August 21, 2014

He and I Share The Same Reflection I: Compromised Foundation

Lately I have been forced to come to a really painful conclusion about myself. It is a conclusion that was probably evident to nearly everyone else but me. My sin made me blind to it. Isn't this the very nature of our entrenched sins? Entrenched sins are obvious to others but when it comes to our ability to recognize them in ourselves we ignore them or overlook them while hypocritically pointing the very same sins out in everybody else.

At the very core of what I am, I am a narcissist. Am I a full-blown narcissist? I don't think so but I certainly struggle with a lot of the issues that afflict narcissists. As a Christian I have struggled mightily with this and it has wreaked havoc with my ability to be truly humble and not have ulterior motives when doing things as a Christian. Many that have been following my posts over the last year have seen the slow painful unfolding of this self-realization and it has been excruciating for all involved, mostly my family.

I am not talking about the full-blown ostentatious type (age has tempered that aspect) but I am a narcissist regardless. My type of self-absorption rotates around putting myself first and I do it unconsciously most times. Why do I admit this? Do I wish to leave myself open to attack? No. I post it to let others know they are not alone in the battle. I know this condition afflicts many in the ministry, especially those that are in leadership and preaching positions. We have most recently seen this in the fall of Mark Driscoll and there have been Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. Proud narcissistic hearts...there is nothing new under the sun. All were possibly Christian but plagued with iniquity and an unhealthy portion of pride.

It is a condition that cannot be readily admitted to while active in ministry without seriously compromising that ministry. It would make the leader or elder in said position
clearly within the realm of needing discipline. They would therefore not be beyond reproach. At that point ministry is compromised. I suspect that is why I have been forced to confront it now before entering ministry (that is if God wishes to still use me in my flawed condition). Kill it now before it kills a ministry or congregation.  Narcissism really is a case of kill or be killed. A spiritually deadly war.

I also know that many do not admit to the condition or some do not even recognize it in themselves, in their pastors or their spouses. This needs to change if we wish to allow the Spirit to spread the Kingdom in the world. There is little place for needs of the “I” or “me” in Kingdom, only the “we” or “us” of the unity in the Spirit. I suspect that is why narcissism is so damaging to interpersonal relationships, especially marriages and therefore churches. Families build churches. If the system of the world can destroy the family through narcissism, the next level it can take down is the churches by crumbling the building blocks of the church...the family. It is an all-out satanic attack on our families my friends.

What are some of the truths that have needed to accept about myself? Let me list the sins. I have overbearing pride. I tend to blame others for my shortcomings or blame-shift. I also am never satisfied with either my own output or other’s output. I hold everyone including myself to an impossible standard because I am a perfectionist. I have had addictive behaviors (drugs, alcohol, spending, etc). I often believe that my ideas are the best ideas. I am sorely lacking in empathy of others but not completely devoid of it. There are times though when I have little or none. My model of empathy does not always fit neatly under the narcissism diagnosis. Additionally, I have often needed praise to increase my self-esteem. Finally, I have often acted as if I know everything which annoys everyone I come in contact with.

These are the characteristics/rotten fruits of narcissism that I see looking inward with an excruciating self-assessment. In the past I have been blind to these shortcomings but I can be blind no longer. Such was I when I came into the Faith but I have been washed in the blood of Christ. I must confront these issues head-on. With the aid of Christ and the help of those that still love me (that I haven't driven away) I must dislodge them from my life. There is no room for them here and they have been around too long.

Because of my self-absorption I sometimes have even appeared as if I am not even Christian. I certainly have been hypocritical in the same spirit of the Pharisees. Narcissism crushes the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. Sometimes the Fruits of the Spirit are barely discernible. I make myself a god. I am my own idol and God gets pushed out. This in turn produces a deeply entrench melancholy. It manifests as a lack of joy and afflicts those around me. That is because the very thing I need inside of me to produce that joy has been set out at doorstep of my life. The Holy Spirit. I have grieved Him.

As a matter of fact the narcissism in me allows me to treat others like objects and not people. Since the persons of the Trinity are personalities, I do the same with Them and it is to ill effect. Nowhere did that become more evident than in my marriage and parenthood. The strange thing is, it remained low-key and mostly hidden until my late thirties to early forties. It then surfaced like a eruption spewing bile and emotion. It was triggered by the stresses of life and abuse as a child that came on multiple fronts.

The narcissism was the sum product of an abusive childhood mostly at the hands of my brother and neighbors. They used to kick the crap out of me. According to the psychologist, I apparently split to protect myself and preserve the mind of my childhood self.  If a child is neglected or physically / sexually abused, the effects of it are devastating because they create a foundation of brokenness in the personality. That broken, bruised and empty place longs to be whole even persists into adulthood because what we learn in childhood builds the foundation that we build later life experiences on. If the foundation of the building is is everything else. A broken boy grows into a broken man.

When true love and acceptance are not shown to a child, then vulnerability to responses such as self-focus and self-absorption can set them up for narcissistic patterns. This is why the truth that we are to rebuild our entire lives on the foundation that is Christ is so true and so profound for all believers no matter what happened in their past. It provides that solid foundation that sin took away. We all need a firm foundation of righteousness to build on and this can only come from Jesus Christ and the Cross. It can only come from the preaching of the Gospel.

Please understand that my narcissism is nearly never intentional nor malicious. It is more a resurfacing protective measure to what I perceive as a threat…even when it is not a real threat to me. I tend to overreact at times too because of this. In the end I cause division in my family and most likely in all other relationships. I can probably say that I broke covenants with God over narcissism. It comes in the form of not being obedient to His word mostly by getting angry when things don’t go exactly the way that I had planned.

I must also admit that I sometimes used people to get what I wanted or to get things done. This in fact was often justified as a means to an end. Get the job done (git'er done) was more important than who I build up or beat down to get it done.

This is where Romans 7 is exemplified in my life. It has become a battle for the ages in me and still rages today. Every day is a new battle in which to engage the enemy and the enemy is extremely tenacious and clever. It is an albatross or millstone around my neck. It will become my undoing without God in my life 24/7. I must renew my mind and my efforts every day. In truth it is a minute to minute and hour to hour skirmish. I am totally dependent on Christ to win this battle for me...I just am not capable. That road has been traveled and it was a dead end.

Romans 7:15-24 ~ “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

Many say that narcissism is not curable. It is said I cannot fully overcome it. Some days I must agree with this assessment (other days not…more on this later). It is an ever-deepening cyclical trap. The more I look inward to myself, the more I realize I fall short. This forces me to look outward towards others. If I don’t get the affirmation from others which is what usually happens, I turn inward again to reassess and then I regress. Reassess and regress over and over.

In this very pattern I imitate the Israelites of the Old Testament who inevitably suffered judgment at God's hands. To maintain this pattern I fall farther and farther afield from God and deeper into self until I've totally isolated myself. I need to be going the other direction. My life and everything in it builds momentum in the wrong direction. When people don’t reaffirm I push them away. In this way my past abuse comes into play because the abuses I suffered have taught me to avoid deeper meaningful relationships. Why? By avoiding deeper meaningful relationships I don't get hurt. I "dig-in" rather than reach out. I attempt to become self-sufficient by pure individualism. None of this is conducive to ministry or God's work in my life.

So what does one do when plagued or demonized like this? Well, considering it is not of Christ, it therefore makes this blight demonic. How does one deal with the spiritual and demonic? We need to treat it like the spiritual enemy that it is. To be able to effectively fight an enemy, one must understand the enemy. This is not only a physical and psychological issue…it most certainly is a spiritual one. It therefore must be approached as such. More on this in the next post.

[Continued in Part II]

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