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Thanks!

It’s Narcissist Friday! (Almost)     

Each week in our little church we pause to give folks an opportunity to share the things they are thankful for. So often an answer has come to prayers, or an unexpected blessing has happened, or someone just wants to express gratitude for a regular thing we usually take for granted. It is a happy time.

When I counsel people I hear them apologize for talking about their pain all the time. They think they should be looking at the good things in their lives instead of the struggle. But I usually just say that it is hard to think about how good your arm feels when your leg is hurting. The purpose of pain is to focus our attention on something that isn’t right. So we shouldn’t be surprised or ashamed when it works.

But when pain is ongoing, when it is chronic rather than acute, we have to do more than learn to live with it. We have to find ways to overcome it. That’s when being thankful is so important. Being thankful, counting our blessings, changes our focus. We tell our pain to step aside while we remember the good things. The pain might not go away, but it seems to back down for a while.

So, for those in ongoing narcissistic relationships, where the pain continues, I encourage you to take a moment to look away from the struggle. Don’t worry, it will be there when you get back. But you need some time away, don’t you? You get a little time away—in your heart—whenever you stop to give thanks.

There are people in your life who are not narcissists. Give thanks for them. There are places you can go without the narcissist. Give thanks for those places. There are minutes in your day without the narcissist. Give thanks for those minutes. There are people who believe you. Give thanks for them. There are people who would believe you if you told your story. Give thanks for them. There are people who love and are kind even though they know little about you. Give thanks for them.

And there is a God who loves you and never leaves you. He sees everything. He has helped you to be strong. He has walked with you through the valleys. He gives you hope and promise. He accepts you and welcomes you into His presence. He cares for the victims and repays the abusers. He is a God of justice and love.

I understand that words like these can feel empty when you are in the midst of your pain. But there will be a time when you can stop to give thanks. When that time comes, enjoy it like a vacation. Let the love of friends and Jesus flow over you like the warm sunshine. Let the good memories bring light into the darkness that has surrounded your heart. Let hope give you strength.

The day of Thanksgiving is always most poignant in times of suffering and worry. To stop and smell the roses, count your blessings, or live in the light is always refreshing for our souls. There is much that is good in our lives, even though it is hard to see those things when we are hurting. It’s just that the pain does go away a little when we remember the good things.

Giving thanks is far more than a duty. Giving thanks is a blessing from God in itself. Those who are able to give thanks find themselves, at least for a moment, in a place of freedom and peace.

Obviously, I posted this early, before the holiday, hoping to give a word of encouragement. I am so grateful to and for all of you who read here. Your comments and prayers and support are blessings indeed. If you would like to share anything you are thankful for, you are welcome to do so in the comments. Your words may well add encouragement to others. Don’t preach. Just be thankful.

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Presence

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Several years ago a man told me that he thought he had “presence.” He felt that people noticed when he entered the room. I have often chuckled at that, mostly because I didn’t think anyone particularly noticed when he was in the room. He simply wasn’t as great as he thought he was. So I sometimes joke about people who have “presence.”

By the way, he didn’t tell me that I had presence. That wasn’t something he considered. Besides, he was talking about himself. I remember that he often used the narcissist’s soft voice, speaking so quietly that people had to work to hear his words. In that way, they focused even more on him and what he was saying. I don’t know if I would call him a narcissist, but he certainly seemed to lean in that direction.

Above all else, the narcissist wants “presence.” If you look at the definition of narcissism and the nine characteristics, you can’t help but see that the narcissist is someone who wants to be noticed and valued. I have shared the definition in this post, but it is good to share a reminder from time to time. Here’s the list from Wikipedia:

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
1.      Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
2.      Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
3.      Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
4.      Requires excessive admiration
5.      Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
6.      Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
7.      Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
8.      Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
9.      Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
– From Wikipedia

Notice that numbers 1-5 and 8-9 are all about feeling superior or more important, having presence. That’s seven out of nine. The other two are simply the price the narcissist is willing to pay to get this feeling.

