Male Headship 3—Where Did It Come From?

18 Jun

The Patriarchs in the Bible practiced male headship, but they also practiced polygamy and owned slaves. Male headship, Polygamy and slavery all have one thing in common–the freedom of one man to use his power over at the expense of other people.

Abraham was a friend of God, yet he practiced all three, so does God condone these three practices? The Bible says Abraham’s father worshiped false gods (Joshua 24:2). God was calling Abraham out of that culture by first asking him to separate from his family and move out in faith. Even after he moved far away, Abraham’s life was a journey with God leading him and teaching him lessons throughout his lifetime.

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Some people say God never changes and this is what God allows. I agree that God’s character of love never changes, but God’s methods of dealing with the human race have changed over and over. The bigger picture shows us how God stoops to meet sinful and frightened people wherever they are at the time.

When it comes to how we treat others, Jesus is our example–not Abraham. Jesus came to set ALL captives free:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to
proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom
for the prisoners and
recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free.
-Luke 4:18

This includes wives and children abused by slavery, polygamy and male headship.

Some people claim Paul endorsed male headship and at first glance it seems this might be true–but only if we single out certain texts without reading them in context. Paul was writing to people in societies where male headship and feminine cults were the norm, but if we read through all of his writings, we discover he was trying to set people free from any mindset where someone uses power over another. This is why he wrote:

There is neither Jew nor Greek;
there is neither slave nor free;
nor is there male and female,
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
-Galatians 3:28

Paul contributed to the understanding that the ground at the foot of the cross is level. No hierarchies there–especially since Jesus gave up everything to become the lowest of the low and the servant of all. Male headship is the opposite of what Jesus did because it puts one person above another. Yet some people still claim Jesus is subservient to the Father. They say this because they are not reading the entire Bible.

Yes, Jesus DID submit to the Father, but the Father also GLORIFIED Jesus. The Spirit LED Jesus into the wilderness, but Jesus SENDS the Spirit to us today. Jesus says the Spirit will only tell you what I tell Him to tell you. Why would Jesus need to say this? Because he wanted us to know The Spirit will never contradict His teachings. The members of the Godhead serve each other with other-centered love putting each other first.

The Trinity is our example for marriage, the church and in all relationships. The scripture says male and female were both created in God’s image. By designing Eve from Adam’s rib, God was making them one. It wasn’t until Adam had someone to love, that he even could bear God’s image because he bears only one part of God’s image and the Godhead lives in other-centered love. Eve is the other half of God’s image in the human race and she and Adam both provide someone for the other to love. Without love, there is no image of God, because God is love.

As for the Father being the head, Paul used such an illustration as an example of the church submitting to Jesus because while Jesus was living here on earth He submitted to the Father in all things. But this is only one half of the equation because Jesus Himself said:

“The Father and I are one.”

“If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”

When Jesus prayed in John 17, He prayed that His followers might be one like He and the Father are one.

Even the Hebrew Shema states, “The Lord Our God is One.”

I am not a theologian, but I will use the words of one to say it better than I can:

“I prefer to argue that we have misunderstood what the Bible means when it says that the husband is head as Christ is head (Eph 5:23). From my study, the head-body relationship in the Bible does not indicate unilateral authority. Rather it indicates mutual submission and shared authority.

“God is the head of Christ who is the head of the husband who is the head of his wife (1 Cor 11:3). What does this mean? I think it means that God is embodied in Christ; Christ is embodied in the church; and the husband is embodied in the wife–as his own body (Eph 5:29-30). Jesus as the embodiment of God says all power is given to me in heaven and earth (Mt 28:18). Therefore the Father has no authority that is not shared by the Son. So it should be with the family. The husband has no authority that is not shared by his wife.”

“The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor 11:3). On the one hand, in chronological order, “man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man” (11:8-9). On the other hand, in Christological order, “Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God” (11:11-12).
-Martin Hanna

We see how after sin entered this world, God gave Adam responsibility for the family because two sinful people vying for control would create constant fighting and chaos. If you don’t believe this, just listen to a few divorce stories. But this was never God’s original plan. Jesus came to teach us God’s ideal of loving each other in equality with other –centered love just like the Godhead.

Paul agrees with this by teaching wives to submit to their husbands and husbands to love their wives like they love their own bodies. The Spirit of the Godhead teaches that we are both to submit to each other and to love each other as we love ourselves. Any form of using power over each other goes directly against the golden rule to do unto others as we would want to be treated and destroys love.

Slavery, polygamy and male headship do not reflect the godhead or God’s intentions for any human being in marriage or without. If a religion teaches this, it’s only because they are using the example of Abraham over Jesus and taking human cultural traditions over God’s law of other-centered love.

* For greater understanding on why true Christianity does not use power over, compare The Steps of Jesus vs. The Steps of Satan.

For more information on Male Headship within Adventism read:

Andrews University on the Unique Headship of Christ Statement

A Short History of the Headship Doctrine in the Seventh Day Adventist Church by Gary Chudleigh

Male Headship 2—What is Male Headship?

18 Jun

I’ve asked women to share with me what their definition of male headship is and this was one of the best:

“Male headship is patriarchy in a marriage or in a society. It’s the idea that males should be given some ultimate advantage, priority, or responsibility in decision-making and leadership.”

