Tag Archives: narcissists in church

Sacrifice

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

Over the years that I have been talking with people about narcissism, I have heard many different accounts of the same story.  Yes, the details are different, but there are so many similarities.  This is why we are able to discern common practices among narcissists and other controllers.  There are certain techniques, certain behaviors, that almost come naturally to these users.

One such common theme is the idea of sacrifice.  Nearly everyone who has been in a relationship with a narcissist has been expected to sacrifice for the relationship.  Sacrifice a job.  Sacrifice college goals.  Sacrifice a savings account.  Sacrifice close relationships with family and friends.  Sacrifice the place you live.  Sacrifice your belongings.  Sacrifice your time.

This says nothing about the more destructive sacrifices.  Sacrifice your privacy.  Sacrifice your security.  Sacrifice your worth as a person.  Sacrifice your opinions.  Sacrifice your virginity.  Sacrifice your dreams.  Sacrifice your support structure.  Sacrifice your love for others.  Sacrifice your self-respect.

And what do you get for these sacrifices?  You get to be with the narcissist!  In other words, you get nothing except more expectations.  Although your hopes grew with each sacrifice, your reality didn’t change much.  You thought the narcissist would be more loving, pay more attention, or be more kind.  Instead, you got more ridicule, more lies, and more pain.  The more you sacrificed, the more you were used.

Your sacrifice is a measure of the narcissist’s worth.  In other words, the more you are willing to sacrifice, the more important the narcissist feels.  Since one of the goals of the narcissist is to feel important, pushing you to make more sacrifices may be a regular thing.  When you value the narcissist over your treasure, he/she is affirmed.

But that’s not the only reason you are pushed to make sacrifices.  Sometimes this is necessary for the narcissist to be in control.  Tearing away the support structure of a victim is an important part of narcissistic abuse.  Without the relationships or the belongings that make you feel secure or valued, you are much easier to manipulate.  So the narcissist sets you up to choose between that support and him.  In fact, the more you indicate that something or someone is important to you, the more pressure you may feel to offer that as a sacrifice to the narcissistic relationship.

And sometimes it is simply that what is important to you doesn’t matter.  Since the narcissist does not see the real value of others, except to serve himself, he also does not see the value of the things that are important to others.  Living near an invalid parent, for example, may be very important to you but not even on the radar of what is important to the narcissist.  Giving up your job is not a big deal because your job was never a big deal to the narcissist.  Unless it is important to the narcissist at the moment, it isn’t important at all.  A sacrifice to a narcissist will not be received with the emotion in which it was given.

So how are you supposed to deal with this?  If you are new to a narcissistic relationship and have begun to see this need for sacrifice, maybe it’s time to get out.  But most of those who read this realize that too many sacrifices have already been made and there is little to show for them.  I want to simply say that it is time to stop.  At the same time, I realize that’s a lot easier to say than to do and especially easy for someone not living your life.

Yet, sometimes health begins at the point you first say, “No!”  When you are able to look at yourself and understand that it is right for you to keep something that’s important to you, you might be at the beginning of the process of rebuilding your life.  Don’t sacrifice that friendship or that relationship with family.  Don’t leave your job.  Don’t give in.

You will pay a price for not making the sacrifice.  Your love will be attacked.  You will be called selfish and uncaring and uncooperative.  You will be blamed for the relationship problems.  The narcissist will become the martyr and will remember none of your former sacrifices.   But hold your ground.  None of the other sacrifices have satisfied this false god.  This one will do no better.

And that leads me to something else.  I am posting this on Good Friday.  I am very aware that not all who read here share my faith in Jesus, but I want to point out the reason we acknowledge this day.  On this day, according to Christian history, Jesus suffered on the cross and died as a sacrifice for us.  He died because He loved us.  He gave the sacrifice, instead of asking for one from us.  The contrast between the love of Jesus—real love—and the abuse of the narcissist could not be stronger than what we see on this day.

