Do narcissists cry?

crocodiletears

This is a revision of the Jan. 1, 2015 article.  It’s one of my most popular posts, so I figured I’d post it again, with a few changes.

Do narcissists cry?  Sure, they do. Of course they do. And the histrionic, somatic types will cry conspicuously and loudly and convulsively and make sure everyone notices.  Think of Joan Crawford’s over the top histrionics in he movie Mommie Dearest.  The attention they get from this show of dramatics (which you cannot ignore) elicits lots of narcissistic supply for them and gets them the sympathy they crave.  Remember, positive attention isn’t necessary to serve as supply to a narcissist.  Any sort of attention–even disgust and anger–will do.

Self-serving crying and fake empathy.
Narcissists cry for themselves, never for you. They *might*cry when they see a sad movie, if they experience themselves through that character. Movies are a safe way to shed tears, even for those who don’t cry easily (and that includes non-narcs too). But narcissists aren’t really crying for the characters in the movie. They are really crying for themselves.

Some narcissists who are good actors can pretend to cry for others–these are dangerous narcissists able to feign empathy but show their true colors after they’ve charmed you and duped you into thinking they’re the nicest, most sympathetic person in the world. But it’s all fake. Those “empathetic tears” are crocodile tears. A narcissist can never cry for anyone but themselves.

Narcissists are just big babies.
Kim Saeed, a writer who has an excellent and extremely popular blog here at WordPress about narcissistic abuse, wrote an insightful article about what makes a narcissist cry (basically, self pity and attention getting). It’s a good read. Narcissists cry the way an infant cries–to have their immediate needs met. Whether they admit it or not, they need a mother–and most likely never got adequate mothering, so they’re still trying to get it. Like an infant, they are incapable of separating themselves from others and can feel no empathy for anyone else.

babycrying
Here’s who your narcissist really is.

While some narcissists take pride in their appearance, professional accomplishments, athletic prowess, or outstanding intelligence, there are some narcissists (the covert type) who take a perverse pride in being as pitiful and pathetic as it’s possible to be. These are what I call “needy narcissists” (Kim Saeed refers to them as “extreme narcissists”).  Many of our mothers (not mine–my mother was overt and aggressive) fall into this category.  They guilt-trip you and constantly whine about how badly you’ve treated them.  They remind you of all the wonderful things they’ve done for you.   They are emotional, financial and spiritual vampires who will suck you dry if given half a chance. They tend to attract empaths and HSPs and codependent types of people who are willing to give them the pity and sympathy they crave. And they use tears to elicit those things. Tears are powerful and contagious and get babies what they want–why not narcissists? Hey, if it works, use it.

Can a narcissist ever cry non-self serving tears?

A narcissist crying for reasons other than self-serving ones is rare.   But if one ever enters therapy or gets to a point where they recognize their own narcissism and is able to grieve for their lost true self, it’s possible.  Don’t get your hopes up though.    That being said, I read an article by Sam Vaknin about the way he cries in his dreams, which I thought was pretty interesting.   If something like this can happen, maybe it could be used as a catalyst to healing.  Maybe.  (Sam is not cured of NPD and probably never will be.  It’s his livelihood).

Dreaming and “lucid” dreaming: a possible key to healing?
Dreams open us up to the subconscious mind, so remembering dreams is useful in therapy.  For a narcissist, dreams have the potential of tapping into the atrophied and depressed true self–the self that dissociated and went into hiding during early childhood to protect itself from abuse by caregivers. Sam Vaknin writes about this phenomenon in this journal entry, in which he describes two nightmares that briefly brought him in contact with his true lost self, at least until he woke up.

He writes:

I dream of my childhood. And in my dreams we are again one big unhappy family. I sob in my dreams, I never do when I am awake. When I am awake, I am dry, I am hollow, mechanically bent upon the maximization of Narcissistic Supply. When asleep, I am sad. The all-pervasive, engulfing melancholy of somnolence. I wake up sinking, converging on a black hole of screams and pain. I withdraw in horror. I don’t want to go there. I cannot go there.

One’s narcissism stands in direct relation to the seething abyss and the devouring vacuum that one harbors in one’s True Self.

I know it’s there . I catch glimpses of it when I am tired, when I hear music, when reminded of an old friend, a scene, a sight, a smell. I know it is awake when I am asleep. I know that it subsists of pain – diffuse and inescapable. I know my sadness. I have lived with it and I have encountered it full force.

Perhaps I choose narcissism, as I have been “accused”. And if I do, it is a rational choice of self-preservation and survival. The paradox is that being a self-loathing narcissist may be the only act of self-love I have ever committed.

cryingofthestoneangel
Crying of the Stone Angel by Eternal Dream Art at Deviantart.com

Can a narcissist’s true self ever see the light of day?

The true self is there in hiding, sometimes peeking out in dreams.  A narcissist without insight (which is almost all of them) would not be able to write the post quoted above.   Even if they were aware of having such a vulnerable inner self, they would never admit it.   They’re so walled off from their true feelings they can’t access it even in dreams.   Instead, they shore up a fake self that takes the place of the true one–but it’s not sustainable and will fall apart without a constant source of narcissistic supply that keeps it inflated like a balloon.  The constant inflation keeps their false self alive and as long as it’s there, they never have to face the black emptiness inside where the atrophied child-self exists.  If they fall into such a depression, they may go insane.  Suicide is not unheard of.

Sadness and tears that could arise from being able to encounter one’s true self, even if only briefly in a dream, could be the key to healing.  If only anyone really could figure out how to harness this and keep it accessible long enough for the narcissist to start doing some difficult internal work before they slap that mask back on.   Harnessing any brief moments of emotional nakedness is like trying to hold onto a dream while awake–most of the time, it dissolves and fragments like soap bubbles before being  swept away in the the river of day to day reality.   It’s still there, buried in the narcissist’s unconscious the way a clam buries itself deep in the wet sand near the shore after the waves recede.  But in all likelihood, the narcissist will die a narcissist, and no one (including themselves) will ever know what could have been.   I think most of them choose to remain living in the darkness because it’s a whole lot “safer.”  Maybe “lucid dreaming” (a skill that can be learned) could be one way to capture the true self when it emerges in a dream, and keep it there long enough to work with.

Most people don’t believe narcissists can be cured (and in most cases, they can’t be and are perfectly fine with being the way they are).  That being said,   I like to remain optimistic.   I can’t believe there are people walking on this earth who have completely lost their souls.  Unless a person has consciously chosen evil and has become sociopathic, I don’t think most narcissists are that far gone. The challenge is catching them when their guard is down, which is almost never.  I don’t recommend you try  doing this yourself.  Leave it to the professionals or to God.   You cannot fix a narcissist.   All you can really do is stop giving them supply, so stay (or go) No Contact.

