In one of my Joy Groups, we are doing an in-depth study about narcissism and how to deal with it both in ourselves and with others. We are learning that there are different ‘’types’’ and different “degrees” of narcissism. Most of us have no problem recognizing the blatant, harsh, self-justifying, defensive kind. There’s no question it’s painful and needs addressing. But I am learning about another kind of narcissism—an attack that can be subtle and hard to recognize.
Subtle narcissism attacks can feel like wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the attack is covered in “niceness.” It may feel like the person is trying to fix me; it may feel insincere and manipulative; it may feel intrusive, but it’s not blatantly harsh.
These subtle attacks can be ‘’crazy-making,” because we’re not sure why we are feeling that something is off. Is there something wrong with me that I feel this way? Am I imagining that this person is doing or saying something hurtful? How do I respond in the midst of this uncertainty? Will I be hurtful or self-justifying if I think they are off? Maybe you can’t identify with these feelings and questions, but if you do, I believe some relational brain science will help us.
Our brains have a fast track that picks up on non-verbal cues.
Learning that our brains have a ‘’fast track” (the right hemisphere which is relational) and a “slow track” (the left hemisphere which is an analytical problem solver) makes it easier for us to recognize when these subtle attacks happen. Our fast track picks up on innuendos, underlying attitudes, and agendas that the other person might not be consciously aware of themselves. They might be acting out of their wounds or their fears. They might be looking to solve a problem rather than keep the relationship as most important. Because the fast track is non-verbal, it’s difficult to pin point what we’re feeling because the subtle attack seems “nice.”
The right brain needs training in Christ-like responses.
Understanding how our brains work in relationships and how joy means, “Someone is glad to be with me,” helps me understand these subtle nuances. I want to relate authentically, being safe and kind. I don’t want others to feel attacked or manipulated. What I want is a well-trained “fast track” that responds gently, curiously, and kindly when I feel a relational bump. What is trained into the right side of my brain is what is going to come out when I’m bumped. That tells me it is highly important to train my brain in Christ-like responses. The fast track does not give us time to think and choose—it is faster than conscious thought.
Here are some things I am practicing in order to train my fast track to be a gentle responder: I notice if my relational circuits go off and then do various calming exercises to get them back on. I practice noticing when they are off during normal joy-filled relationships. Then it’s easier to notice when I get a more difficult bump.We are more likely to respond in a kind manner when relational circuits are on.
It’s important to practice the fast track skills.
I pause and take a breath when a bump happens. This opens the door for Jesus to enter the situation. His presence brings a relational response rather than a reaction that likely will make things worse. I spend time with others who know these relational brain skills. I stay humble and teachable. Then others with whom I share life can help me notice when I react instead of respond as a gentle protector.
If you want to know more about training the fast track, check out our upcoming RARE Leadership conference October 21, 2017, in Atlanta area.