Well, happy readers, thank you again to Carolyn for allowing me to rejoin you for Part 2 of Toxic Tuesday: Narcissistic Personality Disordered Parent. In my last post, I promised to share strategies I’ve discovered for escaping unforgiveness toward a NPD parent. Lest you think that I was “spiritual” enough to figure them out on my own, I will start with a disclaimer.
For the LONGEST time I knew forgiveness was the correct Christian response and I felt terribly guilty over my bitterness toward my NPD parent. Sometimes I’d think that I was over the hurt. Then something would reveal deep bitterness in my heart, and the cycle would begin again. I questioned my salvation. I knew there were other people who had truly forgiven their rapists, their child’s murderer, or the crook who stole their entire life savings. Since these were all much worse tragedies than what I suffered, I thought maybe I wasn’t sufficiently motivated by obedience or love of God. For years I lived with the pain of my parent’s abuse compounded by the guilt of unforgiveness/disobedience to God. It took its toll. I was diagnosed with clinical depression, took meds, went to lots of counseling (some of it super and some flakey!), and was tempted by cutting and suicide.
In reading the Bible, I would encounter passages like the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Mt 18: 23-35):
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ 30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.
31 “When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Well, that just chilled me to the marrow. “I want to forgive! I want to forgive! Please show me how,” I’d pray. I’d pick the brains of godly people who seemed at peace with the deep hurts they suffered. Bless those saints for their patience with me. I kept reading the Bible. Gradually I began to see what forgiveness was, and what it wasn’t.
So to start, let me clarify some common myths about forgiveness that may be stumbling you on your road to healing.
Myth #1). “If I forgive someone, then that’s the same as saying that they didn’t do anything very bad. My painful feelings will be discounted.”
My pain was real. Your pain is REAL, too. I want to make it clear at the start that forgiveness toward the NPD parent doesn’t mean that your wounds are imaginary or slight. Just because your NPD parent denies that they have ever done anything wrong and that you are “overly sensitive/crazy/unreasonable” doesn’t mean that it’s the Truth.
(You may feel, as I have, that it if only your scars had been from physical abuse, that at last you’d be believed, that you’d have proof of what you suffered, that others would understand why you hurt as you do and are wary of other’s motives. Maybe you don’t have another person in your life who can understand what you’ve been through, your pain and pit of heartache that you can’t ever “happy thought” your way out of. If so, let me be the first one to say, “I believe you.” I do, promise. And I KNOW you are NOT crazy. :-)!!! I believe you, because I have been there. God protected me from the desperate acts of my pain so that I am still here to write this. And because you’re reading this, I know He is doing the same thing for you. He brought you to this post for HOPE. If we were face to face right now, I would willingly listen to you tell me every memory from years ago, or just last week. I would pass you tissues, nod my head in agreement, share stories of my own childhood and holiday nightmares, etc., and generally affirm YOU. You didn’t bring this on yourself, you are not flawed (oh, absolutely not), and you are not a mistake.
Your life is not a mistake. It is a marvelous tapestry woven by God’s nail-scarred Hand. At this moment He’s working in some dark threads in order to make the bright colors pop all the more. Your pain is the dark thread. Forgiveness won’t change that thread’s color, anymore than it can remove the scar from His Hand. But forgiveness repurposes the pain into beauty. Trust Him. When He’s done, your life will radiate His glory!)
But let’s get back to topic of Truth. I want to as delicately as I can point out that my NPD parent wasn’t the only sinner in our relationship. I was, too. True, I didn’t have the same position of authority or responsibility that they had before God, but honesty compels me to admit that I often choose to sin against them out of spite for their unjust treatment of me. Am I alone in this behavior? Hmmm? I think you know what I am talking about.
Let me go another step further. By myopically focusing on our parent’s faults and disorder, we risk missing a clear view of who we are in God’s eyes – selfish, little rebels against His sweet Love. Listen, do you think you lived with an NPDer and did not have some of that rubbed off on you? My NPD parent never thought they did anything wrong. If they EVER apologized, it was usually five to ten years after their egregious behavior. So, when I got married and my spouse and I had a fight, it was ALWAYS their fault, not mine. ‘Cause I was perfect. When I began to see that I was being just like my NPD parent – aahhhhh!!!! – I realized that my spouse wasn’t the first person I had treated like that. In fact, unless I/you pray and ask God to show us the narcissistic habits we’ve picked up, and forgive us, and reprogram us by His Word, we are doomed to repeat our parent’s mistakes. Whatever was done to you doesn’t absolve you of the guilt of doing those things now.
