Clues

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Is there any way to discover a narcissist before you get into a relationship with one? Are there clues we should be seeing?

Yes, with one caveat. We probably won’t know that a person is actually a narcissist until we dig deeply into that person’s life. Instead, we can identify a “toxic person.” It doesn’t really matter whether the person is a narcissist, you want to know if this person could hurt you. There are signs that many people overlook when they meet another person.

Let’s break these clues into two groups: What you see in the person and what you feel in yourself.

 

So, first, what do you see?

 

Criticism:

The narcissist criticizes without regard to propriety. You and I feel like we have to earn the right to share a criticism. The narcissist doesn’t feel that way. He/she will criticize your clothes, your car, your work, anything. You will probably hear him/her criticize others, especially behind their backs. The girl who goes out with a new boy and hears criticism of what she wears or anything else in her life should become very alert. It begins early.

Insincere praise:

It may be surprising to realize that narcissists are quick and generous with their praises. The truth is that this is a manipulative tool narcissists learn early. They use praise to get people to like them and to disarm any hesitation. It often works. (Remember Eddie Haskell?) If you meet someone who is overly generous with praise of you or others, be careful!

Discovering secrets:

Contrary to what some might think, narcissists are good listeners, at least early in the relationship. They gather personal information to use later. It is always best to be careful about sharing personal things, but if you notice someone asking inappropriate questions about sensitive things, that person might be toxic. If he/she returns to a sensitive area after you stopped talking about it, be alert.

Cheating:

In a recent post I shared about how narcissists cheat. Not only will the toxic person break some rule in your presence, he will probably make you aware of it. You are supposed to understand that he is superior. Letting you see him break a rule will impress you with his boldness and deceive you into thinking you share a secret. Many people like the “bad boy” as long as he isn’t hurting them. But the bad boy might become toxic in a relationship.

Fantasy future:

Narcissists can be big talkers with big dreams. Sharing dreams isn’t bad, even early in a relationship, but the dreams of the narcissist will revolve around others admiring or submitting to him. He will be a rock star in some area of life so that others will notice and look up to him. But, as you get to know him, you will see that he doesn’t have the courage or determination to make those dreams come true.

Complaints:

The reason the dreams don’t come true will be because others hold him back or fail him in some way. Narcissists have complaints. They are under-appreciated at church, used at home, passed over at work. The reason he was fired at his last job was because the boss wanted his relative to have the position. People just don’t understand her. Life is always unfair to the narcissist.

Excuses:

The failures of the narcissist’s life are someone else’s fault. He will admit to a weakness if it gives him an excuse for failure. He was late because he never really learned to tell time. (Of course, you better not be late.) He forgot the commitment he made to you or to someone else. It wasn’t his fault. The boss had him working late. His mom took the car. His roommate was loud all night. On and on and on.

Selective memory:

When the narcissist tells the story, it probably isn’t the way you remember it. He will be made to look smarter or stronger. The others will be made to look more foolish. The excuse won’t be quite true. After the argument, your version is different from hers. You were mean, and she was the victim. But that’s not the way it was. Narcissists see truth as something that can be molded to fit their needs.

 

And how does that person make you feel?

 

Compromised:

You walk away from the conversation feeling like you said too much, maybe even exposed things you shouldn’t have. Why did you do that?

Manipulated:

You are painted into a corner. You have to answer the way the person wants or you will feel like you are doing something wrong. You have to do what the person wants, or agree with what she says, even if you don’t want to.

Complicit:

You feel like a partner in a crime you didn’t commit. The narcissist lies, and you are put in a situation where you have to cover or agree. You bring the narcissist to an event, and he breaks the rules. Now you feel guilty.

Drained:

Even at the beginning of a relationship, narcissists can be draining. You are the one who talked the whole time. Or maybe you listened so intently to his talking that you feel exhausted. You worked so hard to present your best that you are wiped out now. Ask yourself why that person drained you.

Mean:

You come away from a time with this person and you realize that you have said so many mean things about others that you are ashamed. Does that person draw out those comments from you, those feelings?

Pushed:

Not just manipulated, but pushed into things. You didn’t really want to go to that movie. You didn’t want to talk about that person. You didn’t want to wear those clothes. Yet, you feel like that person pushed you somehow. It isn’t easy to explain why you didn’t stand up for yourself, but you just didn’t.

High:

This might surprise you. Narcissists know which buttons to push to make someone feel really special and valued. They know just what to say and how to say it. Sadly, this is just another form of manipulation. If you come away from an early contact feeling like this new relationship is too good to be true, it might just be.

 

The whole idea of a clue is that it is not proof. None of these, standing alone, proves that a person is toxic, let alone a narcissist. But when you see several of these, in that person or yourself, then you have some red flags.

So what other clues have you realized? Hindsight does help! It may at least help others.

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Check this out

I so rarely repost what others have written, but this is something I have to pass on.  I don’t know Gary Thomas and I don’t know if I would agree with him on anything else, but I do agree with this post.  And I want you to read it…

http://www.garythomas.com/enough-enough/

EDIT: Please note that I do not agree with or endorse all that Gary Thomas has written.  According to some, this post is out of sync with his book, which has been a tool for keeping women in abusive marriages.  I have not read the book, but I trust the comments here.  So please be aware that I am encouraging you to read this post only.  If that is a problem, I will simply delete this link.

 

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What will he (or she) do this time?

It’s Narcissist Friday (a little early)    

(I rerun this post occasionally, hoping to offer some encouragement for those who have to handle holidays with narcissistic people.  Although the references are to a male narcissist, we all understand that wives, sisters, mothers, daughters, and other women can be narcissistic as well.  Please understand that this is not meant to empower the narcissist, but to help you have a reasonable holiday.  This is about you and your family/friends.  I would not suggest these for normal use in a narcissistic relationship, but these things might help to make the narcissist’s presence bearable for you and others.  I hope this helps you to have a blessed holiday.)

 

Narcissists aren’t very good about holidays or family gatherings.  Unless they can be the center of attention, they sulk or tell odd jokes or intrude on conversations or something strange.  He might even flirt with your sister!  Chances are the narcissist doesn’t know what he will do until he gets there.

You, on the other hand, can plan ahead.  Play this like a game and you may find yourself in a better position to win.  Here are some ideas:

  •  Keep comparisons to a minimum.  Family gatherings are often filled with comparisons of anything from kids to cars to dinner entrees.  Comparisons are to the narcissist like gasoline is to the fire.  If you can find some way to keep conversations away from comparisons, you may avoid some tense situations.
  • Remember that the narcissist needs attention and affirmation.  To sit and watch others love each other is painful for him.  Love, for him, is being told how wonderful he is.  Now, you can do this for him.  You can tell some things to your family that build him up in their eyes.  I know this will be hard for some to read, but remember your goal is to have a peaceful, even happy, time with your family.  Be sure you tell these good things in front of him and don’t let him be put on the spot.  If he embellishes the story or the accomplishment, don’t contradict him.  Let him have his time.
  • Give him small victories.  If he wins some things he may not need to win them all.  Let him choose some of the dinner entrees or set the time for the meal.  You know.  Victory affirms him.  When you think that he seems to want to change and control everything, maybe he would be satisfied with a few victories.  Try to do things or talk about things where he has knowledge.  Leaving him with your “know-it-all” brother to watch Jeopardy might be as uncomfortable for him as talking with Aunt Edna about how a turkey “should” be cooked would be for you.  Never forget that the narcissist feels inferior and deals with that feeling by making everyone believe he is superior.
  • Tell him straight out that you want to have some time with your family and ask him what would be best for him.  In other words, set your boundaries and inform him that they will be kept, but let him have a way to express his needs.  This is tricky.  He will see your boundaries as a challenge, so you may have to exaggerate a little in order to get what you want.  For example, he may say that he needs to go for a drive.  Let him.  Don’t worry about him.  He will come back for you and you will have time with your loved ones.

In our frustration with the narcissist, it is easy to forget that he or she has needs also.  In fact, his needs are actually stronger and more uncompromising than yours.  He is just very bad at dealing with his needs.  If you want a happier holiday time, you might find success by playing his game.  You don’t have to compromise yourself.  One of your boundaries is that anything you do for him must never compromise who you are.  But if you want to keep a relationship with him and with your family, you will probably have to find ways to meet his needs.