There are various applications and headship looks different across many cultures, but male headship usually boils down to the practice and belief that a man is superior to a woman. Not all men who practice male headship are cruel, some lead their wives and daughters lovingly and with great affection, but the underlying lie is still there that the wife is inferior and is not capable of making her own choices. She supposedly needs a man to tell her how to act and what to think and ultimately what to believe about God.

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Male privilege places all the power in a relationship with the man. This leaves the women subjugated to his will and often denies her voice. The result is that in many male headship cultures women are treated as property. This was even true in the United States a century ago when woman were fighting for the right to vote.

Male headship in practice can leave a woman with no recourse when a man is cruel. In Christian circles, some say women are “different but equal” and some men who belief in headship are very kind to their women. If this was always true, if every husband treated his wife as Christ loves the church and treasured her body as his own, then perhaps there would be no reason to write this, but this is not the reality for most who practice headship.

For an example of male headship within distorted Christianity check out, “The Witness Wore Red.” book review and Things I Found in Common with Polygamist’s Daughter. A Fundamental Latter Day Saints might seem like an extreme example, but many Christians who practice male headship are only a stone’s throw from abusing women in a similar manner.

It puzzles me that so many Male Headship Christians are firmly against Islam. They preach against Islam and share horror stories about Islam, yet they fail to recognize that male headship taken to its natural conclusion looks just like Islam. If headship is allowed to flourish, women continually lose one right after another until they fade into the background and become invisible.

One woman describes it like this:

“Given ultimate power in a relationship makes it too tempting for a man to interject selfishness and get his own way–often at her expense. Under extreme male headship “women can’t drive, can’t travel without a male escort, can’t shop in male only stores (anywhere that isn’t grocery or women’s clothing) can’t go to museums (except on women and children days) can’t swim unless there are women only days at the pool, is subject to genital mutilation (to make sure sex is so painful that she will never have sex with anyone but her husband–who will have to cut her open the first time) will be killed for being raped, because SHE “SHAMED” the family. Must cover her face at all times (even in her own home) if a man who isn’t her husband, brother, or son (brother-in-laws don’t count) is present–the list continues to infinity.” -Kathy Ringering Wendt

Another wrote:

“Male headship is that just by being born a male they are in charge of all who are born female. It is saying that females are born second class citizens. It says that females start out under the rule of their fathers and are then passed on to be under the rule of their husband and if they are widows they are under the rule of elders. Ultimately, the husband is the priest of the household he stands between God and the wife.” -K.S.

Regardless of the many ways male headship is abused, I think placing a man between a woman and God is the biggest lie of all. There is no justification for cruelty. We can often see violent and base behavior for what it is, but packaging God in such a way as to make Him seem more accessible and more in favor of men, robs women of their direct access to God and their God-given right to act freely on their own conscience.

How might this look in a traditional Christian environment? It looks like a father telling his daughter how to vote or what to say in court. It looks like a father treating his wife as if she doesn’t exist because she disagrees with him about God. It might look like a father refusing his daughter an education. It could also look like shunning a woman at church who has been given a gift and calling by God or even worse a witch hunt to criticize and condemn her.

A few years ago, some friends of mine went to a marriage seminar weekend and came back to inform the rest of our study group that men are the leaders in the home and in the church and women are merely here to assist men. Because I was a co-leader of that group along with a man, I just rolled my eyes–until I realized they were serious.

At the time, my pastor had asked me to serve communion with the men and had asked if I would consider becoming an elder. Because I knew there were some in our church who adamantly were opposed to women leaders–including my friends, I felt it would only cause trouble so I said no. I didn’t say no because I was unable to care for other people. I have known elders who took no interest in my life but I knew I had the gift of encouragement and teaching, but I still said no. Part of the problem was that I perceived that to be an elder meant some sort of hierarchy. Today I realize it simply means you are willing to serve others as Jesus does. So why would a woman not be able to do this?

When the husband of this couple heard that I had turned my pastor down, he told me he was proud of me for saying no–that I was too nice of a person to be standing up for women’s leadership in the church. I wish I had asked him what he meant, but I had been conditioned by my father to let the men lead and I had been taught by my mother to not to make waves, so I shrunk back from following God’s lead because I was listening to men who were supposedly superior to me and had a more direct line to God.

This incident happened over a decade ago. After studying the life of Jesus these last ten years, I am convinced that God not only calls women, but the Bible shows how women were strategically placed in the gospel story to empower Eve to reclaim her rightful place as Adam’s equal. But before we get into Eve’s restoration, let’s talk about where headship came actually from.

Do you see Male Headship as it is described above, or do you have a different way of looking at it?

Male Headship 1—A Young Girl’s Perspective

17 Jun

It was just before my sixth birthday when my Mom took me school shopping for the first time. As we went from store to store, I tried on dresses while she adjusted the collars, then she had me twirl around so she could look at all sides of me. I reveled in her attention because we’d had very little quality time since my youngest sister’s birth six months before.

When we got home, Mommy suggested I put on my new dresses and have a fashion show for Daddy. I ran to my room full of excitement to be the center of my parents’ attention. I threw on one of my new plaid dresses not bothering to take off the tags, but carefully adjusting the collar just like Mommy had shown me.

I ran back out to the living room and twirled around—until my eye caught a look of disappointment on Daddy’s face. As I turned to look at him, his eyes fell to the floor and he cleared his throat, then he turned to Mommy and with a disappointed voice asked, “Why are you dressing her in men’s clothes?”

