The Good News

It’s Monday Grace!

If you go to many churches today, you will hear that God is disappointed in you, there is a price to pay for your sin, you are in danger of losing your salvation, and you really should shape up. In other churches you might hear that it doesn’t matter what you believe, everyone is going to be saved no matter what they have done, and you can just live however you want.

How are either of these messages good news?

There is little to bring encouragement to our day if we think that God is angry and vengeful toward us. At the same time, there is no joy in thinking that He really doesn’t care. We know intuitively that sin has a price. We believe that behavior matters, that there is a need for justice. But, when we look at our own behavior, we wonder how we could ever be good enough.

So, which is it? Are we never going to be good enough, or does God not care about sin?

Fortunately, there is real good news.

God does care about sin. Sin hurts people. Sin isn’t just about doing something wrong. It’s about doing something hurtful. Adulterers hurt their families. Liars, cheaters, and thieves all hurt others. Abusers hurt the people under their control. We know these things. God hates sin because He loves people.

The Good News is that God has reached into our world, into our lives of faith, to deal with sin. There is a lot of mystery in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, but the simple fact is that Jesus died to deal with our sin. As we trust Him, He washes us clean.

You see, the good news is that God’s love is greater than our sin. He does care about sin, but He cares more about you and me. Sin is a big deal, but you are the one He loves. All He wants is to protect you from sin’s pain.

If you find it hard to forget something you have done, remind yourself that the whole point of the gospel is that sin cannot keep God’s love from you. The story of the Man who went to the cross is about God’s love for you. His victory over death and sin is the good news.

Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.
Psalm 96:2

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Identity

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Some might remember the old TV show, “Secret Agent” with Patrick McGoohan. It was “Danger Man” outside the US. During the Cold War, the idea of secret agents traveling the world as assassins or spies was exciting. But they nailed the narcissism of our day and the attitude of the narcissist in the theme song. Johnny Rivers sang,

“They’ve given you a number, and taken away your name.”

I have heard stories of narcissists who almost refuse to call their spouses or children by their real names. Instead, they have nicknames or some other type of designation. It’s easier to steal someone’s identity if you take away their name.

You looked around your life after the relationship ended and you said, “I barely know who I am now.” What happened? Someone took your identity. We talk about others using your identity or stealing it, but narcissists absorb the identities of their victims. Not knowing themselves, narcissists will attach to others with such intensity that their spouses, children, employees, no longer have separate identities.

Notice how some narcissists consistently fail to use peoples’ names. They introduce you as “the wife” or “the youngest child” or “my salesman.” That moves others to think of you only in relationship to the narcissist. Your value to the narcissist cannot be independent from him/her. Eventually, you begin to wonder if you exist apart from the narcissist.

Some do it by control. The “supply,” a term for the person who provides what the narcissist wants, is so surrounded by the narcissist that he/she can barely have a private thought, let alone independent activities. There is no club, no group, no friend, no place that doesn’t have a direct relationship to the narcissist. Every connection in the victim’s life serves the narcissist in some way.

Others do it by smothering, which is just another way of control of course. Phone calls every morning and evening, expected visits every weekend, shared “free” time. It might be a narcissistic friend who suddenly seems to have absorbed you. It might be a narcissistic mother.

Some use accusations and threats. “You don’t really want to be with me.” “You love them more than me.” “Maybe I’ll take the kids and leave you to yourself.” Again, just another method of control.

We laugh about “Richandamy,” the two high school kids in the Zits comic strip who can’t seem to be apart. But it isn’t funny when Mrs. Robert Smith realizes that there is another Mrs. Robert Smith now. Who is she apart from the relationship? She took his name and was known by his name. Now another has that spot. Now she has to discover who she is.

Identity is a deep and challenging subject. Just know that you are you. Many women go back to their maiden names after leaving the narcissist. Some join organizations and make friends that don’t know the narcissist. Some move away and start a new life of their own.

Others find that very difficult as they take care of the children, live in the same town, or try to function as part of the same family. But you are still you. Others do not define you, no matter how intense the relationship is or was.

