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Dory of Wittenberg Gate has an excellent post up about manipulative people and the harm they can do in a church, particularly when they are in leadership: Even more problematic, though, is when the controlling personality in the church is a member of t... [Read More]

Comments

repenting

Thank you. This has been painful to read because I see some of these patterns in my life and in the lives of two people close to me.

I'm involved in a women's study class about the life of David. In the course of that study, we have discussed many things, including praying for God to reveal sin in our lives to us clearly.

I've just gotten my answer.

Mike

I would be interested to know the source of your descriptions and explanations of narcissism: it seems to follow Kernberg more than Kohut, which means it is more in line with DSM-IV than other theories of narcissism.

I think it's important to make a few other points here, too. First, there is a significant difference between those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (which you have outlined above) and simply having a narcissistic style. One of my favorite books on the subject begins with the sentence, "Some of my best friends are narcissists." And so are mine, if we are talking about style rather than disorder.

Second, we will all find ourselves in the laundry lists of DSM-IV or such as you have provided. The thing about the disorder, however, is that there is not only the presence of these features categorically but dynamically: they join together to create a hurtful personality. It is fascinating to see how each one operates; it is very difficult to dismantle them. Think 5-7 years, and then only if their pain motivates them.

Third, I fear you have created a caricature of the typical narcissist. My experience, both professionally and personally, is that they are much too insidious and clever to openly demonstrate the kinds of behaviors you describe. The true narcissist differs little from a psychopath except that the former has a conscience whereas the latter does not. Psychopaths are masters at reading and manipulating others - especially us psychological types - and narcissists are not far behind.

There is also a difference - a major difference - between a successful narcissist and a collapsed narcissist. The former are "on their game" while the latter appear to be one of the most genuinely pitiful creatures on the planet. But puff a little air into the collapsed narcissist's self-esteem balloon and you'll see that their grief was only for their lost grandiosity.

There is much more that I could say about narcissism, but there are books for that purpose. Suffice it to say that narcissists are complex, three-dimensional people not always easily identified or controlled.

I can't wait until you get to Borderline Personalities!

Jackie

It is an illusionary, disconnected existance. Pitiful. For many years, I have witnessed the surreal drama with a close family member.

Looking forward to next blog.

Dory

repenting, I think you are right that some of this is present in most healthy people, and sometimes it is healthy, and sometimes it is sin. As I read about this I discovered that I used some manipulative techniques sometimes when dealing with children that I would never think to use with adults. Awareness helps us to keep these things in check through repentance and the help of the Holy Spirit of God.

Mike, I am trying to describe a general problem from a layman's perspective and avoid the diagnostic angle to all this, though I know it can't be completely avoided. I think it is probably not helpful for non-professionals to attempt to diagnose a manipulator as anything beyond a manipulator. After all, we don't have to treat him or her; we have to deal with them.

I know of one situation in which a great deal of emotional energy was spent deciding whether a controlling person was a psychopath or if he had Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Why does it matter to someone other than his counselor? What matters to you is that he is waging a gossip campaign against your reputation.

I understand that those with personality disorders often receive mixed diagnoses anyway, that is, they are determined to be both NPD and Paranoid PD, for example.

I guess my aim here is not to help laymen diagnose a person, but to help people become aware that the problems they are encountering are due to their being manipulated. You are right that these things are very subtle, especially at first, and you can get sucked in without realizing what is happening. (Though every example I gave is a real-life example fictionalized enough to protect privacy.) Once you are aware of it, though, you can react better and work on healing from any damage that was done.

I want to make one other comment, by the way, on controlling behaviors vs. a controlling personality--especially to the ladies. Didn't we do a lot of this stuff on the elementary school playground? Didn't we turn the cold shoulder, accuse, gossip, and guilt-trip our little friends to get our way? Hopefully we grew out of these prevailing sins of our youth, but sometimes they linger on. Perhaps someone suffering from a personality disorder cannot easily abandon these things--because they have no other resources from which to draw--but the rest of us ought to self-examine on these things and repent. We can do great damage to our loved ones and our relationships if we persist in them.

John Schroeder (Blogotional)

Dory:

Just a couple of comments 1) I like your non-clinical non-diagnostic approach. I like you have seen enormous amounts of time wasted with amatuer disgnosis when there was a very real problem to be solved either in the pew or in the pulpit.

A very wise businessman once told me "first you fire them, then you help them." His point was get the problme out of the organization and then use the resources of the organization to help them, that meaning the diagnosis is necessary for the treatment, but it does nothing whatsoever for the organization.

2) I agree that these personalities can manifest in non-cultic or heretical situations; however, I think these personalities are a very strong argument for more mainline church. The mainline churches provide for better monitoring and control for this sort of thing -- though they are growing increasingly bad at it.

In more mainline churches such personalities are usually spotted and helped, or if beyond help, abandoned. While in the more independent church models they thrive, and are often quite successful, at least by some standards. I have seen whole churches, and countless lives ruined by this situation.

I hope you can talk about solutions as well as helping spot the problem.

Jason Dollar

I really appreciate the labor and research that went into this post. I was convicted as I see some of the traits in my own life. I pastor a church, and often I might use "flattering language" for example, when new folks show up. I am not purposefully attempting to manipulate them (I tell myself), but always in the back of the mind is what the future might hold.

Likewise, I have very few non-work related hobbies. Even my blogging, as much as I enjoy it, has the ultimate goal of sending traffic to the Apologetics organization I work with.

Furthermore, there are people in my church and extended families who exhibit many of these traits as well.

It seems that in my own life, the root of these traits is the sin of pride. It is a constant belief that I must be successful, as I define success. That is the complete opposite of total dependance upon God, living for His glory.