Mommy said they weren’t men’s clothes–they were plaid dresses which was what all the little girls were wearing in 1969. Daddy asked if she could take the clothes back. Mommy said it wouldn’t matter because it was the only style in the stores at the time.

As they continued to argue about my new clothes, I lowered my head and slunk back to my room. There was no use in trying on another dress, everything we bought—including my lunchbox was plaid.

I Am My Own Person Tote, CherilynClough.com LittleRedSurvivor.com

This was my first experience with male headship. No one called it that, but I picked up on several things in this encounter.

1. It is Wrong to Dress Like a Man in any way
As I grew older I was told that long hair was given to a woman for a covering and it was wrong to cut it. I was not allowed to wear jeans because they were men’s clothing and it would be a dishonor to God for me to dress like a man. I once started to hand my brother a purple towel, but I was told not to give him purple. This confused me.

While I was not to dress like a boy, I was also not encouraged to wear many girly things because they fit under the category of vanity. All nail polish, makeup and jewelry were forbidden. I was once threatened with belting for wearing tinted chapstick. I was told it was inappropriate to show skin or swim with boys and  I was taught that what I wore might cause some boy to sin, so I had to be modest at all times. My parents read and followed a little book called Creeping Compromise which was about the evils of external behavior.

2. Men Are Superior and Always in Charge Except for the Kitchen
It’s a man’s world but women are given a supporting role. Men get to make the rules and decide what you wear and if they don’t like it, they can make you take it back. This issue of being in charge went beyond clothing. It covered just about any part of my life. It meant that food must be ready the minute my dad came in the door. That if he was in a bad mood, I had to tiptoe on eggshells and do whatever he wanted or I would be belted. Sometimes it seems I was belted just because he was in a bad mood. When I was small, my mom used to say she hated it when my dad punished me in anger, but she didn’t stand up for me because they were a team and had agreed to remain in agreement even when they weren’t.

When it came to music, we could only listen to music if my father approved it or he was in a good mood. In order to keep control of me, my parents decided to keep me out of school to protect me from getting contaminated by the world. Basically I stayed home and worked as their slave for most of my teen years. From an early age I was expected to bake six loaves of bread every week, do a large portion of the housework, cook large meals for a family of six and babysit my siblings.

3. Women Are Not as Smart or as Spiritual as Men
I knew this was true because my mom never did anything that my dad did not want her to do. She deferred to him in everything except cooking and cleaning. In that realm she was in charge, but she still had to have supper ready when he was ready to eat.  Everything in our home rotated around my father’s moods. While we were not a quivering family, my parents’ had specific expectations for women and they did not include me learning to be independent.

The weird thing was that my father once told me that he felt bad because his mother never learned to drive, so he said he wanted me to learn to drive and have a way to make a living, but somewhere between this idea and reality he never taught me to drive nor found a way to help me go to school. Another time he told me if my husband ever asked me what I wanted to do to have an idea and not act passive. I got the idea from both of my parents that my opinion mattered—but only as long as it agreed with theirs.

It’s the saddest mystery in my life that my father actually tried to encourage me to be a strong woman, but then told me not to be like other strong women we met. When a woman showed leadership, my parents said she wore the pants in the family. If a woman did not have children, she was called selfish. If the pastor’s wife worked for a living, she was called worldly and material minded. The women we met were none of these things, but to a young girl this made an impression that I had no right to do anything but be a housewife and please my husband.

Nowhere was this idea of men in charge more obvious than when it came to what we believed about God. My mom taught me to trust God and obey and I will always have a special place in my heart for her loving ways of teaching me about Jesus as a small child. As I got older, my dad was the only one in charge of worship and then only if he was in the mood.

My maternal grandmother was a Bible worker who brought nearly a hundred people into the church in her lifetime, but my father never agreed with her about God. If Grandma began to teach me something she was reading about, it almost always guaranteed that my dad would end up in an argument with her. When we drove away, he would say she never went to theology school and didn’t know what she was talking about. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I discovered my grandmother had a much better picture of God than I had grown up with. She was powerless to speak to me much about it, but she tried to give me the crumbs under the table.

The place my father’s control affected my life the most after the spiritual expectations was my education. School was never a priority for my dad and he didn’t see it as one for me. I was told to tell people at church I was being homeschooled, but they never bought the books. If I asked for books and complained about not keeping up with kids my age, I was called spoiled and selfish.

When I finally went to college, I had few career choices that seemed acceptable to my family. My interests included psychology which was considered evil, becoming a pastor which was out because my father had tried to talk me out of attending the Christian University I chose because they had a woman preacher. And there was no way I could consider anything in the medical field because I had never had science since the sixth grade. It seems that from my father’s perspective, my obvious career choices we just as inappropriate as those plaid dresses he wanted my mother to take back. Because I was so unprepared, college turned out to be a very confusing and depressing time in my life.

If I gave the impression my father did not love me, that’s not true, but there was this dichotomy between his words and his behavior. My mother contributed to my role expectations too because she told me in third grade that my mind was not made for math like hers. This sort of headship mindset really confuses a girl and makes her wonder if she can be good at anything besides cooking and cleaning.

While I am not angry about my childhood at all, I certainly had to reframe events so I could heal from it. This blog has explained the perspective of male headship from my own childhood and teen perspective, but others have had a much more brutal treatment. I don’t believe that what I experienced is the norm. Many children who grow up with male headship struggle in different ways. If you are one of those, please feel free to share your experience with me, I would love to hear your story.

In my next blog I will discuss why I believe male headship is NOT God’s plan.

Did you grow up with different rules and expectations for girls and boys? How does it affect your life today? 

Story Behind the Art—I Am My Own Person

17 Jun

I remember sitting in the car after cashing the largest paycheck I received as a teenager. I had planned to buy a book to study for my GED and buy some shoes that did not have holes in them. I can still hear the clearing of the throat. Then the questions asked in a very loving voice.

“Do you love Jesus?”

“Why of course I love Jesus.”

“Well Jesus gave up everything for us. He gave His all, don’t you want to be like Jesus?”

Well… when they put it that way what could I say? I gave them my entire check of $ 350.

I Am My Own Person, CherilynClough.com LittleRedSurvivor.com

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I gave up my money that day and many other days because I felt I had no choice. I grew up thinking God wanted my money and if I didn’t pay Him, He would kill me. This spiritual abuse from my teens nearly destroyed my relationship with God.

Today I realize God has all the money He wants and what He desires most from me is my heart. He only wants money from a willing heart because the Bible says God loves a cheerful giver. And another thing–God is always true to Himself.

If we are faithless,
God remains faithful,
for He cannot deny Himself.
-2 Timothy 2:13

God doesn’t pretend to please any one and He doesn’t ask us to give up who He designed us to be. We have not been asked by God to abandon our individuality for anyone else. I wish I had known this before I spent years people pleasing, but when we know better, we do better. Just as every sunflower is different, each person is unique. God created us to sing or preach or write or paint and He wants us to become who He designed us to be.

This quote has been shared among the blogs of several of my survivor friends. To say it spoke to me would be an understatement–it seemed to shout my name. This is the sort of quote I was once discouraged from thinking about because I was told it reeked of humanism and feminism. Today it speaks of freedom and individuality to this girl who once gave herself away before she even had a self.

Making This Art

Because there are so many words, I knew this might be difficult to create. I tried to picture the words in my mind as a picture.

I am drawn to sunflowers because they soak up the sun and it empowers them to stand taller than just about any other flower. I see a spiritual connection to myself soaking up “the son” so I too can stand taller.

I wanted the flower in the middle to both divide some of the words and to represent each of us. The most powerful words in the verse are hand written to personalize this truth.

I used a simple yet rustic background because I knew it could not be too busy or it would compete with all the words.

Next I created a large sunflower and then the smaller sunflowers out of water color paper and cut them out and glued them on with gloss medium. I used three coats to seal it.

The last thing I did was stamp the rest of the words on and put several coats of gloss medium in the whole thing.

It took about five hours total. It’s a great reminder of an important truth I have often neglected when I was younger, but with this hanging on my wall, I doubt I will ever forget.

What about you? Have you ever set fire to yourself to keep someone else warm?

Why Facts Alone Are Not Always the Truth

4 Jun

When Moira was seven her mother beat her black and blue with a hairbrush because she was tired of combing the tangles out of her hair. To this day Moira cannot stand to brush her hair and wears it as short as possible so she can maintain it. Her mother claims her daughter made up this incident and refuses to talk about it, but Moira feels very hurt that her mother can deny such a traumatic event in her life. Is Moira making this up or is her mother lying? Maybe neither.

Wherever there is an ACON telling their story, there is sure to be a parent nearby calling them a liar. Most nice people would never expect this from their parents, but welcome to narc-ville.

Because narcissists are right-talkers, they will argue about the facts and their “problem child” to anyone who will listen including a stranger in the parking garage. Narcs are convinced they have the truth and speak very convincingly. This often leaves the relatives and friends wondering which side to believe.

Sometimes ACONs write to me saying they have heard so many arguments from their parent that they have even begun to doubt their own memories—except they still have this queasy feeling whenever the trigger shows up. So how can we know the truth?

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1. Consider the Source
First things first. We can often discern the truth by a process of elimination. Have your parents ever lied to you or asked you to lie for them? If the answer to this question is yes, then do NOT take their word for it—trust your memory.

It’s important to forgive, but never forget. Don’t forget these are the people who shift the truth to save face and they especially want to save face when it comes to their own reputation. Remember narcissistic parents are more concerned with their own image than a relationship with their children.

2. All Memories are Subjective
No one’s memory plays like a video, but that’s okay because you are not a machine, you have feelings and your feelings are a good indicator to tell you if your memory is telling the truth.

You might forget the room it happened in or even the face of an abuser, but if your body remembers this pain and your mind says it happened, it’s likely to be true so trust your gut.

3. Memory is What We Make of It
Many ACONs never told a soul what happened to them until they were in their forties or fifties and suddenly realized life is too short to be silent any longer. Psychologist and counselor Dan Allender suggests we are less likely to exaggerate our painful stories and are more likely to downplay them. Memory is trickier than most of us realize. Our memories are always biased and they can be awakened or minimalized which furthers complicates the situation. This is especially true in cases of abuse that result in Stockholm syndrome where victims feel an empathy for their captors and downplay their own neglect and abuse.

Many young children have no other resource but their parents. In order to survive they must make the best of a bad situation and to do this they subconsciously choose to think the best of their parents–even when their parents are beating or starving them.

