Tag Archives: narcissistic relationships

Take out the Trash

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

(I am traveling again.  This post fits with the series For My Grandchildren and, I hope, will encourage you.)

I have said many times here that you should not tell the narcissist your secrets. Your dreams, your regrets, your fears—these are things the narcissist will use against you. So don’t tell him/her. The problem is that you usually don’t know someone is a narcissist until after you have exposed yourself. They are deceptive and persistent. They know how to ask questions and apply pressures and gather information. They work to get these things out of you long before they show you who they really are.

The best way to protect yourself is to do some regular housekeeping. Last week we talked about protecting your treasures. Don’t put your dreams and hopes out there for people to play with. They are yours, and they are special. Put them somewhere you can see them often, but others can’t get them. Hopes and dreams and special loves are treasures to be kept.

But fears and regrets are something else. Why are you storing them at all? Most of us store stuff that should be thrown out. We keep reminders of our failures, souvenirs of our pain, and things that make us afraid. Why? Partly because we don’t want to risk others finding them, I suppose. So we tuck them away, hide them, and use our time and energy to keep them away from others.

Believe me, the narcissists will find them. The only way for the narcissist not to find your regrets and fears is for you not to have them at all. If there is nothing there to find, the narcissist can’t use it against you.

Okay, I know. We all have fears and regrets. We do. My dad used to say that the person who said he didn’t have any regrets probably lied about other things as well. We all have fears. But these are things for us to overcome, not treasures to be kept in our hearts.

As you rebuild after the narcissist, or to protect yourself against the narcissist, you need to take out the trash. The trash consists of things that had a value once, but no more. Think of them this way: your fears show you the areas of your life where you feel vulnerable. They had a purpose. But when you deal with those areas, find ways to become strong and not feel vulnerable, then those fears no longer have value.

For example: What if you fear handling money? Take some basic accounting classes. Read some budget books. Learn some basic math. Take small steps until you feel more confident. Once you realize that you can handle money better than most people, you no longer have to be afraid.

Regrets are the sore spots that remain after we do foolish or wrong things. If you tried to jump over the chair and missed, you might have a bruise on your shin to remind you not to do that again. That’s the purpose of a regret. Just as you do not need a continuing bruise to help you remember not to try to jump over the chair, you do not need continuing regret to remind you of stupid things you did. Learn and move on. We all do dumb things, the advertisement says. No sense in keeping the pain around.

If you teach your children to learn from their mistakes and then move on, if you teach them to face their fears and grow in the areas of their vulnerability, then you prepare them for a life mostly protected from the narcissist. The normal manipulative tools of the narcissist (shame, intimidation, etc.) simply won’t have any effect on them. No one can do this perfectly, of course, but why not give them the best chance you can?

And why not do the same for yourself? Look your fears straight on and find ways to overcome them. Learn the lessons your regrets came from and stop holding them close to your heart. When you do this, the narcissist has so much less to use on you. Yes, narcissists are persistent and ruthless, but there is no reason to give them the tools they need.

Now, anyone can do this, but Christians have divine help. Our God stands strong against the things we fear. Our Lord affirms us when we fail and does not require us to hold onto our regrets. We know that we are loved and forgiven and accepted. Even when we sin, He still loves us. So we learn our lessons and move on with our lives. We face our fears with the confidence of someone well-protected.

I know that a few words in a blog post can make these things sound easy. I don’t want to suggest that they are easy. But I do want to assert that they are true. Regrets and fears are not things to hold in the safe place of your heart. Instead, find the ways to overcome them. Then throw them out with the trash.

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Me, Myself and I

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

(A post from the past as a good reminder.  I am traveling and thought this might be an encouragement.)

The old Billie Holiday song brought a simple saying into our vocabulary that seems to encompass all of who we are while hinting at a sort of loneliness:

“Me, Myself, and I”

The phrase almost sounds like a reference to three people, yet the three are just one alone. Just me.

There is a difference between being alone and being by one’s self. Those who are not happy with themselves, who dislike who they are, will find the phrase lonely. Those who like themselves, who understand at least a few of their own motivations and affirm who they are, might find a sort of empowerment in those words.

Healthy people are content with themselves. Healthy people, while needing relationships and enjoying others, are not afraid to be alone. In fact, they can find being alone to be refreshing and uplifting.

Now, I know that much of the message you and I have heard in churches would lead us to be very disappointed in ourselves, even to not like who we are. One of the worst things preachers and teachers have done to us is to make our alone times uncomfortable by trying to convince us that we are somehow unworthy. I suppose if God is ultimately disappointed with and ashamed concerning me, then I should feel the same way about myself. So how could I be content being alone?

Narcissists confuse our sense of self. They try to insert themselves into our beings, and we tend to forget who we are. When the narcissist tells us that we are stupid or worthless or unwanted, we learn to agree and begin to dislike ourselves. We may even try to keep from being alone just because we have learned to hate ourselves.

It’s time for all of that to change. The truth is that God loves you, yes, just as you are. There is no “if” or “but” at the end of God’s love for you. He values you as a person. We have been taught that God doesn’t choose us because we deserve His love. That’s fine, but it doesn’t mean we are worthless. We have great worth because He loves us. God loves you—and that makes you valuable. In fact, that makes you someone very special.

The preachers who try to degrade your sense of self are wrong. The narcissist who tried to convince you that you are unworthy was lying. Not only are you acceptable to God, He highly values you. So much that He sent Jesus to pay the price to bring you home.

When you are alone, don’t tell yourself the lies the narcissist told you. Don’t repeat the shameful assessment the preachers gave you. Instead, begin to see yourself as a person of great value to the only One who can make such a judgment.

When you are alone, be okay with yourself. That’s healthy.

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About Jesus

    

(A post from the past as a reminder.  I am traveling and thought this might be an encouragement.)

Every so often, I have to go back to why I started this blog.  It actually did not start to be about narcissism.  It started because of the people I saw trapped in what I called “performance spirituality.”  That simply meant that they measured their spiritual health on the basis of their performance.  They were usually sad or angry and stuck on a treadmill that took them nowhere.  Some of them left the Christian faith, never having experienced the joy of a relationship with Jesus and never knowing that they were fully accepted in His love.  Some of them are still stuck in churches that demand performance in order to receive acceptance.

As I wrote about this idea of performance spirituality, which I called (and still call) “legalism,” I thought about the teachers and others who seemed to work hard to keep people under this burden.  I had learned about narcissism from counseling marriages, particularly among those who had lived and breathed this type of spirituality.  As I understood more about narcissism, and as I continued to try to understand this legalism, I saw a connection that made sense.  There are so many parallels between narcissists and legalists, and between the narcissistic relationship and the legalistic organization.

Quite surprising to me, my articles on narcissism hit a niche that needed to be served.  Many Christians have suffered from narcissistic connections in marriage, church, family, and friendships.  And many of those same people have found themselves part of the performance spirituality mindset.  They believed they had to perform in order to be accepted, to be loved.  But their best performance was never enough.  They paid for their failures with condemnation and shame and abuse.

This has always been a blog centered on the love of God in Jesus.  I believe the true gospel has been usurped by the idea of performance and the message of shame.  Most of those who have rejected the Christian faith, in my experience, have never even heard the truth about God’s love.  They have been told a lie, and that grieves me.

In much the same way, and not coincidentally, the victim of the narcissist has often not understood her/his own value as a person.  The insufficiency of their performance, and the shame and self-doubt that results from it, opens their hearts to the manipulation of those who claim to love them.  Growing up under the system that grants love on the basis of performance sets people up for narcissistic abuse, just like growing up under the teaching of performance sets a person up for legalistic abuse.

