Malignant Narcissists — Know Their Fuel

There has been an explosion of information on the subject of narcissism in the last few years. While social media has been fingered as one of the contributing factors in a reported increase in narcissistic traits in people, it has also been the medium through which many have learned about the topic. There are many pages on Facebook, for example, dedicated to educating and sharing stories of those devastated by the full-blown personality disorder, the malignant variety of narcissism, that leaves a trail of destruction in its wake.

About six years ago, being faced with a catastrophic situation in my family of origin, I was given a book on the topic. The title was, Why Is It Always About You?: The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism by Sandy Hotchkiss. Reading it was one of those rare moments in my life when scales fell from my eyes, and I realized what I had been dealing with since the beginning. For the first time, I understood that the dynamics that had caused such confusion and pain were not my fault, that trying harder, being more “Christian”, or blaming myself for being defective had nothing to do with the core problem. I was part of a family that was completely controlled, manipulated and dominated by a highly skilled, powerful, malignant narcissist. Everything wrong, and there was plenty wrong in all our lives, flowed from that primary issue.

That book, the first of many, marked a turning point in my thinking that began a journey out of the darkness of control and into the light of truth. Learning more and more about malignant narcissists and the family systems they create helped me and my husband make it through the hellish ensuing years where we lost our jobs at the family ministry where we had worked a combined 45 years (and where I had spent my entire childhood, as well), were viciously slandered in a smear campaign to cover our departures, saw an adult child ruthlessly used as a tool by the narc, saw “anonymous” hate mail sent to our home by the same family member, and finally, the threat of a lawsuit by both the narcissist and the ministry for our crime of seeking pastoral counseling and mediation to address the situation.

The malignant narcissist in our lives is now dead. He knew for years he was dying. His destructive behaviors only worsened with time, even though his professed faith and entire ministry life flew in the face of what he was actually doing behind the scenes. Looking back, things become clearer and clearer to us.

I wanted to share, from experience, not as a professional counselor or therapist, but from hard experience, what fueled the destructive machine of the malignant narcissist in our lives in hopes that it may assist in the understanding of someone else dealing with someone similar. These are some of the things that provide aid to the destroyer:

  1. Weak Character of those in their lives. Malignant narcissists cannot fully succeed in their destruction of their target without tools to help them. (The targets are those who will not knuckle under to their destructive supremacy in all things and feed their insatiable egos.) The narcissist’s most important tools are those around them who affirm them and provide aid and cover. These tools are weak in will, shallow in thinking and easily manipulated. Their minds are not sharp nor strong enough to identify the bully as a bully and to spot what they are actually doing. These weak individuals draw their own life force from the narcissist’s faux sense of strength. When their idol is challenged, they believe him alone, allow themselves to be manipulated, and encourage him in his false, self-serving view of truth and reality. As a Christian, I would add, they enable him in his sin against God and others.
  2. A twisted form of Christian spirituality. A leader at a donor-supported ministry where great harm was being done to people once pompously told a news reporter trying to cover the situation that he had nothing to say, as “We Christians don’t air our dirty laundry.” No, such Christians prefer to cover up abuses of various kinds until the victims’ lives are ruined, faith harmed or destroyed, and the outside world cannot help but notice the stench of the “dirty laundry.” It is exactly this mentality that provides the cover needed for malignant narcissist leaders to succeed. The same is true within families. Fear of embarrassment, people “finding out” about family “dirty laundry” isolates the victim(s) and allows further harm to be done — harm that was wholly unnecessary had the perpetrator been isolated and/or exposed by those around him. Covering up serious moral wrong is not Christian behavior. Allowing innocent people to be harmed and defrauded by a toxic family member or employer is not Christian behavior. It is a manifest lack of spiritual discernment, and it is gross cowardice wearing Christian clothes.
  3. Those who stay silent. Noted holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel once said, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented.” This silence in the face of harm done to others is what allowed the holocaust and allows every other gross evil in the world, including the molestation of countless children in homes and in churches across denominational lines. The silence is there because of fear. Fear of what? The cowardly silent have too much to lose, that’s what. When my husband and I were run off from jobs we had faithfully done (according to the Board of Directors own plaques handed to us at the 20 year mark) for a combined 45 years, we tried to get help from the board. Total silence. The employees, some of which I had known since childhood, had nothing to say either. They had mortgages to pay, kids in school, they had no interest or love for us as people. They were Christians, they said, but they didn’t want to get involved and demand answers about what they knew was moral wrong being done. It didn’t matter that I had contended for many people on radio for 23 years, that I had come out swinging in defense of the vulnerable and advocated for the helpless all those years, that we had tried to operate in a Christian and professional manner despite the intense pressures my husband and I faced. The silent “Christians” where we worked couldn’t have cared less that we had been forced to quit our jobs overnight due to the seriousness of the situation that involved one of our children. This total silence is what provided the fuel to the malignant narcissist who was actively plotting to destroy us and ultimately, my sister’s family as well. He got away with it. At least in this life.
  4. Those on the take. Whether a malignant narcissist is operating within a business, ministry or family, many of those enabling him have something specific to gain by the arrangement. Whether it is preferential status as a Golden Child within a family (the “good” one), or some business or ministry venture that causes the narc to get unquestioned supply and support, there are goodies attached for the users. I watched with bitterness and dark amusement as those I had counted friends of 2 decades disappeared off the radar when we lost our jobs. Without radio air time at my disposal at the talk show I produced and co-hosted, these various leaders of Christian and pro-life organizations, people who had at one time called to talk for an hour at a time even about kids and such, utterly and completely disappeared. Nothing to advance their cause? No relationship. Additionally, when they saw that an ongoing relationship would threaten their goodies from the narcissist, they had two reasons to drop us quickly. Malignant narcissists delight in encouraging this cutting off of the target by others. It serves to shore up their own supposed rectitude in the eyes of their fans, but it also hurts the target(s). Narcissists live for hurting and inflicting pain on those who have fallen out of favor. It makes them happy (despite outward appearances) to see their targets devastated. That’s how evil they really are.

In conclusion, starving a true narcissist of ego supply and support is to cut off their oxygen. These destructive people who live in darkness need complete isolation to stop their influence. They lose their power when they meet up with firmly enforced boundaries and integrity in others. Unfortunately, we live in a broken world where there are always those willing to provide these people with support. There will always be weak-minded and foolish people who lack discernment and integrity who will use religion (we’re just being “biblical” — no you’re not) as an excuse for failing to stand up for those being harmed. Understanding both perpetrator and enabler is crucial in helping targets find the door that leads to a new life. May the experiences of those who have faced these Apollyons and survived help light the path for others.