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Graphic example of how Facebook feeds narcissism in young women.

Young girl using laptop on Facebook page

Okay, so my daughter isn’t exactly a kid anymore, since she’s 22, but she’s still young enough that she likes participating in those awful Facebook groups where random people rank your photo based on how attractive they think you are.

Her profile picture was ranked along with 3 other girls in this group.
Here she sums up what happened.

facebook_trolling

She got a lot of comments telling her not to be upset, or that people were just jealous of her good looks (she is very pretty, but I didn’t see the photos of the other girls). This morning she told me her feelings were still hurt today in spite of encouraging comments she got from her friends and boyfriend who kept telling her how beautiful she is.

This sort of thing isn’t unusual. It happens every day, all over social media. Not only can such online “contests” lead to bullying based on one’s appearance by total strangers, but they also feed a girl’s narcissistic supply or cause narcissistic injury, even in non-narcissists (my daughter does not have NPD, but can act very narcissistic). Let’s be honest here–we all have some need for narcissistic supply (positive feedback), especially when we’re still young and unsure of our place in the world.

The teenage and young adult women who participate in these contests learn to value surface attributes such as physical appearance or sexiness above anything else. I see it happening everywhere. Millennial girls seem more obsessed with how cute, sexy or pretty they are than any generation that came before them, and I think this is due to the plethora of reality shows, beauty contests and Facebook photo rankings they are inundated with, as well as the trend for taking as many Selfies or Youtube videos of yourself as you possibly can and posting them for the public to see and comment on. This seems to be a generation with more than its fair share of female somatic narcissists and girls with HPD (histrionic personality disorder).

I can’t keep my daughter from participating in these sort of activities since she’s an adult and she seems to enjoy them (and usually gets a lot of compliments about how pretty she is), but I worry about a “low ranking” (which really wasn’t that bad) like she got yesterday damaging her self esteem (which is shaky to start with) or teaching her to value physical appearance above other qualities like personality, intelligence, or kindness.

You are just an object to a narcissist.

objectification

I saw this post in the NPD forum at Psychforums. The discussion was about narcissists who seem to care more about animals than people. “StupidPig,” a poster with NPD wrote an interesting post, which I think is a great explanation of what “love” means to a narcissist. In a nutshell: it’s not love. It’s not even really attachment. Everything is an object to them. A narcissist can be as “attached” to an object or an animal as a person, sometimes more so. It all depends whatever is giving the narcissist more pleasure/supply at a given time and whatever requires less maintenance or emotional input from them. The “love object” can change from one day to the next. People and animals are just objects to a narcissist.

I did not edit StupidPig’s post or correct his spelling errors.

http://www.psychforums.com/narcissistic-personality/topic47260-10.html

I am a narcissist with NPD, and I used to like to “own” animals as a kid. However, I never liked to “care” for them.

Someone with NPD cares only for his image, or what the books call the “Glorified Self Image”. Anything else other than his Glorified Self Image is considered an object to him (be it his mother, his children, his spouce, his boss, his car, his own body, or his pet snake or whatever) , and the value of such object will be defined only on basis of how much narcissistic supply it would give him. I.e. how much it enhances his Glorified Self Image.
So, if owning a dog (or a car or a pretty girlfriend) would make me look better, then I would enjoy it, but I would never do any effort to maintain the car, walk the dog, or be nice to the girlfriend, because, as someone with NPD, I have an exagerrated sense of entitlement. this means that I strongly belive that I “deserve” to have the objects that make me look good, and I do not need to do any effort to “keep” those objects.

A pet is no different from a spouce or a car or a friend or a watch or a parent to a Narc. It is just an object that gains value when it makes him look better or feel superior and loses value immidiatly if it doesn’t give him such supply. Based on this, if your car does a 18/20 job in making you look better and feel superior, while your dog does a 10/20 at that job, and your spouce or son does a 5/20, then you would love your care more than your dog and your dog more than your family. But, if on the next day your son wins the world championship in swiming and tells the world on TV that you, his father, is the reason behind this victory, you would shift into loving your son more than your dog and your car, and if three days latter your son makes a fight with you because he wants the car, and the car gets dented in an accident, you will love your dog more than your car and your son, and so on.

In all cases, the narc will never do much to maintain those “objects” and will never really hold any of them dear to his heart because they are all just objects to him.

Only in the light of this should one talk a comparitive view at the different objects in a narc ‘s life and their different merrits and drawbacks. using myself as an example, the advantages and dissadvantages go as follows:

– Pet-objects: They are submissive ( do not need much effort to do as told) and not judgemental (and so do not pose a threat to the Narc’s ego), but they do have several drawbacks, the most important of which is that they need feeding, cleaning, medical care, etc. Narcs hate objects that require lots of maintenance.
Another drawback concerning pet-objects is that they sometimes require “feelings” from you. Not as much as human-objects do of course, but it is still a nagging requirement.

– Human-objects: They can offer much more supply than a pet-object ( e.g. a woman-object who adores you gives more types and quantities of narcissistic supply than a dog) but the drawbacks are that human-objetcs require much more maintenance than other objects and are apt to judge you (and hence are a threat to the ego, or the glorified self image) and they need scary amounts of feelings in order to function properly and, worst of all, they might have “opinions” about your actions and would try to aplly measures that restrict your freedom. They are great objects but they come with a great price..in most cases, this makes them not worth the Narc’s effort(in his twisted opinion of course).

-Inanimate objects (like watches, cars, computers, etc) : They do what they are expected to do, they are never judgemental, and they do not require any emotional input to function properly and they hardly limit your freedom in anyway.

Give me robots at work, at home and in bed and I’ll be a very happy narcissist! ( oh, but please make them cheap, efficient, self maintaining and guranteed for life.)

But, once again, you are never really attached to any of those “things”. You can, as a narc, always kick your dog away for a better looking and more submissive dog, and never regret it. You will never feel any remorse for having sex a billion times outside your marriage, and you will never remember how your old battered car which served you for 10 years looked like after the first week of driving your new BMW around.
A narc may have a preference for one of those posessions over the other for one day (cat over son, girlfriend over dog), but don’t let that fool you, because it is only ephemeral and can very easily change on the next day.

Psychopathy and malignant narcissism: what is the difference?

hannibal_lecter

I have been reading a blog written by a self-confessed Psychopath (who scored 36.8 on Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist) who writes engaging and well-informed articles about his disorder. I’ve always wondered myself about what it is exactly that distinguishes Malignant Narcissism from Psychopathy, because a MN can be every bit as cruel and callous as a psychopath. The primary difference is the Psychopath is not an attention-seeker, but the malignant narcissist is still trapped by his or her need for approval, attention and adulation from others. That is also one of the things (along with impulsivity–which ASPD has in common with BPD–as well as the likelihood of law-breaking) that distinguishes Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) from NPD/malignant narcissism.

