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Narcissism

13
Sep

Shame is at the root of all my bad choices

symington book coverNeville Symington (1993), an incredibly influential psychoanalyst suggests that Narcissism is at the root of all pathology. Loosely, he defines narcissism as a choice to turn away from the “Life force,” and any other outside force to meet my deepest needs.

John Bowlby, the father of attachment theory, and Allan Schore, the father of Modern American Attachment Theory (the 21st century’s version of attachment theory) point out that our early experiences with our primary caregiver shapes how we view the world. We all have “attachment styles:” Secure, avoidant, anxious, or disorganized. In oversimplistic terms, our attachment styles demonstrate our narcissism.

“Wait a minute,” many argue, “attachment styles aren’t chosen. They are foisted upon us by imperfect parents who are incapable of being perfectly in tune with our needs, and therefore, fall short of meeting all of our needs.” We absorb their anxiety or evasiveness. Controlling and anxious mothers produce controlling and anxious children; avoidant parents produce avoidant children. If you need to be convinced of this, look at your friends’ Facebook pages and observe the pictures of their’ infants and toddlers. You will see the expressions of the parents carved into their children’s features.

The most chilling, bone-shaking video of this reality can be seen in the still face experiment revealed on Youtube. Watching this seemingly innocuous, short video still rattles my core. Symington’s argues that attachment’s cause and effect features are, in reality, choices for self-preservation and Narcissism on the part of the preverbal infant.

While Symington is correct, he is missing a step. When there is a breakdown in attunement, the child most certainly is confused, not understanding why this all-powerful force in his life, who provides sustenance, care, and love to her, fails her. She naturally asks, “Is the problem with them or with me? ”

It is much easier to assume that the problem is in me: “I’m not good enough… I’m not beautiful enough… I’m not strong enough… I’m missing something important…I’m repulsive… I’m misunderstood… etc…” Or, “I’m too much for them… they can’t handle me… I’m too needy… I’m too scared… I’m too loud… I’m too hungry… etc…” The two refrains of “I’m not enough” and “I’m too much” come from a dark foreboding chasm of a sense of unworthiness. This sense of unworthy inadequacy is “shame.”

Shame leads to our narcissism. Our narcissism leads to all of our other pathologies and psychological issues. 

In Genesis 2 God tells Adam that if he eats from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he will surely die. Sunday school taught me that the death he and Eve experienced in the Garden after they ate was a spiritual death — and it surely was that. And it was far more than that. The first thing that happened after they ate was that they discovered their nakedness. They had to hide, and so they fashioned leaves as clothes to cover and hide. This is the first record of shame. This is also the first hint we are given that from God’s perspective, shame is death.

The God of the Bible is Trinity and in a perfect relationship. Ontologically (in his being) he exists in triune relationship. Shame destroys relationships. Therefore, shame is the death that was foretold in the Garden. If it grew large enough, it would threaten the existence of God Himself. It is at the root of all sin. It is at the root of all pathology. It is Death. It is Evil.

soul-of-shameAs Curt Thompson, in his book, The Soul of Shame (2015) alludes, shame is not stagnant, but mimics life itself. It continually besets and torments us. It will destroy us if given the opportunity. It is the defiant and Satanic urge to replace God with ourselves; freeing ourselves to finally feel as if we are “perfectly enough.”

If we want to address our ongoing relational and internal issues. We must face and address our shame. It is seen most easily in our relational styles, and in our stories of hurt and betrayal. It always manifests “between,” or, in our relationships. If we don’t address it, we will never realize the fullness that God has for us. Addressing it is not as easy as you might think, however. It requires courage, perseverance, and the company of friends along the way.

22
Aug

What is the Opposite of Holding Space — A Guest Post by Heather Plett

Heather Plett is a gifted writer and thinker. If you don’t subscribe to her blog, I heather pletthope this guest post by her will inspire you to do so. I wrote to her asking to republish this particular piece because, her description of emotional colonization, is a description of what the church often calls discipleship. It isn’t. It is far more insipid. It is spiritual abuse.
I hope you will read her timely, and horrifically beautiful description of emotional colonization below.

During an interview for a podcast recently, I was asked, “what’s the opposite of holding space?”  Though I’ve done many interviews on the subject of holding space since the original post went viral, that’s the first time I’ve been asked that question. As is typically the case for me, the right question can crack open months worth of thought, and this one did just that.

As I contemplated, I searched for a term or word that might describe the opposite of holding space, but I didn’t find one that fully satisfied me. Finally, I came up with this:

The opposite of holding space is emotional colonization.

Wikipedia describes colonization as “an ongoing process by which a central system of power dominates the surrounding land and its components (people).” Colonization involves overpowering, dominating, and taking away the autonomy and sovereignty of other people. Normally we think of colonization… (for more click here)

27
Jul

Struggling with addiction? “Acceptance is the Key”

Every 12-stepping, recovering addict knows the “how” of recovery. H.O.W. is an acronym: Honesty (step one), openness (step 2), and willingness (step 3). Only later did we discover that the starting point, step one — honesty — requires acceptance. Bill Wilson knew this when he wrote the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Chapter Five lays out the AA 12 step program. Wilson’s first paragraph in this chapter contains these words:

{Many have and will fail}, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average.

This “honesty with self” is incredibly difficult. From birth we’ve turned inward to find the answers to life internally without the help of God or others. In so doing we’ve effectively made ourselves God. The acceptance that is required for healing to begin is acceptance of the fact that every human is “just like” every other human on the planet when it comes to being able to control our internal or external lives.

This lack of honesty regarding our limits and failings leads to dishonesty about our glory and beauty. We are so scared of the initial darkness that we create an inescapable matrix for ourselves. This “matrix,” or, for some of us — matrixes — become(s) our only reality. Our “false-self(s)”  is the only self(s) we know. We cease to know ourselves and yet honesty and addictionintuitively feel the reality that we are not known. That breaks our heart and we are pushed further into our addiction. These realities are why honesty and acceptance are the starting points for healing. When we embrace them (or they embrace us, a whole new landscape emerges. We begin to see ourselves in ways that seem unreal. But they are. Honesty and acceptance are the starting point for our journey to wholeness and life

The second half of the Big Book of Alcoholics is a collection of stories of women and men who have recovered from alcoholism. Perhaps none of the chapters are as famous as “Acceptance was the Key.” It is linked below and a large chunk of it is quoted as well. Consider what the doctor who wrote it had to say. Read it slowly. Where are you as you get ready to start or restart your journey?

It helped me a great deal to become convinced that alcoholism was a disease, not a moral issue; that I had been drinking as a result of a compulsion, even though I had not been aware of the compulsion at the time; and that sobriety was not a matter of willpower. The people of A.A. had something that looked much better than what I had, but I was afraid to let go of what I had in order to try something new; there was a certain sense of security in the familiar.

At last, acceptance proved to be the key to my drinking problem. After I had been around A.A. for seven months, tapering off alcohol and pills, not finding the program working very well, I was finally able to say, “Okay, God. It is true that I—of all people, strange as it may seem, and even though I didn’t give my per- mission—really, really am an alcoholic of sorts. And it’s all right with me. Now, what am I going to do about it?” When I stopped living in the problem and began living in the answer, the problem went away. From that moment on, I have not had a single compulsion to drink.

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life —unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” He forgot to mention that I was the chief critic. I was always able to see the flaw in every person, every situation. And I was always glad to point it out, because I knew you wanted perfection, just as I did. A.A. and acceptance have taught me that there is a bit of good in the worst of us and a bit of bad in the best of us; that we are all children of God and we each have a right to be here. When I complain about me or about you, I am com- plaining about God’s handiwork. I am saying that I know better than God.

For years I was sure the worst thing that could  happen to a nice guy like me would be that I would turn out to be an alcoholic. Today I find it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. This proves I don’t know what’s good for me. And if I don’t know what’s good for me, then I don’t know what’s good or bad for you or for anyone. So I’m better off if I don’t give advice, don’t figure I know what’s best, and just accept life on life’s terms, as it is today—especially my own life, as it actually is. Before A.A. I judged myself by my intentions, while the world was judging me by my actions.

Acceptance has been the answer to my marital problems. It’s as though A.A. had given me a new pair of glasses. Max and I have been married now for thirty- five years. Prior to our marriage, when she was a shy, scrawny adolescent, I was able to see things in her that others couldn’t necessarily see—things like beauty, charm, gaiety, a gift for being easy to talk to, a sense of humor, and many other fine qualities. It was as if I had, rather than a Midas touch which turned everything to gold, a magnifying mind that magnified whatever it focused on. Over the years as I thought about Max, her good qualities grew and grew, and we married, and all these qualities became more and more apparent to me, and we were happier and happier.

Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, pps.  416-418 
6
May

“The opposite of rape culture is nurturance culture:” A guest post by Nora Samaron

The opposite of masculine rape culture is masculine nurturance culture: men* increasing their capacity to nurture, and becoming whole.

The Ghomeshi trial is back in the news, and it brings violent sexual assault back into people’s minds and daily conversations. Of course violence is wrong, even when the court system for handling it is a disaster. That part seems evident. Triggering, but evident.