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Secrets

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

A secret is a thing of power.

Hidden away behind the wall, camouflaged against discovery, a secret is kept. Layers of deception and misdirection, hazards and pitfalls in the path, all to dissuade the curious and thwart the investigator. The one who finds the secret finds something of the life of the one who hid it.

Recently the protective lid has been lifted from some well-known Christian ministries and the stench of the long-hidden secret has been exposed. The aged strata of performance and legalist ideals has finally given way to pressures from those whose lives have been touched by the secrets. The battle to keep them covered is being lost.

And now, as the truth is revealed, the secrets have become things of weakness. Their existence shouts of lies and compromises and begs for more questions. What else is hidden, we wonder.

Narcissism thrives in a culture of secrets. Many of the stories I have heard have involved secrets. Secret bank accounts, secret spending, secret relationships. Added to those are the vague histories of past jobs and marriages. I remember one man who somehow failed to tell his wife that she was really his third, not his second, and that there was a child from the first. Some have had secret families and secret apartments. Lies and avoidance cover up truth so that the secret remains hidden.

I think it is fair to mention secrets as a generally common characteristic of narcissists and legalists. Neither want the reality of their lives exposed. Both fear exposure above almost anything. Both promote an image of themselves as reality, so that others will not look for the truth. Both believe that others will judge them negatively if the whole truth was revealed. So secrets are important.

It is not a coincidence that the narcissist and the legalist both seem to want to know the secrets of others. When the young lady meets the narcissist boy, she notices that he listens to everything and asks all about her life. She is impressed and touched at his sensitivity and attention. Later she finds that he remembers details and uses them to accuse her or manipulate her. He gathered her secrets because secrets are things of power.

The legalist preacher often knows details about the lives of the people in his church that others do not know. Through counseling or confession, he has harvested secrets and remembers those secrets when he wants to control the people. I have known pastors who use that information in the pulpit (without names, of course) just to play with their power.

I suspect that the more a person has to hide, the more interested he/she is in the secrets of others. They are distractions from what the narcissist has hidden and they are weapons that can be produced in threatening times. They make the narcissist feel better about himself. Because he knows what he has hidden, he takes comfort in knowing that others have hidden things as well.

I also suspect that the more a person has to hide, the more that person will act out with lesser secrets. Many narcissists hide chunks of time or money. Opportunities to be anonymous or without accountability make them feel stronger. Small or unnecessary deceptions may be tests to see if the real secret is still safe or if the power to conceal is still there. If these lesser secrets are discovered, the narcissist acts as though they are unimportant.

Perhaps it should be noted that the primary secret the narcissist hides might not be all that big. Most hide feelings experienced in times of weakness or fear. Like the girl who lives in fear that someone would find and read her diary even though she has written nothing in it that anyone would care about, so the narcissist may not be hiding anything you or I would think to be of value. Just because a husband leaves work an hour early, but returns home at the usual time, that does not offer proof of a secret lover or evil hobby. At the same time, the deception is understandably disconcerting to his wife.

If you already believe yourself to be in relationship with a narcissist, you may find this characteristic of secrets to be part of that relationship. You may even choose to ignore it or adapt to it, as long as it does not endanger you or your family. While narcissists need the attention of people, they usually find the presence of people to be draining and threatening. The narcissist might need time without the expectations of others in order to continue to function in relationships. Secrets provide space and separation.

However, if you are wondering about the person in your relationship and you see this tendency toward secrets, along with other narcissistic characteristics, those secrets may help you decide what your battle really is about. If you have suddenly realized that the new boyfriend knows everything about you and your family, while you know little about him or his, you should certainly reconsider the relationship. The way a person handles secrets may reveal far more than he or she wants you to know.

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Guilt and Shame

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

One of the more subtle and unexplored connections between narcissism and legalism is the use of guilt and shame as motivation and control tools. So prevalent are these tools in the message of both legalism and narcissism that the connection can hardly be ignored. From the pulpit and the bedroom, from the family home to the service organization, guilt and shame are readily available and liberally applied.

