This week’s Torah portion speaks about a type of person that probably has at one time or another unfortunately entered our lives – The Narcissist. My guess is that every one of us knows or has known a Narcissist and has had some experience with him or her.
The Torah’s description of Lavan is a prime example of such a person. Lavan was the guy who pulled the switcharoo on Jacob on the wedding night and replaced his daughter, Leah for his other daughter, Rachel whom Jacob really loved. (It’s one of the reasons the groom places the veil on his bride right before the chuppah so, “We don’t get fooled again.”)
Jacob ended up working 14 years for these women as “payment” plus another six years for Lavan. The problem was that after all these years, he still hadn’t amassed any wealth for himself or his family as he was in essence working slave-like for Lavan for the right to marry his daughters. He decides to go it alone and makes a business agreement with his father-in-law and ends up doing quite well for himself, becoming very successful and wealthy.
This created a lot of jealousy in Lavan’s heart, as well as in the hearts of the other siblings, and it made it untenable for Jacob and family to continue the same living arrangement. Jacob decides to take his family and leave Lavan, but first consults with his wives, naturally, about the decision.
One gets a window into the type of person Lavan has been over the years, by Rachel and Leah’s reaction when being told by Jacob of his wish to leave their father, their other siblings and the home and birthplace that is familiar to them:
And Rachel and Leah replied and said to him, “Do we still have a share or an inheritance in our father’s house? Are we not considered by him as strangers, for he sold us and also consumed our money.”
Nice. In essence, they wholeheartedly agree that their dad is a lying and cheating creep, that there will be no love lost and that the best thing is to take off and get as far away from him as possible. So off they go.
Lavan gives chase once he hears they have taken flight and a showdown with Jacob ensues. After a bitter exchange, Jacob finally unloads on his father-in-law. One can feel the pent-up frustration of decades of abuse when he finally lets his father-in-law have it. “What is my crime?! What wrong have I done that you have hotly pursued me?!”
We hear from Jacob how during these twenty years he would absorb any losses whenever the flock would get sick or die, that Lavan constantly changed Jacob’s wage and that Jacob would work endless hours for Lavan in the heat and cold. Twenty years of injustice, anger, abuse and raw rage from a wronged and wounded man came bursting forth at that moment when Jacob finally let Lavan have it.
But one wonders, what took him so long? Why did Jacob wait for all this time before he finally told his father-in-law what he really thought of him and what a low-life he really was? The same question comes to mind whenever we read about the Harvey Weinsteins, Andrew Cuomos and various artists and politicians whose bad and even criminal behavior took so long to come to light. What took so long? Why didn’t anyone speak up earlier?
The simple and obvious answer in one thing: Power. The accuser has very little and the accused has it all. Lavan controlled Jacob’s life for a very long time – many years until Jacob got older, was married, had children, amassed his own wealth and finally grew independent and was no longer under Lavan’s thumb. The same can be said of the women who were at the whim of powerful men who controlled their future, their good-and-welfare as they were in the midst of trying to get ahead in life and career.
But it goes beyond that. All these men are classical cases of males who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Yes, such a thing really exists. It is much more than the average Joe with the average ego. People with NPD “have an excessive need for admiration, disregard for others’ feelings, an inability to handle any criticism, and a sense of entitlement”. And in order for the Narcissist to pull this off, he is very smart and clever at manipulating others for his desires, needs and exploitation. In fact, he is so good at deceiving, lying and changing the rules that he will leave you scratching your head and questioning yourself. This is why we read that the victimized women often feel shame and embarrassment as if they did something wrong when in truth it was fully the other party’s fault.
A typical reaction to a Narcissist’s change of rules, convincing manipulation and rewriting of past events is that we end up wondering, “Is that what happened? Is that what we agreed upon? Did I really say that?” That is because the Narcissist comes off as so honest, so decent, so well-meaning and will always claim that they are only acting on our behalf and interest, never theirs. He is an expert at deception to the point that he probably believes his own lies as the truth; that his revisionist history is how it actually played out. This completely throws off honest and decent people because it is so foreign. One cannot imagine themselves or anyone else behaving is such a blatant dishonest manner.
It is no accident that the Torah’s Narcissist goes by the name of Lavan. Lavan is the Hebrew word for White. The Narcissist appears white, clean and pure. This sort of evil is not Hitler, the Joker or Darth Vader. This is Jeffrey Epstein and Kevin Spacey – pristine, charming, likeable and with a fantastic smile. White as snow.
So what do we do? How do we deal with such people? There is only one solution and Jacob’s actions show us what that is: We flee. We take off. We separate. There is no working with such people. There is no compromise. There is no “maybe they will come around if I gave them one more chance.”
A psychologist once told me that in his profession, the advice given in dealing with a Narcissist is to set boundaries. There is no other way. And indeed that is what Jacob and Lavan do at the end of the parsha when they make a formal agreement to literally not cross over a physical boundary to one another.
But here is the good news: Once you make that boundary and are firm about it, they will respect it and leave you, just like Lavan took leave of Jacob. That is because once the Narcissist sees that he can no longer control you and he cannot use you to feed his endless manipulating ego, he will have no use for you anymore. Like magic, Puff – he will be gone! He will leave his place in your life, walk out the door and won’t return.
And when that happens, not only will you be free from the cloud and darkness that he brought into your life, but more – the wonderful thing that happened to Jacob as soon as he left Lavan will happen to you as well: “And Jacob went on his way, whereupon angels of God met up with him. And when Jacob saw them he declared, ‘This is a Godly place.’”
Once the Narcissist is out of your life, you will immediately feel the warmth, spirituality and goodness of God and His world once again. You will be back at a Godly place.
But there’s a side to you
That I never knew, never knew
All the things you’d say
They were never true, never true
And the games you play
You would always win, always win