Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Character Revealed by Actions

The character is revealed by the works, not by occasional good deeds and occasional misdeeds, but by the tendency of the habitual words and acts. EG White, Signs of the Times, 1884.

Some wisdom has been around for a very, very long time. What is unfortunate is how often the wisdom of ages is lost, ignored or outright rejected. Take the words above by a Christian writer written 124 years ago. How often are Christians today befuddled and kept enslaved to evil because they are told they aren't free to judge the weight of evidence provided by the deeds of someone's life? Far too often.

In my post titled "Is There Good in Everyone" I used the extreme example of Hitler to illustrate how a person's character must be judged on the "tendency of the habitual words and acts"; that an occasional good deed or trait will not mitigate against the weight of evil outcomes of a person's life. In my post "The Mask of Evil" I again talk about Hitler and also Jeff Dahmer in this context. I even loosely use this quote above in my post on the Mask of Evil.

I recognize the general reluctance of many to judge people by the accumulated words and deeds of their lives so I revisit this subject today.

Where do we find the record of someone's deeds?

In their past. History.

No historical record is more important for you to reference than the history you yourself have witnessed. Chances are very good that you've attempted to hold the narcissist to account by not only referring to a behavior in the present but by also pointing out how this behavior has been acted out time and again by them. What is the consistent accusation of the narcissist when you attempt to hold them accountable especially to their past behavior? "You ungrateful, judgmental wretch! How dare you talk about the past. You have only proven how unforgiving you are!" Then the distraction tactics come at you fast and furious. Usually this includes history revisionism along with calumnies of your own character. Perhaps I should note here that the "past" that you are not allowed to reference can include what they did ten minutes ago.

The narcissist reviles, and therefore revises, history. It is obvious as to why. History condemns them. Basic logic is hard to refute, and that logic being that the consistent behaviors we have engaged in are the demonstration of our character. Cumulative history proves who we are. Narcissists must and do reject this logic and demand the same of their victims towards them. We must lose our naivete. I'm talking about the naivete that doesn't understand the wisdom of old as quoted at the top of this post: The character is revealed by the works, not by occasional good deeds and occasional misdeeds, but by the tendency of the habitual words and acts.

It is easy enough to see how effective this rejection of the historical record is in getting the narcissist off the hook of accountability. Without being able to judge them by their past deeds we are left with only this moment. We usually don't feel that it is fair to judge a person by one thing. And, usually, it isn't fair to judge a person on one deed when it falls short of an overt and prosecutable crime. So, there we are. Stripped of an essential truth. The truth of the character of the person in front of us as demonstrated by them over time. When we can only judge one moment in a vacuum then we are rarely allowed to make the right decision.

If you are never allowed to judge a person's character and intent as revealed by history then you are caught in an endless loop. Narcissist does bad act. Narcissist demands forgiveness for bad act. Next time narcissist engages in a bad act you are not allowed to reference the previous bad act of a similar nature because the narcissist demands to be judged by this moment only otherwise you prove that your forgiveness for the same crime in the past was all a sham. Your fear of seeming unfair and judgmental means you offer up another pass to the narcissist.

I say "pass" because you are not offering true forgiveness. As I have said here many times before: you can't forgive a crime in progress. The perpetual do-overs narcissists demand are proof that they are not repentant for their crimes. (A truly sorry person never demands forgiveness, they request forgiveness realizing the request may be rightfully denied.) When you carefully examine the times you thought the narcissist was asking for forgiveness you see they lacked the essential elements of true remorse, repentance as demonstrated by coming clean without blame shifting or excuses, a sincere effort at restitution, and a firm resolve to never repeat the bad act. All of these steps must be present for a true forgiveness transaction to occur. Many if not all of these were missing from that so-called forgiveness transaction with the narcissist. Therefore what you gave them was cheap grace. They happily take your cheap grace and slap you with it in the days and years to come. The only thing you guarantee when giving an unrepentant criminal your cheap grace is that they are emboldened to do more of the same. You only succeed to confirming the creepy criminal in his evil ways. Say 'no' to cheap grace if you truly give a damn about justice and morality.

