For the first decade after Beth left home,
she and her siblings didn’t speak about certain events in their childhood.
And she felt so all alone.
Their family rules included never talking about the past and never talking about what happened unless the person you were talking about was there. Beth and her siblings tried to cope with their PTSD alone—until one of them tried to commit suicide.
Even when we forgive our parents, the stress of a dysfunctional childhood demands that we pay attention to our pain and the best way to deal with it is to talk about it with people who get it. The most likely people to do that are our siblings because even if they are different ages and genders they are still the only other witnesses to our shared childhood.
When one sibling starts to talk or visit a counselor, narcissistic parents will do several things to stop the communication. They will at first remind everyone of the taboo of talking outside the family. Then they will try to scapegoat and ostracize that child. Then they will send in the flying monkeys armed with Bible verses like Matthew 18. Like one Bible verse will counteract all they have done in the past to abuse. Once again, welcome to religious narcia.
To people who’ve never suffered narcissistic abuse, such rules might sound good and even biblical, but ACoNs know the recovery mantra is true—that we are only as sick as our secrets—and there is nothing sicker than an entire family walking on eggshells around a damaged childhood.
It’s frustrating to deal with well-meaning Christians (who have little idea what it is like to be raised by a narc) who imagine Matthew 18 is the solution. They claim Jesus commands us to hash out our issues with the narcissist before we can talk to anyone else about it—including a counselor, but they are wrong. For one thing if talking to the narc about it had worked in the first place, we would not be in the position of having to talk to a counselor now.
In such discussions, a portion of Matthew 18 is taken out of context while the rest of the chapter is ignored altogether. When Jesus says to leave your gift at the altar and go and make things right with someone, He was simply speaking against hypocrisy. He wasn’t suggesting we spend hours arguing with our abusers. And He wasn’t telling us to not tell our stories.
When it comes to keeping family secrets, the people who lie and gaslight us have given away their right to privacy when they abused us. If you have any experience with religious narcs, you know such conversations go nowhere. Christian narcissists are both self-proclaimed victims and Pharisees and if there was anyone Jesus preached against—it was the Pharisees.
So no, Jesus wasn’t talking about victims of childhood abuse in Matthew 18.
How do we know? Read the rest of the chapter.
If anyone causes one of these little ones—
those who believe in me—to stumble,
it would be better for them
to have a large millstone hung around their neck
and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
Did you hear that? This is Jesus talking to the little child inside your heart. He is telling you that what happened to you as a child—the beatings, the yelling, the lack of empathy was NOT okay with Him and it’s not okay with His Father either—
See that you do not despise one of these little ones.
For I tell you that their angels in heaven
always see the face of my Father in heaven…
Your Father in heaven is not willing
that any of these little ones should perish.
Jesus welcomes the child inside of each of us. He wants us to remember our childhood innocence and wonder and our pain. He knows we have been so bruised and damaged and we are afraid of many things in life and He wants to heal us. He knows we need other people who can validate our pain and share His love with us. Jesus knows the only antidote to our fear is His perfect love (1 John 4:18) and sometimes this only becomes tangible through other people. This is why healing happens in small groups.
No matter what the narcs say, God sends holy angels to watch over and comfort us. We might feel lonely, but we are never alone. And no matter how abusive the people who raised us, God does not want to lose us because of the sins of our fathers and mothers.
It is God’s desire to draw us into relationship with Him. And that often includes finding safe people to share our stories with. Even the passage quoted most often from Matthew 18, can be applied to narcissism. Jesus knew narcissism would rear its ugly head—
If they still refuse to listen,
tell it to the church;
and if they refuse to listen even to the church,
treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
What a fitting description of how to deal with a narcissist. Narcs refuse to listen because they don’t want to remember what they have done to hurt us. Jesus says there is a point where we just have to walk away and possibly go No Contact.
Today Beth and her siblings talk about their parents—not in some demeaning way, but to remember and heal their wounds. They do not need to bring their parents into the discussion because they already know their parents won’t say sorry. What they need is the validation that comes from shared pain and finding ways to make healthier choices in their own lives.
So the next time you are telling your story and someone pulls out Matthew 18, ask them if they’ve read the rest of the chapter.