Dragon Cages

It’s Narcissist Friday!

The new land offers rest. During your fight with the dragon, the danger seemed to be everywhere. Now, you are tired, so tired. Tired of fighting. Tired of having to jump at every sound and word. Tired of chasing and hiding and crying and flinching and arguing and apologizing and all the rest.

And when the offer comes to trade freedom for comfort, that comfort looks so good. It feels good to let someone else make the decisions, reason through the questions, and run interference with the world. Because the cage has a warm bed and three meals a day, it doesn’t feel so bad.

Every once in a while I get an email from someone who is a caregiver for a narcissist. It is hard to imagine a more difficult position! Because narcissists usually try to attach to someone who is kind and empathic, these caregivers can be quite conflicted. On one hand, they see the struggle the hurting person is going through, and they want to have compassion. On the other hand, in a far more secret place of the heart, they look forward to the day the narcissist either dies or has to go somewhere else. There is no judgment here. The rest of us can only imagine the daily pain.

That’s just one draining narcissistic relationship. Perhaps one of the worst, but all of them are wearing. When the narcissistic relationship is finally over, however it ends, many victims are exhausted and hurting. Some have picked up very real health issues along the way, directly or indirectly from the stress of the relationship. Their primary need is rest.

Several times I have heard stories of kind and generous people who offer support for victims of narcissistic and abusive relationships but tie strings to their kindness. Even those who are ready to avoid or battle the dragon in the form of another narcissistic lover or friend may find themselves deceived by those who “just want to help.”

As in almost all adult narcissistic relationships, the beginning is wonderful. Not just good, but wonderful. The people are so friendly, so welcoming, so charming. They listen; they care; they truly want to help. Most of them offer practical help. A truck for moving, a place to stay, money for rent or food, child care, clothing, and on and on. Many people come out of narcissistic relationships with real needs.

There are people and organizations who will help with those needs. Some of them are willing to help a lot. Some of them honestly care. But some help you to help themselves.

Not all narcissists are loud and cruel and abusive. At least not at first. Some see helping you as a way to further their own goals. Sometimes you are a number to add to their “kindness count.” When they help you, they tell others and use your story to raise more money. You are important to them, but not in the way you think. You make them look good. They will care for your needs as long as you do what they need.

This is true for both organizations and for individuals. I have known “helpers” who generously take on victims as projects. They see these victims as a way to show their own superior spirituality. They give real help, but insert their own teachings or expectations. They have an agenda, and you are helping them achieve it.

Now, I am not talking about the helper husband who expects special favors from the single woman he and his wife have allowed to stay in their guest room. That type of re-victimization does happen, but is not subtle. No, I am thinking more of the couple who expect their guest to become part of their church and submit to hovering oversight. Those who want to control someone under the pretense of caring.

When you give up your freedom for the sake of protection and comfort, you might find yourself in a cage of expectations. You might discover that the generous provision that seemed to come so freely has strings to a type of submission you never expected.

So, how do you protect yourself from this? How do you avoid these subtle representatives of the dragon, especially when you really do need help?

First, I have to say that you might not be able to avoid them. These relationships are predatory. You are vulnerable, and they need you that way. They look for victims, and you look for help. If you get tricked into this kind of relationship, don’t blame yourself.

On the other hand, there are some things you can do. First, recognize that you have needs that open you to being used. That should put you on your guard. Knowing that the predators are out there should make you more careful. And, watch for red flags. Don’t be afraid to ask why someone is willing to help you. Ask if there are strings attached. You might be surprised at how bold some of the narcissistic helpers are. Some will tell you up front that they will expect you to be grateful or to let them manage your life. Certainly, if you see expectations tied to the help, you should watch for an exit.

