Tag Archives: narcissists in church

The Super-power

 It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

I remember some sci-fi show where the person wearing a certain amulet had the power to make others like him; like him so much that they would do almost anything for him, without regard to his cruel ways. Once the amulet was taken from him, they saw the truth and got their revenge.

Do narcissists have a secret amulet or some kind of special ability that allows them to get what they want? It certainly seems so at times. I have often called this the narcissist’s super-power. They have an amazing ability to manipulate what others think and believe about them.

I get comments and emails saying that a victim’s parents still love the narcissist. Friends, bosses, family members and others can’t seem to see the lies and manipulations of the narcissist. They just see a wonderful person. It’s like some kind of covering is over their eyes distorting reality.

I have watched narcissists get promoted in spite of the fact that they were basically incompetent in their jobs. I have seen narcissists trusted in spite of their almost obvious duplicity. I have seen people go to narcissists for counsel in spite of the fact that the narcissists betray confidences and really don’t care. It is all very hard to understand.

Perhaps there are several factors at work here, I think.

  1. They want us to trust them – Narcissists have needs and they are highly motivated to fulfill those needs. Just like a salesman or a counselor or someone else whose success hinges on trust, the narcissist will go to extra lengths to gain that trust. This is why they seem to be extra loving or attentive or even trustworthy in the beginning. They need your trust more.
  2. They have learned the system – There are words and actions that communicate trust. Narcissists will look people in the eye, give a firm handshake, and refer to the person as “friend.” They will take the extra assignment or do the special favor that gains influence (even if they have to find someone else to do the work). Narcissists are observant and careful listeners and generous and respectful—when they want to gain trust. They know how the trust system works.
  3. They know we want to trust – Narcissists take advantage of a basic human need, the need to relate to trustworthy people. They know that most of us will look past faults, even to form images of a person according to our own desires. Most of us don’t assume that others lie or manipulate. We find it hard to believe that someone could be so mercenary and cold. So they use our desire to trust against us.

I know a narcissist who holds a high organizational position. He is barely competent as a leader and untrustworthy as a friend. Behind him lie the broken lives and vocations of the people he has used. But in front of him are many others with open arms and smiles and generous hearts who see nothing wrong. He has held his position for a long time and has used it to gain both financially and socially. He knows how to play the game.

Basically, that’s the key. The narcissist knows how to play the game. But you have to add to that the fact that they are ruthless in playing. They have nothing to lose and they play to win. And, sadly, they usually do.

So, if you try to fight your narcissist, you may lose. The wife who leaves may find herself with little or nothing. The friend who gets away may find himself to be a pariah among the mutual friends. The narcissist’s super-power works. Those who should be able to see the truth are blinded by the spin, the image, the lies. Those of us who try to come alongside the victims have ideas that should work, but often fail because the narcissists simply have something no one should have—the ability to move the hearts and minds of others in their own favor.

Now, there are some of us who are almost immune to their power. We see the truth, at least about the narcissists we have known. But it is especially frustrating when we realize that even that immunity has come because the narcissist no longer cares. Too many have found themselves vulnerable when the narcissist comes around again.

Yes, it is a super-power, at least in comparison to anything the rest of us have. Yes, it is scary when you see it that way. But it is better to see the truth than to be caught off guard. The only defense we have is to remember the truth we have learned about narcissism, ourselves, and the person who has caused our pain. We may need each other to remind us sometimes.

Remember that victory may simply lie in getting out. The threats of the narcissist cannot overcome the support and strength you have. Find that support and use that strength. Trust the Lord and His love for you. He is the One you can trust.

28 Comments

Filed under Narcissism

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.

 

139 Comments

Filed under Narcissism

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.

36 Comments

Filed under Narcissism, Relationship

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.

65 Comments

Filed under Narcissism, Relationship

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.

66 Comments

Filed under Narcissism

“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

 

30 Comments

Filed under Narcissism, Uncategorized

Of Many Colors

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Abusers come in many shapes and forms.  I am reading a very good book about abusers in the church.  There are “Christian” abusers and abusers of many other faiths.  There are men and women who abuse.  There are young people and old people who abuse.  Some seem to abuse others almost from birth and others become abusers after accidents or old age.

 

When we consider narcissism, we find the same thing.  There are narcissistic parents and children, bosses and employees, pastors and church members, husbands and wives.  Some seem to develop narcissistic characteristics, while others seem to be born that way.  There may not be a narcissist under every rock, but there are more of them than we ever realized.

 

So writing about narcissism as behavior or sin encompasses many stories.  If you take the time to read through the posts and the comments here, you will find a variety of stories—more, I think, than you may have expected.  Some have struggled with narcissistic friends; other with narcissistic parents; and still others with co-workers or bosses.  Not every victim is married to one of them.

 

With all of this variety, there is one constant: the abuse.  The pain is different for each person, but every story reveals abuse.  And a common theme in a community like this is that the abuse has not been understood or acknowledged by the outside world.  Our culture is finally beginning to see sexual and physical abuse.  Yes, it still hides and still hurts, but we have some safety systems and justice options in place.  Not so much for narcissistic abuse.

 

Narcissistic abuse is hidden in different ways.  While the sexual abuser threatens and the physical abuser lies and covers, the narcissistic abuser seems to use accepted means to continue his cruelty.  He is well-respected even when the narcissism is revealed.  She has friends who seem to accept her exploitation of them.  The boss and co-worker are successful in their work, even though they use others.  No one wants to hear about narcissistic abuse and some would not call it abuse at all.

 

As hard as it is to face reality, victims of narcissistic abuse really can’t expect to find ready help from the world around them, whether it is family or church or community.  I am very grateful for the help our little community can offer.  I see such caring and wisdom in the comments.  Many here pray for those who ask for help.

 

At the same time, we have to fall back on the two things we can do for ourselves.  Set and maintain boundaries and speak up.  Even if others don’t want to listen, they can hear that you are hurting and that a certain person is the cause.  Even if the narcissist refuses to stop the abuse, he or she can hear that it is no longer acceptable.  And the victims can grow in power.  Read through the posts here and study narcissism.  You will find that there are things you can do to expose and stop the abuse.  And there are ways to freedom and health.

 

We are praying for you.

15 Comments

Filed under Narcissism, Uncategorized