We are all fallible, and we all have done things to hurt others. What separates you from the narcissist is a willingness to completely own what you did and make it right; being willing to change your behavior when you realize it is hurting others (or yourself). You don't blame the other person for what you yourself chose to do. Knowing that we are not condemned or redeemed by our occasional misdeed or good deed we can take comfort in the quote above. When we can see that the overall habits of our deeds and words are good then we won't be overwhelmed with discouragement when we mess up. We will make it right and move into the future with a firm resolve to be a better person. History is not a fearful reality to the truly good, decent person.

Remember that one of the primary hallmarks of NPD is playing fast and loose with reality. Reality is what the narcissist decides to make it. They revise reality on the fly. The reality of history (i.e. the facts of history) are just as likely to suffer the revisionism of the narcissist as is the present. Don't allow yourself to be talked out of what you know about the truth of history by the narcissist. Good people must recognize their right to judge others by what they do. Good people will not harshly judge the occasional misdeed, but they will correctly judge the overall tendency of a life.

Narcissists demand we disengage our brain's logic centers in order to have a relationship with them. Do you really think you must give yourself a frontal lobotomy in order to be 'fair'? Does it honor God when you allow a narcissist to tinker with your brain like that? God gave you that brain...use it.

Accessing the historical record in order to deal with the narcissist in the here and now is fair play. Do not be baffled with all the B.S. the narcissist will throw at you to shame you into pretending to forget the historical record. You need to be honest with history of their actions. You need to admit what the "the tendency of the habitual words and acts" have been. You need to judge accordingly.

"You can tell what they are by what they do."
Matt. 7:16, Contemporary English Version


Anonymous said...

When someone tells me to "leave the past in the past" and give the N yet another chance, I reply, "When you apply for a job, what does your work resume say?"

They generally answer that their resume includes their former work positions and responsibilities, educational degrees, and so on. In other words, they list their PAST deeds in an effort to demonstrate that they are qualified for a particular role TODAY.

Employers aren't impressed by your stated "desire" to be in a profession. They want tangible proof you are a good fit for the job. If your past experience is insufficient to get your desired job, you do have the options to go get some tangible experience, whether it's working your way up with stepping-stone jobs, or going back to school. Most people do not have a problem with this system of using past job performance to gauge present job reliability.

Yet, we're supposed to be play by different rules in our relationships with toxic family. We're supposed to be impressed by the N's stated "desire" to change without any tangible proof. We're supposed to believe the mere passage of time away from the N has magically changed things.

I've applied the resume analogy when I've been told that by the N's enablers that the N has "changed". I ask for real proof. Does the N have a professional counselor, versed in NPD and the cons that Ns pull, who has been seeing the N for at least a year, and is willing to document these changes in writing? Would that counselor be willing to speak with me on the phone and hear what I endured at the hands of this N (you'd be amazed what people who try to play the "I'm in counseling" card haven't told their therapists.) What old N behaviors have been absent for an extended time, and what new behaviors have been substituted? In other words, what solid proof is there? Most of the time I'm given a dumbfounded stare by the enabler when I ask these questions, and sometimes the enabler begins to realize that there really isn't any tangible change. Then the discussion is over.

Anna Valerious said...

Well said! You've outlined the fundamental logic that works in the real world and nicely juxtaposed that logic against the anti-logic that is supposed to suddenly "make sense" when dealing with narcissists. Way to take on the sloppy thinking N-ablers!

CZBZ said...

Great response, anonymous! Thank you.

You know Anna, I'll never forget when my soon-to-be-x-husband (sleeping with another woman and leaving me in a remodel mess-of-a-home) said, "How dare you judge me! I am an honorable man!"

Yes. How dare I?

He startled me for a moment. When I realized he was pushing my emotional-buttons, it made me laugh. I finally understood how a not-very-good person had manipulated my desire to be a good person by passing his guilt to me!

I'm changing my definition of what it means to be a 'good person', though. It doesn’t mean ‘forgiving’ in order to keep the peace. There is no peace if dishonorable people are not held accountable.

Being a good person means having the courage to make judgments and bear the brunt of social ignorance about the tyranny of ‘unmerited’ forgiveness.


paisley penguin said...

Wow, just found your blog. My MIL is a Narcissist. A friend sent me the link to an NPD website and I finally discovered I was not going crazy! It took hubby a little longer to see what was going on. Once he did the fin hit the shan. We have not physically been in the presence of his parents for almost a year (beginning of October). We have had plenty of email pissing matches since then though.

My husbands kids are unfortunately caught in the middle and my MIL is using them as pawns. It's definately quieted down but since the holiday season is about to roll around hubby and I are gearing up.

We have been seeing a wonderful counselor who has experience dealing with people who have NPD (his mother included) and FINALLY according to my SK's my MIL has called him. We have an appointment tonight to see if that is really true.

My hubby and I have pretty much decided that the status qho as it stands right now is how it is going to be until if (and that's a big if) my MIL tries for the sake of her grandchildren to be normal. Are hopes are not high at all.

My parents are not NPD but were hyper critical and controlling and have exhibited some of these tendancies as well.

Sorry to take up so much space in my comment. I definately plan to check back in to your blog. Keep up the good work!

paisley penguin said...

PS - wasn't a huge fan of Van Helsing but loves Anna's character!

Anonymous said...

Do you ever have those times that things completely fall into place? Well, my time is here at the present. It seems each time I've read your postings (recent 2) that you've been perfectly tuned into what I'm dealing with right now. You have no idea how much I've learned from your site. I have e-mails that would be *the* perfect examples if I revealed them. Of course I wouldn't... or WOULD I?... :) . Naaah. Seriously though, thank you SO much.

Barbara said...

Let me add one thing the Ns also do in addition to the 'leave the past in the past' nonsense. It's called paramoralizing. (http://enpsychopedia.org/index.php/Paramoralism)

They will say (when CAUGHT) my partner/ wife/ ex-wife is a wonderful person! (of course after telling you how horrible they are/were for years or months) and HOW DARE YOU say those things about me!

Huh? What does one have to do with the other? In N-think, they want their audience to believe that the N is honorable, the N cares about their wife/partner/ex and THE PERSON TELLING THE TRUTH ABOUT THEM IS LYING AND NOT-HONORABLE IN COMPARISON

The point the bystanders miss? The only one making that comparison is the N... to draw attention away from their consisent lack of character.

GREAT post as always, Anna!

Anonymous said...

Anna, This post is so on target. I lived this too with recently-ex MNH. Always criticizing me for not "letting go" no matter what it was, or that he had done it innumerable times, and I was trying to get to the root of the problem. But, there was something else too - kind of the reverse. He started un-writing the history of all the GOOD things that I had done for him, or we had experienced, or that I had given him etc. This was when he was setting me up to take the fall for his impending abandonment. I was completely bewildered and devastated by this relentless effort to erase me and redraw me as monster. It was unbearably painful. Now, I know why he did it (no doubt many lies too, which upsets me no end to think I have been slandered and can't defend myself). Does this all make sense? Thanks. 'jewell'

Sunset said...

I've noticed a particular twist on this with my mother - religion. She frequently quotes scripture on forgiveness to prove that I'm being a bad Christian for not letting it go. If I comment on how its not fair to expect me to forget everything she's done in the past, she tells me "we're not supposed to live like the world," and "I can do all things through Christ." In other words, if I confront her its because I've somehow failed as a Christian.

Anna Valerious said...

Does this all make sense?

What your ex-Nhusband has done to you is certainly situation normal for a narcissist. Does it make sense? Well, yes, but only if you understand the N and their motivations. You do, obviously.

A narcissist will often settle for 'virtual' murder. Thankfully, they aren't usually willing to eliminate inconvenient people with actual murder, but what they do to the reputations of people they are disposing of is a type of murder. A form of elimination of your person hood. It is evil, and the consequences to you as a person are real, tangible, harmful and difficult to overcome. The only way to destroy the reputation of a good person is to make them into a monster, to paint them with the opposites of their virtues. So, when a narcissist decides to annihilate a decent person they will always do so by creating a monster to replace the real you. It is inevitable and necessary from their point of view.

You have been erased.

Anna Valerious said...


You have described the well-worn tactics of the "Christian" narcissist. I hope you will read my posts on forgiveness. You'll find them in the 'labels' section of my blog.

Your mother hasn't done anything new. She is not being original. If your mother is a narcissist then you have plenty of evidence of her immorality. A better word would likely be amorality. Narcissists can't really be said to have a moral code because it is shifting, amorphous. It changes with circumstances and their need to get what they want...which changes from person to person and from day to day.


They are the last people who can point a finger and correctly label you as a "bad" Christian. They haven't a moral leg to stand on.

When you can realize how the narcissist has no moral code other than using whatever means to get to whatever end they want then you can let their accusations roll off of you. It is quite freeing once you can really "get" this fact. They will lose their power to shame you.

Anonymous said...

It's been my experience that an N is only as "moral" as his/her options, and abusing others isn't wrong unless you get caught. And that's when they dust off the old "don't dig up the past" line.

Or worse, they completely deny it. They look you in the eyes and tell you with a straight face that none of it ever happened, like some kind of N Jedi mind trick. They are totally innocent and you're insane. And at first, you think you are. Their absolute denial of reality can knock you off your pegs if you don't understand what's happening.

And that's why I am such a big fan of your site, Anna. You help people understand what's happening. And that understanding is like kryptonite to an N. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

It is so true that N's demand you surrender your sanity in order to be in a relationship with them. NO way, no how!

This is precisely the reason I have not had contact with my N Mother in 18 years, and had no contact with my N sister for the same, except for an unfortunate, brief communication with her over a year ago, which only confirmed my decision to remain no contact. As for my N Dad - yup, I hit the motherload in my family - I barely tolerate him every few years for a maximum of 2 hours per visit.

My very nature is to stand up and shout, "But the emperor isn't wearing any damn clothes!!" I had to suppress everything that I knew to be true in my head and my heart in order to survive in my N Family. I had to shut up and put up and deny my very "self". If I dare pointed out the truth, I was attacked with "Just who the hell do you think you are?!"

Of course, they knew, that I knew, and this threatened them and their house of cards reality. They wanted me exiled to keep their delusions alive. Being exiled by narcs and wanting to be free of them anyway, is the best thing that can happen to a normal person. To this day, I am amazed by how much power they have given me and that to me is a form of justice. For I could never, EVER hand over that kind of power over to anyone!

N's are vile and wretched and I wouldn't choose to be in a realtionship with one. The idea of sacrificing my brain's logic brain's to be in a relationship with a diseased and poisonous Narc is illogical. My brain tells me to do everything in my power keep N's the hell away from me!

Welcome back Anna! Keep on spreading that logical brain power of yours - the world needs it!

Anna Valerious said...

It's been my experience that an N is only as "moral" as his/her options...

Right. This is why I call them amoral. Which simply means "unprincipled". To claim to have morals...then to throw over those proclaimed morals for a different set of 'morals' when circumstances change is the revelation of the FACT that this person has NO morals. It is easy enough to fake having morals, but the gig should be up when we see that someone's moral compass is actually a weather vane. Weather vane morality is simply a lack of morals. This is why I try to point out how ludicrous it really is for us to let a narcissist get away with calling US immoral when they aren't getting their way. We need to wise up and not let the unprincipled get away with calling us on our faulty morals. Every move they make, every strategy, every single thing they do is designed to get their way. Period. No morals are involved in that process only cunning. We must never forget that is true even when they seem to have the moral high ground. You HAVE to remember who is talking to you.

Thank you, anonymous, for your kind praise of my blog and its benefit for warding off the blood suckers. It means a lot to know my efforts are effective to that end. :o)

Anonymous said...

