In my last blog I gave an example of a friend of mine who is an inspiration to me in her determination to live out her values of love with her husband who lives out the horrific dysregulation of borderline personality disorder. The cost to her and her children cannot be captured fully! And her spouse has not improved. I wonder if the Christians in her life have stressed the importance of the ‘unconditional love of God’ and ‘forgiveness’ in ways that have not considered the heart of God that desires the wounded to be cared for and protected.
In addition to growing in our ability to relate well with narcissists, it is important we remain loyally interactive with the ones wounded by the narcissist, providing a safe space for them to be authentic, understood, cared for, healed and continue to grow. We need to be involved as advocates and protectors for the vulnerable and wounded. We must not stand on the sidelines, cheering them on to stay in the fight alone and get harmed again.
God never helps someone be evil!
We need to consider what ‘loving our enemies’ is not. What is actually loving our enemies? When does love consist of much more than ‘being nice’? How do we go forward in protecting the wounded ones as well as purposefully keeping someone from living out harm to others?
At times, it will be necessary to extricate ourselves from a narcissist. And It will be necessary to support a separation from the narcissist.
At times it is important for us to accept that a person in our lives is not going to settle into a non-defensive space, hear the way they are being experienced and commit themselves to change. There may be behavioral changes if they feel a threat of losing the one they feel in need of, but often these changes are short term efforts to keep a grasp and sense of control. The behavioral changes may be similar to putting a band aid onto a bleeding wound. It is then we may need help as we grapple with how to go forward with the loss of the relationship.
I will look at this from 2 different perspectives with the hope of helping individuals as well as the community that has been embracing both the ‘narcissistic perpetrator’ and the one that has been hurt.
First let us bring some focus to a plan that can be tailored to individuals in helping them practically move forward. And then let us think more fully regarding the journey through possible loss and grief ahead.
A three-fold personal plan will be helpful
1.A plan for what is needed in committing oneself to ongoing recovery.
- Intentional building of joy with God, self and within a safe community of friends.
- Intentional ongoing of healing of wounds, both past and current, including a focus on owning guilt that is not persons to own and the impact of toxic shame.
- Intentional pursuit of maturity. Aspects to consider include developmental trauma, the ability to know what one feels and appropriately express oneself to a safe person, regulation of emotions, healthy relationships vs. codependency, boundaries, accessing healthy anger rather than expressing rage, trust issues, what forgiveness looks like, discerning safe vs. unsafe people and addictions.
2. A plan for going forward in expressing to the narcissist in one’s life what your needs and ‘bottom line’ requests are in order to have a workable relationship.
An insightful and practical book on this topic is Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist. How to End the Drama and Get on with Life by Margalis Fjelstad.
3. A plan if the narcissist does not or cannot give you what you request.
- There needs to be a knowledgeable and understanding support system in place.
- It will be important to consider the capacity you have to endure the repercussions that will come back from the angry narcissist
- Consideration and steps regarding the impact on children, financial implications and other legal issues need to be taken.
Recognizing that the relationship (or the illusion) we have had is dying or dead brings us into the process of grief. Understanding that what we are feeling are normal aspects of the grief process brings us out of some of the confusion and ‘crazy making’ and into a sense of ‘relief’ in normalizing the process. There is not a sequential process through the loss, but there are different phases that are common. A person will likely swing through them, go forward and backward and up and down as they move forward. It will be important for them to have someone mature to walk with them so as to help them keep moving forward to being a survivor rather than stay swirling in life.
The ‘phases’ of grief will include the following.
- Shock and denial regarding how the person is not able or is unwilling to acknowledge their self-justifying and hurtful ways that seem so clear to one’s self and others.
- Anger and bargaining are common reactions, looking different for different individuals, that need a space for expression and exploration. There may be the lashing out, placing blame on the person who has inflicted harm or anger at one’s self or even on others who did not step in to make the narcissist change.
- Pain and grappling with guilt. When a person is feeling the seemingly excruciating pain, they will understandably want to get away from it. It is important for a person to acknowledge the fullness of the pain rather than deny and have it become submerged to surface later. They will need support to do so during this time.
The person who has been living within the relationship of a narcissists will have self-doubts and incriminations, wondering if they had done or said or not done or not said things, if the relationship could have been different. During these times there is an increased likelihood that a person may slide into an addiction (alcohol and drugs) or other unhealthy ways of handling the pain, confusion and sense of guilt.
- Crippling Depression can occur during the phase of reflection and loneliness. One may be enveloped in a long period of sadness, despair and emptiness as they experience the magnitude of loss. Again, it is easy to slide into unhealthy attempts at pain management. Having an understanding community to stay attuned and surround without a driven-ness to fix or push the individual quickly through this process is vital.
- Vacillating between false hope and hopelessness is common. The feelings of desperation and pain can draw a person back into the hope of ‘if I just try this approach’ there might be a different result this time around. The renewed ‘bargaining attempt’ most often results in more confirmation of the lack of change, spiraling the person back into the phases of anger and depression.
- The upward turn will come slowly and incrementally as the survivor begins to adjust to living life. Hopefully the full weight of depression lifts and glimmers of enjoyment shine through.
- Acceptance and finding meaning does not have to do with finding something good in what has happened. The meaning found will be more from what is done with the impact of the loss. The healing obtained even when one’s ‘trusters’ remain shaky. The discernment and wisdom gained. Looking for ‘acceptance and meaning’ cannot be used as a by-pass to the pain! It will not benefit us to look for a ‘spiritual by -pass’ in order to get away from the impact
- Reconstruction comes along as a person deepens in their acceptance of life going forward in a different form. A hope in one’s ability to live with strength emerges. Confidence and anticipation grows that, while the pain will ebb and flow, one will experience good things in life again. Rather than being submersed in the angst, the ability for creative planning, problem solving and accessing internal and external resources will develop.
