5 November 2013, 06:00



5854a28eac49614d921696e59ecb8b35The world sees narcissists as loud and seeking attention, at least the ones we call “overt.” For the most part that’s true, but those who know even the overt narcissists also know that there is much that the world does not see. In fact, there is much no one sees.

Some of the narcissists I have known have had significant amounts of unaccountable time. Where did they go and what did they do? Some, and I have seen this suggested in comments here, believe that this is to serve sexual appetites for porn or other relationships. Obviously that’s true in many cases, as spouses have learned the hard way. But that isn’t true in all cases. Some, I suspect, just like being alone or anonymous.

Narcissists hide their past. Many of them hide their money. Almost all of them hide their failures and fears. And if you try to ask about these things, you will encounter lies, evasion, or even attack.

In fact, many of those who thought their narcissist was so open, so transparent, in the beginning of the relationship suddenly have realized that they only know parts of the narcissist’s life (and they aren’t sure about the truth of what they think they know). Some things were shared, but other parts are glaringly missing….when you stop to think about it. Of course, the narcissist doesn’t want you to think about it.

Some conveniently leave out parts of their employment history or even relationship history. What must it be like to learn of another wife or husband after you have been in the relationship for a while? Or learn that an employee had successfully covered up harassment charges or accusations of theft in other jobs? Because narcissists are generally so good at talking, they are able to divert conversations away from sensitive areas.

Those in relationships with narcissists often get into trouble for sharing what the narcissist says are secrets. Certain things are not to be discussed. Sometimes you don’t know what topics are off limits. Sometimes the topics are off limits for you but not for the narcissist. That’s because he will spin things his own way.

Remember that hiding is part of the basic nature of the narcissist. The loudness and strong personal presentation are meant to distract people from the truth. Hiding things and facts gives the narcissist both protection and power. Again, picture the child who escapes into a fantasy. There may be a hidden place with some hidden things that contribute to the strength of the fantasy. Those hidden things represented a separation from the pain or rejection the child experienced in regular life.

And, I know, some of you will feel compassion for the narcissist at this point. So do I. But many of us had challenging childhoods. The narcissist has chosen to continue this hiding and all the other narcissistic characteristics in adult life. Instead of growing out of childish perspectives and solutions, the narcissist chooses to use them in current relationships.

The saddest thing is that the narcissist hides from him/herself and from God, the source of the love they have always wanted. By hiding behind the image he has created, the narcissist never lets anyone get close enough to help. Those who do get close, find that the cost is great.

Please don’t read this and think you have to “walk the extra mile” to help your narcissist. Love from a distance. Protect yourself. You are not the one who will provide the solution. You are the one who will be used and hurt. 


Dr. David Orrison has been a pastor for over 30 years and is now the Executive Director of "Grace for the Heart," a ministry dedicated to proclaiming the sufficiency of Jesus Christ for all aspects of the Christian life. Dave has served in the Evangelical Free Church and in the United Presbyterian Church, and he holds a Ph.D. in Theology from Trinity Seminary. Dave has unique insights into the struggles of what he calls “performance spirituality,” as he has worked extensively with people who are unsure of their relationship with Jesus because of the burden of legalism and the hopelessness of a “works-based Christian walk.” David has lived in Loveland, CO for 25 years and is happily married to Alice. They have eight sons. David blogs on a regular basis at http://graceformyheart.wordpress.com.


All articles on this site reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of other Recovering Grace contributors or the leadership of the site. Students who have survived Gothardism tend to end up at a wide variety of places on the spiritual and theological spectrum, thus the diversity of opinions expressed on this website reflects that. For our official statement of beliefs, click here.


  1. Tangent November 5, 2013 Reply

    Thank you for the warning. It is easy to feel sorry for a lonely, suffering narcissist after one has set a wide boundary between one's self and him for self-protection. It is a trap to think hopefully that maybe he really does mean to change this time. But narcissists use sweetness as well as intimidating behaviour to achieve their purposes.

  2. Heather November 5, 2013 Reply

    Oh my word. This is so absolutely true, esp the part about how narcissists never let anyone get close enough to give them the love they seek.. So true. You nailed it.

  3. grateful November 5, 2013 Reply

    Sounds like they made need this:

    Basic Seminar Session 06: Steps to Gain a Clear Conscience

    The Principle of Responsibility
    •Gaining a clear conscience rather than balancing guilt and blame
    •Listing offenses
    •Purposing to ask for forgiveness
    •Harmonizing birth order tendencies
    •Confessing the basic offense
    •Preparing the right wording
    •Choosing the appropriate method
    •Understanding refusal to forgive, if it comes
    •Identifying misplaced conviction

    • David November 18, 2013 Reply

      Actually, it sounds like they, like the rest of us, need to know Jesus Christ -- not a list to follow or of things to do.