I am so happy that I recognize many of these negative traits and I am willing to submit to the Lord's refinement to deal with them. So many people who exhibit these traits are blind to their own depravity and will never seek to ask the Spirit to change them. At least there is hope for broken sinners.

Thanks again, I am looking forward to reading more.

Mike

Dory:

If my comment came across as critical of your post, I apologize. That was not my intent. I was concerned about caricaturization, though, since churches are loaded with narcissists. They (we?) are just smoother than people think.

My interest in the source was simply that: interest. I wonder if it's from something I've read or something I haven't read but should. You obviously have pulled together a lot of good, descriptive information and I'd like to use it, too, if possible.

Like John, I am looking forward to following posts. FWIW, I think clearly defined and consistently defended boundaries go a long way to resolving most problems with narcissist (and most other) personality issues.

Again, sorry if I seemed to be attacking.

Dory

Mike, I wasn't even slightly offended. Sorry if I sounded like I was.

I added a couple sources to my Christianbook.com list in my sidebar, but they are both well known and you are probably familiar with them. (They are both very good for the non-professional.) I intend to end this series with a list of resources and some reviews, but I have a couple I want to finish reading yet and a couple more on order. There's a lot on the Internet, and I will provide a list of links on those I found most helpful.

Sorry to put you off on that, but I want to take the time to do that right. Maybe the suspense will keep you coming back! (smile)

I've read some on the boundaries concept you mentioned. I think that is a helpful way to think about it. (One of the books on order suggests that tactic, I believe.) I use a similar idea with telemarketers. When they ask intrusive questions I nicely give the standard answer, "We give no information about our family on the telephone." Sometimes I only have to say it once, sometimes two or three times. But even the most pushy salesman or survey taker gets the message eventually, and since I have that answer ready, I am less likely to say more than I want to say.

I think any time we have a response ready for what we will do if he says this or she does that, we are ahead of the game.

Terry

This article was right on target for me! I have just walked away from a congregation where 'manipulation' and 'intimidation' were the SOP! I had come to really love my pastor and his wife and staff, but I had to finally accept the painful truth that it was all a show and a front. Their egos were (and still are) the most important thing. Others in the congregation are actually afraid of them and fear the fires of the lake if they step to the left of right of the opinions, wishes, and desires of the clergy and staff. To say nothing of what would happen if they did not faithfully pay their tithes. And if anyone let the pastor know they had come into any large sum of money, the tithe had to be paid DIRECTLY TO THE PASTOR and not go into the regular offering channels. I wish the members were able to allow themselves to read this article, but that, of course, would be out of the question.

And then there were the other members who have learned the art of what I call 'counter-manipulation' that they employed for their own self-preservation. This is in a 'Christian' community! Unbelievable!

I look forward to the rest of your series. This article was like a ministry to my spirit - thank you for allowing yourself to be used for the good of others mental, spiritual, and emotional health.

The Hippo Critic

Manipulation and control? It's witchcraft. Google that and find a whole heap more info to get through with some interesting insights.

Wayne

Dory, I'm really glad that you blogged on this topic. Spiritual abuse in churches--well, anywhere, really--but for us Christians it is especially about churches--is widespread, sometimes subtle, not easy to detect until damage is done. Any of us can spiritually abuse others, even when we believe we are well intentioned. But the human heart, oh, how deceitful and desperately wicked. Who can know it? Surely, we often do not know our own hearts. But God knows us and wants to keep chipping away at us so that we do not continue damaging ourselves and others.

I think there are probably a number of clues that can cause us to wonder if spiritual abuse is an issue with someone:

1. Always needing to have the last word
2. Not practicing genuine listening
3. "Owning" the church or the group, as, perhaps, a pastor who founded the church, and took it from 10 to 10,000 members and will die as pastor of that church. There needs to be accountability to a church board, elders, whatever, so that even such a pastor who may have a gift of administration will not become a despot, even if he doesn't sound like one
4. Erects barriers to suggestions of change from anyone else
5. Categorical thinking--my way is the only right way
6. A good chance of unmet needs from long in the past--and has not allowed God's grace to touch that need, bring brokenness and humility
7. Rule-oriented rather than principle-oriented
etc.

Such an important topic. I'm sure you could receive dozens of horror stories from people who have been spiritually abused.

Thanks for airing this critical topic.

Stacy L.Harp

Dory,

I found this just today and I have to say a hearty AMEN. It's nice to see you touch a subject that many consider untouchable.

I do agree with Dr.Mike on many things, but I would also throw out this idea - The church as an addictive organization.

If you look at the church as a family, then it is very easy to see how family systems theory applies to these congregations, and it's amazing to note the health of the church and how it stems from leadership.

Also, I notice you cite Toxic Faith my
Arterburn, I have this book, and it's good. But something you should know - I used to work for him years ago and he is one of the biggest jerks around - Classic narcissist if I ever met one, and also has a huge ego, and entitlement attitude....arrogant it probably in there too. So just because you cite a good source, doesn't mean the person who write it is any healthier than the words on his page.

Shiloh

Thanks very much for this post. It's so accurate in its portrayal of the workings of an abusive church. My family and I left a church like this about three years ago and the exodus was made very painful for us. We were there a long time, though, so I have great sympathy for people who are involved in similar churches and feel trapped. God is so good, though. And he has more than redeemed the time I spent there living for man's approval, instead of God. Keep up the good work!

WordGirl

http://moltenthought.blogspot.com/ This is too good not to link to. I'm informing our readers right away. Thanks for the content!!!

Word Girl at MolthenThought II

tracey

Wow. Sounds just like the senior pastor at my former church. I've only recently realized that what he subjected me to was, indeed, spiritual abuse.

Thanks for this.

Kathy

Dear Dory,
You really nailed this thing! I kept thinking, "Who would put up with this?" And then I remembered-me.
I pray for God to grant us more wisdom to put these sins from us and quickly, before the government legislates against them (or maybe for them?)
Thanks so much.