And, if at the outset he says that he has no intention of going with you for the visit, then go by yourself.  You choose.  What seems like an attempt to control you may be a statement of abject fear from him.  He just has to say it in a way that doesn’t betray the fear.

I understand that some will have trouble reading this and I admit that I have had some trouble writing it.  These people make us angry and we want to get back at them.  But is your family visit the time for that?  Probably not.  You will have to carefully evaluate the things I have written above to see if they make sense for you.  Maybe you can come up with something for your own situation that I haven’t mentioned.

It didn’t seem right to post this after Thanksgiving.  I pray that your holiday time will be good.

 

(Again, I understand that this sounds like giving in to the childish and controlling behavior of the narcissist.  Perhaps it is, but only for one day.  The point is to help you have a better holiday celebration with family or friends.  There.  Have I said that enough?)

Maybe some of you can offer ideas for others here.  What worked for you?

 

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A little Narcissism

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Over and over I read about how narcissism can be a good thing in our lives. I know that business and leadership seem to favor the narcissistic style because it gets things done. But most of those who talk about “healthy narcissism” mean we should all have a little of it.

I have written about this before, but it does bear repeating. If all we mean by narcissism is self-esteem, then of course it is healthy for all of us until it gets out of hand. But narcissism means something far more dangerous and destructive than self-esteem. Even if we mean self-interest or self-protection, there is a healthy limit for us. I believe the Bible teaches us a healthy self-love.

But narcissism is necessarily cruel and abusive. Narcissists don’t care about others, at least not apart from using them. Narcissism destroys marriages, families, businesses, churches, and more.

Years ago I was visiting with a group of pastors and noted that a few people had left our church to go to another. I was thankful they had left because they were disruptive and divisive. The church they went to was quite large, so I thought they wouldn’t be so much of a problem in that church. One of the pastors, a wise older man, said, “So, what you are saying is that a little cancer is okay, as long as the man is a big man.” I hadn’t thought of it like that before.

Narcissism devours relationships and victims much like cancer. A little can go a long way. A little fire can lead to big problems. Even the Scripture speaks of a little leaven/yeast making the whole batch of dough rise. One narcissist can destroy a church. A little narcissism can ruin a relationship.

I find it hard to see the good in narcissism of any kind. Yes, narcissists get things done, almost always at the expense of others. Yes, narcissists can make quick decisions, almost always without regard to the effect it will have on people. Anyone who is willing to think long term will see that narcissism is a negative.

So when you hear people say that narcissism can be a good quality, that there is such a thing as healthy narcissism, ask them which of the nine characteristics of narcissism is healthy. Ask how a disorder, one that is defined by consistently negative terms, can be positive. Ask them how a disorder that has destroyed so many marriages and families, that has caused victims so much depression and despair, can be good.

We don’t talk about a healthy murderous rage, or a healthy manipulative abuser, or a healthy inveterate liar—so why should we talk about a healthy narcissist? And if there isn’t such a thing as a healthy narcissist, then how can there be healthy narcissism?

Again, this is a popular way to affirm self-esteem or self-affirmation. But that’s what it is, not narcissism. Narcissism is evil.

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Winners and Losers

It’s Narcissist Friday!    

 

I wish I didn’t think that a person had to be a narcissist to be in politics these days. Maybe it isn’t true on the lower levels, but it seems almost a requirement for higher offices. Narcissists love the praise and adoration of politics, and their supporters faithfully shield them from the criticisms or help them blame the accusers. Most politicians are used to getting what they want, from people who want to serve them. Politics offers a wonderful playground for a narcissist. Power, attention, prestige, admiration—these attract narcissists like spilled 7-up attracts ants. Politics offers all of these.

But please don’t think of this as a political post. I have never wanted to use either the pulpit or the blog for that purpose, in spite of my own opinions. Instead, my desire is to point out something about narcissism that we all see but may fail to recognize.

I recently watched both the victory and the concession speeches of a couple of the candidates. For the last year or two, especially the most recent days, the opponents had accused each other of terrible things. They had attacked policies, character, family, even personal appearance. Their sycophants had carried the insults even further.

