REVIEW When Narcissism Comes To Church: Healing Your Community From Emotional and Spiritual Abuse, by Chuck DeGroat

This page is a compilation of the following futuristguy blog posts:

*When Narcissism Comes To Church* by Chuck DeGroat — Plus How To Apply for His Book Launch Team

*When Narcissism Comes To Church* by Chuck DeGroat — Download Free Excerpt of Chapter 1

New Series: Narcissism Notes on Chuck DeGroat’s Book, *When Narcissism Comes To Church*

NARCISSISM NOTES #0–Introduction, *When Narcissism Comes To Church* by Chuck DeGroat

NARCISSISM NOTES #1-Chapter 1, When Narcissism Comes to Church

NARCISSISM NOTES #2–Do-It-Yourself Research Base on Abuse “Across All Theological Spectrums”

NARCISSISM NOTES #3–Meta Issues in Writing a Book Review

NARCISSISM NOTES #4–Basics About Narcissism, Chapter 2: “Understanding Narcissism.”

NARCISSISM NOTES #5–Basics About Narcissism, Chapter 3: “The Nine Faces of Narcissism.”

NARCISSISM NOTES #6–Pastors and Narcissism, Ch. 4: “Characteristics of the Narcissistic Pastor.”

NARCISSISM NOTES #7–Pastors and Narcissism, Chapter 5: “The Inner Life of a Narcissistic Pastor.”

NARCISSISM NOTES #8–Book Review Links for *When Narcissism Comes To Church* by Chuck DeGroat

NARCISSISM NOTES #9–My Book Review for *When Narcissism Comes To Church* by Chuck DeGroat

NARCISSISM NOTES #10–Systems and Narcissism, Ch. 6: “Understanding Narcissistic Systems.”

NARCISSISM NOTES #11–Systems and Narcissism, Ch. 7: “The Gaslight Is On: Spiritual and Emotional Abuse.”

NARCISSISM NOTES #12–Trajectories of Transformation, Ch. 8: “Healing Ourselves, Healing Our Church.”

NARCISSISM NOTES #13–Trajectories of Transformation, Chapter 9: “Transformation for Narcissists (Is Possible).”

Tentative final post:

NARCISSISM NOTES #14–Wrapping Things Up, Additional Notes of Interest

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If you prefer a compilation of the tweets with links, “slides,” and summaries, I’ve created a Twitter Moment with them.

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*When Narcissism Comes To Church*

by Chuck DeGroat —

Plus How To Apply for His Book Launch Team

When Narcissism Comes To Church

by Chuck DeGroat

Release Date: March 17, 2020

I’ve followed Chuck DeGroat for a while and find his insights on narcissism-related topics exceptional. (That is not an adjective I use often, so you know this is *big*.) And I’ve only been on 5 book launch teams in the last 10 years. I consider this book important enough to invest time to read, review, and blog about.

I hope you’ll get a copy — I expect there to be a lot of interaction about it on social media, and there’s a lot we can learn from Chuck and each other on this crucial topic!

Also, consider applying for the book launch team by pre-ordering a copy and filling out a short form. You can check out the book table of contents and a promo flyer, download an excerpt to read, and pre-order a copy at this link on the InterVarsity Press website.

If you’re interested in possibly being on Chuck’s launch team, check out the following Google Doc link for details, and soon. The application form there explains the expectations and activities — and yes, lists some fun bonuses for those selected!

Thanks for considering When Narcissism Comes To Church, and participation on Chuck’s launch team. I believe his book will prove an invaluable resource on what narcissism is, its destructive impact on individuals and institutions, and practical ways to confront this major concern for the Church.

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To follow Chuck DeGroat:

Website – chuckdegroat.net

Facebook – Chuck DeGroat

Twitter – @chuckdegroat

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*When Narcissism Comes To Church*

by Chuck DeGroat —

Download Free Excerpt of Chapter 1

Chuck is inspiring — glad to be on his launch team and eager to get reading my reviewer copy this weekend! I’ll probably be posting quotes and reflections as I work on my review …

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Meanwhile, stuff you can check out:

When Narcissism Comes To Church goes on sale March 17, but if you’d like to read an excerpt, here’s a link to grab Chapter 1.

For more details about Chuck DeGroat and this book, and thoughts from early reviewers/endorsers, check out the InterVarsity Press webpage.

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To follow Chuck DeGroat:

Website – chuckdegroat.net

Facebook – Chuck DeGroat

Twitter – @chuckdegroat

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To follow quotes and quips from Chuck DeGroat and reviewer reflections as we read his book, check out social media hashtags:

#WhenNarcissismComesToChurch on Facebook

#WhenNarcissismComesToChurch on Twitter

Chuck has already been posting some intriguing stuff at the nexus of narcissism and Enneagrams that you might particularly want to note.

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New Series: Narcissism Notes on

Chuck DeGroat’s Book,

*When Narcissism Comes To Church*

NARCISSISM NOTES: This is a series of notes and quotes as I read and review Chuck DeGroat’s book, When Narcissism Comes To Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse (InterVarsity Press, 2020).

My main perspectives: research writer (15 yrs each on personal recovery ministry & organizational toxicology) + former church plant team member and candidate assessor + futurist.

Here we go … (And just so you know, I’ll be posting these Narcissism Notes on Twitter and also on my “futuristguy” blog. Also may edit these without additional notice.)

March 17th is the launch date for Chuck’s book. But you can pre-order now from InterVarsity Press or your favorite book source. Here’s the publisher’s page for When Narcissism Comes To Church, which includes a link to pre-order.

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NARCISSISM NOTES #0

Introduction

*When Narcissism Comes To Church*

by Chuck DeGroat

Narcissism Notes is a futuristguy blog series sparked by content in Chuck DeGroat’s book, When Narcissism Comes To Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse (InterVarsity Press; 2020). Book available as of March 17, 2020.

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NARCISSISM NOTES #0–INTRODUCTION: This quote from Chuck DeGroat in his Introduction caught my attention. I’ve been involved with church plants since the late 1970s–some of them among my best experiences in community, some of them the most toxic experiences of leaders.

From my futurist lens, I’m concerned for paradigms plus cultural DNA of individuals and institutions. The way I see it, the past conditions possible courses into the future. In terms of church planting or social entrepreneur startups, broken “spiritual genes” planted at the beginning often result in an orbit around a self-aggrandizing leader or on an organizational trajectory of toxicity.

I was Church Planter Candidate Assessor for about 3 years early in the 2000 decade, using the system of 13 qualities of “successful” planters developed by Dr. Charles Ridley. His system is commendable for highlighting character qualities. However, it depends on a conventional business model of success.

I believe the underlying business-culture paradigm skews the assessment in ways that make it easier for candidates who need a pool in which to reflect their identity to get high scores for projected “success.” (In other words, those with the harmful aspects of more extreme narcissism.) Candidates may seem visionary, charismatic, and practical–but are they vision carriers, embodiers of Christlike character, and humble ministers?

** Questions and Case Studies to Consider **

Here’s my suggestion for an intriguing case study: Compare and contrast the descriptions from Dr. Ridley’s assessment tool with a list of harmful narcissistic qualities composited from When Narcissism Comes To Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse. If that interests you, this post has links to Internet Archive pages with Dr. Ridley’s descriptions.

How would we go about building a better assessment system, based on a healthy/holistic church framework, to help screen for unqualified or disqualified planter candidates?

From the perspective of identifying systemic abuse, why do small networks that tend to emphasize church planting seem to have a history of significant problems with narcissistic leaders and overlording/abuse of power? Check out the track records for such groups as: Sovereign Grace, Association of Related Churches, Mars Hill, Acts 29. What patterns and problems do you see?

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NARCISSISM NOTES #1

Chapter 1

When Narcissism Comes to Church

Narcissism Notes is a futuristguy blog series sparked by content in Chuck DeGroat’s book, When Narcissism Comes To Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse (InterVarsity Press; 2020). Book available as of March 17, 2020.

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As a survivor who’s helped people process experiences of spiritual abuse, I see three problem areas:

  • “Troublesome congregants” controlling things from the pews.
  • Malignant leaders exerting control through pulpit and pen.
  • Toxic organizational systems that emerge as a result, enabling sin, evil, and sometimes even crime.

I’ve done enough research and case study work to know Chuck DeGroat’s conclusion in Chapter 1 of When Narcissism Comes To Church is accurate: Abusive leaders and enabler systems show up “across all theological spectrums.” Documented toxic situations arise in at least four dimensions.

1-Every THEOLOGICAL STREAM: Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Protestant (Reformed, Lutheran, Anabaptist); charismatic, evangelical, fundamental, liberal, Pentecostal, and progressive.

2-Every form of POLITY/AUTHORITY SYSTEM, whether denominational or associational: congregational, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and franchise.

3-Every ORGANIZATIONAL SYSTEM TYPE: centralized / hierarchical (including multi-campus), decentralized / distributed (including flat-structure or informal network).

4-Both complementarian and egalitarian APPROACHES TO GENDER ISSUES in congregation, family, and community.

Rummage around “survivor blogs” and talk with enough abuse survivors, and I think you’ll arrive at similar conclusions. This is why I appreciate that Chuck has extensive experience in pastoring, counseling, teaching, church planting, and assessing plant leader candidates.

Multiple lenses of expertise give him a needed big picture of how narcissistic patterns work their way out for a range of individuals and institutions. I’m confident his nuanced perspective and the concept frameworks and tools it implies will equip us for engaging in the processes noted in the subtitle of Chuck’s book: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse, and I look forward to his “spiritual MRI” composite on narcissism’s destructive impacts on everyday disciples, leaders, systems! Good journey ahead …

** Questions and Case Studies to Consider **

If you’re interested in some do-it-yourself research on those 4 factors, Gordon-Conwell Denomination Information and Chart is a great framework resource. It includes formal denominations and less formal associations, and describes distinctives. They update periodically. Most recent is May 2018.

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NARCISSISM NOTES #2

Do-It-Yourself Research Base on

Abuse “Across All Theological Spectrums”

Narcissism Notes is a futuristguy blog series sparked by content in Chuck DeGroat’s book, When Narcissism Comes To Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse (InterVarsity Press; 2020). Book available as of March 17, 2020.

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Chuck DeGroat posted the above tweet this morning (February 28, 2020). So, it seemed like a good time to update my initial framework from 2016 on abuse case studies (see section 3, “The Grid of Background Factors” – and How Spiritual Abuse isn’t Found Only in One Kind of Theology) with the four-dimension research framework on abuse situations that I laid out yesterday.

I’m big on DIY — do it yourself. So, in this post, I’ll present select key cases for those interested in researching more, and explain my criteria behind those choices.

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The Base of Abuse Cases Available

Source: Twitter thread of February 28, 2020.

My working hypothesis is that every theological stream has susceptibilities toward abusers and enablement, and that forms of abuse show up across the theological range in four major dimensions:

1-Every THEOLOGICAL STREAM: Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Protestant (Reformed, Lutheran, Anabaptist); charismatic, evangelical, fundamental, liberal, Pentecostal, and progressive.

2-Every form of POLITY/AUTHORITY SYSTEM, whether denominational or associational: congregational, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and franchise.

3-Every ORGANIZATIONAL SYSTEM TYPE: centralized / hierarchical (including multi-campus), decentralized / distributed (including flat-structure or informal network).

4-Both complementarian and egalitarian APPROACHES TO GENDER ISSUES in congregation, family, and community.

Three of the four dimensions I use came from my initial analysis in 2016. I added gender after Willow Creek. Many abuse cases have been documented in complementarian / patriarchal churches and ministries. But Willow Creek showed us how egalitarian theology can be misused to manipulate people who believe men and women should be considered with parity and equity in ministry.

We need to be aware of range of theologies and discern specific ways that what they consider their best distinctives can be co-opted & fail Jesus’ “do good plus do no harm” test (otherwise known as, The Golden Rule).

No theology is inerrant.

Any theology can be twisted.

No theology is fully armored against abuse.

A huge base of cases from different theologies is available, between personal narratives and organizational profiles posted by abuse survivors and news sources. I’ll select key do-it-yourself study cases from across those four dimensions (theology, polity, organizational system, gender parity approach). I’ll plan to post that set by this weekend. And by “cases,” I mean where there is substantial information, narration, documentation showing abuse.

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Tea Tasters, “Espresso Cases,” and System Spotlighters

Tea-Tasting and Fractals

Source: Section on Fractals and the “Espresso of the Thing.”

In college, I had a lot of international student friends. One of them was Gerry. He was from Singapore, and his father was a professional tea taster. Gerry gave a fascinating description of what these tea buyers do – and I’m sure I’ve got the number details wrong, but I’m pretty sure I have the essence of the story right.

Anyway, as Gerry shared it, the tea company sent his father into the tea fields to taste and grade samples made from various batches of leaves that had been harvest and prepared. He’d pour boiling water into a one-serving teapot that held enough tea to brew 10 servings. Then he’d cover the teapot and let the leaves steep for 10 minutes.

The resulting tea would turn out so strong that Gerry’s dad usually only had to take one sip to know the quality of that lot of leaves.

  • Were these leaves high quality that could be used by themselves?
  • Were they medium quality to be mixed with other batches for a reasonable blend?
  • Could they be used alone or mixed for a low-grade tea?
  • Or were they completely unusable?

The answer was in the taste test from espresso of tea, as it were – or perhaps we could call it tea liqueur to remove the homage to coffee. If the macro tasted good – the brewed tea itself – that could only happen if the micro was good – the leaves, and vice versa. So, in fractals, macro and micro are intimately related. It’s just a matter of intensity or scale.

“Espresso Cases” — Red Flags and Black Flags

In terms of the cases I am selecting for this post, I want representative cases that are strong – “espresso of abuse,” as it were – where there is extensive information, narration, and documentation that gives a clear taste of the individual’s and/or institution’s level of toxicity. This would make it easier to identify specific “red flags” of warning for similar cases in that same category – and “black flags” to expect inevitable piracy of resources when the selected case has gone on so long that there is no doubt it will be abusive.

But how do we know what “extensive enough” is for a definitive case study in any category? And where can we generally find those key examples that illustrate abuse “across all theological spectrums,” as Chuck DeGroat noted?

Maybe some details on what writing investigative reports and case studies involves will help illuminate those questions …

Spotlighting Research and Systems

As we learned from Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” series on the Boston Catholic diocese and the Houston Chronicle/San Antonio Express‘ “Abuse of Faith” series on Southern Baptist Convention, investigative reports and case studies often take multiple people many months to complete. They must compile source materials, conduct interviews, organize data, fact check, clear use of copyrighted materials, write articles, develop executive summaries and other web-ready resources, and have edited accessible and accurate final pieces that may total tens of thousands of words. The labor expended is intensive and financial costs may be high as well, yet the impact can be game-changing for cracking through systemic abuse. Here’s how the Boston Globe’s then-editor Marty Baron summarized their process.

One of the areas I have sensed called to pursue in counteracting spiritual abuse is through research writing. This has included extensive processing of my own experiences in five major situations of abuse since the mid-1970s. This has grounded my related writings on abuse in concrete personal experiences rather than just conceptual readings from other people.

It’s also provided a base for generating relevant questions for when I analyze other people’s writings on the subject, curate resources on specific people or situations, and write case studies — all of which I’ve been doing regularly since 2007. I estimate that I have invested a minimum of 1,000 hours a year doing this (50 weeks x 20 hours per week), and am now in my 14th year.

Case studies take the most time and effort. Some examples:

The largest cases I’ve written on specific situation of reported abuse have each taken 300-350 hours to research and write, and were between 45,000-55,000 words. Those include the BGBC defamation lawsuit against Julie Anne Smith of Spiritual Sounding Board, Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church, and diagnosing the Emergent Village/Emergent Movement

I didn’t track the number of hours it took me to produce A Cultural Geography of Abuse Survivor Communities, but this lengthy description and analysis of the theological, sociological, and cultural dynamics of survivors, advocates, and activists took me a full year to complete. I already had a foundation in thinking about the issues involved. But I began focused research on it around the time of The Courage Conference 2018 in October, started writing in December 2018, and finished in December 2019. The final compilation document is nearly 50,000 words.

The set of articles and resource bibliographies on Tullian Tchividjian has taken at least 200-250 hours and resulted in about 10 posts.

One of the most complicated posts to write, fact-check, and embed resource links was about Todd Bentley and the Lakeland Outpouring; it took me an entire week of work, about 30-35 hours for a single post of about 3,000-4,000 words.

For comparison purposes, as best I recall from Christian writers conferences I’ve attended, a typical 160-page trade paperback book (6″ x 9″) has about 60,000 words. The case studies I selected typically have at least that much material available, which means there should be sufficient first- and second-hand information to look for problems and patterns on your own, and not just take for granted that analysis others provide captures it all.

The reason for sharing all of these details is not to razzle-dazzle you, but give you a realistic sense of what “survivor blogging” requires. It takes a lot of time and effort to post carefully researched, well-documented, accessibly-written materials. Actually, I should say, “when you and your team,” because many of the more extensive case studies on survivor blogs often involve collaboration. This may include the victims, advocates, other writers and researchers, and people who help with technical issues such as collecting materials in person or helping with graphics or technology issues.

So — when we go searching for details, documentation, and discerning analysis on situations of abuse, consider that survivor bloggers and investigative reporters have provided us with a huge base of material to work with! This fuels the qualitative research of those curious about specific problems and particular patterns, such as:

  • Abuse survival and advocacy.
  • Personal recovery and organizational damage repair.
  • Identifying indicators of healthy versus toxic individuals and institutions.
  • Locating positive/constructive and negative/destructive examples that best illustrate our findings.

Discerning Relevant Patterns and Arranging Sets of Cases

In my work on case studies, I make a particular point of arranging sets of related cases that make comparison and contrast processes easier. In doing this, I tend to look for highly similar cases with a minimal pair of distinguishing critical features. This technique is one I learned in my first linguistics course 45 years ago and have used ever since. It informed how I came up with some of the contrasting sets of cases that illustrate issues on abuse “across all theological spectrums,” as Chuck DeGroat mentioned.

Here is something I wrote about that technique in 2012, in relation to case studies on sexual abuse and related systemic issues.

Source: Tutorial on Transformation.

Church- and ministry-based evidence about spiritual bullying has been mounting over the last few years especially. And it does seem in 2012 that the documentation has literally exploded. Men and women with first-hand knowledge of alleged abuse by various Christian organizations have increasingly been posting their accounts and their assessments online, including related evidence: documents, timelines, current website links, and Wayback Machine internet archive links. What bullies want to keep hidden in the darkness is coming into the light anyway.

Consider the following list of individual organizations and larger networks or denominations just at the theologically conservative and evangelical end of the spectrum. In 2012, most of these are ongoing subjects of current “citizen journalist” investigations and, for some, even civil cases. Links behind the ministry name go to survivor blogs where that entity is a primary focus. The world of survivor blogs has become so extensive that I doubt I’ve gotten all the relevant links available – and these don’t even include Facebook pages or other kinds of closed forums where people seek healing through processing their experiences. [See article for list.]

Meanwhile, a number of high-profile secular cases of various kinds of abuse have emerged in recent months. These have ballooned in importance to where organizational complicity/cover-up has become as crucial as the original offenses. [See article for list.]

Perhaps the media attention and public outcry are evidences that the social tide is turning against bullies, those who actively protect them, and those who passively excuse by their silence. Or perhaps it represents the reasons why these cases are getting so much publicity. Figuring out WHAT is going on doesn’t always tell us WHY it’s happening now. Back to the issue in a moment … but first, in terms of larger trends, I suspect we’ll find that each different system spotlighted adds pixels to an even bigger picture, just as each individual piece of stone or glass in a mosaic adds dimension to a design.

But how do we figure that out what each contributes, or how clusters of similar elements found across different situations contribute to a “trend”?

Part of what I do to answer that question turns me toward content analysis techniques that I learned in my linguistics training. Our homework included making critical features charts – grids of elements that define words and how they are used. If a word does have a certain feature, you mark the grid with a “+” or with a “–” if it does not. Then you find word sets that show only one difference. These are called a “minimal pair.” For instance, the words this and that form a minimal pair; both can refer to a concrete object or to an abstract concept, but this is close to the speaker and that is farther away. The only critical difference is distance. Another minimal pair is this and these; both relate to something close by the writer or speaker, and the critical difference is these is “+ plural” and this is “– plural.”

This kind of pairing can be especially helpful when things look similar on the surface, but they turn out to be different enough underneath that they are not actually related. For instance, many Christian theologies and world religions use the term grace, but do not mean at all the same thing by it. Or, take the current buzz word, gospel. For some theologies it holds a very specific, limited meaning; for others, it is applied to so many things that it holds little meaning at all.

Critical features grids and minimal pairs help us analyze sets for commonalities as well as differences. They show in chart form the overlaps between items. (Or, if we wanted to go with more of a picture route, we could use Venn diagrams with their overlapping circles to show what the common and different features are.)

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Select Case Studies in Four Dimensions of Theological Spectrums

So — to summarize all the above — I want to select the best candidate case studies that, as a set, are:

  • Clear about what kinds of abusive behaviors individuals did and any institutional enablement or coverup that happened.
  • Have extensive enough detail and documentation to identify critical features that help compare and contrast with related cases.
  • Wherever possible, are solutions-focused with practical suggestions or actual illustrations of what was done to rehabilitate individuals who were perpetrators and perpetuators (if possible) and remediate (repair) damages inflicted by the institution.
  • Written in accessible of language as possible, with definitions of technical terms, which will increase its overall usefulness.

In some cases, I have clustered closely related theological streams or movements together. I have also focused on theological systems rather than specific denominations. Also, I am giving preference to blogs/websites, although once you get into these case studies, you will typically find some researchers and advocates who post their work on Twitter or Facebook instead.

Overall Theological Stream

Orthodox. To be added.

Roman Catholic. Long-time systemic child sexual abuse and coverup in the Roman Catholic Diocese in Boston was exposed in the 2015 movie Spotlight. For background and key resources, see the linked post’s section on The Spotlight Investigation Lights the Way to Understanding Significant Differences.

Anglican. Revelations are ongoing about sexual abuse and coverup in the UK-based Anglican Church. I chose the case study of Australia instead because of the extensive inquiry their Royal Commission conducted there on both religious and non-religious institution. Their reports included a summary plus specifics about the Anglican Church and child sexual abuse. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Religious Institutions page, see the section on Anglican Church.

Protestant/Reformed. I chose Matt Chandler and The Village Church/Acts 29 because he/they have had a series of situations over years, involving reported abuse by leadership, misuse of church membership covenant, failure to report child sexual abuse, and more. These include some well-documented cases of members, such as Jordan Root/Karen Hinkley and Matt Tonne. More recently, Mr. Chandler has been spotlighted for his role as President of the Acts 29 church planting network, which fired Acts 29 CEO Steve Timmis for spiritually abusive behaviors.

Protestant/Lutheran. To be added.

Protestant/Anabaptist. The Mennonites invested in a three-year process to identify and deal with sexual abuse/harassment by one of their most prominent theologians, John Howard Yoder, and systemic enablement by their denominational institutions that let this go unresolved for decades. Here is an introductory post, and this page has an extended case study on the problem, resolution processes, and critiques of it.

Charismatic/Pentecostal. The first case study I produced was in 2008, on Todd Bentley and Lakeland Outpouring. It included details on involvement (and enablement) by key leadership figures within the New Apostolic Reformation. This January 2, 2020, post by Julie Roys brings his case up to date: Top Charismatic Leaders Disqualify Todd Bentley From Ministry for “Steady Pattern of Ungodly and Immoral Behavior.”

Evangelical/Missional.  James MacDonald and the multi-campus Harvest Bible Chapel system has been a long-term situation that has resulted in multiple lawsuits filed, Mr. MacDonald being declared disqualified from ministry, membership revocation by the Evangelical Council of Fiscal Accountability (April 17, 2019), and investigations into reported misappropriation/mismanagement of millions of dollars. The Elephant’s Debt website has been one of the main repositories of documentation and analysis of issues concerning Harvest Bible Chapel. It’s writers, Ryan Michael Mahoney and Scott William Bryant, and their wives, Melinda Mahoney and Sarah Bryant, were named along with Julie Roys in a 2018 lawsuit. Here is the search category on James MacDonald at Julie Roys’ website.

Fundamentalist. In February 2012, the Beaverton [Oregon] Grace Bible Church, and its pastor, Charles O’Neal, filed a $500,000 defamation lawsuit against former member and survivor blogger Julie Anne Smith (founder of Spiritual Sounding Board) and four others. The defendants filed an Anti-SLAPP countersuit, which gave the dispute an expedited status in the legal system. The judge found in favor of the defendants in July 2012, and the plaintiffs completed the mandated court costs and defendants’ legal fees about two months later. The BGBC Lawsuit Archive documents the lawsuit and contains details about the plaintiffs’ church, leaders, and actions. Julie Anne Smith’s precursor blog to Spiritual Sounding Board — BGBC Survivors — also has some details of the lawsuit and issues involved.

Liberal/Progressive. To be added. The case study on Diagnosing the Emergent/Progressive Movement can fill in some of the gaps on development of the progressive theological stream in the U.S. until I am able to provide an alternative case. (This is the same case I use below for decentralized/distributed organizational system type.)

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Polity/Authority System

Whether denominational or associational:

Congregational. For decades, the Southern Baptist Convention has been called out for its lack of concern and actions regarding child sexual abuse and systemic enablement of perpetrators to move on to other churches and ministries. Christa Brown’s blog, Stop Baptists Predators, was one of the main sources of documentation about these interwoven problems. Meanwhile, “local church autonomy” has frequently been cited as the reason why the SBC official entities and convention churches cannot exert control over that situation. However, genuine autonomy resides in the congregation, not in the pastor, but this doctrine has often been misinterpreted in ways that enable authoritarian control by pastors. The lack of “caring well” received some severe shocks in 2019 with the six-part Abuse of Faith investigative reporting series by the Houston Chronicle/San Antonio Express. Search the Year-by-Year Select News Items in 2019 for “INVESTIGATIVE SERIES. Abuse of Faith” for links to each of the six articles in that series. Also especially note the parallel resource bibliography on Spiritual Sounding Board — Houston Chronicle’s “Abuse of Faith” in the SBC – Article #1 of 3 – Resources for Additional Research — as it will give you an idea of how extensively survivor bloggers and journalists have documented each specific case mentioned. You’ll find my case study at SBC Abuse Solutions.

Presbyterian. Tullian Tchividjian/hypergrace. 150 supervisors, peers, subordinates. Here is a Spiritual Sounding Board Resource Bibliography about Mr. Tchividjian.; it gives a list of key individuals and institutions involved in his story, and a chronology of events and news from 2009 through 2017. Especially take time to look at the infographic, which collates his reported clergy sexual misconduct with his ministry roles and publications. See also the five-part UN-accountable: Case Study in Systems Analysis and Ministerial Accountability. Links for all five parts are at the top of Part 1, Systems, Systemic Abuse, and Repentance as a Systems Transformation Process. Parts 4 and 5 are the most relevant to the Presbyterian form of polity, stating how it would handle clergy misconduct and potential restoration — and how Mr. Tchividjian failed to follow through with any of multiple plans set up for him.

Episcopal. Gospel for Asia. This SourceWatch entry on Gospel for Asia specifically notes and sources its Episcopal governance: In 1993, GFA began founding its own network of churches in Asia,[5] which is the Believers Church which uses a Episcopal Polity form of governance.[6] What that article does not address is the reported non-profit abuses; mismanagement of funds and related class action lawsuit by donors; and investigations and actions in the U.S., Canada, and India. Warren Throckmorton has been the main writer covering that situation — and he frequently addresses institutional elements of abuse. His website has a lengthy category on GFA. with news and analysis posts going back to 2015.

Franchise system. I am using this term to refer to a church network of voluntary associates (although they may pay fees to join). The association/network has a distinctive “brand” and resources that certified associates may use, but the churches are not owned or managed by the association, whereas campuses in a multi-campus system generally are part of the same mega-church and ultimately guided/influenced by it. I have chosen Calvary Chapel as the most representative of this system of inter-church connection and authority by influence rather than accountability by ownership. Spiritual Sounding Board has some of the more extensive archives available. See their categories on Calvary Chapel Franchise and Calvary Chapel Lawsuit.

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Organizational System Type

I’ve selected the following two cases because they both came out of the same “emerging ministry movement” of the mid-1990s to early 2000s. Also, both have a small set of main celebrity figures, and both eventually ended up deconstructing their root theology. Despite some areas of common ground in wanting to deconstruct conventional Boomer-generation ministry methods, these two streams ended up with opposing modes of organizing their systems.

Centralized / hierarchical (including multi-campus network). When Mark Driscoll was the main celebrity figure in the Mars Hill Church multi-campus system based in Seattle, his theology was what has been termed Neo-Calvinist or YRR (Young, Restless, and Reformed). This is a rather aggressive-to-militant theological stream that is very black-and-white in its thinking overall, rule-oriented, and authority-heavy. My case study on Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill comes from that era, although after Mr. Driscoll resigned from Acts 29 in August 2014 and from Mars Hill in October 2014, rather than undergo any kind of restoration oversight process. He eventually shifted into a more charismatic-influenced theological perspective at his Trinity Church plant, but has apparently maintained his approach to personal, centralized control. The case study main page gives a table of contents and also links to about a dozen of the key websites that covered issues involving Mark Driscoll and/or Mars Hill.

Decentralized / distributed (including flat-structure or informal network). My case study on Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Brian McLaren, and the Emergent Village / Emergent-Progressive Movement covers a number of organizational issues. These include how Emergent Village was set up as a flat-structure system of “church deconstruction discussion” around the country, but how that became co-opted (in my opinion) by several key celebrity figures whose personal charisma and theological writings influenced participants such that the system ended up revolving around them. It was centralization by celebrities — and whatever personal and social issues these (mostly) men had, became dominant in the movement over time, and helped sink it.

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Approaches to Gender Issues

I’ve selected these two cases because their approaches to gender hierarchy or parity are primary distinctives of their theological system. As such, it has provided a main point of attraction that has drawn in followers. The question becomes whether the three male leaders mentioned below — all of whom have been credibly accused of sexual abuse/harassment — used their patriarchal or egalitarian premises as a means to draw in potential women victims.

Other advocates for each approach to gender issues wants to claim the problem is with the abusive men themselves and not with the doctrines. (For instance, see the June 17, 2014, post on A Time of Transition, from the Board of Institute in Basic Life Principles.) But, were the doctrines developed as a  convenient way to groom victims? In that case, how do we discern how the doctrines have been tainted? For in-depth treatment of that difficult task for discernment, see the case study on John Howard Yoder.

Complementarian / Patriarchal. Through his Institute in Basic Life Principles, Bill Gothard had, for decades, been one of the main creators and promoters of materials with a hyper-hierarchical, complementarian/patriarchal perspective. (He resigned in March of 2014.) The “Umbrella of Protection” is one of his notable concepts. (A church version that captures the essence of the Shepherding Movement shows Christ at the top, pastors underneath Him, then husband, wife, and children at the bottom.) Recovering Grace has been a main website dedicated to posting news about Bill Gothard, analysis of his doctrines, and the personal narratives of his sexual misconduct victims.