DJ

I have just recently confronted and been expelled from this exact type of controling church. I spent much of my last few months rebuking myself, crying out to God and angry and confused. It wasn't until God had me cry out for justice and reminded me that He was Soveriegn, that the fear/intimidation left me. (Breaking Intimidation John Bevere)I knew what was happening was wrong. I knew what God's word said, and I knew I could not leave afraid and silent! God showed me that He saw what was happening, that I was NOT fighting this battle, He was!

If I could offer any consolation at all, is that God sees the abuse of His sheep. These men and women will be disciplined by God. As Dory said, they can fool people, but God sees their heart. God will judge, avenge, and enforce His discipline on these men and women. God showed me how very serious this "False Shepherding" (Ezekial 34, Micah 2,3 and much of Jer)is! He will rescue His sheep, and set His sheep apart and He will deliver them. To know I have a God who protects me and cares about how I am treated and how His sheep are treated blesses me so much! Please know that God rescued you from this oppression and God's Justice will come forth. I refuse to be afraid, I refuse to be silent, and I refuse to conform to man's standards and forsake God's commands! The manipulation is subtle. Especially if the manipulator is not aggressive.

In my case, our Pastor is has a horrible temper and is known to have horrible screaming fits and rages, all the while hurling insults at his sheep as if they were the enemy and not one they are to take care of!

This church was a "cell church". So the control/manipulation/gossip circle filtered into every leader. I not only knew it was wrong, but had found myself repeating my training. That is was caused all of this to unfold. God convicted me, and then I was able to see it all around me.
My advice is, if you see the "practices" of these things, then get out. God does not want us to learn how to fight this manipulative/anti-christ spirit, he wants us free. Only God can deal with this one. My suggestion is to leave immeadiatly. You may need to confront this and call it straight out to the person's face. Begin to pray for this sin to be repented of or exposed and God's justice to come. You see... I am not the only person at that church who experienced this. New people come in every day.
NO ONE should have to deal with level of hurt and betrayal in the House of God! I do not want anyone to go thru what I went thru, or worse.. Not go thru it and spend their life time bound by the desires of men, hating themselves, thinking they are crazy, going thru the motions and then miss God completely and for all eternity. God is faithful and He cares for us! What if someone mistreated your son or daughter? Would silently allow it to go on? Would you ignore it and pretend you did not see it?? Well our Father in Heaven is so much more a better Parent then we are! How much more does he love us? The Word says we are "The apple of His Eye" In the Hebrew, that saying means 'He protects us from oppression.' He will protect us and will continue to do so. God's grace be with you all!
DJ

cee Jay

Sometimes I lay in bed at night and can’t sleep because (au…no words can’t say it) when I think about want kind of stupid stuff I bought into.

Like “Jesus Christ died for you, NOW you owe it to HIM to obey ME (the preacher) for the rest of your life.” And “his gift of life is FREE, but you are going to haft to work for it for the rest of your life or you will not make it to heaven.” The work is entailed by the man with the mic. You can’t ask any question, just do what we say. If you don’t your rebellious, demon possess, ungodly, sinner, not tender to the Lord, usurping God’s man, ect… oh the list is endless.

I have turn this thing upside down I see it for want it is, but I can’t reach my husband, and I can’t stop him from taking my children with him for more lies and intense mind control.


I believe Jesus word in the bible and I know that he said there will be wolf on the inside and dogs on the outside. Boy was he right, if your reading this and think “boy that poor lady.” I want you to know this can happen to you, A cult can get your children, your brother’s, your sister’s, your mother or YOU. Protect your self and the one’s you love with info. And always THINK

Take in all information
Hear all arguments
Intricately sort information
Not adding any bias (so you can)
Know the best answer

Please if your pray, say one for me and my love ones.

CEE JAY

Jon

I have been abused by Christians in the manners described above for more than 3 decades. About 3 years ago after a string of abusive relationships with christian women and abusive employers,
I read "In Sheeps Clothing", "toxic parents" and "controlling people" it was then I had an ephiphany. ENOUGH - ENOUGH! I cryed and now I have learned and prayed for discernment and how to avoid and to weed out those types of abusers. I am a spirtual Warrior and would like to start a ministry concerning the issues stated above so I can free those who are so deeply opressed.
Please pray for God to point me in the right direction.....
Thanks...

Hugo

Dory,
It is good to have post like this. I experienced spiritual abuse, so I can understand many things about controlling persons.
My first language is spanish and I'm taking your post to share with those who doesn't know english.
I didn't read everything yet. Something that I can add is that in projecting an grandiose image and a lack of empathy for others, they seems to be difficuts to find, always they are busy, at lest your are doing something "wrong."
Thanks for your posts.

Angel

I dont have comments but some questions. What kind of spirits would be controlling when in one church all the following apply:
1. The Word preached is rich but members of church are not progressing. Breakthroughs are few and far between;
2. Spouse of pastor controls finances and has a tight reign and inability to trust others in this area; Very little of the church's money goes towards evangelism, meeting needs of widows, orphans etc;
3. Marriages are glaring mismatches almost out of desperation;
4. Most members are young including leadership. The title of Pastor is loosley distributed. Appears to be no prayer involved in the selection of leadership;
5. Decisions often reactionary.
6. Church is like a family business.

Marie

I have a controlling personality. I have chosen to join this discussion knowing full well that you will try to help me correct my wicked ways. Please don't think you are smart enough to do that because it will only cause you pain...only God can help and you are not God.