The narcissist wants you and me to drop everything and pay attention to him/her. If others are being served, the narcissist demands, “Well, what about me?” If others are being honored, the narcissist might try to get in the way or take the credit. If others are just going about their work, the narcissist might do something obnoxious or mean.

The narcissist wants to be the elephant in the room, the person no one can ignore. He wants heads to turn, strong men to quake, ladies to swoon. Not getting those things, the narcissist might turn heads because of some joke or some need. He might purposely arrive late to a meeting where he is needed. He might generously buy drinks for everyone, or beg poverty to get sympathy. Again, whatever it takes.

Politicians build careers on this presence. Top CEOs expect others to notice it. Preachers expect to be revered. And other narcissists see this and lust after it.

A person with presence stimulates others. He might be able to make you feel like you are important, and you will feel like he is important because of that. She knows how she looks to others and flashes that smile that warms the heart. You open yourself to the person with presence because of their personal power and attraction.

Presence opens doors.

No wonder the narcissist wants that!

 

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Traveling

I am traveling this weekend and am unable to post. Sorry everyone. Please know that I am praying for all of you. You are loved!

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Selfishness

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

When did it become wrong for us to consider our own needs? If you ask some people, taking care of ourselves is simple selfishness. We should focus on taking care of others, they say. Don’t worry about yourself, they say. God will take care of you. You just take care of others.

But if I can trust God to take care of me, can’t I trust God to take care of others? Why does God need me to take care of others if He is great enough to take care of me?

Yes, I believe God takes care of me. I also believe He takes care of others… and doesn’t need me to do it. Instead, He blesses me when He uses me to bless others. He allows me to participate in His work. There is joy and blessing in that kind of service, when I realize that the results are in His hands and all the power and glory belong to Him. My job is simply to be available to Him. Grace means that all power and responsibility are His. He does His work. I am along for the ride.

If my call is to be available, then I should take care of myself. I should see to it that my needs are met so that I can be ready and willing to do whatever He asks. Think about that. I should get enough sleep, eat well, and pay attention to my emotional needs. If I do that, I will be available to Him.

To be selfish is a bad thing, in our culture. We have been taught that thinking about ourselves limits what we can do for others. Selfish people push others away, use others. We understand this and don’t really disagree. But to drain ourselves for the sake of others, without finding ways to rebuild our strength and enthusiasm, will take us out of the serving game altogether.

I always enjoy the little speech the airline attendants give before takeoff, especially the part where they tell parents to put the oxygen mask on their own faces before trying to put them on their children. Mom isn’t going to be much help if she is passed out on the seat next to the frightened child. Take care of yourself. That’s the only way to be truly available to others.

There’s a lot I could say about this. People in narcissistic relationships usually feel themselves being drained. When they get out, they have almost lost the ability to care for themselves. They have been so busy servicing the narcissist that they not only have nothing left, but they have little memory of how to rebuild. Adding to the injury, some have said that the more the life drained from them, the more the narcissist pushed them away. The abuser moves on to a new victim when the first is worn out.

If you are in a narcissistic relationship, find ways to take care of yourself. Small victories, basic boundaries, alone time, supportive relationships—these will give you strength even as the narcissist drains it from you.

If you have gotten away from the narcissist, don’t hesitate to take care of yourself. Just feed you for a while. If you have kids, you will want to pour extra into them, of course. But remember that you can’t give them what you don’t have. They will need to understand that you need to care for yourself sometimes. That shows them how to take care of themselves in the future.

If you don’t like the idea of being selfish, I understand. Use a different word. But do it. Find the things that rebuild you for the hour, the day, the week, and more. Invest in yourself. Even love yourself a little. It’s okay. After all, God loves you, so you are worth loving.

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About Honoring Parents

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

I am traveling, but I wanted to share something I wrote a while back regarding the question of honoring parents.  In our context, this can be challenging.  Think about this:

 

I believe that I honor my parents when I become a healthy, functioning adult and when I am able to pass that health on to my children or to use that health to bless the people around me.  It does not honor them for me to continue their brokenness through my life.  Even if they don’t see the need for me to be a person separate from them, I still must be able to establish and maintain boundaries, own and value my feelings, make independent decisions, and learn to share myself as a real person with others.  If, through their narcissism, my parents have dishonored themselves, I honor them best by finding a way to break the evil patterns in my life and in the lives of those who follow me.

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But You

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

Throughout the New Testament, there are statements about people and how they handle life. Often, there is a negative statement about some unfortunate decisions or lifestyles followed by: “but you…”. You, according to the Lord, are supposed to be different. You have the tools, the internal strength, the wisdom, and the motivation to be different. You are not the same as you were and not the same as those who do wrong. The Christian is expected to be different.

Last week I wrote about “Trickle-down Narcissism,” a phenomenon we see in many organizations and relationships where narcissistic leaders seem to produce such a strong culture that others follow their footsteps. These others, not narcissists, act like narcissists because they mimic the leaders.

But you… Now, I know that most of us can identify narcissistic behaviors in ourselves. I am not making excuses, but those behaviors are not who we really are. In fact, we hate seeing that in ourselves. Most of our awareness comes from the intense search we made to understand the narcissists in our lives, or from the projections of the narcissists of their behaviors on us. What that means is that they blamed us for the things they did, convincing us that we were the problem. But we were not the same as they were.

I am not going to say that we are better than the narcissists. That kind of comparison almost always takes us down the wrong path. Instead, let’s just honestly say that we don’t think like they do. Nor do we want to think like they do. The truth is that we don’t want to act like narcissists.

But you… Sometimes it seems that we are surrounded by narcissists, doesn’t it? More and more, almost everywhere we go. Sometimes the relationship with the narcissist is so consuming that it seems to be our entire world. Those manipulations, those contorted values, those devious and treacherous ways—they fill our world and begin to feel almost normal. It doesn’t take long for us to begin to justify narcissistic behavior. “It was cruel, but she deserved it.” “It was harsh, but he had to hear it.” “It’s the way business is done today.” “If you can’t take the criticism, maybe you shouldn’t be in the job.” We begin to find it easy to make excuses for the cruelty.

But you… You are different. You don’t have to do what they do. Not only can you resist the creeping narcissism, you can overcome it in your heart. You can choose to be kind and caring. You can succeed where the narcissist fails. The gentle thoughts can lead to gracious acts. Your way does not have to be lost in the narcissist’s influence.

You can and should be the person you want to be. No matter how long you have been with the narcissist, no matter how intimate the relationship has been, you are a separate person. You are you, not him/her. Even when you find yourself acting the way he/she does, you are still an independent person. And you are free to act differently.

Narcissism might trickle down. It might be contagious. But it doesn’t have to be. Yes, there might be a price to pay for maintaining that difference between you and the narcissism, but the price of compromise will be greater. You may have to find a new job. You may have to stay away from that friend or group. You may have to refuse to participate in whatever actions hurt others.

But you… you can do this.

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So we prayed…

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

So we prayed!  Some have been here to say that things were different this year.  Some said nothing.  All, I hope, felt a little more protected and loved through these challenging days.  I also hope we will keep praying.

Some of you might not have had wonderful answers to our prayers.  Maybe your Christmas was awful because of your narcissist.  Again.  And you wonder if it mattered that we prayed for you.  I understand.

Many Christians feel compelled to offer excuses for why God doesn’t answer the prayers of our hearts in the way we feel we need.  “God is teaching you.”  “God is working on the narcissist.”  “God has a longer plan.”  “It would have been worse if you hadn’t prayed.”   All or any of these could be the right answer, but I am not going to go there.  I don’t have to give God an excuse.  He says that He hears our prayers and that He loves us.  I believe He is both wise and good, therefore I have to leave these things in His hands.