Egalitarian. My Case Study: Willow Creek covers background history, key individuals in the situation, and news and events in the first six months after the Chicago Tribune made public their first investigative report (December 20, 2017) on reported sexual abuse/harassment by Willow Creek church and Global Leadership Summit founder Bill Hybels. The page on Key Individuals links to websites and Twitter accounts (if any) of the various survivors and advocates. Scot McKnight has written numerous relevant posts, many with strategic analysis and implications for the Church. Search his Jesus Creed blog or general online search for “Bill Hybels,” “Willow Creek,” or “Global Leadership Summit.” Also, early in 2020, another early figure in Willow Creek’s history, Gilbert Bilezikian, was credibly accused of clergy sexual misconduct. That story is still emerging as of late February 2020, and investigative reporter Julie Roys has a tag for her articles on Gilbert Bilezikian.

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NARCISSISM NOTES #3

Meta Issues in Writing a Book Review

 

This is a composite of what I posted March 1st on social media, with a few edits and additions.

I’m on Chuck DeGroat‘s launch team, and learning a lot from his perceptive, accessible writing. I’ve finished a third of #WhenNarcissismComesToChurch, and already know that this volume goes on my list of top 10 must-reads for abuse survivors, advocates and others in their support network, and church leaders who take seriously our ministry mandates for safety, healing, and justice — intervening to correct past and current situations of abuse, and preventing them in the future. Will post my full review in a week or two …

I appreciate @chuckdegroat‘s clear concepts, perceptive implications, and practical applications. He gives wise counsel to correct past situations of abuse, identify/intervene in present ones, and prevent them in the future. Preorder from InterVarsity Press or your fave bookstore!

P.S. If you’re wondering how I could “know” this should be on my top-10 list … When Chuck was in kindergarten, the church I was in during college was ramping itself up into a 3-year conflict that ended in a 4-way split. When you’ve wrestled with questions on narcissism and spiritual abuse for 45 years, you know quality answers when you read them! (And yes, I’m that old …)

And, as a futurist, I seek to point people toward hope. Grateful for a next generation of women and men who use their experiences and giftedness to research, write, counsel, and care for the wounded of every generation so that, together, we may find healing as individuals and healthiness in our institutions. This is some of what it means to live in the way of Jesus, and make a difference in the world around us. Chuck DeGroat is part of that next wave.

Some may find it weird that I would have such a strongly positive opinion after only reading a third of a book. It does make sense to me, though. I think it’s more a function of an intuitive, gut-level processing style where you’ve reached a conclusion all in an instant, and then have to post-analyze it to figure out how to explain your take to someone who processes in opposite ways. They build toward a conclusion from bits and pieces; I deconstruct my conclusion into the bits and pieces.

Questions were my side of the equation in figuring out this deserves to be a top-10-list book. In this post, I’d like to share some “meta” observations about what I see as Chuck’s side of the equation — big-picture features that have more to do with who he is and how he put the content together than with the content itself. I used descriptions like “clear concepts, perceptive implications, and practical applications” and “wise counsel.” What did I mean by all of that?

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“Meta” Observations on Why This Book is a Top-10 Read

Many readers may find big-picture meta issues too esoteric to be of interest, but I find them meaningful. All of us bring assumptions and values to the table when we review a book. Here are core ones of mine.

When I prepare to review a book, I look at not just the content and the author’s on-paper expertise. I want to get a sense of how practiced they are in ministry, and how practical they are.

  • Do they know enough about the field to write about it competently?
  • Do they plant seeds for advanced-level future personal research and reflection, even if writing for beginners?
  • Are they “solutions-focused,” as my educator friend Kathy Koch from Celebrate Kids, Inc., terms it, or just concept-oriented?
  • Do they allow nuance and flexibility in practical applications, or are they “fix-it formula fixated”?

These kinds of observations help me determine who might best benefit from the book. Is it for novices as an introductory text? For those who need  intermediate material to expand their knowledge base? Or for professionals looking for advanced-level/technical materials?

In doing a review, I bring my own set of personal experiences and professional skills to the table. In this case, the most relevant elements are these:

  • My having survived five severe spiritually abusive church and ministry situations — as early as 1975 — that tainted 20 of the last 45 years (i.e., my entire adult life).
  • Over 35 years experience in writing and editing, including on technical topics and working with others on structuring their material for publication.
  • Pattern recognition skills, which are core to my training in both linguistics and futuring (strategic foresight).

With all that in mind, here are my observations, a third of the way through Chuck DeGroat’s book, When Narcissism Comes To Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse.

PROBLEM PATTERNS IN CURRENT CULTURE. Chuck’s raising and responding to typical objections to revelations of abuse shows his awareness of what actually happens “in the field” and typical tactics abusers and enablers rely on. This shows me he listens to individuals and to institutional responses, and develops enough of a database over time to be able to discern patterns. These are major skills that futurists rely on in doing “cultural scans,” so I know when I see people in other professions apply similar processes.

KNOWS WE NEED CONCRETE GUIDELINES. His use of specific, vivid words to describe narcissistic attitudes and actions, patterns and profiles, gives us a list of qualitative indicators to identify narcissism in action. When we have a set of such specific points, it is easier to justify that we are conducting an assessment on reportedly abusive individuals or institutions by applying concrete guidelines — not launching an attack from some vague notions. (As a do-it-yourself project, make note of the words he uses to describe narcissistic behaviors in general, as well as the specific features more common in particular faces of narcissism that he details in Chapter 3. I did this by circling the words with pencil to make them stand out on the page.)

GREAT-FIT EXPERIENCE BASE. Chuck’s ministry practitioner background includes church planting, pastoral leadership and care, counseling, and teaching. From what I’ve learned about the social dimensions of spiritual abuse, these are all domains where situations of abuse and advocacy for survivors arise. I don’t know that an author could be any better placed to see the broad range of abuse concerns, and write an accessible introductory to intermediate book on the subject.

KEEPS UP WITH PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENTS AND DISCUSSIONS. I do not have formal training in psychology or counseling. However, as a research writer and technical editor, I’ve had to delve into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual many times to understand particular topics. So, I’m aware of there being debates about key elements in diagnostic criteria for personality disorders and a range of views on how best to categorize them.

Chuck adds in hints here and there which show that he’s taken these professional issues into consideration. In fact, they were crucial to creation of what he (rightly) sees as a unique contribution on narcissism, by cross-pollinating it with the Enneagram. All of this contributed to what I found to be a well-reasoned case for how his framework for nine faces of narcissism from a threefold base of heart, head, and gut makes for a good fit with the three parallel core sources of narcissism discussed by professionals: shame, anxiety, and anger.

ACCESSIBLE WRITING. It’s difficult to translate professional-level concepts into understandable form for laypeople. But Chuck describes technical terms on the Enneagram with language and illustrations that even a complete novice like me could grasp. (I have not read more than a couple articles on that topic before.) He provided a base knowledge on the Enneagram that I sense I can work from over time to go wider and deeper.

And he makes judicious use of quotes from other writers — another indicator that he absorbs and reflects on quality literature relevant to his topics of interest. For instance, I found his descriptions on the basics of narcissism clear and concise, and he probably could not have made a better choice of quotes to interpret the myth of Narcissus than the passage from Terrence Read he selected. (Over my years of working with a range of writers, it seems that strong writers develop “quotation radar” that alerts them to when someone else has described a topic in such a masterly way that it’s unlikely to be improved upon — so just quote them and attribute that source!)

PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS. I find that Chuck is demonstrating to me that he’s really good at “translational research” — a skill I learned about from my public health and counseling friend SD Shanti at the Global Alliance for Violence Prevention. It involves taking technical concepts from academic research and making the core of that material understandable and applicable to the everyday person or specific populations. And that’s what we need as a base for a stellar book at the introductory to intermediate level — translate ivory tower technicalities into asphalt walkway realities!

The above are the kinds of issues I’m typically keeping my finger on the pulse of, all the way along as I go through a book. When I write my final review to post, I may not even talk about the technical criteria I used. But it will be in the infrastructure of what I write, just as Chuck has a solid infrastructure of personal and professional sources for what he has written.

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NARCISSISM NOTES #4

Basics About Narcissism

Ch. 2: “Understanding Narcissism.”

Introduction

It’s not my intention in this series to summarize every chapter. Instead, I want to share a few things that strike me as things I’m learning and/or that I believe will be helpful for abuse survivors, advocates, and church/ministry leaders to consider.

So, Narcissism Notes are my interactions with material Chuck DeGroat presents in When Narcissism Comes To Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse. I don’t have a set number of reflections for each post. Chuck’s material in Chapter 2 on “Understanding Narcissism” led me into three thought-chains that I think could prove helpful to other readers:

  1. Narcissus and the Power of Storying
  2. Narcissism as a “Human Universal” — Mythology, History, Psychology, Anthropology, Theology
  3. The Spectrum of Narcissism, “Excuseology,” and Avoiding the Temptation to Label

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CHAPTER 2 – “UNDERSTANDING NARCISSISM”

1. Narcissus and the Power of Storying

Before psychology existed, how did we describe and “diagnose” the human condition? We had storying forms and wisdom literature–myths and fables, psalms and proverbs. These were modes we used to express observations about personal character, emotions, everyday human concerns, plus practical actions in response.

It seems like when we lose sight of storying, we lose mental handles on how to interpret what goes on in life. This is something I saw during the men’s movement of 1980s/1990s. (I’ve written some about this in my post on Set-Ups for Being Picked Off by Authoritarian Leaders – Part 2: Dynamics of Fatherlessness and Susceptibility to Substitutes.)

In our search for a “mature masculine,” we men experienced a resurgence in describing our feelings and personal issues through parallels we found in Jungian archetypes like King-Warrior-Magician-Lover (Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette), ancient stories like Iron John (Robert Bly), meaningful metaphors like “fire in the belly” (Sam Keen). Finding some kind of story that captured the essence of our experience helped us retrieve the plotline and recapture action as an actor on the stage of life instead of a passive viewer in the audience.

The myth of Narcissus is one classic such story. Familiar elements in it give us handles to grapple with parallel issues we see in ourselves and others.

The problem is, we have a too-shallow perception of the story. It is about far more than the usual interpretation we hear, about being so absorbed in ourselves that we metaphorically drown in the pool of our self love. Chapter 2 in Chuck DeGroat’s book, When Narcissism Comes To Church, looks beneath the modern surface to deeper issues of separation from self, isolation in identity. Without this more accurate understanding of the story of Narcissus, we will never quite grasp why the toxic kinds of narcissistic people do what they do — and their driving need to find a “pool” of other people to reflect their image into.

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2. Narcissism as a “Human Universal” —

Mythology, History, Psychology, Anthropology, Theology

Chuck’s deeper psychological understanding of the myth of Narcissus captured my attention. Where my musings went eventually were to these questions:

How could we see if narcissism is a “human universal” experience?

And if it does show up everywhere, what difference does that make for how we identify and deal with it?

Human universals are those essences and issues of humanity that cut across all ethnicities and races, geographical places, and historical and cultural spaces. An example that we’re likely the most familiar with is The Golden Rule. Jesus calls us to “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” Some form of these maxims shows up in every major world religion and philosophies such as the “do good and do no harm” mandates in the ancient Hippocratic Oath. It’s not just a Jesus kind of a unique thing, it’s apparently a widespread all humans kind of thing — even while those of us who follow Christ have a different overall theological framework in which to apply the radical call to “Love our neighbors as ourselves.”

The search for human universals is actually a distinct discipline within anthropology. It got overshadowed by the focus that emerged in studies of cultural differences. But this search for common ground personally and culturally has never really gone away, and is even experiencing a bit of a resurgence. (For instance, check out Our Common Denominator: Human Universals Revisited, by Christoph Antweiler.)

Here’s where I think this concept becomes important for us to consider. If some thing or some storyline is that core to who all of us are as human beings, it makes sense that a woman or man, boy or girl in the year 2020 could link with lessons in the life of mythological Narcissus from over 2000 years ago. It also means we should be able to find examples throughout history, and even in contemporary society.

So, regardless of what kinds of personal or professional perspectives we bring to the study of narcissism, it adds to the composite understanding we get (and need!) as a community. And a troubling thing about the pathological kinds of narcissism, are how they affect people beyond the self. If narcissism were just about self-love, then it could all take place alone. But the kind of separation-from-self and misplaced identity that Chuck describes happens in the presence of others.

We need to learn about destructive narcissism from many different angles. From interviews Robert Jay Lifton (the “Father of Trauma Psychology”) conducted with former political prisoners of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, we can learn how pathological leaders establish “totalist psychology” social control over a people and keep exerting pressure to conform. From those who’ve survived spiritual abuse in ministry settings, we can gain insight into power dynamics between leaders and “laypeople” and the methods of “overlording,” like in the Shepherding Movement. From psychologists and counselors and spiritual directors, we can find out about technical indicators for discerning the spectrum of narcissistic tendencies to toxic activities, and work on practical approaches to counteracting them.

In short, if narcissism is a human universal that shows up in community, it will take a commonality in understanding and effort to put some reversal on that universal. So, we all together can go wider and deeper when we pursue a “spiritual MRI” on the meaning and methods of narcissism. But who exactly will those results apply to? That is an issue Chuck deals with in his “spectrum of narcissism” section of Chapter 2.

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3. The Spectrum of Narcissism, “Excuseology,”

and Avoiding the Temptation to Label

Wouldn’t it be great if only the really nasty-nice masked people were narcissistic and we could easily identify them, encircle them with repulsion tape, and cast them into the outer orbits of some asteroid where they will no longer do such damage to the rest of us?

But narcissism is not merely a just-them kind of a thing. No, it’s us-AND-them, even if we’ve tried to make it an us-VERSUS-them thing. Chuck shows us how we all fit on “The Narcissism Spectrum.” The way he’s conceived it, the narcissism spectrum includes all of us, primarily in how we deal with shame. (He has described the dynamics of shame as, in part, “a sense of deficiency, scarcity, deformity.” When Narcissism Comes To Church includes many other specifics about shame.)

His spectrum covers a range from “Healthy Narcissism” to “Toxic Narcissism,” and includes points of behavior that indicate a “Narcissistic Style,” to a more settled pattern of “Narcissistic Type,” and ending with a predominant presenting profile of “Narcissistic Pathology.”

Is it disappointing to find out that we all lie on this spectrum? Or could it be that this inconvenient truth is actually an important tool for our own healing and health, as individuals and for institutions?

In brief, here’s why I think Chuck’s approach proves positive in helping us discerning layers and levels of our own narcissistic beliefs and behaviors — and why labeling as a polar opposite of discerning, is destructive.

An inclusive discernment spectrum for narcissism removes certain us-versus-them dynamics of an exclusive diagnostic profile.

  • It doesn’t let US off the hook. Shame can drive our behaviors, too.
  • It doesn’t let THEM off the hook. Just because shame is a human universal doesn’t mean it’s okay to cause damage to others.
  • It gives everyone a base for common ground understanding and empathy, because we all function from some degree of shame. But it does so without sin leveling that implies that the degree of difference doesn’t matter, because it does.

By sin leveling, I’m talking about statements like these:

“Everyone’s a sinner, so who are we to judge anyone?”

“Every church is imperfect.”

“We need to be forgiving, let it go, just move on.”

These are not holistic theology — they are hellish excuseology.

Whether carefully crafted and subtly implanted — or flippantly tossed out as a Christianese cliché — by design they let someone avoid consequences of their sinful or even criminal and evil behaviors. Such twisted truths use weasel words — a term that pops up frequently in posts by abuse survivors and advocates about excuses they hear from abuse perpetrators and perpetuators. It also describes what “image repair analysis” experts like Wade Mullen and Julia Dahl describe when they do detailed analysis of statements by representatives from institutions credibly accused of enabling/empowering abusive individuals.

So — if we get it that narcissism isn’t just THEM, but US-and-THEM, maybe labeling will not be such a problem. It’s too easy to label someone when we think of a feature as just one huge category, and either you have it or you don’t. There’s no nuance in labeling, and it’s polarizing. It’s quickly diagnosing instead of slowly discerning.

Here’s something I posted in the launch team’s group about labeling:

I’ve really appreciated the careful framing on “The Narcissistic Spectrum,” in Chapter 2 and Chuck’s warnings at the outset against labeling.