I am not sure how sharing will help you but you wanted an open discussion so here goes.
For the record I am labeled with bipolar personality disorder. I have been on medication for 10 years and in therapy for 15. I have done many bible studies on anger, boundaries, communication, love and tried numerous types of therapy to no succes. I have been corrected over and over again by mentors and leaders in different churches and been told that rebellion is as of witchcraft and that I must repent. Repent of what I say..."I haven't done anything wrong...you are the idiot failing to respond to God's call on your life not me." I have been prayed over for having evil spirits. My salvation has been questioned and my faith scrutinized in unbiblical ways. I have been criticized almost constantly and have certainly not felt accepted or loved in any church setting. I find Christians to be be completely untrustworthy and unable to deal with me in a positive way. I am a Christian. I am saved. I love you but I really don't like you and don't want to be around you because you are weak and don't even recognize it.

When meeting you my first priority is to establish your salvation by listening to you and if you claim to be a believer I will be looking for the fruits of the spirit in your life. If you are truly saved you will not be given much of my time or energy because your eternal destiny is already secure and you do not fit within the framework of the people God has called me to reach out to...those that are truly lost.

If you are not saved you will be my focus until you discover Christ's love or God directs me otherwise. If you are not saved I will determine what needs you have that are not being met so that I might find a way to meet those needs. Those needs can be spiritual, physical or emotional. They are still needs and meeting them is the first step to showing Christ's love to you.

If you are saved and in a position of authority over me you are in trouble. I will scrutinize your life with a fine toothed comb and you will not measure up. I know full well I will be judged with this same measure and have no problem with that. If you do not have ample fruit I will not listen to your guidance whether you are a pastor or the person who cleans the toilets. You do not interest me any more than an ant on a sidewalk for you are not spiritually mature and have no business trying to teach me about the word you are not living out to the extent that I am already doing on a daily basis. You have not made the sacrifices I have made nor struggled with God at the level I have and I am not called to disciple you especially if you already consider yourself smarter than me.


So here is the flip side. You as a Christian have a responsibility to love me, pray for me, and help me. Setting boundaries and rules only challenges me to break them. Failing to keep your committments makes me sick to my stomach giving me additional reasons to distrust you. Your failures glare out at me and your inability to follow the word show me who you really are and you are not pretty. You are not kind, loving, gentle, peaceful or any of the other fruits of the spirit. I see ignorance, lack of wisdom, an inability to make and keep commitments and willingness to serve God at a substandard level. If you are not dedicating 100% of your time to God's work you will not measure up to my standards so you should not even try. In short...I may have to love you but I certainly don't have to like you and I don't have to let you be in a position of authority over me and the fact that I am attending your church simply means that you are being warned that if you don't make the changes you know that God has called you to make then destruction will come.

The reason I cause this destruction is simple. If what you are doing to reach the lost is ineffective or not built on a strong foundation it needs to change. If you are misusing resources or not responding to the people I entrust to your care then you will be corrected. I don't care about church buildings or social activities or committees or your titles. I care about people who don't know Christ. If your priorities are out of wack that has to be fixed and if you have to suffer because you have become a stumbling block to an unsaved person then I have absolutely no problem with that.

This does not mean that I will hurt you physically, or threaten you. I will simply redirect your energies to areas where you can cause less damage so that the path can be cleared for God's work to be done. You are important to the kingdom but you need to go back to the word and study it to an extent that at least allows you to communicate with me intelligently and you need to start showing wisdom in how you respond to the opportunities God give you through me. If you do not respond God will take much more drastic measures and I have seen this happen more than once.

We are called to love on another as ourselves. I hold myself to very high standards and with God's help I am able to acheive those goals and more. I have watched God at work without you and know his power. I respect him and fear him much more than I fear you and I consider myself much closer to God that you are because of the fruit in my own life. If you are in the way of the goal you will be removed and/or redirected until you have improved your skills and polished your gifts.

By the way, I consider my personality a gift not a disorder and just because it does not fit within the framework of the church does not mean that God is not using it for his glory so get out of the way. If you trust God then you know he can work through anyone including me and that he uses what you perceive as a weakness in me to do his work.

randy

Help. I am a psych. RN who attends a local church. We have a really crazy lady who comes and lays of the floor, disrupts service, etc. What can be done, legally to stop this maniupulative, anger generating behavior? It is very maddening.

Carmen

This is a great article about spiritual abuse, it is very informative and worthy of further recommendation.

I was spiritually abused too, in a Reformed church. That kind of church can be overly authoritative, depending on the individual behavior of controlling pastors. I also know of a Reformed church where I saw genuine Christian reciprocal respect and love in action, each submitting to the other, where the pastor was the most humble and helping person as it should be. He was not unkind nor manipulative in the least. Two extremes in one kind of church.

My testimony of what happened is here: http://www.jamesfive19.com/Abuse_of_Pastoral_Authority.html. Fortunately others were willing to help me in the darkest hour of despair, when that pastor did not offer even an apology, much less consolation.

The church was recommended to me simultaneously by my parents and by a friend who didn't have any idea what could happen. If they had known they wouldn't have sent me there, but the address was (is) online listed with other such churches. Associating pastors with Godly behavior is definitely a naive mistake that I won't make again.

I am redoing my spiritual abuse page in xhtml, I would like to link to yours - the link will be up with the updated page within a week. http://www.jamesfive19.com/Spiritual_Abuse_Links_Resources.html

Thanks for "listening".

Carmen

Monty Thies

It's amazing how God points us in the right direction! I came to this site in my search for how to deal with a manipulative, controlling person because I find myself literally going down the tubes because of such a situation in our church. Thank you Dear Lord for pointing me to this site and to those who have posted and to Dory!
I was really looking for insight for myself because I, too, as I now know is a by-product of this "disorder", whether diagnosed or not - was beginning to feel, as the old saying goes, "If Bob has a problem with everyone, then Bob IS the problem"....that perhaps I was the problem and perhaps this person truly is being guided by the spirit and that I am the one who is wrong in my assessment of things. I know now that what I first suspected is true, and that I am not the problem, and that the problem is real and alive and well in our small, new congregation. What I have been largely unable to discern is if it is intentional or if it isn't. However, because of some very subtle (which I now also know is a major factor in these personalities)inferences and goings on - that it is, in this case, absolutely intentional.
Of concern to me is that professionals themselves have great difficulty working with these people in a counseling setting because of the lack of ownership that a problem actually exists. Which, now, causes me concern about to do or even what can be done. I see it very clearly, but as is typical with these types, the damage has really already been done in that this person has,as is typical, managed to get nearly everyone else with the exception of two other members who also recognize what's going on, to view anyone opposing or trying to point out what is going on as "the enemy". And further, because a couple of us actually dared to get in this person's face about an issue last winter, we have been "targeted" if you will. This person has managed in part to "get" one of us and is now on the hunt for me. I know it, I feel it but I am completely defenseless in how to undo it.

Anyway, thanks for putting this out here - I appreciate everyone's posts, and I hope that somehow with God's help I will be able to come to the correct conclusion personally. I have never in my life come across anything that I've recognized as being so absolutely contrary to what is being portrayed as this and am completely devistated by it. God is managing to hold me together for the most part, but it seems each day looks as black to me as the previous day...I truly want to rejoice and be glad, but it's being majorly blocked. In part, I believe it's because I am trying to solve this by myself - so I will make a better effort to let go and let God - I know He is aware of what's going on - I hope and pray that He will do someting soon before it's really too late. We began this church from the ground up a year ago due to issues in our former church, and we are all saying we are bound to the inerrant word of God, but now it appears that while most of us still are, at least one views this as an opportunity, as with everything else they are involved in, to lead - that is more the goal than what our ministry really is and others have been duped. And, as you will all recognize, this person is involved in every single aspect of the church and is the first to volunteer and does absolutely everything and does it well.....so all the accolades go to this person, who also has, as is typical,set themself up as the main spokesperson not only in the community (which is probably part of the reason we aren't growing - the reputation is there as well) but also for others who have health problems or whatever - the same person is always the one making the announcements in church on Sundays etc. etc. etc....I hope at some point others will see the common denominator in our lack of growth, and if we are actually fortunate enough TO grow with this person involved, what the common denominator will be in people leaving -because it will happen.

Thank you for the opportunity to vent - it's therapy!

Thanks again - Monty

Rick

The amount of time you spent on this in depth thought or concern is to be commended.

My thought would be, who creates these people in most churches? The people around them create them and also use them. These people that display this behavior aren't the brightest or the the best. But for some reason, they feel they are the brightest and the best and have been told they are, so that they can be used. I have seen this first hand and it appears to me that these people get used for all sorts of things at church. They also get what they need, which is the feeling that they are important. They really do great services and in many cases they do much more than those around them. They are told, how good a job they do and how much they are appreciated. They are also getting used by those that are much brighter.

The case that you mentioned where the couple would go visit new families, but had no position at church to be doing that. If those in a real position at that church had done that, I am sure they would have not gotten away with it, so who sent this couple to do these deeds that no church official would do?

My thought is these people are tools that are being used by other people. Sometimes those that don't want to do these things or people that don't want to use their time for church service, will use these people.

It is truly a problem for new people at church to deal with this or to even understand this mentality. But I would ask, who is truly at fault? The people that display this behavior or those church members that put these people in the mindset that they can do these things and they are important.

I believe these people are being used, but they just don't realize it because they like being needed or feeling important.

I do see that this is a problem for a church trying to grow. If you have a number of these people in your church, then they and the ones supporting them, do control the church and don't allow new people in, especially someone they can't manipulate.

It makes for a nice small church!

That has no chance of growing.

Gerson

Exellent article of reafirmation of my values. Much needed at this time.
May the Lord continue to give you wisdom.

jan

I enjoyed your article very much I just returned to church after many years of not attending I am searching for an answer I have many questions about the church I am attending. I can use all the help I could get

thank you Jan

MJ

Wow, this describes my husband to a tee. I used to think that I was just feeling crazy for no apparent reason, but this explains it.

Samantha

I'm a single mother divorced from a NPD man with a sexual addiction. How do I protect my children from suffering through the same kind of mental torture that I experienced with this "man"?

Anon

As a professional who saw a need in our church and offered up my talent to God only to encounter a leader with NPD who now runs the entire church, pastor included - I'm more amazed at my own stupidity than anything else.
They woo you with adoration as they see you as a projection of their soon-to-be self - They rope you into producing the finished product, hiding the fact that all the recognition and praise they receive from the church is for something they hire a local business to create for them, as they lack the skills and intellect to produce the work themselves - and any form of labor is beneath them, ofcourse.
When you discover their secret and decide to no longer be their source of supply, the devaluation begins - You watch in horror as they destroy your work, as a child in shock at being molested so long ago does - and you wonder what you did wrong to deserve it.
Unable to locate another source of supply, they're forced to conceal their lack of knowledge/skill - and they resort to bearing gifts in an effort to get you to supply the work they need to project such image of themselves. You sit in fear, knowing the phone will ring or that email will arrive - or they'll show up on your doorstep again, at home, with a gift to woo you back - and, when it happens, you can only sit and shake in tears and fear of the person.
The hardest part is to forgive and not be bitter. Though you love the person, you must set boundaries and never allow yourself subject to that type of abuse again - Or is the hardest part trying not to lean on one's own understanding and trusting God to make something good of the bad, for His Glory - and maybe make the pain go away and control the skaking as that person hunts you down each Sunday in church...

Shaun H.

What a fantastic post - you have very well expressed the very thing I have been trying to understand.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Mark

Well so far I am finding a a list of issues let me list my comments

1) I myself am not a Phsyc person or hold a degreee I came here looking for answers religious or Phych.

