Category Archives: Narcissism

Mind Control 3

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Singer’s Six Conditions for Thought Control (Cults in our Midst, 1995)

3. Systematically create a sense of powerlessness in the person. This is accomplished by getting members away from the normal social support group for a period of time and into an environment where the majority of people are already group members. The members serve as models of the attitudes and behaviors of the group and speak an in-group language.

I remember the first time I saw a three-legged ladder. It looked like a regular stepladder, but it had only three legs. I asked about it and was told that a three-legged ladder was the most stable of all stepladders. “Three points make a plane,” the man said. I understood. But that third leg didn’t seem very strong. Apparently that’s why four-legged ladders are more popular. People find it hard to believe that one additional leg would be enough.

But that one person in your life was the real support you needed. Or maybe it was the one small group of friends. You knew you could count on them. They would have your back. You laughed together. You cried together. They were closer than family. And you needed them.

Now that person or that group are gone. What happened? That one person, that one group, would have saved you from the narcissist. But he/she convinced you to ignore their advice. He turned your heart away from them. He had to.

You probably remember it happening. Maybe she warned you about him. Maybe they were concerned about your new group. But when they expressed their concerns, you shut them out. That’s what the narcissistic organization said would happen. You can’t trust them, you were told. You can’t listen to them. You have new friends, friends who think like you, friends you can trust. At least that’s what they said.

Maybe you were told those old support people would just hurt you. You learned to be suspicious of their motives. You forced yourself to react against their words and acts of kindness. Even though it broke your heart, you pushed them away because “it was for the best.” But it wasn’t best. Not even good.

Isolation, separation from the support structure, takes away the opportunity to stand against compromise and brokenness. Most of us have someone who will speak truth to us. Most of us have someone who will stand with us ready to pull us away from danger. The narcissist and the narcissistic organization will want to separate us from those people. Exposing the evil, the control and manipulation, is the job of our support structure. Subtly and slowly or loudly and dramatically, we have to be separated/isolated so the narcissist can do his/her/its work.

Suppose you climbed a tall three-legged ladder. Then that third leg was threatened in some way. Or maybe someone told you that it was not to be trusted. It will fail, they said. What would you do? You want to be safe. You would probably listen and come down. Maybe you wouldn’t use that ladder, no matter how safe it really was. After all, just think of what could happen if you fell. No, better to be safe.

In much the same way, narcissists nibble at our confidence, particularly in the people who have always been there for us. By causing us to question, they open us to alternatives, their alternatives. New friends. New community. New support. But all designed to control you and get you to conform. It’s part of the manipulation. It has happened to many.

So, don’t be surprised when you realize that you cut off some good people, folks who cared and maybe even tried to help. They warned you because they cared. They didn’t want to see you get hurt.

Now what? Can you go back to them? You may have been part of their support network, and you hurt them. Understand if they are hesitant. Understand if they seem suspicious. You can apologize, but you may have to leave it at that. The best case would be if you could restore your relationships with friends and family, made wiser now because of the pain. The worst case is that you have lost their support for good. If you tell them you were wrong and should have listened, at least you have done what you can to bring restoration. They have a right to their pain, too.

One of the most heinous parts of narcissistic relationships is how they destroy good things, particularly the community and support victims once had. But understand that you are not the first, nor the only, this has happened to. Many wise and careful people have been led astray by the deceptive words of manipulative people and groups. So many, in fact, that the book of Proverbs talks about them.

An ungodly man digs up evil, and it is on his lips like a burning fire.
A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends.
A violent man entices his neighbor, and leads him in a way that is not good.
He winks his eye to devise perverse things; he purses his lips and brings about evil.

Proverbs 16:27-30 (NKJV)

And one of the things we are specifically told that the Lord hates:

A false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.
Proverbs 6:19 (NKJV)

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Walk with Me: A Grace Devotional by [Orrison, David]


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Mind Control 2

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Singer’s Six Conditions for Thought Control (Cults in our Midst, 1995)

2. Control the person’s social and/or physical environment; especially control the person’s time. Through various methods, newer members are kept busy and led to think about the group and its content during as much of their waking time as possible.

Suddenly, your daughter can’t stop talking about this guy you haven’t even met. She sees him at work/school, spends every evening with him, and can’t put her phone down. Her life has suddenly become consumed with “Bobby.” When you ask about him or what they do together, you encounter a wall. Suspicion pops up in her words and mind. “Why do you want to know? Don’t you trust me?” Bobby’s too busy for you to meet him.

Your friends have become enamored with their new Christian teacher. They tell you all about him, but seem to think you aren’t quite ready for the level of teaching he provides. In fact, you sense them pulling away from you. Their time and focus are somewhere else. They say critical things about you and your family but pretend to care. They sit with their group at church. They have evening meetings and lunches with the new group. The new teacher encourages the people to identify as a group. Something is wrong.

The new boss has really gotten the team together. Your husband stays at the office late and comes home talking about work. He makes phone calls, sends emails, and studies so that the boss will approve of him. Promises of a promotion and a raise are almost close enough to grasp. You don’t dare protest because you don’t want to jeopardize his opportunities.

How do you gain control over someone who has a support system? “Isolate and medicate.” Do whatever you can to pull the person away from the support system, then flood his/her system with attention and expectation.

Isolating is a common narcissistic technique. Separating victims from their support structure begins early. Parents are not to be obeyed. Friends are not to be trusted. Wedges are driven in old relationships. The narcissist wants his victim to be dependent on him. Narcissists will often pull people out of their jobs, out of their church, out of their family. It is not uncommon for a young couple to move away from their parents (or her parents) so the narcissist can be the only support person.

“Medicating” is the idea of providing whatever it takes to make the isolation seem acceptable. Filling time with projects, travel, dates, work, and more allows the narcissist to help the victim feel like this new life is just too busy for the old relationships. A narcissistic organization will encourage people to be involved in the life of the group getting to know other members. Fun activities, involved projects, conferences, etc. A narcissistic friend will find positive and uplifting ways to be together, but still separate from others. Travel, shopping, clubs, etc.

The “medicating” part of this equation is important. People are medicated by different things. Anger can be a reason to separate. Different “values” pull people apart. A young wife might be persuaded to separate from her disapproving family. When the first child comes, the old family traditions aren’t good enough. Holidays, education, medical decisions, discipline—all can be “righteous” reasons to separate from family. That feeling of superiority, combined with a little anger, medicates by providing a strong reason to stay away from those who used to be the support structure. A decision to educate children at home provided separation for many young families, for example.

Isolation without “comforting” reasons is difficult. Narcissists and narcissistic organizations will be quick to provide those reasons. Later, when the support structure is no longer available, when too many bridges have been burned, the fun and righteous reasons may not be so easy to find or believe. But, by then, the damage will be done. The trap will be sprung.

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Walk with Me: A Grace Devotional by [Orrison, David]

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Mind Control 1

It’s Narcissist Friday!

I recently came across a list of techniques cults use to entrap and control people. It surprised me (and not much does anymore) to see how well the list corresponds to the narcissistic methods we have talked about over the past few years. Apparently, the sneaky process of controlling others against their wills is the same in and out of the church and in and out of personal relationships.

The list comes from Margaret Singer’s book, Cults in our Midst, 1995 edition. The newer edition (2003) has changed the wording of this section and provides more explanation, but these will work well for our purposes. I want to look at one each week. I think you will agree that she pegs narcissistic control very well, in both personal and organizational relationships.

  1. Keep the person unaware of what is going on and how she or he is being changed a step at a time. Potential new members are led, step by step, through a behavioral-change program without being aware of the final agenda or full content of the group. The goal may be to make them deployable agents for the leadership, to get them to buy more courses, or get them to make a deeper commitment, depending on the leader’s aim and desires.

Narcissistic control begins early in the relationship. Children, of course, grow up with it and know little else. A girlfriend will think of her new guy as attentive, supportive, and caring as he listens to her secrets. A boss or a pastor will be strong and open at the beginning. The manipulation starts right away.

The boyfriend tells her how much he likes that little blue dress. He may like that it reveals something of her body. He may like it when others turn their heads as she walks by. He may have no other reason than to begin to control. When she wears the red one on the next date, he pouts just a little and reminds her that he likes the blue one so much. But, he “likes the red one too.” What does she wear next time?

In the new church, almost all the ladies wear skirts and have long hair. The leaders’ wives dress enough alike that a subtle message of superiority is projected. No one is criticized, at least at first, for wearing something different, but almost all the women visitors know what they should wear next time.

If you want to get ahead in the company, you have to be prepared to come early, stay late, and work through lunch. At least, that’s what the company leaders do. The new guy might try to get others to go out for lunch, but he ends up going alone. He learns the unspoken policy quickly.

