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02.28.2014 Sharon Spano, Ph.D.

Beware of Narcissistic Generosity

While I’m on the subject of narcissism, I thought I might as well address how this disorder shows up with respect to the dichotomy between scarcity and generosity.

The narcissist is the poster child for scarcity of thought—meaning, there is never enough. Of anything. Love, sex, money, position, status. You name it.

So, how does this mindset of scarcity translate to generosity?

The Difference between Narcissistic Generosity and Authentic Generosity

All giving is not created equal.

Regardless of their financial status, the narcissist gives whether they have money or not. However, they give from a depraved sense of self. In extreme cases, this type of individual may be addicted to giving, even willing to go into debt. The giving, you see, is more about looking good than it is generosity.

Authentic generosity comes from an empathetic heart and the desire to serve a greater good. As with most aspects of life, the difference between the two lies in the intention behind the act of giving.

The question that must be asked and answered is: Is the person giving from a generous heart or from a scarcity mindset that dictates the need for more and more recognition and approval?

It’s a question worthy of consideration because if you’re on the receiving end of a narcissistic giver, it can be very troubling. One minute this person may be discrediting your very existence. The next minute, she may be offering up praise, opportunity, and gifts of the highest order.

Think of Meryl Streep in the movie, The Devil Wears Prada. Based on the novel of the same title, many speculated that Meryl’s ruthless tactics were indistinguishable from the famed editor of Vogue magazine, Anna Wintour.

The movie is a frightening depiction of narcissistic leadership, but, unfortunately, truth is often more brutal than fiction. Beware!

If you can remember that manipulation is the weapon of choice for the narcissist, you will be much more prepared to stave off any pretentious acts of pseudo-generosity that may come your way.

Here are some additional pointers that may help you further:

Avoid the Show

For the narcissist, there is always a show attached to the giving. That show looks like many different things. For example, extravagant gifts for others that doesn't include the rest of the team’s participation.

Such acts of generosity are often accompanied by exaggerated stories of how and what they gave. The lives they saved. The people they changed. And, you will hear these stories again and again.

Avoid being part of the audience. Walk away from the show.

Graciously Decline the Gift

If you receive from a narcissist, you will eventually pay a price. It’s a bit tricky to decline the offer if the narcissist is your boss. Seek to find ways to do so with grace and respect.

Narcissistic giving comes not only from a need for approval. It stems from an embedded need for power and control. The narcissist’s inner dialogue may sound something like this:

“I’m in control of what and how much you receive. My giving depends on your behavior and whether or not I deem you worthy. I expect undying loyalty and gratitude in return. And, by the way, don’t forget to tell everyone you know how great I am.”

Pretty scary stuff, right? Hardly worth the price of admission.

Narcissistic generosity is therefore designed to pull you deeper into a hole of indebtedness. While it may be tempting to receive that opulent gift or opportunity, kindly decline and move on.

Be Watchful

Again, I’m not recommending that you go around labeling everyone who gives in significant ways as a narcissist. However, if you suspect that someone you work or live with falls into this disorder, pay attention to their actions and what you can surmise about their intentions.

Watch not only what and how they give, but pay attention to the after-effects of their generosity.

Are they boasting or bragging about their own generosity? Are they submitting others to more power and control as a result of their giving? Are they showing up as selfish and greedy in other aspects of their life? Do they fail to demonstrate empathy for others in the midst of their giving? Do they name drop to whom they gave and how much?

If you've fallen prey to a narcissist giver, I’d love to hear about that gift of generosity and the price you paid.

You may leave a comment here.

Published by Sharon Spano, Ph.D. February 28, 2014