Narcissists, Players, Charlatans, Why do we believe them?

Forty years ago, hundreds of people went to their death in a country called Guyana. Back in 1978, I was a teenage girl in high school and two years later wrote my first paper on the topic of “Religious Cults” which would transform my life. On May of 2011, I published “The Child of the Narcissist,” on my blog post and began working with survivors of narcissism in my practice. There are different phases that I see. One is the denial phase which is when the person has not yet let the person go. Second, is the acceptance phase which is when they are in realization stage and feel angry, frustrated, duped, taken, had, and wonder “How could I have been so stupid?” Or the child of a narcissist will say “Can they be helped?,” or “Am I destined to become this way?” Thirdly, I see the healing stage when they begin to set boundaries and take back their power and their life. The third stage is a place that they will be in the rest of their life because you must always be conscious, mindful and awake when you meet someone that seems to have certain qualities.

The people of Jonestown are no different than a woman who meets up with some guy who is playing her. People who fall for a narcissistic type are vulnerable, desperate and yearn to be loved and accepted. These type of people – narcissists/players/charlatans (parents are a different category because you aren’t choosing them, though this could be argued from a metaphysical perspective), are very aware of their power over men and women. They have learned – from the cradle – that they are entitled in some way. This can be from a self-imposed entitlement to protect themselves (by self-soothing) or an entitlement given to them by a parent. I have known and learned of parents who say their child is perfect and will do whatever it takes to protect them. This takes away from a child learning when they make a mistake. It takes away from a child growing and evolving over time. A friend’s father was a criminal attorney in Los Angeles and he once told me that mother’s would take second mortgages out on their homes, sell their cars, jewelry, whatever assets they could give up to pay his fees and get their kids off. My mother told us that if we went to jail we would rot.  When I watched the movie “Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones,” I remember noting that he was engaged in animal cruelty as a boy.

When you read a little of Jim Jones biography online, you learn he was reading about leaders at a very young age such as Hitler and Stalin, all the bad guys who believed in creating what they believed was a utopia and that many people fell prey too. Jim Jones would no doubt have had many more followers today with our liberal movement – in a polarized society – because he was very big on racial equality that was not quite so popular in the 60’s and 70’s.  He adopted kids and called them a “rainbow family,” he hung out in the ghettos of the inner city where he embellished them with empathy and support. He was very much into inclusion vs. segregation. Today’s society would be worshipping a guy like him. Social Media takes advantage of people but it also worships people and generally, it is the one who seems to have the most “likes” for fame or infamy. We don’t care who it is, as long as they seem to “do the right thing.” We are more gullible now than we were then because people were much more suspicious at that time. However, those who were desperate and needy and wanting to be loved and accepted would take what they were offered. They were offered a man calling himself a Reverend. At that time, there were many charlatans on Television, though most preyed on White victims who were gullible. I remember watching a glimpse of these things while flipping channels and thinking to myself how dumb these people were.

Players or Narcissists or Sociopaths that women fall prey to are generally just local yokels that have an allure about them. Most people will think Narcissist and talk about CEO’s or Presidents or World Leaders but the vast majority are just everyday people. Many have no money at all. They just talk a good game. I have seen them on the streets of Oakland and I am not just talking about pimps and drug dealers. I have met a couple in my personal life. Now, I just hear about them in my office. Women give up their money, their families, but most of all; their sense of self. These guys are handsome but not necessarily, the woman feels that there is chemistry, often he “blows up their phone,” which makes the woman think he cares.

First, the guy comes on to them like a shy but clever puppy dog. He seems to lap up their words and embellish them with praises or just appear to be listening. He picks up on certain words or sentences that, at first, seem to show he gets them but later it becomes a weapon. How does this guy have such a great memory? Some of these players will wine and dine at first or at least until the check comes and they realized they have forgotten their wallet and make a feeble attempt for an excuse. A very liberal guy I dated once, waited till the bill came to make me aware he had no chivalry because he believed in women’s liberation. There will be jokey texts that are the beginnings of sarcasm but it seems cute and funny at first “Oh, that is just his personality,” they will tell me. Then the guy begins to push away and this is when the game begins. He is playing this game of cat and mouse, building more and more power with the person. I’ve watched my own cats play with a spider (a hopeless tiny thing) until they finally just kill it and then they walk away – they don’t even eat it.

The woman is really trapped when she tries to play his game. She begins to think she understands him. She spends her waking life thinking about him and wondering how she can get him back. In therapy, I hear long stories about how much she knows him, how two can play that game. It is sad to sit with a victim who is clueless. It is sad to listen to them talk for hours and hours about this person and wonder when they are going to get it (don’t think I just sit there though, it takes time to help a person who is in the throes of a player). I will say to them, “Do you think he is in therapy now talking about you?” or “Do you feel he spends this much time thinking about you all day?”

