Everyone’s Guilty?

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

We have been taught to feel guilty. We have been told that we are bad people and we do bad things. We accept guilt and shame as we do old friends. They are familiar and comfortable to us. This is one of the reasons I put out this blog, to show that so much of the condemnation Christians carry around does not come from the heart of God.

For narcissists and legalists, guilt and shame are effective tools to keep others quiet and in line. The condemnation we bring with us into the relationship or the church gives them the opening they need to begin to manipulate us. They build on the foundation we already have and further weaken us by their insinuations and accusations. The best follower is a quiet one, one who won’t challenge the teacher. Guilt, intimidation, uncertainty—these are all tools in the narcissist’s toolbox.

So we had some fun last week (wonderful comments, btw!) and along comes a reminder that we are all guilty of these things, that we are not better than others. Now, please understand, I am not scolding or judging whoever made the comments. I just want to point out why that happens. And I want to show why it is an error.

Let’s start by establishing the fact that we simply do not do what some people do. When you hear about a murder or a rape, do you stop to remind yourself that you are a sinner also? Probably not. You want the person to be caught and brought to justice. You have no hesitation in thinking that the perpetrator is accountable—and that he is different from you. You could be with children all day and not molest any of them. You could look at a pretty girl in a secluded place and not attempt to rape her. You could probably be in charge of a friend’s finances and not steal anything. Many of you have told your stories here and I know that you have lived in relationship with some of the most difficult people in the world—and you have not committed murder. The truth is that there is a difference between you and many others.

Now, just what is that difference? You see, most of us were taught in church that all sin is the same and that any of us could do anything. I agree with that to a point. I believe any of us could commit any sin—but we don’t. I believe all sin is the same when the need for a Savior is proclaimed—but not all sin is the same in the practice of daily life. Some sin hurts others more seriously than other sin. Some is more cruel, more insidious, and, perhaps, more evil. Yes, there is sin on all our accounts and we all need the Savior’s love, but there are distinctions that are real and important. Otherwise, we can’t ever judge any cruel act.

When Jesus said that lust was the same as adultery and depersonalization was the same as murder, He meant that guilt was guilt in the eyes of God, and all sin creates a need for forgiveness and salvation. He was chastising the self-righteous leaders for judging some people as less valuable in the eyes of God. The sins of the leaders, while acceptable within the community perhaps, were still not acceptable to God. Jesus is not saying that the person who calls his brother a fool should be treated like a murderer. He is simply saying that we all sin.

We all agree that there are things on the list from last week that could apply to our behavior and attitudes at times. There is no question that I can be argumentative and critical and belligerent sometimes (I will spare you the rest of me that’s on that list). But that doesn’t make me a narcissist. When we list adjectives like that, we are just describing characteristics. For example, I could say that an apple is red, round, hard, sweet, edible, and falls from a tree. That doesn’t mean that every red thing is an apple. Nor does it mean that every hard thing that falls from a tree is an apple. These are just a list of an apple’s attributes. If all of them are true, I will begin to think of an apple, of course. And if many or all of the things on our lists from last week are true of a certain person, I will begin to wonder if that person is a narcissist.

There is another notable difference between most of us and the narcissist. When I do these things and I realize that I have done them, I experience regret. Not just regret for getting caught, but genuine regret for hurting someone and for being less than I could be. I often remember those things long after I did them because I wish I had never done them. Now, I believe there is no guilt on my account with God for those things because of what Jesus did for me and I have, when appropriate, apologized to the person, but I still remember and feel bad. I know I am not guilty, but I still beat myself with those things. Almost everyone reading this will understand… except for the narcissist.

You see, the narcissist only regrets getting caught or burning a useful bridge, he/she does not regret saying what was said. If he called you a name that cut deep, he has probably forgotten it, or he did it purposely to manipulate you in some way. For example, narcissists attack when they feel threatened. That’s when they use your secrets against you. Do they regret doing it? Of course not, no more than they would regret picking up a stick to chase away a threatening dog. You are not a person and your secrets are tools to be used.

