There’s a fine line between being a funeral director and being a narcissist.  We’re called to be directors, to display confidence, knowledge, authority and strength during people’s weakest moments.  But this environment that asks us to lead can too often enable us to self-enhance.  We talk over our heads, project authority in situations that are best left to the family and tense up in disdain whenever we’re questioned..

Unfortunately, many funeral directors become narcissists (the funeral industry also has a tendency to harbor narcissists who gravitate towards the pomp and professionalism of funeral service).  And while it would be easy to simply call these guys and girls “jerks”, the situation is usually more complex.  For many, the tendency for funeral directors to become self-absorbed isn’t a product of nature, but of nurture.  And recognizing the environmental factors that produce narcissism in funeral directors is a big step in making sure we keep focused on the heart of the funeral industry: serving others.  Here are seven factors that tend to produce narcissism in the funeral industry and therefore keep us from being the public servants we’re called to be.

One.  Power.

Families come to us in despair, their minds clouded by grief and the unknown.  They pay us to be the stable minds.  And they give us power.  They give us power every time they trust us with their deceased loved one and their grief.   And when they give us that power, there’s a certain satisfaction that comes with treating that vulnerability with as much honor as we can.

But sometimes that power can bloat our egos.

Two.  Praise.

Being told, “You’ve made this so much easier for us.” or, “Mom hasn’t looked this beautiful since she first battled cancer”, or “You guys are like family to us” means a lot to me.  It’s important to know that what we’re doing is meaningful for the person we’re doing it for.

That verbal affirmation is a big reason why I continue to serve as a funeral director.

But that praise doesn’t mean we know it all.  It doesn’t mean we’re never wrong.  And it certainly doesn’t mean we’re the unquestioned authority on all things funeral.

Three.  Pomp.

We get up in the morning, put on our nice clothes, park in the parking lots of our grandiose funeral home and pull out our grandiose Cadillac and Lincoln funeral coaches.  Pomp has a tendency to make us think we’re important and to make us forget that all that pomp isn’t for us, it’s for the family we’re serving.

Four.  Lack of Criticism.

So, when people ACTUALLY do question you, when your beliefs are questioned and when you’re criticized, it’s important for us to remember that we’re here to help families, not give them all the answers.  Our pride isn’t in ourselves.  Our pride is in service; and criticism — as hard as it is to hear — is often a very healthy way to enhance our understanding of how we can better serve.

Five.  Secrecy and Professionalism.

Leon Seltzer writes, “(Narcissists are) highly reactive to criticism. Or anything they assume or interpret as negatively evaluating their personality or performance. This is why if they’re asked a question that might oblige them to admit some vulnerability, deficiency, or culpability, they’re apt to falsify the evidence (i.e., lie—yet without really acknowledging such prevarication to themselves), hastily change the subject, or respond as though they’d been asked something entirely different.”

The secrecy (which is often clouded in a pretentious form of professionalism) of the funeral industry often allows an out for narcissists.  If their work is questioned or criticized, they will often pull the professionalism card

Six.  Micro Markets.

There’s nobody that knows the people in your community better than you.  You are the best person to serve those that walk through your door.  YOU have poured yourself into the community, you have give your holidays, your late nights, your overtime for people.  And sometimes we feel like we know our market so well that we know it better than the ones we serve.  I’ve seen it happen.  You may have invested decades into your community, but that doesn’t mean you these are “my families” and “my people.”

Seven.  Education.

In a culture of death denial, we are one of the few segments of the population that think about death on a regular basis.  And in a culture that rarely thinks about death, it doesn’t take much knowledge to feel like a “death expert”.

Let’s just make a couple things clear: funeral directors aren’t psychologists, we aren’t philosophers, we aren’t grief experts and because there’s such a vast array of funeral customs and practices, we aren’t even funeral experts.  Sure, you know your demographic, but your demographic is a very small sample of global funeral customs.  Narcissists have grandiose sense of self-importance and often times this leads to funeral directors thinking they are the end all be all of death education.





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