It’s Narcissist Friday!
“Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” – C. S. Lewis
Narcissists can be cruel.
Okay, I know that’s an understatement! Narcissists can tear your life apart. They can affect you for years, even long after they are “out” of your life. Betrayal, criticism, manipulation, theft, abuse, destructive acts, lies, and so much more. These things hurt for a long time.
It shouldn’t be any wonder that victims of narcissists find it difficult to forgive. I know that I have written on this before, more than once in fact. It needs to be said often. There is no doubt that we, as Christians, are called to forgive. But we must understand what that means.
Sometimes the church has the tendency to push things to ridiculous lengths. (Yeah, I know, another understatement.) Since the times of the Pharisees, church leaders have had the philosophy that if a little is good, a lot is better. The Pharisees built rules upon rules and made things far more restrictive than the Scriptures did. Many of today’s preachers and traditions do the same thing.
One of the things some have taken far beyond what is reasonable is this idea of forgiveness. The abuser is supposed to be “rehabilitated” and welcomed back, they say. Predators should be “dealt with” and then brought back into fellowship. “If he/she is sorry, then we are called to forgive,” they say.
I know pastors who were “forgiven” for their infidelity and welcomed back to ministry only to do the same thing again. We know abusers who are allowed to come back to the family under this idea of forgiveness only to abuse again. Many have forgiven their narcissistic friends and have felt their betrayal again. We all could tell such stories.
Bear with a little repetition. Forgiveness is not saying that nothing happened. Forgiveness is not saying that everything is now okay in the relationship. Forgiveness is not deciding that punishment is unnecessary. Forgiveness is not being silent about the offense. Forgiveness is not opening yourself to the abuser again. And forgiveness is not trusting again.
For some reason, the church has expected people to trust again. If you really forgive, people say, you will give the person another chance to hurt you and others. I’m sorry, but that sounds foolish to me.
Forgiveness is continuing to love, even when it must be from a distance. Forgiveness is moving forward with your life and not keeping the other person in a prison you carry around with you. Forgiveness is understanding who your offender is and, perhaps, deciding to move forward with him/her anyway. Forgiveness is releasing the pain of the abuse to the Lord who loves and comforts you. Forgiveness is moving on.
It is one thing to let someone hurt you. You can choose that. It is far different—and wrong—to try to convince yourself that they won’t hurt you when you know they will. In other words, forgiveness does not mean you should be dishonest with yourself or others. You may, as part of your forgiveness, decide to open yourself to more abuse. That’s up to you. But you can’t lie to yourself and say that no more abuse will ever happen. That’s different. You can decide to put the offender in a position of trust again, but you can’t take the risk of convincing yourself that your trust will not be broken again. Love risks, but it does not lie. Love may be blind, but it is not stupid.
But, but, but… Can you be loving when you don’t trust someone? Are you really forgiving when you don’t open yourself to that person again?
In John 2:24-25 we are told that many people saw the signs and wonders Jesus did. They were impressed with Him. They wanted to be with Him. But, the Scripture says, He did not entrust Himself to them. In other words, He didn’t trust them. Why? Because, the text goes on, He knew what was in their hearts. He loved all of them and came to forgive them, but He knew better than to trust them.
Now, people do change. Some are deeply grieved because of their past actions. Some. But the “Dear Abby” columns are full of letters from women who seem shocked that the men who left their wives for them are now cheating again. Betrayal and abuse becomes easier the more it is done. And narcissists who are trusted again will almost certainly abuse again.
If you think someone has changed and you want to risk again, go ahead. Just do it with your eyes open. That’s different than trusting.