  4. esbee November 5, 2013 Reply

    is there a certain person you had in mind when writing this particular article about narcissists ?

    • Dave November 5, 2013 Reply

      Actually, I began blogging about narcissism, particularly as it relates to believers and the church, about three years ago. I had seen the connection between narcissism and legalism for some time and realized that many who left the church were not rejecting the Lord or even the faith, but the manipulation and abuse of people who used others to make themselves look good.

      Over the years, I have watched marriages, families, businesses and churches struggle because of narcissism. My goal has been to introduce these hurting people to the true love of God in Jesus through the message of grace.

      So, if you go to the blog, you will see that I give one day a week to the discussion of narcissism, from the perspective of God's love. The topic is very near to the hearts of some who have amazing and sad stories to tell. The blog gives them a place to share, to learn, and to find healing.

      Actually, I didn't know what I was getting into by starting "Narcissist Fridays," but the Lord is using it in His own way and I am grateful to be a part of it. If you are interested in my take on the connection between narcissism and legalism, just type in the words in the search feature under my picture on the blog site.

      And, yes, I have several people in mind as I write these posts. Sad, isn't it?

  5. Andrea November 6, 2013 Reply

    I first discovered Narcissist Personality Disorder when I was learning about different levels of sociopathy. I knew that sociopathy was a good place to start when describing my mother. There are a lot of great books out there on NPD and Borderline Personality disorders that can help adult children who have survived a parent like this. As the author above said, you can't fix these people and you must set strong boundaries. My mother continued to trample my boundaries and worked hard to turn everyone in my family against me when I started telling her "secrets" of tortuous child abuse in our home. Eventually I had to go nuclear with my boundaries and completely cut her off as well as any family member she was manipulating into passing on messages to me for her. She and those relatives started calling me at min. 30 times a day. Cell, work phone, my husband, my best friend, relatives that they thought they could use. Personal, work email, texts, Facebook messages, yahoo chat; I even had one sister send me a huge hateful letter via LinkedIn. I changed my number and blocked them on everything I could and still, they would make new email accounts so my filter wouldn't catch them. I started looking into restraining orders and I think they eventually figured it out and they mostly stopped, but not after causing great mental anguish on my part. I still refuse to own a phone. I say all that to say: a narcissist will not accept your boundaries and will laugh at the idea that you value yourself enough to protect yourself from their maniplations. They will not let go of a source of abuse very easily.

    • Dave November 6, 2013 Reply

      This actually connects well with one of the characteristics of most legalists I have known - they must win. Whatever the issue, if you disagree with their "conviction," they will go to great lengths to prove you wrong. They want to convince you to think their way, but their primary concern is not to be seen as wrong.

      The narcissist has a vested interest in being right. Being shown to be wrong damages the image they present to the world. They can carry arguments to extreme lengths, just to wear their opponents down and get some acquiescence. Eventually, people stop arguing with them and they think everyone believes in their superiority.

      But, if the narcissist cannot find a way to win the argument, he/she will seek to destroy the character of the opponent. They attack with hurtful accusations and reminders to take the focus away from their error. This is a very common narcissistic technique.

      It sounds like your family must have complete agreement and submission or will marginalize their opponents by pushing them far enough away to no longer matter. That way they can explain the absence by whatever means they want without argument. So, if you yielded and apologized and fell back into mindless step, you would be accepted. If not, you would be rejected. Either way, as in a typical narcissistic family, you are not allowed to be you.

      I am very sorry to hear your story and I can only imagine the pain you have suffered. Please know that they are not the standard or the source of your value. They are broken and used, but you are free. Live in your freedom and believe in your worth. You are loved.

      • Heather November 6, 2013 Reply

        Once again, you hit the nail right on the head.

  6. Adrianne November 9, 2013 Reply

    This is so true. I had a very close friend in college that really resembles all of this. She told weird stories about every girl in high school hating her by graduation but her being the victim, her saving poor freshmen, her family being the coolest at the school, her grandparents being psychos and trying to get custody of her, etc. Everything that happened was uber dramatic. She would lock herself away in her dorm room for hours at a time. Whenever there was trouble at home she would try to drive home to "fix it," even at the expense of her grades. When we went on shopping trips, she had to drive. She would get angry at me for things that, on reflection now, were really her fault. It was always something, and eventually she wrote me a nasty letter and I began to slowly step away. She flipped out because it wasn't on her terms, and then spread rumors about me to a shared social club. She made a mutual friend pick between us. She refused to acknowledge me. I felt whiplashed because one week she would apologize and say she wanted to be friends, the next she would cancel dinner and spread rumors. It was so bizarre. We went to a pretty small college, so I was really glad we I graduated and got away from her.

