Tag Archives: narcissistic patterns

Disarming the Narcissist – Behary

It’s Narcissist Friday!

It seems to be generally agreed among the professionals that narcissism is something left over from the childhood of the narcissist. For some reason, the child learned to hide his/her vulnerable self and project a superior image. During the trauma that created that deception, the child lost (or never learned) the ability to empathize with others. In fact, he/she never developed the understanding of others as persons, independent and valuable in their own right. Usually this is considered to be the result of parenting issues.

The concept of “re-parenting” people who struggled with severe personality or emotional issues got a bad reputation from those who used questionable techniques such as regression therapy and recovered memory. Those who promoted re-parenting also had a tendency to blame the parents for any and all aberrant or destructive behavior in the child, even when that child was an adult. These techniques and assumptions often had the effect of producing the results they were supposed to reveal.

However, the idea that the narcissist could return to his/her childhood and revisit the trauma from a new and adult perspective would seem to have some potential. Could the narcissist see and acknowledge the pain and fear of abandonment or the confusion of ever-changing standards and boundaries and find a way to personal peace and normal growth in relationships? Those who understand that the narcissists themselves are in pain and live in fear would hope that such a process would be possible and helpful.

According to Wendy Behary, whose primary clientele are “mostly narcissistic men,” this re-parenting is not only possible, but very useful in working through interpersonal relationships. In her book, “Disarming the Narcissist,” Behary attempts to show those who must deal with narcissists how to defend themselves and offer valuable feedback to the struggling narcissist.

DisarmingtheNarcissist2ndEd-CF.indd

As I read this book, I found myself wavering between two opinions. It is clear that Behary knows narcissism. Her descriptions of narcissistic interactions and relationships are often right on point. Many readers will identify with her observations. On the other hand, her assessment of narcissistic behavior seems to excuse the abuse and cruelty by reminding the reader of the broken child in the narcissist.

Her overview of schemas and how narcissists are able to get under our skin and control us through our own vulnerabilities is insightful and gives the readers more power in narcissistic relationships. It is helpful to know why we are so open to narcissistic abuse. However, those who are already given to blaming themselves for their relationship problems will probably feel even more justified in that blame as they understand why they react the way they do to the narcissist.

Finally, her discussion of re-parenting the narcissist by feeding back therapeutic words and helping the narcissist feel accepted in his/her weakness and see how the negative behavior affects others may be just the kind of therapy that will work with the narcissist. I have long believed that some narcissists are not as malicious as their behavior portrays, but are simply so used to responding and manipulating in negative ways that they don’t know what else to do. Helping them to discover different ways, ways that will enhance relationships while not causing them more pain, could be a great blessing.

But is this the role of the spouse or child in a narcissistic relationship? Behary gives examples of language that could be used within the relationship, but one can hardly imagine a wife or child using that language without significant backlash. If a wife were to tell her husband that she understands his continuing shame from the times his mother treated him like a dress-up doll in front of her friends, she may find him withdrawing even more or striking out in anger as he makes it clear that she is not to go to that place again. Can even an adult child be expected to confront a parent with the psychological causes of negative behavior?

Suggesting that the victims stand in the place of the counselor could serve to make them more vulnerable and feel more culpable for the problems in the relationship. Actually, Behary is not saying that the wife or child could really do the counselor’s work. She is simply offering a way for narcissistic victims to take back some control of their own lives and, at the same time, offer some help to the narcissist. My concern is that this may set the victims up for further abuse and disappointment.

Do I recommend this book? Yes, with a couple of notes. First, as you read it, don’t automatically think that you can do what Behary suggests. You may not have the kind of relationship where this is possible or the kind of narcissist who would respond in any positive way. You also may not be in the emotional position to try these things. And if you feel like you are losing yourself and are becoming psychologically or emotionally unstable, you should probably separate from the relationship. If, when you are more healthy, you want to try these things, do it from a position of strength.

