Tag Archives: covert narcissists

Feeling Trapped?

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

Being dumped by the narcissist is hard. One day you are wonderful and special; the next you are nothing. One day you feel loved and the next you feel hated. That’s tough.

But I think it is even harder when they won’t let you go. Day after day, week after week, on and on they just keep nagging or begging or criticizing or using or trying to make you crazy. And they are so good at keeping you involved in their lives. They lie and cry and plead and threaten, whatever it takes to keep you on that string.

Why are some narcissists so hard to get rid of? Here are some ideas:

 

  1. They think they own you. Remember that you are not a person to a narcissist. The narcissist sees others as tools, toys or obstacles. If you have been useful in the past, you may be useful in the future. Most narcissists have as little regard for the feelings of others as you or I would have for belongings. So you can’t make the decision to separate from them. They own you.
  2. They may be afraid of what you know. Did you learn any compromising information about the narcissist during your relationship? Could that information be used to challenge the image of the narcissist? Perhaps you are not important or useful, but dangerous and you must be controlled.
  3. You continue to provide supply. Sometimes we think that narcissistic supply, the “drug” many professionals refer to as the source of addiction for narcissists, is only admiration and attention. I think it is also found in conquest, control, and superiority. Every time the narcissist thinks he has won an argument, he gets a hit of supply. Every time she makes you feel worse about yourself, she gets that supply. Whatever it takes to make the narcissist feel better about himself—that’s supply. Even the battle that seems so worthless and so negative to you may provide supply to the narcissist. And, of course, your friend or lover might still want what you gave in the past and continues to look to you to provide it.

 

All of this is to say that it might be very difficult to end a narcissistic relationship. Not impossible, but difficult and not quick.

So how do you do it? Well, every situation is different. Family, marriage, work, church, friendships—all require some special methods, I suppose. Yet, there are a few things you should know for any kind of narcissistic relationship.

You have the right to be yourself. You should have some space and time and energy of your own. That will take some resources. Don’t be afraid to hold onto a little money or to take a little time for yourself. Even the most controlling relationship can be tolerated if you find a way to feel good about yourself. That happens in private times with the Lord or conversations with supportive people or just a special time by yourself.

Here are a few things I believe will help:

 

  1. You are not wrong to say no. You have to maintain some personal control in order to be healthy. Saying no or keeping your distance may be a very good thing.
  2. You don’t have to answer the phone, read the email or the text or the letter, or even be home when the narcissist expects. This is harder in a marriage, of course, but adapt these things to your own situation. If the marriage has ended, almost all of the conversation can as well.
  3. You are not accountable to the narcissist and must not tell more about yourself, especially your secrets. Secrets are powerful. When you hold one, you have control. When you share one, you give control away. This is why narcissists love to learn the secrets.
  4. There is no responsibility to continue a friendship when you have been abused. A user will use you again. Count on it. You do not have to stay tied to the abuser. You have a right to life without that person. That’s true even for an abusive parent.
  5. Plan for the battle. Remember that they will use your empathy or your guilt or your sadness against you. They want you to feel bad about letting them go. They can be ruthless. They will tell your secrets. They will lie about you. They will try to destroy whatever support you have. You will have to be strong.

 

Can you ever win? Will you ever be able to move on? Oh yes! Most of them will give up eventually. Those who won’t give up or those who have you tied into situations where you think you can’t escape only think they are in control. Create a life within your heart and mind that is yours. Even if they can make you do certain things, they can’t make you do everything. Win little battles and feel good about yourself. Spend a little time just for you. Spend a little money just for you. Find a place that is yours, even if it is a spot in the yard or a stop along the drive home. Don’t go there when the narcissist is with you. It’s yours.

Know that you are more than the victim or the supply of the narcissist. You are you and you are valued and loved. If you can get away from the narcissist, do it. If you can’t or feel that you should continue longer, find the way to be healthy even in the relationship. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself.

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Imprecatory Prayer

It’s Narcissist Friday! 

 

Imprecatory prayers. When you read them in the Psalms they seem almost shocking. After all, aren’t believers supposed to be nice? To call down judgment and punishment on those who cause our suffering just doesn’t seem consistent with “love your enemy,” does it? Christians should just “turn the other cheek” and suffer in silence, right?

Recently a commenter asked about imprecatory prayer (thanks Kathy!) and whether it is appropriate for those who suffer at the hands of someone who is cruel. I am going to say that it is.

Interestingly, “to imprecate” simply means to pray. It seems to have a particular sense of verbalization, to say out loud or to write the things we feel. So the prayer is purposeful, intentional, and not just a thought. It gathered a negative meaning along the way and is used today in the sense of “to curse,” or to call down punishment. When we pray about the pain we suffer, we may want the cause of that pain—even if it is a person close to us—to be broken so that he/she will stop.