Now, I understand that the posts on narcissism are helpful for people outside the Christian faith, and I welcome you here and to our discussions.  It just seems important for me to state once again where the foundations of my heart and intent belong.  I believe that the unconditional love of Jesus is the answer for anyone.  Those who have never felt love without strings attached, who have never been accepted without performance, can come to Him and find both.

It isn’t about church or giving or commandments or measuring up—it’s about Jesus.  It isn’t even about your love for Him.  It’s about His love for you.

We are all broken and hurting people living lives of weakness and limitation.  We make stupid decisions and suffer the consequences.  Sometimes other people suffer the consequences of those stupid decisions.  Not only are we not perfect, we don’t really know what it means to be good.  All of us.

So we look to Jesus.  Our hope and promise are in Him, because we know very well that we can’t save ourselves.  I believe He loves me—One on one—a real relationship.  There is so much I do not understand, but I trust in His love.  And that makes all the difference.

I invite you to look to Jesus with me.  If I can help, send me a note.  I am already praying for you.

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Christmas Prayers

(This post ran a couple of years ago and many were encouraged to know that others would be praying.  Let’s keep a good thing going!

Monday Grace will be back on schedule next week, but I want to offer a special grace to those who suffer during these holidays. The holidays seem to bring reminders of our loss, even as they focus on our blessings. For those who miss loved ones who have passed, for those who cannot travel to be with family, for those who are worried about finances, for those who wish their family could be filled with love and joy–we will pray. )

I have written a couple of Christmas posts on dealing with your narcissists on holidays. They usually meet with mixed reviews because some who have reached the point of anger (a very natural point!) don’t like my suggestions on trying to get along. I understand and value the objections just as much as the words of appreciation. I will provide links to those posts at the end of this post.

This year I would simply like to assure each of you who must deal with uncomfortable situations with your narcissist that there are people praying for you.

If we have learned anything here, it’s that many people are struggling in narcissistic relationships. That means you are not alone. I know you may have to physically be alone in your situation, but there are people here who believe you and care. We will be praying for you.

To make that a little more personal, I invite those who desire prayer to write a note in the comments. You don’t have to write a lot, just “Pray for me!” If you use a pseudonym, that’s okay. The Lord knows who you are and what you are going through. And if you are able to pray, maybe just once or twice over the weekend, write a comment that says, “I will be praying for you!” Just a general comment, not in answer to a particular request. It will be a wonderful word of encouragement. And, if no one writes anything, we will still know that there are people praying. Because we do that here.

So, again, here’s the plan:

If you need prayer, write – Pray for me!

If you can pray, write – I will be praying!

If you are uncomfortable asking for prayer, please know that we will still be praying for you.  Even if no one asks, we know that many will need help.  So we will pray anyway.  For you.

Know that you are loved!

I will be praying for you!

https://graceformyheart.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/what-will-he-or-she-do-this-christmas/

https://graceformyheart.wordpress.com/2013/12/20/the-narcissist-at-christmas/

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Defining Family

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Family is overrated.

Wow! I can’t tell you how hard it is for me to let that statement stand. I love my family. I respect my parents and all those who went before them. I want my family always to be strong and loving and present. I can’t imagine life without my family. There are no people I would rather spend time with than my wife and sons and grandkids.

But I know that isn’t true for many people. For many, family is a source of pain. Usually, it is just one or two members of the family. Sometimes it seems to be the whole group. I may not have experienced that pain, but I understand it and believe it. So, to them, I have to say:

Family is overrated.

But what about honoring your parents? What about your responsibility to brothers and sisters? What about caring for your children? The church has always taught that family comes first.

Or does it? Has the church always taught that? Does the Bible teach it? I am not so sure.

Yes, the Bible does tell us to honor our parents. But it does not say just what that looks like. It is not docile acceptance of anything they do or say. Nor is it blind obedience. It must be something more. I have written my thoughts on 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.