Nor does it relieve you of a need and duty to forgive. Our unforgiveness is at least as loathsome to God as our NPD parent’s treatment of us. Both make warped mirrors of the relationship between the Heavenly Father and His Child. Both are far from His heart of love and His plan for the family. So regardless of who is older, or knows better, or started the provocation, God expects us to pursue forgiveness.
Humor me for a moment, and revisit the Parable you just read. Each of these servants knows that they are a debtor to the Master, with no other purpose but to please him. Except the rogue servant. Obviously he didn’t get the memo about his job. He thinks of the Master’s will as a side gig, not the main event. Once he’s clobbered his fellow debtor, then he’ll get back to work. His focus is on himself. And his money. He doesn’t care about the Master or the Master’s kindness to him.
Friends, this is me! You! Us! If all you can think about is how you got ripped off when they were passing out parents, this is you. You want your due, the debt owed you, paid. I get that. I used to spend considerable energy itemizing the bill I wanted paid – by my parent, by God for choosing that parent, by the world for my pain. I was YOU. The rogue servant. Funny thing though. In all of my itemizing, I never calculated what I owed God, at least, not in detail, for the Cross, for His daily forgiveness of a hundred (that number may be a bit low!) selfish, unloving thoughts and actions.
Remember those dark threads of your life? “Yeah, I know ALL about them,” you say. I know you do. I know you do. But do you know as much about the brightly colored ones? Have you counted them? Can you name them?
Have you ever made a list of those threads?
Here’s my partial list:
– For flannel sheets on chilly autumn nights.
– For the chocolate pumpkin bread recipe that reminds me of a particular happy childhood memory.
– For cute and comfy shoes that make me happy!
– For hot, steamy shower first thing in the morning.
– For breath.
– For mercy.
– For my parents who choose life for me in spite of their dead souls and a culture that legitimizes selfishness.
– For deliverance from things like pornography and alcohol that I could have become addicted to so easily based on examples I saw growing up.
– For the stupidity of bad decisions I made out of pain that will forever remind me that I am not as smart or capable as my narcissistic tendencies would have me believe.
– For bouts of depression that have equipped me to minister to some of the most precious, suffering people I’ve met.
– For another 24 hours to heal and help others heal.
– For a chance to welcome the orphan and stranger because I know the pain of feeling rejected and alone.
– For my family who knows what I struggle to overcome and bears with me on the days I fail.
– For a camaraderie among my closest friends, each with toxic or NPD parents in their life, who understand my sadness that I will likely never have the relationship with my earthly parent that I yearn for.
– For my generous God-Daddy who has redeemed me from the empty way of life handed down to me.
– For a new eternal family in Christ that far surpasses what I missed.
– For God’s Grace that His Spirit blinds my children to the bad example I often set, so that they love and obey him in a way that I didn’t at their age.
Listen, you may think you’ve been ripped off in some pretty unfair ways. But I guarantee you that your life is much richer than you know. You think you have been beggared. Well, if you have a real relationship with God based on His generous forgiveness and love lavished on you by Jesus’s death, then, my friend … YOU are a MILLIONAIRE in everything that matters or lasts. (If you don’t have this relationship yet, you can!)
Make your list. And please make it long… for your sake. And then review it weekly and add to it. (If you need help, check out a superb book by Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. It helped me tremendously.)
So before I move on, let me sum up the Truth here. Yes, your pain is real, but it can live amidst great joy if you identify and meditate on your blessings. God is the most generous Being in the Universe. Whatever your loss, none of it is nearly as valuable as all the other blessings you’ve received from Him. God’s great forgiveness to the unworthy and His scarred Hands both coexist without negating the other. In the same way, forgiveness toward your NPDer and your wounds can coexist without diminishing each other.
And we’ll be back next Toxic Tuesday to tie this post together with myths 2 & 3.