My favorite quote on this subject comes from that eminent philosopher … okay, so it was Dana Carvey … “To label me is to ignore me.”

Similar to that is Søren Kierkegaard’s, “Once you label me you negate me.”

It’s too easy to make narcissism an either/or label, this-or-that issue — but that leads right into polar opposites and polarization. And frankly, I see such labeling happen a lot from abuse survivor community members on social media. Not helpful.

Having a spectrum doesn’t let any one of us off the hook, and allows more nuance for describing narcissism and discussing it with people. I’m still processing the psychological frameworks Chuck gives us in Chapter 2, and finding it helpful to reflect on types of scales and spectrums I’ve used for issues related to identifying healthy versus toxic systems.

If you’ve been on social media for any length of time, you’ve probably seen “cancel culture” in action. This involves identifying those who don’t hold our point of view as being The Other, and then denying their right to an opinion. Among other problems, this also denies their responsibility to learn and discern, perhaps even their capacity to do so. This happens in all directions: within abuse survivor communities, by outsiders toward survivors, and by survivors/advocates toward outsiders.

Without denying or minimizing or excuseologizing the destructive realities of abuse, can we at least acknowledge our necessity to consider issues of guilt, shame, and fear? These are human problems, and labeling/canceling dehumanize us further.

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NARCISSISM NOTES #5

Basics About Narcissism

Ch. 3: “The Nine Faces of Narcissism.”

Introduction

Narcissism Notes share my interactions with material Chuck DeGroat presents in When Narcissism Comes To Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse. Here are four things that especially intrigued me in Chapter 3 on “The Nine Faces of Narcissism” that I thought might also be of interest to abuse survivors, advocates, and church/ministry leaders:

  1. Chuck DeGroat’s Hybrid Framework for Identifying and Dealing with Narcissism
  2. Paradoxical, Paradigm-Shifting Creativity: A Theologian-Practitioner Can Do Novel Synthesis
  3. Who is My “Pool”? Identity, Reflections, and Deflections
  4. Thoughts on “The Nine Faces of Narcissism” and the Kinds of Cultures We are Drawn Toward

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CHAPTER 3 – THE NINE FACES OF NARCISSISM

Chuck DeGroat’s Hybrid Framework

for Identifying and Dealing with Narcissism

There is a legitimate place in educational materials for books that introduce topics by reviewing what other writers and thinkers have said, and then adding some of the author’s own tweaks in terms of definitions, concept frameworks, applications, etc. There is a lot we can learn from these kinds of books, but they mostly bring us up to speed with territory that’s already been covered.

What about real-world questions we have that these books don’t seem to answer well?

Or practical applications they recommend that just don’t fit with what we’re experiencing right now?

There is always a need to pioneer new frontiers, ask questions from different angles, seek fresh applications for culture-current situations. Sometimes tried-and-true ideas and solutions can leave us in a rut. New, unexpected perspectives on the same old problems can redirect our thinking into new pathways that offer wiser applications that befit the times we live in.

This is what Chuck DeGroat has done for us, by cross-pollinating the Enneagram’s personality type framework with a range of problems involving narcissism. Christian authors have only been addressing spiritual abuse and toxic ministry systems since the early 1990s, so this is still a young discipline. I’ve noted a lot of books on abuse in the last 30 years, but have not seen anything like Chuck’s framework before. What he’s developed is a practical, pioneering paradigm at the overlap of individuals and institutions, everyday human vulnerabilities and more extreme toxicities, personal transformation and organizational remediation (repair).

On the technical side of things, Chuck has integrated his studies of two different systems:

ENNEAGRAM. Three energizing influences for clusters of personality types (heart, head, gut/body).

PERSONALITY DISORDERS. Three underlying driving forces (shame, anxiety, anger) in the cluster of personality disorders (Anti-Social, Borderline, Narcissistic, etc.) that mental health professionals consider in their debates about diagnostic criteria.

He’s noted how these systems have parallels, and integrated them in a way that gives us a fresh take on narcissism and its ramifications. Chuck’s hybrid framework organizes around heart/shame, head/anxiety, and gut/anger. It appears to have what researchers call “high explanatory power — in other words, the ability to guide our thinking in revised ways that make sense, and applicability to multiple situations.

If that’s so, I believe we’ll know. But how? Here are some possible ways.

  • Intuition. We’ll feel we “resonate” with it. People will talk about it in terms like “accessible, fresh insight, really makes sense to me.”
  • Interaction. We’ll hear comments about it like, “You put into words what I know fits what I experienced, but I didn’t know what to call it.”
  • Inspiration. The more familiar we become with the concept framework, the more fluid and insightful our reflections tend to be. The better we may get at identifying and interpreting situations where narcissistic behaviors are at play.
  • Integration. If it provides a paradigm shift for topics surrounding narcissism, then — as we “field test” it — it should give us practical help in understanding and dealing with our own susceptibilities toward unhealthy narcissistic behaviors and vulnerabilities to be picked off by those with more toxic narcissistic personalities.

In sum, if it’s “accessible,” we’ll find that it’s relatively easy to share the core principles and practices with others. If it’s “applicable,” we’ll find it fits with explaining elements in vastly different situations we experienced where the core is narcissism, but key aspects of the personal, cultural, and/or organizational profiles are  different.

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Paradoxical, Paradigm-Shifting Creativity:

A Theologian-Practitioner Can Do Novel Synthesis

It’s a great thing to run across a paradigm-shifting system that is both accessible and applicable, like what Chuck DeGroat offers us in When Narcissism Comes To Church. As a futurist, I find such frameworks fascinating — not just for how they help people raise their gaze toward a more hopeful horizon and take practical steps in that direction, but for gaining insight into the kinds of people gifted with the combination of abilities and possibilities for developing such transformative tools.

I’ve written before about what kind of person is more likely to produce this kind of novel approach. I think some readers may find this of special interest, so I’m including some of that material here. My basic finding is that it takes someone who processes information paradoxically — i.e., both/and, not either/or. That way, abstract concepts stay connected with concrete actions. So, it’s a theoretician-practitioner or a theologian-practitioner. Given Chuck’s diverse personal and professional background, he seems to be a theoretician-theologian-practitioner.

Here are a few sections from what I wrote about Alan Hirsch — another paradigm pioneer, in the field of five-fold missional ministry teams and assessment tools — when I reviewed his book, 5Q: Reactivating the Original Intelligence and Capacity of the Body of Christ.

Paradox Keeps Theory and Practice in Dynamic Tension. Theorists cannot prove IF their theory will work. Pragmatists cannot explain WHY their actions work, don’t work, start working, or stop working. Alan is not only a theoretician-practitioner, but also one of those rare individuals who is both a paradigm shifter and a paradigm pioneer. He deals in both big picture and details, abstract theory and concrete practices. This uniquely equips him to lead us to the both/and antidote for our either/or overdose. […]

Alan is not only a theoretician-practitioner, but also one of those rare individuals who is both a paradigm shifter and a paradigm pioneer. If you’ve been around enough to have questions about why Western churches tend to stagnate and don’t do well at replicating disciples or movements, then you’re aware of our need for a shift in theories that are kept in dynamic tension with practices grounded in reality. Otherwise, we end up with abstract theories/theologies that go nowhere, or ungrounded pragmatic tips where we don’t know why they work, don’t work, start working, or stop working.

It takes a particular kind of paradoxical “wiring” to work at high levels of both paradigm conceptualization and transformational system change. The mindset and skills of this rare both/and “creative personality” are described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his research study, Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention, and the impact of paradigm shifters and pioneers is described in Diffusion of Innovations, by Everett Rogers. It’s clear Alan can geek out on details of theory and theology, but it’s equally clear he seeks to live out what he geeks out on. So, *5Q* offers a rare opportunity to see the inner workings of someone who can do both big-picture/global panning and detailed/analytic scanning – plus theorizing and practicizing. This uniquely equips Alan to lead us to the both/and antidote for our either/or overdose.

Paradoxically-minded people generally do not like polarization — which turns a complex phenomenon into two simplistic, caricatured extremes. Instead, expect to find paradoxical people emphasizing common ground, nuance, and a gradation spectrum instead of differences, stereotyping, and a set of polar opposites.

Paradoxically-minded people are also often polymaths, and polymaths are often paradigm shifters (who develop new ideas if they’re more abstractly oriented in their processing modes) or paradigm pioneers (who develop practical applications from old or new ideas, if they’re more concretely oriented).

Polymath. Person who has wide-ranging interests and significant areas of expertise in multiple fields. Polymaths typically synthesize their knowledge and frequently come up with fresh, intriguing perspectives on subjects old and new. Often, the older they get, and the larger the databanks of multi-disciplines they can draw from, the more unusual the insights they can integrate. More than just dabblers in various academic disciplines, they grow into paradoxical and interdisciplinary philosophers who sometimes become acknowledged as “paradigm shifters” – making such original contributions in their field(s) of interest that the discipline is forever changed.

Interested in more on polymaths and paradigm shifters? See my blog page on Interpolators, and check out Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. [This popular-level book shares research on what makes for paradigm-shifting innovators in any field of endeavor. While this is not a book with lots of ideas about how to be creative, it gives the necessary framework and real-world examples for how creativity changes things and what it means to be a “creative person.”]

So, there you go … some background from a futurist perspective on the kinds of people who make significant changes in aspects of our concepts and/or our cultures. I think as we go through When Narcissism Comes To Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse, we’ll observe examples that show us the innovative ways that Chuck DeGroat has approached helping people understand and deal with the wide-ranging realities of narcissism.

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Who is My “Pool”?

Identity, Reflections, and Deflections

The myth of Narcissus has him driven by his longings into a reflection pool, where he drowns. The parallels between that and Chuck DeGroat’s reframing of narcissism with the driving energies behind the Enneagram — shame, anxiety, anger — created a question that I cannot shake: Who is my metaphorical “pool”?

In those fragmented aspects of my personality, who have I turned toward, expecting them to mirror back to me what they see as my identity?

How is it that I end up cutting others with the shards of my broken, wounded soul — instead of them “fixing” me?

Is there a direct relationship between anxiety and toxicity: The more anxious (head-driven) I am, the more toxic I will be to myself and others?

Is there an inverse relationship between toxicity here: The less I have reintegrated my own personhood shards, the more I immerse myself in others.

Because I have invested so much time into research writing about malignant people and systemic abuse, my brain is rotating that question into a form for others.

Does allowing a continued “pool” (i.e., public platform and roles of influence) enable a leader who is nearer to the pathological end of the narcissism spectrum to keep doing their same destructive dynamics?

In other words, does the deflection of accountability and removal of consequences set up or reinforce a system that almost inevitably means more victims of that leader’s narcissism?

In what ways does it break the destructive patterns of the pathologically narcissistic person when we do remove their “identity pool” from them?

How can we best separate a toxic person’s or system’s “identity pool” of followers, and help both that person/system and the followers in recovery-and-repair processes?

I suspect I’ll be refining these questions and adding on insights as I continue reading Chuck’s book …

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Thoughts on “The Nine Faces of Narcissism”

and the Kinds of Cultures We are Drawn Toward

One of the things I learned early on in both linguistics and theological studies is: “Hold your theories lightly, not tightly.” No system that we create to categorize information and summarize concepts is perfect. They might eventually be disproved — and even if they’re generally approved, they can still be improved. (Or, as I’ve noted earlier in this series, “No theology is innerant.”) Questions and discussions are key ways we can test our theories and applications. The following is from a Twitter discussion of February 28, 2020, with Tai French, that sparked some thoughts about implications of “The Nine Faces of Narcissism.”

TAI FRENCH. One other aspect that I’m incredibly curious about is how personality type influences our predisposition to gravitate towards narcissistic cultures. Are [Enneagram] 1’s more drawn to rightness-by-association? 6’s to the need for external authority? 2’s by a desire to please?

BRAD. Some thoughts, off the top of my head, which I’ll organize later:

(1) Every person, personality type, learning style, and cultural style has particular vulnerabilities (susceptibilities, or as you put it, predispositions) to being taken in by malignant leaders or toxic systems. /1

(2) This is not “blaming the victim.” It’s simply a warning to be wary, because people who are practiced at manipulating others know how to identify and leverage what are often the very best elements in our personality, ways of processing information, or cultural background. /2

(3) I like frameworks that work with patterns we find in both individuals and institutions; personal susceptibilities for individuals parallel theological susceptibilities for Christian institutions.

  • Am I more “rule based”? –> Vulnerable to authoritarian leaders/legalism system. /3
  • Am I more “relationship based”? –> Vulnerable to “love bombing” from leaders and congregation, which means susceptible to high-demand social control systems where withdrawal of “love” or outright shunning sparks fear and so you stay enmeshed. /4
  • Do we have strong desire to please God, but aren’t linear in how we organize things? –> Susceptible to sly leader who will be happy to give us “God-honoring checklists” that lead us to orbit around they’re godliness to-do list instead of on a trajectory of freedom in Jesus. /5
  • Do we value freedom and forgiveness? –> Vulnerable to hypergrace teachers who slant us away from liberty in Christ and toward license without consequences. My college friend Linda O. said, “Manipulators and martyrs go together in matched pairs.” Any positive feature draws some negative fowler [see Psalm 91, especially verse 3, on “the snare of the fowler”]. /6

(4) So whatever tools we use to describe personality, processing, and culture can give us practical handles on characteristics that can take constructive or destructive turns. Up to us to learn, discern, decide. I’ve used 10+ such assessments, not Enneagram, so this is all new! /7

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A few final add-on notes. A well-sequenced book will build toward ever-larger applications. This particular Twitter discussion bridged the personal and the organizational. So, it looks like those thoughts may well connect the Nine Faces of Narcissism framework with topics in Chapters 6, 7, and 8 on “Understanding Narcissistic Systems,” “The Gaslight Is On: Spiritual and Emotional Abuse,” and “Healing Ourselves, Healing the Church” respectively. Looking forward to finding that out.

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NARCISSISM NOTES #6

Pastors and Narcissism

Ch. 4: “Characteristics of the Narcissistic Pastor.”

Introduction

Narcissism Notes share my interactions with material Chuck DeGroat presents in When Narcissism Comes To Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse. Here are four things that especially intrigued me in the two chapters Chuck wrote about narcissism and pastors, two points from each chapter.

  1. Attesting to the Accuracy of Chuck DeGroat’s Narcissism Indicator List
  2. The Reality of “Fauxnerability”
  3. Behavior Points, Patterns, and Drivers: The Importance of Seeing All Three Elements
  4. How Embracing Paradoxes Like Sinner/Saint and Light/Shadow, Serves to Amplify Hope

NOTE: March 17th — St. Patrick’s Day — is the official launch date for Chuck’s book. Still time to pre-order at InterVarsity Press site or your favorite bookstore!

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CHAPTER 4 – CHARACTERISTICS OF THE NARCISSISTIC PASTOR

Attesting to the Accuracy of Chuck’s DeGroat’s Narcissism Indicator List

How do we know we’re dealing with a narcissistic pastor or system at the more pathological end of the spectrum? That is a key question that Chapter 4 answers.

I finished reading Chapter 4, “Characteristics of the Narcissistic Pastor,” a few days ago, so I’ve had time to reflect on it. I find I still resonates with the core of what Chuck’s written so carefully and faithfully about the realities of spiritual abuse. His list of indicators expanded my thinking with some new details and fresh perspectives to chew on. It’s a solid list, and he acknowledges that there is always more to learn, greater nuance, deeper synthesis to do with professional criteria for diagnosing Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Because of my own experiences with church and ministry leaders who abused power dynamics from their position of authority, I didn’t have to dredge up multiple examples for each of the 10 characteristics listed — they pretty much popped into mind immediately. On reflection, I believe they affirm the intertwined individual-interpersonal-institutional nature of most toxic situations, just as the descriptions Chuck gave for these 10 indicators suggest.

