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,,

Prints Available Here

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,

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,

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,

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,

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,

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

Understanding Narcissism 1—Empathizing With the Need for Empathy

10 May

For those who are enjoying Mother’s Day, I wish you a wonderful day! The blogs I am posting today are for my ACON* Friends who need comfort or help explaining their pain and hopefully it will help some who are apathetic to the damage of narcissism.

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.

Oh the joys of explaining narcissism— sometimes it feels like putting your head into a vise!

Don't Shut Up, Cherilyn Clough,

Prints Available Here

If a friend of yours was in a car accident and sustained a broken leg because another driver hit them, would you lecture them on forgiveness and positive thinking? You would probably ask about their injuries and wish them a speedy healing. It’s different with an emotional injury for two reasons—emotional trauma can be invisible and it often takes years for the injured to discover their festering wounds.

Perhaps one reason people have a midlife crisis is because they don’t recognize their emotional wounds sustained in childhood until they realize they aren’t going to live forever and start to question why they have made bad choices and in the process they realize that everything shapes us—and that the addictions and ineffective coping methods they used to survive in childhood are no longer serving them today.

Those who have no wounds or have not processed their own trauma often have a need to quiet those who are finally finding their voices. They are apathetic because they aren’t dealing with the pain and really just want everyone to smile and be happy, but those who are processing pain can’t fake happiness any more than the friend with the broken leg can get up and walk out of the hospital without a cast or pain meds. In the case of narcissistic abuse empathy acts like one of the “meds.”

The opposite of empathy is apathy. Many people feel apathetic because they are ignorant about narcissism. I can hardly blame them because just a couple years ago if you had asked me to define narcissism, I would have told you it’s someone who is vain about their looks. Now, after some counseling and reading several books on it, I realize narcissism is on a scale. We all have a little narc in us, but toxic or malignant narcissism allows parents and spouses to abuse others without regrets. Dealing with the aftermath of narcissistic abuse is a very complex and complicated situation and if you are going through this I recommend you find a good therapist to help you sort it out because many of your friends will be apathetic—they don’t mean to be, but they are just ignorant.

Here is part of the recent blog comment that inspired me to write this series because it seemed to be lacking in empathy:

“I am sorry you are having a hard time as Mother’s day approaches. I praise God for such a wonderful mother and father too!”

Whenever anyone has pain, it might sound empathetic to say, “I am sorry you are having a hard time,” but what people say next usually shows what they are actually thinking. It’s sort of like saying, “I’m sorry, but…” Can you imagine meeting someone who has a broken leg and saying, “I’m so sorry you’re in pain, but I sure praise God that both of my legs are working fine?”

The problem with downplaying an ACON’s pain is equivalent to seeing your friend with a broken leg and telling them to get up and walk on. The leg needs casting and possibly surgery and then there will be a time to take pain meds before rehab and complete healing can take place. Emotional wounds can be even more painful than physical wounds. Studies have shown the brain processes both in a similar way. The difference is when we meet someone with emotional wounds we can’t see them, so we have no idea at first glance what stage of healing they are at.

This is why the best response when you meet an ACON or anyone who has lived through a traumatic event, is to show empathy. Empathy needs to be our first reaction because we can’t help people unless we empathize with them first. This is especially true for ACONs because the first clue and hallmark of narcissism is the narcissist’s inability to have empathy for their victim. Because of this, ACONs are very sensitive to those who lack empathy—we can smell them coming from a mile away.

So if you have a friend who had a rough childhood, please show some empathy by taking some time to listen to their story and find out where they are in their healing process. Your kindness and empathy might even be a catalyst for their healing.

*ACONs—Adult Children of Narcissists

The Pain of Mother’s Day

7 May

Mother’s Day is the most painful day of the year for me. I don’t think anyone can understand unless they wanted to be a mother—were raised to be a mother and played mother as a child while caring for younger siblings.

While I was growing up, my parents called women who did not have children selfish. They also called career women selfish, so I was not raised to have a career, but to simply be a mother and because I was not a mother, I did not meet their criteria of a successful woman. This wouldn’t be so shameful, but it often gives me the impression that people think I am from a lower caste. In times we’ve disagreed, some family members have used the fact that I never gave birth as a reason to discredit me.

Even more ironic, part of the reason I didn’t try to have children in my twenties was because my parents were homeless and some of my siblings were raising their children on welfare. When so many people I loved needed clothes or food or Christmas, I couldn’t see to follow my own dreams to become a mother. In some ways I never became a mother because I was too busy playing mother to my siblings and parents.