There are those who believe that ASPD is on the same spectrum as NPD (but is at the top of the scale, while NPD is in the middle), but I’m not sure if it should be because there are qualitative, not just quantitative, differences. My opinion is that malignant narcissism is high spectrum NPD with ASPD traits. But they still need narcissistic supply. Psychopaths do not.

This writer has an interesting observation–that perhaps the only type of person able to control and/or take down a narcissist is a psychopath. He has little respect for narcissists due to their need for others (even as supply) and emotional sensitivity to rejection and criticism.

psychopathy_diagram
The anatomy of a psychopath. Malignant narcissists share with psychopaths the Factor 1 traits, but not Factor 2.

I think this article will explain these differences better than I can.

Narcissism or Psychopathy–Differences?
http://www.psychopathicwritings.com/search/label/Narcissism%20and%20Psychopathy

A Reader asks:

I would be interested in reading anything you wrote on psychopaths need for attention/acceptance. Have you? Like, how would they react to rejection?

Basically the need for attention and acceptance, if it’s a prominent and dominating aspect of what drives a person, is a distinctive trait in Narcissism. As such it is not exclusively something psychopaths are known for.

It is often said that psychopaths have strong narcissistic tendencies, and the statement isn’t completely wrong. But I also often see statements saying Malignant Narcissism and Psychopathy are the same, and this is not the case. There are some very important fundamental differences between psychopaths and malignant narcissists.

Narcissists may be callous and abusive – malignant narcissists definitely are callous and abusive! – and they lack empathy. These are things they have in common with psychopaths. But narcissists have a very strong emotional need for attention or Attention Seeking, Acceptance and Admiration. Their self esteem depends on whether or not they receive these things, and this makes them very vulnerable to rejection and other forms of negative attention such as humiliation, being out shined by someone else, or of being deliberately or naturally ignored.

Psychopaths do not need attention and we certainly do not need acceptance, at least not just for the sake getting it. Their emotional well being does not depend on whether or not they get these things, but they do play a part for most psychopaths’ sense of satisfaction. In this we’re probably not that different from normal people: We like to get attention, to be admired and respected just like everybody else, but we do not feel bad if we don’t get these things.

For psychopaths getting attention and respect from others is most of all a technique to get what they want without having to resort to coercion – threats, blackmail, and physical violence, i.e. – with the same frequency as we otherwise would. Having attention and respect – and acceptance – from others is really only paramount for as far as it is necessary to avoid the risks associated with the more negative techniques. In short: Attention and acceptance to psychopaths are not goals or ends, they’re means to ends.

When we (psychopaths) do care about whether or not we get attention it is not because we have an emotional dependency on being recognized or confirmed by our surroundings. It doesn’t matter to us that people speak badly about us, or that they try to avoid us. Being feared makes an opening for controlling those who fear you, and control leads to possible power.

Making sure you get a lot of attention is also a kind of control, it is a potential opener for gaining power, and it is the central, and often the only, reason why we seek to get it.

This is a well known fact, and the entertainment industry – just to mention one – knows and uses it: Make yourself known, make sure people notice you and that they can’t overlook you, and you have the basis for influencing how people respond to you.

If people like you, there’s a greater chance that they’ll support you or help you in other ways, especially if it’s mutual. <– This is what I've chosen to do, but I certainly did not always use a friendly approach. I've been very abusive in the past, and it has worked very well for me too. – But I've changed in many ways, and I find the mutual idea much more interesting now – and that is good, because it keeps me out of prison, and it has created a good possibility for me to actually do something valuable that others can benefit from… But that was a side note.

Narcissists seek attention and acceptance for it's own sake, and are miserable if they don't get it.
Psychopaths seek attention and acceptance because it is part of a technique to get something else. Attention and/or acceptance for it's own sake doesn't matter to how a psychopath feels.

A Narcissist, opposite a psychopath, is very vulnerable to Social Rejection and rejection in general. If you deny them admiration and respect, and – more important still – if you humiliate them publicly, you can crush a narcissist completely (provided you do it right and with timing).

Narcissists get very hurt when they get rejected.
Psychopaths do not feel any emotional pain or discomfort when they get rejected.

No narcissistic person can go through public humiliation and not feel emotionally very disturbed by it. With this knowledge one can destroy a narcissist quite easily… This is the typical area of most psychopaths' expertise, and it is why we so easily can control most narcissistic people. For the same reason most psychopaths have a lot of contempt for narcissistic people. We see individuals who love to abuse and humiliate, but who are even more vulnerable to these things themselves, and it's hard to find it in your heart to respect such people…
– I suspect we may have this in common with most neurotypicals.

Why isn’t there a 12-step program for narcissists?

narcissistsanonymous

…and I’m not talking about this either. 😉

A commenter on this post wondered why there aren’t any 12-step programs for people with NPD, and that got me thinking — well, why aren’t there?

About a month ago, my friend Mary Pranzatelli and I were having a conversation about this very same thing on Facebook.

There’s a lot of good reasons why a 12-step program might be helpful to a narcissist. After all, narcissism and addictive disorders like alcoholism have a lot in common. This isn’t an idea I just dreamed up. Sam Vaknin also wrote about the similarities, as well as others like psychologist Tian Dayton.

narcanontshirt

Here’s a quick list of things both narcissists and people addicted to substances have in common:

1. They are often in denial about their disorder. When a narcissist or an addict realizes they have a disorder they may want to get help. (This is actually the first step of programs like AA or NA.)
2. In some ways, both addiction and narcissism is a choice, even if it was made unconsciously (although there is likely to be a genetic component too that at least gives one a predisposition toward these disorders).
3. The narcissist’s drug of choice is narcissistic supply, which gives the narcissist an adrenalin rush. When it’s lacking or in short supply, they will crash and burn. The addict will also crash and burn without their fix.
4. Once a narcissist or an alcoholic (or drug addict), always a narcissist or an addict. You can stop drinking and using (or stop acting so narcissistic), but the underlying disorder is unlikely to ever be cured.
5. Treatments like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) work much like the 12 steps of AA–they change behaviors but not the underlying disorder. The person must make a conscious effort to replace the old behaviors with the new ones.
6. High possibility of relapse or “slipping” back into the addictive or narcissistic behavior patterns if the program isn’t strictly followed (or even if it is).
7. An addict or narcissist without their fix (or supply) can both act in antisocial, selfish and narcissistic ways until their fix (or supply) is procured.

and finally…

8. Because narcissism (and addictive disorders) have a spiritual component, admitting that God or a Higher Power can help you is an integral part of all 12-step programs.

addicts

True, a 12-step program wouldn’t cure narcissism (just as AA doesn’t cure alcoholism), but I think such a program could help a narcissist who is self-aware and wants to change their attitudes and the way they treat others.