Conformity is a strong motivation for most people, at least for the people the narcissist wants close. Rejection is not overt, but a subtle message of expectation will be clear. “If you want to be accepted, this is what you will do.” Narcissists and other abusers know that relationships take time, but they don’t want to invest much time. Eventually, the victim is either in or out.

It is not uncommon for visitors to notice that the people of the church (or the company) are all alike in some way. That way might not be easy to identify, but it is felt. Conformity is expected and enforced in some way. But nothing will be said, nothing is written, no book of standards is given. If anyone asks church leadership why this conformity seems to be so prevalent, an answer will be given like: “We are all just trying to follow the Bible.” And then they will point out differences as evidence of freedom.

Words that mark the new person as different will also send motivation to move further into conformity. “Newcomers,” “beginners,” “basic class,” “introduction.” It will be clear that those labeled with these words are not quite accepted, but are moving positively toward that goal.

The boyfriend may joke to his friends about “training” his new girl. He may often “remind” her of things they had talked about. He will be frustrated with her lack of progress, but refer to it as “their differences.” Since she doesn’t want them to have differences, she will find ways to conform to his will.

In church, in the company, and in the relationship, conformity is the beginning of control.

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Walk with Me: A Grace Devotional by [Orrison, David]


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Soul Ties

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.

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Walk with Me: A Grace Devotional by [Orrison, David]


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The Monkey



It’s Narcissist Friday!

I have tried to teach my sons about the monkey. Expectations and criticisms are like a monkey that climbs onto our backs. That monkey sits on us as a burden. When we begin to get used to it, it moves or does something to remind us that it’s there. It creates anxiety, anger, and a sense of inferiority. We may even be embarrassed by it. But it sits there.

The higher a person climbs in any hierarchy, the more the monkey is present. Sometimes it is heavy. Usually, it is uncomfortable. So, the question becomes how to deal with the monkey.

Let me give an example. The General Manager is held to a certain level of store performance. Recently the store has not been keeping up. The GM has a monkey on her back. How does she explain to her bosses? What can she do to make the store do better? She knows that she will have to account for the low numbers. The monkey is heavy, and the GM is worried.

So, that’s what the Assistant Manager is for. He will either fix the store or be the excuse. The monkey is removed from the GM and is put on the AM’s back. When the big bosses ask for an accounting, the GM will point to him. That’s where the monkey is, she will think.

The AM, of course, will try to put the monkey on the backs of the supervisors or the other store employees. Someone else will have to carry it. Otherwise, the attention will all be on him. Others will see the monkey and he will look bad. Better to let others look bad.

The monkey isn’t always about blame or criticism. Sometimes it is expectations. When the GM says to the AM, “Well, you will have to have our numbers up by the end of the month,” she is passing a monkey of responsibility, perhaps even work hours. He knows he will have to do a lot of extra time and work to make that expectation happen, but the monkey is off the GM. When the AM begins to berate the employees or refuse time-off requests or push extra hard for performance, he may simply be trying to get the monkey off his back.

It is often helpful to think of the commands/requests of authority in this way. Odd or burdensome requests may be simply the desire of leaders to pass on the monkey to others. We used to say, “When Mom is cold, we have to put our coats on.”

Narcissistic systems breed monkeys. The monkey is useful. Burdened employees, church members, or family can be pushed to perform by creating monkeys. The narcissist won’t care how heavy or unreasonable the monkey is. Nor will the narcissist have compassion for those who have to carry the monkey. The big bosses create monkeys, the GMs pass them on to the AMs, or perhaps create more monkeys to take the place of the one. Mom looks at the house and sees the mess of normal activity, but she feels the monkey of having it look nice in case company drops in. Suddenly, everyone has to clean. Kids are scolded, Dad is criticized, and no one quite knows where the pressure is coming from. When the monkeys have been moved from Mom to the rest of the family, the pressure is off and things are okay again.

The process of setting and enforcing expectations is not evil. That’s almost always the purpose of an authority structure or hierarchical organization. But a good GM, not a narcissist, would face the monkey and take steps to deal with it, rather than pass it on to others. A good mom would ask the family to do their chores or help with the cleaning. It doesn’t seem like that much of a difference unless you are on the receiving end of the monkey.

So, when the narcissist in your life is demanding and places unreasonable expectations on you, think about the monkey. He/she is probably trying to get it to move to you. The narcissist won’t like it if you try to avoid the monkey or manage to slip away from it somehow. At the same time, you don’t want one of those things on your back, do you?