And what does the Bible say about brothers and sisters? Well, for one thing, the definition is much broader than simply those raised by the same parents. The church is supposed to be made up of brothers and sisters in Christ. The Jews considered all other Jews to be their family. Almost all references to brothers and sisters have this larger context in the Bible.

Even Jesus saw family differently. Remember what He said?

While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.” But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”
Matthew 12:46-50

Understand this. The birth family of Jesus expected special access to Him. The disciples expected that they would have special access and privileges. Jesus makes it clear that they have the same access to Him as all the rest of those who love Him. He isn’t closed to His birth family, but He loves them in the same way He loves others.

Okay, so that’s Jesus. He was a special case, right? I don’t think that’s what we are to take from this. I think we should understand that the Christian’s love includes many family members.

I happen to think that the mother of Jesus was a very special person. I think she loved her Son and He loved her. Nothing of that is lessened in this statement. Instead, love for others is lifted up. We are taught about the oneness we should all share in Him.

When I say that family is over-rated, I mean by the traditional church. For some reason, we have been taught that we never leave our families. We never move beyond the power and privilege of that connection. Yet, the Bible says that we leave our parents when we marry. The tradition of the Jews may have kept unmarried people at home, but it was not required in the Bible. Abraham left his family. Moses left his family. God called them away from their “family responsibilities.” But He didn’t take them out of loving relationships. Abraham’s family consisted of those who worked with him. Moses met a new family far away from Egypt. They didn’t forget or neglect their birth families, but they connected with others.

Family, in the Bible, is not limited to those raised in the same home or parented by the same people. Family refers to all those we share life with. Sometimes the group at work is family. Sometimes those who live in the building become family. Sometimes people at church become family. We love them, fight with them, work with them, complain to them, suffer with them.

So, when the narcissist says you are supposed to have a special love for your birth family or that they should have special access to you and to your heart, remember what Jesus said. When the narcissist complains about the time you spend with others and how it reduces your service to her, remember what Jesus said. When the narcissist demands your obedience, remember what Jesus said.

“Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”

Maybe the truth is that family is under-rated.

*****

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Defining No Contact

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Here’s a great question I read recently:

“Does no-contact work to get an ex back?”

There are counselors and coaches who recommend no-contact to motivate an ex to want to come back. They claim that it might take a while. My question is whether you really want the ex back.

If you have tried to extricate yourself from a narcissist, you almost certainly want no-contact to finally and forever end the connection. No calls. No visits. No emails. No opportunity for the narcissist to reach into your mind and heart again.

Not everyone can do this. If you share children with a narcissist, you know what I mean. Visitation rights, health and education decisions, child support, and more make it almost impossible to consistently have no contact with the abuser. If your narcissist is a parent or sibling or one of your children, you may have little choice about your interactions. And, when you connect with the narcissist, you know that it won’t go well.

But many can do this. Sometimes even with family members. Some people need to do this. So, here are some thoughts.

First, when you are dealing with a narcissist, no-contact is not a game. If you think you can manipulate your narcissist into coming back to you or falling into line with your boundaries and desires by threatening the end of the relationship, you will almost certainly fail. Narcissists are masters at manipulation. You probably are not.

I realize that people use this to try to get their exes back, as I mentioned above. But you really do want to ask yourself if you want that person back. If you want the narcissist to change, you will probably lose the battle. He might come back but you will find that he has more power and takes more advantage when he does. If the ex you are trying to get back is not a narcissist, then a technique like this might indicate that you are. (In case, you can’t see it, I don’t like playing games with something like no-contact.)

Second, if you do try to separate yourself from the narcissist with no contact, be prepared for a battle. Narcissists love to test your boundaries. This is an ultimate boundary. They will call. They will drop by. They will complain to friends and family. They will lie. They will cry. They will threaten. They will twist your words. They will use the children. They may even try to break into your house. Be prepared. You can do this, but you may have to be as strong and as ruthless as the narcissist.

Part of me wants to say that you can slack off the no-contact after a while. But I know better. If you start this, you have to be committed to all the way and forever. That’s why it is so hard with family. What do you do when someone goes into the hospital? How about funerals? You may still have to see that person, and you can almost count on the fact that they will try something to get to you.

There is a sub-tactic of no-contact popularly called “gray rock.” The idea is that you consider yourself a gray rock in front of the narcissist. You become boring. Nothing they say gets a reaction from you. Even if you have contact, you do not connect.

The idea that you can become boring to the narcissist is certainly attractive. If they can choose to walk away from you, you might find that your contact with them is painless, even benign. But here’s the problem. Narcissists are like cats, predators. Playing dead might make them walk away and allow time for them to become interested in something else. But if they see you move, they will be right back. The game will start again, and this time they will not be as easily deceived.

You might want to use the gray rock method differently. Make the narcissist the gray rock in your life. Instead of trying to hold back your anger or sadness, learn to look at the narcissist without emotion, as though they are boring to you. When you look at the ground, there are many gray rocks. None of them interest you. They have no connection with you. There are many people in the world whose lives do not connect with yours, even though you might see them at the grocery. So, even though you see the narcissist at mom’s funeral, she is no different from the people you don’t know. In fact, she is less because you already know she is uninteresting. Other people at least have potential.

Most of us have had random strangers say odd things to us or interact with us in strange ways. Maybe a joke that comes out of the blue. Maybe an expectation that seems odd. The woman who randomly yells at you at the thrift store. The man behind you at the grocery who makes a political comment you don’t understand. The clerk who talks about what you are buying. You shrug these off. You might wonder for a while, but soon you forget. With the narcissist, you don’t even need to wonder. It’s just another of his twisted jokes or her critical comments. Means nothing to you. You do not have to respond.

If you want to go no-contact or gray rock, you may have to set normal triggers aside. You will not be able to jump in to defend someone else. You will not think maybe the narcissist is changing. Not ever. Diligence, commitment, strength, and prayer.

Otherwise, don’t do it. There are other ways to establish and maintain boundaries. No-contact is hard work.

*****

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Defining Relationship

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Most people don’t realize they are in a narcissistic relationship until they understand that the relationship is one-sided. When you begin to see that you are the one who gives compliments, thanks, service, encouragement, or time, you wonder what is going on. A one-sided relationship is not a relationship.

Narcissists are users. They connect with you for what they can get. They maintain a connection for what they can get. They end that connection when they find someone else will give them more or better. That’s not a relationship.

Relationships are shared. Giving and getting. Reciprocation. Shared responsibilities and interests and participation.

King David was a man who knew how to love. Sadly, he was also a man who seemed to attract users. People attached themselves to him for what they could get. When it appeared they could do better elsewhere, with other loyalties, they turned away from him. He wrote, in Psalm 41,

Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me. Psalm 41:9

He noticed the fact that he had supported his friend. He had loved him when he was in trouble. But the relationship only went one way.

Proverbs 17 says that a friend “loves at all times.” That’s both sides of the friendship. On the other hand, Proverbs 19:4 notes that “Wealth makes many friends but the poor is separated from his friend.” In other words, some people come around in friendship for what they can get. When they can’t get anything, they disappear. That’s not friendship.

I have been deeply grieved to read some of the things narcissists have said to spouses, children, and friends. “You’re too fat. I have found someone else.” “You have always been a disappointment to me. You should have been more like your sister.” “I never really loved you.” “I don’t need you anymore.” Yes, these are actual things narcissists have said. So cruel.

And victims wonder what happened. Where did this cruelty come from? But the narcissist simply doesn’t care. The pain they cause means nothing to them. They say these things to break the connection.

Friendships are important. Family is important. Community is important. We need these relationships, but narcissistic connections are not relationships. They are connections.

I know that’s sad. To say that a marriage is a connection. To say that a family is just a set of connections. So wrong. So sad. But that’s the truth for many people. A connection with a narcissist is not a relationship.

What does that mean for us? It means that we ought to have different expectations and responses. The normal things you and I expect in a relationship we should not expect in a narcissistic connection. Do not expect loyalty. Do not expect reciprocation. Do not expect what you call love. At the same time, there are things you should expect. Expect that the narcissist does not see you as a person. Expect to be used, exploited, for his purposes. Expect to have your needs and desires ignored unless they somehow align with his. Expect, as I said earlier, that the connection is one-sided.

The point of all this is that you should not feel guilt or shame when the connection breaks. It was not a mutual relationship. The break was not your fault. The fact that the connection was not satisfying for either of you was not your fault. If you had performed your side perfectly, it would have made no difference. It was not that kind of situation. You can work on a relationship, bolster or repair from your side with expectation that the other person will want the same. You can invest in a relationship. But a simple connection for the benefit of one side is not something you can fix.

*****

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Defining Health

It’s Narcissist Friday!

What does it look like to be healthy after a narcissistic relationship? How about during the relationship? Can you be healthy in the relationship?

Health is more than physical. We all understand that, I think. There are people who suffer greatly from emotional, mental, even spiritual sickness. So, when I speak of health in the context of narcissistic relationships, I mean all of these.

Perhaps the best Biblical word for the kind of health I would desire for all those struggling against narcissism is peace. Peace in your heart. Peace in your mind. Peace with God. Peace even in your body.

I regularly receive comments and emails saying that the writer has struggled with confusion and anger and pain from narcissistic abuse for ten, twenty, thirty years or more. Old memories surface. Old puzzles remain unsolved. Old self-rejection continues. And peace is hard to find.

Years ago I met a woman dying of bitterness. She had been betrayed by someone who appeared to love her. She gave her heart to him, and he left her behind. Young and beautiful, she refused to let go of her pain. I knew her counselor. He cared, and he had right answers for her, but she carried that bitterness with her. When I met her, she was in the hospital dying. The doctors could find nothing wrong. No cancer. No disease. Just severe depression and bitterness. She died just a couple days after I met her. I have never forgotten her.

The stress and sickness that affect our hearts and minds also affect our bodies. While it is good for us to be broken as we come to Jesus, so we know we can no longer depend on ourselves, we are supposed to find wholeness and health in Him. Then we should live in that health as we relate to others. The brokenness should go away.

Carrying pain causes us to respond to others in ways we don’t want and don’t like. Bitterness, anger, sadness, and confusion cause us to struggle in other relationships and bring weakness to our days. We all know this. The more sickness we carry around, the less we accomplish and the more we suffer.

So, health is important. Finding peace is the goal. But how? Well, I believe there is peace in Jesus. He says He will give us peace, peace far greater than anything the world has to give. In a right relationship with Him, you will find peace growing in your life.

If you are out of the narcissistic relationship, peace probably means accepting the fact of your past and moving forward. It may mean admitting that others hurt you, particularly the narcissist, and choosing to live without focus on that old pain. The cruelty happened, and it was wrong. The pain was real, but it is passing. Pick up the strength of who you are and move on.

If you are still in the relationship and plan to stay, you can find peace by accepting the truth of your situation. Narcissists are what they are. I have written a lot about how they can be predicted and handled if a person has the strength. But even if you can’t do that, you can have inner peace and health when you remember that the narcissist cannot touch you. At your core, where you connect with Jesus, nothing has changed. You are loved. You are valued. You are good. Accepting the truth about yourself is healthy.

The old Serenity Prayer may help.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Some things cannot be changed. The events of the past. The things that happened that should not have happened. Things the narcissist did. Things you did. Things others did.

Some things can be changed. As you become more healthy, you will make changes you need to make. As you make those changes, even more health will come.

And, of course, you will need wisdom to know the difference. Jesus loves you. Ask Him for guidance. Ask Him for wisdom.

