They go together like a horse and carriage, don’t they? Hypocrisy is just as essential to a narcissist’s functioning as a horse is to a carriage’s.
You see, it is the very essence of a narcissist to be self-serving, which makes things like truth, integrity, and reliability a bit of an anathema to them. Narcissists are all about image—substance means nothing to them—and so such virtues as truth and honesty and integrity must be sacrificed when they don’t support the image, making narcissists bred-in-the-bone hypocrites.
The Free Dictionary lists the following as definitions of “hypocrisy”: The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness. The practice of professing standards, beliefs, etc., contrary to one’s real character or actual behaviour, especially the pretence of virtue and piety; the condition of a person pretending to be something he is not, especially in the area of morals or religion; a false presentation of belief or feeling. Insincerity by virtue of pretending to have qualities or beliefs that you do not really have. Like denial, not everyone who engages in hypocrisy is a narcissist, but all narcissists are hypocrites. It comes with the personality disorder.
Hypocrisy is really nothing more than a form of dishonesty. It is professing to be one thing—polishing the image one projects onto the world—while actually being something else. The narcissist’s whole life is a lie designed to fool “outsiders” so the narcissist can get Nsupply from them. Narcissists, for all they operate the same, are still individuals so each will have his own particular form of Nsupply to seek. For some it is the adulation of others, for some it is pity and sympathy, for others it is fear and power. Some may seek fame or fortune, others may shun notoriety and seek what they believe to be expressions of respect from others but they are all doing exactly the same thing in the same way with the same goal: doing anything they can that works to feed the hungry beast within.
The narcissist carries fire in one hand and water in the other. In other words, he is…duplicitous, engages in double-dealing, is two-faced, speaks with forked tongue…the expression indicates that a person is prepared to act in totally contradictory ways to achieve his purpose. Narcissists are not stupid, however, but they are arrogant. So while there is no act of treachery too great for a narcissist to commit to get what he wants, he can be restrained by fear of consequences, assuming his arrogance doesn’t convince him he won’t get caught.
In the classic poem, Dante’s Inferno, hypocrites reside in the 8th circle of Hell…listlessly walking along wearing gilded lead cloaks, which represent the falsity behind the surface appearance of their actions – falsity that weighs them down and makes spiritual progress impossible for them. And so it is with hypocrites: invested in their own lies, chained to the necessity to keep up the front, ensnared by their own illusions, hypocrites are nothing but pathetic liars, trapped in a web of their own making, unable to grow emotionally or spiritually. They are forever stuck where they are, having to invent more and more lies, create more and more illusions, fool more and more people, just to keep from sliding backwards into their real selves.
You know people like this—we all do. Some of us had mothers like this, women who gave the world their sweetest faces and mouthed the words expected of them while showing their true, ugly colours at home. We’ve had bosses and co-workers, religious and political leaders, siblings and friends, who showed one face to the public and another in private. There was recently a scandal about a televangelist, Creflo Dollar, a man who preaches brotherly love over the airwaves and who was arrested for choking his teen aged daughter. Additionally, Rev. Dollar preaches a “prosperity Gospel,” holding himself up as an example of his message that God wants us all to be prosperous, despite the fact that the god he professes to represent said, in Matthew 19:22 that it is more difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.
My NM was a master hypocrite. One of the best examples I can relate was told to me by my step-mother, a woman who first met me when I was about eight years old. My stepmother had often observed my mother’s blatant favouritism towards my GC Bro, something she could neither fathom nor explain. Whether it was clothes or medical care, privileges or pocket money, GCBro got what he wanted I had to come up with justifications why I should have whatever it was I wanted (even if it was something as basic as a bra that fit properly). My stepmother was actually embarrassed to see her husband’s daughter wearing cast-offs that were 20 years out of fashion or dresses more suitable for flat-chested ten-year olds than a young teen with a rapidly developing figure—so embarrassed, in fact, that she bought me a small but age-appropriate wardrobe to be kept at my father’s house and worn when I was visiting.
It should be noted here that my NM was one of three children and the only daughter and was fussed over by both her parents, especially her father. She grew up in the 1930s and ’40s, a time when the society still had strict gender roles and in which girls, while cosseted by their parents, at the same time enjoyed much less freedom than their brothers. Everyone I spoke to about her—her mother, her brothers, an auntie—all said the same thing: she was coddled and spoiled, but her behaviour was still expected to conform to what was “proper” for a young lady of her era.
For some reason unknown to us all, some 25 years after divorcing my father, NM apparently set aside her irrational antipathy towards my stepmother and suddenly began acting like they were best friends. On one occasion, when they happened to run into each other in town and my stepmother couldn’t get away fast enough, NM buttonholed her and went on an extended rant about how badly her mother had treated her and how she had, unjustly and to NM’s great emotional pain, heavily favoured her brothers. Stepmama related this conversation to me some years after it happened, rolling her eyes through the whole telling, ending up with “I wanted to grab her and shake her and scream ‘You damned hypocrite! You stand here telling me all this after treating your own daughter like a poor relation you were stuck with?’ I wanted to smack her!”