One concern that kept circling my mind as I worked through Chapters 4 and 5 (“The Inner Life of a Narcissistic Pastor”) was how desperately we as individuals and congregations need to be equipped to identify current or wanna-be leaders who are at the more pathological end of the narcissism spectrum. I’ve seen where those responsible for decision-making in churches and ministries have been ill-prepared to protect the flock — or even were an abuse perpetrator or enabler themselves. So I have questions:

If we cannot undertake that discernment discipline, how will we ever intervene and remove toxic people from positions of influence when their poisonous principles and practices have infused into our parish infrastructure?

If we do not learn to intervene when the crisis is underway, how can we expect to intercept people and situations before they get to the crisis point?

Further, how can we be confident that our efforts on abuse prevention will create a better environment for us all — unless we learn and practice abuse/abuser discernment?

In a system situation, individuals and institutions get interwoven. Qualitative indicators like these 10 personal characteristics are core to our dealing with the individual people who are key to institutional problems, and doing the truly hard systemic work of rehabilitation and repair.

Unfortunately, I don’t think all that many older generation leaders have much background in systems — though, from what I’ve seen, younger generations seem to get it about that concept more, perhaps from having been raised in a more ecological perspective. In that organic systems approach, whoever and whatever share an environment are inherently connected and interdependent.

Maybe older generations who trained in seminaries got something about business systems, but that doesn’t equate to organic-relational systems. And, in fact, the conventional business model for ministry can be used to justify a CEO pastor mentality which can be a stepping stone to an authoritarian pastor reality. But my Spidey-sense hunch is that those with only a business perspective or without any real system perspective seem to have the most trouble implementing correctives that rehabilitate their systems to be safer and more sustainable for the long haul.

I wish, hope, pray that church leadership and planter training would include more about organic and organizations systems. All disciples need that to deal well with systemic issues of our own Christian institutions, as well as with historic/systemic oppression in our local communities and the broader society.

But, there definitely is hope along these lines. As you read Chapters 4 and 5, you’ll find specifics of how Chuck — as a professor, consultant, and counselor — works in situations where such specific training and preventive transformation take place.

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The Reality of “Fauxnerability”

Fleshing out a concept of fauxnerability is one of many important contributions that Chuck DeGroat has made to wider discussions of abuser culpability and accountability. He calls it “a dark ‘flipside’ ” to transparency, authenticity, and vulnerability. On page 82, he defines his term:

“Fauxnerability is a twisted form of vulnerability. It has the appearance of transparency but serves only to conceal one’s deepest struggles.”

He goes on to describe and illustrate core characteristics. Here’s my summary of some of his main points:

The narcissistic pastor will talk about sinfulness in general as a pattern (e.g., “besetting sins”), or his/her temptation and sin problems in vague generalities, but not about specifics.

He/She talks about personal struggles in the past — not in the present. So these pastors may sound like they’re humble and reflective, but in the bigger picture of things, they’re just using a deflection to throw people off the trail of what’s going on right here, right now.

They may give lots of information about apparent personal problems. But dumping a bunch of data doesn’t mean you’ve grasped the underlying shame, anxiety, and/or anger that drives someone’s issues. And understanding what drives us and energizes our persona is necessary if we want to be transformed. If our pastors don’t do this themselves, what are they role-modeling to the rest of us?

They flip the script and spin the truth, always making self the victim and portraying the accuser as the “real” abuser.

Their inconsistent character and behavior shows that something is “off.” They can come across as warm and open and charismatic in public, then cold and closed-off and even cruel in more private settings.

On the surface of things, all of this (pseudo)sharing seems great and genuine. But the Holy Spirit may be giving us a sense of unease about this person. Something’s wrong — and will we engage our head, heart, and gut to discern what it is, and do what is actually needed to set things right to prevent harm to ourselves and others?

I strikes me that genuine vulnerability invites others in to be a mirror so we can come to understand better what they see and how we come across. In those moments, the others are the subjects speaking about we who are the object. I think the fauxnerable leaders I’ve experienced work in reverse. They want a bunch of people to surround them as an “infinity mirror” so they only see themselves. They are the subject, and we become objectified.

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall …”

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NOTE: In the next post, on Chapter 5: “The Inner Life of a Narcissistic Pastor,” I’ll pick up the last two points:

3. Behavior Points, Patterns, and Drivers: The Importance of Seeing All Three Elements.

4. How Embracing Paradoxes Like Sinner/Saint and Light/Shadow, Serves to Amplify Hope.

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NARCISSISM NOTES #7

Pastors and Narcissism

Ch. 5: “The Inner Life of a Narcissistic Pastor.”

Introduction

Narcissism Notes share my interactions with material Chuck DeGroat presents in When Narcissism Comes To Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse. Here are four things that especially intrigued me in the two chapters Chuck wrote about narcissism and pastors:

  1. Attesting to the Accuracy of Chuck DeGroat’s Narcissism Indicator Lists
  2. The Reality of “Fauxnerability”
  3. Behavior Points, Patterns, and Drivers: The Importance of Seeing All Three Elements
  4. How Embracing Paradoxes Like Sinner/Saint and Light/Shadow, Serves to Amplify Hope.

Typically, when I start writing a blog post about a topic, I have no idea how long it will turn out. I can’t project what twists and turns it might take or what I may learn along the way. Or whether I can make my own reflections clear and accessible to my readers. That last part can prove particularly challenging.

And in fact, I had a difficult time getting down on virtual paper my thoughts about Chapter 5. It’s not an isolated chapter that describes what goes on in the heart and mind of someone who is narcissistic. It seems to be in the middle of the book for good reasons, and I needed to take that into account.

In the bigger picture of Chuck’s book, Chapter 5 looks to be a set-up to link into how a toxic pastor grows an abusive organizational system (key topics in chapters 6 and 7) and then the huge issue of whether pathological pastors can undergo healing, transformative processes — and if so, how (key topic in chapter 9).

So I guess it makes sense that it was harder to crack through the surface of this chapter’s material, and see how it fits into the larger scheme of things in identifying narcissism and and dealing with narcissistic pastors. I hope I’m not imposing some kind of complications or sophistication that weren’t actually there. Anyway, I hope I’ve made my thoughts relatively clear so you can decide for yourself.

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CHAPTER 5 THE INNER LIFE OF A NARCISSISTIC PASTOR

Behavior Points, Patterns, and Drivers:

The Importance of Seeing All Three Elements

I am now retired from a profession of editing. One of the most wonderful editing projects I had was with long-time friend, Jay McSwain, as he developed his PLACE spiritual gift assessment systems and related resources. I learned many things from Jay over those years. As he delved through deeper layers of how personality types, spiritual gifts, vocational abilities, passions, and personal experiences work themselves out as a sort of providential package, that gave me an opportunity to think through wider issues of ministry myself.

For one thing, it sharpened my spiritual radar to be more observant about the kinds of ministry roles people have, and how those give them a distinctive point of view that benefits the Body of Christ. It also made me more aware of how a “spiritual MRI” composite of these points of view and giftings typically makes for a stronger corporate understanding of situations and how best to minister to people in them.

These lenses become significant in considering the uniquely unified perspectives that Chuck DeGroat brings to When Narcissism Comes To Church. I just reread his bio on the InterVarsity Press publisher’s page for his book.

Chuck DeGroat (LPC, PhD) is professor of pastoral care and Christian spirituality at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, and senior fellow at Newbigin House of Studies in San Francisco. He served as a pastor at churches in Orlando and San Francisco and founded two church-based counseling centers. He is a licensed therapist, spiritual director, and the author of Toughest People to Love and Wholeheartedness.

What struck me is this series of ministry roles he’s embodied: licensed therapist, pastor, spiritual director. From other information I’ve read about Chuck, I know that he’s served in each of these roles for nearly a decade at the least, and also been a church planter and church planter assessor.

Maybe you caught that  I changed the order of how these three appeared in his bio. It was for a reason. The way I see these three roles, each emphasizes a different range in a disciple’s timeframe for their overall trajectory of Christward transformation — past, present, and future — and Chuck’s professional expertise and ministry experiences cover all three.

How many people do you know for whom that’s true?

How might thinking about the trajectory and timeline of someone at the more pathological end of the narcissism spectrum help us shine light on their shadow, its sources and outworkings, and the possibilities for personal transformation through whole-person discipleship?

I’d like to fill in some background concepts that help explain why Chuck’s multi-ministry expertise and experience takes on so much significant when he describes the inner life of a narcissistic pastor, the focus of Chapter 5.

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I wrote recently about timeframes and ministry roles, in a February 19, 2020, Twitter thread started with a question raised by Andy Garber: “What would you say the difference is between ‘pastoring’ someone and ‘discipling’ someone? Or would you say they’re the same?” Here is that question, and I’ve edited my responses for smoother reading, plus added a few words in square brackets and boldface and italics.

As a futurist, timeframes are important to me. So what comes to mind, for what it’s worth, is that pastoring has more to do with ministering to individuals and groups in their present situations and needs–to comfort, encourage, and equip them for the future. /1

I see discipling as more person-to-person with individuals or small groups, and with more personal knowledge of proteges’ life story. So it takes into account someone’s past plus current situation for more personalized and culturally contextualized equipping for their present and future. /2

Counseling focuses on identifying influences from past in forming constructive and destructive patterns that affect our present, and working to resolve what hinders us from a healthier present and future.

We need all these perspectives for more holistic pursuit of Christward transformation. /3

I also would add spiritual formation, with its emphasis on coming alongside someone [in the present] to help them move toward particular changes or activities they discern they need to pursue [for a better future]. This takes into account whole personhood, but more assistive/less directive than discipling. /4

So, roles and timeframe emphases:

  • Past to present – counseling.
  • Present – pastoring.
  • Present to future – spiritual formation.
  • Past, present, future – discipling.

Teaching, encouragement, admonition, hospitality can be interwoven into each role. Hope that makes sense. /5

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How this plays out is that Chuck’s multiple ministry roles with their distinctive set of expert knowledge and skills can put us into the mindset of someone who hovers at the pathological end of the narcissism spectrum.

  • His counseling side’s knowledge and skills let him identify past and present actions that fit a profile of narcissism. They also help him interpret what drives/energizes that person’s shadow side.
  • Linking that with his pastoral side, he both encourages and confronts the person as needed, plus keeps a shepherd’s eye to watch and protect others from destructive impact.
  • His spiritual director side means he serves as a “soul friend” to journey alongside the person as he or she moves forward toward what are hopeful, constructive goals and roles.

I believe his threefold, integrated timeframe perspective proves incredibly valuable for abuse survivors, advocates, activists, church/ministry leaders, and parishioners. We tend to focus on the surface actions and negative impacts of pathological pastors (past/present), intervention to stop the current abuse and prevent it from happening again, going forward (present/future). But rarely is it on someone’s radar to backtrack those to the inner life of the narcissistic pastor and what drove the actions in the first place and what endpoint is inevitable unless something changes (past/present/future).

Chuck’s insightful writing illuminates these tough topics that set the trajectory timeline. His past-present-future orientations allow him to move seamlessly along the person’s narcissism sources (past), symptoms (present), and how to set things right (future). Chapter 5 digs into points and patterns that answer questions like these:

  • What shadow issues is a narcissistic pastor trying to hide himself/herself from?
  • What kinds of experiences create the driving forces that eventually cast that particular shadow?
  • Why do we see those particular actions that are indicators of more pathological narcissism at play, and what can we learn from back-casting these symptoms to their sources?
  • In the big picture of things, how does the inner world of the narcissistic pastor manifest itself in the world outside?
  • What clues does all of this give us for effective intervention to stop the toxic impact, interception before actions turn too poisonous, and prevention to establish health so interventions are needed less often?

I found the following sections especially enlightening along these lines of inquiry. They are descriptive of what is happening in a narcissistic pastor’s heart and mind and why, without excusing any of it. (That last phrase is crucial to include, because talking about his/her inner life should not be construed as condoning those dynamics. Rather, it’s to emphasize that if we do not understand those interior dynamics, how can we expect there to be interior transformation that could lead to sustainable exterior changes?)

Narcissists do not feel like the world is safe. They might not say it out loud, but this is their inner experience. While we all use self-protective strategies, the shadow dance of a narcissist is a dance of radical avoidance of anything that threatens his grandiosity, his control, his certainty. And while the narcissist lives self-defensively, threatened by any who might e a rival or postured to stay in the one-up position in every relationship, he is really most threatened by what is hidden within. At his core, he is a scared little boy. And yet he appears angry and controlling when the repression of the shame and rage within unwittingly reveals itself, turned on others and a world he is threatened by.

Terrence Real writes, “Too often, the wounded boy grows up to become a wounding man, inflicting upon those closest to him the very distress he refuses to acknowledge within himself.” When I work with narcissistic women and men, I find myself deeply curious. How was he wounded? Who hurt her? What messages did he receive in his earliest years? What is her inner narrative about herself? (Pages 88-89.)

Abusers shame and humiliate; they do violence to their victims. In truth, they are creating on the outside what exists beneath their consciousness on the inside. … By seeing what’s happening on the inside, my hope is that we can move from reactive to preventative strategies for healing wounded women and men. I hope we are better equipped to “keep watch.” (Page 97.)

Let me bring that all back to the headline for this section, “Behavior Points, Patterns, and Drivers: The Importance of Seeing All Three Elements.”

A cluster of action points observed provide behaviorial evidence that can be analyzed and interpreted to discern patterns.

Patterns show us the overall direction someone is headed in.

The energizing force(s) — drivers such as the Enneagram organizes around: heart/shame, head/anxiety, gut/anger — provide the soul’s fuel that turns an aimed direction into a moving trajectory.

There are significant issues and conversations about whether narcissists can change (which is a real-world question that abuse survivors frequently ask), and if so, how can they change? If the underlying energizing changes as shadow side shame, anxiety, and/or anger are faced and embraced, is there a possibility then for at least some level of transformation? Also, what roles could others — therapy professionals, pastors, and parishioners — potentially play in that process, and how do we ensure that “change” is not just another manipulative ruse? I’m curious to see how Chuck addresses these kinds of questions, probably in his final chapter where transformation is the main topic. But I have to believe that his multiple ministry roles give him an important, integrated perspective from which to respond …

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How Embracing Paradoxes Like Sinner/Saint and

Light/Shadow, Serves to Amplify Hope

I don’t expect to go in depth on this point, but still feel it is better to say something than nothing. In reading Chapter 5, I thought about theological paradoxes.

A paradox exists where there are two things that seem antithetical, like they should not appear together, and yet they do and they should.

Sometimes that is a source of tension, such as in the fact that, in Christ, we are both sinners and saints, and both citizens of heaven while sojourning on earth. We find resolution by embracing these both/and states we straddle.

Sometimes it looks like a paradox, but actually is an irony –where there are two things that co-exist, but they shouldn’t, yet they do. For instance, when the Scriptures talk about “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” We find resolution by removing one of the two things — in this example, either get rid of the form/persona, or stop denying the power and instead embrace it.

In When Narcissism Comes To Church, Chuck consistently emphasizes the “shadow” or “dark side” of being human. He talks about our need to face and embrace our shadow in order to engage in personal transformation — not deny our dark side’s existence, or give in to it. This creates a dynamic tension; we are saved but not yet fully sanctified, longing to be light and life in the Lord but still casting shadows that bring harm to ourselves and others.

I believe that living with the paradox gives us a framework for transformation and therefore, for hope. One of the best books I’ve found on this reality is Between Two Truths: Living with Biblical Tensions, by Klyne Snodgrass. I describe his core concepts and link to the publisher’s webpage in my post, Living with Both/And Tensions in an Either/Or World-Quotes from Klyne Snodgrass.

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NARCISSISM NOTES #8

Book Review Links for

*When Narcissism Comes To Church*

by Chuck DeGroat

BOOK REVIEW LINKS RESOURCE LIST

When Narcissism Comes To Church: Healing Your Community From Emotional and Spiritual Abuse, by Chuck DeGroat (InterVarsity Press; release date March 17, 2020).

