It’s Narcissist Friday!
I wasn’t planning to write on this, but I have been following the story and it has hit Facebook hard in the past few days. GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) supporters have responded to the apology and public statement given by Bob Jones University concerning the report and recommendations brought to the school by GRACE after extensive investigation.
I have written before on the narcissistic organization and how I believe any organization—church, school, business, civic club, etc— can exhibit narcissistic characteristics. Some of my readers have experienced this behavior by an organization. An organization seems to have a life and identity of its own, apart from its leaders. That doesn’t mean that the leaders are not narcissistic. Instead, it means the default response of the organization to its members, and to the public, will be self-serving and image-protective. People in these organizations will notice that it doesn’t really matter who the leaders are, the official responses and actions of the organization will still show these characteristics.
Now, a disclaimer: I have no first-hand knowledge of this story and I have not done the investigation it would take for me to speak intelligently on either the report of GRACE to the school or the school’s actions in light of that report. What I can do is show interesting aspects of the responses given to the public in light of the GRACE report. The purpose of this post is to illustrate the response of an organization under accusation and exposure and point out similarities to apologies and explanations offered by narcissists.
I have five documents in front of me. An overview of the story from a New York Times article; an article about the letter from GRACE supporters concerning the school’s responses; the final report of the GRACE investigation; the apology/statement from the president of BJU; and the official BJU response to the GRACE report and recommendations. All of those links are provided here for you. This is not an exhaustive list of the material available.
There are three things the narcissistic organization will do when confronted:
manipulate public opinion
There are several things the organization will do to accomplish these goals:
claim the initiation
confront the accusers
control the message
circumvent the blame
(Like my alliteration?)
So here are the things I noticed by a quick overview of these documents.
1. BJU claims to have initiated the investigation. True, as far as initiating the connection with GRACE. Not true in that the motivation seems to have “stemmed from national media reports of the mishandling of sexual abuse.” (GRACE final report) In other words, they had to do something before the situation got out of hand. The outside investigation was already beginning in the media.
The narcissist desperately wants to control negative situations. He/she will want to look good somehow. If the accusation against him cannot be dismissed or overwhelmed, he will claim that he recognized the fault in himself and asked for help. Going for counseling will be his idea, no matter how long he resisted it. Making a change will be her decision, no matter how many times she said the idea was stupid.
2. BJU seems to say that there were only 40 victims over a 40 year history. (BJU Response) Puzzling. New York Times article says “About half the 166 people surveyed who identified themselves as abuse victims said the university actively discouraged them from going to the police.” No matter how this discrepancy is reconciled, there certainly seems to be more than 40 people over 40 years.
Also, the victims BJU refers to are said to be “abuse/assault survivors.” Add to that this statement from the president of the school: “Over the years, we have had a number of students come to BJU who had experienced sexual abuse prior to their association with BJU.” So not only did these victims average one per year, but they already had their troubles before they came to BJU.
The narcissist will try to make the problem seem small. You just exaggerate because you are mean or stupid or trying to get something from him. He will tell you that there really wasn’t a problem at all, at least not one he had any part of.
3. There is a strange connection in the president’s statement that will make the victims feel even worse. He says, “One of our problems has been a discipline system that too closely juxtaposed discipline with counseling.” This is something the school is addressing, separating out “a place where students can go for spiritual care apart from discipline.”
But why is there a connection between discipline and counseling at all? We are talking about sexual abuse, even sexual abuse that happened before the students came to the school. Discipline? Will victims continue to hear, even in the president’s statement, that they are really to blame? That was part of the accusation against the school. This seems to show that the thinking has not really changed. Again, the suffering of the victim is minimized when the victim is blamed for the abuse.
Whatever problem there was, if there was one, the narcissist was not to blame. It was someone else’s fault, usually the victim’s. BJU president says that those who came to BJU “did not experience the loving and comforting environment they deserved.” Now, that sounds okay, except that it suggests the “loving and caring environment” was available and offered, but the victims didn’t “experience” it. He says that he is sorry “that you were hurt and we did not help you by our response.” These are good words and most people will not see the message behind the message.
Victims of narcissistic abuse will recognize this. “I am sorry you were hurt and could not benefit from my help.” Is that an apology? The blame is on you. The narcissist tried, after all.
When an official report is issued by a large organization with the money and legal resources to craft documents carefully, every word has a purpose. The official response from BJU makes reference to someone named Diane Langberg, who just happens to be a leader among Christian counselors and a member of the board of GRACE. It quotes her book on counseling sexual abuse cases and points out that she said she had no training to deal with sexual abuse. The book was written in 2003 and, obviously, refers to an earlier time in Ms. Langberg’s life. Yet, in 2014, BJU includes this in the official response. Why? Because, if Ms. Langberg, GRACE’s own board member, admits that she had no formal training in dealing with sexual abuse, how could anyone expect BJU to have such training? “It’s not our fault!” they seem to say.
When backed into the corner, the narcissist is quick to blame others. The narcissistic apology will almost always have some escape clause. Yes, I did it (if that cannot be avoided), but it was someone else’s fault. I couldn’t have known. What do you expect?
And, of course, even the organization can whine. In the president’s statement, he writes about the faculty and staff of the school and says, “This has not been easy for anyone. It has been particularly hard on a few.” To be fair, his statement also addresses the pain of the victims, but it was, “…we are sorry you were hurt and that we did not help you by our response. This was wrong and unacceptable!” Whose fault was it? Consider this: you were hurt when you came to us and we were not able to help. This has been hard on us.
Again, victims of narcissistic abuse will recognize the tactic. You had a problem and didn’t accept or understand my help. Now I am hurt. The narcissist will bring things back to his own pain because that’s the only pain he considers real.
Now, I want to be clear about my intentions with this post. I am not calling BJU a narcissistic organization, even though I may seem to infer that. I simply don’t have that kind of information. What I am saying is that those who understand narcissistic abuse will recognize this kind of statement/apology. Some have experienced similar statements from churches or other Christian organizations. Some have heard similar things from leaders who represent an organization.
Nor am I suggesting that the president of the school or the authors of the official response are narcissists. When the goal is to save face (and money), the narcissistic apology will probably not be far behind. Attorneys craft these documents to manipulate public opinion without admitting chargeable guilt. In other words, they admit nothing in their apologies. The organization wants to avoid lawsuits and loss of both revenue and reputation. So saying the minimum, while making great effort to sound sincerely sorry, will be the norm for organizations today.
Those who have dealt with narcissists usually find these organizational apologies sadly familiar.