But there is a bigger picture here. I am struggling to see the full shape emerging in the pencil rubbing, when only parts are visible at a time.

A meme going around says ‘Rape is about violence, not sex. If someone were to hit you with a spade, you wouldn’t call it gardening.’ And this is true. But it is just the surface of the truth. The depths say something more, something about violence.

Violence is nurturance turned backwards.

These things are connected, they must… (to see more click here)

Thanks Nora for such a beautiful and majestic piece.

you can read more from Nora at: https://norasamaran.com/ Go check it out.

 

3
May

A Fallen Pastor’s Story, Part 14: Who Do You Think God Is?

I couldn’t get sober and I couldn’t take the third step.They say, if you are having a rough time working a step, it means you didn’t take the previous one. I discovered at the International Convention for my fellowship that I was primarily struggling because though I thought I had taken the second step, I’d missed it entirely. The second step simply states,

“We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

Sitting in meetings, you’d hear an old timer explain the second step like this: The first step states, “We admitted we were powerless, and that our lives had become unmanageable.”  ”

“The first step states, ‘We admitted we were powerless, and that our lives had become unmanageable.’  So, first, we came. Then, we came to. Then we came to believe.”

For many addicts, God (or a higher power) is a brand new concept and so the old timers cliche says it all: We started coming to meetings, woke up, and realized that we couldn’t recover by ourselves. When an addict gets to this point, they are ready for the second step. “If I can’t fix myself, I choose to believe that something more powerful than me can fix me.” However, for many of us religious types — especially those of us in sexual recovery — there is necessary deconstruction that needs to occur.

At my fellowship’s International Conference, as I sat in the conference room at the PDX Sheraton, the 12 step seminar leader asked us to open our spiral notebooks (that we’d all been invited to bring) so that there were two blank pages open. He asked us to reinforce the pink line that ran down the left page to create two columns on the left page. At the top of the narrow one on the left he said, “In this column, I want you to create a list of all the people that were higher powers in your life as you grew up. It will probably include your parents. It might include a brother, sister, aunt or uncle. There might be coaches, pastors, babysitters or teachers on the list. Think about all the people that had power over you and impacted you growing up. They are the higher powers in your life. Don’t be afraid to add to the list as others come to mind as you write. ” My list wasn’t very long: Mom, Dad, some pastors, some coaches, and a couple of teachers.

“The second column is harder,” he said. “At this point, you may find it easier to work across the page. For each higher power, write about times that events occurred that taught you something about what your higher power was like. Were there specific things that come to mind that they did? List both what they did and what that action taught you about what a higher power must be like.”

This column was harder for me. As you’ve already read, my Mom was an angry depressive who directed her anger at my brother and me. Meanwhile, my Dad was on the road more than he was home when I was little. I knew that there were things much more important than me to him. And so my list went on and on. The more I wrote, the more I realized how much God often resembled the people who had been my higher powers growing up.

The third column lined up with the second. Where my God always abandoned me to rescue someone else who needed saving more than me, I chose to believe something different, and I wrote it down. Where I thought God was moody, angry, and disappointed with me, I opted to believe something else, and I wrote it in the third column opposite the corresponding action from the higher powers from my youth.

In the final column, our “old timer” directed us to create either a pithy phrase (affirmation) or prayer that we could look at every day to remember who our God was. I taped one copy of my right column list to my bathroom mirror and carried the other with me in my wallet. Throughout the day, I began catching myself believing in the God of my childhood. Looking back with twenty/twenty vision, He resembled an alcoholic.

A template for working the 2nd step

A template for working the 2nd step

Without working this step, I’d never have come to understand how wonky my view of God was. If someone argued that I thought my God was an alcoholic, I’d have laughed in their face. Nothing was further from the truth. Or was it? Working the second step is the first example I cite where it’s obvious I needed to work the steps to find faith, Jesus, and life.  Following the steps led me to Him. It was after working this step that God granted me sobriety.

There is still more to come.

For more of the story try these previous posts:

Part 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10 / 11 /12 /13

 

27
Apr

Out Of The Vault And Into The Light

Written by Alexander W. G. Seidel

We spend a lot of time promoting our good, while doing our best to diminish and all but hide our bad. This serves a purpose. We all have a deep unspoken fear that we’ll be abandoned or rejected if we expose our dark parts to others. If they truly knew about all of our wrongs, they’d want no part of us. Thus, we spend a great deal of time without having resolved our bad with our good. This leads to entrenched barriers to intimacy and relationship, compromising our ability to lead. Read more

25
Mar

I’ve Never Been to a 12-Step Mtg Before, part 2: How to Recover the Imago Dei

Every 12-step / 12-tradition fellowship has slogans to help addicts; all of whom struggle with forgetfulness. Nearly all of us forgot we were addicts, and the results were almost always disastrous — if not for us – for the ones we loved. One of the first slogans people coming to meetings are introduced to is the “HOW” of recovery. Recovery requires “Honesty, Openness, and Willingness.” Honesty corresponds to the 1st step; openness to step 2, and willingness to step 3.