I’m still processing my own review, which I plan to post around the official book release date. But if your interest has been piqued, you’ll find many reviews already available online — both official Endorsement Reviews and reader reviews. More will be available on/after the launch date of March 17th, as some sales sources do not post reader reviews until the official release date.

From being on Chuck DeGroat‘s launch team, I know a broad range of people are dedicating themselves to reading and reviewing his book. These include both men and women, from multiple generations, with personal and professional backgrounds that may include being a: pastor, church staff member, abuse survivor or family member, therapist-counselor-clinician, spiritual formation director, teacher, professor, leadership trainer, church planter, researcher, blogger, and/or book author.

Check out their reviews — the composite of these many perspectives provides a significant sense of how exceptionally relevant for all kinds of disciples that When Narcissism Comes To Church is!

And feel free to share this post or repost any of the information/links from the list below.

P.S. Still time to pre-order from InterVarsity Press or your favorite bookstore.

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Publisher’s Page

INTERVARSITY PRESS. The InterVarsity Press publisher’s page for Chuck DeGroat’s book, When Narcissism Comes To Church, posts solicited Endorsement Reviews only — no reader reviews. This page also includes an overview, table of contents, author bio, link to excerpt, and downloadable flyer.

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Book Stores

AMAZON. Reader reviews on Amazon are only posted starting the official release date (March 17, 2020). Many launch team members are already set to post their review then.

BARNES AND NOBLE. Already includes Endorsement Reviews. Reader reviews at Barnes and Noble are only posted starting the official release date (March 17, 2020).

CHRISTIAN BOOK DOT COM. Reader reviews on ChristianBook dot com are already available for Chuck’s book.

GOODREADS. Reader reviews on Goodreads are already available for When Narcissism Comes To Church.

HEARTS AND MINDS BOOKS. Review by Byron Borger, Hearts and Minds Books owner (March 7, 2020). See fifth review in the post. You can also order your book copies from their site.

INDIE BOUND. There is no reader review section on Indie Bound, but you can pre-order the book there, or search their site for local independent bookstores. 

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Reader Reviews

This section is for links to blog posts of people’s reviews that aren’t found elsewhere, especially if they are longer than what fit on book sites. (Some of them limit the number of characters, as I found out last time I was on a launch team, and had to edit down some of mine to fit.) So, these readers may have other or shorter versions on Goodreads, Amazon, or elsewhere.

LIVE LIKE IT MATTERS. When Narcissism Comes To Church: A Book Review, by Marie Griffith (March 13, 2020).

DEEPLY BELOVED. Book Review: When Narcissism Comes To Church, by Dale Gish (March 15, 2020).

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NARCISSISM NOTES #9

My Book Review for

*When Narcissism Comes To Church*

by Chuck DeGroat

BOOK REVIEW

When Narcissism Comes To Church: Healing Your Community From Emotional and Spiritual Abuse, by Chuck DeGroat (InterVarsity Press; release date March 17, 2020).

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Best broadband introduction I’ve found for all parties affected to identify and deal with abuse.

As a young Christian in college, I survived a brutal, three-year church split that fractured our church into four fragments. I had to decide whether Christianity was a crock and I should discard it, or if something had gone terribly wrong along the way in this church. I was driven to make sense of the horrific treatment I’d seen and the resulting confusion and emotional trauma I’d experienced:

  • How could supposedly Bible-believing Christians do such cruel things to one another?
  • Did the leaders teach and/or live some right things, but in a wrong way?
  • There were no justifications for what happened—but were there other explanations?

There weren’t any books on spiritual abuse recovery back in the 1970s. When Narcissism Comes To Church by Chuck DeGroat is the book I wish I’d had, to help me understand how I’d been susceptible to getting sucked into such a toxic system in the first place, how to interpret the crazy-making tactics of the abusive pastor and his band of enablers who took over the church, how to heal, and how to support the few friends I had left who’d gotten mixed up in that mess.

Like many abuse survivors, I didn’t want what happened to me to happen to others. So, I was always watching for resources on any/all forms of abuse. Eventually I felt led to find or develop ministry resources myself. Since 2007, I’ve invested myself in research writing on subjects related to abusive individuals and the institutions they create or co-opt, recovery and ongoing resilience for survivors, and practical solutions for intervening in and preventing systemic abuse.

On that basis, I can say with confidence that When Narcissism Comes To Church serves as a centerpiece resource for [1] abuse survivors and their personal support/advocacy networks; [2] personal equippers and social change agents (counselors, teachers, writers, activists, social entrepreneurs); and [3] leaders in established churches, plants, and non-profits.

Chuck DeGroat—who has experience and expertise in all three of these groups himself—integrates principles, practices, and personal stories in a masterful way that moves us forward, yet always using personable and accessible language. He introduces a comprehensive range of essential concept frameworks and solution skills that these audiences likely already know they need. He also embeds clues to advanced principles and practices they might not otherwise realize for years that they require in order to go deeper.

I’m thankful for the compassion and wisdom Chuck DeGroat puts on every page. He’s gifted us with a guidebook to personal healing from emotional and spiritual abuse. But his book also gives all parties affected a common vocabulary for the challenging conversations we must be having about individual recovery and support, and institutional rehabilitation and health. This is why, in a time of reckoning on abuse in our congregations and communities, I believe When Narcissism Comes To Church is destined to become a timeless, standard resource.

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NARCISSISM NOTES #10

Systems and Narcissism

Ch. 6: “Understanding Narcissistic Systems.”

Introduction

Narcissism Notes share my interactions with material Chuck DeGroat presents in When Narcissism Comes To Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse. Here are six things that came out of my thinking about the two chapters in which Chuck dealt with dynamics in systems dominated by narcissism — the first three items from Chapter 6 and the last three from Chapter 7.

  1. The whole system gets poisoned/tainted.
  2. Systemic narcissism manifests with two different “faces.”
  3. We can composite deeper insight from viewing sick systems from different angles.
  4. People in self-serving systems try to make you think you’re the sane ones by joining and staying, but the crazy ones if you won’t stay compliant and want to leave.
  5. What we’ve called “gaslighting” is actually a range of toxic tactics.
  6. Important reasons for understanding narcissistic/toxic systems before attempting to start up or transition to a healthy system.

Let’s dive in and see what’s what …

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CHAPTER 6 UNDERSTANDING NARCISSISTIC SYSTEMS

1. In Systems Infected with Narcissism,

The Whole System Gets Poisoned

1. POISONED SYSTEMS. Since toxins are organic poisons, they can seep their way through an organism’s entire body and create a life-threatening crisis that requires a long time for recovery and rehabilitation–if it survives. It is the same for organizations as for individuals. Here’s one example from my experiences in an abusive church where I was hired as a futurist consultant for several years, to help them transition to be more “next-generations friendly” in their structures and ministries. Ultimately, my input seemed to have no impact, and the church eventually snapped back into what it had been before. When its long-time pastor finally retired, it took years to straighten out the mess of an infrastructure he’d left in his wake.

#2. CHAOS AND CONSEQUENCES. Conventional wisdom holds that for every year a particular pastor has led a church, when that pastor is gone, it takes the congregation one month to recalibrate who they are without that person in charge and transition before they are ready to find a new leader. So, when a leader’s been in charge for 10 years, it takes almost a year to reset before there’s deep readiness to start a search for a new lead pastor – despite any growing sense of antsy desperation to get moving on it.

What if your previous pastor had not so much led the church, but let chaos reign in the church? And had done so for 25 or 30 years? What would have to happen in the two to three years needed to get ready for the next leader? As it turns out in one consultation I did in this kind of situation, the organizational infrastructure alone took about that long to renovate.

“Leading” by chaos didn’t mean things were any more creative in the church. It was just as control-oriented as one infused with legalism and overburdened with rules and regulations – but it was just not as predictable. In consequence of this, there were no minutes from staff meetings. Which meant no records of decision-making or to-do lists. (But maybe that didn’t matter, because there were no central files with important documents all in one place, like employee files, corporate papers, contracts and communications.) And there was no common understanding among staff members of what the official mission statement of the church was. Which meant if you asked three different staffers, you’d get three different answers, meaning know one really knew where this ship was headed in the ocean of supposed ministry.

An organization run that way is vulnerable to certain kinds of problems that non-profits are prone to. The biggest problem is that when you decide based on whim instead of with plans, you can easily end up expending the organization’s assets in ways that benefit insider individuals and not the public interest. Maybe you hire friends who turn out to be inept instead of experts to do needed jobs. And there may be lack of tracking fund usage, and therefore lack of transparency and accountability in financial dealings. The biggest problem created is a lack of trustworthiness. And that’s something you cannot fix directly; you need to renovate the systems in ways that earn (or re-earn) trust. As it turned out, the next pastor was mostly an administrator and he got the fractured infrastructures straightened out. That was his major accomplishment before he moved on. That process took about three years.

That church is where I learned from the inside out how strategies and structures, processes and procedures, cultures and collaborations can all be hijacked by a self-benefiting leader so he can do pretty much anything he wanted. And that the organizational fault lines didn’t disappear or miraculous fix themselves when that leader went off the scene. It was insidious.

And while the sickness in that system is stark, I’ve seen subtle and not-so-subtle ways that leaders in other kinds of organizations infused their will into the structures in ways that caused damage to the whole and to the people therein — and can leave destructive impact that lasts for the years that follow.

  • Hiring friends and relatives for positions they were unqualified to hold, or that would give the leader a bloc of people on a team or board predisposed his/her way and therefore with a conflict of interest.
  • Conducting official organizational business in the absence of advisory board members, or without sufficient notice or discussion.
  • Not allow anyone but the acknowledged leader to have any role of public teaching or prominence.
  • Not following the mandates of the corporation constitution and by-laws, regulatory agency requirements (like the IRS), or legal codes (like zoning laws).
  • Misusing funds that were solicited for specific restricted purposes, or that are inappropriate (perhaps illegal) usages under any circumstances.

Have you experienced situations where any things like that took place? These are not merely “tactics” to keep people in line. They become “the way we do things around here.” These principles and practices put into the institutional infrastructure inappropriate, unethical, and perhaps even illegal conduct as standard operating procedures They also condition people in the organization to either “get used to it, or get out.” The internalized memory of those manipulations may take years to decades to flush out — if even ever.

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2. Systemic Narcissism Manifests with Two Different “Faces”

2. DIFFERENT FACES. Not all narcissistic systems present themselves in the same way, just as not all narcissistic individuals act alike. We explored multiple faces for how personal narcissism comes across–nine of them, using the Enneagram as a way to categorize them (Chapter 3). Similarly, we can analyze and organize features of systemic narcissism according to two faces: grandiose and vulnerable. Read Chapter 6 for the illuminating details of how Chuck describes them, but here is my take on their contrasting overall profiles.

GRANDIOSE. The grandiose narcissistic system comes across as extraverted, buoyant, confident (even arrogant), lovely and worth loving, super active, competitive and perhaps amoral, self-promoting.

VULNERABLE. The vulnerable narcissistic system comes across as introspective, low-key, humble (even fauxnerable), horrible but grateful for God’s grace, passive or passive-aggressive, isolative and maybe hypermoral, self-deprecating.

A key problem seems to be that these divide the dynamic tension we find in Scripture of our being sinner/saints, citizens of heaven/sojourners on earth. Instead of maintaining these paradoxical sets of roles, they get split.

The grandiose version gravitates toward being created in the image of God, downplaying our brokenness and sin, and an emphasis on God’s blessings.

The vulnerable version wallows in our weaknesses, wavers on the edge of determinism and inevitability of continual sinfulness, and may not be too hopeful about the possibilities of being loved and blessed.

Each version is reductionist, and the split paradoxes mean a dis-integrated theology and sense of humanity. Each looks different, but both drastically affect the ways a family, team, congregation, or community develops its systems — and both turn out narcissistic.

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3. Viewing Sick Systems from Multiple Angles

Lets Us Composite a Stronger “Spiritual MRI”

3. A RANGE OF FEATURES. The way Chuck organized the big picture of grandiose versus vulnerable narcissistic systems makes sense to me, and it got me thinking: What are other possibilities for creating profiles of narcissistic system? What angles could we explore that would perhaps give us unexpected insights?

For instance, I’ve developed a set of institutional profiles around a sociological framework, with five primary means of social control — based on toxic church and ministry systems I’ve encountered over the years. I can also see integrating faces or profiles of narcissistic systems around an anthropological framework, with three different kinds of cultural bases, and a psychological framework, with five personality disorders or the three energizing sources in Enneagram clusters. I won’t deal with all of those here, but will focus on two: personality disorders and social control types.

What happens when we consider such frameworks — or perhaps even cross-pollinate them with each other? Here is a sampler of what some of the analysis and synthesis might look like, along with do-it-yourself resources. Maybe this will spark our thinking in new directions.

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Profiles Based in Five Personality Disorders

There are already writers at both the professional and popular levels who present distinctive organizational profiles based around differences among personality disorders. I’ll give those resources shortly.

First, check out the Out of the FOG website. This is my top recommendation go-to site for both technical and practical information on personality disorder traits, abuser tactics, and how to respond constructively. According to the Who We Are page, this well-organized, practical site was “Written and developed by people who have experienced a relationship with a family member, spouse or partner who suffers from a Personality Disorder.” They’ve made this a great resource for the everyday person.

The Different Types of Personality Disorders page overviews the categorizing system of types and clusters used by the American Psychiatric Association in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), and gives links to the specific types. Here are the main categories and types:

Cluster A. Odd or Eccentric Personality Disorders — paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal.

Cluster B. Dramatic, Emotional, or Erratic Personality Disorders — antisocial, borderline, histrionic, narcissistic, paranoid

Cluster C. Anxious or Fearful Personality Disorders — avoidant, dependent, obsessive-compulsive.

Writers on how organizations are influenced by individuals with personality disorders tend to focus on the five types drawn from these three clusters: antisocial, histrionic, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, and paranoid. (They may leave out some of those, or include avoidant and/or dependent.)

I posted links to the following books in section 2. Bullies, Leaders, and Enablers with Personality Disorders on my page for Spiritual Abuse Book Lists and Visual Bibliographies. They address a range of personality disorders and situations related to bullying. Personality disorders or traits addressed include: Antisocial, Borderline, Histrionic, Narcissistic, Obsessive-Compulsive, Paranoid, Passive-Aggressive, Psychopath / Sociopath, and/or Sadistic.

Destructive Leaders and Dysfunctional Organizations: A Therapeutic Approach, by Alan Goldman (Cambridge University Press; 2010). A professional book that deals with a broad range of personality disorders and how each affect peers and subordinates in organizational/business settings.

Emotional Vampires: Dealing With People Who Drain You Dry, by Albert Bernstein (McGraw-Hill; 2001; revised and expanded second edition, 2012). Uses a similar broad set of personality disorders as the Destructive Leaders and Dysfunctional Organizations book, but writing it at a popular level.

Emotional Vampires at Work: Dealing with Bosses and Coworkers Who Drain You Dry, by Albert Bernstein (McGraw-Hill Education; 2013). Bernstein applies the personality disorders framework to businesses and organizations, writing at a popular level.

The Allure of Toxic Leaders: Why We Follow Destructive Bosses and Corrupt Politicians – and How We Can Survive Them, by Jean Lipman-Bluman (Oxford University Press; 2005). Written at a more popular level.

The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout (Broadway Books, 2005). Written at a more popular level.

DIY — check out some of these perspectives to see how it makes sense to describe institutions in ways that link to the individuals who typically have hijacked them for their own relentless and remorseless purposes.

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Profiles Based in Five Primary Social Control Methods

Leaders in authoritarian systems seek to impose social control on the people in them. The easiest form to recognize is the “high-demand” culture that sets up a rule-based system, requires unconditional submission, and exacts severe punishments for infractions or insubordination. But, there are other types of toxic systems — as I found out from numerous experiences in toxic church and ministries that didn’t quite fit that mold.

