It’s Narcissist Friday!
What are soul ties and why do narcissists excel in them?
My wife and I enjoy the comic strip “Zits.” There is a character in the strip named “Richandamy.” Rich and Amy are actually boyfriend and girlfriend who are always seen embracing. They are entwined and appear inseparable, so the other kids refer to them by one name as though they were one person.
Churches and various groups within the church often use words and concepts that are not familiar to those on the outside. I ran across one of those the other day in a conversation. A friend asked me what I think of “soul ties.” I had heard the term but had to study it before understanding what he meant. For those who have experienced narcissistic relationships, the idea will be familiar.
In the Scripture, David and Jonathan were said to be very close friends. We are told that “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David.” (1 Samuel 18:1) That friendship was a great blessing to both of the young men. Yet, the idea of “soul ties,” when discussed today, is almost always negative. The soul tie is a connection that goes far deeper than most relationships.
When we talk about a “soul tie” today, we are often talking about an unhealthy relationship. (If you have learned this in a different way, bear with me as I share these thoughts.) When one person seems to be under the control of another, almost hypnotized to agree or follow without argument or hesitation, that’s an unhealthy relationship.
I would suggest that a soul tie is an attempt by one person to find identity in another, or by one person to create a dependent relationship in another. The idea that the soul, the personality or identity of a person, could be bound to that of another seems troubling. It is not the way we describe marriage or parenting or any other appropriate close relationship. To find your identity in another person is unhealthy.
The Scriptures refer to married couples as becoming one. They also say that those who belong to Jesus are one with Him and one with each other. Becoming one does not mean losing your identity. It means being together. It means living with a single purpose, walking a single path. Our one goal as believers is to follow Jesus. Our one goal in marriage is to lift each other up as we follow Jesus. But we are not the same person with the same identity.
Often, when I communicate with someone who has left a narcissistic relationship, the person will tell me about feelings of emptiness and loss. Several have referred to what they used to be like. They feel like they lost themselves somehow, like their identity disappeared along the way.
But here’s what happened. The narcissist struggles with identity issues. We have talked about this before. By pushing away what he/she believes is unworthy and lifting up the image (which is pretend) the narcissist forgets who he/she is. When you came along, the narcissist saw someone who could provide identity for him/her. More and more, the narcissist takes what is yours until you have little left to call you.
I often get questions focused on the level of sharing required in a Christian marriage. Should the couple share a bank account? Should there be one leader, one will? The things taught about marriage roles in many churches are so concerned with unity that identity is sacrificed. Most often, of course, the wife’s identity and personhood are simply subsumed into the husband’s. She takes his name. She gives him her money. She turns over her will to him. This is what is taught by many who think they are being consistent with Scripture.
Couples can share finances in whatever way they wish, in my opinion. But the identity (will, integrity, personality, soul) of one should not be lost in the other. Nor should both lose their uniqueness to create some kind of third person. This would be true for friends or employees or even adult children. If you are expected to lose yourself in the relationship, you are in an unhealthy bond.
Think of it this way: If there was anyone into whom I would willingly pour my soul and lose myself, it would be Jesus. I trust His love for me. I trust His wisdom and strength. I know He would not abuse me. He would have nothing to gain by harming me or misusing me. I could lose myself in His love.
But He does not ask that of me. In fact, He made me the person I am. His creativity and love prepare me for my relationship with Him. He calls me to be myself in Him. Think about that. The best expression of me is in Him. I will not be Jesus, and He will not be me. I will not be lost, but will be set free and empowered in Him.
I know that many eastern religions promote the idea of losing ourselves, but Christianity does not. I also know that many in the church talk about “dying to self,” but that is not a Christian concept. I understand that most will mean submitting our will to the Lord’s, but the Christian faith knows nothing of losing our will altogether. When two persons walk together in harmony, neither must lose identity.
So let me take one more stab at this. Harmony requires more than one voice. The beauty of harmony is in the mutual submission and giving. One, alone, does not harmonize. A single voice can be both beautiful and strong, but to harmonize requires more than one. Even if one leads, perhaps by singing a recognizable melody, the others contribute according to their parts.
If “soul ties” means losing yourself in another, they are harmful and not Christian. We walk together with the Lord and with each other, but we walk as ourselves. In marriage, in the extended family, at work, or in friendships—to lose yourself is unhealthy and wrong. The best relationships are those where both persons are valued. The differences we bring to our relationships are some of the primary tools God uses to make partners stronger.