Let me say it this way: You may have lost yourself in the narcissistic relationship, but you were not lost. You just have to find yourself again. That same person is still around.

And the Lord who loves you knows your name!

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God is for real

It’s Monday Grace!

I remember the book, “Heaven is for Real.” The only reason the thought of Heaven brings joy to my heart is because I believe God is for real. There is Someone higher and greater than I am, greater even than all the forces of this world. Someone who sees and knows and cares. That makes a difference in my day.

For many people, even many of those who attend church services, God is an idea. He is a good idea, an extension of whatever moral principles or values the person believes. In other words, God is the biggest, greatest, wisest, best in every way—the superlative of every value or positive characteristic. But still, just a philosophical idea.

And an idea doesn’t help much when I am worried or hurting.

Some people never learned that God is for real. The idea of God is all they learned. Others lost the reality of God when all they could feel was the pain. And an idea doesn’t hear my prayers or my cries. I need someone real.

The God of Israel made a point of letting His people know that He was real. He entered into their history. He walked with them and guided them. He didn’t fix all their problems. He didn’t talk a lot. But He was real and it made a difference to them.

The message of the Church is that God became a man in Jesus, a real man with real skin. He lived a life much like ours. He walked the paths of this world, did the work of this world, and interacted with the people of this world. He was, and is, real. Just as real as you and I.

The God of the Christian is a real person, greater than any of us, but the same in many ways. And He wants to be real in our lives.

The ancient Hebrews called God “He Who is.” When Moses asked His name, God said, “I Am.” The One who is real. Not an idea. Not a hope. Not a philosophical extrapolation. A real person.

Whatever the challenges of the week ahead, you need a real Person. He doesn’t have to talk or fix things, but it will help a great deal to know He is there. You are not alone.

Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”
Exodus 3:13-14

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Enthusiasm

It’s Narcissist Friday!

The narcissistic father tells his son that they would go fishing in the morning if he gets the lawn mowed. The son works hard and does a great job on the lawn, then gets all his fishing gear ready before bed. But, in the morning, his enthusiasm drains away as he realizes his father has already gone to work.

The narcissistic husband tells his wife they can go out to that new restaurant she has wanted to try if she will skip going to visit her mom that evening. She calls her mom, and says she isn’t coming, then gets dressed and ready by the agreed upon time. But her husband doesn’t come home. Eventually, he calls and says he is going to be late, too late to go to dinner. He has already eaten with a group from work.

The narcissistic friend says she will help with the canning if you can get things started. You look forward to the help, and you picked a lot of fruit to split with her. She doesn’t show up until you are done with almost all the work. She is just in time to write labels on the jars. Half are hers, of course.

So, in each of these situations, what happens next time? A little less enthusiasm, I would expect. The boy won’t work quite as hard as last time. The wife will wonder if it was just his way of separating her from her mom. The friend will not be quite as happy about the offer to help.

And the time after that? And the next?

When you look over your life after the narcissistic relationship ends, you find several things are missing. One of them is almost certainly your enthusiasm. You have been tricked so many times, manipulated by promises and hope, that you have become both skeptical and apathetic. There is little sense in getting excited about promises when they have disappeared so often.

This is yet another way narcissists manipulate. Your enthusiasm is a threat. What if you had enthusiasm for something the narcissist didn’t want? What if you agreed to something the narcissist wouldn’t like? Breaking enthusiasm, keeping a victim discouraged is just a way of maintaining control.

And, besides, making a promise comes a lot easier to the narcissist than keeping one. It may be that the father truly felt like going fishing in the morning, but then he forgot all about it. It may be that the husband was planning on going to the restaurant with his wife, but something else came up. It may be that the friend was thinking about helping, but more important things came along. The problem with promises from narcissists is that they are only good until something else comes up.

So now, after the narcissistic relationship, you find it hard to be enthused about anything. You doubt people who say they will do things, and every failure just supports your apathy. You don’t want to be this way, but it seems less risky than letting yourself get excited.