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My Way or …



It’s Narcissist Friday!


While I believe that there is only one way to Heaven, through Jesus, must I also believe that someone has to come to faith a certain way?

I consider myself an evangelical. That word carries a certain tradition, as well as a certain doctrine. Evangelicals are deeply tied to Scripture and less tied to church. Heavily influenced by Moody, Scofield, Dallas Seminary, and Billy Graham, American evangelicals have a clear process through which a person can become a Christian. Yes, that sounds a little presumptuous. And, yes, it probably is.

There are somewhere around 2 billion people calling themselves Christians in the world today. The largest group, of course, are the Roman Catholics. Eastern Orthodox believers come in second if we divide Protestants the way they seem to want to be divided. Evangelicals make up only a small part of all that.

If the only real requirement for salvation is a relationship with Jesus, perhaps it is wise for us to recognize that believers from different groups define that relationship in different ways. For some, there is great value in the community of believers that makes up the church. Belonging to the church is the same as identifying with Jesus for them. Some pray in different ways from others. Some don’t even understand the language used in their church. Some express their faith through sacrament and ritual. A relationship with the One who is God in flesh may not be as easy to pin down as we sometimes think.

Evangelicalism began as a rejection of the meaningless formality experienced in the historical denominations. Some people wanted to return to the basic word of the Scriptures. Others wanted to enjoy a relationship with a personal Savior. Others just wanted something they could call real. In the state or traditional churches, they saw compromise, hypocrisy, and faithlessness. They wanted something more.

That was a worthy pursuit, and it was accomplished for many people. But it wasn’t long (historically speaking) before that same compromise, hypocrisy, and faithlessness could be found in evangelical churches. So, did they really offer something better? Yes, I think so, but the exclusivity that came from the “rebellion” caused them, and many of us, to dismiss all other ways of thinking.

So, let me say it this way: If someone comes to me and asks how to become a Christian, I will help them to ask Jesus to take away their sins and be the Lord of their lives. But the Orthodox priest in Egypt or the Ukraine will tell them something quite different. We will both minister to the person out of our traditions. We may each even think the other is wrong somehow. But it would be very foolish (and short-sighted) for me to think that other person didn’t become a “real” Christian.

And what does all of this have to do with narcissism? I suppose it has more to do with grace, allowing the Lord to lead people to Himself in a variety of ways. But perhaps it reflects a certain insecurity or fear for us to demand that the only real way is our way. I won’t go so far as to say that evangelicals are narcissistic, but I will suggest that requiring God to accept only our definition and only people who come to Him our way is not submitting to Him.

The narcissist must have things his way because he neither acknowledges the values of others nor trusts the thinking of others. In his fear, the narcissist requires a world he can understand and, therefore, control. Freedom, creativity, non-conformity— these are anathema to the narcissist because he feels they threaten his security. Once he has made a decision about what is best, he must not only continue to believe that but make sure that all others believe it. If they do not, he doesn’t know what to do with them.

Those who are insecure in their own faith, who find it hard to trust in the wisdom and love of God in Christ, also find it hard to trust others. Since no one has the right answer except them, they cannot believe there is another answer.

Now, to be very clear. I believe there is one way to Heaven, and that is through Jesus. I also believe a relationship with Jesus can be real even when expressed in different ways. I understand that might make some people uncomfortable. I really do. There is a risk in me writing such a thing. But if the Church of Jesus Christ is only made up of evangelicals who think like me (or you), then it is not only very small, it has failed its mission.

Such a narrow view of who can be saved (my way or the highway) sure looks narcissistic to me.


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Toxic People

It’s Narcissist Friday!

What is our responsibility, as believers, to the toxic people in our lives?

Can another believer be toxic to me?

What is a toxic person? A toxic person is someone who affects you in a negative way, poisoning your heart. In the presence of a toxic person, you become something you don’t want to be. You may be fearful, weak, angry, or even sad, but the emotions you experience will be inconsistent with how you want to feel and how you should feel in a normal relationship. In other words, a toxic person will damage you much like a poison destroys your health.

Narcissists are usually toxic people, toxic at least to certain others. Often through criticism, narcissists consistently bring certain people down. Sometimes by expectations or job requirements. Sometimes by gossip, or negative talk, or comparisons. Sometimes even by violent verbal and personal attacks. However they do it, narcissists bring people down.