Three thoughts come to my mind. First, in the midst of pain and suffering imprecatory prayer is normal. That is not a moral judgment. You just want the abuse to stop and it is normal to lash out against the one who hurts you. Just as it is normal to want to hit back or want justice, it is normal to take those feelings to God. In fact, those feelings should be taken to God. That’s what David did throughout the Psalms. God was the source of David’s hope, the One who helped in times of trouble. So taking those feelings to the Lord and letting Him work in your heart is the right thing to do. If your words come out stronger and with more venom than you would normally speak, God understands.

Second, look at the things Jesus said about the Pharisees and religious leaders of His day. He wasn’t particularly nice, was He? No, He spoke truth about them and their ideas. Many of us were taught that, if we can’t say something nice, we shouldn’t say anything. That is neither taught nor modeled in the Bible. We are to speak the truth with love. When Jesus spoke the truth about the Pharisees or Paul spoke the truth about the Judaizers, the words were not very nice. How do you nicely say that someone is lying or is being abusive? There may not be a nice way to speak up against the false teaching of a leader. But it is often very important that the truth be told—nice or not.

So to go to God in prayer and speak truthfully about the abuse and the abuser might seem like you are being judgmental or condemning. To ask God to stop the abuse might mean to ask Him to stop the abuser. It might take something serious to stop the abuser. That’s up to God.

I know that people get uncomfortable when they read things like David asking the Lord to “break the arm of the wicked and evil man,” in Psalm 10:15. But understand that David doesn’t really care whether God breaks the person’s arm. The point is that God would stop the power of the evil man from doing damage, that God would take away his strength. And when you pray that God would take away the strength of the abuser, be aware that God might break his arm. It’s up to God to choose the method.

Third, remember that under grace we know that even the discipline of the Lord is for the person’s good. Yes, we are to love our enemies. Sometimes that might mean that we ask God to break them so they will call out to Him and open their hearts to Him. I would not ask God to send anyone to hell, but I would ask Him to get their attention so that they can see what they are doing. I might have suggestions as to how God could do that, but I would always yield the methods to Him. I might even be motivated by my pain, but under the pain is always love for those He loves.

Brokenness is a painful process. Some people have to lose almost everything before they will see that the Lord is the One they need. Is it cruel for me to ask Him to break them, to destroy their power, or to humble them? Not if my hope is for their salvation or for the protection of their victims.

Vengeance does belong to the Lord—and He chooses to love. Anyone who comes to Him will find forgiveness and acceptance, even your abuser. In Christ, we understand and accept this. We even rejoice in it. But there is nothing wrong with praying for the abuse to stop, even if it hurts the abuser in the process.

One more thing. When you read something from the Beatitudes, like Matthew 5:44 (“love your enemies”), remember the context. Jesus is speaking to the Jews under the law. He is saying, “The will of God for you is this. To live perfectly in His will, you should be doing this.” But Jesus is fully aware of His purpose. He knows that we cannot live perfectly in the will of God. He knows we need a Savior. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is calling the Jews away from the compromises of their lives and to Himself as their Savior. He is not leaving them with impossible commands. He’s telling them He understands.

God understands your feelings. He accepts your anger and frustration. When you cry out to Him in pain, He still hears you and loves you. If you say things that seem too strong, that accuse and condemn, you are not judged. You may have noticed that He doesn’t do the terrible things you might wish He would do. He will do what is right and in the right time.

Someday the abuser will stand before God and suffer the condemnation he has deserved and chosen . . . or he will stand forgiven in relationship with Jesus. Both justice and mercy are under grace. And you will be safe forever in the hands of the Lord who loves you.

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“A Cry for Justice” – a resource

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

Perhaps one of the most grievous sins committed against the people of God comes in the suggestion that God should be found in the church. What I mean is that He should be found only or primarily in the church organization. So, when a victim of abuse needs to run to the “strong tower” of protection, she is led to the pastor or the elders or the church family. It may be the one place of safety, she thinks. They will believe her story, she thinks. They will help, she thinks. But the church is not that strong tower.

I have come to understand that a certain percentage of my love for books is actually a love for book titles. This one that I found a few days ago has become one of my favorites: “We’ll be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter” by Rachel Hanel. I know little about the book, but I love the title. There is a certain perverse irony in it.

The church often proclaims the message that it is a safe place for those who are hurting. We advertise the love and community, the acceptance and support. We want people to come to the church to find freedom and peace and love. And they should. If the church cannot provide the support the victim needs, if we cannot feed the hungry or heal the wounded, then what good are we?

Listen: if the church is unable to see the hurting from the perspective of Jesus, who loves them without judgment and condemnation, then it cannot be a place of refuge. Apart from the person of Christ, the church offers only a system of rules or standards or ideas, nothing to heal the heart of the oppressed. Jesus is the strong tower to which the abused can run to find comfort and support. If the church offers anything other than the love of Jesus, it fails.

Yet, those of us who read and listen to the stories of the abused hear over and over of the failure of the church. Victims come to pastors and elders and church families and receive judgment, blame, and neglect. If the leaders listen at all, they counsel without wisdom and without love. The victim so often returns to the same abuse, only now even more alone and weighted with shame.