It is also worth noting that a therapist who works regularly with narcissists has not written a book on how to help the narcissist. Instead, Behary’s book, like so many in this area, is written for the victims. There is something in that to suggest that the type of feedback Behary offers for use in narcissistic relationships will only be helpful in a fraction of situations. Some people who exhibit narcissistic behavior and ideas may be open to the reasonable approach promoted in the second half of this book. Others, not so much.

I would be very interested in the thoughts of those who have read this book, particularly those who have used these ideas in their own relationships. You are welcome to disagree with me. I think this is an important part of the literature on this subject, but I caution anyone who wants to approach a narcissistic relationship using these tools.  You should also know that this review is based on the first edition of the book.  A second edition is now available.

I won’t be able to respond to comments for a few days because I will be traveling, but you are welcome to leave comments. Here are some other books you might find interesting.

http://graceformyheart.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/books-on-narcissism-pt-1/

http://graceformyheart.wordpreDisarmingtheNarcissist2ndEd-CF.inddss.com/2011/04/22/more-books/

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Are Narcissists Sick?

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

(This is a post I wrote a couple years ago.  There have been some questions about narcissism as an illness or physical condition recently and this may help.  There is significant debate among the professional community as to the nature of narcissism, but there is wide agreement that it is very difficult to treat.)

 

In many ways it would be easier if we could think of the narcissist as sick.  If we could point to a mental illness or a chemical imbalance, we would have something to blame the behavior on. We could excuse the cruelty by saying, “Oh, he can’t help himself because he is sick.”  Then our desire for compassion would be justified and we could feel better about ourselves as we help a sick person and endure his or her abuse.

Unfortunately, narcissism doesn’t fit the concept of an illness.  For whatever reasons, narcissists have chosen and continue to choose their behavior.

(Now, I have to post a disclaimer here.  I am not a psychologist or a psychiatrist or a mental health therapist or counselor.  I am a theologian who has done a great deal of counseling over the years as a pastor.  So what I tell you is based on my experience and on what I have picked up from others.  You are encouraged to do your own research on anything I teach.)

Professional therapists use words like dysfunction, illness, disorder, and disability to refer to different causes of behavior or sensations.  These words are often used interchangeably, which makes definition all the more confusing for the rest of us.  In general, illness or mental illness refers to a condition caused by some biological agent.  The agent could be a genetic anomaly, an injury, a chemical imbalance, or some other outside influence.  While many forms of mental illness may lead to narcissistic behavior, the behavior itself doesn’t prove the illness.

Narcissism has been classified as a personality disorder by some.  All that says is that it is out of sync with what is considered to be normal behavior and perspective.  But it also suggests that narcissism is a choice.  That choice may be based on disturbing childhood experiences, but it is still a choice.  I believe that fear is the primary cause of narcissistic behavior, but the fear does not need to be current.  In other words, acting in a narcissistic way is how the narcissist learned to deal with fear throughout his life.

Addictions are particularly difficult to overcome because they are often the intersection of several types of problems.  What begins as a need to fit into a group or feel better can become a physical dependency through drugs or alcohol.  Those who deal with drug rehabilitation must work through both the biologically-caused illness and the psychologically-caused disorder.  To further complicate things, we now understand that repeated actions can create something very similar to physical addiction.  When we talk about people addicted to eating, shopping, gambling, hoarding, or pornography, we refer to behaviors that have become so ingrained that stopping them takes serious desire and effort.

It is my opinion that narcissism is a type of addiction.  The narcissist has chosen and continues to choose his behavior because he believes it works for him.  Over the years he has gained enough from this behavior that he continues to use it even in the face of negative consequences.  It is his default conduct and he has learned to apply various techniques in different circumstances.  It may be that he has done it so often and has convinced himself so strongly of its value that he simply no longer thinks of it as a choice.  In other words, it just comes naturally to him.

A simple observation from the Bible has become a well-known saying in our culture:

“As he thinks in his heart, so is he.”  (Proverbs 23:7)

Because the man thinks his narcissistic behavior works, and because he has invested so much into making it work, he has become a narcissist.  Whether the clinical definition fits him or not, he acts out of his perspective.  That perspective includes such concepts as the usefulness of others and the promotion of a certain self-image.  He acts this way because he thinks this way.

