It’s Narcissist Friday!
Whether it’s a gaslighting spouse, a legalistic preacher, or a manipulative parent, shame seems to be a favorite tool of the narcissist. Shame undercuts our confidence, weakens our self-esteem, and opens our hearts to manipulation. If we understand and deal with shame in our lives, we take away a powerful tool from those who would abuse us.
I have written on shame before, more than once, because it so powerfully intersects with learning about narcissistic abuse and is conquered by an understanding of grace. But shame continues to be a part of our lives. Just this morning I did something foolish that affected someone else. I apologized, but I have been over it many times in my mind, criticizing and shaming myself. Shame is so close to our identity, the idea of who we think we are, that it jumps at almost any chance to come to the surface.
We were taught to condemn ourselves. Our parents and our culture wanted us to own the moral standards in such a way that disobedience would bring its own punishment. In other words, we would feel bad if we did something wrong. But, in the process, we were also taught that we were bad when we did something wrong. We were told that we were bad because of the things we did or didn’t do.
And that was supposed to be Christian teaching. Sin stains us, the Scriptures teach. Sin makes us less than we could be, unworthy and broken. At least that’s what we were taught.
But there is more to the message of the Scriptures. Yes, sin stains us, but the blood of Jesus (His love and obedience) washed us clean. The stain of sin is gone and will never be seen on us again. So, even if we were somehow damaged by our sin, we have been restored in Jesus. Sin is no longer part of our identity.
The message of grace allows us to see ourselves apart from the things we do. Now, that’s big deal. It is a dramatic difference from what we were taught. In fact, many people, even in the church, don’t like that idea at all. Someone who cheats is a cheater, they say. Someone who lies is a liar, they say. Someone who gets angry is an angry person, they say. But the message of God’s grace in Jesus is different.
In Jesus, the person who lies is not a liar, but a child of the King who is not living according to his or her real identity. Who we are is inseparably tied to Who He is. You and I can no longer be labeled by the sins or any other actions of our lives. We are something new and different.
Now, what does that mean in a narcissistic relationship? It means that the power of the label, the power of shame over your thoughts about yourself, is taken away. The only power it has is what you give it. This morning, I gave in to the shame in which I used to live. It was familiar. But now I remember that my action was a mistake, foolish but not defining or fatal. In fact, I apologized appropriately, and now I will move forward.
A narcissist might be able to use that against me, reminding me of my action and choice. Narcissists are accusers because they believe accusations give them an advantage. But I know that none of the labels and accusations will stick because I belong to Jesus. I can only be who He says I am. Washed, forgiven, a new and powerful person loved greatly. That’s who I am.
The legalistic preacher can rail against sin, perhaps even pointing at us as he names certain things we have done, but he can’t make us less saved or less approved by our Lord. No matter how much that preacher might want to shame us, to bring us under the control of his morality and dominance, we are free and forgiven in Jesus. Nothing he says can change that.
The power of shame is in us. We control it. And we can reject it.