So why isn’t there a 12-step program for NPD?

The tears of a clown.

clown1

Here was one of yesterday’s search terms:
vomiting after seeing ex.narcissist begging me back

Really now? The narc’s begging you back actually made you puke?
But yes, I can definitely understand it though.

Sometimes those over the top emotional displays when you take away a narc’s source of supply by leaving them are pretty nauseating to say the least. I don’t know if it’s “acting” or desperation or what, but I know it’s not “love.”

I remember back in my 20s, witnessing the incredible reaction of a malignant narcissist boyfriend when I finally worked up the courage to tell him I was leaving him.

This was a verbally and sometimes physically abusive man who treated me like dirt most of the time, made fun of me, tried to turn my friends against me, and cheated on me as well. I had waited far too long to disconnect from him. I honestly didn’t think he would care that much because his behavior was anything but that of a man in love. In fact I thought he’d probably be relieved I was letting him go.

But oh, I was so wrong. SO wrong about that.
When I told him I was leaving, this narcissistic jerk literally exploded into the loud, violent, gasping, wracking sobs of a very young child, torrents of tears and snot pouring and mingling together on his fire engine red face while he begged me through choking sobs not to leave him. He actually was gagging. I don’t think I have never seen an uglier crier than him at that moment. It made me feel sick to see this, and I actually did feel vaguely nauseated. I felt no empathy for him at that moment. I just sat there with my mouth hanging open, not quite believing what I was seeing.

Then to make matters even worse, he kept telling me over and over how much he loved me and couldn’t live without me (my bullshit detector was at full volume). Then he begged me to hold him too, but I just…couldn’t. Ew. I felt myself recoil in disgust. God, I felt so repelled by him. It wasn’t even because of his over the top (and rather gross) emotional display, but because I knew all those tears he was shedding “for me” were really just for himself. They were an elaborate act. Maybe not fake, because no one who wasn’t really hurt would be able to cry like that, but they were manipulative tears, meant to “win back” me as his source of supply. This love-bombing loser should have gone into the movies–he would have won an Academy Award for that incredible performance.

I knew he never loved me, and true to form, two weeks later he found a new girlfriend source of supply.

Blargh.

puke

Can narcissists feel empathy for a pet?

dyed_dog

I wonder.

Earlier today I posted Sam Vaknin’s story about his goldfish Ned. He seemed to be feeling something close to empathy for the tiny creature’s suffering when it became ill and something closely resembling grief when the end finally came. Rather than watch the fish continue to suffer, he decided to take matters into his own hands. Did he do this to end the fish’s suffering–or to end his own suffering?

But even if he only desired to end his own suffering, watching the goldfish suffer was causing him pain. So either way, he cared about the fish, even if he only did what he did because watching Ned continue to get sicker was too painful.

This made me think about other narcissists I know who own pets. Do they really care about their pets, or are their pets, like their children, just extensions of themselves?

I think the answer is both. Yes, many narcissists who own pets regard them as extensions of themselves. I think of a neighbor of mine, an insufferable, conceited malignant narcissist if I ever saw one, who has a purebred Bichon Friese. She said she would never own a “mutt” from the pound. Oh, no. Only a purebred dog who makes HER look good will do. She puts bows in Fifi’s hair and gets her toenails painted at the groomer’s. She takes her everywhere and shows her off, as if she’s showing off a new car. Narcissists treat their children the same way–as accessories to make them look good, but because a dog isn’t supposed to have a mind of its own, it’s more acceptable and far less damaging to a dog to be treated this way than it would be for a child.

Yet it’s clear she loves that dog. She spoils Fifi rotten, and the little dog seems happy enough. Again, it’s a dog, not a child, so being objectified is probably okay. I know if anything were to happen to Fifi, this woman would be devastated with grief, at least until she found a new source of canine narcissistic supply. She’s the type who would probably have a funeral for her dog and a custom made urn with Fifi’s likeness painted on it to display on her mantel.

But she would also not hesitate to have Fifi put down were she to become ill. Some may say this is the humane thing to do–that anyone with a conscience and a heart would not want to see a pet suffer needlessly, and that’s true if the pet is truly ill and has little to no chance of recovery or is in a great deal of pain. But to a narcissist, a sick pet is also an inconvenience and a burden. A sick pet is no longer an acceptable extension of themselves; it becomes a separate being who has needs of its own that do not fit the narcissist’s agenda. A sick pet no longer makes them look good.

How much will a narcissist sacrifice before having an ill pet put down? Most people won’t euthanize a pet unless everything else has been tried first. It’s a last resort, something none of us want to do, but at some point it becomes more selfish to try to keep a sick pet alive than to put an end to its suffering. I remember years ago a narcissistic woman I knew had her cat put down because it had worms. The cat was suffering severe diarrhea and was losing weight. The worms could have been easily treated, but she didn’t want to be bothered. Cleaning up the cat’s messes was too much of a chore, and apparently so was taking the cat to the vet to be treated. So she had her cat put to sleep. It’s pretty obvious this woman didn’t have the cat euthanized out of humane compassion, but because it was more convenient than trying to keep him alive. To her, the cat was not a living creature, but a toy to be tossed away the minute it was no longer so much fun to play with or required maintenance.

golden_retriever

It can work the other way too. I knew a narcissistic man who also had a dog, a beautiful Golden Retriever named Bruno. When Bruno was about 12, he developed cancer. The man was very attached to Bruno, and used to tell everyone he was the only friend he had. Even when Bruno got to the point where he stopped eating and slept most of the time, the man refused to have him euthanized. The animal was clearly suffering, and everyone told him it was the only humane thing to do, but the man still refused. Bruno finally died at home in an emaciated state. Clearly, this man cared nothing about Bruno’s suffering even though he appeared to love the dog. He obviously was attached to his pet, but if he truly loved him, he would have put the animal’s needs first, even if it hurt to do so. Real love–whether for a pet or another human being–requires sacrifice and putting the other’s needs first. This man may have “loved” his dog, but he was putting his own needs first.

Most narcissists claim to be attached to their pets, and most of the ones I know truly are. But is attachment love? Or does attachment to a pet just mean the animal is another source of narcissistic supply–a creature who is never going to judge them, disagree with them, insult them, or abandon them?