It took me years to sort out the distinctives of several different types I’d experienced – conformity by compliance, by chaos, and by charisma. I found examples in my own past, and in history (Stalin, Mao, and Jim Jones). But I was still unsettled. As I retraced abusive leaders I’d suffered under, something still didn’t fit. Eventually I added competition to the mix of social control cultures — that was a few years ago, and Hitler was the prime example, in how he pitted his own inner circle of leaders against one another. Then, and less than a year ago, I added cruelty (Pol Pot and Shaka Zulu), as one particular pastor I’d encountered seemed intent on almost sadistic treatment of people — both in his extended family and in the church family. (Sidenote: I don’t often use alliteration for lists, but this happened to turn out that way.)

I am still writing about these social control methods, and exploring how each form’s leaders manifest particular traits and tactics, and how each form co-opts a different combination of susceptibilities on the part of its victims. I would note that these profiles can happen in different combinations and stratifications. For example, from my research on the Holocaust, I found out that Hitler used competition among his leadership group to see who would rise to preeminence, charisma and compliance among the Aryan populace to draw them in and keep them in his thrall, and chaos and cruelty among “final solution” target populations to inject uncertainty through feints and falsehoods, and, ultimately, annihilation.

Why is this important? Because it doesn’t let toxic leaders off the hook by using excuses like, “Our system isn’t legalistic.” Just because a leader or institution doesn’t fit some stereotype of “abusive,” that doesn’t mean it is healthy.

Here is a summary of a chapter I wrote on them for Field Guide #1, before adding cruelty to the list.

Chapter 5: Why Don’t All Abusive Systems Look the Same? Ironically, not all “conformity” ends up looking the same. There are at least four distinct patterns at work in systems of social control, each with particular integration point that the rest of the system revolves around: compliance, with overt rules and regulations; chaos, with unpredictable changes and insecurity; charisma, where consuming celebrity style becomes the substance of identity; and competition, where setting up adversaries creates antagonisms and distractions. Any of the four seems to be able to pop up in any given culture, if circumstances are right. But all of them repress or remove people’s freedoms.

Here is a short post that gives the above “tutorial slides,” and adds a bit of information: Five Kinds of Social Control Cultures: Compliance, Chaos, Charisma, Competition, and Cruelty (February 12, 2020). The reader’s/leader’s study guide to social control types in The Hunger Games it mentions can be found in links posted in this spiritual abuse FAQ:

What are the research criteria for identifying authoritarian “sociological cults”?

  • For an overview, see: What kinds of “cults” are there, and what are some criteria?
  • For detailed indicators that have been in use since 1961, and study questions for individuals and groups, see Robert Jay Lifton’s research criteria for identifying “cults” in the series, Lessons from The Hunger Games – How Do We Discern Dystopian Dynamics and Totalitarian Tactics?
  • Part A. Dystopian Dynamics, Totalitarian Tactics, and Lifton’s Criteria for Identifying “Cults.”
  • Part B. Identifying Cults: Authoritarian Communications, Motivations, Restrictions, and Confessions.
  • Part C. Identifying Cults: Ultimate Vision, Reductionist Language, Ideological Conformity, and Social Ostracism.
  • Or download the PDF of Lessons from the Hunger Games – Parts A-B-C.

For select resources on historical examples (USSR, Cultural Revolution, Jonestown, Holocaust, Khmer Rouge), see the visual bibliography here: 5-01 Five Kinds of Control Cultures.

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Do-It-Yourself: Cross-Pollinating Across Frameworks

If you really want to tweak your thinker, see what comes up if you cross-pollinate these two frameworks. What kinds of psycho-social insights come to mind? What real-world historical examples can you think of that fit the products of personality disorders crossed with dominant methods of social control?

Here are some of my initial musings of what social control system looks most like which personality disorder.

  • Compliance – obsessive/compulsive.
  • Chaos – borderline, histrionic.
  • Charisma – narcissistic, histrionic.
  • Competition – antisocial.
  • Cruelty – antisocial.

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NARCISSISM NOTES #11

Systems and Narcissism

Ch. 7: “The Gaslight Is On:

Spiritual and Emotional Abuse.”

Introduction

Narcissism Notes share my interactions with material Chuck DeGroat presents in When Narcissism Comes To Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse. Here are six things that came out of my thinking about the two chapters in which Chuck dealt with dynamics in systems dominated by narcissism–the first three items from Chapter 6 and the last three from Chapter 7.

  1. The whole system gets poisoned/tainted.
  2. Systemic narcissism manifests with two different “faces.”
  3. We can composite deeper insight from viewing sick systems from different angles.
  4. People in self-serving systems try to make you think you’re the sane ones by joining and staying, but the crazy ones if you won’t stay compliant and want to leave.
  5. What we’ve called “gaslighting” is actually a range of toxic tactics.
  6. Important reasons for understanding narcissistic/toxic systems before attempting to start up or transition to a healthy system.

Let’s dive in and see what’s what …

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CHAPTER 7 THE GASLIGHT IS ON:

SPIRITUAL AND EMOTIONAL ABUSE

4. Narcissistic Systems Can Flip the Script on Victims Because

Inconsistency is Consistent with Their Crazy-Making Methods

4. POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE TOXIC TACTICS. People in self-serving systems try to make you think you’re the sane ones by joining and staying, but the crazy ones if you won’t stay compliant and want to leave.

In toxic systems, leaders and their followers/enablers tend to use a range of both positive and negative tactics for social control. The “good cop” positive tactics make insiders feel they are the only sane ones, and the “bad cop” negative ones make them feel they are going crazy. Abusers flip the script on their victims as needed.

I’ve lost track of how many articles and books I’ve read on issues related to abuse and recovery, how many conversations with how many people. Over time, a few key thoughts about tactics have distilled themselves out from all of that input. In no particular order, here’s what comes to mind:

Bullies seem to absorb by osmosis oh so many ways to get under other people’s skin — irritate and agitate them — and to positively draw them in as accomplices.

Although they may settle in on a specific combination of tactics as their “signature moves” on those who are susceptible, abusive people probably become practiced in a large arsenal of methods.

Any given method may seem innocuous, but in the bigger picture of things, they are all insidious, because they are slanted to serve a bigger purposes: keep the bully in power.

Part of the what’s “behind the curtain” in having such an assortment of tactics to select from is that different potential victims have different susceptibilities. So, tactics targeted at what a specific person wants most, needs most, fears most, is most anxious or angry or self-defeated about, calls forth a context-sensitive way to co-opt that person.

Every book on spiritual abuse and recovery seems to have a list of tactics. But any given victim likely has not experienced all of them, and some — perhaps many — tactics don’t work on them because they don’t connect with their susceptibilities.

So, the larger the list of tactics we can compile and sort through, the better equipped we will be to identify them when we see them.

A “Do-It-Yourself” Exercise. There are numerous ways to organize lists of tactics. Perhaps you’ve got a schema that you particularly like. Whether you have something in mind already or not, take a look at this page of Top 100 Traits & Behaviors of Personality-Disordered Individuals at the Out of the FOG site, and experiment with some different ways of analyzing and categorizing them.

  • What kinds of unique or critical features pop out at you for certain tactics/behaviors?
  • Why do you think that might be?
  • What commonalities do you see that tie many/all traits and tactics together?
  • What distinctive differences?
  • Which traits and/or behaviors have you personally experienced?

My “Taxonomy of Toxic Tactics.” Here are three “slides” that capture some of my own preliminary work on categorizing the mega-list of toxic tactics that I’ve experienced, observed, heard about, and read about.

Some of the categories are more negative/put-down in nature, others seek to be more positive/build-up in nature. This distinction is important because it leads into the discussion on “gaslighting” — which originally had an almost exclusively negative cast to it. However, since language changes over time, we find it used more frequently for positive or negative ways of manipulating people emotionally, propaganda to mess people up mentally.

Let’s take a brief  look at what goes for gaslighting these days.

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5. “Gaslighting” is Meant to Break Us Down,

But There’s More to It that We Need to Break Down

5. IMPLANTING AND IMPLYING MENTAL ILLNESS. What we’ve called “gaslighting” is actually a range of toxic tactics.

Gaslighting and related forms of mental and emotional manipulation are core to the arsenal of tactics available in narcissistic systems. These intentional, “crazy-making” tactics are meant to entice people into the system, keep them there by whatever means necessary, and make life intensely difficult for people–or ultimately expel them–if they rebel and won’t conform to the required norms.

Language is fluid and the meanings of words often shift over time. This happens in abuse survivor communities, just as in other populations. It’s been my observation that, in the last 10 years, the term gaslighting has become used more widely and frequently — not just by abuse survivors — and also more loosely, applied to forms of manipulation beyond what it originally meant.

It found its origins in the 1938 play Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton, and the movie adaptations in 1940 and 1944. The DVD case back cover of the 1940 version summarizes the plot:

“Insane criminal tries to drive his wife crazy in order to find hidden jewels in her Victorian mansion. Highly atmospheric and charged with underlying evil.”

Paula Alquist’s husband, Gregory, attempts to get his wife (played by Ingrid Bergman in the more famous 1944 version) to doubt her powers of observation and her memory. He moves objects or removes them, lowers the fuel to the gas lamps to make them flicker, plays other mind tricks on her, then acts as nothing has happened and lies constantly to convince Paula she is going mad. So, the original meaning of gaslighting was to inflict mental confusion and implant deep self-doubt in the victim.

However, now gaslighting is used for many kinds of manipulations on a wider range of target audiences. This may involve direct psychological terrorizing of victims to convince them they are mentally ill or even evil. That keeps the original flavor of the term, gaslighting. But these efforts also aim at the others in the social context: family members, acquaintances, potential enablers of the victimizer, maybe even the general public. The goal with this outer circle is to convince them that the victim is a liar, abusive, mentally ill — and as they adopt the abuser’s view, they tend to exert social control over the victim to silence him/her. The technical term for this is controversializing. Here are some descriptions of these concepts, from my blog post on When Abusers “Controversialize” and “Gaslight” Victims to Deflect from Their Own Responsibility.

Controversializing is a form of social control accomplished through deflecting attention from the factual issue at hand by shifting the focus to the messenger who made people aware of the problem. This is done by shunning, eliminating, erasing opponents. It can include propaganda elements such as disinformation, PR spin, and outright lies.

Controversializing shows similarities to gaslighting, but — at least the way I currently see it — controversializing is aimed more at convincing the public that the messenger is mentally off, while gaslighting involves actions to convince the messengers themselves that they are mentally off balance.

Intriguingly, the term controversializing also comes from a movie: Kill the Messenger. This drama was based on the true story of investigative reporter Gary Webb. He wrote about a 1980s “dark alliance” involving drugs, gangs, the Contras, and the CIA. For details, see The Killing Game: Selected Writings by the Author of Dark Alliance, by Gary Webb (2011; Seven Stories Press). The book’s “Publisher’s Note” by Dan Simon states that Webb’s investigative series:

might have vanished without a trace had the [Mercury News] not chosen this story to create a splash for its website, complete with graphics and links to a treasure trove of original source documents. It became the first big internet news story, with as many as 1.3 million hits in a single day.

But then, major newspapers covered Gary Webb AS the story – “controversializing” him – instead of dealing with the content of his article or conducting their own investigation. Eventual fact-checking apparently turned up nothing wrong with his facts, but that didn’t change the attack on the messenger.

Here are some of the gaslighting and controversializing statements I’ve heard in person from toxic leaders:

  • You’re the most self-centered person I’ve ever known.
  • You want to get a Christian counselor? No, I don’t recommend your doing that. You’ll only depend on the counselor and not on Jesus. [Meaning, You need to keep depending on me as your Pastor/Shepherd.]
  • They’re mentally unstable.
  • They’re quite “ill,” if you catch my drift.
  • There was a “personality conflict.” [Meaning, I’m the calm, sane, rational one — they’re not.]

This is NOT a plea for everyone to go back to the original meaning of words, but to at least be more aware of the context a term is used in, and maybe choose another word than gaslighting. Why? Because when one term ends up in general use to cover too many meanings, we tend to lose touch with a spectrum of more specific words. And we have a whole slew of workable words that offer different nuances of intent and impact that can help us broaden our thinking and enrich our communicating. Clusters of terms like:

Disinformation, propaganda, gossip, misinformation, spin, lies.

Troll, label, victim-blame, doxing, silence, cancel.

Groom, condition, unconditional submission.

Deny, deflect, theology of “nice,” two sides to every story, lack of witnesses.

Here are some resources, in case you’d like to consider this further

Movies

Because the Gaslight movies are now in public domain, you may find rent-free copies available to watch online. Also check JustWatch for streaming sites (some free, some fee-based).

Gaslight (1940; not rated). IMDB main page. JustWatch sources for streaming.

Gaslight (1944; not rated). This is the version starring Ingrid Bergman. IMDB main page and content advisory. JustWatch sources for streaming.

Kill the Messenger (2014; rated R for “language and drug content”). IMDB main page and content advisory.

Books

The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life, by Dr. Robin Stern (2007, 2018; Harmony).

Gaslight Melodrama: From Victorian London to 1940s Hollywood, by Guy Barefoot (2001; Bloomsbury Academic).

Seven Stories Press, publisher’s bio page for Gary Webb.

Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack-Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb, by Nick Shou (Revised Edition, 2014, Nation Books).

Dark Alliance: Movie Tie-In Edition: The CIA, the Contras, and the Cocaine Explosion, by Gary Webb (Reprint Edition, 2014, Seven Stories Press). The publisher’s page on this title contains a summary of what happens in the movie, Kill the Messenger, and explains the essence of controversializing. [Image not shown.]

Webb’s own stranger-than-fiction experience is also woven into the book. His excoriation by the media—not because of any wrongdoing on his part, but by an insidious process of innuendo and suggestion that in effect blamed Webb for the implications of the story—had been all but predicted.

The Killing Game: Selected Writings by the Author of Dark Alliance, by Gary Webb (2011; Seven Stories Press). Includes “Publisher’s Note” by Dan Simon. [Image not shown.]

Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate, by Zoe Quinn (2017, PublicAffairs). Aggressive online trolling and doxing.

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6. We Need to Know How Things Can Go Wrong,

Before We Start Up Something and Hope It Goes Right

6. UNDERSTAND TOXIC SYSTEMS FIRST. There are important reasons for understanding narcissistic/toxic systems before attempting to start up or transition to a healthy system.

Chuck covered narcissistic systems in Chapter 6, and presented a clear, concise approach to two categories of toxic organizations: grandiose and vulnerable. As I was working on my “Narcissism Notes” for Chapter 7, I happened to turn back a chapter, and realized that Chuck had followed the toxicity descriptions in Chapter 6 with a section on “What Does a Healthy System Look Like?” I’ve pulled out a few key sentences for the following quote slide.

Over the last 40-plus years, I’ve helped a lot of people develop and/or implement their plans for some kind of a start-up organization. Some were non-profits, others church plants, sometimes a limited-term social change enterprise. I saw a disturbing number of them flail or fail. It took much reflection to come to conclusions about some reasons why. The main one that stuck is this:

People who want to make a positive difference in the life of others are usually the ones who instigate these kinds of social benefit enterprises. Typically, they’re so excited to get going on their vision, that they don’t get training on how things can end up going off kilter. It’s not on their radar how leaders, employees, and/or volunteers with their own self-benefiting agenda can come in and hijack the mission, traumatize the team and target audiences, infuse unethical process and procedures into the infrastructure.

So, I’ve become an advocate for professional assessments of leaders and team members, to screen out those who should not be involved. Also, it’s too easy for leaders and teams to jump right into implementation stages after initial planning. So another slow-down-and-think-preventively technique I recommend is training on organizational development that begins with the many ways that things can go wrong in a system, and concludes with strategies for constructive, collaborative, healthy teamwork.

All that to note that I appreciate Chuck did not assume that we’d know what “toxic” or “healthy” are, and that he took us through the harder stuff first, to know how things could go wrong before exploring how things should go right.

