Narcissist thrives in religious settings. There are many reasons for this some of which I will discuss below.
But first, let’s get a definition of who is a narcissist. According to the Collins dictionary, narcissism is exceptional interest or admiration in oneself.
In church, we are so anxious to please that we often unwittingly enable behaviours that are abusive to continue. In this environment, spiritual abuse thrives, and domestic abusers find a safe place to hide. The victim, however, will be left with looking after themselves. Sometimes they are vilified.
‘well-meaning’ folks give advice such as; ‘let it go’ ‘just forgive’ or ‘we should bear each other’s burdens’. Extraordinarily when women who are experiencing abuse at the hand’s narcissistic husbands seek help from church leaders, they are often told ‘submit.’ Women have the responsibility of ‘fixing’ the relationship. Already hurting, they hear statements such as if you were this or that’, your husband’s behaviour would be different or change. As a result, many suffer for years in silence while children are traumatised daily through the abuse they witness.
We can imagine the confusion from a wife who expects help but got sent back to submit to the torturous imaginings of the abuser.
To be fair to the church leader, the narcissist has a way of influencing feelings of apathy. They are not in touch with their emotions and so are often unaware of how their presence might impact you. People without the skills to deal with them usually give in to their demands and do things that are out of character.
People who are experiencing abuse sometimes get the short end of the stick. Church often hold meetings where both parties come together to ‘sort things out’. The narcissist will have a field day here because they are masters at manipulation.
They lack empathy and will, therefore, be unable to see or hear how what they did might have affected the person (whether it’s their wife, child or someone they hurt at church). The emotional disconnection means nothing you say will change their behaviour. The narcissist is excessive, self absorb and are unaware of others needs.
It is important then for the church to be aware of how to manage situations of abuse. This is an urgent training need for most congregations.
Some do’s & don’t when dealing with a complaint against abuse
Do not have a meeting with the victim and the abuser, especially where you do not have the expertise to listen and work with abuse. Being an elder/pastor, unfortunately, do not automatically qualify you to deal with these situations. You are in a powerful position of trust, and it is vital that you can help both parties.
Being neutral would be challenging for the most seasoned professional. I have the uttermost respect for those in leadership who often refer out cases of abuse.
Learn the characteristics of a narcissist so that you are at least able to identify the problem. You can support through prayer as you help to keep the victim safe. Knowing what the signs are will help you to maintain boundaries and not be influenced to shift or give up because of being worn down.
Here are some vital signs that could help you spot a narcissist.
- The person with an overarching sense of entitlement.
- Unable to apologies.
- Lacks emotional intelligence.
- They are unable to accept how their actions might affect others.
- They cannot take responsibility and lacks remorse. Instead, concern about image and how others see them is a priority.
- The victim will always be wrong.
- They also often resort to anger or frustration to get what they want.
Do not ostracise the woman who left the relationship because of the abuse. Additionally, seek out the person who left the church because they are disappointed and sad.
Seek the help of a professional for both the victim and the perpetrator
Do support through prayer and educating the church on how to support victims.
Attend training or invite specialists to come to your church to teach your congregation how to manage these situations.
If you are a church Leader and would like to talk about how to manage situations of this nature you can schedule a call HERE