Allender says that memory is also strengthened by an adrenaline rush. The person who experiences an adrenaline rush is more likely to remember better than someone who was not so pumped with adrenaline. Consider the case of a parent beating a child. The adrenaline rush of being chased and beaten will likely preserve that memory better in the mind of the child than the parent. Most Americans can remember where we were and what we were doing on 911, but who remembers the day before? The adrenaline rush we received while watching the planes fly into the twin towers has preserved our memories.

It’s also important to note that in extreme cases of horrific events like witnessing the loss of life, adrenaline might allow us to forget completely. Our memory can be enhanced or disabled by the adrenaline rush during such events.

4. Facts Are Not All the Truth
Facts are part of the truth, but they can’t tell us how someone feels.

There’s a world of difference between facts and truth,
facts can obscure the truth.
-Maya Angleou

The deepest problem between our story and the story of our parents is personal truth. Our parents remember what mattered to them and we remember what mattered to us. Anyone can claim to have the facts, but if a parent is high on the narcissistic scale, they might lack the empathy to understand our pain and continue to dismiss it.

If you feel tempted to ignore your pain and people-please just to make your parents happy, remember you are then ignoring the truth. Truth is more than an isolated event. Truth is your reaction to the event and your parent’s reaction to your pain. This is why the truth is so complicated.

If our parents really want the truth, then they need to be willing to listen to the truth of how we feel when they try to shape us into their image by proselytizing us or yelling at us because we don’t live up to their expectations.

The only true way of honoring our parents is to tell the truth as best as we can remember it, then tell the truth as we know it in our own hearts. Of course if we are Christians, then this is even more important because our first obligation is to honor our Heavenly Parent. God asks us to tell the truth and share our honest hearts because Jesus is the truth and embraces all truth. God is always on the side of the truth and He always cares about the truth of our hearts.

How to Let Go of a Religious Narc

29 May

It was the beginning of the weekend. I was excited to drive for hours to meet up with my friend, who was speaking at another church, but as soon as the meeting was over he was heckled. I’m not talking about fans or paparazzi, he was questioned by a couple aggressive fundamentalist Christians who felt he should agree with them.

The next day as soon as we broke for lunch, he was surrounded by the same people again. There was one in particular who pounded him with questions both during the meetings and monopolized him throughout lunch and all afternoon until the next meeting. As one of his friends, I just wanted five minutes to say hi.

I finally interrupted the conversation after he had been grilled for hours. As I entered the room, the one questioning said, ”Okay, so now we can agree.” It seemed like the whole room let out a sigh of relief. I commented on something the speaker said earlier and we both laughed a little, when his opponent suddenly said, “What did you just say? And after all this I thought we finally agreed; now I’m not so sure!”

Little Red Riding Hood Let Go, CherilynClough.com, LittleRedSurvivor.com

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It was sort of a tongue in cheek joke, but there was truth in it. My question to him would be why do we have to agree on everything? Many people feel they cannot allow someone else to see God differently, but why? Who of us has seen God and can give a full account?

Later after the last meeting, the speaker asked for questions when one of his opponents felt inspired to read a list of Bible verses hoping to straighten him out. It was frustrating to see people misunderstanding and misquoting him. This man seemed very sincere about disproving what he thought my friend taught, but the reality was he completely misunderstood him.

Because I had hours to get home, I decided to leave. The last thing I heard as I walked out the door was a loud booming voice saying, “I hate equality.” This whole weekend was about loving others with equality like Jesus does. It struck me as strange that the weekend ended this way, but I imagine if Jesus Himself were there, it would have been even worse. As much as I had looked forward to seeing my friend, it was really a stressful experience. And as I drove home I sorted out my thoughts and realized what I had experienced was an example of religious narcissism.

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize a religious narcissist because we aren’t looking for it. A big red flag is that narcs are unable to let go–let go of expectations, let go of differences of opinion, and let go of anything they want you to do for them. While they might not be able to let go, the only sanity you will find is to let go of such people or they will suck the life out of you.

We naturally expect Christians to follow the golden rule and do unto others as we want to be treated, but that’s not reality. You can find a narcissist in just about any church and my guess is half of the congregation has had a run in with them or left because of them. So here’s a list of narcissistic traits often manifested in Christian circles and an idea of how to deal with the situation.

1. Right-Talker
No two people agree on everything, but some people get their ego fed by pushing their views on other people or calling those they disagree with heretics. Paul and Barnabas didn’t agree and parted ways, but both still worked for God. Healthy Christians give each other grace without forcing their views on others.

When you run into right-talkers, you can argue with them from sunrise until sundown and still not resolved the issues, so it’s better to let go. Those who want to be right have no desire to see what others see. They will manipulate and misquote you just to keep the argument going.
This is what Jesus meant when he told us to shake the dust off our feet. If you are engaging in long arguments about God, why not release your opponent from meeting your standards and let peace return to all?

2. Lacks Empathy for Others
A classic trait of narcissism is a lack of empathy. When people monopolize a visiting speaker, they show lack of empathy for the speaker. What if the speaker would like to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water or maybe visit with other people?

The narc sees himself as the only person in the room so he ignores other people standing in line. Sometimes this happens in group meetings where someone monopolizes the entire time talking about how terrible their job/childhood/marriage was. The narcissist imagines everything is about them. They don’t know how to listen to others, but healthy relationships require listening.