2) what type of personality I am looking as to they reasons why the person is that way.

3) the Ex Pastor I walked away from is one of these Money persons and really I have a list of some really strange stuff that is going on and I left that church back 10 years ago.

4) I know he lives in a fantasy world Money is his god lives in a 1.1 million dollar home, he even expects me to be a prisoner to his wicked domain ( he's lost his marbles ).


5)I have mentioned at another christain site unamed that he lives in a fantasy world and I left the fantasy world to find myself away from this mad man .

6) he now uses this is interesting the law calls it group stalking to terrorize me, I dont know all of the lies but my current Pastor says he is a Controlling Person and also has a problem I wonder if its like a similarity of being GOD himself ?

7) the stalking events happen at work and in a public place.

8) he has mentioned attempted suicied as a child as well does not discuss his dad ( who may be an abuser himself as some of the discussion brings more agreement to the pychological problems ).

9) I do know this my life style has been much better in one sense when I was Catholic, but right now I am reconsidering going back to the Catholic Church renounce all this insanity as a bad nightmare !

10) Also would there be enough evidence to bring crimanal charges to such a person, maybe taking his ministers license will dethrone him ? may be under a court of law since there is no pastorial board that could take it away, thats the problem.

I just want to be left alone & he can join satan in the afterlife separated by GOD thats just my opinion.

of course the Money Greedy Pastor needs professional help.

Incognito

Hi Dory,
Thanks so much for this descriptive post. I have encountered this problem on many levels and in many venues in my Christian life, and it is clear to me God keeps bringing me up against these situations to heal the unhealthy tendencies I have to manipulate or be too easily manipulated myself.

RE: Comments about Arturburn and his book: That's not surprising if it's true because "It takes one to know one" is conventional wisdom that reflects spiritual reality. Many who are most adamant to expose this kind of problem are also those who suffer the most from it (having at least been on the receiving end of it at an early impressionable age, which means in varying degrees we will suffer temptation to imitate what we have had modeled and perpetrated on us). It doesn't mean that Arturburn is not sincerely trying to heal from it, even if he is largely unsuccessful. This is a profound problem, and the spiritual resources to deal with it are in scant supply in our churches today.

Going back centuries, St. John of the Ladder describes virtually anything you want to examine of the contours of the soul in the throes of various vices and virtues in the ascent toward God/struggle for spiritual growth and wholeness. In his classic work, "The Ladder," I found his chapter on the vice of "Insensitivity" particularly applicable to what I have discovered about the dangerous and insidious nature of a sin that rises, or nearly so, to the level of this kind of Narcissism.

Comments about better safeguards against this sort of problem in mainline churches is interesting. One would think so. On the other hand, after many years as an evangelical, and after many years of search for a hermenutic of Scripture that gave me a more fully integrated understanding of the nature of God as revealed in Christ, I became Orthodox about a year and a half ago. Eastern Orthodoxy from a merely historical perspective is the ultimate "mainline" church, though it is unlike our liberal mainline protestant denominations in many crucial ways. However, even the more traditional hierarchical structure of such a church is no guarantee against a problem of this nature. Human sin and human sin in leadership is universal. I do however firmly believe that there are greater safeguards against this situation the closer we stick to and understand the truth of the gospel and how that is fleshed out in the Church as it has been received and passed on within the Church throughout the ages. Although, as I have discovered, a particular Orthodox parish or diocese can be as screwed up as any body of believers by a controlling leader or influential controlling people in its midst, the dogmatic and sacramental understandings to be found in the Orthodox Liturgy and writings of its Saints provide the greatest wealth of understanding about the nature of God in Christ, the Church, and the gospel that I have been able to find anywhere and which I am discovering lead to much greater true inner freedom and healing in this area. I am finding confirmed in the Orthodox understandings all that God has been endeavoring to teach me throughout my life in various ways about the implications of the nature of His grace and the nature of the freedom of my will as a person made in His image and how, in His grace, He does give me true freedom to yield my will (or not) to His grace. The Orthodox understandings are freeing me to see more clearly the meaning of the love of God as it has been expressed in Christ. Biblically, I believe this true vision of Christ--when we see Him as He is--is our only hope for ultimate healing and freedom. Only to the degree that he or she is able to see Him clearly, will the Narcissistic Personality be healed.

Wendy.d.good@gmail.com

Thank you. I just stumbled onto this looking for some hope in dealing with a church member who is demanding an apology for a wrong I did in his eyes when it was actually a misunderstanding on my part. I have apologized but it never seems to be enough. No matter how much I say I'm sorry he will still twist it around to where I am in the wrong again and needing to apologize again for the same thing. I always had a hunch that this person had a manipulative personality and this seems to back up that hunch. I'm not sure what to do next, I feel like I have tried everything already but at least I know a little of how this person works now.

Ginny

Hi. I have just 'left' a church like this. I mean I have tried to leave, I am already attending another church and the members of the old church still come around at ALL hours (even the night) to shout abuse at me. The one particular person who has given me so much trouble was a 'knight in shining armour' after my marriage fell apart and then slowly over the last three years has totally controlled my life. The last thing that he said to me was "You are always the victim aren't you? You are so full of self pity, you pray but God doesn't hear you, you study so much yet you haven't grown spiritually at all." etc. etc. The next day when I saw him (yes I work with him :( he was all sweetness and light like he had never said those things! This has so disturbed me.. then I started thinking, when did I ever say I was a victim or behave like it? I never felt self pity, I just wanted to leave the church... How does he know God doesn't hear me and the Lord promises that Bible study will feed us and make us grow.

I talked to another friend of mine, she has been having the same problem with the pastor. The person I have the problem is with one of the (two) elders. They are a team I'm sure. Constantly hearing comments like "we thought you would NEVER be saved" a year after your salvation gets really tiring. Lack of discussion about anything interesting even scoffing and mocking when I talk about particularly interesting or personal passages from the bible, no love preached whatsoever, infact just being told constantly to ignore your feelings because you can't trust them. All the commentaries and resources being locked away in a cupboard. All the Bible study being the rules and regulations in the Sermon on the Mount etc etc I thought for the longest time this was all my fault. So did my friend, we have been so upset over this. After changing churches I was asked by another member there "why did you leave church? aren't you Christian anymore?" when I later confronted them about this, they got the person that said it on the phone in front of me and started yelling down the phone "tell her you didn't say that" etc and then forced me to speak to them!!!!!

I feel so raw, so abused, so hurt. I also feel this is a subject not written about enough. We need to acknowledge this. These people would have you in knots, sat utterly useless, stagnant; not growing for the Lord or doing His work. Who does that remind you of...?

Thank you so much for your article, it has opened up my world. I am still full of self doubt and still question myself whether it was something I did to deserve it or not and whether I have dreamed it all, perhaps he isn't that bad after all.. But, I am learning to deal with it and pray daily that the Lord will work it out and I will have peace. Take heart anyone else, you can overcome it!

Wounded One

Please keep the discussion going on this. There are so many who have been hurt by abusive "shepherds" who lord over their flocks and use others to build their own "kingdoms."

Anyone

A person being manipulated doesn't know it... it's like being bitten by a mosquito. You only feel uncomfortably itchy afterwards.

But, the way to know it is to be distanced from the manipulator, and then recognize their tactics... objective outsiders are better at observing this.

For a manipulated person to wake up, one way is when multiple disconnected people begin telling you that you are being controlled...

But, just try to stand up for yourself and confront the behavior of the controlling person! Your manipulator will tell you lies like this:

Your salvation is in jeopardy.
You are backsliding in your faith, because you got married. God wanted you to be dedicated as a single to him alone...
It is God's will for you to marry the person I designate for you...
Your peers are better than you, and you're not measuring up...
The prophets say such and such about your future...
I hear God saying this is his will for you...

... all in an attempt to gain control over your actions by divine authorization!

Stand up to it, even if all hell breaks loose and the manipulator becomes hysterical with anger. Then, distance yourself permanently, and feel the peace!

M*

We have recently left the church of Assembly of God [name deleted] for these very controling, mean, lack of empathy,nonloving, can not take corection, Very Grandois and story telling...(his own Mom would be upset for this Many times over) type of lead Pastor. It bothers me that he will not hear anything people say and if you disagree.......he bad mouths you and say's your not of GOD. Pastor J* seems to also believe that all marital problems and women not being submissive. If you tell him this is not so look out. Also people have shunned us..dont talk to us in public because we left the church.
We really prayed for conviction and his own wife felt terrible of his behavior. After being apart of that church for so many years and involved well respected and had friends. BAM! Gone if we choose else where to worship.It is very sad and hard for us. But God will get us through without a doubt to a higher realm where he needs my husband and I to be.
I did bring his unloving horrible behavior to two of the board members.( in hopes their would be a compromise) Pastor called screaming at my husband and making false accusations and blaming me for his own behavior.My husband calmly tried talking to him. His judgments and perseption were far from what actually is and their was no Talking with this guy. He was to ANGRY. Sadly I do not believe this pastor whom lords has anyone to anser to! We have searched on line but know one to hold him accountable, yet this very same behavior continues time and time again and very coulpes as ourself get hurt. I can see much more clearly after we have been out for a few months and We really enjoyed your information you have hear. This Pastor refuses to meet in the board meeting also....Since he says what goes. His adolence behavior. However, he would control the whole thing if we did anyways. I wish I had more information to file a complaint but who to???
Thanks for you site, it all hit home for us.
T* and M*

Anonomous

Thank you so much for this. It's a long story, but suffice it to say somehow it makes it easier to know the people that followed him were sucked into him in a cult like manner - and it gives hope that maybe someday they will love us again - even if he can't.

Anonymous but email is correct

This is right on target... extremely good and helpful information! And yes, I do see those who display all of these characteristics (in one person!) and was thankful also for the statistic of it only affecting a small percentage of people. I will come across them once in a blue moon. Here's something though, that was left out and you might want to add: The topic of JEALOSY(!) and the need to try to compete with others (esp. for women, but maybe men too?) Also, it would be great to read about HOW to deal with people like this, especially with their abusive tendencies (yes, abusiveness... let's call it like it is). How does one cope? Also, the church family is a huge deal, but also think about if you deal with someone like this in your own immediate family. How do you set limits and avoid being controlled/manipulated and flattered (when alterior motives are that they do NOT have your best interest in mind, are jealous, and really intend to stab you in the back). THey will smile to your face and be nice to you, and attempt to express pity if something goes wrong, but inside their hearts rejoice when problems or calamity comes your way. How can you ever trust a person like this? You can't! How do you still be a Christian and be loving, but yet not expose yourself to hurt and abuse. Oh, and by the way, like you said... they will do something or abuse you, but good luck proving it!!!! They are masters at making YOU look like the idiot, and how DARE you ever even THINK about accusing them of wrongdoing. As you can tell, I speak from personal experience. I could use some coping techniques, because as of right now, I just want to limit my exposure. Thank you for writing on this very serious topic.

Barbie

I just recently was abused at the church i was attending. I got humiliated, degrated, and belittled in front of everyone in the church. My family and i started going to this church. There were only like 5 people that come to this every week. There were no children only elderly people. When we started going my children were the only children going so i was asked to start being a sunday school teacher and to start it and maybe more kids would start coming. So i did! My brother and his family started coming with their kids and the church started growing. It went from 5 people coming every week to 30 coming every week. Another lady and i took turns every week teaching childrens church. Well the owners of the church got this idea that if they started giving the kids a dollar for every sunday they came to church then maybe they would spread the word and more kids would come. Well the other lady that was helping me every other sunday in childrens church came up with the idea to teach the kids how to tithe. So she explained to the kids what tithing was and explained to them that they were NOT obligated to give their dollar only if they wanted to and then she explained that we would raise enough money and take them bowling or out to eat or whatever. So the kids were excited about it. NO not every child gave their dollar on Sundays and in fact there were alot of sundays none of them gave their dollar. Again they were told they didn't have to give their dollar. Well on Wednesday night at church we would all sit around the table downstairs instead of in the sanctuary and have like a bible study type service. Well this night in particular one of the owners of the church spoke up and said he had a problem with him giving the kids a dollar upstairs then us taking the kids downstairs and taking their dollar from them. I spoke up and said we don't just take their dollar they have a choice if they want to give their dollar or not and the money is being raised to do activities with the kids. It's not like we're keeping the money for ourselves. Well anyway that part never got settled and then right after he spoke up his wife had to have her say in it to. Me and the other lady helping me thought it would be nice to have the pastor of the church a birthday dinner at the church. She and i were going to pay for all the food and cook it. No one was going to have to do anything just show up and eat. Well she looked at me and said I just want you to know this is not a soup kitchen. If anyone wants to eat they can go to their own house and eat. They i spoke up and said i just thought it would be nice to do something special for the pastor for his bday and she told me if you want to do something special for him then take him back to your house and feed him there. I was devastated! All i could do was sit there and cry. I didn't know what to say. I was shocked that they would even act like that. So i got up and walked out. I spoke to the pastor of the church about it and he told me to pray about it and that he stood up for me after i got up and walked out. He doesn't want me to stop coming b/c he says that's just what she wants me to do. But i'm at a point right now to where i really don't want to go back there. I'd rather find another church where my family and i are welcome and feel comfortable. I shouldn't have to walk in a church feeling like i've got to be on my P's and Q's every time i walk in the door. Please keep me in your prayers! My spirit is broken right now and i just pray that God will lead me in the direction i need to go.

Jeanie

One woman I knew claimed she had ovarian cancer and went up to the alter for prayer. A few months later she did the same thing, only this time she had breast cancer. Then when everyone in the church tired of her continual lies about these and other things, she claimed to have suffered a head injury, was having seizures and couldn't remember anything. What bothered me most was the pastor, having known her much longer than I, would annoint her with oil and pray for her phantom illinesses. I was struck by her total disrespect for God, because afer all, if you're lying about illnesses in front of the congregation, where is your fear of God? I have been in church when someone inappropriately blurts out the troubled relationship they are having with someone else in the church, while the someone else is forced to sit there, stunned. Just today, a friend told me that in their church, a man that lives in the neighborhood, requested prayer because "no body likes me". This was looked upon as a tactic to manipulate a church member, who refuses to have that person in their house because he has stolen medication from him as well as from a friend down the street. So I guess everyone is supposed to just let this guy in their home so he can steal whatever he wants.
Such things as well as other things in life have made me very cynical. I used to walk into church thinking everyone in there was of good intentions.

Louise M.

well I have a family member like this that actually called up my mother in law and told her that I was "going to leave" without my knowledge and tried to make it sound like it was coming from me. Nothing could be further from the truth and my husband had a nervous breakdown no respect that it is our life, our family, our home and not theirs live in terror of what they are going to say next

Shan

I am leaving a church from a pastor with exactly the same personality you spoke of. It was difficult and quite shocking to read. I agree with another comment about how do you deal with this kind of demonic spirit (that is the truth). I do not want to target flesh, but the spirit of this person. In the Word, it says that we wrestle not with flesh and blood but with principalities and rulers of darkness. How do you pray and what do you do?

Dr. Barb Orlowski

Hi Dory,

I'm glad to read the continued comments on your site. So many people wounded by church leaders.

There may be interest in my doctoral research on spiritual abuse and recovery.

My book is entitled: Spiritual Abuse Recovery.

Check out my website: www.churchexiters.com.

All the best,
Barb Orlowski, D.Min.

Angie

Dealing with a manipulative person in my life now. The actions are so subtle I can't prove it and no one would believe me because the person projects a different image of herself. Tried face-to-face meeting along with our pastor to solve it, but it didn't go very well. I just want to leave the church, but the pastor said if God wants people to leave a church, he doesn't do it that way. I have no idea how to get away from the problem. Any advice?

Fred Freedman

Thanks for this great topic--I see you've had comments spanning a number of years.

Unfortunately, I think some of the kinds of manipulation you describe are most problematic when pastors and church staff exercise them. Some of the denial and blame-shifting are classic in cases of clergy sexual abuse of children, but it happens in other contexts as well.

In a healthy church community, the members of the body communicate both ways: Do sermons and youth ministry programs address the spiritual needs of the assembly? Or do they miss the target? Can church staff listen to feedback with open minds, or do they shift blame toward the complainer so as to avoid having to adjust or make possibly helpful changes?

The conversation sometimes goes like this:

Member: "I have a concern about X,Y, and Z. Here's my explanation of the concern."

Staff: "I'm feeling some hostility or disappointment or anger coming from you, and I'm concerned that this will get in the way of your participation in the program...."

Member: "Actually, I was hoping we could discuss my concern...."

Staff: "But I feel a great need to discuss your hostility; you have so many concerns, and I think this may be the real problem...."

In some cases, the member simply leaves and looks for another church, while the staff member simply stays in a rut and ignores constructive feedback.

Jesus described some of his own Jewish leaders as having problems with self-righteousness and pride, and I think Christian churches often struggle with the same issues. Sometimes (tho' not always) some of the most problematic sins and sinners are those on church staff.

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