Then, suddenly, when it was finally over, they say nice things about each other as though they have always been friends. Each praises the other for the passionate campaign and for service to the country or state. And life is supposed to go on as though none of the arrows had ever been shot, as though none of the injuries caused continuing pain. Now, I understand that Americans like to view politics in the same vein as sports contests. We admire fierce combat, but we remember that it is “just a game.” Someone heavily involved in slinging mud and filth during this season just said, “Well, that was just politics.”

I can’t help but think of the narcissist who rips your life apart, accusing and lying and manipulating. Then, when the battle is over, he says, “Hey, no hard feelings, right?” As a pastor, I have been through some hurtful church battles. I have had people lie about me and accuse me of pretty bad things. And, after it was over, they say, “Well, we can still be friends. Maybe catch a cup of coffee sometime.” No, we couldn’t be friends after that.

It doesn’t seem to matter whether the narcissist wins or loses. Either way, he forgets his cruelty and ruthless maneuvering. He just wants everything to be good now. He is shocked when you don’t return the “kindness.” You took things too seriously.

I have heard newly divorced wives say that the narcissist suggested they get together for intimate times once in a while, “now that it’s all over.” I have heard employees say that the boss who fired them just before they reached retirement and pension age thanked them for their faithful service. The narcissist friend who turned everyone against you offers to get together for lunch sometime, “just to catch up.” Mom rips you with accusations and insults then complains when you don’t invite her over for tea.

And our heads spin. They might be able to shift their emotions and perspectives that quickly, but the rest of us can’t. But, you see, for the narcissist it’s all a game. You were just an opponent, not a real person. When the narcissist told those lies about you and manipulated others to oppose you, he was just trying to win, not to hurt you.

I think there is a part of the narcissist that believes that. Since they don’t see anyone as real people, they can’t be accused of trying to hurt anyone. But I also think this is a lie. The anger and evil you saw in your battle are still there, just under the surface. The narcissist hates all opponents with nearly equal passion. You might not have been a real person, but you were a real enemy. The threat you presented required whatever the narcissist brought to the battle. The moment you present the threat again, the evil will return.

And the politicians who seemed to hate each other a couple days ago? Are they friends now? Can we trust them to work together for the good of all of us? Probably not. It’s just politics.

The claws might have pulled back under the skin, but they are still there.

 

(I should have said this earlier.  I know that people have differing ideas about politics and I have no desire to entertain that kind of debate on the blog.  Comments centered on the political scene, for or against candidates, parties, or ideologies, will be blocked.  You will notice that I didn’t mention names and held all politicians to the same standards.  If there is some perceived political statement in the post that offends you, I apologize.  That was not intentional.)  

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Futile? No, but hard!

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

I often read or hear about people who suggest that we should just fight the narcissists in our lives. After all, they are wrong and we are right. Stand up to them. Gather others against them. Tell your story and others will listen and believe you, they say. Just say no to the narcissist.

But that’s easier said than done. In fact, I wonder if those who give that advice have ever tried to do it, and I wonder if they succeeded. Most of those who try to stand against a narcissist find an opponent far stronger than they expected.

Why is it so hard to fight a narcissist? Well, most of us have never really fought anyone, and a narcissist is one of the most formidable people you will ever meet. Many strong and capable people have lost everything when they dared to go against a narcissist.

Here’s why:

1. The narcissist will be prepared. The narcissist prepared for battle against you before he ever heard your name. He has been preparing for battle all his life. The narcissist’s life is a continual battle. From the beginning, the narcissist was building relationships, gathering information, and watching your weaknesses. He has been expecting your opposition.

We have talked about how the narcissist boyfriend will pretend to be so interested in every part of the young lady’s life, but is really just gathering compromising information to use later. The narcissist boss knows what happened at your last job. Your mother has read your diary. Your narcissist friend has heard your secrets. They are preparing for the battle. You would probably not be in this relationship if the narcissist didn’t already believe he/she could beat you.

In most cases, the battle will be over almost as soon as it begins. The narcissist is so ready that you are defeated before you start. When you finally tell people there are problems in your marriage, they already know because your spouse has told them. They have already formed their opinions against you. When you decide to stand up to the narcissist at work, you find that the boss already has complaints against you. When you finally tell that friend not to call anymore, you find that other friends have already heard how uncaring and unkind you are. The narcissist was prepared.

