I have been a little “stuck” on how to move forward with this study on Biblical perspectives on narcissism. There are subjects which I have started and not finished, and several more subjects to yet work through. Several people have written to me asking for more practical advice on how to deal with specific situations. Until now, I have avoided this, partly due to the fact that without finishing the foundational understanding of God’s plan of love, and His using evil for good as part of that plan, some practical solutions will not make sense to many readers. In addition, it is very difficult to provide counsel remotely, as it is difficult to understand the true situation.
However, I recently received the following comment from “M” (in Africa, I think), which prompted me to get a bit more into the practical side of things even while I continue to work through the framework:
“I really appreciate your explanation on this topic and I some how feel helped but will be grateful if you could just explain more and may be quote the bible verses on how to deal with a narcissist parent (pastor)”
To partially address this I will use my own personal case study.
My mother, who died 5 weeks ago, was what I would consider a moderate “N” – maybe a 6 or 7 on a scale of 10. My father died 10 months ago. While I did not know my grandmother (my mom’s mother) well, I have heard a few comments that indicate that she was an N as well. As I have been working through this study, I have increasingly become aware that I personally have had some of my mom’s N traits in the past. I also have seen some of those traits in siblings and grandchildren.
When I left home for college, and later to take on the world, I felt that a cloud of “bad feeling” had lifted. I did not even know the cloud was there until it had lifted, and did not realize that the source was my mom. A few years later, in my later 20’s, I came to realize that I could not please my mom, and that she would find something to criticize, no matter what what I did – so I came to the logical conclusion that it was a waste of time and effort trying to please her. The decision to stop created some emotional space for me, and actually caused her to back off a bit. It also meant that I basically started ignoring her negative and critical comments, as well as her expectation that I live my life according to her wishes. The fact that we lived in different cities and that I was busily engaged in life and career also created healthy space.
In the meantime, I was personally experiencing the difficulties of life arising from my own narcissistic tendencies, but I was rather blind to see it in myself. But God was gracious through it all, in many ways.
My mom was very harsh with my dad, constantly and publicly berating him. It was difficult to watch, as he was a gentle, kind person – especially to my mom. He did have his ways of subtly staying his own man. The rest of the family tended to deal with my mom by “walking on egsshells”, being careful to avoid setting her off. There was no pleasure in seeing her, just a sense of fulfilling an obligation. My mom was constantly trying to bend life to her will. Of course, she had no awareness of anything being wrong with her – if anything was wrong it was always someone else’s fault.
At one point a few years ago, in a moment of self-awareness my mom commented that she had not really done anything with her life. Unfortunately, that moment did not translate into any change. As my mom was approaching death this year, I frequently thought about the fact that she had lived her life almost exclusively for herself. And I wondered what her perspective on her earthly life would be from her new vantage point of Heaven (she was a genuine believer) – likely deeply regretting her selfishness and harshness when she saw the love of Jesus firsthand.
My dad died at the end of last year. In the late spring of this year, my 95 year old mom had a series of infections that landed her in the hospital, and it became very obvious to my siblings and me that she was no longer able to live on her own. It was my turn to take the lead for her care, so we moved her a thousand miles to an assisted living apartment in our city, where we visited her 3+ times a day for 6+ hours a day. We did everything possible to help her, in every way possible. Even though my mom did not “deserve” the special attention and care she was getting, we believed that it was our responsibility and the right thing to do. We have wondered why the Lord was extra gracious to my mom during that time. Maybe He will reveal that to us in Heaven.
At my mom’s small memorial graveside memorial service, there was not a lot of good to say, and some of my siblings did not want to speak at all. My mom had a poor earthly legacy, but at the end of the day she was responsible for how she had lived her life – as am I, including how I treated my mom even with her narcissistic tendencies.
I did not handle the situation with my mom perfectly – far from it. But as I have reflected about how the Lord used that particular narcissist in my life, and how I handled the situation, some of the Biblical guideposts and principles which I partially applied came to mind:
My being born to a narcissistic mother was out of my control, but part of His design for me
13 For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
I had a responsibility to honor her, whether or not it was “deserved”.
22 Listen to your father who begot you,
And do not despise your mother when she is old.
16 ‘Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you on the land which the Lord your God gives you.
But as an adult, I did not have to live according to her (arbitrary) wishes, even if it displeased her
31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.
In the end, it did not matter what my mom thought of me – what mattered is what God thinks
1 Corinthians 4:5
5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.
I was not to turn my independence from my mom into being confrontational, but rather to seek to live at peace
18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
Being at peace included not responding to her critical attacks in a “tit for tat” or reproving manner……….
4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
Or you will also be like him.
5 Answer a fool as his folly deserves,
That he not be wise in his own eyes.
7 He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself,
And he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself.
8 Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you,
Reprove a wise man and he will love you.
But did include silently leaving my case in God’s hands
1 Peter 2:23
23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;
I needed to be actively willing to be kind to my mom, when she had a need….
19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
But, I also needed to retreat to a “corner of the roof” when she was in attack mode
9 It is better to live in a corner of a roof
Than in a house shared with a contentious woman.
I realized that God was using my mom to develop and refine my character…….
2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;
I also embraced God’s opinion of me, instead of my mom’s opinion of me
10 For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? …..
…….. And finally understood that ultimately she would have to answer to God for how she treated people around her
12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.
In the end, it was possible to have some measure of peace with my mom, and avoid being damaged by her sharp criticisms. She did not experience many consequences in this life for her behavior, other than friends and family not wanting to be around her. Her Christian family partially shielded her from the earthly consequences – God was very gracious to her on earth through that. But, God always has the final say, and her eternal standing in Heaven and rewards will be much lower because of her desire to exalt and live for herself on this earth.