Forgive Yourself, Cherilyn Clough,

Print Available Here

While other parents planned birthday parties for their children as I grew up, I learned to expect less and less for my birthday. As a young adult, I was determined to make up for all the lost birthdays my siblings had experienced. That’s why I learned to crack eggs and bake cakes and bought gifts for everyone. My sisters have shown their appreciation and given me gifts too, so I don’t feel unloved, but sometimes and especially on Mother’s Day, it’s hard not to be a part of that exclusive motherhood club–especially when people use it against you.

When I said belting a child is wrong, I’ve actually had a family member say, “You don’t know because you have never been a mother.” This makes me want to scream, “Did you frickin’ forget that I was the child beaten?” Probably the worst is when family members say that I shouldn’t tell my story because it hurts my parents to remember they hurt me–and even worse it hurts my parents to realize that not allowing me a high school education hurt me, because they forgot they were only pretending to home school me. So if they really forgot these things, does that mean I have to forget? Because my parents’ choices in my teen years have affected my entire adult life.

I don’t know how other mother hearts feel that never had kids, but I greatly feel the loss–the loss of not being a real mother and the loss of not having a mother who puts any effort into our relationship. I love my mom for what I have with her, but I get tired of pretending we have a real relationship. I wish I had a mom who rejoices when God does something cool for me without giving me a lecture. I wish we could talk about more than cats and weather. I wish I had a mom who called me instead of waiting for me to call her.

I’ve always wished my mom or sisters could come to a women’s tea or a mother daughter banquet in college. I always wanted a mom to make memories with without trying to make me into a person who looks and acts just like her. I wish she had a wider swath of acceptance and less judgment. I wish life had been different for her because at one time she was a different person and I blame poverty, false god constructs and her own heartache for those changes.

We can’t fix our parents brokenness—all we can do is love them, but it’s sad when you can’t even eat a meal with them—not at a restaurant because they won’t eat out, not at your home even when you invite them and would go all out to make them comfortable, not when you go to visit them and they quiz your theological beliefs for three hours and don’t seem to care how you feel about anything.

Around six years ago, my family went through what I call the great divorce. It was my breaking point. To have parents who judge and condemn and refuse to meet me, not in person or conversation, because they disagree. It’s sad that life is so short and that the tragedy of some families is not death–but lives not lived, jokes not told and special days not shared because no one can fit into the narrow requirements of fellowship. If you were to ask me at the end of my life, I will tell you I missed having a mother who loves me unconditionally more than I missed not being a mother.

Narcissistic parents don’t take responsibility for their own choices or bills because they live in perpetual victim-hood and believe their children were brought into this world to serve them. This is the reverse of the parenthood God intended. I believe God gave this understanding to me for a blessing on the day before my fiftieth birthday, so I could finally see with clear eyes that my parents will never change—that I could never measure up and that I did not need to please them any more. This truth has set me free. I am fully awake now and I can’t go back to sleep.

As I do less and less with my family, I have become more and more at peace. Those events were my unmaking and breaking and now I have created more good things in my own life because I have allowed myself to be broken and reformed to whatever God has for me. I took off the expectations given to me by my parents—of which one was to be a mother. I had to lose myself to find out who God created me to be.

Today after much soul searching (and eating a bag of Kettle chips), I realize that I have always been a mother in my heart. God put that compassion there and it is not dependent on giving birth. When I first stood on that step stool at five years old to warm a bottle of milk in a pot of boiling water, when I took that hot milk and squirted it on the inside of my arm and watched the red streaks forming to show me it was too hot to feed to the babies, I was being a mother.

When I changed dirty diaper after dirty diaper, I was being a mother. When picked up the toys and hugged the crying and made cookies and taught my siblings to read, I was being a mother. When I planned birthday parties and family events and gave away all my money and time, I was being a mother. There was nothing selfish about it, I did what had to be done.

So for all the big sisters and oldest siblings and child laborers who first had their childhood stolen and then lost out on motherhood because they were caring for the children their parents chose to have—I just wanna say it. It’s time for you to forgive yourself for not living up to your parents’ and society’s expectations. You don’t have to give birth to have a mother’s heart. You are NOT selfish. You did the best you could and God is a mother too, and she looks on you with tender compassion and cares about the dreams of your heart. Use these broken feelings to cling to God as your Parent, because God wants you to become yourself!

One of my favorite singers has just release a new album, let’s hear it for Nicole Nordeman who often sings what I feel.

