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.