That’s why I would pray that every pastor and church leader read Jeff Crippen’s book, “A Cry for Justice.” When I first started reading it, I found myself thinking that this is the book I wanted to write. Anyone who reads it should come away with a greater understanding of abuse and the church’s responsibility to help the victims. At the same time, you will come away with a sadness as you realize that the one place where the hurting should find help is often a source of more abuse.

“We’ll be the last ones to let you down.” That’s what the new church member hears. The church will be there in times of need. The church cares about you and your family. The church wants to help. But Jeff Crippen has learned, like many of us, that the church often offers its help wrapped in a message of: “It’s your own fault,” or “seven easy steps to restore your marriage,” or “don’t bother us with these personal things.”

Crippen writes about abuse in general, but says much that those who deal with narcissistic relationships will appreciate. In fact, without using the word, he describes narcissistic abuse very well. He covers many of the behaviors that we have talked about in this blog.

I especially appreciated the depth and breadth of Scripture used throughout the book. Like me, Jeff does not believe that Scripture addresses every life situation directly, but that we must reason from the foundation of Scripture to deal with our daily decisions. At the same time, you will be impressed with the careful and consistent use of Scripture throughout the book and the deep regard with which the author views the Bible.

The last half of the book got me even more excited. This is where Crippen directly confronts the church and its leadership. This is where he offers concrete suggestions for churches in providing real help for the hurting. This is what pastors should not ignore.

I know pastors. I know that they are often focused on things very far from hurting people. They are worried about church systems and church conflicts. They are concerned about reaching new people and keeping the ministry growing. They are concerned about what to say about their ministry at the next denominational meeting. These are not trivial things, but they do miss the point. Behind the scenes, the pastors cringe when they see Mrs. So-and-so in the outside office because they know they have little to offer her. They don’t have the time or the wisdom to handle such difficult problems. This is why I have counseled so many not to expect much from the church.

But Jeff Crippen would try to change that. He wants to educate pastors and church leaders. He wants to challenge their trite and formulaic answers. He wants to make them look at the victims of abuse and care. His advice is practical and potent.

With the support of and connection to Barbara Roberts, author of “Not Under Bondage,” Crippen offers an excellent perspective on the subject of divorce among believers as well. (I will be reviewing that book next.)

A Cry for Justice is more than a book, it’s a ministry. And I can see so much potential for the message of this ministry. I would encourage you to buy the book, read it carefully, and then give it to a pastor who will listen. Do I agree with every statement in the book? Probably not. That isn’t important. We will always have differences in perspective and style. But this message is important. I know of too many churches where the abuser is held in higher regard than his victim. Someone, someone of the church, needs to stand up for those who are being hurt.

So, get this book! You know that I rarely say something like that. I get nothing from the sales, not even an affiliate commission. I did receive a free copy of the book from Jeff because he saw that our hearts and ministries connected. You will have to pay for yours—but it will be worth it. In fact, whatever you pay will have twice the value if you pass the book on to a church leader with your strong encouragement to read (and heed) its message. When you get it, let me know what you think.

Here’s the link to the website:

http://cryingoutforjustice.com/

Here’s the link to the book on Amazon:

cry

 

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Emotional Awareness

It’s Narcissist Friday!

 

A few years ago I had a conversation with a lady who said that her husband had all the characteristics of a narcissist except one—he had lots of empathy. She said that he was very attentive to the emotions of his children and almost always knew what they were feeling. My response was that he either lacked empathy or was not a narcissist.

At the root of narcissism is the lack of empathy. This is well established. The inability to connect with or accept the validity of the feelings of others allows the narcissist to abuse with abandon. He causes pain simply because he does not care. There is nothing in him to move him away from the self-serving exploitation of others. Empathy is about caring.

In our further conversation, it became clear that this lady’s husband was truly able to discern the emotions of others, but then used that knowledge for his manipulations. In other words, he could tell when someone was sad, but didn’t care. The only reason it was important to him to know what others were feeling was for his own purposes.

Generally, empathy is defined as the ability to feel what others feel. It’s why we are moved to tears at a funeral of someone we didn’t even know. It’s the reason we get caught up in the excitement of a football game when we don’t care about the success of either team. The feelings of the crowd, or just the people around us, trigger the same feelings in us. The desire to belong allows us to join in the emotion around us. There are other words for this, of course, but it is an experience of empathy.

Empathy in personal relationships is more specific and more difficult to define. Whereas the crowd creates in us a desire to belong, personal relationships create a desire to connect. We want to understand the other person so we can share and relate and enhance our lives with their lives. This is a strong desire for most of us. So strong, that we often push the relationship toward that point.

As a counselor, I discovered this desire in myself fairly early. When I listened to the stories of others, I found that I would project my feelings onto them and assume they felt the same way. Very often I was right, of course, but sometimes not so much. I learned to tell people that I would always be blunt so they would know what I was thinking, but that I had no expectation of always being right. Therefore, I wanted them to correct my assumptions—particularly about their feelings. Many times I would jump in with some statement, only to be corrected and set on a different path by an honest counselee.