But you don’t think that way and it is just fine for you to acknowledge that. You are different from the narcissist. Many have noted the existence of a kind of narcissistic spectrum. This concept may or may not be helpful. If we say that anyone on the spectrum is a narcissist, then it isn’t helpful. If we say that there is a point at which this behavior defines a person, that the person consistently acts in these negative ways, and is therefore a narcissist; then the spectrum is being used correctly. Not all vain people are narcissists, but vain people who also use others and have no empathy and regularly say and do inappropriate things might be.

My point is that the guilt we bring into these relationships is a weapon they will use against us. The narcissist and the legalist will heap more guilt on you and use that guilt to beat you into submission. The moment you try to defend yourself, they will pounce and accuse you of the same thing. They will gaslight you into thinking that it is really all your problem as they project their own behavior on you. As long as you let them present the axioms, set the agenda, provide the criteria—you will lose.

So, don’t bring the guilt for them to use. No, you are not perfect. No one is. Yes, you sometimes do wrong things. We all do. But you are not like the narcissist. And listen: you can disagree. When the narcissist begins to say that you are the one with the problem and that you do the same thing you are accusing him/her of doing, you can stop and say no.

“No, I am not like you.” If you can’t say it, at least let yourself think it.

23 Comments

Filed under grace, Legalism, Narcissism

23 responses to “Everyone’s Guilty?

  1. New Creature

    Thanks, Dave, for another wonderful post. I believe what puts a person on the N spectrum is an inability to empathize with others. The rest of us who behave badly but CAN empathize are just plain old selfish to varying degrees!

    • This is an excellent point! There’s a difference at the start. I have heard all kinds of ideas for a N spectrum, but I like this best. You don’t even begin unless empathy is lacking.

      • Honest Abe

        The lack of empathy was what scared me! (Really scared me!)

      • Remedy

        Complete lack of empathy….an overwhelming indicator of NPD. And yes…..it is frightened as h*** to try living intimately with someone like that and one of the primary things that makes ‘us’ different from ‘them.’

      • I am wondering if anyone has noticed not only that they lack empathy and can’t give it, but that they also are not interested in receiving it. I have found that when I try to show empathy by relating a common experience to show that I understand how the narcissist in my life feels and can enter into his suffering, he completely ignores me and turns away. It is as though it is insulting to him. It is okay for me to fawn over him, but it is not okay to relate with empathy. I’m not sure I am explaining this adequately.

      • Kathy

        Seeing the Light,
        You explained it fine. But how dare you UNDERSTAND them? How dare you have an experience ON THE SAME LEVEL?
        They are UNIQUE. Their PAIN is UNIQUE. A mere mortal like YOU can’t possibly fathom their experience.
        I only lost a husband, and my sister-in-law said HER pain was worse because she will never have 3 brothers again. I can always get a new husband.
        Her father’s pain is worse because HE lost a child (albeit 49, married with children).
        Do not aspire to ever have the same amount of pain or the same degree of loftiness. You are too lowly.

      • Thank you, Kathy. I think you are right. That makes perfect sense and it fits with what I have felt coming off of him in those situations. Yuck. And, may I add, I am so sorry for your loss…truly.

  2. MeganC

    Oh . . . this is a good one.

  3. Lisa

    Yes, this surely is a good one. Now, how to unravel from all the brainwashing over the years by standing in that incorrect position of guilt?! Ugh…

    • Yes, Lisa, that is what is so hard. I tell myself again and again and again that it isn’t my fault, but it just doesn’t seem to sink in. 30 years of brainwashing will take a lot of undoing, I guess. And that will take a lot of energy. It is exhausting.

      Such a wonderful, true post today–thank you Dave.

    • rarah85

      That’s exactly where I’m at.

