Creating an environment that is “us vs them” is fine for a sports team, but when that starts showing up in organizations and family systems, you are entering the category of narcissism in the leadership.

Evidence of this in organizations and families can be seen with those that have left the system. Are they welcome to stay in relationships with those that still remain? Are they shamed or shunned for leaving? Do they become the “them” that is now the competition/enemy?

Narcissists thrive by creating binds that keep people loyal to them. Threats (implicit or explicit) to the future success of those that leave, character assasination, and disparaging remarks about those that have left create emotional binds for those on the inside. The bind is this: Expose the unethical or immoral behavior and get a target painted on your back.

Leaving these leaders, systems, or cultures is anything but easy. To leave means that the employee or family member risks being ostracized, or living into the promised reality that the culture said would happen to those on the “outside.” “You won’t be able to make it on your own.” “We made you what you are.”

The really seductive narcissists will name and celebrate the good things about people in ways that they’ve never felt before. It feels so affirming and accepting. Unfortunately when one ceases to be any use for the narcissist, they are ignored which often leaves a massive emotional hole. To be known and celebrated like never before is now gone and in it’s place is as cold as the good feelings were warm.

Leaving a narcissistic culture or leader takes a lot of character, strength, and courage. It usually does not go well at first. Triggering the narcissists shame is what everyone is afraid of, so the culture continues to protect him/her from their shame. The culture will laugh at his jokes that are inappropriate, learn to rage at those that the narcissist hates, and will generally do anything to not be the object of the narcissists ire.

When someone leaves, it arouses and exposes the narcissists shame. A narcissist fundamentally cannot bear their shame, and thus they will typically go on the offensive to not feel “left, abandoned.” The one leaving will usually receive the brunt of the narcissist’s shame by way of projection. This is why it’s so important to leave with the help of friends, family (if they are not the narcissist), and an experienced guide.