Writers, actors, politicians, comics, and others make their livings by being accurate in their assumptions about the feelings of others. Those who fail to connect are simply not successful in their work. But this is not empathy. It may be psychology, the study of what motivates people, but it isn’t empathy. It may even be an innate ability to discern the emotions of others, but it still isn’t empathy. Detecting and identifying emotions might enable a person to control or exploit, but that’s not the same as caring. To empathize is to care about the emotions of someone else. In fact, empathy requires neither conscious detection nor identification of the particular emotion. I may not fully realize that you are sad in order to feel and care about your sadness, for example.

Empathy is caring. Empathy is participating in the feelings of another person, sharing the pain or the fear or the sadness. It doesn’t have to have the same intensity, but it has reality. The feelings of the other person are real and important because the other person is real and important.

And there’s the rub. The narcissist does not see others as real or important except in service to him. People, as we have said often here, are tools, toys, or obstacles. They have reality for the narcissist, but they are not “persons.” So, it stands to reason, the feelings of others are not real for the narcissist in the way they may be real for us. It isn’t that the narcissist doesn’t see or acknowledge the emotions of others. It is that he/she doesn’t care unless those emotions are of some value.

The only emotions the narcissist feels are his own. In fact, part of his addiction is the pleasure he gets when his emotions are positive. The negative emotions he either denies or projects on others. I know that some say narcissists feel no emotions, but I disagree. I think narcissism is, by definition, an inability to deal normally with emotional stress or change; but every narcissist I have known exhibits emotions. They might do so differently, but the emotions are there.

Your narcissist might be very aware of your emotions or of the emotions of others. In fact, you may be surprised at just how perceptive he is at times. You may also be surprised at how he can twist or ignore your emotions while being so attentive towards those of someone else.

But the emotional awareness of the narcissist is not empathy; it is simply an alertness to that which is useful.

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Ask Questions

It’s Narcissist Friday! 

 

One of the ways to identify narcissism is to watch what happens when someone disagrees.  This can help us to identify the culture of an organization (church, school, club, business, etc.) or the character of a person.

You are the new employee at the office.  The boss has called a meeting and has told everyone that they should speak their minds.  You were told that when you were hired.  “This organization is transparent and we listen,” you were told.  At the meeting, the boss outlines a strategy with some obvious flaws, obvious to you.  Some of the others voice their agreement with the boss, which puzzles you.  You’re new, so you hesitate; but you were told to speak up.  So you ask a question about one of the points.  Suddenly, the attention turns to you.  The boss stares at you for a few uncomfortable moments.  You don’t know whether he didn’t understand your question, is embarrassed by his error, or is trying to remember who you are. 

Finally, the boss says, “Hey, that’s a great question from our newest employee!  How long have you been with us?  Two weeks?  That’s great.  Well, all I can say is watch and learn!”  Then he looks over at your immediate supervisor and says, to everyone, “Ok, I really appreciate your input.  We will begin moving on this right away!”

As you leave the room, another employee steps in close to you and mutters, “Now you begin to see how things really work around here.”

What did you learn?  That the boss is always right and your job is not to speak your mind or ask questions, but to help the boss look good in front of everyone. 

And then the boss makes a special effort to come over to you.  Are you in trouble?  “Hey, I really appreciated your question.  You just keep up the good work.”  Yup, you are in trouble.  You will be more careful next time. 

Here’s another example:

The young lady gets into the passenger seat in her new boyfriend’s car.  As they pull away from her home, going to the restaurant, she glances at the dashboard and notices that the car is very low on gas. 

“Looks like we should stop for some gas before we get on the highway,” she says.

He doesn’t even look at the dash, but smiles and says, “Don’t you worry about looking at these gauges.  You just sit there and look pretty while I take care of the car.”

She learned her place.  Her job is to be pretty for him and quiet.  She is not to question him.  And she will learn even more when they run out of gas later.  He will become angry and blame the gas meter for malfunctioning.  After all, he just put gas in a few days ago.  Or he will accuse someone of siphoning gas from his car.  Or he will refer to the gas leak that someone should have fixed.  He will not mention her statement, and she is not supposed to mention it either.  If she does, if she dares to suggest that she told him about the gas, he will probably end the relationship.

Can you handle one more?

You feel uncomfortable at the new church your friends suggested, although the people are friendly and the teaching has been good.  As you look around, you notice that none of the women are wearing slacks, all have skirts or dresses.  It doesn’t seem particularly strange to you, because of your background, but you wonder how likely it is that even the teenagers fit the pattern.  So you ask.

“Is there a dress code in the church?”  A simple question, asked to one of the ladies who has been particularly friendly.

The answer comes.  “Of course not.  What do you mean?”

“Well, I noticed that all the ladies, young and older, are wearing skirts.”

“Oh, that’s just because we want to honor our Lord and our men.”  As she says this, the lady looks into your eyes a little too long, like you are supposed to agree and acquiesce.  You understand.