This is a very brief overview of my perspective on narcissistic behavior, but it reveals some important thoughts.  These are some of the ideas I use as I counsel and write on this subject.

  1. Narcissists are accountable for their actions because they are free to choose otherwise.
  2. Narcissists can change by “unlearning” certain ideas about themselves and others.
  3. Carefully applied negative consequences for narcissistic behavior may be helpful.
  4. Those in relationship with narcissists are victims or objects, rather than caregivers.

 

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Why?

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

Why do the narcissists abuse people?  Why do they do such things?  They hurt.  They use.  They manipulate.  They destroy.

Why?

Some have attributed their cruelty to hatred.  Some to anger.  Others to envy.  Perhaps they look at the rest of us and create ways to demolish what we or others have built into our lives.   Perhaps they do it for fun, excitement, maybe challenge.

Narcissists can cause a lot of pain.  I read the stories people send to me privately and those shared in the comments and I grieve for those who have had to endure so much.  Some of the stories are hard to believe, but I know narcissists and I do believe them.  And, again, why do they do these things?

I have written about this before, but it seems important to say it again: it isn’t your fault.  You are not an inferior person destined to be the kick-toy for others.  You are not suffering because of some sin in your life.  Narcissists don’t need our sin in order to accomplish their nastiness.  God is not angry with you.  He did not send the narcissist to punish you.  Basically, it isn’t about you.

I’m not sure the truth will make you feel better about the reality in which we live, but I hope it allows you to feel better about yourself.  It’s the narcissist who is broken.  There is something lacking in them that allows them to hurt others without concern.  There is something in them that is very different from the rest of us.  No, they are not normal.

You see, the narcissist simply doesn’t care.  He will do whatever he wants.  She will say whatever she thinks.  Words and actions are part of the narcissists’ tools to get what they want.  They do the things they do because they are means to an end.  If it hurts you, so what?

But, you say, how can a spouse or a friend or a parent think like that?  I don’t know.  I just know that some of them do.  They manipulate in whatever way works.  If it takes being nice to you and making you feel very good, they will do that.  If it takes being mean and cruel, they will do that.  Either one is simply useful, not good or bad.

So is it envy or hatred or sadism or some other perverted motivation?  Maybe.  But I will guarantee you that the narcissist does not feel these things in the same way you do.  If they envy, they don’t think of it as envy.  It is probably much more like base desire.  If it is hatred, it may still have nothing to do with you as a person.  If it is sadism, it does not bring the pleasure you might think.  The narcissist is motivated simply by the desire to feel better about themselves.  Whatever it takes…

Don’t try to figure it out.  There is probably no cause and effect that will make sense to you.  Just don’t believe the lie that it is about you.  A few years ago I ran across this little selection from T. S. Eliot.  I have shared it here before, but it seems good to share it again.  It might help.

 

Half the harm that is done in this world

Is due to people who want to feel important

They don’t mean to do harm ­

But the harm does not interest them.

Or they do not see it, or they justify it

Because they are absorbed in the endless struggle

To think well of themselves.

T. S. Eliot

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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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Knowing

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

“I just want to know everything about you!”

 

To the young girl who has, perhaps, been pushed aside by friends or parents, those words seem wonderful. She has met a young man who listens to every story she tells about her family, her school, her dreams, her failures, her secrets. It’s so easy to talk with someone who actually listens and so nice to talk to someone who cares. He is so sensitive, so loving, so intimate.

But five years later, or ten, or two—the young man is very different. His ability to listen is gone, along with his caring. Now he is mean and he uses her secrets to hurt her. He knows things about her family and her friends and he hints at using the information unless she does what he wants. Now, instead of intimacy, it’s all about control.

Those who have walked this path would tell the young lady that it was all about control from the beginning.

Narcissists are usually predators. They watch and they listen. They seek openings they can use to their advantage. It might be a marriage or family, it might be at work, it might be what seems like a friendship, or it might be in a church—but the narcissist knows things. Somehow he learns things he shouldn’t know. Somehow she pries secrets from others. Then there is power.