I like practical steps. Go on a walk. Find a place for yourself, some place that is just yours. Separate yourself from the drama whenever you can. Narcissistic relationships tend to consume your energy and personality. Find who you are again. Join the gym. Meet with others. Remind yourself that there is life and affirmation apart from the narcissist. You can do these things even as you stay in the relationship. Once you are out, however, you can spend time and energy rebuilding your life. Do it. You are worth it.

Peace is the knowledge that nothing in this world can damage you. Some have found peace in the most difficult circumstances. They were healthy in themselves and were able to help others. In prison, in poverty, in pain. They were healthy because they knew who they were and they claimed ownership of their identity.

You are loved. You are important. You are greatly valued. You are precious to the heart of Jesus. Hold onto that.

*****

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Defining Boundaries

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Narcissists take what they want because they believe they are entitled. After all, if others exist only to serve them, there is no privilege or desire that should be withheld from them.

Suppose you invite a friend to your home, someone you have known for a while, but not an intimate friend. You leave the room for a bit and, when you return, he is digging through your refrigerator for a snack. What do you do? Or you find that she has opened your mail and is reading your letters. What do you do?

Well, you would probably be offended. You might even ask that person to stop or leave. You certainly would be cautious about inviting him or her back to your home. And you would be within your rights. There are certain limits.

But the narcissist does this kind of thing regularly. He rifles through your desk at work. She asks questions and expects answers on topics that make you uncomfortable. He borrows your car without asking. She went through your diary. He talks with your friends about you. She calls you when she knows you are busy or comes over when she knows you have a guest. There is no such thing as privacy or personal space with a narcissist.

Sadly, that’s because the narcissist does not see you as a person. He would be greatly offended if someone crossed that line with him. She would never want to tell you her secrets. In fact, when you think about it, you know little about the narcissist. And what you do know, you aren’t sure you believe.

You need boundaries. But boundaries against the narcissist are an offense to him/her. Boundaries show your lack of love, lack of trust. Boundaries prove that you have something to hide. If you don’t allow the narcissist access to every part of your life, you are mean-spirited and unloving.

And you find yourself believing that perspective. It’s hard not to answer the phone when you know it’s from her. It’s hard to hide the keys to your car or lock your desk. You feel it’s wrong somehow. And that’s just how the narcissist wants you to think.

Boundaries are part of every sane life. If you are allowed no boundaries, you are an abused captive. Boundaries are good, no matter what the narcissist thinks.

Sometimes the boundary is as bold as saying, “No.” Sometimes it is not answering the phone. Sometimes it has to be negotiated. You don’t close the door completely, but limit access to certain times.

Sometimes boundaries are internal. Refusing to argue when prompted by the narcissist. Choosing to walk away instead. Limiting conversation to certain topics. Refusing to worry about the problems the narcissist presents.

Sometimes boundaries protect you. Your health and sanity are important, and your needs are valid. Even if the narcissist doesn’t see you as a person with value, you should see yourself that way. And sometimes your boundaries protect others. Your children, your co-workers, people you care about. In fact, your boundaries may even protect the narcissist. Who knows what could happen if you are pushed too far?

Boundaries are good. They may be hard to determine and hard to maintain, but they are important enough to justify the work. Even if they are broken, they are worth trying again.

I wish I could look each victim of narcissistic abuse in the eyes and say, “You are worth it! You have a right and a responsibility to set boundaries. Boundaries are good for you!” The narcissist will fight you, blame you, criticize you, bargain with you, push you, and tempt you. Keep the boundary in place. It’s for your good.

By the way, the Bible does speak of boundaries. While teaching that believers are one in Jesus, the Bible also acknowledges that there are people who may be toxic to you. The primary command is to live as one, to be of one mind, to care for each other, but even Jesus separated Himself from the crowd at times. He avoided situations that He knew would not be good. And, of course, the wise book of Proverbs has several references to people we should avoid. We might love them, but do so from a distance. (See Proverbs 22:24; 21:19; Titus 3:10; 1 Corinthians 7:15) You won’t find many proof texts, but you will find affirmation for boundaries in the Bible.