We admitted we were powerless, and our lives had become unmanageable.
We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

While it seems straightforward, the first step requires a level of honesty with which most addicts struggle. There are two things to admit:

I can’t stop, and

My addiction has beaten me and will continue to do so.

Most users can acknowledge one of those two statements. The trouble is that while we admit our powerlessness one day, and then, the next, admit our unmanageability. Acknowledging them both at the same time feels impossible. It requires reaching the end of ourselves to accept that both are true. And only after we have done that can we resume our climb the stairs.

Unlike a normal staircase, recovery steps are too high and wide to take two or three at a time. You can’t skip recovery steps. Lots of people come to recovery rooms knowing either that their life is unmanageable or that they are powerless. Then they leave because they can’t take that first step. They are not that broken. Once you take the first step, however, if you don’t take a second you become a nihilist.

The second step is about openness — being open to something outside of ourselves that can set us free.

symington book coverNeville Symington wrote a book he titled, Narcissism. The book shook the foundations of the psychoanalytic community. For Symington argued that narcissism is at the root of all pathology. That is a big statement and creates a huge paradigm shift. Symington believes that narcissism develops in infants when their needs are not met. So they turn away from something Symington labels  the “Lifeforce,” and choose to rely on themselves to find relief.

Adapting his construct is helpful. It explains how choosing to turn inward and isolate leads to pathological behaviors. The choice certainly leads to addiction and death. The second step responds to our narcissism. It asks us to repent, turning back to the lifeforce, and in so doing, overcome our pathologies.

The second step is addressed in many ways in 12-step rooms. Invariably, if you stick around long enough, you will hear, “First, we came… Then we came to…. Then we came to believe.” Most addicts who grew up in the church think this is going to be the easiest step. It isn’t. On the contrary, my reformed, evangelical, fundamentally-sound, biblically-based God; created by some of history’s greatest theologians could not help me get sober. Though I tried for over a year. I drove my sponsor and friends nuts. Finally, after learning how to work the second step on paper, I disregarded my impeccably crafted, reasonable, all-powerful God who I was unable to

Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson

trust, and I got sober. I’m in good company, for I’m not the only one that gets stuck on this step. Bill Wilson addressed us in the Twelve and Twelve on pages 29-33. It is worth reading. (The link takes you directly to the short chapter on the 2nd step, and you can read for yourself what he had to say.) The second step was the hardest step for me to take. Probably, because I thought it would be the easiest. I wasn’t as “open,” as I assumed I was. It took me a long time to realize that fact.

The third step in this recovery three-step dance is, “Willingness.” If you make it this far, someone will ask you, “Are you willing to do whatever it takes to get clean and sober?” and, you’ll have to decide; for step 3 says, “We made a decision…” It doesn’t say that we “Turn our will and our lives over.” Rather, it means that we make a decision to do so. If the step said, “turned our will and our lives over,” it would become something we do once. It isn’t. Instead, we make a decision, “to continually turn our will and our lives over.” When we realize this simple truth, we start to understand why another slogan, “One day at a time,” is so important. For, it is too much to say that I will turn my will and my life over tomorrow or the next day. I can’t be sure I will want or be able to. I can only say that I’m making a decision to do so today. And, frankly, if you are like me, you have to make that decision much more than once each day. However, when I commit to doing so daily, my friends remind me of my decision, and I get to live.

It is important for those of us raised in the church to notice that the third step also has two-parts. When I grew up, right before the altar call, preachers used to beseech us to turn our lives over to Christ. Because we’ve heard about, “surrendering our lives,” so often, it almost became part of our DNA. Turning our wills over to God, however, wasn’t anything I heard in church. I’m glad because I don’t like doing it. Turning my will over became my sticking point. To be willing to do so required me going back to my second step again and again, until God became trustworthy.

I couldn’t do it alone. We are not supposed to. All these steps are “we,” steps. My sponsor used to say to me, “Remember, we don’t have to do any of this alone.” My addiction made me isolate. It was created and flowed out of shame, and shame is the destroyer of relationships. Shame pushes us further from others and deeper into isolation. We find recovery to rediscover relationships. We go to recover our relationships. And, as we do, we live into our Imago Dei. When all is said and done, we go to 12-step rooms to recover the Imago Dei.