There is an old marketing saying that we should all remember when we meet others:

If I know more about you than you know about me,  I can control the conversation.  

If I know more about you than you know about yourself,  I can control you.

 

Few people notice how the narcissist controls the conversation from the beginning of the relationship: learning more and revealing less. Gradually and methodically, he gathers facts and stores them away, like the spider that stores its catch to consume later. When he has enough, his plan begins to bear fruit.

Many have related how they told so much to the narcissist, yet never felt like they knew him. He had their secrets, but they had nothing. I have known people who just never got around to telling a spouse about a previous marriage, even children. Knowledge is power and power is held by the narcissist.

Eventually, as the narcissist gathers information, his power goes beyond the controlled conversation to the control of the victim.

Most of us are good at deceiving ourselves about ourselves. We ignore things we don’t like and focus on fantasies about what we can do or what we might do. We go through life with a certain bemusement that allows us to look forward and get things done. But the narcissist wants to know all about the things we would rather hide. Then he feeds them back to us when we least expect it, when we are vulnerable.

When I was active in church denominations I asked pastors if they would take an embarrassing personal struggle to their denominational leaders, even those who claimed to be caring about the special struggles of pastors. Everyone I talked with said they would not, and I certainly knew that I would not. One told me, “Once you tell (the authority) about that, you can forget ever moving ahead. That will always be there in the background.” Perhaps we all knew that denominational leadership is often a haven for narcissists.

So be careful with your secrets. Tell your children not to share things they don’t want used against them, especially before they are married. If the conversation is one-sided ask why. Perhaps you are being set up.

I believe that Jesus is the one with whom we should share our secrets. He already knows and He already loves us. Nothing we share will shock Him and He will never use the information against us. In fact, there is an interesting statement in the Bible about what real relationship is:

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face.

Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

1 Corinthians 13:12

 

I shall know as I am known. The power isn’t on one side. The power is in the relationship. Real relationship is sharing knowledge and love. There will be a day when that is normal.

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Chaos

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

“You never know what’s coming next.”

The one who controls the chaos, controls the world.

 If you are a fan of the old “Get Smart” television show, you will remember that the two organizations were named “CONTROL” and “KAOS.” Back in the cold war days, Americans were taught that our side was good and the other side was evil. The subtle message in Get Smart was that control was good, while chaos was evil.

But I think chaos is a tool for those who want control. The more chaos a person experiences, the more he/she wants order. Order requires control.

In many narcissistic relationships, chaos reigns. You really don’t know what’s coming next. Sometimes we chalk that up to the fact that we don’t think like the narcissist so it is hard to predict individual choices and actions. But sometimes chaos itself is the means of control.

You never know what answer will come when you ask a question or make a statement. You can’t get a commitment on an upcoming event so you can make plans. You don’t get to know how much money comes in or goes out or how it is used. You wait when the narcissist is late, but you never know what has been going on.

The chaos keeps you off balance. After a while it gets hard to think and planning or preparing seem like lost causes. A lot of your energy is spent trying to stay reasonably stable in the midst of all the chaos.

Could this be purposeful? Could the narcissist not really be that forgetful, but be late just to set you off? Could the random statement or accusation in the midst of a serious conversation be an attempt to throw off your reasoning? Could the mood shifts be planned just to keep you guessing?

Of course. Narcissists must control as much as they can. They usually control by taking away the options and energy of the ones they are using. As long as you are off balance, you are vulnerable and reactive. You don’t get a chance to pull things together so you can control your own life.

I don’t think all narcissists use this, but some will certain recognize the technique. We have talked about gaslighting, but chaos isn’t really for the purpose of making the victim look crazy or undependable. Chaos, I think, is for control.

In the past I have said that narcissists are predictable. I should revise that. Narcissists are predictable in as much as their motives and desired results are always the same. The motive is to serve the image, and the desire is to avoid feelings of vulnerability. But you may never be able to accurately predict what your narcissist will say or do next . . . and that might be on purpose.

