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Legalism and Friendships

Perhaps one of the reasons I began to understand narcissism was because of the narcissistic perspective legalists seem to have toward friendships.  

There is one concern in the heart of the legalist—measuring up to the expectations of the system.  Now, I didn’t say measuring up to the expectations of the Lord because there would be no difference in the mind of the legalist.  What the system expects of its followers is what the Lord expects of His.  Yes, this depersonalizes God and makes His love and His will subject to formulas and structures, but that’s easier to understand than a relationship with Him.

It also depersonalizes others.  If my success and failure will be judged by a system, then I must focus on that system for my hope and promise.  Other people are important only as they fit in my service to or focus on the system.  In other words, if you help me climb my ladder toward righteousness, you are welcome.  If you hold me back on that climb, you are my enemy.

This is why legalists are so involved in fixing the people around them.  They think they get spiritual points for things like exhorting, reproving, and chastising.  By fixing you, they help themselves.  Good works include helping others and acts of kindness, which are defined within that climb to righteousness.

So, when you tell the legalist your secret fear or compromise, she will remember it as something she needs to work on in you.  You are not a person as much as you are a project.  As you climb toward righteousness, she is pushed upwards as well. 

Sadly, this becomes a multi-level marketing scheme.  For each one I help toward success, I gain a few more points toward my own success.  There are people above me and people below me and we use each other.  I may go to classes taught by those above me and I can give words of encouragement to those below me. 

But what about friends? 

Friends are just part of the system.  Friends, for the legalist, are people who help him climb the ladder.  If he disagrees with the system, I have to get rid of him, maybe even make an example of him by revealing his secrets.  If he agrees with the system, I can call him friend—at least until we disagree on something.

Wow, Dave, you sound bitter! 

No, I’m not bitter.  I just understand now what I didn’t understand then.  This explains how the legalist can just cut off a friend with cruelty and meanness.  It explains why there was this constant comparison among friends.  It explains why a church might not be a place of safety and support, in spite of how nice the people seem.  It explains why the phone suddenly stops ringing and why people avoid you at the grocery and why your kids are suddenly not good enough for their kids.  Agree and support the party line and they are your friends.  Drift away and you learn the truth.

Your thoughts?

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More on Comparisons

It’s Narcissist Friday!

 

One of the aspects of legalism that led me to an in-depth investigation of narcissism was the practice of comparison.  Legalism is built on comparison.  In spite of what some people teach, that legalism is about earning your way to God’s heart, most legalists are very much aware of their own sin and believe they are unable to please God because of it.  However, when spirituality is turned into a game of comparisons, the legalist becomes more comfortable.  He says to himself, “I may not be able to be as good as I ought, but I can sure be better than those people.”

Narcissists are experts at surveying and comprehending the playing field in the comparisons game.  When a narcissist enters a room, he or she will immediately note every person present and categorize each one.  The narcissist will know, almost instinctively, where he or she stands in the group.  Some people will be above and will merit attention, if not respect.  Others will be below and may have value in bringing attention to the narcissist.  Still others will be ignored altogether.

Those who grew up with narcissists, or live with one, or work with one, will probably recognize this comparison game.  They wonder how the narcissist can act so kind and gracious in one context and then hateful toward the same person in another context.  How can the narcissist butter up the boss in one breath then curse the boss in the next?  How could mom say such cruel things about people at home and be so pleasant in public?

This comparison game is a part of the de-personalization narcissists (and legalists) do regularly.  People are not real to the narcissist, not real as people.  As we have said many times, people are seen as tools, toys, or obstacles.  People are either to be used to get farther up the ladder of success/attention or they are just in the way.  The only real thing is the ladder.

It would seem that the legalist tendency to honor and almost blindly follow certain teachers would belie this desire for comparison.  Actually, there were levels of respect from what we observed.  A local pastor might be greatly respected at the beginning of the relationship with the narcissist, then lose ground as familiarity grows or as the narcissist’s position in the congregation grows.  If the teacher is distant, in a faraway place or kept from relationships with the people, the respect can be maintained longer.  But, for the narcissist, familiarity does breed contempt.  The more he understands a person’s weaknesses, the more the narcissist sees that person as someone who can be used or overcome.

So what do you do if you live with a narcissist or a legalist and are constantly drawn into their comparison game?  How should you respond and how do you protect yourself from their poison?  Tough questions!  Here are some ideas:

 

  • Their opinions do not have to be yours.  Even if you have to listen to them, you don’t have to agree.  Nor do you have to argue.  Just grunt. 😉  Communicate that you heard them, that’s all.  Remember boundaries.

 

  • Comparisons are a symptom of the narcissist/legalist problem.  That means you probably are not going to change them.  As long as he is a narcissist, he will compare.  As long as she is a legalist, she will compare.

 

  • Pretend there are invisible signs all over your home and car that read: “Please don’t feed the narcissist!”  When you bring home complaints or criticisms, he will just remember them and use them.  Sadly, the narcissist/legalist is not someone with whom you can share your thoughts and frustrations.  Not without a cost.  Whatever you share about your mother, your boss, your friend, will be remembered and, almost certainly, misused.

 

  • Realize that a relationship with a narcissist will make all other relationships difficult.  This is also part of the cost.  If she isn’t fighting others for your attention, she will fight you for theirs.  You may find the narcissist’s idea of relationship to be very strange if you think it is anything like yours.  You must remember the addiction to positioning and comparison.

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