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NARCISSISM NOTES #12

Trajectories of Transformation

Ch. 8: “Healing Ourselves, Healing Our Church.”

Introduction

Narcissism Notes share my interactions with material Chuck DeGroat presents in When Narcissism Comes To Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse.

This chapter presents a unique challenge: How do you do justice in just one chapter to the immense issues involved in the healing process when people and organizations have been traumatized by narcissistic abusers of word, deed, and power? There are entire books dealing with that.

And yet, I feel Chuck has done a credible job in that Herculean task to lift up healing with a framework that makes sense for both personal and organizational transformation. His use of the Exodus journey as a metaphor provides a meaningful touchstone for reflecting on the ups and downs of recovery. And his use of three people’s narratives — Paul, Stacy, and Heather — periodically throughout the chapter interweaves how individuals and institutions influence each other in both wounding and healing.

For this chapter, things went in a different direction as far as sharing my thoughts on Chuck’s material. A number of quotes struck me, and I decided to feature them, with a small amount of commentary. After the initial quote “slide,” the rest are numbered in the lower left-hand corner, and those numbers appear at the end of the subheads.

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CHAPTER 8 HEALING OURSELVES, HEALING OUR CHURCH

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The Journey Toward Jesus (8-1, 8-2)

The Exodus narrative gives us many parallels to consider between a physical and spiritual change of location. Think of the concept framework for journeying — starting point, ending point/goal, GPS, landscapes, barriers along the way, times of rest, perhaps long periods of ennui instead of energy and enthusiasm.

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Parallel Processes for Individuals and Institutions (8-3, 8-4)

In the big picture of abuse, individuals and institutions are often interconnected, and there is much we can learn if we see similarities in their processes of trajectory change and transformation. This gives us some of the motivation behind studying systems, to see how various elements in a situation interact, affect one another, help or hinder a positive change process. (Sidenote: In one of his videos about narcissism, Chuck DeGroat recommended the works of Peter Senge for understanding systems, mental models, and paradigm shifts.)

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What is “the Real Work” in Healing? (8-5, 8-6, 8-7)

Just as toxins (organic poisons) corrode an institution’s infrastructure and bend it to false purposes, so trauma reshapes an individual’s being and identity, hijacking him or her into an orbit that tethers them to their abusers. To reclaim freedom requires breaking out of the orbit around their abusers, flushing out those corrosive and parasitic elements that abusers have infused into the system, and setting out on a reimagined and reset trajectory.

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Key to Healthy Recovery: It’s a “Who,” Not Just a “What” (8-8)

Chuck notes, “I’ve rarely seen a healthy recovery happen without a wise guide accompanying and leading it” (page 144). He applies it to both individuals and institutions. In one case he describes, the church hired an organizational consultant to pilot the recovery process:

Phase 1, a season of truth-telling.

Phase 2, reimagine corporate sense of call, mission, and identity.

Phase 3, internal leadership team return to their main role as consultancy phases out.

Who knows … once we have undergone deep transformation ourselves from trauma that was inflicted upon us, perhaps we may sense a calling to become a wise guide to people and/or organizations that are starting on their own healing journey.

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Some Final Thoughts

I prefer print books over eBooks, because I practically destroy a good book with writing all over the margins, and underlining, sometimes even color-coding with highlighters. It helps me concentrate, and to code important things I run across.

Chapter 8 on “Healing Ourselves, Healing the Church,” is one I marked up extensively. In looking back through those pages while working on this post, I realized I had circled a lot of words. A closer inspection showed most were action verbs and other highly descriptive terms.

As a do-it-yourself exercise, note words that stand out to you in this chapter, especially those related to the process of recovery and what “resilience” looks like. Here is a sampling of words I circled and/or underlined:

Resilience: empowerment – confidence – restructure – steward – grieved – reimagined – vision – articulated – identified – trust – courage.

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NARCISSISM NOTES #13

Trajectories of Transformation

Ch. 9: “Transformation for Narcissists (Is Possible).”

Narcissism Notes share my interactions with material Chuck DeGroat presents in When Narcissism Comes To Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse.

Can abusive people change? If so, how–and how much? Chapter 9 deals with hard theological and therapeutic questions like these. My notes on this final chapter lay out Chuck’s case for possibilities of change as stratified according to the spectrum of narcissism (detailed in Chapter 2), indicators of openness to change, and who is likely or not to pursue transformation.

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CHAPTER 9 TRANSFORMATION FOR NARCISSISTS (IS POSSIBLE)

Introducing the Core Issue in Chapter 9:

Reconciling Salvation and Sanctification

in Those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Chapter 9 contains concepts about possibilities of transformation for abusive people, that many Christians may find difficult to grapple with, especially those who are survivors of traumatization by abusive people in religious settings. In those cases, victimization typically involves abuse of power differential, in addition to whatever other forms of abuse, manipulation, and/or ministry malpractice were involved. So, their knowledge is personal for how insidious the behaviors are of someone who could probably be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). As survivors and advocates track what happens with such perpetrators, their outlook on abusers “changing their spots” is basically nil.

Those who’ve been in and around ministries to abuse survivors have almost certainly heard things along the line of, “Men who perpetrate domestic violence basically don’t change” and “People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder can’t change. Maybe at best they can be taught to manage their behavior to avoid hurting people.”

Yet, it’s hard to reconcile a faith that says God loves all people, Christ died for all, and the Holy Spirit is in all Christians to guide and empower them — but then withhold any hope or possibility of personal transformation for certain kinds of extremely damaged and extremely damaging people.

  • Even if we believe salvation is possible for anyone, do we believe sanctification is really possible for anyone?
  • If yes, then what does it look like?
  • What boundaries are there?
  • Are we mixing our beliefs about spiritual sanctification/growth with the Church’s legitimate need to prevent victimization and protect the vulnerable?

As a licensed therapist and a church consultant, Chuck DeGroat has encountered numerous men and women with personality disorders, including NPD. His general conclusion is that change is possible for such people — but he also immediately offers specific categories and conditions that nuance the answer. Thus, for him, this is NOT an either/or question — “Yes, they absolutely can change.” Or, “No they absolutely cannot.”

A video he posted on his Facebook page overviews his take on the key question and his overall framework for his answer: Is transformation for narcissists possible? (The controversial chapter!) I found this very clear, concise, and accessible. We need to consider multiple aspects on the issue of change, and he offers them here, at least in seed form.

The possibility for transformation is not absolute — either all YES, or all NO for anyone who presents some kind of “narcissistic behaviors.”

That’s because possibilities are stratified. This means the hope for significant change differs, according to the levels of patterns and pathology (i.e., location on the spectrum of narcissism). —

Three key indicators for how possible change is — whether for narcissistic individuals or decision-makers for a narcissistic institutional system — involve showing sufficient openness to: (1) self-awareness, (2) empathy, and (3) hearing how others perceive you and the destructive impact you are having.

From the realities Chuck was witnessed in his counseling and consulting, the closer to the pathological end of the spectrum of narcissism, the less likely the person/organization is to possess and implement those openness potentials.

In short, Chuck pursues a third-way approach to the question of change.

“This ‘third way’ has been among the most helpful and hopeful pathways to transformation among those I’ve worked with. It neither exonerates nor condemns. It holds both beauty and brokenness. It admits complexity. It invites curiosity.” (Page 153)

Let’s consider how to break down the elements of a sophisticated, stratified, third way approach.

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My Overall Response to Chuck DeGroat’s “Third Way”

for Viewing Narcissism and Transformation

I’m going to suggest you watch this video that Chuck posted — Is transformation for narcissists possible? (The controversial chapter!) — and then read my Facebook post of March 15, 2020, that gives my initial response to it.

IS TRANSFORMATION FOR NARCISSISTIC PEOPLE POSSIBLE? I’m halfway through the final chapter in *When Narcissism Comes To Church* so I’m right in the middle of those two big interrelated questions about whether a narcissistic can change and if so, how.

I think I’m understanding Chuck DeGroat‘s overall conclusions in this video — and can agree with them, based on having dug deeply into the rest of #WhenNarcissismComesToChurch. I’ll post more about the reasoning behind this agreement in my forthcoming “Narcissism Notes” for Chapter 9. Meanwhile, here are some points on why I find his video and approach helpful.

It seems to me some key difficulties we have on the issue of “Is transformation for narcissist possible?” are that: (1) many people have a box not a spectrum for narcissism. It’s sort of an all-or-nothing thing, no degrees of narcissism considered. Plus (2) we have RARELY read or heard of a toxic narcissistic Christian leader listen to the truth about their destructive impact, repent over the long haul, make things right with those they’ve victimized, abdicate their position of power, etc. Which (3) makes it difficult for us to be willing to invest enough time to hear something like Chuck’s nuanced approach, which he clearly lays out in his book.

In it, he provides a carefully constructed set of definitions and descriptions that argue convincingly (in my opinion) for (1) a spectrum of narcissism instead of just one category, and (2) a well-reasoned set of indicators of potential for change (some level of self-awareness, empathy, and hearing how they are perceived in relationships). What Chuck shares for possible transformation for *individuals* makes a lot of sense to me, because it parallels what I’ve seen in my research writing on identifying and dealing with toxic *institutions*.

This video gives a great summary for the relevant concepts to consider the questions about change. So, give it a listen, reflect, repeat. Get your questions and doubts out on paper and ready, so that you can get the most from a deep reading of *When Narcissism Comes To Church*. You may or may not end up agreeing with how Chuck has worked this out and ministered from this framework, but I trust you’ll find his book a helpful resource to wrestle with the reckonings that narcissistic people need to embrace and face.

Now I’ll tackle a few of the deeper details that were below the surface of what I was thinking about when I wrote that reaction for my Facebook page.

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Focusing in on a Few Specifics

Instead of duplicating what Chuck talks about, I’ll reference previous material in When Narcissism Comes To Church that ties in with various points, and/or share thoughts and personal experiences that illustrate why Chuck’s overall perspective makes sense to me.

1. Change requires a level of curiosity and openness. There is *potential* for transformation where narcissistic individuals or leaders of narcissistic institutions demonstrate they still have capacity for self-awareness, empathy, and hearing how they are perceived and are having negative impact on others.

In other words, there is real vulnerability, not fauxnerability. See Chapter 4, “Characteristics of the Narcissistic Pastor,” pages 82-84.

2. Transformation is more possible when abusive behaviors being manifested are more at the STYLE end of the spectrum of narcissism, and patterns more within the TYPE range of that spectrum. The closer to the PATHOLOGICAL end of the spectrum, the less likely that deep change will happen, though behavior management is still possible to mitigate damaging impact.

For the spectrum of narcissism, see Chapter 2, “Understanding Narcissism,” pages 36-38. The sequence goes from more healthy to more toxic, starting at the healthy end of the spectrum with Style and ending with Pathology at the toxic end.

STYLE –> tendencies, some traits or behaviors.

TYPE –> clusters of traits, patterns of behaviors.

PATHOLOGICAL –> meet the diagnostic criteria for having Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

A spectrum allows for a more nuanced “maybe” answer to the question of whether change is possible for a narcissist. But a single box labeled Narcissism where someone is either inside or outside of it promotes a category but no complexities. I see these distinctions as important because of two truths I learned a long time ago to are relevant here.

The first is, “Same root, different fruit.” Multiple people can experience the same behavior, but it can affect them quite differently in how they process and manifest the damage. This means that people may defy standard expectations in how they act in response to abuse.

The second is, “Different roots, same fruit.” People can have wildly different damaging experiences, but still manifest it in highly similar ways. This means we cannot backtrack from a specific set of symptoms exactly where it came from. The symptoms do not have only one potential source.

This matters, because we need nuance in our response. Just because someone does something that “is narcissistic,” that does not mean they should be diagnosed with NPD. If it is a rare surfacy action and not a characteristic pattern, they are probably more in the Style zone than in the Pathology zone.

3. The closer to the toxic end of the spectrum someone is in their behavior patterns and pathology, the less likely they are to demonstrating enough curiosity and openness for transformation processes to work.

The instinct to see how our actions impact someone directly — or indirectly through our complicity in enabling abusers — indicates curiosity, and thus a possibility for change. If we don’t care about what destructive/draining impact we are inflicting on others, we’re not likely to change.

4. The goal of Christlikeness for all disciples may be the same, but our pace and depth of change in getting there varies. We would do better to keep in dynamic tension the overall distance we are from that goal, with what each step represents in light of how far away we began from.

Regardless of personality type, Enneagram profile, culture of origin, or similar factors, our calling as disciples is to become more like Christ. That is the ultimate goal we hold in common. But all of us start our journeys toward Jesus from a very different “personal and cultural GPS.” That means each of us has a distinct trajectory or pathway for that journey, based on widely spread out starting points.

That may seem intuitively obvious, but so many teachings and preachings seem to assume that we are all the same, that everyone needs the same things at the same time. This programmatic concept of uniformity makes it all too easy to question ourselves, if we don’t get the exact points out of a sermon or blog post or podcast as expected. But is this the way it’s supposed to be?

The way I see it, Acts 15 and the history there of the Jerusalem Council is instructive. Both Jews and gentiles were becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. But a teaching by some from Jewish backgrounds mandated that gentiles had to convert to Judaism first before they could legitimately follow Jesus. This was causing great consternation for gentile followers, and the demand for uniformity was creating a rift that threatened to destroy unity. The Council discerned, in essence, that people needed to start moving toward Jesus from where they were at, not where someone else was. Judaism was not the gateway to Jesus — Jesus Himself was the gateway to Jesus!

This decision also recognized that people face a distinctive set of moral issues when they start pursuing Christlikeness, based on differences in their cultural and religious backgrounds. Some backgrounds — like that of the Jewish followers — already stressed strong moral standards and ethical responsibilities. Some — like that of many gentile followers — did not. So the Council recommended to the gentile believers some wisdom that would already be second nature to the Jewish believers.

How does this relate to whether narcissistic people can change? No one can dictate how long it will take to reach spiritual maturity, how fast change can take place, or whether we’ll always be moving forward or sometimes get stuck or go backward. But the probability for deep change, and the pace, would seem to depend on aspects of how wounded a person is — how fragile, how (un)willing to take steps of faith and keep stepping forward faithfully.

We see someone’s path through our own eyes, evaluate them as if our experience is the standard. But what if we saw things from a more elevated position? Maybe we’d see that what look like baby steps of growth, in an absolute sense, by a person from a background of desperate brokenness, might actually represent huge leaps relative to their own perspective. This is not letting anyone off the hook, just noting that we should measure things in the context of their own system instead of from our own.

5. “Neither exonerates nor condemns.”

Throughout his book, Chuck makes a case (at least, as I interpret it) for a paradoxical both/and approach to humanity. All people are both broken and beautiful, have both shadow and light. All Christians are both sinners and saints. The core task of transformation is embracing and facing those opposites, so we integrate ourselves into a healthier wholeness. This approach allows for complexity and nuance, instead of reductionism and either/or theological polarization that keeps us stuck in a “glorious-saint-only” or “pitious sinner-only” theology. (As Chuck detailed in Chapter 6 on “Understanding Narcissistic Systems,” each of those becomes the base for a toxic system — the former for the grandiose system, the latter for the vulnerable system.)

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Final Thoughts …

Chuck DeGroat does not let anyone off the hook. He does not suggest that abusive ministers who are removed from their role should have their platform of influence restored. His third way “neither exonerates nor condemns. It holds both beauty and brokenness. It admits complexity. It invites curiosity.” (Page 153)

So with all that together, it makes sense to me that someone with narcissistic behaviors and patterns can potentially find transformation and integration of self. It just takes a lot of definitions and descriptions to get to that conclusion, and most people with experience of abuse may not be willing to wade through that much, having seen the public track records of toxic people retaining their power. Chuck has given us much meat to chew on in this chapter, and a reasoned pathway to answer “Maybe,” like he does, to the question of whether narcissistic people can embrace transformation.

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NARCISSISM NOTES #14

Wrapping Things Up,

Additional Notes of Interest

Post to be added.

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