Personally, I have never heard a sermon regarding the advice of Jesus in Matthew 10:14, where in talking with his disciples stated, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” Jesus recognized that there are times when important input we offer is not going to be acknowledged. There are times when we are to leave an environment. We would do well to be tuned into the guidance of our wise God, whether or not we are to continue pursuing a narcissist, even for their best interest.
This concept goes against the strong value and teaching against divorce. Again, I want to caution the need to have God be our guide about Bible verses and church teachings. Jesus replied to the Pharisees that Moses gave permission for divorce due to the cruelty coming from hardened hearts of men against their spouses. God is not against the signed document giving legal permission for a divorce. He is against the cruelties that inflict harm on each other within relationships! There may be times that God guides a person towards pursuing a divorce, legally shaking the dust off their feet, in order for God to accomplish His eternal plan for the narcissist as well as the one in need of protection.
In his book, The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard gives great perspective on this is the section where he writes on the beatitudes. I highly recommend his teaching for further consideration.
Let us consider the concepts of the Predator, Possum and Protector, developed by Jim Wilder and taught by his Life Model colleagues. Chuck Groat has also described these ‘flavors’ of narcissists in his book, When Narcissists Come to Church. He uses the descriptions of Perfectionist, one who believes he is “more than human and a hero. He also talks of those who live from a stance of being ‘less than human, scapegoat or a slob. I highly recommend his book to expand your considerations.
The descriptions God has for us in the Bible when Jesus (and the prophets) describe the difference between Good Shepherds, Bad Shepherds and hirelings. The ‘bad shepherds/ hirelings’ are captured in the concept of the Predators. Those who are in a position to care for the sheep, but instead either allow them to be harmed or are more actively bringing harm to the sheep.
All of these characters live within our communities. We all can shift from one character to another depending on situations and the maturity we have obtained. The desired goal is for each of us to grow out of the predator and possum stance and into protectors. As we develop, we want to grow from hirelings into good shepherds who are committed to protecting and caring for the sheep. We want to gain insight into ways that we are bad shepherds and change our ways, growing into safe and trustworthy shepherds.
We live out these stances within relationships, within communities. We can only heal and grow within relationships and communities.
The narcissist is one who lives from the predator and/or possum mode, as we have previously discussed.
We are in need of Good Shepherds who will:
- grow in their discernment and compassionate understanding of these dynamics.
- commit themselves to personal humility, owning when they shift into condemnation and their own style of self-justified bullying.
- be safe for the wounded to be authentic and transparent with.
- grow in strength so as to pursue interactions with narcissists, wisely entering into the dysfunction while taking a stand for truth and love.
We need communities in which all are safe to be seen, regardless of where we truly are on their journey- which includes when we have slid into a ‘peacock’/ predator or ‘possum’/ skunk/ martyr /victim mode. We need communities of grace, where tenderness is included as we help each other continue to grow into the fullness of God’s design woven within us.
While uncertain of source, [Martin Luther King, Jr.] made central to his efforts in the polarized circumstances of the American South. “To our most bitter opponents we say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”
Walter Wink continues: “Love of enemies has, for our time, become the litmus test of authentic Christian faith. Commitment to justice, liberation, or the overthrow of oppression is not enough, for all too often the means used have brought in their wake new injustices and oppressions. Love of enemies is the recognition that the enemy, too, is a child of God. The enemy too believes [they are] in the right, and fears us because we represent a threat against [their] values, lifestyle, or affluence. When we demonize our enemies, calling them names and identifying them with absolute evil, we deny that they have that of God within them that makes transformation possible. Instead, we play God. We write them out of the Book of Life. We conclude that our enemy has drifted beyond the redemptive hand of God. . . “
May we increasingly and with constancy stay connected with our wise Father and the Shepherd of our souls. May we grow in our strength to love well. May we have the wisdom of a snake while staying as gentle as a dove. May we stand strong against all forms of abuse and evil. May we stay tender and protective of the wounded.
Thank you for joining me on my journey of ponderings in regard to the Narcissism Among Us. Again, I want to give credit to those who have helped guide me in my thinking. I encourage you to go further in your exploration of the wisdom to be gained by the people in the resources below.
Credits and Resources
++ The Bible- varied translations used
++ When Naricissism Comes To Church Chuck Degroat
++ Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist. How To End the Drama and Get on With Life Margalis Fjelstad
++ 10 Signs of Emotional Abuse in a Relationship– Jen Grice
++ The Divine Conspiracy – Dallas Willard
Jen Grice is a Christian Divorce Mentor and Empowerment Coach, author of the book, You Can Survive Divorce: Hope, Healing, and Encouragement for Your Journey, a speaker, and a single homeschooling mom.
++ The Pandora Problem– Jim Wilder
++ Website: Maribethpoole.com
++ Alcoholics Anonymous
++ Dan Neuharth PhD MFT
++ Brene Brown
++ Jim Wilder
++ Marcus Warner
++ Father Ubald in Rowanda, Forgiveness- the Secret of Peace: https://youtu.be/5-ONs1J6laE ++ https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/201311/6-signs-narcissism-you-may-not-know-about ++ https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201802/3-core-facets-narcissism-malignant-adaptive ++ https://theartofcharm.com/podcast-episodes/linda-carroll-narcissistic-continuum-episode-580/ ++ https://www.huffpost.com/entry/can-narcissist-change-their-ways_n_5a95a5fae4b03a8f3a23288c ++ https://www.businessinsider.com/narcissism-vs-narcissist-2018-11
++ Dr Craig Malkin: http://www.drcraigmalkin.com/the-narcissism-test