 

Whether it’s the pastor of the church, the new counselor or doctor, the new boyfriend, or the boss—we learn a lot by asking questions.  We learn something about the inner strength of the organization or person.  Narcissism comes out of weakness, weakness that has to be covered with protective layers of intimidation, deception, or anger.  Strength allows disagreement.  Confidence welcomes questions.

Now, understand that anyone can become flustered or upset if the question is presented as an attack or is embarrassing in some way.  Expect a certain amount of resistance or confusion if you are unkind, impatient, or otherwise out of line.  But a respectful and gracious question, even one that suggests disagreement, should be acceptable to a healthy organization or person.

One more thing: if you are in a testing time, do this early.  Do it before you are hired, if you dare.  Do it before you join the church.  Do it on the first or second date.  You will want to know how you are truly valued as an individual who can think your own thoughts.  Narcissism depersonalizes its victims; the sooner you see that coming, the sooner you can run away.

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Narcissistic Apologies

It’s Narcissist Friday! 

 

I’m sorry you were hurt.

I’m sorry you thought you heard that.

I’m sorry you misunderstood.

I’m sorry ___ made me fail.

I’m sorry you feel that way.

I’m sorry that happened.

I didn’t do that.  I’m sorry you think I did.

I apologize for trying.

I apologize for caring.

I apologize for being human.

I apologize for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

 

Recognize these? They’re apologies. What? You don’t think they’re apologies? What’s wrong with them? These are typical narcissistic apologies. Some people have heard this kind of apology all their lives. Others have heard these apologies almost their whole marriages.

And then you hear, “Well, I apologized, didn’t I?”  Uh, actually, no.

There are two meanings to the word “apology” in English.  The most common is a confession of guilt and an expression of regret.  That’s the one we look for.  The other meaning is older and less helpful.  It is used for a formal explanation of position, a justification of an idea.  Socrates presented a defense of his teachings, an apology for his position.  That’s not what we want.

The narcissist uses the second when he/she should be using the first, right?  When someone hurts you, you hope for a statement of regret.  You don’t want an explanation of the philosophy that led to the offense.  You don’t want justification for the action or words.  You want the person to be sorry.

So think about that.  What you want is for the person to understand how the action hurt you and to feel some of your pain.  What you want is for the person to regret his/her actions and contribute to your healing.  What you want is empathy.

But that’s exactly what the narcissist cannot give.

The inability to apologize is a defining characteristic of the narcissist.  I realize that many people learned narcissistic ways to apologize.  Children are taught how to get out of trouble, not how to apologize with sincerity.  Many, if not most, adults present poor apologies when they want to express their regret and many try to pass the blame on the victim.  But most can be taught how to apologize in a way that does promote healing and peace.

Not the narcissist.  Think about it.  If you were to teach someone how to apologize, what would you say?  You would probably say something like this:  “How would you feel if someone had done that to you?”  The narcissist would know how he might feel, but he would have no ability to believe that you could feel the same thing.  Because everyone is depersonalized, not real, to the narcissist, he/she cannot accept the reality of the feelings of others.

Let me say that a different way.  Just because the narcissist would feel angry or hurt or afraid, does not mean he would believe or understand that someone else would feel those things.  Most of those who have lived in relationship with narcissists understand this.  They would be very upset if someone did to them what they did to you.  Yet, they cannot believe that you could feel the same way—or—they simply don’t care that you feel the same way.

Why not?  Because to acknowledge your feelings is to acknowledge you as a person.  He/she can’t see you as a real person because then you would be competition.  All attention must be given to the image.

So the best you get is an explanation of why it was entirely reasonable for him to do what he did or for her to say what she said.  You get a defense.

Here’s an idea that came out of a recent conversation with a friend: ask your narcissist to explain what he thinks you felt when he did what he did.  Ask him how a person who claims to love someone could do something like that to the one he loves.  Don’t ask what he thinks you should feel.  Don’t ask him what he thinks you should do now.  He will tell you to forgive and forget, of course.  Instead, press for the understanding.

If you are wondering whether your painful person is a narcissist, this might be a helpful test.

Maybe you have never heard a real apology.  Maybe you grew up in a home where people never apologized or did very poorly.  Here’s what an apology should sound like:

“I am sorry that I hurt you.  My words were cruel and I have no intention of defending them.  They were wrong.  I was wrong.  I apologize.”

Notice a couple of things.  There is no request for forgiveness.  Requesting forgiveness puts a burden on the victim, the one who was hurt.  If an offender is truly sorry, he/she does not want to put any further burden on the one who was hurt.  I understand that this sounds like a very Christian thing to do, but it is neither necessary nor kind.  If the one who was hurt wants to forgive, that’s fine.  But no push.

Also, notice that there is no blame on anyone or anything else.  There is no claim that the words were accidental or misunderstood.  None of these things would mitigate the pain that was felt.  Nor is it simply an apology for hurting.  It is an apology for being unkind and causing pain.

If the relationship calls for it, an expression of love is appropriate—especially if that expression speaks to the value of the one who was hurt.

