It’s Narcissist Friday!
It seems to be a hard fact that others will take advantage of nice people. Open your door to strangers, and you will have more strangers in your home than you can handle. Say yes to one job, and you will have twenty more. Let someone get by with one offense or intrusion, and that person will do so over and over.
Certain people look for nice people to use. They know that nice people have a desire to be nice, to help and give. They also know that nice people have trouble saying “no” and sometimes even more trouble saying, “Stop!” So they seek out people to use and use them until they wear out or break. Then these abusers move on to someone else.
Narcissists are users. Narcissistic parents raise victims for their use. Narcissist bosses hire victims. Narcissist spouses marry victims. Narcissist friends hunt their victims. All narcissists need someone to use.
So the connection between narcissistic abuse and Christian kindness seems almost inevitable.
Some believers have great difficulty reconciling the need for limiting the abuse in their lives with the call to forgive the abuser. In other words, when forgiveness is to come freely and quickly, it seems to open the door to more abuse. Some think that the call to forgive negates any desire for boundaries.
Sometimes the charge of Jesus for us to “turn the other cheek” is brought into the discussion. When someone hits you on the cheek, Jesus says, you should give him the opportunity to hit the other cheek. Jesus says this to help His people understand that suffering is a part of the Christian life. While we may avoid it most of the time, there will be times when—because of our unity with Him—we will suffer. In those times, we should not despair. We should suffer with the understanding that the Lord loves us and is with us.
But there are a couple of things to notice. First, this suffering does not come about because of sin on our part. This suffering is from sin on the part of the abuser. It is clear from the context of the passage (Matthew 5) that the person hitting the victim’s cheek is evil and an enemy of the Lord (or at least acting like one). Second, these are situations that cannot be avoided. The abusive person is in a position of power or authority over the victim. Words like “compel” and “sue” do not suggest that the victim is a willing participant.
So, yes, there are times when turning the other cheek is the only response. Fighting back, striking the abuser, is usually out of the question. Sometimes the bully gets you, but in those times the Lord has not forgotten you. There is a promised blessing in suffering, and you should forgive the abuser.
HOWEVER, boundaries may allow you to avoid such situations in the first place. Or boundaries may give you personal victory in the midst of the shame and abuse. Simply being able to lay blame for the abuse at the feet of the abuser is a boundary. When I refuse to see myself as an unworthy person just because someone is abusing me, I have set an important boundary. When I can admit that my suffering does not come from what I have done, but from the sin of another, there is an important boundary. And, perhaps, the use of other boundaries in my life will help me avoid the abuse altogether.
Boundaries are to protect us. We may not be able to control the actions of another person. We may be called to forgive those actions. But we do not have to allow those actions, or that person, to define us or control every part of our lives. The idea of a boundary is simply that we may reject the control of the abuser.
For example, suppose you have someone who insists on calling you at ten o’clock at night to complain or share problems. Can you, as a Christian and a kind person, tell that person that you will not be able to answer phone calls that late? Of course. You are still a Christian and still kind, but now you no longer have to suffer the loss of peace and sleep those calls brought.
And can you forgive the person with the boundary still in place? Again, of course. The existence of the boundary does not stop your forgiveness. It simply allows you to sleep. You forgive the person separately from your action or decision to stop their control.
The narcissist seems to know how to push our buttons. They know what things drag us down and weaken us so they can control us. In fact, they resist our boundaries as they attempt to control. The person who calls at 10 PM will almost certainly do it after being told not to. Perhaps over and over. The boundaries will be tested, even attacked.
But you can still forgive. Each time.
The point is that forgiveness and boundaries are not exclusive. In fact, they are both part of who we are as believers. There are many boundaries in the Christian life. The young person may say no to sexual pressure by setting a boundary, but still forgive the person who pressures. The Christian who is expected to lie at work can refuse to compromise his integrity by setting a boundary, but still forgive the person who asked for the lie. These are different things.
So when the narcissist tries to control, through one of his/her many methods, you can resist by setting boundaries and still forgive the attempts. There is no inconsistency in this. Forgiveness is not holding the offense against the person. Boundaries are a decision to limit the abuse.
And what about turning the other cheek? Jesus is not suggesting that we invite or even welcome the abuse. He is telling His followers to be strong, to continue to trust in Him, in spite of the suffering. He is saying that we can look our abusers in the eye and endure the suffering—when it cannot be avoided. But there is nothing in the text that tells us we cannot avoid the abuse or try to limit it. The call to forgive is not meant to be a sign on your back saying, “Kick me!”