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Defining Forgiveness

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Narcissists have long memories. I know they forget things like birthdays, names of important people, promises made, and rules they are supposed to keep. But they remember every detail of every time you did something wrong, even the things you only told them about. They know who they don’t like and why. They know the information that compromises you or those above them at work. And they remember.

They remember so they can use it against you. When you think you are relaxed in a group of people, enjoying a certain intimacy, the narcissist will bring up that old bit of information. He/she might refer to it directly: “Hey, is this like that time you…?” or indirectly: “Don’t you wish you were in Chicago right now?” Only you will know the reference, but you will blush or sputter or get out of there. And the narcissist will laugh at your expense.

A friend of mine rode with a narcissist to a meeting. My friend put his briefcase on top of the narcissist’s car as he took off his coat to get in. The narcissist went ballistic, accusing my friend of scratching the car. My friend apologized and took his case off the car carefully. Nothing more was said. Then. But in the weeks and months to come, the narcissist referred to the incident over and over. My friend was supposed to apologize over and over.

Forgiveness, in a narcissistic relationship, has a twisted meaning. Somehow, the narcissist can speak forgiveness and then continue to use the offense against you. So, are you forgiven or not?

Legalist Christians do much the same thing. They learn of your past indiscretions and then label you. Once you are labeled, you rarely escape. You may be considered forgiven, but you are still the person who did that thing. Unless you can be controlled, you will not be trusted. After all, they know your area of weakness. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was or how hard you have tried to overcome it. The change in you does not overcome the fact of your sin.

So, are you forgiven or not?

The Bible connects sin and debt. We see that in the Lord’s Prayer. The word for “transgression” or “sin” in the prayer is the word for “debt.” When we hurt someone, it is as though we have taken something of theirs and now owe them something. We don’t have to push that very far to understand. The two ideas of offense and debt simply run parallel.

Now, if you have a debt and it is paid off, whether by you or another, can it still be used against you? It shouldn’t be. That debt is gone. If you look on the ledger, there is nothing more on your account. You owe nothing. All your buying power, all your freedom, all your ability to deal with future debt is restored. It is finished.

And those were the words Jesus said at the end of His ordeal on the cross. The debt was paid in full. What debt? Your debt. The price of your sin. When you came to Jesus, He washed away your debt with His blood. You were and are forgiven.

The narcissist might not want to give you that freedom. The legalist might not understand that freedom. But you are still free. The sin that was on your account has been removed from you and cast away “as far as the east is from the west.” The account that was “red like scarlet” is “as white as snow.” The fact that you remember what you did changes none of that. You are forgiven.

When God forgives you, you are forgiven.

Forgiveness in the human realm is less pure, perhaps more complicated, but of less consequence. The Scripture says that all sin is ultimately against the Lord, so the only forgiveness that matters is His. But the people you hurt may still respond to you in their flesh. They may choose not to forgive what God has forgiven. But you are still forgiven.

When I counsel people who want to forgive, I usually say that forgiveness is moving on. It means turning the offense over to the Lord, perhaps repeatedly as you remember and feel the pain, and moving forward with your life. It does not mean pronouncing the person good or denying what happened. Nor does it require trusting that person again or being his/her friend. It simply means moving on without the need for justice or revenge.

In the flesh, forgiveness is hard work. In the spirit, forgiveness is walking with Jesus as we remember and relate to the other person.

Under grace, we have no need to put others down or hold their offenses against them. All that we need we find in Jesus. His love is sufficient to heal our hearts. I can release any debt I hold against others to Him. He can release those who look to Him in faith. Under grace, I remember that forgiveness is up to Him.

So, are you forgiven? Yes!

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Apparently the audio file is not included in the email of this post. It may be too large or email filters might not let it through. If you would like to listen to the audio version of the post, you will find it on the blog site.

*****

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