How do you cope with chaos? Set your mind and heart on a still point. In the midst of the confusion and anxiety find that still point and you will find peace and freedom. For me, the still point is the knowledge of the love of God that comes through my relationship with Jesus. Whatever happens, He is there for me. Even when I can’t see Him, I know that He is there and He loves me. It helps.

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What about Divorce? – a resource

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

Every pastor has to deal with divorce and remarriage. It comes with the job. Some simply adopt the position of their church. Some try not to think about it too much. Many, like me, struggle with the issue almost every time it confronts us.

Beginning my ministry in the mainline church, where divorce was widespread and no longer a real issue, I did my share of second and third weddings. Yet, as I counseled people in the midst of their marriage struggles, I found that the ready acceptance and easy access to divorce weakened their commitment and they usually didn’t want to try to work things out in their marriages. Too often, by the time they saw me, another person was already in the picture and decisions were already made. Divorce was the way to legitimize a new and more exciting relationship.

Many of the pastors I have known truly struggled with this. I knew one man who left the ministry to become an attorney because he would be able to counsel conflicted couples earlier. We saw the pain divorce caused, but we also saw the pain people suffered within the marriage. We took marriage counseling classes, developed pre-marital counseling, and taught on the stresses and expectations of marriage—all to help people avoid the problem of divorce.

You see, one of the problems that we faced was that the Scriptures were just not as firm as some would have us believe. While we wanted to hold marriage as holy and permanent, we found “loopholes” and examples of divorce in the Scriptures. We saw, in Malachi, where God said that He hated divorce; but we also saw where He told His people to send away their foreign wives and that divorce was permitted in the case of adultery.

As I left the mainline church to enter the evangelical culture, things were not better. On one hand the answer was simpler, I suppose. Divorce was not allowed except for certain situations (ones with approved “grounds”) and sometimes not even in those situations. On the other hand, the Scripture still didn’t exactly say what the more conservative culture said. And people trapped in certain marriages because of the prohibition against divorce sometimes suffered greatly.

So, over the years, I came to the position that this was something I didn’t fully understand. My part was to teach what I could understand. I believe that marriage is a gift from the Lord and should be treated as something very special, something worth fighting for. I know many couples who have worked through very difficult circumstances and events and have restored their love and their families. In other words, I believe we are right to hold marriage in high regard and to warn people about the distractions and compromises that could destroy it.

At the same time, I could not hold people in marriages where they suffered. I would often say that I believe God wants people to stay married and I believe that marriage should be happy and good. When marriage was not good, when there was abuse or adultery, then I would tell people to seek the Lord. He would lead them if they went to Him with open hearts. I didn’t front-load their prayers with the “right answer.” I just helped them seek and follow the Lord. And several of them divorced.

I came to the place where I disconnected divorce from sin, not because I no longer thought it was sin, but because sin is also part of the struggle in marriage. Sin is the cause of our suffering. If divorce is sin, then it is only the end result of a long process of sin. And if God hates divorce, we should also be aware that God hates many things—all sin, in fact—because sin hurts the people He loves. Divorce is just one more broken thing in a broken world.

Do we uphold the sanctity of marriage when we force someone to remain in an abusive situation? Do we bless our culture and our children when we promote a façade of love and companionship in the church while hatred rules at home? I don’t think so. So I no longer counsel people to stay married; nor do I counsel anyone to get a divorce. They have to take that to the Lord and listen to His heart.

But even there we find a problem. How do they listen to Him? Most have been taught that they should go to Scripture. Then they are told what the Scripture says. So most Christians think that listening to the Lord is listening to the traditional perspective of the church, especially in the conservative church. Then they are burdened with the admonitions and guilt surrounding divorce. Have they really heard the Lord’s voice?

And what if the Scripture doesn’t say what the evangelical culture says? The mainline churches, in my experience, have simply stopped looking to the Scriptures. Yet, the evangelical culture has stopped as well, simply because the Scripture is so often viewed as a collection of proof-texts which support the ideas of the culture. We read Scripture through the grid of what we have been taught and try not to think about the nagging questions and inconsistencies when we see differences between our cultural interpretations and what the Bible actually says.