“You are my friend and you are important to me.  It grieves me that I hurt you.”

“I love you and it hurts me that I hurt you.”

Don’t make the offender promise never to do it again.  That sounds good, but no one can promise that and be sure it won’t happen.  The narcissist might be very willing to make the statement, but it won’t be true.  Instead, watch to see if the offender understands how the action or words caused pain and if the offender empathizes with your pain.

Now, this is a two-minute overview of apologies and you might have a lot to add.  That’s why we have a comment section! :)  The point here is that the narcissist cannot say these things from the heart because he/she has no empathy, no way to understand or value your feelings.  There is no fix in this post, just an explanation.  I pray with you for the day when narcissists can finally see and grasp the truth.

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Where’s the Church?

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

For most of us who consider ourselves Christians, the church represents a place of comfort and safety, a community of support.  Yet, many of those who struggle against narcissism find the church to be far less supportive and comforting than they need.  Time and again I get the comment that the church leaders wouldn’t listen or help, or even that they support the narcissist against the victim.  I have heard some horror stories about how the church became part of the problem.

It is obvious that this shouldn’t happen.  Of all the helping organizations, the church should be the strongest voice against narcissism.  But it isn’t.  Here are my thoughts as to why…

First, the church is full of compromise, particularly in areas where narcissism lurks.  Let’s look at a few:

Money: Narcissists may not be big givers, but they usually want church leadership to think they are.  They depend on the confidentiality expected in regard to giving.  So most church leaders will look at the narcissist and expect him to be generous.  Who wants to rock that boat?  Church leaders know that the victim will have nothing.

Leadership: Often the leaders are impressed enough with the narcissist to place him in leadership.  If they discover that to be a mistake, it will be too late.  He will already have found ways to control them and maintain his power.  If they don’t see their mistake, it may be that they look past his characteristics because of the same ones in themselves.  I mean that many church leaders have narcissistic tendencies.  That’s why they aspired to leadership in the church.

Image:  For so many in the church, image is everything.  Their local church must be superior.  They have the one true message and they practice the one true way.  To admit that there is trouble among the membership is hard.  They don’t want to hear it and, if they must, they will try to quiet it as quickly as possible.  This is often true in all kinds of abuse situations.  Even in a day where public organizations and leaders are required by law to report certain abuse, church leaders still try to cover it up or handle it “in house.”

Legalism: I think many churches are unwilling to acknowledge narcissism because it is so close to the legalism they hold.  It’s all about image and performance and measuring up to standards.  Depersonalization is just the way things work.  It is common for people to be rejected and abused in legalism and narcissism may be seen as one person attempting to do right while another holds him back.  The leaders often don’t see any difference.

Unity:  If a narcissist has a presence in the church, he probably has a following.  If he is rejected, others will leave or take up his defense.  Then the leaders will have a problem.  Loss of unity might mean loss of people and loss of people might mean loss of money and loss of image.  The victim is rejected because it might damage the unity.

 

Compromised churches certainly have reasons for ignoring the victims of narcissism.  But there are other reasons churches fail to help.

Some have been so robbed of authority that any intervention into a marriage or family situation seems impossible.  Who are the church leaders, even the pastors, to tell a husband or wife or parent what to do?  Leadership in churches isn’t always compromised, sometimes it is just weak.

Some are poorly equipped to counsel, especially at the intense levels needed by a narcissistic relationship.  Many pastors and church leaders haven’t even heard of narcissism; or what they have heard is just the popular portrayal of the person whose ego is too big.  They have no idea what the victim is suffering and have no context in which to learn.  Pastors have so many other problems that they can rarely give more than pat answers for common situations.

And some have bought into the idea that we can change others by changing ourselves, no matter who those others are or what they are doing.  In other words, they blame the victim.  If you were just more loving, more prayerful, more gracious.  If you tried harder, he would change.  Blaming the victim only makes things worse.

 

Well, I would guess that is as depressing for you to read as it is for me to write.  What are we supposed to do then?  We are Christians and we look to the church for support.  Can’t they do something?

So I want to give some suggestions.  I do believe that the victim of narcissism should find help in the church and support from the leaders.  I just want you to be careful.

First, don’t use the word “narcissist” when you go for counsel.  I can almost guarantee that it won’t have the effect on others that it has on you.  Instead, tell the pastor or elder or whoever what is happening.  Be gentle, but share your pain.  Watch for sympathy or empathy.  Do they listen?  Do they ask questions to understand?  Or do they preach at you and minimize your pain?  Do they pray for you to change or for the Lord’s help in your situation?

You should feel the difference between these approaches.  If it appears that they just want to straighten you out so that you will leave them alone, then leave them alone.  They don’t want to help.  If all they have for you are pat answers or blame, then find your help somewhere else.

And have a reasonable expectation of what you want from the church leaders.  They can’t reach in and fix your narcissist.  They probably won’t tell you what to do, even if they do listen and care.  But they can pray with you and stand by you.  They can listen and try to understand.  They can study narcissism and help you find a counselor.  They can even help you when the whole situation hits the fan.

I know pastors who have gone far out on a limb to help people in narcissistic relationships.  I know churches that have helped with thousands of dollars of legal aid and counseling expense.  I know church leaders who have stood strong alongside victims to protect and support.  Some do listen and some do understand.  Don’t give up.

It is worth trying.  Go to your pastor and ask for his ear.  Tell your story without embellishment and without a lot of blame.  Tell what you feel.  Then wait and see.  If he chooses not to help, okay.  Find your support somewhere else.  God will deal with him.

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Fooling Me

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

Little things.  A hint here.  A hint there.  Something isn’t quite right.  This isn’t what it was supposed to be.

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But it’s alright.  He didn’t mean it.  I didn’t hear it the right way.  Things will change.  Everything will be wonderful.

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Others don’t understand.  They say that because they are jealous or because they aren’t really my friends.  If I am okay with it, why can’t they be? 

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We are just getting to know each other better.  Everyone has little things that rub others wrongly.  I’m sure it’s just a quirk of his personality.  

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If others would just try a little.  He’s not really the way they say.  If they got to know him, they’d see him differently.  They are the problem.  They are so unfair.  Give him a chance.

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It’s me.  It’s my fault.  I do dumb things.  If I just hadn’t said that.  If I weren’t so stupid.  He has a right to be angry.  Maybe it’s good for me to have him so I can do better.

 

 No one knows for sure who said it first: “Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.”  I am convinced that narcissism takes advantage of the tendency of good people to deny negatives in their lives.  We don’t want something to be what it seems, so we re-decorate it.  We convince ourselves that it is something else.  We were taught to think positively, to believe the best about people. 

So the narcissist becomes a friend, maybe even a lover.  Gentle words or captivating personalities break down natural barriers and we open our hearts.  It isn’t long before the narcissist is an integral part of who we are.  And then we have a problem.  There were clues, but we ignored them as the narcissist moved closer. 

Just give most of us enough good to want a thing and we will take care of denying the bad.  That’s what a narcissist uses to cultivate a relationship.  The clues are there, but the bait is so attractive that we ignore the dangers or excuse the bad behavior. 

If the old saying, “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” is true, then perhaps we should not be so quick to dismiss the first time.  Maybe, once someone fools us, we should learn something about that person and use that information to protect ourselves in the future.  After all, isn’t that what the saying is supposed to be teaching us? 

But that’s part of the problem.  When the narcissist “fools” a victim, he or she quickly pushes to the second step.  Instead of “shame on you,” the victim is pushed to “shame on me.”  And, when it becomes “my fault” a strange set of dynamics begins.

You see, most of us are programmed to see good in others and bad in ourselves.  So we tend to see the offenses of others differently than we see our own offenses.  We are taught to overlook what others do to us, to offer excuses for their behavior so that we can let it go.  But few of us were taught how to overlook our own actions.    All the narcissist has to do to get us to continue to deny the truth is to get us to believe the whole thing is our own fault.  We move quickly and easily from “shame on you” to “shame on me.”

I have heard victims of physical abuse blame themselves.  I have heard victims of sexual abuse blame themselves.  That’s a form of denial.  When the fact of the deed can no longer be denied, we deny the true source.

And the abuse grows in the culture of denial.  The victim denies.  The family denies.  The church denies.  The business denies.  As long as denial continues, the cruelty grows.  Narcissism thrives in a culture of denial. 

I want to be careful here.  Two points.  I am not suggesting that every offense is grounds for divorce or even for the end of a relationship (except, perhaps, for physical abuse).  We are all flawed and we do hurt each other by our words and actions.  I am saying that these things should never be pushed into the darkness.  They can often be forgiven, but they should not be ignored. 

And denial is not forgiveness.  I know that many people grew up in a denial culture where things were swept under the rug for the sake of forgiveness.  But I will ask simply, “If it is denied, how can it be forgiven?”  No, shine the light on it and then forgive, if forgiveness is right.  But admit the truth.

From talking with victims of narcissism, whether in families or marriages or even organizations, I have come to understand that denial is part of the equation almost from the beginning. 

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The Rich Young Ruler

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

Let me paraphrase this story from a little different perspective.

 

A certain young man wanted to show himself and others that he was spiritual.  So he went to Jesus, since Jesus was widely acknowledged to be a great teacher, greater than all the others.  When he found Jesus, he tried to flatter Jesus with a special title.  Others just called Jesus, “Rabbi,” or “teacher.”  This young man called Him, “Good Teacher.”

But Jesus, desiring nothing of flattery and wanting to expose the young man’s insincerity, asked, “Why are you calling me good?  Only God is good.  Do you think I am God?”

The young man had also asked an important question.  Knowing that Jesus taught more about eternal life than others and wanting to show those around him that he was special, the young man asked, “What must I do to receive eternal life?”

Jesus respected his question, but used it to further expose the young man’s mistaken perspective on his own value.  He told the young man that he should keep the commandments, the same thing any teacher of the day would have told him.

When the young man asked which commandments, Jesus had him.  “Just the regular ones,” Jesus said.  “You know:  ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Nothing about “no other gods before Me,” or “keep the Sabbath holy,” or “don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.”  Why not those?

But the young man stood a little taller.  He said, “I have kept all of those throughout my whole life.  What else do I lack?”  (Perfectly?  All of them?  Really?)  If that was all that was needed, the young man could be assured of eternal life.  If something else was necessary, he would do it easily.

Jesus accepted his statement without comment.  Arguing with him wouldn’t help.  Instead, Jesus would get right to the point.

“Okay, great.  So now just go, sell everything you have, and follow me.  You won’t need all those things.  You can trust me to provide for you.  You will become poor, just like all these people around you.  Leave your privileged life behind and follow me.”

Suddenly the truth was revealed.  The young man was very wealthy and had a respected position among his people.  He had worked very hard to present an image of success and superiority.  He wasn’t like the rest of these people.  He could humble himself when it served his purpose, but to humble himself all the way like Jesus was suggesting was out of the question.

“No.”

He went away in distress.  Maybe a little angry.  He mumbled to himself as he walked away, wondering how this Jesus could ask such a thing.  Didn’t Jesus know who he was?  He deserved respect and he had worked hard for his money.  No way was he going to just give it away and have nothing.

 

Now, I know that this isn’t the way we learned this story.  Yet, a careful reading of the three accounts in the gospels can certainly give us something like this.  This young man may well have been a narcissist.  He wanted to be able to do enough to earn eternal life.  He expected that what he had already done would be taken into account.  He couldn’t give up what he had accomplished.

This story is not about money or the love of money.  This story is about a man who wanted to add superior spirituality to his resume, certainty to his future.  This young man’s heart was not nearly as open as we were taught, I think.  That’s why Jesus talked with him the way He did.  And the word for “sorrowful” means “distressed.”  The young man may not have grieved over his attachment to his possessions.  He may have been disturbed by the fact that Jesus was not impressed with him.  This puts him firmly in the camp of the Pharisees and other religious people of Jesus’ day, who thought they would be able to impress God by the things they did for Him.

It may also put him in the camp of the narcissists.  Like all narcissists, this young man needed affirmation.  He wanted Jesus to tell him that he was superior, that he had something more than the rest of the people.  He was already superior in position and in wealth.  Now he wanted spiritual recognition.  When Jesus asked him to set aside his superiority, he was very disturbed.  Sorrowful?  Maybe, but almost certainly mixed with indignation.  After all, he did walk away.

Well, you can take this for what it’s worth.  I could be way off.  But I don’t think so….

(You can read the story for yourself in Luke 18:18-23, Matthew 19:16-22, and Mark 10:17-22.)

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Recuperating?

It’s Narcissist Friday!    

 

The holidays are winding down and people in relationship with narcissists are settling back to whatever passes for normal life.  The spouse/parent/friend/co-worker/sibling narcissist has been himself/herself.

I hope you had a great holiday!  I hope that your narcissist was reasonable and got along well with others and you.  But if that didn’t happen, if you are still stressed, here are some thoughts.

  1. Survival is Victory – You thought the situation would be terrible.  Maybe it was, but you survived.  You thought your heart would break, but it didn’t.  You thought you wouldn’t be able to stand it again, but you did.  You survived.  Good for you!  I call that a victory.
  2. That which does not kill you makes you stronger – Okay, I don’t believe that in every case, but you will find yourself stronger in the days to come.  You learned some things and you will understand them as you sort them out over time.  And you are seeing yourself in a new light.  You are not the defeated victim that you used to be.
  3. Be kind to yourself – You are probably exhausted.  The holidays do that themselves, but narcissists can be especially trying during holidays.  Stress comes with a price.  Give yourself a break.  Understand why you are drained.
  4. Forgive yourself – You may replay the situation in your mind now and think of things you could have said or done.  That’s normal and it is normal to feel a little frustrated that you didn’t do those things.  But let it go.  You can’t hold yourself accountable for errors or omissions while you are under that kind of stress.  And, you know, it might have just made things worse.
  5. Forgive the narcissist – I might get hate email on this one, but remember that forgiveness is for you.  You cannot spend hours and days reliving the offenses.  You probably won’t forget, but you have to let yourself move on.  Nor do you have to open yourself to the narcissist again.  Forgiveness is not about making yourself more vulnerable or trying to forget what was done.  Forgiveness is about your decision not to hold onto the offense and give it continuing power in your life.
  6. Move into the future – Things are changing.  You are more aware than you were.  You are learning how to handle some of the things he/she does.  You are getting stronger.  You are beginning to see yourself as a separate person, a person of value.  All of that is good.  This year will not be like last year.
  7. There is hope – There is always hope.  Pray and seek the Lord.  Let Him love you.  Let Him be your strength and your joy.  Find life apart from the pain.  Our hope is in the Lord.  He can do anything.

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