3. Has a Martyr Complex
Have you ever met someone who always works in the kitchen or with the children but all they can do is complain about how lazy everyone else is? The Christian narc often feels like a victim. If you listen to them you will hear all sorts of sad stories. No one sees it his way. No one offered to help her. No one called him when he was having a problem. No one cares that she is working so hard. There is literally nothing you can do when you meet a narcissist with a victim mindset but walk away, because whatever you do, it will never be enough.

4. Uses Other People 
Some people are glad to see you only if and it’s a big IF—you can meet their needs. I once resigned a volunteer position at church due to a health issue at the time when the man I spoke to said, “Well what else can you do for us?” He simply saw me as a tool to help him get his goals met. This is called narcissistic feed. I remember one pastor telling the church board, you can’t get mad because church volunteers don’t do things your way, you have to remember they are all volunteering their time.

The only thing you can do with religious narcs is refuse to get involved with them. It sounds harsh, but if you try to please them, you might find yourself up to your ears in their drama and messes. It’s never a pretty sight to do discover you’re a pawn in someone else’s schemes.

5. Talks About Other People
Study groups are not safe when someone talks about people who are not there. We have a rule in our group that “What’s said in group, stays in group.” I’m sure there are times when even the nicest people slip up, but hopefully, we can learn from it and apologize and do our best to be safer people in the future.

The difference between a sincere mistake and narcissistic rant is that the narc will NOT appreciate a reminder from you if they have acted in an unsafe manner. They want to take sides in every conflict and while they whisper about who did what and who should not have been there, they will often complain about the pastor and elders or anyone who reminds them this is inappropriate.

While we can’t control what the narcissist does, we can refuse them an audience. If someone starts talking to you about someone else, just say no. This can be done kindly and without self-righteous airs. You can distract them from the topic or you can say you have to go without a full explanation. And believe me, a full explanation is the last thing you want to try with a narc, because then you might end up arguing with them until one of you dies or moves away.

Lay Your Weapons Down and Walk Away
When you run into a narc, you might want to fight them and straighten them out, but trust me, it’s a colossal waste of time. Our goal is not to put the narcissist down or argue with them, but to avoid the unsafe drama they bring with them. Any time you feel uncomfortable at church in a conversation, any time you feel manipulated or pushed or condemned for not meeting someone’s needs or standards, it might be time to determine why exactly you feel this way. Do they remind you of someone else? Or is this person actually acting in three or more of these ways?

If you notice more than three of these behaviors with someone at church, you might just be dealing with a Christian narcissist. If this is true, the best thing you can do is walk away. Don’t hate on them, don’t talk about them to others, don’t preach to them, just quietly and gently step back and look for some like-minded Christians to hang out with. This will save hours of your life that you can use for a much better purpose. Let’s let go of the drama. Let’s see if we can make our churches narc free zones. Just say no to narcissism.

The Four Freedoms

23 May

There is a story about a goldfish that lived in a glass bowl. He lived his entire life bumping into a glass divider and was unable to cross to the other side. One day the divider was removed, but he refused to change his patterns because he could no longer imagine what it would be like to cross over to the other side. This gold fish was free to do something he had always wanted to do, but he had tried so many times and failed that he didn’t realize he had his freedom.

Many ACONs find themselves in a similar situation. We’ve had our chains taken off and now we are free to run, but we often forget how to move. We’ve all been given a basket of lemons and it’s up to us what we do with it. When our souls are parched and thirsty, we sometimes forget we’ve also been given a knife and some ice and we are free to make lemonade on a hot day. Through the years I have discovered there are at least four types of freedom.

Freedom is What You Do, CherilynClough.com LittleRedSurvivor.com

Print Available Here

Physical Freedom

The people who once controlled us physically no longer tower over us and they have no more power over our physical bodies. We are now free from pinching, hitting, belting, going to bed without supper and all other forms of physical abuse.

No longer are we told what to wear or not wear and where to go or not go. We celebrate the fact that we are no longer under forced labor. We are no longer forced to work and please another and give them our earnings to meet their narcissistic feed. We can associate with whomever we want and we can live our lives however we like. Despite our abuser’s religion, Jesus has more freedom for us than they ever permitted. We no longer need to endure imprisonment or isolation—the gates are wide open and we can walk free as we choose.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners.
– Isaiah 61:1

Mental Freedom

As we recognized how lies once controlled us, we discovered a great freedom. When we became seekers of truth, we stepped out of the land of denial and it changed our lives forever. The truth really does set us free.

Now we realize we can start over again, we can make new choices, we can learn new patterns. We are not forced to spend time with people simply because we have the same blood. We have the right to keep those relationships that are honest and respectful. Our friends have become the family we choose.

We are also free from lies about God. No one can scare us when we realize there is no everlasting hell. God is not waiting to punish us, but loves us in spite of our mistakes. Nothing can separate us from His love—unless we choose to walk away from him forever.

And you will know the truth,
and the truth will set you free.
-John 8:32

Emotional Freedom

We have freedom from fear because we have discovered love. We are no longer beaten children cowering in a corner. We also realize we are not responsible for the feelings of others. It’s empowering to realize we have a right to our own feelings—that feelings are neither right nor wrong—they are simply information.

When others try to shame us for not meeting their standards, we are no longer slaves to their expectations. We can give the shame right back to them because we have no room in our lives for shame. We recognize shame comes from the enemy and we can walk away from anyone who uses it against us.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity,
but of power, love, and a sound mind. 
-2 Timothy 1:7

Spiritual Freedom

Our greatest freedom is to believe or not believe, to worship or not worship. We are free to celebrate God in whatever ways inspire and fulfill us. We have the freedom to express our beliefs whether others approve of us or not. We are unshackled by the expectations, rules, standards and conspiracy theories of others. We’ve been given freedom as a birthrite by the God who designed us to live as unique individuals. God has set us free to become our true selves.

As we realize these freedoms through the different stages of our lives, sometimes we recognize one more than others. The biggest lie we received from our parents was that they owned us and some parents want us to believe we are still responsible to them for how we live our lives, but nothing could be further from the truth. So some of us will see family this weekend, others have realized there is no relationship there because our family is full of lies and disrespect. Either way, we have the freedom to make a good life so let’s go out, look through those lemons and make some lemonade.

Now the Lord is that Spirit:
and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.
-2 Cor. 3:17

Giraffes and Elephants

14 May

My cat Minkah growls at the same neighbor every morning when he gets in his car to go to work. I wondered how my cat can discern a man’s character from so far away when he’s an indoor cat, until I heard the man beating his dog one day. Then I realized my cat, who sits in that window observing the people coming and going every day, might be more aware of the sociopaths in the neighborhood than I am.

We love animals for several reasons. For one thing they give us unconditional love when we treat them right. And two, we can often see their intelligence when we look into their eyes. I think God created animals with intelligence and He meant for us to communicate with them, but sin has distorted what God meant to be a reality. Despite the fall, we find reminders and signs of intelligent life in the animal kingdom. Many pet owners can tell stories about their dog or cat or horse or bird who communicates with them. Even while I’m typing as I write this, my cat Kitteh came up to wave her paw alongside the table where I am typing, telling me to get out the laser so she can chase it.

Many narcissists don’t like animals or only like them when they can use them. Animals can be used for affection like narcissistic feed, but often they are quickly disposed of when the narc is annoyed with them. The ACON* forums are full of stories from people whose narc parent abused animals. This might be because the spectrum of narcissism includes sociopaths who have no conscience.

Our animal friends lead the way to more healing both through their unconditional love and through example. A couple of animals that help us ACONs to live better life stories are giraffes and elephants. Dr. Karyl McBride who wrote the book “Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers,” describes how a tall giraffe is able to look over the landscape and see beyond the horizon. She says ACONs should be able to stand tall above the insanity in our families.

When we see the bigger picture, we can afford to take our time to answer a question or not answer at all. We can afford to speak the truth because we are not bound to the narrow minded view of the narcissist. And while many of us have had to deal with flying monkeys remember the monkeys might fly but they are programmed much like a drone and do not think for themselves. What sets the giraffe apart is that she can see far and wide and overlook all the drama below.

I love Dr. McBride’s idea so much that I began to picture a tall giraffe standing in her dignity. I also thought of the little child inside of each of us that needs to be set free from the oppression of growing up with a parent who paid more attention to their needs and whims than ours. I combined these two pictures into a piece of art I named, “Giraffe Girl.” I put McBride’s quote on it because it has such deep meaning for me. What ACON has not struggled to speak the truth? The gentle and wise giraffe gives us permission to stand tall in our dignity and speak the truth.

Giraffe Girl, CherilynClough.com LittleRedSurvivor.com

Prints Available Here

The second animal that applies to ACONs is the elephant. They say an elephant never forgets. I have heard many wonderful stories about elephants. One was about a missionary doctor who treated the wound of an elephant for days until she was healed. When she went home she didn’t see him anymore, but one day her owner came by the doctor’s clinic and stopped by to say hello. The elephant had tears running down her face to see her healer once again. Another man was called “The Elephant Whisperer,” and made a refuge for elephants. When he died, all the elephants for miles around and came and stood outside the compound where his body lay to pay their respects. No one brought them to the gate, they came on their own out of some unknown intelligence we humans do not have.

Because an elephant never forgets, she reminds us that it’s okay for us to remember. Many ACONs tell me that a rule in their family of origin was to forgive and forget. Often an abuser wants us to forget because they don’t want us to tell anyone what happened. Of course we know we are only as sic as our secrets. Remembering allows us to sift the good from the bad and to forgive because we can’t forgive what we can’t remember. Remembering teaches us who to trust, Remembering allows us to trust our gut. Remembering allows us to heal from the good we can glean out of our messy life stories. Remembering enables us to find our way home.

When I was a child, I was told I have an elephant’s memory. As I got older, my elephant memory was appreciated less and less. I was accused of living in the past or not forgiving, but I was doing neither. I just had to acknowledge what happened in the past so I could move forward to the present. Remembering allows us to live our best life possible. This inspired me to make a second piece of art I call “Elephant Girl.”

Elephant Girl Tote, Cherilyn Clough, LittleRedSurvivor.com

Tote Available Here

So remember like an elephant and stand tall like a giraffe—it’ll drive the flying monkeys crazy.**

*ACON–Adult Children of Narcissists

**For a reminder, you can find these pieces of art in several forms in my shop from prints and pillows to totes and phone cases. You can also find this art in card form. Everyone should be able to afford art—especially art that can change your life.

Understanding Narcissism 3—The Mistake of Downplaying the Mistakes

10 May

The third part of my friend’s comment that caused me to think we need better communication about narcissism are these comments downplaying mistakes—which often turns into downplaying the pain of the survivor to protect the abuser.

“The one area that you may have a harder time understanding when it comes to motherhood, Cheri, is that when your children are grown or almost (like mine) a mother looks back and thinks of the things she would like to redo. She wishes so badly she could do things better for her children in whatever way.”

“Well, there are not redos, so the next best thing is that her children forgive her for the things she has done wrong. She hopes they will love her despite her mistakes.”

Such comments are often given to allow abusive parents a free pass. I don’t have to be a birth donor to have regrets. I’ve certainly made mistakes I regret with my nephews and nieces, but when I hurt someone, I apologize and try to make things right—I don’t see it as they owe me forgiveness.

Since it’s only human to make mistakes, why do we even need to talk about them? Because it may take years for some people to find their healing and those who haven’t experienced their pain can’t tell them when or how to heal. It’s a lifetime process.

Tagore Healing Print, Cherilyn Clough, LittleRedSurvivor.com

Prints Available Here

A wound can’t heal unless it is cleaned out first and one of the fastest ways to clean it is for the abuser to apologize. The problem here is that a narcissistic parent will never apologize. They will only rationalize their mistakes and make it out to be the child’s fault. This is why so many are still hurting and trying to deal with the aftermath of an abusive childhood decades later. Those who do not have narcissistic parents just don’t get it.

When a parent is abusive and never owns their junk, their child grows up with the feeling they are at fault. Sometimes it takes decades to realize we are acting out of this broken place because our parents abused us and went to church and spoke about God in glowing terms leaving us with this cognitive disconnect between their actions and their preaching.

Because we thought our Christian parents were close to God, so we reasoned it must be our fault they yelled and beat us. This has caused many ACONS to walk away from God completely because they believe God is just like their parents. For some people, realizing their parents’ mistakes is a matter of eternal life or death. If they can’t discover the contrast between their parent’s abuse and lack of love and God’s unconditional love, they may lose their eternal life altogether.

The bottom line is that Christian or not, no wound can be healed unless it is acknowledged. If Christians insist survivors over look the mistakes of their abusers, they are merely adding to the abuse. The only solution is for the parent to do what Jesus taught in Matthew 18, if you know your child has something against you, don’t go to church and act like nothing happened, go to your child and make it right.

This is a part of a series I am posting in response to a friend’s comment on my blog about Mother’s Day being painful. I know my friend’s mother is NOT a narcissist. From what I know of her mom, she is very loving and interested in her children’s lives. One reason why some people seem apathetic to the pain of ACONs* could be they have either not experienced narcissistic abuse or they are still in denial about their own wounds. I hope this series will help people like my friend to better understand narcissism.

*ACON—Adult Children of Narcissists

Understanding Narcissism 2—Understanding the Gratefully Grateful

10 May

The second part of my friend’s comment that caused me to think we need better communication about narcissism is this comment which we often hear at church or family holiday dinners where people want everyone to act happy and look good:

“It has worked well for me to focus on the good!”

Yes, focusing on the good is always a virtue. The Bible even tells us to focus on the good in Philippians 4:8, but it also tells us a number of other things like confessing our faults to one another and that pesky verse in Matthew 18 where Jesus says if your brother has something against you to not even bring Him an offering until you go and make it right with your brother. This is why we want to read widely and take a balanced approach to biblical advice.

Breathe Gratitude, Cherilyn Clough, LittleRedSurvivor.com

Prints Available Here

Most of my family and friends will tell you that I am an optimistic person, but after focusing on the good for 45 years, I realized I was in denial and more than a hundred pounds overweight from stuffing all my feelings for decades so I could be happy and not worry. If you talk to any number of ACONs you will hear a similar story. They will tell you it took them decades to wake up and sometimes even more to speak up. Most ACONs were not encouraged to seek the truth or speak the truth in our families.

Whenever a victim or survivor of narcissism speaks out, their pain often seems ignored when well-wishers tell them to focus on the good, but many of us focused on the good because we were in denial. Focusing on the good was an escape to ignore reality and some of us are still paying for it.

This could also be an ASSumption on the part of the well-wisher because not all who speak out are ungrateful—as a matter of fact many ACONs are more grateful than the average person because they have escaped slavery and both emotional and physical abuse. Most likely focusing on the good is how they survived to this point, but sometimes we need to go back and clean out the wounds before we can have our healing.

In the past, we’ve paid for focusing on the good through our addictions, weight gain and poor health due to CPTSD. That was in our survival mode, but in order to thrive we now can focus on a different set of good—good empathetic friends, good honest truths and the goodness of letting our stories be heard.

While it might seem like a nice Christian thing to say, telling someone to focus on the good is to not only ignore the rest of the advice in the Bible, but it seems apathetic to the pain of injured and hurting people. If you still think this is what should be said, you have fallen into the lack of empathy trap and it might help you to read the Empathy Trap book. It helps to describe the way narcissistic people use those who are empathetic to meet their needs.

This is a part of a series I am posting in response to a friend’s comment on my blog about Mother’s Day being painful. I know my friend’s mother is NOT a narcissist. From what I know of her mom, she is very loving and interested in her children’s lives. One reason why some people seem apathetic to the pain of ACONs* could be they have either not experienced narcissistic abuse or they are still in denial about their own wounds. I hope this series will help people like my friend to better understand narcissism.

*ACON—Adult Children of Narcissists

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