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Narcissists’ Shocking Lack of Discernment and Weird Tangents (Homeschool Grads Read This!)

Have you ever been to Yellowstone National Park? We spent part of our honeymoon there and were fascinated by the bubbling mud pots. They burble and bubble and then blop! The mudpot finally vomits up a great big glop of steaming muck.

This article was born like that. There was something, something, about narcissism hidden at the back of my bubbling, burbling mind but I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then blop! Finally it was vomited out: Narcissists’ Shocking Lack of Discernment which informs their tendency to go spinning off on “unusual” tangents.

These are mature adults. Well-educated. Successful. Wealthy. Deeply religious. Yet they don’t have the discernment God gave a goose. They don’t have the normalcy and common sense of a preschooler.

The date was Good Friday 2014. It’s a date I will never forget as it illustrated narcissists’ lack of discernment brilliantly.The peace of Good Friday was shattered when a police officer banged on my door, wanting to know if I was okay. My narcissistic granny had sent him. After years of being traumatized and held against my will, now she thought I was being abused post-escape!?! All I could think was, in the words of Red Skelton, “I don’t need you now!”. You’re twenty years too late.

Narcissists are consistent in getting the wrong end of the stick. They may be the highly-educated but they don’t have the common sense God gave a preschooler. Even as a child, I wondered why my adults were blind or even worse, spouted brainwashing nonsense to convince me that my crystal-clear discernment was wrong, particularly about them!

Narcissists only see what they want to see. In a cult, they may see the possibility of being elite, powerful, “better than” and loved. Their needs make them the perfect dupes to fall for every new tangent, every new cult, every new movement-with-a-cause, every new {fill-in-the-blank.} Their ego needs Us vs Them. Normalcy is too pedestrian, too bourgeois for them!

They’re always going off on tangents! Always trying something new, something better. They dive headfirst into things that give normal people the willies and then try to persuade everyone in their sphere to join in as well. That was how my narcissists lived. It all started in 1979 when my father supposedly saw a vision of Christ on the Cross and supposedly was born again.

It was the perfect time for a narcissist to become religious. Coming off of the cult-prone 1960s, the powerful wave of the Moral Majority of the 1970s and 1980s was tailormade for everyone who wanted to force their better-than-ness on society and Dad was only too glad to dive in.

We were dirt poor and eating beans, but we invested in the Moral Majority instead of in ourselves. There were Bible studies, door-to-door evangelization, Billy Graham Crusade involvement and I-know-not-what. Perhaps my earliest memory is riding on my father’s shoulders as he attended a rally against a female presidential candidate. Somewhere in the WCCO vaults is archival footage of me in my little snowsuit holding my little picket sign going round and round in the depths of winter. With the passion of youthful idealism, we were indefatigable.

No one was good enough for us. They were “worldly,” tsk, tsk. I was taught all my relatives were unsaved because they hadn’t embraced the born again message when proselytized by my parents. An old friend of my parents writes, “Your parents were quite strange. Your mom told myself and [L.B.] that she had no desire to be friends with us. That was strange.” She thinks it was because, “… [L. B.] and I had our own thoughts, we didn’t [let our husbands] tell us what to say, think or feel about things. We had our own minds and they didn’t / couldn’t control us.”

Forty years later, the true motivations, true agendas, true ties and true allegiance of the men who used the Moral Majority to catapult themselves into power have been revealed. It wasn’t Us vs Them. Everyone was on the same team. It didn’t matter who was elected. Society did not change. Their failure to deliver what they promised left their followers like my family feeling betrayed and cynical.

One tangent always seemed to lead to another. They weren’t necessarily bad. They were just … I dunno. Weird. Way ahead of their time. Too passionately embraced. We had no normalcy to buffer and temper the tangents. We were led into them too easily by our need to be the Best. Sometimes we led; often we were led by our extended narcissistic family that acted like a school of fish. What one did, they all did. The tangents fed our Us vs Them cult ego. We thought everyone should do what we did.

I remember some of the tangents.

About the only phase we didn’t go through is the can-your-garden-vegetables phase, bake-your-own-bread and aren’t-the-Amish-cool phase. I went through them as an adult and wish I’d been more discerning, more normal, less tangential, less paths-to-glory-are-paved-with-thorns myself! I’m wiser and less dogmatic now.

There’s nothing bad about any of those phases, per se. What was bad was how, in lieu of just being normal folks, we had to have tangents. If you haven’t lived it, it’s hard to describe it. Those of you who come from extreme homeschooling, the Quiverful movement, the IFB denomination and other cultlike denominations (notorious for sexual abuse by the clergy)…you know exactly what I’m talking about. The key word: “worldly.”

I mention Y2K last because it was so quintessentially tangential. To this day I cringe because we made such idiots of ourselves. We were preppers before the word was coined and we did it so publicly! We started by photocopying an article saying just how bad Y2K was going to be (raw sewage bubbling up all our toilets!) and distributed it with a cover letter to our entire family and neighbors. Then we got down to work.

Every spare moment I wasn’t in college classes, I was obliged to take mother to the grocery store. I brought home carload after carload of groceries. Anything we needed was socked away. Dad even invented a cover to seal the toilet when the sewer backed up. I found it hard to balance college and Y2K prepping.

By December 31st, 1999, we were ready. The clock struck midnight. The ball dropped in Times Square. And nothing else happened. We slunk away, feeling like fools, our tails tucked between our legs and ate canned ham for months and months afterwards. (Bleh!) We ignored the topic hoping silence would balm our public humiliation.

Narcissist’s lack of discernment isn’t done in a vacuum. Most of the time they are led by people that even the most basic discernment would quickly identify as a charlatan. Take televangelists for example.

Since childhood, I felt so guilty for loathing the televangelists the adults watched. As a preschooler, I couldn’t stand Pat Robertson of the 700 Club. His extreme made-for-sound-bytes statements and behavior made me cringe for the dignity of Christianity. (Brilliant showmanship. He gets headlines!) Thankfully, we all thought Jim and Tammy Bakker were a joke, but we watched them anyways for entertainment’s sake. (Just how many pounds of mascara was she wearing!?)

Jerry Falwell’s smug pomposity made me nauseous. James Dobson harshly informed my upbringing. Even sweet Charles Stanley rubbed me wrong. And then there was Jimmy Swaggart. Darling Swaggart who bonked prostitutes when he wasn’t preaching on TV.

Grandma loved him and wept copiously right along with him as he played the piano, sang, “cried” and begged his television audience for money. How could an adult not see through that!?! Where was Grandma’s discernment? Why was I alone in silently cringing, shuddering, loathing every televangelist (and feeling so guilty for it)!?!

In all our lack of discernment, there was one thing that was discerned and rejected: Normalcy. Like Todd Chrisley of Chrisley Knows Best delights in saying, “There’s no normal here.” There’s no normal in narcissism. If there was, they’d be less tangential.

I’ve spent the last seven years catching up with normalcy. A lot…A LOT…of the adult children of the Moral Majority/Doctor Dobson/homeschool crowd feel just like me. Many of us are speaking out, actively recovering, revealing the harm that unfortunately accompanied our homeschooling. What a pity, because homeschooling can be done well by normal people who don’t isolate and brainwash their children.

Some homeschool grads have thrown out the baby with the bathwater and boi-yoi-yoinged to the opposite extreme. If they were told it’s “worldly,” they want it! They rock tattoos, piercings and fluorescent hair. Flaunt their sexuality. Embrace atheism. If you weren’t raised the way we were, you don’t realize this is a violent reaction to the opposite extreme, using rebellion to express anger and balm our pain. For someone raised normally or “wordly” as we called it,  it’s not a big deal. For “us,” even one tattoo is A Big Deal. It’s tangential in the opposite way.

Some are boi-yoi-yoinging towards Orthodoxy. Churches with icons and that delicious religious smell of candle wax as opposed to the mega-church-we’re-happy-all-the-time denominations in which they were raised. I git it. I’ve never attended a church that inspired hushed reverence. Never worshipped in a sanctuary that had private little corners where you could pray and weep. I never could feel worshipful when the “Super Trouper” spotlight blinded me in the church choir.

I’ve chosen the middle-of-the-road. I may hate the bathwater, but there was a lot of good in it too. I don’t want to over-correct, throw out the baby and become tangential in any way. I want to be normal. My rebellions are micro-rebellions. Mostly, I just want to know. Know everything about this world. Know about everything I was kept sheltered from. The Good, the Bad, the Beautiful, the Ugly, the Shocking, the Impressive, the “Worldly,” the Normal. I don’t want to be the Best. I don’t want to be Better-Than. I just want normal. (Can you believe I’d never heard an ABBA song ’til last year! I also didn’t know what Lewnisky was actually doing for Clinton! I had a radio as a teen, but was instructed to turn it off when the News came on. Classic cultish isolation!)

Most of all, I want to trust my discernment again. God gave me good discernment even as as little child. But I abandoned it out of shame to wholly trust my blind narcissists. What a mistake! I want it back! I want to trust it.

Narcissists, even smart ones, are so easily duped. They are the stuff that cult leader dreams are made on. Their desire to be Better Than is so strong, they don’t use discernment. It leads ’em wrong again and again and again.

They’re always off on tangents!

Narcissists’ Shocking Lack of Discernment and Weird Tangents (Homeschool Grads Read This!)

Lenora Thompson

For five years, "Narcissism Meets Normalcy" has followed the real-life, ongoing story of freelance writer, Lenora Thompson, and her readers’ healing journey from narcissistic abuse to healing, peace and happiness. In August 2020, Lenora launched a new blog, "Beyond Narcissism…And Getting Happier All the Time" as she and her readers explore the new world of peace and happiness. "Beyond Narcs…Get Happy" is 100% reader supported! To learn more about Lenora, her husband Michael’s heroic fight against Pulmonary Alveolar Proteinosis and to subscribe to her other writings, please visit Thank you!

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APA Reference
Thompson, L. (2019). Narcissists’ Shocking Lack of Discernment and Weird Tangents (Homeschool Grads Read This!). Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 22 Apr 2019
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