Great post, great comments all around! Anonymous brings up a great analogy with resumes.

On another list, someone's spouse recently said they would give their parents a free pass to treat them badly and remain in relationship, but they wouldn't for a sibling. I was short of time that day so I didn't ask the glaring question: Why a free pass for your parents to treat you badly?

And, Sunset, Ns who call themselves Christians are THE worst. Yes, they don't blink at abusing you with Scripture, prayer, etc. It is horrid. Anna has done a good job at unpacking some of their antics. Our Christian Ns, after we went NC, sent us a sermon on reconciliation! I used to listen avidly to NFIL's sermons for 20 years, but that CD went in the trash immediately. Of course, even the title betrays their equating of forgiveness with reconciliation. I had absolutely no desire to hear NFIL preach on that subject.

Thanks Anna, for another great discussion.


Anonymous said...

I think it was Maya Angelou who said, "When someone shows who they are, believe them the first time."

So, what IS in a heart? said...

"Being exiled by narcs and wanting to be free of them anyway, is the best thing that can happen to a normal person."

Oh yes. Certainly, just don't let Ns know that.

Kelly said...

Well said Anna!

Anonymous said...

So, what is in a heart,

Thank you, you made me laugh out loud. It's so true that if the N's knew I was benefiting from their absence they would be all over me. Lucky for me, my N family are the smuggly, superior, god almighty types who would rather let hell freeze over before lifting a finger to maintain or initiate a relationship. I can't even say I went no contact with them. All it took was for me to stop doing all the work to have a relationship and that was the end of that. Doing nothing was my smartest move.

I stopped calling my Dad (after learning about Malignant Narcissism - thanks Anna ) and, as I can rely on the fact that he never contacts me, months are now turning in to a year. There have been 2-3 year spurts of no contact in the past but I always eventually called.

Shockingly, my N sister surfaced a few days ago and when I saw her name on my call display, I dropped the phone in horror. She didn't leave a message. I think she's scrounging for info because my only contact and her source - my Dad - isn't getting any news.

The only reason I would contact my sister is if she left a message telling me there was a death in the family. Actually, I was kind of hoping that's why she was calling. Sadly, there was no message telling me mother bit the dust...One can only dream.

Ps: If you guys want to read a chilling account of a young man growing-up with a Malignant Narcissist Father, I recommend "A Wolf at the Table" by Augusten Burroughs. It touches on all those indescribable wierdnesses common to Narcs.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I hear the phrase "but they are good deep down" I immediately suspect a N is being described.

It is the classic stock phrase for minimizing someone's actions and behavior in favor of an abstract "fact"...

Anonymous said...

I found your comment about 'virtual murder' interesting.

Years ago, my N friend and his boyfriend broke up and N moved out of the house they shared to an apartment down the street.

The boyfriend (a button down, conservative businessman) began to smoke crack, hang out with unsavory characters, and his work began to suffer.

My N got phone calls from a friend of his ex's, who was executor of his will, saying that he was a mess and his life savings was nearly depleted.

My N warned me (as well as several neighbors on their tight knit block), to stay away from him as he was on drugs, prone to violence, and under no circumstance we were to lend or give him money.

A year later, the boyfriend sold his house and moved away. My N heard through the grapevine that he had entered rehab and was trying desperately to find a new job.

I later discovered that the only truth of what happened was my N and his boyfriend ended their relationship, the house was sold, and the ex moved to a new city. The rest was all fabricated by my N to 'murder' his ex-boyfriend's reputation. Word spread among the neighbors who shunned him, their mutual friends turned their back on him after hearing the stories of drug use and violence. I was afraid of him. Now I look back and feel horrible that I too, cut off contact. My N was so convincing, it still makes me sick when I think about it.

BloggerT7165 said...

I am sure I am preaching to the choir here but will say this anyway just in case.

Have you ever noticed that personality disorders are coded on Axis II? Personality disorders and Mental Retardation are coded on Axis II while all the others are coded on Axis I.

Mental Retardation and Personality disorders are pervasive and permanent. Expecting someone with NPD to change is much like expecting someone with MR to stop being MR. Does anyone really expect that? No.

But the person with NPD makes it a point that it is not their problem, they don't have a problem, the problem is someone else's fault. Always.

And people with Cluster B personality disorders may end up in counseling but usually do so because they have been forced in one way or another. They may even temporarily try to act differently but that is all it is, an act to get someone off their backs and to draw out that false hope of change.

There really is no "cure" for personality disorders and only minimal treatment at best.

Anonymous said...

Anna, what I am still baffled by are others that know the true character of these people and the hell that you`ve been through, that they have compassion and sympathy for the N. They make excuses for the N but you have no excuses because they think that you know better. What is your take on this?

Anna Valerious said...

They make excuses for the N but you have no excuses because they think that you know better. What is your take on this?

This is a very large topic that I couldn't give justice to in a few words. I think that Kathy Krajco has dealt with this reality the best of anyone out there. She uses the term 'bystanders' to describe these people. She also refers to the 'moralizers'. I, too, have dealt with aspects of this behavior in various posts. If you spend time in the archives you'd likely get a fuller picture of my take on this.

If I were to attempt to sum things up I would do so thusly:

The 'moralizers' save their shaming efforts for those they know are decent and have a conscience. They know that nothing they say to the vile narcissist will have any lasting benefit or effect so they apply their efforts to the person who can be shamed. You. In my experience, these people do not want to be inconvenienced by your pain, the real damage you've had foisted upon you, your emotions. They want to make you the problem so they can make the problem go away. It is all about their convenience. Don't forget it. It is selfishness on their part that motivates them. Knowing this can help you discard the shame and lectures they would heap upon you. They are full of shit.

DebbieW said...

Anna, Just wanted to say thank you so much for your site!!! I have been suffering with a N mother for 40 years. I research everything else, but for some reason just now decided to look up resources on dealing with a N parent, and you don't know what a relief it was to find your site and read someone else say EVERYTHING I experienced that is so hard to describe and make someone who hasn't walked in those shoes understand. It is so abusive, but so subtle. I finally have had the courage/resolve to cut her out of my life totally and wow, does it feel fantastic!!! Thanks so much for your encouragement and truth. I concur with everything I've read in your posts!

Anna Valerious said...


I'm always very happy to hear when a reader of my blog finds the relief and encouragement they have needed so they can deal better with the Ns in their life. My heartfelt congratulations on your being able to cut off your Nmother totally and for good. All the best to you.

Anonymous said...

Your intuitiveness and writings are amazing!. My thoughts exactly (though could not have put to words such as yourself) Have/and or have had N's in my life both as BF and other relationships.. They all operate with the same ammunition, sadly..

Looking forward to reading more from you.. Take Care

Denise said...

The funny thing I have noticed from the N's I've dealt with in life... there is always something inside myself that keeps me from caving to them.. werid thing is , I know without a doubt they sense "whatever" it is then "tip-toe" for some time and try to start back on the "same ole track". As very, very hurtful as they are/can be sometimes it is alittle enjoyable to ignore them because any response, they (IMO) see as once again approval of "how wonderful" they think they are..

Glad I found this blog, cannot wait to read your blogs ... :)

Celine Suchanek said...

I have no idea if you will read this I have dealt with narcissists in my life but I learned and I have a hard time doing this is like the Bible says not to keep record of wrongs and I know if I don't forgive God won't forgive me. I do believe God wants us to forgive even if the person does not forgive because unforgiveness is quite dangerous and I learned if someone is a Christian they can lose their soul. This does not mean when we forgive we condone someone's behavior or God condones their behavior or sins and it also doesn't mean that you have to have relationships with that particular person. Many times separation is necessary otherwise it can destroy a person and also if you forgive but still condone their behavior it is also harmful to those type of people because they never learn what they are doing wrong. Anyway it's just what I learned. I like your blog.