You know what I mean. You are having a great day until the phone rings. It’s the narcissist. You know she will say something to discourage you, some unkind word. There goes your day. Work is great until the narcissist comes in, then everything goes downhill. I wonder how many drivers will narrowly escape an accident because another driver has been upset by a narcissist. I wonder how many kids and spouses will get yelled at. I wonder how many dogs and cats will be kicked. Toxic people bring everybody down.

And, of course, they go merrily on their way with no care about the harm they have done. When others are down, they feel lifted up. When others suffer, the narcissist is there to “help.”

So, as Christians, what are we supposed to do with toxic people? How should we respond to them, relate to them? What are our responsibilities as people who try to do the right things?

Before I try to answer that, let’s insert another question: Can another believer be toxic to me? In other words, if we are supposed to be one in Christ, should I be able to relate to everyone with peace and joy?

Let’s be honest. Some of the most difficult relationships in our lives are with people who consider themselves Christians. Whether they are or not may not be for us to say. All we know is that they are challenges to our sanity and peace.

Toxic people bring something into the relationship that hurts. I do not believe that Christians have two natures, but I do understand that Christians have their feet in two worlds. We read that we can walk with the Spirit or in the flesh. We can choose fleshly responses to life, or we can look to the Spirit for our help day by day. We live with that choice. The reality is that the flesh is the familiar and comfortable way for us. The flesh is self-serving, anxious, abusive, manipulating, and so much more. In relationships, the flesh is toxic. When a believer acts out of the flesh (which may be a regular pattern) that believer may be toxic, bringing hurt into our lives.

So, yes, believers can be toxic people even to other believers.

Now, as a Christian, how am I supposed to deal with toxic people?

First, we must be who we are. In Christ, we love others. In Christ, we forgive. In Christ, we desire peace with others. That’s who we are. To act contrary to that is to be (and feel) inconsistent.

Second, we are called to sacrifice, suffer, and serve in our relationships. Jesus modeled that for us. He put others first and suffered because of His love for them.

Third, we are not to entrust ourselves to toxic people or to anyone other than Christ. Knowing that people will use us, we must not let them define us or burden us with shame. Loving them does not mean agreeing with their assessment of us. Nor does it mean allowing our identity to be lost in the vacuum of theirs.

Fourth, love is possible from a safe distance. Once I identify someone as toxic, I have a responsibility to decide how closely I will relate to them. I don’t have to get together regularly, pretending that would be a good thing. Instead, I may choose to pray without contact. If a person will hurt me, I am certainly free to protect myself while I find ways to love from a distance. Yes, you can set boundaries even against other believers. You can also love them without contact.

Fifth, distance can be maintained in the heart even if not physically. In other words, I may have to work with the person or even live with the person, but wise and strong boundaries keep me safe. This may not be as easy as no-contact, but that isn’t always possible. I can choose to let criticisms and comparisons slide off as though I didn’t hear them. I can disagree with the toxic person. I can protect myself.

Sixth, my emotional health, along with physical, mental, and spiritual, must be maintained if I am to be of any value in any of my relationships. If your narcissistic mother brings her toxic criticisms to you, and you take them to your kids, you are hurting your kids. Keeping a safe distance from your mother may be the best gift you can give your kids. You must be healthy to give and to love.

Yes, Jesus sacrificed, but reading the Scriptures leads me to believe that He chose when and where and how to sacrifice. He didn’t heal everyone. He didn’t submit Himself to authorities until He was ready. He didn’t listen to the criticisms. He didn’t trust the crowds. Out of His health, He maintained His identity and purpose until the gift of love could be given. Surrounded by toxic people, even some of those closest to Him, He kept a distance in His heart. He could love them without losing Himself in their needs or desires.

And, in Him, so can we.


Walk with Me: A Grace Devotional by [Orrison, David]


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A Clear Definition of Abuse

It’s Narcissist Friday!

I was recently challenged to write what I think is a “clear definition of abuse.” You see the reason, right? It used to be that abuse was defined by someone going to the hospital. A slap, a kick, even a punch just wasn’t considered a big deal. Emotional or verbal abuse was laughed at. I remember a pastor who thought spanking his wife for disobedience was a normal thing in marriage. A woman who came to church with a black eye might have been pitied, but people didn’t consider her abused.