Then along comes Barbara Roberts and her book, “Not Under Bondage.” I can honestly say that I have never read a more careful or scholarly book on this subject. I have read many books written to teach the “party line,” but few actually look at each Scripture passage in the context of culture, grammar, and principles of interpretation. With pedantic logic and critical thinking, Roberts shows that the Scripture does teach a very high regard for marriage and a practical perspective on the effect of sin in the marriage relationship. This book has been needed for a long time.

Yes, Roberts has a personal background of divorce and a perspective which opens her to question the conservative positions. That certainly does not disqualify her writing, no more than the perspective of others who write to support their position. She holds marriage very high and never tells people what they ought to do. Her job is simply to examine the passages that are used to teach about divorce. In fact, I would love to read a conservative rebuttal to Roberts’ book. It would be interesting to see how the “indissolublists” would counter her Scriptural arguments.

Personally, I was impressed. I agree with the way Roberts views Scripture and find it very consistent with the way Jesus viewed the writings of the Old Testament. For example, she teaches that the general rule does not negate the specific exception when the rule is stated by itself. In other words, when Jesus says in Matthew that adultery is a possible reason to divorce and then omits that exception in Luke, the exception does not disappear. This is very consistent with the way we should see Scripture. We are told not to kill in the commandments, yet the people of Israel were sent to war and used capital punishment. There are exceptions to the general rules.

She also rightly extrapolates from one teaching to another, as Jesus did. In spite of the idea that Scripture does not overtly address physical or emotional abuse in marriage, Roberts claims that the principles taught about marriage do include these things. If the Scripture says that a man must not beat his animals, can we not rightly assume that he should not beat his children or his wife? If a man is to love his wife, does that not mean he is not to torture her emotionally? And, if he does these things, has he not broken the marriage covenant? Jesus said that a man who looks on a woman with lust has committed adultery with her. When a man looks on his wife with hatred and acts on this hatred through his abuse, has he not abandoned the marriage relationship? This extrapolation is not only reasonable, but instructive.

Obviously, we have to be careful. Most of us in the evangelical tradition have been taught that you can twist Scripture to say almost anything (then we sometimes proceed to do just that!) I would submit that Roberts has not done that. There may be some jumps of logic that feel uncomfortable and you will want to look at them carefully, but I think you will be surprised at how often you agree with her assessments. I would not pretend that I agree with everything Roberts writes, but I also would not hesitate to recommend it to others.

Two things struck me as particularly powerful in this book. First, the revealing of the cultural challenges brought by the Pharisees to Jesus, and how those challenges led to what Jesus taught on divorce. Do you know the difference between the schools of Hillel and Shammai and the importance of the phrase, “for any reason”? Yes, it matters—and it explains why Jesus said what He said.

Also, the section on the statement “God hates divorce,” which people pull out of Malachi, is worth the price of the book. Roberts’ teaching on the difference between disciplinary and treacherous divorce and how it ties into this passage is important.

The bottom line is that the traditional evangelical teaching that all divorce is wrong unless there has been intimacy with someone outside the marriage simply does not stand up to careful Scriptural interpretation. There are other reasons marriages can end without damaging the status of marriage among believers. And those evangelical churches that have chosen to look the other way, to accept divorce as long as the divorced person feels appropriately guilty, have helped no one. No, the decision to divorce is intensely personal and the one who struggles should be directed to the Lord—with the understanding that there are things other than adultery that signal the death and dissolution of the marriage covenant.

This is one of my longest posts and I need to summarize. If you are struggling with the guilt of divorce—if you are wondering what you ought to do in an abusive marriage—if you are counseling or teaching on the subject of divorce among believers—you should read this book. It is not an easy read, but it will pull you forward. I have only touched on what I thought were key points for me. I think your eyes will be opened to many things; and you may see the Scripture’s perspective on divorce more consistently.

Here’s a link to Roberts’ website and a link to the book on Amazon:

http://www.notunderbondage.com/

notunderbondage

http://www.amazon.com/Not-Under-Bondage-Biblical-Desertion/dp/0980355346

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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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Abusers

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

Barbara Roberts, author of “Not Under Bondage,” asked a very good question in a recent comment here. Why use the word “narcissist”? Why not just call narcissistic behavior what it is and call the narcissist an abuser?

