“What do narcissists and victims of narcissistic abuse have in common?” My answer to this question might initially cause a strong reaction in you, but please hear me out. Ultimately, my goal is to help you arrive at that sacred and powerful place in which you become intentional about living, even in the midst of a destructive, stifling world. It is in this place where you will discover that you have a right, and responsibility, to make a choice about your next step, about who you are and how you are showing up in this life.
So, here’s my answer: Both narcissism and codependence are anchored in misplaced responsibility.
The Responsibility For Your Life Falls On You (and only you)
Both extremes rely upon an external frame of reference to determine their next steps. That is, they rely on other people, circumstances, belief systems, and past experiences to determine how they show up in the world. It takes great courage, intentionality and wisdom to choose your next steps based on who you are and how you want to show up. It is much easier to resort to complacency… and ultimately the destructive behaviors that destroy relationships.
Both ends of this spectrum make excuses for their behavior based upon what has been done to them, how the world has acted upon them, rather than how they can act upon the world. This encapsulates victim mentality, and is rooted in fear. Those on the narcissistic end of the spectrum use anger and entitlement to control and subdue what they fear. Those on the codependent side use false peace-making to control and subdue what they fear. Both sides are in hiding and blame external forces for their inability to change. They place the responsibility for their internal world fully on the shoulders of the external world around them… and thus do not take responsibility for their own thoughts, behaviors, and feelings.
The most simple definition of misplaced responsibility is when someone blames others for their short comings. It’s easy to blame our spouse, our kids, our upbringing, our job and others for our problems. The problem is, when we don’t see our own role in how we got here, we can’t change the very thing that is causing our world to fall apart.
Other examples of misplaced responsibility include:
- Blaming your spouse for your infidelity and porn addiction.
- Criticizing and berating someone because they hold opinions and beliefs different from yours.
- Doing whatever it takes to “keep the peace” because you don’t want to “set off” your spouse, which means learning to silence your voice and hide your heart.
- Not expressing what you think, feel, or need because your spouse sees these things as starting a fight, complaining or being needy. In other words, you are taught that you ought not think, feel or need anything.
The idea that we are simply victims of our circumstances makes for an easy excuse for destructive and self-destructive behaviors. Again, if you consider both The Narcissist and The Codependent, ultimately both extremes are grounded in hiding and self-protection. Both try to get what they want in controlling, manipulative ways in order to protect themselves. There is a prevailing myth that hiding who we really are will mean safety, security, and love. And THAT is where the self-destruction is relevant: We are not meant to be alone, but when we hide ourselves, we are ultimately responsible for our aloneness.
There is an unofficial diagnosis called Responsibility Deficit Disorder. According to Paul E. Olsen, MS, the criteria that distinguishes someone who has been diagnosed with this condition are:
- The inability to realize that only the choices one makes now…determines the quality of one’s life –not mom’s neglect, dad’s alcoholism, your spouse’s controlling behavior, nor the boss’ criticism.
- Relentlessly blamingother people, circumstances, or the month or year in which you were born for your feelings and your lot in life.
- The unfounded and unrealistic belief that by trying to change others, rather than self, life can be happier or more rewarding.
- A disbelief in the fact that what we think(what we tell ourselves) is the cause of our emotional problems (except for rare cases of chemical brain malfunction or brain damage).
(Olsen, Paul E. (1996). Responsibility Deficit Disorder. [Online]. Perspectives. [1996, November 15].)
There are many similarities between what Olsen describes and victim mentality, or victim syndrome.
Dr. Robert Leahy, PhD and director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, has named these characteristics of victim-oriented thinking:
- You feel powerless, unable to solve a problem or cope effectively with it.
- You tend to see your problems as catastrophes.
- You tend to think others are purposefully trying to hurt you.
- You believe you alone are targeted for mistreatment.
- You hold tightly to thoughts and feelings related to being a victim. You also refuse to consider other perspectives for how to think about and for how to cope with your problems.
- As a victim, you feel compelled to keep painful memories alive, not forgive, and take revenge.
So why do so many people choose to believe thoughts that keep them trapped, powerless and fearful? Because there are benefits to maintaining a victim mentality! It’s easier to point fingers when something goes wrong. When the outcome is bad, you’d rather believe the cause was someone or something else than take responsibility. Changing ourselves is hard!! It takes a tremendous amount of effort and energy and there is too much at stake!
A Breakthrough for Healing
The point I want to make is this: We all have many valid reasons for doing what we do, but remaining in a victim mentality, regardless of whatever label we give it, we become obstacles to our own healing.
If you truly want healing, you will have to stop finger pointing and turn the focus on yourself, on your responsibility to show up as the person God created, purposed and called you to be. Each of us is responsible for the person we are inviting others to relate to.
The question you are probably asking is: How? How do I come out of hiding with strength, courage, and a steadfast heart? How do I show up? How do I operate within the circumstances I find myself caught up in? How do I break free of the strongholds that are destroying me/us?
Here are some suggestions for how to begin this process:
- Show up everyday as the person you know God created you to be. Be yourself, not what you believe you “should” be or have been told you should be.
- Live life intentionally, choosing what you participate in and don’t participate in.
- Fill your mind with truth until it becomes louder than the lies and fear that have held you captive in isolation and hiding.
- Build relationships that are centered on freedom, reciprocity, and mutuality as God designed.
- Bring greater authenticity (your thoughts, feelings and hopes) to the table, which correlates to deeper connection.
If you want to understand how misplaced responsibility may be sabotaging your healing and relationships, call our office at (206) 219-0145 to schedule a Mini Intensive or click here to schedule a free consultation with a Client Care Specialist to learn more about our services.