Guilt and shame are usually found together, especially among Christians. The church has done a poor job of helping believers to release guilt, in spite of a message that proclaims the forgiveness of sins. Instead, the church has used guilt in a mixed message that never quite allows believers to feel forgiven.

The feeling associated with guilt, especially in the church, is shame. Shame moves church members to conformity and obedience; or, at least, compliance. Those who are intimidated by shame find it much more difficult to stand up against injustice, particularly to themselves.

Over the years I have suggested that guilt is a very inefficient motivator. It drains the accused of energy, energy that could benefit the one doing the accusing. In other words, using guilt and shame to motivate your kids to clean their rooms may work, but it costs them in both enthusiasm and creativity. Workers shamed into cooperation are still unwilling and without passion for the work. Employers and leaders who use guilt and shame will receive a lower quality of performance.

However, if you see the people in your care as somehow less than equal and less than valuable, you may be content with mediocre work and reluctant cooperation. If your members or workers are not real people in your mind and their greatest contributions are unworthy in your estimation, you may not care whether they perform with enthusiasm.

Enter the narcissist.

The narcissist has serious difficulty in valuing others or even in seeing others as real. Therefore the contributions of others have no real value to him. Slaves, servants, peons, sycophants, and moochers surround him. He expects them to serve him, but he also expects them to serve him poorly. So he uses whatever motivation will work.

I suspect that one reason a narcissist will attach to a believer is because the believer is often easier to manipulate with guilt and shame. Believers are usually pre-conditioned to accept this type of motivation. We have learned throughout our lives that most things are our fault. We have been told for years that we are inadequate and unworthy. So we accept the narcissist’s judgment as both true and normal.

But there’s more.

Guilt and shame may be very familiar to the narcissist. If we accept the typical version of a narcissist’s childhood, where parents are absent or conflicted and love is withheld except when it serves the parent, then guilt and shame are the primary motivations for the narcissist to hide and project an image. Rejection was his/her fault. He/she was to blame for the difficult childhood. If he/she had been a more worthy son/daughter the parent might have loved more.

The narcissist knows the power of guilt and shame. So it shouldn’t surprise us when narcissists seek victims who are already conditioned to that motivation. Nor should it surprise us when the compromised legalist uses it from the pulpit to control his parishioners or move them to conformity. When the narcissist tells his wife that their marriage problems are her fault, he is probably projecting the guilt and shame he has felt all his life and using it as a primary tool to control. When the legalist preacher condemns his people for the clothes they wear or the television they watch, he may well be projecting the guilt and shame he feels for the compromises of his own life.

So the answer to this control is to know the truth of God’s love and acceptance. Shame makes us feel less as persons. We relinquish our rights and our value when we live in shame. We accept the abuse of others and add to it ourselves, because we own the guilt. But that is not the message God has for us.

There is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus, according to the Scriptures. No more guilt or shame, because Jesus came to take that away from us. Yes, our actions may cause pain and our attitudes may be wrong, but that does not lessen our value to Him. We should be quick to confess injury to others and seek reconciliation, but from a position that is both secure and strong. We are loved by the greatest Judge of all and that will never change.

In other words, believers are healthy when they accept the acceptance God has toward them. We are strong when we acknowledge that nothing can remove us from His protection. We are confident when we understand that guilt and shame have been completely overcome in us by the One who sacrificed Himself for us.

Neither the narcissist nor the legalist preacher has the right to pronounce guilt on us. They have no power over us to place us under shame. We are free to simply shrug off their condemnation and manipulation. Understanding that is health and peace . . . and victory.

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Leaving the Narcissistic Organization

It’s Narcissist Friday!

(At home today, caring for a family member just out of the hospital.  This re-post seemed timely.)