Living a life of hypocrisy requires a strong tolerance for cognitive dissonance—or an extraordinary ability to fool oneself. I suspect narcissists, particularly malignant narcissists, fall into the latter category. If they redefine what they are doing so that it is “different” from what they publicly disdain, they never come up against that bugaboo, cognitive dissonance. I have a particular abhorrence of euphemisms as a result of my NM’s creativity when it came to redefining her behaviours so that she was not tainted by the same brush she used to tar others.
A good example of that was her hostility towards poor Mrs. MacKenzie, a widow with two young daughters who lived next door to us when I was about six. NM called the police on Mrs. MacKenzie for “beating those poor girls” while she, herself, beat me mercilessly with a thin leather strap that left whip-like welts on my legs and buttocks. How did she manage to seeing herself as the “hypocrite” I so clearly see? By 1) redefining what she was doing: she was disciplining an incorrigible child (and she called the beatings “spankings”) and 2) labelling me a discipline problem when, in fact, I was too afraid of her to defy her and the majority of my sins were committed out of ignorance (she would tell me to do something, fail to instruct me in how to do it, then beat the crap out of me for doing it wrong). In her mind, she was being a good mother, disciplining a problem child while Mrs. MacKenzie was a child abuser.
Hypocrites, particularly narcissistic hypocrites, may tell themselves that it is OK for them to do something, but not for others. In this situation, they have convinced themselves that they are special, that the rules that apply to others do not apply to them. A good example of this is Rick Santorum, erstwhile Republican presidential nominee and his rabid anti-abortion stance. Except that his wife had a second-trimester abortion with his agreement. His position is that abortion for any reason—incest, rape, pregnant little girl, to save the life of the mother—is wrong and should be outlawed. And yet when it was his wife, delirious from a high fever and looking death in the face, Santorum himself authorized the induction of labour in her fourth month in order to save her life. You or I get to die, leaving behind our motherless children, but not Rick Santorum’s wife and kids…
Another trick of the narcissistic hypocrite is to blame the victim for his hypocritical behaviour in an effort to rationalize or normalize or simply make what he did OK. I have a dear friend who is in a relationship with a man who has abused her emotionally and verbally for years and recently has escalated to physical abuse. He does not view himself as an abuser because, in his mind, she provoked him, she made him do it. In his own view, he is a peaceful man who would never hurt anyone…
One of the hallmarks of narcissistic hypocrisy is the conviction that others must follow the rules, obey the laws…everyone except them. My narcissistic ex-husband was a great proponent of this theory. And arrogant enough to actually tell me to my face! Other people had to follow the rules so that he would know what to expect from them. Other people should stop when the traffic light turns yellow so he can jump ahead of everyone else waiting at the intersection without getting hit; they should also wait a bit after the light turns green so he can run a red with impunity. For the narcissistic hypocrite, rules are made to be broken, but only by them.
Narcissism cannot exist without hypocrisy. In order to rationalize or justify the behaviours narcissists undertake in order to get their Nsupply, it is inevitable that at some point, they are going have to take the hypocritical way out. They will always find ways to justify themselves, even if it simply comes down to narcissism’s “I’m special” component.
When you engage with a narcissist, expect hypocrisy. Expect double standards not only in his personal life, but in his observations of the lives and activities of others. Unless you enjoy courting disappointment, don’t expect fairness from a narcissist, at least not fairness as you or I would define it. My ex-husband professed a belief in gender equality but when I asked him to do half of the housework (I worked a full-time job too), he refused on the grounds that he made more money that I did. My view was that we both were out of the house ten hours a day, counting the commute—I had no more time to do housework than he did, so while I fixed dinner (he couldn’t cook), would he do some tidying up or maybe clean the kitchen after dinner. His view was that until I earned as much money as he did (he was an engineer and I was a secretary) and therefore made myself his equal, he was exempt from household chores—but still he saw himself as a staunch supporter of equality of the sexes!
This kind of thing can drive a person with a normal brain to absolute distraction. Like gaslighting, it can make you feel crazy and unbalanced. It is deeply unjust, something that strikes as the heart of anyone who was cursed with a narcissistic parent and forced into the role of family scapegoat. And yet, if the narcissist’s hypocrisy is dragged out and cast at his feet, he would deny the hypocrisy, insisting that you are misunderstanding, misinterpreting, or simply making a mountain out of a mole hill.
You can’t win with hypocrites of any stripe, and you can’t win with a narcissist. Both are deeply invested in their hypocrisy, their mind games, their entitlements. To maintain your sanity, all you can really do is walk away—and stay gone.
It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.