Little Red’s Mother’s Day 20% Off Sale

30 Apr

Amie wants to sing with a band, Kara is finishing her first novel and Zoey dreams about starting her own art business. One has a house full of teenagers, another is care-taking for her aging parents and one just had her first child. Each of these women has so many family responsibilities that she feels she needs to put her dreams on hold. Maybe you can relate.

This month as we celebrate Mother’s Day it is important to acknowledge the true mothers who give more than they take, the non-narcissists who have empathy for their children and parents. Wouldn’t it be nice to give them the gift of permission with a colorful reminder that it’s okay to follow their passion? To tell them—It’s okay to take care of yourself because self–care is NOT selfish.

Self Care is Not Selfish Tote, Little Red Survivor Art, Cherilyn Clough

Tote Available Here

Remind them—It’s okay to write the truth and let your voice be heard.

Write the Truth, Little Red Survivor Art, Cherilyn Clough

Print Available Here

Encourage their intuition—It’s good to trust your gut when pursuing a new path.

Trust Your Gut Phone Case, Little Red Survivor Art, Cherilyn Clough

Phone Case Available Here

And make sure they know it’s okay to ignore the flying monkeys along the way.


Flying Monkey Cards, Little Red Survivor Art, Cherilyn Clough

Flying Monkey Cards Available Here

Allow them to shine

Shine Mug, Little Red Survivor Art, Cherilyn Clough

Shine Travel Mug Available Here


And make art with the pieces with their one, unique and precious life.

Make Art With the Pieces Tote, Little Red Survivor Art, Cherilyn Clough

Tote Available Here


Then thank them for being brave.

Be Brave Pillow, Little Red Survivor Art, Cherilyn Clough

Pillow Available Here

Everyone deserves to Breathe—especially the thoughtful, empathetic, Mothers
and the special adopted moms in your life.
And while you are thinking of others,
don’t forget to do a little breathing and dreaming for yourself.

Little Red Breathe, Little Red Survivor Art, Cherilyn Clough

Print Available Here

 For all the moms out there who are juggling so many things
day and night to serve your family,
Have a wonderful Mother’s Day!

My Etsy Shop is offering 20% off everything in the store until Mother’s Day.
Coupon Code: MOTHERSDAY2015

Breathe Gratitude, Little Red Survivor Art, Cherilyn Clough

Prints Available Here

There’s never been a better time
to follow your dreams!

Jake and the Game He Could Never Win

24 Apr

Jake fell in love with Chelle, but in order to win her hand in marriage he needed her father’s approval, so Jake ended up working for his future father in law for seven years to close the deal. He got married at night so it was morning before he realized he married Chelle’s sister because his father in law had secretly traded in the sister to keep with the tradition of the oldest sister marrying first. That sucked, but Jake was still in love with Chelle, so he worked for the narc for seven more years to marry her.

A Game She Could Never Win,

Print Available Here

After fourteen years of working, Jake had enough and wanted to move his family far away so they could go no contact, but it’s never that easy. His wages were all tied up in the family business which was ranching. His narc-in-law said he could have all the spotted animals because well, there were not as many of them.

Lo and behold that spring Jake’s barns were full and overflowing. And by now you know the pattern of the narcissist. Of course he didn’t want Jake to move because he was relying on Jake for narcissistic feed. Bottom line: he would rather use Jake than let him go. So his narc-in-law took off with all the spotted sheep and goats and hid them. But guess what? Jake’s fields were soon full of spotted goats and sheep. Of course as soon as the narc realized this he changed the rules so the wages were unblemished stock. And once again God bless Jake and his flocks grew without any marks on them.

One day a flying monkey came to tell Jake that the narc was unhappy with him. Jake had noticed the attitude, so he called his wives to meet him where they could talk in private.  He told them how their father kept changing the rules and taking his wages, but God had intervened. The sisters said, “Has he treated us any better? Let’s go.” Obviously they knew their dad was a narc.

After a lot of drama and chaos, Jake and his family finally left the family business after twenty years. Of course it wasn’t that easy, as they tried to leave his narc-in-law chased after them—partially because he felt God was blessing him through Jake. Total narc feed situation—if you are not appalled, then you aren’t paying attention, apparently this narc thought he could mess with Jake and his daughter’s lives and happiness and use them ‘til kingdom come.

Jake’s father in law was asking him to play a game he could never win, but God blessed him anyway. Perhaps a narcissist is asking you to play a game you can never win. If so, never underestimate the power of God to set things right.

He holds success in store for the upright,
He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
For he guards the course of the just
And protects the way of his faithful ones.
-Proverbs 2:7-8

This story is found in Genesis 29-31
and it might just be one
of the oldest narc stories ever.
I highly recommend reading it in the Message Bible.