In order for law enforcement to get involved, a life had to be in danger. Children were not just spanked, but beaten without concern from educators, clergy, and government. Even today, spousal abuse does not prompt mandatory reporting in several states. If the patient is informed about available reporting and refuses it and is given contact information for helping agencies, even doctors and nurses are not required to report physical abuse in even more states.

Some things are different today. The idea of abuse has become a popular way to get attention. People feel abused when their feelings are hurt. If you disagree with their politics or their religious opinions, they feel abused. If you criticize their work or challenge them in any way, you are abusing them. That is an unhelpful use of the word and a manipulative use of the concept.

I won’t suggest that true abuse lies somewhere in the middle because I am not sure you can adequately define abuse by a certain action or behavior. Instead, I think you have to define abuse by intent and effect.

The third-grade girl sits behind a boy and pinches him every time he relaxes. Is that abuse? The boy meets her in the hall and gives her an unwanted kiss. Is that abuse? The woman teacher grabs the boy and squeezes his shoulder hard as she hauls him off to detention. Is that abuse? The same teacher hugs the girl who was kissed. Is that abuse? That teacher stops off at a restaurant on the way home and a man tells her she is attractive. Is that abuse? The man gets punched in the face by another man who thinks he is protecting the woman. Is that abuse?

We think we know what abuse is. We think we would know it when we see it and certainly when we experience it. We would like to think that abuse is a cut-and-dried issue with a clear definition, but it really isn’t. Instead, there are many factors that have to be considered. Courts and authorities have to listen to dramatic details to determine if there were an abuser and a victim.

Courts have to take into consideration such things as intent and effect. What did the offender mean to do? Knowing that abusers lie and that negligence is also a culpable offense, the court must decide whether something was abusive. And was the victim actually damaged or harmed? Again, knowing that victims can also lie and that discomfort or disagreement does not constitute abuse, the court must determine whether a person was abused. Today we understand the concept of negligence that causes harm even without intent. We also understand the damage caused by emotional abuse without significant physical effect. But these things make the definition of abuse even more difficult.

If you are the injured party, the victim, the intent of the offender almost doesn’t make a difference. You still hurt. You still suffer. But if you are the accused, intent makes a great deal of difference. You might even agree that you should be held accountable for an accident or unintended harm from negligence, but you would never consider yourself an abuser. In fact, the level and type of injury might matter a great deal to you. Are you liable for someone’s hurt feelings? Isn’t there a certain level of pain or harm that isn’t real suffering? At the same time, an attempt to harm that fails clearly indicates intent even if there is no injury at all. These things matter in the arguments.

So, I think the word has become too difficult. It is misused and avoided for personal and organizational interests. Instead of worrying about what to label as abuse, let’s consider what behavior should be held accountable. Here’s what I think:

Injury to a child, whether physical, emotional, or mental, should result in accountability whether intended or not. Greater injury may call for more serious accountability, as would more direct intent.

Injury to an adult in a dependent relationship should also call for accountability. A passenger in your car, a spouse, a dependent parent, a church member, an employee, a student: all of these have the right to expect a level of responsible care.

Injury that is directly intentional must call for accountability. If I punch someone in the face, I should be accountable for that action. A court may decide there was some mitigating reason, but I should still be investigated.

The intent of injury, even if the attempt fails, should also call for accountability. The desire to harm, combined with the act of the attempt, should be considered the same as a successful attempt.

Now, all of these are already used by our court system. These make sense and seem right to us. We link intent and cruelty. We link injury and violence. Everyone understands that cruel violence is abusive and, in normal circumstances (not military or self-defense), offenders should be held accountable. The problem is defining things like cruelty and violence.

To back away from this problem for a better perspective, abuse is simply the misuse of something or someone. In a personal relationship, abuse by that definition would be misusing the other person. A husband abuses his wife when he misuses her, for example. If he dumps his anger on her verbally, criticizes her relentlessly, makes her feel of less value than him or others, he is misusing her as a wife. His responsibility is to love and protect and support and so much more. To do less is to misuse both his and her roles in the relationship. The same is true if a wife demands or criticizes her husband in ways that demean him. We can think of other types of verbal and manipulative abuse.

It is hard for most of us to imagine a situation where it would be acceptable for a husband to beat, slap, or spank his wife in anger or “discipline.” But just because many people grew up in homes where that was normal, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t abusive. That is not what a husband should do to his wife. Nor would it be acceptable for a wife to do those things to her husband.

Parents should care for their children and love them. To do less is to misuse them. It is a misuse of the parental role, an abuse, for parents to neglect or injure their children. To withhold things necessary for life and health, to tear down identity and values, to use for sexual gratification—these seem obvious misuses/abuses.

Bosses have a responsibility to pay employees fairly and expect reasonable workloads. To do otherwise is a misuse of the employer/employee relationship and is abusive. Pastors have a responsibility to care for the spiritual health of their people. To burden with unreasonable rules or to take advantage of vulnerability for personal gratification is abuse. Obviously, there are many examples and many different situations.

So abuse is the misuse of a relationship role. When we use others with little or no regard for their pain and have only our own desires or needs in mind, we abuse. Some abuse calls for societal intervention based on the level of intent and injury.

Frankly, I feel somewhat intimidated writing this. It seems risky. So many have suffered so much pain, and I certainly don’t want to minimize that or marginalize anyone. Please accept this as an attempt to give some definition to a very difficult topic. If I have fallen short, I apologize.

If you feel that the treatment you are receiving in a relationship is inappropriate or hurtful, you have the right (and maybe the responsibility) to do something about it. Find a good counselor, or perhaps two, who can help you sort out what is happening. Very often, victims are so broken by the abuse they suffer that they don’t even know if it is wrong. I wish I could tell everyone to go to your church leaders, but I know how often they will allow people to suffer in order to maintain their image. Find someone who doesn’t know you or the person who is hurting you. If they say you are not suffering abuse, or they simply dismiss you in any way, ask someone else. Find someone who cares. You may come to the conclusion that you are not being abused, but you do have to deal with the fact of your pain and struggle. On the other hand, if you are being abused, there are people who can help. Find them.


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Narcissism in the Church

Many thanks to those who have picked up a copy of Narcissism in the Church! I am hearing a lot of serious and positive comments. Be sure to write an Amazon review! You can get a copy, in paperback or ebook, here:


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It’s Narcissist Friday!

“Too much has been invested. There’s too much to lose. He brought it on himself. What did he think was going to happen? He put us in a terrible position. There’s only one thing we can do. We have our reputation to think about. We have the people to think about. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.”

“We will make sure it’s a fair trial. We have enough against him to make the charges stick. We don’t need much. He may be a good man, but he said some foolish things. He’ll be found guilty, and then we will turn him over to the Romans.”

“For centuries we have been more spiritual than the others. They hate him just as much as we do, but they don’t have the courage to do anything about it. We have to continue being teachers and prophets. The people need us. One man should not be allowed to bring us down.”

“His followers will scatter. His family will grieve. And his words will be forgotten. The things he said about us will fall away when we charge him with blasphemy, and the Romans charge him with sedition. No, he didn’t do anything wrong, but he said things—things that hurt us and might risk our position with the people and the Romans.”

“Even if he is a good man, he’s expendable.”

The narcissistic organization gathered its leaders to defend its name and power. Jesus shouldn’t have challenged them. They didn’t care that he had followers. They didn’t care what he taught. But over and over he accused them. He used their own words against them. Enough was enough. He would have to be an example for others. There are limits.

So, the narcissistic leaders took him to trial. They heard testimony against him from those who hated him. Then they pronounced judgment. Yes, he was guilty. Guilty of not bowing to them. Guilty of not serving their image. Guilty of exposing the truth about them to the people. Oh, how they hated him. And feared him.

But the narcissistic organization must look good even in judgment. Yes, he was guilty and must be punished, but someone else could do that. Hand him over to the Romans, they said. Let them beat him and abuse him further. Take him to Pilate. Pilate would send him to Herod. And, maybe, if they played things right, they could get the people to turn against him at the end. His blood would be on their hands.

And the narcissistic organization would be there to provide counsel and absolution. When the people cried out to God, the narcissistic leadership would be there for them. When the people asked forgiveness, the leaders would remind them that they had no choice. Besides, for the good of the many, he was expendable.

They watched from a distance as he was nailed to the cross. It was done. Uneasy in their hearts, some of them watched throughout the day. He couldn’t be there on the Sabbath. That wouldn’t look good. At the end, the Romans didn’t have to abuse him further. He died on his own. A man of sorrows, they said. But it had to be done.


She was expendable.

He was expendable.

They were expendable.

The good of the many.

Our reputation.

Our image.

But they weren’t watching later, when everything changed, and the world came crashing down around them.