Sometimes narcissists like to be with other narcissists.  Of course, when that happens, there is usually a hierarchy of a sort, a way to know who is above whom.  That takes a system—or an organization.  Sadly, volunteer organizations often fall prey to the narcissistic takeover.

Think of the narcissistic organization as a multi-level marketing system.  The currency, of course, is narcissistic supply.  The leaders share percentages of the admiration and attention that comes from those on the bottom.  Years ago, someone tried to get me to peddle a certain soap company’s products and marketing strategy.  He told me how I would get a piece of the work of everyone I sold the system to and of everyone they sold it to.  In other words, I could live on the support of those under me.  He only stuttered when I asked a simple question:  “Doesn’t someone have to sell soap?”

Every narcissistic organization must have followers, people who exude appreciation and awe for the leaders.  They must be obedient and helpful and enthralled.  They must be impressed most of all with the one at the top, but also suitably servile and attentive to those under the leader.  The leader, of course, has little time for those on the bottom.  They are to send their admiration (and usually money) without expectation.  They must be satisfied with small connections and with representatives.

So the people at the bottom, the ones who actually do the work (sell soap), become something like groupies.  They may not be able to connect with the lead singer, but they can connect with the stage crew or the bus driver.  Then they just might work their way up to the drummer and get to see the lead singer once in a while.

Now, when you are in this system, all of this just seems sort of normal.  You don’t expect to get to visit with the CEO or the Teacher or the evangelist.  But you certainly appreciate their skill and wisdom.  You listen to the sermon or go to the seminar and you tell others how great it was.  Your small group leader is as close as you will ever get to leadership, but you recognize that he has been under the teaching of the leader.

But when you finally begin to realize that the system exists almost entirely for the sake of feeding the leader with narcissistic supply, you begin to see the ugliness.  Maybe you disagreed with the leader or one of his representatives about something and found that you were being shut out, even shunned.  Maybe rumors were started about your character to discredit any concern you might have about the organization.  Suddenly the ones who were so gracious and welcoming turn into something unexpected and frightening.

Almost like turning off a faucet, your connections seem to disappear.  The phone stops ringing.  The emails stop.  The opportunities for fellowship and service dry up.  You begin to feel like an outcast.  You might be able to be restored, with a certain amount of apology and penance.  But probably not.  Once the narcissistic organization recognizes a person as a threat, that person must go.  Those who stay will be carefully marginalized.

So now you are out.  Either you saw the truth and got out or they turned against you and kicked you out.  Neither one feels very good.  Just like those with narcissistic lovers, you feel empty and afraid when the relationship is over.  No matter how often people tell you that you are better off apart, you can’t feel that way consistently.

You see, narcissistic organizations are simply collections of narcissists.  All the manipulations and addictive drugs narcissists give their victims are in these organizations.  Very often the narcissistic organization takes over the lives of the people.  There are activities and groups and expectations and jobs and all kinds of connections to keep you both close and under control.  They welcome you with attention and love and excitement and tie your heart to the system.  When you leave, it hurts.  Even if it was your choice.

And, yes, there is often fear.  Narcissistic organizations often fill their people with stories of abuse outside the organization.  Wickedness, prejudice, and all kinds of evil lie in wait outside the organization.  What would happen to you if you left?  Where would you ever find a place you could trust?

This is why people who leave narcissistic churches often stop going to church altogether.  They are either convinced that no other church could measure up to the level of authority or activity of what they are leaving or they are afraid of being hurt again by another group of users and abusers.

And there is anger.  The narcissistic organization uses and discards just like the narcissistic person.  Those who leave these organizations have often given great amounts of time and money and loyalty—only to have nothing but negative in the end.  Sadness and loss turn to anger easily when we realize that we were used.

But there is another feeling, something better, something good.  There is a sense of victory.  Like a person who escapes danger learns that she is stronger than she thought, the person who leaves this kind of organization feels like they have done something right.  It might take time to heal, but it is good to be out.