  4. maggie

    I like this very much today and I appreciate the careful undertaking Pastor Dave took with his message. It was clear and resonated with me and I imagine many of us. The best thing about wisdom, truth, integrity, etc.. is that it is very clear and easy to read and apply.. Thank you Pastor Dave and all who share here.

  5. Kathy

    This is priceless. So often when we’re in pain from what the Ns have done, some well-meaning (albeit naïve) soul will say “Well, dear, you’ve all sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
    ummm….yes.
    But never ever ever ever in a million-plus years would I, if my brother was dying, tell his wife and his children that they OWE me food and compassion and understanding. NEVER.
    Nor would I ever ever ever ever turn away my nieces and nephews and my widowed sister-in-law if they told me they needed food and then mock them and call them liars, especially knowing that I jumped on sandwiches at their home, brought by a third party, saying Wow, this is great!
    Yes, sin is sin. Yellow is yellow. But there are ranges.
    I am NOT like them.
    My husband was NOT like them.
    And he said to me “Your family is not like my family. I’m so sorry for the way they treat you.”
    We are NOT like them.

  6. Teresa

    Excellent post! I have been thinking about the fact that Christians often rail against those who declare that there is no such thing as sin, but the effect of saying that all sins are equal has the same result. If everything is a major sin, then it’s as if nothing were. Sin is never confronted as it should be.

  7. Leslee

    Thank you. Many of the responses are so interesting. I just go with the Bible/Christ’s teachings – sin is sin and we are all guilty and need our Savior. Here on earth; however, there are behaviors which ARE NOT RIGHT. Often when I wake up shaking, I think about everything I’ve ever done wrong. I know my ex-husband does not. Part of me still wants to believe he will recognize what he’s done – but he won’t. It’s the hardest thing to realize where justice is concerned. How can someone NOT CARE? But it’s true – believe it or not.

  8. Jeff Crippen

    Excellent truth, Dave. Thank you very much. I can’t tell you how often this kind of evil strategy has been launched against me by wolves in wool.

  9. Still Learning

    I have always thought of empathy as soul to soul communication. It seems like childhood abuse turns off a switch that completely shuts off their souls ability to give or receive empathy. I wonder if two Narcissists who have experienced very similar trauma could ever understand each other.

    • AES

      My husband and his brother both had bad childhood. There has not been a diagnosis but my husband and his brother both have narcissistic behaviors although the brother has been diagnosed with bipolar but i strongly believe he has narcissism as well and to hear them talk with each other is not a pretty site especially talking about each others issues and what is funny in one sense and sad in another is when husband is on the phone with brother and then when he gets off phone states how he cannot stand his brother and states how hard of a person he is to talk with and says his brother stresses him out so much and all the while i am thinking why it is so hard for them to recognize their own behavior especially when they see the other acting alike and why husband cant understand when i talk with him about how he is being with me but he will deny or justify it……

      • AES

        I just wanted to mention in regard to above when i said “funny in one sense” i hope i did not come across in any certain way sometimes i can be bad at trying to express things as it was just the way those two were sounding with each other and the certain things they were saying. Even though of the ways i have been treated from both of them, A part of me feels so badly for them knowing how their childhood was and its my hope and prayer that God would bring deliverance and love in to their hearts!

  10. UnForsaken

    A wonderful post that I somehow missed.

    Recently my N tried to shame my mom into believing that she should be more hard on us. ( He was ‘agreeing’ with her after having planted the thought first. He hates responsibility and thinks that his life problems Are us.) She tends to make weird statements in hopes of people contradicting her, but he purposefully agreed and proceeded to make her feel horribly depressed. It was to justify his view of life, to get her more on his side, and at the same time guilt her as being the root!

    I have to think that if he had missed this opportunity to manipulate he would have felt worse. This made him feel good. When lack of empathy is something that warps reality, Watch Out . It is far more than selfishness. It is believing right is wrong and wrong is right.

  11. Kathy

    Not sure where I should put this, but it is very good:

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