During the month of February, we’ve been writing a series of posts on getting/staying healthy mentally and emotionally. Today’s post is part three. Enjoy ~ John
According to an article in Psychology Today, the average narcissism score among college students in North America has been steadily increasing, and their average empathy score has been steadily decreasing. Approximately 70 percent of students today score higher on narcissism and lower on empathy than did the average student 30 years ago.
Why is this important? Those who score high in narcissism have been found to overrate their own abilities, and to lash out angrily in response to criticism. Those who score low in empathy are more likely than the average person to engage in bullying.
A narcissistic bully is someone who harms you . . . verbally, or emotionally, or physically, or sexually, or even spiritually. They have little interest in a real relationship with you. They’re interested in one thing—controlling you. I devote an entire chapter to this subject in my book, Unshakable You: Five Choices of Emotionally Healthy People. (Special note: we’re offering a 40% discount on the book through February 28.)
In 2 Timothy 4:14-15 the Apostle Paul wrote this warning to a young pastor named Timothy, “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.”
Here’s something I didn’t learn at the university I attended in preparation for pastoral ministry: Some narcissistic people go to church. The 2nd thing I didn’t learn? Those narcissistic people can cause a great deal of harm.
In most churches, the people who do the pastor a “great deal of harm” represent a small minority (although in 2020 that minority grew significantly). Regardless of its size, that minority is often vocal. And because very few bible colleges or seminaries teach us how to deal with narcissists, when the abuse starts, most pastors are ill-prepared to respond. Unresolved conflict with difficult people is one of the greatest drains on a pastor’s mental and emotional energy . . . so if they desire longevity, learning how to deal with narcissists is critical.
With that in mind, here are some practical safeguards you can use to protect yourself: (NOTE: these principles can be applied to relationships in your personal life as well.)
Safeguard 1: Be convinced standing up for yourself is the right thing to do
This safeguard is the cornerstone of protecting yourself from narcissistic bullies. If you don’t believe drawing healthy relational boundaries is the right thing to do, you’re going to struggle with mental and emotional fitness.
When one of my sons was in third grade, he was getting knocked around every day during recess by a much larger schoolmate. My son was understandably upset by this ongoing behavior, so I sketched out a strategy for him to deal with it. “The next time Guber (not his schoolmate’s real name) puts his hands on you, I want you to ball up your fist and swing as hard as you can and pop him in the nose.”
The very next day the drama unfolded. Guber started shoving my son around again and he responded with a right cross to Guber’s schnazz. Problem solved. Yes, I realize this was not politically correct, and I had to smooth things over with the principal, but Guber never bullied my son again. Now . . . I’m not recommending you finish reading this post and then start punching out people in your church. But understand that when you’re confronted with abuse, you have the right to refuse to be treated in a demeaning and harmful manner.
Safeguard 2: Understand difference between persecution and narcissistic abuse
In Matthew 5:11 Jesus told his disciples: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.” My son wasn’t being persecuted on that playground, he was being bullied. Protecting ourselves from abuse requires us to discern between being persecuted for our faith vs. simply being in the path of mean-spirited bullies. They are not the same thing, and need to be responded to differently.
Safeguard 3: Understand what “loving your enemy” really means
In Matthew 5:44 Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said, love your neighbor, but hate your enemies. But I tell you: Love your enemies.” He was addressing a misinterpretation of the OT Scripture in Leviticus 19 that simply stated: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Somewhere along the line “hate your enemy” was tacked on to the end of that verse . . . probably by the teachers of the Law. Jesus brought correction by declaring, “Don’t just love your neighbor; love your enemy too.”
What does it mean to genuinely love our enemies? Here’s a thought to consider: When someone abuses you, he or she is sinning. Is it loving to let them continue to sin against you? Is that in their long-term best interests? Let me answer that for you: No! Loving narcissistic people who abuse you means you care about them and hope the best for them and pray for them on occasion. God may be at work in their lives through your prayers. However, loving a narcissist doesn’t mean you allow them to take advantage of you.
Here’s the bottom line: It’s not loving to let someone continue to abuse you.
The reality is if we do not tell the truth to the narcissistic people in our lives, if we tolerate their actions without standing up for ourselves, deep down we end up resenting them anyway. And I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time even wanting to be near someone I resent, much less trying to be their pastor.
A better way is available—tell the narcissist how his behavior is negatively impacting you. Speak the truth in love. And let him know what you will do to protect yourself when/if he acts poorly again. Chances are he will not understand your response right away and may even react to you harshly. Stay consistent and over time he should get the message. If he does not, avoid this person whenever possible. Boundaries aren’t a crowbar to get people who hurt you to change their behavior. Boundaries simply protect you from their behavior.
Everyone on our team here at Converge Coaching wants you to be healthy in every area of your life, including your mind and emotions. If you are serious about getting/staying there, you must learn to protect yourself from difficult and dangerous narcissists. And the good news is with practice, you can develop this skill.
Rooting and praying for you,