2. The narcissist will be committed. Competition (battle) is the lifeblood of the narcissist. Winning is everything. The narcissist is willing to say things you would never say and do things you would never do. Narcissists cheat and lie and manipulate because the only real goal is winning. Whatever it takes to win, the narcissist will do.

You must understand that the narcissist has fought or cheated to get almost everything he/she has in life. Fighting is easy, even natural, for the narcissist. Not only that, but narcissists are very good at it. All that practice has made them the best.

3. The narcissist will be vigilant. They are always watching you. It will be hard to do anything for which he/she is not prepared. I know of narcissists who logged the miles on their wives’ cars. They knew when lawyers were contacted, when funds were drawn out of the bank, when friends were informed about the situation. The boss knows when you gather with other employees and what you talk about. Someone in the group will almost certainly be compromised by the narcissist. I have heard of pastors who bugged the meetings of church leaders to which the pastor was not invited. That friend knows when you are home and when you are not answering the phone. They know.

The narcissist will stalk you, talk to your friends and family about you, and find you almost wherever you hide. They will come to your home, your workplace, your gym, your church. Information empowers the narcissist, so they will find out what they want to know.

4. The narcissist will be ruthless. Narcissists don’t only love to win, they live to win. Winning is everything. But even that isn’t enough for most of them. The winning isn’t complete until you are humbled, perhaps even destroyed. Not only must you lose, but you must regret losing—regret even trying.

Narcissists will use any compromise, any relationship, any information they have to hurt you. People have told me that their spouses would deliberately provoke them and then record the conversations. Your darkest secrets will be exposed. Today we have “sex tapes” that are shared when narcissists want to humble a lover. The narcissist will never think he looks bad, he just wants to make you look bad.

If you stand up to your narcissistic boss, you better have another job in hand—and you better hope the boss doesn’t already know about it. It will not be enough for him to fire you, he will want to make sure no one else hires you. You might even be blamed for something you didn’t do. Others will already believe you did it because the boss will have prepared that perspective of you. Heaven help you if you actually did something and the boss found out. That compromise he was “overlooking” will almost certainly come back to haunt you.

“Wow, Pastor Dave, that’s depressing!” I am sorry. Really. But you have to know what you are getting into if you want to confront or fight the narcissist. I have heard too many stories of wives being overwhelmed by their husbands as they approach a divorce. The lies and the manipulation are shocking. Too many stories of the intensity of angry narcissistic ex-friends. I have seen good workers lose their careers because they dared to stand up to a narcissist. I know of too many who contemplated suicide during their battle with the narcissist.

Can a narcissist be beaten? Sure. That’s not the question. The question is whether you are ready for that kind of battle. And sometimes you have to do it anyway. If it is less intense for you than I have said, that’s great. If not, you knew before you started.

Am I right about these things? Those who read here can tell you. Some of their stories are very intense and very sad. Some have lost so much, been through so much. And yet, these are stories of survivors. It may be hard, but it can be done.

If nothing else, this is a warning for anyone thinking about a relationship with someone they suspect is narcissistic. It is a lot easier to get in than to get out. And, if you are in that kind of relationship and have the chance to get out, maybe you should take the opportunity. And, one more, if the narcissist leaves you, let him/her go.

Fighting the narcissist may cost more than you know, more than you are willing to pay.

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Through His Eyes

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Through Your eyes– 
Help me see my brother Lord 
Through Your eyes– 
May He never walk alone 
Place in me a tender heart 
That breaks in little pieces 
When I learn to see my 
Precious brother through Your eyes

 

Someone may be able to help me out here. I found only these lyrics to a relatively popular song from 30 or so years ago. I don’t remember who sang it, nor the rest of the words. In fact, I am not certain of the title. I want to call it “The Anti-Narcissism Song.”

Freeatlast8 suggested that I write about how to “reprogram from a narcissistic mindset.” The key to the answer is learning to see others as real people. Now, I don’t intend this to be a cure for narcissism. Instead, this is meant to help those who have been in narcissistic relationships and have found narcissistic characteristics in themselves.