Listen: not everyone is a narcissist. Most people actually do what they say. If you are careful about seeing and believing the red flags you have learned from the narcissistic relationship, you should let yourself anticipate pleasure, even become enthusiastic again. Yes, you will still be let down at times. Even good people forget or fail to communicate. But that will not be the old manipulation or deceit. That will just be human. You will do it to others also.

Remember: Losing things like your enthusiasm is normal in narcissistic relationships, but it isn’t normal in healthy relationships. What you have experienced may be common in a groups like ours, but it is not right and not common apart from narcissism. There is a good life out there for you.

It’s okay to expect a good day when you get up in the morning. It’s okay to expect people to do what they promise. And, listen, it’s better to be disappointed occasionally than never to be enthusiastic again. There is a lot of good in life to be enjoyed. Let yourself enjoy it.

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Monday Grace

It’s Monday Grace!

That’s right! A new day of the week with a new message of encouragement for you. Each Friday I write about some aspect of narcissistic abuse, hoping to keep the message positive and encouraging. But talking about the struggle can be draining in itself. And, frankly, once a week isn’t enough to deal with all I want to give. I want to talk about the love and practical help God has for you in Jesus. I want to give you something to hold onto as you step into the week.

There is a good message for all of us. Even in the midst of the daily grind, the struggle, there is hope and promise. In fact, there is joy. Those who look to Jesus find a real Person who loves them. One who will never leave and cannot be taken away. We all need love.

Now, as I have said many times in the past, I am a Christian pastor with a Christian message. I know that some readers have been burned by churches and Christians. That breaks my heart. I have suffered abuse from those who claimed to be God’s people as well. I understand that the trite and simple words often fall short in the light of the practice of many Christians. But I have found a way past the jargon and the phoniness to a real relationship with Jesus. I have found that love.

So, even if you can’t imagine ever returning to church, you are welcome—even encouraged—to read these simple posts. Even if you think most Christians are so full of themselves that there is no room for the Holy Spirit, you will find encouragement here. I won’t pretend to be something I am not, but I will offer you welcome and understanding. Here you can sit in the back row and slip out whenever you want. Here you are welcome to take what you can handle and leave the rest.

Some people have been lying. They say that God is angry with you. They say you don’t measure up. They say they have something you can’t have. They look down on you and want you to believe that God thinks like they do. Their brokenness and compromise is hidden in their attitude toward you. But they lie.

You are important. Right now, just as you are. I believe that God loves you. You are a unique creation made for relationship with Him. It is not His goal to punish you or make you miserable. He wants to show you His love. He is with you and knows your struggle. You are not alone.

I pray as I write these posts. I pray for you. I pray that you will find encouragement for your day and your week. I pray that you will know a little more of the truth. I pray that you will feel just a little more loved. Join me, please, in praying for others who read.

Check out our website, http://www.gracefortheheart.org, to find articles and posts that will tell you about this ministry and the heart of God for you. And watch right here, next Monday, for a new edition of “Monday Grace.”

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Sanity

It’s Narcissist Friday!

The old movie, Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman and released, in 1944 brought a new word into our vocabulary. “Gaslighting” has come to mean the process of making a person think he or she is losing sanity. The person who is “gaslighted” is being systematically weakened so that the abuser can control and manipulate.

It sounds horrible. Who would do such a thing? Well, perhaps the same person who would lie to get into a relationship with you. Perhaps the same person who would violate your privacy, lie to you, push away your friends and family, cheat in almost any competition, and blame others for his mistakes. Maybe the same person who would boast of his accomplishments after doing all that.

The narcissist needs to control. If he can’t overwhelm you with his brilliance and charm (like he probably did at the beginning), he will want to undercut your strength and confidence.

I suspect this is a favorite tactic of the covert narcissist simply because the covert doesn’t want to face conflict, but the overt will use it as well. The overt will try to overcome your objections, accuse you with lies, call you names, or sabotage your efforts. The covert will just act like a victim. Any problem is your fault. Any disagreement causes pain for the covert, pain that comes from you.