Eventually, the poison that held you in bondage will leave your system.  Just be sure that you don’t get sucked in again.  Be gracious and kind, but withhold your trust for a while.  And believe that there are good churches and good organizations that are worth searching for.  Think through what you learned.  Watch the leaders.  Listen to people who warn you.

There are real people who care.  Find them.  And be prepared to give again.

 

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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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Supply

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

The narcissism literature talks a lot about narcissistic supply.  “Supply” is sustenance, that which the narcissist needs and wants to get from you.  For the narcissist, supply is just as practical as you getting “supplies” from the grocery or hardware store.  He/she will pay whatever it takes to get what is needed.

But just what is the supply of the narcissist?  We usually speak in terms of adoration, loyalty, service, attention, etc.  Yet, under all of these is a common factor.  The narcissist needs life.

An idol has no life.  I believe the primary reason God hates idols and idol worship is because the idol, or false god, draws its life from its worshipers.  It gives them nothing, but takes everything.  The more they serve it, the more the idol draws from them.  A piece of wood or stone or precious metal cannot provide life.  It has none to give.  So its servants must give it life from themselves.

Let me explain this.  How do the worshipers of an idol know what the idol wants?  They look into themselves and pull out ideas of what true worship would be.  If cutting themselves would make it appear that they are fervent in their faith, then they would cut themselves.  If making a great sacrifice would be true worship, in their own eyes, then the worshipers would make great sacrifices.  And what kind of blessings would the idol give?  None, except what the worshipers would either do for themselves or manipulate from others or twist from the normal series of life events.  Their creativity and effort provide what the idol gets credit for.

Now, here’s the point: the image the narcissist has created has no life either.  It is a phony, just like an idol.  The only problem is that the only worshiper it has is the narcissist.  The image needs more.  It needs you.

It isn’t quite enough that the image provides a distraction from the broken and frightened child hiding in the corner (which is the real narcissist).  The narcissist needs to make the image real.  He/she must reject the reality they see and substitute the image.  The narcissist is not content for you to believe the lie; you must give life to the image.

Worship is the process of investing our lives into that which we worship.  What the Bible teaches us is that we come to the Lord and receive life from Him in order to worship Him and receive more life from Him.  I know that sounds complicated, but we understand that we were all the broken child hiding in the corner.  When we found Jesus and His love for us, we received His life.  He filled us with Himself.  He lives in us and is our life.  The only way we can worship Him is if we take from His life to connect our hearts to His.  This is why Jesus said that those who worship God “must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”

The narcissist draws life from his victims for the worship of the image.  “Did you see what a great job I did?”  You are supposed to give life to the lie and say, “Oh yes, how wonderful you are!”  You know it wasn’t the narcissist who did the great thing or that the thing wasn’t really all that great, but you are supposed to worship anyway.  And, every time you do, you take a little more from yourself to give to the image.

This is why victims of narcissists are so drained.  It’s why they feel so confused, so negative about themselves, and so compromised.  It’s why many of them feel depressed and suicidal.  It’s also why victims of narcissists often become narcissistic.  In order to replace the life they have given, they try to get something back from others.  The cycle runs through families and in organizations as each tries to get what was taken by others.

It is difficult to stop this process in a narcissistic relationship.  Yet, the important thing is to understand what is happening and to find ways to prevent the loss of identity that comes with this giving of life.  Find sources of life and energy apart from the narcissist.  Find ways to be healthy and alive.  And don’t give yourself away as your narcissist pushes you to worship the image.  Hold onto who you are.

Of course, the ultimate answer is to find your life source in Jesus.  He will fill you with love and affirmation and purpose.  He will lead you in dealing with your narcissist.  I believe with all my heart that Jesus is the only real source of life and that He loves each of us.

Life.  It’s pretty much the bottom line, isn’t it?  And the narcissist wants it.  He/she needs it.  It is the basic supply that answers all the longings, the one drug that hints at satisfying.  But they have to get it from you.

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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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