God Cares About Our Hearts

The Messy Story of Jesus

4 Apr

While Jesus was on earth, he didn’t spend his time in a gorgeous chapel with a harmonious choir, distinguished elders and tidy children. As the Creator, he designed this world to be a place where the messy, bloody and disgusting would contribute–where even manure brings life. There’s nothing clean about birth or death, but Jesus joined with our humanity in this very messy life from his cradle to his grave. The value of his solidarity with us was disregarded by the religious leaders of his day, because they thought his sinless life was too messy.

Manure Brings Life, Cherilyn Clough,

Print Available Here

In the first century AD, it was scandalous to be born to an unwed mother. Mary’s neighbors, when they realized she was pregnant probably didn’t consider she was pregnant from God. I imagine the village gossips stared at her growing belly and said, “That’s just plain wrong!”

Jesus probably had older stepbrothers. Did he get along with them? Or did they get jealous of him when they heard their parents speaking of his mission? Did they make fun of him like the brothers of Joseph? We don’t know because very little is recorded about his childhood, but there was the incident where his parents lost him.

As Mary and Joseph walked home to Nazareth from the temple (it was a three day walk) they discovered he was missing and went back to find him. Jesus didn’t agree that he was lost. He chose right then to set a boundary and let his parents know it was time to be about his heavenly Father’s business. Did Joseph feel rejected when Jesus said this? For Mary, it must have brought back the words of Simeon at the baby dedication saying that a sword will pierce her heart.

Even as an adult, Jesus was still setting boundaries with his mother. She needed help with a wedding reception and she knew what her son was capable of doing. She was eager for the world to know her son Jesus is the Messiah.  Jesus turned the water to wine, but first he made it clear this was not the time for an announcement.

When Phillip told his friend Nathaniel he had found the Messiah, Nathaniel said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Apparently Jesus’s home town wasn’t a great place either.

One day somebody in the crowd called out to Jesus that his mother and brothers were present, but instead of honoring them, Jesus says, “Who are my mother and brothers? Whoever does the will of my father in heaven.”

When Jesus looked at the crowds, he saw beyond their filth, anger and addictions.

When he saw the crowds,
he had compassion on them,
because they were harassed and helpless,
like sheep without a shepherd.
-Matthew 9:36

Out of compassion, Jesus got dirty with us. He suffered with all of humanity as his life intersected with our chaotic, messy stories. Jesus surprised people because he welcomed the outcasts the Pharisees shunned.

* He ate with tax collectors.

* He put mud in the eyes of the blind.

* He broke Sabbath rules.

* He cleansed the temple.

* He allowed people to sneak around to see him in the dark.

* He let a bloody woman touch him.

* He touched lepers and demoniacs.

* He woke up the stinking dead.

One of the most telling stories about the way Jesus cares is his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. The disciples wondered what Jesus was doing by talking to a Samaritan woman—this was unheard of–Jews didn’t speak to Samaritans—much less a Samaritan woman, but Jesus drew her out on purpose. He pointed to her past by referring to her many husbands. After Jesus healed her heart, she was ready to share and ran back to the village to say, “Come, meet a man who told me everything I ever did.”

The climax and victory of Jesus’s life happened because his love intersected with the messiness of sin.

A prostitute washing his feet with her hair while an extravagant perfume filled the house.
An enthusiastic friend chopping off an ear.
The sullen kiss of a so called friend.
The running and hiding and denial of association.
The rooster crowing three times.
The sounds of a hammer echoing from the top of a hill.
The taunts of angry men.
The cries of woman and children.
The whispered prayer of a thief.
The cry of anguish.
Then silence as darkness filled the sky.

There was nothing well-ordered or sanitary about Jesus’s life on earth. He came and cried and bled and died, but he did it all with love. Love spent itself until there was nothing left in his humanity to spend. The only consolation would come in the morning, where an empty grave promises hope for all of our messy lives.

Check out this song by For King and Country–

When confusion’s my companion
And despair holds me for ransom
I will feel no fear
I know that You are near
When I’m caught deep in the valley
With chaos for my company
I’ll find my comfort here
‘Cause I know that You are near

My help comes from You
You’re right here, pulling me through
You carry my weakness, my sickness, 
My brokenness all on Your shoulders
Your shoulders
My help comes from You
You are my rest, my rescue
I don’t have to see to believe that
You’re lifting me up on Your shoulders
Your shoulders


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,255 other followers

%d bloggers like this: