Why I Believe the Narcissist's Enablers Are Also Guilty
What is Narcissism?
Malignant narcissism is a personality disorder, characterized by a flagrant disregard for the rights of others. Narcissistic individuals abuse those around them. In a group setting, such as an office, they typically select one person at a time for an extreme and intense form of emotional warfare. Social scientists call this "narcissistic abuse."
They are consummate and skillful liars. By spreading false stories about their target, they are able to win people to their camp. One characteristic of this personality disorder is apparent lack of conscience or remorse. Narcissists also have a difficult time with accountability — if they are confronted about their behavior, they will generally fly into a rage.
Psychologists believe that narcissism is a permanent, incurable condition.
The Role of the Enablers
There'd be no such thing as narcissistic abuse if it weren't for the enablers. These are the folks who sit on the sidelines and watch someone else being whipped. They could step in and demand that it stop. They have the power to do so. All it takes is one or two courageous souls to say, "No, this is not okay."
For various reasons, however, enablers elect to remain "neutral."
The narcissist depends upon these weak-willed comrades. Abusing someone isn't any fun if it's only a party of two. With a crowd, there's unlimited potential for drama. The narcissist can pull a lot more strings that way.
If it were just the abuser and her target, it wouldn't be worth it to carry out a full-fledged hate campaign. So, the narcissist works to get others to turn on the target. The collective betrayal, which comes from the camp of these enablers, is even more devastating than the primary source of abuse.
Targets—especially if this happens at work or in a social setting—watch as the people they thought were their friends slink away as the battle intensifies.
Not taking a stand to stop someone from being hurt doesn't absolve you of guilt. On the contrary, you become an active participant, whether you consider yourself one or not.
Some enablers even take it a step beyond, by switching from idling in neutral to all-out support of the morally disordered person. They may even turn into "flying monkeys" who carry out small attacks in order to stay on the bully's good side.
Enablers are Not Innocent
Why People Become Enablers
- Most enablers likely act out of weakness rather than malice. However, this doesn't excuse them. That's because enablers have a lot of power. The abuser relies upon them not to back up the target. Before any attacks begin, a morally disordered person will carefully plan the battle. This can take months to even years before direct hits are launched.
- Warfare begins only if it's clear that there's an excellent chance of decimating a target. If there's a solid support system, the abuser won't make a move. This means the enablers are the variable, which can either make or break a plan. The narcissist knows this, which is why so much effort is put into creating chaos and confusion. This makes it easier for the enablers to rationalize their position. They may even begin to believe the target is getting the treatment she deserves, and that she did something to warrant the narcissist's extreme reaction.
Motivated by Self Interest
Enablers are guided by self interest. So, they choose not to help the victim.
- In a social setting, such as in a neighborhood full of young mothers, a woman might worry about her own social standing. She doesn't want to be the next victim. She also wants to ensure her children aren't ostracized.
- Narcissists are serial abusers. Once they eliminate one person, they find someone else to kick around. This is the unspoken threat that keeps enablers in line. The fear of ending up as a target is palpable and overriding.
Onlookers are Afraid of the Bully
In the Workplace
A lot of emotional abuse among adults takes place at work. It seems as if every office now has a resident bully. Bully behavior is what narcissists excel at. Undoubtedly, a lot of these folks suffer from malignant narcissism, or a related personality disorder. Here is how it carries out:
- The target receives no help. When an attack is carried out at work, it's a very rare individual who'll risk their job to defend a target. However, this is understandable considering that livelihoods are at stake. Although we are still called to do the right thing, putting up resistance could get you into trouble, while not doing anything can also be hazardous to your job.
- The target ends up leaving. Workplace bullies attack with the aim of driving their target into the unemployment line. Usually they succeed. About 75 percent of the time, someone who's bullied at work moves on. This happens either because they are fired, due to trumped up charges, or they voluntarily resign.
- Then, the attacker moves on to the next. Workplace bullies operate on a similar principle as serial killers — they are angry, bloodthirsty creatures who need fresh prey. Once the target leaves, they start hunting for another. This person is often chosen from their pool of enablers. In an especially ironic twist, a "flying monkey" may even find herself on the receiving end of a narcissist's wrath.
Narcissists are Seething with Rage
Why People Fall for the Lies
Some enablers don't help because they have swallowed the stories concocted by the narcissist. But this doesn't entirely let them off the hook, because we're not supposed to listen to gossip in the first place. If someone is painted in an unflattering light, we should stop the conversation and insert a kind word on that person's behalf. It appears as if an enabler neglects this important step. Instead, they listen to the falsehoods being spread.
The fact that some people believe these tales says little about your character, but volumes about theirs. First, because they listen to gossip, they encourage this vice. They provide a comfortable ear for the tale-bearer. They also suspend their ability to think critically, and to form their own opinions about someone. This is why enablers are not so innocent. They've made a choice to support the abuse, even if they don't see it that way.
In my personal experience with narcissistic abuse, I've found that education is my best weapon. This is why I often recommend that targets read all they can about this disorder. The book Narcissists Exposed is an excellent introduction to the warped mind of a malicious personality. It clues you in to the game played by disordered people. Once you understand how they operate, you're not nearly as vulnerable to their attacks. After a while, with proper distance, it may even become amusing.
Suggested Alternative Behavior
Stand by the Target
Confront the Perpetrator
End the Gossip
Refusing to go along with the plan. If someone is mistreated or excluded, a true friend will work to rectify the situation.
Let a bully know that his/her bad behavior hasn't gone unnoticed should help reign in the abuse. Bullies rely upon lack of social sanctions.
Refuting the lies you hear frees you from the compromising position of being an enabler.
How to Support the Target
Targets often make the mistake the thinking that the enablers are their friends. However, true friends won't tolerate their buddy being mistreated. They will find a way to defend them, even if it means they take a personal risk. It's understandable that a workplace colleague wants to protect his or her position.
There are still ways to support a friend who's under fire:
- You can walk away, or issue a strong defensive statement, when the trash talk begins. This sends a loud message that you're not going along with the program.
- Or, if everyone is going out for drinks after work, and the target doesn't receive an invitation, a true friend will also decline. Anything else means lending your acceptance.
An Explanation of Workplace Bullying
A Painful Reality
If you're a target, it's a painful realization that the abuse kicked into high gear only with the help of enablers, some of whom may even have stooped so low as to deliver a few blows themselves.
Remember, their behavior is not a reflection of your worth as a person. Instead, they chose the path of least resistance, which underscores the fact they don't have much integrity. Now, they need to watch their own backs because they could be next.
A personal note: I am not a licensed mental health professional. I learned about malignant narcissism through first-hand experience.