I wrote a post a while back that seems to fit here.  It may be a word of encouragement, even in your disappointment.  Whatever you feel right now, please know that the love of God is real.  You are not alone.  We will continue to pray.

Here’s the post:

Why Does God Allow It?

If God is good and God is strong and God knows everything, why doesn’t He change the circumstances that hurt us so much? This question haunts many believers and non-believers. Some would say that they became unbelievers because of this question. If they were honest, some may say that they became unbelievers because of the answers they were given.

In our comments this past week this question has come up in the context of the painful narcissistic relationship. How can God allow some people to use and abuse and cause so much pain to others? How can God stand by while we lose so much? Why doesn’t God deal with the abusers?

What I have found over the years is that the pat answers, no matter how good they sound to the one who gives them, rarely give real help to those who are hurting. Here are a few:

  1. It’s because of sin in your life. If you obeyed better, these terrible things wouldn’t be happening to you.
  2. It’s for your good. God loves you and sent the abuser to make you what He wants you to be.
  3. God is preparing you to be strong because something worse is coming.

Now, I don’t find any of those to be helpful. The first one makes evil my fault. The second one makes evil God’s fault. The last one makes my future seem dreadful. There is no comfort in any of these.

Please understand that this is one of the great mysteries of the faith. The answers we have do not come easily. This post will take a topic that could encompass many pages and boil them down to one, and that will be less than satisfying for any of us.

So here’s what I know:

  1. God is good and He loves me. He is not malicious or wrathful. He does not send trouble into my life to hurt me.
  2. God is strong enough and wise enough to stop the pain and change the circumstances. The fact that He doesn’t, does not change the fact that He could.
  3. God does not initiate evil, nor does He send it on us. His plan for us is good. The abuser is responsible for the evil he does.
  4. The world is broken, not working the way it was meant to work. Evil is a natural part of this brokenness. Those who do evil, narcissists and other abusers, participate in evil without any prompting by God.
  5. God does use difficult circumstances to draw us to Himself and He is able to turn curses into blessings. While He is not the author of the evil we suffer, He can use it for good in our lives.
  6. There are worse things than the pain we suffer. In the moment it is very hard to feel the reality of this, but it is true. The loneliness and confusion and emptiness of life apart from God’s love is one thing I would consider worse.
  7. All evil is temporary. Most of it will end in this life, but all will be gone in the next. That which is broken will be re-created and pain will be gone forever.
  8. In my pain I am never alone. The Lord is always with me, always near when I cry out to Him. Even when I cannot feel His presence, I can take comfort in knowing that He is with me.
  9. Those who look to Him and trust Him in the midst of their pain do find a special grace, an ability to live above their circumstances and to find their identity apart from their suffering.

Does this help me? Yes, it does. It reminds me that I don’t need the pat answers. As much as I want to understand, I really don’t need to. My desire to understand is usually a desire to control. I want to approve of my circumstances, even the difficult ones. If I know the purpose, then I might be able to give permission. But that is not my place. When I am able to trust Him, I find the peace He wants me to have.

No, I do not find this easy. I wish I could just live this way consistently, no matter what happens. But I am just as weak as anyone, just as fearful and just as doubtful. The only thing I have is the one thing I know—Jesus loves me.

Do I still wish He would change things sometimes? Of course! I pray against pain and suffering, in my life and in the lives of others. But as long as we are in this world, the brokenness will affect our lives. Sometimes, some amazing and wonderful times, God reaches in and changes things. The pain ends and life is good again for a while. I praise Him and rejoice in my peace. But I am learning to find that peace even in the times of struggle. Learning slowly, but learning.

No more pat answers. Don’t blame evil on me or on God. It just is. There may be causes and explanations, but none of them help my situation. What helps is to look on the One who loves me and trust Him.

That’s my prayer for each of you. Look to Him and trust in His love. Do what He leads you to do. If you can leave the narcissistic relationship, do it. If you cannot, then look to Jesus and find His overwhelming love in the midst of your struggle. He is there for you.

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