When we were children, we cried when we were in physical pain. Some physical pain can still bring tears to our eyes. As adults, however, it is usually emotional pain that causes us to cry. The scientists tell us that tears caused by pain, either physical or emotional, contain endorphins to help us feel better. That’s nice, and I don’t doubt it, but it causes me to wonder about this odd way for our bodies to provide those endorphins. What does water filling our eyes have to do with helping us feel better?

I have a suggestion. It isn’t scientific. It isn’t Biblical. It’s just a suggestion. What if God gave us a way to stop focusing on others when we are in pain? When we have tears in our eyes, it’s much harder to see others. When we are in pain, it is much harder to think of others. What if God, in His love, gave us a physical message that says, “It’s okay to think about yourself”?

Narcissistic relationships hurt. They hurt a lot. There are lots of tears for those who have to deal with a narcissist. Tears of grief; tears of anger; tears of pain. And, in those times when tears cannot be helped, God may be saying that it’s okay for you to think of yourself.

Eventually, we are able to adjust to the things that cause us to cry. Most of us no longer cry about physical pain. Some no longer cry when people are mean. We may allow ourselves to cry at safe times, watching a movie or reading a story, but otherwise we have learned to be strong enough to shoulder through our suffering. We grit our teeth, say a bad word, or whatever else it takes to not cry. Crying makes us feel weak.

But we still withdraw into ourselves. In times of pain, it is hard to see other people. We have to take care of ourselves. The pain is demanding and makes us pay attention. Since the pain is internal, we focus internally to see it and try to fix it.

And when the pain lasts a long time, perhaps years, this focus on ourselves becomes habitual. Many have said that they used to be fun and caring and energetic, but the narcissistic relationship changed them into something else. Now it is hard to care. Now the one who used to be a good listener finds herself thinking about other things as her friend talks. Now the one who used to be the first to pray or reach out with help holds back. The generous person worries about the cost. The carefree person wonders what others will think. The fun person is quiet and withdrawn.

Living with a narcissist is like having a constant migraine, with occasional jabs of intense pain. It’s hard to think about anything else. Most of the time is spent worrying about the next sharp pain. And, like migraine sufferers, victims of narcissists are worn out, distracted, and given to despair.

But now it’s over. The source of pain is gone, but the memory of the pain lingers. And you are still withdrawn, still focused on yourself. In fact, as you begin to heal, you see that some of the behaviors that hurt you are present in your life. In other words, you are acting like the narcissist.

So what do you do? How can you stop this thing that you hate? It may not be as hard as you think.

The narcissist lacks empathy. He/she does not see other people as persons. You had empathy before. You hurt when others hurt. You joined in their joy. You connected with others. You saw them as real people. But life with the narcissist stole that empathy from you. It became dangerous, for one thing. When you tried to empathize with the narcissist, you became confused and experienced more pain. It was better just not to try. And, when you cared about other people, the narcissist punished you—or else you were already so weakened that any rejection from them felt like the pain that came from the narcissist. After a while, it began to seem like everyone was turning against you. No one understood. No one cared. You couldn’t trust anyone. The wall around you became strong and kept everyone out.

You rationalized this by putting people in categories. Some were on the narcissist’s side. Others were ignorant and unhelpful. Some were hard to understand, but you didn’t want to trust them. Any compromise, any weakness in their support, became a reason to push them away. You found it easier to reject everyone than to allow anyone in. Pretty soon, you stopped seeing others as real people with their own struggles. You also stopped seeing their love and support.

But that was never your true heart. That was your response to your pain. You didn’t have much choice but to focus on yourself, even if that meant pushing others away. Now you want that loving person you used to be to come back.

So, here’s one thing to pray about and to do. Just one thing. Not a seven-step program. Not a book to read. Just one thing.

Learn to see others as real people again. Stop categorizing and start seeing. Yes, they are full of compromise and struggle. Yes, they have needs. Yes, they do dumb and, sometimes, mean things. But they are struggling just like you.

When we were kids we were taught how to cross the street with three simple words: stop, look, and listen. That is my simple suggestion for getting rid of the remnants of narcissism that have stuck to you. Stop pushing people away by categorizing them. Look at their faces, their eyes, and see their struggle. Listen to their words and their hearts. You will be amazed at the compassion and connection that rises up in your heart.

If this is hard, then ask the Lord for help. This is His heart, for you and for others. He sees with compassion. He knows the struggles. He cares.

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