For example, you were supposed to meet the narcissist for coffee at 1:00. By 1:30, she still is not there. When she finally comes, she thinks she is early. After all, you agreed you would meet at 2:00. If you disagree, she will show you her note to herself that says 2:00. You suspect she wrote the note just before she got there. Of course, it could go the other way. She might not show up at all, then say that you were the one who was late. She didn’t wait because she knows how stressed you are lately. You are beginning to forget things, she says.

Remember that lying is easy for the narcissist. A lie that gives a “one-up” on you is worth a lot. Making you feel bad or incompetent is a great way to control. Narcissistic mom says “you always” forget or get things wrong. Narcissistic boss says you just aren’t ready for leadership. Narcissistic preacher tells you that you can’t trust your heart, but you can trust him.

Reject the lie. You are not going crazy. The stress you feel is a normal part of a narcissistic relationship. Mistakes and misunderstandings do not define you. The moment you suspect that you are being manipulated, that someone might be trying to undermine your sanity, step back. Protect yourself.

It is sadly common for narcissists to win in custody battles, job advancements, or property disputes because they succeed in making the other person look irrational. They push the buttons that will prompt unusual words and actions. They know what they are doing. They might even win.

But that doesn’t mean you are insane!

No, you have been tricked. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes the evil wins. Pick yourself up and move on. Never assume that you have lost your sanity. Frankly, it sounds strange for me to say that. But so many have said they found it nearly impossible to separate from the narcissist or start a new life because they didn’t trust their own thinking.

Look to the Lord for clarity. Let Him send a good friend—who has no agenda but to walk with you—and let that friend reassure you. Find a good counselor to talk with. Seeking counsel is not an admission of weakness or incompetence. Narcissists are experts at manipulating. Don’t disparage yourself if you get tricked by one. Find the way back to health and move forward.

Your sanity has not been lost, just covered by the narcissist’s lies. Doubting yourself is normal. Keep moving forward, and you will begin to feel good about your thinking again.

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Joy

It’s Narcissist Friday!

“I used to enjoy life.”

“I used to look forward to travel, church, friends, work, and family.”

“I used to be a happy person!”

Those who are unhappy find the joy of others to be unwelcome, uncomfortable, and unworthy. The narcissist is an unhappy person. Competitive, insecure, anxious, fearful—the narcissist can’t handle your joy. So, it has to go.

I have always loved Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons. This is one of my favorites. The demons hate a happy person. Their job is to make him miserable. Sound familiar?

Through criticism, constant crisis, rejection, manipulation, suspicion, and more, narcissists keep the lives of their victims so stirred up that joy fades away. If the narcissist sees you happy, he/she will work even harder to stir things up. Your only joy is supposed to be in serving the narcissist. Even then you are suspect if you are happy. The narcissist knows he wouldn’t be happy in your shoes, so he thinks you must be up to something.

After the narcissist relationship, when you look at your life to see what is missing, you may discover that your joy has been lost. Even in difficult circumstances, you used to be able to find something positive, something to be happy about. Joy was part of you. It lifted you up and helped you stand. But it slipped away, little by little, until you forgot it was even possible. Now, the best you can do is get through the day. The good day is the one where nothing really bad happens.

Can you find joy again? Yes! Your joy has just been overwhelmed by your anxiety and pain. You didn’t have the time and energy to be joyful because you could barely keep going. I have a little dumb saying that I use in counseling: “When your arm hurts, you never stop to think about how good your leg feels.” We are made to focus on pain. Pain is an indication that something is wrong, something needs to change. It’s hard to remember joy during pain.

Some have said that when they begin to feel happy again, they immediately doubt themselves. They feel guilty for something, worried about that other shoe dropping, whatever—and the joy slips away again.

Listen: that’s okay. That’s normal. You have probably been told that you aren’t worth joy, that you deserve only to be unhappy. That old lie will pop up from time to time because it’s so familiar. But it is still a lie. Pick yourself up and remind yourself that you are loved.

Joy can begin again when you believe you are loved. When you look to Jesus, you can believe in His love. He looks past the mistakes, past the compromises, to love you.

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

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