In general, narcissists want information. In the early days of almost all narcissistic intimate relationships, the abuser appears to be a great listener. If you find that a helper wants information, especially personal information, be alert. I have found that many “Christian helpers” have a great desire to hear the sordid details of abuse. If their questions lead you into uncomfortable areas or if you notice that they become angry when you stop sharing, you might be with these wrong helpers. If an organization needs a lot of information about you, don’t hesitate to ask why or to deny the requests. Do they need your phone number or address or age or the name of your ex? Why? Are you comfortable with them having that information?

Watch for the signs of narcissism that you have learned. These helpers might want to separate you from other support. They might find subtle ways to make you feel like the abuse was your fault. You may experience gaslighting, projection, lying, and other things that you saw in the narcissistic relationship you left.

One more thing. If you are in what we could call “a manipulative helping relationship,” it’s okay to get out. The conflict you feel between your obligation to be thankful and your need to get out from under the control is exactly what has been planted to keep you in line. If you can’t leave, you are not free. Say thanks for all the help and mean it. Then leave.

Even when you are tired and hurting, you have to be in control. Giving up that control for comfort is not the answer. My advice is to always enter this kind of relationship with an exit strategy. You don’t have to be unkind or cold, but you have to stay alert. If someone offers you a place to stay, continue to watch for another place. If someone offers you a job, keep looking for another job. Having a way out will help you feel free and give you options the abusers would not want you to have.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Dragon Cages

  1. Singing Eagle

    OMG!!! This is sooo true!! If you finally “escape” one, another seems to be waiting to trap you. The need to keep your guard up is very real especially when you may be wanting to find that “safe” place to let your guard down and love again. The predator has type of radar to look for the right opportunity to “pounce” and rescue the abused only to become the abuser. Like the verse in 1Peter 5:8, (Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.), the enemy of our soul has no interest in selflessly helping you. Yes, I’ve lived it and made mistakes when jumping from the frying pan into the fire! But when I made the decision to NOT be the victim anymore, it was a challenge to find the “me” who wasn’t afraid to stand up for myself and not feel guilty for be assertive. I realized as well that I unknowingly saw assertive as being aggressive because the narcissist trained me to believe that setting boundaries to protect myself was not “Christ-like”. With having been raised in a particular religious group (always teaching submission), a narc mother and then marrying a narc husband (still married), it made it difficult to recognize what was normal for an adult woman. However, now that I’ve learned I don’t have to be anybody’s doormat, I can praise God for taking me from glory to glory in teaching me to love myself, allow him to transform my heart & mind (I’m still a work in progress), forgive others and even be a mentor to others. I’ve come a long way and greatly appreciate this blog in making it easier to understand a narcissist, myself and that I’m not alone in this fight. Thank you!!!

  2. You expressed this cyclical narcissistic abuse dynamic very well, Pastor Dave.

    What you have written here reminds me of a blues ballad that I wrote many years ago, at the end of yet another narcissistic relationship. I will copy and paste my song, below. Notice the narcissist waiting in the wings, in the second stanza.

    I wrote this song before I knew anything about narcissism, and before I learned, through wise and compassionate Christian therapy, that I was subconsciously recreating my abusive childhood in my adult relationships. I was so needy, so broken, desperately searching for love and salvation in a mere mortal, before I finally found true love and salvation in the Lord Jesus. I was a prime target for narcissists, until March 11, 2003, when I became a Christian for real, not just in name.

    Here is my song, The Diner:

    I drive past the diner, I look in and see them
    Sitting at a table where we used to be
    Alone in the dark night, I make my way homeward
    Feeling like a fool for just needing to see

    Where did our love go? Tell me, how did this happen?
    Nothing makes sense anymore
    My friend says come over, I’ll make you forget him
    My head wants to try, but my heart won’t let go

    Did I ever know you? You seem like a stranger
    Aloof and uncaring, unwilling to try
    You and your friends have joined forces to blame me
    I have nothing left now, not even my pride

    As I drive past the diner, I look in and see them
    Sitting at the table where we used to be
    Alone in the dark night, I make my way homeward
    Feeling like a fool for just needing to see . . .

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