing with a narcissist, we are free to judge that their behavior is something we don't want a part of. Then, we can choose to love them, while protecting ourselves from their madness.
For Additional Reading
- How to Avoid Becoming a Narcissist's Victim
People who are highly empathetic tend to attract malignant narcissists like flies to honey. Here's how to break free of these toxic bonds.
- Why Are Women So Mean to One Another?
A discussion of female malignant narcissism.
- How to Handle Church Bullies
A discussion of malignant narcissism from a spiritual perspective.
Spotting a Narcissist
- How to spot a narcissist: The only question you need to ask - Health - TODAY.com
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