Stonewalling: when the player has given you way more space than you bargained for and you begin to think you are over him yet you spend every moment wondering. This is the crucial part where I try to talk to women about blocking him and moving forward in their life. It is just a hint to them at first, when they pretend they are ready to move forward. In reality, I know they are not going to block him because every day is a possibility. He knows this too. Especially when the woman needs to share something they found online – just a cute little note “That I know he would like.” This lack of impulse control shows they are now capable of ruining their own lives. They share it; get some snarky comment and the woman takes the bait. Now she is being punished and begins to enjoy it in an unconscious way. She will try harder the next time to say something more meaningful. I wrote email after email trying to profess how liberal I was becoming for a guy once. He continued to tell me I wasn’t liberal enough and wasn’t doing enough.

When you try to hint to a woman that “I hope your spouse doesn’t find these messages, [to the other guy/gal]” and they don’t seem to care this is when it is clear that they are going to get hurt. I had a woman who spent years chasing a guy who spent those same years ganging up on her till she ended up with nothing. She was dumped in another state with no transportation or money to get home, not once but twice. When women are trying to heal or become a survivor the anger is now transferred onto the guy. “How could he do something like that when he knew [x,y or z.” It is not part of a “good person’s” mindset to bring harm to someone. Hence the confusion on the victim’s part.

Jim Jones received accolades before he went to Guyana. In 1960, he was appointed to the Indianapolis Human Rights Commission. He was speaking out on radio and Television interviews. By 1977, he received the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian award. The NAACP and the Urban League lapped up his praises; especially when he used their own words to play them. At that time, he was a savior to the inner city, just as Hitler had been for the Germans or Stalin and Marx had been for those seeking a philosophy that seemed to indicate a better life than what they had. Still today, people seek out the wisdom of Hitler, Stalin and Marx and many other people.  No matter what travesties these people caused in history there are still some people who continue to argue why they were right. Jim Jones had a collection of people by the time he got them on a plane and shipped them over to a little known county. And this was all before social media. Imagine what he could do now.

Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it isn’t. There is a difference though between your ego and your instincts. One is a gut feeling and the other is YOU. If it is all happening to soon, too quick, too fast, stall and step away. Don’t think about him, think about your life and what is important to you. If this person’s story doesn’t add up, it won’t – no matter how hard you are trying to make it total. When you are spending too much time trying to protect someone from others, you know they are wrong for you. A person who is right for you will just fit easily into your life. You won’t have to explain anything. No matter how alone you are it is much better to wake up by yourself and know the day is yours than to wake up to a text message that gives you a stomach ache for the rest of the day. Being alone and having a life that is yours is much better than having a life of constant agony. Being able to choose what you will do today is better than having someone choose it for you.

When I wrote my paper on Religious Cults, back in 1980, I was 17 years old. I was about to become pregnant and married to an abusive man. I had lived in a narcissistic household that was both emotionally and physically abusive so, I began as an adult with severe PTSD. I spent years in and out of relationships, some I see were narcissistic, some were good men that I wasn’t ready for and some were just not a good fit. In the meantime, I was in years of therapy. I spent years in college and then university. I went to many self-help teachers and absorbed their lectures. It wasn’t until 2012 when my very good friend and spiritual teacher died that I was forced to grow up and face reality; truly on my own for the first time. I had to be my own teacher with no one to depend on. This is when life took on a new meaning for me. This is when I finally got it. I understood integrity to self; more than ever before. I understood boundaries and my responsibility in making the choices I made. It didn’t mean my life became easy, far from it, but it meant that I no longer settled. It meant that I made choices on my own and didn’t fall prey to others wishes or demands. It means that I am alone and without many friends because integrity can be a lonely life – until you meet people of like minds or those who respect you for who you are. But went I look back at the life I have lived before, I wouldn’t choose that one over this, “a lone” life, for anything in the world. Yes, I wish I had figured this out sooner, so I would have had a different life but I didn’t and I accept that this is where I am meant to be. I accept that the people I am here to teach are those who made choices like me (you can’t con someone who has been conned).

The balance of power weighs heavily on my mind, as it has since I got into the field of psychology. I owe a debt of gratitude to John F. Kennedy University for teaching me about countertransference and transference issues that one would face in the professional world. I also owe a debt of gratitude to all the teachers and therapists who helped guide me along the way. The victims of Jim Jones massacre began an eye-opening experience, to myself as a young girl out on a farm in Ohio, that have continued to remain in the back of my mind as I grow and have evolved into the person I am today.

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