  7. Hurting November 16, 2013 Reply

    My problem with this post is that it seems IBLPish in nature. It creates a list of visible attributes to check off and judge someone by. It has very little Scripture and is based on humanist psychology, much like Gothardishm. It is sad when I see RG posting things like this because looks just like the system they are trying to expose. RG would do well just to stick to IBLP teachings, exposing the error in the light of Biblical truth. Thank

    • Dave November 18, 2013 Reply

      I really do understand this. One of the hurdles I have had to overcome in teaching about narcissism is the desire to reduce all problems to familiar “principles” and find Scripture proof-texts for support. I was taught, indoctrinated, to believe that anything outside Scripture was just the false wisdom of the world. Psychology, sociology, philosophy, and even most science and medicine were categorically wrong unless supported by Scripture texts.

      However, that opened the door to the Scripture twisting which followed. Normal experience and observation seemed to reveal truth and could be proclaimed boldly if only a Scripture passage could be shown as support. Obscure passages, looked at from certain perspectives, might be the texts we needed. Then, once Scripture support was found, whatever was taught was truth. Arguing against the idea was arguing against Scripture.

      I always chuckle when I hear Gothard accused of using psychology, as though that would somehow condemn both of them. Gothard would never confess to a psychological foundation and, in fact, would be hurt and offended by the accusation. He would say that everything he taught came out of Scripture.

      Actually, I view psychology as quasi-science, more of a science of observation and categorization than action/reaction. At best, psychology is the study of the soul, primarily through observation. It is a tool to be used, just as one would gather plants to discover which is edible by study and observation. My background is not psychology and I would suggest that much of what I write about narcissism comes from personal experience and the testimony of others. (But I suppose that would put me in the same category as Gothard, lol.)

      @Hurting – You are welcome to reject anything I write and to disagree with anything I say. But please reconsider the idea that all information must come through Scripture. I am grieved to think that someone might be more willing to accept something I write just because I would pepper it with Scripture to look more spiritual. Instead, take the risk and allow God to speak to you as you observe the struggles of the world and the work of His hand. Trust that the Spirit will guide you, never in contradiction to Scripture, but sometimes to truth that cannot be found in a proof text. Realize the limitations of this, you could always be wrong, but accept the freedom and wonder of walking with the living Lord who will guide you to things He wants you to know.

      And also understand that those who use Scripture most are often ones who mislead or deceive. Even the devil supported his words with Scripture.

  8. Korrie May 1, 2014 Reply

    I really appreciate your article. I personally suffered at the hand of a narcissist pastor, who is married, that pursued me for several months..I'm currently in the final edits of a book I am writing and would love to quote you if that would be okay with you? Again thanks so much for your insight, and for exposing this horrible disorder.

    Korrie @Happy Handmaiden

    • Brumby May 1, 2014 Reply

      Will be watching for your book. Good luck on it. I'm in the process of making sense of being raised by a narcissistic pastor.

      • Noelle May 2, 2014 Reply

        @Brumby, my heart goes out to you. We are overcomers, and must help as many people as we can. As soon as my book is printed, I will get you a copy :)

        Love in Christ,
        Korrie @ Happy Handmaiden

      • Brumby May 2, 2014 Reply

        @Korrie: Yay!! :) Thanks.

    • Dave May 2, 2014 Reply

      Korrie, I would be happy for you to quote my writings. I would enjoy communicating with you more about this and the subject in general. Dave

      • Korrie May 5, 2014 Reply

        I would love that! Anytime, just let me know. You have my email, correct?

  9. Carl Wilkinson June 29, 2020 Reply

    I worked with a Christian business partner for 15 years. I ended the relationship 17 years ago because of the narcissistic abuse that I suffered from him. It took me until this year to recognize that he is a narcissist, and until a few months ago to realize that he is a "communal" narcissist - he gets his needs met by public recognition for his being such a wonderful Christian leader and such an amazing giver. He would carefully share his good deeds in a way that didn't at first appear to be bragging - but he was. He lit up like a light bulb under the adoration of our staff, and became very resentful if he felt like any of them (or me) were ungrateful to him. He dismissed any of my contributions and shared my deepest confidences with the staff in a way meant to wound me and my family. Yeah. It sucked.
    I am working on healing and forgiving him.
    It has occurred to me lately that Bill Gothard as well fit the pattern - not that he showed meannness or vindictiveness, but that he presented the humble Christian man image in order to gain the power he wielded over so many of us - and over the young women who became his victims.
    I still find it very had to trust pastors, churches, and people in general after my business partnership and our contact with ATIA and IBLP.

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