The problem, of course, lies in the definitions. For some people, abuse means almost exclusively a physical act. It may or may not have a sexual purpose. Those who hold that definition might allow the use of the word in connection with demeaning or cruel words, but would not consider verbal abuse to be “real” abuse. They would support legal protection and separation only for physical abuse.

But we understand that there are many forms of abuse that are not physical. Roberts does a good job of calling our attention to these forms and explaining how they cause harm to their victims. Psychological abuse, for example, is very real and very damaging. I have come to believe that several, if not many, of the stories we hear about mothers killing their children are the result of long-term psychological abuse by husbands who might never hit or cause physical pain directly. Financial abuse may actually become a form of slavery. Wives who have no access to money often feel trapped, held by their inability to leave.

Certainly narcissists abuse. Narcissistic manipulation can be very abusive, very harmful to the other person. But we still have to make the case that it should be considered “real” abuse. Narcissists are often quite aware of limits placed on them by society. Not only will they not use derogatory terms toward their spouses or children in public, for example; they may not use those abusive terms in private. A narcissistic husband might not call his wife a “fat cow.” He might only, but consistently, hint that he thinks she is overweight by suggesting that she should wear a larger size or that she should refrain from dessert. While most of us would consider the cruel terms to be abusive, we would find it much more difficult to convince others of the abuse of the latter.

Is it abuse to dress up a little girl and parade her in front of your friends, then ignore her much of the rest of the time? I think so, but not all would agree. Is it abuse to invite the whole family to a celebration except for one adult child, but then criticize him for not attending? Again, I think so. Is it abuse for a husband to constantly remind his wife to be wise in making decisions, thereby intimating that her opinion is usually foolish? I believe it is, but it would take considerable time with the couple even to see it happening.

The question isn’t whether I consider such manipulations to be abusive. The question is whether it is helpful to lump those actions in with the accepted things labeled as abuse. It will be very easy for outsiders to say that this abuse is only in the mind of the “victim,” and they will certainly put the quotes around the term.

So I write about narcissism. Are narcissists abusers? Yes. Not all of them abuse physically or sexually, but they all abuse—if for no other reason than the fact that they fail to care about the harm their actions do to others. Are all abusers narcissists? Probably not, although most of them would be narcissistic. A narcissist causes pain almost without mindfulness, unless that pain serves his purpose somehow. But some abusers hurt others specifically. They do it because they learned to do it or think they should. They might do it because they are afraid of a certain person, but they don’t do it to anyone else. Some abusers give no thought to consequence, while most narcissists are constantly thinking of results and consequences. There are differences worth noting.

I realize that I have to be careful here. There may be a range of opinions on this simply because of our definitions or our backgrounds. I think narcissistic abuse is in a different category than other types or causes of abuse. It is more difficult to pin down, usually, but sometimes it looks like the same old thing.

Let me summarize by giving my very general perspective on abuse, particularly in the family:

All physical abuse is life-threatening. Whether unintentionally exaggerated or accidentally damaging or presaging further harm, physical abuse is of sufficient danger for a partner to leave or a child to report.

All sexual abuse is rape. To exploit the sexuality of a child or coerce an adult against her/his will, even without the act of intercourse, is a forceful violation.

All psychological/emotional abuse is assault. Coercion, bondage, and servitude do not require physical force. Carefully chosen words can do great damage.

All narcissistic mistreatment is abuse. It might not even feel like abuse to the victim, but there are certainly aggressors and victims in narcissistic relationships. Eventually, the damage accumulates and can be debilitating.

Now, these are my thoughts and I realize some might think I go too far with them. But I remember how Jesus saw these things.

21  “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’
22  But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Matthew 5:21-22

27  “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
28  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28

By the way, I am reading Barbara Roberts’ book right now and I am greatly impressed by the depth and care with which she handles the Scriptures. I plan to write a review to share here. Thanks, Barbara, for the great thought that prompted this post!

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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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