Bites of Narcissism

“…ministry is a magnet for narcissistic personality – who else would want to speak on behalf of God every week?”

A friend of mine recently started a group on Facebook for those who had gone through the Master’s Commission (MC) program that I went through. The group was started as a place for us to share our stories, be supported in our church trauma, and expose the abuse that took place within the churches where we participated in the MC program. She suggested a book to the group.

I didn’t hesitate to order the book, When Narcissism Comes to the Church, by Chuck DeGroat. I often feel urges to buy books, knowing full well that I will not read them immediately. I just know they are supposed to be in my arsenal. At hand. Ready, when I sense it’s time to read them. And yesterday, as I stood in front of my bookshelf, my eyes and hand went straight for this book. It’s time.

I cozied up in my reading chair, hot tea, a pen, and a notebook on my armrests. Within no time, I was underlining sentences and making notes in the margins. A warm feeling held my body and attention as memories of my life at Christ Church Kirkland peppered in and out with Chuck’s words. I don’t need to go into all my memories here, for that will be chronicled in the pages of my books. But I do want to highlight a few statements, in the hope that it will help others reconcile their own experiences within a controlling, heavy-handed church.

I know many of you that are here reading my journey, went to this church with me. Many of you experienced plenty more years than I did at CCK, and some still have such great esteem and gratitude for Norm and Marcy, while others are still dismantling the toxic atmosphere they chose to stay in. I’ve run into many people that want to share with me their rebirth from the cult-like beliefs they once held so tightly to.

  • Narcissism’s bite always seems to leave you asking, “What’s wrong with me?”
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), characterized by grandiosity, entitlement, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. May be talented, charming, even inspiring, but they lack the capacity for self-awareness and self-evaluation, shunning humility for defensive self-protection.
  • The narcissistic mask is an armor of self-protection that both defends the fragile self within, but offends, oppresses, and alienates the other.
  • Those affected by narcissism’s bite were led to believe it was their fault – a lack of humility, a failure to submit.
  • Narcissistic systems thrive in structures that prop up those with authority and persona while subordinating others according to gender, social status, theological understanding, perceived giftedness (or lack thereof), ability, and more. What’s more, these systems perpetuate shame among those who are not as holy, connected, charismatic, intelligent, or powerful. This insider-outsider dynamic keeps many hoping (and praying) that they can ascend the ladder and makeup what they are lacking. But the system holds down those who don’t measure up and props up those who feed the narcissistic beast.
  • Loyalty to the narcissistic leader and the system’s perpetuation is demanded. It might be said, “This is how we do things” or “This is how we’ve grown so large.” To question this is to express disloyalty and to experience shame and disconnection from the system.
  • These systems attract people who want to be a part of something special. The narcissistic system parades its specialness: the unique way God is working mightily in this church or movement or denomination. Who would dare question God’s work? Because the mission is tied to God’s apparent movement, people are more likely to question their own judgments than God’s obvious blessing.
  • Those within the system are led to believe that the church down the block isn’t as blessed, special, or faithful. A collective sense of grandiosity is common in these situations.

These bold highlights that I included, conjure up so many specific feelings and memories. Memories of my being on the sharp end of narcissism’s bites and memories where I was the biter.

I can imagine what some of these statements will stir in some of you, and if, by God, you feel stirred, I encourage you to explore what you are feeling and walk through it. Stop denying that stuff happened to you or that it’s no big deal and you should be over it by now. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and it needs to be talked about more. I have been with two different counselors over the last 10 years and I have more tools in my belt to use when I’m triggered. It’s okay to hold good memories too about that time. I do. But as a life-long seeker, I hope to never shut the door to healing when opportunities present themselves.

I believe we grow when we can sit through uncomfortable feelings and quiet ourselves enough to hear what is there for us to learn. Reaching out to a safe person who will validate your feelings and experiences is another way to have support.

It’s your one, precious life so let the healing come and keep coming.