On that cross, Jesus took our grief and pain. He carried our sins and our condemnation. He bore our rejection and humiliation. Our guilt and shame. On that cross, Jesus became our sorrow.

But the day was coming when all those things dropped from Him and from us, when new life poured into our world in a new way. A day of rejoicing and freedom and peace and joy.

Good Friday, the day when Love said:




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So It Begins

It’s Narcissist Friday!

My wife and I were at a restaurant recently with two women and a small child (maybe 3 years old) sitting nearby. One woman was the grandmother (she said), and we assumed the other was the mother. The little one started acting up, not loudly, and we heard the grandmother say, “You better start acting right or we will send you to another family. You can go to another home.” Then she apparently pointed out some people and asked, “Do you want to go home with them? How about them? No, well you better stop fussing.”

That’s all we heard, but I started thinking about that little child. So young and already hearing a message that ties acceptance to performance. In fact, already learning that acting like a little child is something to be rejected. Now, it appeared to me that the child was already a foster child or adopted. He was a different race than the two women. Obviously, I could be wrong, but it seemed that the child had already suffered some kind of rejection, perhaps more than once.

Children do not understand adult expectations or standards. Instead, they learn what it takes to get past the pain and sadness. When adults expect children to act like adults, rather than their age, the children do not learn to become adults. They learn to act in ways that move adults to accept them or do what they want. In other words, they learn to manipulate the system before they are part of it.

I suspect that narcissism often begins when children are bound by expectations to be what they are not. They are rejected when they are themselves and accepted only when they are something they cannot be. We have often said that the narcissist sets up and supports an image of self, something for others to admire and serve. That image is better than the narcissist, better than everyone else. That image can do everything the narcissist cannot. It is stronger, smarter, better looking, more worthy, and more important than others. The image is what the narcissist thinks he/she must be in order to be accepted.

When acceptance is tied to performance, and we don’t understand or cannot achieve the level of performance expected, we will try to deceive, distract, or even attack to get the pressure off. This was what I saw in legalism in the church, long before I started teaching about narcissism. Church members were told what they needed to do and be but not how to do or be those things. The level of performance was either vague or impossible. So they used comparisons, lies, criticisms, and distractions to take the focus away from their inadequacies. They might have tried to conform, but most of them simply learned how to manipulate the system.

And this is what narcissists do. A good portion of the pressure you feel from the narcissist is the result of the pressure he/she feels. She wants to look good, so she makes you look bad. He wants others to see him as superior, so he pushes you to do well and takes credit for your work. The narcissist has not learned how to be superior, but how to look that way.

That little child at the restaurant was being prepared for a life of manipulating others to avoid rejection. He will very likely try to make people think he is so good, so superior, that they wouldn’t want to reject him. He may become critical of others, never allowing them to feel loved and fully accepted. He may use others to salve the fear and pain he feels. He may even abuse others to make himself feel stronger and smarter and more worthy of admiration. Whatever it takes to feel accepted. I pray for that little one.

Now, whenever I try to explain the development of narcissism in the heart of a child, we are almost overwhelmed with this sense of compassion. I feel it. I have heard childhood stories from narcissists that break my heart.

BUT – my grief and compassion does not excuse the choice the narcissist makes to use and abuse. And, yes, it is a choice. It was a choice long ago, and it continues to be a choice. In so many ways, the narcissist has never grown out of that fear of rejection, that childhood of confusion and angst. By pushing the child down, hiding the anxiety rather than dealing with it, the narcissist continues childhood as an adult. He/she chooses to continue to hide and chooses to continue to manipulate.

Many people grew up in situations as bad as or worse than the narcissist. Most of them do not choose to hurt others to make themselves feel good. Most of them do not depersonalize others to the point where they don’t care about the pain they cause. Some do struggle with the wounds of their childhood. That’s sad. But many remember their pain and wish to help others in similar situations. I suspect there are far more who want to help others because of their own suffering.

One of the primary reasons narcissism is so difficult for professionals to classify among the various personality, emotional, and mental disorders is that it is inconsistent and can be unlearned. Narcissists can learn to behave differently, even if they continue to have some of the same fears. But few want to change. This is the way life works for them. This is the way they get what they want. Others don’t matter. Disruption either doesn’t matter or is a tool worth using. Narcissists may not feel things like love and compassion, but they don’t have to be cruel.

So, yes, we have compassion for the pain the narcissist has suffered, but that does not excuse his/her cruelty. Don’t let your compassion compromise your boundaries!


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