It’s Narcissist Friday!
A week or so ago, Amy Dickinson, the writer/counselor/columnist of “Ask Amy,” answered a reader who sent an update to a terrible family situation. Apparently the reader had shared the situation two years prior, and Amy had encouraged her to go to the authorities. She had been abused by her grandfather throughout her childhood, beginning about six years old. Her mother would not believe her and, in fact, punished her for telling her story.
The reader did go to authorities, who listened and acted. The grandfather admitted his actions, saying that he thought the child was “enjoying it.” Eventually, he received a sentence of six to eighteen years in prison.
But the mother has not forgiven the daughter (the reader) for disrupting the family. The mother says that the daughter is to blame for the whole situation. And then this:
“She and her sisters talk about how they’re all ‘strong, true Christians,” and I should be ashamed of myself because THEY have forgiven him.”
The image of the “good Christian” is so important in some circles that anyone who challenges it can be sacrificed. I wish I could say that it is hard for us to imagine something like this, but many of us have lived through it. Rather than confront sin, these churches, families, and individuals would deny its presence. “Good Christians” wouldn’t do such things. Since they must maintain the image of the “good Christian,” something has to give. Sometimes, those who sin are just cast aside. But if they can’t be separated completely, like a grandfather, the sin is denied. So, an unmarried girl who gets pregnant isn’t welcome in the church, while an abusive elder continues to lead. The girl can be sent away. Dealing with the elder would reveal the scandal.
Over the years, I have met “Christians” who lied to make themselves look more spiritual. Despite the obvious hypocrisy, they somehow convinced themselves that they must look good at any cost. I have known “Christians” who were quick to depersonalize anyone who disagreed with them or who didn’t meet their standards of behavior, even family members. Admitting sin or scandal would damage the image, so others are sacrificed.
Whether these folks are narcissists really doesn’t matter. They are acting out of a narcissistic mindset. Their image is more important than the real suffering of others. In my book, Narcissism in the Church, I outlined three characteristics of narcissistic behavior for individuals or organizations.
- The superior image
- Depersonalization of others
- Use and abuse of others to serve the image
This simple outline explains the thinking, the message, behind the abuse. As long as the image is most important, everything less can be used to support it. So, “good Christians” can lie, cheat, abuse, reject, and whatever else they can justify. Denominations, schools, mission organizations, churches, service organizations—all may have leaders who will reject anyone who challenges the good image.
Notice that these organizations are not above sin. They are only above the “appearance” of sin. When the “godly leader” touches the young girls inappropriately, the truth of the charge is not the issue. The issue is what the public (or the supporters) will think. “We can’t let this get out! It would ruin us.” The ruling board gathers to discern how to deal with the charges in a way that will make the organization look good. They may have to censure the leader or even dissociate from him. They may have to challenge the accusers in court. But they must save the ministry!
Of course, a family is a type of organization. The “Ask Amy” reader revealed the heart of her family. Grandfather was a disgusting pervert who used a little girl to satisfy himself, probably while staying active in the church and portraying himself as a “good Christian.” His daughters (including the reader’s mom) supported him and believed themselves to be “good Christians.” The daughter’s heart could be sacrificed so that the family could considered themselves to be as spiritual or more spiritual than others.
Now, I don’t have to say that this has nothing to do with Jesus or even the Christian faith. Yet, a lot of people will read the “Ask Amy” column and use this misrepresentation as the basis for denying Jesus and anything to do with the church. I understand. I really do. I just don’t see Jesus anywhere near the grandfather or the mom. The people who are willing to sacrifice others to satisfy their own need to see themselves as better do not represent Jesus in any way. To make themselves look good, they are willing to make Jesus look bad in the eyes of those they hurt.
Narcissism is contrary to Christian faith and values. Sadly, the church has yet to understand that.
Here’s the link to the “Ask Amy” article: