Tag Archives: friends

Why is that person your friend?

It’s Narcissist Friday!   


A commenter recently asked an obvious question of another: “Why do you think that person is your friend?”  That rang a bell in me.  There are times, when reading the stories people send me, that I ask something similar in my heart.

Why do you think that person is your friend?

Why would you keep putting yourself through this?

Why did you think that person loved you?

Why don’t you just walk away?

Outside the situation, things seem so much more clear.  We read a story and the details are so contrary to anything that makes sense to us.  The narcissists are so cruel, so persistent, and so obvious that we want to grab the writer and help her/him run away.

But it isn’t that easy inside the relationship.  We know this because of our own situations.  We can look at others with logic and reason, but our own circumstances seem different.  They are filled with emotions and complications.


So let me take a bit to work through what happens in a friendship.  I suspect that friendship seems like the easiest narcissistic relationship to deal with—from the outside.  Those who grow up with narcissistic parents feel that they are stuck forever.  Those who are married to narcissists have to do a lot to get out of the relationship.  Those who encounter narcissists at work or otherwise professionally don’t usually have the power to remove the person from their lives.  But we all think the person with a narcissistic friend should be able to just walk away.

Very few people go through life interviewing strangers to see if they would make good friends.  Friends are rarely chosen methodically or even carefully.  Instead, friends come to us through circumstances, coincidences, or common interests.  We inherit them, they come with the job, or we suddenly discover them by our side.  Before we know it, the person has spent enough time with us and we have shared enough of ourselves that we think of him/her as a friend.

And few of us have ever really considered a definition of friendship.  We think we know it when we see it; but, when a friend turns against us, we are surprised and wonder if he/she was really a friend.  Even then we don’t take the time to sort out what we mean by a friend.

So without a careful way of choosing friends and without a helpful definition of a friend, we go through life gathering people into our circles.  We think of them as comrades, co-workers, acquaintances, colleagues, and associates.  Someplace along the line a few of them become something more—friends.  We assume they value the relationship in the same way we do.  We would miss them if they were gone if for no other reason than that they have become a part of our lives.

We acknowledge that there are different kinds or levels of friendship, but we still don’t think about it much.  A friend on Facebook is different from a friend from school days or a friend we confide in, but the overlap we allow is amazing.  We live in a culture where friends we have never met except online know more about us than friends who have walked with us through many trials in person.  Our culture speaks of “friends with benefits” or “friends in business” or “friends online” without regard to the conflicts inherent in the terms.

All of this is a way of saying that we have not been taught to be careful about whom we call or consider a friend.

So, when the narcissist comes along, we don’t have a guard up because we don’t think about guarding ourselves.  I have written often about the narcissist super-power, that amazing ability to manipulate what others think of them.  The narcissist might not even need a super-power to become a friend, but it gives her the ability to jump quickly past any fuzzy barriers we might have and get right into our hearts.

I suspect that the real reason it is hard for those in narcissistic friendships to end the relationship is that they can’t fully understand how they got into the relationship in the first place.  They might know the details, but they don’t understand the feelings.  All the red flags were there, the things others mention are true and should have been obvious from the start, but some kind of fog or deception took place.

Remember how narcissists work.  They look for people who are open.  Those who are lonely, sad, angry, frustrated, or afraid.  They manage to share a common cause or life circumstance.  Then they begin to tell you secrets (which may not be true) about themselves and get you to tell your secrets to them.  Pretty soon, they know much more about you than others and they know how to manipulate you.  You find yourself giving them your time, energy, even money—when you don’t want to.

So why not just walk away?  It seems obvious that this is one narcissistic relationship that could end easily.  Yet, it isn’t all that easy.  The narcissist knows too much.  By the time the victim realizes that the relationship is toxic, the hooks are firmly in place.  The narcissist knows how to threaten, how to plead, how to place guilt and shame, and all kinds of other manipulative methods.

Yes, you should walk away from a narcissistic friend.  Yes, you are being used.  Yes, you will be hurt again.   No, it will not get better.

It is possible to get out.  Set boundaries and maintain them.  Say no and mean it.  Don’t believe the lies, no matter how sweet they sound or how they tweak your heart.  Don’t blame yourself for being deceived.

And, for the rest of us, remember that the narcissist has to work harder to rule over a friend who can walk away.  Much harder than a boss or a parent or a spouse.  The narcissist must convince the victim that he is a lover and necessary in the victim’s life.  A narcissist knows how to do this very well.


Filed under Narcissism


Grace 101

There are words in normal church vocabulary that are supposed to be fully and easily understood by those within the church.  Those same words may have different or puzzling meanings to outsiders.  We don’t often think about church jargon, but we certainly have it.  If you tell your unchurched friend that you were “really blessed by the fellowship during the mission fest last night,” she may have no idea what you are talking about.

I think “fellowship” is one of those words.  I’m not even sure that most of us know what it should mean.  I have heard all kinds of messages on how important fellowship is, but in the same churches I have seen very little evidence of any real fellowship.  Oh yes, the people who like each other get together and have good times, but that happens outside the church as well.

Yet, when you open the amazing box of gifts that came with your salvation, you will find something that could be called “fellowship.”  Basically, it means that you are now part of a community, with all the benefits and privileges thereof.  In fact, it means that you are part of a body and all parts are important and connected.  Since you are an important part of the body, the rest of the body loves you and accepts you and supports you.  The church needs you, not to do work, but just to be who you are.

Honestly, the church hasn’t done very well with this part of salvation’s gift.  We seem to be much better at making people feel separate or unwanted.  The church often fosters competition and judgment that are inconsistent with the character of Jesus.  Some would go so far as to say that they have found more friendship and acceptance outside the church than inside.  That’s very sad.

But those who seek love in the body of Christ will find it.  There are good people among the believers.  There are people who will help and encourage and love.  Their love might be challenging sometimes, as they refuse to allow you to keep hurting yourself or deceiving yourself.  But there are people who care.  They care because Jesus cares and they are filled with His life.

Just understand that other believers are just as hesitant and immature and compromised as you are.  They struggle too.  They are failures who need a Savior.  I know that some of them act like they have it all together, but that’s also part of their struggle.  They are afraid to relax and let others know the truth.

I have been in full-time ministry for over 35 years.  I have known a lot of believers through that time.  Some of them I call friends.  A handful of them are people who share life and support.  Those few are precious.  They are not users or judges or critics.  They are just friends—and brothers and sisters in Jesus.

I know that some unbelievers are good friends also but my Christian friends are especially important because we share a common life, the life of Jesus.  We draw from Him a common strength and understanding, a love that goes beyond this life and this world.  As I look around the church I see many people that stretch my belief that we will all enjoy each other in Heaven.  I believe it, but I can hardly imagine it.  But these few friends—well, let’s just say that they are evidence that Heaven isn’t just a place far away.  A little of the love and acceptance of Heaven is mine when I am with them.


Filed under Church, Grace 101, Uncategorized

Close to my heart?


The topic of friendship is filled with emotion for most of us.  On one hand we think of people we almost couldn’t live without.  On the other we remember betrayals and pain.  Some friends are there when we really need them.  Others are there when we don’t want them.  Friendships are about hearts and hearts are complicated.

In spite of the fact that we rarely include the heart in the list of things that make up a person (spirit-soul-body), the Bible talks a lot about the heart.  In fact, the Bible speaks of it so often and so simply that it seems to assume everyone just knows what the heart is.  And maybe we do.  The philosophers and scholars can do or say what they want, but we understand that the heart is the center.  The heart is who we are. 

The heart – the core – the center.  If you take away everything on the outside from a person, what do you have left?  Change his location, his companions, his appearance, and you still have the same person because of his heart.  The heart is different from the mind, but certainly connected to it.  The heart is different from that thing in your chest that pumps blood through your system; but, just like that, removing the heart from a person takes away life. 

So, if you wanted to drain life from another person, you would want to deal with his or her heart.  If you need to control, you would want to control the heart.  And, if you wanted to destroy, you would have to destroy the heart. 

No wonder so many forces want your heart!  No wonder we are cautioned to protect our hearts!  No wonder we hide our hearts in response to betrayal or deception. 

Family has special access to our hearts.  Friends are closer to our hearts than others.  But narcissists, legalists, exploiters, and others want access to your heart.  They know that they don’t really have you unless they have your heart.  So they learn how to get in.

This week, I want to write about our hearts.  Do these thoughts prompt any questions?


Filed under heart, Legalism, Narcissism, Relationship

Friends respect your boundaries

From time to time a new “friend” will come into your life who seems to become your best buddy right away.  They have to sit with you, call you, and do nice things for you.  This person wants to know all about you, meet your family, and be more important than your other friends.  This almost always turns out badly.

Ever feel like you are being stalked by a “friend”?  Smothered in niceness?  Ever find yourself agreeing to things you don’t want to agree with, just because that other person pushes and you feel the need to be kind?  Ever feel pushed into sharing things you didn’t want to share?

Real friends have no interest in making you uncomfortable.  They understand that you have things and time and ideas that are yours, not theirs.  They don’t feel like failures if you walk away with the same burden you carried in. 

Beware of the false friends who pull at you and push you and try to get things out of you that you don’t want to give.  Beware of friends who seem to want to take over your life.  That’s not what real friends do.  That’s what users do.  Some people need the lives of others and use others as distractions from their own dysfunction or fear.  Some people feed on the drama and anxiety of others.  They love to have the secrets of others because it makes them feel special or powerful.  It isn’t about you and it isn’t about love. 

The advice columns often carry the concerns of people who have given money or belongings only to find out they have been used.  Sometimes they find that they are responsible for the debts of others because they helped when the other person needed a loan.  There are people who will be your “best friend” simply for the purpose of getting something from you.  You don’t have to do it.

Listen: It is okay to say no!  Set your boundaries and hold them.  Your time is yours, don’t waste it on someone who is using you.  Your money is yours, don’t spend it on a user.  Your life is yours, don’t give it to someone who really doesn’t care about you.

Real friends will respect your boundaries.  They don’t push or pull.  They just walk alongside you as long as you are willing to walk with them.


Filed under Relationship

Friends accept failure

There are times in our lives when we simply choose the wrong thing.  We know what we should do and we decide not to do it.  We know what we shouldn’t do and we decide to do it.  Sometimes it’s just error, but sometimes it’s plain old sin. 

More than once I stood by and watched while good friends made bad choices. 

Why didn’t I stop them? 

How would I have done that? 

You see, the legalist must either change a person’s mind or separate from that person.  The legalist can’t be in the same room as sin.  (Well, someone else’s sin.)  But sin is part of this world and part of this life.  We all have broken thinking and feeling and sometimes our brokenness dictates our choices.  A friend will stay with you even if you sin.

So I have walked with my friends through decisions and actions some may have called failure.  They have stood with me through my failures.  Real friends don’t feel guilty by association with your failure.  Real friends don’t have to judge you in order to have peace in their own hearts.  Real friends don’t reject you when you blow it. 

That doesn’t mean they agree.  They just know it isn’t their life.  They care and they might even warn you to be careful or wiser, but they leave the decision up to you.  Most of us will make whatever decision is in our hearts no matter what others tell us.  We already know the arguments against our choice.  Real friends will be there when you begin to regret what you did.

There is an interesting verse in Job.  Job’s friends were legalists.  They believed that the trouble in his life came because of his sin.  He really didn’t need what they said.  But read this:


‘A man’s friends should be kind to him when he is in trouble, even if he stops fearing the Almighty.’ Job 6:14 (NCV)


I checked this in several translations and it always turned out the same.  Real friends will be there even if you turn away from the Lord. 

Think about that for a moment.  We all go through times of despair.  Sometimes we even blame God for our pain.  Sometimes we just don’t want anything to do with church or religion or salvation or God.  We just want to hide or act out or something.  A friend will still be there.

Which is a real friend? – The person who turns away from you when you turn from God so that he or she is not infected with your apostasy? – Or the person who says, “I am staying with the Lord and I am staying with you.  Deal with it.” ???

There is something about real love that continues, something able to look past sin and error and stupidity.  Something that will still be there when you and I come around to our senses again.


Filed under Legalism, Relationship

What is a friend?

Last week seemed pretty negative on the idea of friendship, but I didn’t mean for it to be that way.  I know that many people have suffered from the strange and often cruel characteristics of friendships within legalist systems. 

But this week I want to do something different.  I believe that friends are among the most important blessings God has given us.  I understand why people want, even need, good friends.  But too many people are so broken and beat-up that they don’t know what a good friend looks like.

I have a few special friends.  There are a few people who have had a special connection with my heart over the years.  In them, I have found encouragement, companionship, and counsel.  But they are few, and that’s okay.

You see, there are many kinds of friends, I think.  This is my list and it may not even be complete in my thinking, but see what you think of it.

  • False friends – people who tell you they are friends so they can get something from you.  Usually these people like to call you “friend” and use the word “friend” a lot. 
  • Acquaintances – people who you know from work, church, the neighborhood, or whatever but you don’t really connect with.  You don’t know them well enough to know if they would be good friends.
  • Circumstantial friends – people with whom you connect under limited circumstances.  Perhaps a friend you have at work but never socialize with outside of work.  Perhaps someone from school from whom you have now drifted away.  These can be good friends, but the friendship ends or wanes because the circumstances change.  Moving away, getting married, changing jobs, ending a project, etc. 
  • Crisis friends – people who stand with you through a rough time, but may not stay connected beyond that time.  God sends these people for support when you really need someone and you are thankful, but it isn’t the kind of friendship that lasts, perhaps because you really don’t have a lot in common.  This is a type of circumstantial friend, but the relationship seems much deeper.
  • Special friends – people you could call once every five years and have a great, almost intimate, conversation.  Nothing has changed in the relationship during that time.  There are few expectations in this kind of relationship.  You might have lunch with this person every week, but you might not go to her with your problems.  Not because you couldn’t but because this is one person who loves you outside of your circumstances.  You are encouraged just by her presence, even by knowing she is there.  She might not come to you with her problems, but she knows she could and you would care.  You both know the other will be accepting, even glad to get together, no matter what is going on in the rest of the world.

Obviously, all of these are good to have in our lives (except false friends) and we are blest in the differences of these relationships.  We are not made to walk alone.  It’s okay to admit that we need others.  But one of the most important keys to friendship is understanding and accepting the limits of expectations.  Good friends accept you and love you and respect your boundaries.  They don’t have high expectations of you.  There is something about you they love and you might never really know what it is (nor, perhaps, do they), but you feel that love.

Let’s talk more about friendship this week!  What are your thoughts on this list?


Filed under Legalism, Relationship

Who’s Watching Your Drama?

Why are soap operas so popular?  (Okay, so they’re less popular these days.  You can substitute reality shows.)  Why do we love watching these fake dramas?

Because they are not our dramas!  There is something that makes us feel better about ourselves and our situations when we watch others struggle in theirs.  Even when we know it is fiction and acting, it still feels better to have it be someone else.  That’s also why soap operas and reality shows have to get more and more ridiculous; we are catching up to the fiction.  We want the characters to have more divorces, more fights, more drug and alcohol problems, and more problems with kids—than we have.  At least there is someone worse off than me.

So what do you do when you can’t watch television or go to movies?  You watch each other!  (Sorry, couldn’t resist that one.) 

But there is truth in that, isn’t there?  People in legalistic groups or churches or even families watch each other.   They enjoy the drama of others because it takes their focus off their own drama.  In fact, if they work it right, it might even take the focus of others off their drama.

We all struggle through life.  There are times when things don’t go well.  We have our dramas.  But remember, the legalist isn’t supposed to have these problems.  Their system is supposed to protect them from troubles.  If they tithe, they shouldn’t have financial struggles.  If wives submit, husbands won’t wander or be angry.  If parents use the right discipline, children won’t rebel.  A drama in the life of a legalist shouts failure for others to see.

So friends of legalists know they are being watched.  They are being watched for weaknesses others can use to keep the focus off themselves.  No one wants to be the weekly drama for the group.  Who knows, your problem might even come up in the pastor’s sermon.  (I have known pastors who will talk about counseling sessions from the pulpit.  Anonymously, of course, but the family he’s talking about cowers in shame and fear.)  Have you ever noticed how people turn around in church to see whose kid is acting up?  Why do they need to know who it is?

Think of what that means for friendships in the group.  You don’t dare express your real heart, your fears and failures.  And, if you do, you have even more fear that your “friend” talks about you to others like she talks about others to you.  Don’t give her any ammunition!  Don’t let her into your house to see the disorder.  Pray that she isn’t around when you have to discipline your kids.  And certainly don’t let her know that you and your husband are struggling.  After all, she is your friend.

Maybe legalists don’t really have friends.  Maybe they just have projects and entertainment.


Filed under Legalism, Relationship

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?


Filed under Legalism, Narcissism, Relationship

Educated Trust

“Trust but verify.”  We understood these words, even applauded them, when Ronald Reagan used them to refer to his position on the Soviet Union.  But in our personal relationships in family, church, or work, we seem to think that the phrase involves a contradiction.  If I trust, I shouldn’t have to verify.  Right?

I will be honest.  There are people I will not trust again, primarily because I will not give them the chance to be trusted.  I will be kind to them, perhaps even friendly, but I won’t trust them.  At least I won’t trust them in the way they want or expect to be trusted.  I know too much now. 

But that knowledge allows me to continue a relationship with them, changed but still active, in spite of what they did.  In fact, my expectations of them now factor in what I have experienced.  And that is how we begin to move forward to trust again.

You see, trust is opening your heart to another person.  It is placing certain expectations in the relationship.  When you tell someone a secret, you expect they will respect you and keep what you have told them to themselves.  When you learn that your secret has been shared, perhaps in a cruel way, you learn something about that other person.  You learn that the other person either does not respect you or is not able to keep your secrets.  That information is good to know.

You also learn something about yourself.  You have a need to share, a need to connect with someone, a need for love and care.  But when you beat yourself up and think of yourself as stupid or weak for sharing, you deny the need of your heart and you hurt only yourself.  Just because that other person was untrustworthy does not mean that you are foolish or pathetic.  Put the sin and weakness where it ought to be.

We say, “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me.”  But that lesson is limited to that one person.  There are others who won’t try to fool you.  There are people who will love you.  You can trust them, but trust them in an educated way.

One of the little known facts in the Bible is that Jesus did not trust the people He loved.  In John 2:24, Jesus is in Jerusalem during the Passover.  There are people all around Him.  They have seen His miracles and they claim to love Him.  They say they believe in Him.  But, the passage says, He did not trust them. 

Well, the text actually says that “He did not trust Himself to them,” or “He did not entrust Himself to them.”  Why?  “…because He knew them.”  Think about that.  He loved them enough to go to the Cross for them, but He did not trust them because He knew them too well.

Two things:  First, you are never called or expected to entrust yourself to another person.  There is nothing I can find in the Bible that suggests that we should place our hope or our expectations in another regular human.  The problem, of course, is that others are like us.  They sin, they lie, they maneuver for advantage, they hurt the people closest to them.  The flesh is incredibly self-serving and others are expendable from its perspective.  Anyone can hurt you.  The only One who loves purely is the Lord Himself.  Entrust yourself to Him and not others.

Second, educate your trust.  See others truthfully.  When you tell a secret, know that holding a secret is hard for almost anyone and the right circumstances can compromise the tightest lips.  When you want to place your hope in a person, know that he or she will probably fail you.   See people as they are, not as you want them to be.  You can’t really expect anything consistent or pure from them.  That’s not a statement of despair or anger, but a statement of reality. 

So, friends will fail you.  That does not mean that you shouldn’t have friends.  It means that you should let them be regular people.  Some will be mean and maybe you should stay away from them.  Others will just be weak or foolish.  Love others and receive love from others, but never expect that love to be unconditional or pure. 

I said yesterday that trust is a gift you give to yourself.  Entrust yourself to the Lord, who loves perfectly and completely.  Then trust others in the way they should be trusted—as friends and family members with weaknesses and fears and compromises just like you.  Don’t be afraid to receive the imperfect love others offer.  It’s all they have.


Filed under Freedom, heart, Relationship