Sam’s grief over his goldfish appears to have been real, and I think he did the right thing because that fish was most likely suffering (as much as a goldfish can suffer) and wasn’t going to make it. Would he have been the same way with a cat or a dog–or a child? We can’t answer that. Maybe it’s easier for a narcissist to feel empathy and act in unselfish ways for a simple creature–a reptile, fish or invertebrate–who is very unlike a human (unlike a cat or dog, who resemble human children in many ways) and therefore make fewer emotional demands on them. Maybe narcissists just can’t empathize with other humans or highly evolved animals who resemble them too closely or make too many emotional demands.

NPD is like a drug addiction.

narcsupply

It’s been said that people on hard drugs like cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine can act like narcissists, even if they do not have NPD. That’s because as the addict’s body begins to crave the substance, they will do ANYTHING to get it, because to not get it will cause them unbearable agony. Even if they know it’s better for them to go through withdrawals than continue their addiction, they will still beg, steal, hurt others and even kill to get their fix. Empathy, remorse, and consideration for other’s boundaries and rights flies out the window. The only important thing is getting that drug. It doesn’t matter if the addict is the most compassionate and loving person in the world when they’re clean; when they’re jonesing for a fix to ward off the agony, they become psychopaths.

When a person becomes a narcissist (usually early in childhood due to abuse but sometimes later, even in adulthood), they become an addict too–their drug of choice is narcissistic supply, which feeds their sense of entitlement and specialness. It mirrors and validates the false self they have erected for themselves, a self they need because if it was ever lost or shattered, they would be forced to face their own emptiness.

Maintaining the mask takes enormous effort and causes stress. Narcissists live in constant fear of the mask being revealed as the fake self it really is and they live in mortal terror of the mask being destroyed or harmed (either through loss of supply or perceived insults or threats) because if that happens their protective armor would be damaged or lost. So if they perceive any attack on themselves, no matter how minor, they will react badly. That’s why narcissists are so paranoid and so quick to anger and so easily offended. It’s why they overreact to slights. There’s simply no room for a sense of humor or self-deprecation.

unmasked

What some narcissists (probably most) may not realize consciously is they really erected this elaborate defense mechanism as a way to protect and hide the scared and hurt child that was lost to themselves through abuse or neglect. Most can only see the emptiness if they “get clean” (lose their sources of narcissistic supply) and like a person suffering from drug withdrawal, if a narcissist loses their “drug” they undergo a narcissistic crisis (something they avoid avoid at all costs) and will suffer as badly as anyone withdrawing from hard drugs.

Narcissists with no insight (probably most of them) can’t recognize the hurt, lost true self hiding in terror behind the protective but always pissed-off-at-the-world mask of NPD. But for those who can, meeting that lost self (if they can see through the empty blackness that hides him or her) is agonizing because of the regret of knowing what they have done to their true self when their minds erected the defensive mask that was ironically meant to protect the true self. Then they suffer unbearable guilt and shame. This is the reason why most people with NPD cannot be cured. Like a drug addict, maintaining a mask to hide the emptiness (which itself hides the hurt child they once were who was never allowed to grow into a person) becomes the most important thing, even if it means they must beg, steal, hurt or even kill someone to obtain their fix of narcissistic supply or defend their protective walls of barriers.

Some insightful narcissists actually don’t want their disorder but they still can’t escape from its clutches because their desire for a fix becomes too strong. These are the most tortured narcissists and the ones most prone to black depressions and other serious mental disorders. They can undergo a psychotic break. Constant war is being waged within them, between the person’s desire to be a real person and react in normal, human ways, and their overpowering desire for narcissistic supply and having to harm others to get it and/or defend themselves from narcissistic injury.

This is why a few insightful narcissists may be nice at first. It could be a mask but it could also be a real effort to try to act more human. But sooner or later, if someone they’ve been nice to insults them (or they perceive an insult due to their own paranoia), their desire to repair the damage they feel was done to their false self (which is important because it’s all they have to hide behind) becomes overpowering and they will turn mean and strike you out of the blue like a rattlesnake. Some might even feel guilt after the fact, but they just can’t stop doing it. It’s an overpowering addiction, like a drug so powerful you can never free yourself from it.

A drug addict will do almost anything to get his drug of choice, even if he wants to be clean. A narcissist will do almost anything to keep his masks intact, even if he wants to be human.

They key to a cure then, would be to find a way to wean a narcissist off his need for a fix of supply and somehow make him willing to to work through the ensuing narcissistic crisis (withdrawals) and confront the emptiness that hides his or her hidden, neglected true self that lives in darkness and silence inside the vacuum.

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Due to a comment I received on another thread this morning, from now on I am putting a link to my Disclaimer after every post where I write about mental conditions and disorders outside of personal anecdotes, obvious opinion pieces, and journals.
Disclaimer: https://luckyottershaven.com/disclaimer/

Are narcissists ever abuse victims?

blackwedgeoflove
Black Wedge of Love / rawcandor.com

Here I’m not going to talk about the popular theory that most narcissists were probably neglected or abused as children. In this article, I’m focusing on the question of whether someone who is already a narcissist can become a victim of narcissistic abuse.

Yes, they can–and more often than you might think.

Of course, not all narcissists are abuse victims, and the more malignant they are, the more likely they are to cause suffering rather than suffer themselves. Psychopaths and malignant narcissists wield Svengali-like power over their subjects and are often found in the highest echelons of business, politics, religious organizations, and other positions of great power and influence. They do not allow themselves to be in a position of subservience to someone else, and take great pride in the fact most people fear them. In fact, they would much rather be feared than liked. The smartest ones are cunning enough to be invulnerable to a total loss of narcissistic supply, which would send them crashing into a deep depression (and opens a window to healing, as I’ve discussed in previous posts). They know how to get others to trust them, which is part of their charm and one of the ways they climb to the top and stay there.

But other narcissists (not “benign” narcissists, because they do have a conscience and even some empathy)–those who still have NPD but are not as high on the spectrum as a malignant psychopath, can and do become victims to “stronger” narcissists.

An unholy alliance.
These relationships actually work in their twisted, sick kind of way, with the weaker narcissist falling under the thrall of the stronger, malignant narcissist. Because they are both still narcissists and the weaker one basically identifies with their abuser (known as Stockholm Syndrome, which is also a defense mechanism seen in victimized people with PTSD), they form a symbiotic relationship, with the weaker person willingly taking on a masochistic role and the stronger one the sadistic role. Their sexual relationship may indeed include elements of S&M, but the sadomasochistic relationship isn’t limited to just sex.

The stronger narcissist will treat the weaker one badly and abusively, but because the weaker partner identifies with their abuser, they actually “enjoy” the abuse they get. It validates them and gives them the narcissistic supply they need (and way deep inside, maybe they feel like they deserve punishment).

Unlike normal people, a narcissist prefers negative attention over no attention, and their abuser is seen as their savior–the one person in the world who can give them the attention they so crave. M. Scott Peck, in his book “People of the Lie,” described such a relationship. Harley was a weak man in thrall to his evil, mean wife Sarah, who constantly berated and belittled him and ordered him around, while Harley just whined pitifully about how badly Sarah treated him but seemed to do nothing about it or have any real desire to stop her abuse. He had no intention of leaving her. He told Dr. Peck he “needed” Sarah. Of course he did–Sarah was his sole source of narcissistic supply (because she had made sure he was cut off from anyone else). Dr. Peck speculated that Harley, although complaining incessantly about his wife’s abuse, actually seemed to want it, and he wondered if he might have been a little “evil” himself, which was what might have attracted him to someone like Sarah in the first place.

I see this same situation in my father, who has always been codependent on MN women, and allows these women to make all his decisions for him. He has always been weaker and more codependent than the domineering, controlling women he married.

Needy narcissists.
A friend of mine, a survivor of narcissistic abuse who also has a blog, tells the story of an aunt of hers, living in abject poverty, who was scapegoated and belittled by every other family member, most of them highly malignant narcissists. She was tolerated at family events but outside of that, no one would have anything to do with her. You feel sorry for this impoverished, lonely, maltreated aunt–until you keep reading and find out that she is a malignant narcissist herself–of the “needy” variety.

Businessman begging with cardboard sign

Most people think of narcissists as cagey, cunning, selfish sociopaths who get everything they want by ruthlessly stomping all over others to reach the pinnacles of financial and professional success, even if that involves a life of crime. But there are many narcissists who are not successful, and in fact are dirt poor. These are what I call “needy narcissists”–people who mooch off of others, using others’ goodwill and generosity without ever giving anything back in return. They whine to anyone who will listen about how their sorry circumstances are everyone’s fault but their own. They demand pity and constant attention. They act entitled. They cry and try to elicit your guilt. They might steal from you. They’ll start a smear campaign against you if you don’t give in to their demands. Sometimes they find ways to get government assistance–such as disability–by faking or exaggerating a disorder so they don’t have to take responsibility for themselves.

They are financial and emotional vampires, feeding off others’ altruism until their providers are sucked dry emotionally, spiritually, mentally and sometimes financially. My ex-husband falls into this category. These narcissists are only less dangerous because they lack power and money, but make no mistake: they are just as dangerous on a personal level as materially “successful” narcissists, and they play all the same evil mindgames to get their way. They take pride in how pathetic they are rather than in what a perfect specimen of beauty, intelligence, success, or charm they are. They still think they’re entitled to be treated as if they’re gods.

“Covert” and “inverted” narcissism isn’t narcissism at all.
There is also something I’ve read about called “covert narcissism” or “inverted narcissism,” which actually has been used to describe people with low self esteem, avoidant traits, hypervigilance, and high sensitivity. Which means that according to that definition, I am a narcissist.

I don’t buy it though, because people with these traits are usually very empathic and if anything, their conscience is too well developed for their own good. They not only worry they won’t be liked, they worry that they may have hurt someone or have done something wrong. They struggle with guilt and shame. They may self-sabotage, but they never set out to hurt other people, and when they do they feel terrible. Real narcissists may be hypersensitive (about themselves) and paranoid, but they never worry about hurting others; at best they just don’t care.

Of course an “inverted” or “covert” narcissist is likely to be abused, because they fit all the traits of someone likely to be bullied and victimized. They are us!

The weak narcissist in thrall to an MN is not an “inverted” narcissist–they are true blue narcissists who just lack the cunning, intelligence, charm or Svengali-like traits their abuser possesses. Or they’re just not as evil as the MN. Within the relationship, they are just abuse victims, but outside of it, they treat others as badly as any other narcissist. Just because they’re abuse victims doesn’t mean they’re nice people. (It doesn’t mean they don’t deserve help either). Obviously, the best thing for a narcissist in an abusive relationship to do would be to go No Contact, but due to their craving of (negative) narcissistic supply, they are not likely to ever leave the relationship.

narcissist

Can a malignant narcissist become an abuse victim?
Other than in childhood (before they became narcissists), I would say no. Because two high-spectrum, completely malignant narcissists are likely to hate each other. One MN won’t give up their power to the other and sees another MN as a huge threat.

Think of two predatory animals like wildcats, encountering each other in a forest. Both are alpha males of their own group so neither is a weak animal. Would these two cats become allies? No. They will fix their gaze at each other, never taking their eyes away, and slowly start to circle around each other, sizing up the other animal. At some point, one of the cats will launch a surprise attack, or one will flee before that happens.

knifefight

In a similar manner, two predatory humans in the same room will be very cautious around each other, sizing each other up, but will almost always intensely dislike each other. They may fight, or they may never speak to each other, but they will not become friends. They are of no use to each other whatsoever. A malignant narcissist will always choose a weaker victim he can use and manipulate, and sometimes that victim will be another narcissist who identifies with their abuser but is no match for them.

Joel Osteen worships himself.

joelosteen

I found this intriguing article at Salon.com about the famous megachurch leader, Joel Osteen, a proponent of the peculiarly American “prosperity gospel,” a belief that God will reward you with material wealth if you are a True Believer. The article is a bit old, but is still relevant and I never saw it before, so, well, it gets added to the Museum of Narcissism.

If Mr. Osteen makes people feel better about themselves, fine, but Mr. Osteen is like a heroin addict getting his fix of narcissistic supply from his many followers, who worship him as if he were God himself. Frighteningly, Big Religion is full of such people who really only care about their own glorification.
What would God think?

Here is the article (written by Chris Lehmann at Salon.com):

If history is told by the winners, then Joel Osteen — the relentlessly upbeat spiritual caretaker of the national attitude — is history’s designated chaplain. In a marathon Sunday faith rally in the heart of the nation’s capital, Osteen, who presides over America’s largest megachurch congregation, the nondenominational Lakewood Church in Houston, exhorted the tens of thousands of believers amassed in Nationals Stadium to “live in victory,” to seize their “destiny moments,” and to fulfill God’s plan for their personal, financial and emotional success.

The Washington rally — billed as “America’s Night of Hope” — had gone a bit afoul of its own victory plan, however. It had originally been scheduled the night before, but as a persistent afternoon drizzle gave way to some spirited cloudbursts, the event’s organizers rescheduled it for the following afternoon. As I approached the centerfield box office outside Nationals Park on Saturday, the marquee overhead bore what had to be the glummest rainout announcement of the young 2012 baseball season: “Night of Hope postponed until 4 p.m. Sunday.” And since the Osteen message involves a lot of merchandising, the imposing tables hawking T-shirts and other commemorative swag seemed suddenly off-kilter. One prominent Night of Hope T-shirt was emblazoned with the inspirational divine message “I can do all things” — all things, that is, but summon the faithful to stand out in the rain.

But the Osteens were not about to let the intervention of the elements become any sort of setback. As the megachurch pastor — turned out in a blue suit and a beatific grin, looking for all the world like a fitter Tim Allen, fresh out of rehab — took his spot at the second-base perimeter of the infield, before the bank of TV cameras set up on the pitchers mound, he called out, “Isn’t it great to be here? It’s another great day the Lord has made!” He paused to note that, yes, “we had some rain last night,” but that the event’s reshuffled schedule could well mean that some people who couldn’t have made the evening version of the prayer gathering might well have turned up serendipitously today. In any event, Osteen declared his certitude that “God put the right people here right now.”

That confident assertion of — and indeed, identification with — the divine will is one of the calling cards of the Osteen faith. Amid all the spirited self-affirmations and folksy homilies that stud an Osteen sermon, it’s easy to miss the oddly deterministic invocations of divine prerogative summoned up by the preacher, who belongs to the “Word Faith” tradition of Pentecostal belief. Osteen’s serene depictions of God’s eternally uptending designs for the fates of individual believers are a sort of inverted Calvinism. Where the Puritan forebears of today’s Protestant scene beheld a terrible, impersonal Creator whose rigid system of eternal reward and punishment dispatched many an infant and solemn believer to the pit of damnation, Osteen’s God is an intensely personal presence, guiding believers out of pitfalls into inevitable glory and joy — not so much a raging Patriarch as a genial cruise director. “God’s dream for our own life is so much bigger than our own,” went one frequent refrain at the D.C. rally. “Let’s not put any limits on God.” Osteen characterized the Deity as a “running-over” and “abundant” God. “Have you ever been to a fast-food restaurant, and they ask you if you want to supersize this? Well, God is a supersizing God,” who is determined, Osteen assured the crowd, to “supersize your joy.”

It stands to reason, in this arrangement of cosmic fate, that the stubborn human weakness for anxious introspection and downbeat self-doubt is something of an affront to the author of being. “When you are criticizing yourself,” Osteen announced, “you are criticizing God’s creation. The next time you think something negative, turn that around, and say, ‘I am God’s masterpiece.’”

The talismanic faith in positive utterance is another key article of belief in the Word Faith tradition. Some Word Faith devotees are devout believers in faith-healing, and one of the key episodes Osteen cites in his own account of his faith journey is the miraculous recovery of his mother from an apparently terminal case of liver cancer in 1981. Faced with the prospect of losing his mother, the young Osteen — then a communications student at Oral Roberts University with no ministerial ambitions — turned to prayer, saying to God, as he now recounts, “I know you can do what doctors can’t do, what medical science can’t do.” Sure enough, Osteen’s mother, Dodie, went on to be cancer-free, and took to the podium on Sunday after her son’s testimonial. She reprised the story of how she fought off the specter of death by seeking out the “most healing” passages of scripture, which she assembled into a digest she still consults regularly: “Like American Express, I don’t leave home without it,” she said. Then she issued a disclaimer for her listeners contending with severe illness: “I don’t advise you not to seek treatment — get treatment any way you can.” Such cautions sounded a bit rushed and legalistic next to her own account of her recovery: When she and her preacher-husband both sensed the end was near, she recalled, “We lay on our faces … He said, ‘I need you, the church needs you, the children need you … And now, almost 31 years later, I won the battle and so will you!” God, after all, “delights in answering the prayers of his children,” and “loves everybody the same, but he can do for you what he did for me.”

The Word Faith image of the wonder-working, healing God is discomfiting to ponder, and not just because he might tempt desperately sick believers to go rogue beyond the dictates of medical science. The constant recitation of God’s transcendent goodness and the deference paid to his ironclad ability to lift believers magically out of suffering and woe both subtly downgrade the divine presence into a glorified lifestyle concierge. This God has no real way of accounting for the age-old paradoxes of theology, such as the tolerance of personal and historic evil, or the deeper ironies and unintended consequences of the believing life. Even less does the Osteen family’s success gospel encompass a sustained social ethic — even though the D.C. event featured an appeal on behalf of the World Vision ministries to adopt a needy child in the developing world. The believer’s chief task is to ratify the preexisting divine script of success in his or her individual life — and then to bear testimony to that joyous transformation in a community of like-minded success believers.

It’s a curiously childlike vision of faith — a point driven home in a homily offered up by Joel’s wife, Victoria, who serves as a kind of co-pastor of the separate domestic sphere at the couple’s revival meetings. When she finds herself assailed by cares, anxieties and negative thoughts, Victoria reported, “I visualize a bouquet of helium balloons in my hands, and I literally hold those balloons out and release them to the heavens … And as I release those balloons to Him, I say, ‘I may not have the power to change my circumstances, but God has that power to change our circumstances.’” In a later homily on the properties of unconditional love and forgiveness, Victoria delivered an extended gloss on what was apparently one of the few remotely traumatic moments in her suburban Texas upbringing — a time when, as a freshly licensed driver, she had taken out her dad’s car and negligently instructed a friend to roll down a passenger-side window that was malfunctioning, thereby breaking it once and for all. When she finally summoned the nerve to fess up to her dad, she found him to be disappointed but gloriously forgiving; he “didn’t judge my future from that one mistake” — and neither will the indulgent dad of the Osteen heavens. “You may not have been shown unconditional love in your life,” Victoria announced, “but God loves you unconditionally.” The problem, of course, is that even those of us who did survive unhappy childhoods are no longer 16 — and as a result, we need a God who can meet the challenges of the new responsibilities we’ve taken on as we’ve matured, not a figure of undifferentiated sentiment, handing our forgiveness and love like lottery tickets.

The other childlike quality of the Lakewood account of divine grace has to do with the past — which, together with negative thinking, represents the closest thing to evil in the Osteen’s scheme of salvation. The past is bad because it mires believers in remembered hurts and slights, and thereby obstructs God’s grander design for their lives. “When we hold on to the past, when we don’t go to God, that just puts more baggage in our suitcases,” Victoria exhorted, in a not-altogether-wieldy metaphor.

This spiritual hostility to the past was an all too frequent refrain in the event’s musical selections — a monotonous offering of anthemic, bombastic Christian rock, all composed without the benefit of a single minor chord or any discernible melody. “I’m moving forward,” went the lyrics to one of these intra-sermon studies in Journey-esque hymnody. “I’m not going back / I’m moving ahead / I’m here to declare to you that the past is over.” An American idol contestant named Danny Gokey also offered testimony about how the Osteens had helped him conquer his depression in the wake of the untimely passing of his wife. Gokey then performed a Christian rock number of his own, “My Best Days Are Ahead of Me,” which seemed to make short work of his once-debilitating grief: “I don’t get lost in the past or get stuck in some sad memories,” he sang, rather creepily; the song’s bridge announced that “Age isn’t nothing but a number,” and then resolved on a Successories-style upgrade of a well-known Army recruiting slogan: “If I keep getting better / I can be anything I want to be.”

There’s a term from the psychiatric clinics that neatly captures the outlook of someone possessed of grandiose fantasies about the imperial reach of the self, and a principled refusal to acknowledge anything poised to diminish such fantasies — such as the passage of time. That term is “narcissistic personality disorder,” and it does nothing to detract from the positive features of the Osteen gospel — the injunctions to persevere in the face of adversity, or the appeals for donations to World Vision — to note that this is a system of faith tailor-made to sustain narcissistic delusion. To grasp the overweening self-absorption of the Osteen faith, one need look no further than the frequent recourse Osteen makes to his own success story in sealing the case for God’s providential plan for the believer’s own life. Now, unlike other well-known evangelists, Osteen can’t lay much claim to a hardscrabble Horatio Alger-style life story. His 1920s forebear in Pentecostal media preaching, Aimee Semple McPherson, was a single-mother missionary before coming into fame and fortune as an evangelical celebrity in the Radio Age; Billy Graham was the son of a poor North Carolina dairy farmer. Osteen, by contrast, was a second-generation evangelical leader, who’d been working as a TV producer for his father John Osteen’s growing ministry before he succeeded to the elder Osteen’s pulpit after his father’s death. His personal biography tracks closer to fellow Pentecostal TV preacher Pat Robertson’s background: Robertson was the son of a U.S. senator before finding his own adult spiritual calling.

Nonetheless, Osteen repeatedly cites his own success presiding over the spiritual flock he inherited as the prime exhibit of God’s ready transposition of divine grace into worldly success. When he first acceded to the pulpit, he recalled from his riser above second base, he felt no special aptitude for ministering; he’d heard that Lakewood church leaders were raising doubts about his vocation, and the church needed to move into a bigger, upgraded new facility. “At one point,” Osteen preached, “it seemed like everything was coming against me. The enemy was fighting me not from where I was coming, but from where I was going … He didn’t want Lakewood to be in the Compaq Center” — the former home arena for the Houston Rockets, and now home to the Lakewood congregation of nearly 50,000 souls. The Compaq Center deal is a frequent touchstone in Osteen’s faith reminiscence; it occupies a good stretch of his blockbuster best-selling self-improvement tract, “Become a Better You,” which also finds evidence of divine favor in a home-flipping deal Joel and Victoria struck at the height of the housing bubble, as well as in such mundane votes of divine confidence as setting the pastor up with a premium parking space. Indeed, the steady parade of testimonials from the wider Osteen clan on the Night of Hope risers bespeaks a family-wide penchant for casting one’s commonplace personal biography as a sort of infomercial version of the Christian faith. (In addition to mother Dodie and wife Victoria, Osteen’s brother Paul, who runs a medical charity in Africa, took to the stage Sunday to relate a more responsible story of healing, in which due medical diligence properly preceded the broader appeal to faith; Joel’s two children, Alexandra and Jonathan, are respectively a vocalist and guitarist in the ministry’s Christian rock ensemble.)

Now, it may very well be that in a certain kind of conviction of grace, believers feel themselves suffused with the divine presence, and find their most quotidian activities reflect celestial favor; the 14th-century Saint Julian of Norwich recorded a vision in which she beheld the entirety of creation in an object no larger than a hazelnut, cupped in her hand. Perhaps, in this view of things, a converted sports arena or excellent parking spot is no great stretch when it comes to testifying on behalf of a God for whom all things are possible.

Still, the claustral feel of Osteen’s success gospel paradoxically works exactly the same effect that he warns believers to resist: It imposes limits on God, by largely confining his workings to the dominant American culture of success. If the Osteen-coached believer does not reap abundant and large reward in career, family life or creative pursuits, they are not necessarily going to curse their God, as Job’s comforters had counseled him to do amid his notorious personal setbacks. But neither are they going to make the key connections that earlier Protestant divines have preached, going back to Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin: that the divinity does not, in fact, have your own personal happiness occupying pride of place on his exhaustive to-do list. The universe is ultimately about a larger set of concerns, and faith concerns a much vaster striving toward justice than believers are wont to see in their personal affairs, their social conquests or their annual paychecks. This is why Edwards, for all of his better-known hell-and-brimstone sermons, urged onto believers a stoic “consent to being in general” — not a plan for individual life advancement.

This disjuncture between Protestantism’s more humbling counsel and the feel-good Word Faith gospel became most painfully evident during one of Osteen’s closing perorations. In chilling detail, he recounted the story of a young Tutsi Christian woman who’d hid out in the bathroom of her church pastor’s office at the height of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The machete-wielding Hutu killers who pursued her returned to the pastor’s office every day for 91 days, usually calling out for her by name. At one point, Osteen said, a Hutu militia man was poised to turn the knob on the door to the tiny bathroom where the woman was quartered alongside six other Tutsi believers — but at the last moment, he became distracted and walked away. Finally, when the genocide had been contained, the woman was free, and has been traveling with ministers ever since to testify to the amazing story of her survival. “Nearly 1 million Rwandans were killed in this genocide,” Osteen said as he wound up to the story’s larger moral. “It was very sad.”

Well, no. The Rwandan genocide was something far more than sad — it was a colossal failure of moral and political agency, going back to the German and Belgian colonial partition of the country that set up artificial power conflicts between the nation’s two main tribes. This horror also most certainly came about thanks to the wretched failures of the Clinton administration and other Western powers to arrest a well-documented string of massacres, even as senior U.N. officials such as Lt. Gen Romeo Dallaire, the leader of the agency’s Rwandan peacekeeping mission, implored them to.

For Osteen, of course, the story of this woman’s survival was a divine miracle. But if this one survivor was enjoying the loving favor of an omnipotent God, what are we to conclude that this same God thought of the more than 800,000 Rwandans murdered in the genocide? Was their faith wanting? Was God planning unparalleled new successes and joys for their surviving family members? Are these the people Osteen has in mind when he exhorts his listeners not to be victims, but victors?

It’s something of an obscenity even to frame such questions. Yet they are the inevitable outcome of a theology-free success gospel, pitched exclusively to tales of individual triumph. Osteen’s sermons all begin with a self-empowering chant from believers. “This is my Bible,” it goes in part; “I am what it says I am. I have what it says I have.” But there are legions of dead — now confined by definition, it’s true, in the hated past — who come bearing the testimony that the Bible is not actually about you.